The view was both a relief and a grave concern. "There is a good chance this place is infested with the undead scourge as well", I cautiously stated as I examined the grove before us.


"Thine assumption may be correct", Shthelith chimed in, hand on his exsanguinator that hung loosely from his belt. "We must exert utmost circumspection", he pointed out with his finger that was prone to point at many things as of recently. Nephethys once again stayed silent and only acknowledged our commentary as we slowly approached the hidden habitat.

An entire area must have been deforested. The small, empty village we laid our eyes upon occupied a spot wherein were still visible the remnants of many tree stumps. 


All of the huts were built from wood and most of them were overgrown with moss, the hardiest of plants that apparently even survived a deathly curse in relatively intact condition. Others were in serious disrepair, still more 'fused' with the ground or some nearby vegetation. 

Taking in the atmosphere of this eerie place we were taken aback when we discovered remains of houses even among the great number of trees that surrounded the grove, indicating that it used to be many times larger than what our group got to witness. It made for singular implications that fully grown, great trees would tower above the moist earth where houses used to stand, how they got elevated over the centuries to evoke the impression that nature herself had impaled the man made structures.

It truly made me wonder just what happened here but alas, we lacked the time for proper historical examination. 


"So it is true…", Shthelith mumbled to himself. "The undead settlement lieth here after all. Shthelith hath heard only rumours pertaining to its existence. But to see it with my own eyes…". He pondered for a moment, rubbing his chin in thought before he would quite joyfully proclaim: "We are on the right path. This here village doth stand circumjacent to the burg we seek.".


As relieved as I was for being on the right path, this revelation also brought with it a certain anxiety, was the thicket surrounding the grove nearly opaque with dense plant life, however dead it may be. It permitted any, possibly predatory, life form at all to retain perfect concealment. Indeed, if yet more unliving things dwelt around the clearing we stood in, we may not get around fighting at least a few of them.

As it was, Nephethys, Shthelith and I settled to stall not and proceed, however unsure of our success we may have been.


"There is no telling of what might hide its presence within these old trees", Nephethys chimed in, spelling out what I've been thinking. Her resolve was more resolute, though. "Are you two up for the task?", she followed up with a devious smile, no doubt relishing in the idea of bloodshed. 

Shthelith and I nodded, uncertain as to the exact meaning of Nephethys' gesture, whereafter we made our way into the thicket, out of the peaceful grove, and unto woe and misfortune. 


The air itself turned against us as we passed by the broken dwellings to delve into the evil foliage. A prevalent mist forced us to inhale a foetid stench ripe with decomposition. It was incredibly damp, not dissimilar to the inside of a shredmound, and my skin felt mouldy from the continued exposure to this utterly heinous gas that has proclaimed itself lord where clean, clear air used to reign. 

The three of us had no choice to cover the lower part of our faces with some cloth to shield our nostrils from the befouling influence. 

All too soon, my garb became moist while my boots began to sink into the ever more hydrated ground that was just as rotted as everything else.


Several cumbersome steps through sticky, putrescent mud and a few fits of coughing up the liquefied compost that appeared to put down roots into our lungs later, we arrived at a small hut, barely recognizable as such, for it was almost completely fused with the surrounding nature.

It had been largely assimilated by the web of roots, branches and bushes that would prohibit us from progressing further unless we were to enter this mushy looking building in front of us.


The wood that constituted the dwelling gave off a curious, vile steam and was sickeningly soft to the touch so that my hand print embedded itself into the surface, leaking a thick fluid that covered my palm and nails. I was sure that we could easily chip away at its walls, given enough time. And a spoon.

The disgusted frowns of my companions spoke volumes about their olfactory disposition towards the malodorous conditions. Their efforts to avoid the nigh fungal composition of the house amused me slightly, notwithstanding my own aversion to it.


We went inside to find that, stunningly, most of the furniture was intact, overgrown as it was, but not nearly as absorbed as the exterior.

I strained my eyes in the damp darkness in my struggle to make out the shapes of the furnishings. Moving across the room proved to be quite difficult for clearing away the vines that got entangled in my hair gave me some trouble in addition to my feet that were prone to sink deeper with each step I took.

When my vision had properly adjusted to the murk that the area seemed to be soaked with, I could finally behold the cubic room for what it was. Majorly rotted walls and ceiling were the most immediately noticeable features, next to a round table and two small chairs, all of which coalesced with the soft floor. Atop the table there were visible two piles of nondescript ooze that, presumably, used to be edible judging from their positioning. Further in the back, past the green-greyish strands of bio matter that leisurely hung down from above us to frequently intrude upon my coiffure, I espied what looked like a door. Hopefully to the outside, I thought.


I could barely breathe in enough air to speak as my tongue got defiled with the all-engulfing vapours, in an effort to point out the possible means of egress, when my ears picked up on a noise so unlike the remainder of the hitherto experienced soundscape that I had the stale rot linger in my mouth, involuntarily so, to stop and listen.

A lurching sound emanated from the shadows to our left, prompting Nephethys and Shthelith to follow my example. I perused the prehensile gloom over yond fastidiously. I was so concentrated that the ensuing wrinkles on my forehead started to burn formidably. 


I could make out a faint outline as it moved there. Anxiety began to take its place where curiosity had afore been.

Nephethys threw me a doubtful, teasing look with a benevolent grin that shewed her white teeth and red tongue. She turned and wandered towards the figure barring hesitation. I knew that she had been waiting.

Hungrily, prowling about, preying on it, she strode with divine elegance. A glittering, crimson lustre playfully wrapped itself around her hand to shed light on the poor undead who would writhe in mid-air as it hung from a noose like the others had before.


A sorry creature, naked, falling apart, gasping for air, only a few strands of hair on its head. Who knows how long it had hung there? I pitied the thing in its immortal imprisonment, unable to escape this nightmare. 

The meaty atrocity moved for a couple more seconds before a pike of bright blood, coagulated to the point of hardening into a sharp spear, shot out of Nephethys' glowing palm to impale its heart and melt a moment later.


Perhaps it was mercy that she enforced on the thing as it struggled and toiled perpetually before voicing a sigh of relief with its dying breath.

I realized that the Dunmer sought to protect me from harm. My squeamishness was irredeemable no doubt. Yet, I believed that these living corpses posed no threat on their own. If anything, they were begging for release.


With radiant eyes, Nephethys returned to my side, smiling warmly at me where there previously had been a greedy thirst for murder. In the end, she cared about my safety and made sure that I noticed. A soft pat on my head, a gentle caress of my chin. That was enough to blow away my worries for a moment. A gesture of kindness that brought new hope to my troubled heart.


I didn't notice until after her act of questionable heroism that my mouth felt incredibly viscous from the inside. I opened it and the fumes I held seemed to have somehow merged with the saliva to form a thick, foul clump of steaming slop that I made exit my body as quickly as I could. 

The taste would linger, however. A sensation that felt as if it was never intended to be tasted, an indescribable cesspool of death would persist and churn betwixt my teeth for a few hours. All food I would consume was ruined.


After the unfortunate thing breathed its last, we resolved to open the door in the back of the room, eager to flee from the vapours that sullied our bodies with every second of exposure.




The incredibly feeble, wooden door fell apart as Shthelith placed his hand on the knob. Slowly, it would collapse in on itself under disturbing smacking of the wood that had become a sponge for pestilence. It revealed a panorama of utmost despair shewing a forlorn people and I was struck by the impression that the three of us were in no immediate danger at all. For there were no wild hordes of the unliving to prey on our flesh.


Instead we were greeted with sorrow.

Before us stood many an overgrown house around a central path that led to the fort that we were after. 

But what made us stop dead in our tracks was not the amount of habitats that surrounded the fortress, nor was it the air of death that so oppressively hung over our heads.


We encountered throngs of live corpses, ravenous from centuries of famine and neglect. Most of those that were in our way appeared to be partly melded with the moulding ground of the forest. None of them could leave their spot as they all clawed hungrily at the sky under pitiable moans.

Their bodies were seemingly drained of all water and most flesh which resulted in an exceptionally famished look, even for the undead.

Their warped, almost concave, likenesses told of limitless agony while they helplessly flailed about to do anything at all.


Our feet pushed up the murky water from within the sick earth, taking a few steps forward, past the creatures, on our way to the castle. 

Their white, hazy eyes followed our every move, collapsed and partly dissolved pupils scanning us as the army of hairless, and in some cases skinless, heads turned our way.

The tugging at my legs from the diseased digits that beckoned me to stay and keep them company in their ceaseless torment unnerved me greatly, for I pictured myself in their place. My gut revolted at this cogitation, even more so as I gazed back towards the house we've just emerged from to find the hanging corpse in its usual spot, once again struggling for air. The same being that I could have sworn Nephethys killed just a moment ago.

And I realised that none of us could help these lost souls, damned as they were to keep on toiling forever. 


I shook my head, my lips involuntarily made a frown. Mucus filled up my nose and ran down my face to be loosened by my quivering jaw while the lump in my throat grew in size. It was tyrannizing. I struggled to breathe myself now, and the idea of doom in my head worsened the more my understanding of this world deepened. But I still could not fathom just how it would be to endure this for as long as they have. And I didn't want to.


Treading along the nearby homes of the lost, we collectively gulped when we witnessed more of them writhing in their beds holding them captive. They tried to leave their houses. On the floorboards they would crawl, ultimately too weak to move more than a few millimeters at a time. And much too weak to open their doors - that is, if they even made it that far. The unified groaning and troubled wheezing drowned out all other sounds.

We kept going, but not without difficulty. I personally found it especially hard to avert my eyes from all the torment around me.


Crushed, dead flowers gathered beneath our soles and soon, I could breathe more clearly again. I took my first, deep current of air through my freed nostrils when Shthelith held up his hand.

"Strain your ears", he commanded, "I hear something. A voice. Somewhere".

Nephethys and I halted and listened. A furtive whisper, emanating from one of the living corpses that lay flat on its stomach in front of us, its back overtaken by oozing greenery, its limbs moving gently from side to side. Completely devoid of strength, as if the simple act of speaking was enough to wear out the poor thing, it voiced a plight to us.


"Please, help us…". A diminishing cloud of breath was aspirated from its shaking jaw. "The King… he… the gift from the…". It coughed vigorously and expectorated an unknown substance before it was able to continue.

"He accepted the gift that . . . that doomed us. He was . . . too weak. Please, help us. Save . . . save our souls from . . .". Its bleak, lifeless eyes shed a tear. "From this nightmare. Aaaahhhh…". It exhaled and died. But I knew that it would return again to experience the invariable torture once more.


Meanwhile, Nephethys was touched by the poor creature's plea as she covered her mouth with her palm. "What is this gift he spoke of?", she asked and turned to Shthelith for answers. He shrugged and enunciated:

"Belike the Seal of Bone we seek. It is the only thing that cometh to mind". He twisted his head to gaze at the fort.

"Perhaps that seal turned these people into ghoulish undead?" I hypothesized, tapping my chin. I received an acknowledging nod from the blood elf. "It doth seem possible".


"Let's not lose any more time then", Nephethys' voice trembled. "We… we should get moving. Now". Her unease was undeniable. Seeing her like this filled me with sadness, but at the same time I got reassured that she still retained her empathy. I laid my arm around her shoulders and together, we went across the road, getting closer to our destination. 




The burg wasn't far off now. Shthelith, Nephethys and I could already see the stout stone walls that stood out proudly from the rest of the scenery. Even in its disrepair did it look quite opulent. Great, tall windows of stained glass, adorned with beautifully carved buttresses of ruined marble, a hint of golden embellishments on the finely chiselled statues that were fashioned to evoke the appearance of trees, their branches framing each and every window to run upwards like petrified veins to disembogue into a great many stone flowers sculptured upon the terribly worn brickwork. 


Its pompous gate was left ajar to a small extent to permit ingress. The great doors bore a family crest on them, similar to the glowing tree décor found in various Ayleid ruins, hanging from their crowns apples of gold, all of it imprinted into the wood that appeared much sturdier than the huts that we came by moments ago.

We approached it and pulled at one of the doors with our combined strength to dislodge it from the ages old rust that had eaten itself into the hinges. I flinched once when a tiny splinter burrowed itself into my finger while we were at it, but steadily we kept tugging until the opening was great enough for us to fit through. 

Cautiously we entered a grand, albeit crumbling, foyer telling of lost grandeur seldom beheld in this world. My mirror image contemptibly glared at me through the reflective black marble floor.


For the first time ever since Nephethys and I had been stranded here, I got a proper look at myself. Oh dear, I remember thinking, How mangled I've become. 

The wrinkles on my face had, over the time that I had spent there, turned into deep crevices. My overall complexion was slender and diseased with a sickness impossible to put into proper words that could convey the true extent of the externally perceptible raggedness I had contracted. 

My hair was interspersed with multiple sorts of filth, both of animate and inanimate nature, that would float downward to gather on my slim shoulders when a breeze would cause it to sway.

My eyes had sunken deep into my skull that housed an exhausted brain and I reckon I witnessed my irises having become bland of colour the longer my gaze would rest on the image of a man who appeared just about broken. The terribly unkempt beard concealed a familiar likeness that I was otherwise so used to. The skin had lost its lively glow. I had to remind myself that I stared at my own reflection. This is me? 

I got lost in my own eyes, daydreaming about past events. How did it come to this?


Nephethys woke me from my delusions. She placed her hand onto mine. "Hey, are you alright?". She then cast her glance to the ground, then back at me. "I see", she said before caressing the hand she held. "Don't worry. As soon as we are out of this mess we'll take a nice bath together."

Her efforts to reassure me with a cheeky comment and snappy, inviting smile succeeded as I was once again reminded that there was something to live for after all. Past the terror and madness, however tired I was of all this.

I steadied myself and abandoned the corrupted figure in the floor to instead shift my focus onto the grand flight of stairs before us that we had yet to ascend.

From the centre of the foursquare foyer stretched a sullied, regal, blue carpet all the way from the bottom of the stairs to their respective tops, two in number for the upper half of them was split for the construct to assume a Y-shape.


Shthelith, however, seemed to be far more fascinated with what decorative masonry stood about. To either side and in the back of the windowless, lower compartment of the room there towered proudly the images of knights and clerics cast in stone.

In regular intervals they lined the walls and two particularly outstanding specimens had been placed to the left and right of the stairs that we wished to climb. 

"Exemplary craftsmanship", Shthelith enthused as he let his fingers run across the cold, rough surface of the knight in front of us, to the right of the ornate, stone railing that led upwards. 

"As if it liveth surreptitiously beneath that coating of rock".

In response, I was left no choice but to eye the intriguing statue more closely. It really did seem as if a previously alive knight had been petrified to accessorise the room, forwhy the paper thin cloak, intact even after supposed centuries, hung from the back of a grey armour that looked almost wearable. Just like I could take it off of the thing to don it myself. 


I could perhaps even take his sword if I were to dislodge its tip from the ground it has been driven into. Maybe I could move the hands, cast in durable gauntlets of stone, away from the blade's hilt and just.. take it.

My fascination quickly gave way for bewilderment as an unfamiliar voice droned through the hall.


"Who disturbs this accursed place?". The voice was deep and raspy and told of advanced age. However, I was incapable of locating its source as it appeared to come from every direction at once. "Thieves. Begone. Or die."

Perplexed, the three of us looked at each other with varying degrees of confusion spilling out of our faces. We couldn't just abandon our task. So at the behest of our own good, we each took a step forward to ascend the stone steps. To our misfortune, it proved to be our undoing as the voice's patience dwindled, giving a command to his servants. 

"Wardens. Do your duty. Protect the burg and expunge these vermin!".


Mere seconds thereafter, having already begun our ascent up the stairs, we got interrupted by the noise of chafed stone and trickling dust behind us. To our surprise and chagrin, we found that the two knight statues in front of the stairs were indeed guarding them. They pulled their swords out of the ground and advanced in our direction with heavy steps.

"We can take them", Nephethys confidently proclaimed with this crimson lustre dancing around her hands again. It was not long until the great guardians were in range, dragging their heavy feet to form cracks in the floor whenever they landed. 

Two blood lances struck the heads of the approaching golems, but to no avail. I witnessed a great stone hand take Nephethys by the face to hurl her across the room to the foot of the great entrance gate.


"Hemomancy doth not take effect on these constructs. We must resort to more physical means", Shthelith noted. He unsheathed his exsanguinator, I drew my gladius. I cursed myself for all the wasted iron balls way back when we still fought the horrors below the Imperial City. I really could have used the Cloudbreaker in this situation. 


The golem that had just thrown my favourite dunmer now jumped towards Nephethys and raised his gigantic blade. She still struggled to get up and appeared defenseless otherwise. The obtuse stone weapon, about the length of a normal person to accommodate for the great size of the moving statues, fell down from above, threatening to crush her under its weight alone.

In the last second, Nephethys raised her legs to deflect the assault using her bone blades. Her muscles would tremble under the extreme pressure of keeping her doom at bay, at least for the time being.


I lost no time and rushed to her as fast as I possibly could, sword in hand. With every beat of my heart, every step I hopped, I could observe her sweat running down her face and burn her eyes. When I was finally in range, I threw myself at the giant contraption and disrupted its movement. With a few bruises that were the result of the hard rock that just collided with my relatively soft flesh I fell to the floor. I turned my head to espy a preoccupied Shthelith fending off the other stone warden as best he could on his own.

The short moment of our enemy's temporary inadvertence due to my assault was enough time for Nephethys to unleash fury upon the thing. Bone blade in hand, she kicked and slashed at the stone, dancing around it in a whirlwind of destruction. 


Nephethys was clever indeed, as she focused her aggression on its sword arm, making it crumble and disarming it in the process.

In a fit of stupidity, for lack of a more adequate term as what I did was beyond risky, I reached for the giant, stone sword. With considerable trouble, I managed to hoist it and hold it up into the air. Thereafter I let it crash into the living statue and it shattered to pieces.

The debris lay scattered across the floor, a dust cloud telling of its former owner where once towered the stalwart golem. In the meantime, Shthelith was still busy fending off the other, rolling under its swings and strikes, stepping behind it for a quick stab before he was forced to evade again.


I slowly dragged the weapon over to him while Nephethys still recovered from the assault. The long notch in the floor told of its coming demise. My muscles burned like the fiery pits of Oblivion itself as I raised the blunt edge of the giant instrument one more time. I could withstand the searing pain only just. And in a moment of weakness, my quivering arms and tremulous hands released their tension with a rush of overwhelming relief flowing through them. The blade came crashing down to split the petrified soldier in half and missed Shthelith by only a few centimetres.

A storm of powder and coarse pebbles released from it and doused the Aímamer in dry soot. My help came at the right moment. His hurried breathing and buildup of sweat foretold imminent, fatal fatigue.


"Thanks to thy bravery, I may yet live".

He took a deep, albeit somewhat trembling bow. My upper extremities were shaking as well from the most recent combat and Nephethys stumbled towards us, her legs unmistakably strained past their limits.

"It surely is difficult holding off an entire ship's worth of weight with only half your muscles", she remarked. 

For a brief moment I considered dragging that stone sword around just in case I would need to fight one of those golems again. I was indeed rather invigorated due to my victory, notwithstanding the extreme conditions I subjected myself to. For once, it felt good to be the saviour.


Without further ado, worrying about all the other decorative statues and whether or not they could spring to life at any moment, we finally climbed up the Y-shaped stairs in a much quicker pace than originally intended. 

The steps flowed into elevated balconies that stretched all the way across the walls. Embedded within were ornate archways that led to different parts of the castle. The three of us were strangers to these halls and thus, didn't know where to go. However, we had three directions to choose from.


"Can't there just be one way for once?", an annoyed Nephethys complained with her arms waving about in an effort to reinforce her point.

"Let us think", Shthelith proposed while he sought to put a halt to Nephethys' wild gesturing. "Inspect the portals that loometh. Where is it they doth lead to?".


We did as we were told and saw that the middle path would take us onto a roofed bridge with a closed gate visible in the distance. 

The way to our left led to what I assumed to be a dining hall for the presence of a long table and an abundance of chairs. 

To our right, then, lay a chamber that I could from the distance identify to hold at least a few bookshelves. 

We pondered on where to go but in the end, decided to examine what I took to be a library first so we might find potential leads on which road to take going forward.

"Belike thou wilt find a scrapping of this burg's bygone history", Shthelith suggested.


Our steps reverberated off the walls of the mostly empty foyer as we decided to step through the aperture to the right to enter the room of long lost knowledge. A little dust fell down onto us from within the cracks in the arch. Our loud steps gave way to a wooden creaking as the floor changed its type.

All of the brickwork we've had the chance to familiarize ourselves with so far had now been concealed by innumerable, tall bookshelves that lined the entire, outermost perimeter of the large study. Several tables alongside a number of small stools filled the otherwise vacant space and a hint of burnt wax hung in the air. 

Several cobwebs had gathered around the heaps of volumes that stood neatly arranged inside the shelves and most of them looked just as if I could have shattered them from mental thought alone.


Such sticky filth that enveloped the books I also observed in the corners of the furniture and the room itself.

"What wisdom might be contained here?", Nephethys wondered. Clearly, the unique nature of this world comes to mind, inspiring curiosity of unparalleled intensity in her and myself as well. However, when I casually tried to grab oneiof the books from the shelves, it would dissolve into a fine powder on touch, erasing whatever knowledge it might have held.

I earned some scolding looks from my companions until they, too, had melting papers run in betwixt their fingers. Evidently, it was absolutely no use to try and open them from their confines. Yet, I espied one, opened set of parchments sitting on one of the nearby tables.


It shone invitingly in the warm light of a candle that must have been lit quite recently, so I inferred that whomever this castle belonged to, they had to have been immersed in study only moments afore we claimed ingress to their abode.

From afar, I could not fathom its contents, prompting me to inch closer for a more elaborate look. I exercised utmost caution due to the fragility of the other, nearby tomes. I needed to prevent ruin to befall the only lead I had.

Wary as to not conjure up any unnecessary wind that could have caused the old papers to get caught in the breeze, I crept over to the table.


Nephethys and Shthelith were busy probing the shelves to find out which of the books had held fast against the test of time whereas I fastidiously examined the two eldritch pages that unravelled before me.

Eyeing them both up and down, at first I was just as clueless thereafter as I had been afore. The little excerpt I was permitted to view and brood over offered a deeper look into the world around me. 

An assortment of magical seals with heretofore unwitnessed glyphs, supported by illegible text written in a foreign alphabet that even my best efforts at deciphering failed at shedding at least some light on its meaning.

Make no mistake. I had seen various, different scripts from all over Tamriel before. I taught myself how to decode Dwemeris, how to read Altmeris, yes, even how to properly decipher and pronounce Dovahzul, Daedric or Ayleidis. But still, these texts were unlike anything I hitherto had the opportunity to peruse.


But there was yet hope. A tiny detail in the script. An almost negligible circle among the many circular drawings on these pages. Notwithstanding the obvious similarities to all the others being plentiful, it stood out like the moon would amongst a sea of stars that drifted above Tamriel. The very sky I hungered after as I reminisced on how it looked. And I wondered if I were to ever see it again. 


It was a perfect circle drawn right in the centre of the second page. With precision were arranged around it a host of alien, magical symbols that had no place in the world that I hailed from. Inside of it there was an emblem, or perhaps a sigil or something similar. Three strokes, horizontally stacked on top of each other, on either side with an upside down V in the middle.

In the two upper corners of the page were two more, similarly embellished circles containing symbols that looked like drops from afar, albeit constructed of many different strokes of very fine lines. These were connected to the central seal by what I can only put into words as "veins" of ink that almost seemed to have grown naturally from circle to circle. Beneath it all a chunk of indecipherable text that I suspected to serve as a more thorough explanation of what was depicted. 

I could not read the text, neither could I interpret the symbols that were so carefully painted around the important sigils. 


But what I did see, however, was something of profound meaning to our task. Something that I needed no description for to understand what it was supposed to represent. 

For the innermost seal, as speculative as my hypothesis may appear to you now, seemed to form the crude likeness of a ribcage.



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