Thursday, December 31, 2015

Skyrim Day 011 - A Khajiit and Her Dog

27 Last Seed, 4E201
Dragon Bridge

I had not taken the time to examine Clavicus Vile's former followers and the time spent before Barbas and I left for 'Rimrock Barrow' granted me a rather rare Dwemer bow and my third Orsimer dagger.

Coincidentally there was a gated exit behind the shrine that saved me the trouble of walking through the entire cavern and was greeted by a grey morning of sleet as Barbas and I emerged near the road. It was back to Helgen once again.
The bodies outside the gate were still performing their duties, but the town had not been reoccupied since I had last passed through. Further down the road we came upon what appeared to be a hunters' camp, but were attacked as we drew closer. Barbas was in the air and atop the closest bandit before I could even begin to draw my blade and killed the man with a bite to the throat. The unfortunate man's partner fell to me.
A search of their bodies revealed the camp to (possibly) be an actual camp of hunters, for the "bandits" were actually more assassins sent by the Dark Brotherhood so that the contract against my life might be fulfilled. They were, surprisingly, each good for an additional Orsimer dagger.

Our walk continued past the Half-Moon lumber mill near Falkreath and along the northern road. Near the crossroads was a Nordic collection of standing stones surrounding a large stone platform. Something tickled my memory, but I cannot recall what these sites are right now. Perhaps something of importance, perhaps not.
Barbas and I overtook a patrol of Imperial Legionnaires escorting a prisoner to parts unknown. None of them paid much attention to a Khajiit and her dog as they walked by, but as we passed the group and rounded a turn in the road I suddenly backtracked and fled behind the soldiers.

On the road ahead of us stood a Giant with a painted bull next to him. I anticipated a violent clash between the Legionnaires and the Giant, but neither party seemed bothered by the other and the Giant lumbered off of the road to allow everyone to peacefully pass him by, certainly not what I had expected, but relieved to see it nonetheless.
Not wanting to provoke any sort of confrontation I left the soldiers and their prisoner behind and arrived at the village of Rorikstead having left them far enough behind to be out of sight completely. This was where the late horse-thief Lokir claimed to have come from, but the people I talked to could not recall anyone by that name or description.

The trail descended down the hill towards the river and we were not long from Rorikstead before we came upon an overturned cart on the road with the corpse of its owner laying nearby.
The crossroad was surrounded by rocks, a perfect place for an ambush. That they left the body speaks either of the murder being recent or the bandits being stupid enough to think someone would stop to investigate. I wonder if the Imperials I had left behind near Rorikstead would have stopped. Likely the bandits would have remained hidden until they had passed, but a Khajiit and her dog no doubt appeared a much easier mark.

That the dog was the manifestation of a Daedric Prince's companion and that the Khajiit has been fighting on and off for over two hundred years was not something they were to know.

Barbas caught wind of a bandit before the ambush even started, charging behind a tall pile of rocks alongside the road. The scream that emitted shortly after drew the unfortunate bandit's two companions from the other side of the road. I dealt with them without much trouble and was rewarded with a silver ring off of one of their fingers.
At the river was an inexpertly constructed wooden fortification that I could see several people residing within. The little fort was built with watchtowers on either side of the road after the bridge, with a rope bridge joining the two towers over the road, providing an excellent vantage point from which to collect tolls or fire arrows into travelers. I briefly thought to try paying my way through the toll, but a bark next to my knee dispelled that hope.
To Barbas's credit, he at least allowed me to shoot down on bandit before he barged into the camp and I had no choice but to follow as screams and snarls erupted ahead of me. One bandit had evidently been the gate guard and was already dead by the time I arrived. The gate open, Barbas simply let himself in and proceeded to maul each bandit one-by-one. It was a grisly business considering that they were fighting a dog they could not harm, let alone kill, but I still found it preferable against being shot full of arrows.

The fort's liege received a small mercy: while he was ineffectually attempting to bring the head of a two-handed hammer down upon Barbas I sneaked behind him and buried one of my Orsimer daggers into the back of his neck. It was kinder than watching him get his throat torn open. Brutally slaughtering an entire camp of people elicited no comment from Barbas, so I put it out of my mind and examined the bodies and camp for valuables. The leader's hammer was an ancient Ayleid weapon, the head carved into an elaborate eagle's head, the counter-spike, a pair of wings. It is the first of its kind I have seen in many years, so I took it with me, despite the cumbersome nature of the thing.

A key held around the leader's neck unlocked a chest which contained an unusual-looking white stone with many facets. Thinking it a simple carved rock, I picked it up to find it nearly weightless and once again a voice seemed to sound from within my skull.

This was not Barbas's sarcasm, but the cultured voice of a woman. To my (private) despair she introduced herself as Meridia, the Lady of Infinite Energies. She is known as a rather minor Daedra, but not one to greatly fear, unlike most. People who dedicate their lives against the undead often revere her and from what I remember her hatred of undead is nearly the only thing that defines her existence.

Anyway, Meridia declared that my possession of her Beacon, the weightless rock, marked me as her new Champion. A necromancer has defiled her shrine here in Skyrim and she ordered me to travel to 'Mount Kilkreath' in order to place the beacon inside the shrine where it belonged. I wonder if she made the same offer to the bandit leader. This is now the second Daedric lord that I have come to the attention of and I find it to be two more than I would like. Nonetheless, I do not believe I shall be allowed any rest until I have completed this new task, but Clavicus Vile got to me first, so I shall be finishing his task before starting Meridia's. Two hundred years I have managed to live without being noticed by anyone of importance and suddenly its two Daedric lords within a week.

Just before the famed bridge of the 'Dragon Bridge' village I bore witness to yet another ransacked merchant. They looked to have been a well-to-do couple judging by their horse and the quantity of goods, but their wealth did not extend to paying for an armed escort and they fell victim to bandits, likely the ones Barbas and I slew at the river.
Just beyond was Skyrim's important 'Dragon's Bridge' which lent its name to the town built around it.
The small town masked how important the bridge actually is. Should it be destroyed or claimed by either faction of the Civil War, traffic to and from Solitude to the rest of the province would essentially be cut off. This eventuality is the townspeoples' greatest fear, for if one side claims the bridge they know the other will arrive and the town will certainly be the worse off for it. The civil war has so far spared the town and its bridge, but it is only a matter of time before this will change.

The innkeeper at the 'Four Shields Tavern' suggested I might be interested in a bounty the Jarl of Solitude posted against piratical bandits camping at a grotto along the coast north of the great city. I may look into it while Barbas is still with me. A dozen Septims, plus an additional four on account of my faithful hound, bought Barbas and I a room for the night. He assured me that 'Rimerock Burrow' is very close and I am looking forward to attending to the next step required to release myself from his master.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Skyrim Day 010 - A Dog's Life

26 Last Seed, 4E201
Haemar's Shame

I wish I had not attempted to find more work before leaving Falkreath for good, for it has led me on quite a strange trip and one I wish I had not needed to have made.

Jarl Siddgeir had thought of another task for me during the night. More bandits were bothering his Hold, this time a group which had taken over one of the Hold's few mining operations, this one at a mine called 'Bilegulch Mine' north-west of the town. According to his Steward the quickest way to the former mine was to go back to the lumber mill where the slightly off-putting woman worked at, then leave the road while staying close to the mountains.

At the crossroads between Falkreath and the lumber mill sits an old watchtower that I had not paid much attention to before.
Curiosity got the better of me and circled around the small hill the tower was built upon until I found the path upwards...towards a impaled, bloody skeleton in front of the gate. Fairly warned I stepped inside the ruin with axe and shield at the ready. I was rather dismayed to find myself being charged at by the resurrected corpse of a young female Khajiit at the top of the stairs, but a quick shove sent her tumbling off of the tower and to her final rest.
The necromancer suffered a far worse fate: with his servant suddenly deceased he ran at me brandishing a dagger, but he was on the top of the tower and I still on the stairwell. A single swing of my axe took his right foot off at the ankle and he crashed to the stone floor with a scream. A stab to the back of the head finished him off.

I found nothing of value at the necromancer's lair and left the corpse there as a warning to any others that may be contemplating such a cruel vocation.

Reaching the lumber mill I proceeded off the road and into the forest once again. After only a few minutes of walking I began to hear the sounds of a battle raging ahead of me. Anticipating Thalmor I cautiously approached, but the melee was between Stormcloaks and Legionnaires. By the time I was close enough to help the battle was over, with the Legion being the victor by virtue of having one soldier left alive.
The soldier stumbled away towards the road, ignoring my offers of assistance and left me in care of the bodies. I could not bring myself to search them for coin and as I had no shovel I left them where they fell.

Bilegulch Mine is set atop a little plateau jutting out from the circle of mountains that encompasses Skyrim west of Falkreath. As has always been the case so far the site was protected by a wooden palisade and I could not see any bandits patrolling about. The only hint of habitation was the harsh rhythm of someone working a piece of metal behind the fortification.

The palisade's gate was not barred and swung open surprisingly quietly, allowing me to enter the camp undetected. Despite this advantage I was able to only shoot down one bandit before alerting the others, all of them Orsimer and very angry.

What followed might have been amusing for someone to watch: a Khajiit running and leaping among the rocks and small buildings of the camp while a gang of bandits chased after her to and fro. Eventually I was able to make a run for a narrow path leading to the mine entrance at the top of the plateau and the group was forced to fight me one at a time, severely cutting into their advantage and allowing me to live another day. They were not as lucky.

My reason for being at Bilegulch was the bandit leader, an Orc described to me as old, experienced, and very dangerous. None of the bandits I slew outside of the mine were particularly old, so I guessed he (or she!) would be found inside.

I was correct. As soon as I entered the mine I heard his humming of some sort of song, apparently unaware that his little band was collectively deceased. The bandits had put in the effort to ensure the cave was well lit, so sneaking was not likely to work, at least for one as unskilled in that art as I am.

Had he been armed more conservatively I might have had more of a difficult time in fighting him. As it was, the old Orc carried a huge two-handed Orsimer battle-ax and even with his strength the great weapon took several seconds to swing. A single blow might have cleaved me in half, but that was a blow he never landed. Our little dance began to follow what for him was a very frustrating pattern: he would bring the ax over his shoulder for a mighty swing, I would dash in with my small Dwemer ax and strike at him or hit him with my shield, then I would dash backwards as his ax began to come down. Three times he struck the cavern wall and once my shield, ruining it with a single blow.

But he eventually began to falter and slow down as the dozens of minor wounds I had inflicted began to tell. Finally he pulled his ax back, lost his footing, and went down. I leaped at him and buried my ax's spike into the back of his helmet before he could stand back up.
His battle ax was probably worth a bit of coin, but I could not come up with any way to carry it back to Falkreath other than by wielding it and its weight made that out of the question. I left it with the Orc who I had given a "good death" to and pocketed a plain gold ring I found in a chest deeper inside the mine.

On my way back to Falkreath I came up a rare sight: a hideous Hagraven in combat with a Spriggan.
They had not noticed me, so I knelt behind a rock and watched the two of them flail away at each other. Contrary to my expectation the Spriggan emerged victorious, only to receive an arrow in the chest, ending its life. Skyrim can be a cruel place.

As if to drive that point home, further down the road I came upon an overturned wagon with the body of a male Khajiit sprawled in front of it and his horse dead some distance away.
The wagon was very small and what remained of his wares were cheap trinkets, utensils, cookware, things such as that. I wished his soul a quick journey and left the sad sight behind me.

For reclaiming Bilegulch Mine for the city of Falkreath I was awarded seven hundred and fifty Septims and the right to purchase a home in the city should I ever take leave of my senses and want to settle here. He offered to make me Thane of Falkreath, but the suggestion smelled of politics and I do not think I would be happy serving under such an inexperienced leader. I politely declined and received his shrug of indifference in response.

He suggested I spend more time in the city and see if the townspeople needed assistance with anything...which would pretty much be doing his or his Steward's job. Still, helping people tended to pay well in Skyrim, so I agreed and planned to extend my stay in Falkreath for a few more days.

Had I known what would happen next I would be halfway to the Imperial City by now.

I left the Jarl's Hall and walked around aimlessly for awhile, sold some pelts at the trader's and was stopped by a guard on my way out. He told me that the local blacksmith, a fellow creatively named 'Lod', had seen a dog on the road and was willing to pay someone to fetch it for him. Simple enough.
The dog saw me and willingly approached and I thought my job would be done within a few minutes, but then it stopped, stared at me, and a voice suddenly burst from within my skull with a very strange accent. The voice stated that I was exactly what he had been looking for. Shocked, I asked the dog if the voice was his doing and the voice replied that Skyrim had "flying lizards and two-legged cats", so I should not be surprised by a talking dog. I do not think that a fair point.

The dog introduced himself as 'Barbas' and naturally even a talking dog needed me to do something for him. Apparently he and his "master" had an argument which resulted in Barbas and his master being forcibly separated. Barbas now sought a reunion to smooth things over and needed my help in order to reach his master once again.

Unfortunately his master was Clavicus Vile, the Daedric Prince of wishes which he typically granted in unusual and unexpected ways. According to the tales, these ways were often harmful to the wish's requester while still remaining within the nature of the wish. Needless to say he is never to be trusted, a caution that probably all the Daedric Princes are deserving of.

I was not thrilled by becoming involved with Clavicus Vile, but I agreed to escort Barbas to his master's shrine in a cave Barbas called 'Haemar's Shame' for the adventure of the thing and to get away from Falkreath for awhile. He warned me that the former tomb was a long walk from Falkreath, but the afternoon was still young and we both set off towards Helgen and past that, Clavicus Vile.

We had not gone very far before being assaulted from a figure that sprang out from the bushes alongside the road. Barbas ran off and I found myself in a fight against a Khajiit in dark clothes and a hood. She was wielding two daggers, but even without my shield she was little match against my ax. She likely was relying on surprise rather than skill and had not enough of either to overcome me with. A letter on her body dictated that I was to die due to the "Black Sacrament" having been performed, but what this is and who performed it is a mystery. The letter stated that payment had been received for the contract on my life and was signed by an "Astrid". Seems like the Thalmor are not the only group who wants me dead and just as with the Thalmor I am mystified as to why.

By the time Barbas and I arrived at 'Haemar's Shame' it had grown very dark, cold, and snowy, hardly ideal traveling conditions. The former tomb was no more hospitable and with the hostile vampire clan residing within it, actually a great deal less.

Rather than run away, Barbas simply ran through the vampires and to his master's shrine leaving me to wade through the tomb's occupants as they did their best to kill me. However, when I did reach the shrine there were two dead vampires next to Barbas, so perhaps he is worth something in a fight after all.
Clavicus Vile was not pleased at the return of his faithful hound, but was at the granting of his follower's wishes. He explained that the vampires had come to him requesting a cure from their disease and behold, I arrived and killed them all. Cure given. Like I pointed out earlier, Clavicus Vile can never be trusted. I suppose I should feel bad, but not one of them stopped attacking me to explain why they were at 'Haemar's Shame' to begin with.

But bringing Barbas back to the shrine was not enough. Clavicus Vile insisted that I bring an artifact of his to him, a weapon he called the 'Rueful Axe'. Coincidentally it was being held by someone in a place called 'Rimrock Barrow' which Barbas could lead me to, if he was willing. When I asked Barbas about it he replied that he knew where it was: on the opposite side of Skyrim along the coast.

Of course.

But it is late and I have no desire to go back out into the cold and the dark. As distasteful as I find it I shall be spending the night here by the shrine of Clavicus Vile. Tomorrow Barbas and I will begin our very, very long walk.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Skyrim Day 009 - Marked by the Thalmor

25 Last Seed, 4E201

I found 'Oakflesh' to be beyond my capabilities like all my other spells, but resolved to explore the area around Falkreath while working my way towards the bandit group the Jarl urged me to destroy. I was told they had taken up residence in front of an old mine to the north-west, so I guessed it would be easiest to simply walk alongside the mountains until I found the camp.

Following a small path winding towards the mountains brought me almost immediately to a ruined castle garrisoned by bandits nearly a stone's throw away from Falkreath. It does appear that Whiterun is not the only Hold with bandit problems and I suspect I shall find more of the same as I continue to travel.
The Orc patrolling the battlements over the fortress's gate stared at me as I walked by, but made no motion towards alerting his fellows of my presence or shooting at me with his bow. I suppose I do not appear a wealthy mark with my plain, somewhat tattered clothing. Deception is often the greatest defense.

I was not even outside of the sentry's sight when I was suddenly charged by a necromancer and one of his undead thralls. The errant mage was wielding a simple dagger in one hand and lightning magicka in the other: a sound strategy against a fellow mage. Against a surprised Khajiit with a long sword, not very sound at all. He fell after a stab to the gut and his useless thrall dissolved into nothing as his life seeped out of his stomach.

Beyond his pathetic attempt on my life was his campsite, complete with a bloodied altar crowded with the remains of his failed attempts to raise the dead.
I found nothing of value other than the satisfaction of removing such a person from Tamriel.

North of his illicit studies lay a far more disturbing sight: a burned wagon, a dead horse, and two corpses burnt beyond any recognition.
The ground around the wagon was burnt to ash in a neat circle. The wagon's cargo was inside several wooden crates, all of which were blackened but otherwise undamaged. The contents confirmed my suspicion: dragon fire directed at the enemies of the Stormcloaks: the Imperial Legion. Shielded by the sturdy crates, the Legionnaire armor had survived the blast without any damage but I was loathe to carry such conspicuous garb in a region clearly not safe for those wearing it.

After walking along the mountains for about twenty more minutes I came to the realization that I had been walking into a dead end, my time wasted. So I turned around and proceeded along the opposite side of the valley I was trying to leave, guessing that the mountains would still lead me towards the bandits.

While I was walking along I noticed a gang of three Altmers clad entirely in black sneaking towards me, apparently unaware they had been spotted. I quickly changed direction to a outcropping of rock in front of me hoping to gain some height advantage, but my change of pace was evidently too obvious and one of them shouted and all of a sudden I was under attack by spell and sword.

Such was my first encounter with the Thalmor, a group the Stormcloaks and the Legion could happily fight together against if the politics ever allowed such a thing. They were far more powerful than any bandits I have fought and they worked together unerringly. I found myself becoming overwhelmed and nearly surrounded when the fortunate arrival of a pack of wolves distracted two of my assailants. I smashed the remaining Thalmor against a large rock and stabbed her through the back until she stopped screaming, then turned against the other two. One I killed while he was busy fighting off two wolves, the other I had to fight after he killed his single wolf and the two his late friend had been busy with.

Skilled though they were, their strength seemed to have relied heavily on teamwork and one-on-one they were easily kept on the defensive and not one of the three had shields so this was a losing proposition for them.
On each of them was a paper classifying me as an "extremely dangerous" enemy to the Thalmor who is to be killed with "extreme hatred". Whoever wrote the declaration must have enjoyed going to extremes. I am also described as being able to skillfully defend myself despite nearly losing my life to a Sabre Cat just the other day.

I have no idea what prompted this interest in me, nor what I could have possibly done to bring about such a sudden and violent persona. I am certain that I have never harmed any of the Thalmor nor worked against the Aldmeri Dominion, yet I am now marked by them for death. The only thing I can think of is that someone recognized me from long ago and the Dominion is interested in learning the secret to my unnatural longevity, but I cannot picture who this person might be.
After all I had dealt with up until then, I still needed to find the Jarl's group of bandits, kill them, and return to Falkreath in one piece. After an hour of walking through the wet, rainy forest I finally found the camp the Jarl had described: Knifepoint Ridge
The sentry atop the watchtower fell with an arrow in his chest and I killed two other bandits just as silently from atop the tower myself. The camp was built in front of a former mine and the leader of the little group would likely be found there. I was correct, but the man was stunningly standing in a pile of spilled lamp oil and a shot from my bow tipped a lantern on to it, transforming the man into a screaming pillar of flames. And with that Knifepoint Ridge was clear until the next group of bandits came along.

Among the useless contraband the bandits had acquired was an ancient Dwemer war axe. I kept it and will try using it myself in the next few days. I have swung many an axe in my day, though a wood-cutting axe is far different than one crafted for battle. If it does not work out I can always sell it somewhere.

Alert and on edge, I rushed towards the road and back towards Falkreath. Bandits are now the least of my concerns alongside the reminder of a rebellious Dragon flying about and the Thalmor stalking after me. The former is really someone else's problem unless I choose to get involved in Skyrim's civil war, but the latter is an insult. I have done nothing to attract the ire of the Thalmor, yet still they seem to believe I have committed some slight against them which warrants death as if I did not have enough to worry about.

Jarl Siddgeir was less than impressed with my completion of his task, languidly congratulating me and handing me a purse of one hundred Septims, a sum I do not think matched the difficulties I had.

Falkreath and its Jarl has failed to impress upon me any reason for staying longer. I will spend one more day here in an attempt to find some work, but I shall be on my way otherwise. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Skyrim Day 008 - To Falkreath

24 Last Seed, 4E201

Danica was rather less than pleased to receive a small tree instead of the sap she had been expecting. She pointed out that pilgrims would be less than impressed by a tiny tree in place of the towering, though dead, 'Gildergreen'. I told her that Maurice felt that gathering the sap was not respectful of Kynareth and that devotion should come in the form of renewal, rather than maintenance. After a moment she agreed and thanked me for bringing her the sapling and leaving Maurice behind. She allowed me to keep 'Nettlebane', but I left it in the Temple, having no further use for it.

As I exited the Temple a man came running up to me, looking for the "adventurer-Khajiit" which he correctly assumed was me, in this case. He had a letter for me from the Jarl of Falkreath who wrote to invite me to come to his city so that we could discuss the possibility of work. The thought of traveling appealed to me and I felt that my business at Whiterun, for now, was finished. My descent into Bleak Falls Barrow will have to wait until I am more skilled, preferably in magic as well as in combat.

I had never been to Falkreath before, it was always too remote and small for much of the work I used to do in Skyrim. I knew it to be a town primarily known for its lumber and its graveyard for some reason. It was directly west of Helgen, but I decided to forego another trip through Riverwood and take the longer trip over the plain and through a mountain pass farther west.

My little journey began around ten in the morning and my first encounter of interest was with a ruined watchtower.
Much like the walls of the city, Whiterun's tower was more ruin than fortification, another example of the decay resulting from the Empire's decline and Skyrim's own civil war. The tower did appear to be manned by Whiterun guards anyway, so it was at least still capable of serving some sort of purpose.

Further down the road I passed a burned-out farmstead near to an almost equally-ruined fortress. The wooden palisade looked new and the collection of individuals patrolling the battlements were dressed in leathers or hides, likely another group of bandits.

I kept to the road and they ignored me. I did notice that they had erected dummies along the battlements to make it appear they were more numerous, a clever idea for a group of bandits, though I wonder who they believe they are scaring off. It is obvious Whiterun does not have the resources to dedicate towards their eradication.

Along the road I came upon an Orc standing next to the bodies of two freshly-slain Sabre Cats, Skyrim's rather nastier version of Cyrodiil's common bear. He appeared uninterested in the corpses and I asked him why he was simply standing next to the road. The Orc refused to name himself, stating that he was simply an old warrior waiting for the "good death" that was promised to him. By who, he did not say. I was certainly not about to challenge a warrior capable of slaying two such beasts at once and wished him luck before continuing on.

Near a road-side farm I noticed a collection of stones that seemed to have been placed there purposely. There was no one tending to the farm that I could see, so I quietly walked through the farmstead and to the stones. Each one had a pedestal upon which a stone embedded with pictures of an animal spun. Nearby there was a lever and I soon deduced that spinning the pedestals to the correct animal would allow the lever to open the grate in front of the stones, underneath which lay a skeleton and a chest.

My experimentation with the pedestals proved frustrating and was cut short by a rhythmic thudding occurring behind me. I was admittedly frightened to see that the sound was from the approach of two Giants!
Perhaps the site was of some significance to them, perhaps it was merely a coincidence, but I was not interested in finding out. I immediately ran away from them further into the plain and away from the road. Other than a hunter attempting to train his dog I found little of interest as I worked my way back to the road and Falkreath.

The road turned through the mountains towards Falkreath and I came upon my own possibility of a "good death" right at the signpost. There was no way of me knowing that a Sabre Cat was just up the hill chasing a fox and when I turned to walk through the pass the cat suddenly spun around and charged right towards me: an unarmored Khajiit with a light wooden shield, a sword, and spells she could not yet cast.

Battling the Sabre Cat was a brutal experience. It was far stronger and possessed a predatory sort of cunning in its tactics. After circling me for several moments it charged, biting at my shield and attempting to rake its claws across my chest and face before disengaging and returning to circling. This cycle was repeated several times to its advantage, but finally I caught the timing of its attack and managed to kick it in the head before driving my blade between its eyes, splitting its skull in half.
The fight was far more difficult than any bandit I have encountered and the Orc must be quite a warrior indeed to be able to slay two of these Sabre Cats at once! As for me I fared far more poorly, my clothing in tatters and blood streaking my fur. I was forced to sit alongside the cat's cooling corpse for a few minutes to let Dagoth Ur's special blessing do its helpful work after which I turned towards my foe and claimed its pelt for later sale. Clearly I have far to go in combat abilities as yet.

Fortunately that was my last fight for the day and the walk to Falkreath was peaceful after I almost died. I passed a lumber mill along a lake and spoke with the owner for a little bit. Her name is 'Hert', a rather un-Nordic name and though she was pleasant and talkative there was just something about her that did not seem right to me. She did not know anything about the sunken fortress opposite her mill and I left quickly despite her invitation to stay longer.
The pass between the mountains where I fought the Sabre Cat separates the plain from the heavily wooded area around Falkreath. Soon after the mill the road became much narrower as trees and grasses encroached upon it from both sides and the cobblestones gave way to simple dirt.
Falkreath was hardly the "city" the Jarl's letter had described. It look more like a large settlement that somehow grew within a massive forest. Despite it's humble appearance the town's trading post had some powerfully enchanted items, one of them a circlet the shopkeeper said would aid me in archery, an aid I could surely use if I could have afforded the jewelry. Instead I sold him what little I had collected between Whiterun and Falkreath and purchased some healing potions and a spell tome called 'Oakflesh' that would make my skin resistant to damage for a short period of time. It remains to be seen if I can cast it now.

The local alchemist had more healing potions to sell, as well as ingredients for me to create more with. When I fought the Sabre Cat I had none on me at all, a mistake I will be sure not to make from now on.

My last order of business for the day was the reason for the trip: to visit the Jarl about this work he claimed needed doing. His wood-and-straw Hall was much less impressive than Dragonsreach and the man inside reflected that lack of grandeur.
The man was young, brash, and utterly disinterested in his position other than that it afforded him the finest foods, drinks, and hunts. Any tasks other than eating, drinking, or hunting fell upon Falkreath's steward, an Altmer named 'Nenya'. The Jarl's important task he wrote to me about turned out to be the elimination of a group of bandits nearby, exactly the sort of task I was not eager to accept. But I had walked nearly all day to get here, so I accepted. He never said when he wanted them eliminated, after all and he will likely forget he asked me as soon as I leave the Hall.

Falkreath's inn, as well as every other place of business, is named with a nod towards the town's famous graveyard (which I have yet to see), making the inn the 'Dead Man's Drink'. Charming. Ten coins bought me a room without a door for the night, prompting me to write this entry as long as possible so that the rest of the guests will have left when I finally settle down to sleep. I hope to visit this famous graveyard of Skyrim tomorrow and will scout the approach to the Jarl's bandit group as well. If I can kill one or two of them before melee combat then I feel I shall have a good chance, especially if my 'Oakflesh' spell is something I can comfortably cast.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Skyrim Day 007 - The Hot Springs of Skyrim

23 Last Seed, 4E201

Apparently I already have a reputation at 'The Bannered Mare' as a Khajiit who enjoys performing the city's odd-jobs. Last night Hulda told me that the priestess of the local temple of Kynareth was looking for a mercenary and though I had promised myself yesterday to not push myself too far too quickly, I decided that speaking to the woman was the least I could do.

Whiterun's priestess is 'Danica Pure-Spring', a very Nordic-sounding name. Her task was a bit unusual: part of her responsibilities includes the tending of 'Gildergreen', the large dead tree outside the Temple. I took it for any other sort of tree, but 'Gildergreen' is a sacred tree to the worshippers of Kynareth and its present state was something of a disgrace to the Temple. In healthier times pilgrims would travel to Whiterun to meditate underneath its leaves and hear the whispers of their Goddess in the winds between the branches.

Or so Danica said. The tree was struck by lightning awhile ago though and with the wounded streaming into the Temple due to the civil war she has not had time to dedicate towards the rebirth of 'Gildergreen'. This was to be my task. If I accepted, the first step towards restoring 'Gildergreen' would be to fetch the sacred dagger 'Nettlebane' from a nest of Hagravens the locals had named 'Orphan Rock'.

I had no experience with the creatures known as Hagravens and what knowledge I had of them came from stories and the occasional rumor of a sighting. From what I knew of them before speaking with Danica, they were witches, usually Nords, that accepted a transformation into half-woman, half-bird in exchange for potent magicka and ritualistic abilities that were revered by the non-transformed witches and the Forsworn. They were said to be fierce defenders of their "nests" and skilled opponents both at range and up close. Given that, I was hesitant to accept Danica's request, but I did under the self-imposed condition of getting myself some training immediately after I was done.

Danica gave me directions to 'Orphan Rock': follow the road east out of what used to be Helgen and look for the Hagraven's nesting site within the second canyon on the left side of the road. Simple enough. The trip took me back through Riverwood, but not much of interest was happening at the town.
Along the road between Riverwood and Helgen I overtook a band of Stormcloaks, but they paid me no more notice than a glance.

Helgen had new inhabitants and they decorated the main gate with totems of their presence: an impaled corpse (burnt, most likely from Helgen) and a skull with attached rib-cage affixed to a second stake, these also likely taken from Helgen itself. Thus helpfully warned, I pushed open the gate, bow at the ready.
I expected more, but there were only three bandits wandering around Helgen. Perhaps they were the first of a larger group to arrive or maybe they had aspirations of becoming more than they were. Whatever the case, their aspirations ended with arrows embedded into their backs as I caught all three unaware and slew them without warning. They had nothing valuable to speak of and the remainder of my walk to 'Orphan Rock' was without incident.

Once I reached the second gap in the hills along the road I did my best to creep silently into the campsite, but sneaking has never actually been my best skill and I soon found myself dodging fireballs as the witches of the Hagraven's nest descended upon me.

Using my bow would be the obvious choice, but despite my victory over Helgen's would-be bandits, my ability with it is not great. Against the constant barrage of fire I found it difficult to draw an arrow against any of the witches and instead relied on my sword-arm and agility to rush them in the hope of preventing their spell-casting. It was a hazardous strategy, but it worked after I was singed a few times. Once I was able to engage them with my sword and shield they fell quickly.
Their Hagraven was a different matter altogether. My first impression of it was that someone had taken a very old woman and mixed it with a crow...hence the name Hag-raven, I suppose. The "woman" looked to be very old, but her hands were a bird's claws complete with feathers and her feet were the same. I cannot imagine why one would surrender their body to such a horrific and ugly transformation, but there must be those that are desperate enough for power or status of some kind.

Fighting her though turned out to be a lot easier than I anticipated. Her magicka was far stronger than her witches' had been, but after I closed to melee she relied on her clawed hands to attack me with. Fighting her was very similar to the Corpus monsters from so long ago: powerful blows, but very slow and easily dodged. The Hagraven was not a clever combatant and was satisfied to simply trade blow for blow. My sword was not very effective against her unarmored body and after the battle I realized her skin was tougher than a stack of deer hide. Still, I kept up our little dance long enough to wear her down by dozens of minor wounds and was victorious, though exhausted. Tied around her waist was a cord with an ebony dagger attached to it which matched the description I had been given of 'Nettlebane'.
The campsite had a small enchanting table set up near the corpse of a Spriggan the witches had placed over a brazier. I cannot fathom what purpose this may have been serving. On the table was a collection of rather rare alchemy ingredients and a the smallest of soul gems, filled.
The witches' sleeping space also had an adult skeleton set upon a simple wooden table, again to what purpose I cannot guess at.

I thought about attempting to find a path through the hills to Riverwood, but chose comfort over convenience and walked the road through Helgen back to Whiterun.

As I entered the Temple I heard Danica arguing with a man. She interrupted their conversation once she saw me walk through the doors and introduced me to Maurice Jondrelle, a pilgrim and devout of Kynareth. He had been complaining about the state of 'Gildergreen', insisting that it was Danica's responsibility to fix. That she was busy with all of the sick and injured of Whiterun was of no concern of his.
It fell on me to escort the irritable man to a place Danica called 'Eldergleam Sanctuary', a cave nestled within the sulfuric springs east of Whiterun. Inside this sanctuary was 'Eldergleam', the blessed tree from which 'Gildergreen' had sprung. I was instructed to use 'Nettlebane' to collect sap from 'Eldergleam' in order to restore 'Gildergreen' to its former glory. It sounds a lot more confusing as I write it down than it actually was: go to cave, stab tree, collect sap, return. Oh and make sure Maurice does not die along the way.

The sulfur springs are directly south of Windhelm and I have traveled past them many times during my previous stays in Skyrim. They are said to have curative properties, especially for the aged and the area is normally well-patrolled by Windhelm guards, though with the civil war that may no longer be true.

The walk would take me past 'Valtheim Towers' and I hoped to find it still abandoned. Maurice and I started our little journey later in the afternoon than I would have liked, but I gather I was doing Danica a large favor by removing him from her Temple.

For such a lengthy journey it was surprisingly without incident. We passed a riderless horse on the side of the road with the crumpled body of what might have been either a hunter or a bandit in front of it. Maurice and I agreed that the rider had probably stolen the horse and had not the skill to control it before being pitched out of the saddle and on to the cobblestones of the road.

The sun was setting as we crossed the small stone bridge joining the road to the marshy springs.
A small camp was situated on the other side, carefully within the confines of dry land. A woman calling herself 'Annekke Crag-Jumper' wistfully told me she used to be an adventurer like me, which would be quite a feat. Maurice insisted on stopping at the mining camp to eat and drink, so when we finally ready to find the Sanctuary it had already grown very dark.
The persistent steam from the pools made it very difficult to see far and neither Maurice or I had a good idea of where the Sanctuary actually was. After wandering around pointlessly for awhile we finally found the cavern that would lead us to the Sanctuary.

I expected a dark, cramped cave with a shrine at the end of it and 'Eldergleam' to be a little tree carefully nourished in turn by visiting pilgrims. What Maurice and I walked into was far grander.

'Eldergleam Sanctuary' was a massive underground chamber with holes in the ceiling that allowed light and the hot runoff of the springs to flow underground on to 'Eldergleam'.
A Nord was relaxing near the entrance and welcomed Maurice and I to the Sanctuary, warning us that violence was not tolerated by either the other pilgrims or 'Eldergleam' itself. We continued inside and others were just wandering around or enjoying the hot water pooling about. It was a very peaceful place.

'Eldergleam' was atop a small plateau against the side of the cavern. Its roots blocked the only passage towards it, but scratching them with 'Nettlebane' caused them to retract, much to Maurice's horror. He exclaimed that he had not thought me a violent person and I wonder at the man's understanding of violence if he thinks merely brushing a blade over a tree is "violent". Nevertheless, the man was very upset and I explained I had to collect sap from the tree, likely by stabbing it with the blade. He nearly passed out.

He did have a suggestion on how I could complete my task with no damage to the sacred tree: he would speak to Kynareth and ask a deliverance from the blight of 'Gildergreen'. I agreed with the condition that if Kynareth was not forthcoming with a solution that I would be collecting the sap and leaving.
Kynareth was feeling generous for after a few moments of Maurice's silent prayer a sapling snaked out of the earth behind him. He got up, proudly stated that he had been heard and asked that I bring the small tree to Whiterun immediately. He wanted to spend some more time in the Sanctuary and we bid farewell.

It was close to midnight when I emerged outside and yet I still passed people happily bathing in the springs. My walk back to Whiterun was uneventful, but slow in the dark and I reached 'The Bannered Mare' at nearly four in the morning. How I have the energy to even write this is something of a mystery, but I am sure I will be suffering the lack of sleep tomorrow.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Skyrim Day 006 - A Somber Reminder

22 Last Seed, 4E201

Some days are successes, others are lessons. Today was not a success.

It started as my days usually have: waking up at an Inn, eating an early, light breakfast, then proceeding to complete as many tasks as I set for the day. Today's was first to find a mammoth tusk for Ysolda so that she might learn from the Khajiit. It was suggested that a poacher's camp north of Whiterun might have what she needed, so that is where I started off towards.

While circling around the city I found a rather brazen group of bandits had set up a camp in a small cave directly beneath Dragonsreach. My earlier assessment of the city being somewhat run-down and ill-maintained certainly seems accurate given how close they were to the city with no fear of a lawful response.

I shot two of them down with my bow and had to fight another in melee, but had no trouble. One of the bandits had a steel sword on her that was a better blade than my iron one, so that was welcomed. Based on a note I found on their table their primary occupation was smuggling and the poisons on a shelf inside the cave seemed to support that. On a whim I took the poisons, one of a simple weakening elixir, the other a more powerful paralysis solution that would save my life later in the day.
The Skooma I left alone. Nothing good comes about with involving yourself in that stuff.

While I was searching for more valuables the group's horse outside suddenly panicked and ran away. I turned around expecting more bandits or maybe a bear, but oddly enough a Flame Atronach had wandered over from parts unknown.
Arrows were useless against the creature's fiery "body" so I was forced to close in with my sword and shield which managed to have more of an effect. It was not my first Atronach, of course, but it had been a very long time since I last fought one and they had somehow learned to explode upon death since my last fight and this surprise caused me a great deal of unnecessary pain.
I continued onward and found what I thought was the poaching camp. It looked the part: huge skeletons of mammoths strewn about, skins stretched along the rocks to cure, and two bandits occupying it.
The bandits were less skilled than their counterparts under Whiterun, but what I had found was something akin to a graveyard rather than a camp. The bandits must have been looking for the same thing I was, but the graveyard did not have an unbroken tusk to take. My search for the true camp resumed.

It was just a little further away, ringed with a fresh wooden stockade and by the sound of it, an anvil and grindstone at the least. I climbed the hills behind the poachers' and counted four poachers outside. I was able to kill one with a shot from my bow, but this alerted the other three and they came charging out of the camp towards me. On one of their bodies I found a small amethyst, but little else of value. I could have carried their equipment back to Whiterun, but the trouble hardly seems worth it.

Inside is where I encountered the "somber reminder" of today. He was likely the leader of this group and like most of the Nords I have had trouble fighting he was wielding a two-handed hammer. By his side were two other bandits, one of which was a spell-caster and I was able to separate and kill the two before fighting their chief. 

If it had not been for the paralysis potion I found underneath Whiterun I do think I would have had to retreat from the man or die. My shield shattered after deflecting his second blow and his full suit of iron armor gave him adequate protection from my steel sword. Only by running back to the entrance of the cavern to give myself time to poison an arrow was I able to emerge victorious. The arrow glanced off of his armor, but the magicka inside the poison did its work and he was paralyzed, though likely only for a few seconds. Fortunately that was all I needed. My reward for almost dying was an intact mammoth's tusk for someone else and a few small gemstones.

But the battle did serve as a reminder that my glory days were far, far behind me. No longer am I the Ashlander champion scouring the Sixth House bases free of abominations, nor am the Champion of Cyrodiil rushing into Oblivion to engage the Daedric invaders. I have since become a chopper of wood, gatherer of alchemy ingredients, and occasionally a bodyguard, though that now seems rather irresponsible of me. 

I need to start over again just as I did when I found myself free of the Imperial prison after the Emperor's death. I will not be going to Bleak Falls Barrow any time soon, for if I cannot easily battle a poacher, what chance would I have against Stormcloaks? Perhaps I should join the Legion or maybe the Mage's college in Winterhold. I do not yet know, but I am in clear need of further training somewhere.

The trader at Whiterun bought the gemstones from me at a good price and I sold off a few pieces of equipment at the blacksmith's. I retired to 'The Bannered Mare' and was told the priestess of the local temple of Kynareth was looking for help with something. Perhaps I will look into it, though I really should be concentrating on training right now before I commit to anything big.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Skyrim Day 005 - More bounty-hunting

21 Last Seed, 4E201

Valtheim Towers was the location of last night's bounty notice, a ruin the innkeeper, Hulda, said used to serve as a toll for Whiterun long ago. With the unification of Skyrim into the Empire, the towers were no longer used and fell into disrepair, often being occupied by one group of bandits or another until the city's guard chased them out. No attempt has ever been made by Whiterun to either repair or destroy the towers and today it fell on me to scour the ruin once again.

I left Whiterun and headed towards the crossroads I had arrived at from Riverwood a few days ago. Distracted by several deer along the northern road, I stalked and successfully shot down one of them before realizing I had walked in the wrong direction for almost an hour, finding myself north of Whiterun and in front of a lot of snow. Though I am sure there is no avoiding it completely, I had no desire to venture into the cold today and turned around.

My second walk past the city allowed me to examine it a bit closer than I have been. Whiterun's defenses are in a deplorable state. The walls are uneven, thin, and crumbling, shored up in places by wooden palisades and garrisoned by far too few guardsmen. Should the civil war bring either the Legion or the Stormcloaks to its gates, Whiterun may find surrender to be the more prudent option.
Ahead of me I encountered a farmer escorting a cow which was painted with blue circles all over it. When I asked him why the cow looked like that he replied that he was going to a giant's camp and was offering the animal as tribute to protect the rest of his herd. I have never heard of anyone voluntarily offering something to a giant before and the farmer admitted it might just be superstition on his part. Still, he did say that his herd had not suffered a loss due to giants since he started his routine, so maybe there is something to it. I was curious to see how the exchange would play out and offered to escort him to whatever camp he was heading to, but he thanked me and declined my offer, stating his concern that an armed person with him might cause trouble. I suppose he had a point.

Along the correct road heading east towards the Towers I was stopped by a woman claiming to be a 'Vigilant of Stendarr', an Order she said was formed after the Oblivion Crisis for the sole purpose of battling Daedra and other "abominations". Given my own history I cannot say I disapprove of such a thing, my life could have been easier long ago had such an Order existed in Cyrodiil during the Crisis rather than after it. Still, I do not recall hearing of the Vigilants in the years following the Crisis, but there is likely a great deal I no longer remember. I am no Daedra, so we parted amicably.

Further down the road I found a shrine of some sort and walked up the hill towards it to investigate, only to be attacked by a would-be necromancer. He had enough skill to summon two skeletons against me, but neither of them were particularly powerful and I dealt with them easily before turning to my assailant. His combat magicka was weak enough for me to shrug off and his skill with a dagger was equally lacking.
He was guarding a Standing Stone attuned with the Ritual birthsign and would aid me in raising my own corpses, should I ever want to do such a thing. I, however, do not and left the Stone alone.

I arrived before the Valtheim Towers just after noon.
Two bandits were immediately visible: one atop the tower on my side of the river, the other patrolling the bridge between the two. Each were armed with bows and obviously more bandits would be inside the towers. As I studied the area, trying to determine the best way to approach, a woman walked out of the tower in front of me and attended to a cooking pot set just outside the door.

She fell first, struck in the back by an arrow and her friend atop the tower joined her via a close-range shot into the neck. That cleared one tower. The fellow patrolling the bridge took an arrow in the leg, causing him to plummet to the ground below, killing him as well. My luck was holding strong.

But it was not to last. In the second tower I dueled a considerably more alert bandit which alerted my bounty who was armed with a two-handed hammer. As such, my light hide-covered shield was little use and my armor just about as bad. I gutted the first bandit quickly, but had to retreat from what I guess was the leader owing to my inability to withstand such powerful blows. He was heavily armored though and I could move much quicker, beating him to the far side of the bridge I had come from by enough that I was able to fire arrows back down the bridge at him.
Armed with a two-handed weapon, he could do nothing against them and re-engaged me in melee combat with four arrows sticking out of his chest. He soon collapsed at my feet after exhausting himself with desperate, powerful swings of the hammer, all of which I dodged this time. Another bounty done with.

Their loot was not much, most of what was at the Towers was clothing and cheap goods of no use to me. I foundd two Corundum ingots which I can sell at Whiterun and, oddly enough, a helmet made of hides that someone had enchanted with an Illusion spell. An idea came to me and I made sure to collect some clothing before I left, as well as any arrows.

The walk back to Whiterun was peaceful and I stopped to speak with a young woman on the steps up towards Dragonsreach. Her name was Ysolda and she was seeking to learn the ways of the merchant from the Khajiit traders that worked the caravans. She had an offer from one Ma'dran to teach her in exchange for a mammoth's tusk, the acquisition of which was consuming most of her time. I thought it a good thing for Khajiit and Nords to work together in Skyrim, so I told her I would return with a tusk if I ever came across one. She thanked me and I proceeded into Dragonsreach to turn it another bounty.

Before leaving I visited Farengar and purchased his Illusion spell books, part of the plan I have been thinking of since the fight at the Towers. He had both 'Calm' and 'Frenzy' spells, each of great use to me...if I could cast them.

Right now I cannot, but I will work on that. After renting the room at 'The Bannered Mare' I removed my armor and replaced it with the clothes from the Tower. If I had been more silent I might not have had to run from the bandit there and even the lightest armor will creak and rattle occasionally. Now I am wearing a simple cheap tunic, pants, and shoes. I am unarmored, but my steps are now almost completely silent. Should I bolster my skill with Illusion magicka, I can bring havoc to my enemies while remaining unseen. Such is my plan, for it does appear I am back to fighting once again.

I asked around the Inn for the location of a mammoth's tusk that would not involve killing a mammoth and it was suggested to me that I try looking north of Whiterun where a band of poachers were said to be camping. If anyone has a tusk, it is likely them.