Sunday, December 16, 2012

Morrowind Day 29 - Beneath a Red Sky

13 Hearthfire
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.
Close enough
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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Morrowind Day 28 - Propylon Progress

12 Hearthfire
I woke up this morning in an unusually optimistic mood. I've accomplished a lot more than I thought possible and I'm resolved to continue to push myself further. If someone had told me a year ago that I'd be in Morrowind, pretty much on my own and doing whatever I felt like doing, I'd have told that person they were mad. Why would an orphaned Khajiit barely accepted into the most-ignored branch of the Imperial military be in Morrowind?

I still don't have an answer to that question, but my skills have reached heights far higher than they would have back in Cyrodiil and the creatures I've vanquished a far cry from the bears and desperate bandits I previously fought. I find myself looking forward to what the next day brings and what I'll encounter or learn.

I'm enjoying being in Morrowind.

Using a scroll of Almsivi Intervention in the Six Fishes shifted me to the Temple Canton just under the rock the Temple calls "Baar Dau". I don't know a whole lot about it, other than that Vivec (the god), stopped its fall upon Vivec (the city) a long time ago. I assume it is still only Vivec that keeps the rock from crashing into the city, though the Temple is confident enough to construct something inside, judging by the scaffolding ringing around it. Khajiit I may be, but I would not  feel comfortable being that high in something that should not be in the air in the first place.
The disquieting sight of Baar  Dau
A lot of my time wasted today because of Folms's confusing directions. He said that the propylon index for the fortress of Marandus would be in a "storage area" in St. Olm's Temple. The Foreign Quarter canton has a storage area. The St. Olm's Temple canton has a storage area. It seemed simple.

Yesterday I had searched the St. Olm's storage rooms with no luck, but did find a locked door that my meager lockpicking skills could not open. Today, after a good night's rest, I was able to magically unlock the door, hoping that the stone would lay beyond. There was no stone, just a confusing series of events leading to no payoff. The door opened into a short hallway which turned to the right and into another storage chamber...with three Bonewalkers.
I fought an aggressive retreat, keeping them at bay and giving ground in an effort to trap the shambling group in the doorway. That plan didn't work very well, they simply pushed past one another in their desire to rend the flesh from my bones. I managed to kill one of them as the group worked their way through and killed another through another doorway into the first room of the storage area. I dealt with the third creature more conventionally in the middle of the first room, but had taken several blows from their claws by then and was suffering a persistent headache that  was making it difficult to think clearly. I pressed forwards through the storage room the creatures had chased me out of, only to be startled by another Bonewalker. Fortunately, they are not particularly difficult alone. I made a quick search of the crates in the room I had cleared, but only found plates, spoons, and other worthless sundries.

Through the room and down some stairs were a few atypical stone tombs, but nothing of value. Stairs leading up were the only way forward, but they led only to a shrine...and a dead end. That was it. What was the reason for the four Bonewalker guardians? Social status for the entombed? I'll never know why things occur in Morrowind they way they do. Overall, the entire episode led to empty hands, a dozen fewer arrows, and a splitting headache.

Discouraged, I decided to reverse my approach, working from the top of the canton instead of from the bottom. By the time I got to the plaza the headache had dulled along with my thinking and I could not remember why I had walked to the Plaza. Helpfully, a Dunmer recoiled from me when I walked by him, demanding that I keep my distance, lest I infect him too. When I asked him with what, he spat out some Dunmer word I didn't understand and pointed to the Temple, back pedaling from me the entire time.

The Temple is rather large, but is only staffed by a single soft-spoken Dunmer, Vaval Selas, who isn't even officially part of the Temple, but was hired as a sort of merchant custodian in charge of selling simple healing wares and maintaining the property. He instantly knew what was wrong with me when I stumbled in and provided me a chair while he prepared a potion. There was a small mirror nearby and I was curious to know what the Dunmer in the Plaza had seen.

I had not been infected for more than an hour by this time, but I looked terrible. The whites of my eyes had turned a bloodshot dull orange and seemed to me to vibrate in tempo with the pounding of my head. One (or more) of the Bonewalkers had infected me with Witbane, a disease affecting the functioning of the mind. Though it is not fatal, it is debilitating and makes you act very stupidly, such as my forgetting why I had come to the canton's Plaza. In time, I would have lost my ability to cast any sort of spell and in severe cases victims have lost the power of speech, though this is rare.

Fortunately, my case was quite light and recent enough to be quickly dispelled with a simple potion. Vaval asked no questions of me, but I told him how I had contracted the disease anyway, thinking he could shed some light on my quest. He expressed surprise and gratitude at my story, thanking me for cleaning out the storage rooms, but had no better idea of why the creatures were there than I did. I described the Propylon Stone and he had seen something like that in one of the back rooms awhile ago, but the rooms had become infested with rats (courtesy of a pregnant rat hiding in a delivery crate) and he was no fighter. I agreed to kill the rats in exchange for his permission to perform a search for the Stone.

The rats were...rats. Not much to write about. The Propylon Stone was on the floor in one of the small storage closets, looking like nothing more than an oblong, worthless piece of stone. I thanked Vaval and purchased some potions on my way out, leaving him to his peaceful solitude once again.
Judging by my stomach it was late in the afternoon when I left the Temple and I walked from the St.Olm's Temple canton to the Foreign Quarter, enjoying the cool Morrowind evening. I teleported from the Vivec Mages Guild back to Caldera and handed Folms the Propylon Stone, receiving a generous five hundred Septims for the task. My next target is the Propylon Stone for the fortress of Falasmaryon, Folms guess is that the stone is sitting on a donation plate somewhere in Maar Gan.

It was too late in the day to start out for Maar Gan, so I spent several hours in the Caldera Mages Guild training in various Alteration spells. When it got late I teleported over to comfortable Balmora and collapsed into an empty bunk. Tomorrow will be a long day of travel to Maar Gar, I'm hoping the stone is more easily found than today's was.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Morrowind Day 27 - A Mystery Solved

11 Hearthfire
Waking up in Okur's shack is certainly a step up from the Ashlands and I was served breakfast on top of it. Okur was very grateful for my assistance and we spoke over breakfast about her Cultist training and responsibilities. She is part of a program implemented by Kaye to reach isolated communities and spread the  influence of the Imperial Cult (and by extension I suppose, Kaye). Okur tackles her duty with devotion, but has doubts as to its success. According to her, the wilderness of Vvardenfell are saturated with agents working for the dominant criminal syndicate in Morrowind: the Camonna Tong.

Hla Oad is no exception to their attention, Okur knows of at least two people working for the organization as smugglers for illicit coastal deliveries from the mainland. For her part, she keeps her eyes open and her mouth shut and they don't give her any trouble. She also has suspicions that the Imperial Thieves Guild is trying to encroach on their business, but without much success. She certainly injects a bit more character into the town, but Hla Oad is never going to win me over.

After reporting my success with Okur's ghost, he gave me several scrolls that had been donated to the Imperial Cult. But I've exhausted Kaye of tasks for him to give me and he "regrettably" informed me that I could not rise in rank until my skills with Restoration magic and blunt weapons increased. As I do not use blunt weapons or Restoration magic, I suppose my brief employment with the Imperial Cult has come to an end. I was getting a bit tired of it anyway.

I opted to walk across the water from Ebonheart to Vivec and spent the rest of the morning touring the Mages Guilds, looking for cheap spells and potions to buy and talking to everyone about the Dunmer fortress portals. My conversations at Sadrith Mora's guild led me to Folms Mirel in the Caldera guild, whom has made a study of the portals and the method for controlling them.

He calls the portals 'propylons' for some reason and they can be activated via 'propylon index' stones, which fit into a slot on each of the portals. He knows where all the index stones are in a rough sense, but collecting them all involves more travel (and danger) than he is willing to shoulder. His proposition is for me to collect the stones and return them to him and once he has all the index stones, he will use them to enchant another stone to let me teleport from the Caldera Mages Guild to any of  the fortresses. They are scattered across Vvardenfell, making this an excellent alternative to boats and I readily agreed to the task.

The first stone was ridiculously easy: It was next door, for sale at the Caldera pawn shop. Five hundred Septims were sufficent for the broker to part with the gem-inlaid stone and Folms urged me to find the rest as quickly as possible. He said he had heard the second stone was shipped to St. Olm's temple in Vivec, but couldn't offer better directions than "somewhere in the canton in a storage area". Emelia, the Guild Guide, wished me luck before sending me off to Vivec.

Rather than walk across several cantons to St. Olm's, I paid one of the gondoliers at the Foreign Quarter to float me to the Hlaalu canton and from there to St. Olm's. My first stop was the St. Olm sewers, figuring that the most obscure storage areas would be located there. All I found though was another guarded Daedric shrine, which I avoided, and a nervous Khajiit who called herself Addhiranirr, refusing to talk any further.

I worked my way up the canton, searching through the canal works and encountering another grumpy Khajiit, this one named J'Dhannar, who told me to stop bothering him. I did find a storage area in that level, but I searched the area for quite some time with no luck. By the time I decided to give it a rest it already felt late in the evening. I hadn't bet on it being as late as it was though, when I stepped outside it was pitch black out. Rather than make my way back to the Mages Guild, I used a Divine Intervention scroll to shift over to the Ebonheart Chapel and from there the Six Fishes Inn, where I took a room. The search for the propylon index will have to be continued tomorrow.