Chapter 45 - An Unexpected Victory

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CONTENT

Scene 1 - Living Nightmare

Arthus was standing in deep foliage. Thick grass, tall overgrown bushes and trees, and bugs… lots of bugs. At first it reminded him of Yokuda, but where the island of the Dragonborn was lush and very fiercely alive, this place was in a putrid state of decay. Seconds after he arrived he could hear screaming. It was a somewhat familiar voice, and he ran to find it. Arthus crashed through the brush to a clearing and could see a young woman in the distance; it was Lilith. She was being chased by large eight-legged beasts with large drooling mouths that opened wide to show razor sharp fangs. By the time Arthus arrived the attack was over and the beasts had disappeared back into the forest.

He approached Lillith’s torn and exposed body and did what he could to preserve her dignity. Arthus looked around to see where she had come from and saw claw marks in the moss on a large boulder. There were pieces of her fingernails embedded in the stone from her struggle to avoid the beasts.

Arthus turned back to the body and watched in amazement as it became more and more ethereal until minutes later it vanished. As the last wisp of the ghostly image vanished Arthus watched in a mix of curiosity and confusion as the flowers that were trampled during the struggle rose up undamaged, the sun moved swiftly back across the sky, and the moss that was torn from the boulder was untouched.

Arthus moved around the boulder into the forest and followed a well-worn path toward the sound of beating drums. Arthus concealed himself in the brush just outside a simple village where he saw Lilith sitting as several attendants adorned her with gifts, jewelry, and pigments. She was smiling and laughing, and Arthus lingered on the moment for a bit preferring to let that be the mental picture he held rather than that of the cold detached goddess of the dead.

As the crowd of women dispersed another woman emerged from a tent behind Lilith. The women all bowed and averted their eyes, and Lilith rose and moved into the tent. The woman turned and followed her back inside. Arthus moved swiftly to follow them into the tent and what he saw was sickening.

The tall, stern looking woman circled Lilith who shrank under the verbal assault. Her mother raised up a hand and slapped her so hard that Lilith fell to the ground. Her mother pounced shoving two fingers inside of her daughter and then stood up filled with disgust.

Arthus watched and listened and in a few minutes he was starting to decipher their words. He was too shocked by the scene playing out in front of him to wonder how it was possible to pick up an ancient language so quickly, so he just watched and listened. It was clear that Lilith was promised to the Chieftain of the tribe but she had laid with another man. Undeterred in her ambition, her mother gave her two crimson berries that were covered in rigid spines.

“When you lay with the Chieftain you will put these inside yourself. You will suffer, but they may be enough to fool him.” The shaman burst out of the tent leaving her daughter sobbing on the floor of the tent. Arthus took the opportunity to try and connect with this version of Lilith.

“But the Chieftain is no fool.” Arthus said in her native tongue as he dropped the cloak of his spell.

Lilith recoiled and pulled a sharpened horn from her robe. Arthus turned out his hands and moved slowly and deliberately. “You know me, Lilith. Or at least you will.” He said as he showed her the diamond tie tack she had given him during their first meeting.

She gazed at it and was, for a moment, transfixed. “A… Arthus…” she whispered. With that she began to bleed from the nose and pass out. Arthus could hear the women rushing to the tent and undid one of the other flaps. He slipped outside and watched as they tended to the bride to be. He hoped that he could snap Lilith out of Jennesta’s spell, but he realized he was going about it all wrong. The question was: What was the right way to do it without getting Lilith killed?

As he waited wondering how he could awaken Lilith from this living nightmare he saw her mother walking with another similarly dressed woman. He shadowed them as they moved through the forest. They discussed what to do about the situation and the other woman offered her own daughter as a replacement that would hopefully appease the Chieftain. Lilith’s mother agreed as she produced a similar weapon as Lilith had minutes before. Arthus could see the blackened tip of the horn as it was tapped into the other shaman’s neck just hard enough to break the skin.

The woman spun around in horror and quickly began to spasm and dropped to the ground. In moments she was paralyzed by the venom on the weapon. Lilith’s mother began chanting over her and soon the forest was alive with movement. The same beasts that had killed Lilith were now devouring the paralyzed woman whose face told of an agony that she could not bear, but she made no sound. The beasts moved back into the forest and Lilith’s mother spat on the mangled corpse as she said “Do you think you can take this away from me so easily?”

Lilith’s mother walked past Arthus and back toward the camp. At first it looked as if she was moving with a self-satisfied strut, but as she passed him Arthus could not help but think it looked familiar. He couldn’t be sure, but she moved just a little “wrong” and he thought “Naga?”

Arthus’ first thought was to knife her in the back, but he wanted to see how things would play out if he observed a bit more. Besides, alerting the whole village to his presence was probably not a good plan. Instead he opted for a less direct and admittedly more fun approach.

As Arthus scanned the center of the village his eyes fell on a fire pit with a crude branding iron sitting in the flames. Not far away was a fatted calf waiting to be the main course for the wedding feast. Arthus stalked into the town, grabbed the brand, and plunged it into the haunches of the calf as he cut the rope holding it.

As the calf cried out and began to run through the village, Arthus slipped away and tossed the brand onto the roof of a long house and moved on. Skulking around the town Arthus set to disturbing anything that caught his eye in the hopes that it would force Lilith to see that this was not real.

It seemed to be working as the village was quickly in a shambles, but as Arthus was prepared to approach Lilith again he noticed her mother next to her. Her arm was around Lilith and she was singing and stroking her hair. The scene was quickly returning to “normal” as Lilith fell under her mother’s spell. Arthus rolled his eyes skyward in frustration as all of his good work was so quickly undone.

In an instant the sun blazed across the sky and the scene shifted. The Chieftain and his hunters had returned and the village gathered together. Arthus crouched and was ready to act, but didn’t know what to do next. Then a voice rang out challenging the Chieftain for leadership of the tribe and Lilith’s hand. This was clearly the hunter she had been with, and Arthus had to look twice as the resemblance to himself was unmistakable.

As the Chieftain and the hunter circled each other and traded increasingly hostile words, Lilith’s mother held her sobbing daughter all the while whispering in her ear. In a flash the time sped by and the Chieftain stood victorious over the body of the noble hunter. Arthus knew this was the shaman’s doing, somehow she was in control of this nightmare, and Arthus had seen quite enough.

“That’s cheating.” Arthus called to her in the abyssal tongue. Lilith’s mother whirled around with a look of unearthly fury in her eyes. “I can cheat to.” Arthus said as he pulled the machine pistol from his belt and fired a deafening shot at the Chieftain.

The Chieftain’s shoulder exploded in blood and time slowed to a crawl. Arthus fumbled with the weapon as it nearly jumped out of his hand. He thrust it back into his belt and drew steel.

Lilith’s mother gave up on the illusion and creatures swarmed into view from the haze beyond the village. Arthus leapt and rolled, cutting down giant insects and rampaging beasts the likes of which he had never seen. After a minute all was quiet, save for a young crying woman trapped in the prison of her own memories.

Arhus called to her pleading with her to see the truth, but she was too distraught to listen. Lilith’s “mother” then began to shift in her form and taunt Lilith’s would be savior. As she reverted to her natural form Arthus was shocked not to be staring face to face with one of Jennesta’s brood. Rather he was looking into the malevolent eyes of a demon sorceress.

“Your hold is slipping away Tanar’ri witch!” Arthus spit. She simply smiled and the world was engulfed in flames.

Arthus rolled backwards and slashed his swords in front of him. Fire raged all around him, but in a flash of null magic he was sparred a terrible end. Arthus smiled, gave a silent thanks to his teacher, and rushed at the demon who sneered at his insolence for not having been burned alive.

Long, razor-sharp claws slashed past his face and dark magic swirled around him as Arthus did battle with the demon witch. All the while Arthus pleaded with Lilith to wake from her nightmare, but to no avail.

The battle raged on and Arthus was proving his mettle against a terrible foe. In the back of his mind he couldn’t help but be annoyed that none of his friends were here to see this. He landed a deep strike to the creature and it howled, rising up and with a word, what was one demon became ten!

Arthus slashed and moved with preternatural quickness. Not sure if they were real or where the next strike would come from he lashed out at all of them. One by one the images vanished back to the ether and soon there were only a few left. With the next swing of his saber he caught demon flesh and she screamed in rage and pain. Recoiling from his assault, the demon pulled forth energies from the abyss, and Arthus was beset by a giant centipede whose mouth dripped with a searing ichor.

With that, the battle that Arthus could sense winding down, was once again reaching a fevered pitch. He tried to keep his focus on the demon while avoiding the poisonous attacks of the summoned creature. All was working well until Arthus felt the centipede’s pincers dig into his leg. He slashed down at it and pulled his leg free, but his balance was failing. His vision spun and nausea set in, the creature pressed the attack sensing it’s wounded prey. Meanwhile the demon saw her opportunity and she used the distraction to probe Arthus’ mind. She tried in vain to take control, to break his will, but Arthus was resolute. Even if this was not his day, he would not fall victim to trickery or despair.

Again and again the fiendish creature lashed out, and Arthus could feel his strength starting to fail. He took a deep breath and his head cleared as he prepared himself for one last assault. This would be it, one way or the other this was ending now.

Arthus spun his blades, digging them into the giant insect’s back. The steel whipped around in a blur and in moments the creature’s carapace was in shreds. With a gentle pop the entire corpse vanished and Arthus was once again face to face with the demon.

He slashed with a defiant stare and one of the false visions faded from view, then another, and finally the last. He circled the demon witch, and they each silently resolved that this would be the end. As Arthus leveled his saber and took his stance the sorceress eased back into a more defensive posture. Arthus recognized it immediately, being his stock in trade, and lunged in.

Before he could test the demon’s defenses, he saw Lilith rise up behind her. Her eyes were no longer those of an innocent and terrified young girl, they had the weight of countless centuries on them, and the kind of anger that actually gave Arthus pause.

Lilith reached out and plunged her hands into the back of the demon who never saw her coming. The demon’s body went rigid and Arthus could see a look of absolute terror on her face. Lilith slowly pulled away, clutching a translucent form and twisting her lips in a horrible smile. “Did you really think you were ever in control here?” Lilith asked in a darkly playful tone. She then took what Arthus could only assume was the demon’s soul and destroyed it before his eyes. The demon’s body convulsed and dropped to the ground, and Arthus took a step back not sure what to expect next from the enraged deity. He lowered his swords and managed a faint whisper “Lilith?”

She threw her arms around him and kissed him. It was good, almost too good. Then she pulled away and with a pained, frightened and desperate look said “Save me…”

Arthus stumbled back holding the Instrumentality in his hand. He stared blankly at it and whipped his head around still not convinced he actually got it. He looked back down at the impressive stone and said “Time to go!” But just before he left, Arthus had one more surprise for the Queen of Aragonia. He reached into his pack and pulled out the small slender flute he had recovered from Gerald’s chamber. He played a few simple notes and replaced the flute with a smile.

As he turned to look for the way out Arthus’ ears rang with a cry that pierced through his mind as Jennesta lashed out. He decided there was no time to fool around and he ran full speed at the wall. Calling once more upon the power of the Dead Man’s Hand, Arthus hit the wall of the tower and slowly melded into it emerging on the other side.

He fell and tried to use the outside of the tower to slow his descent. His waxy grip did barely enough as he cut his hand open. Releasing the power of the Hand Arthus kicked away from the tower and dove into the water below.

Arthus swam for all he was worth and pulled himself up onto a mound of muck and slime. He could see and hear thousands of naga moving all over. He had no choice but to make a run for it. He bolted without care for noise or vibrations in the water. Arthus knew that stealth was no longer an option, everything in Aragonia was looking for him right now, and that wasn’t going to change. He dodged naga after naga looking for a patch of solid earth to engage the Treebone staff. Ducking under razor sharp claws, leaping over outstretched hands and whipping tails, and hoping that something wouldn’t just swoop down and snatch him up, Arthus ran until his lungs burned and his eyes filled with tears.

He saw what looked like a promising place to call on the staff’s power and make good his escape, and that thought nearly cost him as he almost didn’t notice the huge naga warrior that had emerged in front of him as he ran. He slid at the last second narrowly avoiding a vicious swipe. Arthus used his momentum to throw himself back onto his feet, leap, and drive the staff into the ground. His body flung forward as he held onto the staff, and soon he was rushing through the earth without a form of his own.

Minutes later he emerged inside the walls of the Imperial City. He sprung out of the ground and held his arms out wide as if expecting applause. He swung his head back and forth with his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath, but no one was there. Arthus stood there alone, covered in muck and mud, bile and mucous, and he wouldn’t even guess what else. He was soaked and bleeding, exhausted and on the verge of collapse, but he was beyond thrilled. Clutched in his right hand was the Instrumentality, and he beamed a wide open smile and walked calmly toward the Towering Oak bar for a well deserved break.

Scene 2 - TITLE

CONTENT

Scene 3 - TITLE

CONTENT

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Jennesta's wrath unleashes waves of Naga-spawn over the seas of Skyrim in hopes of recapturing the one "vulnerable" instrumentality.

Shallya's Mercy is able to withstand the attack, but countless naga are left to infiltrate the mainland.


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last edited by CaptainMonstrousCaptainMonstrous


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