The Dragonborn Hunts

Darkfall

Emerging from the cave, Katja soon fast-traveled them to a spot that was close to the map’s marker for the entrance to Darkfall Cave. She was beginning to feel a little worn by the experiences of the day so far; but the urgency of their quest drove her on. They began walking, and within a few minutes the party were entering yet another dark and dismal cavern.

This one was if anything darker than most, and Katja found herself wishing for the power of night vision some races were said to have. Fortunately for all of them there seemed to be no enemies here but Frostbite spiders, and their glowing eyes betrayed them as they scuttled through the passages. After an indeterminate time spent wandering thus, killing several spiders, the party found themselves standing at the edge of a deep, circular chasm. It was too dark to see much, but it seemed to go down a long way and there might possibly be a pool of water at the bottom.

An extremely rickety-looking wooden plank bridge spanned it, and on the far side Katja could see a table with a lantern and a pickaxe resting on it. That looked promising, so she carefully led the way across. The bridge creaked, but held. On the far side, she spotted veins of moonstone ore and did a little impromptu mining. Moonstone was used to craft Elven weapons and armor, which at this point was the best she could produce with the skills available to her. She liked it a lot.

That done, Katja began searching for the expected small opening that would take them on deeper into the caverns. But there was nothing. Only rock walls confronted her. Shit, must have missed the path further back, she thought. She led the way back across the bridge; but this time the entire thing disintegrated, dropping her and her two companions into the abyss!

Katja held onto her weapons and pointed her toes, and even had the presence of mind to take a deep breath and hold it. If it should turn out to be solid rock she was falling toward, well – a breath before being smashed to bits wouldn’t matter. But if it were water, she’d prefer not to drown while sorting herself out.

It was indeed water they fell into. Thanking the Divines for the relatively lightweight and easy-to-move-in magical armor she was wearing, Katja fought her way to the surface and took another breath. It was still almost too dark to see, and there was a fierce current down here as well. She and her companions were swept along, thrown this way and that, until finally they washed up on a dimly-lit subterranean shore without the slightest idea of where they were – or how they were going to get back to where they were supposed to be going.

Katja climbed out of the water, feeling like a drowned rat, and stood getting her breath back as she waited for Anders and Serana to do the same. She stepped close to him and peered into his face. She could barely see that in this light. “Are you all right?” she murmured, and he nodded in response, squeezing her hand. After wandering the dark corridors for a while, they suddenly found themselves in a small chamber with a fire in it and some bedrolls scattered around. Lying in the middle of it was the body of a young man, a fellow Breton by his garb and coloring.

Katja searched his body and discovered a note. It read, “Sister, I know that you’ll come to find me, but it will be too late. If you find this letter, get out of this forsaken cave as soon as possible. We were fools to think we could live so close to such creatures and live peacefully. I should’ve headed back to camp with you after we placed the torches down here. I thought these trolls would be different, that they would somehow understand that we didn’t mean to hurt them. I am now cornered and it’s only a matter of time before one of the trolls decides to finish me off. I hope it is a quick death. Farewell, my dear sister.”

Katja’s eyes stung with tears at the tragedy of this young man’s situation. But at the same time she was thinking, why in all the hells would anybody try to live down here? No light, no food except maybe mushrooms. It didn’t make sense. His wanting to coexist with the trolls made her think of Gunmar. The Nord smith she’d recruited for the Dawnguard had some kind of special relationship with animals, and he was now training armored battle trolls to act as companions for Dawnguard agents. She had not wanted one, thinking that she’d rather have Anders any day. But it did suggest that trolls didn’t necessarily have to be hostile.

There were a few things growing down here besides mushrooms, Katja discovered as they continued on their way. Some curious low-growing plants covered in pink-and-purple daisy-like flowers spread across the stone here and there, and in patches of soil here and there grew slightly taller clusters of blossoms that glowed with their own light. She plucked several of these after eating one and learning that it had alchemical properties.

Not long after leaving the sad corpse of the young Breton behind they came to an area of the caves where the walls opened out on either side, forming a large cavern with an underground lake at the bottom of it. Some source of light ahead of them was providing enough illumination to make out the shapes of the land, and a couple of trolls were silhouetted against that light.

Katja lacked Gunmar’s facility with trolls, nor did she regard them as possible friends to be won over – the less so after finding that hapless young man. Instead, she drew her bow and began firing at them. As she was standing on the dark side of the cave they had no view of her; and before they’d even figured out where death was coming from, it had claimed them both.

The trio waded across the shallow lake and climbed a rise. After retrieving her arrows from the troll corpses Katja led them through a broad opening, and beyond them they saw some structures in the distance that were not the work of Falmer. As they came nearer, they saw a human-looking figure performing some sort of obeisance before a sunburst-topped pillar mounted on a hexagonal platform. “What’s that?” Serana asked sharply. “I can feel some kind of power from it…”

26

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