Even though there aren’t that many people in the small mining outpost of Kynesgrove, most of them head over to the inn later that night. Everyone seems to know what happened up there on the hill, and the townsfolk drag us back out of our room and lead us to a table, laughing and pushing full frothing mugs into our hands. Just like in Morthal, once again Jenassa and I are in the middle of an admiring and grateful crowd.
This time there’s no reason to pace myself, so I happily drink all the mead that’s handed to me as the miners offer toast after toast in our honour. Soon I’m so knackered that I can barely walk. I guess I must’ve made it to the bed somehow, because that night in the Braidwood Inn, as I sleep all warm and cozy next to my wonderful girlfriend, I have the strangest dream.
I dream that I’m riding along the road somewhere in Skyrim. It’s a beautiful day, clear and bright, and I can smell the fresh air and hear the birds singing. A huge bonfire comes into sight by the side of the road, marked by tall ancient stones. I turn to look at the flames reaching high into the sky, when I see a dragon fly down from the mountains.
The dragon flies over to me, and in the dream I’m not afraid. I can tell it’s not a threat — it’s trying to communicate and tell me something that I instinctively know is important. It swoops close to me, speaking in the dragon tongue, but I can’t make out what it’s saying. Jenassa appears behind me, telling me that we have to go, but it seems imperative that I figure out what the dragon wants first.
Jenassa reaches out to tug at my arm, insisting that we leave, but the dragon becomes annoyed that she’s interfering. Without warning, it starts to attack her, flying very low and buffeting her with its wings. I jump off my horse and rush to her defense, pulling out my bow to drive the dragon away. Behind the dragon, up in the clouds, I can just barely see a mammoth floating gently down from the sky. In my dream this seems perfectly normal.
Next thing I know, the dragon lands right in front of us and turns into a giant. The giant raises a massive bone club and strikes Jenassa with a single solid blow, forcing her to her knees. Infuriated, I shoot at the giant to make him stop hurting Jenassa, and the giant starts chasing me instead.
I run from the giant, continuing to take shots at him, leading him away from my wounded girlfriend. But I’m very angry, and so I’m not surprised when Barbie suddenly appears in front of me. Barbie starts hitting the giant with fireballs while I keep firing my bow. The giant seems badly injured, but he doesn’t stop walking toward me.
The giant raises his club, about to bring it down on my head — when suddenly I’m floating high in the air, just like the sky-mammoth. But then I’m suddenly falling, dropping down from a height that I last saw when I spoke to Meridia. I turn to look at the ground, but it’s so far away. I realize I’m falling faster, much faster than the mammoth did.
Then I wake up.
Whoa, I think I had a little too much mead last night. My head feels like it’s full of rocks and I really don’t want to open my eyes. I guess I must’ve been making noises in my sleep, because Jenassa is shaking me gently and asking me if I’m all right. I groan something that sounds vaguely reassuring and crack my eyelids open, only to close them again immediately. Just give me a minute, honey — and see if the innkeeper has anything for a hangover.
Jenassa comes back with some kind of drink that’s half potion, half sweetened tea. It’s actually not all that bad, and I down most of it in one gulp. In a few minutes I’m feeling a lot better. I even have an appetite, and after I’ve made myself presentable, soon I’m enjoying a breakfast of eggs, fresh bread with butter, and salmon steak.
I’m just finishing my delicious meal when the front door of the inn opens and a Stormcloak officer walks in, calling to the innkeeper for some mead for his incoming troops. Okay, I know I slept in, but isn’t it way too early for mead? One of the other patrons makes a sarcastic comment about Ulfric needing to bribe the rebels to make them do their duty, and the officer retorts that the patron is welcome to take over the hard labour of clearing dragon bones off the road and save his soldiers the trouble.
Dragon bones on the road? What’s been happening out there? Have more dragons shown up? Curious, I ask the officer what he’s talking about, and he tells me to look outside the inn and see for myself.
There are dragon bones out there, all right. In fact, it’s the entire skeleton of the dragon we killed last night, lying right out on the road. I ask a passing Stormcloak soldier about it — apparently the skeleton somehow slid all the way down the hillside in the dead of night, making a horrible racket and alarming all the miners who were outside sleeping in their tents.
The bones finally came to a rest on the road, but now it’s blocking the path between the inn and the mine, and troops from Windhelm will soon be arriving to break the skeleton into pieces and cart away the remains. Troops arriving from Windhelm? Hmm. Maybe I’d better tell Jenassa about this.
Jenassa steps out of the inn just as the soldier is called away. I tell her about the incoming Windhelm soldiers, and she grimaces. She takes a long look at the dragon bones, and states that it will be a terrible, arduous, backbreaking ordeal to clear away the entire skeleton. Then she smiles impishly, saying that she can’t think of anyone more deserving of the task than the Windhelm military.
Snickering to ourselves, we head back to the inn. Once inside, I head over to the innkeeper to thank her for the hangover remedy and offer her a substantial tip. She says not to mention it, but if I’m still feeling generous then she suggests I could buy Roggi a drink. Huh? Who’s Roggi? Did he invent the remedy or something?
Roggi’s right there behind the bar, so I go over to relay the innkeeper’s message, telling him not to worry about all the coin he owes. He reacts almost angrily, accusing me of mistaking him for a beggar, and says that his family always paid their debts and he’ll be no exception. Whoa, buddy, give the innkeeper a break. She’s just trying to do you a favour, and what does your family honour say about throwing a good woman’s kindness back in her face?
Now that’s been settled, I buy Roggi a drink and we start chatting. He’s quite the storyteller, and regales me with an entertaining account of his ancestor Lenne who stumbled into a cave to relieve himself after drinking too much mead. Unfortunately while Lenne was in there, he misplaced the ancestral family shield and it’s been lost ever since. Apparently he was also eaten by some sort of monster. Listen mate, I hate to say it, but it doesn’t sound like your ancestor was overly burdened with brains.
Interestingly, Roggi also says he thinks he knows which cave the shield is in, and it’s not that far away. He always meant to try to recover it, but working at the mine doesn’t give him a lot of time to go exploring — not to mention, he isn’t sure he’d survive if he went by himself. It was a good story, and I have to admit I kinda like his attitude, so I tell him I’ll have a look in the cave for his shield.
Jenassa seems agreeable, especially if it means that we’ll be absent when the Windhelm soldiers arrive. After Roggi gives us directions to the cave, we grab our gear and head outside. Unfortunately, the weather has taken a turn for the worse — the sky has darkened, the wind has picked up, and it’s starting to snow. The cave is pretty close though, and we won’t have to worry about the weather underground, so we decide to go ahead.
A few minutes later we reach the cave. From a distance it seems rather odd — there are giant snowballs all around it, for one thing, even though there’s hardly any snow on the ground. One of the snowballs seems to have cracked straight down the middle, and there are long strands of frost all over everything. Then we dismount and walk closer… and realize it’s not frost and snowballs after all.
There’s a gruesome corpse of a mammoth next to the cave. It’s obviously been dead for awhile, and two giant egg sacs are attached to the remains. Eww. I really don’t want to think about the implications of that. Skyrim seems to be doing its best to turn me into an arachnophobe.
Jenassa has noticed my reaction to the evidence that this cave is infested, and raises her eyebrow as if to say, you still okay with this? I sigh, give her a short nod, drop to a crouch, and grimly move toward the entrance.
Sure enough, seconds after we enter the cave, the spiders swarm us. Fortunately they don’t pose much of an issue, as our arrows take them down relatively fast. Still, I’m not feeling too optimistic. There’s always plenty more spiders to replace the initial rush, not to mention that I’ve never seen a spider colony that doesn’t have a matriarch somewhere around. And she’s always a right pain the arse to fight. This cave seems extensive, and it’s obviously full of spiders — so I bet the matriarch will be worse than usual. Great.
We pick off a couple more spiders as we head down a long, spiraling ramp. As we reach the bottom, I happen to look up on the wall and see something that seems distinctly out of place.
There’s a big red button on the wall, obviously connected to a switch. Looking closely, I can just make out the outline of a door hidden within the contours of the rock wall. That’s… pretty unexpected, actually.
Hey, maybe this is the end of the cave already, and the shield might be just inside the door! I can see Roggi’s ancestor stumbling all the way down here, drunk on mead, leaning against this button by accident and dropping his shield through the door just before it closed. And then getting eaten by spiders. Yeah, I’m not gonna think about that last part. C’mon Jenassa, let’s see what’s through here.
I punch the button and the door slides open. Stepping through, we nearly stumble on a fire trap, quite similar to the ones we saw back in Ustengrav. Okay, we either have some very talented spiders, or there’s something else living in this cave.
Carefully avoiding the trap, I scan the cavern. The first thing I notice is a ring of candles with a lot of blood in the middle. There’s also a table with more candles, and — strangest of all — there’s a wooden house built on top of a ledge. What in Oblivion is a house doing in a cave? Did someone actually cart a pile of building supplies past all the spiders, carve out a hidden door, install a button switch and a fire trap, and then build this house for the fun of it? There’s not even any weather in here from which you’d need shelter. Whoever is living up there, they sure aren’t the sharpest axe in the stump.
We spot a figure getting up from the table, and Jenassa and I shoot it down. We head over to inspect our fallen prey, and I can tell from the gaunt face and marks around the neck that it’s a vampire thrall. Right. With all the spiders in this cave, I really should’ve seen that coming. So now we have vampires to deal with. This cave just keeps getting creepier.
We head past the body and up to the ledge. Behind the extraneous house is a work area, complete with tables, chairs, storage containers, and an alchemy table. I bet they use a lot of frostbite venom.
There’s also the sickening smell of blood and decay, but that’s to be expected around vampires. They’re not exactly tidy creatures, given their feeding habits, and they tend to foul their own nests. But I’ll be damned if any of our blood is going to become a part of their interior design.
There’s a vampire in the work area, and we take her down with a couple of well-placed shots. Then we hear a sudden movement from within the house. Looking through the window — yes, there’s actually a pointless window in this nonsensical house — I can make out another vampire standing up from a blood-soaked table. I raise my bow and quickly fire at it through the window, and it collapses just as it reaches the door.
Jenassa congratulates me on my well-timed shot. It was pretty good, wasn’t it? Let’s check out the results, and… eurgh. On second thought, let’s grab any usable loot and get the hell out of here before I throw up.
We clear out a couple of chests and go over the bodies, but there’s no shield to be found — only some gold, potions, lockpicks, gems, and minor items of jewelry. Disappointed, we head back out to the main part of the cave. Time to tackle more spiders. Goody.
Almost as soon as we leave the vampire lair, I’m hit with blinding spider venom. It’s like my face is a magnet for that stuff. Annoyed, I wipe my eyes and start shooting at the little bugger who spat it at me. Two more of its disgusting little friends show up, and Jenassa and I keep firing as we descend further into the cave.
This place is much bigger than it looks. It’s rather unsettling. There are narrow passages branching off in several directions and almost everything is covered in cobwebs. We pick one of the passages and inch forward, bows at the ready.
At least in this confined space, the spiders can’t swarm us as easily. We shoot them one at a time as we encounter them, clear away the webs, step forward a couple of paces, and shoot a few more. It soon gets a bit tedious — or it would, if we didn’t have to worry about our inevitable encounter with the arachnid matriarch.
I’m so preoccupied about this that when I discover a web-covered chest, it barely registers. Fortunately Jenassa also notices it. We clear away the cobwebs and open it, hoping to find Roggi’s ancestral shield, but no such luck. To my disgust, the only thing inside is a handful of gold coins. A small handful, at that.
We make our way around a corner, and up ahead I can see a glimmer of light. Maybe the end is in sight at last! I clear away some more cobwebs, peer through the opening… and nearly block it right back up again. Too late now — I think it’s spotted us.
We manage to take a couple of shots before it rushes toward us. It’s definitely the matriarch, and worse yet, she has some of her brood with her as backup. Breaking through the rest of the webbing, Jenassa opts to take down the smaller ones, leaving me to deal with Big Momma. I fire off another shot and then draw Dawnbreaker as the spider closes the distance.
Soon the creature is on fire, which is my second-favourite kind of spider. My absolute favourite is a dead spider, and in seconds the matriarch helpfully obliges, collapsing in a heap of burning hairy legs. Jenassa kills off the last of the brood, and we head further into the cavern.
We’re pleased to discover a massive chest resting near the back wall. This has got to be where Roggi’s family shield is hiding. There’s nowhere else it can be, as it wasn’t on any of the spiders. I open the chest and look inside, preparing to raise the shield into the air in triumph.
Seeing my expression, Jenassa peers inside the chest as well, and I watch her face collapse in disbelief. Desperate, I start searching in every nook and cranny of the room, even — ugh — inside the egg sacs. And that’s when I hit paydirt. Finally.
Fortunately the exit is relatively close by, so we don’t waste any time in finding our way out, mounting our horses, and leaving the spider cave far behind us. The snow squall seems to have passed and now the sun is out. I just know I’m going to spend the rest of the day frantically scratching at every little itch — and while I’m at it, first opportunity I get, I’m thoroughly shaking out every last stitch of my clothing. Including my boots. Especially my boots.
We ride straight back to Kynesgrove, and notice that the dragon skeleton has been removed from the road. Roggi doesn’t appear to be at the inn, so we head up the hill to the mine.
The guard at the entrance to the mine informs us that the Windhelm contingent has already been here. He tells us that they finished their task while we were in the spider cave, and that most of them suffered minor aches, pulled muscles, and other assorted injuries due to moving the awkwardly heavy dragon bones. This news makes Jenassa look rather gratified.
We enter the mine, walk a short distance, and find Roggi taking a break. When I hand over his family shield, he receives it from my grasp, looks at it almost reverently, and sincerely thanks us for our efforts. He’s clearly moved, and it almost makes crawling around in a spider-infested cave worthwhile. Almost.
He puts the ancestral antique down carefully, leaning it against a wall, and asks to borrow my shield. As promised, he explains the theory behind some of his ancestor’s shield techniques and demonstrates what he remembers.
After the fifth explanation of how to bash an opponent over the head, I tell him his ancestor was obviously a genius and I understand everything now, no need to explain further. Surprisingly he falls for it, and after a hearty round of farewells, Jenassa and I head back to the inn for some well-deserved rest and plenty of mead.
At the inn over a good square meal, we discuss our travel plans. Since neither of us want to make the long trip back to Riverwood so soon, and since we don’t really want to climb back up to High Hrothgar yet to return the horn, we decide to head toward Riften and see about that animal control task for the Companions. Hopefully this time it won’t involve trolls — and I’m really, really hoping it doesn’t involve dragons. Or spiders. Or… y’know what, let’s just head out.
I’m sure we’ll figure it out when we get there. We always do.