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Mohamara had been directed to meet with the adventurer at the Winking Skeever tavern, so he followed behind Jorn and Giraud went drinking that evening to find it. The tojay was, as was a common insult among Nords, a milk-drinker so he had no idea where the tavern was located beforehand.

While he didn’t expect the authorities to test him for alcohol if he ever got back to the present, he knew from second-hand sources that some components of alcohol use could show up on drug tests for years afterward. Something about juniper berries, but Mohamara was foggy on details.

Thinking about it reminded Mohamara how long it had been since he’d had a proper cup of High Rock Breakfast tea or some soda. If he had any talent with alchemy, perhaps he could have created some versions--but an awful childhood experience had taught him not to try alchemy ever again.

He was lucky no one had been able to find out it was him that had done it--he didn’t want to go down in the history books as the creator of an airborne strain of gonorrhea at thirteen years old.

The Winking Skeever was a massive tavern, built into the foundations for Castle Dour, two floors tall and all of stone. It looked like the same architects that had designed the Avenues District homes had designed the Skeever, a testament to how much money would have been needed to construct it.

And it was nearly empty.

Jorn, Giraud, a well dressed Argonian, and some merchants from the Wells District were the only people seated and drinking. The bartender looked visibly confused when Mohamara came in with a seven-foot-long spear but made no comment as the cat found a seat. Mohamara didn’t have much gold, but he felt he’d have enough for some milk if a barmaid came to take his order.

Which they likely wouldn’t, since he appeared to be a child to the average uneducated Nord. Not at all helped by how he found himself kicking his legs as they hung from the too-tall chair.

He waited a while for someone new to enter the tavern, that he could be certain was the adventurer. Most likely, it would be a Nord, younger than Mohamara and with a visceral disdain for magic given how people reacted when Mohamara asked about learning it.

What a miserable time he was in, where Winterhold was the only institution of magical learning. Their tuition fees were just ludicrous. Four thousand septims just as an application fee? Ridiculous. Bromjunaar Academy hadn’t even been thought of yet, it seemed.

It was a pity, really. Morthal was just as magical as Winterhold and would go on to have a much less toxic atmosphere. Winterhold professors thought themselves untouchable, so they could do whatever, or whomever, they wished.

But Mohamara was, and would always be a proud student of the Jorrvaskr School of Clever Works.

Serendipitously, an armored figure strode into the Winking Skeever shortly thereafter. From the height, Mohamara would have guessed them to be a Nord, but he could see a bit of their chin and tusks under their metal helmet and their uncovered hands--the green hue of an Orc. On one arm was a round shield covered in Nordic knots with a pronounced boss at the center, and from their belt hung a war-ax.

But what interested Mohamara the most was that they were wearing a leather jacket. Not in the style of the ancient Nords, but from his time. On the back was the stylized image of Wuuthrad, symbol of the Companions. The patches at the elbows and decorative studs on the shoulder stuck out to him--it looked almost exactly like Yagraz’s Companions jacket.

For a moment, he dared to hope that it was her, but he bit down on his tongue before calling out to the stranger. Yagraz was sixteen thousand years away--and likely had no idea Mohamara was even gone. Hoping for foolish things was only going to make him miserable, so he tried to force it to stop.

“I’m looking for someone from the bard's college, know any of them?” The stranger even sounded like her. It was a female Orc, who spoke in a voice uncannily like Yagraz. She was pointed to Jorn and Giraud, but Mohamara stood up with his spear to intercept her on the way.

“Um, excuse me. I’m the person from the college you’re looking for.” Mohamara quickly stood in the Orc’s way to get her to stop.

She just stared down at him, utterly shocked. Perhaps she was surprised that the college would send a ‘child’ into a Draugr crypt?

“Let’s get this out of the way first, not a kid, just short. Those guys from the college will back me up on this if you don’t believe me.”

The Orc woman just stared at Mohamara for a moment before answering. “So… you’ve been in Solitude this whole time? Figured you’d be with one of the caravans.” She started to laugh, and by the gods, she even laughed like Yagraz.

‘Maybe this is how Sheogorath drives me insane,’ Mohamara pondered. But he did not have long to ponder as the Orc woman crouched down and got on his relative eye level. With a smirk, she removed her helmet… to reveal a face in Yagraz’s spitting image. The little cat tried to process what he was seeing and the impossibility of it before the Orc spoke up again.

“This isn’t a dream, you’re not going mad, and I’m not some ancestor that happens to look exactly the same. It’s me. I’m here.” She spread her arms wide, anticipating a hug. “It’s me, short-stuff. Yagraz, here to save the day.”

Doubt is the path to reach faith, to abandon the path early is to forsake enlightenment and fall into hopelessness. For a long moment, Mohamara did doubt. But when confronted with his friend, and the overwhelming hope that was growing in his chest, there was only one thing to do.

Start crying in a full-on wail, and hug his best friend.

“It’s alright, get it all out.” Yagraz returned the hug and easily picked Mohamara up to carry him out of the tavern before some stupid Nord decided to comment on the scene. “How in the Ashpit did you find a way to lose more weight?”

Mohamara, sobbing into her shoulder as they started out the city gates, responded in the only way a friend should: “I will fucking bite your nose off, I swear on Malacath’s backbone.”

“I know, little buddy, I know.” Any time one of the guards or someone passing through the city gates gave the scene a puzzled look, Yagraz casually flipped them the bird. “Get all this mushy shit out so we can talk about how we both got here, huh?”

The grossly sobbing Khajiit could only nod into her shoulder armor and brandish his spear blindly at an Imperial woman who dared scoff at the two friends.

--

Yagraz had officially become the most badass person Mohamara had ever known. After he had been snatched by Sheogorath she pieced together what had happened from news reports, how everyone else on the ferry had gone full-on asylum level mad, and how Daedric oracles announced that Meridia was kicking the metaphysical shit out of the Mad God’s armies. Herself. In person. It made Mohamara feel warm and fuzzy inside that his Lady had gotten so enraged over his kidnapping.

Yagraz had broken into Mohamara’s apartment, made sure the Companions would watch the place, grabbed a bunch of the Khajiit’s stuff and decided to go back in time after him.

By Breaking the Dragon.

She didn’t go into details but said that Malacath told her how to see the facets of time so she could strike them and create a hole through which to travel. While Mohamara had emerged in the Reach, she came out in the plains outside Whiterun city. Unfortunately, the method Malacath had taught her was exclusively for going back in time.

From there, she had joined the Companions of ancient Skyrim. And according to her ‘kicked the asses of every Nord and Elf that tried to tell her no.’

After hearing Yagraz’s story of resounding success in ancient Skyrim--she even had a house in Whiterun--Mohamara was hesitant to share his side of things. But after she’d done all this for him, he told her anyway and let her laugh her ass off.

“So, you really just ditched your clothes and ran naked from those High Elf creeps?” The Orc woman snickered at the mental image. She was doing the talking for both of them, with Mohamara seated on her shoulders and resting his head and torso on her much larger head.

“It was either that or bite them and I didn’t want to get elf flesh in my teeth,” Mohamara defended himself with a pout. “And if I’d been able to have trousers, it would have been fine.”

“Well, that’ll be fixed soon enough. The stuff I grabbed from your place is at Breezehome right now. I got this guy watching the place for me, Brenuin. Bit of a drunk, but he and I get along fine. You’ll have to share a room with my girl, though.”

Mohamara’s ears perked up, and he leaned down to look into Yagraz’s eyes upside-down. “Your girl?”

“Yeah. I adopted a kid. She was just walking around Whiterun wasting away, so I took her in.” Yagraz grinned as only Orcs could, menacingly. “Been training her how to use a blade, throw a punch, and go for the eyes. For such a sweet thing she can get mean in a fight.”

“You’re both the best and worst mother figure she could ask for.”

“And I’m sure you’re going to be the good uncle to try and teach her to act all sappy and civilized.”

Mohamara sat up and rested the back of his wrist on his forehead. “It’s a tough job, but I’ll rise to the occasion. Assuming Sheogorath doesn’t murder me for shits and giggles.”

“Yeah.” There was silence between the two of them as Yagraz walked the road down from Haafingar to Hjaalmarch. “So. Finally met your dad, huh?”

“Hmm.”

“Oh don’t you ‘hmm’ me, this whole situation is because of him, you could at least tell me how he really is.”

Mohamara shrugged and rested the Spear of Bitter Mercy across his shoulders. “He’s exactly like how the books portray him. Violent mood swings, unpredictable, he’ll help and harm with the same sentence and he’s insane.” The Khajiit’s ears and whiskers drooped as he forced himself to admit the next bit of information. “And I might have mentioned the matchmaking thing where he could hear.”

Yagraz’s walking stumbled and she had to hold her hand over her mouth not to burst into laughter. It lasted all of one minute before she was letting everyone in half a mile’s radius know how amused she was.

“Yes, I’m glad that the rest of my life being ruined by a demented Daedra can amuse you. Really. So utterly happy.” Mohamara’s voice was flat but without venom. If Yagraz was in the same situation, he’d be laughing too.

“Aww, short-stuff. Don’t worry, if it’s a bad match I’ll use the friend loophole to tear the bastard’s head off.” Yagraz directed a thumbs-up upward toward the cat.

Mohamara squinted at the gesture. “And when he finds out that there is no such loophole, you’ll get turned into a porcupine or something.”

“You mean if he finds out.”

The idea stunned Mohamara into a blank expression while he pondered her words. Sheogorath wasn’t like Jyggalag, he wasn’t omniscient. He hadn’t even known about Meridian matchmaking until Mohamara had talked about it. “If? If is good.”

--

Dead Man’s Respite was built into a hill, with a considerable chunk of the stone carved back to create a series of wide flat areas joined by stairs. Nordic arches and pillars decorated the outer structure.

And for defenders, there were two measly skeletons. At least it gave Mohamara his first chance to use the spear’s magic when Yagraz had to put him down to fight. An orb of Daedric fire appeared where Mohamara had arced a bit of magicka through the spear, and out of it emerged a massive ink-black blob that oozed over the skeleton to crush it.

A tar atronach, it seemed. Yagraz dispatched her skeleton opponent with a shield bash, and afterward, they entered the tomb with the atronach following behind them.

The inside of the tomb was alight with everburning torches and braziers. Works of Illusion and Mysticism, they embodied half of fire to provide light forever but were useless for cooking and did not fill the air with smoke. Mohamara was briefly struck by the idea to manufacture some and sell them to Skyrim’s nobility--they clearly had lost the means to produce such works, and he had the knowledge himself. It would only take lesser soul gems.

The first room was lined with recesses in the walls, with a large altar-like table whereupon an ornament of red stone with three ruby claws lay. In some recesses were skeletons, some were empty, and some housed sleeping Draugr. Beyond the altar, there was a spiked gate blocking the way forward.

And in full view of the two adventurers, the ghost of a Nord man strummed a silent lute. He made no effort to attack when Mohamara used his spear to try stabbing at the specter’s chest but did strike a disbelieving pose. Without a word, the ghost turned and walked further into the tomb, leaving Mohamara and Yagraz alone with the Draugr.

These passive undead were easily dispatched by Yagraz and Mohamara. The cat directed the tar atronach to flow into the Draugr’s alcove and crush it with its weight, while Yagraz easily pulled them out and decapitated them before they could wake.

Once the room was cleared, Yagraz picked up the claw and examined it. A weight plate underneath the ornament rose up, and the spiked gate withdrew into the ceiling.

“Okay, if that hadn’t been the way in,” Mohamara chided, “that could have easily been a trap to kill the both of us.”

“Nah.” Yagraz pointed around the room. “Ancient Nord traps are easy to spot. Pressure plate ones tend to be fire or poisoned darts. And both of those have clear nozzles you can see in the walls. Hey, is that a door?” In her pointing, Yagraz noticed a door of shiny black stone off to the side of the room which the adventurers then investigated.

The tar atronach faded away during this, leaving only a sticky trail of black gunk leading into the tomb to indicate it had been there.

The door had only hinges on the outside, meaning it swung inward by push. But when Yagraz tried, there was no response. “Think you can open this?”

“Oh sure let me just use my advanced knowledge of Alteration to flow through the door. Wait, I only know Mysticism that well and they require keyholes for that method.” Mohamara dodged the bap intended for him and started off toward the door.

The formula from then was to go into a room, find the Draugr, and kill them quickly before moving on. Occasionally one would be capable of blasting frost magic but all that did was force Mohamara to pop the spear’s magic and blast it right back at them while summoning an atronach.

Usually, the atronach would be something ridiculous that would die in two hits from a Draugr’s weapons. Chicken soup atronachs, yam atronachs, graphite atronachs. That sort of thing.

The first major obstacle was a series of puzzle doors. Disks were placed in doorways, with gaps through which passage would be allowed if the correct chains were pulled in the correct sequence.

And Mohamara was not in a mood to play ancient Nord games. So he delved into the sympathetic bonds of the tomb to find the Draugr hiding in various nooks and crannies, as well as below to get a rough idea of the layout of the tomb’s interior. All in all, it wasn’t too big but he detected a massive gathering of Draugr deeper in.

Yagraz stood in front of the disk that blocked the entry deeper into the tomb abd while Mohamara ran through the halls pulling chains, killing the Draugr behind the other disks with an atronach or sparks spell until there was nothing left moving behind them.

“You got some spider webs in your hair,” Yagraz pointed out moments before she shoved the cat directly into a spider web in their path.

“You got some dirt on your nose,” Mohamara informed her as he stuck his spear out to trip her when she walked past him.

The two had a nice laugh while they worked their way through the tomb. Mohamara found soul gems in the petty and lesser sizes on tables strewn through the halls and grabbed them when he could.

All was well until they came to a room covered in frostbite spider webs. It had been the lair of two nearly adult frostbite spiders, but a flame atronach and Yagraz’s battle prowess proved to be the better. Then it was up to the two of them to work out how to proceed further, as there was no clear way down.

While Yagraz examined the walls, Mohamara walked around feeling the sympathetic bonds of the tomb. There was strong magic below them, almost directly so, he just had to find it. He heard creaking steel when he put his foot down and realized what had happened. The spiders had webbed over the way down. So he had the flame atronach begin to burn away the webs with its fiery aura, revealing two metal grates. Mohamara happened to be standing over one that led into a pit filled with water….

“Hey, I found a chain!!”

...Right as Yagraz found the way to open it. The grate fell out from underneath the Khajiit and the atronach, and down they fell. The flaming elemental sank like a stone while the cat eventually bobbed up to the surface. He had to dive quickly to retrieve the spear, as it had escaped his grip in the fall. But this was made troublesome by the atronach’s fiery body heating the water to boiling temperatures quickly.

Sometimes the natural fire cloak effect on flame atronachs was annoying. But once he found a tunnel out of the side of the pit, the atronach’s ambient heat helped to quickly steam dry his wet clothes--and those of Yagraz when she jumped down to join them.

“So apparently these old crypts weren’t just tombs,” Yagraz informed Mohamara as she took the head off a spellcasting Draugr in the next room. “The ancient Nords used to live here, these were their homes. Each Nord tomb is actually the site of an old settlement.”

“That sounds like the Nords alright.” Mohamara had bypassed the fight by pole-vaulting with the spear and ascending to a walkway above. “Turn their homes into crypts so they don’t waste space on graveyards.” He could see the bladed pendulums hanging from the roof, ready to swing, and the splatters of blood dried into the stone over millennia from below. He went to work finding the triggers for the trap and disabling them--the flame atronach and Yagraz had things handled with only a few weak Draugr for opponents.

It turned out to only be a bit of string attached to a door, which was ended with a quick touch of the spear’s blade. Mohamara used the spear’s long length to jab at the Draugr below, distracting them and providing openings for Yagraz to decapitate them with ease.

“There’s a lot of Draugr behind this door,” Mohamara informed Yagraz when they ventured deeper and found a double-door sealed with a visibly glowing barrier. “Not right behind it, but this way.”

“Alright, so you want to dispel this barrier and we’ll go smash ‘em?” Yagraz struck the blunt side of her ax to her shield, psyching herself up.

“See, that’s a problem.” The cat stepped away from the door and moved to a route leading downward again. “There’s more Draugr down there… and the sympathetic bonds are telling me that it’s also where we’ll find King Olaf’s verse.”

“Who gives a shit about the verse?” Yagraz shrugged. “It’ll be there when we’re done.”

“Not necessarily. What if the guy all these Draugr are feeding their energy into is a Tongue?” Mohamara levied a dark look at Yagraz. “With you and him throwing your thu’ums around, you could very well cause an earthquake.”

“The correct pluralization is thu’umme.” But she relented and followed after the cat.

“The correct pluralization can be the mathematical concept of cheese for all the good it’ll do, let’s go.”

--

They found the ghost again at the bottom of the tomb, hidden behind a wall. Mohamara only tried to stab him once before retrieving the book the ghost’s corpse clutched. The ghost gave the cat a disbelieving look as he read the verse. Once the cat looked back up from the tome, confused, the ghost began to fade.

“What’s up?” Yagraz asked and tried to look over the cat’s shoulder. “Not usable?”

“Nearly,” Mohamara answered, and shoved the book into his backpack. “Significant water damage to the verse. But Viarmo wanted it, so he'll get it. From what I can gather though, that ghost guy was the bard who wrote this. Pretty hefty criticism for Olaf, who had him buried alive down here. Look, you can see the scratch marks from fingernails on the wall.”

Yagraz made a disgusted face and started off back up the way they’d come. “Olaf was a right nasty piece of work, ugh.”

“Well, considering we’re going to be fighting him most likely behind that door, I imagine we’ll get to see for ourselves.”

In the end, King Olaf’s Draugr’d out corpse wasn’t even a good fight. The bard’s ghost helped them throughout Olaf sending waves of his lieutenants after them in groups too small to be threatening. Had he sent them all at once, and come down himself to fight, it would have been a story worth telling in mead halls, or taverns across Skyrim. Perhaps worth a bardic song of its own.

But it wasn’t. And that, to Mohamara was King Olaf’s worst crime. Even though he was so vicious in life, and evil in his necromantic practices, he was boring.

Boring. Boring. Boring!