Monday, October 26, 2015

Oblivion Day 45 - End of an Era, Part 1

13 Frost Fall, 3E433
Imperial City

It is finally over. Mehrunes Dagon has been banished back to Oblivion, the Gates have collapsed across Tamriel, and the 'Oblivion Crisis' has come to an end.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Following what is now being called the 'Battle of Bruma' Martin retired to Cloud Ruler Temple and I to my home where I rested for several hours. I had no idea what to expect from Cameron's 'Paradise' and was certainly not going to saunter into it right after the 'Battle of Bruma'. I was stopped by several people as I walked out of Bruma, one of them a city guard who told me nearly the entire town had been watching the fight from the walls, the guardsmen preparing to erect barricades in the streets in expectation of fighting Daedra inside the city. He claimed the all of Bruma cheered when I came running out of the Great Gate with the Daedric siege engine shuddering to a halt just behind me, but I do not remember hearing anything of the sort.

When I arrived at Cloud Ruler Temple I was greeted by a very strange sight: the Great Welkynd Stone and the Great Sigil Stone were gently circling each other in front of the Great Hall's fireplace.
Beneath them was writings I can only assume came from the Mysterium Xarxes. Martin assured me that the portal to 'Paradise' could be opened whenever I was ready for it and I think he was just as eager to be finished with everything as I was. We both agreed that the portal was to be opened immediately. Once I was there though, there was no way of coming back, the portal would close behind me. The only way out would be to destroy 'Paradise' itself via Mankar Camoran's death, a task I found myself looking more forward to than I anticipated.

The portal opened just as the Great Gate did, rising straight up from the stone floor of the Great Hall and erupting into a blaze of light. I stepped through it expecting the typical hellish landscape and was not at all prepared for what I saw.
It was not exactly my idea of Paradise, but Mankar's personal realm with its overcast sky, blue ocean, and lush forests looked almost exactly like Cyrodiil...with some important differences.

Almost immediately a voice seemed to descend from the sky. Mankar Camoran himself, finally confronting me after almost a month of constant conflict. I give him points for working a Khajiit-joke into his first sentence (referring to me as a 'cats-paw'), but the rest was just the same self-important drivel I had received from Dagoth Ur so many years ago.

I followed a rough path along the shore while ignoring Mankar and came across an older Redguard woman armed with a club. I prepared to kill the unfortunate-looking lady, but she simply laughed ruefully and told me my fight was with Mankar, not her. 

She described the area for me. Where she and I stood was a forest known as the 'Savage Garden', the path I was on led to Mankar's palace, and beneath our feet was the 'Forbidden Grotto', the only way between the 'Savage Garden' and Mankar Camoran. Only followers wearing something called the 'Bands of the Chosen' could enter the Grotto, but once inside they never return.

Mankar was a man of his word to the Mythic Dawn. He promised them immortality if they died in his service and that is exactly what they received. Killed while in Tamriel, they were reborn in Paradise, nearly naked and armed with a crude club. Daedra roamed the Savage Garden, killing any Mythic Dawn followers they found. Immortal, they would then be reborn, only to be killed again. The irritating voice of Mankar interjected to explain that their suffering was to harden them to rule the 'new' Tamriel Mehrunes Dagon would bring about. I fail to see how getting constantly and painfully slaughtered by Clannfear and Daedroth is helpful in any way, but I am but a Khajiit, not a leader of the Mythic Dawn.

I wished the poor woman luck and continued on in the direction of Mankar's supposed palace. On my way I was accosted by two Clannfear and a Daedroth, the three too stupid perhaps not to see I was not like their other victims. They likely were reborn as well, though I certainly did not stay around long enough to find out.
At a bridge I had a very strange and oddly cordial conversation with a Dremora calling himself (itself?) Kathutet. I learned a little about the workings of the Dremora society, for lack of a better term and that his "clan" had been responsible for destroying Kvatch. My plunge into the plane of Oblivion and the closure of Kvatch's Great Gate won me the dubious honor of Kathutet's clan's respect. Thus respected, he declared that speaking to me brought him no dishonor. He guarded the only path to Mankar and when I warned him that I was willing to go through him to cross the bridge he begrudgingly acknowledged respect for my bravery, but said I had no chance in battle against him.

I had shamed his "clan" by closing the Great Gate outside of Kvatch, so he offered to allow me to perform a service for him instead, which would bring him as much honor as defeating me in battle.

My choice was a simple one. Battle it was!

He mocked me for having the simple mind of an animal (another Khajiit joke...) and told me my body and name would be reduced to nothing by him. Having said his piece, he drew his sword and our battle commenced.
Maybe he just hoped for release from Mankar's realm. Who can know the minds of Daedra? On his body were enchanted armbands I assumed were the 'Bands of the Chosen'. The way to Mankar Camoran was clear, or so I thought.

The mad man continued to berate me for the effort I was expending in order to destroy him as I entered the Grotto. He explained that Tamriel is just a misnamed Daedric realm within Oblivion and that Mehrunes Dagon was merely reclaiming what was originally his, not invading as it appeared. He then veered off into religious babbling that, despite being raised by the Temple, I have little interest in.

I witnessed a very one-sided battle between a Mythic Dawn cultist and some sort of Daedra I have never seen before. It had the lower body of a spider, but the upper body of something similar to a Dremora. The cultist put up a brave fight with his club, but fell to the Daedra nonetheless.
I advanced cautiously and slew the smaller spiders the creature sent at me and engaged the Daedra in melee combat. It had a disgusting tactic of spitting at me, the saliva hissing into my armor with an acidic reek. I managed to keep the battle short enough that I was not reduced to rags like the immortal cultists. My armor was greatly damaged, something that would have adverse effects later on.

The Grotto got progressively worse the further inside I went. Why no one came out after being given the Bands started to become quite clear: the Grotto was not a reward, but a punishment. Cages containing cultists were dropped into open lava pits, leaving them screaming in unending agony. Particularly cruel was that there was no way to save them. Each cage was one of a pair, the lever controlling them always dropped one into the lava while the other was raised. I could find no key to release the cultists and had no choice but to pass them by, their desperate pleas gradually quieting behind me as I moved further into the Grotto.

A clothed Altmer was pacing back and forth in a room of his own and when he noticed my presence he ran up to me, very excited. He introduced himself as Eldamil and he was a very interesting character indeed. Eldamil was one of the original conspirators who planned the Emperor's assassination and he was the cultist responsible for the opening of the Great Gate of Kvatch which destroyed the whole city and left hundreds dead. But he would not gloat of such accomplishments. Instead he eagerly asked why I was in the Grotto and just about bounced up and down when I told him I was in Paradise to kill Mankar.

Paradise had been good for him, though not in the way promised. As the opener of Kvatch's Great Gate, he was among the first of the Mythic Dawn allowed in after the Daedra had torched the city. While looking for survivors he and a few other cultists chanced upon three townspeople sheltering in a shop. The three immediately rushed Eldamil, killing him before his comrades struck them down. As the one who (unknown to him) nearly killed the Emperor's last heir, he was according the dubious privilege of residing in Paradise.

As I said, Paradise had been good for Eldamil, for he grew disenchanted with his constant torment at the claws of the Daedra and began to feel remorseful for evil he had committed while in Tamriel. Such weakness was abhorrent to Mankar and he placed Eldamil in the Grotto, forced to torture his fellow cultists in some sort of effort to make him less remorseful, I suppose.

Eldamil revealed the secrets of the 'Bands of the Chosen': they could not be removed by the wearer and you could not leave the Grotto from either end while wearing them. Anyone else, however, could remove them for you. Such was the offer he made to me in exchange for taking him along to see the fall of Mankar and the release of, as he put it, "poor, deluded followers".

His plan was not a great one: I was to pretend to be a prisoner under his care and step inside one of the lava cages. Once the Dremora who oversaw the Grotto came to check on Eldamil, he would partially lower my cage and raise it back up once the Dremora left. He would then remove the Bands and accompany me to the end of Paradise. I had no choice but to agree.
I never want to see lava ever again.

Eldamil was true to his word and lifted the cage back up once his conversation with the Dremora ended. Fortunately the cage opposing mine was empty, sparing me the guilt of watching someone get dropped into utter agony. Eldamil removed my bands and led me through the Grotto until we entered a room with a very angry Spider-thing and a Clannfear. Our battle began!

And ended rather quickly, along with Eldamil, though probably temporarily just as with the Daedra. Unfortunately our two foes, plus my guilt-ridden ally, had fallen into the lava upon their brief death. I do hope the man did not awaken in the lava, but I do not know how such a system works here in Paradise. Whatever the case, his only hope, as well as mine, was to kill Mankar and destroy Paradise for good. I continued alone.
Just past those foes were two more, a Daedroth and another Spider, both of which I fought my way through, though not without damage. Just beyond them was a door, mercifully letting me out into Paradise...and rain, as always. In front of me stood what could only have been Mankar's "palace", on the stairs two Mythic Dawn cultists. Mindful of Eldamil, I approached them slowly, but the pair were actually the children of Mankar Camoran and two people whom I had met before, though I did not realize it until the daughter acidly pointed it out.
The woman was Ruma Camoran, the Altmer who demanded I kill the Argonian as part of my initiation when I pretended to be interested in joining so that I could steal the Mysterium Xarxes. I killed her along with the other cultists after my refusal marked me for death, though I had not known she and Mankar were related in any way.

Her brother, Raven Camoran, was less known to me. He was the one who spoke with Baurus in the sewers of the Imperial City, a meeting I interrupted when I assaulted two cultists Raven had secreted in an alcove above them. Baurus had killed Raven. but he managed to blame me just the same.

The two did not attack, instead arrogantly escorting me inside while telling me how joyful it was going to be to see their father strike me down over and over again. But I knew two things they were likely not aware of: one, their father loved to hear himself speak and two, I was very tired of hearing it.
Mankar started just as grandly as I thought he would, referring to me as the 'Champion of Old Tamriel'. If he had anything else to say after that I did not give him the chance to say it. With a leap upon the stairs in front of him I drove my blade into his guts, twisted it, and yanked it out, throwing him clear off the platform. His childrens' roars of rage were short-lived, for they were not warriors.

After they died I removed the Amulet of Kings from Mankar's corpse and started to walk out of the palace, assuming that the portal that brought me here would now have opened with the Amulet in my possession. Instead the palace started to collapse and I ran for the exit...and almost into Martin.

Without Mankar or perhaps the Amulet, Paradise had nothing to keep it going and must have been destroyed, perhaps delivering the Mythic Dawn to the release they had all come to desire.

I handed him the Amulet of Kings and without hesitating he placed it over his head, just as any piece of jewelry might be worn. Only one last action remained before he would truly be the Emperor. While anxiously awaiting my return he had dispatched a messenger to the Imperial City so that the Chancellor would know to expect him. Martin insisted on deferring to the Elder Council's authority in confirming his coronation and with that he and three Blades turned and walked out of the Great Hall, Martin turning his head to implore me to hurry up.

And so to the Imperial City we rode and what awaited us there none of us could have expected...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Oblivion Day 44 - The Defense of Bruma

11 Frost Fall, 3E433
Cloud Ruler Temple

What a day. As usual, it began with a long ride in the early morning rain. It seems that whenever I am outside, it rains. I step into a building for a moment and perhaps it momentarily stops raining. Who knows? To say the Gods seem to have it out for me lately would not seem an exaggeration.

With the Great Welkynd stone humming at the bottom of my pack, I left Skingrad and rode through the morning (and the rain) to Bruma.
I arrived at Cloud Ruler Temple just as the Blades were finishing their lunches and walked into the Great Hall expecting to see Martin poring over his books. Instead I found Jauffre, Baurus, and Martin in full armor arguing among themselves, with Jauffre and Baurus seemingly against Martin, which I thought unusual.
Martin correctly  assumed my arrival meant the acquisition of the Great Welkynd stone and he spent a moment marveling at the beauty of the massive chunk of crystal. Having the blood of the Divine and the Great Welkynd stone meant we were only one item away from being able to venture into Paradise and reclaim the Amulet of Kings. Acquiring this final item was the topic of the three men's argument.

The final item was the Great Welkynd stone's dark counterpart: a Great Sigil Stone from Oblivion. Martin stated that his plan was to let the cultists open up a Great Gate, the same as the one which destroyed Kvatch, outside of Bruma. Only the Oblivion realm entered into through a Great Gate would contain a Great Sigil Stone. There was a catch of course. Two smaller "normal" Gates would have to remain open before the Great Gate would be summoned and the garrison of Bruma could expect waves of Daedra to pour out of them in support of the Daedric siege engine that would eventually emerge from the Great Gate to destroy the city.

He proudly announced his intention to lead the garrison I had collected to the Gates once they opened and disregarded my objection that the death of the only heir to the throne would doom the world. To him, being the future Emperor somehow meant leading from the front, even if his loss meant the inevitable deaths of millions across Tamriel. This from someone who was a priest just over a month ago. I, for one, had concerns about this plan.

There was one hole in the plan that I felt he was making sure not to mention: how were we to know when the Mythic Dawn would try to open the Great Gate? They certainly never published their intentions ahead of time and I have never caught anyone in the act of opening one. There was no way to know when the Great Gate would appear outside of Bruma, but Martin spoke as if it was scheduled with him ahead of time. He even went so far as to conclude our conversation by asking me to talk with the Countess of Bruma and have her meet him in the Chapel for a council of war. He was prepared to go to war with an unpredictable foe who we were depending on being utterly predictable. It seemed I had no choice in the matter, so I agreed to go and the argument that had been raging on before my arrival restarted as I left the Great Hall.

Countess Narina was the opposite picture of Martin's wild optimism. She listened to my request then commented that I was the first person to speak of victory during this crisis before going on to say that they had been unable to do anything but wait for a hero arise and save them. I had to bite my tongue to prevent several suggestions from escaping. Rather insultingly the Countess declared that Martin may very well be the hero she had been waiting for, not knowing the man, brave though he may be, has not yet done a whole lot other than study his books and send me out after artifacts.

But she agreed to meet Martin in the Chapel and ordered her guards to stop closing the Gates...not that there was any evidence they had been closing any.

The "council of war" in the Chapel was more of an introduction between Martin and Countess Narina. The Countess did refer to me as Martin's "champion", which I gather will be the only praise I shall receive for my role during this entire catastrophe. Contrary to what I expected, there was no planning and there was no strategy. There was simply Martin confidently leaving the Chapel with the Countess's blessing, the bolstered garrison of Bruma following behind.
We walked out of the city via the east gate and followed Martin down the road. I was jogging alongside him and he turned to me and talked to me about his early days in the Mages Guild. He admitted that he and his fellow guildmates had grown impatient with the Guild's rate of education and they dabbled with Daedric magic. Eventually they reached too far and their experiments resulted in peoples' deaths, his friends' among them. I wondered why he was telling me this, but then we came to a depression alongside the walls of Bruma and much to my surprise there was an open Gate there...and a horse.
We quickly lined up before the Gate and Martin delivered a small speech to the nervous guards. I do not recall much of it, my mind was busy processing Martin's story with the coincidence of a Gate having been waiting just where Martin had been leading us. And the horse waiting there placidly was obviously well-trained and used to such a sight to not have fled. Any further thoughts I had on this subject were cut short by the horde of Daedra that started to pour out of the Gate.
Gone were the Scamps and Clannfear I was used to fighting. Heavily-armed Dremora rushed the line, followed by hulking Daedroth. Martin ordered me to wait on the ridge behind us and rush the Great Gate as soon as it appeared. I did not have to wait long. After the first wave of Daedra were defeated the second Gate opened up and both discharged more Daedra which were fought off with losses.

Then the Great Gate appeared, silently rising up from the earth between the smaller Gates. As soon as its blood-red light blazed forth I rushed through the fray and into the Gate. What awaited me was unlike any plane of Oblivion I have visited. The Great Gate sent me to a much smaller place, the bulk of which was occupied by the creeping Daedric siege engine and the Daedric bulwarks flanking it.
My experience in Oblivion this time does not owe itself to much mention. I had to assault a small tower to gain access to the bulwarks, then run along it while being peppered with arrows from Dremora archers stationed atop the towers. After fighting through another tower I had to leap across a broken bridge only to face two more towers between which sat a large tower, undoubtedly where the Great Sigil Stone would be found. I was fortunate to find an Elven long blade in the second of the smaller towers along the bulwark, greatly improving my reach over the short blade I have been using.

The small tower across the bridge had a lever which opened the massive doors separating me from the Sigil tower, but only a single Dremora was guarding it, my long blade making the battle an almost effortless one.
The Sigil tower was no different than any of the dozens I have already faced, though the stone, befitting its name, was larger than the ones I have been finding.
As soon as I yanked it from above its pedestal the Plane started to collapse as it always did and with a bright flash of light I suddenly found myself back on the battlefield of Bruma.
The battle which had been going well when I entered the Great Gate had evidently taken a turn for the very worst. The dead of both sides littered the area and as my eyes adjusted to normal light I saw that only Martin and a guardsman were the only ones left alive, both fighting a losing battle against a Dremora. I rushed to their aid and delivered a blow to the Dremora's unprotected back, killing it instantly.

Martin thanked me for my timely arrival and did not seem to know what to say after that. Nor did I. The Daedric siege engine had made it partially out of the Gate, but my arrival put a halt to its progress. It lay before Bruma in pieces, likely never to be moved again.
Jauffre and Baurus had both fallen while I was battling my way towards the Great Sigil Stone, as did all of the guards save for one 'Ulrich Leland' who introduced himself to me just in order to say he was finished with this whole business. Understandable, I suppose.

After dealing with him I returned to Martin and he asked that I follow him to Cloud Ruler Temple to complete the ritual required to open the Gate to Mankar Camoran's realm of Paradise. He suggested that I rest first, as my return from Paradise may not be a simple matter. He looked around the battlefield, sighed, and collected the blades of Jauffre and Baurus before turning around and trudging back to the Temple, the lone horse having fled some time ago.

I will never mention it to anyone, nor shall I ever ask him about it, but I do believe that Martin opened the Gates somehow. No other explanation is possible for the timing that he was confident of meeting and then successfully met. Our small force was led out to do battle before we should have known there was a battle to be fought, but Martin knew exactly where to go and when. As he admitted to me during our short march he and his friends had experimented with Daedric magicka long ago and I do not believe anyone has studied it as much as he has since arriving at the Temple.

What guilt does he feel for the losses we have suffered here tonight? What was won here tonight has possibly saved the province, maybe even the Empire, from suffering the fate of Kvatch. But our victory was hard-won and it was only luck that had me emerge from Oblivion just in time to save Martin and Ulrich from the Dremora. 

I cannot even consider myself fortunate for having survived, for who but myself knows that the blessing and curse of Dagoth Ur still courses through my veins? Any blow that felled a guardsman I could have born without much harm, but I was tasked with closing the Great Gate, not fighting Daedra. Had Martin fallen, what would I have done? Suffered my immortality as Mehrunes Dagon twisted the world into a bleak, lifeless landscape around me? I do not often reflect upon my curse, but tonight I have spared myself a terrible fate.

It is just past midnight. I am going to rest in my home here in Bruma and enter the realm of Paradise tomorrow, which I expect will be anything but that. I am eager to have all this over with.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Oblivion Day 43 - Miscarcand

10 Frost Fall, 3E433

Miscarcand was not exactly what I expected. Told it was the capital of  the Ayleids I thought of a sprawling city and instead got a small fortress crammed between Skingrad and Kvatch. That being the case the ruin is far inland and I am a bit confused as to how it would have served as the capital without easy access to the water.
The outside of the ruin was infested with Goblins, but the bloodthirsty creatures did not have sense enough to team up against me and instead attacked as soon as I was seen. They proved far less capable opponents than the skeletons of Sancre Tor and were twice as annoying.

Inside of the ruin a battle was steadily raging between the goblin tribe and the ruin's undead guardians. The undead had the advantage and quickly dispatched any goblins I saw them come across.
Once the small battle below the platform I was on died down I sneaked down to engage the undead myself. The zombies in Miscarcand had the same gaseous clouds hanging about them that the remains of the enslaved Blades in Sancre Tor did, making me suspect that the supposed King of Miscarcand was responsible for his own guardians. The zombies were surprisingly strong opponents and my shield was rendered useless while battling my second zombie assailant.

Fortunately there were far more skeletons and goblins in residing in Miscarcand than zombies and the two groups did their best to wipe the other one out. More often than not the undead were victorious.
I proceeded slowly, content to let the battles between the goblin tribe and the undead finish ahead of me. While carefully walking further into the ruin I saw a glow in an adjacent room that I hoped was the Stone I had come for.
The area of the ruin I was in was oddly devoid of either goblins or undead, so I cynically guessed that this would be were the so-called 'King of Miscarcand' would be found, if he made himself known to me. I was not wrong in this assessment.

I must have triggered some unseen switch somewhere, for as soon as I stepped close to the Stone, there was a grinding behind me and I turned to see a section of wall slide into the ground, revealing two zombies and the dead King of Miscarcand..

Like most Kings, he was content to let his underlings do his work for him. His zombies lurched ahead of him and came at me, but I was able to batter them off the platform and out of the fight. Then it was just me and the unnamed King. He must have been a mage of some power in his day, but either his skill or his guile had faded with time, for he would only float in front of me while casting lightning magicka. Not a very complex strategy, nor an effective one. He fell without much bother.
The 'Great Welkynd Stone' was mine.
Nothing remained of Miscarcand's undead garrison nor the tribe of Goblins that sought to inhabit it, so I made good time out of the ruin and back to Skingrad. Tomorrow I will return yet another item to Martin and he will no doubt have another item for me to fetch. This is getting tiresome, for I find that my freedom of action I enjoyed in Morrowind is something I much more prefer than this.