Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Skyrim Day 033 - Learning the Words

17 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold
~~~

With no room available at Riverwood I had two choices: sleep at a table or leave. No stranger to sleepless nights, I chose to leave on a small errand I otherwise would not have had time to attend to.

This errand involved the retrieval of Kharjo's 'Moon Amulet' which he suspected had made its way to a poachers' hideaway the locals called 'Halted Stream Camp'. I have already been there once before on a job for Proventus Avenicci to clear the camp of bandits and was not surprised to find that others had taken up residence there since then.

Fighting mere bandits hardly merits description any longer. Compared to the powerful Draugr I have been facing I could have cleared the poachers with my eyes closed. As it turned out I eliminated all of them while barely being seen: the cheap Illusion spell I purchased at the College a while ago was sufficient to drive them individually mad, attacking friend and foe alike. As there were only "friends" about them the camp quickly collapsed into chaos. I wound up finishing off the weakened sole survivor with my dagger. I found the amulet, a simple silver pendant, in a chest inside the camp's cavern. 

Tracking down Kharjo's caravan would prove only slightly more difficult. As luck would have it I ran into a Whiterun guardsman on the road near the poachers and he told me that the caravan had left Whiterun that morning towards Dawnstar. So after my too-brief journey to the warmer parts of Skyrim I found myself surrounded by snow and ice once again.
Kharjo was lavish in his reward and gratitude, handing me a pouch of one thousand Septims and assuring me he was available to fight at my side should I ever need a Khajiit warrior. He would likely be less grating on the nerves than J'zargo, though perhaps not as unintentionally amusing.

I sold some excess equipment to the merchant Ahkari and wished them luck along the road. My next destination was the Shrine of Azura to return the broken artifact, but my curiosity got the better of me before I arrived there.

Skyrim boasts many methods from which the lives of the adventurous and the foolish can be taken: scalded to death or shot full of Falmer arrows in Dwemer ruins, hacked to pieces by Draugr in the burial barrows and ancient Nordic halls, robbed and murdered by bandits along the roads, or made a meal of by vampires in the cities. None of those particularly appeal to me, but as I passed a Nordic ruin it occurred to me that I have never seen the inside of one before.

I am not sure what I was expecting, but it turns out that the small ruins that litter the province are very similar to 'Bleak Falls' barrow, only less in scale. The bandits outside of the ruin I chose to investigate did me the honor of attempting to strike first, but a quick Illusion spell had them fighting one another as I walked by.
They were the lucky ones. Even just inside the ruin two bandits had met a bloody demise, likely at the undead hands of Draugr. The illicit expedition to claim this ruin for their own must have been a sizable one, else multiple groups made the same attempt, for I counted at least two dozen bodies throughout the place. 

Why they died was no mystery after I encountered one of the strong, magicka-shouting Draugr guarding a small portcullis.
I would have had a tougher time of it if the ancient architects had not placed two spring-loaded gates just before the creature. It was a simple matter to lure the mindless guard in front of the traps, then cheerfully send it on its way across the room in pieces.

A rather grim decoration lay beyond the gate: a skeleton with a story to share.
The story was titled 'Thief', so I can only imagine what prompted the man to lose both his head and his hands.

My final battle was in a large chamber dominated by, once again, a stone dragon's head surrounded by ancient Nordic script. And a fire trap. And a dead bandit. And a very powerful Draugr, who ultimately succumbed to the fire trap.
The Draugr had an Ebony single-handed battle axe, but I suspect the real treasure of the ruin was supposed to be the ancient word which agonizingly burned itself into my mind when I stupidly approached the dragon carving. This word was 'Zun', meaning 'weapon', though I still fail to see the point of the whole thing. Was there no other way for Nordic children to accomplish their schooling than this?

Though the ruin probably took me no more than two hours, it felt like a very long day when I finally sighted Azura's shrine in the distance. More immediately, I witnessed a battle on the road between bandits and Imperial soldiers, the latter whom prevailed due to their crossbows.
Aranea was somberly pleased to see me return and demanded the return of Azura's Star immediately. I saw no reason to argue and relieved myself of that burden, or so I thought. After a few moments of silent contemplation Aranea announced that Azura herself wanted to speak with me, her 'champion'. The irony was not lost on me and I really do not think Azura has forgotten that our paths have crossed before.

Azura's new request was a strange one: I needed to actually go inside the Star and purge it of Malyn Varen's trapped soul. The thought of being inside something that entry was usually made by being trapped into it made me uneasy, but Azura assured me that she would pull me out once Malyn was dead. I had no choice but to agree.

The inside of Azura's Star is very blue and seemingly built out of crystals. When I arrived inside the star I was standing on a floating platform of crystal tiles which stretched forward and around larger floating crystals. Malyn was right in front of me, wasting no time in gleefully gloating of having another soul to experiment on. In this I had to correct him and he ran off, summoning Dremora to cover his retreat.

The Dremora flung powerful fire magicka, but had no room to maneuver. Most I simply pushed off of the platform, a few died to hurried thrusts of my dagger. Malyn made his stand in what could be considered a courtyard and died not to me, but to a Storm Atronach I summoned via a scroll I picked up somewhere. Anti-climatic, but effective. Azura was true to her word and I felt myself withdrawing from the star as the crystals started to explode.

Once back outside Azura gifted me the revived artifact and sent me on my way. Aranea was also dismissed, an upsetting turn of events for the woman who dedicated her life to the Daedric Prince. Evidently she had nothing else to do and like Kharjo offered to join me on my travels. She said she would remain at the shrine to tend to the grounds otherwise. I had no need of a companion, so she returned to her janitorial duties and I started the walk back to Winterhold, a destination I am rapidly tiring of.
The short trip offered no further excitement and I spent an hour or so in my quarters experimenting with the enchanting table. As expected I am a very poor enchanter, but with an artifact such as this there is a great opportunity for improvement. Time will tell.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Skyrim Day 032 - The Golden Claw

16 Heartfire, 4E201
Riverwood
~~~

Having fought within the barrow unlocked by one dragon claw, I woke this morning with the intention of finally securing the poor merchant's "golden" dragon claw heirloom. After all, it has only been a month or so since I have been asked of it and I am sure Lucan is a patient man.

There was really no reason not to do this. I have already found what Birna's dragon claw unlocked: the resting place of a powerful warrior who still had some fight in him. My thinking was that if Lucan's "golden" (really doubt it is actual gold!) claw also led to a powerful spirit then one could discount dragons and Stormcloaks as being involved at all, as was my original suspicion. Besides, the walk back to Azura's shrine from Falkreath placed me as passing through Riverwood anyway.

Before leaving Falkreath I spent some time with Lod, the Smith who sent me on that stupid journey with Clavicus Vile's dog. Fortunately Lod had no more tasks for me and for a handful of Septims I paid for the brief use of his forge. An hour later I had a decent enough leather breastplate and bracers which I complemented with a pair of enchanted leather boots I had found in the Barrow. The outfit is more restrictive than my robes, but I consider the additional protection to be well worth it.

I came upon two wooden watchtowers built alongside the road which bandits were using to extort travelers, but I was able to simply run right past them, arrows clattering against the cobblestones as I fled. There was no time to handle them in any other way, for I am very tired of catching only a few hours of poor sleep at a time.

Lucan thought the claw was taken to 'Bleak Falls' barrow, a massive Nordic ruin that I believe once served as the only resting place for the Nords in Skyrim before barrows started to become more local to the settlements. I passed a ruined stone tower on my way through Riverwood to 'Bleak Falls' and was able to completely sneak by the bandits and arrive at the barrow without raising an alarm.
The size of the exterior prevented the bandits from effectively patrolling the area and I surprised myself by also sneaking by them and letting myself in with no one the wiser.
The bandits' concern for their comrades was evident in the chewed dead body surrounded by skeevers. No more than twenty feet away from the corpse were two bandits causally chatting about another of their number who had ventured deeper into the barrow while in possession of "the claw". They were dismissive of the man and the claw, hoping that his duplicity would be the end of him. With that they both turned their attention to the pot cooking over the fire. Once again, I passed unnoticed and crept down the stairs behind them. My goal was to find this ambitious thief and the claw, not clear the barrow of bandits.

An unseen man started to shout at me as I descended into the barrow, naming several of the bandits and apologizing for stealing the claw. He revealed that he was in trouble and pleaded with me, whom he thought was one of the bandits, to rescue him. I found the man, a Dunmer, hung in an archway in a spider's web. A very large spider's web.
It was likely the bandit's first encounter with a giant spider, but not mine. Even with the short reach of my dagger I was able to keep the creature at bay and wear it down with strikes to its mouth and eyes.

Once the spider was disposed of I approached the unfortunate thief who introduced himself as 'Arvel the Swift' despite still being stuck in the web. I told him he would go free in exchange for the claw he stole, but he cleverly pointed out that I could not get the claw until he was cut down. I knew he would run away as soon as his feet touched the ground, but a barrow is not a place to be running about.

As I suspected, he ran off while laughing at my stupidity. I let him run ahead and predictably heard his scream amid the screeching of metal a few minutes later. The fool had stepped on a trapped stone, triggering a fence of spikes which tore into his body and flung him into the wall.

Arvel the Swift's noisy demise was enough to wake the resting Draugr nearby and I soon found myself under assault from all sides...which was a perfect opportunity to use the last of J'zargo's scrolls. It took a bit of searching but I was able to recover the golden claw. I could have left the barrow then and returned it to Lucan, but I wanted to see what the claw unlocked.

The claw unlocked a door almost exactly the same as the other: a large stone door with three discs surrounding a plate perforated with three small holes.
The underside of the claw showed the correct pattern to be Bear, Insect, then Owl and the door slid open with a terrible grinding, some settling having occurred over the centuries. I prepared myself for a tough fight and walked into the final chamber of 'Bleak Falls' barrow.
It was far more ornate than the previous barrow. There was a coffin facing a large stylized effigy of a dragon's head around which ancient runes had been carved. There seemed to be no Draugr about, so I stopped to look at the dragon carving first. As I gazed at the unreadable runes a set of them seemed to glow, then suddenly I suffered a tremendous pain in my head. I fell to my knees, but the pain was only for a moment. As it faded, I realized I could read the formerly glowing runes, 'Fus'. That was it. I do not even know what 'Fus' means. The rest of the runes were still undecipherable to me.

The grinding of the coffin's stone lid alerted me to the barrow's guardian, a Draugr wielding an ancient two-handed sword and wearing some equally ancient armor.
I expected that this Draugr would have the ability to 'shout' the weapon right out of my hands, but this one did not. Rather than yelling at me he simply relied on good equipment used very skillfully, plus a body that could take far more punishment than mine, even with Dagoth Ur's little gift.

Draugr make for great soldiers: they are tough, somewhat skilled, and show no hesitation or fatigue during battle. Unfortunately for them, they also show no ability to think. Had I been matched with a living opponent equipped and skilled similarly I would have been hard-pressed. But the Draugr had only one trick: rush at me while taking tremendous swings of his blade. Any one of his strikes would have lopped my head off, but that required one connecting with my body first.
My dagger was eventually enough to sever the magicka animating the poor man's remains, but it was a battle against Chance the whole way through. It occurred to me that I really could have used the ghostly blade I left at the College and the large chest next to the Draugr's coffin helpfully gifted me a glass long blade to match my dagger. I will not be able to sneak up to foes while wielding it, but for times when stealth is not an option I do believe I shall be glad to have it.

Also in the chest was a stone tablet engraved with the same dragon's head that the runes were carved around and I took that with me as well, I figure if it was guarded so well then it must be valuable to someone, somewhere.
As always it was night when I exited my latest adventuring site, but this time I had the luxury of being a short walk away from an Inn...or so I thought. I was right in thinking the walk back to Riverwood would be short, but when I arrived at the Inn I was told the innkeeper had gone out on important business and would not be returning for several days. Legally the man left to take care of the inn could not rent me a room, so he gruffly suggested I just lay my head on one of the rough-hewn tables in the common area.

It seemed I had no choice, but I visited Lucan and his sister and their general store before returning to the comfort of a table. Lucan was amazed to see the claw again and happily gave me four pouches of coins, eight-hundred Septims in all. I promised to visit him again in the morning for purchases and returned to the Sleeping Giant Inn to claim my part of a table.

The joke that I have slept in worse places is getting very old now, but I must say I cannot remember the last time I was forced to sleep sitting at a table. This is a new one and of course, very uncomfortable.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Skyrim Day 031 - Azura's Fallen Star

16 Heartfire, 4E201
Falkreath
~~~

My night spent on the wrecked ship amid splatters of frozen blood was not a pleasant one and I do not thing I actually slept at all. I thought I would walk back to the College to thaw out my limbs and spend the rest of the day practicing my Illusion spells. While walking back to the College, why not stop by the very large shrine to Azura? Why not indeed.
From what I remember hearing the statue was built by Dunmer migrants fleeing the destruction of Vvardenfell. The statue was a sign of their gratitude for Azura having guided them safely out of the broken province of Morrowind. I cannot quite see how Azura helped them at all really, perhaps stopping the destruction of the city of Vivec might have been more helpful, but who am I to judge a Daedric Prince?

I remember Azura being prominent during my rise to Nerevarine, but so much time has passed that I actually remember very little of my time on Vvardenfell. Fragments of memories mostly...fighting a Ash Vampire beneath a volcano, a few hazy memories of a small fortified outpost gifted to me by the now-extinct House Redoran, the damp fishing village that I spent my first nights at, things like that. I barely remember Dagoth Ur, Vivec, or Almalexia. I spent some time on Solstheim, but I do not think I accomplished much there.

The shrine was larger than I thought, most of it consisting of a foundation with a small campsite laid on top of it. The camp belonged to a worshiper named 'Aranea Ienith' who lived her life literally at Azura's feet, Aranea kept the shrine and surrounding area clean and tidy while occasionally fighting off wolves and bears. She had her back turned to me as I stepped in front of the altar, but turned quickly, declaring that, at last, Azura's champion had come.

To say I was a bit taken aback by this remark would be understating it, for I thought she was referring to my time as the Nerevarine. Dunmer generally live long and I have no doubt that there are a few alive today that were alive at the fall of Dagoth Ur hundreds of years ago. Aranea continued on and I realized that she spoke of me as someone who would be declared champion following a task done for Azura. I suspect anyone else could have walked up those steps and had that dropped on their shoulders.

I agreed to the task, feeling that I may as well for old time's sake, as they say. The job was predictable: fetch an artifact of Azura's, the infamous 'Azura's Star' soul gem, and bring it back to the shrine. Aranea said that Azura told her that there was a mage in Winterhold that could direct me to the artifact and bid me good luck. Once again I was doing Azura's bidding, but there are worse Princes to associate with than the Lady of Twilight.

Winterhold was very close to the shrine, so I had some sunlight to make use of yet. I thought to wander around in an effort to locate another Dwemer ruin and much to my surprise I found a Falmer hut on the surface next to a pit lined with Dwemer stonework, somewhat to the west of Azura's shrine.
The expedition was a complete failure. Save for an interesting star-studded ceiling in the final chamber, the ruin contained no cogwheels and too much Falmer, the latter of which I did my best to rectify.
After wasting several hours there I ascended back to the surface and made my way to Winterhold for Azura's mage, the Altmer 'Nelacar'. I found him in the local inn, not the College, drinking in a private room while grumbling to himself. When I approached him about Azura's Star he denied any and all involvement until I told him that Azura herself had marked him. Then he was very eager to cooperate.

Nelacar had not taken the Star, but he knew who had: a former College instructor named 'Malyn Varen'. Sick and dying, he had started experimenting with the Star in an effort to prolong his life, but his work resulted in the death of a student and he was banished from Winterhold entirely. Malyn left with a few loyal students and took up residence in an old Imperial fortress north of Falkreath, a not-delightfully long walk from Winterhold.

I will admit that it was nice to be in the relatively warm southern region of Skyrim again, though it was close to midnight before I was even close to the ruined fort. The former Fort Ilinalta sits along the shore of Lake Ilinalta, collapsed and slowly sliding into the water. This makes it an ideal location for nefarious deeds, but it is anyone's guess as to how much longer it can remain serviceable for any use.
The entrance to the fort was gained via a trapdoor atop the keep and a grisly sight awaited me: a skeleton tied to a cross, evidently the unwilling subject of Malyn's experiments.
Necromancers are quickly becoming my favorite enemy, they are not particularly bright fighters and rely far too heavily on their undead to handle the messy details. With two of J'zargo's botched flame scrolls in my robes they had no chance at all. I think one of the necromancers died from bone splinters flying about following the destruction of several skeletons via explosive fire from Winterhold. The others mostly succumbed to slit throats or perforated lungs, their undead servants being very poor at spotting and warning of an increasingly sneaky Khajiit.

One of them had a rare Black soul gem which I smashed into very small pieces. Living for as long as I have has given me a good deal of tolerance for the questionable behavior of others, but trapping the souls of other people is unforgivable.

I found Malyn in a chamber full of skeletons, blood, and wet strands of flesh sticking to nearly every surface. It was as if a group of people had  huddled together before exploding all at once. The smell was indescribable.
The late College instructor was busy penning a novella before his flesh graced the walls, the title arrogantly described his achievement as victory over Daedra by a "Master Enchanter". Inside he crowed that he had achieved immortality, a two-edged blessing at best, as I would certainly know. Azura's Star lay at his skeletal feet, but it was cracked and dull. Aranea may know how to repair it.

The warm night air came as a welcome relief from the damp of the ruin and the road to Falkreath was devoid of thieves, wolves, and assassins. Once again I reached a bed just as everyone around me was reaching breakfast, I just hope I do not sleep the entire day away.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Skyrim Day 030 - Battle Within the Barrow

14 Heartfire, 4E201
A Shipwreck
~~~

Following a deeply unsatisfying rest at my quarters I stumbled out of bed and threw the robes of my new office back on. I still had to find two more Dwemer cogwheels, but I could not bring myself to search out another ruin and descend into the steam and Falmer that no doubt would be awaiting me.

Instead I chose to leave the College to its own machinations today and interrupted Birna's dinner to pick up the ornamental dragon claw I purchased several days ago. Its origin, Yngol's Barrow, was east of Windhelm on the opposite side of the river. I hoped that whatever mysteries the claw's three coins unlocked would help me understand what I would be facing when I retrieved the golden dragon claw for that shopkeeper I spoke with almost a month ago.

So it was back into the cold and the ice as the College was finishing their collective dinner. No one had taken notice of my late arrival and my subsequent departure garnered just as much attention. I suspect if half of the College slides into the sea I shall have to distribute a notice informing everyone. And there are those here that think they can accompany me, which is even more frightening.

The thieves and Dark Brotherhood assassins were apparently also away eating their dinners and I managed to walk from the College to the back of Windhelm without being troubled by anything other than the onset of the night. 

Yngol's Barrow was just another cavern dug along the shore of the river, with a small altar built out of loose stone and a metal bowl.
On the altar was a small book titled 'Yngol and the Sea-Ghosts'. Risking death by exposure, It would not be the first time an ancient Nordic book provided clues to a problem nearby. I did not understand the story, it sounded like it was incomplete. The book briefly spoke of an expedition that landed on the shores of Skyrim during a storm, with the loss of several boats, including one of Yngol's.  A Nord named 'Ysgramor' took a boat back into the storm to fetch Yngol and the lost ships, but he was unsuccessful: the ships were found the next day along the shore, broken and devoid of life, one evidently containing the corpse of Yngol. Ysgramor sacrificed animals for Yngol's spirit and built the barrow to house his body and I suppose simply moved on after that.

Short as it was, the story did provide a bit of a clue as to the dragon's claw. The events in the story must have taken place prior to the founding of Skyrim, yet the ancient barrow was secured in some way with the claw and its three animal motifs set into the base. Perhaps the golden claw would also open a barrow, but I do not know what the Stormcloaks would require that for.

I was alarmed to find that as I proceeded deeper into the Barrow I was being followed by an increasing amount of bouncing blue lights. If I stopped moving they would bounce and slide some ways ahead, then seem to wait for me to catch up. The effect was rather like having someone constantly two steps behind you which, in a tomb devoid of life, was not welcome.
The ice gradually gave way to finished stone and I eventually found what I guess was the entrance to the actual barrow. I was not surprised to find that there was a corpse, frozen solid, in front of the barrow's gate.
Helpfully, the dead person was keeping a journal before he expired. The journal spelled out the animal-column combination required to open the gate, but the unidentified scholar had decided to operate the gate's lever prior to setting the columns, sending dozens of steel darts into his body. Not very smart.

Beyond the gate lay...not much really. There was a stone bridge lined by ancient candles that I thought was a nice touch. The candle-lit bridge led to a small memorial marked with a two-handed Elven greatsword that I had no use for.
The dragon claw came into its own in front of a massive iron door into which three stone discs were set. In the center of the discs was a carving with three holes in it, one for each of the toes of the claw. My escorts, the bouncing blue lights, were very excited about the door and were seemingly able to pass through it without any trouble.
Using the steel coins set into the underside of the claw, I spun the stone discs to line up their animal symbols in the same order as the claw's. Unsure of what to do next, I pressed the claw into the door, causing the carving to depress into the door which released a counterweight somewhere which pulled the door apart.

Whatever the blue lights were they instantly sped into the chamber beyond and started circling around a hazy shadow in the middle of the room.
The shadow gradually came into focus as an armored Draugr with a long, thin blade, unusual weaponry for a Nord. What followed was a dance: me dodging behind pillars and striking with my dagger when I could, it stomping towards me while swinging its blade. Twice it used some sort of spell that it seemed to yell at me, causing a blast of wind to strike me and carry the dagger out of my hands. 

Scurrying after your weapon while being attacked by the angry spirit of an ancient Nordic warrior is not a fun time.

Eventually the spirit collapsed, yielding its blade to me, the victor. It is an ancient, but still serviceable, Ebony long blade, a weapon I will certainly be keeping with me. My other long blade, the ghostly one I received from the two friendlier spirits of Fjori and Holgeir, is difficult for me to wield, as I keep expecting to swing something with weight behind it. I will likely leave it in the Arch-Mage's quarters at the College.
Yngol's skeleton remained seated upon its throne even after our battle and I saw no reason to disturb its stately rest, even if his spirit did try to kill me. Perhaps that is where the blue lights came from. I shall never know. The barrow also shed little light on the golden dragon claw I have yet to retrieve.

A partially-collapsed staircase led to a trapdoor that opened along the coastline. The moon revealed the wreck of a trading ship which I thought would serve as a place to spend the night instead of walking back to the College in the dark, again.
Unfortunately I was not the only one with this idea. The bandits were poorly organized, lacked any sort of cohesion, and after I killed their leader while he slept, tried to pile through the narrow doorway all at once, allowing me to wield my weapon with practically no opposition.
A dead fisherwoman lay in a cage nearby, confirming my belief that killing them meant only good things for everyone else around. I pushed all their corpses into the sea, flipped the leader's bedroll around, and am not looking forward to a very cold night. I would say I have slept in worse places, but I am beginning to set a pattern of increasingly poor evenings. I need to find my way back to the south, I am growing very tired of snow and ice.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Skyrim Day 029 - Cogwheel Adventure

14 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold College
~~~

After a not-very restful nap outside of Ansilvund I was back on the humid road through the springs. I had not gone far before a thief (not a Dark Brotherhood assassin, surprisingly) jumped out of the bushes, literally. I suppose one could commend the man for tradition, if not creativity. 

The worn and dirty Imperial leathers marked him as a likely deserter from the Legion, though the Elven dagger suggested something more nefarious. He demanded my money or my life and I asked him if I looked like I was willing to accept either of those two options. I recommended that he walk away if he wanted to live and to my surprise, he did, backing away and jogging down a path into the hills. Smart man.

The next individual to ambush me was a Khajiit hiding amidst the snow drifts near Windhelm. This time my assailant was a Dark Brotherhood assassin and wielding an expensive Elven sword. I would like to know if the assassins bring their own gear or are equipped by the Brotherhood. It would make putting up with the constant attacks a bit easier knowing I was steadily bankrupting enemies I am not sure how I made.

When I arrived back at Winterhold I visited Birna's shop, sold off some jewelry and gemstones, then hoisted the very heavy dragon claw I purchased from her, with the intention to figure out what to do with it later that day. Like all of my plans, this one did not meet with fruition.

Enthir was gruffly appreciative of having his staff back and handed me Onmund's amulet, a simple gold medallion with a small ruby set inside. Onmund was surprised to see his amulet again and even more to be given it unconditionally. He pledged his undying loyalty, but I assured him that was not necessary. I have not been at the College long, but it is clear that there is no harmony among the students. They will need that once I leave and I hope my easing their personal burdens will allow that to grow, even just a little.

Speaking of the lack of harmony, I tracked down J'zargo next to report on the explosive nature of his scrolls. At my approach he purred that his scrolls had no doubt been magnificent and deflated only slightly when I informed him that they also exploded. Violently. He promised a review of his technique and proudly stated that I had earned the right to fight by his...whenever I needed him. A bit contradictory, but the gesture was appreciated nonetheless.

That left only Arniel and his Dwemer cogwheels. Though not a student, he had approached me about sourcing ten cogs from the Dwemer ruins that dotted Skyrim and I agreed, not realizing at the time how large the things were. I stopped to talk with him while on my way out and inquired as to where the closest ruin was. His answer: Alftand, a few hours walk southwest of the college.

In any other province the distance from Winterhold to Alftand would have taken less than an hour to traverse, but this is Skyrim. I had to contend with a snowstorm during the entire walk, almost plummeted off of cliffs that suddenly appeared in front of me, and was attacked by wolves several times. I finally came upon a crevice marked by Dwemer ruins and eagerly went in, assuming the entrance to Alftand was somewhere just in front of me.
The wind funneling between the hills nearly knocked me flat as I trudged through the snow, but my perseverance paid off, or so I thought. Near the termination of the crevice sat a ruined tower which I thought was the entrance to the Dwemer ruin.
Alas, I was wrong. The tower was just that and each of the two doors inside only led to a single room. It was only when I left the tower that I saw the scaffolding above me, at the lip of the crevice.
So it was back through the little canyon, this time against the freezing wind and around to the top of the hillside, where a collection of hastily-built, dilapidated cottages suggested the origin of the scaffolding that led to the entrance of Alftand. A journal, forgotten and frozen to a table inside one of the cottages, was recently penned.

Its author, Sulla Trebatius, seemed to think that his expedition of seven had stumbled upon a hidden vault of vast treasures and had a notable bias against the College, going as far as to hire an unaffiliated mage at great cost to himself. The journal was only two three pages long and served only to record who had gone into the ruin, not what had happened.

The upper level of the ruin where I and the expedition entered from opened to a cavern of ice. Not far in was a camp site in disarray, the frozen blood spatter suggesting a very rude awakening. Sulla had left another journal here, lamenting the destruction of one of the Dwemer's spidery automatrons, even after it had almost killed two Khajiit that were part of the expedition. Ominously, the journal ended with Sulla wondering to himself whether he had just seen something "humanoid" out of the corner of his eye. Excited, he penned his plan to move the expedition further into the ruin to investigate.

The fool. Anything looking even vaguely human in a Dwemer ruin was almost certainly going to be Falmer and not just one of them. I followed the trail of blood and began to hear someone muttering, quite clearly a Khajiit, one of the two brothers Sulla had hired to swing pickaxes. As I drew closer the muttering became shouting and I thought he was arguing with someone, but if he was the dead body he was standing over was not much for conversation.
When he saw me the mad Khajiit screamed and charged at me with an axe. That did not end well for him.

The ice gradually gave way to the hot gouts of steam and warm metal floors that the Dwemer preferred, but I found no trace of the rest of the expedition, nor of Falmer. I proceeded cautiously, fought a few spider-things, and found three Dwemer cogwheels.

The deeper I went, the more I found evidence of Falmer living somewhere further below. Fresh blood splattered near bedrolls was the most obvious, but then I began to find discard equipment the creatures regularly glue together from the Chaurus they breed and raise.

I found another one of the expedition members, dead of course, wedged into a small corridor beneath some Dwemer machinery. The man scrawled a final message on a piece of parchment, confirming my suspicion that Falmer ambushed and wiped out the small group, though it did nothing to explain the murderous Khajiit rambling near the entrance. Skooma, perhaps.

The group was not prepared for the ambush and they panicked, half of them fleeing for the surface, two of them missing, and the remainder, Sulla and his bodyguard, actually descending deeper into the ruin. What a disaster.

Below a broken spiral ramp was the body of the Orsimer, simply named 'Yag'. Sulla had hired her to keep the laborers, the two Khajiit, in order, but according to the body of the man I found in the alcove, Yag had stuck with him during their retreat, flinging him on to the broken platform before evidently expiring from multiple arrow wounds, all of them fletched in the distinctive style of the Falmer.
I clambered down some pipes near the edge and peered over the edge of her final resting place. Falmer huts were haphazardly scattered on the floor below, but none were occupied. Behind a door guarded by a Dwemer flame-throwing trap I found the Falmer, in all of their misshapen, hideous glory.
They are said to have exceptional hearing and be able to track their prey by scent alone, so I must be getting much better at sneaking about, for every one I killed, save for two, was from behind with my dagger, silent and instant. Good to see I am getting back into my "old" ways, though I do recall that none of those ways involved effective stealth then.

Sulla's rogue mage, the Altmer Valie, was shackled to a Dwemer table when I found her. The Falmer had eviscerated her, hopefully after she died.
Beyond Valie's violent end was either the end of the ruin or the beginning of it judging by the battlements.
After dispatching the Falmer that were sulking about I opened the Dwemer gate and started to walk across the small plaza when a scream suddenly erupted on my left.
It was not a scream from a foe, but the sound of a lot of steam being sent through ancient pipes...I guess. Whatever caused the sound also activated a giant Dwemer machine built to resemble a Dwemer warrior. A massive war-hammer served as one of the thing's arms, the other a battle-ax. If it had other abilities I did not wait around long enough to see them. A dagger against a semi-living siege engine did not seem a fair fight. As I fled, I noticed that the thing had a companion opposite it, but it had long since fallen to pieces.

The machine did not appear to be able to navigate stairs, so once I was on the top of the stairway I felt like I could finally relax...just as two people walked inside the ruin from the door in front of me, each arguing hotly with the other.
Their argument identified them as Sulla Trebatius and Umana, the pair which Sulla's journal described as loyal and inseparable. I was surprised to see that Sulla was no scholar, but a powerful-looking Legionnaire. Opposite him was Umana, a Redguard with an axe and a cruelly spiked buckler. As I sneaked behind a pillar their arguing grew more violent only to be cut short with a gurgling sound. Umana had smashed Sulla in the throat with her shield, the spikes ensuring his life was extinguished quickly.

She muttered something and started to search the twitching corpse, no doubt very surprised to suddenly find my hand over her mouth and my blade in her neck. So ended Sulla's expedition to Alftand and I never learned what he thought he was going to find here. As for me, I found eight Dwemer cogwheels, two short of what I had sought.

I thought it was close to midnight when I finally emerged from underground and was a bit confused when the sun rose during my walk back to Winterhold. The College was settling down for breakfast as I dumped the cogwheels on the floor.
I hope they can eat quietly, because I am going to bed.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Skyrim Day 028 - Not Your Typical Transaction

12 Heartfire, 4E201
Wilderness near Riften
~~~

I had promised Brelyna I would resume our already-disastrous experiment when my eyesight stopped being so green and blurry, but it took a decent night's sleep before the drab colors of Skyrim were sullenly presenting themselves normally again.

Typical of my mornings the sun was just starting to rise, but Brelyna was awake anyway, paging through a volume in front of her room. Whatever it was must have been engrossing, for we were nearly nose-to-nose before she noticed me. After recovering her breath she remarked that my eyes appeared to have lost their green luster and that she thought she knew what had gone wrong. She wanted a second chance, with my permission, of course. What's the worst that could happen, right?

I am not sure what happened next. She cast her spell and all of a sudden I felt slightly drunk, my vision blurry, but at least not green. I remember hearing her fret and casting the spell again, making me quite tall, but then she cast it once more and I was closer to the ground, my eyesight black-and-white. A final casting of her spell put me back from whatever had happened and she nervously laughed, saying that it looked like everything worked out in the end. 

I actually have no idea what it was she had even done. I told her to not hesitate if she needed any further help, but she assured me that she was done for awhile and remarked off-hand that she would enjoy a trip or two around Skyrim if I needed the assistance. Something I shall keep in mind.

Enthir's regretful trade was the next item on my College list to resolve. He suspected the mage he sold the staff to was bringing it to an ancient Nordic ruin built into the hills northwest of the chronically impoverished city of Riften...which put it very close to Mzulft, where I was just a few days ago. People really do seem eager to see me traveling to and fro. So it was back on to the frozen road for the new Arch-Mage. Did Savos have people to do these sort of tasks for him?

While I was puzzling over that question a man ran up to me, shoved a bow into my arms, and said he would be back for it in a few days. Apparently not having the bow when he returned would be to my regret, but then he ran off. Not more than twenty seconds passed before a second man approached, equally out of breath, asking me if I had seen the first pass by. This second man was a hunter who had his bow stolen by a man he had showed hospitality to at his campfire.

I returned the bow to him and he grimly thanked me and stated that the thief would be shot down by it before night fell. Not caring either way, I wished him luck and proceeded onwards, only to be interrupted by a deranged Khajiit calling himself "M'aiq the Liar" who rambled on about nonsensical things. He was likely on the bad side of his sugar and abruptly ran away with no provocation at all, hopefully to somewhere safe.

The ruin Enthir vaguely pointed me towards was past the stinking springs, maybe ten minutes of walking along the road past Mzulft. A trio of revelers drinking near the springs knew of the ruin and one cautioned me that a band of mages had recently taken up residence. Of course.
Only one mage was guarding the entrance leading inside the mountain, but I managed to alarm him before I could fire an arrow. He conjured a colossal Atronach of ice, but it was weaker than the one I had fought in Labyrinthian and crumbled after only a few blows from my sword. The conjurer fell after only one. He was carrying an excellent Glass dagger which he had not thought to draw against me, for whatever reason.

The inside of the ruin was being patrolled by awakened Draugr which I immediately suspected were being used by the mages. I was correct, but not for the right reason.
The Draugr were not only being used as guards, but as labor. The mages enthralled them to hack away at the cavern walls with their weapons, though after what I could not tell. The noise was loud enough to mask my approach and the bored mage soon had his throat opened by my new dagger. The Draugr paid his demise no notice and I put both of them to rest as well.

A woman's voice sounded from deeper within the cave as I turned away from the three corpses, announcing herself as "Lu'ah Al-Skaven", a name which meant nothing to me. She claimed to have an army of undead waiting for me and I of course was reminded of the late Dragon Priest who boasted a similarly penetrating voice.

J'zargo had asked me to test his scrolls on the undead and unexpectedly I had an opportunity to do so somewhere in front of me, if Lu'ah was to be believed. A hallway lined with desiccated bodies turned out to disguise several of her undead soldiers and I rather nervously let three close into melee before unleashing what should have been a ring of undead-destroying flame around my person.

Instead the three Draugr exploded simultaneously, hurling themselves to pieces and me backwards almost thirty feet into a wall of stone. First Brelyna turns me green, then J'zargo has me slamming myself into rock. It is no wonder that half of Winterhold is went missing.

Despite the surprisingly ballistic nature of his spell, J'zargo did craft something effective and that was the end of Lu'ah's little ambush, with only a slight concussion to suffer on my side.

After freeing a few more Draugr from their mining labor I came upon the motif-locks the ancient Nords seem to have been fond of. The locks are simple: columns, usually three, each have facets with a different animal on them. Spinning the columns around to form a specific combination of animals unlocks a gate, or a lever, or something.
In Ansilvund, the motif-locks were set along a ledge, behind a lever which I guessed would open the gate on the far side of the room. Operating the lever caused darts to fire out of the walls if the motifs were not correct, though I had the presence of mind to hide behind a table before I threw the lever forward.

What few ruins I have so far visited normally had the correct sequence of motifs engraved along the walls, which I suspect served as a device to keep Draugr in the ruins rather than people out of them. But this time there was no obvious clues as to the correct order, but a book on the table wound up spelling it out somewhat obliquely.

The book was titled 'Of Fjori and Holgeir', one described as a 'huntress', the other a 'warlord'. What their reason for fighting was is lost to history, but according to the story they fought until each broke a piece of the other's equipment, her sword breaking his axe and his shield breaking her sword, as implausible as that sounds. Even more implausible was that they then fell in love and were married.

But theirs was a difficult one, for then a snake bit Holgeir, a whale somehow greeted Fjori and told her to seek a cure from the Akavir, Returning from the Akavir, Fjori gave the elixir to Holgeir, curing him instantly. However, the snake then bit Fjori, who succumbed immediately.

It was a very strange story, but I think it served more to reveal the correct lock combination: Eagle, Snake, Whale, Snake. The book ended with Holgeir building a tomb for Fjori, then committing suicide in order to join her. Very grim and therefore probably very Nordic.

Next to the book was a small journal written in recently. The author lamented the death of her husband, a Legionnaire named Saeel, twenty-five years ago and spent those years researching ways to pull his soul back from where ever it had gone to, without success. The fable of Fjori and Holgeir brought her to this ruin and the author, who I suspected then was really Lu'ah, was using the tomb to build an army of Draugr to exact revenge upon Skyrim, the Empire, and likely everyone else after that.

Anyway, the combination unlocked the gate and I passed through another room full of Draugr, safely not using my last scroll from J'zargo to dispatch them. Lu'ah's voice screamed from somewhere within, vowing that her army of undead would avenge Saeel's "defilement", whatever she felt that was.

Lu'ah Al-Skaven was waiting for me in a chamber typical of those ruins, with an altar built at the far end.
As soon as she spotted me creeping towards her she let out an incoherent scream of rage and cast a spell which somehow simultaneously raised the bodies of two Draugr in the coffins behind her as well as a skeleton on the ground in front. No doubt she felt that was enough, but she did not know of J'zargo's explosive eagerness to prove himself.

The blast felt like the ground had been torn out from underneath me and I was flung right out of the chamber and through the doors, fortunately not striking my head a second time. The remains of my undead adversaries were spread about the chamber, some of the pieces smoldering and Lu'ah was dead, the back of her skull crushed by its sudden impact with the wall behind her. I must remember to give my thanks to J'zargo, so long as it does not inflate his ego too much.

As I was poking around the room in the search for valuables two spirits materialized next to the altar.
Part of the legend had been true: the spirits introduced themselves as Fjori and Holgeir, both of them thanking me for saving their remains from being Lu'ah's pawns. Evidently the two Draugr that had been blasted apart were actually the remains of the couple, which was a bit embarrassing, in a way.

They thanked me for ending Lu'ah's enslavement and bid me to accept a gift from them. I was not aware spirits could give gifts, but after they faded away a shimmering blade appeared on the pedestal behind them. In appearance it looks very similar to a conjured sword and happily is just as light. It will be interesting to see how it performs against my Dwemer sword and new Glass dagger.
A small chamber off to the side served as Lu'ah's living quarters. On the table I found a letter dated on 4E 175 from an Imperial Praefect informing her of Saeel's death during the liberation of the Imperial City. Also in her room was a large chest which contained Enthir's staff, among other minor items of value.

As expected, when I finally left the ruin it was once again close to midnight. Rather than walk back to the College in the dark I simply re-entered the desolate place and am sleeping in the would-be necromancer's cot. To the victors go the spoils.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Skyrim Day 027 - An Unexpected Promotion

11 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold College
~~~

Morthal holds few charms and its inn is not one of them. I spent a clammy, uncomfortable night in the swamp-town and woke up almost as tired as when I had tried to go to sleep. Despite Urag's book being nearby I had little energy as it was and was anticipating an eventful day. The book remains where ever it is, at least for now.
Staying on the road kept the walk safe, but boring. I stopped at the coastal city of Dawnstar to trade my crossbow for arrows, then walked back outside the city, encountered a pack of wolves, and missed all five shots I took with my bow. Money well spent.

I intended to leave the road and walk along the coast as I usually do and came upon an Impeial Legion camp just on the other side of a small hill which hosted a ruined temple of Dawnstar.
No one had much to say to me, but the soldier doubling as their blacksmith was willing to sell me some arrows, some of which I hope to shoot something with some day. The wilderness outside Dawnstar provided only goats and wolves and I soon sighted the semi-ruined College of Winterhold, far into the distance.
It did not seem to be in any more pieces than it was when I had left, a good sign. When I arrived in the almost completely ruined town of Winterhold a storm suddenly whipped up, leaving me almost blinded by the snow. Beams of lightning and balls of fire were erupting ahead of me on the college's walkway, but when I arrived the skirmish was already over. Tolfdir and two students were standing among piles of the strange globe things I fought the other day.

They were stuck, the way back to the College was blocked by a storm of magical energy caused by whatever Arcano was attempting to do. Tolfdir urged me to waste no time in using the staff, but I had no idea how to actually use it. I tried pointing it at the whirling maelstrom in front of me and with a loud zapping sound it abruptly disappeared.
The students stayed behind to guard against any more floating globe things leaving Tolfdir and I to charge inside. During our short jog I learned that Mirabelle had also been killed, having stayed behind to ensure everyone else escaped. With her death Tolfdir became the leader of the College, if not the Arch-Mage, but it  was clearly something he did not want.

Dagger in one hand, staff in the other, I pushed the gates open and we stepped inside the Hall of Elements where Arcano was still siphoning power from the Eye.
Tolfdir shouted at me to use the staff on the Eye as he attempted to distract Arcano with his spells. He ran towards the Thalmor, his spells uselessly parting themselves around Arcano, while I approached the Eye, one of my own on it and the other on Arcano.

Pointing the staff at the Eye caused a beam of energy to lazily form between the two and so long as I kept the staff close enough this energy seemed to "open" the Eye, revealing blinding blue light within. The Eye continued to open and Tolfdir continued to exhaust himself when suddenly there was a flash of light from within the Eye. Instinctively I dropped the staff and shielded my eyes and when my vision returned to normal Tolfdir was unconscious and Arcano had moved to the rear of the Hall, cursing as he battled the magical globe things.

Bright balls of light were being flung from the Eye all over the room, forming the hostile globes as soon as they struck a surface. I scrambled around the globes to recover the staff and, on a hunch, held it up to the Eye again. This time it slowly closed, more energy being drawn from the staff. Once it was closed Arcano's cursing changed from sounding 'mildly annoyed' to 'greatly alarmed'.

Whatever occurred between the staff and the Eye had disconnected Arcano from his source of new-found power. The globes were doing their best to batter him into submission, but they were not a great threat. He screamed at me to help him, which remains confusing even now, so I walked up behind him and buried my dagger into his back, helping him as he did Savos and Mirabelle.

It was over. I woke Tolfdir and helped him to his feet. He glanced at the Thalmor's body, but said nothing. We both stared at the docile-looking Eye of Magnus for a few moments, then he sighed and admitted he had no idea what we should do with it. As if on cue, a mage of the Psijic Order suddenly teleported in and congratulated us as two of his Order also arrived. He stated that recent events proved we were not ready to harness its power, a statement I certainly could agree with. Having said that, the three Psijic mages faced the Eye, rasied the hands, and disappeared, bringing the Eye with them.
What followed was a very awkward conversation. Tolfidr laughed nervously and said he wondered what the College would do without the Arch-Mage and his second-in-command. He continued on without letting me speak, saying that he was too old and too tired to assume responsibility and the other teachers were not going to be willing either. Forging ahead, he babbled that I had obviously proven myself to be strong, resourceful, and skilled in magic, though I am not sure where the last part came from.

With that I was named Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold...after being a student for less than a week. But I gather that is how organizations in Skyrim work: the strongest dies, the next strongest assumes the mantle. In my case this was literal: two sets of 'official' wardrobe was waiting for me in the Arch-Mage's Quarters, though I will have to send them away to be modified for Khajiit use.
Having been at the College for only five days I barely knew the other students and none of the surviving instructors, save for Tolfdir. I figured I could do worse on my first day as Arch-Mage than to walk around and talk with everyone.

Arniel Gane, the Breton I tried to assist in Saarthal. While not a mage, he rents space at the College to perform his research in and has hit a bit of a problem with resources. In an effort to solve this he requested that I bring him some Dwemer artifacts, specifically ten cogwheels from their ancient machines. I assured him that if I ever found myself in an Dwemer ruin again I would bring him his wheels. To what end, I neither know or care.

The College's sole Nordic student, Osmund, had a tale to tell me. He had traded his family's amulet to Enthir, a Bosmer also renting space at the College. Apparently Enthir has a reputation for "finding" items for a small fee, in other words: fencing stolen goods to the students. The trade of the amulet was for scrolls and rare books, but Osmund was now regretting the transaction, the amulet being the only link he had left to his family. My assistance was requested. Had Savos dealt with things like this? I suspect not.

Enthir pretended to be a slippery sort of fellow, but he sounded a bit unsure of himself in front of the new Arch-Mage. When confronted with Osmund's request he stammered that he had misplaced the amulet, but that if I were to retrieve a poor trade of his own he was sure to have found it when I returned. You could almost admire the arrogance. His task would at least take me out of the College, so I agreed, much to his relief.

Brelyna Maryon of House Telvanni also had a request to make of me: be her test subject for a variety of spells she had researched. I agreed, hoping that she would not be so foolish as to cast destructive magic inside the student dormitory. I am not sure what she was trying to do, but her spell turned my vision blurry and rather green. This was noticeable in some way and she profusely apologized, assuring me that a night's rest would dispel the effect.
J'zargo descended from the great height of his pride to admit a need for assistance as well. Much like Brelyna he had been researching new spells, but needed someone else to see if they worked correctly. Fortunately, he only needed someone to use the three scrolls he prepared on the undead, which he claimed the spells were specifically designed to destroy. I agreed to his task as well, guessing that I could find some undead while on my way to collect Arniel's cogwheels.

By then my green eyesight was beginning to give me a headache and I had a list of things to do that was longer than my arm, so I somewhat hesitantly settled down in the Arch-Mages's quarters, well aware I was sleeping in the bed of a man whose body was presently floating out to the sea. I have slept in worse places, but I was not prepared to be waking up tomorrow as the leader of a College I barely know.