Monday, August 7, 2017

Skyrim Day 075 - White-Hot Failure

1 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Fort Dawnguard
~~~

With all the pieces of Aetherium in our possession Serana and I had only to travel to the Aetherium Forge to answer one of the many questions the Dwemer left behind. Katria's journal placed the Forge somewhere south of Ivarstead and we left before sunrise, per Serana's preference.

Expecting a quiet morning, I was surprised to see a man running through the small town towards me. Stopping in front of me, he announced, somewhat out of breath, that he had a letter for me. Handing it over, he wished me a good morning and disappeared into the inn, no doubt for breakfast and a rest.

The letter was from 'Muiri' and concerned the death of 'Alain Dufont', a man I unknowingly killed some time ago, at least according to the letter. Perhaps he was a bandit or Dark Brotherhood assassin. Muiri reassured me that she would not be contacting the authorities over Alain's death and sought to reward me for his end. She (I assume) asked me to visit her to receive her gratitude, but left no hint as to her whereabouts. A mysterious, but also rather useless, letter.
Serana then announced she had business elsewhere, agreeing to meet outside of Fort Dawnguard no later than tomorrow night. I wonder what occupied her today, but she is free to pursue her own life, disagreeable though she may be.

A Bosmer intercepted me on the road towards Windhelm, offering me the "sweetest moon sugar, the finest Skooma." When I refused his offer he grew angry and attacked me bare-handed. Such a senseless way to throw away one's life.

The rest of the walk was uneventful and I passed through Ivarstead just before noon. The Forge was somewhere south of the town, but no hints had been given. So I wandered about for a bit, coming across an Imperial camp and stopping in to make some quick trades. I spent a few minutes talking to the Legate, an brusque Altmer named Fasendil. His words dripped with disdain for the Dominion and told me that he was stationed in Hammerfell during the "Night of Green Fire" almost two hundred years ago.

That was news I remember hearing, though not in detail. Altmer, fleeing the Thalmor in Summerset Isle, settled in Sentinel, only to be assaulted by the Thalmor and almost completely wiped out. Fasendil was part of the would-be relief effort, but the Legion arrived too late to save anyone. He has harbored a hatred for the Dominion ever since. He sought a transfer to Skyrim so that he could watch the Thalmor and is of the opinion that they are behind what exists of the "Civil War" and the return of the Dragons.

He knew of one Dwemer ruin nearby, but it had been appropriated by a group of bandits, as usual. It lay only a few moments from the camp, but he forbade his men from engaging the bandits for fear of losing them to what he felt were pointless skirmishes. Perhaps if the Thalmor had taken up residence he would have done something. Fasendil could not tell me if there was anything unique about the ruin compared to others and wished me health as we parted.

The ruin really was only a few seconds away from the camp, but the bandits were nowhere to be seen when I arrived.
Some sort of device lay in the center of the ruins, the design reminding me of the Observatory I found at Mzulft. It was the only thing unusual about the place and Katria shimmered into view as I approached it.
She had been at the ruin for some time, no doubt pacing back and forth impatiently as she waited for someone with physical form to arrive. With nothing else to do but examine things, Katria had found that the device had an impression on it that would fit the shards we have been collecting. Placing all the shards in the impression on the device resulted in the entire platform rising up...with us on top of it.
I hopped off in time to avoid having to make some difficult choices and we both watched as the elevator tower rose from the ground. Quite a dramatic flair from a race I have come to assume was humorless and cold.

The tower's elevator led to a large underground cavern into which one of Katria's "resonator" gatehouses was installed.
Smacking each of the resonators with a crossbow bolt opened the gate, begging the question as to what purpose the things really served. If someone need only to throw a stone at them why lock the gate in the first place?

The ruin was small: behind the gate was a pair of uncomfortably warm doors and a stairway leading into a rough cavern with a open pool of lava on one side. Set in front of the lava was the sought-after Forge. The air was hot enough to make breathing painful and my eyes water incessantly, an annoyance which became a grave disadvantage once the Dwemer's guardians started to drop from valves in the ceiling and walls.

Katria and I must have each accounted for over a dozen of the mechanicals. She was not bothered by the heat, of course, acquitting herself well against the machines which seemed to focus on the only living intruder to the Forge: myself. I got backed into a corner by five of the spider guardians, but managed to fight my way free and strike them from behind.

Once the last guardian clattered to a halt Katria urged me to approach the Forge, but a terrible screeching from behind it sent me scurrying back. The true guardian of the Forge had awoken.
The master of the Forge was a larger version of the massive guards I have been encountering at the Dwemer ruins here in Skyrim. This one wielded an axe large enough to fell a tree with a single swipe on one arm and a hammer no doubt heavy enough to drive the remaining stump flat into the earth. If that was not enough to discourage melee its body was hot enough to glow and we quickly discovered it could breathe fire as well.
Fortunately for me it fixated on Katria, whose spiritual existence made her immune to heat and fire, though not physical blows. She distracted the guardian on one side of the cavern while I sneaked to the other side, prepared to pepper the thing with Dwemer crossbow bolts. I may have gotten a lucky shot in a over-heated joint, who can say?

Our strategy proved unnecessary. As I crept into position the cavern reverberated with a horrendous shriek as something broke inside of the thing. It collapsed, spraying steaming lubricant from all its moving parts. It hit the ground with a mighty crash and lay still, victim to nothing more than time.

Katria was as giddy as a nearly-dead person can be, I suppose. She enthused that the only thing left to do was use the Forge to prove its authenticity...but we had no Aetherium to forge anything with. She hopefully suggested that there might be pieces laying about the chamber and after some minutes of searching we came up with a piece, enough for a single use.
The Forge itself was very easy to use. There was a small chest set before three buttons, one engraved with a shield, one with a staff, the third with a helmet. I placed the Aetherium in the chest and closed the lid, then pressed the helmet button. A hidden platform underneath the chest lowered it into the Forge, then came back up, minus the chest and our Aetherium. I looked at Katria, but she was staring at the Forge, enthralled.

Steam and hot oil sprayed out of Forge, time evidently being no less cruel to it than its guardian. I thought it broken, but Katria refused to hear of it, so we waited, she almost on top of the thing, me a safe distance away. After several minutes the machine quieted and the chest rose back from within, steaming oil oozing all over it.

I carefully opened the lid and peered inside. The chunk of unfinished Aetherium I put into the chest had been transformed into a Dwemer metal circlet, hardly the helmet I was expecting, with four small and one large Aetherium crystal set into it.

Katria wistfully remarked at how beautiful it was, but that was not an opinion we shared. The circlet was very Dwemer: sturdy, blocky, and devoid of any beauty I could see. It was formed of the same gold-colored metal everything else they made is and the five bright-blue crystals looked as though they belonged on something else.

For Katria's sake I placed it upon my head. Satisfied, she declared that no one could deny the Forge's existence now that there was an Aetherium crown for all to see. I have my doubts that anyone else cares at all and even fewer would recognize the gemstones for Aetherium crystal.

And with that Katria faded away, thanking me as she began her new adventure in whatever after-life awaited her. Whatever it is, I wish her well.

With a tale to tell to Serana I left the cavern and traced my steps back to the elevator. The cool air of Skyrim was a welcome relief as I stepped out of the tower and while it was already night I felt I could make good enough time to Fort Dawnguard to justify not staying at Riften.

I was attacked on the road by a band of Vampires, but they were weak and poorly led. The dust I scraped from their bodies will fetch a good price. Isran was taking no chances now that he had the Elder Scroll and the Moth Priest under his guard, so I was not surprised to find the Dawnguard garrison vigilant and the gates secure.
The Moth Priest Dexion was in conversation with Isran when I entered and both turned to me as I approached, Dexion in gratitude, Isran in...whatever passes for gratitude with him. Serana must have heard me enter for she suddenly landed in the midst of all three of us, smugly pleased by having startled us by leaping from the second floor. With a small smile and a wave, she welcomed me back, in a much better mood than I expected for having stayed among the Dawnguard by herself.

Dexion exclaimed that his visit to Skyrim had been "quite the adventure" so far, a comment I felt was rather insensitive given that his visit has so far cost several Legionnaires their lives. I inquired into the preparations required prior to reading an Elder Scroll, but there was nothing he had to do prior to simply reading the Scroll to the best of his ability. Isran was impatient to begin, so Serana handed over the Scroll without comment and the priest began.
Isran's dour expression did not change and Serana acted as if she was bored. Curious, I walked behind Dexion to see what the Scroll looked like and was surprised to find it looked like nothing: to my eyes it was simply a blank scroll. To Dexion's it was a treasure-trove of information and prophecy and he began to recite what he could read of the vampires and the Dawnguard.

He spoke of the Daedric artifact, Auriel's Bow, claiming that it would return to Mundus after the Dragons were awoken and "night and day become one". More than that though, he could not read. He claimed that he could only read the beginning of the prophecy surrounding the Bow and that the acquisition of two more Elder Scrolls would allow him to read it in full. I scoffed at the notion of finding even one Scroll, let alone three, but Serana spoke up.

She felt that she knew of a lead towards finding the second scroll, if not the third also. Serana claimed that her mother, Valerica, would know of its location. I found that difficult to believe, but neither Isran nor Dexion had any other suggestions, so to Valerica Serana and I must go.

Unsurprisingly Serana had no idea where her mother was. She had gone into hiding before Serana was sealed away for a thousand or so years, giving her daughter only the hint that she would hide where her obsessed father would never think to look. Serana complained that she could not think of a place her father would not look in order to acquire a Scroll, but I immediately pointed out that he would never look where he lived: her family's castle.

Serana sheepishly admitted that she did not think of that, but that it occurred to her that if Valerica remained in the castle she would likely hide, somehow, in the castle's courtyard garden. As to how Serana and I were to enter the castle, she explained that there was, and hopefully still is, a small escape passage behind the castle which the previous owners used to ferry supplies. The notion of previous owners interested me before I reminded myself that they were probably previously there thousands of years ago.

So after walking across the entire province I find myself having to immediately turn around and walk all the way back. It is very frustrating, but perhaps I can use this as an opportunity to attend to some business on my way there and back.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Skyrim Day 074 - Mystery's End

30 Frostfall, 4E201
Nightgate Inn
~~~

Katria's adventure is almost at an end and not a day too soon. Serana and I left Whiterun before the rest of the city woke (including Lydia) and continued yesterday's journey to Katria's third, unnamed, Dwemer ruin. She placed the ruin across the river north of Ivarstead, noting that it was the primary source of Aetherium.

We reached the river by mid-morning, but had some trouble finding a pass through the hillside. We stumbled upon a family of trolls in residence, the entrance of the cave splattered with blood, gore, and skeletal remains. Serana surprised me by suggesting that we venture inside to exterminate the trolls and waved aside my remark that it would require her to be underground again, though briefly.
Nestled at the far end of the trolls' home was a battered chest that probably belonged to whatever bandits inhabited the cave before the trolls chased them off or killed them. There was not much inside, but there was a pair of leather boots with an Illusion enchantment on it. Boots enchanted to make the wearer's footsteps quieter are popular among those who keep to the shadows, I am sure I will get a good price for them from the next Khajiit caravan I meet.

Leaving the cave we resumed our search for a path into the hills, presumably where the Dwemer ruin would most likely be. After half an hour we found the path nearly overrun with fallen rocks and opportunistic plants and had to spend more time clearing enough of it to climb up. A giant's camp was sitting right in front of us after we finally made our way on to the hill and we skirted around it hoping to avoid a battle.
The Giants must be able to sense vampirism somehow, for this one left his camp and lumbered after us as we passed, focusing specifically on Serana. They are not stealthy creatures, nor fast, and we easily outpaced it until the Giant lost patience and returned to his camp.

As if that was not trouble enough the Dwemer ruin was being guarded by zealots of the Silver Hand, a band of vigilantes supposedly dedicated against Werewolves, but my few experiences with them showed that they view a Khajiit as close enough to a Werewolf, but I have heard from others that they are no better than common bandits, so perhaps I should not feel their slight to be a personal one. I wonder if, in death, the ones at the ruin felt my slaying them to be personal as well.
Katria's unnamed Aetherium mine boasted an impressive exterior and inside, signs that the Silver Hand were not quite as stupid as they appeared.
The Silver Hand had been using one of the Dwemer's flame traps to cook their meals and I thought it clever, though it did bar the main hallway from being entered, as I could not find a way to disable it and had no desire to walk through a constant jet of fire. Serana and I had no choice but to proceed down a side passageway

We fought through a small encampment of bandits and came upon a second unnoticed.
They were camped beneath two Dwemer ballista, each loaded and glistening with oil dutifully applied thousands of years ago. Serana wanted to activate one to see if it would fire, so we crept up to the parapet and each manned a ballista. Mine fired, but the bolts broke with the force of the shot. Serana was slightly more lucky: hers fired, wildly missing the now-alarmed bandits. They sprang from their campsite and charged up the ramp towards us. It ended quickly.

The hallway beyond was trapped with two bladed rods that traveled back and forth, guaranteed to remove the feet of any invaders in too much of a hurry to be careful. Serana and I shuffled along the sides, barely avoiding the blades. I recall wondering if I would grow back my feet if I slipped. I am glad to have not found out.
The hallway ended at a functioning elevator which deposited us into another hallway guarded by the spinning blades. After carefully skirting the sides we founds ourselves in the middle of a Falmer "village", slowing our progress considerably as we stealthily eliminated the hideous creatures one by one.

Eventually we came to a large room with a pool of water on one side and gears all over the walls. The noise was tremendous, but we could not find a way out of the room other than back the way we came. I even suffered the near-freezing water thinking the door might have been hidden in the pool, but to no avail.
It was Serana who pointed out that many of the gears were jammed, greatly contributing to the clatter that bounced all around the room. She pulled a bone from one and it began spinning quickly and far more quietly. We split up and released the remaining gears, after which Serana happily pressed a button she found a pedestal set before the pool. She seems to be warming up to the concept of adventuring, though one would not judge this based on the quantity of her complaints.
With the gears spinning as they were supposed to, the button opened a hidden door at the end of the pool, releasing a massive Dwemer war-mechanical. My crossbow bolts did not seem to do much, but Serana's lightning magicka sent it tumbling, inert, into the water before it had made it even halfway across to us. Rather anticlimactic, but easy.

The metal warrior had been guarding a small staircase that led down to a small room with some sort of device in the middle of it.
Two gemstones were set into the center of the thing, one the size and shape of a large egg, the other a dish for something to be set on to. I had nothing to use with the thing and left it alone.

What I did find was the shimmering form of Katria staring longingly at the piece of Aetherium we were after.
She kept this speech short, exclaiming that it was the last piece we needed and that she would be waiting at the Forge. With that, she blinked out of existence. Serana commented on the possibility of passing on the Forge entirely, but I secretly want to see this thing for myself, so I told her I could not bear to keep Katria's spirit enthralled on this plane any longer than it needed to be.
An elevator adjoining the room led us back to the surface, by then well-enshrouded by the night. The Nightgate Inn was the closest accommodation and the walk was without incident.

Tomorrow the three of us shall see what this Dwemer Forge is capable of and of what use the Aetherium can be put to. I am mildly curious at best, but it looks to be at least somewhat on the way back to the Dawnguard, so it shall not be a wasted adventure.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Skyrim Day 073 - Unable to Let Go

29 Frostfall, 4E201
Whiterun
~~~

While in Morthal some time ago I was given a "secret" letter by Jarl Idgrod's housecarl, Gorm. When I spoke with him previously in the Hall he was full of praise for the visionary Jarl, but once I ran into him at the local Inn he had only derision and doubt for Idgrod. He believes her visions are distracting her from her duties as a Jarl, but are also dangerous to her well-being. Claiming he feared for her health, he gave me a sealed letter to deliver to an Imperial Legion Captain in Solitude. I thought little of it until this morning.
The Imperial Legion is based at Solitude in 'Castle Dour'. The fort is appropriately named, the commander of the Legion, General Tullius, was no more animated while I was wandering around Dour as he was at my would-be execution. The man seems incapable of mustering enthusiasm for much of anything.

But my business was not with the General, but with Captain Aldis. A helpful maid pointed me towards the basement where I found the Captain already drinking, guarding empty prison cells. He accepted my letter with resignation, stating he would add it to his growing collection. Gorm has been pestering the Captain about Idgrod for some time now and Aldis has a dim view of ousting a Jarl with Imperial loyalties during a civil war. He thanked me for making the trip and paid me twenty Septims, about what the effort was worth.

Leaving Solitude with Serana in tow, I checked my journal to see if there was any business pending between one side of Skyrim and the other that I could take care of while I made my way back to Fort Dawnguard. Unsurprisingly, there was something, but I had only written "Chk ruin Arknthmz, SE Mrkrth". Very helpful. By that, I only knew to look south-east of Markarth for some sort of ruin, likely Dwemer judging by the abbreviation. Serana had no objections to looking for this ruin, other than being back underground, so off we went towards Markarth.

On our way we came upon a small hunting lodge that appeared to be lived in, but no one was around. Serana suggested we search the place for supplies, but I felt we did not need to and chose to walk by peacefully.
My concern that we would be wandering the hills surrounding Markarth proved to be unfounded, thanks to the adventure of two enterprising children whom met us on the road.
The sales-child, Sond, offered to sell Serana and I some Dwemer scrap he and his unnamed friend had collected near a Dwemer bridge he said was far to the west. He offered to mark its location on my map for a few coins, an offer I considered charity on my part to accept.

Sond's directions brought us to a large ruin built into the hillside. Inside looked about the same as all the other Dwemer ruins do, they were not an artistically-focused people. She was curious to examine the mechanisms and disregarded my warning that many of them were traps. She admitted I was right to warn her after a trapdoor she was poking at suddenly sprang open and disgorged a mechanical spider guardian. It attacked her immediately, but she had no trouble in putting it to rest. She did show more caution around the Dwemer mechanicals after that though.

The entryway opened to a massive cavern which seem to exist in such numbers underneath Skyrim that it is a wonder the whole province does not simply collapse. Evidently this part of Skyrim was trying to do that, for as we stood about gazing around the entire place shook, sending chunks of rock plummeting from the ceiling and pieces of Dwemer architecture to crack and splinter.

I was unwilling to test Dagoth Ur's blessing against thousands of tons of rock, but figured a few more moments would not mean instant death, so we continued to on for a bit before we heard a woman's voice warning us to turn back. Thinking this was someone ahead who was injured, we pressed on, only to encounter the talking, shimmering remains of the adventurer Katria.

She was taking her after-death pretty hard, sourly asking us why we were still in the ruin. I thought it rude to ask her why she was too and Katria assumed we were at the ruin for the "treasure". After I explained that I could not remember why I had made a note to come at all she told me about the slim novel 'The Aetherium Wars', penned by her apprentice-turned-competitor, Taron Dreth.

Taron's novel propelled him to the dubious honor of being the "expert" on Dwemer forging technology, despite all of it originating from Katria'a notes and work. Attempting to usurp his title, she descended into the ruin I found her in, confident that she would find clues pointing to the hidden 'Aetherium Forge' the Dwemer used to craft their most powerful artifacts.

But it was not to be. Katria fell into a crevice after one of the cavern-shakes, falling to her death on to a lower level of the ruin. Her indignation was enough for her spirit to cling to this Plane, even if her new non-corporal existence made her goal impossible to reach. I convinced her that Serana and I were up to the task of recovering her body and her research, but she was only interested in the latter. If Serana had any objections she did not voice them.

We found Katria's body after several skirmishes with the Falmer, underneath where we came in. She directed us towards her journal, helpfully providing the full name of this ruin, 'Arkngthamz' and detailing its part in the long-lost Dwemer network of city-states in Skyrim. The ruin was one of five locations built to manage the Aetherium ore, one of them being the ruin alongside the hot springs where I found the metallic blue crescent. The other three were scattered about the province.
The journal also had a sketch of something Katria described as a 'tonal lock', but she assured me that she would explain that if I survived long enough to reach it. Very encouraging.

We did not encounter much between Katria's body and her 'tonal lock'.
The bodies strewn before it was ample warning, but Katria explained how it worked: Each of the devices mounted above the gate had to be struck in the correct order, else traps would activate. Katria had made a mistake and triggered an earthquake which caused her to fall to her death. The bodies before the gate looked to have met violent ends, so earthquakes were not the only defense it had.

Katria had managed to narrow the guesswork from five devices to three, guessing wrong on the order of the remaining two. Serana eagerly took up the task of flinging spells at the strange mechanisms, of course guessing wrong herself and unleashing a horde of Dwemer spiders upon us. Once we dealt with that she assaulted the locks in the correct order, unlocking the gate.

The much-coveted Aetherium fragment was on a small pedestal flanked by two chests, each containing useless baubles. Katria was staring longingly at the bright blue metal, but could do nothing but wait for me to catch up and place it into my pack. She guessed that there were other fragments around and I brightened her afterlife by revealing that "her" fragment was the second of mine.

She disappeared after that, swearing that we would meet again at the next fragment, so now I am in something of a quandary. I am expected at Fort Dawnguard, yet I would feel quite guilty about leaving Katria's spirit forever waiting for someone to recover the remaining shards. Serana had not opinion one way or another, surprisingly, so I decided to take some time to look for the rest of the Aetherium.

When we finally left the ruin it was just about light...the three of us having spent the entire night underground and now greeting the new day. The closest city was Markarth and Serana was not tired, so I elected to push on to the nearest of the locations marked in Katria's journal, north of Markarth along the river.
The third shard was not nearly as difficult to retrieve. The worst was walking from Arkngthamz to the small (and unusual) Dwemer shrine sitting on the shores of the river. On it was a Dwemer helm and blade, the shard serenely sitting behind them on a small display pedestal. How the bright blue metal escaped the notice of bandits, adventurers, and the opportunistic is a mystery.

Once I touched it Katria popped into view before me, grumpy for my having somehow gotten there first. The last shard looked to be north of Ivarstead and once again I set out across the plain, planning on passing Whiterun for a late evening arrival at Ivarstead.

As usual, my plan did not meet with fruition.
Another Dragon attacked us while we walked the plain, but the Dragon was smaller than the ones I have been seeing recently and not as aggressive either. It is a strange thing to write, but I had no trouble or apprehension fighting it. Serana just seemed glad to be doing anything above ground and awake and after the Dragon's death-fire died down we continued on to Whiterun. I keep "absorbing" these souls, but am I supposed to be using them for something? Can I? I do not know.
We reached Whiterun as the sun was setting, most of the townspeople at home occupied with their dinner. One woman who I have not seen before remarked that rumors told of a Khajiit Dragonborn, then wondered if such a combination was even possible. I stopped at the General store, sold some trinkets, and spoke with a weary-looking Dunmer mercenary. She called herself 'Jenassa' and offered her services for five hundred Septims, but I already have a dour companion, so I declined.

Arriving at Breezehome my dour companion met my dour housecarl. Both presented to the other an air of complete indifference, but I was far more concerned about my bed than my retinue. Tomorrow Serana and I will continue on towards Fort Dawnguard with a detour near Ivarstead for Katria. How Lydia occupies her days at Whiterun is her own business, though I cannot imagine she is displeased to have the house all to herself.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Skyrim Day 072 - Assassins, Above and Below

28 Frostfall, 4E201
Solitude
~~~

Serana made the decision this morning to head directly for Dragon Bridge by the nature of her constant, unending complaining. When we got rooms at the Inn last night there was a complaint that the bed was uncomfortable and itchy, when we woke (if she even slept) it was too bright outside. The journey today was also too cold and too long. And this from someone who walked from one end of Skyrim to the other seeking the Dawnguard. Did she complain to herself?

Rather than risk spending more time than I had to with her I decided to go to Dragon Bridge instead of taking additional time to visit the College. What information I had placed the Moth Priest near the village and that was good enough for me. I figured if the information was wrong we would find out sooner rather than later.

With an unhappy vampire in tow, I set off for Dragon Bridge just before the sun rose, hoping this would allow me a break from Serana's opinion on the world. Alas, the darkness did not last long, nor did the silence. Perhaps it served some defensive purpose, for we made it almost to Dragon Bridge without interruption save for a foolish Dunmer bandit who thought to demand our money. She was quick to realize her mistake and ran off.

I thought to save some time by going over the hill between Morthal and Dawnstar rather than around it. Serana grumbled about getting snow in her shoes, but she chose to follow me instead of taking the long way around the hill via the road. We came to a path through the rocks and she immediately ran towards it, eager to be on the trampled snow instead of the loose stuff we had been trudging through. I yelled at her to stop, but she ignored me and disappeared past a bend in the path.

I knew the path was not going to lead towards the other side of the hill, there was no prepared path that did. I ran after her, expecting her to be grumbling in front of a cave or a hidden shrine, but she had chanced upon something far more dangerous.
The foolish vampire had stumbled upon a Giant clan's campsite, two of whom were present. She had attacked them, but Giants are rather resistant to magicka and her spells did not have the effect she had hoped for. With two Giants attacking her, Serana was cornered and nearly killed before I caught up to them. Fortunately I arrived in time and both turned on me, but only got in each other's way. I feel a bit bad about killing them, it was Serana's recklessness that led to it and they were bothering no one.

I dragged her out of the camp and we continued down the side of the mountain, passing a broken Oblivion gate on the way down. Serana listened to my story of the Oblivion Crisis with interest, wondering what kind of world she would have woken up to under Mehrunes Dagon. I pointed out she likely would not have woken up at all, the first and only thing we agreed on today.
We made it to the other side of the hill with snow in our shoes, Serana enthusing about the lack of light-reflecting snow on the plain. I prefer the warmer, southern Skyrim myself, its quicker to move on and the usually clear sky allows a farther vision. Whiterun is visible from just about any point on the plain, but we had no reason to visit it today.
Save for a trio of hunters we encountered no one on our walk across the plain until the Dragon landed right behind us.
Dragons before today always roared as they flew, creating a great disturbance and bringing notice to themselves, which was likely their intention. But this Dragon managed to glide in behind us with barely a sound and the landing of the great beast was the only notice Serana and I received before it attacked.

The actual battle is not as interesting as the method the Dragon chose to initiate it. The Dragons I have fought in the past have seemed like accidental things, I simply happened to be in the area when the Dragon decided to burn a farm or announce its presence. This battle very much felt like it was planned and executed against me specifically, a thought that does not ease my worry. If the Dragons are being directed and not by the Stormcloaks, I can only assume the large Dragon from earlier is commanding them, but to what end?

Serana handled herself admirably during the fight, though her lightning magicka served to annoy the Dragon more than harm it. Still, it served as a good enough distraction.
If she was surprised by the sight of the Dragon's "soul" being absorbed into my body she did not show it. With the Dragon's assassination plot foiled we continued on towards Dragon Bridge. With no more Dragons to fight off we made good time, but never reached the town.
Just before the famed bridge lay the remains of a recent, one-sided battle. A passenger wagon was overturned and surrounded by dead Legionnaires, the last-stand defense of their ward, the Moth Priest. A note on one of the dead vampires revealed that they had known of the priest's journey ahead of time and set the ambush to kidnap the man and bring him to a place they described as 'Forebears' Holdout'. If I needed another clue as to what had happened, there was a slim book in the wagon on the effects of reading Elder Scrolls, complete with annotations from a Moth Priest, though I thought them all to be blind.

The name suggested a similar last-stand of whomever the Forebears were, but the letter gave no hint as to where this Holdout was. It was Serana that spotted the blood trail leading away from the ambush and we were able to follow it to a cave. Serana assured me the blood was relatively fresh, so I hoped we had enough time to rescue the only person in Skyrim who could make use of Serana's scroll. Into the cave we went, not without Serana's complaints, of course.

The Holdout was very small and from the entrance we could see a circle of blue magicka shimmering at the back of the cave. Vampires and their strange hounds patrolled the space between us and the magicka, but they were not expecting a rescue attempt and fell to Serana's magicka and my dagger without much bother.
The vampires were dead, but the Priest was trapped within the circle. He was mumbling to himself and did not notice Serana and I outside his cage. After some searching we found an odd stone on the most expensively-dressed vampire and another letter penned by Lord Harkon himself. He claimed to have the Elder Scroll in his possession, so it was obviously written before Serana escaped, and he demanded that someone fetch him a Moth Priest to read it. Success in this would merit a place in his "court" and something he called the "gift of his potent blood".

I asked Serana about this and she explained that her father was from an ancient bloodline that allowed him the half-gargoyle, half-man form he showed me when I returned Serana to him. There was great powers bequeathed upon this form which she called the "Vampire Lord" bloodline. If Lord Harkon wished to, he could infect another vampire with his blood, allowing the lucky vampire to take the form as well, a great gift for a very specific kind of recipient.

Anyway, the stone fit into a pedestal set on a platform before the Priest. Once it was inserted the magicka disappeared and the Priest attacked! But he was not seeking to hurt us as much as he was to defend himself one last time against who he thought to be his captors. He calmed after I asked him if anyone had ever heard of a Khajiit vampire. We are not so foolish as others, after all.
The Priest was not blind, putting to rest that misconception, and introduced himself as 'Dexion Evicus', a very Imperial name. He had no idea why the vampires had attacked his group, assuming they were after ransom instead of information. I explained that Serana and I were part of  the Dawnguard and needed his special skills to read an Elder Scroll.

Surprisingly, Dexion had heard of the Dawnguard, but in its ancient, more powerful, form. He asked to know where we were based out of and I offered to escort him back to Fort Dawnguard. He picked up one of the vampires' swords and assured me he was more capable than recent events have shown. I could not convince him to allow us to accompany him, so we parted ways amid the rapidly decaying vampires, to meet on the other side of the province...once again.
We reached Solitude late into the night, suiting Serana just fine. I was anticipating a relaxing night in my own home, but this hope was shattered when a vampire sprung at me after we entered the city. He hissed that "eternal night" would soon envelop the land, then rapidly backed away, flinging ice magicka as he attempted to keep his distance.

I am not sure what he expected to accomplish. There were three guards present, one ancient vampire ally, and one tired Khajiit that did not feel like prolonging a fight. Serana managed to hit him with lightning magicka just as a guard's crossbow bolt slammed into his chest. Overwhelmed, he collapsed to his knees, presenting an excellent opportunity for a quick end to his nonsense. A swipe of my blade and his head was sent rolling down the street, spilling dust along the way as it crumbled into nothing.

Serana promised to keep watch throughout the night, I suppose she does not need as much sleep as most. I, however, do need sleep before walking back to Fort Dawnguard tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Skyrim Day 071 - An Unexpected Guest

27 Frostfall, 4E201
Windhelm
~~~

I had a choice this morning: travel north to the College, east back to Isran, or west back to everything else. Curiosity prodded me east to see how Isran's former friends were acclimating to their old friend.

The dawn started sullenly, a hazy grey which brightened to a equally sullen yellow that I could barely see through. If there were any Dragons about I would have only been able to hear them, but the world was quiet this morning, as if it did not want to wake either.
A bandit leaped out of the bushes in front of me by the hot springs, brashly demanding my money or my life. The Dunmer looked young, but then they usually do, and I thought to offer her mercy. I simply drew my curved Ebony dagger and invited her to make an attempt, at which point she had second thoughts and ran off down the road.

I arrived at the walls of Riften a few hours later, exact time being impossible to determine with the fog hanging overhead. I had no business there and walked around the city to the valley connecting Skyrim to Morrowind.

The Dawnguard had been busy while I was away. There was a new palisade at the foot of the fortress, manned by a young Dawnguard whose face I did not recognize. I, however, was and she opened the gate with a solemn greeting, just as cheerful as Isran.
The corpses from the previous attack had been burned and piled in a pit just inside the gate, a precaution I can only assume was Isran's, since vampire corpses quickly decay into dust in the sunlight anyway. Burning them was an excess of caution that I am pretty sure defines the leader of the Dawnguard.

The two guards at the fortress gate waved me in and I found Sorine and Gunmar standing in the hall, both disgruntled and ready to leave. They were willing to talk to me and we spent some minutes talking about the Dawnguard. Both had arrived two days ago and were denied a meeting with the very man they had been told were looking for them. This embarrassed me, being the one responsible for them being at the fort at all.

As we stood there contemplating coming back another day, the portcullis for the outside gate came crashing down, trapping us inside. A moment later three more rose from the hall's doorways, not only keeping us inside the fortress, but confined to the entry hall. A sudden light from the ceiling blinded us, Gunmar cursing, Sorine scrambling away, and as for myself, prepared to have very harsh words with Isran.
As I suspected, the "trap" was Isran's and it was to ensure none of us were vampires. Had we been, he assured us from the balcony, the light would have set us aflame. A pleasant thought.

He directed his two "friends" into an adjacent chamber, Sorine to work on crossbows, Gunmar to tame trolls...which I did not think was even possible or desirable. As for me, he asked that I come up to the balcony to meet a visitor who had arrived during the night.
Nothing about how Isran had been acting up to to then surprised me, but the visitor did. Serana had somehow traveled the entire width of the province to take refuge with a group of people who could not possibly hate her any more. The only reason she was not immediately slain was that she brought the Elder Scroll, if it truly is that, with her as a sign of her good intentions. This staved off her execution at Isran's hands long enough for me to arrive and vouch for her...a woman I have not known for more than a day, really.

The only excuse she had for such a rash action was that she needed to speak with me. It turns out a thousand years or so is enough to change most anyone, including her vampire father. According to Serana, her father spent his years studying vampire lore, fashioning himself as some sort of vampire nobility which does not actually exist. He became obsessed with an ancient prophecy that predicted a day would come when vampires would no longer be hindered by the sun.

He attempted to raise forces to bring the prophecy about (Serana did not know exactly how this was to happen), but Serana and her mother disagreed with his course of action. The disagreement ended with Serana being buried for a thousand years and an unknown, but probably just as cruel, fate for her mother.

Serana had taken a great risk in traveling to Fort Dawnguard so that she could convince me to aid her in stopping her father's plan to change the sun in some way. I agreed to help, feeling I had little choice in the matter, and Isran chose that moment to subtly interject, saying there was nothing in her story that led him to believe she should not immediately be slain. I countered that I believed her, at least for the moment, and he owed much to me already for what I have done for the Dawnguard.
He begrudgingly agreed to let Serana keep her head and Serana excused herself out of the fortress, flatly stating that it was no place for me to stay and in no way a place for her. 

But she had not come without a plan. She believed the scroll on her back was a genuine Elder Scroll and thought it critical to making her father's obsession come to pass. She was eager to have  the Scroll read by a Moth Priest, but they still live in Cyrodiil as they always have. I informed her of this and she seemed surprised. Perhaps the Priests were more widespread when she was last awake.

Isran surprised us both, or perhaps all three of us, by providing useful news: a Moth Priest had arrived in Skyrim through the southern border a week or so ago, but Isran did not know where the Priest was heading nor where he was now. Serana thought someone at the College would know whereas Isran suggested asking carriage drivers and innkeepers. A walk from Dawnguard to the College would give me an opportunity for all three.

Serana insisted on coming with me to the College and Isran did not try to stop her, so once again it was us two on the road together. We left the canyon, passed through the small cave separating the fort from the rest of Skyrim, and was immediately assaulted by four vampires. We made short work of them and walked on to Riften. Serana wanted to stay outside, so I went in alone, sold some gemstones, and met her at the north gate where I spoke with the local carriage driver.

The Moth Priest had passed through Riften a week ago and had asked the Driver for a ride to Dragon Bridge, but the carriage only went as east as Whiterun. The Priest declined to travel that far, confounding the driver who tried to explain that the Priest could take a different carriage from Whiterun to Dragon Bridge.

I was willing to pay for a ride to Whiterun, but Serana quietly pointed out that it would be difficult for her to stay out of the sun in an open carriage. I thanked the driver, gave him fifty Septims, and continued on foot.

We arrived at Windhelm early into the evening and I thought Serana would want to continue walking, but she asked to stop there, curious to see the Grey Quarter she had heard about. I had little interest in the city and numerous reasons for not wanting to enter, but I agreed.
We passed through the gate just in time to witness two Nords harassing a Dunmer woman. They left together after threatening to throw her and "her kind" into the sea and she turned on Serana and I, irritably asking if we hated Dunmer and reveled in intimidation too.

What I remember of my involvement with the Dunmer would not be at all believable, so I simply told her that Khajiit were targets for such fools just as often, though we do not suffer such fools nearly as patiently. She laughed ruefully and told me that Windhelm was the wrong city for us then, catering only to the prejudice and hatred hidden in the hearts of Men. That it was also the breeding ground for a racially-based civil war was not helping matters. She wished us luck and we parted, another glimpse into Skyrim that failed to make a positive impression.

The local innkeeper had a free room with two beds, but no information regarding our wayward Moth Priest. Serana and I can either continue north to the College or trust our luck while attempting to save time tomorrow by heading directly for Dragon Bridge.

But it is just past midnight now and this has been a long day. Whatever course we take tomorrow can be decided upon after some sleep.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Skyrim Day 070 - Ill-Met by Moonlight

25 Frostfall, 4E201
Shack Along the River
~~~

I normally wake with several matters competing for my attention. Sometimes it is a minor thing, a book to return, an amulet to find. Other times the issue is more pressing: attacks of Dragons, the eminent destruction of Winterhold, and so on. As of late waking up with nothing to do has been a rare luxury.

This morning I thought the luxury of choice was mine, but a courier was waiting in front of Winterhold's Inn, intercepting me as I walked by. He had a letter from the Innkeeper in Riverwood, Delphine, and all it said was that she needed to speak with me urgently. Why was not mentioned and the courier had already gratefully disappeared back inside the Inn, so I was left with this small mystery toying with my curiosity.

With nothing else terribly pressing I started the long walk down to Riverwood. I passed Azura's statue on my way through the pass so that I would avoid Windhelm and trudged along the icy cliffs and valleys.
I watched two Spriggans attack a troll just beyond, the troll getting the better of one Spriggan before falling to the second. The surviving Spriggan then turned on me and quickly joined its comrade-in-arms. Why the two creatures were even in the northern ice lands is a curious thing, for they usually stay close to trees, which the north coast of Skyrim completely lacks.

I passed the frozen altar set within the pass between what I consider to be the northern part of Skyrim against the middle part and noticed that the flowers and memorial items set around the skeleton had still not moved despite the constant wind rushing through. Closer examination revealed that the entire altar and everything touching it was frozen fast, a clever solution to a common problem.

Just outside was the remains of a grisly-looking battle: five dead soldiers, some Imperial Legion, some Stormcloak, and one survivor equipped like a high-ranking Imperial Legion officer.
The scene was suspicious, but I probably would have walked by the man had he not betrayed himself in so stupid a fashion. As soon I he saw me he stood, unsheathed the two-handed war-hammer he clearly had no idea how to wield, and told me to relinquish my valuables, weapons, and armor. I agreed and tossed my long blade at him, sideways of course, lest he hurt himself catching it.

Faced with getting ignominiously and harmlessly hit with a sword or keeping his war-hammer in hand, he chose the former, as I guessed he would. His satisfied snarl at snatching my sword out of the air was cut quite short by the dagger and the Khajiit holding it. The dagger went clean through his throat. I happily claimed his crossbow and bolts.

The rest of the long walk to Riverwood passed without anything noteworthy happening and I was pleased to reach the town by early afternoon.
Delphine was both alarmed and relieved to see me walk through her door. She immediately rushed up to me, loudly proclaimed my "favorite" room was waiting (she has only one!), and just about dragged me into it. My attempts at protest were hushed and once we were in the room she pressed a hidden button which opened the room's wardrobe, revealing a hidden stairway behind it.

It led to a small basement, sparsely furnished for comfort but boasting a rack of weapons, an enchanting table, and a massive table supporting an equally massive map of the province.
She got right to the point, stating she had heard through her "sources" that the Greybeards had named me Dragonborn and that she hoped they were right, for the situation was heating up. I politely asked what the situation was and instead she replied that she was part of a group that had been looking for the Dragonborn for some time. I thought immediately of the crazy cultists I have been running into on the roads, but she brushed them aside as lunatics.

Continuing to talk, she explained that the Thalmor was on a constant watch for her friends and that she suspected they knew more about the Dragons and, in her opinion, were controlling them to keep the Civil War alive. It was an interesting theory next to my Stormcloak-Dragon alliance one, but hers does sound more likely.

Delphine demanded to know if I was truly the Dragonborn, that is, if I had the ability to absorb a Dragon's soul, which she said is the only way of permanently killing it. If so, she had a task for me. The Dragons, according to her, were not only returning, but coming to life. They had previously been killed ages past by Delphine's predecessors, but this death merely put them into a sort of sleep, I suppose. So they were not returning to Skyrim from elsewhere, they were actually awakening within Skyrim, then flying about torching things to some purpose of their own.

Whatever their reasons, Delphine had been busy trying to discover them. Her giant map showed where the Dragons were said to have been buried after the Dragon War. Most of the sites she revisited were empty of Dragon. Mapping the empty burial sites with the ones that remained, she was confident she knew which burial site a Dragon would arise from next.

That is where I came in.

I was to travel to the burial site and slay the waking Dragon, with Delphine in toe to verify that I was a true Dragonborn. She promised to tell me everything should I meet with her Dragon-slaying expectations.

I asked how she came upon the map of all the burials and she smiled. It was her who was speaking with Farengar when I returned with the Dragonstone, but it was not for him that I retrieved it. Delphine had arranged its retrieval through Farengar to protect her identity, but one now assumes she is known to a circle of trusted associates.

The pattern of wakings started near Riften in the southeast and have been working their way north ever since. According to her research the next Dragon would wake near a town called 'Kynesgrove' just outside of Windhelm, the city I was trying to avoid. I thought it would be best if we traveled separately but Delphine insisted on traveling with me to ensure my safety. Laughable.

So it was another long walk for me, this time from the relative warmth back into the snow and ice. The journey was uneventful except for her constant grumbling about going too slow, but she had not spent all morning walking from Winterhold. By the time we reached the outskirts of Windhelm it was dark, windy, and snowing.
We continued on, but were interrupted by a group of guardsmen rushing for the city's gate from the southern road. Delphine shouted at them over the wind, demanding to know what had them running scared and one stopped long enough to babble about seeing the largest Dragon in Tamriel just outside the city. My thought that the Dragons were working with the Stormcloaks was quickly unraveling.
Indeed, from just outside the gate we could see a flapping black shape in the sky. Delphine yelled that it was time to prove myself, a rather insulting thing to say I think, and we ran through the stinging ice and snow towards the black shape in a rapidly darkening night.

The Dragon was hovering over the top of the hill and we were stuck huddling behind a tree near the bottom. Delphine wanted to charge the Dragon outright, but I convinced her to wait behind some rocks while I sneaked upwards to figure what our plan should be. What I found was something impossible to plan for.
The Dragons were not waking up, they were being woken by the same Dragon that destroyed Helgen. Was it acting on behalf of the Stormcloaks or was it acting on behalf of itself, as Delphine suspected? I could not tell. I heard a rumbling that sounded like it may have been words, but whatever the Dragon was saying, if anything, I could not tell.

Delphine crept up behind me, unbidden, but was smart enough to crouch silently while we watched the Dragon awaken one of its own. The constant rumbling of the Dragon's speech died suddenly and, contrary to my expectations of a Dragon crawling from the earth, a Dragon materialized before us, first bones, then sinew, then flesh and skin.

The larger Dragon flew away, leaving the smaller awakened one on the ground before us. Delphine whispered that she wanted to fight it alone and charged the Dragon from our hiding place.

She accounted well for herself, much better than I had expected and though I was ready to jump in to save her, that proved not to be necessary. She lived up to her predecessors' skills, slaying the Dragon herself with her katana, a design I have not seen in many years now. As I watched her hack the blade into the beast's side, I suddenly realized who she really was.
The corpse burst into flames, Delphine cheekily using the brief conflagration to light a torch. She watched with satisfaction as the Dragon's "soul" was drawn into me, uselessly as I hate to use the "shout" and announced that any questions I had would be answered without hesitation.

She was just as surprised as I had been to find the big Dragon at the other's awakening. She had thought the Dragons were awakening on their own, but now this was no longer the case. I told her that I had seen the black Dragon before at Helgen right before the town was completely destroyed and it frustrated her to be just outside of a mystery she seemed to think she should have solved by now.

Delphine then confirmed my suspicion: she was a member of much-depleted Blades, the organization of Imperial bodyguards and spies that served the Empire before the Thalmor took them apart. How I managed to escape their notice is a wonder. I served Martin Septims alongside the Blades during the Oblivion Crisis and was even a member of the organization a long time ago on Vvardenfell, though I barely have any memory of Morrowind anymore.

But the Blades traditionally served the Septim dynasty, also called 'Dragonborn' under different context. The Emperor after the Oblivion Crisis, Titus Mede, was not of the line and the Blades, from what I remember, served somewhat halfheartedly. I discarded my identity then, disappearing into Skyrim as just another mercenary fallen upon hard times. The Great War raged and took no notice of me, claiming the Blades organization as one of its many causalities.

But one of the few surviving Blades did not speak of this history, referring to the organization as one of Dragon-slayers, not servitude. They had waited for the 'Dragonborn' to arise again in order to serve, but much like their origins, these Blades were confused. I was not the 'Dragonborn' of the Septim dynasty, I was only 'Dragonborn' so far as Skyrim's legend of that Dragon-slaying warrior was concerned. The two were very different otherwise!

Based on her own theory of alliances in Skyrim she felt striking at the Thalmor would see some of her questions answered. Her reasoning was simple: the Civil War was basically over, the Empire had captured Ulfric, then a Dragon arrives, destroys the Imperial town of Helgen, Ulfic escapes, and the war continues. I pointed out that line of thought also supported my idea of the Stormcloaks allying with a Dragon, but she dismissed that due to the Stormcloaks meager resources.

Delphine's plan was audacious in scope: she proposed an attack upon the Thalmor Embassy, the seat of power for the Thalmor operating in Skyrim. How we were to successfully storm the place was something she had not yet thought of, but she assured me that a plan would be coming within the next couple of days.

I cannot say I am eagerly anticipating it.