Friday, August 17, 2012

Morrowind Day 15 - First Steps

30 Last Seed
Conscious that I've been less than prompt to my tasks, I made sure to visit my friend first thing in the morning. He was surprised to see me, but gave me quite a lot of information about the political landscape of Morrowind and asked that I to go to the Fighter's Guild and see the Drillmaster, Hasphat Antabolis, about the Nerevarine and the Sixth House. My friend warned me that I would likely have to do some dirty work before Hasphat would divulge what he knew.

Hasphat's "dirty deed" didn't seem very dirty: Explore the Dwemer ruin of Arkngthand and retrieve a a Dwemer toy of some sort, a puzzle box, from within the ruined city. He mentioned that the ruins might occupied by bandits or Dwemer automatrons, but with my new equipment and training, I felt I could handle any challenge. This, naturally, would turn out to be false, but not until much later.

He also pressed a copy of "On Morrowind, the Imperial Province" into my hands, paradoxily stating it wouldn't do me much good, since an adventurer needed current events, not history. To that end, he spoke of assassinations (legal and illegal), murders, the feuding of the three great Houses, and the Blight spilling out of the Red Mountain. I grew a little worried at that, as I had been in the Red Mountain, but so had Viatrix. Either way, I think if I were Blighted, I would know.

I left Balmora towards Dwemer ruin immediately after, confident and a little anxious. I can deal comfortably with run-of-the-mill bandits, but I theorized that a group claiming a ruin as large as Arkngthand would have to number at least two dozen. I encountered one of them on the bridge crossing the foyada, who immediately conjured up a skeletal apparition and started flinging fireballs at me. Had I been him, I would have let my prey approach far closer than he did, for his spells were easily dodged and the apparition's cohesiveness was already starting to fade by the time it dutifully closed to melee range, over half the length of the bridge. Two blows of my sword scattered the skeleton's bones, but the bandit had either grown smarter or tired and was holding back with his fireballs, sending them flying only as I was dashing between the barrels and carts littering the bridge.

I briefly considered my bow, but trying to fire it likely would mean a ball of fire hurtling at my face and an arrow flying off in some unhelpful direction. While I was contemplating a retreat and loop around the bridge, the enthusiastic mage sprang from behind a barricade of barrels and charged at me while waving a sorry looking axe over his head. A competent axeman, of which he was clearly not, would never wave the weapon over his head unless he was looking for more iron in his diet. Irony dictated that he also be wearing an iron breastplate, but it did him little good. He swung wild, intent on cleaving my head satisfyingly from my shoulders but I merely ducked under the swing, burying my sword beneath his armor. While that did not kill him, my hurling him off the bridge and into the foyada below certainly did. I find it odd that I have had so little difficulty with the bandits of Morrowind, yet encountering any of the land's fauna is cause for great alarm.

Also odd was the raw ebony and ruby the bandit had hidden away. The bridge did not seem well traveled and individuals carrying easily misplaced wealth were far more likely to travel via silt strider or teleportation. I pocketed both with the intention to sell them in Balmora.

The door into Arkngthand was a wonder: A nearly perfect, to my eyes, stone sphere which split into two halves to allow entry and egress, powered by some unseen machine. The spherical design allowed for very tight security, allowing at most two people to enter at a time, but the sensation of the door closing behind me, sealing me between the fort's door and the sphere, was unsettling. If I had not been able to open the door, I might have been entombed just within the entrance of the ruin unless someone else happened by. Fortunately, the door, stone also, swung open easily. I was expecting to enter into a hallway or antechamber, but instead found myself within a rather voluminous, natural cavern, with the actual Dwemer ruins built into the far side. Large stone slabs had been felled to replace a now-missing causeway connecting the entrance to the floor of the cave.

A Redguard, similarly equipped as the bandit on the bridge, was in front of the ruin's main doors, far below the entrance to the cavern. Evidently Arkngthand does not receive many visitors, for he did not seem particularly alert or dutiful about his task as he leaned against one of the several pillars supporting the second level of the ruined entranceway. I did not want to expend my limited magicka on an invisibility or feather fall spell, but the stone slabs provided the only non-lethal, non-magical way to the cavern floor, where the guard would be sure to spot me. I decided to fire an arrow in his general direction, hoping he would charge up the ramp at what would appear to be a skittish, frightened Khajiit archer. If he called a few friends, I was confident that my skill with my spear, combined with the height advantage of the ramp, would enable me to defeat several attackers.

However, the arrow, for him, turned out to be a once in a lifetime shot. The arrow flew truer than I intended, driving deep into his neck and chest as it hurtled downwards. The arrow must have hit something vital on its way in, for he gave no alarm and showed no surprise as he crashed to the ground. Should I live a hundred years I might never make such a fortunate, albeit accidental, shot.
Lucky for me, unlucky for him
Behind his corpse were a collection of heavy metal barrels of Dwemer design. Expecting nothing, I was quite surprised to, again, find more gemstones, this time a diamond and an emerald. To have in my bag four precious gemstones represented more money than I would have made in the Auxiliaries in as many years. It is a mystery as to how so much wealth would find its way in a desolate ruin, in the possession of equally desolate individuals.

There were three doors set into the fort's entrance, though for some reason known only to the Dwemer, two of them opened into the same hallway. I crept through one of the doors expecting something along the lines of a garrison, but only ran into a few more bandits and all of them individually. None of them proved to be difficult to best, though none of them tried to parley either, each one choosing to fight a better-armed and trained opponent to the death. Money is insufficient as the sole origin of such fanatic motivation, but I found no hints as to what drove these people to die at my hands. It could not have been the ruin's meager loot, as the Dwemer were obviously a people of great skill and craftsmanship, but either they were all incredibly strong or they never made anything with the intent of moving it. Even something as small as a cup must have weighed at least three times what I had expected it to. There were, however, a good deal of silver coins laying about that I pocketed.

The air became increasingly fetid and hot as I prowled the halls and it was only when the air became nearly unbreathable that I came upon the source of my discomfort: an open pool of lava, over which spanned a broken bridge. The gap in the bridge was far too wide to jump and I could see no quick way to the other side, so I turned back, the dank, stale air gradually tasting as if it was the coolest, most refreshing breeze. I have no way of knowing what lies beyond the bridge, but as I said earlier, the Dwemer must have been a confident, architecturally advanced people, to feel so comfortable building over such an obviously fatal obstacle.

I prowled about a bit more and ran into two more bandits, each one on their own and each no great threat. Writing this after the fact, I cannot recall enough details about any of the fights to embellish on the battles. Even their leader, an Imperial calling himself "Boss Crito", was not especially difficult. To summarize: I wiped out a band of common smugglers more accustomed to slipping coins into hands rather than blades into flesh and the entire exercise left me feeling quite disappointed. Back in Cyrodiil, I fought alongside several individuals against a stated threat, be it animals, highwaymen, or the occasional goblin raid. The task and its purpose was always clear. But I was sent to the ruins of Arkngthand to fetch a simple item, the smugglers were merely in the way and I get the feeling no one cared or knew whether they lived or died.

The puzzle box was sitting on a shelf behind the body of Boss Crito. The surface of the small, metal cube was covered in scratches, results of attempts to pry or smash it open, though it did not feel as though it contained anything. I did not think to have any greater success than its previous owners, so I left it alone. It would be quite embarrassing, returning to Hasphat with the broken cube.

I was surprised to exit the ruins under the night sky, I had spent far more time in the ruins than I thought. I returned the cube to Hasphat, but will report to my friend tomorrow morning.

Hasphat's reward for my returning the cube to him was a key to the lower levels of the ruins, plus some information about the Sixth House and Dagoth Ur. The sheaf of notes I was given to pass along to my friend made mention of several books for further reading, which I should follow up on soon. The lower levels, he warned, would probably contain Dwemer automatrons, so I think I will be avoiding them for now.

According to Hasphat, the Sixth House was plotting treason against the other Houses during a war long ago and was destroyed, along with House Dwemer, for its attempt. The leader, Dagoth Ur, was thought dead but apparently he and his cohorts survived through magical means, the result of which is the blight and dust storms, as well as a host of foul creatures I've fortunately not yet encountered.

No one in the Mages Guild questioned my absence, though I stunk of brimstone and exertion. Ajira did pointedly remind me that the baths were always open to Guild members and they are my next stop before bed after I finish this journal entry.