An Unexpected Ambush
Cato was the first to wake. Masser and Secunda, the two moons above Nirn, were shining particularly brightly, their pale light streaming down from the open roof of the cave. Cato had also kept his steel armour on as he slept; in his present situation, danger could find him at any time. But it was neither the moonlight nor discomfort that woke him. Instead, he heard something akin to a rustling or scratching noise, or perhaps a combination of both. The sounds were not very loud nor irregular (most likely rodents that also inhabited the cavern) though with Cato's honed instincts and alertness, they were enough to rouse him.
Holding his blade by the sheath with one hand on its grip, Cato scoured the area for the source of the noises. They seemed to originate from the far side of the entrance to the cave. When he got close however, everything went quiet. Whatever was making the sounds must have heard his approach, so he stepped away from the rock wall and stood still in absolute silence. For almost a minute nothing occurred, and Cato was about to return to where he had slept when the noises resumed. He could now make out that they were certainly a series of scratches followed by the rustling of dirt and rocks, as if something was digging away.
This time, he tread carefully, making sure that his boots did not hit the stone hard. Unfortunately, the heavy steel on his body still made slight clinging noises as he moved which was apparently heard to whatever was at the back of the cave as they went quiet again. Cato turned and walked away for good this time. He would probably not sleep for the remainder of the night, but he knew that the cause of the noises was most likely a skeever, larger cousins of rats which were common in Skyrim. Though they had a nasty bite as well as an annoying habit of stealing food and ruining building foundations, they were generally considered pests rather than an actual threat.
The moonlight glinting off the bronze pipes helped Cato locate one, and he was just about to sit down when he saw Drubgurz stirring from his position. Rubbing a hand across his face, the large Orc sat up and looked around the cave, his head settling as it faced Cato's direction.
"What's going on?" he grumbled.
"Nothing," answered Cato. "I heard some noises and got up to investigate. I didn't find anything, but it's probably just rodents."
It was then that the back wall of the cave burst open in a cloud of dust and smoke. Cato drew his sword just in the nick of time as a gnarled creature charged out of the haze. It simply rushed out at him blindly, though he could see the silhouette of a weapon in its hand, indicating that it at least had some intelligence. It had likely hoped the element of surprise was enough to catch Cato with his guard down, but the ex-Blade's reaction was too quick. He drew his Akaviri sword across the creature's abdomen in a swift stroke and it fell back, its momentum halted.
Cato immediately followed with a second blow, slicing into the creature's neck and ending its life. He got his first proper look at his foe as it slumped to the ground- it was a pale sickly creature with long pointed ears that resembled ears commonly associated with the races of mer. Its gear was extremely rough, consisting of ragged skins and a weapon that seemed to have been fashioned from the leg of some massive insect. Cato did not have the luxury of examining it for long, as another of its kind came right behind it, swinging a similar weapon at the Imperial man. It too fell upon Cato's blade as he first slashed the creature's arm, causing it to drop its weapon and create an opening that allowed him to redirect his katana across its throat.
"Get up! We're under attack!" Drubgurz roused everyone else before joining Cato's side, just in time as two more of the creatures began to advance simultaneously.
The Orc parried his opponent's strike with his broad Imperial sword, then landed a series of brutal blows across its torso. By the time the creature dropped into a bloody mess, Cato had already dispatched two more attackers. His left arm was now mostly healed, though it still felt slightly sore. The injury did not hinder him much as he did not have a shield to use anyways and was capable of handling his sword with just one arm. He prepared for the next wave as another two emerged from the back of the cave, but they dropped before they were within reach of his blade, an arrow embedded in each of their chests. The others had joined the fight.
Cato went on the offensive, stepping over the bodies to meet the next attacker head on while the archers notched their arrows. This one was better equipped than their vanguard but only by a margin. It held a shield in its left hand, made from what appeared to be a similar chitinous material as the weapons these creatures used. With this shield the creature swatted away Cato's initial attack and attempted to exploit the opening that allowed for a counterattack on the ex-Blade.
This was exactly what Cato wanted, as the opening was a ruse. He expected his opponent to take the opportunity and sidestepped the blow, grabbing its right wrist with his left hand to prevent it from using its weapon again. It brought its shield around to strike him, but by then he had already plunged his katana into the creature's stomach and its strength faltered, the bash becoming nothing more than a soft clatter against his armour. With this move he expected that the archers had the next wave in hand, as it would take him time to yank his blade from the dying body.
What Cato did not expect was that the attack which followed came not from melee weapons, but arrows. Luckily, Cato's reaction was fast. He had his boot pressed against the impaled creature to reclaim his sword when he saw that the next two were holding long, curved items in their hands. Instead of pulling his blade out of the body he set his leg back down to maintain footing as he hefted the corpse up by the sword driven through him, using it as a makeshift shield. One of the shots missed and bounced off the cavern wall, but the second would have hit Cato had it not been for his defensive measure. The blow still staggered him, but did no real harm as the flesh of his dead opponent took the head of the arrow for him.
With some reluctance, Cato let both his blade and the body drop as he dove back through the opening in the rock wall, giving the ex-Legion archers a clear shot at the enemy bowmen. Their arrows found their mark, and the two pale creatures collapsed. One of them still tried to advance despite its injury, crawling with a feral stance towards the centre of the cave. Before Cato could act, the Redguard man in heavy Legion armour rushed forward with an Imperial sword in each hand, swiftly putting the creature out of its misery. He held the line long enough for Cato to retrieve his weapon and join the fray, cutting down the relentless advancing horde.
As they were beginning to get overwhelmed, they shifted aside for the archers to thin out the enemy numbers. One of them missed this time, allowing an attacker to slip through. Cato started to chase after it, but it did not get far before its skull was split open by the broad edge of an Imperial blade. Drubgurz stood where the creature fell, holding the weapon that dealt the blow with two muscular hands.
"What in Oblivion are those things?" the Orc asked.
"I don't know," Cato said as he turned back to hold the onslaught. "They remind me of goblins. Some northern variant, maybe."
Drubgruz peered into the tunnel revealed by the collapsed cave wall, seeing how deep it led and how the creatures seemed to be emerging nonstop. "Might be time we retreat."
"Agreed," nodded Cato. "We're standing our ground well for now but our endurance won't last forever, and they've got the numbers."
"There we go. We agree on something else again," the Orc cracked his toothy grin. "Too bad we're not as smart as the Nord girl though. She fled when she had the first chance."
"Asa's not with us anymore?"
Cato glanced over his shoulder and saw that the two archers were the Imperial woman and the Dunmer man, and the golden haired Nord was nowhere to be seen. That was when he felt a strange tingling sensation in his legs. This distraction, though lasting only a second, was enough to afford the enemy an opportunity to strike. When he looked to his feet, they were encased in a block of ice, and he was stuck to the spot. Behind him, the Redguard and the Orc were subject to the same fate. Cato tried to break free with the strength of his legs alone at first, then thought of chipping away at the ice with his blade, though he only managed a single hit before more of the creatures advanced and he had to use his weapon to defend himself.
His movement was greatly restricted with his feet frozen, but he still managed to take down the creature that charged him. He could not stop the second one that ran past him, though the Redguard felled it with a flurry of strikes. That was when the fully armoured creature came into view. Much more of this one's body, including most of its face, was covered in chitin plating, and it held a long weapon which looked like some form of two-pronged spear. The spearheads were the mandibles of a large insect, perhaps the same ones that their other equipement was made from. As he pointed this weapon towards the Redguard, it became apparent that this was a magical staff as a frosty stream emerged from between the mandibles. Even Cato could feel the chill in the air as the stream shot by him; as for the man that was its target, he was almost entirely encased in a block of ice. This must be the mage that had immobilized them. The Imperial was not surprised, for the savage goblins of his homeland were also known to be able to wield arcane powers.
At that moment Drubgurz broke free of his restraints by smashing the ice with one of the enemy's shields. Holding the shield out in front of him, he rushed for the magic-wielding creature. This time it did not attempt to use its ice spell and simply jabbed the staff in Drubgurz' direction, which sent the massive Orc hurtling backwards. It then redirected its staff at Cato. For all the ex-Blade's skill, he was not able to do much in his present condition. He desperately grabbed one of the chitin weapons nearby, one that was a hybrid between an axe and a mining pick. As he swung away at the ice, the spell hit him and he felt his strength sapping away. His vision blurred, and the last thing he remembered was his body tensing in the intense cold...