Monday, March 24, 2014

Morrowind Day 83 - The Cleansing of Gnisis

6 Sun's Dusk
Last night was an unpleasant one. I am not used to sleeping in a shack on the shore of a swamp and I suffered a restless night as a result. Such is life. Today's goal was to reach Gnisis and finish mapping the relatively small island the town is built upon. I only had a rough sketch of the island's shoreline and almost nothing of its interior save for the town itself. While my skill with a pen means I will never make a living as a cartographer, the rough sketches I am making gives me, as well as my Imperial 'friends', a good idea of what the previously un-mapped areas of Vvardenfell look like.

I had already mapped most of the land between Caldera and Gnisis, so it seemed a waste of time to go where I had been already. I figured I would save some time by simply walking across the water from the little shack to Gnisis. It was the most direct route and I thought would offer the fewest distractions.

After only three re-casts of my water walking spell I started to come across loose planks and shattered barrels floating on the water, sure signs of a shipwreck. I never found the ship, but most of the wreckage had washed up on a tiny island off the shore and I stopped to examine the few barrels that were intact.
Even the completely intact barrels were mostly empty, with a scattering of various plants strewn on the bottom. My only notable find was a steel dagger enchanted with a minor 'assistance' spell designed to guide the wielder's strike, but the effect was so minor that the weapon was useless to me.

I continued to explore the tiny islands along the way to Gnisis and found a cave on one of the larger ones north of the wreckage. The location of the cave is very strange: the door is set into a huge rock instead of a hillside and there seems no place to actually go once someone opens the door. Naturally, my curiosity demanded I solve this mystery.

The initial mystery was a simple one: the 'entrance' was really a small wooden closet into which a trapdoor had been installed. The trapdoor concealed a ladder disappearing into the land underneath the island and I proceeded down it slowly, for Khajiit are not accustomed much to ladders.
Like I said earlier, the Sixth House never seems to be subtle about announcing themselves. The cave was lit entirely by the House's signature red candles, giving the entire underground complex a slightly sickening hue.
The cave was staffed by the usual assortment of Sixth House servants: two tentacle-faced men, a stone-faced Dunmer woman, a 'normal' Blighted individual, and some un-Blighted, nearly naked, Dunmer cultists. The cave was astonishingly large for being, I assume, entirely under the sea and I wonder what forces of nature (or magic) resulted in the cave's existence.
A pool of an underwater cave
The Sixth House constructed a partition of wood (how?) in one of the tunnels in order to separate the shrine area from the rest of the cave. The bells and bell-hammer had made it down there, probably in pieces reassembled at the shrine. A staircase was carved into the rock wall nearby and I surprised one of the Sixth House priests on my way up. I quickly dashed at him and shoved him off the staircase, sending the mutated priest hurtling into the rock floor below. The crack of his skull hitting the ground certainly sounded reassuring.

The staircase ended at the actual shrine for Dagoth Ur and I only found a few gemstones and some loose coins in the nearby stone trough. Perhaps this cave was a recent acquisition by the Sixth House.
Virtue is going to have to be its own reward, for I found little else in the cave worth mentioning. I did search the priest's body on my way out and he had one of the Sixth House amulets around his neck, so perhaps this one was a high-ranking member. 

It was after noon when I stepped back outside and the distance remaining between me and Gnisis was covered quickly and without incident. I stopped at Fort Darius to purchase a standard Imperial Legion short sword and had hoped to also buy a silvered spear, but there were none available. Each weapon will serve as a good alternative to using my enchanted weapons, as the repairs to them are getting quite expensive!

Though I am not a member of the Legion, my limited standing with the Imperial Cult got me a free cot at the fortress for the night. It was late enough into the day that exploring Gnisis's island did not hold much appeal. I spent some time further refining my alchemy recipes and making a list of the supplies I would need before I resume my patrol along the barren northern shoreline, where I would find few services and shops.

My idea to visit the shore villages of Vvardenfell has so far led to much more progress than I had anticipated, which is encouraging, but worrying. I have already found a lot of evidence of the Sixth House's spreading influence and I have not yet even completed half of my trip.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Morrowind Day 82 - The Sixth House Outpost

5 Sun's Dusk
Today was the first morning since arriving at Vvardenfell that I have woken up in a ship. The first time I woke up sharing a closet in the cargo hold with a Dunmer, today I have the cramped cabin of the former Captain. I am moving up in the world, however slowly.

My plan this morning was to stop at Hlormaren to make sure it had not been taken over by smugglers, slavers, the Sixth House, or any number of other nefarious groups. I wasted no time visiting Hla Oad and enjoyed the relative lack of humidity the early morning let me experience.

I chose to walk along the small islands just off the coast rather than walking directly to the fortress. This led me through a Daedric ruin just to the west of Hlormaren, but I encountered little resistance to my passing through and did not take the time to explore the interior. There was another ruin on what could be considered an island just north of the one I passed through and it was on the way to Hlormaren, so I made a brief stop there as well. Again, nothing in the way of hostilities and nothing noteworthy on my way by.

What was noteworthy was the small Dwemer fortress sitting alongside the second ruin. I had not been aware that the Dwemer built in this part of Vvardenfell, but it was certainly there, now being slowly flooded by the swamp resting just outside the entrance. I suppose the Dwemer might have constructed this as a sort of outpost against raids from the mainland, but my guesses will not come to much. I was tempted to stop in and see what I could find, but the swamp was audibly trickling inside the ruin and I suspected opening the door might wash me inside, covering me in swampy water. So I passed it by.
The cave I came across on my resumed way to Hlormaren, I did not pass by. So far I have been encountering the Sixth House more often in abandoned caves and mines than anywhere else outside Ghostfence. So while it may sound backwards, caves are currently my highest priority.

The Sixth House is never subtle about its presence. Right inside the cave were a large amount of red candles, wall markings, idols, and one of the ever-smiling (or grimacing?) Sixth House magic-users barely visible in the gloom the candles did nothing to dispel.
A few silvered arrows from my short bow took care of it and other than a few crazed Dunmer and one Blighted man, I was free to explore the cave unmolested. I found more of the crude shrines with glistening white chunks of flesh tied to them, as well as an altar with a series of large bells and what must have been the bell hammer, though I am not sure what creature could have lifted it. A few of the red statues were scattered around, good enough reason to believe the sailor acquired his from this place. 
Like most of the Sixth House bases, this one had a small collection of treasure stashed away in the ever-present stone troughs the cult seems to be manufacturing somewhere within Red Mountain. Most of the 'treasure' consisted of the cast-offs from the maddened, naked Dunmer who had given themselves over to Dagoth Ur. Naked and only sometimes wielding a weapon, they never fail to charge directly at me, screaming for Dagoth Ur's protection. So far he has not answered their calls to any discernible effect. I sifted through the shirts and trousers, finding only a few scrolls worth carrying out to sell. 

The sailor on Grytewake had no visible sores or any other sign of his conversion and I do wonder how many secret cultists Dagoth Ur has in Morrowind. A horde, ready to rise up and destroy the Imperial Legions? A select group of individuals to act as elite agents behind the scenes of the war looming on the horizon? There are always more questions than there are answers.

With that occupying my mind I left the cave and trudged through the swampland towards Gnaar Mok, Hla Oad's slightly less hostile sister-village...which is not  saying much. As luck would have it, I found a second cave before reaching the town.
This time no red candles, flesh-decorated shrines, or spell-slinging cultists greeted me upon entry. All I got was a wet tunnel of bare rock. The tunnel opened into a room with wooden scaffolding leading further into the cave as well as upwards via stairs to a second tunnel. Patrolling the upper part of the woodwork was a woman with a cheap looking bow who immediately started firing arrows at me. What if I was a new customer of theirs? The first two arrows bounced off my breastplate and her third missed completely. For whatever reason, she charged down the stairs, dagger in hand, intent on somehow stabbing me to death. The encounter is even more odd considering that the crates scattered about the room contained, among other things, two Dwemer axes. The lady might not have been trained in the use of an axe, but I am sure she would have been much better off with one compared to the pitiful knife she had.

The upper portion of the cave led me to their sleeping quarters where a second Dunmer futilely attacked me. To my surprise, a Redguard woman was tied up on a pile of empty sacks. She asked if I was here to rescue her and was very confused when I burst out laughing. She laughed politely when I explained the coincidence between today and yesterday, then asked if I could escort her outside, clearly not seeing any humor in the event.

She thanked me when we went outside, assuring me of her desire to return to Hammerfell but regretting that she had nothing to reward me with. I told her reward was not my concern and wished her a safe trip home. Should I fail my duty here, the Redguards' province will still not be far enough from Dagoth Ur's influence.

I did return to the smugglers' cave to look for valuable things, but again found only scrolls. There were ten scrolls powerfully enchanted with a version of the Alteration 'Unlock' spell, an odd collection given the seemingly random nature of a smuggler's usual inventory. Perhaps they had a heist they were planning or a client whose request they were filling. I will never know.

The residents of Gnaar Mok were wary of me, but I was helpfully directed to a nearby abandoned fishing shack to spend the night in. The local noble, a Hlaalu named Almse Arenim, has been seeking renters for the place, but locals are afraid the place is haunted by the ghost of the former resident and she has had no luck. The villager who suggested the shack assured me that spending one night there would not raise the noble's ire, so I figured I would give the place a look at the very least.

It did not have much to offer other than solitude and the rotting stench of the swamp, but that was better than spending another night in the cabin on Grytewake. It was late in the night when I entered the shack, but I still managed to spend time practicing my alchemy, a task of mine long overdue. I had some success with my more expensive ingredients and the scroll I keep to jot down recipes has a few more entries on it now.

And today is now over. Gnisis will likely be my next stop tomorrow. I have only been away from home for two days and the prospect of returning to a 'civilized' town is appealing to me. I must be growing soft somehow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Morrowind Day 81 - Around Hla Oad

4 Sun's Dusk
Hla Oad was the first stop on my list of coastal locations to visit. Until today I had not seen the dismal village for at least a month, maybe two. I would probably better remember when it last was if there was something about Hla Oad worth remembering.

It had also been awhile since I last heard anything about my stronghold, but Galsa had nothing new for me when I spoke to her. It will be at least a week before my journey around the coast is complete, so she will almost certainly have some news when I return.

I could have transported to Hlormaren and walked south, but I started at Balmora instead so that I could purchase more arrows at The Razor Hole and sell some ingredients to Ajira. She has also been an enthusiastic recipient of all the keys I have been collecting, though I cannot imagine what use she has for them. 

The walk from Balmora to Hla Oad was humid and foggy, but largely uneventful. I was approached by a man babbling about Dagoth Ur's upcoming revival and warning me to lay down my arms and surrender. He made no move to follow me as I walked past, so I left him alone. Hopefully I will have found a way to free the man from Dagoth Ur's influence before he is gutted by a pack of Nix Hounds.

The whole purpose of my being in the area was not to visit Hla Oad, but to visit everything around the village in an effort to root out any Sixth House smugglers and cultists. A quick peek into a small family tomb netted me some Daedra hearts and scattered gemstones, but nothing related to the Sixth House.
An armor-eating Daedra patrolling the tomb
My second investigation was of a fairly large (for Vvardenfell) docked just outside of Hla Oad. It was common knowledge that the village owed its existence more to smuggling than fishing, so I figured I would see if I could be allowed below deck, where I could hopefully sneak some glances at the ship's cargo.
The crew on deck greeted me warily, but allowed me on to the ship. One informed me that the ship was named 'Grytewake' (spelling it out for me no less) and that they were in the employ of the Imperial Caldera Mining Company to transport raw Ebony to the mainland. I decided to play the part of an Imperial official and politely requested access to their cargo to verify their manifest. The immediate discomfort of everyone on deck confirmed my suspicion. I non-threateningly forced the Nord closest to the trapdoor leading below away from his post and calmly went down below.

They had been partially honest: the ship was loaded with raw Ebony and worth probably as much as the mine I explored within Red Mountain. This by itself was not damning, but the ash statue I found sitting out in the open beneath a crew member's hammock was certainly cause for concern.
When I spoke to the captain about the statue he denied knowing it was on his ship and hurried me out of his tiny cabin. The crew attacked as soon as I was outside, but the two of them could not coordinate with each other and their assault was unpracticed and poorly implemented. Both were armed with standard Imperial Legion long swords, but the weapons were poorly cared for and unable to penetrate my Dreugh breastplate. 

The reception back down below was just as friendly, but each of the ship's two cargo holds only had one smuggler, making the combats not worth even mentioning. After clearing the inside of the ship I went back to talk to the Captain, who predictably also attacked me as soon as I stepped inside the cabin. He was no better a warrior than his crew had been and I dumped all the bodies overboard, much to the delight of the local slaughterfish population.

I wish I had been able to interrogate one of them as to where he got the statue and why it was there. Was one of them a Sixth House cultist? All of them? Or were they just smuggling for the Sixth House? This ship could have been a valuable source of information, but the crew's rash action reduced it to another abandoned ship on the coast. Someone from Hla Oad will probably sail away with it soon enough.
I walked across the water from the ship and bypassed the Daedric ruin intending to reach Hlormaren to make sure it had not been inhabited. As I walked past the ruins I noticed a cave door beyond it and bowed to the duty I had placed upon myself. Perhaps the cave was where the Sixth House was hiding.

Just inside the entrance was a collection of spears with skulls impaled on them, so it seemed as though I was in the right cave. But the Sixth House's usual array of red candles and occult wall paintings was absent, so I was expecting to be disappointed. The cave was actually very small and I had to fight off two well-armed skeletal guardians before I met the Dunmer woman that called the cave her home.

She was not particularly friendly, summoning a Bonewalker upon seeing me, then following that up with spells of poison and fire. The Bonewalker was a greater threat than the necromancer, for any one of its strikes could sap my strength, leaving me unable to fight. I retreated back to the entrance of the cave and summoned the Daedric enhancement out of my spear, then made myself invisible. She and her Bonewalker had just started to cautiously venture into the cave tunnel when I returned to her campsite, but I was able to circle around the duo and strike from behind, killing her and dispelling the Bonewalker.

Her home was nothing more than scaffolding and guar skins stretched overhead. She had an excellent collection of alchemy equipment and I took the mortar and pestle to sell later. The sun was setting when I left the cave, so I put off on visiting Hlormaren until tomorrow, deciding to explore the Daedric ruin on the (slim) chance that it was inhabited by the Sixth House.

Two heavily-equipped Orcs were wandering around the ruins, but they were actually friendly, having come to the ruins to fight the Daedra that were usually guarding the ruins. I suppose they could have been a couple, for one was male and one female, but I thought it would be impolite and irrelevant to inquire. I asked if they were planning on going inside, but they told me neither of them enjoyed fighting indoors much and preferred to skip the interiors of the ruins they traveled to. 

If they did enter they would not have made it far: the ruin was almost completely flooded and I had to swim quite a ways before reaching the dry Daedric shrine room. Several Orcs were at the shrine, but unlike their brethren outside, they attacked me immediately, one even wielding a massive war-hammer made in the style favored by those from Orsinium. I have seen quite a bit of Orcish armor while on Vvardenfell, but very little of their weapons. It is too bad for the wielder of the hammer that he and his friends were facing an experienced Khajiit warrior. 

Turns out missing a swing with such a mighty weapon makes it very easy for an agile opponent to stick you in the side with her summoned Daedric spear. 

One of his companions had a similarly made two-handed axe, leading me to think that this group were recent immigrants to Morrowind, possibly from Orsinium itself. The shrine had the usual Daedric-heart-on-a-plate, plus an emerald, ruby, and another chunk of raw Ebony. Not knowing which of the four would trigger the summoning of a Dremora I had no interest in fighting, so I left everything on where it lay.

One of the Orcs had a key on his person that unlocked a door on the far end of the shrine. I was quite surprised to see a soldier of the Imperial Legion behind it. He was an older man, either Imperial or Breton (I have always had trouble between the two) and I recognized his armor as the kind usually given to soldiers of high ranks.

I am not sure why he guessed that I was not his enemy, but he greeted me cordially as soon as he spotted me. He told me he had been anxiously listening to the sounds of my battle through the door and thanked me for killing his captors. He assured me that he could find his way back to Ebonheart on his own. And with a clap on my shoulder, he walked out, snatching a blade from a dead Orc on his way out. I could not get a single word in. I never even got the man's name.

The man had been held captive on a small landing with steps leading into a large pool of water, but I had no interest in swimming any further into the ruin, especially since I had to swim just to get out of it.

It was well into the night when I dragged my wet self out of the ruin and into the dank swamp air. The two Orcs were nowhere to be seen, but a hopeful Daedroth bellowed its challenge as it charged at me from the shoreline. It felt victim to the new silvered arrows I bought at Balmora earlier in the morning. Other than that the ruin seemed to have been abandoned by adventurer and monster alike.

Finding a place to rest for the night posed a bit of a problem: I was unlikely to find a place willing to let me stay for the night at Hla Oad and I did not want to walk all the way back to Balmora, even if it was the most comfortable option available to me. I wanted to avoid teleporting back to Ald'ruhn and pushing further upland to Hlormaren was an option, but I felt there was a better one than more swamp-walking.

I settled on locking myself in the former Captain's cabin of Grytewake. I intend to explore the area between Hla Oad and Gnaar Mok tomorrow in order to find where the Ash Statue came from, though given that I found one in possession of a smuggler, the statue could have come from anywhere I suppose.

It is starting to feel that a direct assault on Red Mountain might be easier than this.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Morrowind Day 80 - Under Ghostfence

3 Sun's Dusk
Today's mission: Explore the possibility of there being an 'underground' passage from within Red Mountain to the outside. Unless Dagoth Ur was in the mining industry, it seemed rather unlikely that he would be using any one of the numerous mines and smuggler dens around Ghostfence to ferry his followers underneath the barrier. The former Sixth House base, Kogoruhn fortress, seemed to be the best place to start my search.

The walk from Ald'ruhn to the fortress was long, boring, and full of dust. I was repeatedly stopped by blight-maddened Cliff Racers and I was feeling quite worn down by the time I finally reached the ruined fortress. I anticipated heavy resistance from the Sixth House cultists within and cautiously entered the fortress. I need not have worried. Whatever Dagoth Ur needs to do in order to garrison his holdings, he had not done yet done it for Kogoruhn. The only creatures I fought on the entrance level was a tentacle-faced priest of the Sixth House and one of the mountainous brutes from the Blight, both taken down by my silvered arrows. Save for them, the floor above ground was completely deserted.
I went down one level and fought a single Clannfear Daedra and poked around a section of the fortress I had skipped during my first terrifying raid. I found little of substance, but I took an interesting looking (and unwearable) helmet.
Gold coins had been stacked on the floor to form the symbol of the Sixth House and a crude sort of paint had been used to duplicate the symbol on the walls. In another room there were piles of furniture stacked into the corners and balanced on one another, with more symbols on the walls, but no sign of who could have done any of this.
The sewer system leading into the underground section was well populated with Atronachs and minor minons of the Sixth House. Nothing I could not handle with my bow. The cavern underground the fortress where I had met my first Ash Vampire was eerily empty. I remembered that there had been a door behind the creature that I had not gone through at the time, but I could not remember if the door looked as though it might lead outside and therefore to Red Mountain.
I could feel and smell the breeze blowing from under the door and I had high hopes that my quest would be solved that easily. Getting outside was the easy part. 
Surviving outside however, was going to be a lot more difficult. I walked outside into a Red Mountain Blight storm, because I must not have had enough dust trapped in my fur already. Ordinarily I would have Recalled home and not taken the risk of wandering around, but I needed to try and figure out where the underground passage had actually placed me. 

I could just barely see my spear right in front of my face and needless to say, it was impossible to see where inside the Ghostfence I actually was. I did explore a little in an attempt to find a path back to Ghostgate, but I gave up after being ambushed three times by spell-flinging Sixth House monsters. I was just about to use my Recall amulet when I somehow managed to stumble into a mine door.

The mine was naturally abandoned, but remained rich in blighted rats, giant bugs, Dremora, and most importantly: raw ebony. Seams of the stuff ran almost the entire length of the mine and I could not begin to estimate how much wealth was locked up in the rock. Curiously, I also found a Daedric-enchanted two-handed sword implanted in rock spire and surrounded by skulls. Very ritualistic...and heavy. And useless. I left the giant blade stuck in its pile of skulls.
My heart was not into another walk outside and I decided to Recall out from the cave, having confirmed that there is a way to pass through the Ghostfence unseen. I am not sure who would be willing to garrison the ruined fortress. The Imperial Legion? House Redoran? The Mages Guild? I do not know and the unfortunate answer may be 'no one' for lack of resources or inclination.

The helmet I found goes well with the other interesting ones I have on display at home, though there really is no good reason to have any of them other than as decorations.
Tomorrow I will start my coastal patrol, visiting all of the small backwater villages to secure the safety of people who probably view me as a walking wall decoration. It will take more time to visit each village individually from Ald'ruhn as it would traveling from each one, so this will be the last night in some time that I will be spending at home in comfort.