Hector accepted the offered cup of flower-tea with a nod of gratitude, but Raelynn’s words and quick smirk were a little off-putting. He was about to dismiss her concerns out of hand but hesitated and decided against it, not liking the idea of immediately telling their only healer he wasn’t about to consult her on how to use the members of the party and their respective abilities. Raelynn didn’t strike Hector as someone who could handle a snappy comeback so easily. Instead, he chose a more tactful approach. “My apologies,” he whispered in return, looking suitably chastened, but made no promises. Hector took a sip of the water and found himself appreciating the taste. It had a certain zing to it. His gaze lingered on lord Vensor once again, having heard the man’s story, and the ex-Legionnaire found it difficult to believe. A noble of Cyrodiil that gave up his station for his beliefs and became a Stormcloak, of all things? Those Nords didn’t even want foreigners in their lands, the way he’d understood it. Hector shook his head and returned his gaze to the cup, clearing his mind of stray thoughts and focusing on the task ahead.
After he had finished his drink Hector took another look at the time, squinting up at the canopy, and figured it was about time to get going. He got to his feet and dusted off his greaves and cloak, and a veritable shower of pine needles fell to the ground. “Let us be off,” he said and smiled at the group before him while he gave the cup back to Raelynn. “Make sure you do not forget any of your belongings. Daro’Vasora has kindly offered to scout ahead and mark safe passage. If you see a green leaf anywhere, be wary that it has been placed there to indicate the location of a trap of some kind.”
Hector paused briefly and his mouth moved silently, as if he was doing a head-count, and then he continued. “I will take point,” the Imperial said and grabbed his heart-shaped steel shield from his back. He inspected the sharp spike that protruded from it while he talked. “Skall, please stay close behind me and keep your axe at the ready. Sjara, I know you need line-of-sight and maneuverability to do what you do best, so I will leave it up to you where you feel you need to position yourself. Master Oril and lady Hawkford, please remain behind us and out of harm’s way. Lord Vensor, I would like you to protect them and guard our rear.” It was a sensible request, seeing as Hector and Cyrus were the only members of the party with heavy armor and a shield, and both ends of the column were protected this way. No opposition was forthcoming. “Very good,” Hector nodded.
Even though the tomb had been open for an appreciable amount of time Hector still had to suppress the urge to cough often in the dry and dusty air. His formidable steel longsword was in his hand now, the weight comfortable, and his shield held in front of his body while he warily advanced into the corridor that stretched out before them. The rest of the party followed him in, some as tentative as him, others with enthusiasm and fearlessness. One of the more magically inclined adventurers behind him cast a Magelight spell and illuminated their surroundings. Hector’s eyes scanned the rough walls, hewn from the stone of the earth itself, for any strange markings or indications of danger, but there were none -- for now.
The corridor was tight and the party had to walk single-file. It was also winding, and Hector found himself peeking around many corners with trepidation. After the third corner and a solid ten seconds of staring into the darkness ahead, Hector decided he saw no danger and stepped forward.
Something crunched underfoot.
The Imperial’s heart leapt in his throat and he stepped back, looking down to find a squashed green leaf on the dusty floor. Hector muttered a short prayer of thanks to the Divines -- and Daro’Vasora, truth be told -- and scanned the walls again while his heartrate recovered. Hidden inside the natural seams of the rock he finally spied two thin slits. Looking even harder, the edge of a blade of some kind gleamed at him from within the walls. A hanging-axe trap, perhaps. Looking down, now aware of what he was looking for, Hector could discern the shape of a tile, slightly elevated, in the floor. “More pressure plates,” Hector mumbled. Cunning.
He warned the rest of the group and gingerly stepped over the plate. Nothing happened. Satisfied, Hector continued. They went on like this for another ten minutes or so as the corridor continued to slope downward into the earth, and encountered three more of the Khajiit’s leaf-marks, each warning them of some variation of the same trap they’d encountered before, though one of them used a tripwire instead of a pressure plate.
Hector breathed a sigh of relief when the corridor opened up into a large, circular chamber, though the moment was short-lived as he realized that the walls of the chamber were lined entirely with sarcophagi, save for a large stone door on the other side of the room. The Magelight spell flew over his head towards the center of the chamber, and Hector looked up to see that the ceiling was entirely carved into a beautiful -- if somewhat primitive -- depiction of a looming dragon. After a few seconds Hector decided that the beast’s malevolent glare was oppressive and averted his gaze.
Daro’Vasora was there, on the other side of the room by the door, and there was a trail of green leaves on the floor, one every three feet or so, that marked a meandering path to the other side. Balen appeared over Hector’s shoulder but the Imperial already knew what the Dunmer was going to say. “Yes, more pressure plates. I see them,” Hector whispered pre-emptively. Suddenly aware he’d lowered his voice so much for no reason, he cleared his throat and spoke up. “Daro’Vasora has marked safe passage over the floor. Follow the leaves.”
The crossing was uneventful. The party advanced slowly, making sure not to trip or misstep, and Hector felt a slight twinge of pride at their discipline. It had momentarily escaped him that Skall had been drinking mead at the fire, however, and when they were all nearly by the door -- Hector greeted Daro’Vasora with a smile and a firm handshake -- the burly Nord stumbled ever-so-slightly over a loose rock and missed the path by an inch or two.
Several things immediately happened at once.
The sarcophagi sprang open with great force, ejecting their stone lids several feet forward, and tall, gangly, rotting corpses clad in dark, pitted armor, wielding weapons of the same make, stepped out. Their eyes were as blue as the sky and burned in their sockets with an unnatural light and focused on the intruders with focus and intensity that surprised Hector unpleasantly. It was like they were still alive and sentient. “Form up! Vensor, Skall, with me!” Hector yelled and motioned urgently for the others to get behind the melee specialists.
Simultaneously, a fierce wind blew through the chamber from an unknown source, extinguished the Magelight spell and silenced all use of magicka, something that the arcane-attuned members of the party would find to be a highly unpleasant experience. Torches that lined the walls suddenly sprang to life, so they weren’t bathed in darkness, but the baleful red light of the flames was a lot less pleasant than the approximation of daylight that the Magelight spell had been and the backlit Draugr looked like something straight out of a nightmare. Hector counted them frantically and saw there were nine, though one of them looked bigger than the others and carried a greatsword so large it gave Hector pause.
“Stay calm, stay together,” Hector said in an even voice as the Draugr approached almost leisurely. “Let’s put these bastards back into their graves!”