Sunday, April 28, 2013

Morrowind Day 44 - Something I Am Not

28 Hearthfire
The night was not fraught by the nightmares I had been expecting and I awoke this morning feeling much better about the ordeal. Had I encountered those monsters during my first days on Vvardenfell I would certainly have been killed. I have come a long way since my arrival here and I am proud of what I have accomplished and survived so far, if occasionally terrified by it as well.

The morning was as most are: dreary and cloudy with the promise of little chance of seeing the sun at any point during the day. A dust storm kicked up soon after I left the cave, reducing visibility to almost nothing. Discouraged and feeling very much like a walking ash pile, I my journey finally came to an end at a dead-end, the foyoda abruptly terminating at a wall of impassable hills. A cold campfire showed that I was not the only one to find themselves at the impasse, but I could not remember passing any paths that might have led me around.

Among the clutter of scrolls I keep meaning to be rid of was one for a weak levitation spell, which proved just enough to propel me up and over the hills, where I was soon greeted by the coastline I have spent so much effort in reaching.
Rotheran fortress was just beyond the coast and I approached carefully, as more often than not these locations have been overrun by any manner of hostile creatures. I spotted two Dunmer walking on the roof as I approached, but they were quite friendly. The two of them were adventurers themselves and had come to Rotheran on the rumor that the Imperial Cult was offering a reward for the recovery of a valuable blade said to be held by a Sorcerer or great power either in or around the fortress.

They confessed to being quite confused, for Rotheran was left in a state even more unfinished than the previous fortresses I have been in. Instead of several levels of rooms as have been the norm, Rotheran never progressed past the initial construction of the first underground level and now exists only as a single large room, according to them. The two Dunmer had tried to approach the hut situated on the roof some distance away from the fortresses entrance, but was attacked by the man living inside and they retreated. Now they were trying to decide whether to descend into the fortress now or attempt to contact associates of theirs to help, but also divide the reward.

I was sure that the crazed man in the hut was Rols Ienith, the holder of the Propylon Stone I was seeking. When I mentioned that I also wanted to talk to the man in the hut, one of the adventurers, Tirasie Andalen, warned me that I would be assaulted immediately. That suited me just fine.

Just as they said, I was politely let into the hut when I made my desire to enter known, then viciously stabbed at by a middle-aged Dunmer male spouting nonsensical words. His enthusiasm was not matched by his skill and I quickly disarmed and killed the man. The Propylon Stone was in his pocket and the hut strewn with empty skooma bottles and smoking pipes. Either the man had been a cultist or a desperate sugar addict.

The pair was gone when I dragged the body outside, probably back to Dagon Fel to either give up or collect the friends they had mentioned. I had assumed at the time that they had descended into the fortress and was just about to use a scroll of Divine Intervention when a bloodied Khajiit suddenly stumbled outside from down below. Upon seeing me (no doubt somewhat bloodied myself), she hesitated, but the sound of footsteps traveling up the stairwell behind her evidently made the decision an easy one.

She ran towards me, yelling something in a language I did not understand and pointed behind her. With no idea what she was trying to tell me, I shoved her towards the hut and prepared to face her pursuer. After yesterday, I was ready for anything from a Daedroth to a hungry Kagouti. I was also ready for, though unexpecting, the run-of-the-mill Dunmer slaver, armed with nothing more than a short cheap-looking sword and a boiled leather cuirass.

Apparently he was not ready for a fully-armed, experienced Khajiit warrior and our short melee ended with my chasing him back into the interior of the fortress. I was not so foolish as to blindly charge down the stairs and into the waiting arms of my enemies and paused in the stairs to cast my invisibility spell. 

The slavers were a stupid, cruel lot. The one I had been chasing was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, along with two others just as poorly equipped. I can only imagine their surprise when they suddenly found their throats opened and death quickly claiming them. I am finding that the glass paralysis daggers are especially useful, a slaver weapon fittingly used against slavers.

The fortress's hastily abandoned construction was serving as entertainment for the gang of slavers. The entire fortress consisted of nothing more than a large two-story square room, around which a spiraling ramp led around and into the center of the room on the ground floor. The slavers had blocked off the ramp at the ground level, tranforming whatever the room was supposed to be into a grisly arena. From the entrance two levels up, I could see several Argonian and Khajiit bodies, as well as a Dremora striding about and a huddle of slaves cringing away from it in the opposite corner, though the Dremora seemed to take little notice of them.
The invisibility spell had worn off by then, but with three slavers already dead, I judged that there could not be many more, as the largest part of the room was the arena itself. Just as I started to creep away from the stairs, an angry female voice started shouting upwards at me. I thought I had been spotted, but the woman was yelling at the three slavers who were quite unable to reply in kind. I  tried to cast the invisibility spell again, but my luck had run out and the spell fizzled just as a well-dressed Dunmer male turned the corner ahead of me.

Similar to the sorcerer at Hlormaren, he was heavily armed and summoned a Bonewalker upon seeing me and unsheathed a two-handed sword from his back as the creature loped towards me. I have not been keeping a tally of how many Bonewalkers I have sent back to their plane by now, but it is enough that they fail to present much of a threat any longer. This one was no different.

The man was a different matter. I had hoped the sword was a relic of a past raid and not something he was practiced with, but unfortunately he was quite good with the massive blade. The battle was the classic sword versus spear, but it was my shoulder that decided the outcome. I maneuvered him with his back against the edge of the ramp and when his guard was down, I dropped my weapons and rushed him, heaving him over the side of the railing. The two-story fall into the arena only dazed the man, but the sword was at my feet and he was quickly overwhelmed by his slaves as they tore him apart.

The sword had to have been the blade the two adventurers had been keen on acquiring, for it was very finely made and from what I could tell, powerfully enchanted. It was also very heavy and like the halberds, simply not a weapon made for Khajiit to use. I left it where the late Dunmer slaver had dropped it and proceeded down the ramp, gradually spiraling around the arena towards the ground floor.

Apparently there were more slavers than I suspected and a small battle was raging between the slaves and the slavers. The Dremora had disappeared with the death of the sorcerer and the slaves, all of them Khajiit and Argonian, had no issues with fighting dirty. I watched an Argonian that had his wrists shackled together smack a Dunmer in the side of the head, then fatally bite through the man's jugular. The Khajiit practice of clawing out their opponents' eyes seemed quite tame after that.

The surviving slaves kept their distance from me, as I obviously was not a slaver, but well-armed nonetheless. One of the Khajiit stepped forwarded and said something to me, but again I could not understand the language. They must have hailed from quite far away. Eventually, he gave up on trying to talk and merely pointed into the arena. I suspected a trap, but he was gesturing towards a frightened Dunmer woman who had remained in the arena, her wrists and ankles shackled.

Her name was Adusamsi, a native of Vvardenfell and a member of the Imperial Cult. She had been captured by the slavers some time ago (she was not sure how long) and scheduled to participate in the arena in what were usually very one-sided matches. The robe the sorcerer had been wearing was originally hers, as was a ring enchanted with a Divine Intervention trigger which he had worn. The robe was damaged by the slaves' enthusiasm for revenge and the hand that had held the ring was broken almost beyond recognition, the ring having been forced off in the process.

I helped her look and found a key to the slaves' shackles while searching the body, which I threw to an Argonian who did not have her wrists bound. Adusamsi found the ring herself behind a decorative column and slipped it on her finger, disappearing almost immediately to. As for the slaves, they freed themselves and left as a group, one Argonian I had not seen earlier loitering behind long enough to ask if I was in the Twin Lamps. She seemed surprised to hear that I had no idea who they were and asked me why I was there if not by their guidance. She suggested I join them, but did not tell me who they were, so that might be difficult.

Divine Intervention brought me to Ald'ruhn, which suited me perfectly. Via the Guild Guide, I dropped yet another Propylon Stone into Folms' waiting hands and was given another location for another stone, this one for fortress Falensarano. The stone was last seen in possession of an outlander named Huunen, near a Daedric shrine called Maelkashishi, somewhere to the west of Maar Gan. Folms thinks Huunen is already dead, but Vvardenfell is full of surprises.

Despite how it sounds, the battle in the fortress was really over quickly and it was only two in the afternoon when I popped into the Balmora Mages Guild, selling a few pieces of glass and Dreugh wax to an appreciative Ajira. My business was not with the guild today though and I visited my friend in Balmora to see if he needed my help with anything.

I was not surprised to find out that he did. A former Ashlander-turned-Merchant named Hassour Zainsubani was living in Ald'ruhn and my friend needed the man's advice in how to talk diplomatically with the Ashland tribes.   I was given one hundred Septims and the advice that Ashlanders view the exchange of gifts quite a serious thing and that I acquire something to gift the man with before I try to approach him for help.

The man was well known in Ald'ruhn and I was advised that the man was an avid reader and an amateur poet. Knowing this, I stopped at the bookseller and after searching around a bit, purchased a copy of "The Five Far Stars", a collection of poetry seemingly related to an eruption of the Red Mountain and the ashland tribes' resistance to the rising of Dagoth Ur. At least, I think that is what the book was getting at.

Hassour appreciated my selection and in return offered a gift of information. He instructed me on the best way to approach an Ashland tribal camp, the practice of martial challenges, and the Nerevarine Cult. The Urshilaku are the prominent tribe among the cult, their leader is the 'Warrior-Protector' of the Nerevarine Cult as a whole, whatever that may entail. He took the time to summarize his knowledge on to several scrolls, all the better for my friend's requirements.

Before parting, he had a request of his own: that I find his son, Hannat, who had left to explore what Hassour called an "underground complex" named Mamaea, likely a Daedric shrine of some sort, due west of the Red Mountain near Gnisis. I agreed to look for his son, though I cautioned him that my business likely was not going to bring me in that area for some time.

When I brought the notes to my friend in Balmora, he promoted me within his organization and revealed what I have been working towards so far. The Nerevarine Prophecy is of course not new to me, but apparently the Emperor believes I am able to fulfill the prophecy and become the Nerevarine.  As I am Khajiit, this is quite a belief the Emperor has! My friend had his doubts as well. Initially he admitted that he thought I was supposed to become an impostor Nerevarine for whatever end, but he has started to suspect I may be the genuine article, as it were. 

He gave me the decoded version of the package I received when I arrived on Vvardenfell and it seems that the letter was written about someone else. Every place my name appears is preceded by blotch of ink, destroying whatever name the author originally intended. The origin story is still the same: that I have been released from prison on the Emperor's orders to become the Nerevarine impostor. Of course, I was not released from any prison, but woken up in the early morning in the Auxiliary barracks to board a ship to parts mostly unknown to me.

The whole thing would be a great deal more amusing if the stakes were not so high.

My new orders are to find the Urshilaku camp and have the wise-woman test me against their version of the Nerevarine prophecy. I doubt they will accept a Khajiit as the savior of Vvardenfell and the journey will take me back into the inhospitable wastes of the North, somewhere near Khuul. That being as it is, I may find myself helping Hassour sooner than I expected and I have been told that supplies have been set aside for me in Fort Moonmoth, so I may stop there tomorrow morning.

Honestly, the entire ordeal has just happened so suddenly that I am not quite sure what to think. For now, I will continue to take each day as it comes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Morrowind Day 43 - Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts

27 Hearthfire
Waking up in a tomb is a very eerie experience and one I will make efforts to minimize the frequency of in the future. I could not help waking up with the feeling that I was disturbing someone, somehow.

The word for the day is dust. I was enveloped in a raging dust storm from the moment I stepped outside from the tomb and I can still hear it outside of the cavern I am calling home for the night. I would say here that the weather is the greatest enemy Vvardenfell hosts, but after what I found tonight, that is definitely not the case. The plan for today was to walk north along the foyoda to the coast, where I could then walk across the water to the island that hosted Dagon Fel and Rotheran. Simple enough.
On the way I encountered several small camps of thieves, all of who had their position given away by their campfires long before I could make out the individuals themselves. I did not want to risk attacking a group of innocent travelers and let the first band I came across know of me by firing an arrow into their vicinity. The three of them immediately drew simple chitin weapons and charged at me, more foolish aggression against someone obviously better equipped. But Vvardenfell does not suffer fools for very long and neither do I. They thought me backed against a hillside, but I had moved there to prevent being surrounded. The chitin shattered against my armor and three of them died quickly. The other bands I encountered fared similarly. The storm helped conceal my approach and in all cases I was able to strike first without warning.
The first group of bandits
Approaching the second group
The end of the third group by bowshot
In the past, fighting three separate groups of bandits or whatever they were would merit a lengthy journal entry, but today they are barely worth mentioning. My time on Vvardenfell has hardened me physically and mentally in a way that remaining in Cyrodiil would never have and I occasionally relish the thought of returning to the Auxiliaries and seeing if anyone recognizes me. Probably not. No one ever seemed to stay for very long, every week saw new faces appearing and familiar ones leaving. I am sure my absence generated some speculation over breakfast, but by dinner it would be shelved away in favor of swapping tales of the day's activities. I do not miss the occupation, but I do miss the camaraderie.

Trudging along with limited visibility all day made it difficult for me to gauge how much time was passing, but it was growing quite dark when I almost walked into the door, built as usual into the side of a hill. Nothing about it seemed any different from the mines and smuggler hideouts I have been in and I thought it a decent enough place to spend the night, if possible. I was quite wrong.

The first indication that something was amiss was the incandescent red paint the cultists had decorated the entrance with. The red glow, combined with the candles, was eerie and a part of me wanted to turn around right there and find someplace else to stay. It would have been the wiser choice, but stupidity can occasionally deliver great dividends.

I proceeded forwards and turned the corner into a long corridor, which at the other end stood what I thought was a male Dunmer. I could not see his face well, but it looked like he had a cap of some sort on. He turned and managed to spot me, in the dark, but made no sound. Instead, he ran at me, his mouth open...but no sound was coming out. He made no attempt to dodge or even acknowledge my arrows and soon fell dead. I thought him a madman, but when I examined the corpse, I saw that he had no face!
Whatever strange and horrible forces conspired to keep the man's body alive, it managed to do so without a face, eyes, or even a mind. His face had a large hole where his eye sockets used to be and to my horror, I saw that it extended all the way into his skull...where nothing remained. Just a clean, blackened pit in the man's head. I dumped the body into a nearby lava pit and moved on, more than a little on edge.

The second horror I was present with resembled a Bonewalker with three hundred pounds of flesh grafted on to it. The monster I encountered had a massive left leg, but a "normal" right one, giving the creature an odd gait which seemed not to bother it. I was fortunate to have spotted this creature from a distance as well, but unlike the other, it shrugged off six arrows stuck into its body while it loped towards me. It's face was fixed in a permanent expression of rage and patches of weeping raw flesh oozed from the creature's body. The smell was beyond horrible. It attacked only by swinging its club-like limbs, but the blows were delivered slowly. A near-miss swung past my face and into the cavern wall, which the creature's blow shattered, shards of stone embedded in what used to be a hand. This too was without notice by the monster and it only reacted to my brutally stabbing it in the face, which ultimately ended whatever life it had.
Oddly enough, I found an old Dunmer wandering around the cave as well. He was muttering to himself and wore a loincloth and stone mask that covered all but his mouth and chin. I could not make out what the muttering was about and only caught a few words about arranging chairs in "the right way". Strange. Much like everything else in the cave, I was attacked by him upon notice, this time magically instead of physically. I managed to dodge many of the spells, but dancing about meant not being able to fire my arrows. I wound up retreating, casting an Invisibility spell, and returning with my sword. Whoever he was, he died with a rattling, dry gasp and his stone mask dissolved into dust immediately upon hitting the ground. 

Beyond was a small altar of some sort, with an extremely heavy hammer set on the ground by a collection of large bells. Another faceless man met me there and managed to strike me with a raking, bare-handed clawing. The pain was incredible: first burning hot, then icy cold, followed by a worrying numbness and heaviness of the limb which has by now lessened, but still not wore off. Weak individually, fighting more than one of these eyeless things at a time would be extremely dangerous and a horrible death. Would they claw their victim's face out to match their own? I cannot bear to contemplate such a fate.
The creature was guarding a series of large bells and the bell hammer, but trying to lift the hammer threatened an immediate dislocation of my arms, so I stopped trying. It is unlikely any of the creatures in the cave have the strength and dexterity of wield it and I am fortunate to not have encountered whatever can.

The experience in the cave up to that point had been quietly horrifying and strange, but in a sense the strangeness was comforting, as it made the horror understandable. Why should faceless people and lumbering mountains of deformed flesh not be horrible? But deeper in the cave I encountered cultists that appeared to be normal, but had clearly lost their minds.

They were all Dunmer, men and women, all of them only clothed in a simple loincloth. I found the first group dancing around a stone altar lit with candles. I was able to observe them for a few minutes before they noticed me, but the dance seemed without rhythm or pattern, each of the dancers moving independently of the others. My observation ended when one of the woman spotted me and the whole group scurried to grab simple clubs sitting at the altar before charging at me. Naked, frenzied cultists armed with clubs have a predictable chance against an experienced fighter. Judging by their fellow residents, killing them may have been a great mercy. 

I encountered a second group at the very end of the cave system, also clustered around an altar, but they were not dancing. I was able to kill one of the cultists with an arrow before being seen and the remaining two grabbed clubs and attacked me, dying quickly.
A cultist altar
The second group was the last life remaining in the cave. I found the absolute quiet and stillness of the cave very unnerving and there was a breeze coming from somewhere that made it sound as if someone was constantly whispering just behind me. I did not stop to look for treasure or gems and just about ran through the entire cavern and out the door into the gritty wind of the dust storm. I blocked the door with several large stones, but it was late in the evening and I could feel the need to sleep overtaking me. I was certainly not going to sleep in the cave, but I couldn't sleep outside without fear of being buried alive with dirt and dust as I slept. 

I decided to walk a bit further, figuring that if I found no place to sleep, I would admit defeat and use a Divine Intervention scroll, which would probably have put me in Balmora, though I'm not sure how far north I am right now. Luck was with me, for I came across another mine door after ten minutes of walking.
Understandably, I was hesitant about walking into another cave, but my other option was admitting defeat and taking a boat to Dagon Fel. So I made a pact with myself: If I walked inside and was, at any point, confronted with anything I had encountered in the previous cave, I would safely retreat and teleport back to civilization.

It is one thing to be appreciable of your skills and another to be proud, after all.

The cave only contained three unkempt smugglers, which after what I fought and defeated in the cave before this one, are not worth mentioning. It suffices to say they fought and not well. The cave consisted only of one large room, in which they divided into two levels, the bottom for themselves and the top for over two dozen crates of useless items.

The bodies have been dragged outside and the door is magically locked and has seven crates piled in front of it. The horrors of what I found inside the mountain today keep replaying themselves in my mind and a part of me fears the sleep I will be having shortly. I am increasingly being allowed to see more of Vvardenfell's true face and it is a terrible visage indeed.