Monday, October 17, 2016

Skyrim Day 052 - The Sleeping Vampire and a Plague of Dreams

7 Frostfall, 4E201

My meager accommodation did not lend itself towards a good night's sleep. Rather it merely allowed a quick nap, a limitation I was to heavily regret by the end of my exertions.

The inside of the tomb was a war-zone, rogue wizards and highwaymen against Draugr. I was able to observe several skirmishes unseen, the wizards were able to overpower the tomb's guardians, but I watched a Draugr take down two common bandits bereft of magical assistance with seemingly little trouble.
As for me, any surviving bandits or Draugr succumbed to a combination of dagger and stealth, a skill I seem to have finally acquired after a few hundred years.

The place had been described to me as a tomb, but the cramped corpse-lined burials vaults gave way to large, well-adorned caverns with extensive woodwork and traps. Ustengrav was no simple tomb, except for the unfortunate bandits, but it was only after I descended further into the ground that its purpose became clear.

I smelled outside air as soon as I stepped through the door and was surprised to find that, further underground, there was an opening in the roof of the cavern, allowing the morning's waning moon to shine down, bathing the area in damp, blue light.
But to reach the open area I had to proceed through a series of passages circling around it, the passages opening to eating halls whose tables were still stocked with food, the origin of which I can only assume were the bandits the Draugr and I dispatched. Perhaps the Draugr had not yet been awakened when they first arrived and counted themselves lucky at finding such an extensive, secretive hideaway. What few Draugr patrolled the eating areas I easily put to rest with my crossbow.

Reaching the open cavern I was amazed at the true size of it. It boasted several rivers, a lake, and even a copse of Skyrim pine. One of the ancient Dragon Walls was situated next to a small waterfall and I approached it confidently, learning 'Zii', Spirit.
Other curiosities awaited me there. A small passage hidden behind the waterfall led to a Draugr and a chest, neither yielding anything valuable. At the other side of the cavern sat a skeleton eternally pondering something until I came too close, waking it from its slumber.

Other than startling me it did no harm.

The highlight of my visit was the three stones someone set in front of a triple portcullis. Their method of operation was clear: when I drew close to one, it began to glow and one of the gates would open. Walking away dimmed the stone's light and the gate would close. It was impossible for a single adventurer to trigger all three stones at once and even if that were possible the gates were too far to pass through before they would close.

I must have spent an hour there just puzzling out how to keep the gates open. I tried throwing stones to prop them up, spent some time attempting to move the large glowing stones closer to the gates, I attacked them with my sword and dagger, cast spells at them, all to no avail.

The only thing I had not yet tried then was using one of my unpleasant Shouts. I did...and nothing happened. But then I remembered the second Shout spell I had learned from the Greybeards, the one that would push me through the air. My only chance was to trigger the three gates quickly, then use the Shout to throw myself through the gates before they closed on me. Simple.

Of course it was not that simple. I wound up throwing myself against the iron gates a dozen times, fortunately not hurting myself too badly, before I managed just the right timing to make it through the gates just as they closed behind me. Any apprehension about being trapped was quickly dispelled: each gate had a pull-chain on the opposite side to let people out...or in, I suppose. I am just glad it worked, the alternative was giving up completely, maybe hiring a mercenary to stand at the stones while I went through the gates.
Beyond were just some spiders, somehow surviving behind the gates, and a large chamber filled with water. Four statues, each a Dragon's head, rose from the water on either side of the small bridge, at the end of which was Jurgen Windcaller's horn.

After that I was free to leave.

The cave which the Dawnguard leader requested I investigate was on the other side of the road from Ustengrav, said to be little more than a crevice from the outside. I was sure I would have trouble finding it and I was correct. I would come to regret this decision some time later.

The cave was atop a hill, but from the road I could not see a way up. So I simply followed the hill around, figuring to find a path upwards at some point. After a few minutes I began to smell smoke and soon came upon a destroyed hall, the bodies of the vampires' black hounds scattered outside, the remains of vampires and Vigilantss of Stendarr within. The Vigilant at Dawnguard was correct in his assumption, for I found nothing that hinted at anyone having surviving the attack.
The Vigilants of Stendarr may not have been completely exterminated, but the vampires had successfully dealt the Order a severe blow. Only the Vigilants patrolling the roads likely remain and they have no place to call home now. The Dawnguard are now fated to face the vampires alone in a massive, understaffed fortress.

Being told where the cave was provided little help in actually finding it. When I came upon stairs carved into the hillside I thought they would lead me to my destination, but they unfortunately ended at a shrine to Mehrunes Dagon that I had no interest in at all. Descending the stairs, I saw a small ruin a ways away near a broken Oblivion Gate and crept towards it only to find three sleeping bandits. I had no reason to kill them, so on I went.

Eventually my wandering about the hill brought me to a small stairway of four steps which led into a unfinished cave. This proved to be my desired destination, a confirmation of which I received quite quickly.
Once inside I heard, very clearly, a woman bragging about how stupid the Vigilants were, one of them having entered the cavern alone and been overpowered by the vampires at the entrance. The vampires continued to chat as I crept forward and laughed over the fact that two of their number were killed by the Vigilant before he succumbed. They scorned the dead, laughing that that the dead vampires acted above their station anyway. No honor among vampires, it seems.

They were perhaps the most talkative pair of vampires I have ever met, continuing to chat as I circled around them, waiting to pick one off as soon as they separated. The female vampire complained that someone named 'Lokil' was taking much too long with whatever he was doing deep inside the ruin and she contemplated returning to the vampires' castle to tell 'Harkon' of Lokil's presumed failure.

The two argued over this point for a few minutes, the man being more loyal to Lokil than his counterpart and once the argument died down they returned to their respective posts: the man to an empty cart at the cavern wall opposite the ruin's gate, the woman across from him, at the gate. In between the two was a black hound, sniffing around indifferently. The bunch gave off an air of not caring about whatever was happening deeper inside and their attention was lax because of it.

Once the two chatty vampires and their dog were taken care of, I crept through the gate, entering a fairly standard-looking Nordic burial site. I turned one corner just in time to watch a vampire lose her head to a Draugr axe, a satisfying sight.
Further on was a natural cavern whose permanent leaking from the ceiling created an artificial rain, complete with a small pond in the corner. A vampire was sitting beyond the pond, meditating or something of that nature, but when I tried to sneak up the path to bury my dagger in his back I was surprised by skeletons who clawed up from underneath the water in twos and threes...after which they stood there, doing nothing, as I was not yet spotted. Such was the dismal enchantment binding them together that I was able to simply walk up to each of them, smack them in the head with my sword, and dispel their magicka.
The vampire was barely more aware, allowing me to approach him unseen. Vampires have a reputation as being "creatures of the night", yet I have been able to gain the advantage in stealth every time I have encountered them. Perhaps it is their arrogance which blinds them to the threat of a sneaky Khajiit.

Onward I crept, the architecture of the place giving way from what I assume is a "traditional" burial ruin to something almost Dwemer: blocky and overly massive, only with stone gargoyles placed here and there as opposed to Dwemer constructs. These gargoyles were harmless carvings, but quite fierce looking.

I found the "treasure" of Dimhollow in a large, ornate chamber at the deepest part of the crypt. When I entered, I was greeted by two gargoyle statues and the sounds of an argument further below. One Vigilant was still alive, bravely refusing to divulge his now-fallen Order's secrets to the vampire 'Lokil', evidently the leader of the dwindling group of vampires.

The Vigilant died out of my sight, I being busy trying to keep in the shadows as I descended the balcony I found myself on. The balcony's stairs led to a small bridge connecting it to a ritualistic-looking arena of archways and columns build on an island of stone where the remaining vampires were occupied. I watched them for a few moments, one patrolled the perimeter of the structure while the others pushed, pulled, and poked at several braziers scattered inside the columns.

When the patrolling vampire drew close to the bridge a Khajiit, hanging perilously underneath it, grabbed his ankle and pulled him to his doom, the cavern's lake being too far down to see. His scream alerted the others, but as I had hoped they thought him clumsy, not ambushed.
While they made their jokes I climbed into the arena on the other side of the bridge and knifed one of them in the back. The remaining vampire put up a fight, but it was over quickly. I could not tell which one of them was Lokil, but that wound up not being important anyway.

A book on one of the vampires was written by the late Vigilant Adalvald detailing an earlier, less fatal exploration of Dimhollow Crypt. His thoughts mirrored my own: this part of the crypt was not built by Nords or Dwemer, but he went one step further: he thought that the different architecture originated from an ancient clan of vampires.

It was hard to argue given what had already transpired.

The braziers that the vampires had been fussing over were set into channels carved into the floor and set upon rollers, allowing them to be slid along the channels in different configurations. It was an obvious puzzle, one the vampires did not complete. The channels circled around a pedestal in the center, but I could see no obvious way to determine how to proceed.

Experimenting, I pushed the brazier on the outside channel around and was surprised when one location caused a harmless purple flame to ignite in the brazier, quickly spreading along the channel. The flame stopped where the channel met another radiating from the center pedestal, but I understood then what was required.

The remaining braziers needed to be pushed into the end of the flame, causing the braziers to ignite and push the fire deeper within the circular channels. Once all the braziers were in place the flames were encircling the pedestal and as I suspected that was the key to unlocking Dimhollow Crypt's so-called treasure.

The pedestal rose from the ground, a panel slid open, revealing...a sleeping woman. She was ornately dressed and woke quickly, stepping out of the pedestal as if what was happening was simply the most normal thing in Skyrim.
She immediately started firing questions at me, seeming not the least bit anxious or confused at either being awoken or inside of the pedestal. She demanded to know if I was a vampire and appeared a bit confused to find that was not so.

Continuing with her aloofness, she demanded to be escorted to her family home west of Solitude, only introducing herself as 'Serana' after that. Then it was my turn to ask questions.

First, I wanted to know how long she had been sleeping. She claimed to not know who the High King of Skyrim currently was and remarked sourly that a war of succession was just perfect, showing that nothing got boring while she had been sleeping. When I explained that the Empire supported one candidate and the rebel Stormcloaks another, she became genuinely confused, asking me what Empire I was talking about. Reminding her that the Empire came from Cyrodiil caused a great deal of alarm, her haughtiness giving way to uncertainty as she asked once again to be taken to her family's home as soon as possible. She suspected that her sleep had gone on for far longer than planned and did not know what else to do other than see if her vampire family still lived.

Serana not remembering the Empire makes me wonder how long she has truly been asleep. There has always been an Empire of some sort out of Cyrodiil since the First Era four thousand years ago. That is quite a nap, though I do not think Serana has been sleeping that long. It seems rather improbable to sleep for four thousand years, awake, then expect your family is still where you left them.

While on our way out two gargoyle statues suddenly sprang at us, but Serana blew them apart with her magicka before I could do much of anything. I did not appreciate that, actually.
Even less appreciated was her raising a gargoyle's corpse so that I had to contend with a shifty, confused vampiress and a eight-foot hulking undead stone-skin monster...walking behind me the whole time. It was not a good start to our relationship.
Because I had not yet suffered enough, we still had to fight through a group of powerful Draugr, then through an ancient arena still thronging with Draugr spectators and nobility, all of whom tried to kill us.
One side of the Arena housed a Word Wall which taught me 'Gaan', Stamina. If Serana thought the learning process odd she did not make mention of it.

By then it felt as though I had been underground for a week, but the double door on the far side of the arena's cavern opened to a rough-hewn passage that smelled encouragingly of fresh, cold air, which Serana complained of almost immediately. I do not seem to get along with people any longer.

Once we were outside she also complained of the sunlight, but I ignored her. The exit from Dimhollow placed us on the opposite side of the hill, I found a rough path that led to the road to Dawnstar, but I had to fight through the partially ruined Fort Dunstad to get there. Serana had disappeared somewhere between the crypt and the fort, but I had no problems killing a few bandits on my own.

One had a unique-looking weapon, a single-edged sword with intricate carvings along the cleaver-like blade. I have never seen its like before, probably a family heirloom of the late, unnamed bandit. I decided to give it a try myself and will be using it through the next few days.

Continuing to Dawnstar I passed another fort on my right and a giant's camp on my left, neither causing me any trouble. Serana decided to join me again just as we both arrived at Dawnstar.
As the last city I had to visit in Skyrim, Dawnstar was a bit of a disappointment. The best that could be said about it was that it was a well-ordered fishing village, somewhat large for the type, but the docks had little traffic, most of it likely passing Dawnstar in favor of Solitude.

A courtesy visit to Jarl Skald found him in bad humor, everyone in Dawnstar was sleeping terribly, plagued by nightmares. A priest of Mara was staying in Dawnstar, attempting to rectify this situation. It was suggested I speak to him if I had any interest in allowing the town its sleep. The Jarl mentioned that the town has seen a few Dragons flying over as of late, but blamed the sightings on the Empire's abandonment of Talos. Once the Stormcloaks have driven out the Empire, in his words, the Dragons will go away too. I could not think of a response to that.

Serana excused herself and went to find the Inn, the sun-lit snow too bright for her unaccustomed eyes.

I had not forgotten Silus Vesuius or his Mythic Dawn museum. Finding it was easy: I had only to follow the sound of a heated argument taking place in front of a house adorned with ragged banners bearing the Mythic Dawn's rising sun.
The argument was between a man on the porch, shabbily dressed in an imitation of Mythic Dawn robes, and a woman, mage by her outfit, at the foot of the steps. The discussion was over by the time I reached the house and the woman introduced herself as Madena, Court Wizard of Dawnstar. She begged me not to step inside the museum, that things such as the Mythic Dawn are best left forgotten. I could not agree more, but I said nothing. She excused herself and I went inside, the man, presumably Silus Vesuius having gone inside as I spoke with Madena.

Silus was surprised to see a visitor, but welcomed me enthusiastically. His "museum" was not terribly impressive: a faded banner, a hood and cloak, the single page of the Mysterium...something, and a set of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries, written by the deluded Altmer, Mankar, may he still suffer to this day.

The last display case had a scabbard marked with an Oblivion rune. When I asked Silus about it he excitedly exclaimed that it belonged to Mehrune's Razor and announced that he had a job for me.

Unknown to me groups of vigilantes formed after the Oblivion Crisis for the sole purpose of eliminating the remnants the Mythic Dawn cult. Mehrunes' Razor was acquired by one of these groups and, true to their cause, broke the blade into three pieces rather than use an artifact of Mehrune Dagon

Silus said that the blade was broken over one hundred years ago, the pieces being passed down to the group's descendants, all of whom were, coincidentally, now living in Skyrim. Silus had a list of the three individuals and their locations, two of whom fell to banditry, one to an unknown profession in Morthal.

I told him I might look into the matter, though I did not promise anything. Inside 'Windpeak' Inn I spoke with the priest of Mara, a Dunmer named 'Erandur'. He explained that the nightmares were merely a symptom of the real problem: the Daedric Prince Vaermina. Erandur had tracked the source of the Prince's manifestation to the ruins of the nearby "Nightcaller Temple", but was too inexperienced in combat to venture in himself. I agreed to help, as it will no doubt be useful to have a reputation as a problem-solver with the Jarl, should he and I have any future business.

But Serana had disappeared to a room of her own hours ago and I unintentionally passed the night of 6 Frostfall in Dimhollow Crypt, so I desperately needed the rest. I got the directions to the temple from Erandur and promised to meet him there tomorrow. I am sure Serana can wait one more day.

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