Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 85 - Kerra, Grandmaster Fisher-Khajiit

8 Sun's Dusk
There will be a day when my plans actually go as intended, but today was not one of those days. My intentions this morning was to cross the foyada separating the northern wasteland from the Bitter Coast and continue my travels into the Telvanni-held territory, with tonight being spent at the Urshilaku's tent village. Instead I am writing from within the Gnisis barracks yet again.

I left Gnisis early this morning and made straight for the fishing outpost of Ald Velothi. I passed the small lake where the two Imperial woman had tried to kill me and saw that their bodies were gone. In their place were sure signs of a large creature dragging something heavy with it, though I lost the tracks when they turned off the dirt road on to the grass. Kagouti perhaps, or Nix-Hounds? I do not know and I think I will be much happier never finding out.

The lake sits at the base of the hill where the Dwemer ruin I passed by yesterday is. As I wrote yesterday, the Dwemer ruins are high in danger and comparatively low in treasure, the best being an ancient weapon or piece of armor. Gemstones are common, but they are much safer to acquire from Daedric ruins, odd as that may sound. At least the denizens of the Daedric ruins are living creatures; the guardians of the Dwemer ruins are soulless and non-living constructs that will stoically reduce any intruder into a fine paste without the slightest hesitation. Should things not go well while inside you will find they cannot be bargained with nor intimidated. The sum of the matter is this: avoid Dwemer ruins whenever possible.

So I trekked up the hillside only to get a better view of the coast I had been planning on traveling along today. But my curiosity got the better of me once again, though in my defense it was sorely tempted by the unusual statue built at the end of the massive bridge leading to the fortress.
None of the other ruins I have visited ever had any sort of adornment and certainly not a giant statue of an ancient Dwemer warrior. The unrelenting weather of Vvardenfell had long smoothed away any fine details the sculptor may have chosen to show, but the statue was still in good condition. The depicted Dwemer resembled a Bosmer with a beard and he was armed with a large shield and a halberd, though how he was supposed to have used both at the same time is a mystery.

The justification for risking my life inside the place was reasonable enough: none of the other ruins had a statue or such a long bridge leading to it (guarded by two giant crossbows), so this fortress must have been very important in its time and therefore worth exploring. I soon found out that this was completely false.

My first encounter with the ancient garrison was with a mechanical guard that sprang out of its golden sphere-like body. This was not a new thing to me, I have fought several of the things in other ruins, but they had been armed with melee weapons. The sphere-soldiers here had crossbows built into their 'arms' which fired unique-looking bolts, no doubt Dwemer. The first bolt fired at me cracked right through my shield, but stopped halfway through it. The second narrowly missed me and I was attacking the construct with my spear before it could fire a third.

Against the Dwemer armor that I guess made up its body, the steel of my spear did not have much effect. I had to retreat behind a pillar to activate the spear's Daedric enchantment to cause significant damage. I recovered a handful of its crossbow bolts from a quiver cleverly built into its back, but as I lacked a crossbow they were of no use to me.

I followed a staircase down into a very hot, stinking hallway heated and lit by a pool of lava sitting right underneath it. I do not understand how this was ever seen as a good idea, but the metal grate making up most of the hallway's floor managed to stay pleasantly warm, despite the molten stone beneath it. One of the Dwemer spider things scurried around the corner in front of me, but fell surprisingly quick to three silvered arrows.

It had been guarding a stairway leading upwards (making it seem that the hallway's only purpose was as a chamber to collect heat) and I had just placed my foot into the room the stairs led up to when a giant metal ball swung from the side and hit me square in the chest, sending me tumbling back down the stairs into the red, glowing hallway.

What followed me down was a giant war machine, easily the largest I have seen. The ball that struck me was an extension of one of the machine's arms, the other had a hand with three large 'fingers'. I scrambled back up, ignoring the searing pain of what was probably a cracked rib or two, and it stalked relentlessly down the hall after me.
The construct was almost completely immune to arrows and nothing in my meager collection of spells was likely to do much of anything, so I had to face it by hand. It seemed hardly a fair fight, but the thing's great strength came at a cost, for it was quite slow in moving and fighting. I dashed up the stairs leading towards the exit, activated my Daedric spear, and finally cast my invisibility spell, hoping to get a lucky strike.

My luck has never been particularly notable. Without a target, the guardian placidly stood in the center of the hall, oblivious to the heat and fumes radiating from beneath its feet. I crept towards it as stealthily as I could manage and got within melee range without being detected. My sudden strike was for its neck, hoping that this represented some sort of weak point. It did not. My aim was true, but the thing's neck was a collection of small tubes with some sort of binding allowing each segment to flex. My strike hit one of these tubes and glanced off, harmlessly gouging the machine's mantle.

The rest of the fight does not bear much mentioning. It was all a matter of timing: it would rear back, pause, and swing its ball-arm in a wide arc, no doubt aiming to smash my head off of my shoulders. But if it missed (which it did!) the machine would spend a few seconds orientating itself for another attack, which is when I would take my turn. We must have gone through at least seven rounds of our dance when the thing started spouting steam out of the gaps my spear had rent. It made one final swing and then suddenly stopped moving completely before toppling into the side of the hallway with a tremendous crash.

I have no idea how it actually died, if that term could be used for it. A stronger and arguably smarter man than I could have maybe pried the machine's breastplate apart to see how it worked, but my interest in the workings of the thing began and ended with how to make it stop trying to kill me.

The rest of the ruin was home only to a small spider-machine, which posed no threat. I pocketed two diamonds I found at the bottom of a steel barrel, but the ruin was really very, very small and there were only two other rooms after the first hallway, neither of which held anything that made the trip inside worthwhile. Again: avoid Dwemer ruins whenever possible!
The ruin's very long bridge
At least the day was a pleasant one when I exited the ruin. The sea breeze did well to clear off the stench of ancient steam and molten lava off of my fur and I could easily spot Ald Velothi.
The Redoran outpost was only a few minutes walk along the coast. I stopped to speak with the Redoran retainer, Theldyn Virith, for whom I did a service some time ago. He remembered me and asked if I had a few minutes to spare. That question never led me anywhere good, but I agreed. His task was very simple: prowl about the beach of Ald Velothi and look for a larger-than-usual slaughterfish. Theldyn called it 'Old Blue Fin' and said they he and the fish had a history, but he did not say what kind of history. Anyway, the fish was causing the little village's fisher-people a lot of trouble: fouling lines, chewing through nets, and attacking anyone brave (or stupid) enough to try their hand at spear-fishing. He asked that I kill the fish, finally ending Theldyn's acquaintance with the creature and saving Ald Velothi's pitiful attempt at industry.

I would not have even mentioned this mundane task if it was not for a Dunmer woman who approached me while I was scouring the shore for Old Blue Fin. She seemed oddly shy and asked if I was Kerra. I saw no reason why she would need to know, but also no reason to deceive the woman. My curiosity again, I guess. When I told her that I was, in fact, Kerra, she gave me a little bow and thanked for waking her from her nightmare.

She had been one of the insane people I have been encountering, though I never met her specifically before today. She said she felt as though she had been asleep for a long time and as for the time passed, she only had nightmares of red places and people turning into horrible monsters. But she happily told me she was finally awake again and would tell everyone of my deeds.

What deeds did I perform to free this person from Dagoth Ur's influence? I do not know and neither did she. I should set aside some time in the future to review what I have accomplished so far, maybe I have missed something obvious.

Old Blue Fin was not making himself scarce, I spotted him myself as he lazily floated underneath one of the raised houses the Dunmer like to build on top of the water.
He was too deep for an arrow from either bow to have a decent chance of killing him and I did not want to merely wound him and drive him off. My only option was to go into the water after him. I checked my short sword, left my other weapons on the walkway, and cast my water breathing spell.

The fish was a bit stronger and quicker than the usual slaughterfish I lunch on occasionally, but it was still only a fish. The battle, if it could even be called that, could not have lasted more than ten seconds. The regular fish of Ald Velothi are safe once again. Theldyn rewarded my heroic effort with a sack full of Dreugh wax processed into little ingots.

Theldyn had another task for me, this one a great deal farther away. The Ashimanu egg mine between Ald Velothi and Ald'ruhn has been invaded by a Blight-infected shalk and he needs someone to go kill the creature. He also asked that I kill any Kagouti I see while on my way to the mine. I have no intention just now of going that far inland, but I agreed to the task since it was close to Ald'ruhn. No one ever seems in a big rush to get these tasks done anyway.

A small island was sitting off the shore and I saw no harm in taking a few minutes to walk across the water to check it out. Contrary to how much luck had been so far, there really was no harm in it, just an abandoned campsite and a chest stuffed with cheap trinkets.
The unknown smuggler's hideaway was less than a minute's walk across the water to Khuul, but I found the village worth visiting just as much as I did the first time...which is not at all. I only stopped in the tradehouse to purchase some arrows, but when I exited the shop I found the weather had grown far worse. Concerned about being stuck in a blinding Blight storm, I made the decision to turn south and walk along the inlet separating Gnisis from the mainland, arguing with myself that it technically constituted a 'coast' of some sort.

I arrived back at Gnisis just as the weather started to darken and spent the remainder of the evening repairing my equipment and trying out new combinations of alchemy ingredients. Tomorrow I definitely will make it to the Urshilaku's camp and continue my journey eastward.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Day 84 - A Challenge from Beyond

7 Sun's Dusk
By the cardinal directions of a compass, I woke this morning just about halfway done with my self-imposed duty to walk the coast of Vvardenfell. By the amount of time that still needs to be spent, I may as well have not yet started. This is a slow process, though I have already achieved more progress than I thought I would...or at least it feels like progress.

The land north and west of Gnisis was my goal today. While the town is one of the last outposts of Imperial influence on my trip around the island, Gnisis itself is not  terribly imposing, nor is the fortress attached to it. The most noteworthy thing about it is that the garrison of Fort Darius is composed almost entirely of Orcs, a fact only noteworthy here on an island full of Dunmer. 

Gnisis does not boast a thriving mercantile, nor representation from any of the Imperial guilds, making it rather difficult to find the supplies I was looking for. Had I known, I would have purchased more scrolls of healing when I had been able to, for I woke today with none at all and no way to get more.
A Dwemer ruin loomed out of the morning haze, but the land between the west gate of Gnisis and the former fortress was very hilly and broken up. I also did not expect a Dwemer ruin to hold any secrets pertaining to Dagoth Ur or the Sixth House as it seems that the god-king's Dunmer arrogance prevented him from seeing the Dwemer fortresses as suitable accommodation for his reviving House.

I encountered a pair of bandits on the far side of a rope bridge and they predictably attacked me with cheap weapons and poor tactics. If I become any more callous I would cease to mention their deaths at all, for it is becoming rather routine. It does show how thinly stretched the Imperial Legion is though, when bandits can be safely camping right outside a garrisoned Imperial stronghold with no fear of arrest or death. Should Dagoth Ur's monstrous legions burst from within Red Mountain, I do not have much hope that the Legion will be anything other than a minor impediment. 

I dutifully followed the shoreline west out of Gnisis and came across a small den of smugglers situated high on a hill overlooking the water. Much like the bandits at the bridge, I have not a lot to say about them. They were more numerous than most smugglers, certainly more than six, but none of them were any threat to me. One of them ineptly wielded a Dwemer shortblade, which I kept for myself. I found two Ash Statues on top a crate full of junk, but that was it.

Continuing along the shore I passed an old, dis-masted shipwreck and an ancestral tomb. The Dwemer ruin loomed in front of me as I stood in front of the tomb, but to visit the ruin meant going away from the coast in order to loop around to a bridge, for the ruin was built on a plateau too steep to scale and I did not feel like expending my energy on an expensive levitation spell. I decided to complete my walk along the shore first, for it would lead me back to the ruin anyway.

Climbing over a natural rock bride, I nearly walked right into one of the four-legged Kwama worker creatures, but it simply sniffed me (I think) and wandered off. Its egg mine was not far from the bridge and I left the creature and the mine alone. What need do I have for a bunch of Kwama eggs?

North of the mine was a Daedric ruin preceded by the ruined structures of what looked like housing, an unusual find, but not an interesting one. The torches in front of the least-ruined building were lit, but I could see no signs of habitation anyway around the area. Quite a mystery.
The Daedric ruin was partially flooded and the Daedroth guarding it were hesitant to dip their feet into the water, making it easy for me to dodge their spells and dispatch them with my bow. I was met just inside the shrine by a Dremora  armed with an equally priceless and heavy Daedric longsword, but my improving skills with the bow weakened him a great deal before he was able to engage me. At the shrine itself was another Dremora armed with a Dwemer axe, plus two heavily armed Dunmer, one wearing a powerfully enchanted ring, the other a belt. I will save both until I can turn them over to Galbedir to see what it is I have found.

As I was leaving the shrine a booming voice seemed to fill the entire room, greatly startling me, I have no shame in admitting. The voice laughed and asked if I was up to a little challenge. When I asked the voice's name, I was answered with 'Mehrunes Dagon', the Daedric Prince of Destruction, among other nasty things. He (or it, I suppose) challenged me to find a dagger secluded in a tomb near Molag Mar, far to the southeast. 

One does not bargain lightly with a Daedric Prince, but I agreed to his task out of curiosity. A weapon of great power was promised, though I do not think I will feel comfortable using anything he will give me. The 'normal' Daedric weapons make me uneasy enough.

It was late into the evening when I left the Daedric ruins and I decided to go back to Gnisis by the way past the Dwemer ruin. An Imperial lady was fretfully pacing in front of a small lake past the ruin. Upon seeing me she asked if I could delve into the lake after a ring of hers and hinted at a monetary reward should I return it. Money is still not a problem for me, but the task sounded simple, so naturally it was more complicated than it seemed, but not by much.

The ring really was in the lake and I found it easily. As I walked back up the short path from the lake an arrow flew over my shoulder and the "lady" came charging down the path with a dagger in hand. The whole thing had been a trap and executed slightly better than the bandits I have typically been finding. The woman had a friend nearby armed with a bow and a Chameleon-enchanted ring. When she had heard my approach, the friend must have activated the ring and waited for me to return to what they must have hoped would be a fatal storm of arrows.

Instead her friend got two arrows off, one of which missed, the other harmlessly bouncing off my helmet and promising nothing worse than a headache later. Neither my damsel in distress nor the hidden archer had anything beyond surprise on their side and they both fell quickly with no harm done to me. As for her ring, it was pretty, but mundane and I threw it back into the lake I had found it in.

By the time I reached Fort Darius it was close to midnight and I do not feel like I accomplished much today. I will continue my journey tomorrow, but now I will be entering the wastes of the east, then the territory of the Telvanni. It will only become more difficult as I continue forwards, but I still feel that this is something I must do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 83 - The Cleansing of Gnisis

6 Sun's Dusk
Last night was an unpleasant one. I am not used to sleeping in a shack on the shore of a swamp and I suffered a restless night as a result. Such is life. Today's goal was to reach Gnisis and finish mapping the relatively small island the town is built upon. I only had a rough sketch of the island's shoreline and almost nothing of its interior save for the town itself. While my skill with a pen means I will never make a living as a cartographer, the rough sketches I am making gives me, as well as my Imperial 'friends', a good idea of what the previously un-mapped areas of Vvardenfell look like.

I had already mapped most of the land between Caldera and Gnisis, so it seemed a waste of time to go where I had been already. I figured I would save some time by simply walking across the water from the little shack to Gnisis. It was the most direct route and I thought would offer the fewest distractions.

After only three re-casts of my water walking spell I started to come across loose planks and shattered barrels floating on the water, sure signs of a shipwreck. I never found the ship, but most of the wreckage had washed up on a tiny island off the shore and I stopped to examine the few barrels that were intact.
Even the completely intact barrels were mostly empty, with a scattering of various plants strewn on the bottom. My only notable find was a steel dagger enchanted with a minor 'assistance' spell designed to guide the wielder's strike, but the effect was so minor that the weapon was useless to me.

I continued to explore the tiny islands along the way to Gnisis and found a cave on one of the larger ones north of the wreckage. The location of the cave is very strange: the door is set into a huge rock instead of a hillside and there seems no place to actually go once someone opens the door. Naturally, my curiosity demanded I solve this mystery.

The initial mystery was a simple one: the 'entrance' was really a small wooden closet into which a trapdoor had been installed. The trapdoor concealed a ladder disappearing into the land underneath the island and I proceeded down it slowly, for Khajiit are not accustomed much to ladders.
Like I said earlier, the Sixth House never seems to be subtle about announcing themselves. The cave was lit entirely by the House's signature red candles, giving the entire underground complex a slightly sickening hue.
The cave was staffed by the usual assortment of Sixth House servants: two tentacle-faced men, a stone-faced Dunmer woman, a 'normal' Blighted individual, and some un-Blighted, nearly naked, Dunmer cultists. The cave was astonishingly large for being, I assume, entirely under the sea and I wonder what forces of nature (or magic) resulted in the cave's existence.
A pool of water...in an underwater cave
The Sixth House constructed a partition of wood (how?) in one of the tunnels in order to separate the shrine area from the rest of the cave. The bells and bell-hammer had made it down there, probably in pieces reassembled at the shrine. A staircase was carved into the rock wall nearby and I surprised one of the Sixth House priests on my way up. I quickly dashed at him and shoved him off the staircase, sending the mutated priest hurtling into the rock floor below. The crack of his skull hitting the ground certainly sounded reassuring.

The staircase ended at the actual shrine for Dagoth Ur and I only found a few gemstones and some loose coins in the nearby stone trough. Perhaps this cave was a recent acquisition by the Sixth House.
Virtue is going to have to be its own reward, for I found little else in the cave worth mentioning. I did search the priest's body on my way out and he had one of the Sixth House amulets around his neck, so perhaps this one was a high-ranking member. 

It was after noon when I stepped back outside and the distance remaining between me and Gnisis was covered quickly and without incident. I stopped at Fort Darius to purchase a standard Imperial Legion short sword and had hoped to also buy a silvered spear, but there were none available. Each weapon will serve as a good alternative to using my enchanted weapons, as the repairs to them are getting quite expensive!

Though I am not a member of the Legion, my limited standing with the Imperial Cult got me a free cot at the fortress for the night. It was late enough into the day that exploring Gnisis's island did not hold much appeal. I spent some time further refining my alchemy recipes and making a list of the supplies I would need before I resume my patrol along the barren northern shoreline, where I would find few services and shops.

My idea to visit the shore villages of Vvardenfell has so far led to much more progress than I had anticipated, which is encouraging, but worrying. I have already found a lot of evidence of the Sixth House's spreading influence and I have not yet even completed half of my trip.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Day 82 - The Sixth House Outpost

5 Sun's Dusk
Today was the first morning since arriving at Vvardenfell that I have woken up in a ship. The first time I woke up sharing a closet in the cargo hold with a Dunmer, today I have the cramped cabin of the former Captain. I am moving up in the world, however slowly.

My plan this morning was to stop at Hlormaren to make sure it had not been taken over by smugglers, slavers, the Sixth House, or any number of other nefarious groups. I wasted no time visiting Hla Oad and enjoyed the relative lack of humidity the early morning let me experience.

I chose to walk along the small islands just off the coast rather than walking directly to the fortress. This led me through a Daedric ruin just to the west of Hlormaren, but I encountered little resistance to my passing through and did not take the time to explore the interior. There was another ruin on what could be considered an island just north of the one I passed through and it was on the way to Hlormaren, so I made a brief stop there as well. Again, nothing in the way of hostilities and nothing noteworthy on my way by.

What was noteworthy was the small Dwemer fortress sitting alongside the second ruin. I had not been aware that the Dwemer built in this part of Vvardenfell, but it was certainly there, now being slowly flooded by the swamp resting just outside the entrance. I suppose the Dwemer might have constructed this as a sort of outpost against raids from the mainland, but my guesses will not come to much. I was tempted to stop in and see what I could find, but the swamp was audibly trickling inside the ruin and I suspected opening the door might wash me inside, covering me in swampy water. So I passed it by.
The cave I came across on my resumed way to Hlormaren, I did not pass by. So far I have been encountering the Sixth House more often in abandoned caves and mines than anywhere else outside Ghostfence. So while it may sound backwards, caves are currently my highest priority.

The Sixth House is never subtle about its presence. Right inside the cave were a large amount of red candles, wall markings, idols, and one of the ever-smiling (or grimacing?) Sixth House magic-users barely visible in the gloom the candles did nothing to dispel.
A few silvered arrows from my short bow took care of it and other than a few crazed Dunmer and one Blighted man, I was free to explore the cave unmolested. I found more of the crude shrines with glistening white chunks of flesh tied to them, as well as an altar with a series of large bells and what must have been the bell hammer, though I am not sure what creature could have lifted it. A few of the red statues were scattered around, good enough reason to believe the sailor acquired his from this place. 
Like most of the Sixth House bases, this one had a small collection of treasure stashed away in the ever-present stone troughs the cult seems to be manufacturing somewhere within Red Mountain. Most of the 'treasure' consisted of the cast-offs from the maddened, naked Dunmer who had given themselves over to Dagoth Ur. Naked and only sometimes wielding a weapon, they never fail to charge directly at me, screaming for Dagoth Ur's protection. So far he has not answered their calls to any discernible effect. I sifted through the shirts and trousers, finding only a few scrolls worth carrying out to sell. 

The sailor on Grytewake had no visible sores or any other sign of his conversion and I do wonder how many secret cultists Dagoth Ur has in Morrowind. A horde, ready to rise up and destroy the Imperial Legions? A select group of individuals to act as elite agents behind the scenes of the war looming on the horizon? There are always more questions than there are answers.

With that occupying my mind I left the cave and trudged through the swampland towards Gnaar Mok, Hla Oad's slightly less hostile sister-village...which is not  saying much. As luck would have it, I found a second cave before reaching the town.
This time no red candles, flesh-decorated shrines, or spell-slinging cultists greeted me upon entry. All I got was a wet tunnel of bare rock. The tunnel opened into a room with wooden scaffolding leading further into the cave as well as upwards via stairs to a second tunnel. Patrolling the upper part of the woodwork was a woman with a cheap looking bow who immediately started firing arrows at me. What if I was a new customer of theirs? The first two arrows bounced off my breastplate and her third missed completely. For whatever reason, she charged down the stairs, dagger in hand, intent on somehow stabbing me to death. The encounter is even more odd considering that the crates scattered about the room contained, among other things, two Dwemer axes. The lady might not have been trained in the use of an axe, but I am sure she would have been much better off with one compared to the pitiful knife she had.

The upper portion of the cave led me to their sleeping quarters where a second Dunmer futilely attacked me. To my surprise, a Redguard woman was tied up on a pile of empty sacks. She asked if I was here to rescue her and was very confused when I burst out laughing. She laughed politely when I explained the coincidence between today and yesterday, then asked if I could escort her outside, clearly not seeing any humor in the event.

She thanked me when we went outside, assuring me of her desire to return to Hammerfell but regretting that she had nothing to reward me with. I told her reward was not my concern and wished her a safe trip home. Should I fail my duty here, the Redguards' province will still not be far enough from Dagoth Ur's influence.

I did return to the smugglers' cave to look for valuable things, but again found only scrolls. There were ten scrolls powerfully enchanted with a version of the Alteration 'Unlock' spell, an odd collection given the seemingly random nature of a smuggler's usual inventory. Perhaps they had a heist they were planning or a client whose request they were filling. I will never know.

The residents of Gnaar Mok were wary of me, but I was helpfully directed to a nearby abandoned fishing shack to spend the night in. The local noble, a Hlaalu named Almse Arenim, has been seeking renters for the place, but locals are afraid the place is haunted by the ghost of the former resident and she has had no luck. The villager who suggested the shack assured me that spending one night there would not raise the noble's ire, so I figured I would give the place a look at the very least.

It did not have much to offer other than solitude and the rotting stench of the swamp, but that was better than spending another night in the cabin on Grytewake. It was late in the night when I entered the shack, but I still managed to spend time practicing my alchemy, a task of mine long overdue. I had some success with my more expensive ingredients and the scroll I keep to jot down recipes has a few more entries on it now.

And today is now over. Gnisis will likely be my next stop tomorrow. I have only been away from home for two days and the prospect of returning to a 'civilized' town is appealing to me. I must be growing soft somehow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Day 81 - Around Hla Oad

4 Sun's Dusk
Hla Oad was the first stop on my list of coastal locations to visit. Until today I had not seen the dismal village for at least a month, maybe two. I would probably better remember when it last was if there was something about Hla Oad worth remembering.

It had also been awhile since I last heard anything about my stronghold, but Galsa had nothing new for me when I spoke to her. It will be at least a week before my journey around the coast is complete, so she will almost certainly have some news when I return.

I could have transported to Hlormaren and walked south, but I started at Balmora instead so that I could purchase more arrows at The Razor Hole and sell some ingredients to Ajira. She has also been an enthusiastic recipient of all the keys I have been collecting, though I cannot imagine what use she has for them. 

The walk from Balmora to Hla Oad was humid and foggy, but largely uneventful. I was approached by a man babbling about Dagoth Ur's upcoming revival and warning me to lay down my arms and surrender. He made no move to follow me as I walked past, so I left him alone. Hopefully I will have found a way to free the man from Dagoth Ur's influence before he is gutted by a pack of Nix Hounds.

The whole purpose of my being in the area was not to visit Hla Oad, but to visit everything around the village in an effort to root out any Sixth House smugglers and cultists. A quick peek into a small family tomb netted me some Daedra hearts and scattered gemstones, but nothing related to the Sixth House.
An armor-eating Daedra patrolling the tomb
My second investigation was of a fairly large (for Vvardenfell) docked just outside of Hla Oad. It was common knowledge that the village owed its existence more to smuggling than fishing, so I figured I would see if I could be allowed below deck, where I could hopefully sneak some glances at the ship's cargo.
The crew on deck greeted me warily, but allowed me on to the ship. One informed me that the ship was named 'Grytewake' (spelling it out for me no less) and that they were in the employ of the Imperial Caldera Mining Company to transport raw Ebony to the mainland. I decided to play the part of an Imperial official and politely requested access to their cargo to verify their manifest. The immediate discomfort of everyone on deck confirmed my suspicion. I non-threateningly forced the Nord closest to the trapdoor leading below away from his post and calmly went down below.

They had been partially honest: the ship was loaded with raw Ebony and worth probably as much as the mine I explored within Red Mountain. This by itself was not damning, but the ash statue I found sitting out in the open beneath a crew member's hammock was certainly cause for concern.
When I spoke to the captain about the statue he denied knowing it was on his ship and hurried me out of his tiny cabin. The crew attacked as soon as I was outside, but the two of them could not coordinate with each other and their assault was unpracticed and poorly implemented. Both were armed with standard Imperial Legion long swords, but the weapons were poorly cared for and unable to penetrate my Dreugh breastplate. 

The reception back down below was just as friendly, but each of the ship's two cargo holds only had one smuggler, making the combats not worth even mentioning. After clearing the inside of the ship I went back to talk to the Captain, who predictably also attacked me as soon as I stepped inside the cabin. He was no better a warrior than his crew had been and I dumped all the bodies overboard, much to the delight of the local slaughterfish population.

I wish I had been able to interrogate one of them as to where he got the statue and why it was there. Was one of them a Sixth House cultist? All of them? Or were they just smuggling for the Sixth House? This ship could have been a valuable source of information, but the crew's rash action reduced it to another abandoned ship on the coast. Someone from Hla Oad will probably sail away with it soon enough.
I walked across the water from the ship and bypassed the Daedric ruin intending to reach Hlormaren to make sure it had not been inhabited. As I walked past the ruins I noticed a cave door beyond it and bowed to the duty I had placed upon myself. Perhaps the cave was where the Sixth House was hiding.

Just inside the entrance was a collection of spears with skulls impaled on them, so it seemed as though I was in the right cave. But the Sixth House's usual array of red candles and occult wall paintings was absent, so I was expecting to be disappointed. The cave was actually very small and I had to fight off two well-armed skeletal guardians before I met the Dunmer woman that called the cave her home.

She was not particularly friendly, summoning a Bonewalker upon seeing me, then following that up with spells of poison and fire. The Bonewalker was a greater threat than the necromancer, for any one of its strikes could sap my strength, leaving me unable to fight. I retreated back to the entrance of the cave and summoned the Daedric enhancement out of my spear, then made myself invisible. She and her Bonewalker had just started to cautiously venture into the cave tunnel when I returned to her campsite, but I was able to circle around the duo and strike from behind, killing her and dispelling the Bonewalker.

Her home was nothing more than scaffolding and guar skins stretched overhead. She had an excellent collection of alchemy equipment and I took the mortar and pestle to sell later. The sun was setting when I left the cave, so I put off on visiting Hlormaren until tomorrow, deciding to explore the Daedric ruin on the (slim) chance that it was inhabited by the Sixth House.

Two heavily-equipped Orcs were wandering around the ruins, but they were actually friendly, having come to the ruins to fight the Daedra that were usually guarding the ruins. I suppose they could have been a couple, for one was male and one female, but I thought it would be impolite and irrelevant to inquire. I asked if they were planning on going inside, but they told me neither of them enjoyed fighting indoors much and preferred to skip the interiors of the ruins they traveled to. 

If they did enter they would not have made it far: the ruin was almost completely flooded and I had to swim quite a ways before reaching the dry Daedric shrine room. Several Orcs were at the shrine, but unlike their brethren outside, they attacked me immediately, one even wielding a massive war-hammer made in the style favored by those from Orsinium. I have seen quite a bit of Orcish armor while on Vvardenfell, but very little of their weapons. It is too bad for the wielder of the hammer that he and his friends were facing an experienced Khajiit warrior. 

Turns out missing a swing with such a mighty weapon makes it very easy for an agile opponent to stick you in the side with her summoned Daedric spear. 

One of his companions had a similarly made two-handed axe, leading me to think that this group were recent immigrants to Morrowind, possibly from Orsinium itself. The shrine had the usual Daedric-heart-on-a-plate, plus an emerald, ruby, and another chunk of raw Ebony. Not knowing which of the four would trigger the summoning of a Dremora I had no interest in fighting, so I left everything on where it lay.

One of the Orcs had a key on his person that unlocked a door on the far end of the shrine. I was quite surprised to see a soldier of the Imperial Legion behind it. He was an older man, either Imperial or Breton (I have always had trouble between the two) and I recognized his armor as the kind usually given to soldiers of high ranks.

I am not sure why he guessed that I was not his enemy, but he greeted me cordially as soon as he spotted me. He told me he had been anxiously listening to the sounds of my battle through the door and thanked me for killing his captors. He assured me that he could find his way back to Ebonheart on his own. And with a clap on my shoulder, he walked out, snatching a blade from a dead Orc on his way out. I could not get a single word in. I never even got the man's name.

The man had been held captive on a small landing with steps leading into a large pool of water, but I had no interest in swimming any further into the ruin, especially since I had to swim just to get out of it.

It was well into the night when I dragged my wet self out of the ruin and into the dank swamp air. The two Orcs were nowhere to be seen, but a hopeful Daedroth bellowed its challenge as it charged at me from the shoreline. It felt victim to the new silvered arrows I bought at Balmora earlier in the morning. Other than that the ruin seemed to have been abandoned by adventurer and monster alike.

Finding a place to rest for the night posed a bit of a problem: I was unlikely to find a place willing to let me stay for the night at Hla Oad and I did not want to walk all the way back to Balmora, even if it was the most comfortable option available to me. I wanted to avoid teleporting back to Ald'ruhn and pushing further upland to Hlormaren was an option, but I felt there was a better one than more swamp-walking.

I settled on locking myself in the former Captain's cabin of Grytewake. I intend to explore the area between Hla Oad and Gnaar Mok tomorrow in order to find where the Ash Statue came from, though given that I found one in possession of a smuggler, the statue could have come from anywhere I suppose.

It is starting to feel that a direct assault on Red Mountain might be easier than this.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Day 80 - Under Ghostfence

3 Sun's Dusk
Today's mission: Explore the possibility of there being an 'underground' passage from within Red Mountain to the outside. Unless Dagoth Ur was in the mining industry, it seemed rather unlikely that he would be using any one of the numerous mines and smuggler dens around Ghostfence to ferry his followers underneath the barrier. The former Sixth House base, Kogoruhn fortress, seemed to be the best place to start my search.

The walk from Ald'ruhn to the fortress was long, boring, and full of dust. I was repeatedly stopped by blight-maddened Cliff Racers and I was feeling quite worn down by the time I finally reached the ruined fortress. I anticipated heavy resistance from the Sixth House cultists within and cautiously entered the fortress. I need not have worried. Whatever Dagoth Ur needs to do in order to garrison his holdings, he had not done yet done it for Kogoruhn. The only creatures I fought on the entrance level was a tentacle-faced priest of the Sixth House and one of the mountainous brutes from the Blight, both taken down by my silvered arrows. Save for them, the floor above ground was completely deserted.
I went down one level and fought a single Clannfear Daedra and poked around a section of the fortress I had skipped during my first terrifying raid. I found little of substance, but I took an interesting looking (and unwearable) helmet.
Gold coins had been stacked on the floor to form the symbol of the Sixth House and a crude sort of paint had been used to duplicate the symbol on the walls. In another room there were piles of furniture stacked into the corners and balanced on one another, with more symbols on the walls, but no sign of who could have done any of this.
The sewer system leading into the underground section was well populated with Atronachs and minor minons of the Sixth House. Nothing I could not handle with my bow. The cavern underground the fortress where I had met my first Ash Vampire was eerily empty. I remembered that there had been a door behind the creature that I had not gone through at the time, but I could not remember if the door looked as though it might lead outside and therefore to Red Mountain.
I could feel and smell the breeze blowing from under the door and I had high hopes that my quest would be solved that easily. Getting outside was the easy part. 
Surviving outside however, was going to be a lot more difficult. I walked outside into a Red Mountain Blight storm, because I must not have had enough dust trapped in my fur already. Ordinarily I would have Recalled home and not taken the risk of wandering around, but I needed to try and figure out where the underground passage had actually placed me. 

I could just barely see my spear right in front of my face and needless to say, it was impossible to see where inside the Ghostfence I actually was. I did explore a little in an attempt to find a path back to Ghostgate, but I gave up after being ambushed three times by spell-flinging Sixth House monsters. I was just about to use my Recall amulet when I somehow managed to stumble into a mine door.

The mine was naturally abandoned, but remained rich in blighted rats, giant bugs, Dremora, and most importantly: raw ebony. Seams of the stuff ran almost the entire length of the mine and I could not begin to estimate how much wealth was locked up in the rock. Curiously, I also found a Daedric-enchanted two-handed sword implanted in rock spire and surrounded by skulls. Very ritualistic...and heavy. And useless. I left the giant blade stuck in its pile of skulls.
My heart was not into another walk outside and I decided to Recall out from the cave, having confirmed that there is a way to pass through the Ghostfence unseen. I am not sure who would be willing to garrison the ruined fortress. The Imperial Legion? House Redoran? The Mages Guild? I do not know and the unfortunate answer may be 'no one' for lack of resources or inclination.

The helmet I found goes well with the other interesting ones I have on display at home, though there really is no good reason to have any of them other than as decorations.
Tomorrow I will start my coastal patrol, visiting all of the small backwater villages to secure the safety of people who probably view me as a walking wall decoration. It will take more time to visit each village individually from Ald'ruhn as it would traveling from each one, so this will be the last night in some time that I will be spending at home in comfort.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Day 79 - A Relaxing Walk Around Ghostfence

2 Sun's Dusk
Yesterday I had attempted a walk around Ghostfence starting towards Ghostgate and following the barrier around Red Mountain. I did not get far due to my lack of knowledge about the terrain coupled with a Blight storm, courtesy no doubt, of Dagoth Ur.

This morning I started in the opposite direction: away from Ghostgate and towards the outpost of Maar Gan, where I had hoped that the land would be more navigable in that direction. The journey started as they usually do lately, with me fighting off blighted creatures as I struggle forwards. This morning was particularly cruel, for the creatures I faced looked to have been simple men once, but the Blight had twisted them into mindless, savage monsters. They lacked the cunning aggression of the servants of the Sixth House, so I assume these three men were unfortunate victims of an infected animal, maybe a blighted rat or Nix Hound. 

I found two of them before reaching Kogoruhn and the third afterwards. I hope their deaths released them from the torture their lives had been transformed into.

I made good time and passed Kogoruhn fortress by early afternoon. Exploring it today was tempting, but I promised myself I would return tomorrow and walked past, eventually coming to a path I had not noticed before leading closer to Ghostfence.
The path curved upwards and crossed several small chasms by way of old and seemingly unreliable rope bridges. It was after the second rope bridge that I released the third Blighted man from his terrible fate.
Even a Kagouti would have noticed that the Blighted men were outside Ghostfence. I am willing to allow for diseased rats and cliff racers outside of the Fence without raising much alarm, but these men plus the Daedra I have been encountering while on the plains is a sure sign that there is a breach somewhere in the Temple's holy barricade.
Thankfully, the last rope bridge
The sky began to darken and storm as I crossed the day's final rope bridge and within minutes I was once again engulfed in a Blight storm. Fortunately the path was much easier to follow than the day before and I continued walking along the Fence, surprisingly meeting nothing along the way. I finished my patrol at Ghostgate late in the evening, having walked the entire perimeter of Ghostfence and finding nothing at all.

I believe Kogoruhn still has secrets I have yet to discover, so the finding of these is the task for tomorrow. After that, I will start visiting the coastal villages, a task I have absolutely no enthusiasm for, but one that I believe is necessary. Such is life.