The Path of Violence
Lord Vergun spent the entire night stitching the wound in his stomach back together.
Murasame did not speak to him, but Vergun knew the massive blade was watching him struggle with the needle and thread. Probably judging his unskilled attempt at first aid.
Vergun didn’t really care. They’d once gone an entire decade without speaking after Vergun had—on a sudden whim—thrown Murasame into a passing Bull Netch. The creature had survived the attack somehow, and it had taken Vergun three weeks to track the Netch down and retrieve his sword.
When Murasame finally spoke to him again after those ten years of stony silence, it had been to tell Vergun he needed to join the Thalmor.
The wound vexed him greatly. There’d been a Thalmor wizard named Legothi who could have molded Vergun’s flesh back together with a quiet whisper and a finger motion. But Narova Black Hair had shot Legothi in the face two days ago.
Apparently, an arrow through the brain was was beyond the Wizard’s skill.
Vergun appraised his stitches by the light of dawn and figured they looked like a four year-old girl’s first attempt at sowing. He had devoted his entire life to the act of killing people. Endless training, tireless devotion. His path was one of violence. Guilt and remorse did not factor into things.
And Healing. That was a mystery to him.
For a long time, his Clairvoyance spell drove him in an unwavering line due east. Around mid-morning, Vergun began to hope that he’d managed to nick an artery in Narova’s neck and she’d bled out somewhere in the distance. Eating her heart would have been ideal, but the Bosmer’s corpse and bones would still have plenty of power in them if he reached her by nightfall.
And the bitch had proved to be extremely troublesome while warm blood was pumping through her veins. Vergun was not foolish enough to hope she’d still be alive and ready for another fair fight.
But that afternoon—just as Vergun had managed to goad himself into a half-jog, wincing at the stripe of pain across his stomach—the trail disappeared completely. The purple line vanishing like a low cloud burned up by the sun.
Vergun licked his lips and realized he hadn’t had anything to drink in about eight hours.
There was some water rushing up ahead, due north. He could hear it very clearly. Vergun took one thirsty step forward but was stopped by the familiar voice of Murasame ringing in his head.
Don’t be an idiot.
Vergun paused. Waited.
The trail disappears six-hundred paces from a river. You would take that as coincidence?
Vergun clenched his jaw and saw the merit to that logic. “I am open to other ideas,” he rasped quietly.
Loop around to the south. Then east again. And forget the fucking Clairvoyance. It is a crutch.
After a few moments of feigned deliberation, Vergun cracked his neck and headed off south. It was slow going—steep hills and tangled roots everywhere. Aspens so thick Vergun has to pull Murasame off his back on several occasions and clear a path.
And there was no water.
“If I die of thirst, you will be left to rust out here for all eternity,” Vergun said with a parched mouth.
I rust just like gods die—only under great duress. Anyway, eternity is a relative term.
Vergun let that sink in, irritated that the sword was probably telling the truth. The cruel length of steel had been forged by a deranged god, after all. Why shouldn’t it be immortal like them, too?
“Another master will never wield you as skillfully as me,” Vergun said, grunting as he forced himself up a rise. “That is not relative. That is just a fact.”
The sword was quiet for a while. Vergun smiled to himself.
There is a spring at the top of this hill.
He quickened his pace, and when Vergun reached the pale-blue pool—which was fenced in by a circle of bright green reeds—he dropped onto his stomach without hesitating and drank until the back of his skull hurt and he could feel the cold mud pressing through the seams in his armor.
Vergun stood up and wiped his mouth. Looked out over the other side of the hill. The Aspen forest stretched in all directions below him, and to the east there was a clearing in the trees and a fire. Vergun frowned, then watched as another fire sprung up a few miles away. Then another and another. Soon, there were dozens of dark smoke-pillars spoiling the placid panorama.
“What is happening?”
We have been deceived.
“We? You’re the idiot who told me to head south and….”
Vergun trailed off as a massive creature—taller than the highest tower in the Blue Palace of Solitude—humped into sight from behind a ridge. The creature looked like a colossal wolf walking on impossibly long legs. Roots curled and grew off its back. Ears like weasel ears.
That spring was full of Taproot. There will be hallucinations.
“For how long?” Already, there was a pack of the creatures crunching across the landscape, sniffing at the dozens of fires. One of them lifted a leg and pissed a yellow waterfall down into the forest. Trees were blown flat by the wake of the urine torrent.
Depends on how much you drank.
Vergun realized he was about to be in a very bad situation.
The aspens around him started to dance and shake, bouncing to a drum song that now pounded between Vergun’s ears. It was like the heartbeat of some monster. The heartbeat of Nirn herself.
And if Vergun was sure of anything in that moment, he was sure that the planet below him was lurid and horrific. A beast that needed slaying.
You must resist the visions, Murasame called, although now the blade’s grating voice sounded distant and weak. Soft almost. You must not lose control.
Vergun’s eyelid twitched and it felt like the world was splitting in half. He ran away—cutting through the forest with sweeping, wild attacks. He turned an entire side of the mountain into timber. The strange drumming noise lorded over his ears, the wolf-demons ruled his eyes. And the smell of a thousand corpses raked open and dumped on the soil filled his nostrils.
Vergun needed to kill it. Killing is the only thing he was good at.
A clearing came out of nowhere, all the sudden Vergun was trotting across black, loamy soil.
His path was clear.
Vergun stabbed deep into the earth with all of his strength. In a heartbeat, Murasame had disappeared into the ground, nothing but the silver tip of the grip showing. It only took four stomps of his foot to push that last glimmer of the demonic weapon out of sight.
It was then—when Vergun stood panting and exhausted, waiting for the planet below him to die—that Narova Black Hair appeared.
She was completely naked. Skin covered in a sheen of sweat. Her obsidian hair stretched down past her shoulders, cascading across the ground and forming a strange, silky river that seemed to flow in every direction at once.
The tattoos on her body writhed, and Vergun was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that he had never been alive at all—that his bones were filled with pus, his veins stuffed with sand. It seemed like the warm-blooded warrior named Lord Vergun was a fairy tale told to him by an idiot. He had not been smart enough to spot the lie.
Narova stepped forward, naked thighs and lithe torso shifting in the burning sunlight. Her eyes glowed purple and when she opened her mouth Vergun saw a ravenous murder of ravens fly from it.
“The Great Mother cannot be killed with a sword,” her voice rasped. Then she wove an endless strand of hair around one hand and tied it into a shining obsidian loop.
She stepped forward.
“But a noose will do for you.”