Kindly leave a review our dear redguard must square off against bloody cultist and show them the ways of the makeway God


Chapter 17

The current top expert of one-handed and dual-wielded blades (including knives) and spear-fighting was the Dunmer. Of the sword and shield combination, that was, unsurprisingly, Amren, a Redguard mercenary, who came to the Companion's yard to exercise his skills and was paid to train newbloods. The Companions would welcome him into their ranks, but Amren's wife said "No," and that was that.

Tariq had sparred with him. And while Amren was good for practice, there was nothing more the man could teach him. The Dunmer was not technically a master, but he had a variety of weapons competencies and over a hundred years of practical battlefield and back alley experiences. With blades anyway. Njada could still beat him down with bare fists and shield, which she often did. She avoided him in the practice yard.

Their latest bout had been Athis's spear to his swords. He had wanted to practice his dual-wielding. He had won, eventually. Companions had watched the bout. As many who congratulated him, an equal amount congratulated Athis.

"Good practice for the Tournament of the Bloods," Athis said with satisfaction.

What was that spear move, he wondered. How did he knock my sword out of hand? His left hand. He had blocked the next spear thrust with a desperate sweep of his right sword and quickly recovered his dropped sword. But it had been close.

No, to be fair, it had been a loss. Athis could have speared his throat while he reached down for his sword, but the Dunmer had ignored that finishing move. He was too good not to have seen that opening. Athis was fast, and a spearpoint was really only effectively blocked with a large shield. And since he was a dual-wielder himself when he wasn't fighting with a spear, Athis was able to predict his moves only too well.

"Tournament of the Bloods? What's that?" asked Lydia.

"Boehthiah every so often holds a contest for her worshipers like Hircine has his Bloodmoon hunts. The winner is the one who can beat ten opponents of different weapons. Your first opponent wields the same type of weapon but may practice a different style. For example, if I say my primary choice is the shortsword, my first challenge is to beat another who has proclaimed the same weapon their primary choice. If I win, then all my future opponents will be the winners of their choices of weapons — spears, hammers, knives, archers, even a battlemage."

"So, if you lose against a particular style, you can train and beat them the next time?"

"No, sera. Once you enter the arena, only the winner walks out. The Prince's fanatics train endlessly to be worthy of the arena. The Prince doesn't hold it just for the worshipers; even non-believers can enter if they want. The Prince's only requirement is the desire for battle, your thirst to be the best, and the strength to cut down anyone in your way."

"Like those cultists in Eastmarch?" someone asked.

"Aye. You'll see a few idiots trying to practice outside their settlement, and they'll be cut down like the incompetent homicidal fanatics they are, and the cultists will be quick to disown them as renegades. But they're happy enough in Eastmarch. Jarl Ulfric is happy enough to let them stay. That's because they know, and he knows, that they wouldn't be tolerated by the Empire. B'vek! They aren't even tolerated like that in Morrowind. Their little fight clubs were hidden, and members knew not to talk aloud about them or with nonmembers. The new Church of Reclamations won't even acknowledge 'em despite their preaching of the Old Ways. So if Eastmarch is ever invaded by the Empire, Ulfric's got a core of suicidal fanatics primed to defend their freedom to openly practice their religion just like the Stormcloak Nords do in defiance of the Concordat."

"What's the prize?" Lydia asked.

"What's the 'Old Ways?'" Ria asked.

Your life, thought Tariq

Athis shrugged. "Well, first prize is obviously you get to walk out of the arena. Anything else is between you and the Prince. As for the Old Ways, before the Almsivi, Resdayn was always in constant, open warfare between the tribes. Worshipers of Boethiah could always be counted on being in the forefront of battle."

"Do you worship Boethiah?" Ria asked.

Athis grinned. "Aye. But that doesn't make me one of the Eastmarch cultists. Not anymore it don't. They practice an extreme form; that's why they're a cult. And it's one of my motivations for joining the Companions. See, I was one of 'em briefly, but they had no purpose beyond training for the arena, so I left. But I like combat, I like variety, and I also like getting paid. As for politics …" he shrugged, "well, Boethiah is also the Prince of Plots. There's always motive somewhere. Someone's always got ambition. Any robber band would be happy if I joined, but I also want respect and honor. And the biggest, most respected battler group in Skyrim is the Companions. For a mer to try to join, that's ambition."

"But if Res-, what is it, Resdine?"

"Resdayn."

"Yes, that. If it was constant warfare, then are you saying going back to the Old Ways is to push Morrowind into constant civil war?" asked Lydia.

"Oh, gods, no. The Reclamations is not pushing for that. But it's tricky, y'know? The Almsivi, when they was making the claim to be gods, they had to find reasons why they were the heirs to the founding Great Ancestors, so the Great Ancestors became the Anticipations of the Almsivi. And the purpose of the three was to create order and peace out of the rebellion and chaos the Great Ancestors encouraged. Now the Reclamationists, they've got to reverse march and argue why the Great Ancestors were great and do it without making a mockery of all the souls who believed in the Almsivi. People believed, people died, people sacrificed. Ever read the book, The Death Blow of Abernanit? No? Find a copy and read it, then tell me if you call those heroes fools for putting faith in the Almsivi. So, for their sake, we call our fallen gods 'Saints,' and let it remain that. Saints are great, but they are flawed because they are mortal.

"The Nerevarine cult among the Velothi — none of 'em had a plan of what to do after Azura brought back Nerevar to kill his wife and generals who betrayed him. Hell, even he turned tail and disappeared to avoid the results of his actions. I do feel sorry for the Reclamationists, though. The Almsivi were mortal, and they were fellow mer. They knew the frailties of mortality. The Great Ancestors are Daedra, and that's a difference the new temple has to make clear to my people. A law-abiding, civil, cooperative society was never the goal of the Great Ancestors. It actually goes against their sensibilities because they thrive on chaos."

As he listened, he wondered how someone as intelligent as that could still worship Daedra. Those things were evil and considered their worshipers no more than amusing toys. Athis had to have honor, else the Companions would never have accepted him.

"He's an interesting one, is he not?" said Aela, suddenly beside him. She hooked his arm and led him off to one of the tables on the observation porch. She got herself an ale while Tariq chose Honningbrew mead. He'd discovered the honey-based drinks went well after exercises. It was milder in flavor and alcohol than Black-Briar Mead, and he liked the more floral scent and taste.

"We were coming back from his proving test when one of those cultists came upon us. No proper introduction, no invitation to battle. It just screamed that it found us 'worthy' and attacked. I could have taken the fool down easily enough, but Athis said, 'Excuse me, let me handle him.' I could see he was eager enough for it, so I stepped back. His testing may have formally been over, but this would give me another chance to observe his kill.

"This cultist wielded two long knives. Athis had his choice of spear or shortsword, and he chose his spear. In the end, it wasn't even a fair match of skill. Athis made one clean thrust that the other wouldn't or couldn't comprehend to dodge. The madman would have let momentum carry him down the spear shaft to use his knives, but Athis did not give him that chance. He pushed the spear before him as he leaped left, wrenching the cultist about and off his feet and onto the ground. And since his spear was not the kind with hooked back edges, he easily pulled the spearhead out of the body. Then he plunged it down again into the other's throat.

"He's one of my favorite ones to assign wild animal problems to. His spear kills are fast and clean, pelts are salvageable. His sword skills, well, most Nords here favor the two-handers. I tend to agree. Better a one-hit kill than death by a hundred little cuts."

"Different sword styles, different actions," Tariq merely replied. He eyed Aela's bow. An archer would think in terms of numbers. One arrow versus multiple arrows, with chances to avoid reprisals going down with each arrow spent on a single target. A quiver could only hold so many arrows. But she had to be aware of that. Perhaps that was why she favored heavy armor if she'd had to resort to knife-fighting pain-maddened bears, boars, and sabercats when the bow was no longer useful. Or angry, armored opponents.

"What's this 'proving test' you mentioned?" he asked.

"It's what it sounds like. Whelps learn our rules, get training and experience with little jobs or assisting a Companion. We listen to our clients afterward to see how well the whelp did the job and how well they represented us. Eventually, a point is reached, and there's a final test. On that task, one of the Circle goes with them to observe. We'll even fight if necessary. But on that mission, the whelp leads and dictates all actions. Do right, and you become a full Companion. Naturally, if the observer has to step in to salvage the mission, that's a fail, and whether the whelp remains in the Companions depends on how badly they failed."

"Ah, of course. But you say he is a full Companion, yet it seems the senior members include him when they say "whelp;" when is one not a whelp? And he also serves as a trainer?"

"Perhaps we're not as careful as we should be in distinguishing between newbloods and whelps," admitted Aela with a rueful smile. "His weapons and tactical combat skills can't be denied. Athis continues his training in understanding our ways, also making sure he gets experienced with Skyrim's wildlife. I don't know what kagoutis or alits or guars are. He'd never seen bears, sabercats, and wolves until he came to Skyrim. He's also still learning about Nord customs and what we consider socially acceptable. Typical refugee who came through Windhelm's port and unsuccessfully mugged by idiot bigots and chased out of town by guards because the same idiots claimed he was the aggressor, which made it easy for the Boethiah cultists to recruit him. Lucky for us, he's smarter than that and left. Came to Whiterun to see the Nords the Windhelm Nords held in such scorn. Bigotry here, too, but he says it's not the bitter viciousness that's running in Windhelm. He says it was like being back home in Morrowind where the prejudice is just everyday acknowledgment that you're different, not of the same House or clan. And the prices don't change on the color or type of your skin.

"He was actually a job someone hired us to do to clear out an undesirable who was hunting around their land. Skjor took it on though it was way below his level. Found Athis hunting. But he swears someone told him the area was opened to hunting. Turns out the one who directed him to the area was someone the contract holder was having disputes with. You'd expect to be angry, being used that way, but Athis found the situation amusing. He said it was an old trick using ignorant n'wahs, and he's just sorry he'd let his guard down around Nords. Skjor had a feeling about him and brought him back to talk with the Harbinger."

After a hard day of training, time for a bath. There was one more level beneath the living quarters. That was the water level where the baths were. Dragonsreach was built over a natural spring of water, obvious by the steady flow from the palace to the city. The great ship of the Companions ported a mind-boggling distance overland from somewhere in Winterhold or the Pale, was brought to the plains, and upended over a stream that ran under the mysterious Forge-of-the-Winds, watched over by a bird who must have inspired them as being the image of Kyne the Hawk. The water here was another wellspring point. So the baths were built here.

The Nords had something they called a steam room. It was not something Tariq had initially liked. He found he couldn't breathe in the steam. Now, the dry heat of the forge didn't bother, but the steam heat did him in almost as fast as a fish on dry, hot sand. But it was good for cleanliness in starting the sweat purge of filth from one's flesh and then finishing off with a good scrub under the cold water streaming through a large main pipe from which protruded water spouts.

Whelps kept the area clean and did the laundry under Tilma's direction. Even Tariq had had his turn doing laundry. It actually wasn't too bad. It was dull work but good exercise, and Tilma baked special treats. Some long-ago clever crafter had convinced the Companions to drag back a large Dwemer container that was then set on rollers. Once filled with clothes and water, the drum weighed as much as a loaded wagon, but Dwemer cogs, impervious to rust, were cleverly placed so that one person could roll the entire thing by turning a wheel. Well, old Tilma might find it too much, but any of the young whelps would have no problem. Dwemer oil kept the cogs moving smoothly, was good for sharpening weapons, and had surprising alchemy uses. Tariq was amused to find that most of the Dwemer oil came from Markarth. Aicantar did some steady business providing the Companions and others with oil he siphoned out of Nchuand-Zel.

Next day, he decided to see if there was a job outside of the city and which would let him explore the surrounding lands. If not, then he'd go hunting and explore on his own. Newbloods like him got their initial assignments from either Farkas or Aela. Farkas usually handled enforcement or assassin-type jobs, and Aela had animal-control jobs.

"Not assassins. It's predator control," Farkas flatly stated. "They've already earned their death sentence many times over. Our job is to make sure they're hunted down and put down. The job is done when you put the target down. If you want to put the rest of the group down, fine, but that doesn't mean we get extra pay for it."

"As you say. So, what poor fool has earned his bounty?"

"Since you've got experience, I'm assigning you the vampire killing. There's a small cave on the western edge of the Hold bordering the Reach, northeast of Fort Sungard. The vampires have started hunting in Rorikstead and Granite Hills. Are you familiar with the area?"

"I've been to Granite Hills, but no, I don't know very much about Skyrim right now. Argis has been my guide, but his knowledge does not extend beyond Falkreath and the west parts of Hjaalmarch."

"I'd say partner with another whelp who know the area, but you'll have to split your cut of the job with them."

"What is my cut of the completed job?"

"100 gold."

"Out of, what, 500?"

"100 off the top is for being part of the Companions, 100 is training and administration, 100 for food, lodging, and basic equipment, and 100 to guarantee the client the job gets done if you fail or die."

"Do I get anything more if I provide my own equipment, have my own lodging, and complete the job?

"No. The equipment, lodging, and food are givens whether you use it or not. Same for the guarantee reserve for the job."

"Hm."

"We also don't demand a cut of anything you salvage for your troubles. The only thing you can't keep is any item you were sent to fetch in the first place, if this were a fetch job, which it isn't."

"Ah, of course, of course."

It was a job he'd be losing money on because he intended to ask Lydia to accompany him for the standard merc fee of 500. Argis, too, if he insisted. But Argis already had duties to acquaint himself with people around Whiterun and gather specific information Tariq wanted.

Tariq had purchased Breezehome, the quaint cottage next to the War Maiden smithy in the Plains District. He wanted privacy and a better place to store equipment and any treasures he collected. The Steward tried to offer him the grander property located just outside Whiterun called the Tundra house. It was an impressive property, but it had no security and would require an investment of servants to maintain and guards to secure. No, Breezehome was fine and would be easy to sell when he was done with Skyrim. The cottage needed some repair and some changes, and he had put Argis to oversee the work being done.

"I'm willing to go with you," said Lillibeth. She was a tall, sturdy young woman with black hair and brown eyes and hailed from somewhere around Dawnstar. "I'm interested in learning more about vampires. I've heard from my cousin — he's a novice at the Hall of the Vigilant — that the bloodsuckers are showing up more frequently." She gazed steadily at Tariq. "I want the experience," she stated. "I won't ask for any portion of your fee even if I have to borrow money to rent a horse."

Tariq smiled. "I would be willing. I am thinking of asking another to go with me. Lydia, a member of the guards."

"I can make myself scarce if you're courting her."

"Ah, no, no, that won't be necessary. I am evaluating her, yes, but not for that reason."

"I wouldn't advise it," Farkas said flatly. "You're not ready for a vampire, Lillibeth, especially since you're a brawler type and close-quarter fighter like I am. Vampires and stronger and faster than mortals. They also use magic — shock spells and blood-drain magic. I consider them dangerous. The only way someone at your level has a chance against them is if you use ranged weapons, and you're not there either. We may call Tariq a newblood, but we all know his experience outclasses every whelp here except Athis. He also has had specialized training and the right equipment. Tariq, if you want to take her along, I'll be holding you responsible for her safety as I would a full Companion who's taking a newblood on a training mission. If there are thralls, you can let her take them on, but on no account should she face a vampire, you understand? If she dies, your mission will be considered a failure even if you successfully kill the vampire."

"I withdraw my offer," said Lillibeth. "It's unfair to you, and I see my inexperience is a hindrance to you."

Tariq looked at her thoughtfully. Yes, she was a sword and shield type, and he'd seen her training with Njada to improve her shield skills. He now recalled seeing her practice with a short bow. But she always stood no farther than 20 feet or so away, so Tariq suspected her distance eyesight was not so good because while she hit the target, it was not always in the center.

"No. Come," he said firmly. "I had no intention of allowing Lydia either to face the vampires. You will be assisting her with keeping any thralls off me while I work to slay those unholy monsters. As for special equipment, I can loan you basic ones, and I can train you and Lydia on the journey there."

"Unless you run into trouble, that's three days at a canter," said Farkas.

… … …

"You asked me to come along to ask me questions about the Vigilants of Stendarr."

"Was I wrong to think that you and your brother had purposely joined two famous fighting guilds?" Tariq asked.

Lydia chuckled. "They're not really guilds," she said. "Neither charge membership fees. One is a religious organization, and the other is, hm, a mutual gathering of like-minded individuals."

"If the Akaviri were to come and look over the Companions now, there is no way the snakes would have allowed them to continue." He drew in the dirt beside the campfire the circle-within-a-circle that Lydia had drawn for him days ago. "There is most definitely a command structure now and activities beyond getting together to eat and drink oneself into a stupor."

The pride of Skyrim was a laughingstock back then. He thought. The snakes heard about Skyrim's finest, went and saw what they saw, and left laughing their scales off at this pitiful excuse of a threat. The Nords saw it as a clever, technical evasion. Did they not realize the snakes were mocking them?

One of them did. According to the book, Great Harbingers, Kyrnil Long-Nose gathered Companions and other Nords tired of these disgraces to the Companion name. He led a purge of Jorrvaskr, killing or driving out disgrace and dishonor. He then established the Circle, chosen warriors to be examples of what the Companions should be. His successor, Tyrrfyg, continued this ambition to make the Companions the champions of Skyrim again. He and his Circle became a force to be feared.

"Yes, you're right. We did have a purpose. Our parents were farm laborers. One day our parents never came back. The farm and all there had fallen to vampires. We were taken in by our father's sister, who survived that massacre because she'd been assigned the task to gather mushrooms in a cave far away from the farm. The Vigilants found us, and they gave her coin so that she could feed us for the first year while she sought another position at another farm. When my brother reached 15, he went to the Vigilants. I stayed with our aunt another two years until I turned 15. I was planning to join the Vigilants too, but that's when Vilkas, Torvar, and Ria came hunting in my part of the world. They weren't specifically hunting vampires but a werewolf. I was part of the farm team tracking what we believed then was a wolf that had been killing the newborn calves." She smiled. "I really like Ria. She was the last type of person I'd ever imagined as a Companion."

"She has that effect on people," agreed Tariq, smiling back. "So, she convinced you as well to join the Companions."

"Aye. Though Imperial, she represents the Nord spirit very well."

"Nah, nah," countered Tariq. "She represents the Imperial spirit, the peacekeeper. You Nords have the voice of war. I have seen, no, I have heard the Imperial voice, and it can even calm the undead for a brief time. But who is to say the Companions cannot have both voices within their ranks? Cannot the Companions walk with you to keep the peace as well as wage war?"

"That should be so," she agreed, smiling again. "She does have that effect on most of the old grumps there and many of the sullen ones too. Even Vilkas occasionally smiles. Though, not enough for her, I think," she added in a low, resentful grumble.

"A thousand pardons for speaking ill of one of the honored Circle, but Vilkas is too busy sticking his head up his arse contemplating some deep problem in his mind," said Tariq, eliciting snorts of laughter from the women.

"Maybe," Lillibeth agreed. "But Vilkas came through, told us it was a werewolf we were trying to catch, and that we were no match for it. We had been lucky so far that it had only killed our newborn calves, but soon it would start hunting people because werewolves only find their true strength in killing and eating people. That is the price. The Daedric Prince Hircine, the father of manbeasts, gives his monsters inhuman appetites in return for the dark gifts of inhuman strengths. It is as the Vigilants have said. All Daedra are evil, and all their followers are willfully evil or deluded, ignorant fools who do not realize the evil they do in giving power to the Daedra."

"I agree, Lillibeth," said Tariq. "So, you joined the Companions."

"Yes. And I was happy with that choice. But then I got there and found a Daedra-worshiping dark elf. I was confused. Athis has so far been honorable in conduct and carries out the duties of the Companions excellently. But he worships his dark gods. I know their Daedra gods changed them from the Altmer to mark them as their property. My brother says the Vigilants have plenty of dark elves who have renounced the Great Ancestors. Athis has not. Vilkas and Farkas said I should be spear-training with him, but I can't bring myself to do that. And so I train hard with the bow, though my eyes blur after a certain distance."

"Does your brother know?"

"I don't know. I haven't dared tell him the Companions are accepting Daedra-worshipers. He would not understand. The Vigilants would not understand. They would demand the Companions publicly purge themselves of Athis and any who worship Daedra, as well as the Companions who endorsed him."

"Meaning the Harbinger and every member of the Circle," snorted Lydia. "Wonderful. The Vigilants are very unforgiving in that aspect. They make themselves unwelcome in Whiterun by showing their intolerance of Balgruuf's housecarl. It doesn't matter how well that Daedra-worshiper has served honorably in the Legion or her decades of service to Whiterun. They would demand Balgruuf purge Irileth from his city so that they can do justice as they define it. I daresay their intolerance is no different than the Thalmor's towards Talos-worshipers, except that they don't have the same political clout as the Dominion and the power of the Concordat to back their strikes."

Tariq grimaced at the idea. He reluctantly respected the Irileth, Dunmer housecarl. Balgruuf's soldiers, the city watch, all had grown and trained under her eyes. Whiterun's might was spearheaded by her vigilance and fierce devotion. Her primary Daedric god was Azura, the lady of shadows and lies and vanity. She was supposed to be the gentlest and kindliest of the Three. He could only shrug at that. Self-serving ones could wear a mask of kindness and charity so long as their every need was fulfilled first, and they received constant praise, whether deserved or not. Fail them, displease them, and they were implacably vicious and careless if innocents got hurt. From his first impression, Irileth was nothing like her goddess. He recalled Athis challenging his decision to join the Companions and not the Vigilants of Stendarr. He might have to mask better his rejection of all things Daedra. Those two did not impress him as evil despite their misguided beliefs.

… … …

The western plain of Whiterun was dotted with ruins and weathered monuments to forgotten battles. They came across a standing altar framed by two shattered pillars to Stendarr, then a crumbling wall sheltering an altar to Zenithar. He wondered at one pond the stone sculpture of a giant crab.

The accursed cave was a long-unused burial mound. They'd come across a desperate hunter in need of a cure for vampirism. He'd given them exact directions to the cave after Tariq had tossed him a curative.

He had provided the two warriors with blessed weapons, shields, and armor pieces with double blessings from the Temple of Kynareth. He had told them what to physically and mentally expect when a vampire's drain spell was working upon them. During the daytime travel, he regaled them on his past adventures on vampire hunting and his observations on how they fought, their tactics, basic ways to counter, and the common spells they used to debilitate their prey. In the two evenings, they went over tactics. If they were fortunate, they would be facing only three vampires, according to the hunter, and a handful of undead or thralls. Any more, and the Nords would withdraw first and, if necessary, gallop back to Whiterun to alert the Companions the vampire threat was more than expected. And with them out of the way, Tariq could go all out without worrying about anyone else.

They went back to the altar of Stendarr for the Nords to pray while Tariq offered his prayer to HoonDing.

Vampires usually sent their hellhounds or their bonewalkers or thralls first. And Tariq would do the same this time; the Nords would go in first. They both could use warcry and cause initial disarray, and he would dash around their distraction to attack the vampire puppeteers.

Lydia was at the forefront with a fire-throwing shortbow and bolt. She set two skeleton guards afire, throwing light into the darkness. A vampire hissed and threw a fireball back while two hellhounds leaped forward. Lillibeth knocked one to the ground with her shield and plunged her blessed sword into it until it was dead. Lydia shot the other one down and also finished it off with her sword.

Distraction was successful. Tariq darted to the side, off the stairs, landing atop a stone coffin. The vampire noticed him too late, and even its enhanced speed wasn't enough to evade him as his spirit-charged sword pierced its guts and severed its unnatural cord to life. It collapsed and rapidly withered to the corpse it really was. A vampire came out of a door at the top of the stairs at the back of the crypt. He saw the shadow of another behind her. It staggered into view. Female Khajiit thrall. The vampire stepped aside and pushed it out before her to attack him. He whispered a prayer for its soul and beheaded it. The Khajiit whispered its thanks as it crumbled to dust. The vampire retreated.

He did a quick check on the Nords. They were holding their own against the thralls. None of the thralls were magic users, so the women were efficiently putting the slaves to rest. He observed further. Lydia was efficient. Mindful of the type of opponents, she'd chosen to take a tower shield, and the combat style she'd chosen was ramming and stabbing. Lillibeth was trying to rely on her sword skills but still needed practice and soon tried copying Lydia's style. Her shield was the smaller round shape that wasn't quite as effective as Lydia's shield. She had a lot of wasted motion and effort. He would mention that to Farkas.

The room in the back would have been pleasant but for the typical vampire taste of decor, like the gutted, rotting body in a cage. Fine beds and chairs were soaked in old blood. Black gems glittered on the enchantments table; bones and organs were piled on the alchemy table. The master vampire arrogantly mocked him and gloated how it would savor Tariq's blood. Tariq would've rolled his eyes at this banal boasting, but he needed to watch the creature's actions. They circled each other. Tariq made tentative feints. The vampire taunted him, daring him to attack. It finally tired of the game and leaped for him, then screamed as fire and lighting erupted from the floor under his feet. It had failed to see the trap coins Tariq had been laying down with each feint; silver disks inscribed with spells that would explode when anything undead or Oblivion-born stepped over them.

Its head bounced off the wall over the alchemy table.

He gathered the black gems and used them to power the wards he laid throughout the mound to prevent the dead within from rising again and repel the undead from ever entering. It was a temporary measure. After all, it wouldn't stop the living from entering who may accidentally or deliberately destroy the runes he'd drawn. But the job was done as far the Companions were concerned.

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