A Game of Cat and Mouse
Narova could feel the aspen grove alive beneath her.
All of the roots were entwined under the earth—every trunk like a finger of some enormous, bark-wrapped hand of Nirn. She rubbed her palm against one patch of white wood and felt every tree nearby shudder from the touch.
The aspen’s knew what she was. The darkness grafted against her bones made them uncomfortable.
She couldn’t blame them.
“Didn’t have much choice coming her, I’ll try to be on my way soon,” she whispered to them. Then gave it some thought. “Or I’ll be dead, and you can relax.”
Narova blinked around the forest at random for an hour or two, trying to get a lay of the land.
To the north, the ground was riddled with sharp, rocky slabs that protruded from the ground like the spines of whales humping up from the sea. It was good terrain for Narova—she’d be able to teleport from shelf to shelf while Vergun was left struggling for purchase.
To the east, everything turned into a wild tangle of vines and moss. Something about it was strange—all that overgrowth in an aspen forest. It smelled like a bunch of Spriggans had been fucking each other for months—filling the air with their musty spores.
Who knows, maybe they had.
The south was problematic. Down there, the aspens ruled, but they were so close together that blinking was difficult. One mistake, and Narova would impale herself on a trunk.
She did not like the idea of being killed by a tree.
Lord Vergun was pretty easy to track—he was sweaty and loud and he moved with the single-minded assurance of a person who was following a Clairvoyance spell, rather than actually doing the work himself. Narova could only imagine what all of her blinking was doing to that purple trail he relied upon.
But vexing the Thalmor Lord was one thing. Killing him would be quite another.
Narova decided to take things one step at a time.
She found a rock that had good balance and fit well in her hand—there was a small groove where her middle finger fit. Then she sniffed the air and got a fix on Vergun. He was about four miles south of her, moving east.
Tossing the rock from one hand to the other, Narova moved to a short little clearing in the aspen forest where one tree had died and gone to rot. She took a running start, winding up and preparing to throw the rock as hard she could through the air.
Right before the rock left her fingertips, she blinked and appeared three feet in front of Vergun.
The stone careened off Vergun’s left temple, knocking him backwards and breaking his flesh. But a cheap shot like that wasn’t going to put a Thalmor Lord on the defensive. Vergun quickly regained his balance and spun into a vicious counterattack that would have cut Narova in half if it had connected.
But the Bosmer disappeared in a patch of inky blackness. Murasame cut only air.
In moments, Vergun’s eye had swelled up so bad that the left side of his vision was nothing more than a shadowy blur. Gray shapes and painful bends of light. Agony spilled over his face and looped around his ear. Vergun wondered if his skull was cracked.
He found a cool strip of moss near a creek bed and pressed it against his head. Three seconds of relief, then the thumping pain came back. Worse than before, it seemed like.
He figured Narova would try to toy with him like this for a while, wear him down. It was a decent idea, all things considered.
Vergun surveyed his surroundings. There was plenty to work with: the creek, a whole copse of thick aspens, and plenty of mud. He cut down one of the trees with Murasame so that the trunk rose to eye level. Then he removed his breastplate, gloves, and greaves. Strapped them all to the tree, using two long branches as fake arms.
In nothing but his leather pants and boots—which he knew must have looked ridiculous—Vergun lathered himself with mud until he looked like some kind of Dunmer-Redguard abomination. The only thing missing was the red eyes.
At least his scent was hidden. There was nothing to compete with the sweaty insides of his armor.
Vergun tucked himself into a hollow on the far side of the creek and waited for that hissing sound.
Two hours later, it came.
Narova could not have appeared in a better spot: on the far side of the creek with her back to Vergun. She materialized and threw another rock, apparently figuring the first one had performed so well, there was no reason to experiment with new tactics.
The rock thumped into the trunk right above his breastplate. It would probably have knocked all of his teeth out if his face had been there. Instead there was a hollow knocking noise and a shower of bark. Narova’s entire body tightened as she realized what had happened.
Vergun bolted out of the hollow and threw Murasame end over end as hard as he possibly could.
The sword cried out in a whirlwind song—cutting air with an elemental kind of speed. Vergun had killed fifteen men this way. The force of the blow was so great that the victims simply exploded—flesh and organs and armor blasting off in different directions.
The throw was true. Narova’s back was still turned. Vergun awaited the impending elf-detonation.
But at the last second, Narova tensed up and splayed out the fingers on her left hand. Murasame flew wide, chopping into the copse of aspens and crushing them like a boar running through some river reeds. At least sixty paces of trees were reduced to splinters.
Vergun expected Narova to blink away again, but instead she turned around and very calmly drew that puny steel dagger from the leather scabbard at the small of her back. It looked like a fingernail compared to Murasame.
But, of course, Murasame was a hundred strides away and buried in the earth.
Narova was pretty sure she’d broken her wrist casting that telekinesis spell. Gods, he’d thrown that sword hard. She wanted to blink away. Every instinct she had was screaming at her—telling her the mud-covered Altmer in front of her was too dangerous.
But he had no armor and he had no sword. It wasn’t going to get any easier than this.
“My information was correct,” Vergun said in that polite, infuriating tone of his, “your Alteration skills are quite formidable. I’m not sure the Archmage himself could have diverted Murasame like that.”
“Couldn’t say,” Narova replied, taking a few steps towards Vergun and checking the landscape for traps. “I never threw a sword at the man.”
Vergun shrugged. “I assume you’ll attempt to kill me now. Pity, I was looking forward to a protracted game of cat and mouse in the woods.”
“Cat and mouse is for pussies.”
Narova bolted forward, dagger held firm in a reverse grip. Teeth bared and muscles tight.
She attacked low, but Vergun knew what was coming. He kept his balance, didn’t commit to a block. Narova blinked at the last second and reappeared high over Vergun’s left shoulder, blade coming down for a killing stroke across his neck.
Vergun blocked with his left arm—letting the dagger sink deep into his forearm muscle—and then punched Narova directly in the face.
Her dagger cut deep and then everything turned red. A heartbeat later Narova was on the ground, back all scraped up by rocks and her dagger lost.
On instinct she blinked to a thick branch on a tall tree. When she looked down, Vergun was stomping onto the place her head used to be. His metal boot shattered rock and sent a splitting roar through the aspen grove.
Narova shook her head clear. Noticed the glimmer of a piece of steel amidst the wreckage. It was Vergun’s sword.
She did not have time to think twice.
Vergun heard two hisses before the dust from his stomp had settled. He did not need to turn around to know what Narova had done.
As soon as she touched the sword’s grip, a thousand grating voices filled her head. The words crunched around her skull as if her brain was being rolled in glass.
Tree-fucking bitch. Let go! Release me you whore of the forest! I’ll boil your insides and use your skull as a hat! Leeeeeet meeeeee gooooo you biiiiiitch!
Narova started screaming almost immediately, but she didn’t let go. That surprised Vergun. The only other person to try and wield Murasame against his will had dropped the sword a second later and popped his own eyes out. Then he’d begged Vergun to kill him.
It takes a certain type of person to withstand the power inside that blade.
Every muscle in Narova’s body tensed. She hefted the sword with considerable effort—her tattoos writhing against her naked flesh, giving her a burst of strength. Then she turned towards him.
“Your sword’s a fucking asshole,” she said. Then blinked.
Vergun was so surprised the she hadn’t been put into a coma that he didn’t even try to dodge the cross-cut to his ribs when Narova materialized behind him. If Murasame had accepted Narova as his master, the blade would have cut him clean in half. Left a pair of feet standing there, pumping blood all over the forest.
But Murasame was not so easily swayed. The metal crunched through a rib, sawed through a bit of muscle, and then stopped. Not immediately fatal, but it was plenty painful.
Vergun yanked the dagger free from his forearm and slashed Narova across the collarbone—a sloppy attack, but a deep one.
Narova let go of the sword—hands steaming from the effort—and then blinked away.
She got as far from the sword as possible, but its words kept digging through her mind. Dwemer gears grinding down her thoughts. Over and over again for what felt like hours.
Slut of Sithis. Concubine of the darkness. You make me sick. I’m going to eat your entrails and puke them back down your throat!
“Get out of my head!” she screamed, hoping she had gotten far enough away so that Vergun wouldn’t hear her.
She pulled her mask off her face—blood waterfalling from her nose—and vomited on the ground. Then she jammed several handfuls of cold mud into the wound at her neck to stop the bleeding and curled up in a ball, waiting for the torment to end.
Hours later, when it was dark and the moon was high, the sword’s voices finally faded.
Narova started looking around for some Canis Root so she could disinfect the wound.
Vergun cleaned Murasame before he even looked at the gash in his ribcage. Again, he apologized for the rough treatment.
You let that animal touch me. I should have cut you in half.
“But you didn’t,” Vergun said. “And now we can kill her together.”
The sword did not respond.
Strange. Vergun didn’t know what that meant.