When Jenassa and I reach the Ivarstead barrow, it’s still early evening. The sun hasn’t set completely and the barrow looks tranquil in the fading light. The very idea that this place might be haunted seems absurd.
However, there’s also very little evidence that the barrow is a bandit hideout. I don’t have extensive experience with bandits, but every time we’ve stumbled on a hideout it’s remarkably obvious by the time we get within a stone’s throw — usually because we’re busy dodging arrows and getting swarmed by poorly-geared ruffians with lousy personal hygiene.
But that doesn’t happen here. We step across the threshold and follow a corridor until we find an iron door. Everything remains calm and quiet, and the only sound is our own footsteps on the stone floor. If anything, this makes us more apprehensive. I’m starting to wonder if the townsfolk aren’t so superstitious after all.
The iron door creaks a little as it swings open. We crouch, pull out our bows, and enter the barrow as quietly as possible. No point in making enough noise to wake the dead — literally or otherwise.
We descend a rickety set of wooden steps and enter a stone chamber. Narrow alcoves line the walls, several of which contain bones or mummified remains. Fortunately, none of the dead seem to have any inclination to get up and walk around. I relax a bit, loosen my grip on my bow, and try to think of peaceful thoughts like rainbows, flowers, and lullabies.
There’s a junction at the end of the chamber connecting it to the rest of the crypt. At one end is a small room with levers set into the wall, and at the other end is a closed iron gate. More alcoves line the walls, but their inhabitants are just as quiet as the rest. All in all, these dead are far more polite than the ones at Bleak Falls Barrow. The only spirits I’ve seen tonight are from the bottles of mead in my backpack.
Jenassa and I head toward the room with the strange set of levers. Before I can cross the threshold, an echoing disembodied voice calls to us from beyond the gate — and apparently from beyond the grave. Merciful Mara, save us!
Even Jenassa looks pretty startled, but she’s still curious about those levers. She draws her blades and drops her voice to a whisper, telling me to go in the other room and start pulling handles while she stands guard. When I protest, she says that since we’re already here, and nothing’s attacked us yet, we might as well learn as much as we can before we’re forced to retreat. We start arguing, but bickering in whispers sounds so ridiculous that I finally throw up my hands and do what she asks.
The first lever doesn’t appear to do much, but the second causes hidden darts to shoot out from the walls. I narrowly miss being hit only because I haven’t stepped very far into the room. I’d bet a case of Honningbrew those darts are poisoned, and I’m starting to suspect that some of these corpses in the barrow might not have died by natural causes.
The third lever causes something to clank, and when I look behind me, I see that an iron gate has dropped and trapped me in the room. Great, now I’m probably a permanent resident. My companion looks back in alarm, and I start yanking on random levers in an attempt to free myself. After some frantic pulling, the gate behind me slides back up into the ceiling (thank the Divines), but the gate at the far end of the corridor also slides open. Jenassa lifts a hand, signalling me to stop.
I step out of the room, but I’m not much encouraged when I look around. Now our only exit from this crypt has an iron gate blocking our path. I point this out to Jenassa, but she waves her hand in dismissal. I inwardly sigh as I pull out my bow and follow her. I really hope she knows what she’s doing.
We continue down the corridor through the opened gate. We find a couple of closed iron doors, both of which open into deadly trapped rooms. I can definitely see how people can wander into this place and mysteriously “vanish”.
The final iron door is at the end of the corridor. As I cautiously move to open it, Jenassa puts a hand on my arm. “Be ready,” she whispers. “We still don’t know who — or what — spoke to us.” I nod, nock an arrow, and swing the door open.
The room definitely contains something extraordinary, and whatever it is, it’s not happy. Jenassa and I immediately start filling it full of arrows, but it casts some kind of magical shield to protect itself. Worse yet, it apparently knows some offensive spells, and in this narrow corridor we can’t effectively run, hide, or dodge. It’s blasting away at us like we’re fish in a barrel.
Soon we’re in real trouble. My companion takes the brunt of its attack but it’s apparent she won’t be able to hold out much longer. I’m about to summon Mr. Wuffles for some extra backup, when suddenly it charges straight toward us and engulfs Jenassa in a flame spell. She stumbles backward, and in my panic, my conjuration fails. Crap.
The phantom steps closer to finish off Jenassa. On impulse, I grab my mace, dive between them, protect Jenassa with my shield, and bash the ghost’s brains out. Surprisingly, this actually works.
The body falls to the floor with a thud. Huh, that’s a pretty strange sound for a disembodied entity. Then the shimmery transparent effect falls away, and we can see that it’s a perfectly normal freshly-killed corpse. So wait, this so-called ghost was just a mortal elf bandit? I have to admit, I’m feeling somewhat disappointed. So is Jenassa, apparently, as she mutters something about hardly being worth the effort.
We head into the room on the other side of the iron door. Inside, there’s an alchemy table, a couple of glowing potions, some books, a few odds and ends, and incontrovertible proof that it’s never a good idea to record nefarious plans.
Well, I suppose it’s time to disappoint some more people. I grab the journal and we make our way back through the barrow. We pull at the levers and manage to reopen the iron gate that blocked our way out. Soon we’re breathing fresh air again, and even though it’s later in the evening, there’s still plenty of light outside.
We head back to the Vilemyr Inn, march straight up to the counter, and hand the journal to the innkeeper. His reaction is admittedly rather satisfying.
I’m feeling pretty smug when the innkeeper mentions rewarding us, and if we won’t accept it as payment, we’re to consider it a gift. He reaches under the counter and pulls out an object that seems familiar. Now where have I seen… oh. There are more of those?
I surreptitiously glance at Jenassa, and somewhat to my dismay, her entire expression changes from slightly bored to instantly awake. She’s got that gleam in her eye again.
This time I don’t even argue — it would be pointless for me to expect that my companion would be satisfied with fighting a single adversary. We eat a quick meal and it’s back to the barrow.
Jenassa thinks she knows where to look for an ancient Nord puzzle door. We enter the crypt, pull on the levers to access the inner passage, and follow the corridor to the room that had the fire trap. Sure enough, there’s a second door. It swings on its hinges with a loud creak that echoes down the stone corridor — clearly it hasn’t been opened in a very long time.
We approach the puzzle door, turn the wheels to the correct pattern, and slot the claw inside. The door slides smoothly into the floor, revealing the rest of the crypt.
We walk down more stone corridors until we reach a room with several coffins. All is quiet, but I’ve got that uneasy feeling again. In the middle of the room is a metal lectern with a book on it, but it’s a little too high for me to read. I pick up the book to check it out, and part of the lectern moves in response. I run to the far side of the room just as the coffin lids start popping off like champagne corks.
These undead are annoying, but that’s mainly due to their numbers rather than their strength. After we recover from our surprise, we soon make short work of them and continue through the crypt. There’s a long wooden staircase leading to two different doors, one halfway up the stairs, and the other at the top. The second door is locked up tight. When Jenassa examines it, she asks me how many lockpicks I’ve brought along.
Even with Jenassa’s assistance, this door is tricky. I break several picks before I can feel the lock move even a tiny bit, but once I have the feel of it, I can hear the tumblers slide into place.
The door swings wide to reveal… a locked chest. Really? The door wasn’t enough? Holy bones of Arkay, talk about paranoid!
Muttering to myself, I pull out another lockpick and shake my hands to get the tension out of my fingers. It’s another tricky lock, although not quite as bad as the one on the door. In a few minutes (and a few more broken picks), it springs open. The contents are shiny enough, but hardly worth the extra security.
We descend the stairs to the other door. It swings open easily, leading to another part of the barrow. We take down a couple of animated skeletons, but when I notice the loot, I suddenly feel a little bit guilty. I hope that wasn’t a married couple enjoying a peaceful afterlife before we adventurers showed up and ruined everything. If so, um… sorry?
The next room is wide and quite expansive. Noises echo off the walls and we can tell it’s occupied by several enemies. We’re definitely outnumbered, so we’ll have to be careful.
Behind me, Jenassa readies her bow as I slowly move forward to scout out the situation. I can hear a lot of scuffling from our adversaries as they wander around, but fortunately they haven’t seen us yet. My mind races, trying to formulate a strategy. We’ll have to try to separate them, and then choose our targets carefully so we don’t get overwhelmed, and I’ll probably have to summon Mr. Wuffles for extra backup…
After looting the remains, we discover a treasure chest in a hidden room and take down a couple more undead that made the mistake of getting in our way. As we enter a side passage, I notice a tripwire and motion for Jenassa to stop. She halts in her tracks, but a new enemy has spotted us, and he appears to be more of a threat than the relatively fragile skeletons.
I can’t move forward because of the tripwire, and the zombie is fast approaching — so I wait for the opportune moment and snap the wire.
This place is seriously full of traps. We beat down another zombie guarding a Nord puzzle, which reveals a bridge to a jerry-rigged passage, featuring a side room that tries to turn me into a burnt offering. Fortunately the two of us are getting pretty adept at avoiding the worst of the dangers, but I can’t help feeling that we’re really pushing our luck.
Finally we reach a double set of iron doors. We push them open to find the largest room yet, filled with ancient coffins. Right. I know how this goes. I take a few careful steps forward, and I’m completely unsurprised when most of the coffin lids burst off simultaneously.
Skeletons and zombies start crawling out from every direction. I stand in place and keep up a steady barrage of arrows, while behind me Jenassa readies her own bow. There are a few shambling cadavers that require several shots, but one by one, they all hit the floor.
Finally the granddaddy of the dead, an Overlord, makes his appearance from the biggest and most ancient sarcophagus. He pulls out a rather deadly-looking battleaxe and starts marching down the stone steps toward us from the central platform. I start filling him full of holes, and he attempts to push me away using what I now know is a Shout. It successfully staggers me — but ultimately it’s too little, too late.
After looting the corpses, we climb a set of stairs and head into another spacious room. There’s a chest straight ahead as we walk through the door, but I can see the trigger trap attached and the holes above that doubtless contain poisoned darts.
Fortunately the trigger is fairly easy to disarm, and when I open the chest… oh come on, now. Another one? Really? I can’t help but suspect that the Divines are trying to tell me something.
At the far end of this room is a massive engraved wall, very much like the one we found in Bleak Falls Barrow. Sure enough, when I walk close to it I’m surrounded by streams of light, and once again part of my mind seems to unlock. The language sings itself to me, and I absorb its meaning, tapping into a deep and profound reservoir of ancient knowledge.
Jenassa and I follow another stone passage, which after a few twists, turns, and a hidden treasure room, finally leads us out of the barrow. By this time, night has fallen and the lights of the inn glow brightly in the deepening gloom.
I head over to the stables, pat my horse affectionately, and unload most of this evening’s loot into my saddlebags while Jenassa follows suit with hers. I also retrieve an extra bundle of arrows that I’d stashed there earlier. My ammunition is getting low, and we still have a mountain to climb tomorrow. The last thing I need is to run into some unfriendly wildlife without any arrows handy.
We stumble into the inn, tired, disheveled, and rather proud of ourselves. On some level this was far more satisfying than simply taking out a bandit den. We don’t say a word to the innkeeper — why give him nightmares about walking skeletons and restless zombies? We’ve made sure the village is safe, and now we can rest easy. Goodnight, Ivarstead!