Neither in my dreams, nor in the waking world, could I have prognosticated the execrative flagrancy that I had up to this point already laid eyes upon - or the damnabilities I was yet to encounter in the future, up to my improbable escape from that dæmoniac plane of existence. 

The concept of duality, taught to generations upon generations of the Tamrielic citizens, tells us how to distinguish the moral from the amoral, it instructs us about night and day, light and dark, good and evil, always in direct opposition to one another. But it is this very concept of duality that forsook me the very second I stepped through that odious canvas, besmeared with blood and entrails - and worse.


Surreptitiously, ever so furtively, barely noticeable, if at all, the essence of what should erode my hitherto held beliefs in what was felonious and what was virtuous, in the nature of malevolence and benevolence, gently encroached, slithered into my harrowed mind. But not only it, my body befell a great affliction also, for my altered perception of spiritual and physical decrepitude caused me to commit misdeeds most hideous.


As we steadily progressed through this blood-soaked nightmare, I could feel my sanity slip from time to time, obscuring the boundaries, that usually lay fastened within my consciousness, betwixt the righteous and the loathsome. It continually blurred the lines until what I had feared as abhorrent in the past would become my wont.

In a similar manner could I observe this general, slow degradation of faith and virtue in my companions. Nephethys in particular appeared to be extraordinarily affected by what sinister power held us in its ethereal grasp. Her stout countenance steadily declined the deeper that rabbit hole went. The instances in which her mood heavily shifted to display aggression towards me became more numerous the longer our stay in that worldpersisted, despite her affection in respect to my body and spirit.


Even Shthelith, an Aímamer native to this forgotten region of time and space, seemed to be tragically unaware of the true nature of his homeland. He could not predict what evil writhed inside the High Priestess Sárka whom he used to answer to. Neither knew he of the Stained Glass Dæmon, nor what abyssal depths lay beyond the broken rose window, out of which the viscous void seeped so eerily.

The three of us realized that we were entirely vacuous pertaining to the realm we were in notwithstanding the time that we had at that point already spent surviving there.

Albeit none of us were too keen on uncovering all its mysteries, our fate was bound to them. And so, we set out to wander that deathly wasteland in an effort to retrieve the artifacts that we hoped would permit us egress. 


The heavy doors of the chapel swung open, a foetid air current passing us by to harass our nostrils, prompting me to cast one, final gaze into the droning nothingness behind us.

I had gotten used to the foul stench of old blood and burnt flesh, the noxious vapours that rose up from numerous spots throughout the hamlet surrounding the fane now barely upset me. Perhaps my sense of smell got numbed during our horrific trip through the great shredmound beneath the religious building. Whatever the reason might be, I began to view my general indifference towards such things as an advantage more so than anything.


The queerly illuminated sky enveloped us once more in its twilight radiance as we stepped out of the temple and into the village, the great, bending basalt walls of Bendicia looming in the background. 

The three of us trod past several decaying huts and partially broken shacks, whereupon I noticed this general air of disdain and resentment, but also fear, that these dilapidated buildings emitted. Out from the decrepit windows several pairs of glowing eyes would stare at us, following our every move, accompanied by shocked gasps and bewildered whispers. Some shifted nervously back and forth, others averted their gaze quickly and still others did neither move nor blink at all, instead glaring contemptibly at the group of foreigners that murdered their queen in cold blood.

None dared to leave their homes to possibly engage us. After all, we had slain their most powerful hemomancer. But perhaps their attitude had to do with the vitreous beast that had emerged hours after Sárka's demise. Shthelith was oblivious to its existence, so I believe the other blood elves were as well.


We stopped for a moment, small dust clouds gathering and dissipating as our boots came to a halt on the dry ground.

"I must wonder", Shthelith spoke, "whatever it will be my kin will do, now that thou hast slain our mistress. After all, Sárka had been the instructor, instrumental for my race to uphold the rites none else teacheth. Ah, I must wonder…", he said in an almost regretful tone, albeit my gut told me that a faint sense of ghastly premonition resonated within his words.


I paid it no mind and instead listened to Nephethys, who answered with much disregard for the Aímamer people.

"It matters not to me. As long as the rites forgotten include whatever I was subjected to enduring", she snapped, eyeing the houses around her. I could tell she was only barely able to contain the urge to murder the citizens of the hamlet. 

She held herself back, I presumed, to avoid slaughtering potentially innocent people. Mothers, fathers and children just trying to get by. But also because she knew full well that, in her current, emotional state she might succumb to a mad rage that cruel processions had given to her - unable to stop. Not only at them, but also at us.

Shthelith and I made the wise decision to stay quiet, lest we fuel her anger.

Back in the sepulchre, our remarks had already beckoned her to fury. As such, there was no telling as to what her current attitude of loathing could invoke. She had grown mighty, after all.


In an effort to break the uncomfortable silence that hence unfolded, I questioned Shthelith about the possible destinations available to us from this point forward:

"Where will we go now?", I asked, knowing of at least three different places we must visit in order to break the seal on the Old Word. But most importantly, our rations were depleted, our dresses ripped to shreds in response to the fight prior. Without sufficient protection and empty stomachs, the three of us could not hope to last a single day in these conditions. 


"I ponder…", Shthelith mumbled to himself before inhaling audibly, "I deem it best we head to my abode first. Ye armours are compromis'd. Methinks Shthelith hath a smattering of spare garbs for you both to wear over those tatters. As for provisions…".

He paused, his expression churning to display a hint of sorrow in his eyes. "I believe thou must procure it from the locals. By… trade, mind thee". He subtly gestured over to my gladius.


Nephethys and I understood what the queer elf sought to tell us and we worried profoundly at its meaning. But was it truly a moral dilemma if we took food from extradimensional mer? Before I could finish my thoughts that no doubt would have led me to despair, fragile as my mind had become, Shthelith fortunately interrupted them by burdening me with the task.

"Thou'rt an able swordsman, Thorus. And thy past accomplishments against the unsightly beasts of these lands permit thee to… collect in the manner I suggest."


He spoke truthfully. It was obvious to the townspeople that, after the commotion that was caused within the chapel - twice, no less - we emerged victorious from the battles. This of course would instill fear into the hearts of the residents, making them easy sources of resources I presumed. However, I would go on to do everything I could to persuade the people rather than threatening them.


"And we shall make our way to my house. I will bestow upon thee sacred garments for thee to cover thy skin. Amongst other things", Shthelith said to the scantily clad Dunmer woman, eyeing her up and down to suggest less mentionable parts of Nephethys' body that got exposed during the fights, her armour in no way suitable to withstand another hit, much less to conceal her body.

She looked at him with curiosity in her eyes for a moment, probably wondering about the other things, but agreed in the end.


As I watched my companions wander off, I took hold of my blade once more. I will, however, spare you the details of the following endeavor. Most of the locals were surprisingly cooperative. Some out of terror and fright, others due to nigh jubilation at the current state of affairs. But then there were those whom I had to murder for they assaulted me before I could even knock at their doors. To me, this was a gruesome task to carry out. I had seen enough bloodshed already and I felt that every elf I killed to sustain myself and my group took away from my conscience. 


I took as much as I was able to fit into my pockets and pouches. Though, the items designated for consumption were of extraordinary ilk. Fruit of alien shape and smell, coloured like mouldy apples and stale bread. Afore prepared items of foreign appearance. Steaming slop with weird clumps, squishy, almost wet bread. Nothing I've ever seen on Nirn compares to these, I'm afraid. In most cases, I was not even sure of the edibility of the items I took. Thankfully, I knew who could tell nourishment from poison.

I reckon the most normal thing was baked scavenger meat alongside some grilled vegetables that at least didn't look like they've been laying in the sun for a few decades.


When I returned from my gathering trip to finally arrive at Shthelith's house, I beheld a most peculiar scene after I entered. Rather serenely, Nephethys, clad in one of the holy robes of the Aímamer, levitated just a few centimetres above the floor in the centre of the room while our friendly blood elf gave her instructions on how to perform what I assumed to be a spell of some kind. It seemed that I was a bit late, for she already came down again and I missed whatever incantation it was that he taught to her. A pool of blood to her feet told of a sinister kind of magic though.

"Magnificent!", Shthelith exclaimed with much joy and to my personal dismay. If a person of his standards deems something grand, it surely must be something portentous. 


I inspected the Dunmer more closely. In doing so, I took note of a few things that would come to bother me in the days ahead.

Her skin appeared to have lightened into a more ashen shade of grey than the usual anthracite colouring. And while the ceremonial robe she wore was sure to prevail much better in terms of physical protection against possible hazards, covering up the blades that made up her legs, it also seemed to 'pierce' her flesh in places. Likely, I inferred, to amplify the strength of magics related to, or relying on, blood.

But what upset me the most was her expression whenever she wielded these detestable powers. She was never her usual self when she drew from these forces. I was aware that this change only occurred when she engaged in hemomancy, yet I feared Nephethys might opt to prefer this kind of weapon over others which might alter her personality at length.


I admitted it to myself - I was deathly afraid of losing her to madness and bloodlust. But at the same time, I had to also admit to the fact that this 'new' Nephethys was radiant with a strange kind of allure alongside the feel of a majestic presence.

Before long, the mystical energy faded and she returned to normal again.


"I can see thou'rt disturb'd, Thorus", Shthelith chimed in, "But affrighted thou must not be, forwhy I only seek to embolden this one's corpus and spirit to awaken the greatness within her".

All of a sudden, I caught myself questioning the Aímamer's true motivations. I knew that he posed an indisposable asset for his knowledge of the land. Moreover, our chances of survival were greatly increased the more members our group contained. Nonetheless, I could not help but to become sceptical of his doings. He clearly must have seen the drastic changes that Nephethys undergoes whenever he taught her something new.


Before I could begin my counter argument, Nephethys broke the silence my long-lasting thinking brought about. 

"I think you should don some new robes, Thorus. Oh, and I see you've brought us provisions as well! I believe we're ready to continue our journey then."


I didn't respond. An inaudible, disappointed sigh escaped my mouth as I unravelled the different kinds of queer food I had acquired. The two of them were impressed and, after Shthelith had thoroughly evaluated the contents of my booty, he remarked that this should last us a couple of days.

Before long, he beckoned me to his side. I knew what was about to happen. But I didn't know if I would feel at all comfortable in the garments that I should soon wear. I was knowing of the benefits these robes would provide - much needed camouflage in a world filled with blood drunk madmen and added, physical protection to make up for my own, tattered garb. But at the same time I felt strangely alienated as soon as I exchanged my coat, once a sign of a prestigious servant to the Empire, for the red fabric of the blood elves.


Shthelith and Nephethys no doubt could see just how uncomfortable I was as I wriggled my arms through the semi-rigid sleeves when I fancied I felt a slight tug at some of my hairs, most likely getting caught within the cloth.

My companions did not comment on my struggle, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that they harboured internal amusement at the sight of my coarse movement. 

I grew taciturn when I discovered a small slash mark on the robe that I donned, instantly arresting my attention to yet another harrowing truth I did not want to know. For amidst the slight damage in my attire I spotted several strands of white protruding from the hole.


All of a sudden it became abundantly clear why the entire garb felt awfully mouldy, furthermore explaining the rigidity of the cloth.

It was soaked in blood.


A wave of sickness swept over me, crashing into my gut as my skin was covered in sanguine mould. I did my very best to hide what horror my eyes would have usually given away but I failed quite spectacularly. Frenzied, I tore open the garb and threw it onto the floor. Under heavy breathing, I stared at my fellows and proclaimed: "I am not wearing that". Shthelith, taken back by my reaction but speechless in return, only nodded in acknowledgement and slowly handed me my seriously compromised coat.


What worried me more so than having come into physical contact with the abundantly sullied fibre was that Nephethys seemed to be absolutely uncaring in respect to what bestial processes must have been required in order to make that robe. I was tempted to advise against it, but the way in which she revelled in it was intimidating, to say the least. Perhaps, I thought, the rite conducted on her did not only enable her progressing attunement to the resident hemomancy but also would cause her to adopt the ways of the aímeri people to a terrifying extent. Or the alterations to her magical resonance, even, could be held responsible for the indifference she was increasingly prone to display towards otherwise frowned upon methodologies one does not experience on Nirn - at least, not that I know of.


I never told her what I felt in that moment. What innermost apocalypse was wrenching my heart out to bear witness to a thing to be described almost as treachery if not for her tragic unawareness of the state of things. I should have taken the risk. I should have told her. What was the worst, possible consequence? An argument? Violence? Maybe even death? It does not matter. But in hindsight I believe that an early demise would have spared me the details that were yet to unfold. Albeit I could not tell where my soul would go if I was to die in that place. But somehow, the idea of it, as it now crosses my mind, seems like a viable option to rid myself of these dark truths.


Before long, I caught myself looking profusely for excuses to the Dunmer's worsening state of mind. Even the Dark Brotherhood drew its line somewhere and I felt that this line had been crossed one too many times along the way. I knew that I was the one to consume human flesh, but she was the one to partake in unholy communion and a bloody baptism. 


After I dressed again in my usual attire, even if the Garb was somewhat chafed, Shthelith proposed we take action and begin to plan a route through the ravaged lands of the painted world. 

"I propose", Shthelith began, "to venture to the forest first. Frome there leadeth a path to get to our other destinations". He grabbed an empty piece of parchment from the nearby table and scrawled upon it a crude map, marking the locations of interest.

And it was true, such was the most logical route to be taken.


The Aímamer laid his index finger on the central point of the map - the aímeri hamlet where we were then. He slid his finger along the paper to show us that the cove, as he called it, lay directly to the east of our position. His fingertip then traveled down to point at the forest whereby he explained that we should go southeast instead, to the Decaying Woods, tapping multiple times on the spot. He further elaborated that heading there first would enable us to follow a long path, moving in a semi-circle around the closed off city of Bendicia. 


From the forest we would head north to the cove. From the cove, we were to then take a road that led further up north into the mountains, make a left and proceed west to an area Shthelith referred to as Hema's Peak. From the mountain top we'd then traverse the path down to the south, passing the 'Dripping Mounds' to circle back eastward to arrive at Bendicia with all three seals in hand.

A sound strategy.


The three of us could prepare for the oncoming adventure without further incident. And even though my garb was severely compromised, everything was better than to wear the sullied robes that Nephethys donned, although at that point I still had hope that she only did it because her very own armor had become quite revealing after the latest battles. I still retained some faith.




We had gathered the supplies we required for the trip to the woods. We all stood in front of the door to the outside. 

We knew where we needed to go, but the resolve to actually take the first step had yet to present itself. A queer thought crossed my mind at that moment. It was the impression that, maybe, we might be able to make a living here. To stop pursuing that mad lord and to try and circumvent the grave dangers of these lands and live together - or in coexistence - with the Aímamer people. 


I had already gone past the point of tolerable torture. I would have given anything for a chance to spare myself from the terror that was omnipresent in this world. I was tired, exhausted. Barely able to formulate a clear thought at times. Alas, I realized that resignation was out of the question. Forwhy as deeply as I desired to halt and not face what there still was to come, I wanted to go home just as much.


I inhaled deeply, pushing out a troubled sigh. 

Driven by a longing homesickness just as much as by a certain responsibility regarding my duties, I broke the silence and proclaimed it be time to go. Nephethys nodded, and Shthelith agreed rather gleefully. 

The feeble, wooden door swung open to reveal the dry sands once more to announce our advent.

We made for the Decaying Woods that lay situated near the shore to the southeast. Within, it was said, stood the proud fort of the Undead King, Shthelith explained. 


"He hath not always been the Undead King", the blood elf elaborated, "In fact, the forest used to be a lush copse once. Beautiful greenery and gay flower beds around a crystal clear stream that kaleidoscopically reflected the heavenly rays of an incandescent sun, bathing everything in a lustre most entrancing".

We wandered a few minutes until we saw the wood's outskirts and the first sets of dry, leafless trees came into view.


"What happened?", Nephethys inquired, giving away her concern with the wrinkles on her forehead. 

"Methinks I remember something about a terrible curse the King was afflicted with. If thou gazest across the horizon, thou mayst notice ruins of wooden huts that lay scatter'd among the stumps. For the King us'd to have a people he rul'd. But the curse took a hold of all and the King, together with his people, fell to a sickness most ravenous".

He paused for a moment and appeared to be suppressing a smile. 

"Now, all that's left are the undead husks that roameth the rotted copse. And the King, who awaiteth oblivion in his burg", he then closed in a manner similar to the old grandfather who would tell a story to his grandchildren. 


As Shthelith finished his sentence we were slowly approaching the thorny branches and collapsed huts. Indeed, if he spoke the truth, this place might very well be infested with the unliving. At least a change of pace, diverting from all the blood and flesh we had witnessed.


We walked further and began to scout out the entrance. As it was, these woods appeared to be an enclosed space underneath an open sky as the edges were lined with thick roots overgrown with spiky flora that would permit us no entry.

"It was not always like this", the blood elf enunciated. 

"One us'd to be able to enter the copse even without the path that leadeth to the fort and its village. But since the curse…".

Shthelith stopped as if it bothered him to talk about the curse that had befallen the King and his people. 

"Ah, it matters not. I believe the entrance lieth just a small ways over yonder", he pointed a little off to the left of the wild growths.


There appeared out of nowhere an opening within the thicket that so opaquely clouded our view. In the distance, only a dilapidated tower could be seen, emerging from the skeletal silhouettes of death and decay.

"There it is!", Nephethys called out to us, quite oblivious to the fact that the rest of us had already spotted it.

"Careful now", Shthelith admonished with his index finger. "Ye do not want to fall victim to the lurking adversity".

He explained to us that the Undead King wasn't called as such for nothing and, although he had never been there himself, the Decaying Woods retained a high probability of being the home to a few dozen undead as well.


Out of curiosity, still walking towards the opening in the wall of roots and thorns, I asked Shthelith about the nature and race of the undead that might encroach upon us.

"Tell me, Shthelith, who lived here once? Was it blood elves like you?".

"Ther once dwelt a race of humans if my memory doth abandon me not. The King is not of elven blood and never was."

Humans! Unbelievable. All that time, I thought the Aímamer were the only ones hardy enough to survive in such a world. But then I distinctly remembered him telling me something about a different time where this realm was, supposedly, habitable. Perhaps, I mused quietly, this forlorn race of humans, whoever they might have been, was not cursed after all. Maybe the entire world around them was doomed to rot instead, dragging this civilisation down with it. After all, I had thus far encountered no evidence of there ever not having been hardships, so this struck me as rather odd.


On the other hand, if he spoke the truth, how could he know, yes indeed, remember this time period? I know elves live exceedingly long lives, but whenever this time was, it must have been thousands of years ago. 

In our current situation, for the time being, I opted to focus my mind on the task at hand notwithstanding the strangeness of his memory.


There soon lay before us a clearing amongst spiky shrubs and uninviting bushes. Inspecting them, I noted to myself that the curse that had befallen this region must have been the most terrible thing of its time. The presumably once green branches were sickly warped, elongated, curling in on themselves in a manner similar to dying and decomposing plants but incredibly tough in their rottenness. Although all of the bitterly twisted shrubbery appeared rather dry and easily flammable as a result, walking in betwixt them to gain entry into the woods proper revealed that they were quite durable as was evidenced by my foolishness of trying to step through one of the bushes in my path only to stumble, fall and ricochet off of it, groaning in pain as I was brought to the ground with a few bruises. 


"Turns out even nature herself is irreconcilable in this place" I cursed before I lifted myself onto my own two feet again.

"I implored thee to exercise caution!" Shthelith remarked, scolding me for my carelessness. His voice echoed through the armies of dead trees. The three of us stopped to listen and involuntarily scanned the area to suddenly feel intimidated by our surroundings. 

The great, foreign growth of wood and bark stood tall, their crowns blotting out the sky. The further we peered, the darker it got while above us the branches loomed like the boney fingers of a lich, waiting to devour our souls, lending credit to the oppression with which the flora, corrupted as it was, had overtaken most of the landscape. 

The shadows that were cast ran across the ground like veins of pure darkness that led to a black, foetid heart. This place was accursed - and there was no denying it.


Slowly, carefully, we trod the path deeper into the forest. A few dried remnants of what at some point had surely been flowers lined the road here and there. Adding to the generally uncomfortable atmosphere was that we heard naught but our own footsteps as our boots pushed away the dirt to form tiny dust clouds that persisted in the air for the lack of wind.

However, all of a sudden, Shthelith motioned for us to stop.

"Methinks there happen'd a noise", he whispered. 

"I hear it, too", Nephethys noddingly confirmed. Only I appeared to be deaf in that instance. "Don't you hear it, Thorus?". 

"Hear what?". Shthelith interrupted. "The tree bark. It creaketh quite noisily, ever more intense by the second. This should not be."


Shthelith reminded us that this forest is supposed to be completely devoid of life. Even if living carcasses were rumoured to inhabit this place, such entities tend to lie in stillness rather than roam about. And they certainly would not produce a sound reminiscent of creaking wood. Together with the apparent absence of wind, any sound apart from our own should have been impossible. 

A cold shudder permeated my very fabric, being even more at unease than previously. Whereas before I would fear the uncanny stillness, now I wondered what might be hiding amidst the tyranny of putrescent wood.

The further we went, the louder it became, until we almost stood right next to the source of the sound. The three of us snuck past some obstructive foliage to reveal what still dwelt here, capable of producing any audible noises at all. Only, it seemed as if the tree itself emitted the confusing tones.


We gently approached it. I stretched out my hand to touch it's slightly moving bark, caressing the rough surface of its protective shell. Without being forewarned, the tree went silent. The soft vibrations that its movement caused ceased.

Nephethys already inhaled to probably berate me for breaking something but before she could formulate even a single word, her mouth remained agape in complete shock at the vista that unfurled before her eyes.

She only managed to motion me to look up. When I did, I understood her sudden taciturnity.


Several worn nooses were attached to the dry branches of the tree top. All of these nooses were occupied by rotting corpses that hung down from each of them. 

I watched as the crown descended unter a raucous rustling and the wheezes of the undead whose slumber we appear to have disturbed.

I stood directly next to the tree as the mass of bodies violently collided with the floor, causing unholy groans and audibly broken bones, yet missing me entirely for my proximity to its source but prompting Shthelith and Nephethys to jump to either side in order to avoid getting hit. 

Whatever it was these things could do, none of us wanted to find out.


As the tree stood erect once again, and the bewildered eyes of my companions reflected the disturbing scenery, it shook its crown with vigour for several, screaming undead to tumble downward.

The mortifying wails seemed to 'alert' other trees of its ilk all over the area and it became unmistakably apparent that these twisted mutations were abundant in numbers.

The first few bodies hit the floor with the visceral sounds of sickening gurgles and crushed flesh. We realized that the stumbling husks of what once were men outnumbered us greatly so that even our combined combat prowess would not suffice to put so much as a dent into their forces.

Soon thereafter, the entire forest was alive with gasping, gurgling and screaming while the trees sang their infernal tune that foretold incredible disaster should we not be moving soon.


We needed to get away - and fast. A single thought, transmitted between us without words at the unfolding catastrophe, lit the fuse for us to begin running for our lives in unison.

We couldn't afford to back away for yet more terrible,  floral nightmares would await us if we were to turn back. The only direction was forward. We dashed forth, hearts pumping, adrenaline surging, to leave the moving corpses in the dust of our trail. Ever deeper, the light began to gradually fade as the whirling branches, alive with lethal misintent, attempted to get a hold of us or whip us to shreds. 

We didn't peek behind us but I distinctly heard how the trees hurled the screeching bodies in our direction, only to crash into the corruption-soaked floor. Rotting carcasses would fly by in front of us as the other towering trees threw them our way. It was utter chaos.


We went deeper still, after a time, passing by and dodging innumerable undead on the way, as we noticed the vile growths decreasing in frequency and the disgusting noises to become quieter.

Yet further, darkness claimed its throne as all we saw were silhouettes of portentous implication against the tenebrous backdrop of the copse. Here, light could not enter, and we once again found ourselves in shadow, fleeing from a force we could not control. We soon lost our way. Lacking any point of reference, I was unable to reliably say just where we were situated - or how far we had been straying off the beaten path.

With the way back unclear and overrun by undeath we could only move further into the brooding darkness ahead.


When all was silent again, Nephethys conjured up an orb of light to reveal our path. And by this light was it that we made a discovery, our next destination for a lack of alternatives. Forwhy amidst the decaying shrubs there lay a settlement, forgotten, forsaken, dead.



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