Monday, October 17, 2016

Skyrim Day 052 - The Sleeping Vampire and a Plague of Dreams

7 Frostfall, 4E201

My meager accommodation did not lend itself towards a good night's sleep. Rather it merely allowed a quick nap, a limitation I was to heavily regret by the end of my exertions.

The inside of the tomb was a war-zone, rogue wizards and highwaymen against Draugr. I was able to observe several skirmishes unseen, the wizards were able to overpower the tomb's guardians, but I watched a Draugr take down two common bandits bereft of magical assistance with seemingly little trouble.
As for me, any surviving bandits or Draugr succumbed to a combination of dagger and stealth, a skill I seem to have finally acquired after a few hundred years.

The place had been described to me as a tomb, but the cramped corpse-lined burials vaults gave way to large, well-adorned caverns with extensive woodwork and traps. Ustengrav was no simple tomb, except for the unfortunate bandits, but it was only after I descended further into the ground that its purpose became clear.

I smelled outside air as soon as I stepped through the door and was surprised to find that, further underground, there was an opening in the roof of the cavern, allowing the morning's waning moon to shine down, bathing the area in damp, blue light.
But to reach the open area I had to proceed through a series of passages circling around it, the passages opening to eating halls whose tables were still stocked with food, the origin of which I can only assume were the bandits the Draugr and I dispatched. Perhaps the Draugr had not yet been awakened when they first arrived and counted themselves lucky at finding such an extensive, secretive hideaway. What few Draugr patrolled the eating areas I easily put to rest with my crossbow.

Reaching the open cavern I was amazed at the true size of it. It boasted several rivers, a lake, and even a copse of Skyrim pine. One of the ancient Dragon Walls was situated next to a small waterfall and I approached it confidently, learning 'Zii', Spirit.
Other curiosities awaited me there. A small passage hidden behind the waterfall led to a Draugr and a chest, neither yielding anything valuable. At the other side of the cavern sat a skeleton eternally pondering something until I came too close, waking it from its slumber.

Other than startling me it did no harm.

The highlight of my visit was the three stones someone set in front of a triple portcullis. Their method of operation was clear: when I drew close to one, it began to glow and one of the gates would open. Walking away dimmed the stone's light and the gate would close. It was impossible for a single adventurer to trigger all three stones at once and even if that were possible the gates were too far to pass through before they would close.

I must have spent an hour there just puzzling out how to keep the gates open. I tried throwing stones to prop them up, spent some time attempting to move the large glowing stones closer to the gates, I attacked them with my sword and dagger, cast spells at them, all to no avail.

The only thing I had not yet tried then was using one of my unpleasant Shouts. I did...and nothing happened. But then I remembered the second Shout spell I had learned from the Greybeards, the one that would push me through the air. My only chance was to trigger the three gates quickly, then use the Shout to throw myself through the gates before they closed on me. Simple.

Of course it was not that simple. I wound up throwing myself against the iron gates a dozen times, fortunately not hurting myself too badly, before I managed just the right timing to make it through the gates just as they closed behind me. Any apprehension about being trapped was quickly dispelled: each gate had a pull-chain on the opposite side to let people out...or in, I suppose. I am just glad it worked, the alternative was giving up completely, maybe hiring a mercenary to stand at the stones while I went through the gates.
Beyond were just some spiders, somehow surviving behind the gates, and a large chamber filled with water. Four statues, each a Dragon's head, rose from the water on either side of the small bridge, at the end of which was Jurgen Windcaller's horn.

After that I was free to leave.

The cave which the Dawnguard leader requested I investigate was on the other side of the road from Ustengrav, said to be little more than a crevice from the outside. I was sure I would have trouble finding it and I was correct. I would come to regret this decision some time later.

The cave was atop a hill, but from the road I could not see a way up. So I simply followed the hill around, figuring to find a path upwards at some point. After a few minutes I began to smell smoke and soon came upon a destroyed hall, the bodies of the vampires' black hounds scattered outside, the remains of vampires and Vigilantss of Stendarr within. The Vigilant at Dawnguard was correct in his assumption, for I found nothing that hinted at anyone having surviving the attack.
The Vigilants of Stendarr may not have been completely exterminated, but the vampires had successfully dealt the Order a severe blow. Only the Vigilants patrolling the roads likely remain and they have no place to call home now. The Dawnguard are now fated to face the vampires alone in a massive, understaffed fortress.

Being told where the cave was provided little help in actually finding it. When I came upon stairs carved into the hillside I thought they would lead me to my destination, but they unfortunately ended at a shrine to Mehrunes Dagon that I had no interest in at all. Descending the stairs, I saw a small ruin a ways away near a broken Oblivion Gate and crept towards it only to find three sleeping bandits. I had no reason to kill them, so on I went.

Eventually my wandering about the hill brought me to a small stairway of four steps which led into a unfinished cave. This proved to be my desired destination, a confirmation of which I received quite quickly.
Once inside I heard, very clearly, a woman bragging about how stupid the Vigilants were, one of them having entered the cavern alone and been overpowered by the vampires at the entrance. The vampires continued to chat as I crept forward and laughed over the fact that two of their number were killed by the Vigilant before he succumbed. They scorned the dead, laughing that that the dead vampires acted above their station anyway. No honor among vampires, it seems.

They were perhaps the most talkative pair of vampires I have ever met, continuing to chat as I circled around them, waiting to pick one off as soon as they separated. The female vampire complained that someone named 'Lokil' was taking much too long with whatever he was doing deep inside the ruin and she contemplated returning to the vampires' castle to tell 'Harkon' of Lokil's presumed failure.

The two argued over this point for a few minutes, the man being more loyal to Lokil than his counterpart and once the argument died down they returned to their respective posts: the man to an empty cart at the cavern wall opposite the ruin's gate, the woman across from him, at the gate. In between the two was a black hound, sniffing around indifferently. The bunch gave off an air of not caring about whatever was happening deeper inside and their attention was lax because of it.

Once the two chatty vampires and their dog were taken care of, I crept through the gate, entering a fairly standard-looking Nordic burial site. I turned one corner just in time to watch a vampire lose her head to a Draugr axe, a satisfying sight.
Further on was a natural cavern whose permanent leaking from the ceiling created an artificial rain, complete with a small pond in the corner. A vampire was sitting beyond the pond, meditating or something of that nature, but when I tried to sneak up the path to bury my dagger in his back I was surprised by skeletons who clawed up from underneath the water in twos and threes...after which they stood there, doing nothing, as I was not yet spotted. Such was the dismal enchantment binding them together that I was able to simply walk up to each of them, smack them in the head with my sword, and dispel their magicka.
The vampire was barely more aware, allowing me to approach him unseen. Vampires have a reputation as being "creatures of the night", yet I have been able to gain the advantage in stealth every time I have encountered them. Perhaps it is their arrogance which blinds them to the threat of a sneaky Khajiit.

Onward I crept, the architecture of the place giving way from what I assume is a "traditional" burial ruin to something almost Dwemer: blocky and overly massive, only with stone gargoyles placed here and there as opposed to Dwemer constructs. These gargoyles were harmless carvings, but quite fierce looking.

I found the "treasure" of Dimhollow in a large, ornate chamber at the deepest part of the crypt. When I entered, I was greeted by two gargoyle statues and the sounds of an argument further below. One Vigilant was still alive, bravely refusing to divulge his now-fallen Order's secrets to the vampire 'Lokil', evidently the leader of the dwindling group of vampires.

The Vigilant died out of my sight, I being busy trying to keep in the shadows as I descended the balcony I found myself on. The balcony's stairs led to a small bridge connecting it to a ritualistic-looking arena of archways and columns build on an island of stone where the remaining vampires were occupied. I watched them for a few moments, one patrolled the perimeter of the structure while the others pushed, pulled, and poked at several braziers scattered inside the columns.

When the patrolling vampire drew close to the bridge a Khajiit, hanging perilously underneath it, grabbed his ankle and pulled him to his doom, the cavern's lake being too far down to see. His scream alerted the others, but as I had hoped they thought him clumsy, not ambushed.
While they made their jokes I climbed into the arena on the other side of the bridge and knifed one of them in the back. The remaining vampire put up a fight, but it was over quickly. I could not tell which one of them was Lokil, but that wound up not being important anyway.

A book on one of the vampires was written by the late Vigilant Adalvald detailing an earlier, less fatal exploration of Dimhollow Crypt. His thoughts mirrored my own: this part of the crypt was not built by Nords or Dwemer, but he went one step further: he thought that the different architecture originated from an ancient clan of vampires.

It was hard to argue given what had already transpired.

The braziers that the vampires had been fussing over were set into channels carved into the floor and set upon rollers, allowing them to be slid along the channels in different configurations. It was an obvious puzzle, one the vampires did not complete. The channels circled around a pedestal in the center, but I could see no obvious way to determine how to proceed.

Experimenting, I pushed the brazier on the outside channel around and was surprised when one location caused a harmless purple flame to ignite in the brazier, quickly spreading along the channel. The flame stopped where the channel met another radiating from the center pedestal, but I understood then what was required.

The remaining braziers needed to be pushed into the end of the flame, causing the braziers to ignite and push the fire deeper within the circular channels. Once all the braziers were in place the flames were encircling the pedestal and as I suspected that was the key to unlocking Dimhollow Crypt's so-called treasure.

The pedestal rose from the ground, a panel slid open, revealing...a sleeping woman. She was ornately dressed and woke quickly, stepping out of the pedestal as if what was happening was simply the most normal thing in Skyrim.
She immediately started firing questions at me, seeming not the least bit anxious or confused at either being awoken or inside of the pedestal. She demanded to know if I was a vampire and appeared a bit confused to find that was not so.

Continuing with her aloofness, she demanded to be escorted to her family home west of Solitude, only introducing herself as 'Serana' after that. Then it was my turn to ask questions.

First, I wanted to know how long she had been sleeping. She claimed to not know who the High King of Skyrim currently was and remarked sourly that a war of succession was just perfect, showing that nothing got boring while she had been sleeping. When I explained that the Empire supported one candidate and the rebel Stormcloaks another, she became genuinely confused, asking me what Empire I was talking about. Reminding her that the Empire came from Cyrodiil caused a great deal of alarm, her haughtiness giving way to uncertainty as she asked once again to be taken to her family's home as soon as possible. She suspected that her sleep had gone on for far longer than planned and did not know what else to do other than see if her vampire family still lived.

Serana not remembering the Empire makes me wonder how long she has truly been asleep. There has always been an Empire of some sort out of Cyrodiil since the First Era four thousand years ago. That is quite a nap, though I do not think Serana has been sleeping that long. It seems rather improbable to sleep for four thousand years, awake, then expect your family is still where you left them.

While on our way out two gargoyle statues suddenly sprang at us, but Serana blew them apart with her magicka before I could do much of anything. I did not appreciate that, actually.
Even less appreciated was her raising a gargoyle's corpse so that I had to contend with a shifty, confused vampiress and a eight-foot hulking undead stone-skin monster...walking behind me the whole time. It was not a good start to our relationship.
Because I had not yet suffered enough, we still had to fight through a group of powerful Draugr, then through an ancient arena still thronging with Draugr spectators and nobility, all of whom tried to kill us.
One side of the Arena housed a Word Wall which taught me 'Gaan', Stamina. If Serana thought the learning process odd she did not make mention of it.

By then it felt as though I had been underground for a week, but the double door on the far side of the arena's cavern opened to a rough-hewn passage that smelled encouragingly of fresh, cold air, which Serana complained of almost immediately. I do not seem to get along with people any longer.

Once we were outside she also complained of the sunlight, but I ignored her. The exit from Dimhollow placed us on the opposite side of the hill, I found a rough path that led to the road to Dawnstar, but I had to fight through the partially ruined Fort Dunstad to get there. Serana had disappeared somewhere between the crypt and the fort, but I had no problems killing a few bandits on my own.

One had a unique-looking weapon, a single-edged sword with intricate carvings along the cleaver-like blade. I have never seen its like before, probably a family heirloom of the late, unnamed bandit. I decided to give it a try myself and will be using it through the next few days.

Continuing to Dawnstar I passed another fort on my right and a giant's camp on my left, neither causing me any trouble. Serana decided to join me again just as we both arrived at Dawnstar.
As the last city I had to visit in Skyrim, Dawnstar was a bit of a disappointment. The best that could be said about it was that it was a well-ordered fishing village, somewhat large for the type, but the docks had little traffic, most of it likely passing Dawnstar in favor of Solitude.

A courtesy visit to Jarl Skald found him in bad humor, everyone in Dawnstar was sleeping terribly, plagued by nightmares. A priest of Mara was staying in Dawnstar, attempting to rectify this situation. It was suggested I speak to him if I had any interest in allowing the town its sleep. The Jarl mentioned that the town has seen a few Dragons flying over as of late, but blamed the sightings on the Empire's abandonment of Talos. Once the Stormcloaks have driven out the Empire, in his words, the Dragons will go away too. I could not think of a response to that.

Serana excused herself and went to find the Inn, the sun-lit snow too bright for her unaccustomed eyes.

I had not forgotten Silus Vesuius or his Mythic Dawn museum. Finding it was easy: I had only to follow the sound of a heated argument taking place in front of a house adorned with ragged banners bearing the Mythic Dawn's rising sun.
The argument was between a man on the porch, shabbily dressed in an imitation of Mythic Dawn robes, and a woman, mage by her outfit, at the foot of the steps. The discussion was over by the time I reached the house and the woman introduced herself as Madena, Court Wizard of Dawnstar. She begged me not to step inside the museum, that things such as the Mythic Dawn are best left forgotten. I could not agree more, but I said nothing. She excused herself and I went inside, the man, presumably Silus Vesuius having gone inside as I spoke with Madena.

Silus was surprised to see a visitor, but welcomed me enthusiastically. His "museum" was not terribly impressive: a faded banner, a hood and cloak, the single page of the Mysterium...something, and a set of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries, written by the deluded Altmer, Mankar, may he still suffer to this day.

The last display case had a scabbard marked with an Oblivion rune. When I asked Silus about it he excitedly exclaimed that it belonged to Mehrune's Razor and announced that he had a job for me.

Unknown to me groups of vigilantes formed after the Oblivion Crisis for the sole purpose of eliminating the remnants the Mythic Dawn cult. Mehrunes' Razor was acquired by one of these groups and, true to their cause, broke the blade into three pieces rather than use an artifact of Mehrune Dagon

Silus said that the blade was broken over one hundred years ago, the pieces being passed down to the group's descendants, all of whom were, coincidentally, now living in Skyrim. Silus had a list of the three individuals and their locations, two of whom fell to banditry, one to an unknown profession in Morthal.

I told him I might look into the matter, though I did not promise anything. Inside 'Windpeak' Inn I spoke with the priest of Mara, a Dunmer named 'Erandur'. He explained that the nightmares were merely a symptom of the real problem: the Daedric Prince Vaermina. Erandur had tracked the source of the Prince's manifestation to the ruins of the nearby "Nightcaller Temple", but was too inexperienced in combat to venture in himself. I agreed to help, as it will no doubt be useful to have a reputation as a problem-solver with the Jarl, should he and I have any future business.

But Serana had disappeared to a room of her own hours ago and I unintentionally passed the night of 6 Frostfall in Dimhollow Crypt, so I desperately needed the rest. I got the directions to the temple from Erandur and promised to meet him there tomorrow. I am sure Serana can wait one more day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Skyrim Day 051 - Pulled In Different Directions

5 Frostfall, 4E201

If I wrote a list of all the things people are expecting me to do for them it would likely be longer than my arm. Hoping to remove one item from the list I left the 'Winking Skeever' as soon as the Blue Palace opened to the public.

While on my way I was stopped by a gaunt, babbling man who asked if I had found his master yet. I remembered him, he gave me a skeleton's pelvic bone weeks ago saying it was some sort of key to a hidden room in the Blue Palace. Obviously a lunatic. I assured him I was busy looking for his "master" and walked on.

The Blue Palace was just as sunny and dusty as the first time I visited. Fortunately I did not have to restrain my sneezing for very long, Falk Firebeard was standing near the entryway, looking very bored.
When he saw me approaching he asked if I found anything at Wolfskull Cave. Going on my sparse notes, I confidently reported that I had prevented the summoning of something by the necromancers and that someone named "Potema" was said to be involved. Not my most coherent of after-action reports, but it has been a very long time since I have served in the Legion.

The name meant more to Falk than it did to me. At hearing her name he shuddered and declared that I had done Solitude a massive service in preventing the reincarnation of the "Wolf Queen", Potema. Keeping her wherever she is now was worth a thousand Septims to Falk, plus the advisement that the Jarl of Solitude, Elisif the Fair, was looking for someone resourceful.

Jarl Elisif is the widower of the former High King, Torygg, whose death sparked the civil war within Skyrim. She is a claimant to the throne alongside Ulfric Stormcloak, but neither seem eager to claim anything. With Dragons flying about I am sure no one wants to shoulder the responsibility of driving them back.

But the Jarl's request was much less daunting and more personal: she wanted me to bring an offering to a hidden shrine to Talos in memory of the former High King. She had made the required offerings to those able to be legally worshiped, but Torygg was evidently a follower of the outlawed God and his soul would be assisted by my effort.

I agreed to the task and was given a battered horn Elisif informed me was used on Torygg's hunting trips. The Talos shrine was somewhat north-east of Whiterun, a location I have already spent some time wandering around for various reasons.

But Dawnstar still awaits me, so instead of taking the south road to Whiterun I parted with a few Septims near the river's shore so that a fisherman might be persuaded to ferry a Khajiit across to the marshes of Morthal. There I found plenty of Deathbell and took a moment to marvel at the cargo ships of the East Empire Company.
Secluded in the stifling marshland is the forgotten remains of an Oblivion Gate, its fires long since extinguished, probably by warriors charging out of Solitude and Morthal. Whether it was closed by a native of Skyrim or as a result of Mehrunes Dagon's banishment is impossible to tell.
I sat on the gate's altar for awhile, reminiscing on memories I could barely recall. After a few more hours of scouring the marsh for Deathbells I made for the road past Morthal and continued towards Dawnstar. While on the road I was attacked by yet another Dark Brotherhood assassin. The contract was signed by the same person, Astrid, specifically stating that "failure was not an option". Failure is always an option, one that my assassins always end up taking.

I arrived at the mining settlement of Stonehills as dusk started to settle in, but I knew there would be no rooms there to spend the night. I had spent some time in Stonehills a long time ago, a day or two at a time after escorting wagons carrying timber from Falkreath to serve as fuel or as support for shoring up the mine's tunnels.

The Greybeards had asked me to retrieve a horn of theirs from a ruin to the north-west of Stonehills, while Isran of the Dawnguard wants me to delve into 'Dimhollow Crypt' almost directly east of Stonehills. A fortunate coincidence and one I chose to take advantage of, arbitrarily selecting the Greybeards' task first over Isran's.

The 'Horn of Jurgen Windcaller' was somewhere inside the burial crypt, but the glowing light flickering alongside it was a tell-tale sign of tomb-robbers hoping to retrieve the riches they hoped existed inside.
When robbing the dead seems like a profitable opportunity you are likely reaching the end of desperation and the beginning of despair. The lot camping around the ruin were no different. Poorly armed and poorly led, they posed little challenge.

One of the bandits' lean-tos was actually not spattered with blood and that is where I am now, next to a fire, wrapped in furs. Once again I have started the day in civilized surroundings and end it wrapped in animal skins, covered in blood, and ready to fight a horde of Draugr for somebody else's trinket.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Skyrim Day 50 - Dragon Attack at Dragon Bridge

4 Frostfall, 4E201

Having dispensed with my unhappy housecarl, I felt an odd sense of liberty as I left Breezehome, which was completely at odds with my journal, full of promises and agreed-upon tasks I had yet to attend to.

It was just about dawn when I stepped outside, but the market of Whiterun was already awake and happily doing business.
An older woman by the name of 'Fralia Gray-Mane' complained that her son, Thorald, had been declared dead by everyone else, but she still believed he lived. She asked that I investigate his disappearance, but the Gray-Mane family is known to be strong supporters of the Stormcloak so I was not about to inconvenience myself for them.

One of the tasks I have in my journal is the investigation of Wolfskull Cave from Falk Firebeard of Solitude. I wrote down that rumors persisted that the cave, near Dragon Bridge, was "haunted". Falk Firebeard asked me to visit the cave to determine the nature of the haunting. Then I wrote "sevrl necromncrs, summon stppd, ask Potema".

I remember going to the cave near Dragon Bridge and thwarting some sort of summoning ritual there, but I do not remember anyone named Potema. I really should take better notes. Stopping a summoning sounded like what Falk may have expected of me, so I decided to re-visit Solitude and find out if anything else was required from me.

Between Whiterun and the northern road I passed a giant's camp, with three Mammoths wandering nearby.I gave them a wide berth and met up with the road leading to Solitude with no interruption. I passed a small patrol of Stormcloak soldiers, but they only glared at me as I passed, which is all the better for them.

As I approached Rorikstead I was puzzled by the lack of the noises one typically hears around a village: the bleating of animals, shouting of children, wives shouting to husbands toiling in the fields, those sorts of things. The village appeared to be utterly abandoned, not a single person was outside and I elected to pass through rather than determine if the residents were staying in their homes for some reason.

The reason revealed itself as I approached the bridge of Dragon Bridge.

A Dragon was attacking Dragon Bridge, perhaps insulted by the effigy mounted upon the actual bridge. As I sprinted for the relative safety of the town I kept watch on the creature, ready to dive into the river should its attention become focused on me. The Dragon, however, seemed to be content with flying about and roaring, occasionally incinerating a tree or two as it flew past the town. Frightening, but not terribly dangerous.

The villagers were nowhere to be seen, likely hiding inside their very flammable houses and businesses. Two guards, one from Solitude, the other wearing Imperial attire, were firing arrows at the Dragon as it flew past, but whether due to a lack of skill or simple fear, their arrows were wide of their rather large mark. I had just set a bolt into my crossbow when the Dragon decided it would rather land and kill us all.

The Imperial was the first victim, thrown against a stone wall by a blast of flame. Then the Dragon turned on me.
A bit more clear of mind than during my first encounter with a Dragon, I was struck on how much the creature resembled a turtle, which is not nearly as intimidating. Keeping that in mind while reassuring myself that I already fought one of their kind and won dispelled much of the fear and wonder I felt at Whiterun's ruined tower.

While the surviving Solitude guardsman ineffectually bounced arrows off of the Dragon's hide, I guessed that if I fought this much stronger enemy defensively I would suffer the same fate as the Imperial, so I instead stayed (nervously!) close to the beast, sometimes nearly under it.

Its breath tugged at nearly-forgotten memories of fighting around Red Mountain, but I did not have the time to reminisce. I was able to wound it about the wings and neck as it tried to crane its head around to bite me in half. After a few more strikes of my axe it became frustrated and lifted off the ground, flying off. The guard cheered, evidently thinking the Dragon had fled, but it swooped around, dove, and snatched the guard in its jaws, throwing the unfortunate man over the houses of Dragon Bridge, into the fields beyond.

It was Dragon versus Dragonborn now.

I managed to hit it with one crossbow bolt before it landed in front of me, but the buffeting caused by its wings kicked up a lot of dirt. As I shielded my eyes I lost my footing and fell, coming down right on the crossbow. I immediately jumped up before I became lunch, but the limb had been torn out of the stock, making the weapon useless.

We faced off in front of the bridge, but the Dragon was definitely weakened and not as quick as it was. Rather than take to the air it clumsily stalked about the ground, using the horns on its wings to steady itself. It was awkward to see and very slow. If I got close enough it snapped at me, but doing so exposed its neck as I dodged and the Dragon died after several blows nearly decapitated it.
I was not given long to admire my work, the corpse burst into flames after a few seconds and the smoke and ash was drawn into my nose and mouth again, no more pleasant an experience than the first time.  By the time I could breathe normally again the Dragon had been reduced to bones and sinew.
The townspeople refused to come out when I knocked on the doors, so I continued to Solitude. The giant charred skeleton in the middle of their village is their problem.

When I arrived at Solitude I went immediately to the blacksmith to purchase more bolts. Half-serious, I told the man there that I was shopping for something to take down a Dragon. He replied that he was out of those, but had a bow that fired rainbows and a quiver that dispensed beer. I bought my bolts and left without replying.

Ten Septims rented me a room at the inn, as usual. Tomorrow I will report back to Falk Firebeard and see about my reward for the original business at Dragon Bridge.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Skyrim Day 049 - My Home, Breezehome

3 Frostfall, 4E201

Returning to Whiterun was not only appealing to me, but Lydia as well, moreso after I admitted my intention to leave her there. This, she said, was a wise decision: in my absence she would be able to manage my affairs and my household, a duty she assured me she was well-versed in exercising.

That I had an estate to speak of was news to me and Lydia was quite surprised to hear I had no holdings in or around Whiterun. She firmly insisted that I make the acquisition of such a priority once we reached the city, stating that a Thane should not be without roots in the city they were sworn to serve.

I suspect she is simply just as eager to be free of me as I am of her, but having a (somewhat) permanent home again was an appealing thought. Inns get old after awhile, especially given that they largely all look the same in Skyrim. Nords are not known for their architectural creativity.

It was quicker to leave Ivarstead via the north road and remain off the road, along the hills, rather than take the road which starts to lead to Whiterun only at the sulfur springs. Along the way we had to cross a ravine via a large tree that had been uprooted and placed as a primitive bridge. Predictably a opportunistic bandit was lounging in the middle of the tree, loudly demanding a toll for us, two obviously well-armed warriors, to cross.
The Bosmer was armed with a bow, but Lydia had her own bow and I my crossbow. Why the man thought it a good idea to make demands is beyond my thinking. He managed to get off one shot before Lydia's arrow thudded into his middle and my crossbow bolt crashed into his skull, certainly killing him. His body tumbled into the river below and disappeared over the waterfall before Lydia and I had finished crossing.

Just before the road to Whiterun we came upon a tomb built into the hillside. Lydia said nothing and I was happy enough to walk past it, but a man came running out after us, asking us to wait a moment. Lydia was prepared to skewer him right then and there, but I figured the man to be a foiled would-be robber of the dead rather than a bandit.

He introduced himself as 'Golldir' and asked if we might be able to help him. Golldir and his aunt had traveled to the tomb, which was his family's, only to find that the seal on the entrance had been broken. They entered the tomb and were ambushed by a necromancer intent on using Golldir's ancestors as undead soldiers. Golldir's aunt, Agna, fell during the ensuring battle and Golldir shamefully fled with the necromancer's laughter echoing around him.

Golldir had good reason to flee the place: according to him his father had locked him inside the tomb as a child for three days, leaving him with nothing to eat or drink but the moldering offers made to the dead. Having survived, he swore to never return unless it was in death.

I told him that Lydia and I would enter the tomb, but only alongside him. He paused a moment, then agreed.

Whatever fears the man had of the tomb were evidently dispelled due to our company, for he fought just as bravely as Lydia, the two of them practically negating any requirement for me to draw my weapons. Draugr fell before us and eventually we came upon Agna's body, mercifully not raised by the necromancer. There Golldir swore revenge or death and we continued on.

As we entered a large room Golldir whispered that it was the resting place of his family's founding members and I was not surprised to see the necromancer atop the platform where two conspicuous coffins rested. Golldir shouted something at the mage, but just then the coffins lying about the room burst open and soon we were swarmed by a dozen Draugr.

Golldir and Lydia became inescapably engaged with the horde, but I was able to shove my way through the line and charged at the necromancer. The undead would fall with his death and skilled though the were Lydia and Golldir could not battle long against twelve adversaries.
The Dunmer had been brazen enough to paint a crude skull on his robes, but as I prepared to bury my axe in his stomach he abruptly disappeared. An illusion. His arrogant laughter alerted me to his new position, but that also proved to be an illusion. Frustrated, I ran to and fro, hacking away at illusionary Dunmer as Golldir frantically urged me to kill him before all was lost.

Finally I cornered the actual body of the necromancer and suffered greatly from the magicka of his ice spells before I was close enough to strike him with my axe. He had not the staying power to withstand much injury and crumpled against the wall, leaving a bloody smear.
Lydia and Golldir were almost as bloodied as the dead mage, but their wounds were not grievous and a few vials of healing elixir were all they needed between them. Golldir's fear of the tomb had been vanquished with the vampire, choosing to stay in the tomb to set "things in order", as he said. I wished him well and my housecarl and I continued to Whiterun.

Again we saw no Dragons flying about and arrived at Whiterun some time after most of the city had their dinner. Lydia pointedly reminded me of the need to acquire property so we walked up to Dragonsreach. The Jarl was busy dealing with someone, but I gathered that his steward would be the one managing deeds and the like. I was correct and there was a deed available for a small house within the walls which the locals dubbed 'Breezehome'.

The key to the empty dwelling cost me five thousand Septims, paid in five ingots, plus an additional twelve hundred Septims for the furnishings inside.
Breezehome appeared unassuming on the outside but bore all the signs of being rapidly vacated by its former occupants, including a roaring fire with a cooking pot. Fish, garlic, and herbs hung over the fire and along the walls were cabinets stocked with bowls, pans, and utensils. Plates were set on the table, with food on them. Someone had been living in Breezehome until apparently five minutes prior to our arrival.

When I asked Lydia about this she simply shrugged and said it was a Thane's right. I was not aware I was forcing someone's family out of their home when I bought it, but that begs the question as to why it was for sale at all. No point in worrying about it now, I suppose.
The bedroom is in the loft, barely lit and displaying more armaments than I find to be tasteful. Lydia was pleased with it and pleased with her room, which I suspect belonged to a child. I asked her to stay at Breezehome while I was away and she readily agreed, promising to represent my interests...whatever those are.

Tomorrow I shall travel, alone, to see about the many tasks that have been asked of me. Vampires, ancient relics, bandits, there seems to always be something to do that everyone else around the task has ignored. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Skyrim Day 048 - Up the Mountain, Down the Mountain

3 Frostfall, 4E201

With my dour housecarl in tow I left the inn of Ivarstead and ventured into 'Shroud Hearth' barrow, a tomb not only "close" to Ivarstead but actually inside the town itself. It was typical of the tombs built during the first Era with the exception of the rumor that a ghost haunted it. Draugr are one thing, ghosts are another.

The innkeeper said that once you got close to the barrow a voice would echo from the depths warning you to stay away. Echoing this warning was 'Wyndelius', a Dunmer mage who had descended into the tomb a year ago and was never seen again. Whatever the reason for his disappearance I felt confident that Lydia and I could handle anything the ancient Nords had thought of.

They had not thought of what we found. As soon as we descended underground a voice wavered through the corridors warning us to turn back. Now, I have not been in many Nordic barrows or tombs, but the all of the ones I have explored lacked a vocal warning at the entrance. Intrigued, I crept on, disarmed several traps for my bumbling housecarl, and found a blue blob slumbering next to a lit fireplace.
The blob wound up being Wyndelius, driven mad after an obsessive need to locate a Dragon's Claw key in order to gain access to the rest of the barrow, where, as usual, untold treasures awaited him. But he started paranoid, certain that others would follow him to the barrow and unlock the secret before him. His solution was inspired, if a bit overworked: he mixed a potion to wrap his body in an illusion to make him appear as a ghost and used it to scare off other would-be adventurers.

But he kept drinking the mixture and searching fruitlessly for the Claw, eventually driving himself mad to the point where he actually believed he was a vengeful Draugr spirit from the First Era. This would be why he immediately attacked Lydia as she, not for the first time that day, demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the words 'stealth', 'cautious', and 'quiet'. She killed him in seconds without a word to him or me. The deranged writings of his journal revealed the strange trajectory his life had taken and I took it as proof to the townspeople that the barrow's "haunting" was no more.

Rather than deliver the journal back to the innkeeper I decided Lydia and I would first ascend the supposedly seven-thousand steps from Ivarstead to the monastery of the Greybeards at the top of the mountain. Just before the village's bridge was a man busily collecting wax-paper packages into a cloth sack and as we went to pass him by he stopped us and asked if we were going to the monastery. We were and he offered to pay us to deliver his sack of goods to the Greybeards. The man, Klimmek, admitted that the steps were getting to be too much for his aged knees Having no reason to deny his request, I cheerfully agreed to carry his goods up the mountain, then immediately handed the sack to Lydia.

There may or may not be seven-thousand steps, but the journey upwards was more symbolic than I anticipated. Along the path were nine stone markers, each inscribed with a bit of knowledge about dragons, the Dragon War, and the abilities of the Dragonborn. I wrote each one down:

Marker I
Before the birth of Men, the Dragons ruled all Mundus
Their word was the Voice, and they spoke only for True Needs
For the Voice could blot out the sky and flood the land

Marker II
Men were born and spread over the face of Mundus
The Dragons presided over the crawling masses
Men were weak then, and had no Voice

Marker III
The fledgling spirits of Men were strong in Old Times
Unafraid to war with Dragons and their Voices
But the Dragons only shouted them down and broke their hearts

Marker IV
Kyne called on Paarthurnax, who pitied Man
Together they taught Men to use the Voice
Then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue

Marker V
Man prevailed, shouting Alduin out of the world
Proving for all that their Voice too was strong
Although their sacrifices were many-fold

Marker VI
With roaring Tongues, the Sky-Children conquer
Founding the First Empire with Sword and Voice
Whilst the Dragons withdrew from this World

Marker VII
The Tongues at Red Mountain went away humbled
Jurgen Windcaller began His Seven Year Meditation
To understand how Strong Voices could fail

Marker VIII
Jurgen Windcaller chose silence and returned
The 17 disputants could not shout Him down
Jurgen the Calm built His home on the Throat of the World

Marker IX
For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name
Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to Hrothgar
They blessed and named him Dovahkiin

It sounds straightforward: Dragons ruled the known universe by themselves, then "men" came into being and were subjugated by the Dragons. As is always the case, Men declared war, this time on the Dragons and were overwhelmed. Kyne, said to be the widow of the Nordic depiction of Lorkhan, then collaborated with a friendly or neutral Dragon so that the Dragons' "shouts" could be learned and used by the Men.

The fifth marker says that the Men, after a long struggle, defeated a dragon named 'Alduin' and drove him "out of the world", whatever that means. Now apparently masters of Mundus, the Men conquered the rest of...where ever they had started and founded the First Empire.

But here is where I realized that the markers were not describing a Tamriel-spanning event, but one that likely only spanned what is today the province of Skyrim. The "First Empire" described on the marker could not have been the first Imperial empire, for the creation of that also began the tradition of the Amulet of Kings and the Dragonfires, implying that the ruler of the first Imperial empire descended from the Dragonborn.

If my assumption is correct, then the markers described the migration of the Nordic people into Skyrim, where they fought the Dragons and learned how to use the Dragons' shouts. With that power they won the war and claimed Skyrim for their own. The First Empire of the Nords did not last nearly as long.

I do not know of Jurgen Windcaller, but it sounds as if the Nordic First Empire invaded Morrowind, only to be defeated at Red Mountain, a site of much conflict throughout the ages, apparently. Jurgen meditated for seven years (or weeks, or days...), fought seventeen other Nords, and then constructed the monastery where the Greybeards now reside.
There they remained apart from the world until they named Tiber Septim the first 'Dovahkiin', starting the Septim Dynasty and with it, the Third Era. The stone markers end at that event, but the monastery was just beyond it anyway. Having counted the steps and lost my place twice, I can say there are definitely not seven thousand steps, but somewhere around six hundred and fifty or so. I met two Nords undergoing their own pilgrimages up the path, but it was much shorter than I thought it would be and I just cannot see why it is held in such reverence by everyone else.

The supply chest was nestled between the staircases leading to the main entrance and Lydia dumped the sack inside with barely concealed relief, acidly remarking that she had, in fact, sworn to carry my burdens. It is a wonder that one of us did not push the other off the mountain.

Inside, the Greybeards were waiting.
All of them were men, old, bearded, and clothed in featureless grey robes. One introduced himself as 'Arngeir' and asked me for a "taste of my Voice", which was a particularly odd way of asking me to use the Thu'um forcefully placed upon me. I found that I could draw the power forth voluntarily if I focused, making it much less disorientating to use. The sound of the word 'Fus' caused Arngeir to stagger and the dust on the floor to be blown against the wall, satisfying their request for evidence.

Then he actually asked me why I had come! I bit off the first reply that came to mind, realizing that the question was a test of sorts. So I simply answered that I had come seeking knowledge as to what it means to be 'Dragonborn', as many people in Whiterun were calling me that after the death of the Dragon.

Arngeir assured me that the Greybeards were here to teach and guide the Dragonborn, as they always have been, and one of the other Greybeards taught me another word: 'Ro', the second of three words which together would create a blast of air that could level a building. The word I already knew, 'Fus', was the first of the three and by itself is not particularly potent. With 'Ro', I can now send both words hurtling out of my mouth and into my foes with greater strength.

Or I could just sneak up on them and stab them in the back as I have been doing.

Lydia and I were led outside to the rear courtyard and there I was taught the word 'Wuld', or Whirlwhind. One of the silent Greybeards demonstrated its use: upon speaking the word he shot forward almost faster than I could see, appearing thirty yards away in a second. I was impressed, but then I was told to try it. I stood where the Greybeard had been, focused inward, and "felt" the power within me. I spoke the word 'Wuld' and a giant invisible hand slammed into my back and threw me forwards, propelling me clear through the gate and past the waiting Greybeards. I lost my footing on the packed snow as I landed, ending up in an undignified, crumpled heap. Arngeir tactfully suggested I practice more on my own, Lydia predictably said nothing at all.

And of course the Greybeards had a task for me: retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller from a tomb called 'Ustengrav', north of Morthal. I mentioned that the return of the Dragons and my becoming Dragonborn was no coincidence and Arngeir agreed, stating that my destiny was bound with that of the Dragons, for better or worse. Before I left he warned me about being tempted to arrogance with my new power, predicting that such a path would only lead to my downfall. With that he bid me farewell, for now.
An archway on the opposite side of the courtyard seemed to lead to something, but a swirling maelstrom of snow and ice made it difficult to see. When I tried passing through the arch I found the wind working directly against me, preventing me from taking a step beyond it. Interesting, but a futile effort right now.

The walk back down the mountain gave me time enough to think upon many things, most of them the simple issue of timing. The first Dragon was sighted as it attack the Imperial garrison at Helgen, saving Ulfric Stormcloak from execution. After that, nothing, save for the remnants of battles that could either be with Dragon or a fire-flinging bandit-mage.

Then Farengar sends me to Bleak Falls where I expect Stormcloaks and Dragons, but just get Draugr, a wall of words, and a stone tablet for my efforts. I glanced at it once and I think the tablet had something akin to a map carved in it and I regret now not looking closer. A week passes and I visit Farengar to see what he has learned from it. As we begin to talk a Dragon attacks an isolated, unimportant watchtower, which is thwarted with great loss of life. I return to Whiterun and am attacked by cultists wearing dragon-face masks, yelling about the inevitable dominion of a "Dragon Priest" named Miraak. So much has happened, all of it seemingly connected, in such a short length of time. None of this is coincidence, but what am I to make of it? The Stormcloaks in alliance with these Dragon cultists? A new, third party in Skyrim's civil war? I do not know.

I returned to Klimmek and was paid a thousand Septims for the delivery, two-hundred of which I gave to Lydia. The innkeeper was pleased to hear that the local barrow was not, in fact, haunted and rewarded me with what poor Wyndelius had been seeking: a brass Dragon's claw set with sapphires carved into talons. The underside was marked with an dragonfly, an owl, and a wolf, the combination that would unlock the depths of the barrow.

The barrow was close enough to make a second expedition possible today, so we entered the slightly less haunted barrow and proceeded to the dial-locked stone slab.
There was far more to the barrow than I think the locals knew about. Behind the door was a further expanse of tomb at least six times larger than what lay before it, complete with Draugr and skeletons enough to keep Lydia entertained.
We flung aside the undead and made our way to the "end" of the tomb where a powerful, though outmatched, Draugr awaited us with a host of skeleton guards at its side. The skeletons fell to single swipes of axe and sword, the Draugr warlord falling quickly after that. Our reward was ancient, decrepit arms and armor, but in a chamber beyond I found another wall of words, this one teaching me 'Kaan', which may be an alternate spelling of 'Kyne', the Nordic version of Kynareth.

I found our shortcut out of the tomb to be darkly amusing: a secret door built into a nearby wall was activated via a pull-chain, which opened directly into the room where Wyndelius had been going insane, the "treasure" he was seeking only a wall away from him the whole time.
We returned to the Inn, rented rooms for the night, and will be moving on tomorrow morning. Where to, I am not sure, though returning to Whiterun to rid myself of my sour companion is an appealing idea.