Waking up in a tomb is a very eerie experience and one I will make efforts to minimize the frequency of in the future. I could not help waking up with the feeling that I was disturbing someone, somehow.
The word for the day is dust. I was enveloped in a raging dust storm from the moment I stepped outside from the tomb and I can still hear it outside of the cavern I am calling home for the night. I would say here that the weather is the greatest enemy Vvardenfell hosts, but after what I found tonight, that is definitely not the case. The plan for today was to walk north along the foyoda to the coast, where I could then walk across the water to the island that hosted Dagon Fel and Rotheran. Simple enough.
On the way I encountered several small camps of thieves, all of who had their position given away by their campfires long before I could make out the individuals themselves. I did not want to risk attacking a group of innocent travelers and let the first band I came across know of me by firing an arrow into their vicinity. The three of them immediately drew simple chitin weapons and charged at me, more foolish aggression against someone obviously better equipped. But Vvardenfell does not suffer fools for very long and neither do I. They thought me backed against a hillside, but I had moved there to prevent being surrounded. The chitin shattered against my armor and three of them died quickly. The other bands I encountered fared similarly. The storm helped conceal my approach and in all cases I was able to strike first without warning.
|The first group of bandits|
|Approaching the second group|
|The end of the third group by bowshot|
In the past, fighting three separate groups of bandits or whatever they were would merit a lengthy journal entry, but today they are barely worth mentioning. My time on Vvardenfell has hardened me physically and mentally in a way that remaining in Cyrodiil would never have and I occasionally relish the thought of returning to the Auxiliaries and seeing if anyone recognizes me. Probably not. No one ever seemed to stay for very long, every week saw new faces appearing and familiar ones leaving. I am sure my absence generated some speculation over breakfast, but by dinner it would be shelved away in favor of swapping tales of the day's activities. I do not miss the occupation, but I do miss the camaraderie.
Trudging along with limited visibility all day made it difficult for me to gauge how much time was passing, but it was growing quite dark when I almost walked into the door, built as usual into the side of a hill. Nothing about it seemed any different from the mines and smuggler hideouts I have been in and I thought it a decent enough place to spend the night, if possible. I was quite wrong.
The first indication that something was amiss was the incandescent red paint the cultists had decorated the entrance with. The red glow, combined with the candles, was eerie and a part of me wanted to turn around right there and find someplace else to stay. It would have been the wiser choice, but stupidity can occasionally deliver great dividends.
I proceeded forwards and turned the corner into a long corridor, which at the other end stood what I thought was a male Dunmer. I could not see his face well, but it looked like he had a cap of some sort on. He turned and managed to spot me, in the dark, but made no sound. Instead, he ran at me, his mouth open...but no sound was coming out. He made no attempt to dodge or even acknowledge my arrows and soon fell dead. I thought him a madman, but when I examined the corpse, I saw that he had no face!
Whatever strange and horrible forces conspired to keep the man's body alive, it managed to do so without a face, eyes, or even a mind. His face had a large hole where his eye sockets used to be and to my horror, I saw that it extended all the way into his skull...where nothing remained. Just a clean, blackened pit in the man's head. I dumped the body into a nearby lava pit and moved on, more than a little on edge.
The second horror I was present with resembled a Bonewalker with three hundred pounds of flesh grafted on to it. The monster I encountered had a massive left leg, but a "normal" right one, giving the creature an odd gait which seemed not to bother it. I was fortunate to have spotted this creature from a distance as well, but unlike the other, it shrugged off six arrows stuck into its body while it loped towards me. It's face was fixed in a permanent expression of rage and patches of weeping raw flesh oozed from the creature's body. The smell was beyond horrible. It attacked only by swinging its club-like limbs, but the blows were delivered slowly. A near-miss swung past my face and into the cavern wall, which the creature's blow shattered, shards of stone embedded in what used to be a hand. This too was without notice by the monster and it only reacted to my brutally stabbing it in the face, which ultimately ended whatever life it had.
Oddly enough, I found an old Dunmer wandering around the cave as well. He was muttering to himself and wore a loincloth and stone mask that covered all but his mouth and chin. I could not make out what the muttering was about and only caught a few words about arranging chairs in "the right way". Strange. Much like everything else in the cave, I was attacked by him upon notice, this time magically instead of physically. I managed to dodge many of the spells, but dancing about meant not being able to fire my arrows. I wound up retreating, casting an Invisibility spell, and returning with my sword. Whoever he was, he died with a rattling, dry gasp and his stone mask dissolved into dust immediately upon hitting the ground.
Beyond was a small altar of some sort, with an extremely heavy hammer set on the ground by a collection of large bells. Another faceless man met me there and managed to strike me with a raking, bare-handed clawing. The pain was incredible: first burning hot, then icy cold, followed by a worrying numbness and heaviness of the limb which has by now lessened, but still not wore off. Weak individually, fighting more than one of these eyeless things at a time would be extremely dangerous and a horrible death. Would they claw their victim's face out to match their own? I cannot bear to contemplate such a fate.
The creature was guarding a series of large bells and the bell hammer, but trying to lift the hammer threatened an immediate dislocation of my arms, so I stopped trying. It is unlikely any of the creatures in the cave have the strength and dexterity of wield it and I am fortunate to not have encountered whatever can.
The experience in the cave up to that point had been quietly horrifying and strange, but in a sense the strangeness was comforting, as it made the horror understandable. Why should faceless people and lumbering mountains of deformed flesh not be horrible? But deeper in the cave I encountered cultists that appeared to be normal, but had clearly lost their minds.
They were all Dunmer, men and women, all of them only clothed in a simple loincloth. I found the first group dancing around a stone altar lit with candles. I was able to observe them for a few minutes before they noticed me, but the dance seemed without rhythm or pattern, each of the dancers moving independently of the others. My observation ended when one of the woman spotted me and the whole group scurried to grab simple clubs sitting at the altar before charging at me. Naked, frenzied cultists armed with clubs have a predictable chance against an experienced fighter. Judging by their fellow residents, killing them may have been a great mercy.
I encountered a second group at the very end of the cave system, also clustered around an altar, but they were not dancing. I was able to kill one of the cultists with an arrow before being seen and the remaining two grabbed clubs and attacked me, dying quickly.
|A cultist altar|
The second group was the last life remaining in the cave. I found the absolute quiet and stillness of the cave very unnerving and there was a breeze coming from somewhere that made it sound as if someone was constantly whispering just behind me. I did not stop to look for treasure or gems and just about ran through the entire cavern and out the door into the gritty wind of the dust storm. I blocked the door with several large stones, but it was late in the evening and I could feel the need to sleep overtaking me. I was certainly not going to sleep in the cave, but I couldn't sleep outside without fear of being buried alive with dirt and dust as I slept.
I decided to walk a bit further, figuring that if I found no place to sleep, I would admit defeat and use a Divine Intervention scroll, which would probably have put me in Balmora, though I'm not sure how far north I am right now. Luck was with me, for I came across another mine door after ten minutes of walking.
Understandably, I was hesitant about walking into another cave, but my other option was admitting defeat and taking a boat to Dagon Fel. So I made a pact with myself: If I walked inside and was, at any point, confronted with anything I had encountered in the previous cave, I would safely retreat and teleport back to civilization.
It is one thing to be appreciable of your skills and another to be proud, after all.
The cave only contained three unkempt smugglers, which after what I fought and defeated in the cave before this one, are not worth mentioning. It suffices to say they fought and not well. The cave consisted only of one large room, in which they divided into two levels, the bottom for themselves and the top for over two dozen crates of useless items.
The bodies have been dragged outside and the door is magically locked and has seven crates piled in front of it. The horrors of what I found inside the mountain today keep replaying themselves in my mind and a part of me fears the sleep I will be having shortly. I am increasingly being allowed to see more of Vvardenfell's true face and it is a terrible visage indeed.