Friday, July 22, 2016

Skyrim Day 038 - No Rest For the Weary

23 Heartfire, 4E201
Wilderness
~~~

I napped rather than slept in the near-frozen bedroll, but it was enough to quiet the pain in my head. My goal, as usual, was Winterhold College so that I could deliver another one of Enthir's illict goods. Unable to get much rest I wound up moving out of the towers a little after midnight and was halfway to Winterhold when the sun started to rise.

With the freedom more time had given me I felt at liberty to wander a bit and discovered absolutely nothing of value or use. I stopped at a ruined fortress and slew several hostile necromancers before realizing I was surrounded by the dead bodies of the fort's former garrison: Stormcloaks. It would have been quite a fright to have had one of the necromancers re-animate an unseen body behind me, but I was the unseen body behind them this time, stabbing them in the back or drawing my blade across their throat.

I saw no reason to enter the fort and left the crumpled necromancers in the courtyard as a gift to the next person to step outside for a moment.
Enthir was pleased to have the staff back and exchanged it for a twisted soul gem. I could not see the use for the broken thing and neither could Enthir, but he shrugged and said that is what Arniel had specifically requested.

I found Arniel fretting and pacing in his room, muttering something about heat exchange calculations. Neither understanding this or caring, I interrupted him to present the soul gem I killed a keep's worth of mages for. He immediately pressed it back into my hand and began telling a tale of perseverance and broken dreams.

At least that's how he described it. The "tale" was really an explanation of where ten Dwemer cogs had disappeared to: into a machine he built and designed so that the soul gem would retain Dwemer energies for the final phase of his experiment. The machine exploded, melted, or simply failed to work when he turned it on and he had no patience to build another. Instead I was given a list of Dwemer ruin locations, vague directions on how to find each one, and told to bring the gem to part-magicka, part-mechanical Dwemer devices. With the gem inserted into these machines I was then to cast a specific spell (which he quickly taught me) to siphon the Dwemer machine's energy into the gem.

This ritual need not be completed just once, of course, but three times! The only bright light in this terrible turn of events was that the ruin Mzulft, where I had found the Synod mages from Cyrodiil and used the Dwemer Observatory, had two of these machines, requiring a trip only to one other ruin rather than two.

My head filled with satisfying images of Arniel's experiment concluding to an explosive, fatal end as I agreed to travel to another place I have already been to for the sake of someone else.

Fortunately the ruin was still completely deserted and I easily found the chest-like deviecs Arniel described. They looked like simple boxes with a small lid on the top. Per Arniel's instructions I opened the lid, placed the gem inside the compartment, closed the lid, then used his otherwise-useless flame magicka spell on the whole thing for several seconds. I retrieved the gem which was no different for the process and repeated it for the second device in Mzulft.
The third and final device, the 'Convector', as Arniel calls them, was listed as being near the mining village of 'Shor's Stone' on the road between Windhelm and Riften.

Night fell as I walked into an area of Skyrim I have not seen in probably forty years. When I was last in Skyrim doing odd jobs and being accused of thievery I avoided the southeast, choosing instead to work between Solitude, Whiterun, and Falkreath escorting wagons of lumber and the occasional merchant.

Mindful of the previous night's unsatisfactory sleeping arrangements I put off any thought of finding the third 'Convector' and instead concentrated on a place to sleep that would not have me waking up within a shell of ice and snow.

A lit cooking fire by a watchtower suggested a warm place to rest, but when I arrived I was greeted only by Stormcloak corpses.
A letter inside (with Stormcloak letterhead, no less!) warned of Legion troops heading their way, but either they dismissed the letter or received it too late to make preparations. The battle must have been over quickly, of the five dead soldiers only one had even withdrawn his weapon. Even the two sentries atop the tower died without their bows in hand, suggesting a puzzling lack of concern among the tiny garrison.

The tower also looked over Shor's Stone and I heard the sound of arguing before I sighted the little town. Several miners were seated around a fire, most of them arguing with an older Nord whom I assumed was the overseer or more likely, the oldest miner there.
The Nord introduced himself as 'Filnjar', the village's blacksmith as well as one of the miners. The argument was over a large family of spiders that had infested the mine. Most of the miners wanted to abandon the mine until the local guards took care of it, but Filnjar wanted to pool everyone's money to hire a mercenary or two instead.

I felt that spiders were something I could easily handle and offered my services. He was surprised to hear a Khajiit walking out of the dark offer to assist him with his problem, but agreed very quickly. Filnjar warned me that the mine had a constant red haze floating about, the origin of which no one was quite sure of. I thanked him and walked past a nervous guardsman at the entrance of the mine.
The mine was a lot smaller than I expected and the spiders far fewer. The red haze reminded me of something from long ago and though I wracked my brain trying to remember, I could not. I crept along, bow at the ready and the sensation of a memory just about to emerge playing at my mind. I shot nine spiders, making the mine safe again. I returned to Filnjar and was paid over a thousand Septims, an embarrassing amount for such a simple task.

But all the money in Skyrim could not rent a bedroll that did not exist and I had to leave Shor's Stone still searching for a place to sleep. When I spied the silhouette of a ruined castle hanging over the road I made the decision to sleep there, regardless of who currently occupied it.

It was a lucky night for me and I managed to kill all the rogue mages wandering blind in the castle's courtyard without being noticed, then descended inside and silently eliminated the rest one-by-one. The leader of the little band had an expertly-crafted, engraved steel breastplate that would probably fetch over a thousand Septims...if I felt like carrying it, which I do not.

Having pushed her body out of the room I have barred the former chief's bedroom door and am ready for a good night's sleep on a warm bed in a heated room. Tomorrow I will find the last 'Convector' and return to the College to see if anyone has any clue as to what the stone plaque is supposed to represent. The words I continue to have blasted into my mind also bear mentioning, though to who I am not sure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Skyrim Day 037 - What's Old is New Again

21 Heartfire, 4E201
Wilderness
~~~

Can no one do anything for themselves in this province? Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but today I have risked my life for very little, visited a place I have already been to, and am now ending the day in a freezing, broken tower with almost nothing to show for my troubles and discomfort. Meanwhile, the reason I am out here is probably settling down to a nice supper at a comfortable table in a heated hall. I must remember to murder Enthir when I next get the chance.

Before leaving the College this morning I dumped the engraved plaque I had taken from Bleak Falls Barrow and asked Tolfdir to take a look at it, maybe show it around a bit, try to figure out just what the thing actually is. The dragon's head on the plaque closely matches the engravings I have been seeing just before ancient, useless words are burned into my head, but I cannot quite make the connection between the two.

I had not planned on staying at the College today and I happened to run into Arniel as he was heading to breakfast, so I asked him if there was anything else he needed for his experiment. I really should have expected that he did. Unfortunately for me, what he needed could only be acquired through Enthir, my rapidly least-favorite individual at the College.

Enthir could provide what Arniel needed...for a price, of course. I was ready to hand over any number of Septims just to avoid another droll task from the slippery Bosmer, but the cost of his assistance was the retrieval of yet another piece of merchandise he parted with too hastily. The job was no more attractive for the fact that the staff had made its way to Fellglow Keep, the place where the late Orthorn had stolen away to with the College's books and where I was sent two weeks ago to undo that little event. 

Apparently more necromancers had moved in and started delicately sourcing magical items for some sort of ritual. Enthir, never one to turn his nose up at profit, sold one of their number a staff that he was now having seller's remorse over. He asked that I travel to the ruined keep and bring back the staff. The survival of his former customers was not a concern. I also strangled him right then and there. I wish I had.

And so it was back into the hills of north Skyrim. I passed by a wrecked horse-and-cart and its former occupants, all of them frozen solid into the ground.
Continuing along the rough-hewn path I came upon a shrine of some sort built up against the mountainside. There were mages examining the shrine's wall, but when I drew closer one of them shouted and started flinging spells at me.
I was very quickly engaged by four mages and spent a lovely time running and jumping all over the place, firing my bow when I could between the giant icicles and fireballs they threw at me. Eventually the last of them fell into the snow clutching an arrow sticking from his chest and I returned to the shrine to see what it was that interested them.
Unaccustomed to finding the things outside, I realized too late that it was another teaching-wall and before I could get away I had a terrific headache and the knowledge of how to spell "ice" in a language no one else is using. Very useful.

Cursing my luck and curiosity I resolved to waste no further time in getting to Fellglow Keep and immediately broke my own promise. Trudging along the road I heard two people arguing and just had to know what it was they were angry about. Their names were Salma and Beem-Ja, a Redguard and Argonian. They were undecided as to whether they should enter the barrow they were camping in front of, but my arrival emboldened the adventurers and they dove inside, calling for me to follow.
The two of them dealt with the spiders and Draugr that infested the barrow and we soon came upon a rather imposing dome of granite. They paid my warnings no heed and rushed up the stairs and inside what I knew to be the tomb of whomever the barrow had been dug for.
The barrow's owner, a hulking seven-foot armored Draugr, was not pleased to have visitors.
In its bony hand the Draugr wielded an Ebony blade, guaranteed to lop off an arm or a leg with a single blow. Against this and his retinue of skeleton archers I had a brave but rather inexperienced Redguard warrior and an Argonian mage above us. Beem-Ja was actually very helpful, killing the skeleton archers with bolts of lightning before turning his magicka against the Draugr Salma and I were dancing around.

The Draugr fell and Salma re-joined Beem-Ja above the little pit we had been fighting in, but they started arguing almost immediately, so I walked back to them to see what the trouble was after their victory.

Their trouble turned out to be the small matter of Beem-Ja announcing he would kill us both and use our blood to enact a ritual designed to siphon the Draugr's power into his own body. I have no idea why these sort of plans are always boastfully declared beforehand. The Argonian had hardly stopped speaking before my battle-ax cleaved his skull in two, greatly startling Salma. Understandable she was very upset and tearfully made an announcement of her own: a retirement from adventuring and a return to her father's home in High Rock. I wished her well and began to walk past the Draugr's ancient throne, when my head exploded.
I had not even noticed the wall of runes this time. A blast of pain and another word: "Fade", spoken and written in the ancient style. Two words in the same day and I could barely see for the pain lancing through my skull. I stumbled out of the barrow and back outside, the sunlight elevating my headache to new, undiscovered heights.

Fortunately the pain diminished somewhat to a dull hammering by the time I found the road again and when a thief jumped out of the bushes demanding my money I irritably asked him to look at the ax on my belt and reconsider his demand. He fled, wisely.

Fellglow Keep had not changed in the two weeks since I had last seen it and I remembered the layout quite well, enabling me to slay the entire group of wayward mages with not a single alarm or shout. Enthir's staff was in a chest stuffed into an alcove at the back of the ruin. When I exited Fellglow it was already night and I decided to investigate the two towers that spanned the river nearby. If they were still abandoned from the last time I visited I would stay there for the night, saving myself an hour's walk in the dark with my head feeling like it was about to split open.

Luck finally showed its hand to me today for the towers were free of inhabitants. I chose the least-frozen bedroll in the least-ruined of the two towers and am not looking forward to a very cold night. Still, I know I will fall asleep eventually and feel all the better for it tomorrow morning, frozen or not. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Skyrim Day 036 - The Joys of Literature

21 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold
~~~

Morthal has its charms, if you find the constant stench of swamp to be attractive. The inn was comfortable enough, but I was already a day behind on my self-imposed schedule and left earlier in the morning than I was perhaps expected to.

'Hanging Gardens' was located somewhere north of Morthal, according to Urag. How the book came to be in such a book-unhealthy place is a mystery to be pondering alongside how Urag knew it was there to begin with.
The marshland was as pleasant as I expected it to be and a man walking into town as I was leaving warned me to not go into the swamps at night, advice I did not need to be told in this case. Surprisingly there were few monsters about, mostly just elk and the occasional mudcrab.

I came upon a cave marked with a lit brazier and could only guess that it might be the location of the book I was seeking. Inside I was greeted by two giant spiders, each of which fell to my bow. I thought I was facing ordinary bandits until the first one I killed started dissolving into black dust. Vampires. Terrifying to most people, the trick is in making sure they never bite you as you stab them to death.

Further inside the cave I heard someone talking to himself and watched as a vampire dragged three bodies from his cart into a nearby pit. He was so intent on his grisly task that he could not hear me creeping up behind him with my axe. One more body for the pit.
Those two were the only to die in their cave today. There were three more vampires sitting together in a small common area set with a table and chairs, but I stayed against the cavern wall, in the shadows, and passed by them with no notice at all. I am evidently becoming very skilled in not being seen, but I do not really live a life that greatly requires that. Perhaps I would make a good burglar if I was the kind of Khajiit everyone in Skyrim seems to expect.

'Hanging Gardens' was tucked into a chest underneath a a Dwemer warhammer and an Ebony mace, making the origin of the book even more mysterious. Whatever its journey, I stole the book back from the vampires and quietly exited their den.

Urag's second volume was south of Morthal, along the river. The weather was, once again, quite nice and the walk along the river peaceful, even with mudcrabs stolidly crawling at me every couple of seconds to defend their portion of the mud bank. I met a Redguard fisherwoman at her shack and paid her a few Septims for some dried fish.
The entrance to the bandit hideout was a great deal less ambiguous than the vampires'.
I suspect the bodies to have been dug up, for the bandits were organized more as a blacksmith's shop than a group of dangerous outlaws. Four of the six bandits died with smithing tools in their hands, not weapons. 'Shalidor's Insights' was also in a chest underneath a collection of valuable armaments.

With that I began the walk back to the College. Nothing interesting happened and I stepped into the icy courtyard just after midnight. As expected most of the instructors and students were still awake, toying with whatever experiments allowed them to ignore the rest of the province. 

Arniel was happy to receive his ten Dwemer cogwheels and Urag to have a copy of 'Hanging Gardens' and the unreadable' Shalidor's Inights'. He assured me that the latter could be translated if I gave him a day or two. I have no interest in such a thing, but I thanked him anyway.

I need to get rid of the stone plaque I found underneath Bleak Falls Barrow. I think I will simply prop it against something in the Arch-Mage's room and invite everyone in to see if they know what to do with it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Skyrim Day 035 - Ghost Women and Metal Men

20 Heartfire, 4E201
Morthal
~~~

Retrieve some books or get distracted twice, dive into two ruins each occupied by a different group of hostile people, and be rewarded by some coin, more fatigue, and a mounting list of things to do the next day? I wound up choosing the latter, of course, but I complain when I am stuck at the College only to complain once I am free to roam. Nevertheless, this day offered some hints towards adjustments I could be making for myself, advice I am always glad to receive.

I thought I would visit Morthal first to get the first of Urag's books, then walk through Dragon Bridge to retrieve the second. The Nightgate inn's lack of comfort, heating, or quiet ensured I was up at two in the morning, not quite ready for the day's journey but unable to fall back asleep anyway. After a quick breakfast and a glare at the bard practicing in the common room at such an early hour I left the village and proceeded down another snowy road.

Under the bright moon I met with the Khajiit caravan, run by Ahkari, which Kharjo is tasked with guarding. Trading had been profitable for them so Ahkari was happy to pay for the assortment of jewelry taken from the assassins and ruins I seem unable to avoid. Kharjo wished me well and we parted ways, again.

The moon settled down for another day's rest and the sun had risen several hours ago when I turned the corner of the cobblestone road just in time to watch a mammoth catch a hunter with its tusks, flinging the woman thirty feet through the air. She hid the ground head-first with a too-familiar crack, her head broken from the impact against the frozen earth.
The mammoth stomped away and stopped next to a dead Giant, its sinewy body stuck full of cheap-looking arrows. The unfortunate huntress evidently killed the master only to fall against the pet...I think. My understanding of Skyrim's unique semi-intelligent herders is not very clear and I do not know what the relationship is between the Giants and their mammoths. All I know is that tangling with either is asking for trouble no one needs.

On the subject of trouble no one needs, I briefly ventured off the road near Dawnstar and came upon a magnificent Dwemer fortress in seemingly excellent condition.
My pride as an adventurer, if such a thing exists, would not let me pass the fortress without stopping for a cursory look around. I hoped to also find the remaining Dwemer cogs for Arniel. This, of course, meant that several bandits met their end, but that is now nearly a daily occurrence. Once I finished stalking the courtyard I proceeded inside and was almost immediately rewarded by battle debris left from a fight between the bandits and the Dwemer constructs. I found the required cogwheels without much trouble and could have left then, but curiosity insisted that I proceed.

Inevitably the bandits were replaced by Falmer as I crept deeper into the fortress, with the Dwemer constructs a constant, noisy companion. Why bandits see Dwemer ruins as great places to camp in I shall never know, for the Falmer are always there first and will likely always kill whomever stays there for longer than a day. One of the Falmer I shot down had a desiccated human heart in his pouch, a grisly trophy from a battle some time ago.

I made it through bandits and Falmer only to find myself facing one of the massive Dwemer battle-men similar to the one I had ran away from in Alftand.
There was no running away from this thing, yet all I had on me was my dagger, a bow, and an Ebony war axe I had won from a Draugr in the ruin where I found my first Nordic 'word'. Now I have never before wielded an axe in battle, but I felt nonetheless that my chances against the giant machine would go up if I wielded something with a reach longer than eight inches.

Unaccustomed to the lack of balance on the axe, my first few swings were probably more dangerous to myself than my opponent. But my next swings were directed into the thing's legs, satisfyingly crushing in the Dwemer plate protecting its joints. It attempted to defend itself, but even with the axe I was far too quick. We danced around for what felt like a long time before I managed to work a plate free of the machine, exposing the levers and gears beneath. Once these were destroyed the thing collapsed and I drove the butt-spike of the axe into its chest, silencing it forever.
The axe dislodged something in its chest and a bit of digging around revealed a a spherical shell with a red gemstone set inside of it. There were knobs on the outside of the shell that allowed for some sort of adjustment, but I could not figure out what to do with it. Whatever it was it appeared to be the power source for the machine and I guessed it to be valuable to someone, somewhere, so into my pack it went.

A door on the far side of our arena led to an elevator platform which deposited me back on to the surface of Skyrim. It was still day, the weather was clear, and there did not seem to be anything that could prevent me from recovering at least one of the books today. Save, of course, for my curiosity again.

I had only taken a dozen steps along the road when I heard the sound of fighting in the direction of a packed snow path off of the road. Thinking someone might be fighting for their lives against bandits, I drew my bow and tried to be as fast and sneaky as I could at the same time. I need not have worried. By the time I reached the fighting it was already over: a woman was walking away from the bodies of two bandits sprawled on stairs leading into a Nordic burial crypt and while she was surprised to see me, she was not hostile.
She introduced herself as Eisa Blackthorn, former bandit of the White River Gang, a group I had no knowledge of, and a more-recently former member of treasure hunters camping inside of the crypt. Eisa stated that she and another hunter had been marked for death after the disappearance of the boss's sword. She fought her way outside the crypt, but the other hunter had gone further inside, ranting about a lady he had to see there. She invited me to explore the mystery myself, but stated she would have nothing more to do with the entire business. What that she walked down the path to the road and I, having been provided another mystery to solve, stepped over the bodies and entered the crypt.

There was nothing interesting about it, other than that the treasure hunters (bandits) had discovered a forest somehow growing underground. One of them, the other hunter Eisa spoke about, went mad after exploring the area and stole a sword from the group's leader. That was all I found out from listening to the bandits talk among themselves before they died.

I arrived at the forested area just in time to witness the mad hunter attack a ghostly woman who killed him almost instantly.
This forest was dim, cold, and misty, as unpleasant as it was unusual. The ghost resembled a creature I have fought before: a bluish-green semi-transparent woman wearing wraps about her who was able to command wisps to fight alongside her. Whatever these things are, this one also had the ability to create copies of herself as well as wisps. She lacked endurance however and dissipated into nothing after only a few blows from my axe.

The dead hunter was a sparsely clothed Khajiit and he managed to retain his grip on the stolen sword even in death. It was a short blade, no more than a foot and a half and oddly shaped from a dark steel. The weapon fit perfectly on a pedestal just in front of the mad Khajiit, making me wonder if the ghost had not called the Khajiit to steal the blade back to her for some purpose. I had no need of it so I placed it on the pedestal and started towards a staircase carved into the rear of  the cavern.

As I approached I noticed that the stone alongside it was worked and through the mist I realized it was almost exactly as the other stone monuments which taught me the Nordic words. As before certain runes in the stonework began to glow as I drew closer.
A blinding light, a crippling pain in my head, and suddenly I knew the runes for 'flesh of ice', a phrase utterly mystifying without context. Now nursing a terrific headache I stumbled up the stairs and into a clear Skyrim night.

There was no place to stay between the crypt and Morthal, so it was early in the morning when I finally arrived at the dismal place, my head pounding and my feet slightly less so.
The room was the standard ten Septims per night and I settled in to write this just after midnight. One of the volumes Urag wanted is just north of Morthal, so I am confident I will be recovering at least one of them, if not both, tomorrow. Then it is back to the College again. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Skyrim Day 034 - The Last Lesson You Learn

18 Heartfire, 4E201
Nightgate Inn
~~~

With ancient Nordic words bouncing around in my head I woke this morning with no desire to attempt anything particularly difficult. The Conjuration instructor at the College, Phinis, had asked me some time ago to investigate the disappearance of the previous group of apprentices, a task which did not sound taxing.

Phinis referred to them as 'missing', yet he knew where they were going and kept a list of their announced destinations. He just did not want to leave the College to actually check up on them, a depressingly typical attitude within any group of mages.

The first was Rundi, one of two Nord twins who had enrolled at the College together, truly a rarity. According to Phinis's list Rundi was going to be practicing magic near a small altar just southeast of the College.
Someone, probably the late Rundi, had placed magicka runes around the altar, but I could not find Rundi himself. I was able to step very carefully through the runes and examine the altar, but all I found was a book and a dagger helpfully engraved with his name. I took the dagger and looked at the next name on the list: Borvir, brother of Rundi.

Borvir had walked further south to a well-known ancient stone shelter known as 'Journeyman's Nook', half-way between the College and Windhelm.
His death was much less a mystery. Just inside the shelter was a man clad in skins and wielding a bow. I took a shot at him from outside and missed, but he came charging out of the would-be fortification anyway. I quickly climbed to the roof of the shelter and jumped behind him as he ran out. It was over quickly. Borvir's body lay inside, three arrows still stuck in his chest. Evidently he died while experimenting with alchemy, for he had brought a small table with him. Like his brother, he had a steel dagger engraved with his name along the blade. So far the apprentices were not being found in great condition.

The third apprentice was Yisra, a Redguard with an affinity for fire, at least according to Phinis. She had chosen to travel much farther than the brothers, electing to practice her magic on the shore near Dawnstar, possibly to have access to water in case of an accident. With such vague directions I thought it would be difficult to find her, but unfortunately that wound up not being the case.

A sudden reveal of a very blue, clear sky came as a pleasant surprise, the first I have seen along the north coast of Skyrim, though I think I would have been happy with anything that was not blowing more snow and ice in my face.
Naturally this did not last long and by the time I reached what passed for a shoreline the weather had sunk back into a freezing, gloomy overcast.  Horkers shuffled about as I tried to hop from one dry section to another, but inevitably I ended up in the freezing water more than once.

The tell-tale scent of smoke and burnt flesh assailed my nostrils as I carefully made my way past a small grouping of Horkers and I followed the smell to Yisra's final experiment.
What was left of her corpse was twisted in agony and fused solid by intense heat. The surrounding grasses were still smoldering around her and a spell tome, no doubt enchanted against magicka damage, lay within the charred circle. It described a powerful 'flame cloak' spell, much the same as J'zargo attempted. However, where J'zargo managed to accidentally substitute 'flame' for 'explosion' Yisra looked to have left off the 'cloak' portion of the spell, providing herself with just the flames.

The last apprentice was Ilas-Tei, obviously an Argonian, who went to an island just off the coast to the northwest of the College. Phinis's notes suggested that I look for a shrine to Talos. Ilas-Tei's specialty was Illusion, so I wondered what bizarre manner of death I would be discovering next.
Ilas-Tei's death was the result of poor planning: the unfortunate Argonian was testing 'Calm' and 'Fury' spells on a bunch of Skeevers she had caged, but for whatever reason they wound up getting loose and eviscerated her before turning on each other.
At least I think that's what happened. There was a cage, five dead Skeevers, and one dead Argonian. A scroll of 'Fury' was still clutched in her hand, but the much-needed scroll of 'Calm' was sitting on a barrel by the cage.

None of the apprentices would have died had they stuck together, but no one at the College seems able to look out for one another. Little wonder the College is so distrusted by everyone else in Skyrim. Phinis's payment for my discovering the ill-fated apprentices was a staff enchanted to cast 'Calm' with his hope that I could use it to avoid ending as they did. Considering one was ambushed by a bandit, one set herself aflame, and another simply disappeared entirely, I do not know how the staff is supposed to avoid any of that. I suppose it would be helpful against Skeevers, but I am fairly sure a Nordic child over the age of eight can kill a Skeever. Possibly bare-handed.

Still stuck with College responsibilities I consulted my journal to see what else needed to be done. According to my writings Urag had asked me to retrieve some volumes quite awhile back, at least a week, I think. He has been very patient so far, but I am willing to accept anything that gets me out of this ice and cold. The books Urag is desiring wound up somewhere south of Dragon Bridge along the river, but if he told me how he knew that I had forgotten to write it down. There is also a book somewhere north of Morthal, but the one close to Dragon Bridge he rated as more important, I only have 'Shalidor' written next to it though, so I do not remember why that is.

Once again the weather was unusually kind to me and I was assaulted by neither ice or snow on my walk from the College. As it was late in the day when I left the sun soon set and I was granted a view I have never seen before.
Whatever was up in the sky shone brightly enough to almost turn the night back into day. The effect reminded me of how the weather would warp near the gates to Oblivion so long ago and if I concentrate I can almost remember something similar around Red Mountain on Vvardenfell. While I did appreciate the increased visibility I do hope this is temporary. The dark is a Khajiit's friend just as much as the light.

I chose to stop at the inn built along the road between the College and Whiterun, the Nightgate. Tomorrow I hope to have the book in my possession and then I might visit Solitude or Morthal before returning, once again, to Winterhold. There is also the matter of the tablet I took from Bleak Falls Barrow, though I do not know who I should speak to about it.

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.