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Kyne's Challenge: A Hunter's Companion/The Black Marsh

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Main article: Kyne's Challenge: A Hunter's Companion

SummaryEdit

ContentEdit

A Wade Through Fetid Fens, Disorder, and Daedra

CROCODILEEdit

"We seek the longest, most hard-hided and sharp-toothed rormasu in Shadowfen today," Footfalls-in-Snow remarked with a giddy clicking to his voice. After I asked, he explained rormasu (and I write this spelling without qualification as a scholar of language) means "big-mouthed reptile that blinks above water," or in the vastly more common tongue, "crocodile."

"We sometimes refer to them as 'marsh dunerippers,'" offered Namasur.

"Ra'baanash the Spotless calls them 'four-clawed daedroths,' but I think the humor is lost in the translation from Khajiiti. You wish me to spell this out for you, yes?" Kishra-do asked.

At this moment, I stopped our wading, and explained the purpose of this book was to describe specific combat advice for the unwary hunter, not gibbering palaver for the bookish. Fortunately, I didn't have to endure this babble for much longer, as the Argonian politely asked us for silence, as something large and scaly was lurking in the brackish waters close to the lower swamp banks we were navigating.

There it was, hoping to hide, a pair of prying eyes attached to a long, scaled snout, floating in the muddy fen, a line of thick plates resting along its back like the shingles on a Breton's outhouse. At least four of us end to end would not have reached from snout to tail; this was an immense specimen, red eyes watching without blinking, the hint of sharper spines along its end stump. "He is quick as a bolt over a few short sprints, and prefers deeper water to clamp on and drown its dinner," Footfalls-in-Snow explained, producing a knife of supreme sharpness. Clenching it between his teeth, he actively courted disaster, swimming out to tackle this monster in its own territory.

Were crocodiles capable of higher intelligence, its expression would have shown puzzlement, quickly turning to alarm as Footfalls-in-Snow coaxed the reptile up onto the soft mud of a marshy bank, which didn't seem to swallow the Argonian's feet and impede his movements. Suddenly there was a thrashing of water, and a pair of oversized jaws lashed out from the bog, snapping close to the Argonian's arm. Footfalls-in-Snow shouted something about the power of the snap to crush the limbs of the unwary, then threw a dagger quickly, but ineffectively, at the raging foe.

As it clambered up to sink its teeth into the Argonian, he explained the crocodile had "ancient skin; it roamed Mundus before us," and its hide was extremely tough. Leaped over the swinging tail of the crocodile, he landed atop its back, infuriating the prey. It buckled and twitched, but the Argonian had his adversary in an impressive grip, produced another dagger, and plunged it into one of the crocodile's red eyes, which spurted out a most unpleasant fluid. "A thumb can be just as forceful!" he yelled over the fountain of dirty water, mud, and blood. Then he reached into the crocodile's mouth, seemingly placid as the great mouth and sharp teeth snapped shut, swallowing the Argonian's arm. He stood up, pressed the crocodile’s head into the water, and ripped out part of its loose, flapping interior gullet as the crocodile released its grip. "Now it drowns!" he yelled, jamming the beast's head still further underwater. Thrashing turned to splashes; then bubbles formed around the Argonian's forearms at the surface. Then the long lizard's body became corpse-like.

Footfalls-in-Snow had drowned a marsh crocodile using only bare hands and bravery.

GIANT SNAKEEdit

The sweltering unpleasantness continues to test our constitutions; Roggvir almost threw down his favorite furs, drenched in the sweat, and curses at Sithis flowed faster than this fetid swamp water. Mangroves and low grass, with fleshflies gathering in swarms for a celebratory feast on our arms. Cover your skin and you're as hot as the Skyforge. Remove your clothing, and you're bitten by tiny, diseased insects. "This place is the muck of Mundus!" Roggvir roared, hopping in the thick heat to retrieve a wayward boot which the thick bog water was threatening to swallow.

It was during this mildly humorous interlude that Roggvir almost lost more than his footwear; at this point a formidably sized snake reared up from behind some low bushes, intent on dinner.

"Do you see the pale stripe along the ridge of the back, with the pattern of a dagger down each side, like a stream meandering?" Footfalls-in-Snow asked, as we watched Roggvir yell loudly, lose his balance, and topple like a top-heavy pack guar into the effluent.

"Indeed," I answered, observing the slithering segments, lightly colored belly, and bright orange hues between the black markings of this huge serpent: A pointed tail, and a crest of small, fin-like ridges above the wide jaw, which had widened to accommodate a Nord-sized morsel. Bright red eyes and a forked tongue of pink, darting to taste the air around Roggvir, who was spluttering and yelling for assistance, as he sank still further into the mire.

"These scale patterns forewarn, like the clouds forming on the distant ocean that show the future weather," the Argonian continued. "The color reveals how venomous this viper's bite is, and thus the price we can demand from milking its venom sacs."

"Ah, a minion of the serpent-god Satakal!" Namasur had recognized his prey and waded into the brown swamp by now, and was knee deep and closing in on the giant snake. He grinned as Roggvir's thrashing coated the Nord's belongings in a foul-smelling ooze churned up from the swamp.

"Sharith Roggvir wouldn't survive the hour from this one's bite," the lizard said, as we sat and enjoyed a sweetroll together. "This one attacks anything with a shadow; they search out the weak, infirm, or troubled. But this one may be protecting eggs. Oh, Master Roggvir! Watch out for its gaze!"

Roggvir disappeared under the dark waters for a moment, then found firmer footing and shot up like the contents of an uncorked mead bottle. The giant snake sank its teeth into Roggvir's leg, but the bite glanced off his thigh plates. Roggvir produced a dagger, which was subsequently lost in the ooze after the snake lashed out, whipping its tail around and knocking Roggvir back into his undignified and watery languishing position.

"We call this kajthux, or 'ample serpent,' in my tongue." (I guessed at the spelling; the Argonian made a clicking rasp from the back of his throat, making the word unpronounceable to me.) Then he began to talk about the Maormer and their serpent magic, but I severed the conversation, as a theological debate about Sea Elves wasn't as entertaining as Roggvir's predicament.

“Stop playing with your prey and slice him!” Ingjard shouted from the grassy bank. “Or do you need a Redguard to save you?” Roggvir flashed a glare, then stifled a yelp as the snake bit down hard just below the knee, black fluids leaking from its fangs. “See the poison enter Roggvir's humors?” the Argonian asked, dipping into a leather satchel to retrieve a small bottle of white liquid. “Administer this remedy before nightfall, or he loses the leg.”

Namasur had reached the stranded Roggvir by now, retrieved the Nord's errant boot, and moved around the great serpent almost without hindrance from the water. A scimitar cut deeply through the flesh, as the snake tried to shake the Redguard from its back. Climbing to the neck, Namasur executed a perfect plunge, his sword severing the beast's head, and saving what remained of Roggvir's pride in the process.

Roggvir was especially keen on snake meat for supper that night.

GIANT WASPEdit

Roggvir's clothing had finally dried out in the stifling heat, but even his bottled incense couldn't overcome the stink. While he muttered more unpleasant fates for any Argonians that crossed his path, I placed Roggvir with Kishra-do, and beckoned Footfalls-in-Snow to my side. Soon, our wading was interrupted by a strange sight: Throughout the seemingly endless swamps of Shadowfen, among the mangrove trees growing up through the sediment, I spied a patch of marshy grass where a figure lay slumped, propped against a thickly barked tree. The Argonian motioned for me to slow, and we dropped to our haunches, examining the body.

The drooping corpse of an Argonian. “A lukiul; see how his tunic is of Imperial origin? A withered root and licker of mammals.” I was a little surprised at Footfalls-in-Snow's hectoring and ill talk of the dead, but he continued: “Kaoc! By seed and spleen…” he rasped, prodding the dead lizard’s distended stomach, which had inflated like a forge bellows. He checked the eyes, which were almost black with burst vessels; a thin string of golden drool hung from its open mouth. Scales hung off it like a hide after tanning. “This daril drinker swims in Trouble River. He is food for the kaj-jeke thota.” A scaly finger darted forward, touching the transparent dribble. The Argonian quickly tasted a morsel.

“Nectar!” He remarked, licking his lips. “Let us retreat; it is about to hatch.”

The bloated body twitched, as if the death vapors were escaping from it. The head and body swelled outwards to an almost impossible size, and then burst apart, showering us with rotting flesh and bone, putrid scales, and other unpleasantness. “The kaj-jeke thota is fully grown but undernourished. It seeks further feeding!” Footfalls-in-Snow spoke quickly, wiping his face clean of Argonian offal. “In your language, this would be called an 'ample stinging insect,' or 'giant wasp.' Beware its quick temper as it first wakens.”

An iridescent mass of sharp cutting incisors, dribbling mandibles, and thin, grasping hook arms, two antennae protruding above two eyes of many pupils, and wings beating faster than I could see them. It leapt forth, buzzing loudly with its thorax thrusting between its legs, a curved stinger hovering close to my face, lunging forwards with dogged determination. “See the coloration, like a rainbow hue?” Footfalls-in-Snow remarked, readying his spear: “Those wasps who feed from my kind exhibit this aspect.” After the Argonian's spear carved a gash through its middle, it faltered, biting out at the humid air, and then dropped, on the way to a quick death after an already brief life.

I was picking chunks of Argonians innards from my beard for hours afterwards.

WAMASUEdit

The stench and texture of this black mire is worse than a rarely emptied latrine. When the Argonian describes Shadowfen as “unspoiled,” we stifle a laugh and cover our noses. This land may be flat, but the constant wading through dark filth, boggy waters, and occasional pools of slime slows our progress considerably; we cover less ground than if we were scaling a mountain. Our plodding is impaired by thick, clinging fog. When that eventually burns off, we suffer frequent bursts of revolting yellow rain, which Roggvir has taken to calling “Hist piss.” My toe fungus and other damp chafing is becoming unbearable. I now reminisce about our journey through Morrowind with actual fondness.

But our Argonian guide to these pestilent parts seems to be thriving in the thick humidity. As the swamp widened to a river and we climbed up onto the bank, Footfalls-in-Snow pointed to a log floating in the thick rushes across from our perch. “Let your eyes adjust to the sun. See the rods on its ridged back?” He was correct; this was a half-hidden, lurking menace. Another crocodile? “No, far more ferocious!” came the cheerful reply. “You know this creature by the Jel name, wamasu, which has a tangled translation as ‘the big-mouthed reptile of blood lightning.’” I unfastened my shield and readied my axe, for it was time to test my old bones against a critter. Before I entered the water again, a webbed hand stopped me: “Here, wear this ring before you fight, so you're not set alight. It gathers and focuses the wamasu’s lightning into your weapon hand, not through the top of your head.”

I navigated the riverbank carefully, watching the wamasu as it slowly waded into the shallow water. It was a sizable specimen, more purple in color than I was expecting. It stood on four trunk-like legs, each as stocky as the bulky plated torso they moved about with a lolloping gait, turning left and right under each weighty step. The spine-like rods protruding from its neck grew flat and wide along its back, finally stopping at a fish-like tail. Its mouth was a jumble of fangs, chin horns, and deep-set eyes. It looked a little like the Dragons of myth, seen on the tapestries of Whiterun. Just behind its jaw were a row of gills, where the Argonian recommended I focus most of my stabbing.

“Plant yourself firmly, as a pine’s roots cling to the loose Skyrim scree!” Footfalls-in-Snow shouted encouragement, but I had been fighting monsters since before he was hatched.

The wamasu's first (and spectacular) strike, I admit, caught me unawares. Sparks shot forth from its back spines, congregating in his maw, and out shot a stream of crackling light, bombarding my shield and scorching me. The Argonian's ring glowed brightly, as it gathered the energy from this attack, helpfully keeping me from a twitching death, as I was still knee deep in the river.

I smelled burning hair as I staggered up the riverbank. The wamasu wasted little time, trotting back before charging forward, leaping off the ground in a surprising display of dexterity, and loosening the slope I stood on when it landed. I fell back, tumbled into the river with my axe and dignity lost. I found the wamasu again, as I quickly stood and caught Roggvir's second-finest hammer, thrown from the onlookers I'd requested not to aid me. A prideful order I was beginning to regret. Steam (or was it smoke?) escaped the monster’s orifices, as it crackled, sending arcs of shocking discharge out from its feet, and charging its tail in bright energy. It let out an impressive growl, and then met me in the mire, clawing at the ground before me, as a massive explosion of light shot out from the wamasu. Had this old fool been set ablaze and sent to Sovngarde? No—I tasted something like sulfur, and the Argonian's ring was pulsing with energy. Leaping back, I narrowly missed a barbed tail and yet another strike of lightning.

I could hardly move in the water, but I remembered the Argonian's advice earlier, and gripped Roggvir's hammer so the ring touched the hilt. The hammer's enchantments glowed red with a ferocity I'd not seen before. I roared with the focus and force of my ancestors, and spun the hammer in a wheel, as flames erupted from the peen. I assailed the neck of the creature. As metal touched scales, I felt my legs lift from the ground, the whistle of air, then my lungs filled with yellow water as I was thrown backwards into the deep river.

As I surfaced, I watched the smoking and headless body of the wamasu teeter and drop to the grassy bank. Then a combination of elated whooping (at the spectacular explosion of fire I had detonated, and my survival) and shouts of disgust (as the morsels of wamasu skull, head skin, and brain matter rained down on my companions).

I still have the Argonian's ring, just in case I wish to incite both a drowning and a burning.

DAEDROTHEdit

The Argonian later blamed the low light and a slight cold for his tactical oversight when a wrestle with a crocodile transformed into a battle much more fraught, against a mighty minion of Molag Bal. We were enduring yet another evening of swamp stink, plodding through sludge, and listening to Roggvir's moaning, when Footfalls-in-Snow rasped an order from his scouting position. We stopped, sinking yet further into the mire, as the Argonian spied the head of a huge crocodile, its eyes closed and wallowing in a mud hole. I immediately sensed something was different. Kishra-do even smelled it. But Footfalls-in-Snow spotted the back ridges and an opportunity to prove his worth as a hunter. I believe he was in midleap when the crocodile woke up, turned its giant snout, and rose vertically from the water, attached to a powerful and muscular body crafted onto the reptile’s head by Molag Bal himself. He had disturbed a daedroth.

The Daedra rose to its full height, half as tall again as the Redguard Namasur, with each plate shoulder the width of a man. A ridge that began at the snout spiraled into two thick horns, with further protrusions along the back ridges. Now fully exposed, a waddle of red under the chin, stretched sinew covering armored arms and each clawed hand big enough to crush two heads in one palm. Gnarled rivulets of ebony between the mud and gray skin. A man-shaped chest revealed the extent of the Argonian's misconstruing. A three-pronged flail for a tail, dewclaw hooks, and two four-toed claw feet, all spawned to spread torment and discord.

Flames poured forth from the snapping jaws and consumed Ingjard's shield, halfway up her arm. She grimaced and held firm at the daedroth's feet. It gave a great shake, and the Argonian clung on like a tick on a Reachman's beard. Buffeted by two oversized shoulder plates, Footfalls-in-Snow finally lost his grip and fell over the daedroth's head—unluckily, right into his open mouth. A quick and powerful bite was delivered, almost severing the Argonian's arm. Now the lizard was ablaze too.

Thrashing the limp lizard in a furious shake of his head, the daedroth stepped to Kishra-do, who had advanced with a spear to hinder this Daedra's rampage. She wasn’t met halfway, but the hulk leapt from the water in a huge stride, and landed within breathing distance, smoke wisping out of its nostrils, and tore at her with jagged claws. The Argonian's arm was now bending in an alarming direction, but suddenly the daedroth's mouth was wide open, and it was howling. The Argonian was not only still alive, but had been slicing its palate with a hidden blade attached to his wrist, also caught between Daedra teeth. As the mouth dropped open, Footfalls-in-Snow fell into the mud clutching a long, flapping coil of flesh. He looked up at the startled giant, and licked his lips.

"You call that a tongue?" the lizard shouted, proudly waving the goblet of skin as thick ribbons of blood erupted from the gap-toothed mouth. The Daedra's confused and pained expression, wide of eye, was frozen in death after a Khajiit spear was thrust up through the spewing gullet, and out of the back of the head.

Namasur and Kishra-do struggled to carry its severed head to a bank, where its teeth could be more easily extracted. As the Argonian produced his tools, I asked, "You have a name for this creature in your language? How about 'big-mouthed Daedra that blinks like a crocodile'?"

The Argonian reacted with a look of puzzlement. "No, this was a daedroth. We don't taint our language with words for these detestations, so we use your words instead."

I had been verbally bettered by the lizard, perhaps without him knowing it.

WISP AND WISPMOTHEREdit

We were deep within the swampy gloom of Shadowfen's more densely populated forests, where the usual stink of still waters clung to our boots, and the chirruping of tiny animals and insects droned in our ears. Roggvir let out audible appreciation to Akatosh as the ground became a little firmer, and a confluence of trees crowded our view, their branches laden with moss. We walked a little further before Ingjard remarked that the voices in the woods had hushed dramatically. Footfalls-in-Snow moved to the tangle of roots at the foot of a grand old tree, and cut away the vines to reveal an old sign, written in Jel.

"Hej xajhuthi kroni." The Argonian read this out loud to us, which was helpful, as the script on the sign seemed to be gibberish. "The direct translation is 'vaporous, dangerous crones,' but you would read it was 'beware of witchlights.'"

"Many a lukiul has mindlessly followed the hejsetha thtitleel to a watery death," the Argonian whispered, instructing us to remain still, as he had seen an inkling of movement in the fen ahead. “You would say ‘vaporous, floating sphere’ or ‘wisp’ in your language. Very rarely, the wisps are commanded by a hejsetha thtithik, or ‘vaporous, floating egg hatcher.’ But you would say ‘wispmother.’” Fascinating though this was, I would throttle the Argonian if he uttered the word vaporous again, so I requested a hush descend on our party. We had previous experience of these nature ghosts — Eastmarch is full of them—so we edged forward into the watery bog clearing with our weapons at the ready.

As if commanded by the Argonian himself, a strange orb of light appeared through the hanging moss and mist, flitting through the greenery and darting between the mangrove trees. This light was soothing, beckoning us to explore further. Roggvir took a couple of steps forward, then shook his head in annoyance and snapped from a trance. Another appeared: a soft white globe, with pale blue emanations skipping about its surface, and a winding, glowing tail gradually fading into the damp air. We carefully edged forwards, as a second wisp appeared. Then a third, this one slowly bobbing up and down in almost giddy anticipation of our doom. We watched our footing, as the ground was becoming more unstable.

My whispered discussion with the Argonian over whether to classify a wispmother as a spirit of nature or a phantom was cut short as we finally spotted a hooded shape, seemingly at peace, floating over a mist-laden pool of vivid green water. It was impossible to see where she ended, and the fog permeating the shrouded glade began. We counted seven wisps slowly orbiting her ghostly form. While it appeared this specter was female, a torn beauty wrapped in a ragged dress of dissolving green, I urged our hunters to look below her enchanting form. Sure enough, through the mist and below the water were scattered bones, murky but distinguishable, skeletal remains of those summoned here by an alluring but evil magic.

Archers were positioned up in the trees, while the more broad-shouldered (Roggvir, Namasur, and myself) waded forward, each from a different direction, careful in our movements not to step into the deeper reaches of the fetid pond. As the first arrows rang out, the soft face of the wispmother hardened to an alarming grimace, her true nature and long, fanged teeth exposed. Kishra-do's aiming matcher her tree-climbing ability; two wisps had already shaken violently, before exploding in wild magical energy. Fortunately, we weren’t hurt by their detonation. The others congregated around the wispmother, periodically shooting quick, crackling bolts of blue that our shields caught.

Our soaking feet almost reached the wispmother herself. With nowhere to beckon us to, her snarl lengthened, and wild, tattered arms began to writhe. Moments later, she had sculpted two more of her sisters, identical in every way, who spread out to minimize our tactical advantage. But we were prepared for such cunning, had paired ourselves with an archer each to provide the wading warriors with support in their sodden savagery, and we advanced. Namasur's quarry screamed like a harpy, coughing up and shooting out shards of frost, which reduced the Redguard's normally lightning-fast response. But he was upon her anyway, cleaving the creature with a sweeping scimitar. She disappeared with dwindling laughter.

Roggvir's target swayed and formed a multitude of orbs, which shot up into the forest canopy, and then rained down on the Nord like a comet shooting through the firmament. Ingjard's arrows meant the majority never met their intended target, and the rest were blocked by a fine Nord shield, or withstood by quality Nord armor. Roggvir's axe swung in seething rage, cutting through the wispmother's head. But she too was a figment: My wispmother was the one to focus on. By now she was riddled with arrow marks and fading fast; but it took the clout of my hammer to finish her off; a wail of torment echoed around the glade as this phantasm joined her sisters.

The gathering of wisp trails soon followed, after which I settled a heated argument after Kishra-do began to salvage the equipment of the wispmothers' watery victims, which is apparently tantamount to desecration for an Argonian.

HARVESTEREdit

We were on the outskirts of Bogmother when Namasur first noticed the many-armed silhouette along the steps of the aging fortification. Moss-draped trees half hid a strange stepped pyramid, called a xanmeer by the Argonians and built by ancestors even more primitive than the Saxhleel (the indigenous types that worship in these parts). The plant life and immense (but cracked) stonework were all sagging under the humidity, into the soft marsh earth. The moons were out tonight.

A tail of black metal, an atrocity of rusted ebony plates, fused into protesting skin. A lamia spawned from the loins of Molag Bal. Truly a formidable and worrying sight: an irregular shadow slithering across a stepped pyramid, both moons casting her in shadow. Then she turned, and a full view of the Daedric Prince's handiwork startled us as she glided along the vine-covered steps, her four arms stirring slowly in unison, odd blue crackles of fire appearing from black and barbed gauntlets and contorting around her face. And what a face! Surrounded by a crest and a frill of horns, sallow cheeked and teeth gnashing, a permanent scowl etched on her brow.

Namasur's knowledge of the capricious powers almost rivaled that of Aramea Drethan, the ancient Dunmeri author. The grotesque at the pyramid hadn’t all her wits about her, and our company knew to be quiet. Instigating combat was our choice. “An infernal coupling of horror and beauty, this harvester. Her task is to oversee, to preside over sacrifices or the stealing of souls.” I kept a wary eye on her as Namasur spoke: “They act alone, and have little societal rank, unlike the Dremora. But she is no Goblinspawn; her competence lies at an arrow's range.” I signaled to Roggvir to act as a lure, as Namasur finished his advice: “We must force ourselves through her illusions and trickery, and smell her foul breath. Only then will our efforts worry her. When wielding a blade, her hands are weak, despite having plenty of them. So she attacks using conjuring and illusions: See how she summons the black winter?”

I was correct in assuming this meant the darkness that traveled around the harvester as it slid away from Roggvir's clattering charge. This following flow had no reflection, and Roggvir was warned to keep from stepping into it. He raced to the harvester; black worms writhed from the pool to swarm his boots and slow his progress. The harvester stretched out her jaw with a terrible scream, stopping Roggvir’s proposed axe insertion, and the Nord collapsed with his hands over his ears, blood dripping down his helmet. I watched in consternation as the harvester feasted on Roggvir's kneeling body, plucking vitality in black orbs which emerged from his form and floated towards the Daedra.

Ingjard wasn't standing for any of this, and a Nord arrow cut through one of the orbs, which burst, and strange bright energy darted back into Roggvir, who now stood on unsteady feet. The harvester threw out her own sharp-pronged offering, a bolt from the void that struck the pyramid steps Ingjard was charging across. She grit her teeth as one bolt struck her already-tender shoulder, then began a yell to wake the dead. Namasur and Kishra-do were quick to join in the rout, causing the harvester confusion over who should be brought to their knees; in the end she focused her efforts on killing my Nord companion. But Ingjard Stone-Hand does not fall at the many hands of Molag Bal. Quite the contrary: An upward slice of fury, and both the harvester's arms were cut down to the bone. It shrieked and slithered too slowly to avoid the carving of her belly and the final savage thrust through the harvester's open mouth and up through the skull that brought Ingjard's prowess into brutal focus.

XIVILAIEdit

Much of the village of Bogmother was on fire. Not an easy feat for the despoiler in question, due to the abundance of water and stone structures, but as we entered the settlement, thick black smoke could be seen billowing up from a number of indigenous mud nests the Saxhleel inhabit. Although presently, the owners of the properties were gathering their hatchlings and fleeing. Footfalls-in-Snow returned from a rasping conference with one of the village elders, and gathered me and Namasur into a small huddle. "A reject of Sithis, one who seeks to stifle our spawning grounds. A Daedra pillager is responsible for this wickedness. Waxhuthi!" the Argonian spat on the ground, clearly riled. As he cursed, we looked over to a wayshrine of rough stone and clinging moss. The burning shrine was snuffed, demolished by a powerful kick. The entire structure collapsed, and Footfalls-in-Snow let out a high-pitched squeak. As the rubble appeared through the fading dust, we finally gazed upon the marauder responsible.

A blue devil had come to curse Bogmother.

Striding out to meet a small complement of village warriors, a Daedra of powerful stature seemed intent on further carnage. Seemingly chiseled from amethyst, this finely toned fiend was one and a half men tall, and displayed the arrogance of a Xivilai, an intelligent, proud, and bloodthirsty breed. Namasur had spoken of their service to Mehrunes Dagon, as well as their dishonesty and hubris. If haughtiness could be bottled, a Xivilai's face would be on the label. Thick ebony horns, a mane of black hair, ears like an Elf's, and further horns where cheeks and chin would be. An unrefined necklace of jagged beauty clamped around its thick neck by an unknown master, and bare skin except for strange runic tribal tattoos, and a loincloth of metal. I would test the Xivilai's objection to proper armor shortly. For now, we watched in horror as it set about dispatching the Argonian guards.

This was achieved almost nonchalantly, as it engulfed the Saxhleel in a great plume of fire. It picked up the second by the throat, squeezing the life from the poor lizard before carving him into two equal and bloody sections, both flopping onto the soft soil. The last Argonian was a shellback, clad in heavier armor. Fire danced behind the Daedra's eyes as it sallied forth, producing a two-handed mace made for exquisite butchery (alarmingly wielded with one hand free) and battering in the warrior’s skull with a single, horrible swing. The Argonian guard fell, and the devil peered down at the fresh corpse at his feet, then clutched the lifeless lizard’s head with his prehensile toes, and wrenched it from the still-twitching body.

Footfalls-in-Snow was seething: "Xuth! For the Ebonheart Pact, we must avenge this slaughter!"

"Silence your frog, Grundvik, son of Guthrum." The devil spoke, seemingly from inside my head. "Xivilai Sahrith Dagon challenges you!"

Kishra-do looked alarmed. Namasur only offered a worried nod. But Ingjard knew my secrets; she slapped me on the back and whispered, “Go show him why we call you Cold-Fist, friend!”

Possessing equal measures of brutal strength, a magician's ways, and savage cunning, the Xivilai would not be wander through a meadow: As I unwound my axe-carrying arm, warming up my shoulder and tightening the grip on my shield, a guttural stream of barking spat forth from the devil. A strange oval portal blinked into view, and a clannfear trotted out of the void of Coldharbour, spotted me, and thundered forward. A hard head met a well-timed strike, as the beast's charge was hindered after I sidestepped and cut down firmly, severing bones in its back and reducing the familiar to a whinnying, paralyzed mess.

Unfortunately, Sahrith Dagon was upon me, a glinting eye and a massive mace to rival the departed Bashnag's, which he used to singular effect. A great heave, and spiked ebony clashed against my shield. I had braced, and the shield held, but I was staggered by the sheer force of this brutality. The Xivilai used his height advantage, bringing the mace down with a vertical force to shatter granite. I parried with both hands, murmuring a prayer to Mara, and found my feet forced down into the wet ground and my bones rattled. This one had the strength of a giant and the grace of an Elf; little wonder the expressions on my fellow hunters’ faces had turned from worry to horror.

The duel continued with the crackle of lightning: no respite from the evil terror. Forks of stabbing light arced around us, striking through me at seemingly inopportune moments. But a ring given to me by an Argonian friend helped focus this shock. I ventured an axe strike, sinking it into the Xivilai's thigh, and he registered his disapproval with a roar so loud it dislodged one of my teeth. Less cocksure and more furious, Sahrith Dagon shoved me backwards, and began to form a ball of flames in his free hand, cackling a malefic incantation. Lines of fire snaked out, tall walls of burning magic converging on me. A priggish smirk formed on his face, as the inferno assailed me. Footfalls-in-Snow fell to his knees, weeping.

"Yngol steer me from the Sea of Ghosts. Ylgar guide my hand of frost. Ysgramor protect my flesh…" Though my beard and cloak were ablaze, I became suddenly still. Tranquility washed over my roasting skin. The pain had gone. I concluded my incantation, my hands shaking, and I dropped my axe and shield. Sahrith Dagon's grin of malice twitched with a speck of doubt. A whirling and churning formed around my fists; wisps of ice from the ether entwined and shattered my gauntlets. An echo of the great face of a creature briefly formed, lizard-like and conjured from the cold; the summoned ice phantom grew outwards and upwards. I launched my arms forward in a swift sweep, and the Xivilai was swallowed whole by my vengeance. A roaring and rushing of air, and a thousand shards of ice, each thrust deeply into Daedra flesh.

A moment passed, my fire was out, and my summoned storm subsided. Only the eyes of Sahrith Dagon moved now, his face etched into a frozen grimace, and his body unmovable. My right hand coalescing with ice, I walked softly, stood before the staring and stupefied despoiler, and dug into his chest, my hand melting through blue skin and shattering ribs. Ripping out my fist, I showed the wide-eyed Sahrith Dagon his beating heart. Then I gathered my equipment, walked back to my brethren, gave the open-mouthed Kishra-do a sack with the Daedra organ in it, and shielded myself as frozen Xivilai meat fell on Bogmother from Sahrith Dagon’s damned and exploding carcass.

This is why I am called Cold-Fist.

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