As I nod my thanks to my intrepid companion, I slowly roll onto my feet and quietly retrieve my weapons. Jenassa drops to a crouch and moves forward, motioning for me to stay behind her this time. Since I still feel some pain and stiffness from my recently-healed wounds, I’m not inclined to argue.
All the shades have returned to their original positions. The necromancer has obviously called them back, and with them he seems to be enacting some kind of dark ritual. We can’t see much of it from the narrow corridor, but we can hear him chanting while his minions moan in a strange kind of harmony.
We slowly descend the steps that lead into the next room. Halfway down, Jenassa distracts them with an arrow that flies over their heads. It clatters against the far wall, and the chanting abruptly stops as they all turn toward the sound. We wait until they’ve moved almost to the far wall themselves, and then we open fire.
The shades move remarkably fast. I barely have time to reach the top of the stairs before they swarm the doorway. Jenassa concentrates on keeping the dark spirits busy while I start digging through my stash of potions to see if there’s anything I can use on the necromancer himself. I hit him with a poison that drains his powers, rendering him all but useless. Without magic, it’s much harder for him to deal with our attacks. He throws up a shield in a attempt to protect himself as Jenassa starts cutting down his minions.
I approach the door as my companion backs up the stairs, forcing the remaining shades to follow her. Once the necromancer has been separated from his minions, I keep up a steady barrage of arrows, occasionally helping Jenassa keep the shades at bay while she slices them into ribbons. However, my poison eventually wears off and he manages to restore some of his powers. He starts casting frost spells at my companion in an attempt to save his weakened minions. I grab a protective potion from my pouch and summon Mr. Wuffles.
Pretty soon the shades have been reduced to pools of inky goop, and all our attacks are concentrated on the necromancer. As his body hits the floor, he suddenly transforms into a shade himself — and, of course, all his magical powers come back. He hits Mr. Wuffles with a spell, causing my little buddy to vanish with a pathetic yelp. Okay, now this guy is really starting to annoy me.
I down several more potions as Jenassa and I concentrate on turning him into a pincushion. He’s still casting spells, but thanks to the potions I’m able to resist most of them. We keep up the bombardment and he finally starts to falter.
Soon the necromancer is nothing more than a dark memory. As we step into the doorway, the voice of Meridia instructs me to take her artifact from the marble pedestal that stands on a raised dais in the middle of the room. Twisted corpses litter the floor along with the scattered remnants of ancient weapons and gear. As Jenassa stands guard in case of more unexpected surprises, I search the bodies of the necromancer and his victims as I make my way forward.
I climb the stone steps, approach the pedestal, and see a sword embedded near the top. Clearly this artifact hasn’t been disturbed in a long time. I grasp the hilt and pull it from the marble in one smooth motion as a bright light illuminates the room.
Suddenly I find myself lifted into the sky again. It seems Meridia wants another tête-à-tête. She declares that the dead will now remain at rest because of my efforts, and that I’m to wield the sword Dawnbreaker in her name. I agree, mainly because I really, really don’t want to annoy Meridia while she’s got me dangling helpless in thin air. I’ve nearly expired once, after all, and I’ve had enough of that for one day. Besides, Dawnbreaker is really darn shiny. I certainly don’t object to being its keeper.
After I’m back on my feet, I draw the sword and just admire it for awhile. Jenassa lets me know that I seem to have become the champion of one of the few Daedra who isn’t entirely destructive or manipulative. I have my own opinion about that — being dangled in mid-air seems pretty manipulative to me, but what the heck. I’m willing to let bygones be bygones.
As I sheathe Dawnbreaker and make my way down from the statue, I notice the moonlight is illuminating a curved structure in the forest nearby. I head in that direction and find myself in front of another engraved wall that’s partially hidden in the trees. As I approach the wall, a familiar soft glow radiates from one of the symbols. Ribbons of mystical light pour from the stone and surround me, and another ancient word unlocks itself in my mind.
The night is rapidly turning frigid, the wind is starting to rise, and we can hear the howling of ice wolves close by. Jenassa suggests we find a place to camp for the night, as it’s unlikely we’ll be able to find our way to an inn before we’re attacked by wolves… or worse.
Just off the stone path leading to the temple, we find a flat stretch of ground sheltered by a cliff. There’s even a fallen log available for firewood. As we set up camp, I notice that Jenassa is strangely quiet. I ask if there’s anything wrong, but she says she’s just tired. Fair enough. We’ve traveled from Whiterun by cart, discovered an ancient temple, been ordered around by a Daedra, battled with corrupted spirits, and destroyed a necromancer. Oh right, and I nearly died. It’s been a pretty exhausting day.
The morning dawns bright and sunny, but the wind is still icy and the wolves are still audible. As we eat our morning meal and break camp, we have a quick look through our belongings. We’re going to have to head into Solitude and sell off a lot of this stuff before we start making other plans.
Also, as Jenassa reminds me, I’ve now been assigned by Meridia to rid Skyrim of the restless dead as her new champion — and that’s definitely going to keep me busy for awhile. She points out that the most reasonable place to start would be at the houses of Arkay in the main cities. If the dead in those places aren’t restless, then the priests of Arkay will probably know of some that are.
We’ve barely started on our way to Solitude when we finally run into those ice wolves that have been howling all night long. Unfortunately they’re very tenacious. There are nearly a dozen wolves, and the pack harasses us almost the entire way to Solitude. We finally manage to get rid of them with the help of a couple of city guards out on patrol, but by the time the fight is over, I’m getting pretty chilled. I down a couple bottles of mead as we approach the main gates.
We enter the gates of Solitude, and we’re immediately confronted with an unforgettable example of Skyrim’s swift justice.
The execution proceeds, but I find it difficult to watch. It’s one thing to kill enemies who are trying to kill you, but something about this cold-blooded dispatch bothers me. I find myself identifying with the criminal on the block, sharing his realization that this will be his last day alive, that in a matter of minutes he will draw his final breath. Perhaps it’s because it sounds like he was betrayed by his fellow townsfolk, and my own recent betrayal is still fresh in my mind. Perhaps it’s merely that my own brush with mortality was less than a day ago, and if it weren’t for the efforts of my companion, I’d be just as doomed.
The headsman’s axe falls, and suddenly I’m overwhelmed by a wave of sorrow and grief. The victim seemed to be in the prime of his life and in full command of his faculties, and for him to be ruthlessly cut down in this manner seems nothing short of barbaric. I wordlessly bid him farewell and wish him a blessed afterlife in the place he mentioned before he died — Sovngarde, wherever that may be. I turn from the scene, feeling sickened. Jenassa gives me a quizzical and slightly concerned look, but I avoid her gaze as I walk away.
Like Whiterun, the city is decked out for the Mid Year celebrations — but despite the impressive decorations, the mood doesn’t seem particularly festive. For the next couple of hours we wander in and out of various shops, selling the extra loot we’ve collected. Some of the shopkeepers mention the execution, but none of them seem particularly disposed to talk about it. That’s more than fine with me.
After we’re done with the shops, Jenassa and I head straight to the inn. I definitely feel like I need a few drinks.
The Winking Skeever has a distinctly odd name, but the interior is spacious and inviting. We find a small table and order a bottle of Alto wine. Soon I’m warm enough that I can remove some of my outerwear, but neither the warmth nor the wine can counteract the chilling nature of the day’s events.
Somewhere in the room a bard starts playing Ragnar the Red. The last thing I want to hear is a cheery folk song about a beheading, but fortunately after a few more drinks the lyrics lose all meaning. I turn and order us another bottle.
My companion glances at me from time to time, but she doesn’t seem predisposed to make conversation. Something is definitely on her mind, but I’m not sure it’s the execution. Whatever it is, I’m not sure I could deal with it right now. It’s enough just to be in her company, and I’m suddenly aware that even though I’m disturbed and upset, I’m glad she’s here with me.