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Chapter Sixty-one: Three Ruins in a Day.


BrotherofCats

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At sunup the next morning the party was packed up and on the move, north, back to Dragontooth Crater. They had the new pack horses added to their group, giving them a total of six animals.

 

And her new riding horse, a spirited chestnut stallion that she named King Henry, after the English monarch. They reached Dragontooth in nine jumps, then one more to get to the top of the ridgeline. From there she could see another watchtower, and a large plateau above it. Skipping the tower, the party landed on the plateau and Nora studied the land ahead. A decision made, she teleported them to an open area she could see in the near distance, between two ranges. From there, not seeing any clear landing sites in the mountains, it was forward on horseback. At that point they were about thirty miles from the Deepwoods Redoubt as the bird flew, though from looking at the map Nora thought it was closer to fifty riding miles. It was still early morning, and she was hoping she could get to the ruins before noon.

 

They found the paths leading up into the mountains, then back down again, getting into the valley that was at the back end of the redoubt. Unfortunately, there were no passes over those peaks and they had to ride twenty miles around the ridgeline, then ten miles up a valley. From there it was to the east, the ruins of the redoubt in view for most of the ride. It was just after noon when they got to the steps leading up. There was a fire up there, smoke rising into the clear sky. A chill was in the air, they being nearer to the northern expanses of the kingdom, and Nora was thinking she might have commissioned some fur tents, since hers were still at the castle.

 

Well, no help for it, she thought as she dismounted. They would have to make do with sleeping furs, fires and warm bodies. Ja'Zargo might not be for that, but he had his own fur, so she wasn't too concerned about him. Getting behind cover she pulled out her field glasses and scanned the target. There were several Forsworn in view, from the look of them archers and warriors. She located an altar near the top of some steps that seemed to be at a dead end, and the woman there had the look of a priest or wizard.

 

“What do you think?” she asked her people.

 

“I've heard that this ruin contains a very large Forsworn camp,” said Sofia, looking as if she didn't like the idea of going into this place at all.

 

“So, are you volunteering for horse guard?” asked Eldawyn with a smile.

 

“I've been doing that too often,” said the spellsword, frowning. “I think it's your turn.”

 

Nora would have preferred having Eldawyn, since the Altmer was the better mage, but Sofia could also fight with sword or bow. And the spellsword had been correct. It was Eldawyn's turn. But first they needed to take out the Forsworn on the outside.

 

“I'll go first, under invisibility. Elesia follows close behind, keeping to cover. The rest follow at intervals. We'll come back for the horses once we're sure the outer ruin is clear. Any questions.”

 

There were none. Her people were well practiced on this kind of assault. Nora nodded, readied her bow, and cast the invisibility spell. She knew she hadn't advanced as far in illusion as in the other three schools she used more often, but practice with invisibility was sure to push her further.

 

She took out the first Forsworn with an arrow through the throat, dropping him choking to the ground to fall out of sight. No one else seemed to notice, so she cast invisibility again and moved up the steps, setting up for a shot on a woman who had a bow over her back. The arrow went in through the back of the neck, the instant kill of a brain-stem shot, and the woman also fell silently. But not unobserved. Another Forsworn saw her go down and shouted a warning. She got out enough to alert the wizard before Elesia put an arrow through the side of her chest and the woman went down, spitting up blood.

 

Nora motioned for someone behind her to finish off the woman, then cast invisibility again and moved to the stairs leading up to the altar. She thought she had this, until the mage started throwing the purple magic attack that seemed to be their forte'. The magic hit her even though the mage couldn't see her. It hurt like hell and Nora sent firestorm the mage's way, an attack that didn't have to be accurate to deal damage. She followed up with a pair of fireballs and the purple bolts stopped.

 

“Let me heal you,” said Eldawyn, casting a pair of healing spells into her friend.

 

“I hate those things,” said Nora as she felt the healing wash over her. She shook her head and went for the altar. Elesia and Sofia had beat her to it and were ransacking the altar for all the riches on it. Gems, Septims, an enchanted dagger, even a few minor soul gems glowing with energy.

 

“Let's get the horses up here. Eldawyn, you and Jordis are on watch.”

 

“Don't you want me with you?” asked a frowning Eldawyn. “You're going to be facing some stiff opposition.”

 

“I'm certain I will,” said Nora, walking to one of the pack animals as it came up the stairs. “That's why I'm going to take this.” She pulled out her assault rifle, attached the grenade launcher, then pulled out a web belt with three pouches for drum magazines, along with a fabric bag of forty-millimeter grenades.

 

“But...”

 

“Eldawyn. There is no one I would rather have by my side than you,” she whispered to her friend, pulling her aside. “But you know the way we operate. I need to give everyone a chance at adventure. And it's been a long while since you've pulled guard.”

 

“Maybe you should wait outside and let us go in,” said the Altmer, now being petulant.

 

“If you could grab the word in your brain and bring it out to me, I'd do that,” said Nora, starting to lose her temper. “But since none of you are Dragonborn I’m guessing that wouldn't work.”

 

Eldawyn let out a sigh. “I'm sorry. But I worry about you. I feel like I'm letting you down every time you do something without me. But you're right. We all have to take a turn. Just be very careful.”

 

“You know I will.”

 

“I know no such thing, Ms. Risk Taker. If you don't come out and I have to find someplace secure to watch the end of the world, I'm going to be pissed.”

 

Nora smiled and patted her friend on the back, then set her rifle in place around her neck and headed for the entrance.

 

“You loaded for bear, my Thane?” asked Valdimar, looking with a worried expression at the heavy hardware that he didn't fully understand.

 

“Just taking some precautions,” said Nora, patting the stock of her faithful rifle. “We're still going to go in quiet. I will cast invisibility and use my bow when possible, but if things go south, everyone leave me a clear field of fire. Understand. I don't want anyone killed by friendly fire this day.”

 

There were some confused looks, but those who understood her whispered to the others, letting them know what she was about.

 

The team moved to the door and Nora opened it, moving quietly in and casting invisibility. Bow in hand, arrow notched, she walked silently forward, her eyes searching for targets. She hadn't used the rifle in some time, and wasn't sure she would be smooth with it, but it was a force multiplier. In fact, she realized she hadn't used the pistol by her side in a long time, a tribute to her proficiency with the local weapons.

 

Nora spotted some Forsworn, man and woman, moving down a side corridor into the main chamber, maybe to relieve the outer guards. She and Elesia released as one, and both Forsworn went down with arrows sticking out of critical places. Nora moved forward, wanting to hit whatever was waiting in the inner chamber before they could react. She found a woman rising from a bed, still confused with sleep. An arrow through the throat ended her waking period, and the Dragonborn moved on, into another chamber. As she saw the blue glow of runes on the floor she held up a hand to halt her people. There were chests in sight and tables with gems.

 

“Watch our backs,” she told Lydia and Sofia. “Ja'Zargo. Take out those runes while I watch for other traps.”

 

The Khajiit nodded, looked at the runes, then cast lightning at one, setting it off. He continued to cast, until all of the runes in several chambers were set off, letting Nora get to the chests and the tables, looting them and handing the largess out to her people to carry.

 

“We have a locked door here,” whispered Lydia, just loud enough to carry. That was another job for Nora, who was the best lockpick among them. She wondered if she should have recruited someone from the Thieves Guild to do the picking, but also wondered that any of them were actually as good as it as she was. Probably not, she thought, and she wasn't sure she would trust one of that ilk anyway.

 

It was a difficult lock to pick, a master, but Nora was up to it, only breaking one lockpick before it clicked open. She motioned for her people to get ready, had an arrow ready to notch, and let Lydia push the door open and move back. To see a pair of Forsworn standing on a caged walkway, bows ready. Both fired, and Nora dropped her bow and swatted the one that would have hit her out of the air, the other flying by to be taken on Lydia's shield. Nora cast fireball, a quick and effective spell that filled the walkway. Breton magic resistance or not, both Reachmen were hurt, and the second ball took away all their pain. A Briarheart appeared at the other end of the walkway, hands glowing with cold, just in time to intercept yet another fireball that exploded right on his body. He staggered back, and Nora ran at him at full speed, Dawnbreaker out, pushing it through his abdomen.

 

Her team helped her gather up the things she had dropped while she checked out the chamber that had to be an office of sorts. More gems, some skill books to pass around and a bag to bring them out to the people on watch. And a journal that Nora quickly read, a chill running up her spine as she was apprised of the Forsworn plans for this area. And what they would do to the rest of the Reach when through here. Her mission changed slightly with that reading.

 

“Have we checked the entire place?” she asked, noting that she had not heard the singing of a word wall.

 

“Perhaps the word wall is in Hags End,” said Sofia, looking sheepish. “At the end of Deepwood Vale.”

 

“And why didn't you fill me in on what was ahead before we entered this place?” asked Nora, just a little frustrated.

 

“I thought we would find what you were looking for here,” said the spellsword, shrugging her shoulders then looking down. “I'm sorry.”

 

“Well, what do you know about this Vale? And Hag's end?”

 

“Only the names, Nora. I'm sorry, but I've only heard them mentioned in tales.”

 

“Okay. Everyone listen up. We're going to go into this Vale and take down everyone between us and Hag's End. Move quietly, keep to cover, and cover me. I'll take out the Forsworn with my rifle, unless there proves to be so few of them that we can kill them with bows. Now let's move.”

 

There was nothing waiting for them on the other side of the door, but Nora could immediately tell they were in a large open space with mountains on all sides. The cold of the mountains was permeating the entire space, and Nora found herself shivering. A river originated from a high waterfall, then flowed along till it went over another falls. They were in a section of woods, a path leading down to a bridge, another heading up. That looked like it was leading to a section of rock that allowed passage over the river and to the main section, a large series of plazas linked by wooden bridges. At the end of the far plaza were stone steps leading up to some Ancient Nordic Ruins that had to be Hag's End. From where they were standing the party could see at least a score of tents with twenty or thirty Forsworn in sight, cooking, crafting, or generally relaxing and talking among themselves. There were a few on watch, not many, and it made sense that they would feel secure in a place like this.

 

Nora led her people along the upper path, crouched low and on the watch. She was thinking about the blood bath she was about to initiate. She hated the idea of killing so many without giving them much of a chance. But she hated the idea of them going on the rampage and killing innocent people who just wanted to get on with their lives even more. If she could destroy a war party this size it would go a long way to helping the peaceful citizens of the reach.

 

Her combat helmet was still functioning, and she removed her Skyrim helm and put it on, activating its systems. Everything with body heat appeared on the HUD, distances in meters under each. Rifle to shoulder, she aimed in on the first target, a woman with the light armor commonly worn by Forsworn mages. Centering the crosshairs on her head she squeezed the trigger. The rifle let out a muted sound and the woman's head rocked back. She fell to the ground, and since she had been alone in front of her tent no one noticed. Nora shifted to the next target, what looked like a Briarheart, and put a bullet through his head as well. She took out one more before people down there noticed something was amiss. They started shouting and pointing, most of them nowhere near where Nora was.

 

“There,” yelled one, pointing to where Sofia and J'Zargo were huddled behind a wall. One of them must have looked over and been seen. Arrows started coming their way as the pair ducked down again. Someone down there started throwing the deep purple light of dark magic. That man was centered in a cluster of bowmen, and Nora thought it was time to show them something different.

 

The grenade hit the mage in the chest, blowing a large hole through him and sending shrapnel into everyone around him. Some cursed as sharp fragments penetrated arms or legs. One fell over with a bleeding penetration to the temple, a wound that was probably mortal. Nora jacked another grenade into the launcher then picked out another target, an archer. She squeezed and fired, squeezed and fired, servicing targets as she came to them. Her warriors sent arrows down and into targets, Sofia and J'Zargo cast fireballs at concentrations. More dark magic rose from below, and Nora sent her next grenade into the center of one of the castings. A Hagraven appeared, sending even more powerful magic right at the Dragonborn. It knocked her back, but when she leaned forward again she had her rifle set on full auto. A squeeze of the trigger sent ten bullets a second into the Hagraven and the people around her, and soon they were on the way to whatever dark afterlife was their destination.

 

She landed another grenade in the center of a concentration, then started firing short bursts into pairs and trios in proximity. The Forsworn had never dealt with anything like this, the shock and awe of another world's warfare. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know how to take cover against weapons that would penetrate any armor they might have on, which was little enough in most cases. Grenades burst with short cracks of sound and small flares of fire, their shrapnel going into every nearby target. Finally, when there were only a few Forsworn left, Nora switched to magic, sending cold storms down into the places where Forsworn cowered.

 

“Let's go,” she told her people. “But be wary of survivors.” Nora didn't think there were any, but sometimes people found hidey holes and struck from them.

 

“Too bad you couldn't do that all the time,” said Sofia as they walked down the slope to the first plaza, then over the river.

 

“If I had done it all the time, I wouldn't have had enough ammunition to do this today. There's a reason I conserve that resource.”

 

“Well, yes. But it's too bad the alchemists haven't come up with a substitute for your gunpowder.”

 

No. Several had been making the attempt, with little effort and smaller effect. Most of their efforts were going into things that would help the most people, like potions in pill form. They hadn't made much progress there either, but Arcadia had been hopeful the last time they talked.

 

The party walked through the camp, people fanning out to loot, gathering everything compact of value. There were a lot of good weapons and some rare armors, but Nora thought they could let those wait. They went up the stairs, finding one of the surviving Forsworn, who screamed a challenge and charged out, to fall with a pair of arrows through his chest.

 

Hags and Hagravens, she thought, moving to the door. Everything had gone so well, so she was expecting things to go south at this point. She changed out drums in her rifle, jacked in a grenade, then opened the door. To see a room ahead with a table, the witches quickly getting up from their chairs, their hands glowing with the purple of dark magic.

 

Nora pulled the trigger on the grenade launcher, then held down the trigger of the rifle, sending a long sweeping burst into the women, who were already getting peppered with fragments from the forty millimeter. They died quickly with shocked expressions on their faces. They had never met magic like this before, and their first exposure was their last.

 

Another witch, wiping sleep from her eyes, came rushing out of a side room. Lydia stepped forward and shield bashed the woman in the face before she could take action. The witch staggered back, Lydia following like an avenging angel and shoving her sword through the woman's chest.

 

“And she looks so angelic when she's not murdering people,” said J'Zargo with a laugh.

 

“It wasn't murder,” said an offended Lydia, frowning. “She threatened my Thane, so it was my job to stop her. Permanently.”

 

Nora chuckled. Lydia did have an angelic face and was soft spoken and polite. But when she decided to act she was such a savage. Nora was more than happy to have the Housecarl on her side.

 

“Let's check out the next room, then come back to the loot,” Nora ordered, wondering if she should switch back to a bow. After all, she had already used over two hundred rounds of 5.56mm and almost a dozen grenades, and her only resupply was in another universe. However, there was a Hagraven ahead and probably some more hags. The next room was empty, and the one after that was filled with snow and lightning runes. Nora and J'Zargo took care of those. Nora waved him back and Elesia forward, then cast invisibility on herself and went up the steps. There was a lever at the top of the steps that let down a drawbridge leading further in.

 

More traps, some doors to check out. Nora went through one into a room that had a throne, a bunch of tables, a dark altar in the center of the floor, and three hags with Hagraven company. Nora held down the trigger of her weapon and swept the room, killing the witches and wounding an angry looking Hagraven who teleported away.

 

“Well, we have an alert Hagraven on the loose,” said Sofia. “Wonderful.”

 

Nora wasn't in a very good mood after the Hagraven escaped. That had been her primary target and she should have started her sweep with that thing. Instead she had a powerful magic user ahead who most likely would strike from the shadows, and who now had an appreciation of what she was facing.

 

“Everyone stick close,” she told her people as she led them from the room.

 

The hallway ended in two doors, one to either side. Nora picked the lock on the one to the north, finding a chest that contained some nice gems and a piece of enchanted armor. The door to the south was trapped. Nora picked the lock and stepped back, to see two rows of spears rising from the sides. If she had just run up the stairs one set of them would have skewered her or one of her people. Making sure the trap wasn't going to spring again, Nora went up the stairs, into a room where the damned Hagraven was waiting. The evil witch threw purple black magic at her. Nora couldn't see her target, but the forty millimeter didn't need to see her to hit. She pulled the trigger and sent the explosive device into the wall beside the Hagraven, sending enough shrapnel into the evil thing to halt her casting. Nora then put a six-round burst into the thing, killing it instantly.

 

“Where in the hell is the damned word wall?” growled a frustrated Nora as J'Zargo sent healing into her.

 

The party doubled back and Nora heard the wall singing to her. They found a locked gate, easily opened with the key they had retrieved from the Hagravens body. A walk down a short corridor and the word wall appeared. Nora ran to it, hoping for something good. The word burned into her mind, and she cried out in joy. The second word of Slow Time, one of the most useful shouts. She spent a dragon soul to unlock it and now had the power to slow time around her to an even greater extent.

 

“Now, how do we get out of here?” asked Sofia after they had looted the ruin.

 

Nora smiled and teleported the party back to the plaza outside of the lower ruin, where Eldawyn and Jordis stood up at their appearance, wanting to know what happened.

 

“On the way to Volskygge,” said Nora, helping the others to saddle horses and load the pack animals. It was about three in the afternoon, and the other ruin was only ten miles down the path. She thought they could get there, get in and out, then camp outside the ruin. Or possibly inside, depending on what they found.

 

* * *

 

The sun was getting near the horizon, which here meant mountains, by the time the party got to Volskyyge. There were hours of daylight left, but the mountains were already casting deep shadows in places. They left the horses under the watch of J'Zargo and Lydia. The Housecarl and the mage seemed to get along well, laughing and joking when together. Nora doubted there was anything romantic going on there. Lydia wasn't a racist, but she seemed, like most humans, to prefer humans. Which didn't mean she couldn't be friends with a non-human.

 

There were stairs leading down and that looked like the way to go. Nora and Elesia led. The Dragonborn had developed a good working relationship with the former Recorder. They knew how each moved, how they reacted, and respected their individual abilities as warriors, especially as sniping bowmen. There was a large chamber off the path at the bottom of the stairs, sarcophagi inside. Nora spotted the swinging log trap and went inside to the side of it. She waved to her people, then triggered the trap, watching as the log came down. It would have seriously injured if not killed someone. They looted the chamber, then moved down to the next. And then walked to a dead end.

 

“We've got to go back and around,” said Eldawyn, examining the wall at the end.

 

Just our luck, thought Nora, not really too angry. After all, they had avoided a trap and found some valuable loot. Funny, but when I became President of the Commonwealth I thought my looting days were over. But they were only just beginning.

 

They went the long way around, spotting a bandit camp on the left side of the ruin ahead. Four bandits were lounging around a fire, while a fifth stood watch, bow in her hand. Nora was happy to see that these were not Forsworn, just the standard Skyrim bandit. Sloppy, poorly armed, and with very few magic users among them. Even the sentry wasn't very alert, looking at the fire as if the heat and food were the only things on her mind. Not that it would have saved her if she had been aware of death coming out of the shadows. Eldawyn and Nora laid Ice Storm spells over the group at the fire, snuffing out their lives. Elesia put an arrow through the sentry, who would not be enjoying the fire or food from now on.

 

They checked the expansive outside of the ruin and found nothing, then went to the door.

 

Nora wasn't sure what they would find inside, but she suspected at least bandits in the outer chambers. Probably quite a few of the scumbags. She was not disappointed, as the large chamber had a trio of bandits. One saw them entering the chamber and called out to the others, who rushed over with weapons in hand, to die before they could get into range. Checking out the throne, Valdimar and Sofia caught some poison darts. Quickly healed, their error decided Nora on who would guard the horses this time, though she did allow Lydia and J’Zargo to bring the beasts into the large chamber and turn them over to the other pair.

 

The party moved deeper into the ruins, Nora and Elesia in the lead, the Dragonborn under an invisibility spell most of the way. Everyone was quiet, making as little noise as possible and not talking at all. The bandits would have been better served to have done the same. Instead they talked at the top of their voices. The first they knew they were not alone was when an invisible woman appeared in their midst and a sword went through their guts. The second bandit in each group had a second to respond. It was not enough, and soon the ruin was cleared of bandits. They had yet to run into any undead, but Nora was certain they were there, just deeper in.

 

The puzzle room showed why the bandits hadn't penetrated further in. There was a closed gate, a lever in front of it, and a dead bandit lying to the side, a number of darts in his face and upper arms. Nora shook her head. The scumbags had seen the man chosen to open the gate go down to darts and had just left his corpse in place like so much carrion. Charming. There was a book on the floor, as if the idiots had given it a once over and then tossed it. She picked it up and started reading, and to her sharp mind the solution was obvious. Snake, Bear, Fox and Wolf. She pulled the handles on each one in turn, then the center lever, a heal spell in her mind in case she was wrong about the sequence. The gate opened and the group moved further into the ruins.

 

Nora's sharp ears could pick up the sound of Draugr, the creaking noises their dried-out muscles and tendons made when they moved. She spotted some in alcoves that looked a little too good and sent arrows into them. Most of the time that worked and she killed the creatures before they could rise. Sometimes she was wrong, but it was only the waste of an arrow that she could most times retrieve. Along the way they found gems, gold, soul gems and some good enchanted weapons that would fetch quite a price in civilization. And traps. Lots and lots of traps. Swinging logs, spikes set in the ceiling that a rising platform would push the victim into. Nora stepped onto one of those by accident and shouted Slow Time just as it started rising, allowing her to dive off before it completed its ascent and shoved spears through her body.

 

The ruins eventually ran into a cavern, and giant spiders. Those still creeped Nora out. She had finally gotten used to the ants and crickets of Nuka World, and the many large fliers around the Commonwealth. But all were tiny compared to the poison spitting spiders. Fortunately, the poison was not that strong, and normally it took but an arrow to take them down. Lydia, their budding alchemist, gathered silk and poison from the dead spiders, while the rest looked for more mundane treasure.

 

They were back in typical Nordic ruins after dealing with the spiders, which meant more Draugr, along with more chests full of riches. The party took out Draugr, even the most powerful, with little effort. The advantage of having so many mages and competent warriors. Nora could see how ruins like these could be so daunting to a single person, or even a pair. Or the incompetent bandits who blundered along into every trap. Eventually they reached a door leading to the outside, cold air coming through the outer gaps. Nora could feel the faint song of a word wall and knew they had found the prize. She also remembered that word walls on peaks often had Dragon Priests, so she quickly briefed her group that they might have a hard fight ahead.

 

It was very cold outside, high up on the mountain. The sun was starting to go down in the west and soon they would be in total darkness. There were already deep shadows in the valley below, effectively nightfall. Nora moved to the sarcophagus on the top of the small plaza. She knew exactly what was going to happen, and she prepared her people to fight the Dragon Priest as soon as it emerged. Which it would as soon as she started reading the word from the wall. Her people spread out around the sarcophagus, J'Zargo and Eldawyn were set so they could send magic into the thing without endangering their own people. Lydia, Jordis and Elesia stood with strung bows on the word wall side, so any misses wouldn't hit their mages. Nora had chain lightning in her mind as she approached the word wall, which started glowing, one of the words highlighted.

 

The third word of Whirlwind Sprint entered her mind just as the lid popped off the sarcophagus. Nora turned, not worrying about the word, and sent chain lightning into the rising priest, while Eldawyn and J'zargo did the same. The archers sent arrows into the monster, reloading and firing as fast as they could. Nora drew Dawnbreaker and cast another chain lightning into the creature, then stepped forward to hit it with the Daedric artifact. The Dragon Priest went down quickly under the assault, not even having time to launch spells. It all seemed to be over until a dragon swooped down and hit the party with cold.

 

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” hissed Nora, as she tried to get out of the way of the cold breath and failed. She knelt down, unable to stand, teeth chattering and muscles freezing up. The dragon had also hit Jordis and Eldawyn, and both the women were trying to struggle to their feet, the Altmer casting healing on herself, then throwing a quick heal spell on the Sword Maiden. Eldawyn then turned to face the returning dragon and put a fire storm spell in its way.

 

The dragon growled and turned in the air, avoiding the spell while breathing interstellar cold onto Lydia and Elesia, dropping them to the ground as well. At the moment Eldawyn was the only mage still operational, and she was doing her best to deal with what had to be an elder dragon. It was powerful and it was smart, and if the party didn't find a solution it would kill them all.

It came back in, aiming right for Nora, mouth open. It breathed and Nora shouted Whirlwind Sprint, moving quickly out of the way and across the flat area. As soon as she came to a stop she threw a fireball at it, then cast a couple of healing spells on herself. That down she shouted Slow Time, happy that the cool down between shouts was short. As the dragon turned in the air to come back she fired a series of offensive spells, her expert eyes sending them into the places the dragon would be when it got there.

 

The elder dragon roared in pain as it hit a fireball, then another, then a lightning bolt. It started to adjust its course, but Nora had thought it might, and sent lightening on the two most likely courses. It hit the upper bolt and flapped higher to get away. Eldawyn was pouring healing magic into J’Zargo, who was soon throwing his own firebolts at the dragon, the best spell for rapid fire. About half were hitting, enough to hurt and confuse the beast.

 

Jordis came back to her feet as healing hit her. She moved into clear sight, her bow at the ready, and started yelling and gesturing to the dragon, which swooped back down with the woman as its target. It released a stream that would have killed if Jordis hadn't been healed of past damage, and somehow the girl stayed on her feet, aiming the bow. And getting a shot that hit the dragon in the left eye, penetrating through the hole in the skull and going into the brain. It flipped over in the sky and Nora was sure it was going to hit them. She pulled up Unrelenting Force and shouted toward the lower aspect of the beast. It moved it enough, just, for it to miss the party and go over the edge to hit in the valley over a thousand meters below.

 

“What in the hell were you thinking?” shouted the Dragonborn as she ran to the Housecarl who had ended the threat, still laying on the ground, barely breathing. She didn't answer, and Nora worried that maybe she had taken too much damage. She knelt beside her and started sending healing spells into her body. She continued to breath shallowly, her eyes staring at nothing, and Nora was started to worry that she might have taken too much of the powerful frost breath.

 

“Eldawyn,” she called out, and the Altmer was immediately at her side, sending in more healing energy, soon joined by J’Zargo. They were all at the end of their magicka when the girl coughed, rolled over, and started shivering.

 

“So cold,” she complained, hugging herself.

 

“Someone build a fire,” shouted Nora, getting on the ground and wrapping the girl in a tight hug, all she could think of doing at the moment. It might have been better to get hers and Jordis’ clothes off, but this was not the place to do that. She sent more spells into her as soon as she had the magicka.

 

“Everyone get over here,” she ordered, getting back to her feet and waiting for her magicka store to get to where she needed it to be. Eldawyn and Sofia kept sending healing magic into the girl, whose breathing finally strengthened and steadied. When she felt it was okay she cast teleport, and the party appeared at the entrance of the ruins.

 

“Over here, Nora,” shouted Sofia from the former bandit camp, where they had built up the fire to a roaring blaze.

 

Nora concentrated on just her and Jordis, then teleported them over to the fire. She, Lydia and J'Zargo pulled her close to the fire. Nora started getting her out of her armor, letting her body, dressed in only her underclothes, absorb as much heat as it could.

 

“What the hell happened?” exclaimed Valdimar.

 

“Elder dragon. It hurt us, badly. Jordis took it out, but she got hit hard.”

 

The color was coming back to the Housecarl's face and body, and soon she was sleeping soundly. The rest of the party had gathered around the fire, and Nora yawned as she felt the fatigue coming over her.

 

“We'll stay right here the night,” she ordered, not wanting to move her Housecarl until she had fully recovered. “Someone get a meal going, get the tents pitched. I'll set the guard shifts after we all get a meal in us.”

 

Jordis slept through the meal, finally yawning and coming awake a couple of hours later. Nora had sat with her the entire time. The intense young woman had come through so much, some close calls, but this time she had come as close to dying as she ever had. Nora knew that she could replace her, could replace all of the party, if given time. With people just as competent, just as powerful. She couldn't replace any of these special people in her heart, though. Each was a friend, and would be missed if they died.

 

“My Thane,” said Jordis, sitting up, accepting a plate and a mug handed her by Sofia. “Did everyone make it?”

 

“They did, thanks to your stupid, insane, heroic stunt,” she said, half pissed with her, and totally grateful. “What were you thinking?”

 

“I was thinking that the bastard was about to kill people I cared about,” said the girl while chewing. “I couldn't let that happen. If it happened to take me down it would give the rest of you more

time to attack it. Am I to assume that you or Lady Eldawyn took it down with magic?”

 

“No, you fool. You are to assume no such thing. You put an arrow through its eye and into its brain, killing it instantly. Luck, or skill? I don't know, but you came through.”

 

“Thank the Gods,” said the girl, yawning, then putting her empty plate on the ground. “Now, I think I could sleep for a week.”

 

They helped Jordis to one of the tents, onto some furs, then covered her. Lydia and Sofia dragged her armor into the tent, so she would find it when she woke up and not worry about it. Nora felt exhausted, and crawled off to her own tent to fall on her furs and into a deep sleep, not worrying about guard shifts. They would wake her when her time came.

 

Soon after falling into a deep slumber the nightmares came. This night they came in the form of one of the strange dreams that combined both of her worlds. She was adventuring in a Nordic ruin with her party when Ghouls attacked. Hundreds of them, overwhelming the party's magic and weapons. Her people went down one by one to the biting, clawing creatures. She cried out as each of her friends went to their deaths, fighting her hardest to protect them and failing. She woke suddenly, screaming into the night, to find Eldawyn holding her tightly while a hand worked on her sex and good feelings started driving away the memories.

 

“You should have had someone come in to make love to you,” said the Altmer, getting Nora closer to orgasm.

 

“I was too tired,” said a gasping Nora, "and didn't want to bother anyone.”

 

“And look what happened. That was a bad one, wasn't it?”

 

“Yes,” said Nora, letting herself get into the pleasure, not speaking until she was crying out her orgasm. “Thanks.”

 

“Any time. Now, do you want to talk about it.”

 

“I, I'm, not sure.”

 

“Come on. You know it helps.”

 

“We were attacked by ghouls. You remember what I told you about them.”

 

“Kind of like zombies, only faster and much stronger. Disgusting creatures.”

 

“Yes, they are. And I watched every one of you go down to them. It was awful. It..”

 

“And it was only a dream, darling,” said the Altmer. “Not reality. I realize it was very disturbing. But it didn't happen.”

 

“Thanks again. Now, is it time for my shift?”

 

“Only if you want one. You can sleep in if you want, but I don't expect that to happen. You're just too damned responsible.”

 

“And we're going to need to look for that dragon in the morning.”

 

“I think Sofia said something about forgetting about it. But I don't suppose you'll do that either.”

 

“If I don't take its soul it will eventually come back,” said Nora, shaking her head. “And I don't want such a powerful beast prowling the skies. Or coming after us. Now, let me get up so I can handle watch. Who's my partner.”

 

“Why me, if you want me. Then we can have some fun after the end of the shift.”

 

“Sounds good,” said Nora, smiling. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”

 

“You must have gotten in good with some Goddess,” said a laughing Eldawyn. “And I should be asking what I did to deserve you, Nora. I can't think of anyone else who would go to the lengths you did to free me of my burden. Now get armored up and I'll meet you at the fire.”

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