The Menace from the Woods
Written in honor of Curse's Skyrim Character Build: The Wolf Spider
In a more benevolent world, this account of the terrible incidents that transpired would tell of my family, friends and fellow village dwellers being utterly shocked to their respective cores. In every other instance, I would tell of the wave of panic that washed over the inhabitants of Bleaker's Way in response to the gruesomely mutilated bodies that were found in the woods throughout the Great Forest.
But alas, it is not so. For when I returned from my venture, there was no one left who could have been afraid. None left who could express their fear and despondence in response to this tragedy. As such, this note that I write is my only chance to raise any concern. My hopes rest on the Empire to act, for the Menace from the Woods is a calamity that even the combined efforts of the village could not stand their ground against, as I was forced to find out in the most soul-crushing way imaginable.
Perhaps, I like to muse every so often, it was because of our proximity to the Daedric shrine of Namira. Maybe it was because of purely bad coincidence. Nonetheless, I am the only one left now.
I used to work as a lumber, together with six others, in the village. Our location within the forest was invaluable for the trade of our people. And so, we would work the sawmill, which had been established near the town's premises at the beginning of the Fourth Era, every day to provide for a great supply of freshly processed logs while we went out cutting down trees twice a week to keep our supply stocked at all times.
The wood we gathered would then be used to construct new habitats or to mend older houses that had fallen into disrepair over the long years this town had endured for on the face of Nirn.
The majority of the materials collected were prepared for trading with the nearby settlements of Aleswell and Bruma to keep ourselves afloat, however. Once a month, then, was it that one of us would make the trip to one of these two settlements to get food, iron and pelts as well as herbs and plants for our community to keep on flourishing.
It was good, honest work that I was intensely proud of - and so were my coworkers.
In the last two hundred years, Bleaker's Way grew by several huts and cottages due to the excess timber all around it and a small wave of migration at the time. That was before we began to sell our resources to the other settlements. Due to this, its population grew accordingly. Now there were seven men providing for the highly sought-after wood, when in the Third Era it had been but only one.
Usually, we would go lumbering in groups of three. Two squads of able-bodied men would then forage for supplies while one stayed back at the sawmill to process the trees that we brought back. We were to return just before dusk and celebrated a successful day with a Stein of good, Colovian beer. Only, on that fateful day, the other group didn't come back.
On the 25th of Sun's Dawn, 4E202, the seven of us met at the sawmill to divide into groups and spread the tasks for the day.
One group consisted of Theodore, a stout Breton, Mellius, a former Imperial soldier and Athis, a Dunmer who fled his home province following the eruption of Red Mountain to make his living in the land of Cyrodiil.
The other was comprised of Gelinor, a Bosmeri ranger who acted as our scout in the forest, Angeir, our crafty Nordic lumberjack who was usually in charge of dragging home the felled trees, and myself of course.
My name is Varus and I am one of the few settlers who grew up in Bleaker's Way. My family migrated from Bruma to the village about a hundred years ago to get away from the cold of the unforgiving Jerall mountains the city was close to. At the time, business started to decline and thus, newcomers were more than welcome as long as they could help in keeping the trade up.
But on that day, everything should change forever.
The six of us met at dawn to discuss the duties that needed to be taken care of. I had been appointed as my group's leader and, together with Theodore, we decided to split up to forage in different directions. While I was to head further up north, Theodore would go to the northeastern parts of the Great Forest. Little did we know this decision would spell our demise. But who could have divined such an evil would lurk this close to our home?
After we prepared our gear and some provisions, we left the village to follow the paths that led into the flora-rich thickets that surrounded us our entire lives.
However, Gelinor, Angeir and I were but a couple hundred meters in when we noticed a distinct alteration to the surroundings we had grown so wont to during the last few decades, for we beheld the lush grass that sprouted up from the ground being covered in a foreign, white substance in places. The three of us thought nothing of it then. It was not too extraordinary that spiders made their homes within small holes in the moist earth, albeit such robust webbing was indeed highly unusual.
Still, past that point I was unable to shrug off that unnerving sensation in my gut. The kind of feeling that tells you to back away slowly and carefully, slowing you down to a snail's pace as one wanders about the unknown. Today, I am filled with regret at my decision to ignore it. Had I only ordered the expedition to be abandoned at the first sign of this affliction, a few of my friends could perhaps still live.
Notwithstanding the queer occurrence, we marched onward on the lookout for a sufficiently aged specimen to fell, wandering deeper into the woods.
Amongst the rustling leaves and bushes we would finally happen upon a tree that fit our criteria for Angeir and myself to begin our work.
Cutting down trees is an indefatigable purpose. Carrying it back even more so. As such, we never went for more than one or two due to the exertion caused by the process of acquiring lumber.
Halfway through its trunk, Gelinor voiced some concerns, however. He told us about his sense of feeling watched while he picked up on a strange, eerie noise akin to thousands of tiny legs moving back and forth in betwixt the branches.
Nonetheless, we kept on chopping away at our chosen tree, albeit slightly unsettled by his remark.
As splinters of wood and bark flew about, I observed the wood elf out of the corner of my eye as he spied around for the source of the noise, the entity that appeared to hide amidst the oaks and acorns.
Just a few moments before our target came crashing down, I saw his eyes widen. Gelinor only shouted "Look up!". And as we did, we witnessed an appalling amount of timber, completely enveloped in sticky cobwebs. To our dismay, so was the one that now bent towards the ground.
A thunderous rustle ensued as the once majestic oak made its mark upon the way-giving soil. The tragedy began to take its course a few suspenseful moments after it lay unmoving in the dirt.
Nervous, hearts pounding from the general stress and the added worry of seeing that anomaly of nature, we just stood there, petrified, watching the mass of silk slowly undulate. We looked at it and at our surroundings and saw the amount of webbing above us. The grating noise that Gelinor had described got louder as time passed. From the way it looked, we appeared to have ran into a colony of spiders who made the trees their homes. Uneasiness spreading among us, our eyes were drawn to the tree right in front of us again, as I thought I saw the webs move on their own.
Seconds later, the white substance got torn apart by arachnids that appeared to be entirely alien to the local fauna. Green, brown and white were their colours - and they headed right for us.
Ten of the beasts aspired to overwhelm us but in a fortunate turn of fate, Gelinor brought his bow. He was quick to draw an arrow. An audible whirring noise pierced the atmosphere as one of the spiders got impaled to the ground. He was barely able to keep up with the situation and needed to avoid several jumping ones that came for his head.
While Gelinor was busy fending off these creatures, Angeir and I did our utmost to slay the others. A trail of black liquid was left behind by some of them, resulting in a slippery battleground. To Angeir's misfortune, he slipped and collided with an emerald specimen that gave of glowing fumes of a despicable stench. In the meantime, I, too, was busy avoiding deadly lunges while trying not to lose my foothold on the oily floor.
The combat was over as quickly as it began. As I killed the last spider, it bled to its death in a puddle of black ooze. I looked over to my compatriots and found both of them in a relatively unscathed condition in spite of the danger that had just been presented to us.
However, Angeir proved to be quite worrisome ashde complained of a certain sickness that manifested itself inside of his body, no doubt from coming into contact with these venomous gases earlier.
Following the threat's eradication, we made the conscious decision to abandon the tree and march back home to warn our people.
Spiders such as these were entirely unheard of and, as we had found, indubitably lethal. The guard had to be informed ad hoc.
The trip back was plagued by numerous halts due to Angeir's worsening health. His skin grew increasingly pale and his eyes slowly became opaque with some form of nebulous haze. He could barely talk, much less think straight and on multiple occasions, the floor beneath him would be tainted with the partly digested contents of his stomach.
His body weakened so much that Gelinor and I needed to carry him back to Bleaker's Way for treatment. Every once in a while, he would cough up leftover vomit to stain his tunic and leave a trail behind as his reeling head tried to keep any sort of balance, although failing spectacularly.
When the three of us got back, we were confronted with grim news as our foreman explained to us that the other lumbering party had not yet returned. We relayed to him our most recent experiences whereupon he, too, worried profoundly for the lives of our friends, forwhy it became clear that, whatever infestation was raging out there, these men, stalwart they might have been, were in grave danger, especially given Angeir's condition, who now began to sweat profusely while breathing quicker every second.
Together we decided to leave the afflicted Nord for treatment in Bleaker's Way and replace him with Graxus, our foreman, to form a search party in order to rescue our friends.
Graxus, Gelinor and I prepared for our mission by arming ourselves with steel blades and torches afore we ventured forth to look for our lost fellows. There was no telling as to what adversaries we might have had to face, after all.
As soon as our group was sufficiently prepared, Graxus took the lead to guide us on the path that Theodore and his men had taken.
As we wandered ever deeper into the increasingly obstructive foliage it became apparent that the arachnoidal infestation had developed in those parts to a much more alarming degree than hitherto witnessed and soon enough, the spine-chilling scuttling noises started to overtake and subdue all bird singing, leaf rattling and wolf howling.
The further we went, the more threatened we felt. Suddenly, I understood Gelinor's sensation of feeling under constant surveillance. Like meek prey on a silver platter, we cautiously advanced through the forest, every step being accompanied by raucous shuffling circumjacent to us. Stalking us. Lying in wait for just the right opportunity. In a moment of clear thought in amongst the episodes of nightmarish fright, I came to realize that the slightest bit of inadvertence could cause our demise.
At length, we found ourselves in a silk desert, the predominant flora unrecognizable, changed to a crooked shadow of its former self. The incredibly adhesive strands that had already devoured most of the landscape hampered our efforts to move as we stood in the centre of a glade, overtaken by shining, light-refracting threads of patient death.
All of a sudden, I heard Gelinor gasp with utmost concern when we both noticed that Graxus was nowhere to be seen. We yelled for him, called out his name at the top of our lungs for our voices to only barely reverberate throughout the forest as they were largely swallowed up by the trickling of a thousand tiny feet.
Festering fear arose and consumed our minds as we pictured what might have happened to our friend. The icy sweat perspired off our moist palms and wet foreheads, inducing a weird, reverse fever that let us shiver, feeling increasingly unsure of our survival.
In hindsight, we should've fled to forewarn the townsfolk so that they may abandon their homes to live to see another sunrise. That way, my wife could perhaps still be alive, my friends still breathing. But in my guilt I must tell of our mistake we made that day. Of how Gelinor and I, stranded in a world that was not our own, decided to press on and get to the bottom of this frightening mystery. Unbeknownst to me, all was lost from that point forward, the depth of the rabbit hole deeper than what I, or Gelinor, could have escaped out of.
We were painfully unaware of our folly. Still under the foolish impression of our ability to save the lives of our fellows. But all too soon, we should discover that we were woefully unprepared for what detestable things lay ahead of us.
Slowly, gently, the two of us ventured further into the unexplored. The once so familiar landscape, now alienated beyond recognition, infested as it was. Even though we had been here countless times, this new labyrinth of silk was nigh impossible to navigate. To our surprise, we faced no assaults. The spiders seemed to keep to themselves, as if under the influence of a higher entity that restrained them from acting on their instincts. Albeit that this did not account for the loss of Graxus, Gelinor and I felt safe enough to keep on traversing this afflicted forest.
We could have not been more mistaken in our assumptions though.
After a few minutes of wandering past dormant as well as pulsating active nests of the eight-legged scourges, we made a discovery that will probably continue to haunt me for the remainder of my worldly existence, if not in the celestial realms of the gods after my demise, albeit only a minor incident in comparison to what should follow later that day. As we slithered around walls of cobwebs, we espied a cocoon, dangling from a tree off in the distance.
We went down to a crouch, sneakily approaching the hanging thing, careful as to not disturb any dens that may or may not be located near ground level.
As we inspected it, Gelinor and I did not take long to realize that we had stumbled upon the dry, hardened shell of our coworker Athis, swaying back and forth in the breeze that wound itself through the stickily obstructed flora, leaking green and black phlegm.
A sense of unspeakable dread overcame both him and myself as we viewed the drained corpse that strangely appeared to have been prepared just for us to find.
Alas, Gelinor turned out to be much less steadfast than I. At this sight, his self-preservation instinct got the best of him, causing the elf to turn around and run off into the thicket under terrified screams in an effort to get away. However, I could only watch my merish comrade as he flailingly attempted to escape the webs he, in his haste, overlooked. The erratic motion provoked the waiting predators and soon, his screaming got muffled by an arachnid body that perched itself on his head, sliding downward to cover his face as the panicked wailings broke down into a cacophony of misguided pleas.
He tried to break free of his bounds and stumbled about as the creature inserted a set of tendrils into his spine under sickening noises that only the most stoic of individuals could stomach. Soon, his motion would stop and the thing that had replaced his head would weave a few threads around Gelinor's body. Moments later, more spiders came down from the nearest tree to latch onto him, dragging him up and out of my sight.
An eerie silence followed the daemoniac spectacle I had just witnessed, only quiet smacks and crunches, barely audible somewhere above me, told of Gelinor's fate.
I could not help but to abandon my task at this loss. I turned also, tremulous as I was, to tread the path back home in a much more cautious manner than my friend had tried mere moments ago.
But a creepily familiar, yet wholly estranged voice sought to arrest my attention.
I should have ran. I should have fled the forest, the village. Take my loved ones and leave to make a living elsewhere. And yet, I was lured in by a sound so comforting and at the same time appallingly beyond conjecture.
For out from the tall, dominating totems of nature herself shambled a humanoid figure whose face I could identify as the one belonging to Mellius.
His crooked gait told of major injury, the supply thereof seemed to be abundant. However, this was, by far, not the only cause for concern. The Imperial drew closer, stepping out of the shadows to shew me an altered silhouette of grotesque proportions. Closer examination revealed that his body had been abused as what I presumed to be a living brooding ground. It now sported bulbous, steaming white sacs of a rather peculiar kind while his skin was remarkably pallid for an Imperial.
The left side of his ribcage as well as his right thigh, his belly and, from what I could observe, even his back were sick with moving outcroppings, stretching the skin in these places to their respective limits without compromising the innermost dermal layer as to not kill off the host too quickly.
As Mellius closed in, the only words he was able to cumbersomely push through his throat were "Kill me… before I have to endure the…".
Before I could even adequately respond and do as I had been asked to, movement within the terrible bulges increased. The next second, all of them burst open simultaneously, releasing swathes of tiny, white, infant spiders in a surge of what looked like a takeover of a foreign country. They overran his body, entering it from every orifice to feast on him alive. Under agonized howling and choking did I witness the things crawl into his mouth to obstruct his throat, eat out his eyes to scuttle into the sockets. His nose closed by two slender legs until Mellius ran out of air to breathe and suddenly stopped squirming in the pool of his own blood and and foreign secretions.
I was paralyzed with otherworldly fright, unable to move on my own accord, when I espied another figure, positioning itself just a few meters away from where I stood.
A woman, clad in black armour sporting a cowl that served to obscure her features, cast in darkness. Next to her, another victim of the spreading corruption whom I could make out to once have been Graxus. I wanted to call out to her, warn her of the lurking and slithering menace that hides within these woods but I was utterly mistaken for believing her to be any sort of ally or regular citizen.
Because that woman would proceed to inexplicably gnaw at Graxus decaying body, ingesting the dried meat as she watched my every breath, followed each of my eye's movements, tracking every drop of sweat that released itself from my gelid fingers.
She forcibly drove a knife into the corpse to cut out a piece of flesh, taking a large bite off of it while the remaining, dark crimson blood ran down her chin in quaint streams of a brownish red.
My impulse to flee had been replaced by genuine loathing for that creature who appeared to be responsible for this death - and, most likely, all the other deaths encountered so far. I felt that she was the cause of all the evil that spread. My better judgement kept me alive that day, however, for I took a moment to reevaluate the situation I found myself in. Thereupon I spotted the swarm of spiders surrounding the woman which I had, in my anger, been blind to before.
From what it looked like, I deducted that this irredeemable female must have most likely been the leader of that swarm, for the crawling critters did not harm her. Quite the opposite seemed to be the case, as I fancied them to assume some form of a defensive formation.
I resolved not to assault this enemy, in the end. I stood no chance against the throng of monsters at her disposal.
In another instant, my attention got drawn away from her and my eyes shifted betwixt the stumbling shapes of what used to be my coworkers.
All those who weren't dead then were ill with the same affliction that Mellius had displayed prior to his horrific doom.
Multiple, shifting, bulbous sacs protruded from different parts of their respective bodies, inflicting multitudinous, untold kinds of misery as they crept towards me.
"Should they tear open", I thought to myself, "these diabolical oblivionspawn will overwhelm me".
I cast a quick glance to that unscrupulous woman to catch her climbing up a nearby trunk with the aid of her minions whereafter she leaped from treetop to treetop towards the forest's exit.
As I helplessly watched, the encroaching half corpses of Theodore and Gelinor, having found them at last, began to twitch more violently and the increasing volume of the threatening trickling noises in the background foretold what my subconscious knew all along - that, whoever this woman was, she clearly did not intend for me to stay alive any longer than I had to, much less claim egress from the abnormal place that I was trapped in.
As the egg sacs on my former companion's bodies tore open, splattering the immediate surroundings with a hundred kinds of liquefied portent, I slowly backed away as they got consumed by the ensuing entropy of hungering lifeforms.
As I did, I tripped over Mellius' carcass, crushing innumerable albino spiders under my weight. From my new point of view, I witnessed an army of adult arachnids marching down the tree barks in order to surround me.
Driven by a pure survival instinct, I got up from the ground with some difficulty, a spot on the left side of my back burning with ardent might, turned on my heels and ran for my life.
With my sword that I cleverly had brought along earlier, when I still believed I stood a chance against the oppressive strength of a thousand armies of adversaries, I consciously slashed away at the tyranny of webs that covered every leaf, bush and branch in my way, seeking to ensnare me as food for the starved children of Namira that engaged in the pursuit of their prey.
I fought my way through the Great Forest, or, more accurately, the altered version of it, valiantly, every so often fending off a spider or two while avoiding several, potentially lethal blows and lunges from the creatures seeking to control me in the same way in which they had exerted their terrible rule upon Gelinor. A few of the brown ones were cut into halves by my blade, spewing forth a black, viscous substance. From its peculiar smell, I presumed it to be oil. In a moment of clarity, I resolved to do the only thing I could think of to rid this world of the crawling damnation that sought to spread its vile talons out for the lives of the innocent. I lit the torch that I packed earlier and tossed it into one of the oily pools that the carcasses left behind.
In a matter of seconds, the entirety of the forest was set ablaze, the oil, wood and silk threads catching flames in a purging inferno that should cleanse the lands.
A swift gaze behind me revealed a battalion of them following my trail, a wall of fire emitting black fumes further in the back.
I do not know how I managed to run as long as I did but in the end, I made it out of the woods with burning lungs and a heart dangerously close to cardiac arrest.
For the burning fury that I had caused, the zounds of spiders stopped following me after I had exited their domain, allowing me to catch my breath and rest for a while before I made for the village again. I hoped that the scent of charred logs and flesh meant the total annihilation of these horrors.
In retrospect, I should have gone right to the Imperial City instead to spare me of what would gruesomely lie in wait to shatter my resolve beyond repair. But I needed to warn the townsfolk of what lurked nearby. Not only was there an infestation to deal with, a forest fire the likes of which I have never seen threatened our very existence as well, now that I set aflame every inch of the giant nests.
As I came closer to my homestead, from the distance I already saw the sheer abundance of webs all around. Drawing nearer, screams of the most repugnant nature could be heard as I feared that the worst had already come to pass. But I had no idea of the extent of the catastrophe that would soon unfold before my very eyes.
Fearing for the lives of my friends and family, I entered Bleaker's Way with the last vestiges of my strength.
The horror was, and still is, beyond my ability to understand. It was complete and utter chaos. Delirious frenzy had taken a hold of the population. The buildings were enveloped in silky death while several inhabitants were in the process of being turned into cocoons as they wound themselves on the ground, crying and screaming in incomprehensible dread.
Some were profusely vomiting all over the ground, deep velvet rings under their bloodshot eyes, their deathly pallor amplified by vile, green overgrowths that grew into pus-filled pustules. Those that burst open released a corrosive compound that ate itself through the victim's skin down to their bones.
I beheld women with overly large bellies, pregnant and misused as carriers for these nightmarespawn, reduced to crawling as a means of locomotion under the massive weight of the developing colonies within their weeping wombs.
Others were running away with horrifying wails from the spiders that attempted to pierce their skulls with their tendrils, some of whom got coated in the tenebrous oil, unable to get away from their killers. Those that got caught were momentarily incapacitated only to rise again as mind-controlled husks to assault the few people who still had a will to fight. Like an infection the tendrils encapsulated the upper portion of the torso, the monster sitting comfortably atop the face, clumsily steering the reeling bodies of the infected.
Amidst all of that madness stood that infernal woman. In broad daylight I could make out her slightly tanned skin and the pointed ears that gave her away as being a Bosmer in origin. Although, it doesn't matter now, does it?
She patiently watched the unfolding terror as she lustfully bit into the impregnated shape of another woman. To my horror, I recognized her well, for it was my wife that was being eaten alive while under the agony of what rose inside her. But worse, I fancied I saw a remarkably small cocoon lying right beside her.
And as she fervently consumed, I could have sworn she looked directly at me, a wicked smile on her face. I gazed into the eyes of an abyss several fathoms deeper than any man could stomach. And thus, I fear I might not endure the weight of this loss.
Out of utter helplessness and despair, I decided to do the only thing I could to prevent further damage. As the fires consumed the landscape behind me, a piece of burning wood lay conveniently nearby. Without thinking twice, I hastily picked it up to hurl into the traumatizing mess of oil and silk. The following explosion posed a death sentence to each and everyone present. Impossibly, it was as if the lunatic screams got even louder for the faintest fracture of a second before dying down completely in the ensuing blastwave that sent a number of great, wooden splinters my way to burrow themselves painfully into the flesh of my arms as I held them up high to protect my face.
What I was left with was the ghoulish scene of a devastated town. Obliterated buildings, collapsed structures and coal-like body parts littered a purgatorial panorama that I can never forget. The elven woman was gone as well and I can only pray to the Nine that she, too, died during the fireball, forever damned to Oblivion.
To get myself out of harm's way, I made for Bruma and rented a room in the local inn. I haven't talked to anyone yet. And I think I never will. All I will do is leave this report in the guard barracks and hope that the county will react.
I can never return home. And I fear that my life is forfeit.
For beyond all this is the worrying sensation of an itch in my chest that appears to be increasing in intensity everyday. Whoever finds this note beware, for I entered the cellar of the chapel to await merciful exitus at the hands of what I know will strike me down. Do not look for me or for my body, because you will find only death in its stead.