I jolt awake.
My heart is pounding painfully hard and my dagger is immediately in hand. I crouch, listen, and wait. It seems to be mid-morning. I wait five minutes before I decide that I am alone. No reptophile vampire in sight. It appears to be midmorning. The sun should keep her at bay. I hastily break camp. When I finish, I look to the south.
It’s…beautiful. I’ll admit it. Somewhere to the south lies the town of Falkreath, according to Hert. Once there I can get my bearings and figure out which way it is to Whiterun so I may return the dragonstone as promised. I’m in no great hurry, so I begin my journey at a leisurely pace. I make sure to give Hert’s mill a wide berth when I come across it again.
Clouds are gathering overhead as I find a strange round ruin of mossy stone. The top of the ruin is open to the sun. I drop to a crouch and scale the side, peering through a window with a covering so flimsy it may as well have not been there at all.
Who in the name of Oblivion went through the trouble of shoving sticks in this hole until they stayed? What purpose do they fill? The mysteries of Skyrim confound me. There’s no one inside. Perhaps I can use it as shelter at a later date if I pass through. I climb to the top for a better look inside. A massive chest catches my eye. This is too good to be true. I brace for a danger I know is there by instinct.
Suddenly the ruin is awash in a bright green light and I hear the buzzing of a thousand angry bees. To my left inside the ruin a figure materializes out of thin air. It is vaguely humanoid in shape and its face resembles that of an elf, somewhat. It has skin of bark and a veil of enchanted leaves whirls around it. What grabs my attention, however, are its terrible claws that put the length of my dagger to shame.
I am face to face with one of Skyrim’s dangerous and territorial spriggan.
It does not seem pleased with my trespass. As soon as it begins a churning motion with its long and spindly arms, I turn tail and flee. A hideous droning noise blocks out all other sound as I run and I swat at a few stray wasps that come too close for comfort. The sound recedes after I put some distance between myself and the ruin, but I do not dare stop to check to see if the spriggan still follows.
The pounding of my feet on the stone eventually begins to elicit a splashing noise. As I slow to a walk before the gates of Falkreath, a raging thunderstorm has moved in and drenches me to the core. As I pass through the gate, I am struck by how appropriate the abrupt change in weather is for this dreary place.
An old lady with a face as dried and taut as the leather stretched over her tanning rack stops her work and stares as I enter town. A pair of somber-faced children sidle past headed for the shelter of home. A liquored-up barmaid hollers at me from the porch in front of an inn charmingly labeled “Dead Man’s Drink”. From the Traveler’s Guide to Skyrim I know Falkreath boasts a mass grave where the dead from all over the province find their final resting place. I can’t see it from the gate, but I can feel its morbidity in the very air of this place.
In my current state I fit in quite well here. After Bleak Falls, a swim and a sudden rain were not enough to wash away the appearance of having just crawled out of the grave.
I make a beeline for the river and once I’m a respectable distance away from where the townspeople wash their clothes and bathe, I break out the wash cloth.
Sparkling clean. I don’t plan on staying long, so I immediately set to work preparing myself for another journey. My first stop is the trader. It is there I learn that a potion to settle the issue of my case of ataxia will cost me nearly two hundred septims. I am about ten septims short. After a brief moment of respite at the inn where I eat, drink and rest my eyes, I head to the alchemist and borrow her equipment.
I spend most of my time at the alchemist lab experimenting with new materials I have only come across in Skyrim. I learn and note their properties for future use, though I create a number of failed potions in the process that set me back in profit due to wasted ingredients. When I am finished I keep a potion of magic resistance or three and sell the rest to the alchemist. After returning the trader and purchasing a potion to cure my ataxia, I still have one hundred and eighty-three septims remaining. I uncork the vial and down the foul liquid on the spot. I feel a slight burning sensation and then sweet, sweet relief.
Feeling reinvigorated I borrow the smith’s tanning rack and forge for a moment. With his help, I am able to craft a new set of leather armor and stitch together a traveling cloak of warm hides.
I make one final stop at the Dead Man’s Drink to find a map of Skyrim and plan my route back to Whiterun. Leaving from the east gate and heading north would be the most direct route, but that would take me to Helgen. I shudder to think what has become of the area after the town’s destruction. There is another, longer route starting from the west gate of Falkreath and looping north. If I turn east where the road eventually forks, I’ll pass through Riverwood on my way to Whiterun. The thought gives me pause, but I decide that it is the fastest and (more importantly) safest route for me to take. I decide not to wait for the storm to pass. At 4pm I set out into the downpour to return the dragonstone and be done with the whole business around it.
It is a miserable journey. The clouds have darkened the sky so completely it is difficult to tell night from day, and thus gauge how long I have been walking. I draw my cloak around myself tightly and do what I can to avoid the boot-sucking patches of mud. After what felt like three hours I catch sight of something in my peripheral vision.
Falkreath lies below, immediately to the south. After all of this time walking I have merely completed the loop to the north. I press on until my feet ache enough to rival the pain of ataxia. The thought of drying off becomes too alluring to resist after a time. I set up camp somewhere in the wilderness north of Falkreath.
The tent provides a sturdy shelter from the rain. I sit and wait, watching the driving rain and the occasional flash of lightning. I wait, and wait, but it doesn’t look to be letting up. I lose what little patience I have and break camp. I can find better shelter than a small tent in the wilds. Another hour or so of walking and I do just that.
Another dilapidated tower. A common sight in both Cyrodiil and Skyrim, oddly. As I have grown weary of the rain I approach with a minimal amount of caution. Like the tower in the mountains above Riverwood, this one may be…occupied. After what I see just inside, I hope to Akatosh it is not.
Someone has been decorating using human remains. I drop to a crouch and listen. I hear nothing. Perhaps the tower’s previous occupant has been removed forcibly? I can only hope. I carefully ascend the wide flight of stairs that follows the curvature of the walls. Eventually I see where the staircase ends. It leads up to the top of the tower. A bearded man in a black robe stands in the rain above. Our eyes meet. I instinctively take a several steps backwards.
The wall where I had been moments before is blasted with magical ice. The bearded man descends a few steps and a torrent of ice leaps from his fingertips and envelops me. I feel a chill more profound than anything I had felt atop the mountain under the archways of Bleak Falls. I feel the strength drain out of my limbs. I half-run half-stumble down the stairs away from the blast of cold and break into a sprint once I reach the bottom.
I don’t go far. The enchanted ice has sapped my strength. I fight to catch my breath and hear the mage on my heels. Divines, am I going to die here? Like this? As I pass through the tower doorway I get a second wind and clamber over some rocks to slide down the other side and put some distance between myself and him. When I dare to turn back to see if he still follows, I notice that I have a second pursuer. And it’s quite fast.
A wolf glowing with an eerie blue light nearly gets its jaws around my ankle before I jerk away and sprint for dear life. Every second spent pausing for a gasp of air is spent with a wolf nipping at my heels and a burst of unnatural cold against my spine. I realize all too soon that I cannot outrun them forever. Especially not with that wolf. I spin around and slice at the beast with my dagger.
I don’t even see where the blow connects. The wolf is knocked to the side and there’s a flash of blinding light. The creature turns to dust before my eyes. I don’t have time to wonder what had just happened as the mage is still giving chase. Yet again he lashes at me with a bite of cold. I manage to push just a little harder and break out of the range of the spell, though just barely.
I bear patches of unnatural frost that burn where they touch my bare scales. I have spent nearly all of my body’s remaining energy. The pounding of the mage’s footsteps do not cease. “Help! Divines, help me!” Will I find a legion patrol out in the rain? A well-guarded caravan? A traveling mercenary, perhaps? Will a dragon swoop down, grab the mage in its claws and spare me? No. I’m going to die here. Divines, I’m going to die here! “Help! Akatosh! Dibella! Julianos! Arkay! Stendarr! Mara! Zenithar!” As I pass an ancient grove I feel my body finally begin to give out. ‘Last one, what was that last one?’ “K-kyn-” I fall to one knee. “Kynareth!” I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for the final blow.
It doesn’t come.
I look behind me. The mage is struggling with a pair of spriggan guarding the grove. I sit there trembling and fighting to catch my breath, unable to believe my luck. A spriggan takes the full force of his cold spell without flinching. It grabs his shoulder with one claw then drives the other through his guts. The claw bursts out of the mage’s back in a flash of crimson. Both spriggan then turn to me. I’m at my feet and sprinting before they get any ideas.
I finally stop to rest at a small pool in the middle of the wilderness. I have no idea where I am or where the road has gone. I sit in the glow of three nirnroots – a beautiful and rare plant indeed.
At the edge of the pool I see the remains of a small camp. I loot an abandoned satchel of alchemical ingredients and pluck some nirnroot.
It is still raining and night has clearly fallen. After I consult my compass and get my bearings, I struggle further north. Exhaustion and cold have taken their toll on my body. I collapse in the mud. When I come to minutes later, I decide now is as good a time as any to set up camp for the night.