Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 112 - As They Close In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Day 111 - Kerra, Mead Hall Chieftain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never any free time and always too much to do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Day 110 - Cat Versus Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day 109 - Done With The Stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Day 108 - Confidence Boosted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Day 107 - Progress Once Again

30 Sun's Dusk
~~~
After spending several days flailing about, I can say that after today I may actually be successfully adapting to Solstheim's unique challenges.

A refreshing sleep and a healthy breakfast at my manor did wonders for my injuries and outlook. I managed quite a number of health restoration potions and even two of the more difficult magicka restoration elixirs out of the ingredients I have been collecting from Solstheim. With that taken care of I purchased a dozen more armorer hammers from my manor's small tradehouse, intent on finally not being caught on the island without something that I suddenly needed.

Better prepared and well-rested, I walked once again to the village of Khuul to await my ride. I did have to wait this time, but only for an hour while S'virr finished loading his small boat with "merchandise". The trip seemed to go quicker than usual and we landed at Fort Frostmoth while it was still early in the afternoon.

The Earth Stone was awaiting the completion of its strange task and according to my notes it ordered that I search northeast of it for a cavern called the 'Cave of Hidden Music' so that I might learn the 'Song of the Earth'. The Stone is quite a distance from the fort and I fought off attacks from a half-dozen wolves, two nearly naked Nords, and a Nord witch while on my way there. 

Along the coast I came upon two lit torches stuck in the beach for no greatly apparent reason. I doubt the hostile barbarians I have been killing have a reason to place the torches and the Skaal are entirely too far away to have done so. A curiosity, but likely an unimportant one.
The Earth Stone's cave was difficult to find, largely due to my mindset that a cave is something built into a mountain. On Solstheim, most of the caves seem to be built along a gentle slope and then burrowed into the frozen earth, with a large stone house serving as both the entrance and a large portion of the cavern itself. I am too used to Vvardenfell's doors set into mountains and spent a lot of time today wandering near the hills when my goal was built on a plain. By the time I found the 'Cave of Hidden Music' it had grown dark and begun to snow.
Like all of Solstheim's burial locations, this one was infested with the Nord's particular breed of undead warrior, but they were dispersed and slain one at a time. I found what I was supposed to find in a second chamber of the cave, but it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was I had actually found.
An odd droning noise had been periodically sounding while I had been in the cave and this room held the reason for all the noise. Every couple of seconds a blast of air would rush through a series of hollow stone fixtures hanging from the ceiling and blow over a second series of three stone fixtures just beneath them. This creates a droning noise in three pitches that can be heard throughout the entire cave. This was the object of the Earth Stone's request, but it was not clear how I was to learn the 'Song of the Earth'.

Only by accident did I discover what it was I needed to do. I was setting my equipment down in front of the stones so that I could climb behind them when I accidentally smacked one of them with my spear as I turned around. This caused a blast of air to come shooting up from the floor, rather than the ceiling, producing a different note. After a moment's pause in the 'song' the rhythm began again from the fixtures in the ceiling, but now I had an idea of what was expected of me.

Striking each of the floor stones produced a note identical to the ones produced from the ceiling, but in a different order. The rightmost fixture on the ceiling produced a deep sound, but the rightmost floor fixture produced a high sound when struck. I completely lack an ear for music, but after a few tries I managed to reproduce the order of sounds coming from the ceiling and then repeated the process when the ceiling fixtures started producing a different set of sounds. 

And it was in this way that I learned the 'Song of the Earth', but I am not sure what use this is for me. I really need to find time to catch up on the Skaal's legends and give my little quest some context.

It was late into the night when I exited the 'Cave of Hidden Music', but I was on the far side of the island, so skipping the Earth Stone in favor of heading for Fort Frostmoth meant just as much of a walk. I made my way back to the Stone, fighting off at least a dozen wolves who seem a great deal more numerous and hostile after the night falls. 

The Stone behaved just as the others did: once I approached it the Stone began to glow and started shedding green sparks of light. The Earth Stone's quest was completed.
The sky was very clear and I estimated it to be close to midnight by the time I had finished with the Earth Stone. There is no safe place west of the river to sleep, so I had no choice but to make my way back to the fort, fighting wolves and bears along the way.

I learned at the fort that it was just past three in the morning, so my rest tonight will be quite short, but I am more eager to finish the Skaal's quest than I am to sleep late into the morning. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Day 106 - Further Lessons Learned

29 Sun's Dusk
~~~
Life continues to impart lessons upon me in a very painful way. I woke this morning full of confidence that I could make a lot of progress today and I am going to bed only further convinced that sinking Solstheim to the bottom of the sea would only be an improvement.

The morning started as they have been as of late: on a pile of bear furs in a tiny wooden room in a house staffed entirelly with drunken Nords. I cannot begin to imagine how a Khajiit straight out of Elsweyr would have dealt with it.

The Wind Stone was my first task of the day and the only one that did not cause me any grief. I passed the Beast Stone while on my way and the Stone is still emitting light and the Good Beast was placidly gnawing on some berries nearby. I wonder how long he (or she) is planning on staying there.
Further up the river I came across a couple clearly enamored with one another. Both were Nords, the man was fully armored in the typical way of this island and the woman seemed content to wear heavy fur clothing. Both were staring at each other, apparently to the exclusion of anything around them. Neither of them seemed much of a threat, so I approached and cautiously asked what they were doing.
The man replied that he and the woman shared a love that his wife would never understand and the woman merely asked me to gaze upon the man's masculine visage. The meeting between the three of us seemed rather surreal considering how dangerous the wilderness has been for me, but the couple simply wished me a safe day and I moved on, leaving the two of them behind.

Naturally it started to snow as I grew close to the Wind Stone and soon I was stumbling through a blizzard that suddenly whipped up and reduced my vision to barely an arm's length ahead of me. Truly the Blight Storm of Solstheim. The storm eased a bit when I judged myself very close to the Stone and I merely had to contend with a heavy snowfall by the time I actually reached it.
The Wind Stone reacted to its demand being met in the same way the Beast Stone did. Approaching the Stone caused it to glow and begin emitting small baubles of light and I had to satisfy myself with that reward.

I began this meandering quest from the Stone closest to the Skaal's village and the Stones made a sort of circle around the entire island. Visiting the Wind Stone after the Beast Stone put me on a westward path which eventually curled around Fort Frostmoth and to the southeast peninsula where the Sun Stone sat. With the exception of the Tree Stone, all of the Stones on my map are marked either along or at the end of rivers and the Tree Stone sits between two of them anyway. I have not seen any fish in the running water I have peered into, but the waterways were apparently important enough to someone in the past. Perhaps it was possible to use small boats at one point. It would certainly be preferable to walking around this place.

The Water Stone was next and was marked as sitting near a small river on the west coast, near some large hills. A crude road snaked past the Wind Stone and I followed it heading west hoping against all expectations that it would lead directly to the Water Stone. It did not.

What it did lead to was very mysterious. The road died out at the foot of a large hill which had a cavern built into it at the very top, if the furs covering the entrance is any indication. A huge snow-white wolf was prowling at the entrance, but my Daedric weaponry made short work of it.
Attempting to move the furs aside brought forth a loud yell from within the cave, asking me what the name of the wolf the Nords called 'Hrothmund's Bane' was. I had no idea and I did not want to risk the ire of whatever Nord was inside challenging me, so I yelled back that I did not know the wolf's name and that I was therefore leaving. As I turned around the voice smugly informed me that I was allowed to come back and try again, if I wanted.

While circling around the hill I was charged by two of the blue pig-riding goblins. The melee very quickly turned into my scramble up a steep hillside while the two stout warriors tried goading their mounts up the hill. The amulet of levitation that I brought with me was of little actual help, for there was nowhere to levitate to that they would not be able to reach me at.
Recklessness was the order of the day and I charged back down the hill, managing to knock one of the goblins off his mount as I hurdled past. The goblin proved to be a lot less threatening once dismounted and he expired before his confused mount and mounted partner could turn on me. The furry pigs are fair warriors on their own and I took quite a few jabs of its tusks before I pinned it into the snow with my spear, leaving only mounted goblin left. He had failed to take advantage of my distraction with the pig creature, apparently unsure as to whether he should flee or attack. By the time he made up his mind it his would-be advantage had been lost and he and his mount fell quickly.

The Water Stone was much easier to find than the Wind Stone had been, as it appropriately faced the water. Its task was an easy one, but strange: I first had to seek an island west of the stone and seek something called the 'Swimmer' who would lead me to the 'Water of Life'. The Stone was already on the shore and the only thing west of it was a collection of large rocks jutting out from the shore, so I headed there, not sure as to what I was looking for.
I certainly would never have guessed my guide was to be a black-furred version of the fat crawling things that seem to infest Solstheim's waterways. Like the Good Beast, it seemed content to crawl about its small isle until it saw me, at which point it made a barking noise and jumped into the sea. It was obvious I was to follow, but swimming in the icy waters would have been the death of me. I had two choices: Water Walk behind it or attempt to follow it via the coastline. I chose to Water Walk and hopefully have enough magicka to get me back to the coast at the end of the creature's journey.
My hope of not getting wet was dashed when our trip ended in what seemed like the middle of the sea. I could only barely make out the outline of a metal door set into the water below, making a dive into the ocean a very unwelcome requirement. 

The underwater door opened to a water-filled tunnel, but I had enough energy to use my water-breathing spell, ruining my plan to walk back to the coastline after all this. The tunnel eventually led to a small alcove with a lonely skeleton and a collection of potions. I dispatched the skeleton without any trouble and spotted an ornate silver flask sitting among  the plain vials of some spoiled elixir. I guessed correctly that it was the 'Water of Life' that the stone sent me to collect.

Swimming out of the cave, I immediately headed towards the closet shore, some distance away from the Stone. I encountered nothing along the coastline though and thanks to Azura's gift covered the distance fairly quickly.
Approaching the stone resulted in bubbles floating out and up along the Stone, popping as they began to drift away. And so the Water Stone was satisfied.

Three stones remained and the next was to be the Earth Stone, almost directly south of the Water Stone. The land turned from snow back to tough grass and tall trees and my foes changed from pig-riding goblins to bands of hostile Nords. I spied three of them making camp across a small river and tried to sneak by them, but I was spotted and all three jumped into the water, swimming towards me. I cannot understand why they did something so stupid, but not one of them made it to my side of the riverbank and the arrow-filled bodies drifted gently with the current and eventually out to sea.
When I reached the Earth Stone I was told to travel northeast and seek the 'Cave of the Hidden Music' so that I might learn the 'Song of the Earth'. If experience is any guide, the cave will be full of undead Nords and wolves, nothing I felt I was up to dealing with at the end of the day.

Instead I Recalled back to Ald'ruhn once again, this time to purchase alchemy ingredients so that I can grind my own potions of healing and restoration when I am on Solstheim. If it were not so hostile a place I would say the island is begging for some sort of settlement, but I fear such an enterprise is doomed to fail in the face of the difficult environment. 

Tomorrow I hope to complete my business with the Stones, but that may be reaching for a bit too much. At the very least I expect to complete the rituals for the Earth and Tree Stones, leaving but one Stone for the next day. This task has been very difficult and dangerous, but also invaluable for teaching me what to expect from the island.