LotS: Frost Moon - Chapter Thirty-Two

  • The Forest of Ice & Fear


    They were like flies crawling through the stone bones of a corpse, and a pulsation on the surface of their skin grew more intense as they encountered a final door, separating them from the heart of Frostmere Crypt.


    Mor’vahka pulled his scimitar from the rendered shoulder of an orc bandit. The orc had resisted every single one of Mor’vahka’s illusion spells - and possessed a rage the likes of which had never been seen amongst the Skaal. Kjeld did not retrieve the crossbow bolt he had put in the orc’s stomach. The practice made him sick. They were not deer hunting, where the salvaging of arrowheads was common.


    With bile slicking the base of his throat, betraying a heaving stomach underneath, the crossbow was swiftly reloaded like the cat priest had taught him.


    Mor’vahka detailed the plan in his cool, clipped manner of speech. Kjeld caught most of the words, nausea a chief distraction.


    “You first,” hissed the cat, tail lashing behind him.


    Kjeld laid a hand upon the ancient iron doors, and the calloused pads of his fingers found the intricate carvings wrought in the enduring metal. No air slipped through the seams. If there was not already a scarlet trail staining the stonework below, Kjeld would have believed these doors unopened since the crypt was first sealed.


    Kjeld thrust the doors open, and their creak almost smothered the wretched, dying gasp of a wretched, dying man.


    The sight put a halt to Kjeld’s pace, and he clenched his teeth hard, putting an ache in his jaws until he could be himself again. Never again would he bemoan the peacefulness of his people; their wounds were always shallow, a result of labor or bad luck, for they were pacifists at their core.


    But here, in Skyrim, the flowers were watered with blood and snow.


    The bandit’s chest heaved with the effort to speak, his gasps frantic as Mor’vahka rushed towards him. What could have been mistaken for the mercy of an Arkayan priest was the cold investigation of a demon hunter, and it was not with sympathetic eyes that Mor’vahka looked at Kyr.


    Kyr clutched at his robe with one pale, shivering hand, desperation and pain showing the whites of his eyes. “Pr-Priest! Priest you must help me!” Wet coughs—flooded lungs —broke him, and Kjeld swore he could hear the beats of the man’s heart getting slower.


    “The cat… ambushed… me. Don’t let me die. I don’t want to die. Sav-Save… me.”


    Mor’vahka pried the bandit’s fingers from his robes.
    “This one cannot perform miracles. You are in Arkay’s grasp now.”


    Kyr’s breath rattled once, then vanished as the hands of the death god bore his soul to a higher place.


    May your soul find peace in the next life. Kjeld followed the cat into the mist, keeping his eyes ahead and his mouth closed as the scents of blood stained the air.


    The forest held its breath; the trees were silent, as though just before a crash. In place of birds, deer or other living things, wisps fluttered through the mist-coated wood like lost memories.


    Thin tails. Faceless heads. Swirling nearer to an altar of stone in the forest's center. Two empty prongs were raised to the narrow gaps in the cavern roof, where meager light dared to spill in.


    There was no All-Maker here.


    Yet the air felt heavy, full with something else pressing on the spirit.


    Raj'irr lurched for the altar, bloodied sword raised, his body seeming to writhe the closer he came.


    "Raj'irr!" Commanded Mor'vahka, bidding the wretched Khajiit to face him. "This one cannot save Raj'irr if he is too far to reach."


    Something about that altar had Mor'vahka nervous. Kjeld saw it in the twitched tail.


    Raj'irr sobbed. "M-Make her stop! Raj'irr begs you. Raj'irr longs for death! She cannot follow Ra’jirr there!"


    The fog thickened. Mor'vahka hissed.
    "Come, fool! Before the witch arrives!"


    He unfurled a scroll that draped over his claws like cloth, and the runes upon the parchment glowed as if touched by gods.


    Kjeld went for Raj'irr. The Khajiit was twitching and sobbing, the blade trembling in his grip. Ra’jirr bore the same dark fur as Mor’vahka, but that’s where the similarities end. If the Arkayan priest represented quiet, collected fury and select cruelty, Raj’irr represented something broken. Something cowering and bleating to be rescued.


    "Lower the sword, Raj'irr. We can help you, but only if you let us." Kjeld raised the crossbow well above the snivelling cat, bolthead facing the treetops. He raised his free hand in a placating gesture.


    A chill hunkered in the shadows. The Pale Blade glowed - a greeting to its true mistress as a specter breathed into existence just behind the shaking cat.


    She had pointed, inhuman features, and wore a dress of wrappings and wispy, opaque cloth. The palest part of her, however, was her skin caught under the unapologetic flare of wisp-light.


    Ra'jirr stumbled back, crying out. "No! Stop!"


    Ra'jirr screamed, and swung the sword as though to cleave her from shoulder to hip. Frost sparkled in the air, the chill sucking the air from their lungs as the Pale Blade collided with the body of the Pale Lady; the sword swept through her like mist. Unharmed. She opened her mouth wide, crying out like a banshee as her hands raised and caught Ra'jirr by the temples.


    Mor'vahka cursed in his native tongue, and the scroll glowed brighter as he bared his teeth to concentrate.


    Kjeld leveled the crossbow with her head, even as she froze the Khajiit from the inside out. He fired. Ra'jirr's body was left to sink to the floor like a dead limb; the arrow struck where he had intended, and her shrieking returned - this time infuriated.


    Good. That meant she could be harmed. The blacksmith's hands slotted another bolt into the crossbow, the Pale Lady's armaments fluttering in the frostbitten winds that stirred.


    "Behind you!" Mor'vahka snapped.


    Kjeld twisted, raising his arm as a swarm of wraiths surged upon him. One collided with the crossbow, but the rest swarmed past him and went straight for the dead Khajiit. Kjeld's heart scraped against his throat, watching as they drew a cool, spectral vapor from the body. Another wraith was born from Ra'jirr's corpse - or was Ra'jirr.


    What happened if he killed them? Could they be killed?


    "Lure her in, White-Paw!" The cat ordered, and Kjeld fired again at the Pale Lady, narrowly clipping her neck as he back-stepped. The wraiths began to circle, their luminous bodies giving off a supernatural chill - same as the Lady, same as the Blade.


    Same as Ra'jirr's body.


    A volley of ice shards swept over Kjeld, and he yelled as he felt it cut into his hands and face like bits of glass. His movements slowed considerably - even his heart felt like it was beating at a tenth of the speed it should've been - and the Pale Lady drifted close, hands outstretched to embrace him in an icy death.


    A circle of flame flowed around them, encircling Kjeld and Mor'vahka whilst driving a supernatural line between the Pale Lady. She shrieked, and one of the wisps disintegrated when it got too close to the protective circle. Kjeld got his breath back, staggering towards the center where Mor'vahka snatched the crossbow from him. He fit a bolt into the slot and aimed it at the shrieking Lady.


    "May Arkay's Light consume you."


    He fired.


    The bolt struck her torso, and she shrieked far beyond any normal decibels. Kjeld staggered from the sound, withdrawing his hunting knife, numb to the blood that dripped over his ear lobes and into his beard.


    The Pale Lady's body immolated, and they shielded their eyes at the burst of light, before the light separated - into another Pale Lady on either side.


    Mor'vahka bared his teeth. "Cheap tricks!"


    Cheap tricks... Or were they real?


    Kjeld's mind had become thick with fog, and he could no longer discern which Lady was real, and which was a conjuration. The wraiths were still hissing and spinning, but they no longer held his attention. An icy torpor had stolen over him, draining the strength it took to live.


    "Keep your wits, White-Paw." Mor'vahka growled, and jabbed him with the crossbow.


    He snapped back to his senses - in time to dangerously skirt another volley of ice shards. And the second. But the third nearly impaled him through the chest; Kjeld dived from the protective circle, gritting his teeth as he hit the ground in a hard forward roll. The knife keened, scraping against ancient cold tile as he heaved himself onto his feet.


    Mor'vahka had not been so lucky. The cat priest's sword arm had a shard thick as an axe-handle protruding from just between the steel pauldron and the start of his chest-plate. Blood dribbled to the base of the silver scimitar, running down the blade like water. The sword was clumsily tossed into the air, caught in Mor'vahka's other hand.


    All around them the flames hissed and sputtered as the Pale Ladies rebounded against the protective circle. Kjeld was exposed, and he dourly glared at Mor'vahka's back. "The crossbow! Now!" The knife was a hunting knife - which meant no matter how long it was, it would offer him little to no defense against the Ladies’ hands of ice.


    Mor'vahka ignored him, taking a calculated risk at the circle's edge. The scimitar bit through a transparent arm in a flare of other-light. Kjeld could not afford to watch the battle unfold. One of the three not distracted by Mor’vahka drifted towards him, her face set in a soundless scream, hands outstretched and bent like claws.


    Kjeld lunged back to the protective circle, before his shoulder pulsed - violent and angry. His face flushed at the searing heat, gasping aloud. The barrier wouldn’t let him back in.


    The Pale Lady was upon him.


    A green light surged through her hands, the vaporous magic threading through frosted fingers, concentrating in the gap between her palms. Kjeld raised the knife to shield himself, but as the spell struck him square in the chest, he knew how futile the gesture had been.


    Laughter. Everywhere and nowhere.


    Madness sunk its claws in, and Kjeld howled with pain and fear as his mind was broken, the pieces scattered in darkness. The noises of the forest deafened, the forest itself dissolved in a messy fade of color and mist. Blackness engulfed him, and he felt his soul pulse against the confines of his body, smashing against his ribs, drowning in his blood. Trapped inside his skull.


    He was so cold.


    Kjeld choked beneath the weight of the darkness, buckling like a sapling to a gale. The ground went unfelt, the Pale Lady unheard as the frenzied pounding in his chest reached its peak.


    Monster. I am a monster. Monster. Monster. Monster.


    Mistake. Too late. Fool. Fool. Monster. Fool. Skaal. Monster.


    He screamed, trying to drive the noise from his head. The whispers didn't stop. The revulsion and fear struck in torturous force, and Kjeld sobbed - begging it to end.


    Death became a desire. A feverish need that scratched his nails into the stone as he mindlessly dragged hands over the ground for his hunting knife.


    "Help me," said a distant voice, small and hoarse. "Help. Help."


    Help him end it. Help him stop his shattering thoughts from fragmenting further. Mistake. Mistake. Monster.


    Fingertips brushed metal. Kjeld greedily drew it to him, a shaking hand curving over the sides. It was cool against his palm. A chill unlike the Pale Lady's. Kjeld breathed in, and felt home.


    It was the amulet, not his knife.


    He had made a mistake. He had killed a man without meaning to. He would have to live with this truth. And to live, he needed to shut the voices out.


    Monster. Monster. Monster.


    Monsters were made, not born. Did the blood on his hands undo a life spent in peace and respect for the world around him?


    I am not a monster.


    He was a man with power. Power that frightened him. Frightened him so much that he had done the unthinkable - and woven a lie to hide away the part of himself he did not understand.


    The forest returned, hazy and overlapped by icy fog and a darkness that pulsed weakly at the edge of his vision.




    This was not Mor'vahka's first battle with an undead conjuror. The wisps were under the Pale Lady's control; wretched souls lost to the machinations of the depraved. Ra’jirr among them. A fitting end for a khajiit who stole, pillaged and destroyed throughout his short, meaningless life.


    A healing potion had melted the shard in Mor’vahka’s shoulder. He drank half to heal inside, and poured the rest over the wound to heal the outside, the skin and fur knitting closed in a soothing swirl of golden light. He did not feel wholly healed. His gut twisted without his permission; he would tend to any lingering injuries later.


    Mor'vahka gripped the scimitar between his teeth, ducking another icy volley as a spell stretched and took shape between his claws. A few feet from the circle, White-Paw lay on the ground, twitching where he had fallen. The Pale Lady's domain included more than just ice; she had power over the mind as well, and White-Paw had taken the full force of her hysteria at close range.


    The fool may never wake up.


    This bothered Mor'vahka little. White-Paw's purpose had been to distract while he used the protection scroll, and the werebear's sacrifice had afforded him the safe zone he needed to begin this battle in earnest. Mor'vahka loaded the crossbow, firing and reloading - chipping away at the Pale Lady as he hissed Arkay's 7th Invocation into the forest.


    "That which rejects the cycle of life and death
    forfeits rights to both
    Heed Arkay's warning
    or join countless others in nothingness
    cut off from both paths
    lost to Nirn."


    The shades' outlines quavered - no, that was the circle. The protective flames would not last much longer, but the invocation was beginning to take effect. Mor'vahka twisted nimbly aside, dodging a spray of ice and fear thrown at him. There was a muffled grunt behind him. Then a growl.


    White-Paw still lived.


    Mor'vahka spared only the briefest glance back, and the hairs along his arms and shoulders stood on end. White-Paw was on his hands and knees, a ripple of violent, untapped energy flexing down his back. He pushed himself onto his feet, even as the shades surrounded him once more.


    White-Paw’s knife was forgotten. The Pale Blade lay where it had fallen from Ra’jirr’s clutches, a spectator.


    A hopeless arsenal; a knife that could not reach. A sword that could not cut. White-Paw attacked with nothing more than his own strength.


    White-Paw braced himself, legs planted, his fists raised. The shades converged, magic gathering in their hands to impale him with.


    The Skaalman lunged, throwing his whole body into the one on the right. His shoulder collided with the shade's form, half solid, half nothingness, and knocked her screaming into Mor'vahka's protective circle.


    The shade disintegrated into ice and glowing dust, and still the Skaalman maneuvered himself closer to his targets. White-Paw spun, making a wild, one-handed grab for the wrist of the second one - diverting the blast of ice and holding on with a grip that would not be broken.


    "Any time you're ready!" He shouted.


    Mor’vahka aimed. The bolthead found its mark in the center of the shade’s face, stifling a haunting scream as she disintegrated. The Pale Lady took up the death-cry, ghosting towards them. Her face, lit with an unearthly glow, twisted with rage.


    Arkay’s invocation weakened any undead thing that heard it. Mor’vahka relished the power shift, his feverish eyes alive with wrath.


    The circle hissed like a match in water, and the light of the protective flames dimmed.


    In a fool’s act of bravery, White-Paw grabbed onto her. The Pale Lady surged forward, carrying the Skaalman backward with a heavy slam against the altar. He roared, fighting to keep her hands away from his face, ice coating his beard where the magic coalesced into her outstretched palms.


    Mor’vahka abandoned the crossbow, the glow-dust ground under heel as he drew his sword to the Pale Lady’s back.


    “Move!” He hissed.


    White-Paw let go, and with a massive heave, pushed her away from him. She raised her hands to at last perform the spell that would pierce his heart--but Mor’vahka was faster. Mor'vahka plunged the sword into the small of her back, the silver blade gleaming on the other side of her opalescent skin and wisps of cloth. The wraith screamed, words vomiting from her mouth in a language older than man and beast and mer; he understood a second too late that the Pale Lady would not die peacefully.


    Her body was pierced by green light, and in a final vengeful act, she unleashed a master hysteria spell. The kind with force enough to knock them off their feet and into a deep and empty dark.




    Kjeld had screwed his eyes shut against the final green burst of spell-light, feeling the brunt of it crush against his conscious mind - but unable to penetrate it. He had conquered her spell once. It could not work on him a second time.


    The Pale Lady was no more; reduced to dust and fading echoes before a cracked altar.


    His shoulders ached where he had bodily collided with the altar, and long shadows gave away the lengthy passage of time from their arrival. He tasted blood, and lurched dizzily to his feet. “Vahka?” The cat was not visible. Not right away.


    The crossbow and the scimitar were both nearby. Would the cat have left without them?


    Kjeld stumbled away from the place of battle, kneeling in the water as he scooped pawfuls of it into his mouth and over his neck. There was a permanent chill in the air, but right this moment, the cool air felt refreshing.


    He didn’t feel the soft, comforting rest of metal against his sternum anymore.


    The amulet.


    He’d dropped the amulet again.


    Kjeld searched for it, breathing a sigh of relief when he found it in the grass where it had fallen. He made a messy knot, and draped it back over his neck. Then, he heard the mumbling and the whimpering. Under the shade of a fir tree, the branches bent where the khajiit had collided with it, was Mor’vahka. He twitched, face trembling as disjointed words hung in the air like incomplete incantations.


    He did not pretend to know what sort of horrors ran through the Vigilant’s mind. He did not pretend to know if Mor’vahka would recover. How long were they unconscious? If over an hour had passed, shouldn’t the spell have been broken now? Illusion magic did not last long.


    The khajiit groaned. A sound of deep-felt pain.


    Kjeld reached for Mor’vahka’s fallen pack, dragging it over. With fingers blue from the cold, Kjeld pried it open, thanking the All-Maker for the small blessing of several intact bottles of healing potion.


    He had to get the cat well enough to move, or else they would be spending the night in this forest of ice and fear.


    The Pale Blade lay near the altar. Kjeld’s wary gaze rested on it as he yanked the stopper from the first bottle. He mumbled a prayer through chapped lips, to both their gods.


    He had never seen Mor’vahka look so weak.


    So broken.






8 Comments   |   ilanisilver and 5 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  October 20, 2018
    I misread the title as being Forest of Ice and Bear so was expecting Kjeld to go all snary-growly. Can't say I'm disappointed he didn't, though, as what we did get was a pretty epic battle and an arrogant douche-cat getting a taste of humble pie from a we...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  July 18, 2018
    That was intense. Wispmothers and especially Pale Lady are some serious deal right there. And yeah, I kinda expected Kjeld to veer into werebear, but seems he didn´t have to. He´s a bid deal even without veering I see. And Vahka broken. Can´t say that par...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      That was intense. Wispmothers and especially Pale Lady are some serious deal right there. And yeah, I kinda expected Kjeld to veer into werebear, but seems he didn´t have to. He´s a bid deal even without veering I see. And Vahka broken. Can´t say that par...  more
        ·  July 18, 2018
      Yeah, I felt that too about Mor'vahka, and it's interesting to me because I have a character who also fights the dark forces, but his motivations are totally different. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 15, 2018
    Kjeld has got some serious mojo if he pulled that type of resistance. Go wearbears! I was almost hoping he'd change, but maybe down the road. 
    • SpottedFawn
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Kjeld has got some serious mojo if he pulled that type of resistance. Go wearbears! I was almost hoping he'd change, but maybe down the road. 
        ·  July 15, 2018
      ;) Leading up to it, I promise!
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  July 14, 2018
    Great description of the hysteria spells, and I can picture that forest through your words. 
    • SpottedFawn
      Great description of the hysteria spells, and I can picture that forest through your words. 
        ·  July 14, 2018
      Thank you! Always good to hear reader feedback and know I accomplished one of my goals! (Vivid forest description) :) Appreciate the continued support.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  July 14, 2018
    Bonus image! https://imgur.com/5aCenVF