LotS: Frost Moon Chapter Twelve - Vigilant

  • Chapter Twelve



    The coachman had been right about the road.

    The horse moved with the steady pace of an animal used to this labor and piss-poor infrastructure, but Kjeld felt his bones rattle each time a wheel struck a rock or the road dipped.


    If anything could be said of the journey, though, it was that he was given blessed time to think; to turn his attention inward.


    The further they ventured into Skyrim’s frozen heart, the fainter his connection to Solstheim felt. It was as if his pull to the earth there, the lands—the icy coasts, the ashfields, the tree-freckled hills—were losing their hold on him. Kjeld didn’t like it. More than just heartache for home, he felt… detached.


    It must be this new country. This new air. This land like a fraternal twin to Solstheim: related, yet not the same. This time when his shoulder itched, Kjeld felt a prickling of unease. Desperation could make a man do hazardous things, like agreeing to a seal that could have unforeseen effects.


    They reached Nightgate Inn just when the stars twinkled into existence; Kjeld’s stay there was uneventful. Any travellers he glimpsed in front of the orange glow of the hearth were just as road-weary and uninterested in conversation as he was. Alfarinn woke him at first light, and they moved on from the isolated little inn, aware that this would be the last bit of civilization between here and the Hall of the Vigilant.


    When they no longer had to compete with the wind to be heard, Kjeld and Alfarinn broke the tedium of travel with small talk. Kjeld learned a great deal about the coachman—he had two sisters, his mother was 12 years dead (gods rest her soul), his father kept his wits by working the land, and Alfarinn was fixin’ to marry a pretty young woman named Rutha if the weather ever calmed enough for a wedding—while sharing very little about himself.


    The necessary rudeness of secrecy was not Kjeld’s way, but what choice was there? He skirted any of the sharper questions as best he could; so far, all he’d given away was that he hailed from Solstheim, had two siblings—a sister and a younger brother who seemed more trouble than he was worth—and he was going to Morthal to visit an old friend.


    His conscience did not rail against this, understanding that needs must when you had a supernatural affliction only a mysterious cat in a swamp could maybe cure.


    It was a clear, clear day. The kind that let you see far and detailed, the world glittering. Kjeld was able to make out the distant but substantial mountain range rising away from him as the carriage rolled by. To the wide right, there seemed to be a hazy gray stretch along the horizon that could’ve been the Sea of Ghosts.


    It was the kind of midday where smoke was easy to see.


    Kjeld had not grown up around horses. They were unheard-of on Solstheim; the Skaal did not use horses to hunt. Raven Rock was a self-contained, self-sustaining colony that had no use for horses.


    Despite knowing so little of the species, ears that rapidly twitched and swiveled as if targeting some unsettling sound was a universal sign of alarm. Kjeld tensed, watching a subtle quiver pass along the length of the horse’s back. Alfarinn was just now noticing—talking to the horse in hushed tones, slacking the reins—but Kjeld was looking around.


    They had easily passed giant spiders, a sabre cat in the distance, heard the always-chilling cry of wolves, but Frida, Alfarinn told him, was a horse that didn’t spook easily.


    The caustic stench of burning flesh and timber hit his nose the same time it struck the horse’s, and it was his turn to shudder. Oh no…


    The coachman’s hood fell back as he looked up, his face void of color as he stared at the skies like a rabbit frightened of a hawk.


    Why is he looking up? Kjeld followed with his eyes to where Alfarinn was looking, but saw nothing—until they cleared the mountain bend. A bilious ribbon of smoke wafted towards the sun, a shadowy, coal-dark wraith that climbed the air as if vacating the scene of a crime.


    And it was, indeed, a crime.


    They had found the Hall of the Vigilant. What was left of it.


    It was as if an enormous fist has dropped from the heavens and smashed the roof inward, Oblivion-fire blazed through every opening, and blood splashed across the snow like mead on a lively tavern floor. Kjeld glimpsed a disembodied arm sticking out of the rubble. No!


    A memory flared across his thoughts like a migraine, pounding in the center of his head, a knock at the door he refused to open. A meager porridge breakfast turned sour in his stomach, and when Frida yawed wide, trying to turn the carriage around, Kjeld gripped the railing tight to avoid dirtying the snow further.


    Alfarinn’s voice shook as if the man were cold, but for once the winds were still.



    “We’re turning around. Somethin’ went wrong here!”


    He couldn’t afford to go back—what was he supposed to do, wait until the snowfall buried this horror scene and he could pass through unmolested?


    “Thanks for bringing me this far, take care.” Before the carnage could change his mind, Kjeld seized his backpack and jumped from the cart.


    Alfarinn swore, trying to slow down Frida, but the startled horse resisted him. Kjeld murmured a quiet prayer to the All-Maker: may the innocents who fell here find better luck in the next life. Did the power of the All-Maker extend as far as Skyrim? He did not know the gods of these lands, but he hoped Skyrim’s gods were aware of this blight upon the land, and those who had undoubtedly suffered here.


    Heavy boots pressed into the snow as Kjeld stood at the end of the path leading up to the ruined Hall.


    The right thing to do would be to hurry into the wreckage, see if he might find survivors; a sixth sense told him there were none to be found. He was certain of the carnage. He didn’t know why, but he was certain. But what if...


    This time, his conscience prodded him into taking up his knife. Into approaching the charred wood and searing heat. Into walking up the short flight of steps to where the front door had been, on the off-chance that someone had defied his certainty.


    This close to the conflagration, the smoke bludgeoned his nose and his eyes, trying to trickle its way into his lungs. If this place reeked of anything else, he couldn’t tell. Perhaps that was a blessing—he could be… sensitive about blood.


    Kjeld pushed the broken, slanted door further ajar, squeezing into the building.


    Something dark and mangled came into view, the timbers creaking as he approached. It was a dog—or roughly dog-like, but something seemed wrong with it. For one, it was bifurcated at the waist, and its… guts were the wrong color.


    Black. Everything was black, and the skin was shrunken tight to its body. Or was that muscle?


    The face was horrible, with permanently exposed teeth, the lips burned away, and a concave indent where its nose should have been. The ears were shriveled and flat to its skull, and what were supposed to be eyes were gray and vacant of whatever life they’d once held.


    Or maybe it hadn’t been there at all.


    A flaming piece of rubble fell from the ceiling and struck the dog’s flank, Kjeld stepping back quickly, expecting it to set fire to whatever was left of the poor creature.


    But the fire didn’t burn it. The fire did nothing at all.


    This time Kjeld’s face twisted. What unnatural thing was this? Another dog, this one whole but unmoving, lay in the rubble nearby.


    To give his eyes a break from the dog-things, Kjeld glanced around what was left of an entrance hall; a battle had been fought here, as told by the maces and swords scattered amidst ash piles and broken furniture. Similarities began to make themselves clear the longer he looked; most of the men and women were all wearing matching clothes. Gray-blue robes with a tan outline along the hem, silver pendants on silver chains around their necks.


    The smoke was beginning to sting his eyes, and as it thickened, he snapped a cloth from his pack and covered his nose and mouth with it, wading deeper into the chaos.


    It was happenstance that Kjeld glanced behind, and it was happenstance that he saw that lifeless gray eye swivel, the black exposed muscle of the second dog shivering with effort as the beast tried to move. Morbidly fascination took over; Kjeld gaped, enraptured by the horror of it. The knife nearly slipped from his hand.


    Above the crackling fire and the creaking of the dying hall, a low growl quivered from the demon-dog’s throat, its claws finding purchase on the scoured wood as it made to heave itself back onto all fours.


    Kjeld’s insides melted like iron, and the containment seal burned, eager to watch him self-combust rather than transform to fight this thing.




    The dog screamed, its whole body slammed back down by a bolt now anchoring it to the floor. It died pitifully, screaming and wretchedly straining against the silver-tipped arrow protruding from its neck.


    What the—


    Kjeld spun around to lay eyes upon a hooded figure sliding another bolt into a strange device, who then proceeded to aim it at his chest and squeeze the trigger.


    Kjeld lunged out of the path of the arrow, losing his footing on a bashed, smoking trunk. His body smashed right through a fire-damaged wall, and he felt shards of wood bark his back as he tumbled into the snow outside the Hall. A sword sliced across his arm as he fell, Kjeld bit back a roar of surprise when he saw his blood dripping into the snow.




    Kjeld rolled just in time, the bolt buried in the place his face had just been. By the winds, his shoulder burning worse than ever, working its foul magic to restrain the beast inside.


    “I didn’t do any of this!” He shouted, his shaking hands (one bloodied) raised in whatever paltry protection they could offer against the fourth bolt. The hooded figure stood in the gap where the wall had been, dressed from head to toe in black; something swished behind them in the fiery, collapsed Hall.


    The figure looked down at him, casting a long shadow over Kjeld like an avenger of the slain. Or maybe the man or thing responsible for this tragedy to begin with. The attire was almost priestly, but the figure radiated nothing remotely close to peace.


    “I just came here to look for survivors. Don’t shoot!” Kjeld tried again, staring into luminous yellow eyes, the pupils as narrow as slivers of charcoal. The message, however, was clear; then you should have left when you had the chance.


    The crossbow lowered, like an attack-dog called off. A foreign intonation drifted from the hood.
    “You reek of fire and blood. Leave.”


    Kjeld scattered more droplets of blood as he heaved himself out of the snow, about to pick a direction and stick to it when he noticed something… different about the black-robed assailant.


    Something had been swishing behind it, and when Kjeld looked closer, he noticed it for what it was.


    A tail.


    “Mor’vahka?” said Kjeld, astonished. “I was looking for you.”


    The figure leveled the crossbow with the space between his eyes.


    “Wuunferth the Unliving sent me,” he blurted, not sure he could dodge a fourth bolt from this close. “I have a problem that he said you could help with.”


    Again, that foreign lilt whispered from the hood.


    “You are…” A pause, as if he needed time to shape his thoughts into the language of the Nords. “Afflicted.”


    “Yes.” Kjeld heart thudded in the grim silence of the countryside around them. “My name is Kjeld White-Paw—”


    “Werebear,” hissed the cat, and the sound resonated through his bones as if Mor’vahka were directing that word at his very soul.


    “A-Aye,” said Kjeld. “Werebear.” How did he know?


    “Then you were a fool to come here. Mor’vahka can offer nothing. Death is the only cure for your filth.”


    “Wait wait—I’m not like the other werebears. I’m not cursed by the moon! My father was a werebear too, and he—”




    The corners of Kjeld’s mouth fell into a surprised frown as his brows gathered. “Aye… How did you know?”


    There was no apology on the lips of the vigilante, and he did not hold the crossbow in a position that was any less threatening; but the angry swish and flick of the cat’s tail had finally stopped.


    The vigilante lowered his hood, revealing an obviously feline face, fur variegated grays with black stripes, a clear white birthmark dominating the right side of the cat’s face. Cold breaths puffed from a leathery black nose, above a slender mustache that matched his stripes and the thick swath of human-like hair that fell to the nape of Mor’vahka’s neck.


    “Go to Morthal.” Said the cat. “Mor’vahka will meet when finished. This one must hunt.”


    Kjeld nodded, stepping back and away from the intense, hard-eyed, crossbow-wielding warrior priest. He had more than a hunch that whatever Mor’vahka was hunting, it wasn’t deer.






10 Comments   |   Exuro and 1 other like this.
  • SpookyBorn2021
    SpookyBorn2021   ·  August 14, 2017
    Mor’vahka is pretty badass so far, gotta say that there's a pretty cool contrast between him and Kjeld that is rather interesting already
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 27, 2017
    That cat is the dog's whiskers. Mor'vahka is not what I expected, I am chomping at bit to learn more about him. Chomping. Like a horse.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  July 9, 2017
    What an intense character introduction. I also liked how Kjeld noticing the horse's fear 1st reinforces his connection with nature and transitions into the next scene.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  June 13, 2016
    @Karvs Haha, so did Kjeld's! He loves dogs, but not that kind! Thanks for giving this a read. I read all of your Cursed Tribe, I plan on giving feedback very soon!
    Thanks! Mor'vahka's one of my favorite characters so far, hopefully I can ...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  June 12, 2016
    Damn, the Khajiit looks badass. Also I would swear my heart stopped for a moment when the hound started moving. Bloody gore details, Fawn and I love it.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  June 12, 2016
    All I can do is repeat what had been already said.
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  June 11, 2016
    This chapter was really intense - everything from the fear of the horse to the grotesque appearances of the death hounds was so well written, and don't even get me started on that frantic dance with Mor'vahka. I must agree with Axius and Lissette - that c...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  June 10, 2016
    Ha! Kitty Kat Warrior priests! I like. I like. This one must now wait for more LoS. This one is now quite sad. 
    Great job. 
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  June 10, 2016
    Thanks for giving this a read, Axius! And yes they do, that was included because it was what Alfarinn had said, not what Kjeld thought. Sorry for the confusion!
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  June 10, 2016
    Mor’vahka has that badass vibe in him.  
    BTW I was curious about this line:
     his mother was 12 years dead (gods rest her soul)

    I thought the Skaal worship only the All-Maker?