There he goes again, flinging himself headfirst into the jaws of danger. No, I mean he's literally throwing himself into the cave bear's mouth. I nock an arrow, breathing as calmly as I can, and I sight at the bear's chest as it raises its claw to strike.
Let me back up a bit.
I recently acquired Skyrim, and I've been trying to figure out how I want to approach it. I have virtually no experience with the game - everything I know comes from an article or two I read online. I do know from word of mouth, however, that it's absolutely massive, and that if I'm going to be playing it over the school year I need to impose some artificial rules to constrict it a little.
Among my experiments to figure out what these rules should be is a wood elf named Kate Halpulte. She can neither pick up gold nor buy or sell items, and as an additional rule can only use bows and self-affecting magic (that is, I can't cast things on other people). So, in essence, a sniper assassin.
Not far into the game, a priestess in Whiterun gave me (or rather, Kate) a quest to find an evil dagger so I can get the sap of a special tree so I can revive a different special tree outside her temple - it makes sense in context, I swear. A few days later, I'm back in Whiterun and during my travels I came into the possession of the aforementioned evil dagger, so I decide to pay the priestess a visit to see what she has to say. There, in her temple, a fateful encounter occurs; I meet Maurice.
Maurice is a Breton pilgrim who wants to see the Eldergleam (the special tree I'm supposed to get sap from). Having overheard my conversation with the priestess about going there, he innocently asks if he might join me. Now, I've always been kind of a loner - it sort of comes with the whole "lurking in shadows with a drawn bow thing" - and this guy doesn't exactly look like he'd be a lot of help in a fight.
Then again, though, who knows? I've played enough other games where I've really enjoyed the NPCs to have an open mind about taking one along. Besides, maybe he'll alter the quest in some cool way. Maybe he'll give me some special item once we get there. Maybe he'll actually prove to be really helpful. Maybe he'll just be a really fun guy I like having around.
We set off, and immediately after leaving through the Whiterun gates Maurice's idle conversation trigger kicks in. "Yes, yes," he says, sounding incredibly annoyed and world weary. "I haven't got all day." Right, so scratch off the "being a really fun guy" part. As I begin to suspect that I may have made a poor choice in traveling companions, we come across something wholly unexpected: the headless horseman.
I'd heard of this easter egg before, but had yet to encounter it personally. I probably wouldn't get another chance to see him if I didn't give chase right away (his encounter, as I understand it, is rather rare), so it was now or never. I decided I owed it to myself to see it through at least once. Running after him for a small eternity and consuming all my stamina-regenerating alcohol in the process, we finally stop at the small burial ground of Hamvir's Rest and he promptly disappears. In his place are three incredibly angry skeleton warriors. Being the stealthy archer type that I am my first reaction is to sneak away and pick them off one by one from afar, but wait - where did Maurice go?
Oh. There he is. Charging in to fight them all. With no weapons or armor. Of course.
At this point in the game I'm pretty good at shooting things, and to my credit I took out the first two skeletons with my initial two shots. The third followed quickly after. For all my speed and skill, though, I wasn't good enough to get Maurice out unscathed. It's pretty bad. He has so little health left that one hit from just about any enemy in the game will kill him. See, here's the thing about Maurice. The game recognizes him as my follower, but not as a true companion. That means he'll help (and I use that word generously) me in combat, and if I go into stealth mode or ready my weapons, so will he. It also means that he doesn't regenerate health outside of combat and I can't give him items. He picked up one of the skeleton's giant war axes, but for some reason won't take any potions or armor (and I only have the one set, meaning I stripped in front of him for nothing) I drop for him.
Hrmm. Well, that's not good. Let me check again and see where we need to go agai- Wait, WHAT?!?!?! THIS TREE IS HALFWAY ACROSS THE WORLD?!?!
Worse, most of the journey is in a part of the map I haven't explored at all, so I'm going in almost totally blind. We can't fast travel there. I don't know where the closest town is so carriages are useless, and I don't have gold anyway. Healing spells aren't an option since I don't know any and couldn't cast them on him even if I did. He looks at me in silence pitifully, and a sudden pang of guilt makes me look away. It's my fault he's like this. I was the one who brought him here, after all. Because of me, he'll probably never see this holy tree he walked who knows how far to see. I look again and see him just standing there, dumbly waiting for me to move so he can follow.
In that moment, I know what I have to do. He is going to see that tree. We're traveling from Hamvir's Rest to Eldergleam Sanctuary on foot, and any damage is fatal so Maurice can never be attacked. If I fail and he dies, I have to reload and start all the way back here at Hamvir's Rest.
Thus began the great pilgrimage of Kate, the penniless elven assassin, and Maurice, the mortally wounded pilgrim.