21 - Ustengrav

We had to cross the hills to get to Morthal, and at the top of one of them, we found a dragon, roosting on another of those word walls with the dragon writing. He shouted frost at us, but I fired arrows back, and Zahra threw fireballs, until we brought him down. Then my war-hammer proved mightier than his jaws.

The wall taught me "Zun", which means weapon, so now I had two words that I could unlock with the dragon's knowledge. Neither really called me to turn them into a shout right away. "Yol" would not give me any more fire damage than Zahra could produce, and one of the Kyn would not be happy taking advantage of his opponent by disarming him with a shout. Besides, the dragons are the strongest foes, and they carry no weapons.

I knew that I could wait, and use this later. There might be another word wall where we were heading, and I'd have yet another option.

We met the road between Morthal and Dawnstar, and it looked like we could follow it for a while before we need to cut off towards Ustengrav. We'd met frostbite spiders on this road before, but it seemed to me likely that we'd see more going through the swamps.

We passed the point where we'd previously turned off to Labyrinthian, and the pass, and instead found the small mining community of Stonehills. I had no need to stop, so we continued northward up the road. Not much further, we came across a couple of conjurers being ambushed by bandits. They were dead before we reached them, and the bandits turned on us. Stupid mortals!

We didn't find much worth taking on the bandits, and the conjurers didn't have anything better. A few ingredients, and some potions was about all. I'd expected more, as they had a horse (dead now) and a wagon, and could have been carrying quite a load.

This was about where we'd need to turn off west towards Ustengrav. I looked for a trail, but didn't find much, so I was quite surprised to find us approaching a Stormcloak camp. The guard eyed me suspiciously, but said nothing as we passed.

At the foot of the rise, I could see the ring of a nordic barrow. There was a campfire nearby, and a crude shelter, suggesting a bandit camp. Why they didn't just use the ruin itself was puzzling, but perhaps they didn't have the place to themselves. There might well be draugr inside.

The bandits, as ever, were hostile, but not for long. I noticed that Zahra was sporting a cloak of flames as she ran down the hill to engage them. That should keep the spiders away!

Inside, steps led down to a larger chamber under the hill, where some more of the bandits had fallen into the clutches of necromancers, who had raised them as thralls. One of the necromancers was complaining about their sluggishness as we approached. Zahra gave them more to complain about with a fireball in their midst, and I charged in with my warhammer.

We picked up a few useful potions and things, and then looked around for a way to go farther into the tomb. A side passage echoed with the sounds of fighting, so we followed it to find out what was going on.

The draugr I'd been expecting were doing battle with more of the necromancers. We let them thin each others' ranks before joining the side that was winning. Naturally the draugr were ungrateful, and we had to finish them as well.

They weren't the last of them, of course, but we didn't encounter another group of that size again. Ones and twos weren't a problem to us. Eventually we emerged into a large grotto, on a ledge overlooking the main chamber. The passage we had to follow had a fire trap, but that doesn't mean much to Dremora.

The skeletons we encountered next were a nuisance, as there were quite a few of them, all armed with bows, and they all seemed to notice us at once. After running around and eliminating them, we headed down the ramp to a word wall at the bottom, by a small pool.

The word I learned this time was "Feim", part of "Become Ethereal". I thought about this one for a while, and decided to unlock it with my dragon knowledge. I could use this to pass through traps and turn them off for Zahra. She didn't seem to be able to dodge them as well as I do, perhaps because she's a mage, rather than a fighter.

This area appeared to be a dead end, with no way to progress, so we walked back up to the middle level to look around more. There was a bridge over to another area we hadn't explored, so we crossed it, only to come under fire from another skeleton archer. His bones flew apart as one of Zahra's fireballs found its mark.

There were three small pillars rising from the floor. As I approached one, it started to glow and a gate at the end opened. I walked on to the next one, and it, too, started glowing. A second gate, behind the first, opened up. But when I continued to the third, the first gate closed again, just as the third one opened.

I backed up until the first gate opened again, but by then the third one had dropped again. It appeared that I couldn't open all three gates at once, because I couldn't stand near all three pillars. Zahra's presence didn't affect them. This was my trial, so it was all tuned to me. At least that's what I imagined. She's as real as I am, so there can't be any other explanation for it.

Walking up and down, I noticed a slight delay between the pillars' glow ceasing, and the gate closing. I might be able to run past all the pillars, and get through the gates, if I used that Whirlwind Sprint shout the Greybeards had taught me.

Of course I ran into the gates at full speed a couple of times before I got the timing right. Zahra was trying so hard not to laugh, as she sauntered through after me. Of course the gates stayed open for her after I'd done all the work.

Then we came to a large area of fire traps, the kind that blast flames up from the floor. While we resist fire well, there were just too many of these to ignore. But I noticed that they were not all a usniform shade. A quick experiment showed that the darker ones produced flames, but the paler ones didn't. I told Zahra what I'd discovered and instructed her to follow in my footsteps. Without pushing, please!

There had to be spiders, didn't there? Fortunately, she just stopped and turned on her fire cloak, instead of trying to run back. Then she hurled fireballs, even after they were dead. She's getting more composed when it's spiders, but we still have a way to go.

Naturally, she let me clear the webs off the door ahead before she was prepared to pass through it. It led into a large flooded chamber, with a path up the miidle. As we entered, dragon head statues rose out of the water, with a lot of noisy grinding of stone on stone. Nothing else, though. No draugr popping out of coffins, or any of the usual stuff.

At the top of the coffin at the end of the path was a stone hand, holding up a note, rather than the horn I was expecting to find. It was addressed to me, or at least "Dragonborn", and told me to rent the attic room at the inn in Riverwood. I presumed whoever left the note had the horn now, so I had little choice but to do as it requested.