The former merchants had taken what compensation they saw fit, the bodies of their captors stripped bare of equipment and valuables, but left where they lay. I realized I would probably be returning to the fortresses at some point and spent an unpleasant morning dragging the corpses to the underground sewer system. With the sluice gate open, the slaughterfish undoubtedly consumed the bodies within hours, though I am not sure if they also eat the bones. No matter.
Having taken care of that, I used a Divine Intervention scroll to pop back at Fort Moonmoth and walked into Balmora. I spoke to the Argonnian Only-He-Stands-There about his illegal training that Ranis had noticed and his argument that any training he provided in the Restoration circle was a charitable benefit to the people was admittedly a decent one. It's not as if he was training people to throw fireballs or anything. But I pointed out that Ranis had been made aware and confided that her previous tasks always included the option of killing the person of interest. He considered this for a moment and handed me the Septims for "guild dues" without a word. Apparently Ranis has quite a reputation in Balmora.
Ranis did not even wait for me to open my mouth before she launched into a new set of orders for me. A mage by the name of Itermerel had requested that a guild member escort him to Pelagiad. Ranis had no interest or consideration for Itermerel other than for his academic work and informed me that, as usual, his well-being was secondary to the acquisition of his notes. I agreed to accompany him, welcoming the change from dungeon-delving and a chance to have a day without someone trying to kill me.
Before meeting Itermerel at the Eight Plates, I delivered the latest Propylon stone to Folms Mirel, who directed me to Rotheran, which held its own stone. The fortress is occupied by bandits and I am not looking forward to fighting yet another band of criminals just for a stone. I thanked him for the additional five hundred Septims and arrived back at the Balmora Mages Guild to meet with Itermerel.
Itermerel is an older Altmer with a pleasant enough personality, but something about him seemed a bit off as soon as I introduced myself. He said he was glad that his escort was to be a young Khajiit such as myself and the assignment became stranger from there. He insisted on walking behind me the whole time and all I heard was "Khajiit this and Khajiit that". If I did not know any better, I would say the man had a very odd infatuation. I dealt with his incessant questions during the entire walk, many of them about Elsweyr that I could not answer for having been born (I think) in Cyrodiil.
We came upon a rat scavenging alongside the road and I barely gave the creature a second glance. My first one was enough to assure me that it did not have the growths on its body and therefore was more likely to flee from us than anything else. Itermerel, on the other hand, gave a great cry: "Watch this Khajiit!" and charged at the rat, flinging two fireballs into the hapless vermin. He repeated this on a harmless wild Guar and a second rat. Was I supposed to be impressed? Despite his enthusiasm for pointless slaughter, he still insisted on walking behind me, which with his constant assertion of his admiration for the "Khajiit people" quickly became uncomfortable.
It was the first time I seriously considered taking Ranis's second option and telling her a Kagouti gored him. But I managed to not kill the babbling idiot and when we finally stood in front of the Halfway Tavern, he had the nerve to invite me to dinner. I thanked him, refused, and asked him for a copy of his notes. He provided a ready-made copy and asked if I knew any Khajiit traveling to Hammerfell within the next month or so. I had no words. As soon as he turned his back, I quickly uttered the incantation for my last Divine Intervention scroll and mercifully exited his company. What a creepy fellow.
Ranis received my notes gravely, asking me if the mage still lived. She seemed surprised that I had not killed him, leading me to believe his "interest" is common knowledge within the circles he travels. My work for the Balmora Mages Guild is done. I have killed countless bandits, at least a dozen Daedra of various kinds, and I can kill a man while invisible. Why then am I nothing more than Ranis's thug? It may be that other Guilds have tasks more suited to my abilities, but no more for me. I will take my own affairs into higher priority from now on.
My most pressing affair is the Propylon Index. Whatever I choose to do after acquiring it will be made much easier by having the ability to materialize into nearly every region of Vvardenfell and Folms had assured me I was nearly done with the Stones. Unfortunately, Rotheran lies south of Dagon Fel, which is only reachable via long boat trips originating from Khuul or Sadrith Mora. The other route would be to travel from Ald'Ruhn and walk either north past Maar Gan or east, skirting the Red Mountain and following the foyodas to the coast.
I chose the latter due to my not having explored much of the east and teleported from the Guild to Ald'Ruhn, which was predictably in the middle of another dust storm. I got decent directions from the locals and set out early in the afternoon. Being so close to the Red Mountain, I expected a Blight storm or maddened creatures charging at me, but I encountered no such storm and saw no signs of life while I was outside. The dust storm was still in full strength and I kept close to the hillsides, figuring that if I followed one long enough it would either lead away to the north or into a foyoda at some point. It was in this way that I found the tomb.
The tomb was easily identified by the ritual carvings on the weather-worn door and I stepped inside without a second thought, assuming that it would pose no more danger than the ones I visited in the Bitter Coast region. My stupid assumption seemed true, initially: the entrance was guarded by two skeletal creations lavishly equipped with silver longswords and iron shields, but were no more skilled than their poorer counterparts.
The first door I opened resulted in me being face-to-skull with a true monster: head hovering above the "body", four arms, and no legs. Whereas the skeletons were easy to understand as former people and the Daedra as creatures from the Outer Planes, this creature was simply the product of a deranged imagination, for nothing living could have had the body this thing had.
|A true monstrosity|
It was a powerful spellcaster, unfairly casting two spells at once using each pair of skeletal hands, and it moved very quickly. It continually sought to keep me in sight while maintaining its position out of meele range, but seemingly had no concept of a bow and arrows, which it made no attempt to dodge or shield itself from. Unfortunately, striking it with arrows meant being struck by its spells and the aggressive speed of the creature meant I could not temporarily disengage to cast an invisibility spell. Every time I ducked behind the door to avoid a spell, it advanced, until I dashed from behind the door into its bony arms, the skeletal claws raking against my armor.
In a panic, I dropped my spear and stabbed wildly at the floating skull portion with my sword, sparks of magicka erupting from the creature's body with each strike. Eventually I depleted the strength of its enchantment enough for it to collapse into a pile of bones and rotting cloth, but the attempt saw me greatly wounded and fatigued.
I kicked the remains into the room I had opened the door to and locked it behind me while I drank a few potions and collected my thoughts. The room itself was a small worship chamber with an ash pit and skeletal remains at the far end. No wealth was present. The hallway I had entered into continued further down and also had a ramp leading deeper into the tomb. I knew it was likely that I would find more of the monsters (I need a name for them) and I had to decide whether to retreat outside into the storm or continue my exploration.
Retreating was the wiser choice, but I had no safe haven to retreat to. Going back outside simply meant being stuck in the Ashlands during a storm as night fell. Not a great choice. There was no way I was going to spend the night locked in the room with an unknown number of hostile guardians roaming the tomb, so I really had only one option. Fully healed and refreshed, this time I made sure my protective enchantments were active before I opened the door and continued searching about. However, nothing else was present on the upper level of the tomb, so I continued down the ramp.
The silver arrows I had taken from the slavers at Hlormaren proved very useful against my new enemies. Given enough distance, I was able to shoot arrows which they would not dodge and avoid their slower spells. I "killed" one of the creatures by firing arrows down a hallway at the end of the ramp and lured two others from their assigned posts into the hallway where they met a similar end. For the strength of the guards I expected a great deal more wealth to be present, but the tomb was largely barren of treasure and I can only assume the potency of the tomb's protection is meant as a show of power rather than as something practical.
The tomb's largest room contained the only sign that anyone else had visited the place: a skeleton of a what was probably either a Nord or an Imperial was curled up at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Dunmer family's main ancestral pits. The remains were slightly perplexing: a steel full-helm and a wooden staff. Nothing else. I cannot imagine someone made it past the skeletal warriors and floating sentinels with only clothes, a steel helmet, and a wooden staff.
But there was nothing of value past the stairs either. The tomb's only benefit to me was as temporary shelter while on my way to Dagon Fel and the next Propylon stone. I was surprised to find that it was pitch black outside when I exited the tomb and though the storm has died down, I have decided to rest in the tomb for a few hours inside the room closest to the exit. The door is magically locked and I have piled against the door what little furnishings the tomb has. I left too late in the day to make it to Dagon Fel before night, but I should have no problems tomorrow.