After some time by the campfire and a bite to eat, Jenassa and I are ready to resume our seaside journey. Fortunately the wind has calmed down considerably, and the sun has risen high in the sky, shining down with a warmth that allows us to douse the fire without feeling the earlier chill in the air. Packing our bags with anything we can find that’s worth taking, we mount up and continue on our way.
The wild north sea batters itself ceaselessly against multiple small rocky islands and craggy outcroppings that stand just offshore. The weathered refuse of driftwood is scattered all along the beach, like old bones left behind after the meal of an ancient and voracious predator. Tufts of ragged grass sprout up from the bare rocks, clinging to whatever sheltered nook they can find, and the warmth of the sun belies the icy blue of the glaciers, silently drifting away on their inexorable odyssey.
It doesn’t take long before we find more than just driftwood littering the beach. A short time after we’ve left the bandit camp, we find the remains of several animals dispersed along the shoreline — and strangely, all the carcasses seem recently killed, rather than battered and tossed by the waves. Their odd appearance is further validated by the faint scent of fresh blood in the air, instead of the expected stench of rotting flesh.
Signalling to Jenassa that I want to investigate, I dismount for a closer look. Several wolves lie in a mixed group of both timber and ice wolves, and close by two or three horkers have likewise met their untimely demise. Since, much to my bewilderment, I can’t find a mark on any of them, I shrug and take out my hunting knife. No point letting these hides go to waste. While I’m at it, I also carve off a few chunks of rich horker meat, since the flavour is known to be especially good in a stew.
I’m right in the middle of carving off the last piece when Jenassa cautiously taps me on the shoulder, and I instantly freeze. I know what that particular kind of shoulder tap means. It’s part of a system we developed when we started finding ourselves in dangerous places more and more often. We only use it when we need to communicate with each other in complete silence.
Now on the alert, I glance up at my wife. Her head is turned, and her gaze is fixed out to sea — but one hand is resting on her chin with her index finger pointing off to one side. I turn in that direction slowly, making sure to keep my head down, pretending to wipe off my hunting knife before putting it away.
And that’s when I see it.
There’s a big green bear heading our way.
Okay, so the bear isn’t completely green. If I were being technical, I’d have to admit that the fur just has a few glowing greenish highlights. However, I’ve seen a lot of bears during my time in Skyrim, and I can’t remember many bears in shades of green. It’s disconcerting, to say the least.
I start to reach for my weapon, but I halt when the bear suddenly turns around and starts attacking something near a tree. Right, so it’s not actually coming for us. That’s a relief. Jenassa makes a casual gesture as if she’s merely flicking away an insect off her elbow, with her fingers extended toward the horses. Stay calm and let’s get out of here, she’s saying. I nod my head once and start to stand up.
That’s when we see the tree move, much faster than trees are normally known for moving. Then from behind the animated tree, which resolves into a spriggan, there’s a sudden jet of bright green fluid. A man clad in furs appears from the other side of the bear, running as hard as he can and clearly terrified. Can’t say I blame him.
On second thought, I think I’d rather have a weapon in hand after all.
I’m slowly backing away from this panorama of weirdness, when I hear a cry of alarm behind me that freezes my blood. It’s Jenassa’s voice. I whip around to see a large mudcrab pinning her down while another spriggan races out of the woods to attack her. Seconds later, the bear charges past me to join the fray, but it’s not until the horker shows up that I finally shake off my sense of bewilderment and shock. Then I grab my bow and start shooting, moments before Jenassa, overwhelmed, falls to her knees.
I can hear the sound of more combat behind me, but I ignore it in my desperation to save Jenassa. As my arrows finally start to thin out the attackers, I focus on taking down the most dangerous of the bunch. This new spriggan hits hard and regenerates frighteningly fast. Worse yet, once its animal slaves hit the dirt, it manages to call a sabre cat out of the forest as reinforcement. Not cool.
Fortunately by this time, I’ve distracted the spriggan long enough to turn its attention away from my wife. As it pauses briefly to regenerate its health once again, I move in and adjust my aim in order to shoot the sabre cat through the head, killing it instantly before it can maul Jenassa. Seconds later, I’m profoundly relieved to see my wife stagger to her feet and unsheathe her blades, right before she furiously starts chopping the spriggan into kindling.
Deciding that this demon tree needs to be burned with fire, I pull out Dawnbreaker and race forward to set the spriggan alight. Then from the corner of my eye, I see a pair of hunters emerge from the woods, probably wondering about the loud noises scaring away all the game. The spriggan hits the nearest hunter with a spell, and seconds later he crumples to the ground. His companion starts to raise his bow, then thinks better of it and fades back into the trees without firing a shot. Amateurs.
Finally, as the spriggan matron is reduced to a pile of blazing toothpicks, I remember the other spriggan, the strange jet of liquid, and a man fleeing from the glowing green bear. Turning, I spot a couple more dead bodies on the ground. Heading over for a better look, I recognize the first spriggan, and next to it is some kind of plague victim with traces of sickly green on his face. The running man is nowhere to be seen, and even his footprints have been partially erased by the waves as he fled toward the water. I hope that he managed to get away, but I also won’t be too surprised if we trip over his remains somewhere on this blighted stretch of beach.
After looting what we can from the various corpses, I note with some concern that it’s late afternoon already. There’s no way we’ll be able to make it to Solitude tonight, but Jenassa suggests we push on and try to get as far as possible before nightfall. Fine by me — I have no desire to set up camp in the middle of a corpse heap, especially since one of the bodies is clearly still affected by some mysterious disease.
That decided, we mount up and continue our journey along the coast. After I grab a bite from my pack (as usual, fighting makes me hungry), I’m soon lulled by the rhythm of hoofbeats keeping time with the calling seabirds and crashing waves. Bathed in the warm rays of the setting sun, I slip into a rare state of peaceful tranquility, a welcome respite from our recent experiences of urgency and danger.
We travel for awhile without incident, charting a course between the soft whisper of the pines and the eternal murmur of the ocean. As darkness approaches, we start looking around for a relatively sheltered place to camp, ideally near a source of fresh water, as our waterskins are getting rather low. So when we spot a sparkling waterfall off in the distance, we don’t hesitate to head straight for it.
Unfortunately, the fresh water has attracted someone else besides ourselves.
The sabre cat growls at me as I approach, unwilling to share its watering hole, and positions itself to pounce. Acting fast, I jump down from the saddle and reach for Dawnbreaker just as the predator leaps over the water and attacks. However, unlike the other enemies we’ve run into today, this one isn’t part of a larger crowd — and once Jenassa joins the fight, it’s already over.
Now that the wildlife is dealt with, we look around for a good place to set up the tent. Unfortunately, the wind has picked up again, and the ground is stony and slick with sea-spray — hardly an ideal camping site.
Searching the area, we spot an opening in the cliffside flanked by a couple of flaming raised firepots, which really isn’t a good sign. Jenassa and I debate our situation for awhile — both of us have had a long day, and we’re not inclined to invite any more trouble. But it’s the chilly conditions that finally drives us to risk the cave. I guess we’re not that tired — and the prospect of a warm place to sleep tonight is a pretty strong motivator.
After ensuring the wellbeing of the horses, we grab some essentials from our saddlebags and approach the entrance to the cave. It’s dark and forbidding, but so is the prospect of spending the night shivering in a damp tent. Heck, I’m shivering already. With the day we’ve had, it can’t be much worse in there… can it?
Taking a deep breath, I duck and head inside, with my badass wife at my back as always. I guess we’ll find out.