Breakfast again at the Balmora Mages Guild, then a beeline for Masalinie as soon as I was finished with my meal. I teleported to Vivec and wasted no time in leaving the guild, though I did grab the magicka restoration potions from the Guild's supply chest on the way out. They are free to members and my lack of casting skill means I'll need them a lot more than any other guild member. Besides, no one else ever seems to go anywhere.
On my way down to the lower levels of the canton, I stopped to talk to a Khajiit merchant, Baissa, who didn't have much in the way of adventuring wares, but did mention she overheard a rumor that there was something interesting underneath the Arena canton. It seems that every person I talk to has a rumor to investigate or a task that needs doing and if I pursued half of what I have already been told I'd be dashing about from one side of Vvardenfell to the other. The 'Mystery Under Arena' will have to remain just that.
I managed to avoid any other rumors and jobs and finally reached Jobasha's Rare Books. I had been hoping to find the books Hasphat had mentioned, but the Temple Ordinator stationed right inside the store was a sign that I would not, in fact, find the books here and I didn't, to no surprise. I did sell off a few of the larger books I had been carrying with me though, freeing up valuable backpack space and making me a few Septims richer. I do enjoy reading though and if I had a place of my own I'd certainly stock up on books. Maybe that's from my upbringing in the temple, so many years ago.
On my way out of the canton I passed an Alchemist's shop on the way out of the book store and stopped in, figuring I could sell some of the gems. The store's owner, Aurane Frernis, was clearly distraught and asked if I had seen any of "those horrid leaflets". I had a leaflet that the Redguard outside the Mages Guild had given me nearly a week ago, but I hadn't done more than glance at it. I think I kept it in case I needed to light a fire. The leaflet was a proclamation that Aurane's potions were bad and had several testimonies to that effect. Naturally, Aurane was not happy about this and asked if I could look into it for her. Ordinarily I'd pass, but having a friend in Vivec may be handy in the future, so I agreed to track down the source of the slander and put an end to it.
Naturally, my initial questions were directed at the man handing out the leaflets outside the Mages Guild: the Redguard Domalen. He was not ashamed to admit he was being paid by a Telvanni eager to discredit her competition. This Telvanni, Belan, was more likely driving customers to a different foreign alchemist rather than to her. My brief visit to the Telvanni canton was a cold, unwelcoming experience.
Nevertheless, I braved the (perceived) silent hostility of the canton and spoke to Belan. In true Telvanni fashion she admitted that she was the source of the leaflets and offered me one hundred Septims for my silence. I simply walked out and informed Aurane who her slanderer was. She was furious and promised me (for some reason) that she would go to the magistrate with the information. I wonder what chance a foreigner has for justice against a Telvanni. Coincidentally my reward was one hundred Septims, plus a new task.
Aurane spoke of flowers very similar to Gold Kanets that only grew in one location in all of Morrowind: Roland's Tears, a type of Gold Kanet that could only be found near the Daedric ruins outside of Vivec to the northeast. I was a bit uneasy about approaching the ruins, but agreed to undertake the job, figuring I could skirt around the ruins until I saw the flowers.
The ruins were a surprisingly short walk from the Telvanni canton and I heard the ruins before the rainy, overcast weather allowed me to see it. The Daedric shrines were built to communicate with and summon Daedric servants, but when the cults were destroyed or dissolved, the ruins fell into disrepair and the whatever barrier protects our world from the Planes of Oblivion is weakened, allowing daedra to inhabit the remains of the shrines. Fortunately, they seem unable to venture out of the ruins, but the concentration of foes makes ruin exploration a very hazardous affair.
My plan to avoid entering the ruins turned out to not be feasible, as one side lies against the water and the three landlocked sides were not home to Roland's Tears, so I wound up having no choice but to cut through the ruins to reach the far side.
In pristine condition, the shrine's architecture must have been a wonder, with gazebos, staircases and spires seemingly placed at random. In the haphazard jumble that time inflicted upon it, it was easy to get turned around and confused. Only by sheer luck was I prevented from becoming a crispy Khajiit, courtesy of my would-be Flame Atronach assassin. As it was, my sneaking about paid off for the first time in my life and I had the distinctly uncomfortable experience of watching the Atronach stomp right past me, probably no more than twenty yards away.
When its back was turned I quietly laid my sword on the ground and pulled out my bow and a handful of enchanted arrows I had purchased from Aradraen. The damp weather and my anxiety caused the first two arrows to fly wide, but they impacted wet soil instead of stone and the Atronach remained unaware. The next arrow smacked right into the side of its head and the arrow's enchantment sent a cone of cold into the creature as it reeled. I was able to get off two more quick shots as it charged at me, but both of these missed. I fought the creature with sword and shield and received several scorch marks on my armor for my daring, but the final stab of my sword into the unnaturally cold fire of its body sent it tumbling. Valuable Fire Salts were my reward, another one hundred Septims for my effort. I encountered several Scamps, but that combat does not bear mentioning.
I found Roland's Tears growing on the far side of the ruins against the lake and picked six of the flowers before cautiously creeping back through the ruins and towards Vivec.
The Imperials have a fairly distasteful saying: "Curiousity killed the cat", often substituting 'Khajiit' when the situation warranted. I don't think "Having a smart mouth killed the Imperial" is likely to catch on soon, but when I crept by the spidery entrance to the ruin's interior, I paused for a moment, reasoning that the Flame Atronach had not been very difficult and I was surely up to whatever challenge (and treasure) lay within. Assumptions and overconfidence may be the most dangerous foe in Morrowind.
The door opened too easily for something that should have been abandoned for years, so the young Dunmer's attack came as less of a surprise than I'm sure she had hoped for. Her dagger was enchanted to strike with electrical shocks, but her weapon and her combat style was unsuited for use against an armored and shielded opponent. She kept trying to get in close, behind my shield, but that never works against any opponent with even a little bit of experience. The battle did not last long and I took the expensive-looking lock picking tools she had on her. I left the dagger.
The entrance to the ruins was small and served only as a landing from which three staircases, one to each side and one in front, descended. I crept down the right staircase, bow at the ready and caught the mutterings of an older Dunmer male encased in full bonemold armor. The arrows I loosed at him pierced his armor as he charged up the stairs, but did not seem to hurt him much. My opponent this time wielded an iron longsword with surprising skill, but I had enough time to ready my spear as he came up towards me. The difference in height and reach afforded me a large advantage and he met the same fate as his comrade. Unlike his younger companion, he had nothing of value on him, his armor being too damaged and too heavy to make the effort of carrying it worthwhile. The Dunmer's body had stopped rolling at the foot of the stairs, but the chamber he had been guarding was empty and the room, and his death, seemed to serve no purpose.
I crept back up to the landing and down the opposite staircase, concentrating with the extreme intensity of the incompetent to not make any noise as I clanked down the stairs in my armor. My near decapitation was the only warning I got that I had failed, but the large blade swung from around the corner of the stairs struck my spear first, nearly knocking me off my feet.
I dashed under the blade as it slashed across the spear shaft and clanged against the glassy stone wall, turning to face my enemy as I leapt into the room. My assailant was, again, a young Dunmer woman, but she was heavily outfitted and wielded her ordinarily cumbersome weapon with enough skill and grace to make me immediately regret placing her between myself and the stairs. We traded blows, she with her two-handed sword, me with my spear, but neither one of us were greatly harmed. I took cover behind one of the braziers situated in the middle of the room, stabbing at her over the top and around the sides as she attempted to back me against the stone foundation.
She was more skilled than I, but I was quicker and less encumbered by my equipment. Her weapon was fatiguing her quicker than mine was and she was increasingly going on the defensive. Rather than continue to dangerously wear her down, I loosened my grip on my spear, waited for her next swing, and let the spear fly from my hands as I parried the blow. My cry of despair and fear would no doubt win me accolades at theatrical circles everywhere and I fled back up the stairs, weaponless.
Unencumbered, I dashed up the stairs well ahead of her and took a chance, casting my weak spell of invisibility. To my surprise, it actually worked on the first try and I crouched into the corner of the landing where I had hidden my sword as the Dunmer warily stepped upon the landing. I knew I only had seconds before the spell wore off, so I rushed her and drove my short sword into her side, just under her arm.
Not a trick anyone with honor would try, but her breastplate, which I had mistaken for steel, was a rare Imperial silver curiass, given to Legionaries who demonstrate exceptional skill and bravery. My surprising pang of guilt dissolved when I looked at the inside of the armor, where an engraving dedicated the armor to a 'Captain Ildonia Viciulus', whom she clearly was not. Whether she came upon the armor via theft or murder, the Imperial in me left the armor in the ruins, as a sort of memorial to the man it once belonged to.
Besides, I couldn't comfortably carry any more weight.
The walk back to Vivec was dark, rainy, and dreary, but uneventful. I arrived at the Mages Guild a few minutes past midnight and will turn in the flowers tomorrow morning. Who knew such a simple task would result in so much?