Spending the night on a boat presents two sides of the same brackish coin: on one side, the typical Vvardenfell coastal is barren of any comforts, but on the other, the gentle rocking can assist one to sleep, should she be in the right frame of mind.
Unfortunately, I was not in the right frame of mind to be rocked to sleep and spent a restless, uncomfortable night. Even the boat owner was able to find lodging at the local Temple, trusting me not to sail away to pursue a life on the seas.
The canton town felt even less welcoming than the Telvanni Canton in Vivec, so I hopped off the boat and made my way out of Molag Mar, hoping to find the staff and be back in civilization before dinner. There wasn't much to distract me from my task. Molag Mar sits right in the Ashlands, a barren land that looks as if it should be devoid of life, but there are several hardy plants that seem to thrive here, as well as some of Vvardenfell's most dangerous beasts. I left the town and started along the marked road up toward Mount Kand.
Even the soil of the Ashlands battles against the unprepared, such as myself. Unaccustomed to the rocky volcanic soil, the pads of my feet began to ache until I ruined Bivale's gift, cutting the belt in half to make crude, but effective, foot wraps. Every creature I came across that would ordinarily have ignored me or run away instead proved hostile and I slew a good number of rats, nix hounds, and even scribs. The strangest foe today has to be the Alit, which is accurately described as a giant head with two legs stuck where the ears might have been. Deceptively fast, the first Alit I encountered almost ate my sword and I would have counted myself lucky had that been the only thing it consumed. As it was, luck was with me and I avoided losing an arm due to slipping in panic and tumbling down the side of a hill. The Alit was brighter and loped the long way around the hill at me, but by that time I had composed myself and the beast's giant mount was no match for the longer reach of my spear.
The path up towards Mount Kand reminded me unpleasantly of the path I painfully crawled up outside of Ghostgate, though only trepidation greeted me on my way up. The path turned to the left at the crest and I was surprised to see the common wooden door of an egg mine set into the side of the mountain. The door was quite worn, but I could see no signs of habitation outside of the cave. My desire to get out of the open and somewhere more secure drove me inside, a mistake that I'll be a lot more careful about not making in the future.
The door did not lead to a mine, but a rough cavern, whether it was hewn or natural, I couldn't tell. Large crystals jutted out from the floor and walls, capturing the fluorescence of the mushrooms growing around them, lighting the cave in dull purples and blues.
Alert as I was, the gentle shifting of the colors managed to disguise the Daedroth's approach and the first sign of the creature's presence was a powerful electric shock painfully coursing through my limbs. The shock jerked me against the stone wall, my helmet saving me from a concussion (or worse). My knowledge of Daedra and their minions is only slightly better than average, but the slavering crocodile-looking creature was known to me as a servant of Molag Bal, Harvester of Souls. Fearsome looking as they were, Daedroth were counted among the weaker of the Daedra, equipped with strong spells and strength, but barely above animal intelligence.
This one was unable to follow through on its successful ambush and strode towards me, flinging spells of poison and fire almost as an afterthought, its eagerness to close to melee range causing the spells to fly wide. Glad as I was for the creature's poor aim, they were very strong fighters and I thought about retreating out of the cave completely. But I've come a long way in nearly a month on Vvardenfell and rewards only comes to those willing to take risks. And as every Khajiit knows, agility and wit can always win against brute strength. The creature fell easier than the winged monsters from Berandas, but still proved to be a challenging opponent. I carved the heart of the creature from its chest, Daedra hearts are well-prized by alchemists and there is no point in being squeamish about such a thing.
Flush with victory, I continued down the corridor and turned a corner only to come face-to-face with two Daedroth milling around in front of a small hut, evidently occupied. They were slow to react and I ran back, not to set up an ambush of my own, but to retreat out of the cave. The single Daedroth was challenging enough, two of them, plus the occupant of the hut, would likely prove too much for me to handle alone.
I spent the rest of the morning wandering around Mount Kand, periodically activating Kaye's ring in an effort to find the Staff. If it weren't for the hardy plants and animals, I would rename this place the Deadlands. The "soil" is composed of ash, rock, and small glassy shards of previous volcanic eruptions which do their best to slice into my feet, even with the belt wrapped around them. The wind whipping around the plain is no relief, flinging ash and small pebbles against my face.
The sun was just at its peak when I found the second cave and I was only marginally smarter in how I approached it. Entering only after my Invisibility spell succeeded (three attempts), I stepped into what was almost certainly a natural hollowing of the earth, given how long I had to walk along the tunnel before I came to a chamber containing a Flame Atronach and a pool of lava. After the Daedroth, the Atronach seemed too easy and I continued along the tunnel on the opposite end of the small chamber.
Curiously, I came to a second chamber which might have been a pool of water at some point, but the occupying Frost Atronach had frozen it into a sheet of ice. The Atronach, again, fell surprisingly easily. The last chamber was another pool of water, this time with bolts of lightning flying from it, due to the Storm Atronach meandering about. It fared no better than its cousins did. I find it curious that the cavern should only have three rooms, each with an Atronach of different element. Perhaps it served a mage long gone to store the Atronachs there. I suppose I'll never know.
I rested for a while just outside the cavern door, washing my lunch down with a cheap endurance restoration potion to fortify myself for the searching I still had to do. The landscape is largely unchanging, just valleys and swells of grey rock and dust, with the occasional dead-looking tree or tough plant poking through the ground. I spent the rest of the daylight hours pacing around Mount Kand, but couldn't find any sign of the late Linus or his staff.
I started worrying about shelter as it grew increasingly dark. All I had to do was trip over something in the dark and break a bone falling into a ravine. The only shelter I had come across all day was the two caves, one with Daedroth and one presumably still empty. But my search had carried me in a pretty wide circle and in the dusk I couldn't be sure I would find my way back to the Atronach cave.
Night comes swiftly to the Ashlands and I thought I had found shelter in the form of an abandoned house, only to realize as I got closer that it was the dessicated husk of a silt strider that I had mistaken for a dwelling in the Ald'Ruhn style.
I wound up not finding the Atronach cave, nor could I bring myself to somehow burrow into the silt strider corpse, so I'm laying down along the shore of a small lake to rest for a little bit before resuming my search early tomorrow morning.