It struck me as I left Madanach's chamber that this would be the point where I stopped being an innocent prisoner. Grisvar might deserve what he was getting, but it was still murder. But it was also what my king asked me - ordered me - to do, and I was going to do it. Shortly after that, I caught sight of Runs-With-Sticks and waved him over.
"I'm looking for Grisvar the Unlucky," I said, my words hushed.
"Ohh, you don't want to see Grisvar. He's a creep, and what's worse, he's a snitch."
"He won't be a snitch any more once I've spoken with him," I answered flatly.
"Oh. Ohhhhh. This way then, follow."
I followed him through wending tunnels, splashed through an ankle-deep pool, and then climbed a large scaffold to access a tunnel perched at the top of another large cavern. At length, he Argonian stopped me, whispering.
"There, the blue one."
"Thank you," I said. "You better stay here... this is going to get messy." I hefted a pickaxe over my shoulder and walked casually into the little room. Grisvar was snacking on a loaf of bread, his eyes resting on a pretty blond man sitting at the lone table within.
"Grisvar?" I asked.
Somewhat to my surprise, far from meeting me with bravado, he moved his hands to hide his private parts from me.
"What are you doing all the way down here, little lady?" he asked. I think he was trying to sound menacing, but he just came off as weak and pathetic. I actually had second thoughts about killing him, just because he seemed so harmless.
But of course, he was harmless. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that his friends among the guards weren't, and they'd be all over us if he alerted them to the escape attempt. But I found myself drawing things out. We exchanged some small talk, then I asked him what he was in for.
That seemed to puff him up. He straightened, stopped hiding himself, and put his hands on his hips.
"Thieving," he said. "The first time. Second time was thieving too. Actually, all of them were thieving."
"And buggery," his companion added from the table.
"Aye," Grisvar conceded, "and buggery. Is that what brought you don't here, sweetie? Looking for some buggering?"
"It's tempting," I answered, "but I'm afraid not. Madanach asked me to have a chat with you."
That shook him, all the confidence instantly draining from his face. "No!" he yelped, "please don't kill me!"
I swung the pick down hard, biting into his torso and drawing a line across and down his body. A gout of blood followed the path of axhead, and behind that, the pink coils of Grisvar's guts spilled out.
Grisvar fell hard to the floor, thrashing and howling in agony. At first he tried to shovel his guts back into his body, but each time they slipped around his fingers and tumbled back out. At length, his howls turned to shrieks, and then finally to sobs. When the man started calling out for his mother, I couldn't take it anymore. I ended his suffering with a single blow, driving the pickaxe through his skull. His body jumped once, then lay still.
"The hunt is complete," rumbled the disembodied voice I'd heard earlier. "Now consecrate your hands with the blood of your prey."
At first I wasn't sure what to do. This new voice was not the soft, comforting tone of Dibella. It was intensely masculine, full of heat and passion. When it spoke, I felt as if my heard was resonating with it. Then, intuitively, I released the pickaxe I was still gripping in my right hand and walked around to the man's other side, where the pile of his guts lay strewn on the ground. I took one deep breath, then plunged my hands into the still-hot organs, up to my wrists.
Removing them, I held them up to the ceiling of the tunnel, and I heard the voice again.
"It is done. You are surrounded by the flesh that Dibella gave you. You are filled with the Teacher's children. And now your burning spirit is awakened, Avatar of Hrokkibeg."
I stood there for a moment, trying to fully understand the words I had heard within my mind, contemplating the slick red film that covered my hands. Then I realized that the man at the table was probably his friend. I turned, ready for a fight. I gripped the shaft of the axe and made ready to jar it free from the dead man's head, but before I finished the motion I realized that Grisvar's companion was still seated, shaking his head sadly.
"I warned the fool not to sell out to the guards. I knew this would happen to him eventually."
Bluntly I put the question to him. "Do I need to worry about turning my back on you?"
He sighed, and shrugged. "No, if it wasn't you, it would have been someone else. At least you had the kindness to not let him suffer too long."
That said, the man returned to his food, perhaps trying to smother his feelings before the loss of his friend - his lover? - overcame him.
I returned slowly, thinking over recent events. I felt as if I should have undergone some kind of immediate, visceral change when I killed in cold blood, but I still felt like... me. In a sense that relieved me, but it also deeply disturbed me. I wondered if I'd always been this person - this murderer - and I'd just not had the opportunity to realize it.
My stomach grumbled a few times on the way back, but I ignored it. Whatever hunger my body felt, my mind was too distracted to register. At length, I found myself back in the central cavern, and I turned to reenter Madanach's private tunnel. Passing the Beast, I paused, drawing close and looking into his eyes.
"Borkul," I said.
"You asked about my first time. I hated it."
"Was it just now?"
I nodded. I couldn't find the words to add more.
"You're honest. That's good. We all hate it. It'll get easier."
I patted the huge Orc on the bicep with my bloody palm. "I hope so," I said as I proceeded into Madanach's domain.
Reaching the king - my king - I held up my hands. "It's done," I said without fanfare.
Madanach let out a low whistle before saying, "then you've become one of us. Come with me. It's time I explain my plan to your and your brothers."
I followed him, finding the prisoners already assembled around the main fire. Madanach stood before them, addressing them in a strong, carrying voice.
"Brothers and sisters, we have been here too long. It's time we return to the fight against the Nords. For long years, my most trusted followers have excavated a hidden tunnel. A tunnel that leads directly to the dwarven ruins beneath Markarth and from there to the surface."
"What do you say, brothers? What do you say, sisters? Shall we take a trip to Markarth city and show them why they fear the Forsworn?"
Cheers greeted him. Cries of Forsworn! Forsworn! echoed in the chamber. Surely, I thought, the guards can hear this. And yet, no surge of armed mercenaries descended on us. Clearly Madanach had planned this moment in some detail. Perhaps the guards were changing shifts, or perhaps some distraction was afoot to draw them away. In either event, the prisoners eagerly cheered the king's plan.
"Then follow me!" he urged, leading the way towards his hidden tunnel.
True to his word, the tunnel opened first into a rocky passage and then into well-preserved dwarven ruins. Not just intact, but at least partly functional. Some of the prisoners ran ahead with urgency, disappearing around the twisting corners beyond, but I took a slower approach. I'd heard stories of these ruins, and I knew that they likely contained deadly traps. Mother and Jenassa padded along behind me, equally watchful.
"Keep an eye out for chests and boxes," Jenassa said, "you may find weapons or other tools that'll aid our escape."
Despite an attentive watch, we found neither traps nor treasure. Then Jenassa stopped me short, pointing.
"Over there," she said.
I approached the subject of her warning, finding a dense ball of silk loosely attached to the wall with countless fine threads.
"Giant spiders," the Dunmer explained. "Keep aware of what's above you. They'll ambush you if you walk beneath their nests."
I felt oddly at ease. It was a strange sensation, a real feeling that I wasn't in danger at all. We pressed on, noting more and more cobwebs cluttering the corners of the hall. Then, I saw another egg sac, this one split open and revealing darkness within. I felt a strong urge to examine it closer.
"Daughter, is that safe?" Edippa asked.
"Delve deep, my student, and find my gifts," a female voice whispered in my mind.
Student? The odd turn of phrase stood out to me. I whispered, almost silently, "are you the Teacher?"
"Yes. Another one of my students met their fate here and fed my children within that sac. Only a small trinket remains. Take it. It is yours."
"I think there is something in there," I said in answer to my mother's concern. Then I leaned forward over the lip of the split sac, reaching in and probing with my hands.
I withdrew a few fibrous spheres, eggs I suspected, and found a pile of bones within. Still, I was certain I saw a glint of reflection off of something deeper within. I leaned in further, searching, trying to find what was drawing me.
Then I felt a tight pinch against my chest. I pulled back sharply, emerging back into the flickering light of the ruin. While the immediate pain was already gone, I felt an ongoing soreness from my breasts. Looking down, I saw the source of the discomfort - tiny gemstone flakes, ruby at a guess, were now attached to my nipples by blackened metal chain links. Ebony, maybe. An experimental tug proved that the final chain line was solid, running right through my sensitive flesh and coming out the other side.
"Ahh," I hissed as I tugged again, and Mother appeared at my side to examine what I had found.
"Interesting. Those stones are flakes of soul gem. They likely hold some kind of lesser soul and possess magical properties. You'll only hurt yourself if you try to take them out now. Leave them be and we'll investigate once we escape."
We delved deeper, remaining on guard. Jenassa's warning about spiders proved correct, for as we passed through a larger chamber several of the monsters attempted to catch us in an ambush from both sides. The many-legged creatures were the size of small horses, and armed only with pickaxes and improvised knives we had to make a fighting retreat, striking at them until we were back in a more narrow passage and could press back. Eventually we struck down both of them, afterwards discovering that we'd been very lucky and no one had been harmed.
Pressing back into the chamber, another spider attempted to attack us from above, but this time we were well prepared and quickly struck it down. As green ooze slid from the fallen creature, I looked left and right, up and down, for any sign of further threats. But if there'd been more spiders in the chamber, they had chosen to withdraw rather than challenge us a third time.
Now the problem that faced us was where to go next. Stairs led from the cavern on our right, but only led us to a dead end when we found the doorway at their head was collapsed. Likewise, a dirt mound on the left seemed to lead away from the chamber, but it soon narrowed beyond our ability to squeeze through. When I wiggled my way out of the crevasse, I found Jenassa examining a long stretch of worked marble that formed one of the walls.
"I believe..." she started, drawing out her words, "that this is part of the city foundations. If we follow it, then... yes, here," she pointed to a break in the way, almost entirely hidden by gloom and shadows.
"Through here," she said, leading the way within. We followed and quickly found ourselves in a zig-zagging series of narrow passageways.
These led, in time, to a set of stairs and then into a larger, much less decayed chamber. But I also heard a wheezing, hissing noise that I recognized from a past encounter. Crouching down, I whispered to my companions. "There," and I pointed to a brass sphere, occasionally emitting puffs of steam.
"A Dwarven soldier. We have to proceed slowly and quietly. Don't let it see us."
Slowly, so excruciatingly slowly, we crept, as the soldier hummed and vibrated and puffed steam. Whether by talent or just by luck however, it never unfolded to attack us. Finally, we reached the far side of the chamber... and a precipice. As the others pulled up alongside, we started down at the long fall.
"At least there's water at the bottom," Mother commented.
Runs-With-Sticks studied our surroundings for a moment before shrugging. "It looks like the only way is down."
I glanced to each of my companions and we all nodded in agreement. After a final hesitation, we leapt from the stone platform and fell down into the water. The pool was shallow, but not so much so that it didn't break our fall. Taking a moment to regain our feet, I looked around and then pointed.
"Mother, I think those are potion vials."
"Yes," she agreed, then added, "there might be more forgotten treasures there. Let's investigate. Carefully."
The pickings were slim, but not a complete waste of our time. Most of the room's 'treasures' were ordinary goods - forks, knives, plates, and pots. But we found a few ancient dwarven coins, more potions, and a violet gemstone. Like my newly acquired piercings, it was a soul gem.
Jenassa considered what we'd found. "The potions are useful, but the rest might as well be trash unless we can escape."
Still, we'd found a small box amidst the clutter and we filled it up with the assorted junk. Runs-With-Sticks volunteered to carry it, and proceeded to heft it up in his arms as we emerged from the pool.
Beyond this final chamber, the ruins quickly decayed back into dirt and rock. In the distance, I heard a woman's voice.
"Madanach, I brought what you asked for."
"Good work!" the king's voice answered. "Wait a moment while I have a word with our favorite outsider."
And then, in a surge, we were surrounded by the other escapees, slapping backs and offering congratulations on our successful escape. Many of them were pulling on hides and armor, and checking weapons. Madanach approached, pointing to a woman at his side.
"I had Kaie recover all the things the Nords stole from you. They're in these travel packs. But our wise women have also sent a special gift for you."
Flora approached then, holding six leather loops in her hand. "These straps are imbued with the power of the Old Gods," she explained. "These two go on your ankles. They will soften your steps and toughen your feet against sharp rocks and twigs. You will be able to run barefoot anywhere, just as fast as if you wore boots.
Needing little further explanation, I slipped them on, and immediately my the raw and abused soles of my feet felt refreshed.
"Next, these go on your biceps. They will strengthen and steady your grip, so with a bow you can sent your arrows further and with truer aim."
Again, I tied them fast.
"Finally, these go just above your knees," she said, offering the last two straps. "They will quicken the birth of the Teacher's children, and let you harness their power."
I took them and started to tighten them, but as I worked I asked, "three times now, I've heard the Teacher's children mentioned. What does that---- urk---" As I pulled the second strap tight, I doubled over as a wave of cramping ran all along my belly.
"Daughter? Daughter!" Edippa called out as I rolled onto my back, hugging myself tightly. I felt as if my insides were alive, moving of their own accord.
Again, rhythmic cramps ran along my body, and I felt as if my bowels were filling, bloating, screaming for release. Finally, I couldn't hold it in, and when the next set of contractions struck I felt a slimy mass of blood, mucus, and silk gush out of my back passage and spill onto the cold stone. And then... I felt the legs.
Thousands of them, it seems, climbing over my body swiftly, shifting, settling, hanging on to me. Groaning with the effort, I rolled onto my knees and looked at the mass of spiders - some tiny, some less so - covering my body like a blanket.
Flora gasped, her face lighting with wonder. "The Teacher truly favors you. Know this, avatar of Hrokkibeg, whenever your foes threaten you, you may call forth the Teacher's children, and they will destroy everyone, everything that threatens you. Their venom is infused with the fire that burns within you, and you will be an unstoppable force."
I rose then, the mass of spiders clinging to me firmly, but not biting or harming me in any way. As I stood, examining myself, I felt a hand defly unlock my collar and ankle bindings, letting them fall to the ground.
Just as I was testing just how well the ankle straps protected my feet, my head swam and the masculine voice returned. "Now accept my sign, avatar. All will know you bear my blessing."
I clapped my hands to the back of my head, but they were soon pushed away by a dense mass, springing forth with unnatural speed and power. But not pain. Instead, it was an almost orgasmic experience. Deep waves of pleasure radiated from my head all down my body. My vision blurred as I felt the weight on my head increase steadily, and I heard Mother gasp in surprise.
When the sensation finally faded, I reached around and felt carefully. What I discovered was a rack of bony antlers protruding from my skull just behind and above my ears.
"What is this?" I gasped.
Flora started at me, evidently just as impressed. "This is the mark of Hircine. You are truly the avatar of Hrokkibeg, one of his five great aspects."
Madanach, who had been watching the whole affair, seemed equally impressed. Nevertheless, he urged us back to our purpose. "We must go," he said. "There's a city that needs to learn that its king has returned."
It was night when we finally emerged from the ruins. While the populus was not present to witness Madanach's return, the city guard certainly was. And at their head, Thonar Silver-Blood.
"You'll pay for what you've done to my family," the man was shouting towards Madanach as I came into earshot.
"Your family?" Madanach countered, "how many Reachmen's families have died under the swords of Silver-Blood mercenaries or in the depths of Silver-Blood mines? You have no one to blame for the misfortune of your family but yourself."
That was apparently enough for Thonar. "Kill them!" he ordered, and the city guard descended on the escapees. The melee commenced almost immediately. Steel swords cut at naked flesh, while masses of bodies pushed armored men to the cobblestones and held them fast for knives and picks to do their work. Thonar, struck by a shock of magical force, staggered backwards and fell to his knees as a cordon of guards closed around him protectively.
I pushed forward then, set on helping protect King Madanach and his followers. As I approached a heavily armor guard, his eyes glinted behind his helmet with intense hate and he swung his sword at me. I tucked, avoiding the swing, and a dozen spiders leapt from my body to land on him, quickly crawling under his armor. The guard began to scream as smoke wisped and then billowed from the seams in his cuirass. Soon hot flames joined the smoke. The man pulled his helmet free, screaming incoherently, he face horribly mutilated as melted flesh had stuck to the metal helm and torn free when he'd escaped its confines. Falling, he rolled and shrieked only a little more before lying still.
Even as his body continued to burn, the spiders crawled back out of his armor and jumped back onto my body.
Before long, it was all over. The Forsworn fanned out to secure the heights of Riverside, and we surveyed the carnage. The guards had never had a chance, and only those first poor souls they'd surprised with their charge had been lost from our number. I saw Jenassa testing the weight of an exquisite looking sword in her hands before belting it around her waist, and I considered arming myself as well. After a brief search, I located a well-built bow and a quiver of arrows, taking them as mine.
Jenassa looked at the bow with approval. "Together," she said, "we will vanquish any foe."
I laughed, then smiled. "Divines, how did a dusky treasure like you end up stuck with misfits like us?"
"I think I asked this very question once and your mother correctly answered: she waved a sack of gold under my nose."
"You know, Jenassa, I'd like it if you'd join me and mother next time we rest. I'm certain that three warm bodies under the furs is better than two."
He smiled but shook her head, "no, just because you hired me doesn't mean I'm your mistress. I don't do that kind of work, so you'll have to find someone else to hop into bed with. Sticks, maybe," she said, nodding towards the Argonian.
"Hey," the scaled man hissed, "I told you I don't do smooth-skins. Besides, I need to get out of here. You three are great, and I owe you a lot, but I need to get back to Black Marsh. I'm done in Skyrim."
I pulled him closer, aiming to give him a hug, but he pulled back. "Hey, no bugs!"
I realized then that I was still covered in spiders. With no sign of Flora to be seen, I realized I'd have to figure out how to get rid of them on my own. I tried concentrating, furrowing my brow with effort, but nothing came of it. Then, I whispered, "Teacher, how do I put your children to bed?"
The response was immediate. "You need only ask."
So that's exactly what I did. "Children," I whispered to the spiders arrayed over my body, "you've done well, but now it's time to rest. You can leave."
This brought a surge of movement, and a gentle tickle as hairly legs started to move all over my body. I expected them to crawl down my legs and vanish into crevices in the stonework, or something like that. What actually happened was somewhat more intimate. A few of the ones highest up on my chest climbed up my face and nonchalantly squeezed their way into my mouth, and down my throat. What I was fully concentrating on neither gagging nor accidentally chewing up one of the venemous creatures, I felt the rest return whence they'd first came - pushing their way through my anus, then mantling up the walls of my rectum and around the bend into the depths of my guts.
Jenassa's rich, red eyes - before drooping with fatigue - were wide open as she witnessed the spectacle. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, then she looked to Mother.
"Edippa," she said, "I think I have seen quite enough strange things for the day. For the month, in fact. If I see one more creature crawl out of a hole it doesn't belong in, or one more person drink something no sane person would drink, we're going to have to have a serious conversation about how much you're paying me."
The unexpected way the spiders had departed had left me a little stunned and, surprisingly, very stimulated. At the same time, my stomach growled loudly and insistently.
"Fine, fair's fair, but I would really love to spend some time with you, Jenassa. For now though, I think I'm about to pass out, if I don't starve to death first. Do you think we can make it to the temple to let them know we're alive?"
This was a very open question; running skirmishes between the city guard and the Forsworn were all over the city, and we had to take several detours before we finally reached the gates of the Temple of Dibella.
Slipping inside, I quickly found Senna praying at one of the idols. I waved to her, calling her name.
"Kirstia? What are you doing here? And Sister Edippa?"
Mother and I exchanged a glance before Senna continued, "aren't you on your way to the chapel in Anvil? And... what's happened to your head?"
"Oh, sister," I said. "Do we have a story for you."
Behind the Scenes
We wrapped up MS02 in this chapter and got to see another one of my private mods - my Armor of the Old Gods overhaul. Now I almost started out this section with another discussion of the dark face bug and how it can creep into the game, but then I discovered the problem was that I loaded the game with the wrong MO2 profile! 😳 I'd forgotten to switch back to my live gameplay profile after I'd finished putting together Prison Outfit Overhaul, which is a public version of the private mod I described earlier. Unfortunately, because of closed permissions I can't post that mod - though you can find the assets it uses in Tribal Sorceress Mashup.
Madanach had trouble navigating to the hidden tunnel during the escape segment. This is almost certainly the result of a navmesh conflict. The Cidhna Mine navmesh is a bit of a mess under the best circumstances, so I've made a note to do another round of review and optimization on it next time I install a mod that touches the cell. Waiting for an hour allowed the mob of prisoners to reach the door.
Multi-mod interoperability worked well in the dungeon portion, with SkyTEST, Toyful Temptations, Maximum Carnage, and others all playing their part without any observable conflicts.
Edited by gregaaz