Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Morrowind Day 81 - Around Hla Oad

4 Sun's Dusk
Hla Oad was the first stop on my list of coastal locations to visit. Until today I had not seen the dismal village for at least a month, maybe two. I would probably better remember when it last was if there was something about Hla Oad worth remembering.

It had also been awhile since I last heard anything about my stronghold, but Galsa had nothing new for me when I spoke to her. It will be at least a week before my journey around the coast is complete, so she will almost certainly have some news when I return.

I could have transported to Hlormaren and walked south, but I started at Balmora instead so that I could purchase more arrows at The Razor Hole and sell some ingredients to Ajira. She has also been an enthusiastic recipient of all the keys I have been collecting, though I cannot imagine what use she has for them. 

The walk from Balmora to Hla Oad was humid and foggy, but largely uneventful. I was approached by a man babbling about Dagoth Ur's upcoming revival and warning me to lay down my arms and surrender. He made no move to follow me as I walked past, so I left him alone. Hopefully I will have found a way to free the man from Dagoth Ur's influence before he is gutted by a pack of Nix Hounds.

The whole purpose of my being in the area was not to visit Hla Oad, but to visit everything around the village in an effort to root out any Sixth House smugglers and cultists. A quick peek into a small family tomb netted me some Daedra hearts and scattered gemstones, but nothing related to the Sixth House.
An armor-eating Daedra patrolling the tomb
My second investigation was of a fairly large (for Vvardenfell) docked just outside of Hla Oad. It was common knowledge that the village owed its existence more to smuggling than fishing, so I figured I would see if I could be allowed below deck, where I could hopefully sneak some glances at the ship's cargo.
The crew on deck greeted me warily, but allowed me on to the ship. One informed me that the ship was named 'Grytewake' (spelling it out for me no less) and that they were in the employ of the Imperial Caldera Mining Company to transport raw Ebony to the mainland. I decided to play the part of an Imperial official and politely requested access to their cargo to verify their manifest. The immediate discomfort of everyone on deck confirmed my suspicion. I non-threateningly forced the Nord closest to the trapdoor leading below away from his post and calmly went down below.

They had been partially honest: the ship was loaded with raw Ebony and worth probably as much as the mine I explored within Red Mountain. This by itself was not damning, but the ash statue I found sitting out in the open beneath a crew member's hammock was certainly cause for concern.
When I spoke to the captain about the statue he denied knowing it was on his ship and hurried me out of his tiny cabin. The crew attacked as soon as I was outside, but the two of them could not coordinate with each other and their assault was unpracticed and poorly implemented. Both were armed with standard Imperial Legion long swords, but the weapons were poorly cared for and unable to penetrate my Dreugh breastplate. 

The reception back down below was just as friendly, but each of the ship's two cargo holds only had one smuggler, making the combats not worth even mentioning. After clearing the inside of the ship I went back to talk to the Captain, who predictably also attacked me as soon as I stepped inside the cabin. He was no better a warrior than his crew had been and I dumped all the bodies overboard, much to the delight of the local slaughterfish population.

I wish I had been able to interrogate one of them as to where he got the statue and why it was there. Was one of them a Sixth House cultist? All of them? Or were they just smuggling for the Sixth House? This ship could have been a valuable source of information, but the crew's rash action reduced it to another abandoned ship on the coast. Someone from Hla Oad will probably sail away with it soon enough.
I walked across the water from the ship and bypassed the Daedric ruin intending to reach Hlormaren to make sure it had not been inhabited. As I walked past the ruins I noticed a cave door beyond it and bowed to the duty I had placed upon myself. Perhaps the cave was where the Sixth House was hiding.

Just inside the entrance was a collection of spears with skulls impaled on them, so it seemed as though I was in the right cave. But the Sixth House's usual array of red candles and occult wall paintings was absent, so I was expecting to be disappointed. The cave was actually very small and I had to fight off two well-armed skeletal guardians before I met the Dunmer woman that called the cave her home.

She was not particularly friendly, summoning a Bonewalker upon seeing me, then following that up with spells of poison and fire. The Bonewalker was a greater threat than the necromancer, for any one of its strikes could sap my strength, leaving me unable to fight. I retreated back to the entrance of the cave and summoned the Daedric enhancement out of my spear, then made myself invisible. She and her Bonewalker had just started to cautiously venture into the cave tunnel when I returned to her campsite, but I was able to circle around the duo and strike from behind, killing her and dispelling the Bonewalker.

Her home was nothing more than scaffolding and guar skins stretched overhead. She had an excellent collection of alchemy equipment and I took the mortar and pestle to sell later. The sun was setting when I left the cave, so I put off on visiting Hlormaren until tomorrow, deciding to explore the Daedric ruin on the (slim) chance that it was inhabited by the Sixth House.

Two heavily-equipped Orcs were wandering around the ruins, but they were actually friendly, having come to the ruins to fight the Daedra that were usually guarding the ruins. I suppose they could have been a couple, for one was male and one female, but I thought it would be impolite and irrelevant to inquire. I asked if they were planning on going inside, but they told me neither of them enjoyed fighting indoors much and preferred to skip the interiors of the ruins they traveled to. 

If they did enter they would not have made it far: the ruin was almost completely flooded and I had to swim quite a ways before reaching the dry Daedric shrine room. Several Orcs were at the shrine, but unlike their brethren outside, they attacked me immediately, one even wielding a massive war-hammer made in the style favored by those from Orsinium. I have seen quite a bit of Orcish armor while on Vvardenfell, but very little of their weapons. It is too bad for the wielder of the hammer that he and his friends were facing an experienced Khajiit warrior. 

Turns out missing a swing with such a mighty weapon makes it very easy for an agile opponent to stick you in the side with her summoned Daedric spear. 

One of his companions had a similarly made two-handed axe, leading me to think that this group were recent immigrants to Morrowind, possibly from Orsinium itself. The shrine had the usual Daedric-heart-on-a-plate, plus an emerald, ruby, and another chunk of raw Ebony. Not knowing which of the four would trigger the summoning of a Dremora I had no interest in fighting, so I left everything on where it lay.

One of the Orcs had a key on his person that unlocked a door on the far end of the shrine. I was quite surprised to see a soldier of the Imperial Legion behind it. He was an older man, either Imperial or Breton (I have always had trouble between the two) and I recognized his armor as the kind usually given to soldiers of high ranks.

I am not sure why he guessed that I was not his enemy, but he greeted me cordially as soon as he spotted me. He told me he had been anxiously listening to the sounds of my battle through the door and thanked me for killing his captors. He assured me that he could find his way back to Ebonheart on his own. And with a clap on my shoulder, he walked out, snatching a blade from a dead Orc on his way out. I could not get a single word in. I never even got the man's name.

The man had been held captive on a small landing with steps leading into a large pool of water, but I had no interest in swimming any further into the ruin, especially since I had to swim just to get out of it.

It was well into the night when I dragged my wet self out of the ruin and into the dank swamp air. The two Orcs were nowhere to be seen, but a hopeful Daedroth bellowed its challenge as it charged at me from the shoreline. It felt victim to the new silvered arrows I bought at Balmora earlier in the morning. Other than that the ruin seemed to have been abandoned by adventurer and monster alike.

Finding a place to rest for the night posed a bit of a problem: I was unlikely to find a place willing to let me stay for the night at Hla Oad and I did not want to walk all the way back to Balmora, even if it was the most comfortable option available to me. I wanted to avoid teleporting back to Ald'ruhn and pushing further upland to Hlormaren was an option, but I felt there was a better one than more swamp-walking.

I settled on locking myself in the former Captain's cabin of Grytewake. I intend to explore the area between Hla Oad and Gnaar Mok tomorrow in order to find where the Ash Statue came from, though given that I found one in possession of a smuggler, the statue could have come from anywhere I suppose.

It is starting to feel that a direct assault on Red Mountain might be easier than this.

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