You never know how a day that begins in Morrowind will end. Today started pleasantly enough at the familiar Balmora Mages Guild and ends in the forlorn wastes of the Ashlands. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I reviewed my notes for the next Propylon stone over breakfast. The next stone somehow ended up as an offering at the small outpost of Maar Gan, which is situated against the west side of the Red Mountain. I wonder how the stone came to be an offering, for no devout pilgrim would offer up what he thought was a useless stone, yet someone knowing what the stone was would probably try to sell it to a mage. Maybe I'm underestimating the pilgrims' faith. Either way, I faced the task of pilfering the Falasmaryon Index from a presumably well-staffed Tribunal shrine. I remember hoping I could just buy the Index from one of the priests, which only shows how little interaction I've had with the Temple so far.
Before leaving, I left the ring I had found at the tomb near Gnisis with Galbedir to see if she could figure out what it did. Masalinie sent me to Ald'Ruhn and I decided to walk to Maar Gan, assuming the trip would be somewhat hazardous, but mostly boring, the daylight limiting the amount of predators in the Ashlands. What I had not counted on was what Heem-La at the Ald'Ruhn guild called a "Blight Storm", the weather of nightmares.
The sky was the same blood-red sheet of lightning as it was when I was inside the Ghostgate, but I suffered none of the ill effects I had before. The guards were still patrolling the town and people were going about their business, their faces protected with full helmets or wraps of cloth. The dust limited visibility even worse than the usual dust storms, but the Ald'Ruhn Caravaner refused to take the silt strider out. As he explained, the storm was dangerous not only due to the visibility issues, but Blight storms have a peculiar way of bringing out Vvardenfell's worst creatures, some of them enough to seriously wound or kill a silt strider. So I was stuck on my original plan and started walking, very slowly and cautiously, north to Maar Gan.
|Ald'Ruhn during the storm|
I should not even have bothered. The red sky conspired with the dust to render it even more opaque than usual and I was reduced at times to crawling on my hands and knees along what passed for a road, lest I tumble down the side of a cliff or blunder into one of the many large rocks that dot the Ashlands. The Caravaner was right about the creatures, though his warnings about "the most dangerous ones" strike me as rather exaggerated: all I ran into were crazed Nix Hounds and hungry Kagouti. I think he just did not want to go anywhere in the storm, which certainly seemed the saner decision. Between the red sky and the constant threat of attack in a storm where visibility was barely five feet my nerves were on edge by the time I glimpsed the Maar Gan silt strider, though physically I managed no worse for wear.
Maar Gan is less of a town and more of a cluster of buildings surrounding a lonely temple. It seemed an odd location to build a temple, but I learned from one of the residents that Maar Gan was built on the site where Vivec, thousands of years ago, taunted the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon into throwing a rock at himself instead of his followers.The shrine contains the actual stone...or so I'm led to believe. Pilgrims travel to Maar Gan in order to re-enact this historical event by taunting a captive Dremora held permanently in the shrine. Blessed by a powerful defensive spell prior to the ritual, the pilgrims cannot be harmed and the Dremora cannot be harmed. While I obviously bear no affection for Dremora of any kind, this seems a very unfair and pointless arrangement.
Before snatching the Propylon stone I visited the few services the place offers.The local blacksmith had a steel longbow in terrible condition that I was able to buy for a steep discount. It will be good practice for my repairing skills, as well as a better weapon than my short bow.
I came across a small memorial to a warrior named Ravila Neryon, who fell while she was attempting to cleanse a local egg mine of the Blight. The date of her death was not given, but the memorial's decorations looked fairly new and given that they were also undamaged I assume her body was not recovered.
An unusually talkative Dunmer woman struck up a conversation with me as I was admiring the memorial and confided that she thinks she'll be having a lot more memorials to dust in the coming months, as monsters have been managing to get through the Ghostfence and attack pilgrims and even the town itself once or twice. House Redoran has been soliciting volunteer fighters to defend Maar Gan and the response has been surprisingly good, but in the Dunmer's opinion, it would take a concentrated effort by all of the great Houses to eradicate the threat for good. Her opinion on the chances of that cooperation happening was not optimistic.
When I mentioned I had walked from Ald'Ruhn, she cautioned me that the Blight storms can turn animals into monsters, but I hadn't encountered anything unusual. She had heard that people can become afflicted by being outside in the storms as well, though she admitted there has been no verified cases of that happening.
I visited the shrine and realized that it would be nearly impossible to just snatch the stone and run. I had expected the shrine to be similar to the little shrines dotted in the cantons of Vivec, but this was a large room with a permanent staff and regular foot traffic in the form of patrolling guards, visiting pilgrims, and the captive Dremora. I spoke to one of the staff about the stone, but he denied any responsibility, telling me to speak to the priest in charge.
The priest was of no help, insisting that the stone was a valuable gift from a pilgrim and could not be sold for any price. I resisted telling him that the stone was of no value unless it was put to the use it was made for. Eventually he grew tired of my inept negotiation and snapped at me that he hoped my business would be concluded soon. With that, he retired through a door in the back of the shrine and an idea came to mind.
Of the many worthless items I frequently come across, empty soul gems of the "petty" and "common" classification are frequently found. I've been holding on to a few of each with the idea that if I come across a soul trapping scroll, I could sell a charged gem to Galbedir. The "petty" variety, as the Dunmer refer to it as, looks pretty similar to the Propylon stone. Without the priest at his station, the only permanent staff at the shrine was the guard and the Dremora, the latter of which would probably be amused by the whole thing. All I had to do was stay out of the guard's sight and wait for a moment when the stream of pilgrims slowed down so that I could swap the stone for the soul gem.
I didn't have to wait long and I quickly stuffed the Propylon stone in my bag, gently placed the soul gem on the donation plate, and walked out of the shrine.
The Caravaner in Maar Gan was made of sterner stuff than his compatriot and had no issues with taking me back to Ald'Ruhn with the storm still raging. Erranil, the Altmer guild guide, commented on my need for a bath, disapproving of the amount of dust I was trailing into the guild. Not my fault I have fur.
It was about four or five in the afternoon when I found myself back in Caldera's Mages Guild. Folms paid me another five hundred Septims for the stone and pointed me towards my next target: the Valenvaryon stone, held by a "wise woman" of one of the nomadic Ashlander tribes. He was only able to tell me that their camp was close to the fortress of Valenvaryon itself, east of Gnisis, the stone possibly having come into the tribe's possession through a raid on the ruined fortress.
I'm not sure why I felt it would be quicker to reach the camp from Ald'Ruhn rather than Gnisis, but I teleported back to the Ald'Ruhn Mages Guild (with Erranil's disapproval, I'm sure) and started walking, as before, north. The storm had died while I was in Caldera though and the comparatively clear sky of Vvardenfell was a welcome sight, though one that did not last long.
I had left Ald'Ruhn too late in the day to make it to Maar Gan before night set and the horrors of the Ashlands woke to greet me. I encountered no Nix Hounds or Kagouti this time, but did run into what used to be a man of Breton or Imperial origin, who was moaning and drooling uncontrollably as he staggered towards me, arms outstretched. His clothing was worn to nearly nothing and his skin was a sickly gray pallor seemingly stretched over his frame. I knew there was no helping the man recover from whatever ailed him and gave the help I could, skewering him with my spear and sending him to a merciful sleep. Rats and scribs, normally not hostile creatures, attacked me and all of the hostile creatures had the beginnings of the same growths that I saw on the Nix Hound several days ago. Symptoms of the Blight storm disease? I'll have to remember to look into it later.
I was hiking along the peaks of the Ashland valleys to avoid more combat and even with my Khajiit vision, managed to trip and tumble right down the side of a hill...into a camp of bandits. Not tumble a distance away from the bandits, no: I stopped rolling maybe two feet away from their camp fire. To say I surprised them would certainly be an understatement. Covered in red and grey dust, I wonder what their first thoughts were as to what creature I was. Whatever their guess, I was a deadly one, fatally striking the closest of the three in the neck with my claws, a weapon I disdain to use, especially against people. I flung her body away from the campsite in a surge of adrenaline and the other two backed away, flinging spells and arrows at me.
Their haste, and the night, lent nothing to their accuracy once I moved out of the light of the fire. Neither of them had any method of augmenting their night vision and I spent at least an hour stalking the two of them through the ashland as they fled. To their credit they didn't split up, but I do wish the last one hadn't begged for her life. It's the first death I've felt genuinely guilty about in quite some time, but had I let her live, what assurance did I have that she wouldn't have returned to cut my throat in the night? I hope she finds peace in whatever awaits us.
Another uneasy, restless night in the Ashlands. The best I can hope for is an hour or two of half-sleep before moving on to Maar Gan and eventually the tribal camp. Once I track down all the Propylon stones I'll be able to fling myself to every corner of Vvardenfell, greatly extending my ability to explore this land and find out more about what is occurring here.