Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Morrowind Day 21 - Taking Berandas

5th Hearthfire
I woke a little earlier than usual and walked out into another dark and foggy morning. Given my late start, I ate my breakfast as I walked along the river, intent on reaching a south-bound road to Caldera at some point. The constant overcast and rain made for a very dark morning, but the wilderness has ceased to be a cause for great concern and the lack of light has never bothered a Khajiit.

While walking along the river, I noticed the odd stone arch formation that the publican at the Tradehouse had mentioned yesterday. He had said it was along the coast, so I thought he meant along the coast of the sea, but I suppose he could have meant along the river. Sure enough, an ornate door was set into the side of the hill just below the arch on the opposite side of the river. A quick water walking spell (I'm getting better at this!) and I was inside the smugglers' hideout.

Whether or not I was mistaken about the publican's directions, the former ancestral tomb had been ransacked by some sort of banditry, who then themselves seems to have been overwhelmed by Daedra from  within the lower levels. The skeleton impaled against the ash pit just inside the tomb could either have been the works of smugglers or Daedra, but either way marked this tomb as no longer a family's ancestral home.
What few other remains I found indicate the smugglers, if that's what they were, met a violent end. Behind one locked door was a storage closet with a skeleton curled up in the corner and numerous skulls and bones laying about, all of them looking to be fairly recent additions.

The skeleton on the ash pile had been fixed there by a simple steel longsword, so that at least was done (probably) by the smugglers. The tomb continued downwards along a spiraling ramp, along which I encountered several Scamps and at the bottom a Clannfear, nothing I couldn't handle.The ramp ended at a small room with an altar, which had a single urn of ashes set upon it. My Khajiit blood must have sensed the ring, because I normally would not have disturbed the remains, but something drove me to sift the urn around and as I rolled the ashes around in the urn I gradually uncovered an enchanted ring. I took it, figuring the smugglers hid it there, and the magicka emitting from the ring is very strong, though I can't tell what it does and I won't wear it until I do. If the smugglers hid the ring there, then they were agents of their own destruction, the strength of the enchantment may have lured the Daedra to the tomb. There were two small chests near the altar, but they contained nothing of value.
I left the tomb in much the same condition as I entered it and climbed up the steep, muddy slope of the river and continued south. Not more than two minutes of walking and I found the remains of the smugglers. These remains, however, were alive, wet, and crouched around a dismal fire. None of them were visibly armed, but one of them happened to look my way and gave a shout and suddenly I had three Dunmer running at me. What is it about this place that makes people so reckless with their lives? Three against one are good odds for the majority, but again, I'm fully armed, armored, and trained to kill...Cyrodiil bears, mostly, but Morrowind has been a great teacher.

All three were magicka users and loosed ranged spells of various colors at me, all of which I managed to dodge. Rather than encircle me, all three of them charged my front, as if I wasn't holding a spear. With no armor and only daggers to back up their spells, they became easy prey once they exhausted their spell casting endurance, which happened rather quickly. If they were part of the tomb's smuggling group, nothing on them showed it and I left their bodies where they fell. The Kwama will find them before long.

Just behind them was a building unlike any I had yet seen on Vvardenfell. Squat and wide, it looked like the uglier cousin of Imperial fortress architecture. It also seemed abandoned, the stone wall crumbling in several places and the stairs quickly on their way to become a pile of rubble. I don't understand the reasoning behind building stone walls that someone could simply jump over and the architecture, from the outside, seems to make no sense. There are two stone buildings "within" the fortress: a very large stone building and a very small one. The large one contained two magical, and very colorful, portals that didn't seem to do anything.

The smaller one was the actual entrance into the fortress, housing a landing that descended into the actual structure. Judging by the exterior, I was expecting that the fort would have been ransacked long ago. What I found was very different.
Welcome to Berandas
Whether or not the remains were of the fortress's inhabitants or if they were squatting was impossible to tell, but the two impaled skeletons on the landing certainly served as a powerful warning. I admit I almost turned around right there, but the skeletons were very old and I incorrectly assumed the place would be abandoned by now.

Much like the tomb, the fortress was infested by Daedra, but unlike the tomb, also by more powerful Dremora warriors. It hasn't been long since my first fight with a Dremora in the sewers of Vivec, but I must be more powerful than I was, dispatching the demonic warriors were a challenge, but a welcome one after the eggmine of Khuul and the depressing meele by the campfire. The warriors were well-armed, all of them with Dwemer weapons, none of which I could further burden myself with.

I found a skeleton slumped against the wall in one of the larger rooms, the cause of death being the two very rare Daedric arrows embedded in its rib cage  With my aim, I'll definitely not be using them as weapons, but I could not pass up grabbing them anyway.
The second level of the fort existed only as a rough cavern, with a few furnishings scattered about. On this level I found the reason for the degradation of the fort, as well as almost meeting my death.

The cavern had been intended to be the unfinished third level of the fortress, but the original inhabitants only got so far as to roughly hew out a corridor and several rooms. More Dremora and Scamps awaited me and I dealt successfully with them, but I was growing tired and my armor was starting to become worn. Drawn to the smell and sight of what I thought was a campfire, I entered an alcove and was greeted by a rather gruesome sight.
Staying with the day's trend of "weapons through bodies", the skeleton was stuck to a large stalactite by a spear through the chest and a dagger through a hand. In the poor light I took the weapons for iron or steel, assuming the constant heat of the fire beneath them had blackened the metal. After (reluctantly) extinguishing the flame I pulled the spear free and caught unawares by the weight, fell off the brazier I was balancing on as the head of the weapon crashed against the bowl. I would have been luckier if the blade had chopped into the brazier, but the flat of the weapon rang off the edge and I might as well have rolled a gong after me and announced my presence to the rest of the denizens prowling about.

A hideous shrieking from somewhere further into the cavern was the response to my announcement and I hefted my new spear in an effort to determine what it was before the source of the noise found me. It was far heavier than any other spear I've used, but when I peered at the head of the spear, I realized what a rare find I was holding.

The spear head was probably three times the size of any spear I've yet seen and was cruelly barbed, designed not only to kill an opponent but to cause the maximum amount of pain while doing it. The faintly glowing markings engraved along the ebony were very similar to the dagger my long-gone Demon Tanto had summoned and I'm not sure how long I stood there (stupidly) gaping at the Daedric spear. Smaller weapons, such as daggers and short swords, are a bit more typical, usually owned by mater thieves and assassins. Weapons larger than that are normally found in extremely well-guarded museums and private collections. The price I could fetch for the spear could get me a private residence next door to the Imperial Palace...but the spear is probably too valuable to sell in Vvardenfell and unfortunately too heavy to carry with me right now.

The dagger was also Daedric, but I elected to leave it with the spear for now, since I was growing increasingly concerned about the constant shrieking deeper within the cave: It didn't seem to be getting any closer, but it wasn't getting any quieter either.

I left the alcove with my valuable treasures behind and proceeded straight down the hallway, but that was a dead end and I encountered only a single Dremora. The shrieking intensified as the sounds of our combat rang along the stone corridors. The Dremora was kind enough to leave a Dwemer halberd, but nothing compares favorably against Daedric, unless you happen to be particularly superstitious.

The shrieking creatures were deep within a large pit, off of a side corridor, almost two floors lower than the rest of the rooms. They were unlike anything I had seen before: half-bird, half-woman, the monsters had the torsos and heads of women, but legs of a bird, wings similar to that of a bat and long, barbed tails that somewhat resembled a scorpion's. Obviously they were Daedra, but not of any kind I'm familiar with.
Even from a distance these creatures were obviously formidable and I managed to enter their "lair" undetected thanks to my invisibility spell, but it only lasts for 15 seconds and the two of them were actively patrolling the pit. With only a few seconds left before my spell expired, I elected to attack rather than attempt to renew the spell. Still invisible, I lunged at the closed creature with my spear, but it (she?) somehow detected me anyway and hopped away, shrieking.

What followed was the most harrowing experience (so far) of my life. The creatures were much quicker than I anticipated and attacked with their tails, their wings, and even their mouths, lunging forward to snap at me with a mouth full of fangs. They were also a lot more intelligent, with one of them always at my flank or back and I don't know how much time I spent just trying not to die.

Their wings and teeth weren't very damaging to my armor, but the barbs on their tails cut into the Adamantium surprisingly well. It wasn't long before my the armor on my arms were nearly useless, courtesy of near misses on attempts at my neck. Very aware that I was going to die at this rate, I charged one of the creatures, desperate to take one out of the fight. It slashed at my legs as I closed in, doing grievous harm to the armor, but fortunately not crippling me as intended. My berserk attack  succeeded in spitting the creature with my spear, but it collapsed with an awful screech and wretched the weapon out of my hands, leaving me with no choice but to engage it's companion with my woefully short sword and shield.

Rather than draw out a combat I was fighting at a disadvantage, I risked everything, charging at the remaining creature, swinging both sword and shield at it until it collapsed in a bloody heap. There was a corpse of a Dunmer Legionnaire in the chamber who, oddly, appeared unharmed but had been dead for some time, the dry heat of the lava pits turning his flesh into leather. He had on him a pair of heavy boots that radiated more magicka than anything I had ever felt before, including the ring from the smugglers' tomb, so I took them, figuring that was my reward for what I had accomplished.

I managed to stumble out of Berandas and am now taking refuge in the portal chamber on top the fortress. I have no idea what time it is, other than that it must be very early in the morning. My armor is nearly destroyed, there is very little of my fur that isn't matted with blood, my spear is damaged, but repairable, and I am utterly exhausted. I've locked the portal chamber with my spell and piled all the furniture against the door. I'll continue my journey south whenever I happen to wake up.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Morrowind Day 20 - The Witch of Khuul

4th Hearthfire
Woke up at the Six Fishes at my normal time this morning and braved the placid, slow seas of Morrowind once again, this time on my way to Khuul to see about the witch Kaye assigned me to.

Trips via boat are already hardly worth mentioning at this point. A boat from Ebonheart to Hla Oad: five hours. Hla Oad to Gnaar Mok: four hours. Gnaar Mok to Khuul: seven hours. Sixteen hours on small, nearly flat-bottomed skiffs, with a polite, but quiet Dunmer my only company on every leg of the journey.

I write this now: Today is the last day Kerra steps upon any sea-going vessel of any kind. If I have to somewhere unreachable by magicka, I'm walking.

A Khajiit immediately offered to send me to the Imperial Fort of Frostmoth on Solstheim as I stepped on to the docks of Khuul. I'm not sure why any Khajiit would want to go there, we're hardly the type for cold living. He had a bit to say about the local egg mine, Asha-Ahhe. He had heard rumors that the miners were hearing mysterious voices and seeing ghosts. I had no desire to spend the night at Khuul, wasting another day on sea travel, so I purchased the location of the mine from him for a few Septims, determined to take care of the issue tonight.

I stopped in the local tradehouse to see if I could find out more about the mine, but the inhabitants are a droll lot. A Khajiit by the enviable name of Shotherra suggested that if I was looking for civilization, I'd do better to walk along the coast to the west, where House Redoran funds a small outpost with an inn. I do wonder how places like Hla Oad, Gnaar Mok, and Khuul remain in existence since most of the people I talk to in these places seem only to want to leave.

The mine was a little bit of a walk from the dismal village, but close enough that anything potentially hostile kept its distance, so the walk was without incident. I expected the miners to share the same disregard for visitors as the villagers, but they were surprisingly affable even before I revealed why I was there. The oldest among them told me he had tried to find the source of the voices they kept hearing, but did not get very far before his nerve failed him. He felt there was an evil presence there and refused to go back there for any reason.

I never found out what the evil presence was, but I did find two Dunmer and a Nord, the three of which did they meager best to kill me. Or rather one Dunmer and the Nord tried to kill me. I heard them talking among themselves as I was making my way towards the lake and with the help of my Invisibility spell managed to get one shot off with my bow. The "witch" wasn't hard to pick out of the trio, as she was the only female there. If she wasn't, the expensive clothing she was wearing would have marked her as my target anyway. I shot her to dispel what protective spells she might have woven about herself, but she had none and the arrow bit into her side.

She yelped, but I had already dropped the bow and was leaping at her as my spell fizzled out. I stabbed her as she was attempting to summon something from the Outer Planes and the force of the blow combined with my physical momentum knocked her off the small ledge the three of them were occupying. The shock of hitting the ground below probably finished her off if my attack did not and that was it for the infamous Witch of Khuul.

The other Dunmer retreated further into the cave, but predictably the Nord drew his sword and charged. As Auxiliaries we're taught that a trained spear-carrier can handle any type of adversary, but I've always been more comfortable going sword-and-shield against foes stronger than myself. It doesn't sound like it makes sense, but I don't see the wisdom in going after a Nord or Orc with a staff of wood topped with an iron point. Granted, my equipment is now several levels above the Imperial standard-issue, but old habits, especially ones centered around survival, die hard.

But an egg mine is not a place experienced fighters (or witches) choose to hide out in and a Nord showing the signs of skooma addiction makes for a strong, but clumsy enemy. He kept his armor in about as good a shape as his body and my sword found little resistance. His sword was done in the Nordic style and possibly hailed from Skyrim judging by the intricate lettering along the blade. It was the only thing of his that did not look like he picked it out of a trash barrel and I left the family heirloom with his body. Should the miners see fit to loot his corpse, let that be on their hands.

The other Dunmer's fate is not nearly as dramatic, though perhaps more fitting. In his retreat, he managed to blunder into the Kwama Queen's nesting area and was killed by her Kwama Warrior guards. The egg miners were not pleased by this, as the Warriors will be more aggressive for awhile, posing a threat to the miners whom the Warriors usually ignore.
I carefully crept by the corridor leading towards the Kwama Queen's chamber and found the lake where the "evil presence"  was said to reside. I was expecting something like a ghost or skeleton, some left-over from the witch's experiments, but the small lake area was quiet and rather peaceful. 

The miners were relieved to hear that the witch was dead. In their minds, she seemed a mighty sorceress, bent on twisting their souls and bodies to her own means. In reality, she was an Imperial Cult reject and never got a spell off, dying on the damp stone of the cave, just like the smugglers I've dispatched.

It was already late in the evening, so I used a scroll of Divine Intervention to move myself to Fort Darius in Gnisis. I didn't visit the Fort and instead went straight for the Tradehouse for some much needed sleep. The publican, Fenas Madach, told me I looked the "adventuring type" and confided that two guests of his the previous day had mentioned a cave along the coast they were using for smuggling. Maybe I'll look into it. Maybe I won't.

It's now about two in the morning and I'm barely keeping my eyes open any longer. I have to go back to Caldera at some point and return Nedhelas's basement key to him. I also want to speak to someone at the Mages Guild about learning some useful traveling spells. I also need to find a place to actually live. So much to do, never enough time, it seems, to do any of it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Morrowind Day 18 & 19 - A very long day

2nd Hearthfire, 3rd Hearthfire
The past two days have been busier than usual and given that I worked through the night, today's journal entry will span both today and yesterday. Note to self: don't make this a habit!

I woke at the Vivec Mages Guild late, at 8am and grabbed a mobile breakfast before walking out into a dreary overcast morning. I wonder what it would take for the sun to shine on Morrowind once in a while.
A typical morning in Vivec
Aurane was glad to receive her Roland's Tears and exchanged a rare fate potion for them. I never put much stock into the fate potions myself, but drinking one was said to somehow link you to the Gods, increasing your chances of succeeding at anything...until it wore off. I can't see how a potion that relies on beings so capricious can always be said to have positive results, but I'll hang on to it until I can barter it for something more predictable.

With nothing else to do in Vivec, I decided to take care of some unfinished business back in Balmora. Ajira greeted me cheerfully when I popped into existence in her "lab" and I bartered the remaining gems I had taken from Arkngthand to her in exchange for various restorative vials.
I also reported my progress on the task my friend had given me and he seemed pleased, but said he would need more time to digest the material I had given him. He gave me some scrolls of Divine Intervention which would teleport me to the nearest Imperial Shrine and promoted me in his organization. What benefits, if any, come with my promotion remain to be seen. So I have some free time from my semi-official obligations for the time being and plan on making the most of it. 

By "most of it" I mean, "wander around Balmora wondering what to do". Working for Ranis at the Mages Guild was an option, but both Ajira & Sharn had recommended speaking with Edwinna at the Ald'ruhn Guild instead. I was about to teleport over to Ald'ruhn before Ygfa suddenly came to mind for some reason. The Nord had mentioned I would be a decent recruit for the more militant side of the Imperial Cult and I thought it would be a nice change from the Mages Guild, so I teleported back to Vivec, much to Ajira's amusement.

The walk to Ebonheart was much like the walk anywhere has been lately: cold, damp, and boring. I need to find more reasons to spread my travels around, so far I've been stuck on the Bitter Coast. I had been hoping that joining the Imperial Cult would widen the scope of my journey, but it did not, as further events would prove.
A few inquiries pointed me towards Ruccia Conician, head of the Morrowind chapter for the Imperial Cult.  She was quite relaxed about my joining, accepting my fifty Septim 'donation' and welcoming me to the organization. She recommended I speak with Lalatia Varian within the Ebonheart Chapel about duties. We spoke about my history and what I was looking She in turn directed me to Kaye, a Redguard in charge of the shrine sergeants of the Imperial Cult.

My first task was to track down an Altmer, Caryarel, who had been a patient at the local infirmary up until a few days ago, when both he and a valuable limeware bowl disappeared from the Chapel. Kaye had no information as to his whereabouts and suggested I speak to the local Altmer living in Ebonheart. This simple task would in some ways wind up being my most trying so far.

An Altmer by the name of Fainertil was able to point me to the fishing village of Gnaar Mok when I asked him if he had heard of Caryarel. The combination of his Altmer skin and the brutish iron armor favored by the Nords made it easy to mistake him for an Orc until he spoke. While certainly not unheard of, it an Altmer wearing heavy armor, especially Nordic iron, was a rare sight and I wonder what his business in Ebonheart was.
An easy mistake to make
I took the boat from Vivec to the fishing village of Hla Oad, but the trip took seven hours, owing to having to sail against Vvardenfell's counter-clockwise coastal currents. It's due to those currents that this journal entry spans two days, since I spent most of those seven hours dozing. The young shipmaster was surprised that I was willing to sleep on the small craft, but shrugged and mumbled her consent. The Dunmer as a whole are not to be sought for their skills in idle conversation.

She gently shook me awake when we finally reached the village and I was startled to see that the overcast afternoon had slipped into an overcast evening. My aquatic guide told me she figured it was about ten in the evening, which proved correct. I had no desire to spend the evening in the village and I wasn't tired anyway, so I hired a second shipmaster to take me to Gnaar Mok immediately.

The second leg of my trip was mercifully shorter and I finally arrived at the village at two in the morning. I hadn't napped on the trip over, but I wasn't tired yet either, so I walked around the town for a few minutes, getting my bearings and trying to locate my prey. Caryarel turned out to be easy to find, being the only Altmer in town. A limeware bowl is a large thing and certainly nothing he would be carrying on him, but I didn't know which house was his. A stranger poking around everyone's  houses would certainly raise some ire, so I had to settle on more subtle methods. A Khajiit who called himself Wadarkhu pointed me to Caryarel's home after my "gift" of one hundred Septims, saying something about not liking independent competitors anyway.

By four in the morning I was ready to put my plan in effect. Wasn't a big plan: wait until Caryarel wasn't facing his house, then try my unlocking spell to gain entry and hopefully recover the bowl before he noticed what had happened. Sometimes the simple plans are best, because it worked beautifully. 

Luck must have been with me, for he never saw me press my palm to the lock and slip into his house. The bowl was secreted in a worn barrel in the corner of his modest dwelling and I delicately lifted it out. With luck he won't notice it's gone for quite some time and he'll probably blame one of his fellow residents. Now that I had the bowl, leaving was going to be a bit trickier. I had no desire to kill the man, so I had to leave the hut before he decided to come back. In the end I simply trusted fate and sneaked back out as quickly as possible. Fate again was on my side (without drinking the potion!): he was preoccupied on the far side of the village and never saw me lock the door as I left.

I was not looking forward to the boat trip home, but then I remembered the scrolls I was given when my "friend" promoted me. I ducked behind Caryarel's shack, unfurled one of the scrolls and after a moment of disorientation found myself in the Buckmoth Legion Fort at Ald'ruhn, far to the east of Gnaar Mok. A short walk to the Ald'ruhn Mages Guild and I was making the journey from Vivec back to Ebonheart yet again.

Kaye was pleased that I had not killed the Altmer thief and gave me two hundred Septims, plus another three scrolls of Divine Intervention. He also promoted me one rank and I am now a Novice in the Imperial Cult. He was also quick to assign me another task, this time in the much more civilized town of Caldera. A Bosmer had been complaining to the Cult that his house, which he recently moved into, was haunted by a malevolent spirit that kept chasing him out.

By now it was eight in the morning and I hadn't slept since three in the afternoon the previous day, but I was still feeling pretty good. I am growing tired of walking between Ebonheart and Vivec though. If I had more confidence in my water walking spell I could probably jog across the bay to the city. As usual, the weather was grey and wet.
Does the sun ever shine on Vvardenfell?
I exchanged pleasantries with the members of the Caldera Mages Guild on my way out and managed to run into the Bosmer, Nedhelas, all by myself. He was embarrassingly grateful for my assistance despite having received none yet and gave me the key to his basement, where he said the spirit seems to live.

The house was quite nice by the standards of most I've seen so far on Vvardenfell and the Bosmer had apparently tried to solve his problem by piling crates over the basement's trapdoor. After several minutes of exertion I was able to open the trapdoor and descend down into the basement.

There was something odd about how the "basement" looked and the long descending stairway right after the ladder made it seem even odder. The mystery wasn't a long-lived one, I was greeted by an armed skeleton as soon as I opened the door at the end of the stairs. It was quickly dispatched and I took a moment to examine the crates stacked in the corners of the room, but they contained mundane sundries and utensils. The door opposite the one I entered from opened to a small ancestral shrine, from which streamed an angry (I assume) ghost. It was no different than the few spirits I had fought already and it passed on without much fuss.

Nedhelas was still full of gratitude for myself, the Imperial Cult, and the Empire. I managed to get away from him before he started naming thanks to any Gods he could think of. It was starting to get late by now and I was actually growing tired, so I teleported back to Vivec and walked, again, back to Ebonheart, a trip quickly wearing out its welcome.
Closest thing to a sunny day so far
I stumbled into the Ebonheart Chapel at about dinner time and Kaye immediately set upon me another task before I even said anything to him. I've been asked to track down a Dunmer cultist who fled an Imperial Cult raid on a Daedric shrine she had been inhabiting. For whatever reason, she is thought to be hiding in an egg mine near Khuul . Kaye handed me a sack of Septims for my expenses and bade me be on my way. He said not a word about Nedhelas and I was too tired to even bring it up.

Ten Septims later at the Six Fishes got me the bed I'm barely staying conscious in and it's only six in the evening. Hopefully I'll wake up at my normal time tomorrow morning so that I can get an early start towards Khuul. It will be the farthest north I've traveled so far, which is pretty exciting. I'm getting tired of Vivec and the rest of the Bitter Coast.