Chapter 100: Slaying the Spire

Kynareth save me, these spriggans are fast!   From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of Jenassa’s startled face as I speed past her, with the enemy close behind.  The rest of the world collapses into one endless moment of terror.  It seems as if, all my life, I’ve always been running down this path, always felt my heart about to burst from my chest, always heard the blood pounding in my ears.   And on some level, I’m aware that if I lose my footing, I won’t have to worry about the spriggans killing me — the fall will take care of that in no time.

Just as my aching legs are about to collapse, I become aware of other noises behind me — the sounds of sudden combat.   I don’t seem to be getting hit, so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve me for once — and in that moment, my sense of time snaps back to its normal shape.  I decide to risk turning around for a look, and immediately curse the structure of this extreme slope.  Since the spire blocks my view of the actual path, I can’t see a damn thing.

But even though my eyes aren’t giving me much information, my ears still work just fine — and the combat I’m hearing definitely involves Jenassa.  Unless there’s someone else around here that knows how to swear in Dunmer, it’s clear that she’s successfully distracted the enemy.

That realization cuts through the last of my fear.  With my wife’s safety now uppermost in my mind, I skid to a halt, barely managing to avoid going straight over the edge.  Swiftly drawing forth Dawnbreaker, I spin around to confront any spriggan who might still be hard on my heels — but much to my relief, there’s no longer anyone there.

I’d thank the Divines, but I’ll settle for thanking my wife.

Gasping for air, and bleeding from dozens of wounds, I take a few anxious seconds to heal myself, clear my head, and catch my breath.  Then I charge back up the hill to rescue my wife from having to rescue me.

I find her in close combat with one of the spriggans, and at first it doesn’t seem like my fearsome wife needs any help.   With considerable pride, I watch as she staggers the enemy with her blades, slicing deep into its brittle body as she kicks the corpse of the other spriggan off the cliff.   Replacing Dawnbreaker in its sheath, I pull out my bow to speed things up, since there’s not much room to fight alongside her with my sword.

But before I can fire a shot, the spriggan sprays Jenassa with thorns and rakes its claws across her chest, causing her to stumble backwards in pain.  Then the spriggan starts to repair itself, its body bathed in a bright golden glow — but as for me, all I’m seeing is red.

Time to remove this noxious weed.

Rapidly firing at the spriggan injures it enough that its healing spell can’t make much headway, so I continue dispensing the punishment.  In the meantime, Jenassa manages to down enough potions to get herself back in the fight.  I consider summoning Barbie for some extra firepower, but I doubt that it’s going to be necessary.  Now that my wife has her crossbow in hand, this spriggan is going down fast.

But apparently not fast enough.   Swaying precariously, the nature spirit raises its splintering hand and casts a spell in a burst of bright green, just before it crumples to the ground in a heap of dry twigs.   Surprised, Jenassa and I wait for a moment, but nothing seems to happen.

With a shrug, I bend over the spriggan’s corpse and start retrieving my arrows — when suddenly we hear something crashing through the bushes up ahead.  Jenassa and I have just enough time to glance at each other in confusion before we hear the deafening bellow of a maddened beast.

If this is what a spriggan funeral is like, I’m not sure I can bear it.

Great, so now we have to put down the spriggan’s pet.  Sure enough, an angry bear appears and lunges at my wife, who strikes at its face with her blades.  As before, I stand back and start shooting — but the bear lowers its head and charges at Jenassa like a deranged bull, sending her flying into the hard stone of the spire.

Horrified, I pause in my attack, my entire being focused on Jenassa’s crumpled and seemingly lifeless body — but to my relief, she stirs, shifting her weight to get back on her feet.  My heart-stopping fear immediately transforms into overwhelming anger at this beast who very nearly killed my beloved wife.

With a roar, the bear prepares to charge at Jenassa again as she struggles to rise — but this time I’m ready.  As I pull out my sword, I race forward and intercept the animal just before it reaches her.  Using the force of our collision, I stagger the bear with my shield, swiftly striking it with Dawnbreaker and causing its fur to ignite.  Blinded by the flames, the beast bellows in alarm and scrambles to get away.  The cavern echoes with its maddened howls as the bear hurls itself over the edge, falling to its death on the rocks below.

It’s a shame that was necessary.

Shaken, I glance back at Jenassa, noting with some alarm that she’s still looking pale and unsteady.  Replacing my weapon, I search inside my pack and hand her one of the most powerful health potions I can find.  With a faint smile of thanks, she gulps it down, sighing in relief as her wounds knit together and the strength returns to her limbs.

I’m feeling the need to take a moment as well.  Fighting on this steep, narrow path is utterly brutal.  That said, I’m relieved to see that we’re almost at the top of the spire.  The light becomes a great deal brighter just around the next turn, and I can see that there’s level ground up ahead — which, under the circumstances, is a very welcome sight indeed.

Once we’re ready to move on, Jenassa and I give each other a nod and automatically drop to a crouch before we proceed.  We’ve had too many nasty surprises for one day, and we have no intention of being caught off-guard again.

Much to the relief of my long-suffering legs, we finally reach the peak, and it appears to be a tranquil place with an abundance of ferns, shrubs, and wildflowers.  The skylight that led us here is right overhead, and growing near it — almost through it — is a colossal pine tree on a tiny island in the middle of a sparkling pond.  Although it’s unquestioningly beautiful as well as majestic, I eye the great tree warily.  I’ve had too many recent encounters with hostile spriggans to take any tree for granted.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to admire the view.  From the other side of the pond, a rugged form heaves itself up from the bushes and steps into the light, revealing itself as yet another bear.  Fortunately, the bear doesn’t seem to have noticed us — but as we watch, it starts to sniff the air and look around, swinging its massive head in our direction.  With great caution, and moving as one, Jenassa and I slowly reach for our weapons.

I’m warning you, bear, keep your paws off my honey!

My bow firmly in hand, I’m about to line up a shot — when out of the corner of my eye I catch the barest glimpse of something else in the foliage, and the bear suddenly takes on a bright green glow.   Crap.  Thinking fast, I ditch the bow, grab my sword, and summon my atronach just as a couple of angry spriggans prepare to attack.

Check it out — this party is lit!

As it turns out, summoning Barbie was a good call. The ensorcelled bear and one of the spriggans charge us down, but Barbie and Jenassa join forces to meet them head on.  Soon both enemies are wrapped in flames, and Jenassa’s blades are slicing through the air in a deadly blur.

The other spriggan moves off to the side and seems to vanish, and for a moment I think it’s actually trying to avoid the fight.  Then I spot a faint shimmer in the bushes, and realize that it’s moving around Jenassa to attack her from behind.   Keeping a sharp eye on it, I race to meet the creature just as it fully reveals itself, raising Dawnbreaker in front of me and punching the spriggan right off its feet.

Knocked off balance and already on fire, the creature flails desperately as its head is engulfed in flames.  The momentum of my attack sends both of us flying into the water, where we land with a massive splash.  The sudden blaze is extinguished almost as soon as we hit the pond — but it’s already too late for the spriggan.

Literally dead in the water.

At the same moment, Jenassa and my atronach are just putting the other spriggan out of its misery, when the crazed bear suddenly breaks free from the fight.   I’ve hardly set foot back on land when my wife screams out a warning.

Startled, I spin around just as the bear launches itself at me — and without hesitation, I smash my sword into its face.

Dawnbreaker?  More like Jawbreaker!

Kicking aside the tangled corpse of the spriggan, Jenassa rushes to my side.  I find myself staring in fascinated disgust at the remains of the bear, its head nearly split in two and its brains spilling out into the pond.  Eww.

But at long last, the forest is at peace, and my wife and I fall into each other’s arms with a sense of profound relief.  Although this cavern didn’t really turn out to be a paradise, it’s still a haven of warmth and beauty — and the falling snow swirling in the skylight above our heads reminds us that we’re lucky to have found this place, now more than ever, safe from the raging storm.

A breathtaking balance of beauty and strength.  Just like my wife.

 

 

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