Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Morrowind Day 115 - To Mournhold!

7 Evening Star
I woke this morning at Thirsk at complete loss as to how I was going to spend the day. The only thing I possibly had to do was some menial task related to Raven Rock's construction, so I walked down along the river towards the fort. Surprisingly, there was a message waiting for me there from Arvs Raram, the Master-at-Arms at my Redoran manor. The message was short and urged me to visit as soon as I could, for something important had come up.

The 'something important' was an Ebony dart that one of the ladies of the manor found embedded in the door of the manor-house. My largely Dunmer garrison all suspected that it was a sign that an elite cadre of assassins, the Dark Brotherhood, had a contract on my life. Arvs urged me to speak with a guard to see if the Imperials have had any luck in tracking this elusive group down.

One of the Redoran guards at Ald'ruhn recollected that she had heard an Imperial in Ebonheart named Apellus Matius was working, unsuccessfully, to eliminate the Dark Brotherhood groups in Morrowind. Being my only lead, I was forced to follow it. I returned to the manor to pick up some supplies and walked back to Ald'ruhn so that I could be sent to the Mages Guild in Vivec, then suffered a long, warm, and humid walk down the coast to Ebonheart. 

Apellus assured me that the Dark Brotherhood does not actively operate on Vvardenfell, but that he suspects they operate out of the capital city of Morrowind province, Mournhold. Travel to and from the city was stopped due to the Blight coming from Red Mountain and even with Dagoth Ur gone the city remains shut, except by magical means. Apellus directed me to Asciene Rane about securing a way onto the mainland.

I was expecting something like the rooms of the Mages Guilds, but Asciene sent me to a small room in the Palace with only one other occupant who was, surprisingly, an Argonian named 'Effe-Tei'. Unsurprisingly he was able to send me back to Ebonheart, but I wanted to explore the city first.

Effe-Tei warned me to be careful about who I talked to and what I said. The previous king had recently died and the present king, Helseth, was rather suspected of having a hand in the death. Confusing the matter, Almalexia leads her own Temple guards, the 'Hands of Almalexia', which is causing friction between the two houses of government as they battle for influence. He offered to send me back to Ebonheart, but his warning did not deter me from wanting to explore the city.

I met a man outside the palace willing to serve as a hired blade for 250 Septims, but I was, and remain, confident that I can handle any threat here on the mainland. Continuing to wander, I walked through the gate leading out of the walled palace section of Mournhold and into a large plaza.
With no clue where to go, I simply picked another gate at random and ended up in Mournhold's marketplace and in front of a small portable stage. There were shops behind the stage and I moved around it to inspect the displayed merchandise of an armorer, but a Dunmer behind the stage called out to me as I passed by.
The man was the leader of the little acting troupe and one of his actors seemed to be missing. Bizarrely, he claimed I looked just like his missing actor, which was an obvious lie. Nevertheless, I was asked to play the vacant role and agreed, guessing that I had a few days to study whatever play they were performing. I actually only had two minutes to memorize my lines from a play called "The Horror of Castle Xyr"

I managed to memorize my lines from the first three pages of the play before everyone started rushing to their places to begin the show. I was sure I was about to make a fool of myself, but the play did not last even up to the amount of lines I was ready for. As I was waiting for my next line, a Dunmer in the audience suddenly jumped up on stage with a Daedric sword and attacked me!
He was not a particularly skilled assassin and I dealt with him quickly. The play was obviously ruined, so I returned to the man who conned me into taking the part. He introduced himself as 'Meryn' and admitted that he knew that an assassin was waiting for his lead actor, the man I replaced, to appear on stage. Meryn's actor had recently been caught in an indecent situation with the daughter of a Telvanni, which makes my situation even more ridiculous, unless the assassin thought the daughter had a taste for female Khajiit. Anyway, Meryn paid me two thousand Septims for saving his actor's life and wished me well. A very strange situation, but I am certainly growing used to 'strange'.

A local guard suggested I search the sewers for the Dark Brotherhood if I had a death wish, but as unbelievable as it may sound I felt confident enough about my chances against a group of assassins. Assuming there would be a large number of them, I stopped at a tradehouse in the marketplace and purchased several dozen steel-tipped arrows and a simple long bow.

As soon as I stepped back outside I was being yelled at by a Dunmer, evidently a magic-user of some sort. He was yelling loud enough for the entire marketplace to hear him and announced himself as "Ovis Velas, the great, renowned, respected, and feared wizard". Rather foolishly he declared his ambition to "bring the city to its knees" and then stated he would demonstrate his power immediately on one of Mournhold's own. Of course, he then turned directly towards me, called me an "ugly Khajiit" and attacked. The attack lasted all of about three seconds. Two to pull the spear from the sheath on my back and one to drive it into his chest. The great wizard Ovis Velas was quickly the late, great wizard.
There was a key on the man's body and a thankful bystander helpfully pointed out that there was a manor owned by Mournhold's Velas family in a residential area of the city called 'Godsreach'. I felt my assault against the Dark Brotherhood would go better without another Velas family member flinging magic at my back, so I put off my exploration of the sewers to deal with this unexpected threat.

The key opened the front door to the manor a guard in Godsreach pointed out to me, but inside there was only one Dunmer. Much like his brother, this one started to loudly address me before I could even open my mouth. He made quite the incredulous claim: Ovis Velas was his very unskilled brother who was only trying to pretend to be him, Gavis Velas, for some reason or another. Gavis said he understood my situation in having to defend myself and politely asked that I understand his in avenging the death of his foolish brother...right before he summoned two giant Ogrims into the room.

With no room to maneuver I was sure to be crushed into paste by the hulking Daedra if I played defensively. Instead, I recklessly tried a repeat of my attack on his unfortunate brother, charging straight at him with no regards to the massive scaled hands grasping for me on either side. Flat feet must run in the Velas family, for he was entirely too slow to dodge out of my way or perhaps could not due to the bulk of his summoned minions. The pointed tip of Hircine's oddly shaped spear caught him in the chest and I bore him to the floor, withdrawing only to drive it into his throat. The melee could not have lasted more than six seconds.

As he died his summoned help disappeared in puffs of acrid smoke, including two behind me that I never even knew had been there. Had I not attacked him immediately I would have surely been torn to pieces. He had nothing interesting on him, so I locked the door to the manor behind me as I left. Eventually someone will find the body, but I will probably be long gone from this place by then.
My foray into the sewers should have been more interesting than it was. I met a Khajiit near the marketplace's trapdoor, but she refused to speak with me. Probably Thieves Guild. The other was a Dunmer woman who asked that I keep an eye out for the ghost of her dead husband who had been murdered by a gang operating out of the sewers.

Save for those two the only other inhabitants of the sewers were a few irresponsible summonings, mostly skeletons, and the Dark Brotherhood itself. The latter proved to be something of a disappointment. I was expecting a highly-dangerous assault against a den of experienced assassins and what I found was a small collection of poorly armed individuals occupying two decrepit buildings living more like beggars than elite killers.  

There was at least two dozen Brotherhood members living under the sewers, but most of them were only armed with daggers and short swords. The assassin at the play was better armed than this rabble. The approach to their little compound was long and open from where I had come from, letting me pick off the ones outside with arrows while giving those inside the buildings no warning of my approach. Inside the smaller building were eight assassins, all of them armed with silvered stabbing swords and none of them a match for me and Hircine's spear.
The larger building held fewer assassins, but one of them proved to be a difficult opponent and the source of a valuable piece of information. He had a small scroll in his pocket that specifically named me as a contracted target of the Dark Brotherhood, on the request (and presumably payment) of someone only referred to as "H". Very mysterious and I am not sure I even know anyone whose name begins with an H. Mournhold's new king, King Helseth, comes to mind, but there is no reason why he should want me dead. 

By then it was well into the evening and I had no idea where an inn was, so I distastefully re-entered the Velas manor and am spending the night in the former master's bedroom. I have certainly slept in worse places, but I do not think I will want to be staying here tomorrow.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Morrowind Day 114 - Under Hircine's Eyes

6 Evening Star
It is a mark of how strange my life has become that today's events do not register as anything but 'slightly unusual'. I suppose I expected it after learning of the Giant's kidnapping, but being woken up by a group of werewolves clutching each of your limbs is quite a startling experience.

It was also a short one, for there was a sudden flash of  red light and I instantly found myself standing in what looked like one of Vvardenfell's Daedric shrines. Still disorientated, I spent a few moments looking around before realizing that I was not alone.
My education on the Daedric Lords is rather spotty, but the man who stood before the only door in the room I instantly recognized as Hircine himself. The Prince appeared before me with the spotted skin of a fawn and wearing only a loincloth, foot wraps, and the large skull of an unfortunate deer. As I approached he summoned a short halberd into his hands, which he idly twirled about as he explained the rules of the Game I had come to anticipate being a part of.

The rules were simple: Behind the door was a series of arenas that the Lord had already sent the other "champions", Captain Carius, Tharsten Heart-Fang, and the Giant Karstaag, through. These arenas were staffed by Hircine's favorite werewolves and I had no doubt they were going to be dangerous opponents, especially given my complete lack of preparation for Hircine's Hunt.

As he disappeared to some deeper part of the place, he warned me that only one of "his" champions would survive the Hunt, implying that I would need to kill the others to proceed. I was dismayed at the thought of having to kill Captain Carius, but curiously felt no such regret for Tharsten, which would prove to be rather observant, as I was to find out.

The Imperial Captain was waiting just inside the first arena and was very happy to see me. He was the first to be summoned to Hircine's arena and fought the werewolves prowling about until he was wounded and forced to fortify a small corner of a wall with rubble while he awaited a friendly face. He offered to join me in fighting our way through Hircine's minions, but the man was obviously pained and I did not think he would survive whatever lay ahead of us.

He agreed to remain in his corner while I worked my way through the werewolf-infested maze. The maze was small, but that worked against me, making it difficult to isolate each werewolf I came across. Several times I would launch an arrow at an unsuspecting enemy, only to have three of them come charging at me, alarmed at the arrow strike on their brethren. I would surely have been overwhelmed had it not been for my silvered spear.
I came across a worn chest towards the center of the circular maze and retrieved a glowing medallion from it. This had the unpleasant effect of turning all of the werewolf ice statues I had been walking by into real werewolves and making my battle back to the Captain just as harrowing as the battle from.

Together the Captain and I worked our way to the center of the maze where we came upon a shimmering gate that only I, the holder of the medallion, could pass through. He said he would guard the gate as I proceeded further into Hircine's arena and that he was sure he could find his own way out. He warned me against both Karstaag and Tharsten, the latter of whose motives he was suspicious of. 

Beyond the gate was another arena, very similar to the one the Captain was still occupying. The Skaal chieftain was apparently waiting for me just inside the gate. He seemed glad to see me as well, but spoke more of Karstaag's lead over him than our cooperation or survival. Nevertheless, the man was stronger than the Captain and unharmed, so I agreed to fight with him to the next gate. Either he would fall to the werewolves or be weakened, for his speech made me certain he would turn on me soon.

Suspicious though he was, Tharsten proved to be a strong warrior and killed four werewolves to my six. But when we found a chest similar to the one from the previous room, he pushed me aside and ran ahead, grabbing the key with a triumphant shout. Curiously, he turned to face me and bragged that the honor of defeating Hircine would fall upon him and revealed that he was in possession of something he called "Hircine's Ring", which had been passed along his family's generations.

With this ring on his finger he felt that the glory of Hircine's Hunt was his birthright and refused any argument against this belief. Eventually he tired of my attempts to persuade him to cooperate and stated that my death during the Hunt would be honored by the Skaal for ten generations. Having said that, he twisted a silver ring on his finger and suddenly became a werewolf!
I was very surprised, but Tharsten gave me little time to think upon this new development. He was in front of me with one leap and a furious melee ensured. My first reaction was the one that probably saved my life: lacking the distance between us to bring my spear to bear, I carelessly shoved my weight against him in an effort to put some space between us. Amazingly this worked and put him off balance for a few moments, which is all I needed.

Standing between two narrow stones, my flanks were secure and he could not get past me. His only option was to strike head-on against the silvered point of my spear. After slaying over a dozen werewolves in Hircine's game, Tharsten proved to be not much of a challenge after all. Perhaps if he had elected to fight me in his human form he would have stood a better chance.

The ring disappeared with a small popping noise, but the key to the next gate remained, so I moved further into the arena, alone.
The next room was not a maze, but a wide open arena in which Karstaag was prowling about. Before today I had never seen a Giant of any kind and I hope to never need to battle with one again. Karstaag was a large, white-furred, horned creature standing at least twice my height, if not more. He moved surprisingly quick for his size, his hands were large enough to envelop and crush me, and his arms likely strong enough to throw me across the room or dash me against the frozen walls.
This match did not seem weighted in my favor.

Our combat turned into a dangerous game of catch: me dashing behind pillars and pieces of rubble to fire arrows and he lumbering after me, throwing the rubble aside and collapsing the pillars. Eventually the trail of blood he was leaving in his wake grew thicker from the increasing number of arrows jutting from his body and he gradually slowed down. When he paused for a moment I rushed forwards with my spear and drove it into his neck with all my strength.

He simply stared down at me and sighed before falling forwards towards me, dead. I barely had enough time to dive out of his way and none at all to retrieve my weapon. The spear shattered with a sharp crack as Karstaag fell upon it and I was left with my bow and short sword, my Daedric spear still at Thirsk.

There was a gate at the far end of the room, but Hircine himself stood before it. I readied myself for what I feared would be a very short battle, but he only asked me a question: What is the hunter's greatest strength: speed, strength, or guile? 

My first instinct was speed, for my own had saved me more times than I could count, but the Daedric Prince would not ask a question merely for his curiosity, so I thought about it a bit. Speed may be my advantage in a fight, but it was guile which ultimately brought down Dagoth Ur, so I decided that would be my answer. 

I had already fought two rooms full of werewolves and one Frost Giant, but I now had to face Hircine and minus my favored weapon at that. I gave him my answer and the battle was on. 

I do not know what difference my answer would have made, but I Hircine fought me as he appeared before me: vaguely man-shaped, with a deer skull helmet (or head, I suppose), and a short pike. Armed only with my Daedric bow and a silvered short sword I picked up from somewhere, I quickly ran away and sought some obstacle to hide behind so that I could safely fire arrows at my opponent.

I cannot say how long our battle lasted. It was one of my most difficult battles, if not the most difficult, that I have ever fought. My encounter with Dagoth Ur is the closest comparison, but I went into that fight well-equipped and rested. I entered this one exhausted from the struggles I had already had, my rest had been interrupted by Hircine's kidnapping, and I lacked the weapon I was most familiar with.

Fighting an enemy armed with a spear when you only have a short blade is a poor idea, but I had always been the one with the spear in that pairing up until today. I was forced to commit to hit-and-run attacks with my bow, but fortunately I had also brought with me to Solstheim three very rare Daedric arrows, all of which I employed against Hircine after exhausting my silvered arrows, none of which seemed to cause him any worry.

Two missed, but the third struck him in the left eyehole of his helm, rending a horrible scream from him that echoed about our frozen chamber. It seemed more in rage than pain, but he dropped his spear in an effort to remove the arrow and I quickly dashed towards him and forced my silvered blade into the right eyehole, admittedly wincing as I did so. I would never perform such a cruel strike against a mortal foe, but I felt a Daedric Prince who delighted in murdering hapless Nords and kidnapping Khajiit could be made to suffer a bit.

Even this was not enough to kill him, but being stabbed five times with his own spear was enough to end Hircine's mortal visitation.
The glowing medallion on his body opened the gate leading out and away from his arena and when I stepped outside I found I was completely surrounded by a wall of ice. I started to walk towards it, intent on seeing if the wall could be scaled, but I took no more than two steps before a bright flash blinded me and a thundering explosion slammed into my chest.

When I could see and breathe again the wall had collapsed in front of me and the underground arena behind me had fallen in on itself. The voice of Hircine sounded in my head, a congratulations on my victory and a promise of his that the Hunt would return again one day. Be that as it may, I hope I am not around to take part in it again.

I was in an area of Solstheim I had not visited before, but the shore was at my back, so I had to be on the western half of the island. After I found the northern shore I knew almost exactly where I had been and confidently and tiredly walked back to the Skaal's village.

Korst somehow knew what had happened before I said anything. He recognized Hircine's spear and told me that it was an extremely rare honor that any mortal should be carrying it, but I was too tired to feel honored, I guess. He asked after the late chieftain and I had not the heart to tell him about Tharsten's betrayal...though I suppose a Skaal might not see what he did as such. Either way, I told Korst that Tharsten fell while bravely fighting a horde of Hircine's best hunters and the shaman was satisfied with that answer. 

I rested in the village for an hour, repairing my equipment as best I could, but I was concerned that Captain Falx had not escaped the collapse and set off along the river, passing by Thirsk on my way south. The weather steadily cleared as I got closer to the southern shore and by the time I reached the coast the sun was bright and the skies were clear, cheering me considerably.
The Imperial Captain had survived his part of the Hunt as well. The troops of Fort Frostmoth were happy to have him back and repairs were finally beginning to the wrecked fort. I was directed to the Captain's chambers where he was recovering and he greeted me with a very surprising hug, something Khajiit certainly are not accustomed to, even among ourselves.

He seemed a bit embarrassed by his show of gratitude and covered it by suggesting I see Carnius Magius about some trouble the East Empire Company was having at the mine. I wished him health and went to speak to the shifty Company man. As expected, he knew nothing, but demanded that I go to site of the new town, Raven Rock, and see what the problem was.

Construction had been proceeding while I was away saving Solstheim from the ravages of Hircine's werewolves. Nothing was completed yet, but several buildings were well on their way.

After this morning's fight the problem at Raven Rock was laughable: a drunk Skaal was brawling with any workers that tried to do any work. A rather exasperated Falco asked me to deal with the Nord, but without killing the man. He and the workers had taken to calling the man 'Hroldar the Strange' and I easily spotted the furious looking Hroldar pacing in front of a half-completed building. He shouted at me, stating that the construction would incur the wrath of Nature and he was the guardian of Solstheim, or something like that.

I had little patience to deal with such foolery and grabbed the man by the throat with one hand while I sent my right crashing into his chin. I think I nearly broke my hand, but the man stumbled backwards and cried out that he had (already) enough. He accepted my demands to leave Raven Rock and thus ended a very short and strange episode of the day.

Falco has some very deep pockets, for he gave me a thousand Septims just for punching a Nord, though I suppose keeping his schedule is worth any amount to him. He asked me to let Carnius know that the construction was resuming.

Contrary to Falco, Carnius was actually disappointed that I did not kill the man, stating that the "natives" need to learn to respect Imperial steel. Quite a bold statement for a man living inside a wrecked fortress following a raid an Imperial garrison could not prevent. He had no further tasks for me today, so I decided to take my rest at Thirsk.

It has been a very long day and I evidently have accomplished a task approaching equality with striking down Dagoth Ur, but it does not feel much like that. Against the mad God I had allies, a plan, and a long road towards my eventual confrontation and victory. Here my foe was unknown until only a few hours before meeting him, I had no allies for most of it, and the conclusion of the Bloodmoon Prophecy ended before I barely knew it had begun.

I just feel confused and tired, but Hircine's spear is mine now for whatever good or evil it may bring me. It is enchanted, though I do not know with what. The future, as it always has been, is cloudy and I do not know what it holds for me. I hope I will be able to dedicate some relatively peaceful days towards the construction of Raven Rock, then perhaps I shall return to Vvardenfell for good.