Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Skyrim Day 077 - Turned Around Underground

2 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Outside
~~~

Serana woke me up impatiently an hour or so before dawn. She had not slept, as usual, and was eager to complete our task at Alftand so that we could return to her family's castle. Her hope was that she would be able to speak with her mother, but Alftand is an hour or so away and Volkihar Keep is on the other side of the province.

Alftand was just as I left it: frozen, broken, and empty.
Inside, the strange device which perplexed me during my initial visit showed itself to be the gateway to Blackreach. Inserting Septimus's Dwemer sphere into the device caused the floor around it to collapse, revealing a stairway that led to an elevator into the strange underground cavern of Blackreach. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in Skyrim, though fragments of memories from Morrowind surfaced among the giant glowing mushrooms of Blackreach.
Blackreach was home to a few Falmer and Chaurus that had managed to accidentally trigger whatever method of transportation sent them, plus one Giant whose very existence in Blackreach may be the most baffling mystery I have yet encountered in my very long life. Surprisingly, Blackreach contained almost no Dwemer guardians save for one of the ten-foot tall mechanical soldiers.
Serana wanted to leave it be but I was unwilling to leave the thing at our backs so long as we were unaware of its trigger. She agreed with my logic. The battle was a short one, the trick is to find which part of the thing is leaking the most oil, then hack away at it. 

A bit further on we came upon a small building which had served as the late Sinderion's campsite. Sinderion was an alchemist of some skill who developed an obsession with nirnroot. This obsession grew worse when an adventurer from Skyrim sold him a red nirnroot...a thing I had not previously heard of. The adventurer told Sinderion that the red (crimson, according to him) nirnroot had come from the caverns of Blackreach and likely only the caverns of Blackreach.

Sinderion relocated himself to Skyrim, then into Blackreach. From the arrow sticking in his skeleton's rib-cage, I presume he was wounded by a Dwemer mechanical, retreated to his workshop, then, surrounded by enough ingredients to craft something helpful, died. His journal was dated with the year as well, marking it as just over one hundred and fifty years old.
I had no time for crimson nirnroot and no care, but Serana's was curious to have heard of something new since before her one thousand year nap. We agreed to split up, her after the nirnroot, me after the device required to transcribe the Elder Scroll. We would meet back at the workshop in three hours.

There was a giant globe of hazy light suspended from one corner of Blackreach and I thought to look there first for the entrance (an elevator, I assumed) to Mzark Tower, where Septimus assured me I would find what I needed to help him.
The globe served as a Dwemer-built sun for a small, walled Dwemer village mostly inhabited by Falmer and...for some reason, Nords. They were clothed raggedly and cheaply, but each attacked me on sight. Were they willing servants of the Falmer? Slaves of some kind? I shall never know.
As agreed, Serana and I rejoined at Sinderion's workshop. His journal had called for thirty samples of the red nirnroot, but Serana had only twenty. She may return on her own when this is all over. Together we found the elevator for Mzark Tower and gratefully ascended. I do not know about her, but Khajiit are not made for long spells underground. 

Mzark was only two rooms: the one containing the elevator and the much larger one with a device that looked similar to the Dwemer observatory I visited a month or so ago.
Serana and I figured out how to start the machine: a small cup held Septimus's Dwemer cube. Placing the cube in the cup unlocked two of the five buttons, one rotated the machine from and towards us, the other side to side. With no clue as to what we were doing, we took turns pressing the buttons until we managed to reach some sort of pattern which unlocked two more buttons.

Again, we entertained ourselves pressing buttons randomly until the whole machine shuddered and a Dwemer mechanical arm holding a large tube descended from the ceiling.

Much to my surprise the tube contained an Elder Scroll...or something resembling one. The Dwemer cube was also changed: engravings dotted the formerly-smooth surface, though I could not tell when that work had been done. All of this has been very confusing.

With the Scroll and engraved cube in our possession we had to walk back to the elevator shaft we used to enter Blackreach and found ourselves, after what felt like a very long day, back on to the frozen surface of Skyrim.
Rather than force myself to walk back to the College I will be borrowing the still-burning campfire outside of the ruin to warm up one of the tents before settling in for what is a well-deserved, if rather cold, rest. I have nearly forgotten what I had set out to accomplish today, but I believe I have done it nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Skyrim Day 076 - Winter Hideaway

1 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Winterhold
~~~

Fort Dawnguard does not advertise itself as comfortable for the waylaid traveler from the outside and does nothing to change this once you enter. Dexion finished the reading of Serana's scroll at around two in the morning, but within the entire fortress there was no free quarters for Serana and I, so it was right back out the gate for us in pursuit of the remaining two scrolls, dubbed 'Dragon' and 'Blood'. Not the first night I have gone without sleep, but I would rather not make a habit of this.

Fortunately for me the only lead we had for the 'Dragon' scroll was that Urag, the College's irascible Orsimer librarian, might know where to start looking. The alternative was to start the search for the 'Blood' scroll, requiring a trip across the entire province to a castle garrisoned by vampires. Finding the 'Dragon' scroll first was fine by me.

Almost immediately upon exiting the little canyon which housed the Dawnguard Serana and I were set upon by a group of vampires, one powerful enough to match Serana's magicka, but once I finished dispatching the weaker assailants the leader fell to a combination of vampire magicka and Khajiit swordsmanship. Disappointingly, none had anything of value.

The night gave way to an overcast, hazy morning as we left the sparse pine forest and entered the sulfuric hot springs separating Riften from Windhelm. An assassin from the Dark Brotherhood sprang out from beside the road, wisely cloaked with an Invisbility potion or spell, but the unwisely attacked us from the front, denying himself the benefit of surprise.

Other than a duo of master-less Mammoths crossing the road some way ahead of the assassin's corpse we encountered nothing else on the way to Windhelm.
I met a small group of Khajiit camping by Windhelm's gatehouse, but they were there not to trade, but to pull fish from the nearly-frozen river to sell, dried and prepared, to the caravans.
They were willing to ferry Serana and I across the frozen river for a few Septims, sparing us a much longer walk around the hills west of Windhelm. Just out of sight of the river we came under attack by two woman-spirits, each summoning hostile energies similar to those I fought at Winterhold. They were likely the 'wispmothers' the Nords speak of, the first of which I fought weeks ago.
They had been guarding a shrine to Arkay, but I could find no reason why.

Within sight of the College we came upon two bandits arguing near the body of a dead woman. Guessing what had transpired, I motioned Serana to take the one on the left while I readied my crossbow. It was darkly amusing to watch my victim simply drop dead with a bolt through his throat, whereas Serana's was flung sideways by her magicka, across the icy ground and over the cliff behind him.
The woman died wearing a powerfully enchanted pendant around her neck, probably the reason the bandits had been arguing. A letter on her body mournfully informed me that if I was reading it the author was likely dead. The unnamed woman explained that the bandits had broken into her home and taken everything she owned, including the pendant, a family heirloom. She was the last of her family and the comfort  the pendant brought her was dear to her. Regardless of the risk, she was going to get it back, even if it meant her death...which it did, but I am certain she approved of the bandits' fate.

This may be the first day I have visited the College without being suffocated by a snowstorm. The sky was cloudy, but the air was clear of snow and ice.
Urag was as happy to see me as he was anyone, which is to say not at all. He laughed when I asked about finding an Elder Scroll, wondering if I even knew what I was asking for...which I felt was pretty rude to say to the current Arch-Mage, if I may say so.

For his derision the Orsimer was not particularly knowledgeable about them either, content to use frustrating metaphors and state utter nonsense, such as the falsehoods in the Scrolls being truer than the truths...which would cease to make them falsehoods. The only actual help he was able to provide was in the form of a small volume written by a former student of the College, an Imperial named Septimus Signus.

It was titled 'Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls' and consisted entirely of nonsense. When I asked Urag what help it was supposed to be he laughed and said it was to prepare me for when I met the man. Surprised, I asked when the book was penned and found that it was only months old, the man wrote it, left it in at the College, then rambled about a great Dwemer treasure at the tip of the province...just north of Winterhold. Urag made it his business to know where exactly Septimus had disappeared to, but judged the man mad enough to not bother about his "discovery".

The walk along the peninsula north of Winterhold was as miserable as I feared: it was windy, snowy, and very, very cold. We were forced to precariously hop across ice floes just to reach the cavern Urag had found, one wrong step would plunge us into a sea equal parts ice and water. The mad man's boat, now frozen fast to Skyrim, came as a great relief.
Septimus was utterly mad, but he had found something interesting: a giant Dwemer puzzle cube wider than he was tall and taller as well.
He was a very difficult man to talk to, but I managed to get out of him the assurance that there was an Elder Scroll still in Skyrim, despite either the Empire or the Thalmor sweeping the province for them, which he meant was unclear. Predictably Septimus would not tell me where the Scroll was until I performed a task for him.

The Dwemer cube was driving him madder than he already was. He simply had to get inside no matter what was required...so long as he did not have to leave the cave. His belief was that the Scroll would tell him how to open the giant cube.

He claimed that an ancient Dwemer city, Blackreach, more ancient than all the others, lay underneath Skyrim. To reach Blackreach I would have to "delve to the limits, then beyond", a clear description of a city underneath a city, I think. He suggested either 'Tower Mzark' or 'Alftand'.

The Tower is unknown to me but I visited Alftand while searching for Arniel's Dwemer cogwheels a month ago or so. Apparently I missed a lower level, Blackreach, during my first visit and will now have to suffer a second. At least it is not far.

We had only to walk back across the treacherous ice floes, avoid the Horkers, then climb up the frozen beach underneath the College while under constant assault by shards of ice blown about by the coastal winds. Because this was not difficult enough we came under assault by three Trolls and a Dragon once we advanced past the beach.

The Dragon landed right next to Serana, bringing her to her knees. I pulled my crossbow free of my belt, but knew I would not be able to to fire quick enough to save her life. Fortunately, the Trolls arrived ahead of my bolt.

They fearlessly loped over to the Dragon and started beating its armored hide with their fists, doing little more than annoying the beast and distracting it enough to give Serana time to retreat and regroup.

Against a Dragon the Trolls, even three of them, had little chance. Once the last was dead Serana and I launched our attack, her with magicka, as usual, me with crossbow and blade. The first Dragon was a terrifying ordeal, this one...not anymore. Serana too seemed to have quickly gotten used to the routine, only craning her head slightly as the Dragon's soul rushed into my body...a process which I still do not understand. Am I supposed to do something afterwards?
By the team we returned to Winterhold most of it was already sleeping. Rather than waste more time trudging up to the College we wordlessly agreed to head directly for the Inn in the hope for an early start at Alftand tomorrow morning.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Skyrim Day 075 - White-Hot Failure

1 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Fort Dawnguard
~~~

With all the pieces of Aetherium in our possession Serana and I had only to travel to the Aetherium Forge to answer one of the many questions the Dwemer left behind. Katria's journal placed the Forge somewhere south of Ivarstead and we left before sunrise, per Serana's preference.

Expecting a quiet morning, I was surprised to see a man running through the small town towards me. Stopping in front of me, he announced, somewhat out of breath, that he had a letter for me. Handing it over, he wished me a good morning and disappeared into the inn, no doubt for breakfast and a rest.

The letter was from 'Muiri' and concerned the death of 'Alain Dufont', a man I unknowingly killed some time ago, at least according to the letter. Perhaps he was a bandit or Dark Brotherhood assassin. Muiri reassured me that she would not be contacting the authorities over Alain's death and sought to reward me for his end. She (I assume) asked me to visit her to receive her gratitude, but left no hint as to her whereabouts. A mysterious, but also rather useless, letter.
Serana then announced she had business elsewhere, agreeing to meet outside of Fort Dawnguard no later than tomorrow night. I wonder what occupied her today, but she is free to pursue her own life, disagreeable though she may be.

A Bosmer intercepted me on the road towards Windhelm, offering me the "sweetest moon sugar, the finest Skooma." When I refused his offer he grew angry and attacked me bare-handed. Such a senseless way to throw away one's life.

The rest of the walk was uneventful and I passed through Ivarstead just before noon. The Forge was somewhere south of the town, but no hints had been given. So I wandered about for a bit, coming across an Imperial camp and stopping in to make some quick trades. I spent a few minutes talking to the Legate, an brusque Altmer named Fasendil. His words dripped with disdain for the Dominion and told me that he was stationed in Hammerfell during the "Night of Green Fire" almost two hundred years ago.

That was news I remember hearing, though not in detail. Altmer, fleeing the Thalmor in Summerset Isle, settled in Sentinel, only to be assaulted by the Thalmor and almost completely wiped out. Fasendil was part of the would-be relief effort, but the Legion arrived too late to save anyone. He has harbored a hatred for the Dominion ever since. He sought a transfer to Skyrim so that he could watch the Thalmor and is of the opinion that they are behind what exists of the "Civil War" and the return of the Dragons.

He knew of one Dwemer ruin nearby, but it had been appropriated by a group of bandits, as usual. It lay only a few moments from the camp, but he forbade his men from engaging the bandits for fear of losing them to what he felt were pointless skirmishes. Perhaps if the Thalmor had taken up residence he would have done something. Fasendil could not tell me if there was anything unique about the ruin compared to others and wished me health as we parted.

The ruin really was only a few seconds away from the camp, but the bandits were nowhere to be seen when I arrived.
Some sort of device lay in the center of the ruins, the design reminding me of the Observatory I found at Mzulft. It was the only thing unusual about the place and Katria shimmered into view as I approached it.
She had been at the ruin for some time, no doubt pacing back and forth impatiently as she waited for someone with physical form to arrive. With nothing else to do but examine things, Katria had found that the device had an impression on it that would fit the shards we have been collecting. Placing all the shards in the impression on the device resulted in the entire platform rising up...with us on top of it.
I hopped off in time to avoid having to make some difficult choices and we both watched as the elevator tower rose from the ground. Quite a dramatic flair from a race I have come to assume was humorless and cold.

The tower's elevator led to a large underground cavern into which one of Katria's "resonator" gatehouses was installed.
Smacking each of the resonators with a crossbow bolt opened the gate, begging the question as to what purpose the things really served. If someone need only to throw a stone at them why lock the gate in the first place?

The ruin was small: behind the gate was a pair of uncomfortably warm doors and a stairway leading into a rough cavern with a open pool of lava on one side. Set in front of the lava was the sought-after Forge. The air was hot enough to make breathing painful and my eyes water incessantly, an annoyance which became a grave disadvantage once the Dwemer's guardians started to drop from valves in the ceiling and walls.

Katria and I must have each accounted for over a dozen of the mechanicals. She was not bothered by the heat, of course, acquitting herself well against the machines which seemed to focus on the only living intruder to the Forge: myself. I got backed into a corner by five of the spider guardians, but managed to fight my way free and strike them from behind.

Once the last guardian clattered to a halt Katria urged me to approach the Forge, but a terrible screeching from behind it sent me scurrying back. The true guardian of the Forge had awoken.
The master of the Forge was a larger version of the massive guards I have been encountering at the Dwemer ruins here in Skyrim. This one wielded an axe large enough to fell a tree with a single swipe on one arm and a hammer no doubt heavy enough to drive the remaining stump flat into the earth. If that was not enough to discourage melee its body was hot enough to glow and we quickly discovered it could breathe fire as well.
Fortunately for me it fixated on Katria, whose spiritual existence made her immune to heat and fire, though not physical blows. She distracted the guardian on one side of the cavern while I sneaked to the other side, prepared to pepper the thing with Dwemer crossbow bolts. I may have gotten a lucky shot in a over-heated joint, who can say?

Our strategy proved unnecessary. As I crept into position the cavern reverberated with a horrendous shriek as something broke inside of the thing. It collapsed, spraying steaming lubricant from all its moving parts. It hit the ground with a mighty crash and lay still, victim to nothing more than time.

Katria was as giddy as a nearly-dead person can be, I suppose. She enthused that the only thing left to do was use the Forge to prove its authenticity...but we had no Aetherium to forge anything with. She hopefully suggested that there might be pieces laying about the chamber and after some minutes of searching we came up with a piece, enough for a single use.
The Forge itself was very easy to use. There was a small chest set before three buttons, one engraved with a shield, one with a staff, the third with a helmet. I placed the Aetherium in the chest and closed the lid, then pressed the helmet button. A hidden platform underneath the chest lowered it into the Forge, then came back up, minus the chest and our Aetherium. I looked at Katria, but she was staring at the Forge, enthralled.

Steam and hot oil sprayed out of Forge, time evidently being no less cruel to it than its guardian. I thought it broken, but Katria refused to hear of it, so we waited, she almost on top of the thing, me a safe distance away. After several minutes the machine quieted and the chest rose back from within, steaming oil oozing all over it.

I carefully opened the lid and peered inside. The chunk of unfinished Aetherium I put into the chest had been transformed into a Dwemer metal circlet, hardly the helmet I was expecting, with four small and one large Aetherium crystal set into it.

Katria wistfully remarked at how beautiful it was, but that was not an opinion we shared. The circlet was very Dwemer: sturdy, blocky, and devoid of any beauty I could see. It was formed of the same gold-colored metal everything else they made is and the five bright-blue crystals looked as though they belonged on something else.

For Katria's sake I placed it upon my head. Satisfied, she declared that no one could deny the Forge's existence now that there was an Aetherium crown for all to see. I have my doubts that anyone else cares at all and even fewer would recognize the gemstones for Aetherium crystal.

And with that Katria faded away, thanking me as she began her new adventure in whatever after-life awaited her. Whatever it is, I wish her well.

With a tale to tell to Serana I left the cavern and traced my steps back to the elevator. The cool air of Skyrim was a welcome relief as I stepped out of the tower and while it was already night I felt I could make good enough time to Fort Dawnguard to justify not staying at Riften.

I was attacked on the road by a band of Vampires, but they were weak and poorly led. The dust I scraped from their bodies will fetch a good price. Isran was taking no chances now that he had the Elder Scroll and the Moth Priest under his guard, so I was not surprised to find the Dawnguard garrison vigilant and the gates secure.
The Moth Priest Dexion was in conversation with Isran when I entered and both turned to me as I approached, Dexion in gratitude, Isran in...whatever passes for gratitude with him. Serana must have heard me enter for she suddenly landed in the midst of all three of us, smugly pleased by having startled us by leaping from the second floor. With a small smile and a wave, she welcomed me back, in a much better mood than I expected for having stayed among the Dawnguard by herself.

Dexion exclaimed that his visit to Skyrim had been "quite the adventure" so far, a comment I felt was rather insensitive given that his visit has so far cost several Legionnaires their lives. I inquired into the preparations required prior to reading an Elder Scroll, but there was nothing he had to do prior to simply reading the Scroll to the best of his ability. Isran was impatient to begin, so Serana handed over the Scroll without comment and the priest began.
Isran's dour expression did not change and Serana acted as if she was bored. Curious, I walked behind Dexion to see what the Scroll looked like and was surprised to find it looked like nothing: to my eyes it was simply a blank scroll. To Dexion's it was a treasure-trove of information and prophecy and he began to recite what he could read of the vampires and the Dawnguard.

He spoke of the Daedric artifact, Auriel's Bow, claiming that it would return to Mundus after the Dragons were awoken and "night and day become one". More than that though, he could not read. He claimed that he could only read the beginning of the prophecy surrounding the Bow and that the acquisition of two more Elder Scrolls would allow him to read it in full. I scoffed at the notion of finding even one Scroll, let alone three, but Serana spoke up.

She felt that she knew of a lead towards finding the second scroll, if not the third also. Serana claimed that her mother, Valerica, would know of its location. I found that difficult to believe, but neither Isran nor Dexion had any other suggestions, so to Valerica Serana and I must go.

Unsurprisingly Serana had no idea where her mother was. She had gone into hiding before Serana was sealed away for a thousand or so years, giving her daughter only the hint that she would hide where her obsessed father would never think to look. Serana complained that she could not think of a place her father would not look in order to acquire a Scroll, but I immediately pointed out that he would never look where he lived: her family's castle.

Serana sheepishly admitted that she did not think of that, but that it occurred to her that if Valerica remained in the castle she would likely hide, somehow, in the castle's courtyard garden. As to how Serana and I were to enter the castle, she explained that there was, and hopefully still is, a small escape passage behind the castle which the previous owners used to ferry supplies. The notion of previous owners interested me before I reminded myself that they were probably previously there thousands of years ago.

So after walking across the entire province I find myself having to immediately turn around and walk all the way back. It is very frustrating, but perhaps I can use this as an opportunity to attend to some business on my way there and back.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Skyrim Day 074 - Mystery's End

30 Frostfall, 4E201
Nightgate Inn
~~~

Katria's adventure is almost at an end and not a day too soon. Serana and I left Whiterun before the rest of the city woke (including Lydia) and continued yesterday's journey to Katria's third, unnamed, Dwemer ruin. She placed the ruin across the river north of Ivarstead, noting that it was the primary source of Aetherium.

We reached the river by mid-morning, but had some trouble finding a pass through the hillside. We stumbled upon a family of trolls in residence, the entrance of the cave splattered with blood, gore, and skeletal remains. Serana surprised me by suggesting that we venture inside to exterminate the trolls and waved aside my remark that it would require her to be underground again, though briefly.
Nestled at the far end of the trolls' home was a battered chest that probably belonged to whatever bandits inhabited the cave before the trolls chased them off or killed them. There was not much inside, but there was a pair of leather boots with an Illusion enchantment on it. Boots enchanted to make the wearer's footsteps quieter are popular among those who keep to the shadows, I am sure I will get a good price for them from the next Khajiit caravan I meet.

Leaving the cave we resumed our search for a path into the hills, presumably where the Dwemer ruin would most likely be. After half an hour we found the path nearly overrun with fallen rocks and opportunistic plants and had to spend more time clearing enough of it to climb up. A giant's camp was sitting right in front of us after we finally made our way on to the hill and we skirted around it hoping to avoid a battle.
The Giants must be able to sense vampirism somehow, for this one left his camp and lumbered after us as we passed, focusing specifically on Serana. They are not stealthy creatures, nor fast, and we easily outpaced it until the Giant lost patience and returned to his camp.

As if that was not trouble enough the Dwemer ruin was being guarded by zealots of the Silver Hand, a band of vigilantes supposedly dedicated against Werewolves, but my few experiences with them showed that they view a Khajiit as close enough to a Werewolf, but I have heard from others that they are no better than common bandits, so perhaps I should not feel their slight to be a personal one. I wonder if, in death, the ones at the ruin felt my slaying them to be personal as well.
Katria's unnamed Aetherium mine boasted an impressive exterior and inside, signs that the Silver Hand were not quite as stupid as they appeared.
The Silver Hand had been using one of the Dwemer's flame traps to cook their meals and I thought it clever, though it did bar the main hallway from being entered, as I could not find a way to disable it and had no desire to walk through a constant jet of fire. Serana and I had no choice but to proceed down a side passageway

We fought through a small encampment of bandits and came upon a second unnoticed.
They were camped beneath two Dwemer ballista, each loaded and glistening with oil dutifully applied thousands of years ago. Serana wanted to activate one to see if it would fire, so we crept up to the parapet and each manned a ballista. Mine fired, but the bolts broke with the force of the shot. Serana was slightly more lucky: hers fired, wildly missing the now-alarmed bandits. They sprang from their campsite and charged up the ramp towards us. It ended quickly.

The hallway beyond was trapped with two bladed rods that traveled back and forth, guaranteed to remove the feet of any invaders in too much of a hurry to be careful. Serana and I shuffled along the sides, barely avoiding the blades. I recall wondering if I would grow back my feet if I slipped. I am glad to have not found out.
The hallway ended at a functioning elevator which deposited us into another hallway guarded by the spinning blades. After carefully skirting the sides we founds ourselves in the middle of a Falmer "village", slowing our progress considerably as we stealthily eliminated the hideous creatures one by one.

Eventually we came to a large room with a pool of water on one side and gears all over the walls. The noise was tremendous, but we could not find a way out of the room other than back the way we came. I even suffered the near-freezing water thinking the door might have been hidden in the pool, but to no avail.
It was Serana who pointed out that many of the gears were jammed, greatly contributing to the clatter that bounced all around the room. She pulled a bone from one and it began spinning quickly and far more quietly. We split up and released the remaining gears, after which Serana happily pressed a button she found a pedestal set before the pool. She seems to be warming up to the concept of adventuring, though one would not judge this based on the quantity of her complaints.
With the gears spinning as they were supposed to, the button opened a hidden door at the end of the pool, releasing a massive Dwemer war-mechanical. My crossbow bolts did not seem to do much, but Serana's lightning magicka sent it tumbling, inert, into the water before it had made it even halfway across to us. Rather anticlimactic, but easy.

The metal warrior had been guarding a small staircase that led down to a small room with some sort of device in the middle of it.
Two gemstones were set into the center of the thing, one the size and shape of a large egg, the other a dish for something to be set on to. I had nothing to use with the thing and left it alone.

What I did find was the shimmering form of Katria staring longingly at the piece of Aetherium we were after.
She kept this speech short, exclaiming that it was the last piece we needed and that she would be waiting at the Forge. With that, she blinked out of existence. Serana commented on the possibility of passing on the Forge entirely, but I secretly want to see this thing for myself, so I told her I could not bear to keep Katria's spirit enthralled on this plane any longer than it needed to be.
An elevator adjoining the room led us back to the surface, by then well-enshrouded by the night. The Nightgate Inn was the closest accommodation and the walk was without incident.

Tomorrow the three of us shall see what this Dwemer Forge is capable of and of what use the Aetherium can be put to. I am mildly curious at best, but it looks to be at least somewhat on the way back to the Dawnguard, so it shall not be a wasted adventure.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Skyrim Day 073 - Unable to Let Go

29 Frostfall, 4E201
Whiterun
~~~

While in Morthal some time ago I was given a "secret" letter by Jarl Idgrod's housecarl, Gorm. When I spoke with him previously in the Hall he was full of praise for the visionary Jarl, but once I ran into him at the local Inn he had only derision and doubt for Idgrod. He believes her visions are distracting her from her duties as a Jarl, but are also dangerous to her well-being. Claiming he feared for her health, he gave me a sealed letter to deliver to an Imperial Legion Captain in Solitude. I thought little of it until this morning.
The Imperial Legion is based at Solitude in 'Castle Dour'. The fort is appropriately named, the commander of the Legion, General Tullius, was no more animated while I was wandering around Dour as he was at my would-be execution. The man seems incapable of mustering enthusiasm for much of anything.

But my business was not with the General, but with Captain Aldis. A helpful maid pointed me towards the basement where I found the Captain already drinking, guarding empty prison cells. He accepted my letter with resignation, stating he would add it to his growing collection. Gorm has been pestering the Captain about Idgrod for some time now and Aldis has a dim view of ousting a Jarl with Imperial loyalties during a civil war. He thanked me for making the trip and paid me twenty Septims, about what the effort was worth.

Leaving Solitude with Serana in tow, I checked my journal to see if there was any business pending between one side of Skyrim and the other that I could take care of while I made my way back to Fort Dawnguard. Unsurprisingly, there was something, but I had only written "Chk ruin Arknthmz, SE Mrkrth". Very helpful. By that, I only knew to look south-east of Markarth for some sort of ruin, likely Dwemer judging by the abbreviation. Serana had no objections to looking for this ruin, other than being back underground, so off we went towards Markarth.

On our way we came upon a small hunting lodge that appeared to be lived in, but no one was around. Serana suggested we search the place for supplies, but I felt we did not need to and chose to walk by peacefully.
My concern that we would be wandering the hills surrounding Markarth proved to be unfounded, thanks to the adventure of two enterprising children whom met us on the road.
The sales-child, Sond, offered to sell Serana and I some Dwemer scrap he and his unnamed friend had collected near a Dwemer bridge he said was far to the west. He offered to mark its location on my map for a few coins, an offer I considered charity on my part to accept.

Sond's directions brought us to a large ruin built into the hillside. Inside looked about the same as all the other Dwemer ruins do, they were not an artistically-focused people. She was curious to examine the mechanisms and disregarded my warning that many of them were traps. She admitted I was right to warn her after a trapdoor she was poking at suddenly sprang open and disgorged a mechanical spider guardian. It attacked her immediately, but she had no trouble in putting it to rest. She did show more caution around the Dwemer mechanicals after that though.

The entryway opened to a massive cavern which seem to exist in such numbers underneath Skyrim that it is a wonder the whole province does not simply collapse. Evidently this part of Skyrim was trying to do that, for as we stood about gazing around the entire place shook, sending chunks of rock plummeting from the ceiling and pieces of Dwemer architecture to crack and splinter.

I was unwilling to test Dagoth Ur's blessing against thousands of tons of rock, but figured a few more moments would not mean instant death, so we continued to on for a bit before we heard a woman's voice warning us to turn back. Thinking this was someone ahead who was injured, we pressed on, only to encounter the talking, shimmering remains of the adventurer Katria.

She was taking her after-death pretty hard, sourly asking us why we were still in the ruin. I thought it rude to ask her why she was too and Katria assumed we were at the ruin for the "treasure". After I explained that I could not remember why I had made a note to come at all she told me about the slim novel 'The Aetherium Wars', penned by her apprentice-turned-competitor, Taron Dreth.

Taron's novel propelled him to the dubious honor of being the "expert" on Dwemer forging technology, despite all of it originating from Katria'a notes and work. Attempting to usurp his title, she descended into the ruin I found her in, confident that she would find clues pointing to the hidden 'Aetherium Forge' the Dwemer used to craft their most powerful artifacts.

But it was not to be. Katria fell into a crevice after one of the cavern-shakes, falling to her death on to a lower level of the ruin. Her indignation was enough for her spirit to cling to this Plane, even if her new non-corporal existence made her goal impossible to reach. I convinced her that Serana and I were up to the task of recovering her body and her research, but she was only interested in the latter. If Serana had any objections she did not voice them.

We found Katria's body after several skirmishes with the Falmer, underneath where we came in. She directed us towards her journal, helpfully providing the full name of this ruin, 'Arkngthamz' and detailing its part in the long-lost Dwemer network of city-states in Skyrim. The ruin was one of five locations built to manage the Aetherium ore, one of them being the ruin alongside the hot springs where I found the metallic blue crescent. The other three were scattered about the province.
The journal also had a sketch of something Katria described as a 'tonal lock', but she assured me that she would explain that if I survived long enough to reach it. Very encouraging.

We did not encounter much between Katria's body and her 'tonal lock'.
The bodies strewn before it was ample warning, but Katria explained how it worked: Each of the devices mounted above the gate had to be struck in the correct order, else traps would activate. Katria had made a mistake and triggered an earthquake which caused her to fall to her death. The bodies before the gate looked to have met violent ends, so earthquakes were not the only defense it had.

Katria had managed to narrow the guesswork from five devices to three, guessing wrong on the order of the remaining two. Serana eagerly took up the task of flinging spells at the strange mechanisms, of course guessing wrong herself and unleashing a horde of Dwemer spiders upon us. Once we dealt with that she assaulted the locks in the correct order, unlocking the gate.

The much-coveted Aetherium fragment was on a small pedestal flanked by two chests, each containing useless baubles. Katria was staring longingly at the bright blue metal, but could do nothing but wait for me to catch up and place it into my pack. She guessed that there were other fragments around and I brightened her afterlife by revealing that "her" fragment was the second of mine.

She disappeared after that, swearing that we would meet again at the next fragment, so now I am in something of a quandary. I am expected at Fort Dawnguard, yet I would feel quite guilty about leaving Katria's spirit forever waiting for someone to recover the remaining shards. Serana had not opinion one way or another, surprisingly, so I decided to take some time to look for the rest of the Aetherium.

When we finally left the ruin it was just about light...the three of us having spent the entire night underground and now greeting the new day. The closest city was Markarth and Serana was not tired, so I elected to push on to the nearest of the locations marked in Katria's journal, north of Markarth along the river.
The third shard was not nearly as difficult to retrieve. The worst was walking from Arkngthamz to the small (and unusual) Dwemer shrine sitting on the shores of the river. On it was a Dwemer helm and blade, the shard serenely sitting behind them on a small display pedestal. How the bright blue metal escaped the notice of bandits, adventurers, and the opportunistic is a mystery.

Once I touched it Katria popped into view before me, grumpy for my having somehow gotten there first. The last shard looked to be north of Ivarstead and once again I set out across the plain, planning on passing Whiterun for a late evening arrival at Ivarstead.

As usual, my plan did not meet with fruition.
Another Dragon attacked us while we walked the plain, but the Dragon was smaller than the ones I have been seeing recently and not as aggressive either. It is a strange thing to write, but I had no trouble or apprehension fighting it. Serana just seemed glad to be doing anything above ground and awake and after the Dragon's death-fire died down we continued on to Whiterun. I keep "absorbing" these souls, but am I supposed to be using them for something? Can I? I do not know.
We reached Whiterun as the sun was setting, most of the townspeople at home occupied with their dinner. One woman who I have not seen before remarked that rumors told of a Khajiit Dragonborn, then wondered if such a combination was even possible. I stopped at the General store, sold some trinkets, and spoke with a weary-looking Dunmer mercenary. She called herself 'Jenassa' and offered her services for five hundred Septims, but I already have a dour companion, so I declined.

Arriving at Breezehome my dour companion met my dour housecarl. Both presented to the other an air of complete indifference, but I was far more concerned about my bed than my retinue. Tomorrow Serana and I will continue on towards Fort Dawnguard with a detour near Ivarstead for Katria. How Lydia occupies her days at Whiterun is her own business, though I cannot imagine she is displeased to have the house all to herself.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Skyrim Day 072 - Assassins, Above and Below

28 Frostfall, 4E201
Solitude
~~~

Serana made the decision this morning to head directly for Dragon Bridge by the nature of her constant, unending complaining. When we got rooms at the Inn last night there was a complaint that the bed was uncomfortable and itchy, when we woke (if she even slept) it was too bright outside. The journey today was also too cold and too long. And this from someone who walked from one end of Skyrim to the other seeking the Dawnguard. Did she complain to herself?

Rather than risk spending more time than I had to with her I decided to go to Dragon Bridge instead of taking additional time to visit the College. What information I had placed the Moth Priest near the village and that was good enough for me. I figured if the information was wrong we would find out sooner rather than later.

With an unhappy vampire in tow, I set off for Dragon Bridge just before the sun rose, hoping this would allow me a break from Serana's opinion on the world. Alas, the darkness did not last long, nor did the silence. Perhaps it served some defensive purpose, for we made it almost to Dragon Bridge without interruption save for a foolish Dunmer bandit who thought to demand our money. She was quick to realize her mistake and ran off.

I thought to save some time by going over the hill between Morthal and Dawnstar rather than around it. Serana grumbled about getting snow in her shoes, but she chose to follow me instead of taking the long way around the hill via the road. We came to a path through the rocks and she immediately ran towards it, eager to be on the trampled snow instead of the loose stuff we had been trudging through. I yelled at her to stop, but she ignored me and disappeared past a bend in the path.

I knew the path was not going to lead towards the other side of the hill, there was no prepared path that did. I ran after her, expecting her to be grumbling in front of a cave or a hidden shrine, but she had chanced upon something far more dangerous.
The foolish vampire had stumbled upon a Giant clan's campsite, two of whom were present. She had attacked them, but Giants are rather resistant to magicka and her spells did not have the effect she had hoped for. With two Giants attacking her, Serana was cornered and nearly killed before I caught up to them. Fortunately I arrived in time and both turned on me, but only got in each other's way. I feel a bit bad about killing them, it was Serana's recklessness that led to it and they were bothering no one.

I dragged her out of the camp and we continued down the side of the mountain, passing a broken Oblivion gate on the way down. Serana listened to my story of the Oblivion Crisis with interest, wondering what kind of world she would have woken up to under Mehrunes Dagon. I pointed out she likely would not have woken up at all, the first and only thing we agreed on today.
We made it to the other side of the hill with snow in our shoes, Serana enthusing about the lack of light-reflecting snow on the plain. I prefer the warmer, southern Skyrim myself, its quicker to move on and the usually clear sky allows a farther vision. Whiterun is visible from just about any point on the plain, but we had no reason to visit it today.
Save for a trio of hunters we encountered no one on our walk across the plain until the Dragon landed right behind us.
Dragons before today always roared as they flew, creating a great disturbance and bringing notice to themselves, which was likely their intention. But this Dragon managed to glide in behind us with barely a sound and the landing of the great beast was the only notice Serana and I received before it attacked.

The actual battle is not as interesting as the method the Dragon chose to initiate it. The Dragons I have fought in the past have seemed like accidental things, I simply happened to be in the area when the Dragon decided to burn a farm or announce its presence. This battle very much felt like it was planned and executed against me specifically, a thought that does not ease my worry. If the Dragons are being directed and not by the Stormcloaks, I can only assume the large Dragon from earlier is commanding them, but to what end?

Serana handled herself admirably during the fight, though her lightning magicka served to annoy the Dragon more than harm it. Still, it served as a good enough distraction.
If she was surprised by the sight of the Dragon's "soul" being absorbed into my body she did not show it. With the Dragon's assassination plot foiled we continued on towards Dragon Bridge. With no more Dragons to fight off we made good time, but never reached the town.
Just before the famed bridge lay the remains of a recent, one-sided battle. A passenger wagon was overturned and surrounded by dead Legionnaires, the last-stand defense of their ward, the Moth Priest. A note on one of the dead vampires revealed that they had known of the priest's journey ahead of time and set the ambush to kidnap the man and bring him to a place they described as 'Forebears' Holdout'. If I needed another clue as to what had happened, there was a slim book in the wagon on the effects of reading Elder Scrolls, complete with annotations from a Moth Priest, though I thought them all to be blind.

The name suggested a similar last-stand of whomever the Forebears were, but the letter gave no hint as to where this Holdout was. It was Serana that spotted the blood trail leading away from the ambush and we were able to follow it to a cave. Serana assured me the blood was relatively fresh, so I hoped we had enough time to rescue the only person in Skyrim who could make use of Serana's scroll. Into the cave we went, not without Serana's complaints, of course.

The Holdout was very small and from the entrance we could see a circle of blue magicka shimmering at the back of the cave. Vampires and their strange hounds patrolled the space between us and the magicka, but they were not expecting a rescue attempt and fell to Serana's magicka and my dagger without much bother.
The vampires were dead, but the Priest was trapped within the circle. He was mumbling to himself and did not notice Serana and I outside his cage. After some searching we found an odd stone on the most expensively-dressed vampire and another letter penned by Lord Harkon himself. He claimed to have the Elder Scroll in his possession, so it was obviously written before Serana escaped, and he demanded that someone fetch him a Moth Priest to read it. Success in this would merit a place in his "court" and something he called the "gift of his potent blood".

I asked Serana about this and she explained that her father was from an ancient bloodline that allowed him the half-gargoyle, half-man form he showed me when I returned Serana to him. There was great powers bequeathed upon this form which she called the "Vampire Lord" bloodline. If Lord Harkon wished to, he could infect another vampire with his blood, allowing the lucky vampire to take the form as well, a great gift for a very specific kind of recipient.

Anyway, the stone fit into a pedestal set on a platform before the Priest. Once it was inserted the magicka disappeared and the Priest attacked! But he was not seeking to hurt us as much as he was to defend himself one last time against who he thought to be his captors. He calmed after I asked him if anyone had ever heard of a Khajiit vampire. We are not so foolish as others, after all.
The Priest was not blind, putting to rest that misconception, and introduced himself as 'Dexion Evicus', a very Imperial name. He had no idea why the vampires had attacked his group, assuming they were after ransom instead of information. I explained that Serana and I were part of  the Dawnguard and needed his special skills to read an Elder Scroll.

Surprisingly, Dexion had heard of the Dawnguard, but in its ancient, more powerful, form. He asked to know where we were based out of and I offered to escort him back to Fort Dawnguard. He picked up one of the vampires' swords and assured me he was more capable than recent events have shown. I could not convince him to allow us to accompany him, so we parted ways amid the rapidly decaying vampires, to meet on the other side of the province...once again.
We reached Solitude late into the night, suiting Serana just fine. I was anticipating a relaxing night in my own home, but this hope was shattered when a vampire sprung at me after we entered the city. He hissed that "eternal night" would soon envelop the land, then rapidly backed away, flinging ice magicka as he attempted to keep his distance.

I am not sure what he expected to accomplish. There were three guards present, one ancient vampire ally, and one tired Khajiit that did not feel like prolonging a fight. Serana managed to hit him with lightning magicka just as a guard's crossbow bolt slammed into his chest. Overwhelmed, he collapsed to his knees, presenting an excellent opportunity for a quick end to his nonsense. A swipe of my blade and his head was sent rolling down the street, spilling dust along the way as it crumbled into nothing.

Serana promised to keep watch throughout the night, I suppose she does not need as much sleep as most. I, however, do need sleep before walking back to Fort Dawnguard tomorrow.