Chapter 76: Clean Sweep

As Jenassa and I pass through the heavy oaken doors of Fort Greymoor, we find ourselves in the middle of a wide entrance hall that branches off in all directions.  A fine dust hangs in the air, as if recently disturbed — yet the metal brackets on the walls and the orderly weapon racks gleam as if polished.  Even the hinges on the doors appear to be well-oiled.  Huh.  I’m not used to thinking of bandits as responsible property owners — or rather, responsible property squatters.

Proceeding ever further into the fortress, we slowly become aware of a constant murmur of voices echoing off the stone walls.  Careful to raise as little additional noise as possible, we pause to get our bearings as we listen closely to the various sounds within our immediate surroundings.   After a few moments, we pinpoint the location of the nearest bandits by their idle chatter, and silently reassure ourselves that our weapons are ready to hand.

Better dead than detained, you say?   I’m here to help you out!

At a nod from Jenassa, I move forward until I can see a bandit approach from one of the larger rooms — and then I summon Barbie, who instantly flings a fireball straight at his face.  Roaring in pain and fury, our quarry draws a sword and races toward us, but he hits the floor a moment later with an arrow in his throat.

The skirmish alerts several more bandits, who pull out their weapons and try to rush us down.  As my atronach systematically sets our enemies on fire, Jenassa and I respond to the attack with a hail of arrows.  In seconds the wide stone floor is littered with bodies as we clear a path toward one of the larger rooms.  It may not be the most subtle of entrances, but it’s definitely effective.

Attention, squatters!  Consider this your eviction notice!

Bandits keep pouring in as the sound of battle reverberates throughout the fortress, but soon it’s apparent that their numbers are dwindling.  Realizing this, our attackers become increasingly desperate, making countless tactical errors and taking unnecessary risks.  One burly Redguard charges at us swinging a massive warhammer, but moments later he’s wrapped in flames as Jenassa and I swiftly cut him to ribbons.

Definitely not the brightest bandit, even after we set him on fire.

Finally the central area is clear of enemies, and Jenassa and I start making our way through the rest of the fortress.  In an adjoining room, we discover a couple more bandits standing next to a large iron cage.  As Jenassa rushes forward with her blades at the ready, I re-summon my atronach and position myself on the other side of the room with my bow.  Just as before, our combined efforts rapidly overwhelm our enemies — but sadly, not in time for the unknown prisoner lying dead on the cage floor.

I’m almost starting to feel sorry for these bandits. Oh wait, no I’m not.

In the relative quiet after the storm of carnage, we slowly become aware of a new sound — the rhythmic and utterly incongruous flick of a broom brushing over stone.   Jenassa and I raise our eyebrows at each other in surprise, not only at the strangeness of the noise itself, but also because in all of our extensive bandit-hunting experience, no bandit has ever seemed the least bit concerned with routine domestic duties.

Following the sound, we eventually track it down to an elderly woman occupied with sweeping out what must be the kitchen.  As we enter the room, she glances up serenely, hardly missing a beat in her cleaning.   For several long moments my wife and I just stand there gaping at her, completely nonplussed.   As if recognizing that our blank stares require some kind of response, the venerable lady offers us an explanation… of sorts.

At this remarkable series of assertions, Jenassa and I can’t help but exchange amused glances, our lips twitching as we make a valiant effort not to laugh.  Well played, ma’am.  Since you’ve entertained us, and since you don’t seem to be much of a threat, we’ll leave you to your chosen life’s work of keeping Fort Greymoor clean and tidy.  Now if you’ll excuse us, we really must be going — and please accept our sincere apologies for all the blood we just spilled on your nice clean floors.

On the other side of the kitchen area, we discover a long flight of stairs spiraling downward toward the basement.  We pull out our bows as we slowly descend, but all is eerily quiet as we reach the bottom.  Proceeding with caution, we enter a dark passageway surrounded by prison cells on both sides.  Fortunately most of the cells stand empty, but some still hold prisoners — or at least, their remains.

With any luck, this one used to be a Thalmor.

Recalling the weapon we found on the bandit in the road, I make an effort to investigate all the imprisoned corpses, ensuring that none of them used to be a Companion.  Fortunately I don’t recognize any of them, nor do I find any evidence that a Companion was ever trapped in this place.  While this doesn’t prove anything definitively, it goes a long way to relieving my anxiety.

As Jenassa and I silently approach the other end of the passageway, we hear the distinct sound of a blade slicing through flesh.  A look of alarm passes between us as we reach for our weapons, and I lean forward to peer around the corner.  In the dim light I can just make out a solitary figure bending over a prone body with a sharp blade in hand.  Fearing that we’ve stumbled upon a torturer at work, I swiftly raise my bow and fire off a shot.  As the arrow finds its target, the shadowy figure spins around, returning our attack with a sudden volley of conjured frost bolts.

Die, vile wizard!

Despite the brutal onslaught of enchanted ice shards, Jenassa and I manage to overwhelm our antagonist, dispatching her with a finality as cold and cruel as her sorcery.   As we approach the table with the prostrate figure, we both exhale in relief as it becomes apparent that the victim was already decisively deceased — and for that matter, decisively not human.

Not even mad about this kind of trolling.

Pulling out my hunting knife, I finish the dissection, removing everything of worth from the troll before helping Jenassa loot the sorcerer’s corpse.  In the corner is a chest containing some gold, gems, and minor pieces of armour, and on the wall we find a secured metal canister with some useful potions inside.  Admittedly, I break a few lockpicks in the process of opening both containers, but I consider it well within the realm of acceptable losses.

A foolproof way to scare someone stiff.

After a cursory search throughout the fortress to ensure we haven’t overlooked any useful loot, Jenassa and I make our way back outside.  I’m pleased to see that the fine weather is still holding and the sun is still high in the sky.  Good to know that our little detour hasn’t wasted too much time.  We should still be able to make it to Swindler’s Den before dark — unless of course, the unexpected happens.

But what can I say?  Today, I’m feeling lucky — and it’s a beautiful day for hunting bandits.

A clear day and a cleared dungeon makes for a clear mind.  (Old Skyrim proverb.)

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