The broken road wound its serpentine coil between tall fir trees, wrapped itself around hills lush with vegetation, before stopping to drink at the bank of a wide fast-running river, deep in the forest valley below. The warrior stood at the top of the road’s descent, an index finger curled against her lips formed the question mark that punctuated her thoughts – ‘Where do I go?’
A glance behind at the path already travelled, hand sweeping up through thick red locks to scratch thoughtfully, only to find a scabbed scalp amid the matted mass of hair, tongue instinctively feeling for the ragged edges of a split lip in sympathetic accord – she winced slightly at that, spat the metallic taste onto the cobbled road.
No insight came to her. She wasn’t a ranger, couldn’t read any of the natural signs posted in the wild; her forests were found among the fields of battle, where she would fell thorny trees of metal along the banks of rivers that ran red. She shrugged the ache from her shield arm, subconsciously felt for the pommel of the sword which hung at her side, then dragged heavy hide boots one after the other down the hill.
The road dropped sharply around the next bend and plunged into the depths of the forest, trees loomed over the warrior as she trudged on into that verdant primeval hall, the testudo of the high canopy blocking much of the sun’s assault, casting the forest in a fay half-light. The place was utterly alien to her – she may as well have been walking on the surface of Vaklavia, green goddess, hanging always low in the sky to the west; although she could not see the moon now. She was used to the nature of the city, rigid and formal, where the chaos was in the people who lived there; she could deal with people. But the forest… the forest was chaos, it both oppressed and liberated, was ancient and young, raucous and silent. Her head began to spin – the remnants of a concussion? No, she didn’t believe that, she could feel the primal fear waking deep within her chest, could feel its brumal maw closing around her heart.
She knelt then, pressed her fevered brow to the cool earth at the side of the road, tried to focus her thoughts on home – on Marisha, golden hair and marble skin, waiting for her there. She prayed, not to the Gods, for she did not hold court with them; instead she prayed to the forest. She acknowledged the ancient power there, unknowable, yet in evidence all around her, asked it –pleaded with it– for a sign. She opened her eyes. Her gaze fell across the road onto something which was not of the forest. But she knew it. Steps hewn vandalously into the bank, bones littering a path lined by trees which had been hacked and scorched and broken, weeping sap from their fresh wounds. The whole place was a wound. She did not know the forest, but the forest knew her.
Head clear, heart singing, she drew her sword and smiled, and the forest showed her where to go.
I’ve been playing with mods in Skyrim recently. Despite an inordinate number of them being aimed at turning Skyrim into a cross between Conan and Barbarella (you just wouldn’t believe the painstaking effort that can go into modelling a set of three foot long nipples…), I’ve managed to filter things with the help of sites such as the deeply inspirational Dead End Thrills.
Having ‘splungthrust my mods’ as I believe the cool kids say, I tested them out by creating a new character and running through the early content of the game. I have to say, the improvements that these free community-generated tweaks and tune-ups provide are, frankly, astonishing. There’s a lot of untapped talent out there, and games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft demonstrate the level of ingenuity and creativity which can be harnessed when a game is opened up to the community of modders. Admittedly it also reveals the obsession with breasts and butts, but sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. Or the unfeasibly large breasts with the beautiful realistic water textures.
What surprised me most, however, was that just a short way out of the tutorial, while wandering down a familiar forest road towards Riverwood, I stumbled upon a path I hadn’t discovered before, and, upon further investigation, a den of bandits. One hundred and fifty-odd hours of play, and I’m still discovering things in this world. Right next to the starter area, even. The path was clearly there to be found, but it wasn’t signposted either by quest or gaudy railroading, I just had to open my eyes to the world, and open my mind to the possibilities of freedom presented by the game of ‘Where do I go?’.
What else have I yet to discover? I may just have to go and find out.