Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Pilgrimage of Kate & Maurice, Pt. 4: Giants and Dragons and Bears, oh my!

     I'm Kate, a wood elf warrior with no gold who can only use bows. My companion Maurice is Breton pilgrim on the verge of death. Together we're traveling halfway across Skyrim's massive world, on foot, to Eldergleam Sanctuary. There's just one catch: if Maurice dies along the way, we have to reload and try again from the beginning. Right now we're locked in mortal combat with our arch-nemesis, an unavoidable cave bear, and Maurice charged across the river towards him when I wasn't looking.

     I can start to feel my chest tighten. I really don't want Maurice to die. He's kinda mean and incredibly moronic, but I've become attached to the guy. We did so well this time. Not here. Don't let him die here.

     No, I won't. I can't. It's not over yet. Maurice only just crossed the river, and he's hasn't reached the bear yet. I might still be able to get a few arrows out before they clash and the foolhardy Breton is viciously mauled. I quickly take aim and watch as my arrow soars through the air and thuds pathetically into the ground next to the bear, hurting absolutely no one. Crap.

     If my chest was tightening before, now it's tied itself into a Gordian knot and set up a winch on either end. This is really bad. Maurice has almost reached the bear, which means another shot like the one I just made has a good chance of hitting my companion if I'm not careful. I don't have a good plan. Even if I do manage to hit the bear, how will I ever do enough damage in time? The desperation is clawing its way into my mouth. Shoving it back down as best I can, I take aim again, sighting at its chest so the arc will lift the arrow into its head. The bear is standing up on its hind legs, about to take a deadly swipe at the now-nearby Maurice. I fire.

     I don't know what I was expecting, but it couldn't have been better than this. Not only is it a critical hit, doing over 25% more damage, but the arrow staggers the bear, causing it to flinch for a moment and stop its attack. There's no time to think. I'm already readying my next shot. Maurice is now directly in front of the bear, leaving only a tiny chunk of its furry body visible to me. I aim below that, directly at the pilgrim's shoulder, and fire just as he raises his axe.

     Time freezes for a moment. The arrow speeds towards its target, arcing as it does. Missing Maurice's raised arm by maybe a fraction of an inch, it sails into the bear flesh, causing another critical hit and slaying the beast once and for all. Maurice lowers his axe and starts wading back through the river, staring at me with a hurt look in his eyes.

     "I totally had that," they say.

     After allowing myself to hyperventilate for a minute or two, I cross the river to mock the bear and dance on its corpse pay my respects to our fallen enemy's remains. The next leg of our journey awaits us.

All right, so maybe I skinned its hide and ripped its claws out. Just a little!

     Maurice and I are at a crossroads now. The bear has always been a major roadblock, so I don't have a lot of experience with what comes next. In the past, I've taken us across the river into the hills. This path leads us through a giant camp, past a few wolf packs, and eventually to an almost insurmountable hillside. The last time we went that way Maurice axed a wolf to death before I could get to it, which was pretty impressive, and then went off to kill a dragon as soon as we got to the road, which was even more impressive but considerably less advisable. It's a path ridden with danger at every step. It's also the only one I'm familiar with.

     The alternative is to instead continue down the road and see where it takes us. I know nothing about this route, and the unknown isn't particularly attractive now that we've made it this far. I'm conflicted, but after some careful consideration I decide that whatever we encounter can't be a greater threat than a dragon. Into the great unknown it is.

     It doesn't take long for us to have our next encounter. I can sort of make out movement further down the road, but not clearly enough to see what it is. Inching forward through the underbrush, my attempt to catch a better glimpse of this creature, whatever it may be, is cut short when I run directly into a man wearing full armor and carrying an axe. My blood freezes for an instant and my nerves all tense at once. On second inspection, however, the man is a Stormcloak soldier, and the movement farther down is one of his companions. I breathe a sigh of relief. Stormcloaks aren't hostile by default, so they shouldn't have any reason to attack us-

     "Get out of here!" the one I ran into barks angrily in a heavy accent.

     Yes sir right away sir going now c'mon Maurice let's go hurry up

     In my panic to avoid a confrontation with the 6 feet of peculiarly aggressive Nordic death I rush straight past the curve in the road and into yet another river. And, much like the last body of water, this one is frequented by the local wildlife - an entire pack of wolves are lurking on the other side. Maybe we should have stuck to the route with the dragon instead.

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