The battle is only a leaf on the tree; if a leaf falls, does the tree die? But when a branch is lopped off, the tree is weakened; when the trunk is girdled, the tree is doomed. If you plan your dispositions well, your victories will seem easy and you will win no acclaim. If you plan your dispositions poorly, your victories will seem difficult, and your fame will be widespread.
- Zurin Arctus, The Art of War Magic
The Last Dragonborn
Volume 2: Dragon Soul
Trembling, uncontrolled and rigid breaths of feint warmth. Naruto opened his cracked his bloodshot eyes and looked up at the pleased form of his master. From the cold ground of melted snow, a single word lay etched before him.
Toor, the second word of power pertaining to the Fire Breath Shout focused primarily on refining the inner flames through intense control and focus. Learning a word of power was child's play, mastering a word of power, therein laid the problem. Paarthurnax training placed his students in extreme situations that forced them to master their words of power as the end results in two possible outcomes. Life or Death.
Upon learning Toor, Paarthurnax had bombarded the Genin with a three worded Shout, LIZ SLEN NUS. This had frozen Naruto in a statue-like state, the objective was to thwart himself out before hyperthermia struck first. To make task more challenging, the Elder Dragon continuously kept the temperature low with Fire Breath's polar opposite Frost Breath.
"You have done well Goraan Dovah! Nel Mindosiik you advance quicker than past Dovahkiin"
"T-T-Thanks, s-s-s-so what's n-n-next" chattered Naruto.
"Wah Vuth eager you are, your body is not, you must accept your limitations if you aim to surpass them Goraan Dovah"
"Okay, t-t-to be honest… I'm a-a-actually r-r-r-really glad y-y-y-you s-said t-t-t-that…"
Paarthurnax chuckled, "Return to High Hrothgar, Praan you will need your strength for the Greybeards to continue your lessons" Naruto smiled weakly and grunted away in compliance.
Within the secluded stone walls of High Hrothgar, the Naruto lay prone next to a fire. His wet clothes straightened out against a chair while he himself shivered underneath a wrapped pile of blankets. Often extending his neck to sip mouthfuls of vegetable soup the Greybeards had kindly provided.
"What a peculiar device… and you say it brings light into darkness?" asked Arngeir, examining the active flashlight.
"Y-Yeah, it works better at night or in really dark places"
"Interesting, so it is meant to provide effects similar to that of a torch or the Candlelight spell…" the Greybeard spoke before accidentally shining the rays onto his eyes.
The boy muffled a laugh behind his cheshire grin, pleased at the elders misfortune. Arngeir clicked the button on the handle, shutting off the power and setting it against the Grandmasters protege.
"So, do you guys travel often… explore the land or…?"
"Not since the first era, in age old times of war… back then they were fought for honor, for the greater good they used to say, nowadays we call it senseless bloodshed"
Naruto winced at the sour topic that is war. Friends and family are taken from their loved ones, in servitude and in death. Homes and possessions burned and razed in the crossfire. In the end, no matter which side reigns supreme, both share in the devastation and the hate that burns into the very beings of their survivors, will last many lifetimes, many generations, until the fires finally simmer; or continuously rage in a never ending inferno.
"Does anyone come here often?"
"Not many, very few have journeyed up the seven-thousand steps to High Hrothgar, though there is one man who lives down in Ivarstead, Klimmek, he makes the trip up the mountain to deliver goods and supplies for us, good man though he could use some help in-"
"Wait! Hold on! Back up one second! Seven. Thousand. Steps! How high is this place!?"
"The Throat of the World, the name given to this mountain and is the tallest in all of Tamriel, yes the journey up is no easy feat and can be dangerous if not prepared, many have either perished to the creatures that roam outside these walls or succumb to the harsh weather that often consumes this mountain"
"Yikes… w-well then props to him and those that made it, I honestly d-d-don't think anyone in their r-right mind would make the climb if they knew the r-r-r-risks"
"One such reasons as to why we get few visitors"
"Y-You know maybe I should make the climb, I can get a layout of the mountain, meet some of the locals, and the trip would make for some good survival training"
"Not a bad idea, as soon as you regain your strength head down to Ivarstead, keep yourself busy while we make preparations for your next lesson"
"S-S-Sounds like a plan-" grinned Naruto, as he snuggled deeper into his fortress of blankets.
'Ivarstead has had no shortage of glooming days, many know of the salvation brought upon by Solaire, with one cataclysm averted another will rise to fill the void and the people of Tamriel will no doubt look to you in times dire…' thought Arngeir.
'The villagers of Ivarstead are suffering, they've called for aid and no one's answered… Gooran Dovah, your journey begins in Shroud Hearth Barrow'
The following morning, Naruto stood by his bed now having undergone a wardrobe change. A light brown and orange shoulder padded long sleeve tunic with a dual leather and fur trim running down the torso and a double wrapped sash and belt tied to his mid-section. His lower included slightly baggy brown pants and fur boots with leather wrappings secured tightly on both forearms and shins. Finally, a stitched brown hood draped from his shoulders to the center of his chest.
Arngeir said the outfit was imported from Solstheim and possessed magical properties of sorts, an Enchantment is what he called it. Curious, Naruto would then decide to look deeper into the art when given the chance. Until then he would continue to prepare himself for a lengthy day. Strapping a Kunai loaded holster to his right leg and a pouch containing a limited supply of Shuriken, Explosive Tags, his flashlight, and rations to his lower back.
Glancing out the window, Naruto caught sight of the Greybeards within the courtyard. Each silently muttering an incantation, slowly carving an inscription onto the ground which spread outward from the center of their circle.
"Wonder what they've got stored for my next lesson" Naruto asked himself.
Not wanting to interrupt, the blonde Genin left his chambers and out the front to the outside world. Shivering as the morning breeze chilled the mountain top, Naruto began his trek down the spiraling stairs that circled the elevated rock. He plucked several red berries during his trek and admired some of the wildlife; passing Deer, migrating birds, fluttering butterflies, and a weary wolf mother keeping her pups at bay.
As he continued to progress, Naruto stopped at several points to inspect the small shrines littered along the trail. Each of these shrines contained an etched tablet contained segments of history; the founding of High Hrothgar. In reverse the story was told as such.
Before the birth of men, the Dragons ruled all of Mundus; their word was the voice, and they spoke only for true needs; for the voice could blot out the sky and flood the land.
Men were born and spread across Mundus; the Dragons presided over the crawling masses; Men were weak then, and had no voice.
Fledgling spirits of Men were strong in old times; unafraid to war with Dragons and their voices; but the Dragons only shouted them down and broke their hearts.
Kyne called to Paarthurnax, who pitied Man; together they taught Men to use the voice; then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue.
Man prevailed, shouting Alduin out of the world; proving for all that their voice was strong; although their sacrifice was many-fold.
With roaring tongues at Red Mountain went away humbled; Jurgen Windcaller began his seven year meditation; to understand how strong voices could fail.
Jurgen Windcaller chose silence and returned; the seventeen disputants could not shout him down; Jurgen the Calm built his home on the Throat of the World.
For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name; Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to High Hrothgar, they blessed and named him Dovahkiin.
The voice is worship; follow the inner path; speak only in true need.
Completely enthralled by the temple's story, Naruto had failed to realize that he had arrived at the base of the mountain and at the edge of Ivarstead. The tablets left a strong impression on the Dragonborn, inspired and determined to master the voice as his predecessors before him. However, there was one name mentioned and continued to expand a sense of dread deep in the pits of his psyche.
"Alduin…" muttered Naruto, recalling his near death encounter.
'It said he was expelled from the world, it didn't say where… could Alduin and that black Dragon be one and the same?' he asked himself as he crossed bridge over the river and into the settlement. Naruto was soon brought away from his thoughts by another's voice.
"Good mornin' there friend"
Naruto looked at the speaker, a slim pale grey skinned man with pointed ears and brown hair tied in a ponytail. He wore a brown stitched tunic over a long sleeved tan shirt along with ragged pants and boots. The man's most distinct feature was his eyes; slick, dark and autumn yellow. This was man, was a Bosmer.
He held a woodcutter axe over his right shoulder and several small wood logs under his left arm.
"Good morning to you as well, name's Naruto"
"I'm Gwilin, what's a young traveler like yourself doing on this wonderful day"
"I'm staying up at High Hrothgar for the foreseeable future, I figured I should come down and meet some of locals, gather supplies, you know the works"
"Considering the dangers of the wilderness, that sounds like one hell of a plan and to stay in residence with the Greybeards is an enormous honor in itself, you must be one their students"
Naruto rubs the back of his head sheepishly.
"Well if you're looking for supplies you can purchase or trade with Wilhelm in the Vilemyr Inn, though you'd might want to head back up the mountain as soon you're finished with your business… don't want to be around here come nightfall"
A frown formed on Naruto's face, this had him curious.
"Oh! W-Well, y-you know… creatures that prowl the night; Frostbite Spiders, Trolls, I've even heard of Ice Wraiths being spotted on the mountain side"
"You know the best way to keep a secret is to not stutter, pause to think of an explanation, or avert eye contact"
In response did Gwilin stutter, averting contact while attempting to create an excuse; all the while Naruto grinned maniacally at.
"Okay, calm down, bring it back… what's really going on here?"
Gwilin sighed, "I apologize, while there are in fact creatures that hunt in the dead of night, there's something else that's been plaguing Ivarstead for utmost a year, the Ghost of Shroud Hearth Barrow" he admitted.
At this Naruto froze, Ghosts, while he wasn't overly fond of spirits he was more terrified of the intangible aspect, they couldn't be harmed but, they can harm you. Naruto glanced at the working villagers, they were physically distressed to say the least. Exhausted, depressed, and occasionally looking over their shoulders or examining their surroundings. Swallowing the growing bile in his throat Naruto pressed on the matter.
"Are you sure it's a Ghost? It could just be someone pulling everyone's leg, keeping anyone from going in"
"This is no jest, many who venture into barrow claim to have seen it, I've personally witnessed it stalking about around the crops several moons past"
"Then why hasn't anyone tried to exorcise it?"
"Believe me when I say we have tried in multitude to banish the specter and every attempt has ended with failure-"
"Gwilin! We need more firewood! Start chopping!" called out a barmaid.
"Yes! Will do Lynly! Sorry to cut our conversation short work is work, if you want to know more about the Ghost you could always speak Wilhelm, he's the barkeep at the Vilemyr Inn"
With that said, Gwilin left to the woodcutters block to split the firewood. Naruto remained silent as he processed the information given to him. He wanted to help these settlers and to do so, he would have to confront the Ghost and overcome his fears. He raised a fist, it was shaking. Naruto released a ragged breath, 'I can do this… I HAVE to do this…' was the mantra he mentally repeated as he made his way to the Inn.
Entering the rest stop, Naruto walked past the questioning looks of the few villagers within. Taking a seat on a stool behind the counter and was approached by the man standing opposite, Wilhelm.
"Something I can help you with lad? A drink? A room for the night?"
"No actually, I'd like to know more about the Ghost of Shroud Hearth Barrow…"
The room fell silent and Wilhelm's gaze hardened, "You just answered your own question, the barrow is haunted by said Ghost and if you value your life you'd stay as far from the barrow as possible" he replied.
"You've seen it?"
"Everyone has seen it… the way it glares at you, like it's trying to burn through your soul"
"Guillen stated that he saw the Ghost within Ivarstead several nights ago, is it normal?"
"No, the spectre remains within the barrow, rarely does it apparate outside the tomb, when it does it stirs us the wrong way, many of us have gone months without a good night's sleep and after the pilgrims… we fear it comes for us"
"What happened with the Pilgrims?"
This time it was Lynly who answered.
"At first the hauntings were practical; rattling urns, flying objects… when we first started getting sightings and witnessed the Ghost ourselves, we called for aid, Pilgrims of the Cyrodiil answered our plea, a Priest of Arkay and two guards… they entered the burrow… their remains were found the next day… as with every other soul who has entered since" she replied.
"As the bodies piled up, travelers refused to make stop here, we've lost a hand full of traders and even the guards stationed here, it's a miracle we haven't been ransacked by bandits… we can't make a profit make ends meet, we have noone to protect us from attack, and we are being tormented by the very cause of our decline" spoke Wilhelm.
"I here whispers amongst them, many wish to leave and several already have, they fear that death is all that awaits us here but, what else is there, in reality we've got nowhere to go"
Naruto's fists had tightened to a point that his palms were red, it was far worst then he had anticipated. He had to put an end to the hauntings if Ivarstead were to stand a chance of recovering. Naruto got up from his seat and walked towards the door, all eyes on him, "Shroud Hearth Barrow… where was it again?" he asked.
"Have you gone mental! Too many have lost their lives to that Ghost and I for one will not have your death clawing away at my conscious!"
"I understand your concerns, but it's my life and I decide what to do with it, right now I'm the only one willing to help and Ivarstead is just about out of options"
"Its west, just outside of town-"
"I KNOW! I already feel guilty for even telling him, but deep down you know he speaks the truth… no one wants to help us and this young lad is willing to risk his own life for the betterment of ours… the chances he'll survive are none but, deep down I cling to the hope that he'll succeed"
Wilhelm furrowed his brow and rubbed his forehead, "Do you even have a plan?' he asked.
"No, I'll just make it up as I go…"
Standing outside a moss covered layered stone dome, it was silent; no wind, no sounds of wildlife, nor the crashing waters of the nearby waterfall. The eerie dread that seemingly radiated from the hollowed entrance had Naruto shivering in place.
'Alright Naruto, what do you know about ghosts? If it's anything like those stories, then someone or something is keeping the it from crossing over, a personal belonging was stolen… or maybe it was backstabbed by someone and wants vengeance? So many possibilities… and me standing out here isn't going to solve any of them!' thought Naruto.
His legs began to move, slowly increasing their pace, taking a path inside the dome until he stood before a black iron double door, lit between a pair of bonfires. Taking deep breathes and steeling his nerve, Naruto opened the doors and entered the catacombs.
It began with a spiraling wooden staircase, thick roots clung to the stone walls, drops of water dripped from the ceiling, and was met with a light fog at its base. Naruto glanced left and right, as hallowed walls were filled with the mummified remains of the deceased. There was one detail that about the tomb that raised an earlier question, bonfires and candles were lit.
Several of the candles were practically new compared to the melted ones. Looking down, he kneeled and examined a fairly small trail, rubbing fingers on it gave a crunchy and soft texture. He gave it a whiff across his nose and his eyes snapped open, "These are bread crumbs… the scent is fresh… and its warmth is almost gone… someone's been down here recently…" he deduced.
"Is there living amongst the dead?"
Naruto rose from his position as an ethereal blue apparition walked around the corner of the western hallway. The ghost had a similar appearance to Gwilin in terms of their race. Its clothes appeared to be patched together by fur and leather. On its belt, was a sheathed Dagger in place. The blonde Genin was more confused than frightened, he noticed a puddle which was promptly stepped on by the ghost; it made a splash and left a wet footmark as it walked forward. Torches weren't flickering wildly and items weren't being tossed and the physical presence of the ghost wasn't dropping the temperature to cold, in fact the room was relatively warm.
"I am the Guardian of Shroud Hearth Barrow! You! Just like the rest, are here to claim what is not theirs! You will not take the treasure from me!"
"Treasure? The fuck are you talking about?"
"They will not take, they will not take it, they will not take it, you will not take it! Pay for this crime you have all committed! This is my home, in it lies my treasure, like rats you've come to scavenge, like vultures ransack what's not yours, vile insects the lot of you!" its palms crackled and sparked, glowing a dark blue as lightning flared into existence.
"Any mortal who trespasses, shall die by hand!"
Thrusting its palms forward, a stream of uncontrolled electricity shot forth at shocking speeds. Naruto narrowly avoided destructive wave by dodging to the right. The ghost followed and promptly leaned left to avoid a Kunai to the head, it looked back at the Genin with rage fueled eyes.
'It dodged? Ghosts are intangible why would it need to- Woah!" Naruto back flipped to avoid an incoming bolt.
The Ghost clenched its fist and a dark violet flame began to exhaust the cracks in its fingers. Spreading its arms outwards, it released a pair of orbs that targeted the resting corpses. Creeks and cracks echoed as two armored undead snapped their ghostly blue eyes open and rose from their resting place. The Draugr both turned to the blonde, and readied a worn black steel greatsword and twin crooked war axes respectively.
They charged forth, taking an extremely offensive approach delivering a flurry of fast, hard hitting swings. Forced into the defensive, Naruto shifted between bob and weaves, ducks and side steps, flips and dodges. Analyzing his opponents during their assault, the greatsword wielding Draugr was the more predictable of the two, the heavy blade was slower and took required more stamina between swings. The dual-wielding Draugr however was the more aggressive of the two, the axes were lighter and possessed a shorter reach, but allowed for powerful quick strikes.
Despite this Naruto saw his advantage, they were swinging wildly with no tactical thought behind them. Pulling a Kunai from his holster and into a reverse grip, Naruto leaned forward to avoid a horizontal sword slash and jammed the dagger into the undead's unprotected shoulder. Grabbing its rusted harness, Naruto pushed the Draugr onto the path of the second's axes; striking its ally and bypassing the armor and severing its spinal cord.
Using the dying corpse as a shield, Naruto hefted the fallen Greatsword with slight struggle and with battlecry, skewered both Draugr. The undead screeched horrifically as dark blood spilled to the ground. Left weak, Naruto snagged both its axes and decapitated the zombie with a reverse scissor slash from its own weapons.
The whiskered blonde huffed and puffed as he stared in shock at his own work, 'Did I… really just do that?' he thought.
He looked back at the ghost who had just unleashed a barrage orbs which quickly began to awaken the dead.
"Slay one and another takes its place! Come now, don't be shy, join those foolish trespassers in death!"
Naruto clicked his jaws and formed a cross sign, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" he declared, as five clones poofed into existence via smoke cloud.
"Shuriken now!" Naruto and his clones reached both hands into their pouches and grabbed handfuls of sharpened iron stars and sent them flying with great precision. Halting, even disabling the armored undead while cutting down the unarmored Draugr. The original spotted the Ghost ducking underneath the barrage, he narrowed his eyes and rushed through the hall of staggering undead, "Cover me!" he shouted. His clones complied, dashing ahead of him, tackling and drop kicking Draugr away from their progenitor. The specter saw the charging blonde and unsheathed its dagger as Naruto brought down his Kunai.
Both combatants caught each other's blade wielding arm, locked in a standstill with Naruto towering over the Ghost's crouched position, the Dragonborn stared at the spectre in complete shock.
"I can touch you… you're no Ghost… what the hell are you!?"
"Your executioner!" it retorted, before headbutting his opponent.
Naruto staggered back holding his head before he instantly arced his body back to avoid a midsection slash and jumped further back against a follow up stab. Glancing back to see the remaining Draugr rushed back at him and forth as the 'Ghost' charged a bolt of lightning.
"Dispel!' he shouted.
His clones prayed the original had a plan otherwise they'd all be dead, "Do it now!" reluctant as they were, they did as told and poofed out of existence. Naruto then dove into the resulting smoke cloud and once again crossed fingers. With a call of his signature technique, an even larger smoke cloud erupted, shrouding the entire corridor in a white cloud.
The 'Ghost' narrowed its glowing eyes as it frantically looked everywhere for its target. The sound of splattering blood and clashing metal echoed, now unable to pinpoint the blonde via sound, the spectre was left distracted and nearly stumbled onto his back as two clones locked onto his legs with as much strength as they could muster.
"You insolent little-" ready to electrocute the doppelgangers, both its flanks were tackled by a second pair of clones, each jamming a Kunai into its forearms before securing both arms away from the body.
The 'Ghost' screamed in agony as yet another jumped it from behind and into a chokehold. The smoke dispersed, several Draugr dead or dying while a majority held back by a small battalion of clones. Time slowed and the phantom's eyes widened when they landed on the original, his foot stomped the ground to stop his progression and a black iron longsword poised to strike.
Naruto slammed the edge of blade onto the 'ghost's' midsection, knocking the wind out of it and regurgitating a glob of blood and saliva. With a primal warcry, the Dragonborn yanked the blade out and with a 360 spin, struck it's back with increased force, effectively cleaving the 'ghost' in two. The look of horror plastered on its face at both halves landed in a pool of their own blood. The clones dispelled and the remaining Draugr screeched as their body crumbled into violet particles and fell to molten ash. Naruto looked on the bisected corpse as the glow faded to reveal the phantom's original form, a Dunmer.
The Genin was speechless. He was right, there was never a Ghost, just a man who had single handedly terrorized a peaceful town for his own greedy purpose. Shortly did Naruto's chest began to pulse, he glanced at the blood stained sword in his hand then back at the corpse. The blood pool was growing, the innards could be seen within the torso and the intestines had spilled from the bottom half. The boy clamped a hand over his mouth as he arced forward, unable to withstand the sight of what he had accomplished, Naruto turned away and emptied his stomach.
"Not a Ghost… not… I just killed someone…" he muttered, before once again releasing several globs of vomit onto the ground.
Taking a minute to steel himself, Naruto wiped the bile from his lips and began to clear his thoughts. Panic leads to poor decisions, he had to think rationally. As a ninja, killing is a literal part of the job description; they were mercenaries, bodyguards, escorts, even assassins. Every Shinobi had a kill count they prefered not to brag about and their first kill is an inescapable inevitability. This Dark Elf, had taken many lives and subjected innocent villagers to a depression; he had to die, so that Ivarstead could live.
"I can't just go back and say the job is done, I'm gonna need proof" he muttered.
Approaching the corpse, Naruto kneeled down and searched body. Within the pouch he found decent sum of gold, a handful of garnets and amethysts, including a small blue vial containing a mysterious liquid within. Tucked behind the layers of his fur was brown leather clipped journal, Naruto opened the archive and read the entries within, with each passing line his brow slowly furrowed into a frown. The Genin had found the proof he was looking and placed the journal and looted items into his pouch and made his way back to Ivarstead.
It was midday and the villagers had taken refuge from work at the Vilemyr Inn; eating a simple meal and sharing a drink or two before having to return to their crops, chops, and fishing poles. Then, the door opened and in came Naruto, his attire now a darker hue with dust and red with dried blood smears. Everyone looked at the boy in surprise and shock.
"Naruto! You're alive!" spoke Gwilin, "When Wilhelm and Lynly said you had gone to the barrow, we feared the worst! Thank the gods that is not the case".
"Gwilin be silent for a moment-" spoke Lynly, "You made it back alive, does that mean the Ghost is finally-"
"There was no Ghost" retorted Naruto.
The room fell silent, each villager equally shocked at the news brought to them by the lone survivor.
"Boy… you better have a good explanation for this, everyone of us has had a run in with that thing, so don't tell us that our suffering was caused by our own imagination!" shouted Wilhelm.
"It wasn't, everything you've all experienced was merely a fabrication brought upon by a man named Wyndelius Gatharian, the hauntings, the deaths of many, it was all him" replied Naruto, as he brought out the journal and set it on the counter.
Wilhelm grabbed the leather book and read aloud the entries.
Property of Wyndelius Gatharian.
4E 200, 18 Mourning Star: I've set up camp inside the barrow. This has to be the place. According to my research, the burial should be located here. All I need is time undisturbed to find the claw. It must be hidden around here somewhere.
4E 200, 25 Mourning Star: Had a close call with that fool Wilhelm. He came close to entering the barrow, but I was able to scare him off by rattling some pottery shards in a bag. These people are far too suspicious for their own good. Gives me an idea.
4E 200, 28 Mourning Star: After a few failures, I've come up with a mixture that should do the trick. The glow is perfect - I should look exactly like one of those supposed spirits of the people of Ivarstead believe is haunting this barrow. Going to test it out tomorrow.
4E 200, 29 Mourning Star: Success! It worked better than I could've imagined. All I had to do was wander about the entrance to the barrow at night and wave my arms about. I had to stop myself from laughing aloud as they ran away. This should keep them at bay while I continue my search for the claw.
4E 200, 11 Hearthfire: Almost half a year has passed and no sign of the claw or any clues as to its whereabouts. This is becoming maddening. It has to be here! Can't risk hiring any assistance, so I'll have to continue alone.
4E 200, 20 Sun's Dusk: It isn't here. It can't be here. This isn't right. It must be the people of Ivarstead… they must be onto my ruse and they're toying with me. They want find the burial chamber on their own and keep the riches for themselves!
4E 200, 18 Evening Star: Why? Why are they tormenting me? Why not just destroy me? I'm… who am I? My head is becoming clouded, I can't remember anything. I have to read my journal to remember my purpose. Am I a part of this tomb? Am I meant to guard it? What's becoming of me?
1E 1500: ...They shall not take my treasure. They shall pay dearly for their crimes. Any who set foot within these walls will taste my wrath, my power, I am the Guardian of Shroud Hearth Barrow! All who oppose me will fail…
Wilhelm set the journal down, everyone stared at him in disbelief, they had been played.
"I can't believe this… it was all a lie, a ruse, we had to suffer because of the greed of some petty grave robber!?"
"Bastard! It wasn't enough to just frighten us and desecrate our dead, he murdered just save his own skin!"
"Well not anymore! Grab what you can, an axe, knife, pitchforks, spades, torches! We're ending this fucker right now!"
"I'm afraid that's not possible-" interrupted Naruto.
"And why is that!"
"Because… I killed him…" now placing the very sword he used on the table, still moist and stained with the blood of its victim.
The room fell silent again, all the anger that had surfaced now washed away by the revelation. If Gatharian was dead then, that was it. No more haunting, no more living in fear, and no more corpses to bury. It was over.
One by one, claps began to fill the main hall of the inn before it erupted into cheers. Naruto looked on in surprised awe as the crowed gathered around him, each settler giving their utmost gratitude for his service. Soon the hall became location for a celebratory party. Song and dance filled the hall, stories of merry times were told, and drinks all around. While stressed over the life he had taken, the villagers were able to win him over, slowly but surely Naruto started to smile again.
The festivities continued into late afternoon, the villagers had called in and had gone their separate ways. Wilhelm washed wooden plates and empty mugs, Synly was preoccupied brooming the hall, and Naruto sat by the counter; finishing a last bite of grilled salmon.
"I gotta tell ya' Wilhelm, you sure know how to cook fish, the spices blended so well with the lemon, it was on point" complemented Naruto.
"Years of experimenting with different flavors, you become a master in the art of cooking… thanks again lad, word will soon spread, trader will continue and people will once again travel these roads, it'll be slow but, we'll get back on our feet"
Naruto smiled and nodded his head in agreement, "As such, I believe a proper reward is in order…" Wilhelm reached under the counter and brought up an object wrapped in linen.
Curious, the blonde unwrapped it and gasped at gift given to him. A Dragon Claw. Its base etched of gold with a snow white engraved trim. Three emblem embedded onto the palm consisting of a moth, an owl, and a wolf. But the most distinct feature was the three sapphire talons that erected from each claw.
"This… this is what Gatharian was looking for!"
"Aye, I would assume so, my father came across it when he ventured into the barrow, guarded by the undead he claimed he used to say… sell it or trade it, it has to be worth something fair considering the gold and sapphire"
"Shouldn't you keep it, I mean wouldn't it help you guys recover some revenue, right?"
"No, while our trouble were the cause of one man, its what he was after that started it all and trust me, we are all glad to be rid of it"
"Well thanks I guess-"
"Now don't look so down you'll make me feel bad, there's more to this claw than you think"
"Deep within Shroud Hearth Barrow there exists a treasure locked behind an ancient puzzle door, old tales state that these doors can only be opened by matching the symbols engraved on the corresponding Dragon Claw, the claw itself is in fact a key to be used once the symbols are aligned"
Naruto gazed upon the Sapphire Dragon Claw in awe, "So, IF the treasure is still there… why hasn't anyone gone for it? You had the claw, it's basically ripe for the taking" he asked.
"If it was that simple, we would have opened that vault eons ago, the farther you venture in the more treacherous the barrow becomes, it is riddled with death traps and if the dead do in fact walk those walls then the journey is all the more dangerous…" replied Lynly.
"Lad, we all had doubts when you first entered the barrow, but now I'm certain, if anyone can survive the inner depths and reach the treasure within, it is you"
Naruto thought it over; a thrill-filled adventure with promises of loot with great risk of mutilating death.
"Sounds like fun!"
"Then you're going to be needing this back-" Wilhem prompted, handing back the sword Naruto had brought in. The blood now wiped clean and its edge sharpened to a deadly razor.
"It may be old, but the Ancient Nords crafted their blades with the finest steel of their time, it shows very little deterioration and still holds well after all these millennia, may it serve you well"
Taking the Ancient Nord Sword and clipping it to the left of his belt, Naruto bowed to the Bartender, thanked him for the meal and retreated from the Inn.
"I'm sure the Greybeards won't mind if I stayed out late…"
Re-entering the barrow, Naruto began his search for the puzzle door. Cringing and nearly gagging at the corpses he had left behind, the boy powered through the hall of littered bodies and into the catacombs. A small maze with empty pots, lit candles, and standalone Draugr that were best left undisturbed.
Taking the right path, Naruto found himself traveling deeper underground, eventually coming across Gatharian's safe room. It was relatively small to say the least. A bedroll next to an active fireplace, a stone table and wooden chair set against the wall holding a pair of candle stands; a large bowl with various fruits and vegetables, including books and a human skull. By his left was a pile of firewood and a peculiar symbol engraved round table; with a miniature furnace and several connecting green phials included.
Naruto nabbed an orange book from the stone table, printed onto its leather texture was a three sided swirling star with its first page revealing its title, 'Before the Ages of Man by Aicantar of Shimerene'. Interested, the blonde slipped the book into his pouch and left the safe room. More wandering through the eerie maze, Naruto came across a black iron double door similar to the barrow's main entrance. Passage led to a long open hallway, with walls depicting an image based story; one of brotherhood, bloodshed, and worship. At the end of the hall stood the puzzle door the Genin searched for.
The the frame was square with a swirl design etched at every corner, at its center was a four layered circle. Within each layer a golden emblem was printed onto its stone, shrinking down to its center where in laid a golden claw shaped symbol with three slit holes where its talons would be.
"That must be it" exclaimed Naruto.
Standing before the stone door, he brought out the Sapphire Dragon Claw and held it against wall. Noticing that the symbols on the wall did not match the ones of the claw, he recalled Wilhelm explanation.
"They have match to symbols on the claw, I'm not seeing any lever or button, does it move?" placing a hand on one of the layers he gave a hard push and which slowly moved the symbol out of place, allowing another to take its place, "Yes! It moves!" he cheered.
With a bit of struggle Naruto swapped each emblem to from top to bottom, setting them at Moth, Owl, and Wolf respectively. Taking the claw and inserting the talons into the slots, Naruto gave the key a turn in which a loud 'thud' echoed throughout the barrow. Naruto pulled out the claw as the emblems spun rapidly until all three layers aligned on the Owl symbol, only then did the door began to sink to the ground.
"Huh… that wasn't so hard" said Naruto, as he reached into his pouch and brought out his flashlight, it was getting… rather dark.
This was familiar, walking down a lightless abyss with an electrical torch in hand with the only sound emanating was of his footsteps. Eventually, the room began to brighten as Naruto entered another section of the barrow one lit with fire pits and littered with coffins. Across the room was the entrance to another section, proceeding he stopped and picked up another book sitting on top of a pedestal.
It was identical to the one he picked up before, orange leather frame and swirling three-sided star, the book however was of a different title,"Arcane School of Illusion: Apprentice. Fear Tome". Naruto beamed, a Spell! This adventure was going off great! Is what he would have said had both doors not suddenly slammed shut behind a thick steel gate. Coffin lids flew off their cases and the Draugr with rose from their resting place. The Genin grimaced and brought out his sword, "Here we go again".
Swinging upwards to block and overhead battleaxe swing, Naruto pushed the weapon head to the ground and slashed at the Draugr unprotected neck. The dead toppled to the ground and another rushed him with sword and shield. Blocking and parrying to the best of his ability, his upcoming counter was thwarted by a rough shield bash. Staggered, Naruto tripped onto his back as the Draugr swung its shield legs. It towered over him and thrusted its sword, Naruto quickly swung his own weapon up, pushing the blade off course as he picked himself up and slashed at the Draugr's midsection, which was once again blocked by its shield.
Jumping back to gain a distance, he took a deep breath as the undead closed and, "FUS RO DAH!" he shouted.
The Draugr was sent flying off its feet, crashing and shattering a portion of a pillar and slammed against a wall. With more than half of its body broken and bleeding, it unleashed a screech as Naruto stabbed his sword onto its back, pinning the undead in place. He then ripped the shield off its hand and proceeded to repeatedly slam the edge of the iron shield onto its head; leaving it an undistinguished heap of crushed bone and flesh.
Naruto turned and instantly raised the shield to block an incoming arrow, the Draugr readied another and the Dragonborn discarded the shield and crossed fingers. A clone appeared and rushed the undead alongside the original. The Draugr swung its bow at the clone but was caught maneuvered around its neck while the clone hopped on its back. Naruto came in grabbing the bowstring, placing both feet onto the Draugr's chest and pulled back. The clone tossed the original an arrow whom placed it on the string and released it, sending the arrow through the Draugr's head and popping his clone.
Naruto flipped back onto his feet and ran for his sword, he yanked it out of the corpse and swung back, dismembering dual axe-wielding Draugr. With one arm lost, Naruto swung down taking one of its legs then stabbed the undead through the chest before pulling out and decapitating it. The Genin panted as he examined the room for more undead. Once he determined that the rom was cleared, he wiped his sword and clipped it to his belt. Unfortunately, the gates were still closed. Naruto looked around the room for a lever or some kind of secret entrance he could take and found the base of a lever with a missing handle. His mind clicked and went to pick up the battleaxe, the Genin broke off the sharpened pommel and inserted the shaft into the slot. With a hard pull, the gears began to turn and the doors began to rise. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Naruto continued onward.
Stumbling into the inner depths of the barrow, Naruto holding himself up by his sword while caught his breath. His clothes ragged and snagged in several areas, the boy wandered if he would ever catch a break from all these undead. He had entered a skeleton pit and accidently set the room on fire via Explosive Tag and spilled oil. Nearly every corridor littered with Draugr playing dead, and was almost made into a pincushion after a failed attempt at an image matching puzzle gate. When will it end?
Walking steadily down some stairs, Naruto gasped as he entered a wide room. A single bridge leading down the center with coffins lined up along the way towards an altar. A small lake surrounded the room as four waterfalls brought water into the cavern. As he stepped onto the bridge the coffin lids cracked open, Naruto groaned as armed skeletons stepped out of their boxes and rushed the blonde. Evading their weapons, the whiskered blonde delivered powerful punches and kicks, which shattered his opponents back into scattered pieces of bones. He sidestepped incoming arrows and chucks a pair Kunai at the two, instantly dropping his targets.
More coffins began to open, this time bringing armored Draugr into the fight. Naruto blitzed forth with a handful of Kunai, he then launched them at the undead, lodging them into the armor and unprotected areas. Once caught an incoming dagger and looked at it in confusion as a small puff of smoke emitted from the weapon. Opening its palm to see a tag wrapped around the handle which suddenly went off in a fiery explosion. Each of the Draugr suffered the same fate and those that survived were easily dispatched by the Dragonborn.
Pulling his sword out of the charred corpse, Naruto turned and ducked as the final coffin lid blasted off its hinges and came crashing over the blonde. A skeletal thin figure floated up from its sarcophagus. It wore a dark violet torn and ragged robe underneath a scale-like chest plate and belt, dragon shaped shoulder guards which extended in a bone-like fashion towards its hand. Sitting on its hooded head was a star-like crown. This was a Dragon Priest.
Undead released an ear-splitting screech and forced a dragon headed golden staff into its hand from it coffin. Its eyes glowed green and clenched its fist, surrounding itself in a bright green aura. It glared at the blonde and to his surprise, shouted.
"FUS RO DAH!"
Naruto was blown back to the edge of the bridge, he tumbled for a bit before stopping; his sword landing close by. He grit his teeth as he struggled to pick himself up.
"So that's what that feels like… okay then... " a fiery red aura radiated off him as his veins became visibly red, "Let's dance!" he declared.
Raising its staff high, the Dragon Priest conjured an overgrown fireball and launched it at its opponent. Naruto sucked in air and shouted, "YOL!" firing his own orb of flames. The two clashed in a fiery explosion. Naruto wall ran to the left and threw a curved wave of Shuriken, the Dragon priest thrusted its palm and maneuvered the stars around and back at Naruto.
"Are you fucking kidding me!" he hopped off the wall and over the incoming Shuriken.
Landing on one of four pillars, he was forced to jump again and around as the Dragon Priest released a torrent of flames. He crossed fingers and created seven clones, four took cover on each side of the altar while the remaining three plus the original ganged up on the undead. The priest pushed back against the dopplegangers and attempted to float away to gain distance but, was kicked back to the center of the altar.
"Don't let it escape, keep it trapped! Everyone else get ready to blast it!
The maneuver the priest had attempted was all Naruto needed to understand his opponent. The priest hadn't tried to physically attack with its staff and was only using magic against him. Seeing as it could only perform two actions at once, left its back open for an attack. Fire and now lightning swarmed the area as the Priest aimed at the fast moving clones. In a flash, two clones blitzed the priest and stabbed into its shoulders with its sword. To their surprise their weapons had barely pierced the skin of their foe, their grit their teeth and with great struggle pushed their swords deeper, eventually the veil surrounding the priest dispersed and shrieked aloud in agony. Its free hand sparked lightning and electrocuted the two clones out of existence.
The priest looked up to see a third clone throw the original off the ceiling. Time slowed as the fast falling blond held his sword ready to stab while the priest held both sparking hand and staff ready to shower the blonde in fire and lightning. The elements were unleashed and Naruto dove through, delivering a blow that sent both of them crashing into the ground.
Naruto groaned and rolled onto his front to see a severely weakened Dragon Priest stand from its sarcophagus, his Ancient Nord Sword left through its chest. It got ready to shout, when Naruto signaled for his clones to strike.
"YOL TOOR!" with the combined shouts of four clones, the priest was caught in the center of a literal crossfire. Its shrieks echoed and eventually ceased, the clones stopped their assault and disappeared in a poof of smoke.
Naruto stood back up and watched as the charred remains of the priest slowly attempted to reach out for him. Taking a deep breath, the Dragonborn ended their battle with three words, "FUS RO DAH!" shattering the priest into a pile of ash.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Naruto noticed his shout had knocked over a wooden bridge to a secret cave behind the altar. He went to retrieve his sword and immediately regretted it upon grabbing the super heated weapon. Using twin axes as prongs, he dipped his sword into the water letting a cloud of steam expel along with a high pitched hiss. Once the weapon was cooled down he shaked the water off and continued into the secret area.
This passage led to another room and Naruto brightened upon seeing a chest waiting for him. Lit by candles the blonde opened the crate and his lips formed a grin. The bottom half filled with gold and jewels, while two items laid on top. A pair of scale-like gauntlets with a reverse bone and steel plating down the forearm. It also contained boots of similar material with the base composed of a scale-like texture and plated with thick jagged bones down the shins, twin curved bones protecting the knee and the foot reinforced by iron. He slipped the armor onto his being, replacing the wraps on his arms and fur boots.
He dug through the gold and found a peculiar ring, it was forged of ivory and possessed a weaved design. The gemstone was a diamond shaped sapphire with bellowing ivory dragon engraved onto it. Naruto slipped the ring onto his left index finger and began to scoop up the treasure into his pouch. By the time he had emptied the chest of its contents, his pouch looked about ready to burst.
'Note to self, buy a bigger bag' he thought, before catching sight of a Word Wall at the end of the room. He could already the Word of Power flaring on the text.
Bracing himself, Naruto approached the wall and read the phrase.
Here fell Shield Maiden Valkrys.
Who fought with courage, but was wrong to trust the power
of a borrowed blade.
Naruto felt as a gentle breeze had blown through, the image of home came to mind, recalling the happier times of his life. He word now chiseled into his mind, Naruto released the word into the halls, "OV!" an ethereal violet wave crashed against the walls before the room retreated to silence. Within that brief period of time, Naruto was at peace. The boy hefted his belongings and traveled down an open path up a slope hill. This eventually led to a hidden doorway close to the burrow entrance.
Leaving the barrow, Naruto would then spent the next three hours dragging his exhausted body up the seven thousand steps.
Arngeir kneeled before a flame, meditating as the other Greybeards have gone to their quarters to rest. His eyes opened and a smile formed on his face as the doors to High Hrothgar opened. In came Naruto, his skin pale from the cold and close to collapse.
"Had fun down there?"
"Hehe… you could say that…"
"Helped Ivarstead with its… problem?"
"How did… yes"
"Would you like to continue your lessons tomorrow?"
"That'd be great…"
"Have a good night's sleep Naruto"
"Yeah… you too"
Making his way to his quarters, Naruto set his pouches on top of a table and laid his sword against it before, he collapsing into his bed and into blissful dreams.
Next Volume: Fire and Stone
Happy Halloween everybody, hope you enjoyed the chapter, I was really hoping to get it out today and looks like I've succeeded. I don't know when the next chapter will be out, I just write what I can from day to day, so don't as I don't have a planned date for future chapters. Now for those you asking which faction he will join first? I want to start off with the College of Winterhold but, I kinda also want to stick with the Dark Brotherhood again, I'll let you guys decide.