Another strange dream last night, this one slightly different than the others. The man with the golden mask was in it again, but this time was simply speaking to me, though I could not understand a word. His presence filled me with fear, but as usual I could not move at all. He only continued to talk and I had the impression he was smiling beneath the mask, but my fear gave way to suspicion and I was suddenly wary of his nonsensical words. Then I woke up. The dreams feel like they are growing worse, but I cannot pinpoint what about them makes it feel this way.
Ranis stopped me on my way out to ask me to have a word with an Argonian who has been making coin by providing training in casting from the Restoration school at the South Wall Cornerclub. Surprisingly, Ranis had no idea what this Argonian's name was, only that I was to convince him to stop his illegal service. I told her I would look into when I had the time, which did not happen to be today. It sounds simple, but I am a bit uneasy about becoming Ranis's personal enforcer.
Today's task seemed simple too: Go to fortress near Balmora, search through a pile of weak scrolls and useless sundries, find Propylon Stone, return to Caldera, done. But of course it was not anywhere near that simple.
The walk from Balmora to Hlormaren was predictably wet, dismal, and punctuated by attacks from Nix-Hounds and Kagouti, neither of which pose a threat to me any longer. I do remember the day I almost died to the Nix-Hounds outside of Ald'Ruhn while looking for that woman's missing husband...it seems a lifetime ago, though just coming up on only two months.
Hlormaren was built very similarly to other fortresses, all of which do not seem to have a great variance in construction technique or style, but do all serve as a very imposing monument to the now-deceased Dunmer nation. Like most of the others, there was no sign anyone was inhabiting the ruin, though this has never actually been the case. In fact, I nearly met my end while halfway through the front entrance.
I guess I have been becoming a little arrogant about my victories as of late and I think it is completely reasonable, given what I have done. How many Khajiit can say she has killed a Golden Saint and be telling the truth? I would wager not many. But pride does typically go before the fall and it was a large amount of luck which prevented my fall from becoming permanent.
However it was that they knew I was coming, the guards at the inside of the entrance were ready for me. I had just started to step across the door's threshold when I was attacked by a Bosmer armed with a light shield and short sword. I met her with my own shield and sword and parried her initial blow. I was just about to strike when a massive hammer swung out from the corner of my vision and smashed into my chest, throwing me back through the door and onto the hard stone of the fortress exterior. I remember feeling outraged and surprised instead of afraid, but the blow had been exceptionally strong and breathing was a struggle.
Had the slavers (as I later learned they were) had any sort of discipline I would not be writing this journal entry. Instead of killing me while I remained helpless, the Bosmer and my assailant, an Orc, started arguing! I remember their conversation with an absurd amount of clarity: the Bosmer arguing that the Orc's surprise attack nearly took off her arm and the Orc sneering about what a loss that would have been and bragging about the distance I flew, which he naturally exaggerated. This gave me enough time to drink an Invisibility potion and crawl to the side of the Propylon chamber building. Their arguing and the potion's effect ceased at about the same time, but I was out of sight behind the far side of the chamber building when they turned their attention towards me.
I can only imagine their surprise if they thought me already dead and I expected that they would retreat inside the fortress and close the door. I would have, it's the only way in! Instead, they fanned out, the Bosmer circling about in one direction and the Orc, large even among his kind, hefted the massive hammer and stalked off in the opposite direction, towards the Propylon chamber I was hiding behind. I drank a health restoration potion and followed it with my last invisibility one. For whatever reason, the Orc fought vainly, which is to say he had no shirt on and little armor anywhere else. In melee this would count for less than most people think, but I had a bow, which his lack of armor could be made to count for a lot.
Still, he was an Orc, which meant the two arrows that smacked into his chest only seemed to get him angrier. His warcry was in a language I did not recognize, but it did serve to get the attention of his Bosmer companion, who started running in my direction, but the Orc was the more pressing matter. I was not foolish enough to pit myself against him and his hammer, but he was running at me quite quickly and I could not get a third arrow loosed. What I could do was drop my bow and recite the incantation to a scroll promising to summon a (weak) Flame Atrnoach. I cannot remember where or when I found the thing, but it has been in my pack for as long as I could remember and getting rid of it in a useful way seemed a fitting end.
The Orc's end was admittedly fitting, but also more brutal than I personally give to my opponents. The summoning was quick and he had no chance to halt his charge before the Atronach flung a fireball at him. Stripped to the waist as he was, the fireball's damage was grievous and he stumbled into the Atronach, whose flaming body did him no visible harm. Interesting point. The Atronach was not nearly as curious and began pummeling the Orc's body as he struggled to rise. I turned my attention to the Bosmer who was wavering with indecision as to whether to assist the quarrelsome Orc or attack me instead. I made that choice an easy one and attacked her, trusting the Atronach to keep the Orc busy.
She quickly fled back into the fort and the Orc had managed to ward off the Atronach's blows well enough to flee as well. Naturally, the Atronach's magic was spent just at that moment and it was whisked away back from whence it came, leaving the two slavers to myself again. The Orc's injuries looked severe, but he was moving well enough and I do not know why they failed to press the advantage they gained when the Atronach disappeared. Perhaps they were seeking to summon help from further within the fortress or thought I would retreat as well. They did not make it very far.
The slavers were well-armed and many, but like the rebels in the other fortress they lacked cohesion. I was able to stalk the corridors and kill them one by one, or rarely, in pairs. Many of them were armed with Glass daggers enchanted with a paralysis strike and I thought it odd until I realized the utility this would have for slavers.
The slaves were held in a room on the underground level and guarded by a scarred Nord wielding a very simple club, contrary to the generally decent weaponry wielded by his comrades. The key I took from his body unlocked the four prison cells and the slaves' shackles, of which there were seven trapped in three bare stone cells, three of them Khajiit and the rest Argonian. They individually told me the same story: they were aspiring merchants who managed to pool their money together for a small ship and goods and set out towards possibly the worst island to sail near: Vvardenfell. They wrecked their ship on a barren stretch of coast in the southeast and were ambushed by the slavers while trying to reach Suran. None of them were warriors of any skill and surrendered expecting to be robbed only of goods. But they were shackled enmasse and smuggled along the coast to Hla Oad before being incarcerated at Hlormaren. Collecting them in the main room, I surprised them by inviting each of them to strip the bodies and fortress of wealth before they traveled to Balmora.
They were very grateful, but insisted that they could not leave without two other Khajiit that had been taken to the roof and asked if I could free them as well. I had to go to the roof for the Stone anyway, so I agreed. They informed me that the door on the far side of the room led to the sewers, making this the first Dunmer fortress I have been in that had such a consideration. I had no desire to see it for myself and asked them to wait until I came back from the roof, which they agreed to do.
There were only two individuals on the roof: an archer and a mage, the latter whose equipment seemed to identify her as the slavers' leader. The archer was well-armed like the rest, but seemed ill at ease with his steel-backed bow and failed to hit me with any of the silver arrows he carelessly let fly in my direction. He decided to draw his sword too late as I approached him and he found he had not quite enough room to swing his longsword as I stabbed at him with my shorter, more nimble sword. The archer actually had two swords on him, both silver longswords. Those, plus the silver arrows, support my theory that their equipment was mostly loot they were not practiced with using.
The only foe other than the Orc that gave me any trouble was the mage, leader of the slavers and possessor of the Propylon Stone I had come to fetch. She had been on the far side of the roof when I was fighting the archer, but had failed to see me. Unfortunately my invisibility spell would not last long enough to approach her without being noticed too early; my only option was to try to weaken her as much as possible at a distance before closing in.
The arrow I flung in front of her face certainly got her attention and she spun around, waving her arms and running towards me. I thought she had mistaken me for one of her slavers at first, but the bonewalker that materialized in front of her made that assumption unlikely and made my plan to hit her with arrows suddenly not feasible.
She must have been a powerful mage, for the creature was stronger than the Bonewalkers I had run into in Vivec and each of its strikes made me feel like I needed a nap. But concentrating on the Bonewalker would leave the more dangerous mage available to concentrate on her spells, so I endured its attacks and kept my attention focused on the mage. She was a difficult opponent, in no small part due to the surprise of finding she was wearing heavy Ebony armor underneath her robe, which I reduced to tatters in my attempts to get past the cuirass.
In a move that puzzles me as I recollect it now, she sprang away from me and ran for the dome on the roof of the fortress and I used that opportunity to send the Bonewalker back to where ever the things come from. Free from combat for the moment, I quickly drank a restorative potion for health and magicka and cast my Invisibility spell as I crept towards the dome. My hunch proved correct: she burst out of the dome, shouting and waving a cumbersome-looking Dwemer spear and stopped short when she failed to see me or the expected Bonewalker.
Powerful mage or no, an experienced warrior would not have stood there peering around for an enemy she could not see. The sudden gushing of blood from the slash into the side of her neck was the only indication that I had been behind her, but the nameless slaver's paralysis-enchanted dagger did its job faithfully and she died unable to move or make a noise. Fitting.
What I mistook for a spear was another of the Dwemer people's strange concept as to what a halberd should look like and the weapon was of no utility to me. I left it near her body and remembering that the remaining two slaves were inside, knocked on the door, still ready to skewer anything that might leap out of course. I heard shuffling and whispering behind the door and after a few moments a young female Khajiit opened the door hesitantly Seeing me, she yelp and fled back into the dome and I pushed my way past the half-closed door to find myself facing a very brave and very foolish male Khajiit brandishing a wooden stool.
I laughed harder than I have in a long, long time. The scene was just so ridiculous. There I was: splattered with the blood of a dozen foes, wielding weapons and wearing armor superior to that of many in the Imperial Legion and my final opponent was a half-dressed Khajiit wielding a piece of furniture. Nothing I said would convince them I was a friend until I invited them to walk outside and witness the remains of their former master, after which they became a great deal less hostile, especially once they learned their friends were waiting down below.
The female was Dahnara and the male S'Vandra, siblings and traders who had supplied the caravan, and indirectly the slavers, with most of the better weaponry and armor I had encountered. They were greatly cheered by my offer to reclaim their wares from the former owners, having thought themselves destitute after I freed them. They were able to readily point out the Propylon Stone from one of the shelves and Dahnara went as far as to fetch it, shyly handing me the hunk of rock with her thanks. I let them know I intended to stay in the dome for the night and they left to join the others in the fortress.
Ever cautious, I closed the door behind them, dragged several chests in front of it, then locked it magically. I have no doubt that even a concentrated effort on their part would only see them all dead, but I have no desire to see such an outcome. I will spend the night alone in the Dome and they will probably spend the night looting the fortress, which they are all welcome to. Money has not a lot of meaning when you are stuck on Vvardenfell.