I woke a little earlier than usual and walked out into another dark and foggy morning. Given my late start, I ate my breakfast as I walked along the river, intent on reaching a south-bound road to Caldera at some point. The constant overcast and rain made for a very dark morning, but the wilderness has ceased to be a cause for great concern and the lack of light has never bothered a Khajiit.
While walking along the river, I noticed the odd stone arch formation that the publican at the Tradehouse had mentioned yesterday. He had said it was along the coast, so I thought he meant along the coast of the sea, but I suppose he could have meant along the river. Sure enough, an ornate door was set into the side of the hill just below the arch on the opposite side of the river. A quick water walking spell (I'm getting better at this!) and I was inside the smugglers' hideout.
Whether or not I was mistaken about the publican's directions, the former ancestral tomb had been ransacked by some sort of banditry, who then themselves seems to have been overwhelmed by Daedra from within the lower levels. The skeleton impaled against the ash pit just inside the tomb could either have been the works of smugglers or Daedra, but either way marked this tomb as no longer a family's ancestral home.
What few other remains I found indicate the smugglers, if that's what they were, met a violent end. Behind one locked door was a storage closet with a skeleton curled up in the corner and numerous skulls and bones laying about, all of them looking to be fairly recent additions.
The skeleton on the ash pile had been fixed there by a simple steel longsword, so that at least was done (probably) by the smugglers. The tomb continued downwards along a spiraling ramp, along which I encountered several Scamps and at the bottom a Clannfear, nothing I couldn't handle.The ramp ended at a small room with an altar, which had a single urn of ashes set upon it. My Khajiit blood must have sensed the ring, because I normally would not have disturbed the remains, but something drove me to sift the urn around and as I rolled the ashes around in the urn I gradually uncovered an enchanted ring. I took it, figuring the smugglers hid it there, and the magicka emitting from the ring is very strong, though I can't tell what it does and I won't wear it until I do. If the smugglers hid the ring there, then they were agents of their own destruction, the strength of the enchantment may have lured the Daedra to the tomb. There were two small chests near the altar, but they contained nothing of value.
I left the tomb in much the same condition as I entered it and climbed up the steep, muddy slope of the river and continued south. Not more than two minutes of walking and I found the remains of the smugglers. These remains, however, were alive, wet, and crouched around a dismal fire. None of them were visibly armed, but one of them happened to look my way and gave a shout and suddenly I had three Dunmer running at me. What is it about this place that makes people so reckless with their lives? Three against one are good odds for the majority, but again, I'm fully armed, armored, and trained to kill...Cyrodiil bears, mostly, but Morrowind has been a great teacher.
All three were magicka users and loosed ranged spells of various colors at me, all of which I managed to dodge. Rather than encircle me, all three of them charged my front, as if I wasn't holding a spear. With no armor and only daggers to back up their spells, they became easy prey once they exhausted their spell casting endurance, which happened rather quickly. If they were part of the tomb's smuggling group, nothing on them showed it and I left their bodies where they fell. The Kwama will find them before long.
Just behind them was a building unlike any I had yet seen on Vvardenfell. Squat and wide, it looked like the uglier cousin of Imperial fortress architecture. It also seemed abandoned, the stone wall crumbling in several places and the stairs quickly on their way to become a pile of rubble. I don't understand the reasoning behind building stone walls that someone could simply jump over and the architecture, from the outside, seems to make no sense. There are two stone buildings "within" the fortress: a very large stone building and a very small one. The large one contained two magical, and very colorful, portals that didn't seem to do anything.
The smaller one was the actual entrance into the fortress, housing a landing that descended into the actual structure. Judging by the exterior, I was expecting that the fort would have been ransacked long ago. What I found was very different.
|Welcome to Berandas|
Whether or not the remains were of the fortress's inhabitants or if they were squatting was impossible to tell, but the two impaled skeletons on the landing certainly served as a powerful warning. I admit I almost turned around right there, but the skeletons were very old and I incorrectly assumed the place would be abandoned by now.
Much like the tomb, the fortress was infested by Daedra, but unlike the tomb, also by more powerful Dremora warriors. It hasn't been long since my first fight with a Dremora in the sewers of Vivec, but I must be more powerful than I was, dispatching the demonic warriors were a challenge, but a welcome one after the eggmine of Khuul and the depressing meele by the campfire. The warriors were well-armed, all of them with Dwemer weapons, none of which I could further burden myself with.
I found a skeleton slumped against the wall in one of the larger rooms, the cause of death being the two very rare Daedric arrows embedded in its rib cage With my aim, I'll definitely not be using them as weapons, but I could not pass up grabbing them anyway.
The second level of the fort existed only as a rough cavern, with a few furnishings scattered about. On this level I found the reason for the degradation of the fort, as well as almost meeting my death.
The cavern had been intended to be the unfinished third level of the fortress, but the original inhabitants only got so far as to roughly hew out a corridor and several rooms. More Dremora and Scamps awaited me and I dealt successfully with them, but I was growing tired and my armor was starting to become worn. Drawn to the smell and sight of what I thought was a campfire, I entered an alcove and was greeted by a rather gruesome sight.
Staying with the day's trend of "weapons through bodies", the skeleton was stuck to a large stalactite by a spear through the chest and a dagger through a hand. In the poor light I took the weapons for iron or steel, assuming the constant heat of the fire beneath them had blackened the metal. After (reluctantly) extinguishing the flame I pulled the spear free and caught unawares by the weight, fell off the brazier I was balancing on as the head of the weapon crashed against the bowl. I would have been luckier if the blade had chopped into the brazier, but the flat of the weapon rang off the edge and I might as well have rolled a gong after me and announced my presence to the rest of the denizens prowling about.
A hideous shrieking from somewhere further into the cavern was the response to my announcement and I hefted my new spear in an effort to determine what it was before the source of the noise found me. It was far heavier than any other spear I've used, but when I peered at the head of the spear, I realized what a rare find I was holding.
The spear head was probably three times the size of any spear I've yet seen and was cruelly barbed, designed not only to kill an opponent but to cause the maximum amount of pain while doing it. The faintly glowing markings engraved along the ebony were very similar to the dagger my long-gone Demon Tanto had summoned and I'm not sure how long I stood there (stupidly) gaping at the Daedric spear. Smaller weapons, such as daggers and short swords, are a bit more typical, usually owned by mater thieves and assassins. Weapons larger than that are normally found in extremely well-guarded museums and private collections. The price I could fetch for the spear could get me a private residence next door to the Imperial Palace...but the spear is probably too valuable to sell in Vvardenfell and unfortunately too heavy to carry with me right now.
The dagger was also Daedric, but I elected to leave it with the spear for now, since I was growing increasingly concerned about the constant shrieking deeper within the cave: It didn't seem to be getting any closer, but it wasn't getting any quieter either.
I left the alcove with my valuable treasures behind and proceeded straight down the hallway, but that was a dead end and I encountered only a single Dremora. The shrieking intensified as the sounds of our combat rang along the stone corridors. The Dremora was kind enough to leave a Dwemer halberd, but nothing compares favorably against Daedric, unless you happen to be particularly superstitious.
The shrieking creatures were deep within a large pit, off of a side corridor, almost two floors lower than the rest of the rooms. They were unlike anything I had seen before: half-bird, half-woman, the monsters had the torsos and heads of women, but legs of a bird, wings similar to that of a bat and long, barbed tails that somewhat resembled a scorpion's. Obviously they were Daedra, but not of any kind I'm familiar with.
Even from a distance these creatures were obviously formidable and I managed to enter their "lair" undetected thanks to my invisibility spell, but it only lasts for 15 seconds and the two of them were actively patrolling the pit. With only a few seconds left before my spell expired, I elected to attack rather than attempt to renew the spell. Still invisible, I lunged at the closed creature with my spear, but it (she?) somehow detected me anyway and hopped away, shrieking.
What followed was the most harrowing experience (so far) of my life. The creatures were much quicker than I anticipated and attacked with their tails, their wings, and even their mouths, lunging forward to snap at me with a mouth full of fangs. They were also a lot more intelligent, with one of them always at my flank or back and I don't know how much time I spent just trying not to die.
Their wings and teeth weren't very damaging to my armor, but the barbs on their tails cut into the Adamantium surprisingly well. It wasn't long before my the armor on my arms were nearly useless, courtesy of near misses on attempts at my neck. Very aware that I was going to die at this rate, I charged one of the creatures, desperate to take one out of the fight. It slashed at my legs as I closed in, doing grievous harm to the armor, but fortunately not crippling me as intended. My berserk attack succeeded in spitting the creature with my spear, but it collapsed with an awful screech and wretched the weapon out of my hands, leaving me with no choice but to engage it's companion with my woefully short sword and shield.
Rather than draw out a combat I was fighting at a disadvantage, I risked everything, charging at the remaining creature, swinging both sword and shield at it until it collapsed in a bloody heap. There was a corpse of a Dunmer Legionnaire in the chamber who, oddly, appeared unharmed but had been dead for some time, the dry heat of the lava pits turning his flesh into leather. He had on him a pair of heavy boots that radiated more magicka than anything I had ever felt before, including the ring from the smugglers' tomb, so I took them, figuring that was my reward for what I had accomplished.
I managed to stumble out of Berandas and am now taking refuge in the portal chamber on top the fortress. I have no idea what time it is, other than that it must be very early in the morning. My armor is nearly destroyed, there is very little of my fur that isn't matted with blood, my spear is damaged, but repairable, and I am utterly exhausted. I've locked the portal chamber with my spell and piled all the furniture against the door. I'll continue my journey south whenever I happen to wake up.