Kyne’s Challenge: Skyrim

Cold Comfort at the Top of the World

FROST ATRONACH | Dappled light danced through the slowly swaying trees of larch; occasional leaves of yellow and orange drifted down to the forest floor. Sunlight in Skyrim was something of a novelty, but it was a welcome respite before the hunt ascended to higher climbs. A day out from Riften, our convergence with Kishra-do and first delivery for the benefactor was over; we were scouting the Autumnal Forest for wolves, wildcats, and other creatures to deliver to Kyne. So far, only a few bandit trophies. The Orc was mildly peeved we hadn’t faced anything more troublesome. Fang and Mauler shook themselves free from a thicket of brambles, and bounded over to their master. Fenrig examined a singe on one of the dogs’ hind legs. “We have an elemental Daedra in these woods. Bound to frost.”

Through the briars, the Nords silently crept, to view a small clearing close to the edge of a sulfur pool. A small cave entrance with a few old bones. A small wooden table upturned, bottles and herbs spilled all over and sitting in the low grass. A lantern snuffed. The collapsed form of a robed Nord, the maggots already at her. Five wolf corpses in the glade, all pierced by freezing ice. Dominating the glade was a towering giant of sharp ice shards, congregating together into a statue of magic and cold brutality. Four Argonians tall, jagged tree-trunk-sized limbs, and a pyramid head with eyes of gleaming white. A glacier came to life, standing motionless in the woods.

We were close enough to spot a piece of charred parchment, and Fenrig crept to retrieve it. An incantation scroll of a mage. It read: “Nomeg Jrool, I summon you from Oblivion to do my bidding. Defeat my adversaries, and…”

“A consort to the mage,” Fenrig said, without finishing the script.

“Remember the atronach we bettered near Ivarstead?” Ingjard prompted me.

“Yes,” I replied, “continuous pummeling from every one of us. No resting. A barrage from all angles. If we split our attacks—”

I was interrupted by a great crashing sound, as a bulky form clutching an oversized mace stumbled through the brambles with the agility of a wounded troll. Bashnag had decided to face the atronach himself. His idiocy allowed us time to scramble into safe positions around the glade, and watch as the Orc swung mightily, catching the atronach with a crushing strike to the leg. But without an immediate follow-up, the Daedra whipped the air around with its gigantic arm club, and made a violent offering of ice shards directly into the face of the Orc. Back he staggered, slowing as the frost took hold, and the atronach walloped the ground, sending a wave of ice shards directly at Bashnag, who toppled over with a crunching thud.

Ingjard’s arrow found its mark. Mauler darted between the atronach’s giant feet, as further arrows assailed the ice titan. This afforded our unsubtle friend the time to stagger to his feet, eyes burning red with a rage I’d not seen before. He emitted a roar that almost traveled to Windhelm. His mace broke the leg of the frost atronach, and it swayed on one unsteady trunk before crashing and bringing down a twenty-year-old pine on its way to the forest floor.

Arrows both Nord and Argonian in origin pockmarked the craggy carcass until there was nothing left but a few piles of ice. Footfalls-in-Snow promptly picked up the melting remains to secure frost salts, while I sat Bashnag down to explain how abandoning our pack wasn’t part of Kyne’s plan.

SNOW BEAR | The Pine Foothills of Eastmarch were the ideal hunting grounds for the snow bear. As the smell of sulfur pools left our nostrils, the ground became steeper, and the whistling winds more blustering. Ingjard chanced a smile over to Fenrig as the first precipitation melted on our faces. We’d be rosy cheeked in no time, and we stopped to listen for the soft patter of falling snow on the forest path, as the storm slowly grew in strength. We heard the chirrup of a wandering thrush, and a faint call of a felsaad tern, away from its Solstheim feeding grounds. Mauler pranced off as the snow deepened, intent on a meal of raw rabbit. He wasn’t happy to be sternly whistled back to heel as the snow bear tracks were found. We were overjoyed to be hunting in our own lands.

Bashnag’s rudimentary tracking skills extended to the snow bear, and his previous experience training them as guard mounts in the Strongholds of Wrothgar extended to teachings, focused on the Argonian. Strange, given his earlier reluctance to learn from Ingjard.

Pretend to be dead; a bear devours your head. We learned that rhyme on my first hunt,” the Orc told Footfalls-in-Snow.

“You are a babbling brook of knowledge!” the Argonian replied with a nodding grin. His increasingly sarcastic enthusiasm is more becoming of a Khajiit.

A long, rumbling roar brought our trek to a halt and the forest to silence. The only sound was the thumping of blood between my ears. Fenrig had returned from his tracking, and gestured for us to split apart. A sliver of darkness in the rocks. A pile of scattered bones. The bear’s lair appeared through the pines, up a steep and slippery slope, which Fenrig navigated with almost wolf-like agility. The noise was from within the den; branches and debris cracked as a huge white mass of fur bounded out into the blizzard. Fenrig sat on his haunches, a dagger and shield at the ready. We instinctively knew how to end this hunt.

The snow bear rose to its hind legs as Fenrig advanced with his blade, bringing both paws down on him with a downward swipe that would buckle a shield of lesser quality. Instead, Fenrig used the momentum of the attack to shove the bear off balance, deftly leaping to the bear’s side, and cutting a tendon in its leg. Again the beast howled, turning the thrash the air where Fenrig had been. More savage thrusts with sharp, furred claws, sinking not into Nord flesh, but the ghost of his previous position. Silent prayer to Kyne finished, Fenrig rode the bear’s back, nicking the throat with an incision that would quickly bring the beast down.

As its cut jugular drained the bear of life and blood (and the snow stained a deep red), Footfalls-in-Snow clapped politely at the antics.

DWARVEN SPIDER, SPHERE, AND CENTURION | Holgunn One-Eye’s directions to the hidden Dwarven ruins were impressively exact. Both Fenrig and Footfalls-in-Snow returned to our camp at Cragwallow bearing enticing news: a strange stone edifice was indeed visible through the undergrowth in the Velothi foothills a short distance away. Treasure hunters and despoilers hadn’t the fortitude to venture to such a dangerous place. Many deemed this ruin cursed, and stories of golden demons boiling the hapless and the curious enhanced Mzulft’s reputation as a place to be rightly avoided. Yet here we were, cutting through bramble thickets to reach a strange, bronze-roofed outbuilding, resplendent in its ornate decay.

Ingjard unfurled Holgunn’s ancient map, and we both studied it as Fenrig scouted the area. If we listened carefully, we could hear a faint hissing and metal grinding, a sound seemingly from deep underground. But otherwise, there was nothing to disturb us, not even a bird or a small animal rustling. Fenrig soon returned, throwing a smooth, fist-sized rock for me to inspect. “If we had Roggvir’s pickaxes,” Fenrig said, as I turned the white ball of moonstone over in my hand, “we’d make out like bandits. Ore veins over there, by the escaping steam.” But this exploration wasn’t dedicated to Zenithar, so I made it clear that an entrance should be found. Ingjard’s thorough inspection of the maps and Bashnag’s boulder clearing soon revealed a massive but finely carved metal door. The Orc broke two daggers trying to pry it open, until Ingjard told him to stop. “Perhaps try inserting this instead?” she said with a wry smile, handing him and equally ornate key. “That’s the property of Holgunn One-Eye, and he wants it back.”

We ventured up sloping stone corridors and immense connecting rooms, slowly examining the hundreds of wall slabs and running fingers over the large bronze pipework. This was astounding: mechanical cogs grinding with life, periodic blasts of steam, clanks, faint rumbles… It was as if we were exploring within the belly of a giant, living beast. Ingjard pointed up to a gate of thin, golden bars. “This is where Holgunn’s footprints end.”

Bashnag pushed forward, spotting red marks on the ground. A small puddle of dried blood behind which a thick metal rod was protruding from a punctured pipe. “This ground plate. What if I step on it?” The Orc was naturally curious, but lacked appropriate wariness or basic common sense. As his boot touched metal, a rod shot from a golden crossbow (cunningly hidden from view) and missed Bashnag’s head by a beard’s whisker. He dropped his mace in surprise; it landed with a clatter enough to wake the dead.

But no draugr appeared. Instead, a circular shutter in the far wall expanded to reveal a hole, from which fell three metal carvings. They righted themselves, for these were animunculi: wolf-sized spiders constructed from metal and powered by magic, which Holgunn had mentioned. Sharp single claw toes scraped the stone, propping up a weighty central core with a rotating single eye (although Ingjard’s later examinations revealed it to be a crystalline power source of some kind). There was little time to ponder the mechanism of such contraptions, as the central Dwarven spider began crackling with purple arcs of shocking energy. Fenrig and the Argonian reached for their bows. The other spiders seemed to bathe in this static field. Then one scuttled forward, unnatural front claws stabbing Bashnag’s legs. It backed up, avoiding a pendulum-like mace swung from the off-kilter Orc, before slamming into the ground and exploding by Bashnag’s feet, who writhed in the lightning discharge before collapsing to the floor. Dead?

Footfalls-in-Snow fired an arrow, and it nicked the second spider, whose bronze body turned independently of its legs to find the source of the attack. Out crackled a massive gout of purple and white light, hitting the roughly hewn stone chair the Argonian was hiding behind. “Enough!” shouted Fenrig, charging at the two Dwarven spiders, who advanced immediately to meet in the middle of our stone combat chamber. Our Nord tracker exhibited the force of a werebear, using his favored axe to split the first spider down the middle. It sparked with unnatural energy and collapsed in two equally sized heaps. Ingjard’s arrows found their mark, as the final spider tripped back over its own legs at the force of each shot, before stopping completely, immobilized in a corner.

Bashnag regained consciousness, but remained embarrassed at being caught out “by such a feeble and toothless runt.” As our exploration passed into a larger chamber, resplendent with huge bronze heads peering down with lifeless eyes, the Orc would have the chance to prove himself.

“Kinetic energy, steam-powered resonators, wondrous species of luminous fungi… a place almost as magical as Grahtwood.” Footfalls-in-Snow was talking to himself again as he inspected a row of leering faces carved from metal, which stretched the length of the chamber. “Aha! An opening.” The Argonian tapped the mouth of one face, and a circular hole expanded, the mouth now wide in a silent shout. “Wait… I hear movement within the walls.” We backed up as a scraping sound uttered from the face, which spat out two strange balls of heavy bronze. Then, through magic or incomprehensible means, the spheres seemed to hatch, each expanding and unfolding to reveal a dead-eyed creature of bronze, beautifully sculpted from metal, but aggressive and unwavering. An aroused and dangerous warrior—an animated artifact working in tandem with the rumbling ruin itself.

Perhaps Bashnag might have prayed to Mauloch before our assault on Mzulft. Once again he drunk his luck from a thimble, staggering back with a crossbow bolt embedded in his shoulder. The Dwarven sphere reloaded its projectile and fired again; this dart missed the Orc, who wasn’t waiting for a third attack and closed the gap with impressive speed. As Bashnag closed, his adversary span its torso around, revealing a long blade molded into its arm. The second sphere retreated; its rudimentary intelligence was intent on keeping one animunculi at close quarters, the other at range. It was an impressive tactic, and one we used ourselves, yet it was strangely odd to see mechanical beasts copying our tactics so succinctly.

But the time for discussing stratagems was later. Bashnag parried a whirling blade as the sphere span around, and returned with a huge overhead pummel, breaking off the machine’s crossbow arm. Fenrig was knocked back by a charged bolt from the retreating sphere, the attack coating his shield in the same writhing energy that had consumed our Orc. Seeing Fenrig wasn’t stopped, the sphere suddenly leapt into the air, contracted into a ball, and shot downwards at the ground. This crash sent Fenrig flying against the wall, but he landed lithely, and was back to a fierce sprint before the sphere had even finished expanding again. Subsequently, a dull-eyed metal head landed at my feet, still pulsing with strange, crackling light. Bashnag finally got back into the swing of things too, crushing his sphere under mace and boot, until he was politely asked to stop as Footfalls-in-Snow sifted through the debris.

A mass of cogs, struts, and other parts collected, the Argonian tied up his roughly woven sack, and leaned up against a large, golden pipe, then arched his back. “Ah! this enkindles my aching scales, like the warm winds from Hammerfell,” he cooed.

“That’s no pipe,” Bashnag commented, pointing at the Argonian with the bolt he had just removed from his shoulder after a swift tug and a grunt. “That’s a leg.”

Footfalls-in-Snow looked up, and met the gaze of an immense golden head peering back down. This wasn’t a wall carving; it was attached to a powerful, steam-powered body which let out a terrifying hiss and creaked into life. The startled lizard disappeared from view in the escaping vapor.

“Shields out!” I shouted. “Nimble-footed to the walls!”

Bashnag joined me in the center of the chamber. Ingjard and Fenrig fled to the perimeter while the dogs growled and coaxed the slow-moving behemoth of bronze away from the spluttering Argonian. Every ponderous step the giant statue took was accompanied by grinding, whistles of pistons, and further belching clouds.

“Shields up top!” The Dwarven centurion rotated its hefty hammer arm, before a stilted spin around on its torso, bringing the arm down with a force that could crack steel. Bashnag took the brunt of it, and I saw him wince as he pushed back with his shoulder, now seeping blood from the sphere’s previous strike. Nord and Argonian arrows clattered off the steam giant’s back; one particularly precise in its flight entered the centurion’s armor plates, piercing the innards. I dove forwards as the machine bent over, mouth agape, and spewed a steam-filled roar so deafening, it rattled two of my teeth loose. I dove at the creature’s feet, hacking and tumbling around its base as it brought a twirling axe arm down, cutting deep into the stone where Bashnag had left a moment earlier. Another mighty mangle from my axe, and I almost severed the knee joint. The centurion’s balance suddenly became precarious; it twisted and its leg gave way. It fell like a seventy-year spruce, filling the room with a thunderous clang and a final expulsion of effluvium.

Footfalls-in-Snow was up on its chest, slicing apart metal tendrils, and finally plunged an arm through a chest cavity, struggling for a few moments before wrenching out a weighty golden contraption, spherical with a red, pulsing center. He held it aloft, in triumph.

“Dynamo core!”

We investigated Mzulft no further; our hunt now concentrates on flesh and blood, not bronze and fog.

DRAUGR | “Precisely what does ‘fresh bone and meal’ mean?” Ingjard asked, reading over Zagun-ra’s long parchment of ingredients. “I haven’t a recently slain Nord brother to inter and desiccate, and I will not despoil this barrow.” I replied that perhaps the Khajiit’s request was inaccurately translated, but I understood her concern: She was already at odds with collecting the remains of Nords, especially as her ancestors were buried in this crypt to honor Nahkriin the Priest. I was inclined to agree too; Skuldafn was a sacred place, and sealed for a reason.

“We could journey to Bleak Falls,” I pondered. “None of us share the bloodline of the Nords entombed there. Kyne wishes our hunt to include all beasts, including the offspring of man and mer. I take that to include draugr. In fact, didn’t Fenrig’s tribe have a dispute with Riverwood a few generations back? He might enjoy it.” Fenrig climbed down from his vantage point atop the henge on the outer-rim gathering grounds, and smiled. Possibly for the first time on this hunt.

“I’ll hunt bear, wolves, and spiders. Trolls and atronachs too. But I choose not to slay my own dead.” Ingjard was usually pliable, but on this subject she remained as unforgiving as the journey to High Hrothgar.

It would not be long before her obstinacy was truly tested.

“Where’s the green-tinged one?” Ingjard asked.

“Back at the camp, whittling something intricate and pointy out of snow bear bones,” Fenrig replied.

“No, the other one.” Ingjard jumped up and looked around. Our two foreign friends were cloaked with invisibility. But this was no spell.

“Do you think…?” Fenrig’s voice trailed off as we all three realized our predicament. “Check the hidden entrance; the one Holgunn One-Eye told you about when you were hunting with that idiot from Bravil.” Ingjard was already bolting up the snow-laden steps like a startled elk. Fenrig turned to me with a furrowed brow, and spoke with foresight and resignation: “I fear her ancestors may not be asleep for very much longer.”

The doors into Skuldafn’s ceremonial embalming chambers flew open, and out scampered the Argonian. He was closely pursued by one of our dead: a wight clad in the armor of a warrior from our first age. A bony finger pointed at the ground and out shot a blast of frost, covering the steps out of the grounds. Footfalls-in-Snow slipped on the gathering ice, but lived up to his name and remained upright. He increased his pace, managing to keep a large funereal jar within his webbed grasp. As he reached us, the jar was placed onto the snow at our feet. “Bone meal. Freshly excavated!”

Ingjard sat, seething, as we set about the draugr stumbling out of the crypt. Skeletons long since summoned to Sovngarde, now raised and wrapped around transparent flesh, rags of leather half rotted away, and helms from another age, many horned and all of fine craftsmanship, adorning some of the tougher, heavily armored draugr. Pale blue, lifeless eyes, bathed in eerie mist, hovering in black sockets. Gruff shouts as warrior of yore rose from their slumber. A pitched battle at Skuldafn, now spilling out onto the snow. Precisely what Ingjard had feared.

We could hear a din of clanks, the crunch of old bones against older walls, and finally Bashnag appeared, one hand clasping the thin neck of the restless dead. He snapped it easily; it crumbled in his hands, the head still scowling and teeth chattering as it hit the chamber steps. A more solid foe, writhing with magical energy, brought down a Nord axe into the Orc’s helm. It was blocked just in time, as Bashnag retaliated with his mace, pushing it through the draugr’s knotted beard and helmet, and halfway through the ceremonial altar wall. This was an impressive display, and one to applaud if it hadn’t resulted in such wanton devastation.

A scourge leapt to stall this defiler, and I was put in a strange position of wanting to applaud the enemy. Bashnag reached for his belt. “No frost, no poison, little leaf!” yelled Footfalls-in-Snow. “Torch the gray tree with fire!” The Orc lit his torch, embedding it in the musty torso of the scourge, who went up like oil-soaked kindling, and staggered out in a blaze before being dropped by Ingjard’s arrow, to quicken his journey from this realm. Bashnag was out and sliding down the steps, as the draugr retreated back into their tomb. Fenrig ran to the door and bolted it shut, as the Argonian sifted through the piles of dust, fragments of bone, and loose armor.

“By Stuhn’s beard, you’re lucky we didn’t disturb a deathlord, you intemperate goathead!” Ingjard was uncharacteristically emotional, and lashing out with unwritten fury at Bashnag. The Orc sat with a grin like an idiot wallowing in dung. “Or a lich! Did you fall and hit your head on every one of the Seven Thousand Steps? I’ve seen ogres with more battle mastery than you!” Bashnag’s smile lessened, and he shrugged. “We needed bone meal. I needed a battle. I killed two Reachmen with one mace.”

“Remind me to slap your forge wife the next time I’m in Wrothgar, you lumbering simpleton.” Ingjard lowered her voice to a tone most threatening. It had the desired effect; Bashnag apologized, and we attempted to settle down to sleep.

“When do we set the husks alight in Bleak Falls Barrow?” the Argonian inquired.

GIANT AND MAMMOTH | We almost had to drag Footfalls-in-Snow from the sulfur pools of Eastmarch; the Argonian seemed overly reluctant to leave the hot water, wrap up in pelts, and trudge on into the snow. He was happy to ignore the wafting smell from the gases bubbling up from the fabled underground lava beds (that only the Dwarves are said to have ever discovered). Bashnag was less enamored, likening the scent to “rotting cabbage” and “the arse cloud of a dying Reachman,” two of the more accurate descriptions of this often pungent odor. But depart we must; Fenrig spotted mammoths grazing on the far distant heaths. The hunt is incomplete without the trophies of the giant.

We live in an uneasy truce with the giants of Skyrim. Some believe that they are our Atmoran ancestors, and the more backward villagers on the border with Wrothgar still breed cows specifically to paint with runes as offerings to these lumbering nomads. But the days of such superstition have passed in our circle; they are now seen by more forward-thinking Nords as a nuisance to tolerate. They tend to their herds of mammoths with the care and attention a Nord farmer would display when rearing a prize goat. And judging by their equally sizable excretions, they subsist on milk, cheese, and curds from their mammoths. The meat they occasionally butcher ranges from carrion to easily trapped skeever; a giant would sever his own finger to add to a stew before slaughtering one of his woolly beasts. But until provoked, giants are remarkably peaceful.

The ground was uneven in this part of Bleakrock, with fields of heather, tufts of stunted gorse, and unremarkable bushes attempting to remain anchored to the windswept tundra. In the far distance, the sun had broken through a gap in the rain clouds, and lit up two huge and ungainly monsters (it was as if Kyne herself had chosen our prey for us). Each four-legged beast wandered the moorland slowly, mottled fur draping off their damp backs, each with an ugly head of four protruding tusks and trunk. Appearances are deceptive, for these frightening forms feed only on grasses and the occasional honey and oats fed by their giant keeper. The herd master was between his animals, tending to their drinking habits. The giant was clad in a tapestry of fur armor (three wolf pelts alone for each shin). Pale, creased skin over wiry muscle. Bones dangling from a belt of pouches. A necklace of large bird skulls. Bashnag was impressed by the size of his beard, and (of course) by the club he was carrying, which was twice the size of the Orc, with three particularly evil-looking claws protruding from it.

Out in a wide arc we crept, intending to fell a mammoth from every angle. Initial success: all our arrows met their mark, and the mammoth we chose trumpeted in pained anger. Unexpectedly, both beasts and their shepherd chose to lumber directly towards Ingjard and Fenrig, the nearest mammoth lifting up its trunk and thundering into a long charge. A lithe roll, and Ingjard avoided a trampling, as further arrows concentrated on the other hairy creature. Rearing up on its hind legs, the mammoth brought its entire weight down towards her, but quick thinking and reflexes allowed her to thrust a vicious sword up into the beast’s chin and across its throat. A great flood of deep red spurted out, as the mammoth wailed and thrashed, swaying its head back and forth in an attempt to send Ingjard flying. Again she deftly avoided a mauling, stepped out of the frenzied animal’s path, and waited for it to slump forwards and bleed out.

As Ingjard bettered her prey, Fenrig faced a foe four times his size, with only our ranged arrows (and encouraging shouts from the Orc) for help. The giant’s gangly frame worked to Fenrig’s advantage, as it attempted a huge kick which would have surely cracked a rib or two. But the giant struck air and grass as it slipped over, allowing Fenrig in with a swift pair of stabs. The giant pushed Fenrig back as it rose up to its feet, cleaving the area with a sweep of its club. This time Fenrig was on his back, but he sprang up, ran through the giant’s feet, and thrust a dagger through the bridge of his foe’s foot. Literally hopping mad, the giant struggled to remove Fenrig’s embedded toothpick while taking swift cuts to the legs. Unhappy in the extreme, it lifted its colossal club, then dropped it into the heather, hitting the ground with such force I half expected Fenrig to be launched tumbling upwards, through the low clouds to a distant doom. But Fenrig was on the giant’s back, puncturing the pale side flesh and scrambling to the head. A final dagger unsheathed, Fenrig plunged it through the giant’s ear, and it fell forwards, dead before it struck the soil.

Bashnag’s ebullient whooping was probably heard in Hammerfell.

We all ate well that evening. Fenrig sat with a painted smile, enduring numerous back slapping from an Orc impressed at our tracker’s victory in combat. Only our Argonian was silent, spending his time nibbling a sweetroll and butchering the three corpses of their trunks, tusks, toes, teeth, and any other important appendages indicated on our benefactor’s parchment notes.

WOLF | Snow wolves are a bit trickier to hunt, as their tracks and form are easily obscured, while their habitat is difficult to traverse. Our benefactor requested a white pelt, so we avoided the abundance of forest wolves and continued our trek up through the icy volcanic tundra of Eastmarch Hold. Fenrig complained of a pain behind his eyes, and requested Ingjard conclude the search for our prey. He hung back with the Argonian as Ingjard took the lead, utilizing the talented nose of Fang while Mauler followed closer to his master. An overhang of protruding pine tree roots, ground hardened by the perpetual cold, and a bluff through the trees, upon which Ingjard had tracked an impressive specimen: the pack leader.

It howled from its viewpoint, and Ingjard unbuckled her axe. Two subsequent howls to our right. The wolf pack was hunting together. While Fenrig looked on from a rocky perch further down the valley, Ingjard finally motioned to the flitting shadows behind the closer trees. Out padded a large white wolf, a fine specimen of Kyne’s, snow-colored fur save for faint stains of blood around the jowls, which were peeled back in a seething growl. Back arched, with soft, padded steps, and a tail raised in prowling agitation. Fang responded in a likewise manner, the two beasts circling each other, readying to pounce with a vicious snarl of sharp teeth and flowing spittle.

Ingjard’s axe cut through the first snow wolf’s side, and it twisted inwards, teeth bared as its blood coated the tree and her weapon. A second strike cut through the head swiftly, with the strength and precision of one well versed in animal combat. fang back away as Ingjard stepped across to confront the second snow wolf, which snapped viciously downwards, attacking her feet. Ingjard stumbled, but soon regained composure, as the wolf darted back into the woods. I motioned for the Argonian to bring out his skinning knife; we had the single pelt we had come for.

Kyne’s bounty was plentiful, but as stewards we took only what we needed.

FROST TROLL | Dawn on the foothills of the mountains south of Ironbind Barrow. The weather was unexpectedly clear as we waited at camp below the scree and sagging, but intricately carved, ruins. The air was crisp; Kyne had provided perfect hunting conditions. I was thankful for her mercy after our previous mishap. Fenrig and his hounds returned from foraging. He waved his fist at me, which was clasping three large rabbits. Then he sat down, poured himself some broth, and began to skin them. The dogs jostled playfully to lap up the blood.

True to his word, Footfalls-in-Snow arrived a few moments later, wiped his blade, looked up at Fenrig’s breakfast preparation, and turned up his nose at the roasting meat. He took a carefully wrapped sweetroll from his knapsack and began nibbling at it.

“Trolls,” the Argonian said, through tiny, pecked mouthfuls. “Smelt on the breeze since Dawnstar. Two saplings and a sturdy tree.”

“Three of them?” Ingjard asked. Footfalls nodded, but was otherwise focused on devouring his confection.

“How are your feelings on the lizard?” Ingjard took me aside and asked me, as we cleared the camp. “His knowledge of tracks and the wilderness is impressive,” she added. I told her I still had my suspicions.

The following morn, we passed by the pines and snowberries glistening in the sun. As we approached a bluff of loose rocks and deep snow, the Argonian inspected and ran his tongue over found dung—a taste less appetizing than his breakfast, to be certain—and confirmed our prey was within the range of Ingjard’s arrows.

Fenrig followed the nearby footprints to a crack in the rocks with bones strewn about the entrance. We stayed upwind, and crouched down to listen. The grunting from within was unmistakably trollish. I readied my own bow, and motioned to Bashnag. He gleefully clambered to the cave, and poured oil across the threshold. Ingjard and Fenrig found vantage points at the flanks. Footfalls decided to watch the proceedings from the safety of a tree.


Bashnag let out a resonating roar that echoed across the barrens. Out thundered a frost troll—a big brute, thick of fur, fists clenched and spittle frothing from between rows of uneven teeth, with three sunken piglet eyes, all wildly glaring at the Orc. The troll swiped twice with heavy hands, but Bashnag sidestepped quickly as the attack turned into ineffectual flailing.

In the time it took Bashnag to raise his obscenely large mace, five arrows had struck the troll from three different directions. It tumbled forward, slipping on the Orc’s oil, and cracked its head on the way to the afterlife. Bashnag’s expression was one of disappointment, but this was short lived: He soon spilled blood as a second troll leapt upon him, hammering at his armor as he took it by the throat, slammed it into the rocks, and caved its skull in with brute force, a slightly smaller mace, and invocations to Mauloch.

The ground shook as the third (and substantially taller) troll lumbered from its hole, pounding the ground with its anvil-like fists. Had it not been hunched, it would have been almost the size of a giant. Bashnag coaxed it towards the slick. The Orc’s throwing arm was impressive; he managed to cover the beast in oil from two more pots before Ingjard’s flaming arrows set the shrieking creature alight.

Footfalls-in-Snow slid from his tree.

The Argonian and I set about the unpleasant extrication of Zagun-ra’s troll fat from the three burning corpses. The smell of the bubbling flesh was sickeningly sweet. As it wafted through the air, Ingjard stifled a wretch, and Fenrig kept curious wolves at bay.

ICE WRAITH | The weather change was abrupt and dramatic; clouds rolling in from the Sea of Ghosts brought light snow, then heavier blizzards, and in a matter of hours, the road back to the docks became impassable. We halted our journey, as Fenrig feared our less competent members might lose themselves down an ice crevasse, or wander off into the walls of gray that assaulted us from all directions. Thick fog, snow blindness, and a shivering Argonian were tests sent by Kyne for us to overcome.

Spying a shelter of overhanging rocks, Fenrig pushed forward through the fresh snowdrifts. Then he stopped, yelled something indistinguishable over the howling winds, and fell backwards. He scrambled back upright, turned, and signaled to us, and we knew what he’d disturbed. A snaking skeleton of blue flame rose from the drift: a collection of ice bones bound together by nature magic, a sharp-ridged spine finishing at a malcontented jaw of bone and sharp teeth. Fenrig had awoken an ice wraith.

Raising his shield just in time, Fenrig countered the wraith’s lashing bite; those icy jaws struck steel and wood instead of Nord flesh. The snake promptly vanished back into the snow. Fenrig waded into the drift up to his waist, parting the fresh snow with sword and shield. Too late, he stepped onto the ice wraith’s waiting trap; a hail of shards pierced upwards, exploding from the ground and cutting up and around his legs. By now, we had joined our brother, and the Argonian whipped up a concentrated funnel of wind that parted the drift, forcing the foe into the air, where it weaved back and forth. Then it shot past us, straight into Fenrig’s bruised form.

Perhaps these words aren’t clear; the ice wraith actually entered Fenrig, reappearing after a moment out of his back, where Ingjard cut it down with an expertly swung axe. Fearing his possession, all we could do was watch Fenrig, who began to shake and turn as pale as the snow around us. Suddenly his eyes widened, mouth hung agape, and a second, smaller ice wraith spat itself from within, sailing out of Fenrig’s throat and into my hammering strike, which shattered it into dozens of pieces. Fenrig dropped to a knee, gasping.

Footfalls-in-Snow approached, letting us know the campfire was lit before gathering ice wraith teeth in a small, velvet-lined bag. As we huddled in a cave mouth, Fenrig and his dogs left us, after our tracker refused aid to limit a possible witbane infection. We heard faint howls over the gale throughout the night, and it wasn’t until the next morn that Fenrig returned, his clothing ruffled, but his pestilence cured.

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