Chapter 23: Hot Blooded

I have to admit, leading a lynch mob is an exhilarating experience.  There’s something about an angry, roaring, torch-wielding crowd of vigilantes that demands attention from even the most jaded observer.  It also does wonders for your motivation.  The last thing I want to do is wimp out in front of this gang, as I have a feeling they’d rip out my organs with their bare hands and leave my wretched remains rotting in the marsh.  Compared to that, facing down a few vampires doesn’t sound all that bad.

We charge through the town and storm our way through the swamp.  The vampire den isn’t all that far, and pretty soon we can see the entrance.  It’s not even hidden or hard to find.  Given its proximity to Morthal, I’m surprised the townsfolk haven’t already dealt with these undead abominations.  I suppose they just needed a good excuse.  Either that, or the mead at the inn was stronger than usual tonight.

You guys are really harshing my buzz.
You guys are really harshing my buzz.

As we arrive at the vampire lair, the previously boisterous mob grows strangely silent.  I dismount my horse and look around at their faces in the flickering torchlight.  Now that we’re actually here, everyone seems much less inclined to follow through with our mission.  A few even start muttering that they have better things to do.  Seriously?!  No wonder vampires have been using your town as their own personal blood bank.  Bunch of useless milk-drinkers!

Fine, I guess Jenassa and I will have to take care of this ourselves.  I’m going to count to ten, and if I see any of your faces when I turn around, I’m putting an arrow through your eye.  One… two…

Well, that sure worked.
Well, that sure worked.

Y’know, maybe it’s a good thing those gutless wonders chickened out.  I was kind of nervous about this enterprise before, but now I’m just really ticked off.   Jenassa gives me a sidelong glance and raises an eyebrow as if to ask, are we going in?  I answer her unspoken query with a short nod, then I grab my bow, drop to a crouch, and enter the vampire lair.

Why is there always spiders?
Are spiders just attracted to bad guys or something?

At the entrance of the cave, we run into a couple of giant spiders.  They’re not much of a challenge, but it just enhances my overall sense of annoyance when one of them blinds me with venom.  Of course that happened.  I’m so used to it by this point that I barely react.  I just wipe it off and wait for the effects to dissipate while Jenassa lands the killing blow.

One of these days, someone is going to figure out that all they have to do to finish off the Dragonborn is drop me in a pit full of spiders.  Eurgh.   On second thought, I really wish I hadn’t pictured that.  C’mon Jenassa, let’s go find us some vampires.

He didn't even see it coming.
Surprise!  You’re dead.

The vampire’s thrall in the next room doesn’t even look up when we enter.  Looks like he’s been assigned as night watchman, and he’s really bad at his job.  One shot to the back of the neck is all it takes.  Well.  That was almost too easy.  Something tells me the rest of the inhabitants aren’t going to be quite as clueless — although I certainly won’t complain if I’m mistaken.

The next room is a wide open chamber.  Tables hold various random objects, most of them covered in blood — items like gloves, hats, coins, rolls of paper, strips of cloth.  One table even has a corpse.  A couple of carts are piled high with bloody bones.  There’s also a pit dug into the floor in the middle of the room.

I’m approaching the pit when suddenly I hear a voice.  I drop to a crouch, but I’m a bit too slow.  Another thrall emerges from the pit in time to see me, grabs a sword, and heads straight for my face.  So I draw Dawnbreaker and set him on fire.

Handy that you've dug your own grave.
Considerate of you to dig your own grave.

Jenassa unsheathes her blades and leaps in to assist.  Between the two of us, it doesn’t take long before we overwhelm him.  Soon he’s just another display in the collection of body parts.

You like dead things? Let me help out.
So you like dead things? Let me help out.

The next chamber is the largest one yet.  A wooden ramp leads up and disappears into a separate tunnel.  The room in front of us is furnished with a formal dining table laden with food, including what seems to be chunks of raw meat.  At the head of the table is a throne, in which is seated a pale imposing figure guarded by several thralls.  That must be Movarth, the master vampire.

Keeping our heads down, Jenassa and I quietly ascend the walkway until we have a clear view of most of the room.  I raise my bow and aim at a thrall at the far end, hitting her in the shoulder.  Another arrow pierces her throat and she drops to the ground.   Movarth rises from the throne in alarm, and the other thralls rush toward the back of the room where their comrade has fallen.

This buys us a few seconds, and Jenassa and I loose a barrage of arrows, seriously damaging a second thrall and wounding Movarth.  We’ve been spotted by this time, so I leap down from the wooden scaffold and finish off the thrall who’s already down on one knee.

Dawnbreaker's pretty effective when you don't have a wooden stake handy.
Dawnbreaker’s pretty effective when you don’t have a wooden stake handy.

Movarth immediately turns on me, hitting me with a spell that starts sucking the blood out of my veins and transforming it into vapour.  Needless to say, it’s not a pleasant experience.

Hey, give that back! I never signed up to be a blood donor.
Hey, give that back!  I never signed up to be a blood donor.

Infuriated, I rush at him as he steps toward me, setting him on fire with Dawnbreaker.  I’ve noticed undead really hate that.  Soon he’s screaming in pain as his flesh starts to burn.  He’s still vapourizing my blood, but Meridia’s flame seems to be hurting him faster than his spell is hurting me.

Don't you dare tell me to talk to the hand.
Don’t you dare tell me to talk to the hand.

I keep swinging, but soon I’m fumbling in my pouch for healing potions.  The loss of blood is making me dangerously lightheaded, but fortunately the potions restore my health quickly.  I bash Movarth over the head, staggering him, and slice through his throat with Dawnbreaker.   Before he can renew his attack, he crumples in a heap at my feet.

... and STAY dead!
… and STAY dead!

I look around and spot Jenassa slowly heading down a side tunnel, bow raised.  Looks like she’s cornered another enemy and already wounded them with her arrows.  I race ahead to help her out, take a closer look, and realize who her prey must be.  Well done, Jenassa!   I  raise my shield, stagger the vampire, and set her on fire.  Alva screams at me as she dies.

Well, yes. Yes it is.
Well, yes actually. Yes it is.

We clear out the rest of the side tunnels, looting as we go.  Movarth seems to have quite the shoe fetish, as he has shelves of boots and other footwear on display.  He also owns a pair of boots made of buttery soft leather, so supple that they hardly make a sound.   He’s probably ambushed a lot of people over the years while wearing these.

Finally the last enemy falls to Dawnbreaker.   The thrall dies shrieking in a blaze of Meridia’s holy light, and we step through the flames into a tunnel that appears to be curving back toward the entrance.

Thanks for illuminating the way out.
That’s thrall, folks!

The tunnel ends abruptly in a sharp drop, and I stumble to a halt just before going over the edge.  Cautiously, I lean over and look down.  At the bottom is a room that appears to be a vampiric version of a pantry.  Fresh bloody bones are piled in carts according to some sort of system, but I’m not taking the time to figure out what it might mean.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.

Fortunately there’s a place I can land safely.  I jump down, landing in the middle of the floor surrounded by bone carts.  Eww.  Vampires are truly disgusting creatures.  They must have some mighty powerful mojo or something, because honestly I can’t see the appeal.  As far as I’m concerned, the only good vampire is a dead vampire — and I mean permanently dead.

Or maybe this is a vampire's idea of interior decorating.
Or maybe this is Movarth’s idea of a trophy room.

I hear Jenassa drop to the floor behind me as she descends from the ledge.  From here, it’s a only a short distance to the entrance of the lair.  Thank the Divines — I’m so done with this repulsive burrow of bones and blood.

As we re-enter the room that housed the pet spiders, I can see a small shimmering form near the door.  Ascending the ramp, I recognize the little ghost girl from the remains of the burned house back in Morthal.   Hey sweetie, what’re you doing out here?

Anytime, little one. Say hi to your mommy for me.
Anytime, little one. Say hi to your mama for me.

Finally, Jenassa and I head out of the lair and into the cool freshness of a new morning.  The sun hasn’t quite risen yet, but the sky is shimmering with pre-dawn light, the stars are fading, and the dew lies glistening on the grass.  I step forward and take a deep breath of fresh air, driving out the scent of blood and death.  Reinvigorated, I turn to Jenassa and smile to see her looking as beautiful and badass as ever.

“Good morning, my love,” I say to her.

She smiles back.  “And a good morning to you, my patron.”

All night in a vampire cave and now it's dawn. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere.
Spent all night fighting vampires and now it’s dawn.  I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

I give her a swift kiss and nod in the direction of Morthal.  “Shall we make our way back and report to the Jarl?”

She ponders the question for a moment.  “Perhaps not, for I doubt she would be awake at this hour.  I believe we should push on.  It looks like it will be fine weather, and we should not waste the daylight.”

It takes me a minute, but I figure it out.  “You’re saying we should try to find the ruins of Ustengrav?”

“Indeed,” she replies.  “Unless you are too weary to continue?”

I hold up Dawnbreaker and watch the first rays of sunlight illuminate the blade.  “Not at all.  I probably should be tired, but I feel like I’ve just started.”

She holds out her hand.  “Then come, my patron, and let us start something that will be remembered.”

I take her hand in mine, give her a lingering kiss, and we walk out into the dawn.

Travel Map 12.
Travel Map 12.

One thought on “Chapter 23: Hot Blooded

  1. A-tisket, a-tasket, a skinned head in a basket, ashes, ashes, the Thralls fall down.

    Just cleared out the vampires myself this week, note to self, visit kilkreath first next time. What you made so easy took me numerous tries. Keep on keeping’ on Morien and Jenassa!

    Liked by 1 person

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