Monday, September 22, 2014

Morrowind Day 104 - Rethinking My Strategy

27 Sun's Dusk
This island continues to be a sobering lesson in humility and preparation. The equipment I brought with me is wholly inadequate and I am beginning to worry that I am as well. Today was far more difficult than any I have ever had on Vvardenfell.

The day started with a sudden drunken assault by the seemingly ever-drunk 'Erich the Unworthy'. Angry that I had talked to the Redguard, he accused me of trying to steal "his missionary" and declared his intention to, as he said, teach me some manners.

One of those manners was probably not to stab one of your Nord hosts in the throat with a dagger, but he did not have the chance to teach me that, for he of course was that Nord. The dagger was the artifact gifted to me by Mehrunes Dagon, which led to his death being instantanous as whatever enchantments held within the weapon worked their magic. His death was not at all unwelcomed by the other Nords of Thirsk who described him as a good warrior, but a poor man, especially if drunk...which was almost always.
My intention is to complete the Skaal's ritual as quickly as I can, for it appears that my success, and survival, on Solstheim may come to depend on learning their ways...much as it was with the Ashlanders. Their map provided a crude but effective set of directions for finding all of their Standing Stones and the Stone marked as the 'Beast Stone' appeared to be the closest, right on the north shore of the partially frozen lake near Thirsk.

With no description of what the stones looked like, I was forced to peer at every tall stone around the lake. The thick cold fog blanketing the island did not help either. Eventually I came to a very tall stone all on its own with the scars of having been hewn from a larger piece of rock very evident. As I approached, the cracks in the stone began to glow until the rough shape of a wolf's head was apparent. Words started to glow above it and they were surprisingly readable, telling me to travel south and ease the suffering of the "Good Beast". 

The Good Beast wound up being a giant white bear and its suffering was five of the blue goblins hacking away at it. As I watched, it caught one of them with a swipe of its giant paw and flung the creature into a tree, evidently killing it. The dead goblin's fellow warriors seemed to take no notice of its death, but two of them turned on me after I shot one of them in the back. Between myself and the bear, the remaining four goblins were quickly dispatched.
The bear somehow also suffered an arrow strike, though the arrow was a crude wooden thing with a stone head, so at least that was not my fault. It let me remove the arrow and then quite happily patted me on the head with a paw the size of my face. Certainly a new experience for me.

It padded around behind me as I tried to figure out what to do next until I decided to return to the stone. I had a feeling that the Beast and the Beast Stone needed to be joined together and my hunch was correct. Once the Good Beast and I reached the stone it stood up on its hind legs and placed both of its front paws on the stone. The entire Stone began to glow and little orbs of light occasionally seeped from within the stone and rose up into the sky. I could only assume that my involvement with the Stone was now over.
Overall the task had been rather easy. I was confident that I could complete the Skaal's test within a few days. The next Standing Stone I visited was the Wind Stone and it did a very complete job at shattering any confidence I had that I would be completing the quest any time soon.

The Wind Stone sits right at the joining of Solstheim's two rivers and was easier to find than the Beast Stone. Just as with the previous stone, approaching the Wind Stone first revealed a symbol and stepping closer revealed instructions. For the Wind Stone I was to head southeast of the lake and find a burial cavern called 'Glenschul's Tomb' so that I could free the Wind from the Greedy Man's bag...which made no sense to me. Perhaps I should educate myself on the Skaal's history a bit more when I get the chance.

After some wandering I found the cavern very close to Thirsk, wedged between two small hills. What greeted me inside was both horrible and educational. The undead infested this burial cavern, but they were not the enchanted bones most of the burial guards on Vvardenfell are. The monsters I faced were closer to life and far more powerful.

Most numerous were what might have been men at one point, given the tattered breeches and shirts, but some foul magic warped them into hideous creatures, black, leathery skin stretched tight over their bones and skull with red spots of light for eyes. These skin-skeletons were very quick to swarm upon me and it is due to them that I am thinking of fetching my overly heavy Daedric spear from my stronghold. 

They had with them a creature that served to be a mockery of Solstheim's wolves, being just a skeleton with a bit of flesh hanging off of them. They, however, were easily defeated as opposed to their undead masters.

I somehow managed to clear the cavern at great cost to my health and the condition of my armor. There seems no place to bring my equipment to for repair, nor anywhere to purchase supplies to effect my own barely effective repairs and I shall have to bring some from home. I am surprised that S'virr is not smuggling these required pieces of equipment, but perhaps the Fort's needs consume all of what he can bring.

The bag of the Greedy Man was a simple inflated canvas sack sitting in front of a skeleton encased in ice. Mindful that I was to free the Wind, I opened the bag and was immediately blown off my feet by a mighty gust. The gust of wind also blew out all the oil lamps that had been lighting the cavern which would have made getting back out quite the adventure if any of the tomb's undead had been still standing about.

It was still early in the afternoon when I left the cavern, but the fight against the blackened creatures left me exhausted, hurt, and with damaged equipment. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I sought my bedroll long before dark. The sky is still a bright grey haze outside as I write this, but I am preparing to curl up on the floor and sleep. Not for the first time I suspect I am not particularly well prepared for this island. 

Tomorrow I will re-visit the Wind Stone, then see if my amulet can Recall me back home from this far away so that I can return with stronger weapons and more equipment, as it seems there is nothing this island offers to aid an adventurer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Morrowind Day 103 - Not For the Faint of Heart

26 Sun's Dusk
Solstheim certainly has a way of making me feel unwelcome, though I gather that is a feeling the island does not reserve solely for Khajiit. On my first day on Vvardenfell I raided a smugglers' cavern and pocketed a few Septims. My first full day on Solstheim had me fighting Imperial Legion rebels armed with Paralysis-enchanted weapons, returning from that duty to find Fort Frostmoth sacked, then having to walk the entire length of the island, braving attacks by bears, wolves, and small blue goblins, only so that I could speak to a tribe of isolated Nords.

Quite a welcome.

I was more excited to begin my adventure here than I thought I would be and after a hurried breakfast Blindly striking out for the mage's mystery airship seemed an easy way to a quick death, so I called upon the representative of the East Empire Company, Carnius Magius. My thinking was that I could become acquainted with the island while earning a little coin, but the man was rather...difficult to deal with.

He claimed to be short-handed and willing to sign up pretty much any one, but stated that I would be merely put to simple manual labor for the duration of my contract with the Company. Clearly news of my deeds on Vvardenfell have not reached this place yet. Of course I rejected his offer and sought out the Commander of the fort, Captain Carius.
The Captain was easier to talk to than the Company man. His full name is Falx Carius and he optimistically described the fort's garrison having the ability to be the best in the Empire. He ironically finished the statement by admitting that the Imperial Legionnaires had been getting a little "edgy", in his own words and he asked if I could find out why this was. According to the Captain, most of the soldiers were at Fort Frostmoth due to offences done elsewhere, but had been conducting their duties reasonably well nonetheless, until recently.

He felt that someone at the Fort was creating discontent among the troops and suggested that I try interviewing a few of the soldiers. Why he felt that they would speak to a Khajiit that was unknown to them, I do not know. The solution to this problem proved embarrassingly simple.

While packing for my trip here, I chose the lightest of my weapons and kept my usual armor. A few potions, most of them restoratives of health and magicka, were also brought with well as a flask of brandy imported from Cyrodiil. My plan was to sell it on the island, as I assumed it was worth more here than on Vvardenfell. I assumed correctly.

The very first soldier I approached, a man looking to be of no particular standing, instantly spied the flask hanging from my belt. He nearly begged me to give it to him, so I let him have the drink. In between gulps of brandy, he told me that the entire fort was "dry", no alcohol of any sort was permitted to be drunk, other than the local Nordic mead which the Imperial garrison to a man refuses to drink.

This policy was a recent one and no doubt the cause of the low morale the Captain had noticed. The man loyally pointed out that it seemed an odd thing for the Captain to decide upon, for he was reasonable and just otherwise.

When I spoke to the Captain about his policy, he was taken aback. While he knew about the lack of alcohol, it was not of his doing and he had thought it simply a temporary matter awaiting one of the large shipments the single-masted Imperial merchant vessels infrequently brought. The local Imperial Cult priest, a man named Antonius Nuncius, had been preaching the evils of "drink" for some time, making him my next suspect in this rather strange mystery.

The same anonymous man I had given my brandy to proved additionally helpful. He gave me directions both to the Imperial Cult shrine and the priest's office, but told me I was wasting my time, since the priest thought the Captain's policy an unfair one and assured the soldiers that he understood that they needed the simple pleasures of life...a very different man than how the Captain described him.

A visit to his office was my first priority. The priest was not in, but I was able to let myself in to look around a bit. Subtlety was not Antonius's strong point. His entire desk rattled with the unmistakable sound of glass bottles and some quick work with my few remaining lockpicks revealed enough alcohol to put even a Nord under the table. Clearly the man lacked the will to practice what he preached! 

When I spoke to him at the shrine he started off very smug, wondering why the Captain would do such a senseless thing. His demeanor changed very quickly once I handed him one of the bottles from his desk. He may have lacked foresight, but he had enough sense not to be angry about it. Antonius admitted that he had been intercepting all the alcohol deliveries and hiding them in his office so that he could blame the lack of drink on the Captain. He hoped that when the fort's morale got low enough he could write to his superiors for worry of his own safety and be assigned elsewhere.

The Captain was more amused than angry. Antonius needed only to have asked for reassignment and he would have found himself off of the island he was so desperate to leave. As punishment, the wayward priest is now a very permanent part of the Frostmoth garrison, for better or worse.

My second task was immediately assigned to me: find out where the weapons of Fort Frostmoth were disappearing to. This was not surprising given that many of the garrison chose to be here as an alternative to prison. Two of the garrison's best were already working to discover who was smuggling the weapons and I was asked to choose one of them to work with. After speaking with both of them I chose an Imperial named Gaea Artoria who the Captain described as his toughest, most capable warrior. The other guard, Saenus Lusius, was better known for his craftiness and guile, but I think I supply enough guile and craft on my own.

Gaea readily agreed to assist me and told me that she heard that there were small boats docking in a bay close to the fort. She suspected there was a cave of some sort there that was being used to store the stolen goods prior to shipping them. I had no leads of my own so I agreed to take the walk.

The rumor proved to be correct and it was Gaea who spotted the cave entrance behind a slab of rock cleverly placed to give the illusion of one large, unbroken boulder. The cavern itself was simply made, but the inhabitants were a different story. I was expecting a few disgruntled Imperial Legion soldiers armed with the standard-issue equipment, but each of the five smugglers had armed themselves with weapons enchanted with Paralysis. Fortunately Gaea proved every bit the warrior the Captain promised that she was and between her blade and my bow the smugglers stood no chance.
We were both quite shocked to see the fort in ruins upon our return. While we were not gone long, Fort Frostmoth was attacked during our absence, rendering great damage to the fortifications and effecting the apparent kidnapping of Captain Falx Carius. Gaea rushed off to help in whatever way she saw fit and I questioned whomever would pause long enough to speak with me.

From what I was told the fort was taken completely by surprise and the attackers were "wolf creatures". Based on the somewhat shady past the garrison as a whole has, I must assume that the attackers were not some sort of animal, but more likely Nords dressed in wolf skins, as is the custom here. Why they would attack the fort, I do not know. 

My would-be companion Sacnus Lusius took temporary charge of the fort in the Captain's absence, but he did not know why Nords would attack either. Unable to spare any men, he charged me with the task of traveling to the far north of the island to speak with the leader of a Nordic village there to see if they have any information regarding the attack.

The village is that of the 'Skaal', which is something like a conservative sect of Nords that keep very close to nature or at least that's what I think I was told. I was given a skull of a long-dead Skaal warrior to give to the village leader as gift, though I cannot say giving me the skull of a Khajiit would place the giver in a positive light. But nevertheless off I went, skull in bag.

The fort was still in sight when I was attacked by a tree. Or rather what I thought was a tree. The first indication that the thing was not, in fact, a tree was a powerful swipe of very long claws raking across my armor. What I was facing looked like an Imperial woman mixed with a tree. Whatever it was, the creature was a difficult opponent, both fast and strong. When I finally struck it down I bent over to examine it, only for it to screech and go for my throat and once again I was in combat. And again, I struck it down only for it to jump back up. Only after the third time it fell did it remain still.
Such was my introduction to the unique fauna of Solstheim. The cold greenery gradually changed to the gray of snow and ice as I worked my way north along a occasionally frozen river. Even Solstheim's native animals proved hostile and I was assaulted by no less than three tusked, furry pigs and two bears.
The barren cold of the snow and ice produces a loneliness that did not really exist on Vvardenfell. No matter where I was I never felt so completely alone as I did while trekking along the frozen river. There are no sounds of civilization and barely any signs of it. No roads, no signposts, no bridges, and no paths. Just complete silence, the darkness of night, and the sound of my own steps crunching the snow underfoot. There was a certain beauty to it, but I greatly prefer the warmer, more populated island of Vvardenfell.

I was attacked by two small blue goblin-like creatures while I was circling around a partially frozen lake. The creatures were wielding a rather crude blade fashioned from what is likely scrap iron into something resembling a cleaver. For them it was a long blade, for me it was a oversize dagger and I left the weapons with their deceased owners.

The sky had been dark for a long time when I finally stumbled into the village of the Skaal people. They were not hostile, but neither were they friendly. Anyone I tried speaking to simply told me that they would not talk to me before I spoke with the Chief of the village, Tharsten Heart-Fang. The exchange reminds me very strongly of my first encounter with the Ashlander tribes.
The Skaal Greathall
Tharsten was blunt in declaring his dislike for the Imperial fort, boasting that the soldiers there did not know how to truly live in Solstheim and  that may very well be true. His people were certainly "closer" to the land and from what little I was able to glean from our conversation, I gather than wolves are especially revered by the Skaal, at least in this village.

But he also had no information about the attack on Fort Frostmoth. After I described what I had been told about the attack, he surmised that the creatures were not of Solstheim, but refused to say anything further on the subject. He clearly wanted me out of his Hall, but I presented the Skaal skull to him stating that it was an attempt by the Imperials to mend relations.

He laughed and said that the Imperials should learn to leave things where they lie, probably an unintentionally ironic statement given that I am Khajiit. However, after the presentation of my gift I was permitted to atone for the defiling of the land that the construction of the fort had wrought. Tharsten called the connection the Skaal had with the land as a "Oneness" and declared that I would have to acquire this "Oneness" before the Skaal would accept me. I was told to speak with the shaman about how to do this. More and more this is becoming similar to my trials with the Ashlanders.

The shaman, Korst Wind-Eye, told me that I have to visit each of six stones, the Standing Stones, and complete a ritual at each one. The stones represent the six virtues of the Skaal's primary deity, the All-Maker. Once I have completed all six rituals, I will have achieved the "Oneness" the Skaal prize so highly.

They were willing to give me a chance, but not a bed. There was no place to sleep at all in the village and a villager suggested I head south towards a Hall called 'Thirshk'. So it was back into the cold night for me.

Thirshk was not very far, but I was attacked by another blue goblin creature, this one riding one of the tusked pigs that have been attacking me today. Quite an ingenious thing really and the first time I have ever fought cavalry, though that may be stretching the definition a bit. The goblin fought with a long blade that he fashioned the skin of a wolf's head to as a hilt and preferred to stab at me as his mount raced around me in circles. The spear, however, has always been an effective deterrent against mounted foes and it served me very well in this case. I kept his blade to possibly trade for something more useful later.

The hall was full of drunken Nords, all of them welcoming me to drink their mead with them which was claimed to  come all the way from Skyrim. I passed on the offer and rented a bed for the night, which turned out to be a pile of animal skins on the floor. My sleeping accommodations as of late appear to be getting worse and worse. 

Next door to my little room is a Redguard from the Imperial Cult who claims to have been waiting for someone to escort her back to Fort Frostmoth. I certainly do have to head back to the Fort soon and possibly even to Vvardenfell to collect more of my equipment, but I also want begin the Skaal ritual as soon as I can. The crude map I was provided with puts one of the Standing Stones, the 'Beast Stone', near the lake close by. I will try to visit it tomorrow and escort the woman back when I decide to visit the Frostmoth again.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Morrowind Day 102 - To Solstheim

25 Sun's Dusk
Today was not a particularly eventful day. I made up my mind last night to (unfortunately) take the boat from Khuul to the island of Solstheim. The walk to Khuul was also the best opportunity I would have to re-visit the shrine of Mehrunes Dagon and see what reward the Daedric Prince would offer for the rusty, blunted dagger I found in the tomb he sent me to.

I was still greeted by a Blight storm when I left my Ald'ruhn home. I can only hope that the late Dagoth Ur's magic is eventually spent and these storms die off completely. What else can I do about it now?
Perhaps the magic is already diminishing, for the size of the storm was much less than I expected it to be. It had disappeared completely by the time I was halfway to Khuul even though I was still very close to Ghostfence. 

The ruin housing Mehrunes Dagon's shrine is Vvardenfell's closest landmark to Solstheim and the island can just barely be seen across the water on a clear day, such as today was. I would have been tempted to try walking across the water just to spare myself another boat ride if the thought of running out of magicka in the middle of the sea were not so terrifying, 
Opposition inside of the shrine was slim: a Dremora of some kind and a Daedroth. Once I had the ruin all to myself I wielded the dagger and stepped towards the shrine, not sure what I was supposed to do next. The Daedric Prince's voice suddenly erupted from the statue's head, crowing about all the pain and blood I would be spreading across the land with the Prince's gift. As soon as he said this, I felt a slight electrical shock in my hand.

The decrepit dagger I had been holding just moments before had been turned into something resembling a silvered Daedric dagger. The Prince spoke no more and I decided not to tell him that his dreams of pain and blood were not to be realized, for I was more likely to stash this dagger at the bottom of a chest than to wield it. Repairing Daedric equipment is simply too expensive and I am skilled enough in the use of cheaper weapons to make them just as effective anyway.

I was concerned about sinking into the middle of the sea while walking to Solstheim, but had no such concern for walking along the coast back to Khuul. It was quicker than hiking back across the land and I feel a little stupid for not having thought of walking to Mehrunes Dagon via the water in the first place.

According to the nervous mage at Ald'ruhn, my contact for a trip to Solstheim was, surprisingly, a Khajiit named S'virr. He is in the business of ferrying passengers and small amounts of goods to the frozen island, mostly on behalf of the Empire's garrison there, but I have no doubt the Khajiit is smuggling on the side as well. For a relatively extravagant fee of thirty Septims he was willing to let me join him on his next trip, which was coincidentally going to be occurring half an hour after I met him. His destination is always the Imperial garrison of Fort Frostmoth, entry and exit point for the settlers and adventurers steadily picking away at the island.

To be fair, sitting on the crate proved to be more comfortable than any silt strider and the waters were placid the whole way there. While it looked to me as though I could have walked there from the ruin, the currents flowing between the two islands forces S'virr to first sail away from his destination, only to turn around somewhere east of the island in the middle of the sea so that he can catch a current that encircles the island. I shall never understand the ways of the sea.
As a result, it was deep into the night when I finally stepped off of his boat and on to Solstheim. Fort Frostmoth loomed directly ahead of me, but I spent a few moments speaking with some settlers waiting near the docks. One of the settlers was 'Basks-In-The-Sun', an Argonian and S'virr's business partner. He described the place as "the jewel of absolutely nowhere", rather similar to how Morrowind as a whole was regarded way back in the Auxiliaries. Possibly a good omen, possibly a bad one. 'Basks-In-The-Sun' offered a trip back to Vvardenfell, as well as one to a small village called 'Raven Rock' where a mine was under construction. 

One of the settlers helpfully provided two names for me to start with: Carnius Magius, overseer of the Imperial colony on the island and the similarly named Captain Carius, Commander of the Imperial garrison. Neither sounded likely to be able to help me with the lost airship that brought me here.

The fort is very similar to Fort Moonmoth outside of Balmora. A Khajiit just inside offered to sell me leggings made from bear hide that he modified for use by Khajiit and Argonian adventurers. He recommended them as protection against the cold as much as against the hostility of the beasts and monsters that wandered in the wilderness. I was more intent on finding some place to sleep than I was for shopping so I declined his offer for now.

My sleeping arrangement wound up being a small cot in the corner of the Imperial Cult's barracks area. A far cry from my own home and certainly from my own manor, but I do believe I have slept in far worse places than this.

An unexplored land lies before me and I have no knowledge or expectation of this place. It is an exciting feeling and I am very much looking forward to my time here, cold though it may be.