Ebony and Snow Chapter 1 Part 8

No sooner had the bear pelts been delivered, Deanathala was once off again on Guild business. It seemed that Great White, a stag of some legendary status had been spotted in the marshes to the North of Morthal. Several guild members based out in the wild had heard many rumours about is sighting. Rumoured to be over 3.5 meters tall, with large white antlers crowning its majestic head, its body was covered in pristine white fur. As white as the first winter snow, it is rumoured to have some magical property. Rumoured as no one has yet come close to it.

‘No one until now,’ thought Deana silently. She picked the bounty notice off the board in the guild, only to be met by cat whistles and derogatory remarks by the predominantly male fraternity. Taking the banter in good cheer she gave a theatrical bow and blew her audience a kiss from her rich mauve lips.2013-02-09_00002

 

‘Please no more,’ pleaded an exhausted Vilja as she trudged through the mire North of Morthal, her immaculate blonde locks in a mess of sweat and sludge.

‘Perhaps we should rest for the night Deana,’ added Lydia. Her steel armour covered in swampy grime. It has long lost its sheen. ‘The sun is almost down and the chill in the air strengthens.’

They had been travelling the mire for two days without a glimpse of the elusive white. Yes, they had seen many elks and stags, hell they had even feasted on one rather large specimen, but of Great White not whisper.

Ghostly mist was starting to rise from the almost stagnant water. It eerily settled near the surface and seemed possessed of some eldritch life, moving with no pattern or logic. The marsh, nocturnal insect life was starting to stir as the drone of mosquitoes and the light of torchbugs began to fill the air. Creatures scuttled in the reeds, while keening calls from larger animals punctuated the darkening sky.

Deana herself, her fur armour wet and not smelling too well, was also exhausted and Lydia’s suggestion seemed the best idea. Fruitless searching, especially at night, would only fray already short tempers. Zora had to be put on point, as far from Vilja as possible. She didnt take to lightly to the Nord’s laughing after Lydia fished her out from one particularly smelly sinkhole!

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Venturing until last light, they camped on a relatively dry hump of land. The only fire they could manage from the damp kindling around them was a small one, more smoke than heat. Yet they were grateful for small mercies as they once again feasted on the rich venison of yesterdays kill.

The night itself was as crisp and clear as it was cold. The constellations seemed to dance across the dark canopy above them. As the night deepened so did the nocturnal stirring of the marsh’s denizens. The clatter and clinking of the chitin exoskeletons of mud crabs joined the howling of distant wolves, yet our companions were left largely undisturbed until an hour before dawn when two over curious skeevers decided to nibble on the snoring Zora’s toes!!!

Day 3 of their search was wet. The heavens opened with a vengeance and even Deana was starting to lose hope, its flame waning as the soddenness of her clothing increased. It was at her lowest ebb that Zora signalled to the party to lay low, she also motioned Deana to the front.

They crouched behind a cluster of red topped reeds, common to the area. Zora indicated for silence by pressing a gauntleted finger to her pursed lips. With her eyes she invited Deana to look beyond the reeds and, as her violet eyes locked on what was before her, her breath left her.

 

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There it was, The Great White. It grazed gracefully on a small island surrounded by leaf less gnarled trees. The stories in the Huntsman did not do the majesty of the beast justice. Its white, muscled flanks moved in perfect harmony as it nuzzled its way through the grass. Its proud antlered head seemed to roar defiance to the pouring rain. Its legs looked strong and powerful, clearly capable off leaving a Dunmer behind after a few powerful thrusts.

Without daring to breathe, and keeping one eye at all times on Great White, Deana unlimbered her yew wood longbow. She carefully reached around her back to grab at one specific arrow she had in her quiver. An arrow she herself had manufactured out of the branch of an ash tree. It was fletched with the black feathers gathered from one of the Hagravens from Orphan Rock. Furthermore Deana had taken the arrow to be blessed by Danica before she left Whiterun, she wanted the kill to have the nobility the great beast deserved. She tensed her hand on the bowstring as she nocked the arrow, its barbed tip dripping with rain. The creaking of the taut bowstring as she pulled seemed to sound like a peal of thunder to her ears.

Watching Great White to see if it had registered anything, Deana was grateful for the pouring rain. It was masking any noise the pulling bow was making. With a prayer to Hircine on her lips she slowly released her breath at the same time as she released the string…

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(Apologies for eye. Forgot to take off HUD before capture)

The arrow sped away through the pouring rain. What in reality was a simple heartbeat, seemed an age to Deana. As the arrow neared its target, Great White seemed to look towards Deana, its brown orbs locking onto the dark elf’s violet ones. What majesty in that look she thought. What strength, waht pride… Her reverie was cut short by the death knell of the great beast as the arrows barbed point tore through skin and sinew. Great White, its flawless coat now marred by an ugly red rivulet of blood, took one unsteady step backwards before throwing its head back and letting out a last, defiant keen. It then buckled onto its front legs, struggling valiantly to stand as its lifeblood mingled with the rain. Its antlered head slowly drooped and to Deana’s eyes it looked like a crown slipping off the head of a long reigning King, and gradually came to rest on the wet earth.

Deana’s eyes were moist with tears, moved by the majesty with which the beast had met its end.

 

Ebony and Snow Chapter 1 Part 7

Talk at the Huntsman was also of the rumours of dragons. The older hunters quaffed at such a notion, claiming that should dragons exist they should be classed as monsters not animals and as such The Companions should deal with them. The younger drinkers were all full of bluster, all vowing to be the first to donate a dragon’s head to the Hunstman to adorn its walls. Elrindir took all the boasts in good cheer but did seem somewhat sceptical about all this dragon’s buisness.

‘Tall tales if you ask me,’ he remarked to Deanthala as he handed over another ale. ‘Many people pass through that gate everyday, and not one from Helgen, or to have been at Helgen. Yet that’s the only thing people talk about today; Dragons!’

‘I’ll agree with you for now Elrindir,’ replied the Dunmer. ‘Yet, if you pardon the pun, there is rarely smoke without fire. What I can tell you is, I’ve yet to see any flying lizards so until I see one I’ll keep my own counsel.’

‘On another note, the Guild needs a consignment of bear pelts, Elrindir, not seen that many around here,’ she continued.

‘Bears. No not around here, giants and mammoths scare them off. Its the Rift you want. Bears thick on the ground but be wary as there’s some big buggers out there. Matter of fact if you’re going to head out there I can recommend the Bee and Bard in Riften. Keerava’s a friend, tell her I sent you…’

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Three days later, after following the White River East and tracking the Darkwater south until reaching Lake Geir, our friends reach the Rift. The dark greens of the pines gave way to warmer oranges and browns as the temperature improves. Vilja’s mood also greatly improved with the warmer clime, unfortunately her singing did not and the sun seemed to make her burst into song more often! Zora’s constant threats to ‘rip that damn tongue out of her mouth,’ a constant accompaniment!!!!

Elrindir was correct, however, about the number of bears in The Rift. They were all over the woods. Large, heavily built and tough to bring down. Fortunately for Deana, the warm air made them somewhat lethargic and several of her kills were literally caught napping in the warm sunshine. Yet, there were several hairy instances. A rather old, and large grizzly entered into some sort of blood lust, despite the three shafts buried in its torso, and almost tore Vilja limb from limb. Its powerful claws shredding her hide armour like paper. She was tossed aside like a rag doll and was only saved by Zora as she dove her two hander deep, almost upto the hilt, into the bear’s back. Rich, red blood flowed from the mortal wound, but the beast did not die until one last defiant roar. Its massive maw open to reveal large, yellow fangs. One could not help but gain a very healthy respect for the power of nature!

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Those 10 pelts that Elberond was asking for at the Guild were quickly gathered. Deana could not help but be amazed by the breathtaking beauty of The Rift. Its woods were punctuated by glens and clears. Small ponds and pools abounded, places teeming with animal life. Dragonflies buzzed peacefully across the still waters while Elks brought their fawns to water here. The perfect picture of serene beauty. Deana’s heart soared, feeling somewhat at home for the first time since alighting from the ship that brought her to Skyrim.

 

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A very familiar cry from the skies made her feel even more at home…

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Ebony and Ivory Chapter 1 Part 6

With their valuable cargo securely stored in Deana’s backup the party starts the journey back to Whiterun. Glaring sunshine greets them as they march across the sulphur pools that abound around the Eldergleam Sanctuary.

‘By the Nine, that is a powerful, pungent smell’ complained Zora colourfully. Hot geysers bubbled angrily as the burst the surface of the green tinged pools. Undaunted the trio carried on and Vilja even piped up, a very out of tune, version of the Dragonborn Comes in an attempt to lift spirits. It somewhat worked!

They took a northern route, keeping the Darkwater River to their right before hitting the road near the Darkwater Mill. They then turned to the West, fording another river before once ascending the lower slopes of High Hrothgar, as they skirted the large mountain. The climb proved steep, but luckily the weather held and a majestic view of the rear of the Dragonreach towering over the tundra greeted them as they crested the last hill before Whiterun itself.

Though the journey proved largely uneventful, the party did come upon an unsavoury scene near the ancient Nordic tower at Valtheim. Several dead bodies were strewn across the road as it passed under the shadow of the towers. They had obviously been ransacked as clothes and other items of low value were all thrown across the cobbles. A Kahjit had been beheaded and its head set upon a spike about halfway up the tower, a small puddle of blood collecting at the base of it.

Zora explained that bandit bands would often base themselves in these old Nordic towers and lay claim to roads and thoroughfares that passed by them. The more ‘cultured’ bandit leaders resorted to charging a toll, whereas the more savage ones (clearly the ones in Valtheim) just engage in wanton pillage and slaughter. Perhaps something could be done to make this road safer at a later date.

Light drizzle began to fall from the sky as the trio made the gates of Whiterun. The guards pestered them with questions about dragons and dragon sightings. Dragons?!?!?!?!? Were these guards on the mead? Deana assured them that no dragons had been seen, and that no dragons had followed them, and that she had no idea of what had happened at Helgen. Yet there was something in the urgency with which they spoke that made Deana very, very wary. Entry into the city was forbidden to them until the Gilgergreen sapling was produced and even then it was a very reluctant permission!

It was a very grateful Danica Well Spring that received the sapling. She showered blessings of Kynareth upon our friends and rambled on about a ceremonial replanting and rebirth. Deana respectfully bade goodbye and headed to the Guild at the Huntsman for a well deserved ale!

Ebony and Snow Chapter 1 Part 5

Heading back to Whiterun the party was set upon by a pack of feral wolves which provided Zora and opportunity for redemption after being knocked out by the Forsworn beast and allowed Deana to gather sufficient pelts for the guild back in The Drunken Huntsmen. These she duly handed in to Elberond, the Steward of the Guild with the promise of bear pelts to come.

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Work was also going on ahead apace in the guild building. A basic structure was now in place and a couple of bedrolls allowed members to rest between forays into the Wild. Elberond assured Deanthala that work would soon be completed and that the Guild would be a fully functional asset in Whiterun that would serve as a source of trade and income and as a means to keep the wildlife around the city in check.

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The party spent a day in Whiterun, Lydia having to attend to several duties up at the Dragonreach. Vilja took this opportunity to visit the Temple of Kynareth and came back distraught. A priestess there by the name of Danica had unburdened a story on Vilja about a tree that was dying in Whiterun, the Gildergreen. Apparently the only way to revive the tree was by getting a sapling from the parent tree in a place called the Eldergleam Sanctuary far to the East. Just as Deana was about to ask why the priestess needed their help Vilja continued by saying a magic dagger was needed to part the gnarled, overgrown roots that the tree had extended to protect itself. This ‘Nettlebane’ was apparently in the hands of a coven of witches and Hagravens known to prey on the travllers on the road to Ivarstead that cuts through the mountains. Vilja pleaded with Deana to help Danica. Such was the passion with which the Nord pleaded her case that Deana could not reject. After all they had a few days to spare, Lydia had informed them that her duties with the Jarl would keep her for at least 3 days. Enough time for the others to embark on the quest.

Orphan Rock proved a tough nut to crack as these Hagravens were ruthless with claw and fire. Furthermore a brace of human witches worked in tandem with them. Vilja was knocked to the brink of death while Zora clearly revelled in the berserk rage of combat. Our heroes prevailed to recover a wickedly jagged dagger that reeked of malevolent magic. The nature loving Vilja even refused to touch the thing, trusting it to Deana’s keeping. A cold road through the mountain passes below High Hrothgar awaited.

Arrival at the Eldergleam Sanctuary was uneventful, other than the bone chilling air that cut like a finely honed blade as they moved through the mountains. The Sanctuary was a true sight of woodland beauty. Two large waterfalls emptied from above into a natural cavern of exquisite beauty. Trees, floral and woodland creatures of all shapes and sizes dotted the cavern floor and atop a large hill stood the parent Gildergreen Tree. It shone with a glow of its own bathing all the cavern in its warm light.

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Drawing the dagger Deana approached the think roots blocking the way to the tree. As if the Gildergreen was possessed of some sentient power, the roots parted of their own accord sensing the dark magic contained within Nettlebane. The trio wound their way to the top of the hillock to find a woodsman, who announced himself as Maurice Druid of the Elder (not that the title meant anything to Deanthala). His eyes opened in horror as he saw what the Dunmer was holding. He dropped to a fighting stance unclasping a large Quarterstaff strapped to his back.

‘Oh goody the tree hugger wants to play,’ spat Zora unleashing the two hander from its holster.

‘Hold,’ cried Deana. She opened her palms wide and said, ‘we wish the tree no harm but rather wish some of its sap to restore its sibling in Whiterun.’

Maurice seemed to lessen his aggressive stance and abandoned it completely when Vilja told him what Dancia had spoken about.

‘The spirits of the wood indicate your pure intentions child of Morrowind,’ he said suddenly. The party instantly readied weapons when a number of Spriggans materialised from within the Gildergreen itself.

‘Put those down as they mean you no harm. On the contrary they bare a most wondrous gift…’

Indeed as the Spriggans morphed back into the tree they left a young sapling identical to the mother tree, just as brilliant and majestic as its parent but smaller.

‘Take this to the priestess of Kynareth and tell her that from death must come life. This sapling will grow in the earth of the old and provide new life and flower once again.’ With that he bade the party farewell and resumed his praying before the Gildergreen once again.

Ebony and Snow Chapter 1 Part 4

The creature was large. It was brutal and it wielded a massive version of the club the Forsworn guard had carried. Its skin glistened with some sort of oily excretion. It moved in rivulets through its bulging muscles. It had small, evil, yellow beady eyes and its mouth ringed with fangs that were curved and sharp. It looked at the Brierheart, who gestured it forward. With a speed that belied it bulk it launched itself at Zora and Lydia. The former took a crushing blow from the beast’s mace on her two hander but could do nothing against the crushing fist that smashed her nose in and toppled her to the ground, blood flowing profusely from her face. Without stopping the beast spun on its axis and brought its club to bear on Lydia. The ringing of bone on metal rang across the camp as Lydia took a full blow on her shield. The beast seemed to give a quizzical look, as if wondering why Lydia was standing, that soon turned to anger and pain as Lydia slashed across its chest with her longsword  Foul looking black blood poured forth, steaming as it came into contact with the cold air.

‘So you bleed, eh,’ growled the Nord. ‘Come and bleed some more then you black hearted bastard.’ She advanced on the beast again standing astride Zora’s prone body.

Deana and Vilja fought with the Brierheart as Lydia exchanged blows with the beast. The Forsworn proved an able opponent and Deana was forced to ditch her bow and support Vilja in the fray. Having the benefit of a flanking companion our friends were soon able to gain an advantage over the foe. Deana’s mace got through his defences and crushed into his sword arm, the squelching and sickening sound of breaking bone followed. To his credit the Brierheart didn’t scream, hateful eyes staring out of one of those antler headdresses. Moments later that head was flying through the air as Vilja’s blade went through its neck. Turning to help Lydia, Deana saw the Nord, now helmless and bleeding heavily and her shield arm lying limp by her side (her shield cloven on the floor), slide her sword through the beast’s chest and appear out of its back. Its black blood flowing down Lydia’s arm. Momentum drove the beast onto the blade as it roared loudly, its mouth open wide its forest of fangs seemingly about ot bite Lydia’s head off. Yet Deana could see the light it’s eyes had gone. With one last whimper it dropped to the side taking Lydia’s blade with it.

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OT – Black Hills Goblin courtesy of Skyrim Monster Mod

‘What the hell was that thing?’ exclaimed Zora a few hours later as she woke up. Vilja had done her best to patch her nose as she slept. Lydia lay on a pallet inside one of the Forsworn’s animal hide tents. Deanthala had exhausted her supply of potions on Lydia but she had been battered heavily by the beast and needed the rest. As both warriors rested Vilja and Deana explored the camp. The Forsworn had established a substantial presence here, Jarl Balgruuf would have to be notified, and Deana had recovered a map of Skyrim with annotations and dagger through the town of Markarth. What did these portents mean?

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Ebony and Snow Chapter 1 Part 3

The party continued moving Westwards across the Tundra. Both Lydia and Zora suggested making for the small settlement at Rorikstead. A rest there would be a welcome repose before heading back to Whiterun.  Deanthala had also asked her companions if they would aid her in the collection of pelts  for the Guild. Vilja and Lydia immediately acquiesced but Zora put up more of a fight saying she was not wasting her talents gathering rugs. Deana’s timely reminder of a certain rescue from a Necromancer Cult put a quick end to any discussion. With Nirn’s sun at their backs they ploughed a furrow through the grassy tundra towards the West.

The hunting was sparse with only one wolf hunted down, its skinned pelt securely strapped and wrapped in leather hanging from Deana’s backpack. The trek to Rorikstead took under an hour but upon reaching the settlement’s southern border something familiar and yet terrifying caught Deana’s eye. Among the bushes just off the road a corpse, some sort of wandering merchant specialising in reagents by the looks of her ransacked bags, was found. A nasty wound had split the woman’s abdomen but it was the two arrows sticking from her back that made Deana gasp. The wooden shafts sported feathers she had only seen once, sticking out from the bodies of her foster parents. Forsworn! If they were in the area the settlement at Rorikstead was in danger from those heartless bastards.

Deanthala explained the situation to her companions and they all agreed they could not let Rorikstead suffer the same fate Deana’s parents had met. A track led up into the mountains from the road were the corpse was found. Both Lydia and Zora, very familiar with terrain here, indicated that the track led to an old outpost called Serpents Bluff and it could well be that the Forsworn had taken camp here. Deana nodded and led the party up the track.

Though some attempt had been made to hide tracks there was ample example of heavy traffic coming to and from the the summit. Deana crept forward stealthily with Vilja, the other two lagging somewhat behind them (clanking heavy armour not ideal for a reconnoitre . Her heart stopped in her mouth when she saw the first savage woman. Feathers adorned a head dress on her head, fur armour adorned her body and a club sporting what seemed to be sabre cat teeth hung at her hip. Indeed these Forsworn were a savage people. Her breath started to come in quick pants, her palms sweaty, her heart beat pounding in her ears. She turned back to Vilja, her violet eyes tearing up. The Nord gently placed a hand on Deana’s wrist.

‘We shall avenge your parents,’ the Nord said. Deana nodded and nocked an arrow to her longbow. Drawing the string to its fullest extent, she held the string taught, with a prayer to Azura on her lips she loosened the string and the arrow sped like lightning to embed itself in the Forsworn’s neck. A bright red fountain of bled erupted from the wound. Vilja screamed a battle cry and charged into the fray, impaling her steel sword into the woman’s body. At this all hell broke loose. A volley of arrows came over from behind a grassy knoll followed by several Forsworn wearing what seemed to be antlers on their heads. They charged at Vilja while Deana shot arrow after arrow, her arms aching with the effort. She saw more Forsworn pour from the Camp  these more lightly armoured than the antler heads. She turned her fire on them and grinned wickedly as she saw one drop dead with an arrow lodged in its head. Vilja was hard pressed by two familiar figures in steel armour soon charged up the path to make short work of the Forsworn. Five of them lay dead and Deana felt no sense of revenge or relief, strange as she was expecting some sort of righteous indignation! Vilja was somewhat wounded and Deana lobbed a health potion at her which she acknowledged with a nod, quaffing its contents and then lobbing the empty bottle over the cliff face. A large roar from the camp brought everyone back to battle readiness as they looked towards the large, hulking figure approaching from the Camp, a Forsworn Brierheart just behind…

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Ebony and Snow Chapter 1 Part 2

Vilja’s incessant groans and retching accompanied the party all the way to the walls of Whiterun. THe night’s indulgences had caught up with the Nord to the mirth of her companions. Zora in particular teased her no end, calling her a milk drinker and at one point offering to remove Vilja’s headache with her sword!!! It was with great aplomb that the lady from Solstheim claimed to all and sundry that she was done with all manner of mead and ale!!!

The midday sun warmed a crisp day out in the Tundra. The party deployed itself with Deanthala taking the point, Lydia and Zora on the flanks while the hungover VIlja brought up the rear. They waded through the knee high tundra grass, its brown hues hiding the party from unfriendly eyes. The roar of mammoths could be heard from the nearby camps while the distant thuds of gigantic footsteps could be felt on the floor.

Amid the bushes they came upon a grisly scene. A bray horse lay gutted, well they actually smelt it before they saw it. Alongside the horse the body of a man lay eviscerated from one end of its abdomen to the other. The edges of the festering wound were a very unhealthy shade of green, a sure sign of a poisoned blade according to the nonplussed Zora. A bloody trail led off to the West and several meters into the bush another body was found. This time a Breton female. She wore a hooded mask and clad in light yet very supple leather armour. A search of the corpse produced a bandolier full of murky liquids, different shades of cloudy greens and reds, Zora once again confirmed their venomous nature (how did she have such an intimate knowledge of the assassin’s art?). Clearly the man was the intended victim but judging by the assassin’s neck he was no pushover as the dead Breton sported a deep cut that was caked with dried blood. Deana claimed the poisonous vials, as a budding alchemist she intended to study their composition.

View of the poison vials, courtesy of the Bandolier – Bags and Pouches Mod.

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They carried on pressing West, their state of alert heightened by the grisly discovery. Their destination, the Shrine to Zenithar was indeed overrun by Mudcrabs of a rather large disposition and a half eaten pilgrim in the Shrine’s immediate area clear evidence of the crustacean’s claim to the shrine.

The party wasted no time in charging in with blade and spell, a somewhat hasty move as Deana herself was to evidence as she received a very painful snip from an overly large pincer that easily sliced through her fur armour. An instant later she felt her skin tingle as a blue light shimmered around her slight frame. The smell of ozone precluded a spell of protection had been cast on her, no doubt Zora’s handiwork. A timely action as a second pincer sliced at her only to appear to bounce off her ethereal armour. A concentrated assault eventually saw all the mudcrabs seen too and they feasted on a hearty meal of roasted crab meat, after paying their respects to Zenithar of course.

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