Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 114 - Under Hircine's Eyes

6 Evening Star
~~~
It is a mark of how strange my life has become that today's events do not register as anything but 'slightly unusual'. I suppose I expected it after learning of the Giant's kidnapping, but being woken up by a group of werewolves clutching each of your limbs is quite a startling experience.

It was also a short one, for there was a sudden flash of  red light and I instantly found myself standing in what looked like one of Vvardenfell's Daedric shrines. Still disorientated, I spent a few moments looking around before realizing that I was not alone.
My education on the Daedric Lords is rather spotty, but the man who stood before the only door in the room I instantly recognized as Hircine himself. The Prince appeared before me with the spotted skin of a fawn and wearing only a loincloth, foot wraps, and the large skull of an unfortunate deer. As I approached he summoned a short halberd into his hands, which he idly twirled about as he explained the rules of the Game I had come to anticipate being a part of.

The rules were simple: Behind the door was a series of arenas that the Lord had already sent the other "champions", Captain Carius, Tharsten Heart-Fang, and the Giant Karstaag, through. These arenas were staffed by Hircine's favorite werewolves and I had no doubt they were going to be dangerous opponents, especially given my complete lack of preparation for Hircine's Hunt.

As he disappeared to some deeper part of the place, he warned me that only one of "his" champions would survive the Hunt, implying that I would need to kill the others to proceed. I was dismayed at the thought of having to kill Captain Carius, but curiously felt no such regret for Tharsten, which would prove to be rather observant, as I was to find out.

The Imperial Captain was waiting just inside the first arena and was very happy to see me. He was the first to be summoned to Hircine's arena and fought the werewolves prowling about until he was wounded and forced to fortify a small corner of a wall with rubble while he awaited a friendly face. He offered to join me in fighting our way through Hircine's minions, but the man was obviously pained and I did not think he would survive whatever lay ahead of us.

He agreed to remain in his corner while I worked my way through the werewolf-infested maze. The maze was small, but that worked against me, making it difficult to isolate each werewolf I came across. Several times I would launch an arrow at an unsuspecting enemy, only to have three of them come charging at me, alarmed at the arrow strike on their brethren. I would surely have been overwhelmed had it not been for my silvered spear.
I came across a worn chest towards the center of the circular maze and retrieved a glowing medallion from it. This had the unpleasant effect of turning all of the werewolf ice statues I had been walking by into real werewolves and making my battle back to the Captain just as harrowing as the battle from.

Together the Captain and I worked our way to the center of the maze where we came upon a shimmering gate that only I, the holder of the medallion, could pass through. He said he would guard the gate as I proceeded further into Hircine's arena and that he was sure he could find his own way out. He warned me against both Karstaag and Tharsten, the latter of whose motives he was suspicious of. 

Beyond the gate was another arena, very similar to the one the Captain was still occupying. The Skaal chieftain was apparently waiting for me just inside the gate. He seemed glad to see me as well, but spoke more of Karstaag's lead over him than our cooperation or survival. Nevertheless, the man was stronger than the Captain and unharmed, so I agreed to fight with him to the next gate. Either he would fall to the werewolves or be weakened, for his speech made me certain he would turn on me soon.

Suspicious though he was, Tharsten proved to be a strong warrior and killed four werewolves to my six. But when we found a chest similar to the one from the previous room, he pushed me aside and ran ahead, grabbing the key with a triumphant shout. Curiously, he turned to face me and bragged that the honor of defeating Hircine would fall upon him and revealed that he was in possession of something he called "Hircine's Ring", which had been passed along his family's generations.

With this ring on his finger he felt that the glory of Hircine's Hunt was his birthright and refused any argument against this belief. Eventually he tired of my attempts to persuade him to cooperate and stated that my death during the Hunt would be honored by the Skaal for ten generations. Having said that, he twisted a silver ring on his finger and suddenly became a werewolf!
I was very surprised, but Tharsten gave me little time to think upon this new development. He was in front of me with one leap and a furious melee ensured. My first reaction was the one that probably saved my life: lacking the distance between us to bring my spear to bear, I carelessly shoved my weight against him in an effort to put some space between us. Amazingly this worked and put him off balance for a few moments, which is all I needed.

Standing between two narrow stones, my flanks were secure and he could not get past me. His only option was to strike head-on against the silvered point of my spear. After slaying over a dozen werewolves in Hircine's game, Tharsten proved to be not much of a challenge after all. Perhaps if he had elected to fight me in his human form he would have stood a better chance.

The ring disappeared with a small popping noise, but the key to the next gate remained, so I moved further into the arena, alone.
The next room was not a maze, but a wide open arena in which Karstaag was prowling about. Before today I had never seen a Giant of any kind and I hope to never need to battle with one again. Karstaag was a large, white-furred, horned creature standing at least twice my height, if not more. He moved surprisingly quick for his size, his hands were large enough to envelop and crush me, and his arms likely strong enough to throw me across the room or dash me against the frozen walls.
This match did not seem weighted in my favor.

Our combat turned into a dangerous game of catch: me dashing behind pillars and pieces of rubble to fire arrows and he lumbering after me, throwing the rubble aside and collapsing the pillars. Eventually the trail of blood he was leaving in his wake grew thicker from the increasing number of arrows jutting from his body and he gradually slowed down. When he paused for a moment I rushed forwards with my spear and drove it into his neck with all my strength.

He simply stared down at me and sighed before falling forwards towards me, dead. I barely had enough time to dive out of his way and none at all to retrieve my weapon. The spear shattered with a sharp crack as Karstaag fell upon it and I was left with my bow and short sword, my Daedric spear still at Thirsk.

There was a gate at the far end of the room, but Hircine himself stood before it. I readied myself for what I feared would be a very short battle, but he only asked me a question: What is the hunter's greatest strength: speed, strength, or guile? 

My first instinct was speed, for my own had saved me more times than I could count, but the Daedric Prince would not ask a question merely for his curiosity, so I thought about it a bit. Speed may be my advantage in a fight, but it was guile which ultimately brought down Dagoth Ur, so I decided that would be my answer. 

I had already fought two rooms full of werewolves and one Frost Giant, but I now had to face Hircine and minus my favored weapon at that. I gave him my answer and the battle was on. 

I do not know what difference my answer would have made, but I Hircine fought me as he appeared before me: vaguely man-shaped, with a deer skull helmet (or head, I suppose), and a short pike. Armed only with my Daedric bow and a silvered short sword I picked up from somewhere, I quickly ran away and sought some obstacle to hide behind so that I could safely fire arrows at my opponent.

I cannot say how long our battle lasted. It was one of my most difficult battles, if not the most difficult, that I have ever fought. My encounter with Dagoth Ur is the closest comparison, but I went into that fight well-equipped and rested. I entered this one exhausted from the struggles I had already had, my rest had been interrupted by Hircine's kidnapping, and I lacked the weapon I was most familiar with.

Fighting an enemy armed with a spear when you only have a short blade is a poor idea, but I had always been the one with the spear in that pairing up until today. I was forced to commit to hit-and-run attacks with my bow, but fortunately I had also brought with me to Solstheim three very rare Daedric arrows, all of which I employed against Hircine after exhausting my silvered arrows, none of which seemed to cause him any worry.

Two missed, but the third struck him in the left eyehole of his helm, rending a horrible scream from him that echoed about our frozen chamber. It seemed more in rage than pain, but he dropped his spear in an effort to remove the arrow and I quickly dashed towards him and forced my silvered blade into the right eyehole, admittedly wincing as I did so. I would never perform such a cruel strike against a mortal foe, but I felt a Daedric Prince who delighted in murdering hapless Nords and kidnapping Khajiit could be made to suffer a bit.

Even this was not enough to kill him, but being stabbed five times with his own spear was enough to end Hircine's mortal visitation.
The glowing medallion on his body opened the gate leading out and away from his arena and when I stepped outside I found I was completely surrounded by a wall of ice. I started to walk towards it, intent on seeing if the wall could be scaled, but I took no more than two steps before a bright flash blinded me and a thundering explosion slammed into my chest.

When I could see and breathe again the wall had collapsed in front of me and the underground arena behind me had fallen in on itself. The voice of Hircine sounded in my head, a congratulations on my victory and a promise of his that the Hunt would return again one day. Be that as it may, I hope I am not around to take part in it again.

I was in an area of Solstheim I had not visited before, but the shore was at my back, so I had to be on the western half of the island. After I found the northern shore I knew almost exactly where I had been and confidently and tiredly walked back to the Skaal's village.

Korst somehow knew what had happened before I said anything. He recognized Hircine's spear and told me that it was an extremely rare honor that any mortal should be carrying it, but I was too tired to feel honored, I guess. He asked after the late chieftain and I had not the heart to tell him about Tharsten's betrayal...though I suppose a Skaal might not see what he did as such. Either way, I told Korst that Tharsten fell while bravely fighting a horde of Hircine's best hunters and the shaman was satisfied with that answer. 

I rested in the village for an hour, repairing my equipment as best I could, but I was concerned that Captain Falx had not escaped the collapse and set off along the river, passing by Thirsk on my way south. The weather steadily cleared as I got closer to the southern shore and by the time I reached the coast the sun was bright and the skies were clear, cheering me considerably.
The Imperial Captain had survived his part of the Hunt as well. The troops of Fort Frostmoth were happy to have him back and repairs were finally beginning to the wrecked fort. I was directed to the Captain's chambers where he was recovering and he greeted me with a very surprising hug, something Khajiit certainly are not accustomed to, even among ourselves.

He seemed a bit embarrassed by his show of gratitude and covered it by suggesting I see Carnius Magius about some trouble the East Empire Company was having at the mine. I wished him health and went to speak to the shifty Company man. As expected, he knew nothing, but demanded that I go to site of the new town, Raven Rock, and see what the problem was.

Construction had been proceeding while I was away saving Solstheim from the ravages of Hircine's werewolves. Nothing was completed yet, but several buildings were well on their way.

After this morning's fight the problem at Raven Rock was laughable: a drunk Skaal was brawling with any workers that tried to do any work. A rather exasperated Falco asked me to deal with the Nord, but without killing the man. He and the workers had taken to calling the man 'Hroldar the Strange' and I easily spotted the furious looking Hroldar pacing in front of a half-completed building. He shouted at me, stating that the construction would incur the wrath of Nature and he was the guardian of Solstheim, or something like that.

I had little patience to deal with such foolery and grabbed the man by the throat with one hand while I sent my right crashing into his chin. I think I nearly broke my hand, but the man stumbled backwards and cried out that he had (already) enough. He accepted my demands to leave Raven Rock and thus ended a very short and strange episode of the day.

Falco has some very deep pockets, for he gave me a thousand Septims just for punching a Nord, though I suppose keeping his schedule is worth any amount to him. He asked me to let Carnius know that the construction was resuming.

Contrary to Falco, Carnius was actually disappointed that I did not kill the man, stating that the "natives" need to learn to respect Imperial steel. Quite a bold statement for a man living inside a wrecked fortress following a raid an Imperial garrison could not prevent. He had no further tasks for me today, so I decided to take my rest at Thirsk.

It has been a very long day and I evidently have accomplished a task approaching equality with striking down Dagoth Ur, but it does not feel much like that. Against the mad God I had allies, a plan, and a long road towards my eventual confrontation and victory. Here my foe was unknown until only a few hours before meeting him, I had no allies for most of it, and the conclusion of the Bloodmoon Prophecy ended before I barely knew it had begun.

I just feel confused and tired, but Hircine's spear is mine now for whatever good or evil it may bring me. It is enchanted, though I do not know with what. The future, as it always has been, is cloudy and I do not know what it holds for me. I hope I will be able to dedicate some relatively peaceful days towards the construction of Raven Rock, then perhaps I shall return to Vvardenfell for good.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day 113 - Nobody Home

5 Evening Star
~~~
This morning I was ready to assault a castle filled with small, hostile enemies so that I could talk to a "Frost Giant" to find out why hundreds of animals were washing up dead on the shore. It was going to be one of my stranger days, but as usual my expectations did not match the reality of what the day held for me.

The castle called 'Karstaag' was not exactly what I expected. Told it was a Frost Giant's adobe, I envisioned a castle built of giant blocks of ice and snow. Instead I got a single giant block of ice that the Giant must have carved a home out of. I had also expected a teeming mass of Rieklings garrisoning the castle, but found only two of them outside, each upon its tusked steed.
The advantage was theirs on the flat terrain surrounding the castle and I had no inclination to stand and fight two of them at the same time. Following Korst's advice I fled to the coast and sought the secret underwater entrance. It was easy to find and the swim was fortunately a short one. I surfaced at the end of a long corridor guarded by a single Riekling, but when he saw me he held up his hands and proclaimed that he was not an enemy.

The little creature called himself 'Krish' and he was in a bit of trouble himself. The Giant, also named 'Karstaag', had disappeared a few days ago under circumstances similar to that of Captain Carius and Chief Tharsten: a sudden attack by werewolves and the equally sudden absence of the local leader...though how the werewolves would abduct a Giant is certainly something to ponder.

With the castle's master gone, Krish attempted to overthrow what few loyal Rieklings remained, but his hired Grahl creatures turned on him and his party before they made it into the castle. Krish was the only survivor and could neither sneak his way past the Grahl, nor swim out the way I came in. His only asset was that he possessed an enchantment granted by Karstaag that allowed him to magically unlock the sealed door into the castle's main Hall. His suggestion was to speak with the Riekling that had temporarily taken charge, one named 'Dulk'.

A deal was struck: I would slay the Grahl and he would let me into the castle so that I could speak to the supposed leader of the loyal Riekling garrison. There were eight of the monstrous creatures lumbering about the icy corridors, but they were slow and the corridors long and straight. Each of the eight took upwards of twenty-five arrows each to weaken enough to dispatch with my spear, but eventually they all lay dead and I retrieved the Riekling rebel.
He was true to his word and led me to a staircase of ice leading upwards that I otherwise would have probably missed finding. The stairs led to a very large banquet hall with a massive table that could have comfortably seated forty Rieklings. Four of them attacked us without any attempt at figuring out why a Khajiit and a Riekling were together to begin with and they had no chance, even with Krish running away before the fight began.

Dulk proved to be a great deal smarter than his four ex-comrades and immediately asked why I was standing in front of him with the "evil", as he called him, Krish. I told him I did not care either way about the troubles of the castle, only that I had come to discuss the mystery of the dead horkers with the master of the castle, the Giant Karstaag.

The dutiful Riekling confirmed Krish's story: a few days ago a pack of werewolves assaulted the castle and somehow abducted the Frost Giant during the turmoil. Dulk remained confident that his master would be returning shortly and intended to remain at the castle doing what he could until that occurred. At that point the two Rieklings started arguing about who should be the new master of the castle and I decided it was time for me to go.

With the confirmation and method of Karstaag's disappearance Korst finally felt ready to divulge what the 'Bloodmoon Prophecy' actually was. This prophecy dictates that a "demon god" will walk upon the land of Solstheim accompanied by his "Hounds", no doubt the werewolves. This god, known in the prophecy as "The Hunter" is preceded by three nights, each with a different portent of his coming.

The first sign is "Fire From the Eye of Glass", which would be the magical fire burning atop the lake just beyond the village. The second sign is the "Tide of Woe" as seen by all of the dead animals washing up on the shore. The third sign is the reddening of the moon, but it being overcast all day and night, this is not something that is yet provable.

Korst was rightfully worried and gifted me a sword he said would be a great help against the coming trouble. Its a sword I can neither lift nor use and as such is completely worthless to me, as many of the Skaal's gifts have been. Clearly they do not have much business with Khajiit.

The next step of this strange event is something Korst called "The Hunter's Game". This game is simple enough: the Hunter's Hounds capture strong warriors and make them run a violent gauntlet, with the victor facing the Hunter himself and likely a quick death. Korst could not tell me if the Hunter had claimed all the participants he wanted, nor who the next would be.

Given my life's luck I will not be surprised to find that I am on the Hunter's list. Time will tell.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 112 - As They Close In

4 Evening Star
~~~
I have completed the latest of Korst's requests, but have only more questions and mysteries than I started with. There is certainly something happening on Solstheim that is invisible to me and I feel that the recent events are being directed by someone or something. A reckoning with this person is closing in day by day as the events are becoming increasingly violent and overt.

The retrieval of the Skaal's totem of 'Claw and Fang' was my first goal today. Korst needed it in order to begin a ritual which he hoped would strengthen the Skaal against the as yet unknown threat looming before all of us. He told me that the totem was in an ancestral tomb of the Skaal, creatively named the 'Tomb of Skaalara'. He assured me that wards placed upon it would keep the tomb free of anything hostile, but I was skeptical of that claim, rightly so as it would turn out.

The tomb was very easy to find, in fact I must have walked by it the other day while I was exploring the small island with the locked door. Recently trampled snow at the entrance warned me to expect something so the attack right inside the entrance came as little surprise.
It fell quickly and I cautiously proceeded further into the tomb, it seeming to be now unguarded. The totem was easy to find, but as I was making my way back out a collection of howls from just ahead of me set my fur on end.

Waiting for me to reach the deepest part of the tomb before springing their trap from the entrance had been surprisingly clever, but their cleverness did not extend to figuring out how best to employ their greater numbers. Instead of encircling me as I would have thought, they simply came at me in ones and twos, the yet-to-be-fought content to watch the demise of their brethren.
Korst was unnerved to hear that the sacred home of the Skaal's ancestors had been assaulted, but assured me that the completion of the ritual for which the totem was necessary, the 'Ristaag', would strengthen the Skaal against this new threat. He also taught me how to summon the Skaal's guardian wolf spirits, but I think what we are up against is beyond the capability of a wolf. Perhaps I shall set one against a Nix-Hound some day.

The 'Ristaag' ceremony was immediately scheduled to start once the moon had risen. I was to meet a much respected hunter named 'Rolf Long-Tooth' who would guide me and two others during the ritual. It was still early in the morning though and I did not have a whole lot to do until nightfall. I still had Louis's coveted amulet and now time enough to go back to Ald'ruhn to deliver it.

Louis was overjoyed to receive the amulet at long last and dropped a very heavy sack of Septims in my hands that I later counted out to 1,500, a hefty sum. Whatever he plans on doing with it must be very important indeed.

I stocked up on supplies before starting back out on the long walk to Khuul, making a point to buy as many arrows as were available. The fort on Solstheim does not stock many and the Skaal expect each hunter to craft his own, so restocking my own supply is, as always, a great challenge on the island.

It was deep into the night when I arrived back on Solstheim and I hurried to meet Rolf Long-Tooth waiting by the lake. I kept my encountered with the wildlife to a minimum by maintaining my water walking spell and traveling atop the small river that fed from Lake Fjalding and found the hunter and two other Skaal, a man called 'Sattir the Bold' and a woman named Grerid Axe-Wife, an hour later.

They were eager to begin and explained that the ritual was fairly simple: Korst had used the amulet I retrieved for him to summon a large bear spirit for the four of us to stalk. Once the beast was slain, we were to return its ethereal heart back to Korst who would offer it to the Skaal's 'All-Maker' for protection against the werewolves.

Things started to go wrong as soon as we began. Despite having just suffered a large attack on their village the Skaal decided to spread out in order to find the bear quicker. I stayed with Rolf, but we had not gone far when a man's scream sounded to the right of us. Rolf sent me to investigate and I did not have to go far to discover Sattir's clawed and mutilated body, the obvious work of werewolves.

Unknown to us, we hunters had been the 'hunted' all along, the werewolves laying in wait to ambush us and disrupt the ritual, for whatever good that may have done. Rolf was more concerned that the ritual would be disrupted than he was with the hunter's death and urged me to follow so that we might quickly find the spirit bear. We had not gone far before another scream startled us, this one from Grerid. Once again Rolf sent me to discover what had happened and I found the woman's body torn to pieces, death no doubt having come mercifully quick. Aware that my guide was unprotected, I hurried back just in time to intercept a group of werewolves loping towards him.
He immediately rushed to my aid and accounted for the defeat of one werewolf to my two. Rolf was determined to finish the ritual, no matter what, and urged me to follow him deeper into the forest after the bear spirit we were to fight.

After the murder of our two companions and the battle against the murderers the spirit bear felt like something of a letdown. To be fair, it was the biggest bear I have ever seen, but it was still just a bear. We slew it with no difficulty and Rolf granted me the dubious honor of carrying the thing's bloody heart back to the village.
For receiving the heart Korst taught me another summoning spell, this one to summon a bear to fight alongside me. I certainly hope a bear would be stronger than a wolf, but the time and effort spent casting the spell in battle would probably be better spent stabbing my enemy.

Things had gotten worse while I was at Ald'ruhn earler in the day. The village's hunters reported that hundreds of the tusked, crawling things the Skaal call 'horkers' are dead with no obvious cause. Their bodies are unmarked, but dead horkers have been washing up on the north shore all day. Ever resourceful, the hunters are slaughtering the fresh corpses and seem content for the tusks and meat, but Korst is concerned that all the recent events are contained within the 'Bloodmoon' prophecy he had mentioned a few days ago.

Rather than explain what this prophecy was, Korst asked me to travel to an isolated castle of ice named 'Karstaag' in which an ice giant, or so he says, resides within. The little blue goblins I have been fighting live in the castle with this giant and Korst wants me to pay a visit in order to determine if the horkers' deaths are due to some work of either the giant or the goblins, or 'Rieklings' as he calls them.

It will be my first assault upon a castle in my life and I can say I am not looking forward to it. Those goblins are fierce fighters by themselves, I do not relish the thought of an entire castle filled with them. Not only that, but I should probably visit Frostmoth to see how the construction of the mining town is doing. The completion of that will ease my burdens here considerably.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Day 111 - Kerra, Mead Hall Chieftain

3 Evening Star
~~~
What a day! It started with combat against something that was clearly not a werewolf and ended in my very own Nord mead Hall. I like to think the gains I have made today balance out the drudgery of visiting the Skaal's stones.

My day began two hours after it last ended, the very short nap plus the chaotic events of yesterday lending me more energy than I would have had otherwise. Barred from the Skaal village, it seemed a good idea to eliminate this 'Udyrfrykte' which I had assumed was a werewolf.

It's lair was extremely, and foolishly, close to the Hall itself. I anticipated a long trek and received a ten second walk to the lake where its formerly frozen-shut lair awaited me. It was a very small lair and I could certainly understand why a creature trapped inside of it for any length of time would finally exit quite angrily.

I heard and smelled the creature before I saw it. The unmistakable sounds of bones breaking and the tearing of flesh filled the tiny corridor I was cautiously walking along. When I turned the only corner, I was faced not with a werewolf, but a giant man-like monster with shreds of flesh hanging from its mouth and a gore-stained leg clutched in its hand. I have faced many a foul beast so far, but this thing had the strongest aura of animal rage and violence that I have ever encountered.
Several arrows jutted from its body, no doubt from the former warriors of the drinking Hall. If they were causing the beast any pain it did not show it, balancing itself on two legs and an arm as it loped towards me, swinging the unfortunate Nord's leg in its free hand. If the arrows jutting out of its back gave it any concern, it did not show it. 

I, however, got a much luckier shot than the Nords had. My first arrow went straight into its eye, stopping its charge immediately and my second slammed into its throat, sending it sprawling. I gave it no chance for recovery and leaped upon it immediately, repeatedly stabbing it in the neck with my spear. The beast's thrashings ensured that I was covered in foul-smelling blood, but it was dead. Aware that I needed to bring back proof of my victory (other than a coating of blood), I carved its heart out of its chest, partly for a trophy and partly to ensure it stayed dead.

The rest of the cave was littered with the remains of warriors not as lucky as I. The 'Udyrfrykte' slept on a nest of frozen grasses and skulls and incomplete skeletons, with their weapons and armor nearby, were in every corner.
The Hall was closed for repairs when I returned and I spoke with a Breton bookseller outside who was working on his latest edition of 'Thirsk, A History'. I wonder how much a book like that would really be in demand, but it must keep the man fed somehow. 

Svenja was overjoyed to have the monster's heart dropped into her hands. She declared that the heart would sit on the pedestal of Thirsk and that I had but one more task, as always, to complete before I could be named Chieftain of the Hall.

She asked that I go to 'Hrothmund's Bane' across the stream to the west. By coincidence this was also the place the Ald'ruhn mage, Louis Beauchamp, had said his amulet was to be found in. For her I needed only to touch a large battle-axe that lay within the cavern to receive Hrothmund's blessing. Rare are the opportunities to solve two problems at once, so I readily agreed to Svenja's request.
The cavern was the same one I visited several days ago when it asked me a question before allowing me in. Louis had told me the correct answer was 'Ondjage', so I was permitted entrance today. It was not much larger than the lair of the Udyrfrykte and the giant axe sat embedded in a chunk of rock in the middle of the main chamber.
Following Svenja's instructions I grasped the handle of the axe and proclaimed my intention to become Chieftain of Thirsk. As soon as I finished speaking, the axe glowed and I suddenly had a minor Shield blessing, though I could not determine how strong. I took it to be a sign of Hrothmund's approval and grabbed Louis's amulet, which was right by the axe, as I turned to leave.

I still needed to visit the Fort to see about purchasing a disease cure for the affliction the werewolves put upon me, but it was on my way back to the Hall that I had the strangest stroke of luck. A nearly naked Nord came charging over a small hill at me, screaming and waving a two-handed axe. An arrow sent him tumbling down the hill, dead, and on his body was a flask of disease curative. It smelled okay, so I drank it and instantly the constant itching that has plagued me since the fight disappeared and with it, I hoped, had the disease.
The Hall was open when I returned and Svenja was inside waiting for me, along with two Nords I never met before. They were eager to uphold the sacred rites of Thirsk, both being quite drunk already. Svenja explained that she could run the day-to-day tasks of Thirsk, but it was up to me to direct the clan. I could send my two drunk hunters out into Solstheim to hunt for pelts, I could order mead from Skyrim, and I could also collect whatever profits the Hall made from the sale of that mead.

As we did not have any mead and I strongly doubted the prowess of my huntsmen I asked Svenja to order mead. What happens to it after that is her responsibility. She directed me to my quarters and mentioned that the three of them pooled some of their money to give me a gift, which was waiting in my room. 

The gift was not the snow bear head I had been expecting, but an equally useless Nordic longsword. I stowed it under the bed and went to the guest rooms. The Imperial Cultist prisoner was gone, I suppose she escaped after the  battle in the Hall and the Breton author was in my former room. He presented me with a revised copy of 'Thirsk, A History', which detailed the reigns of all of the mead Hall chieftains. I flipped through it, noting that many had very short rules. It may be best to step down before a Nord wonders why a Khajiit is sitting on the Hall's throne.

I had to see if my disease had really been cured by the wayward Nord's potion, so I walked along the coastline from Thirsk towards the village and took some time to explore a small island that sat just off the beach. I found a locked door, but could see no way of opening it. A mystery for a later time perhaps.
Korst Wind-Eye was able to confirm that the disease of lycanthropy was no longer within me, to my great relief. He named me 'Blood-Skaal', which means I am now a friend of the tribe and fully welcome among them. I was granted a home, my second one of the day, but it was the late Rigmor Half-hand's home and not one I felt comfortable using.

Naturally the shaman had yet another task for me: to complete the Skaal ceremony of 'Ristaag', some sort of cleansing ritual. However, he first needed me to retrieve a magical Skaal totem that is required for the ritual.  This totem of 'Claw and Fang' was in a tomb to the southeast of the village, but I was much too tired to attempt this tonight.

Instead I walked back to Thirsk, past the drunken celebrating Nords and up the stairs to my "quarters", which was really a bigger version of the meager accommodations I was accustomed to at this place. The bed is much better than a pile of furs though and I suppose I will be either traveling back to the Fort tomorrow or taking on the Korst's latest task.

Never any free time and always too much to do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Day 110 - Cat Versus Dogs

2 Evening Star
~~~
My stay at Kolfinna's small river-side cave was short, but pleasant. I only slept for three hours, but she managed to cook up a better breakfast than I usually enjoy and wished me luck as I left, just as refreshed as if I had slept for a full night.

Last night I had completed the Skaal's ritual to prove to them that I was one to be trusted, but my first goal this morning was a visit to Fort Frostmoth to inquire about the colony that one of the Legionnaires had mentioned. Rumors at the fort were that there was to be a mining colony built on Solstheim courtesy of the East Empire Company, but the Company's Factor on the island, Carnius Magius has been either unable or unwilling to make much progress.

An Imperial colony on Solstheim would make my life a great deal easier, Company politics or not. I had spoken to him on my first day on the island, but thought his request that I join the Company was to be some low-paid clerk jotting down figures all day. The rumors of the difficulty he has been having with the colony made me think that I might be of more use to him than as a simple scribe and get the colony on its way at the same time.

Before speaking with Carnius I stopped at the armory to sell the silver daggers I won from the Nordic women the Skaal call 'Fryse Hags'. These women always ambush me by summoning a spirit then charging me with one of the silver daggers. The soldier manning the armory was happy to buy six of the daggers for the healthy sum of 1,500 Septims, making me quite a happy Khajiit.

Carnius made no mention of our previous encounter and restated his offer of employment with the Company. I accepted and was immediately ordered to report to the fort's dock to meet with three miners that required an escort to the colony's Ebony mine.
The three miners were all armed with short blades but admitted that none of them were warriors and were relieved to have an armed escort to the site of the future colony. They need not have been worried, the walk was short and uneventful save for a wolf the three of them would have had no trouble with.

Waiting for us at the site were the two torches I had spotted a few days ago and an Imperial who introduced himself as 'Falco Galnus', a Company man and the one in charge of the every-day responsibilities of the colony. Naturally he had a job for me, but it was a very simple one: find and bring four pieces of raw Ebony back to Carnius as proof to the Company's investors that the colony is worth their money.

This could not have been simpler, the veins of Ebony ore were on the surface along a rock right behind Falco. He could have gotten the four pieces himself with barely more effort than it took to tell me to do it. But I complied and pried four chunks of raw Ebony from the outcropping of rock behind him and walked back to the fort.
Carnius rewarded my meager effort with one hundred Septims and a piece of paper he called a 'stock certificate' which he claimed would somehow increase in value as the colony of Raven Rock became increasingly successful. Each employee of the Company here on Solstheim has one of these papers and can exchange it for coin at any time.

I was told to return in three days to receive more work from the Company and with nothing left to do at the fort I began the long walk back to the Skaal's village to report my success with the Stones. As a reward Tharsten Heart-Fang gave me a large mace that looked to have been carved from a block of ice. It also weighed about as much as a block of ice and I could barely lift the weapon at all, so I gratefully declined the offer stating that the weapon should stay with the Skaal, not with a Khajiit whose travels might take her very far from this place. This excuse was accepted with a nod and a smile, it is likely the Nord knew I could not wield it to begin with.

The Skaal chief also had another test for me, this one of wisdom which involved me investigating a crime that someone was accused of in the village. A well-liked warrior named 'Engar Ice-Mane' stood accused of stealing valuable furs from fellow villager 'Rigmor Halfhand'. I was to question the two of them and figure out if the accusation had merit.

I first spoke to the accused. Engar had not much to say in his own defense, but expressed surprise that Rigmor would accuse him so, as he had been a friend of Engar's and Engar's wife for a long time. As soon as he said "wife" I had an inkling of what I was going to be uncovering and I was not wrong.

Rather than speak to Rigmor next and hear his useless denials I sought Engar's wife, Risi Ice-Mane to see if I could cut to the heart of the matter. She confessed that she and Rigmor had, in her own words, "spent some time together", but she told me that she had thought their involvement with each other to be over. She asked that I speak to Rigmor on her husband's behalf.

Rigmor proved to be far less crafty than I anticipated. He spoke of Engar as an uncaring man who abandons his wife for weeks at a time so that he could hunt, but then spoke glowingly of how much better a husband he would be for Risi. Not a subtle man. When I confronted him about his brief affair he crumbled and admitted that the accusation was not true and that he thought Engar would have chosen immediate exile rather than death, with only the latter receiving any investigation at all.

He bore his guilt bravely and asked to be escorted to Tharsten for judgement. However, judgement was not Tharsten's to render, but mine. The chief explained that I could choose either exile for Rigmor or death by the spirit wolves of the Skaal. Exile would erase the man from existence so far as the Skaal were concerned and prevent the man's soul from being granted rest after he died. The wolves were actually spirits that would be summoned for this occasion and would kill Rigmor quite quickly. This was described as an 'honorable' death and one that would erase the stain his deceit had wrought upon him.

I had to choose immediately with no counsel and chose the wolves for Rigmor because that was what had awaited Engar if Rigmor's plan had succeeded. Tharsten commended my choice and praised the mercy I was showing the man by letting him die in combat. For this apparently wise decision, I was gifted again, but at least the wolf head helmet I was given is light enough for me to carry.
With my reputation among the Skaal boosted, I made a second attempt to purchase supplies from the village smith. This one was more successful and I even managed to bargain off the rest of the witches' silvered daggers off on the armorer, greatly enriching me and lightening my inventory considerably.

But Tharsten had yet another test for me. I had passed the Test of Loyalty and the Test of Wisdom, now I was to take on the Test of Strength, which admittedly is not something Khajiit are generally known for.

He directed me towards the lake where the shaman Korst Wind-Eye would meet me. I had a pretty good idea of what the test involved when I got close enough to the lake to notice a huge pillar of fire shooting up out of it.
Korst was warily watching the flame and waved me over as I approached. He said that the chief suspected the flame was due to a powerful Draugr wizard that was buried under the lake, but Korst feared that the flame was the herald of something called the 'Bloodmoon Prophecy', which I have never heard of before. He would not say much about it, only that the Prophecy would mean that wolves would walk like men and devour the inhabitants of Solstheim. Quite a grim business, but I had a very cold swim ahead of me underneath a column of fire.

Once I was underwater and under the flame, I could see that there was a mound of earth at the bottom of the lake and a shimmering magical shield covering an entrance. This was the Draugr wizard's home and one he evidently sought to keep dry. The barrier permitted no water to pass through, but I had no such difficulties.

Save for its location there is not much to say about the place. The usual undead Nords and skeletal wolves patrolled the place, but attacked singly and were easily killed.

Far more interesting was the Draugr Lord himself, a former wizard named Aesliip and his story was quite a sad one, if true. 

He had been a powerful sorcerer among the Skaal in his time, many centuries ago. But he grew too curious for their liking and was cast out, exiled forever from his own people. Undeterred, he continued his research and discovered that Daedra had somehow formed or collected or traveled to this cave so that they might rise up from the lake in secret and ambush the Skaal, wiping them from existence. 

Aesliip returned to his people to warn them, but he had been exiled and his words may not have even been heard at all. So he returned to this ancient cavern and erected a barrier that would keep the Daedra from leaving the underwater cavern. This he did for many years, but eventually he grew old and knew the Daedra would run free as soon as he died.

So he used the knowledge he had to transform himself into Draugr, but without losing his mind and his powers. He asked for me to join him in venturing further into the cave to defeat the Daedra and finally end their threat to Solstheim. I was moved by his story of sacrifice and agreed to accompany the Draugr wizard. 

It was good of me to do so. The man may not have been a giant in his day, but his transformation gifted him a great deal of strength. Our opponents were all very powerful Frost Daedras, but a punch or kick from him sent them reeling.
Together we defeated all of the Daedra and he was relieved of his undeath, finally finding the peace he had spent so much time maintaining for an island that had just about forgotten him entirely. He granted me his ring, but I cannot tell what it is enchanted with.

Korst was pleased to see me return and was surprised that I had not killed Aesliip, but after I explained he doubled his thanks and called me a true Skaal, asking me to go on ahead and report to Tharsten what had occurred.

The walk from the lake was a quick one and I had just started speaking to the chief when one of the village warriors burst into the Hall, yelling that they village was under attack by werewolves.

I have heard tales of lycanthropy while in Cyrodiil, but never encountered anyone afflicted by it. I do not know much about the disease itself, save for that it is seen as a "blessing" from the Daedric Prince Hircine. I have heard stories of werewolves, but also of werebears and wereboars and even werecrocodiles, though the latter seems too strange and unwieldy to be true. The one thing they all are said to have in common is a weakness to silvered weapons, such as the spear I have been carrying around with me for the past month alongside the Daedric one.

I ran out of the Hall and nearly right into the claws of a werewolf.
It was a powerful opponent, but curiously not very agile in combat. The rumors of being weak to silver might be true: for the werewolf became reluctant to come very close so long as I kept poking at it with the spear. While I was busy with my opponent, the Skaal village was fighting back the wave of werewolves quite well and by the time my own had been dispatched, they had accounted for three of the creatures themselves. 

Rather than help them eliminate the rapidly declining invasion force, I went back into the Hall only to find the same situation as what befell the Imperial fort: Tharsten was gone and the Hall's guards were dead. Three werewolves were still sniffing about when I entered the Hall and quickly it became a game of Khajiit-versus-dogs, with my spear and agility winning the day.

Korst Wind-Eye was waiting for me outside after I had made sure the Hall was clear of invaders. He thanked me once again for protecting the Skaal and delivered some very unfortunate news: his magic indicated that I had been infected by one of the werewolves. Left alone, the disease will turn me into a were-something, likely mindless and hungering after flesh. 

The shaman certainly appeared confused as to why his news was not greeted with dismay on my part. To be honest, I am not concerned. As he said, I have three days to find a cure and I am far more curious as to how I became infected since I am supposed to be immune to disease thanks to Dagoth Ur's "blessing". It is no matter I suppose, so long as I find a cure before three days pass.

Until I am cured I am not allowed to stay at the village for fear of infecting others. I decided to visit Thirsk to get some rest, but when I arrived I found that they had fared little better than the Skaal had.
The sole survivor, a young Nord named 'Svenja', told me of a great black creature that suddenly stormed the Hall and slew everyone after a short, but vicious battle. I thought it might have been a werewolf, but Svenja is convinced that the monster is a creature the Nord call the 'Udyrfrykte'. The melting of the lake's ice due to the great flames likely melted this Udyrfrykte's icy prison, freeing it to cause death and mayhem on Solstheim. Svenja pleaded with me to defeat the monster before others were killed. She offered to turn over the Hall itself to me should I return with a trophy of my hopefully successful combat against whatever the monster was.

Infected as I was, I accepted the task so that the Hall would remain open, under my watch or someone else's. The Nords of Thirsk had been oddly accepting in their own way and my little room upstairs had eased my requirement to travel back to the Fort to rest at the end of the day. Simply leaving the place wrecked as it was would have been unjust and ungrateful.

But by then it was already well into the morning of 3 Evening Star. I have fought almost continuously since waking up at Kolfinna's yesterday, but a quick nap will have to suffice. The murderer of Thirsk awaits me, as does the cure for my transformation disease. More and more the island is becoming a strange reflection of its larger sibling and I do wonder who will be standing in for Dagoth Ur this time around.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day 109 - Done With The Stones

1 Evening Star
~~~
Another short day owing to the trip between Vvardenfell and Solstheim, but a productive one. I have finished visiting the Skaal's Stones and am ready to begin my next great task.

Every morning that has started in Ald'ruhn has meant for a much better rest than I would have on the island, but it also results in a rather long day, the middle of which is spent on the boat between lands. Thus it was already late into the afternoon when I landed on Solstheim and much of the day was already spent.

Still, there was time enough to find the Sun Stone's 'Halls of Penumbra' and I worked my way to the Stone first, then trekked west, per the Stone's instructions. The cave was preceded by a series of stones leading towards it from the stream that could not have been merely coincidental.
The Hall itself was just another typical cave on Solstheim: frozen earth covered with snow...much like the island itself! This cave was a little different in that it had torches bored into the walls at regular intervals, but they were not lit. Being a Khajiit, the lack of light did not bother me in the least.

There were some of the Nord's undead patrolling the cavern, but relatively few given the size of the place. I ran into two dead-ends, but each one had a collection of chests and bags that provided me with a decent weight of coin.

The Sun Stone only said that I was to free the Sun from the cave, but naturally did not do much to describe what it was I had to do. Nothing I found seemed to represent the Sun and I continued along the last unexplored passageway hoping to find something that would make the task a bit less confusing.

I need not have worried about failing to find something. At the end of the last passage was a giant creature nearly twice my height. It had equally large hands tipped with claws that appeared able to tear me in half without the slightest difficulty. It made no sound other than a snuffling sort of breath and it ponderously made its way down the passage upon seeing me.
I loosed arrow after arrow at the thing, at its size missing was nearly impossible, but they seemed to have little effect. One arrow even uselessly shattered upon striking the beast. Unfortunately it looked like it was up to my spear once again. I lured the creature farther down the passage, past the bodies of the few undead that had inhabited the place and brought it to an incline where I might have some advantage in higher ground.
It was as powerful as it seemed, but very slow, even slower than the Corprus creatures of Dagoth Ur's. The hulking creature's claws effortlessly tore chunks of the frozen earth up from around us, but he fortunately did not come close to landing a blow upon me or I would likely not be writing this right now.

It is a grim thought to wonder what someone would think, stumbling upon the body of a Khajiit warrior deep within the frozen earth of Solstheim. That would certainly be a mystery to them!

Nevertheless, the thing did collapse eventually and I carefully examined the corpse thinking that this was somehow my key to the Sun Stone. My intuition proved correct: the creature's glowing "eyes" were really gemstones and hot ones at that. Even removed from the body they continued to glow and give off heat enough that holding them without a glove was not possible.

I returned to the end of the passage where I first encountered my foe and saw a very bright glow at the end of the chamber, in front of which I found a thick sheet of almost entirely clear ice. I could not force my way past, so on a hunch I placed my hard-earned gemstones against the ice wall.
This worked far better than I anticipated. The stones' heat shot cracks through the wall and after a few minutes the entire thing came crashing down in a blinding flash of light.
When I could see again I first realized that my gemstones were gone. Their heat had been very welcome in this place and having something like those stones to warm myself on my journeys is a pleasant thought indeed. After a few minutes I gave up on finding the stones underneath the wall's wreckage and turned to leave the cave, wondering if I had freed the Sun in some way.

I walked quite a ways down the cavern before noticing that all the torches were now lit. Then the Stone's task became a little clearer: to someone who could not see in the dark, it would appear now that the "Sun" had been freed, but I could not notice a difference either way.

When I reached the Sun Stone it began emitting orange sparks of light that gently floated up into the night sky. With that I was finally done with the Skaal's test, but it was too late in the night to make the walk all the way up north.

Instead I am now visiting with my new friend Kolfinna and will be taking a short nap before starting the trip back to the Skaal village. While I have completed their quest, I have not taken the time to educate myself on their legends and thus have no idea what the significance of what I have done is. I should probably spend some time teaching myself these things before I visit them, lest I insult them in some accidental way. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Day 108 - Confidence Boosted

31 Sun's Dusk
~~~
More progress made again today! I am so close to completing the Skaal's Test of Loyalty and could have completed it today, but was distracted by other tasks made to me.

I had wisely completed my work with the Earth Stone late last night and therefore had no need to walk all the way to the west coast of the island. Instead, the Tree Stone was my next target and almost directly north of Fort Frostmoth.

On my way there I stopped to explore a small underground cave, but it proved to be as rewarding as the family tombs back on Vvardenfell: a few flasks of cheap elixir, some scattered coins, and a large collection of worthless sundries. Unlike the ancestral tombs of the Dunmer though, the cave was completely unoccupied.
The bears and wolves were oddly absent all morning and I found the Tree Stone easily and without any incident. Approaching it provided me with my next Test of Loyalty, this test was to find the stolen seeds of the First Tree. I was told the thief fled east and that that whomever held these seeds "controlled the trees", but what that actually meant was not made clear. Once I recovered the seeds I was to plant them so that the First Tree would grow once again.
I should have thought harder about what it meant to control trees on Solstheim, but it did not remain a mystery for long. A few minutes walk to the east of the stone brought me to a cluster of trees in which one of the blue goblins stood contently, surrounded by docile tree-women. He yelled something in his own language when he spotted me and with a wave of his arm sent his leafy soldiers loping towards me.
Mindful that they were thralls to the goblin I did not attack them, instead battering my way through the group with shield and shoulder in what was no doubt a very awkward looking and un-Khajiit stratagem. The thief of seeds was killed with a single thrust of my spear and four small green seeds fell from his hands as he collapsed.

I became aware that the sound of wooden legs crunching through the snow behind me had died down after I picked up the seeds and when I looked up the tree-women stared blankly back, evidently awaiting a command of some kind. I am not sure if the creatures can blink, but they never did so long as they were placidly gazing at me and the effect was rather unsettling.

I started to walk away and they made no move to follow or attack, choosing for some reason to remain with the fallen body of their former master.
Finding a place to plant the seeds was the easiest part of the whole episode. Just north of the Stone was a conspicuous circle of fine brown dirt surrounded by the short, tough grass of the Solstheim plain. I know little about gardening, but it seemed a  good place to plant the seeds.

My guess was correct, for when I walked back to the Stone it began to glow and produce small globes of white light. Only the Sun Stone was left to visit now and the day was still young. I felt that today I would finally be done with the Skaal's test.
The map placed the Sun Stone at the end of the river I have been following for the past couple of days, so I walked along the river bank and came across a small cave facing the water. My few experiences with caves on Solstheim encouraged me to keep walking, but this one showed the signs of recent habitation. The river at that point was too shallow to permit even the smallest boat, so smugglers seemed unlikely. My curiosity got the better of me and I cautiously pushed the heavy furs serving as the door aside as I descended into the frozen earth.

The only inhabitant was a Nord woman and contrary to everything my life has taught me to expect, was not hostile. She introduced herself as 'Kolfinna' and welcomed me to the cave that was her home. She and her husband shared the small living quarters until his recent death at the hands of his friend. The husband, charmingly named 'Gustav Two-Teeth' had been slain during an argument with another Nord called 'Sigvarr the Strong'. Kolfinna sought monetary compensation for the death of her husband, a Nord custom called 'wergild'.

She was scared to talk to Sigvarr herself and asked if I could have a word with the man. She did not wish the man dead, but she did want his family heirloom, a small gem called 'Pinetear'. If our conversation came to blows she was not adverse to my killing him, but her preference was for the man to live.

He frequently spent time hunting bears and wolves near a collection of stones called the 'Altar of Thrond' northwest of her riverside home, but she warned me that his favorite weapon, a two-handed hammer, was enchanted to inflict paralysis. I would have to rely on my greater agility and speed to put enough distance between us so that I could dispatch him with arrows, if it came to that.

So the Sun Stone was forced to wait while I wandered about trying to find Sigvarr. I surprised a group of smugglers camping along the river as I followed it north and I found it to be a bit refreshing to be fighting poorly-equipped Dunmer again for little to no reward.
I also found Louis Beauchamp's airship...what remains of it. The scattered wreckage and injuries the crew's corpses present suggest quite a hard landing, but the Captain survived the wrecking of the craft only to succumb to Solstheim's cold a few days later.
His journal suggests a trip beset by bad omens, the most telling being that of an Argonian crew-member that tried to intentionally crash the ship and had to be tossed overboard. They did find the burial cave where Louis's amulet should be but crashed during their attempted landing. It is encouraging to know that the amulet is close to the wreck, but no specific directions were given on how to get there. It is something I shall have to keep in mind for later. Louis would be interested to read the Captain's account, so I liberated that from the man's frozen hands and left him and his crew as I found them.

The 'Altar of Thrond' was atop a small hill near the wreck and looked every bit like an actual altar, which I did not expect. I was lucky to have stumbled upon it as I did, as from a distance it just looks like a collection of barren rocks.
Sigvarr was in a copse of trees near the Altar just as Kolfinna said he would be and warily waved to me as I approached. I got right to the point, announcing that I had been sent by Kolfinna to collect wergild for the death of her husband. He brashly declared that he did what had to be done and that, fearing for his life, had no choice but to kill Gustav.

Hoping to avoid having to fight him, I explained that even so, Kolfinna considered him to be her husband's friend and that his death deeply wounded her due to from whom it came. I spoke of the admiration I had for the Nords' bonds of brotherhood and how surprised I was to hear that such a warrior as Sigvarr had slain his friend over a petty argument. This was all untrue, of course, I had no such admiration and never really thought about anything of the sort to begin with. But it was surprisingly effective.

Sigvarr handed me the gem Pinetear, saying that he hoped its possession would help ease Kolfinna's pain and that he would carry the guilt of what he had done with him for the rest of his life. Having said that, he walked away and I started the walk back to Kolfinna's cave.

She was pleased to receive the gem and even more so that Sigvarr still lived. As a reward she is letting me stay in her small cave whenever I wish, which is rather more accepting than I expected, and I was given a key to her late husband's chest, but it contained Nordic fur armor that neither fit nor was worth much. Still, it is a good deed done and I am glad I took the time to help.

I finally reached the Sun Stone ironically long after the sun had set. Its quest was just as brief as the others: Go west and free the Sun from the Halls of Penumbra. It sounds like it will be similar to the Wind Stone's task, but I had no time left in the day, so the Sun Stone's will have to wait for tomorrow.
However, there was enough time for one piece of business: the airship Captain's journal. I Recalled back to Ald'ruhn and sought out the mage Louis so that he would learn what became of his ship. He was distraught to hear that the ship was a wreck and the entire crew perished, but he pressed a sack of coins into my hand and urged me to seek out his Amulet myself, which I will likely do when I have the time.