Kyne’s Challenge: Summerset Isles

The Rugged Coast, Wandering Daedra, and Baleful Ghosts

FLAME ATRONACH | Towering cliffs of white granite, dunes of soft sands rising up to a grassy plain of fertile soil: this was our first venture into the realm of the Altmer. Only Kishra-do had any standing with the High Elves (as she was apparently a force of strength within the Aldmeri Dominion), but we didn’t care for these haughty mer. Our challenge took us to this land of verdant beauty, but our first encounter cast our minds back to the ash and fire of Morrowind at the commencement of our hunt. Up on a ridge overlooking the Abecean Sea, a burning woman was seen floating. Roggvir then corrected this misjudgment; this was a Daedra taking the form of fire. It was puzzling, as these Daedra were usually in the company of an elemental conjurer armed with a bag of fire, frost, and void salts.

As we gazed at the flame atronach, the spluttering molten earth of a volcano came alive. The creature was constantly in motion; even when she stopped to hover, the black fused armor pieces that she had formed from her own body (which also defined the shapely curves of her waist and breasts, as well as created a pair of fiery horns where her face should have been) seemed to bubble and shift, above and undulating muscle of moving lava. I write “she,” as whichever Daedric Prince sculpted this atronach must have studied the Altmer female first. Flames flickered from this thin form, the size of an Altmer, but drifting slightly off the ground, leaving a small trail of fire in its wake. A second, larger pair of back horns, pointed shoulder blades, and stone-talod, gauntlet-like hands revealed further Daedra influences.

Roggvir was seemingly mesmerized by the dainty twirling and the elegant acrobatics the atronach was displaying. Perhaps this alluring nature was part of this Daedra’s power, but Roggvir didn’t even notice when his fur cloak was set on fire. He had wandered into what the flame atronach perceived as its own territory, and although it still kept its distance, the creature began to erect some impressive defenses: With a spin it ignited a circle of fire at its feet, which gradually crept forward towards Roggvir, who suddenly realized his predicament. He quickly removed his shawl of stitched animal skins and stamped on it. He decided to let the cloak burn after receiving a bolt of fire to the face. Now his beard was ablaze, and combat was inevitable.

Roggvir doused himself in water and stormed angrily up the sandbank, fighting through further fireballs to reach the atronach, which had the advantage of ignoring tricky terrain and was nimble over this unsteady ground, rather than a rampaging, heavy-footed mountain man who was doing more excavating than climbing with his feet. Roggvir was lost for a moment as a huge column of fire engulfed him, before exploding in a huge upward force. I hadn’t expected Roggvir to be outclassed this quickly, so I allowed Footfalls-in-Snow into the fray. The Argonian’s claws were already dancing with frost magic, and after further chanting, he threw both arms out towards the fire atronach, and caught it with an impressive turmoil of frost. “By Leki’s first lunge!” Namasur murmured, taken aback by the ferocity of the attack and the Argonian’s manipulation of this element. When the storm of ice finally abated, we saw the flame atronach bent over double, a collection of smoldering embers and light licking fire. A rather singed Roggvir struck it into dust with his axe.

After some good-natured ribbing, Roggvir spent the evening complaining about the quality of the darning needle and threads he was using to repair the burn marks across his attire. When the Khajiit mentioned his “sausage-shaped fingers” might be the cause of the indelicate mending, Roggvir exploded with rage. But I am happy to write that unlike his brother Fenrig, Roggvir’s fury manifested itself not as a violent massacre after a beastly transformation, but as a series of insensitive verbal barbs about Khajiiti culture and their cleaning habits. Fortunately, Ingjard’s mead calmed the situation.

WATCHER | Summerset Isles’ coast may be a jagged jewel of basalt cliffs, but the richer soils of the floodplains further inland and the landscape of farmland become evident. The ground had been tilled here for centuries; the ridge and furrow marks in the fallow pastures indicate farmers plowed these fields in ancient times, perhaps even before the arrival of the High Elves. A landscape artist could command a hefty fee from painting such striking outlooks. Unfortunately, on the occasion of our expedition, the view was marred by a chaotic scene: Black smoke rising up from a burning tavern (this enraged Roggvir in particular, who was most keen try the Ewer of Metheglin, an Altmeri honey liqueur). Thin, wispy Elves fleeing to their homes. The local guard, their armor light, well made, but provincial, rushing out to greet the attackers. Horses were whinnying and snorting. Another Daedra incursion to test us.

“Lor-Malatu…” Kishra-do pointed at the mass of snakes fused to a central flesh ball, a vision I initially couldn’t understand. “A ‘Doom-Truth.’ The eyes of Hermaeus Mora roam here!”

I had never seen the like before: a globe of knurled skin, dozens of tentacles emerging from it, all thick with sticky suction cups, like an underwater menace. These arms whip back and forth, and seem to propel the creature through the air, for it has no feet, and must be hoisted off the ground by dark magic. Three of these warped limbs are much longer, with spines and gnarled grooves, and a vicious, mace-like end, but with a sharpness to pierce as well as the mass to batter. Where the central core of flesh holds no arms, primitive eyes bulge and blink, viewing from all directions. It is impossible to sneak up upon this corruption: In fact, only the great central eye, a slit of black for a pupil glowering and darting constantly in all directions, shows our hunters which way it faces.

“Don’t look directly into the eye!” Both Kishra-do and Namasur led the charge, rushing towards the many-tentacled thing with swords drawn, and battle cries at a crescendo. The trio of Altmeri guards seemed not to have paid attention to Namasur’s instructions, as they stood close to the watcher, as if set into stone, petrified and mouths gasping. The watcher span around, catching Kishra-do with a flailing arm, but she landed lightly, unharmed. The huge eye blinked at her, and she slowed, unable to look away. The watcher’s gaze locked, and Kishra-do let out a shriek, dropping her sword in horror. Little by little, her soul was being eaten away. It was fortunate, then, that Namasur’s scimitar sliced cleanly through the watcher’s weapon arm, and the gaze was broken.

Kishra-do sank down on all fours, staring at the ground. It was the first time we’d seen her weakened in such a way (and would be the source of much gibing afterwards). Ingjard was there in her place, valiantly striking up at the watcher, as the round mass blinked and a bolt of magicka shot forth at Namasur. It struck only his shadow, setting alight another building. While its secondary pupils fixated on the Redguard, the central eye widened, then squinted into a strange scowl. “Beware the Doom-Truth’s gaze!” Namasur yelled, sliding under the roaring blast of energy that carved a path of fire where the Redguard had stood only moments earlier. Up thrust Namasur’s scimitar, out spilled the watcher’s eye yolk, and a final plunge (where Namasur’s arm disappeared into the flapping body of the beast) dropped it to the ground, where it was easily set upon.

My hackles rise and my prejudices come to the fore when I encounter an entity such as this: A mass of floating tentacles with a grotesque roving eye? These aren’t Kyne’s creatures; they are unnatural abominations, malignant and deviant, and must be dismissed! Are these tests from Molag Bal? Roaming Daedra riddling Mundus with their filth? I want my adversaries with two or four feet with a man, mer, or animal countenance, not this outlandish creation. Where had this thing come from? What was its purpose? Footfalls-in-Snow suggested it sought all knowledge, scrying for the Lord of Secrets, but changed his story as he found and searched the body of an Altmeri conjurer, pocketing trinkets and parchments in the process.

We redoubled our thanks to Kyne when the beast was finally dismembered (its smaller eyeballs pried out and stuffed into the Argonian’s bag), and the Altmeri innkeeper appeared from the remains of his building with some Golden Pear Ale for us to quaff.

IMP | Kishra-do had perked up after gazing into the horror of a watcher’s eye (by which I mean she again started up her sarcastic remarks about our hunting abilities instead of sitting on her haunches, looking stupefied). As we made for the thick blanket of ancient woodland of the Auridon deep forest, my attention turned to the Argonian, who had produced a scroll, taken from the corpse of an Altmeri magician he had looted previously. “I may babble as a fast-flowing brook, but I seek a friendly conjuration,” he informed me, as he unrolled the slightly singed paper, preparing for an incantation. I mentioned he was gathering familiars quicker than the cat lady of Riverwood, what with Scuttler, his lizard companion, and a newly acquired mudcrab he’d named Young Salty. My protests fell on deaf ears. Or whatever Argonians call those slits below their head fronds.

And babble the Argonian did, speaking in tongues he later described as “Impish,” after which a small ball of lightning flashed outwards above the lizard’s outstretched hand, through which a small dwarfling stepped. Light on its claw feet thanks to a pair of oversized wings, it looked around at our assembly through glowing red eyes and a thin-lipped mouth that appeared permanently parched of water. Two tiny horns of bone above the brow, a thin gray body, and overly long finger and toenails. The imp smiled kindly at me and flapped over, bowing politely in the air and extending a hand of friendship.

My hand had barely left my sword hilt when the imp decided an act of petulance was in order. It scooted forward, landing on my head and tugging my beard with both hands. As I attempted to swat the impudent trickster, it somersaulted over my helmet, and I smelt burning hair. The brazen fiend had set my topknot ablaze! “Dismiss this cur!” I yelled at the Argonian, who began to talk sternly at the imp in tongues unknown.

Kishra-do, never one to miss out on a verbal jab, shouted from the campfire, “Shadow of Rajhin! You shaveskins are being bettered by a trickster sprite!” Her merriment was short lived, as the imp quickly summoned a channel of flame from its small hands, which sped across the ground and struck the Khajiit as she sat on her log, sending her tumbling arse over tail. The smell of singed fur mingled with the odor of burning beard.

Ingjard was at the water simmering on the fire, drenching myself and the cat with a cauldron full. Fortunately it was warm, not boiling, although there were many Nord and Khajiit curses directed at Ingjard, due to our newly bedraggled nature.

“Enough!” Roggvir boomed, seeing the Argonian’s control over his toy was as adept as an Orcish diplomat. The imp cackled at the confusion it was causing, flipping over in the air and making all sorts of rude hand gestures. These stopped abruptly as it dropped to the ground gracelessly, after steel hand axe landed in its back.

The Argonian’s scroll satchel was searched, and magic not written in his mother tongue confiscated. The search of the deep forest would continue without any further frivolous interruption.

GIANT BAT | The ancient forests of Auridon have an eeriness all their own. But those that lurk between trees were not our concern this night. Instead, we looked up: A dark shape moved across Secunda. Perhaps it was Kyne’s hawk watching over us? No, Ingjard described the shape as more like a scraggly skeleton with leathery wings. “Your inferior hearing caught a whistle, yes?” Kishra-do asked, her ears perking up. We shook our heads, as the flitting movement blocked out a moon again. This time, I had a full glimpse of the beast, unbuckled my bow from by back, and motioned to elongate our guarding positions out a little. Waiting in a glade, Footfalls-in-Snow rustled some of the low shrubbery, until the curious creature swooped in with supper on its mind.

Darker than a Dunmer, with wings spread out to the width of three Imperial corpses laid end to end, this giant bat was coaxed from its slumber in the thick tree canopies above by the rising moons. Black flesh pulled tight over bat skull, a row of fanged teeth and a nose the shape of an oak leaf, ribs protruding through torso skin, and thick fur along the back ridge. A skeever-like tail, hooked toes, and claw hands with thumbs attached to roughly spread wings. It flew at the lizard, biting down and scraping its teeth on his forehead: A few scales lost, but no need for Argonian healing ointments.

The second pummeling was more concerning: the bat dropped down from behind, managed to clamp onto Footfalls-in-Snow, and stabbed down with four or five bites, until one of Namasur’s arrows knocked it away. The Argonian seemed withered by the punctures, falling to his knees as the Redguard’s second shot found its mark. This third arrow struck a tree. This was surprising, given Namasur’s aim. “Craven cur!” He shook his head, startled at the giant bat’s screeching ringing in his ears. His befuddlement did not last; a taut string and an ebony arrow embedded into the bat’s head. It fell quickly, striking tree branches on the way down to the soft forest floor, where it landed, already shrouded in its own wings.

GHOST | The third night, deeper within the forests, now more dense and primordial than before, and we chanced upon a hidden glade, and the remains of a delicately proportioned arch erected by ancient Altmeri hands, entwined with strangle vines. As we gathered wood and lit the fire, I sat down, weary from the march. A dram of something to warm my bones, and a quill in hand to make notes from the day’s wandering.

A slight, cold draft across my shoulder. Then it intensified: a shock of unnatural briskness, a touch that made me jump, then chilled me to the bone. I felt fingers digging in, an icy grasp burning my flesh through my furs. Puzzled, I span around. “Trolls take you! Show yourself!” There was nothing but a startled Argonian staring back at me over the flames of the campfire.

“You shed your leaves in First Seed, Master Grundvik,” he remarked. “Are you rattled?”

I rotated my shoulder stiffly, which was still riddled with cold. I felt ill, my stomach knotted. I beckoned over Roggvir and Namasur. I recalled the frosty reception in these old ruins. “Supernatural evil,” Roggvir muttered.

I snapped everyone from their tasks with a bellow. I explained the predicament, and weapons were drawn. But there was nothing but tangled briars and a faint creak of the trees softly swaying in the breeze, shafts of pale moonlight piercing the camp, the shadows flickering and looming in the golden glow of the fire’s embers. Not even Ingjard could be heard, away from us on her nighttime stalking of animals for our cooking pot.

“Save my soul from Molag Bal!” A plaintive cry was heard.

Wisps of glowing smoke began to form above an odd little light, which widened out from between the arch. It curdled into a more distinct form, shackled hands, ice blue after death, sagging shoulders and tattered trousers dissolving into the ether. Behind the ghost, a terrifying land of nightmares, purple, brooding skies, and cracked peaks ascending from cracked earth. The phantom congealed still further: A ghastly face, a thin, sunken-eyed Imperial with a thin moustache and a bottom-lip hair tuft where a fine and proud beard should have begun, high jawed and brow furrowed as if in perpetual pain. He was dressed in the tattered fineries of a Bravilian noble of lower standing, including the cloth cap of an artisan. He looked like he’d been dragged through a briar patch backwards.

This was a pitiful congregation of vapors.

“Proud Nord warrior, I beseech you! Rally your forces and free me from this wretchedness!”

Roggvir leaned in: “Well, he talks like an Imperial.” I nodded and turned, produced my blade, and pointed it at the pathetic specter.

“Don’t step any closer, milk drinker! Tell us your name, and what you want!”

“You can hear me? Stendarr be praised! My name is Flaccus Terentius! I am… was… “ he corrected himself. “I was envoy scholar to the empress regent. I wrote a book. With paintings. Sketched until my hands ached. Did you see it?”

“Yes,” Roggvir replied sarcastically. “I have a copy bedside, that I keep under my first-edition printing of The Lusty Argonian Maid.”

“My fame reaches the unwashed of Skyrim? My work, at least, is something for Honoria Lucasta to cherish…”

“I spoke in jest, Cyrodiil!” Roggvir interrupted with a laugh. “But congratulations on your predicament. How can we help? Shall we summon Molag Bal and sternly reprimand his wicked ways? On your horse, Imperial!” With that, Roggvir waved a dismissive hand at the ghost and sat down to eat.

“I hope you end your days eating endless piles of dung in the company of Sheogorath!” The ghost seemed increasingly agitated.

“Flaccus…?” Ingjard returned from her forage, and dropped her rabbits in surprise, instead of handing them to the Argonian.

“Ingjard! The stern-faced one with the mangled hand? By Mara’s light! You remember me!”

“Yes…” Ingjard replied with half a smile, quickly explaining to me about the time she spent shepherding this fellow on a hunt with Holgunn One-Eye. “We thought you’d drowned in a sulfur pond,” she added, then thought for a moment. “But you seem to have suffered a worse fate.”

“But you can save me, yes? Save poor Flaccus! I have gold… and riches!” A great churning from the ethereal window behind him caused us to step back a few paces. The view of Coldharbour grew darker. Indistinct.

“I am sorry, friend.” Ingjard spoke with sadness in her voice.

“Useless, uncouth sweat from a giant’s posing pouch!” Flaccus flew into a temper, swinging at Ingjard with two pale hands, which then hung by his side as she simply retreated two paces. Undeterred, the ghost’s tantrum continued: “Let my twin feast on your soul!” A second apparition formed in front of the first, the face contorted, sallow cheeks in a permanent scream. Alarmed, Ingjard watched as the ghost’s duplicate floating forwards, thrashing the air, continuing on a straight path that missed our group entirely, and ended up clawing at a tree before dispersing with a shriek.

“No. No! Not the chains!” Ingjard hadn’t the time to comment on the ghost’s ineffectual hysterics before a great force from beyond snapped the ghost’s manacles back, and the wretched soul was dragged, wailing, into the oval window. Strange runes appeared and swirled. Then the view was gone.

“Curse you, Uwafa…!” The ghost’s voice trailed off into another existence.

“Rabbit stew?” I inquired. “I’m so hungry I’ll even eat the Argonian’s cooking this evening.”

OGRIM AND SCAMP | Our footing became looser as we descended through the deep forest, using trails Ingjard and Namasur could only see periodically. But a black mark on the horizon was easily spotted: a jagged flaw in otherwise serene wilderness. Footfalls-in-Snow was seething; although this wasn’t his natural habitat, he had witnessed the “murder of our haj, or hidden woods, by rampageous marauders of Blackwood.” But these weren’t Cyrodilics; as we drew closer we realized this was an encroachment of Daedra.

I had previously encountered ogrims green of hue, and close to Orsinium shrines to Mauloch. But this brute as a strange blue,with larger, hook-like spines protruding from its hefty arms and shoulders. A wide stance and almost a waddle, with a paunch bigger than a pig’s. An ample mouth, with a Breton’s graveyard of jagged and rotting teeth jumbling out in all directions. Huge leather gauntlets and skin of hard leather and scales. Two ruined horns poked out from a wheezing, spluttering head. Ice-blue eyes marked it as a minion of Molag Bal. It seemed preoccupied with fire, merrily helping in the burning of Auridon’s forests, crackling trees and blackened smoke rising from the deep scar it was creating. The immediate area looked more like the Ashlands of Morrowind.

Perched on the ogrim’s broad shoulders was a scamp, a cowardly servant of an unknown Daedra lord, with its rotund steed providing protection as it set the woodlands ablaze. Cursed with a weak physical form, the scamp was strong in magic, particularly of a destructive nature. It sat, cackling through pursed lips, forehead sloped and mottled, nostril slits for a nose, black eyed and beady, ears as wide as a butterfly’s wings—a thin, wiry thing with a rat’s tail and pantaloons of thick-growing hair: Imagine a Goblin cursed by Molag Bal himself. It spotted Roggvir advancing with his swords, and let out a high-pitched cry, causing its fellow Daedra to twist around towards us.

Bringing the momentum of its spinning turn into a forceful slap, the scamp caught Roggvir in the face with an enormous glove, big enough to grip his entire head. A stinging slap sent the Nord reeling back, his helmet strap snapping with the force, and his headgear flew off into the woods. Kishra-do let out an uncharacteristic yelp, but soon realized Roggvir’s head was still attached. Our arrows marked the ogrim’s back as it crashed forward, through the smoking dust, then leapt at Roggvir, more nimbly than he was expecting, in an attempt to bombard and fell him. Despite his grogginess, Roggvir stepped deftly away, his two swords poked deep into the ogrim’s exposed belly. Now prone, the ogrim’s other areas of skin were marked with arrows, driven deep and dipped in poison. The ogrim fell onto its back, tongue draped over its spittle-soaked mouth, eyes darkened now, staring out into Oblivion.

The scamp shrieked in a babble none of us wished to understand. To and from the burning line of trees it dashed, scampering on all fours, before leaping out through the flames, both arms raised above its head, bringing them both down in a punch that took the wind out of Roggvir’s sails. His demeanor more angered at enduring a constant assault, Roggvir leapt to his feet again, and received a wave of conjured fire to the face from the scamp, setting his beard alight (Namasur later jested with Roggvir, asking if he was made of straw, as only training mannequins usually receive the pummeling he took). Realizing it lacked physical stature, but was proficient in primitive magic, we decided to sever the scamp’s upper hand in this fight, and Footfalls-in-Snow beckoned forth a stiff breeze to stifle the flames. This turned quickly into a maelstrom of ice, thrusting out in all directions and dampening the blaze in the forest scar.

Kishra-do helped Roggvir to stand (now for the fourth time since combat began, and the first with assistance), but the Nord pushed her away. Kishra-do snarled, but as a giant fist crashed down where she had stood, she forgave Roggvir’s manhandling. The fist belonged to the ogrim, now partly resurrected from wounds we thought were grave, with a scamp clinging to its neck fat. A battle charge was sounded, and Namasur struck the hairy homunculus off its perch with a finely aimed arrow, and followed up with a whirling dismemberment. The unsteady ogrim had arrows from every part of Tamriel protruding from its hide, but Ingjard’s axe into the low-set skull, lopping off an ear on the way, felled the terror. It too was separated into smaller pieces, for fear of this fight continuing until dawn.

The Argonian acted out his own name, burying the flames of the forest in a thick blanket of conjured snow he wandered through, sealing the scar. Our Daedra foes had their important innards removed, but we took care to feed only the lizard’s familiars with this tainted meat.

WRAITH | We followed an odd trail that Namasur had picked up in the lower forest, heading up into the high hills of ancient Auridon. The Redguard seemed puzzled, certain that the tracks were made from a fellow child of Yokuda (the footprints matched sandals his brethren sometimes wore). The way was thick with maple and larches, until a rough glade was spotted. Half-hidden among the tangle of trees and bushes, we uncovered a shrine to Peryite.

The High Elves had abandoned this overgrown monument long ago; the ivy and vines had weathered the remains of intricate carvings with their gradual rubbing, and saplings had sprouted from the stone itself. The shrine was choked by the forest’s tendrils. Namasur seemed fascinated by the structure, pointing at some of the representations of the Altmer, and the story of a battle with strange, slug-like monsters he explained were probably Sload. This stonework was reminiscent of the Halls of Stories told by Nord masons along timeworn barrow walls. “Tu’whacca’s mercy…” Namasur whispered to the Argonian. “See how the arch seems aligned to that mountain peak? I’d wager my sword that Masser grows brightest above this place on the summer solstice.” Footfalls-in-Snow nodded with interest, and began to cut through a patch of brambles to uncover more of the fallen rubble, catching a glimpse of something odd: the edge of a circle in the ground, which seemed to pulse slightly with a faded light.

Namasur was too slow in realizing the danger. The circle span with strange runes. As the Argonian stepped over its boundary, he quickly understood his blunder: This ruined waypoint was abandoned because it was cursed. Up from the middle of the circle rose an indistinct form: an uncanny and polluted vapor. A yawn from the ether, snapping shut in a flapping mass of anger and hate. As the hooded congealed into a thicker mass, more distinct to our eyes, we made out its malevolence. A tattered shawl, roughly stitched and wafting from sharp-nailed claws, glowing a wondrous azure, which lit the glade in an unnatural and frightening glow. The fabric trailed from the phantom’s cowled countenance, the tips of the cloth growing bleary. But the creature’s face was sharp, a jawless skull masking the bright blue light pouring from the beast’s core.

A wraith had been disturbed.

This specter of the ether was a guardian of necromantic origins, silent and thoughtless until our paths crossed. Now it stirred into our realm, ignoring Footfalls-in-Snow (who sank to his knees, weakened by the desecrated ground he had entered) but staring at Namasur with a piercing gaze. It formed a swirling sphere of frost in its hands. The bolt shot forth and narrowly missed the Redguard’s head. A second magical strike was on its way, this one a gash of ice, furrowing to Namasur’s feet. He leapt quickly to avoid its touch, and produced a long spear. It was the same implement he had used to bind and dismiss the soul of the ghost we had encountered previously.

“Upon my honor…” Namasur’s tone was ritualistic. “Lord Frandar’s spirit now consumes you!

The Redguard’s staff glowed green and red with numerous enchantments. It formed a circular rainbow of light as Namasur span it above his head, before he somersaulted forwards, his spear following the dance as if propelled on its own. But the Redguard’s hands stayed on the rod, nimble fingers increasing the velocity and ferocity of the movement. Ingjard jumped slightly as the spear left Namasur’s grasp with a jolt, bowing in the air as it flew, and entered the wraith’s hooded cowl as if it had been summoned to appear there. The wraith let out a silent shout, shafts of light ripping through in all directions like a sunburst as the specter’s skull broke apart. The dark form jerked about, filling with light, frayed cloth burning up in a magical fire. Then a flash we all averted our gaze from.

Tattered cloth gently fluttered down to the ground. The circle of runes had vanished, leaving only a small pile of ghostly remains, and the ritual dagger of a Daedric priest.

GOLDEN SAINT AND SPIDER DAEDRA | I rarely boast, but all our hunters (whether clad in fur, scales, or leathery Nord skin) have exhibited a remarkable quality to their tracking. In the seemingly impenetrable forests of Auridon, the faintest of trails are found, and always without magic. We feast on venison and peacock nightly. When our water skins are empty, we find blessed spring water and pure streams, and catch silvertrout. When we occasionally encounter a High Elf, Kishra-do explains our activities without exacerbation. So it came as a surprise when Roggvir failed to return by sunset from an afternoon’s tracking.

By dawn, our bird calls hadn’t been returned, so we followed the trail across the moss, under thickly draped canopies of larch and laurel, and crept forward when the sun broke through, casting light into a clearing. Two Elven archers and moss-lined steps down into a glade glistening with dew. Then an alarming crack, sounding like the breaking of bones. I crawled to the top of the stairs, and peered down. Two shapes in the shadows, unclear in the morning haze. I looked with firmer focus, and felt both gladness and alarm. We had found Roggvir, but he was looking distinctly unready; he was on his hands and knees coughing up blood and teeth.

Standing over him was a powerfully built woman, wiping Nord blood from her fist. I first mistook her for an Elf, but on closer inspection this was a strange and ominous variety of Daedra. Clad in armor of dazzling quality, the figure was resplendent in dark bronzes and silvers, but mainly golds, fashioned into filigree-encrusted shoulder arches, stomach plates, and thigh greaves, bare skin under boots and bracers. A belt of unknown leather, and a cape of silk-like cloth. Only the cruel scowl etched across the brow of the being (and the dazed Nord at her feet) hinted at her despicable disposition. Namasur recognized this foe immediately: “A Golden Saint. I read they serve Sheogorath in the Shivering Isles. I’ve found them reticent, arrogant, and delighting in violence.” The Redguard noticed Roggvir. “Especially the violence. They are no friend of men. Perhaps Ingjard or Keshra-do might have conference with her?”

Ingjard tapped her sword on Namasur’s shoulder. “My blade talks today.” This conversation was imminent, as the Golden Saint took sword and shield, raising her blade skyward—an ascension before cutting into Roggvir’s neck.

Just before Roggvir’s neck was to be cut, a jumble of occurrences took place. Forgive me for describing them in steps, as much of this collided into a single battle of confusion. Ingjard let out a yell to wake the forest creatures of Valenwood, and quickened her gait, to reach and prevent her companion from losing a head, cutting a deep wound into the back of the Golden Saint. The Daedra let out a shriek to scare every forest bird from its perch, kicked Roggvir in the head as consolation, and caught Ingjard’s next wild swing not with her shield, but her golden gauntlet. As the Saint’s fingers clasped the blade, Ingjard’s sword cracked and warped, gradually changing from polished steel to tarnished rust. Then the weapon shattered, Ingjard stumbling back to protect herself from being pierced by her own sword fragments. Namasur had disappeared, and now the Golden Saint had her glare locked on mine, so I only glanced at the disturbance in the undergrowth, half heard the shouts from the Argonian… but caught more than a glimpse of the Spider Daedra as it lurched out of the woodland darkness.

Bound in service to the Golden Saint, this bastardizing of Kyne’s spider was as revolting as you would expect such a hybrid to look: an arachnid’s hindquarters fused with a female’s stomach, arms, and head. Foaming, pursed lips ready to spit paralytic poison. A headdress of thick-spined protrusions sat like an oversized crown. Rearing up with front legs ready to stab and skewer, this quick and sinewy horror had the same fibrous muscle behind the sharp-pronged leg plates as the arms that burned with conjured and crackling energy. The monstrosity took charge of battering Roggvir, pinning him up against a rock and covering him in a thick web spittle. She (for the Spider Daedra had breasts, for some reason) was interrupted in her cocooning by a Khajiit with a long spear. I never heard an Argonian scream before, but Footfalls-in-Snow was suddenly leaping from his tree, dropping his bow in the process, and frantically scraping a trio of spiderlings, miniatures of their mother swarmed his scales.

Covered in poison marks, the Argonian disappeared from view with a lit torch and burning vengeance on his mind. Roggvir, now a bloodied and trussed-up shell, seemed desperate to prove his worth, and had begun cutting through the hardening web with a small dagger. The Spider Daedra was focusing her wrath on the Khajiit, coughing out a stream of lightning at the cat, which she avoided with her swiftness. As the discharge faded, her filthy mouth still had bile to gob out at Kishra-do. As one of these unpleasant projectiles splattered across her boot, the Khajiit stopped playing with her toys, and thrust the weapon up through the underbelly, driving the Spider Daedra onto its back, where further spittle and blood flew.

I retreated back from the Golden Saint, green mist whirling in my palm, ignoring the Daedra’s insults regarding my manhood and the potency of my family’s seed. Namasur finally appeared, readying a flying pounce with a dagger in each hand. I forced a congregation of vapors from my hand, which span about the face of my foe. She slowed to shake her head and rid herself of my mischief. This was the opportunity Namasur needed: The Golden Saint was striding forth, goading me into combat. Then she staggered, gasping for breath; her windpipe now had a dagger-sized opening in it. Finally she crumpled, Namasur deciding on a quick death and a stab through a blackened heart.

The Argonian was telling us how well spiderlings burned as ingredients were being harvested from our cull, when Roggvir wiped the last of the web from his beard and dashed to our aid. Though relieved, he received a ribbing that lasted well into the night, finally admitting to letting his guard down for a moment when he first spied the Golden Saint. Ingjard (and the mead that directed her tongue) waved her good hand in Roggvir’s face, and ended his protests once and for all:

“But you call yourself Roggvir the Ready! Ha! I haven’t heard a name this unsuitable since Torygg Bog-Trotter!”

“Why? What happened to him?” Kishra-do asked.

“He drowned in the Eastmarch fens.”

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