It had been three days, and Cerdim had lost his patience along with his good mood.
The jaw of the Dunmer was set as tight as solid rock as he rummaged through his pack in front of the dark, ominous doors in front of him. She had never bailed, never left him waiting, never left a barrow for him alone. Gods, if nothing else, Triskele was too much of a stubborn and proud mule to ever leave a tomb for him to clear on his own. As he found the box of lockpicks he had been looking for, he sniffed. No, either something bad had happened, or she was after something better, on her own. Since he had never seen Tris being set back by anything bad – ranging from wolves to being surrounded by fifteen bandits – he assumed it was the latter. And that thought was enough to make Cerdim's current mood as poor as sour milk. As he grabbed a lockpick and studied the large, ancient lock in front of him, his one eye narrowed. Sniffed a trail more promising, did you, lass? Your loss, I've got a ripe piece of fruit here, and you are not getting any. Nordic cow.
With deft, ashen fingers Cerdim twisted and turned the lockpick around, as patient and gentle as a lover. He had picked more locks than he could ever care to remember, this was no different. Tris was good with it, too, but she lacked a form of patience that came natural to him. However, she had an eagle's eye when it came to spotting traps, an eye that had saved their lives on several occasions, and he realized this was the first time in a good long while that he entered a sealed tomb without that eye backing him up. As much as he hated it, it made him nervous. Suddenly, the lock sprung open, and dust puffed out of the doorway as the heavy doors opened with a moan. Cerdim stood up straight, flung his pack over his shoulder, and pulled his sword up from the sheath, just an inch. In, find the shiny things, and out. Like I've always done. Not a big deal.
The Dark Elf walked into the barrow, carefully stepping down the ancient stairs. Outside, a wolf howled. Yet the silence of the barrow was ten times as intimidating. Cerdim sniffed again, and held his torch a little higher as he descended the stairs, into the dark.
An hour later he had shuffled through empty halls and tunnels with nothing but dust, broken pottery and the accursed cold of the ground in them, and Cerdim started to think he might have made a serious mistake by coming here and obviously wasting his time. Perhaps Triskele had known, yet she had clearly lacked the decency to let him know there were better places to dig themselves into. Cerdim cursed as he walked straight into a thick cobweb he had not seen. I should turn around, leave this dusty heap of nothing, and find myself a nearby town with a warm inn and warmer women...
His trail of thoughts stopped abruptly as he spotted something to his right. The way in front of him was broad, almost ceremonial, but to his right side was a tunnel, small and nearly collapsed. It seemed like nothing, but Cerdim had been doing this line of work for long enough to know barrows were built to mislead, to discourage and confuse tomb robbers such as himself. He walked into the tunnel and crouched with his torch held in front of him, squinting his red eye as dust came setting down. Before long, he faced a dead end, but the Dunmer looked around him, searchingly. You're not fooling me...
He smiled as his eye rested on what he was looking for. Firmly, he pulled on a rusty chain, hanging in the dark corner. The sound of stone sliding over stone was overwhelming in the silence of the barrow, and in a reflex Cerdim pulled his sword from the sheath another inch. Before him, where at first solid rock had been, was now a doorway. He smirked and stepped through, as eager and cocksure as a groom on his wedding night. About time.
He could feel the cold getting worse as soon as he stepped through. He sensed with all he had that he was standing in a large hall, even though he could not yet see all of it. But other than that, there were other things causing the cold to now reach into his very bones and thoughts. Something was wrong, felt wrong. Though, admittedly, in a tomb that was usually a good sign. It meant something important was near, something that wanted visitors gone. Quietly, step by step, Cerdim walked into the large hall that reeked of death. He stopped and held his torch up a bit higher as his one eye could discern shapes in front of him. There was a large circle, a pale, white slate of stone, engraved with patterns that did not seem to be from this world. The outline of the circle was sealed with seats, thrones of sort. Cerdim held his breath as he silently counted. Twenty seats. What was this devilry? It could be a ceremonial room, nothing more. But the wretched cold that had been a small discomfort at first now made the hairs on his back stand up straight, and there was a pounding of his heart that was more than a little frightening. Then Cerdim noticed the coffins. There were high walls around the stone circle, and set in the ancient stone were twenty sarcophagi, each aligned with a seat. Each and every coffin was sealed, closed. For now. The Dark Elf gulped and did a single step back. No one would ever call Cerdim a coward, he rarely fled from any situation and knew a solution to most inconveniences. But he was also a realist, and he was most of all not an idiot. This place is Death itself... And twenty? Twenty? Like hell, not while I'm on my own.
Then he froze entirely. At first, he thought the cold and the quiet was playing tricks on his mind and ears, like barrows tended to do to any sane mortal, but then the whispers became louder. He could not pinpoint where they came from, they seemed to come from the ceiling which was so high above his head he could not even see it, from the cold stone below his boots, from the carved walls around him. Cold whispers, voices that spoke in a language he did not know, yet the message was clear. This was the last place in all of Tamriel and Oblivion combined he wanted to be. The whispers turned into shrieks. Cerdim set his jaw, turned around, and ran out.
As he stuck his head out of the doors, into the last light of day, he gasped for air as if he had been swimming under water. He rammed the doors shut behind him and leaned his back against them as he closed his eye. Cold sweat lay in small beads on his brow. Piss and ash, what was that?
He shivered and then pulled his hipflask from his belt. He took a rather large swig – he never travelled without some form of wine or mead on his hip – and manned up as he felt the warmth of the brew flow through him like fresh blood through stilled veins. That was better, much better. He opened his eye again, and squinted it in the light of the setting sun, far in the west. The fact Triskele had not stuck to their plan, combined with the fact he had just ran out of a tomb in fear for the first time in his life, made his frustration rise to a boiling point. He threw his empty hipflask in the dirt below him forcefully and roared. He hasted towards his small camp under the towering pine trees nearby, where his shaggy garron was waiting.
Tris, you black-haired, unpredictable, cursed cat of a Nord... I'm going to find you, I'm going to slap you and curse you to hell, and then we'll get back here and raid this bloody tomb dry.
((As always, you can read up on all of Triskele's Tales on Northern Lights