Kyne’s Challenge: Valenwood

Dark Forests of Daedra, and the Colovian Reapers

MUDCRAB | The Argonian was in his element as we descended into the coastal mangrove swamps of Greenshade, wading across to reach the rock elevations. But further inland, the place becomes most uncomfortable, the sweat pouring down your back and chafing in areas best left unmentioned. Footfalls-in-Snow’s two familiars also seemed to enjoy a frolic in the brown, oozing water, and both Namasur and Roggvir returned from scouting: they reported no dangers, aside from fleshflies enjoying a feast on our exposed skin. Later, as the sun set, the Argonian was drawn to a rocky pool, his eyes fixated on a large mudcrab, this one a deeper red in coloration, with slightly larger pincers. It didn’t seem as enthused to see Scuttler, and was positively aggressive to Young Salty, the Argonian’s other animal friend (and northern mudcrab breed).

Unless you’re a Cyrodilic noble who receives lounging on your back, cooked by servants within a walled fortification, and have an aversion to hard work, you must have an idea of what a mudcrab looks like. Two tiny orange eyes peering out beneath a lumpy but relatively flat shell, feeding its small but ferocious mouth with insects and food collected by its two large front pincers. The mudcrab snapped one of its pink claws at Scuttler, sending it racing back to Footfalls-in-Snow. Young Salty sidestepped forwards to face its rival, causing the pink fellow to snap its unforgiving claws at once, scraping the shell of the Argonian’s own six-legged friend. A small cloud of dirt, and Young Salty was gone, burrowing under the shallow mud bank, only to appear behind the red mudcrab and thrust both mandibles forward.

Young Salty edged forward, then fled back to Footfalls-in-Snow as a large spear was rammed through the red mudcrab’s shell, skewering it completely. “That was a species protected by the Altmer of Alinor!” the Argonian spluttered indignantly. Namasur grabbed his weapon, lifting it up to inspect the twitching mudcrab mass at the end of it. “I don’t see any High Elves unfurling their banners and readying to attack us, do you?” he said, scraping the corpse off his spear, and into a boiling pot. “I was unwilling to watch such a feeble battle continue. Don’t fret, Argonian; Young Salty isn’t on the spit. Let us eat; I hear this meat is exceedingly sweet.”

A camp was made, further mudcrabs were gathered, and we gorged on the juiciest flesh since Skyrim rabbit. Despite further assurances that his pet was a northern mudcrab and too tough to put in a pot, Footfalls-in-Snow refrained from the feast, opting to sit stroking Young Salty, and nibble on a sweetroll.

NEREID | At the edge of Greenshade, the brook we had been following (to aid in our geography as well as our tracking), which was sometimes merely mossy ground rather than a stream, finally meandered to a tiny tributary. We sank to our buttocks and made shallow our breathing. I crept forwards to a clearing, where the rush of more rapid water could be heard. Over this tranquility we heard a song. The sweet, transfixing song of the nereid. I found a suitable obstacle, and beckoned forth the more trusted members of our party.

And there she was, a vision of blue and turquoise, shimmering in the dappled morning light, frolicsome in the clear waters, preoccupied with preening. Almost Elvish in features, deep blue eyes and full lips, primitive swirls on her exposed shoulders, arms, and legs (Tattoos? Mottled skin? It was difficult to tell.). A variety of shells, seaweed, and small animals nestling in her bonnet, aquatic jewelry hanging from ears and breasts. And a shawl of cloth… no, water! It was vexing to determine where the water she played with began and her form ended.

I turned to Namasur, and muttered in venerated tones: “We are lucky to see one alone, and away from her matriarch. Have your wits and blades about you; this creature may either fly into a rage or tolerate our presence. But be wary; she can drown you even while you stand on dry land.”

Roggvir sidled up to our hiding tree: “I heard these are vengeful spirits, sewn from the bodies of women murdered and cast into rivers,” he offered.

Ingjard stifled a chortle, and turned to him: “A difficult tale to believe, Roggvir. But then, you still paint your cows and offer them to giants, don’t you?” Roggvir laughed back, but I saw his face redden and his mirth soon disperse.

“True beauty,” Namasur spoke now. “We know them as water sprites. You call them nereids, yes?” Namasur whispered as we stared across the edge of the embankment, towards a lagoon of the purest water, many small waterfalls trickling into a stream, and a further cascade into the burbling brook beneath the floating wispiness of the nereid’s feet. It seemed almost a crime to slay this water Nymph.

I am at pains to describe this combat in savage detail. We were here to acquire bathing water for Kishra-do’s master, and to test our prowess. But the nereid offered us no anger. Indeed, our uncouth tracker Roggvir began hostilities with a throwing axe, severing both the nereid’s arm and her song, and starting her formidable display of conjuring. Removing the axe and clutching her wound until the gouge had sealed up, she floated back, snarling, fragments of frost in her palms. Bolts of ice flew out, one striking Namasur on the chest plate. Roggvir was quickly to his feet, stepping in front of the Redguard to prevent further damage. They both looked puzzled as a swift wind whipped up around Namasur’s feet, swiftly becoming a fierce and dangerous whirlwind, controlled by nereid hands.

Roggvir somersaulted forward, bringing himself closer to the water’s edge. He promptly suffered a deluge, not from a wade through the pool, but after staring at his feet. “My boots are wet…” he began to speak, a small puddle forming on the moss underfoot. Not another step forward was taken before a great spouting column of water roared up from below: an erupting geyser trapping him in a prison. The prediction of a drowning was in danger of becoming true. It fell to the Khajiit (who felt no empathy at all) to lunge with both daggers poised stabbing forcefully as she leapt upon the nereid, and both disappeared under the water.

After much thrashing, Kishra-do waded out, shaking herself dry, leaving a floating blue corpse in her wake, as the lagoon water turned deep red with nereid blood.

SPRIGGAN | The oldest forest of this realm is the dense Grahtwood, where daylight finds it hard to reach the mossy ground, and the massive buttress roots of mighty oaks serve as their own tiny hamlets for a variety of plants and animals. Our wander led us to a woodland grove, a waterfall cascading over ferns, and a wet haze of moisture pervading the gloom. Rooted to the middle, swaying ever so slightly, was the spriggan we had tracked.

A twisted trunk, the glowing interior partly visible through smooth and intentional openings. The insides of the torso seemed to be the texture of moss. This central stem wasn’t cracked or brittle, but rather supple, like a sapling bending to the first winds of autumn. A comely torso (are those breasts?), and a feminine nimbleness to the spriggan’s movements. A wooden head, with a crown of branches, and molten fire dancing out from within. The graceful movements of the spriggan would have been entrancing, were it not for the screaming, wild eyes burning umber from within, and the increasingly brisk whirlwind of leaves spinning about this forest creature.

“Wolves!” Roggvir pointed both swords in opposing directions as we split up to deal with additional encroachments; two gray wolves with the same orange-eyed stares as their mistress were weaving through the trees on opposite sides of the clearing. Ingjard lit an oil-soaked arrow, as any chance at diplomacy had passed. The spriggan quickly pointed at the flame, and a swirl of swarming magic bolted forth, snuffing out the fire and knocking Ingjard off her feet. Next she turned her attention to the Argonian for a brief moment, and flashed her eyes at the lizard.

“Impure tail lifter!” While the majority of us were tracking our four-legged and trunk-legged prey in prelude to combat, Footfalls-in-Snow’s fight had already begun, violence erupting from surprising quarters. “Square-tooth milk sucker!” The Argonian continued his seething, gesticulating wildly as his scaly familiar refused to release its clamped jaws from his arm. The same orange glow emanated from Scuttler’s blank eyes: another animal in the service of the spriggan. In the end, Footfalls-in-Snow had no other option than to plunge a dagger into the back of Scuttler’s neck; it released its grips and fell to the forest floor, quite dead.

The grove was alive with possessed beasts: two wolves circling and the spriggan scooting forward through the air, twirling gracefully before the talons were revealed, attempting to lacerate Namasur’s neck. He edged away, and began a murmuring incantation, his hands suddenly exploding in fire: This was the first occasion that Namasur displayed a previously hidden talent for magic. Then it was released, an explosion of smoke and bark as the spriggan went up in flames. An impressive hit, until she faded from our view with a cackle, hiding in a translucent shadow with a swarm of magical essence flitting about her. Soon she burst forth, no evidence of burn marks on her form, and began a furious mauling in Namasur’s direction.

Namasur’s scimitar parried, his blade work faster than the quickest spriggan strike. This afforded Ingjard the time to release a barrage of burning arrows; each flew true and struck the spriggan, despite the Redguard’s proximity. A great wail erupted from the smoldering Nymph, and we advanced with axes to hack and dismember, while Roggvir kept the wolves at bay. As the spriggan’s husk, no blackened and without the glow of life, fell to the grass at our feet, her summoned creatures returned to the woods, now uninterested in a one-sided fight no in their favor.

A glum-faced Argonian buried his pet below a graht-oak, while Roggvir protested he was wasting good meat for the spit.

WINGED TWILIGHT | “The dusk’s howl of a Winged Twilight. Listen!” Roggvir motioned for silence, Kishra-do pricked up her ears, and we stopped in our tracks, straining to hear. He was right; as Masser and Secunda rose above the silhouettes of the Grahtwood elder trees, we distinctly heard a shriek over the woodland waterfall, and the faint hum of the torchbugs in the small clearing we were creeping through. Then the sound of a branch cracking above us; we gazed up and glimpsed movement in the still air: a large shadow leaped from the canopy and briefly blotted out Secunda’s light. Pale blue eyes shone through the dark leaves. Something had been stalking us since we crossed from Malabal Tor. Roggvir’s guess was correct.

A creature of female form, the Winged Twilight had previously been described as a messenger sent by Azura. But this Daedra was a servitor of Molag Bal, carrying his cursed color and blank, blue-eyed stare. Myth held that Molag Grunda, the daughter of Molag Bal, was spawned as a Winged Twilight, but whatever those that dwell with the Daedra have revealed, one was biding its time before it struck. Ingjard mistook this as fear, but Roggvir explained our stalker was cautious due to cunning and the quickness of its strikes; it was waiting for an opportunity. A feathered crest, now dappled with darker hues that ran along her shoulders and down her thighs, a scaled chest and breastplate, a savage woman’s face, hair scraped back into a topknot. A tail as long as her entire body, with a vicious barbed end, and massive hooked feet used to tear flesh apart and grip branches, rocks, and other vantage points. A thick membrane stretched over huge wings, each ending in a long and extremely sharp hook (our Argonian apothecary spoke of these as an ingredient to concoct a potent poison). A more winsomely shaped harpy was staring intently down on us from her high perch atop a graht-oak.

The stare turned to a menacing glint, and the perch a screaming plummet, as the Winged Twilight dived straight down to meet Ingjard, causing her to stiffly raise her shield and stand her ground. The shriek was deafening to all, but particularly to Ingjard, who seemed uncharacteristically stunned and confused. Roggvir stepped forward and swung an axe wildly: it whistled under the screeching menace, which swung back with its barbed tail and caught Roggvir across the face. The Nords were fighting as if we’d been downing mead for an hour (which was true), so it fell to Kishra-do to add some of her graceful carnage to the proceedings. Out flashed a tiny blade, almost as small as an arrow. Then another, both cutting the flesh of the foe between the ribs, a deviously painful strike and a difficult wound to keep from weeping.

But the Khajiit wasn’t finished; like a senche-tiger after a rock warbler, she bounded up the thick bark of a nearby tree and leapt for the flying terror. “Wits to Hircine!” I heard her yell as she caught the Winged Twilight and latched onto her back like a tick, both of them tumbling down to a heavy landing on the forest floor. Kishra-do was first up, a dervish of daggers, slicing with a ferocity almost too frenzied to follow. She absorbed a vicious kick from the beast’s talons, which left a scar along one arm, but this was a timid retaliation in the face of a murderous Khajiit.

Perhaps Molag Bal would think twice before sending a bird to stalk a cat.

HOARVOR | Namasur’s taste for mead was welcomed, and his consumption already legendary; Roggvir joked his blood could poison a vampire. The Redguard’s innate grace now featured more lurching movements, but he was still agile enough to find his sleeping quarters: on his side under the welcoming branches of an oak tree, near a patch of underbrush. While Ingjard painted, I retired for the evening, drifting to sleep with the crackling of the fire and the sounds of insects and hooting owls echoing through the forest. This tranquility was soon replaced by confused shouting and the clattering of metal.

Ingjard recalled the story (both through conversation and artistry): She heard Namasur murmuring, something indistinguishable, and probably mead induced. Then she heard a cry: “Dogs and sons of dogs!”

I asked what manners of dogs we were assaulted by, and Ingjard laughed: “No, Namasur ws visited during the night and pinned by a hoarvor.” She explained the Redguard’s shouts occurred after he experienced a stabbing pain in his side. Namasur joined us, gingerly rolling up his shirt to show off a large puncture wound below his ribs, now rapidly healing thanks to Argonian ointment. He continued the tale, stating sheepishly that he initially believed Ingjard had become besotted with his charms, and moved to lay with him. “But this was a mirage in my mind, thanks to your alcohol,” he smiled, then winced and lightly dabbed his wound with a cloth.

“Next, I thought I’d been stabbed, but the pain was different: it felt like fire and extended across my ribs. I struggled, thought the night terrors gripped me, as I was unable to move. My vision cleared, and I was peering into the dribbling mouth of a huge insect, as big as a guar.” The mouth had latched on, gouged on his side, and its sharp, spiked legs had pinned him to the soil. “Then I was covered in my own blood!” I made a feeble jest about him really being a Redguard now (which he took good naturedly), before explaining how the hoarvor had spewed forth a mixture of bile and Namasur’s own fluids, further adding to his discomfort.

“In the end, Tu’whacca watched over us. And I suppose Ingjard did join me in my bed. But she carried a spear, pried off that immense tick, and we watched it stagger and stumble about the camp, poisoned by the mead I drank earlier.” Namasur stood up, slowly. “That insect’s feast was helpful in one way, though: it seemed to suck the usual head pain I have after waking from a drunken stupor. Just this war wound tickles me now.”

The hoarvor was duly skewered and its shell scraped clean. We promised not to recall this story if we ever returned to Hammerfell.

STRANGLER | A patch of dappled light, half a day into the forests of Malabal Tor, was a novelty, so thick was the canopy of trees. Footfalls-in-Snow began writing Argonian poetry about it, although his quill scratched parchment in Jel, so he saved us from listening to it. But this shaft of light illuminated something grotesquely interesting. A plant, exhibiting more animalistic (and certainly parasitical) tendencies than many actual animals we had encountered: the carnivorous epiphyte known as the strangler, rarely found outside of the deepest recesses of Valenwood.

This particular specimen was impressive: as large as an Elf, and wider than an ogre. A bulging central stamen offered a quivering and deep red beauty, surrounded by feather-like leaves and strange branches, more arm-like than other plant life, and ending in a barbed spine that looked strong enough to pierce through the entire head of the unwary. This strangler’s girth was due to the richness of its nutrients; it was growing from the decomposing corpse of a Bosmer adventurer, the roots smothering the rotting face and putrefying limbs gathered in a loose heap at the base of the main stem. The Argonian edged forward, entranced by plant’s sweet and sticky excretions.

Roots and vines shot out to greet Footfalls-in-Snow, beginning to hug him. Puncturing through his scales, the plant throbbed in anticipation of suckling the Argonian, who broke from his daze as the thorns entered his skin. As he struggled with a dagger to cut himself free, further branches began to wrap around him, grappling and drawing him closer. The lizard was close to passing out now, and the strangler’s roots started to ooze an odd purple liquid. Deciding the Argonian had perhaps helped demonstrate enough of the plant’s ferocity, Roggvir and Kishra-do quickly stepped in, and began to hack the snaking appendages apart, starting with the one tightening around the Argonian’s neck.

The strangler struck again. A spike spat out from the strangler’s vertical smile, embedding itself into Roggvir’s arm. Shrugging it off, he fought off the branches, now thrashing randomly at him and the Khajiit. He was almost free, but the fluid at the plant’s roots suddenly exploded upward in a shower of dark red rain. Choking on the poison, all three dropped down, and the strangler began to shuffle forwards, its roots actually emerging from the Wood Elf host and quickly tightening around Roggvir’s ankle. I shook my head: “Ingjard! Namasur! I’ll be forced to write about how a single strangler impaired our entire expedition, unless you can salvage our pride!”

A Redguard scimitar swiftly cut through the main trunk, severing the strangler in two. Ingjard brought her axe, and demolished the lashing vines with a focused fury. As we unbound Footfalls-in-Snow, I tossed him some gloves and asked him if he was up to the task of siphoning off some stranglesap, while Roggvir took a shovel and buried the Bosmer in proper accordance with local customs.

The incompetency was, I hoped, a mere fleshbug nip on the otherwise alabaster skin of Mara.

BONE COLOSSUS | Perhaps only the Argonian wasn’t becoming a little irked at the continuous exploration of Malabal Tor. The going had slowed due to the floor on which we walked: sometimes soggy, occasionally root filled, and intermittently plagued with briar thickets to slice our way through. And the trees! I’m no despoiler, but these Wood Elves don’t fell anything with a trunk and branches! I should also have brought a second quill and parchment, and written a book solely on the number of nature metaphors the Argonian uttered when stroking yet another species of sapling or gathering a seedling.

So we were fortunate when Roggvir chanced upon and old Bosmer poacher’s path, leading to more forgiving hiking conditions. However, the trail led to a glade dominated by a strange structure, filled with Wood Elf carvings in three great stone blocks propping up a moss-covered roof: below was a circle of paved stone, upon which sat a plinth of burning animal fat. Namasur immediately signaled for us to depart into the trees surrounding the wayshrine: Something wasn’t right here. I squinted through old eyes, scanning the stone for the source of the Redguard’s worry. Venturing out, I saw the runes, strange, glowing sigils scoured into the stone with malice aforethought, and none of the primitive majesty of a Bosmer. This defacement was the work of a necromancer. Or worse.

How much worse became immediately apparent when two towers of living bone rose from their slumber circles.

Just one of these bone colossi was enough to raze the hamlet of Kynesgrove during the recent troubles. But unseen magicians allied with Daedric Princes had conspired to greet us with two of these heavy-footed skeletal warriors. Kishra-do seemed fascinated as the two giant constructs slowly ascended to their full height (three Nords tall). I quickly explained these were creations fused with the bones (and sometimes entire frames) of the fallen. Parched skulls, ribs, and other bones were combined to form broad shoulders, hardened armor, and a head containing enough malice to stoke the fire of a dim but functional intelligence, unique among the undead.

Both foes ignored our rain of arrows, stretched out their arms, and (almost in unison) executed a fearsome roar (all the more fearful, as both entities lacked vocal cords). A moment passed before the ground began to undulate, and further bony forms rose up: minion skeletons summoned to pester our party. Our adversaries now numbered eight, and we knew our only advantage lay in our enemies’ unthinking remorselessness. Combat instructions were yelled; the Khajiit was to join our main attack after removing the six lesser threats, a task she relished. Roggvir led the charge to the first bone colossus, two swords cutting at its heel. No tendons were there to hobble this bone giant, but it still slowed, turning to fling a long arm out at the Redguard, from which Namasur tumbled away without delay. Leaping up the wayshrine like a Khajiit, he launched from the roof, grabbing the wide shoulders of the colossus and twisting off its head. The bewildered behemoth wandered into the woods before Argonian arrows finally brought it down.

Roggvir wasn’t faring as well; he stumbled as he navigated the wayshrine’s steps and fell on his back, rolling away just as his immense adversary plunged its fist down into the soft earth, up to the wrist. This was no graveyard, but suddenly the ground erupted as shards of bone, many with viciously sharp points, flew out from the impact, some catching Roggvir about the beard and forearm. Assistance was needed, and it took the form of Ingjard, wielding a pair of her favorite axes, which cut the colossus into an armless wanderer, before she dropped it at the knees, and the torso fell forward, back into the earth. Kishra-do suddenly backed away from her fierce combat with the risen dead (previously, she had decided to dispatch each only by decapitation, which meant I occasionally had to step out of the way of a flying skull). Ingjard’s fortitude had snapped the magical bonds, and the last two skeletons could no longer be sustained, exploding in more bone fragments.

We were picking them out of our skin and hair throughout the following evening.

DARK SEDUCER | We witnessed Roggvir’s mistake from some distance, close enough to the hilltop to watch, but too far across the charred forest floor to intervene before it was too late. The great fires of Reaper’s March made our tracking dangerous and our breathing difficult; jagged and blackened wounds of deforestation continued to open up before us and send our Argonian tree friend into a seething rage. Perhaps he should have scouted ahead instead, as he might have resisted the charms of the Dark Seducer, viewing it through the eyes of ire instead of infatuation.

We had journeyed far across this treacherous landscape after hearing rumors of a legendary lich to slay. Roggvir was circling back from a survey of the burn, when he chanced upon a lone figure. As he closed in, he saw a cloaked woman of some considerable delicacy, sitting on a tree stump, tears streaming down her pallid skin, forlorn at the cruelty of the Colovians. A displaced Bosmeri villager? No, she had the look of a Nord maiden under that cowl, or so Roggvir remembers. What happened next is unclear; Roggvir recalls waking up with a bleeding head and two missing teeth. The rest of us saw little of the woman’s transformation into her true form, as the billowing smoke obscured the ruse.

As the air cleared, Roggvir had fallen, slumped forward, chin on the tree stump, blood trickling from his brow. Ingjard feared the worst, and rightly so; this was no forlorn fawn lost in the wilderness. Powerful magic had transformed her being, which had now flickered back to a Daedra vision Namasur immediately recognized. “Dark Seducer!” came the cry. A true form revealed: a female fiend clad in armor of the deepest blue and ebony, shining in the moons’ light. We would have stood and commended the workmanship on the boots, gauntlets, and helm, but we had scattered, sprinting forth to save Roggvir’s neck, as the Daedra raised the axe of an executioner. She brought it down quickly, but Ingjard’s arrows were faster, piercing her arm in midswing. The axe cut through the edge of the stump, narrowly missing Roggvir’s ear. The weapon remained stuck in place, glowing purple residue streaming from it.

Wings unfurled, with both hands conjuring fire, the Dark Seducer took to the skies, where it laughed at the Argonian’s arrows for a few moments, until Ingjard’s accuracy finally caught the flying foe in the neck. This brought the Daedra down and caused her conniptions; she was brought to the boiling point with another unanswered arrow. A massive blast of fire shot forth from both hands, aimed at Ingjard but striking wide of the mark, and another oak went up in flames. On the promontory now, Namasur launched his trusty spear with almost magical accuracy, skewering the beast just below the ribs. She responded with four rapid bolts of ice, one striking Namasur in the head and knocking him towards a steep, smoldering slope.

Another weapon of misty purple was unbuckled, as she swooped in towards me. I held firm, gripped my axe, forced my shield to absorb her screeching sword swing, and caught her with a viciously accurate gouge across her belly. Entrails spilled as she tumbled into the ash, mangled and seething. I strode over and removed Namasur’s spear, still wedged in her, and stabbed down into the neck until a soggy crack was heard, indicating her audience with Molag Bal was granted.

“Try to resist the charms of wanton women,” Ingjard said with a grin, helping Roggvir up and wrapping his head wound, “especially ones with wings and of a Daedra disposition.”

LICH | Namasur had been studying the map fragments, and swore to the three great Ansei that Mannimarco’s underling was here, prowling the floors of ash along the edge of Reaper’s March, where the corruption of magic was at its strongest. Vingalmo the Wight (as the Redguard called the lich) was apparently responsible for numerous atrocities across the desert crypts of Namasur’s forebears. As he tells it, the story goes that Vingalmo was sent to Hammerfell to gather more bones for an army of the undead. Slipping silently into the numerous necropolises, this filthy lich terrorized the people of the Alik’r Desert by summoning their own ancestors to gather along the walls of Bergama, in readiness for war. Namasur’s nomads were embroiled in this after his family’s tomb was raided, and Vingalmo resurrected Namasur’s own great-uncle. The Redguard’s voice trembled in anger as he recalled the time he slew his own ancestor, each armed with the same family scimitar. While consecrating his ancestor’s sarcophagus again, he vowed to hunt the lich down.

“Vingalmo used to be an Elf, so he returns to the polluted and tormented regions bordering his own land to gather more minions.” Namasur spoke with the qualification of an expert on such manners, and I had no reason to doubt him. Days later (and once Roggvir’s head wounds had healed), Namasur’s tracking yielded results.

We found the lich despoiling a Colovian camp, in a river valley by the broken mountains to the south, where the smoke of a thousand burned trees still hung in the skies. The Argonian sought cold comfort from the fact that the Imperial zealots seemed to have been caught and suffocated by their own fires. I peered out from behind a rock with Namasur, and we watched as the lich hovered over the razed tents, picking through the ash for dead bodies. This was a floating corpse of considerable power, driven mad by the promise of immortality. It had no need to disguise its appearance (as many lich are wont to do), so we viewed the horror in its full and tattered splendor.

More bone than skin, gray flesh wrapped tightly around thin fingers and a glowing skull. A faded yet resplendent crown of magic, tarnished armor of gold and amethyst, robes that were once woven of the very finest linen, but now worn to the point of being held together by magic. Both the lich’s hands were occupied; one carried a staff of gold and leather, while the green flames of necromancy flickered in the other. Two focusing torches floated either side of the lich’s shoulders, attached by rusting chains and ready to augment any magic it cast. Most horrifying was the fear it exuded from within: A thick agglomeration of fumes, glowing a bilious green, writhing inside a rotting shell.

I would lie weeping before Tsun and Stuhn before wishing this fate for myself.

Namasur would not face this madness alone. I beckoned Ingjard and Roggvir down from the crags, and we were discussing tactics when Footfalls-in-Snow turned into Tumbles-in-Ash, falling down a slope of scree with the grace of an Orc, and ruining our element of surprise. There was no time for looks of disgust; the Argonian was already fending off bolts of magic. Ingjard leapt up and charged—a brave but foolhardy strategy, as the lich formed a necrotic spear from its hands, threw it savagely, and struck Ingjard in the shoulder, halting her run. Roggvir ran to her aid, and the lich hissed something at the two of them, bathing their ground in a foul-smelling ichor. Their movement impeded, both Nords flailed as if caught in a mire. Then the soil erupted, skeletal hands and bones striking up from the earth, threatening to drag both Ingjard and Roggvir into suffocation.

Namasur thanked us for our distraction after the fight, as he dashed up to the lich, opened a sack, and dropped its contents on the ash. “I found your son, Vingalmo!” the Redguard yelled, as the dismembered head of an Altmer fell out (we had wondered what the smell around camp was, and had been blaming the Khajiit for it). The lich’s soul peered down through its green-glowing skull, and let out a shriek, some semblance of memory sparked. Namasur kicked the head across the camp, and with a strike faster than a blink, had both scimitars out, and the lich’s bony neck caught between them. Namasur’s own throat was grabbed by bony hands, turquoise fire enveloping them both. Then a mighty explosion, and I had to avert my eyes.

When I peered back again, Namasur seemed unharmed, though coated in a rage of red fire. He was holding the skull of Vingalmo the Wight, having wrenched it off the ragged corpse. He spoke softly as the red fire slowly faded:

“Ayh-al-Fifrah at-Hamisam, be at peace.”

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