Friday, December 23, 2016

Skyrim Day 057 - Howling Mad

12 Frostfall, 4E201

My return to east Skyrim began in earnest and ended with no progress having been made aside from thwarting the plan of an undead heir to the Septim line.

I woke early in the cold, empty manor I now call home and walked outside to find something aflame to warm myself next to. Though it was still early there was a terrific racket coming from the Bard's College next door. Curious, I tested the front door and found it to be unlocked. Inside an Altmer introduced himself as Viarmo and asked if I wished to become a bard. I did not and informed him of my recent purchase of the adjacent manor. He wished me well and invited me to explore his College at my leisure, a freedom Khajiit are rarely given.

But I was not there to swipe the plates. Instead, I followed the sound of terrible singing and walked in on a class led by an old woman whose lute-playing accompanied her singing. One of the classroom's hopefuls whispered to me that she was known as 'Inge Six Fingers', a name meant to invoke skill rather than mutilation.
I observed the lesson for a few minutes, retreating once one of the students was called up to demonstrate his singing prowess. I would sooner face a Dragon than be sit through that man's warbling.

Mentally tracing the route I would be taking to Dawnstar, I walked right by a courier trying to hail me. The man ran back in front of me, pointedly brandishing a scroll in my face to catch my attention. I was a bit taken aback by his attitude, but the message was from Falk Firebeard and I was apparently the courier's first mark of the day, so he was in a hurry.

The scroll was short on details, Falk only willing to explain that there were rumors surrounding my activity at Wolfskull Cave a month ago. He had sent me there to investigate a gathering of mages that had moved in, only for me to stumble into a summoning of the ancient Queen Potema, the "Wolf Queen" of Solitude.

From what I remember she led a rebellion to ensure her son, who would become Uriel Septim III, sat on the throne, only for him to die ignominiously some years later at the hands and torches of a mob. Perhaps Potema had something to do with that as well. Whatever the case, the necromancers had been trying to bind her spirit of themselves, I suppose, so that she could lead Skyrim into a new golden age.

All this is just a guess, I do not know why they really wanted Potema back, but I had thought interrupting the summoning had spelled an end to her meddling. Unfortunately it merely released her spirit into Skyrim and though without a body she has been able to personally direct her tiny cult, causing many problems for the city of Solitude.

A local priest named 'Styrr', follower of Arkay, had been granted the ability to sense Potema's spirit, alerting Falk to her existence. Fearing the Jarl's exuberance in resolving matters, he instead sent for me, a Khajiit much too old to remember what exuberance felt like.
I found Styrr in his Temple musing and muttering at the fire and it took several minutes of trying to politely attract his attention before I gave him and smacked my shield against the stone wall. Awakened out of his mental fog, he introduced himself, asking if I was the mercenary Falk had recommended to him. I cannot say I consider myself a mercenary, but the man seemed to be easily confused, so I told him I was.

Without prompting he started to give me the entire history on the former Queen, musing that if she did return to "life" she would have a legitimate claim to the Imperial throne, an outcome which he described as being the worst possible fate to befall Tamriel. Arkay's gift to his faithful allowed Styrr to sense Potema's spirit, though not to do anything about her. According to him she had fled from Wolfskull Cave to the catacomb underneath Solitude's temple. One of Potema's followers broke into the temple a few days ago and managed to knock door a portion of the temple's wall that had been blocking up a forgotten passage into the catacombs below. My task was to enter the catacombs, retrieve Potema's physical remains, and bring them back to Styrr so that Arkay could divinely cleanse them of their spiritual taint.

Despite the Temple's damage it was still open to the faithful, the breach in the wall visible to anyone wishing to pray at the Eight Divines' altars.
The catacomb was nothing special, typical brickwork and arches surrounding forgotten crates and rotting sacks. A glance inside some of the containers suggested that the catacomb of the Temple may have been a storehouse for Solitude long ago, but today no one could spare the effort required to clean up any of it.

Reaching a metal gate I was startled, but not much surprised, by a woman's voice echoing from somewhere deeper inside. That was no longer a new trick by me, nor was Potema's bragging that my death would net her an excellent slave. Having encountered no one else up to that point, I thought myself alone with the chatty spirit, but I eventually intruded upon her cult, mostly vampires and some Draugr. Nothing very difficult.

Past a small pond (underneath the Temple?) I came upon a set of three portcullises controlled by three levers in front of them. Pulling one lever would close or open a gate, while performing the opposite action against the other two. It did not take long to devise the correct combination of positions to open all three gates.
They led to a chamber with a Draugr positioned on a throne, but I had seen this trick before. As soon as I walked past it the Draugr would "wake" and attack me. On a hunch, I took a vial of weak, useless poison and threw it into the room. The crash alerted the Draugr, who slowly rose from his throne while looking around for something to kill, as well as a young Breton who rushed in from the other door, yelling bravely that such tricks were not enough to save my life. A crossbow bolt put an end to his. The Draugr was strong, but clumsy as all his kind are.
The rash Breton had a key on him which unlocked an ornate stone door which he had been guarding, beyond which lay a grisly collection of Draugr all heaped together in front of an engraving of the Wolf Queen, clad in wolf-skins and holding what were either small trees or dead wolves in each hand.
As I was trying to decided which the objects were, Potema's voice echoed through the catacomb, goading me to continue on towards her, so that I might serve her eternally in death. With that, four of the piled-up Draugr became reanimated, but I lopped off two of their heads before they were on their feet and the other two were very weak and poorly armed.

Potema herself made what appearance she could in the next room. her interrupted summoning limiting her to a glowing, vaguely woman-shaped, collection of energy floating about the ceiling. Tendrils of magicka licked the walls and coffins of the room and I steeled myself for a great battle.
Her voice mocked me, claiming she would enjoy watching me fall at the hands of her trusted advisors, whom I assume were the Draugr she called forth from the coffins. There were many of them, three waves in fact, but Potema made the mistake of not summoning them all at once. Rather she was content to watch five or six at a time die singly at the doorway, as I was not fool enough to enter and risk be surrounded.

After all the Draugr had been defeated, Potema's spirit shrieked and flew through the closed door at the end of the chamber. I followed, finding a more distinguishable Potema waiting for me upon a throne.
Jumping up, she charged down the stairway, but her magicka was weak and spirits hold much less strength than they seem to believe they do. Once she had been banished, again, I approached the throne expecting a skeleton, but found only a skull with a circlet, I  threw that into my pack and looked for the back-exit that the Nords liked to build in their ruins.
The exit must have been a secret sally port long ago, for it led me well outside the city, on a cliff-side overlooking the bay. They must have relied on ropes or ladders to get down, but having neither, I could only slide down the icy mountainside and hope for the best. Fortunately I managed to avoid injuring myself.

Styrr was pleased at my quick return and took eagerly took Potema's skull to be purified. He advised that I returned to Falk Firebeard to let him know of our success while he prepared the rituals required to put the ancient would-be Queen to her final rest.

Falk ruefully admitted that he should have paid more attention to the the warnings that came from Dragon Bridge before all this started and declared me the "Protector of Solitude", a title that came with fifteen hundred Septims and a painted wooden shield from the city's armory.

Having averted yet another grisly disaster upon Tamriel, I retired to my new home and very welcoming bed. Tomorrow I shall yet again try to make it to Dawnguard.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Skyrim Day 056 - Time Travel & Real Estate

11 Frostfall, 4E201

When Savos and his fellow students explored Labyrinthian they uncovered more than they had hoped for. One by one, the inexperienced students fell to traps or creatures, until just Savos and two others were left. In Labyrinthian's final chamber they encountered the Dragon Priest Morokei, a creature which I suspect is tied to the Dragon cult that keeps assaulting me, though how exactly I cannot yet say.

The only thing that remained of Morokei after its defeat was a stern-looking metal mask that served as the thing's face. It matched a wooden mask I found in a small dome above Labyrinthian, but I recall not paying the masks much attention then.

The place was still infested with trolls, but my new silvered blade, due to Adrianne's attention this morning, cut through them effortlessly. She was eager to accept the carved blade I had found a week or so ago in exchange for a little work in finishing my weapon, which suited me just fine.
The dome where I had found the wooden mask (which stays warm in any weather) was still there, of course and just as run-down as the first time I had seen it.
The headless skeleton was still there, as well as the scraps of parchment the man's mercenaries had been using for their journal. A particular passage, which I either failed to notice the first time or have simply forgotten, caught my eye: their employer had a wooden mask, the one I found next to the corpse, and upon placing it on his face while inside the dome, he vanished instantly. Judging by the decapitated skeleton at my feet he eventually came back, so I guessed it was safe to try it myself so long as I left no irate mercenaries behind.

I pressed the mask to my face and everything went white for a moment. When my vision cleared, I was still in the same place, but apparently at a very different time.
I may have been in a more prosperous time for Labyrinthian, but it was not a busier time. The ruin was still abandoned and utterly silent. The restored altar had eight small statues of a hooded figure, the robe just large enough to fit the wooden mask. I tried fitting it on each of the statues. but could discover no way to make it stay. On a hunch I pulled out the metal mask I had taken off of Morokei's remains and tried the same thing. The mask snapped on to one of the statues with such force that it almost took my fingers off.
That left seven statues unadorned with no clue as to where their masks were. At least I know where to go if I find any more. Placing the wooden mask back on to my face sent me to the frozen ruin I was more familiar with and I left Labyrinthian for Solitude so that I could tell Elisif that her husband's horn was safely at the feet of Talos.

I decided to pass through Morthal and its swamp to shorten my walk to Solitude. While sloshing through the marsh I came upon an empty campsite nestled alongside a large Nordic ruin I had ignored while I was in the marsh collecting Deathbells. The requisite left-behind journal briefly chronicled the efforts of one Daynas Valen to acquire an amulet that was said to be inside. Interestingly, the Daynas admitted to murdering a merchant in Bravil in order to steal the Dragon Claw key (Ivory, this time) required to breach the lowest level of the ruin. I never thought about the possibility that some of these Claws would find their way out of Skyrim.

Enroute from Cyrodiil, he recruited two adventurers to assist with the expected Draugr and mechanical traps, then burned all his possessions (except his journal!) before he led his small band inside.
There is not much to say about what I found inside. Two dead adventurers, of course, and a bunch of Draugr. Daynas had not made it much further than his companions and still had the cumbersome Dragon Claw key on his body. Next to his corpse was a second journal, this one explaining what the amulet he sought was, something called the Gauldur Amulet. He had gone through the trouble to write down the entire history of an ancient family of mages whose elder fathered three sons. The sons murdered the father, Gauldur, so that they would have the amulet, then ravaged the surrounding countryside for no discernible reason.

A local noble dispatched warriors and mages to track down the sons and end them, each being isolated and followed to remote corners of Skyrim. The eldest, Jyrick, was the ancient Draugr Tolfdir and I had fought in front of the Eye of Magnus and the youngest son, Mikrul, was entombed in the ruin Daynas had hopefully invaded. The middle son, Sigdis, fell near Ivarstead.

Each of the sons had a fragment of their father's amulet, the three together would produce what I can only assume would be an item potent enough to be worth all the trouble they went through.
After a few more Draugr I almost had the opportunity to ask Mikrul himself about his amulet, but he burst from his coffin in a decidedly hostile manner which led to me to believe stabbing him in the back, much as he did to his father, was a healthier decision.
Gauldur's youngest proved to be a perceptive, if weak, opponent. Undead though he was, my attempt to sneak up on him was foiled, only for him to fall rather effortlessly to my blade. His cohorts were simple Draugr armed with bows so old that I could probably have caught their arrows if I wanted to waste my time. On Mikrul's body was a scroll with a similar condemnation as his brother's had and his fragment of the amulet, which his condemners had not saw fit to separate him from.
Past Mikrul's resting place was a portcullis opened with the Claw with a wall of ancient words behind it. Standing before it allowed me to learn the word for 'cold': krah, a very useful thing to know here in Skyrim. The expected secret exit was quite clever this time, using an empty Draugr coffin leaning against the door to disguise it.

My curiosity satiated for the moment, I left the ruin and completed my trip back to Solitude. I needed to deliver the Ring of Pure Mixtures to the old alchemist and inform Jarl Elisif of the completion of her task.

However, I had made a mistake. I had thought the name of the alchemist in Solitude to be Frida, but she was Angeline of 'Angeline's Aromatics'. Bemused, Angeline politely informed me that Frida was a bit younger and far to the east, in Dawnstar. I thanked her and left feeling a bit foolish.

But Jarl Elisif was certainly in Solitude, no mistake there. Though the day was crawling into the evening the Blue Palace was still seeing visitors and as I entered the court I heard the Jarl discussing an idea with her steward to have the Legion parade around the town to bolster the peoples' morale. The steward gently replied that a parade would be seen as inciting the Stormcloaks and Elisif agreed, sounding disappointed.
Her reaction to my return was...unexpected. After I told her that Torygg's horn was safely at the feet of Talos, she clapped her hands (once) and announced that such a deed was worthy of a Thane...but she hoped I would settle on being able to purchase a home in Solitude at discount, instead. She then called her steward over to tell him that I would be buying 'Proudspire Manor' at the reduced price of twenty-five thousand Septims.

It was an embarrassing situation for myself and the Steward, Falk Firebeard. He pulled me aside as Elisif became distracted with someone new entering the room and told me that I was under no actual obligation to buy anything if I did not wish to, or could not.

But I thought the idea was a good one. I have been traveling between Whiterun, where I have a home, and Solitude, where I do not, regularly as of late. The price was steep, even if it was reduced, but my various adventures over the past two months have brought great, and largely useless, wealth. What is the point of money if it cannot be spent? There are just over forty-thousand Septims hidden about Breezehome in five-hundred Septim ingots, a ploy made possible by living next door to a smelter.

So why not buy Proudspire? I gave Falk the one thousand Septims I was carrying with me and signed a document as Thane of Whiterun promising payment of the remainder. Rank occasionally has its privileges. An additional six thousand Septims purchased living accommodations for several rooms, much in the same way as Breezehome.

With key in pocket, I thanked the Jarl and her Steward and left to examine my new home. Arriving in front of it, I was just in time to witness a guardsman run a vampire through with his blade, right on my doorstep. A lovely welcoming, but also a sign of the growing vampire problem I am supposed to be helping fight against.
The manor is squeezed in-between a school for bards and another house, but has more rooms than Whiterun has buildings. I am not sure what to do with the place, but it is nice to be sleeping in a bed free of louses. I should start to make my way back to the Dawnguard's fortress and stop at Dawnstar to see Frida about her ring. I have also to find the last piece of Mehrune's accursed dagger, but I do not feel that is a high priority.

I will start on my journey back to the east tomorrow, perhaps even chance a visit to Windhelm.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Skyrim Day 055 - In Memory of the Late King

10 Frostfall, 4E201

Waking up alone again was a great relief, a freedom from a burden I am not accustomed to carrying. What I am accustomed to carrying is a long list of tasks I have promised to resolve for people all over the province. One was the delivery of the late King's war horn to a shrine of Talos east of Whiterun, near the river.

While on my way out of Solitude I stopped at the local apothecary, bought some supplies, and added another task to my list: locate and return a ring said to posses an alchemy-enhancing enchantment. The alchemist, an old woman named Angeline, admitted she and her niece could use the ring's help with keeping their shop profitable. This surprised me, but I suppose having the East Empire Company housed in the city undercuts her business.

Angeline had already purchased the ring from a traveling mage of the College, the man having promised to send the ring to her after he returned to Windhelm. She received a letter a week later saying it would be on its way via a caravan, then...nothing. Her inquiries resulted in an apologetic letter clarifying that the road between Windhelm and Solitude was frequented by bandits, but he was not responsible for its loss. Her money, naturally, was not returned.

So I was to search a road spanning nearly the entire width of the province for bandits carrying a small enchanted ring. I agreed, it would give me something to do for the next few days, or so I thought.

I left Solitude and followed the unmistakable sound of hammer-strikes against an anvil and in this way "found" a not-so-hidden camp of Stormcloak rebels. They turned to me and I nearly fled right then, but one stood up and greeted me rather jovially, asking if I was from one of the caravans. I was not, but they still bought some gemstones from me and bade me return if I was in the area. Strange, for I expected hostility.

Stranger still was my encounter with an Imperial Legion patrol not more than two minutes later along the road, the sounds of the Stormcloaks' blacksmithing ringing clearly in our ears. The three Legionnaires were pointedly not hearing it and walked along the road, not more than a hundred yards from the rebels, without a concern. This "civil war" seems to have not yet started in full.

Dragon Bridge was fortunately free of live dragons and I made good time, passing Morthal before noon. Near Stonehills I ambushed a trio of dragon-mask cultists, announcing myself by slaying one of them outright. Their fire magicka was surprisingly weak and even what little resistance I had owing to my own experience with spells nullified much of their force. One of them had a note on his body that alluded to a cultist shrine somewhere in Labyrinthian, the ruin where I had been sent to retrieve the Staff of Magnus. Another thing to worry about now.

A Khajiit caravan came upon the remains of my little battle as I was rifling through the cultists' meager possessions and they politely pretended to not notice anything unusual as they marched by. Through with searching the bodies, I hailed their leader, Ri'saad, and asked about any rumors of bandits between Dawnstar and Winterhold, as I had not found any from Solitude onward.

Ri'saad told me of a group of bandits near the crossroads between Dawnstar and Windhelm who were occupying a cave near the road. The caravan had no issues passing by, but he had been warned of them before leaving Windhelm and they were known as a troublesome group. He felt certain that my ring would be found with them. In thanks I discounted my offers to him and we parted amicably. After I was a fair distance down the road I looked back to see them stripping the corpses of their clothing and mundanes. Anything for a Septim, I suppose.

Scouring the crossroad revealed a small cave on Windhelm's side, but inside were no bandits, just a dead vampire, a very live giant bear, and a Spriggan which managed to surprise me after successfully pretending to be a small tree. For whatever reason it only attacked after the bear was dead, so its ambush caused me no trouble. What I assume is Angeline's ring was in a half-frozen chest in the back of the cave, the only sign that the bandits had been there at all.

Coincidentally the shrine to Talos wound up being almost exactly due south of the former bandits' cave and I needed only walk along the road to Whiterun for an hour or so to reach it with nary a problem. Once I found the shrine I had only to kill two Thalmor agents sent to destroy it, take the horn out of my pack, and lay it reverently at the feet of Talos.
I returned to Whiterun, the  city I cannot seem to escape, and stopped at Warmaiden's to make use of their forge. My armor needed repair and I wanted to experiment (and probably ruin) with a steel sword I found to see if I could heat the blade enough to introduce silver into the metal, which is said to make weapons cut vampires and werewolves more effectively. After several attempts and a great deal of patience I think I managed it, but I shall see if Adrianne can examine it tomorrow, just to be sure.

After that the only thing left to do was aggravate Lydia with my presence at Breezehome, but while her facial expression did not change, her mood seemed to be a bit better. I wonder what occupies her here while I am away.
Labyrinthian is not terribly far from here, I think I will pay it another visit and see if I cannot figure out what the cultists are after.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Skyrim Day 054 - The Unhappiest Family Reunion

9 Frostfall, 4E201

If I had to choose between Lydia and Serana as my companion, I would be hard pressed to make a decision within the week. Lydia may wear an expression that suggests mucking out stables is preferably to traveling with me, but at least she is quiet about it. Serana complains about getting up too early, starting out too late, the sun being out, the sun not being out, and also refuses to follow me inside anything resembling a cave or a tomb. In favor to Lydia she seemed to enjoy bashing Draugr into pieces.

Due to our relationship we were both eager to be on our way out of Morthal at first light. We left the inn before the sun burned away the morning's cold fog and made our way towards Dragon Bridge. A dog was waiting for us between Morthal and Dragon Bridge, immediately reminding me of Barbas. I nearly slew the dog right then and there, but it ran a ways into the trees, stopped, and looked at us, evidently waiting for us to follow. He led us to a small cabin in which his master lay dead, the man's journal revealing that he left his home to die in solitude of Rockjoint, accompanied only by his dog.
It is ceratinly the oddest suicide I have witnessed, Rockjoint is easily curable at any Temple or alchemist. The dog continued to follow Serana and I until we reached Dragon Bridge, after which it rushed off towards a farm and likely its new home.

A Khajiit caravan was leaving Solitude as we approached, irritating Serana as I stopped to chat and trade with them. After that she was free to direct our path over the hills to a small dock on the coast which faced an imposing, if somewhat foggy and blurry, island castle in the distance.
Naturally it was up to me to man the oars. but once we landed on the island she broke her normal silence to discuss what would happen inside Volkihar Keep. Serana thanked me for accompanying here thus far and announced that she would be staying at the Keep once my business inside was concluded, which was not a surprise. She suggested I say as little as possible inside and rely on her to speak instead. I was not willing to concede to this advice from someone who has barely said anything to me within the last few days, so I shrugged and walked up to the gatehouse.

I was challenged by a haggard-looking guard, but his demeanor changed once he saw who I was with. In a voice I can reasonably described as 'suffused with awe', he babbled about how great it was to have Serana back and welcomed her, and her "friend", to the Keep.
The gate opened and a blast of warm air stinking of death and blood rushed out of it to greet us, causing me to retch. Inside was worse: Bodies lay upon long tables next to blood-filled silver goblets, with the bloody remains of previous feasts scattered about the floor. I was glad to have Serana talking in place of myself for fear of being a poor guest via vomiting all over the hall.

Her father, Lord Harkon, greeted us cordially and demanded to know if Serana still carried his Elder Scroll. If I had not been so nauseous I might have been surprised to hear she had an actual Elder Scroll. The reunion was not a happy one. Serana was obviously annoyed at the Scroll being inquired after before her well-being, but Harkon brushed her concern off with a laugh, instead asking who I was.
Serana introduced me as her "savior" and Lord Harkon explained that his late wife had stolen his "greatest treasure" from him long ago. One could think the treasure was Serana, but was obvious that the treasure is the Elder Scroll, not the daughter. He offered me a reward of dubious value: vampirism, in exchange for my having returned it.

But this was not to be an ordinary exchange of blood. Lord Harkon bade me to behold his true form and with a crackling of magicka transformed himself into what could be described as an incredibly ugly half-giant, half-bat form.
I have no desire to look like I live inside of a child's nightmare so I rejected his offer as politely as I could while mumbling as few words as possible, but he did not take offense. He explained that in gratitude for my service I would be allowed to leave, but would never be welcome in his Keep again. Another crackling of magicka and I found myself back on the castle's jetty, for once glad to be breathing the freezing sea air of Skyrim. I gratefully took a deep breath...then promptly lost my breakfast on the shore. Heroic.

Isran will need to know that Serana's Elder Scroll was the true treasure of Dimhollow Crypt, though I have a feeling that the ancient vampiress still has a part to play in whatever the future brings. My more immediate future after rowing back to the mainland involved a room at Solitude's 'Winking Skeever' inn, but not before I was ambushed by three of the mask-wearing Dragon cultists I met in Whiterun.

Fortunately it was dark by then and they were foolish enough to use fire magicka, making it easy for me to circle around the group and eliminate them one-by-one. Warriors these cultists are not.

I reached Solitude, in solitude, just before midnight and handed over my ten Septims for a room. I need to speak with Isran, but he is on the opposite side of the province. I also should speak with the Greybeards, as well as investigate this Dragon cult that seems to be stalking me. Then there is also the matter of the Dark Brotherhood assassins I seem to be plagued with.

The list goes on and on.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Skyrim Day 053 - Dream Me Another Dream

8 Frostfall, 4E201

With an impatient Serana trailing after me, we left the Windpeak Inn well before the sun even started to rise. It was the only thing she did not complain about all day.

This includes the attack on Dawnstar that swept in from the sea with a challenging roar. Hoping perhaps to catch the city asleep, a Dragon flew over the town as we were making our way to Nightcaller Temple.
If it hoped to cause a panic then it failed miserably. The Dragon War was a long time ago though and today's inhabitants of Skyrim are less willing to bend a knee to their supposed betters. The unfortunate Dragon died in a hail of arrow and fireballs that seemed to erupt from every corner of Dawnstar. As luck would have it, the beast's corpse smashed into the earth just behind the Inn, allowing everyone around me to witness the spectacle of a Dragonborn absorbing a soul, much to her surprise.
A small crowd gathered behind the Inn to gawk at the Dragon's skeletal corpse, one man going so far as to stand underneath the rib cage to better marvel at the creature's size. What they wound up doing with the bones is none of my concern.
After waiting ten minutes or so for Erandur's curiosity to be satiated we three continued our walk to the decrepit Nightcaller Temple.
Erandur stopped outside the door to warn me of the dangers we would find within. The Temple had been attacked by a tribe of Orsimer who were being plagued by nightmares just as Dawnstar was today. Desperately fighting back, the priests inside were slowly overpowered and released a gas throughout the Temple. This gas was normally used in their rituals to bring about a state of sleep said to allow communion with the Daedric Prince Vaermina.

Once the gas was released priest and raider alike fell asleep, protected from the natural ravages of time, but unable to wake. Erandur's warning was that both sides would likely be hostile to us once we turned off the gas, but I felt I could handle some priests and bandits. Serana thought otherwise and elected to "guard" the door while Erandur and I ventured inside to thwart the machinations of a Daedric Prince.

The cause of Dawnstar's trouble was a staff Erandur called the 'Skull of Corruption'. We could see it on a lower level of the Temple, but could not reach it at the time. The Temple itself was a large cylinder that spiraled downwards to laboratories and living quarters, each level one step closer to the Skull.
An archway further ahead was blocked by a purple barrier of magicka, but Erandur thought that the remains of the Temple's library would house a method to dispel it. He knew a lot about the temple for someone who had never been in it before and when I questioned his knowledge he admitted that he was a former disciple of Vaermina.

During the attack on the Temple Erandur fled, saving his own life at the expense of many of his brethren with the survivors being put into a sleep they would possibly never wake from. Overcome by guilt, he turned to Mara to seek comfort, waiting for a chance to redeem himself. When rumors of Dawnstar's nightmares reached him, he realized his redemption was at hand...if he could find someone to assist him.

The assistance was needed, for as we walked to the library the sleeping gas noticeably dissipated and the combatants of both sides started to wake up. The Orsimer probably cared not for who Erandur or I were, attacking us immediately. We were treated no better by the waking priests, I suppose to their perception no time had passed between the attack and today, making us a part of the raiding party. For all his guilt Erandur showed no hesitation in striking down his former brothers and sisters.

Once in the library we split up to search for an alchemy manual titled "The Dreamstride". Despite thousands of ruined pages fluttering about us Erandur was confident I would find the book we needed without much trouble. I did, the manual having escaped destruction due to being on a pedestal, away from everything else.

Inside the manual was a recipe for "Vaermina's Torpor", a concoction used by the Daedric Prince's devout to induce hallucinations mixed with plane-walking to traverse Tamriel via memories and dreams. A powerful ability, but one Erandur warned me was extremely dangerous. Some acolytes went mad after a single draught, others continued to make multiple dream-walks, only to finally come out of one without a shred of sanity.

Erandur's plan was to mix this Torpor and use it to "walk" back to when the Temple was still under attack. The barrier blocking our way would not be there and when he woke from the dream-walk he would be on the other side of it in our time, allowing him to dispel it...or so I assumed.

I guess I should not have thought a former Priest of Vaermina would be drink the ritualistic drink dedicated to Vaermina so that he could briefly traverse Vaermina's crazed plane of nightmares. No, he was a priest of Mara now, so the Torpor would not work for him any longer. But someone unaffiliated to any Princes would be allowed the honor of possibly descending into eternal, nightmarish insanity.

Me, for example.

After reading the manual Erandur was forced to admit that he would not be able to mix a vial of the Torpor for us. Instead, we descended further into the gas-filled Temple, waking and slaying Orsimer and priest as we went. Not quite the behavior I expected from a follower of Mara, but who am I to judge?

In a small laboratory we found an unbroken vial of the Torpor, Erandur urging me to drink it at once. I was a bit put off by his eagerness, but I had no choice but to trust him in this matter. Down went the sour mixture, then everything blurred and went black.

I remember being able to see, somehow, memories of the Temple's previous inhabitants floating about, like globes with little worlds inside of them. I reached for one, then felt myself falling...only to awake to a blurriness around the edges of my vision and two priests arguing in front of the Skull.
The older of the two priests referred to me as 'Brother Casimir', ordering me to proceed to the front of the Temple, through the battle, to activate the 'Miasma', the sleeping gas Erandur and I let out of the Temple as we entered.

It felt as though I was there, in the Temple, fighting the battle, yet at the same time it all seemed an illusion. I "knew" as I ran through the several skirmishes that I would not, could not, be harmed. The raiders did not have the advantage, as I expected, but it was clear that their numbers would overwhelm the defenders soon enough.
The person whose memory I was inhabiting knew that he had to venture to a pull-chain near the entrance to the Temple to release the gas and after "I" did so the dream ended and I was on the other side of the formerly-blocked doorway, Erandur waiting where he could.

He immediately started pestering me with questions about how the "Dreamstride" was, but I could only offer the explanation that it was like being there, only not. He expressed his disappointment at not being able to undergo a Dreamstride himself, then on we went.

The two priests I whose argument I witnessed were, surprisingly, waiting for us at the foot of the Skull's altar. They were angry at Erandur, an anger I initially assumed was for trespassing, but as it turned out they personally knew Erandur...who was formerly known as Casimir, the man whose memory I walked. I guess that explains why his memories were the strongest in the Temple.
Naturally, a battle was inevitable and both priests attacked at once, their long sleep hindering them not in the slightest. But they were priests, not warriors.

Our path to the Skull of Corruption was finally clear. Before arriving at Dawnstar Erandur had a ritual granted to him by Mara to send the accursed staff back to where ever it came from, prompting the guilt-ridden man to make the journey to begin with. Now free to proceed, he bounded up the stairs, no doubt eager to free Dawnstar and clear his conscience.

Moments after he began a woman's voice coyly slid into my head, enticing me to slay Erandur while he remained enthralled in his ritual and take the Skull for my own. But I have had long before now had enough to do with Daedric Princes and ignored Vaermina's prodding.
The Skull of Corruption disappeared in a flash, the workings of Mara through Erandur, formerly known as Casimir. He appeared to be quite spent after he came out of his trance, but refused my offer of an escort back to town. Instead, he planned to construct a small shrine to Mara within the Temple and tend to the grounds, perhaps to one day convert it to Mara's worship, perhaps not. Erandur also offered his companionship should I need it on my adventures. I have found I work better alone, more often than not.

Speaking of being alone, Serana was still waiting for me outside the Temple, irritated and sullen about having been stuck outside the whole time with nothing to do. She said nothing on the walk from Dawnstar to Morthal.
I decided to stop at Morthal because one of the pieces of Mehrune's Razor was said to be here. A few questions led me to a modest farmhouse. The man inside, Jorgen, knew what he was in possession of, but cared little for it anyway. Three hundred Septims bought me the hilt to the dagger, the other two pieces will likely be harder to acquire.

Another day, another problem of someone else's solved. Serana is closer yet to her family's estate, should they still be there, but what we will find once we arrive is a mystery I have some trepidation about solving.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Skyrim Day 052 - The Sleeping Vampire and a Plague of Dreams

7 Frostfall, 4E201

My meager accommodation did not lend itself towards a good night's sleep. Rather it merely allowed a quick nap, a limitation I was to heavily regret by the end of my exertions.

The inside of the tomb was a war-zone, rogue wizards and highwaymen against Draugr. I was able to observe several skirmishes unseen, the wizards were able to overpower the tomb's guardians, but I watched a Draugr take down two common bandits bereft of magical assistance with seemingly little trouble.
As for me, any surviving bandits or Draugr succumbed to a combination of dagger and stealth, a skill I seem to have finally acquired after a few hundred years.

The place had been described to me as a tomb, but the cramped corpse-lined burials vaults gave way to large, well-adorned caverns with extensive woodwork and traps. Ustengrav was no simple tomb, except for the unfortunate bandits, but it was only after I descended further into the ground that its purpose became clear.

I smelled outside air as soon as I stepped through the door and was surprised to find that, further underground, there was an opening in the roof of the cavern, allowing the morning's waning moon to shine down, bathing the area in damp, blue light.
But to reach the open area I had to proceed through a series of passages circling around it, the passages opening to eating halls whose tables were still stocked with food, the origin of which I can only assume were the bandits the Draugr and I dispatched. Perhaps the Draugr had not yet been awakened when they first arrived and counted themselves lucky at finding such an extensive, secretive hideaway. What few Draugr patrolled the eating areas I easily put to rest with my crossbow.

Reaching the open cavern I was amazed at the true size of it. It boasted several rivers, a lake, and even a copse of Skyrim pine. One of the ancient Dragon Walls was situated next to a small waterfall and I approached it confidently, learning 'Zii', Spirit.
Other curiosities awaited me there. A small passage hidden behind the waterfall led to a Draugr and a chest, neither yielding anything valuable. At the other side of the cavern sat a skeleton eternally pondering something until I came too close, waking it from its slumber.

Other than startling me it did no harm.

The highlight of my visit was the three stones someone set in front of a triple portcullis. Their method of operation was clear: when I drew close to one, it began to glow and one of the gates would open. Walking away dimmed the stone's light and the gate would close. It was impossible for a single adventurer to trigger all three stones at once and even if that were possible the gates were too far to pass through before they would close.

I must have spent an hour there just puzzling out how to keep the gates open. I tried throwing stones to prop them up, spent some time attempting to move the large glowing stones closer to the gates, I attacked them with my sword and dagger, cast spells at them, all to no avail.

The only thing I had not yet tried then was using one of my unpleasant Shouts. I did...and nothing happened. But then I remembered the second Shout spell I had learned from the Greybeards, the one that would push me through the air. My only chance was to trigger the three gates quickly, then use the Shout to throw myself through the gates before they closed on me. Simple.

Of course it was not that simple. I wound up throwing myself against the iron gates a dozen times, fortunately not hurting myself too badly, before I managed just the right timing to make it through the gates just as they closed behind me. Any apprehension about being trapped was quickly dispelled: each gate had a pull-chain on the opposite side to let people out...or in, I suppose. I am just glad it worked, the alternative was giving up completely, maybe hiring a mercenary to stand at the stones while I went through the gates.
Beyond were just some spiders, somehow surviving behind the gates, and a large chamber filled with water. Four statues, each a Dragon's head, rose from the water on either side of the small bridge, at the end of which was Jurgen Windcaller's horn.

After that I was free to leave.

The cave which the Dawnguard leader requested I investigate was on the other side of the road from Ustengrav, said to be little more than a crevice from the outside. I was sure I would have trouble finding it and I was correct. I would come to regret this decision some time later.

The cave was atop a hill, but from the road I could not see a way up. So I simply followed the hill around, figuring to find a path upwards at some point. After a few minutes I began to smell smoke and soon came upon a destroyed hall, the bodies of the vampires' black hounds scattered outside, the remains of vampires and Vigilantss of Stendarr within. The Vigilant at Dawnguard was correct in his assumption, for I found nothing that hinted at anyone having surviving the attack.
The Vigilants of Stendarr may not have been completely exterminated, but the vampires had successfully dealt the Order a severe blow. Only the Vigilants patrolling the roads likely remain and they have no place to call home now. The Dawnguard are now fated to face the vampires alone in a massive, understaffed fortress.

Being told where the cave was provided little help in actually finding it. When I came upon stairs carved into the hillside I thought they would lead me to my destination, but they unfortunately ended at a shrine to Mehrunes Dagon that I had no interest in at all. Descending the stairs, I saw a small ruin a ways away near a broken Oblivion Gate and crept towards it only to find three sleeping bandits. I had no reason to kill them, so on I went.

Eventually my wandering about the hill brought me to a small stairway of four steps which led into a unfinished cave. This proved to be my desired destination, a confirmation of which I received quite quickly.
Once inside I heard, very clearly, a woman bragging about how stupid the Vigilants were, one of them having entered the cavern alone and been overpowered by the vampires at the entrance. The vampires continued to chat as I crept forward and laughed over the fact that two of their number were killed by the Vigilant before he succumbed. They scorned the dead, laughing that that the dead vampires acted above their station anyway. No honor among vampires, it seems.

They were perhaps the most talkative pair of vampires I have ever met, continuing to chat as I circled around them, waiting to pick one off as soon as they separated. The female vampire complained that someone named 'Lokil' was taking much too long with whatever he was doing deep inside the ruin and she contemplated returning to the vampires' castle to tell 'Harkon' of Lokil's presumed failure.

The two argued over this point for a few minutes, the man being more loyal to Lokil than his counterpart and once the argument died down they returned to their respective posts: the man to an empty cart at the cavern wall opposite the ruin's gate, the woman across from him, at the gate. In between the two was a black hound, sniffing around indifferently. The bunch gave off an air of not caring about whatever was happening deeper inside and their attention was lax because of it.

Once the two chatty vampires and their dog were taken care of, I crept through the gate, entering a fairly standard-looking Nordic burial site. I turned one corner just in time to watch a vampire lose her head to a Draugr axe, a satisfying sight.
Further on was a natural cavern whose permanent leaking from the ceiling created an artificial rain, complete with a small pond in the corner. A vampire was sitting beyond the pond, meditating or something of that nature, but when I tried to sneak up the path to bury my dagger in his back I was surprised by skeletons who clawed up from underneath the water in twos and threes...after which they stood there, doing nothing, as I was not yet spotted. Such was the dismal enchantment binding them together that I was able to simply walk up to each of them, smack them in the head with my sword, and dispel their magicka.
The vampire was barely more aware, allowing me to approach him unseen. Vampires have a reputation as being "creatures of the night", yet I have been able to gain the advantage in stealth every time I have encountered them. Perhaps it is their arrogance which blinds them to the threat of a sneaky Khajiit.

Onward I crept, the architecture of the place giving way from what I assume is a "traditional" burial ruin to something almost Dwemer: blocky and overly massive, only with stone gargoyles placed here and there as opposed to Dwemer constructs. These gargoyles were harmless carvings, but quite fierce looking.

I found the "treasure" of Dimhollow in a large, ornate chamber at the deepest part of the crypt. When I entered, I was greeted by two gargoyle statues and the sounds of an argument further below. One Vigilant was still alive, bravely refusing to divulge his now-fallen Order's secrets to the vampire 'Lokil', evidently the leader of the dwindling group of vampires.

The Vigilant died out of my sight, I being busy trying to keep in the shadows as I descended the balcony I found myself on. The balcony's stairs led to a small bridge connecting it to a ritualistic-looking arena of archways and columns build on an island of stone where the remaining vampires were occupied. I watched them for a few moments, one patrolled the perimeter of the structure while the others pushed, pulled, and poked at several braziers scattered inside the columns.

When the patrolling vampire drew close to the bridge a Khajiit, hanging perilously underneath it, grabbed his ankle and pulled him to his doom, the cavern's lake being too far down to see. His scream alerted the others, but as I had hoped they thought him clumsy, not ambushed.
While they made their jokes I climbed into the arena on the other side of the bridge and knifed one of them in the back. The remaining vampire put up a fight, but it was over quickly. I could not tell which one of them was Lokil, but that wound up not being important anyway.

A book on one of the vampires was written by the late Vigilant Adalvald detailing an earlier, less fatal exploration of Dimhollow Crypt. His thoughts mirrored my own: this part of the crypt was not built by Nords or Dwemer, but he went one step further: he thought that the different architecture originated from an ancient clan of vampires.

It was hard to argue given what had already transpired.

The braziers that the vampires had been fussing over were set into channels carved into the floor and set upon rollers, allowing them to be slid along the channels in different configurations. It was an obvious puzzle, one the vampires did not complete. The channels circled around a pedestal in the center, but I could see no obvious way to determine how to proceed.

Experimenting, I pushed the brazier on the outside channel around and was surprised when one location caused a harmless purple flame to ignite in the brazier, quickly spreading along the channel. The flame stopped where the channel met another radiating from the center pedestal, but I understood then what was required.

The remaining braziers needed to be pushed into the end of the flame, causing the braziers to ignite and push the fire deeper within the circular channels. Once all the braziers were in place the flames were encircling the pedestal and as I suspected that was the key to unlocking Dimhollow Crypt's so-called treasure.

The pedestal rose from the ground, a panel slid open, revealing...a sleeping woman. She was ornately dressed and woke quickly, stepping out of the pedestal as if what was happening was simply the most normal thing in Skyrim.
She immediately started firing questions at me, seeming not the least bit anxious or confused at either being awoken or inside of the pedestal. She demanded to know if I was a vampire and appeared a bit confused to find that was not so.

Continuing with her aloofness, she demanded to be escorted to her family home west of Solitude, only introducing herself as 'Serana' after that. Then it was my turn to ask questions.

First, I wanted to know how long she had been sleeping. She claimed to not know who the High King of Skyrim currently was and remarked sourly that a war of succession was just perfect, showing that nothing got boring while she had been sleeping. When I explained that the Empire supported one candidate and the rebel Stormcloaks another, she became genuinely confused, asking me what Empire I was talking about. Reminding her that the Empire came from Cyrodiil caused a great deal of alarm, her haughtiness giving way to uncertainty as she asked once again to be taken to her family's home as soon as possible. She suspected that her sleep had gone on for far longer than planned and did not know what else to do other than see if her vampire family still lived.

Serana not remembering the Empire makes me wonder how long she has truly been asleep. There has always been an Empire of some sort out of Cyrodiil since the First Era four thousand years ago. That is quite a nap, though I do not think Serana has been sleeping that long. It seems rather improbable to sleep for four thousand years, awake, then expect your family is still where you left them.

While on our way out two gargoyle statues suddenly sprang at us, but Serana blew them apart with her magicka before I could do much of anything. I did not appreciate that, actually.
Even less appreciated was her raising a gargoyle's corpse so that I had to contend with a shifty, confused vampiress and a eight-foot hulking undead stone-skin monster...walking behind me the whole time. It was not a good start to our relationship.
Because I had not yet suffered enough, we still had to fight through a group of powerful Draugr, then through an ancient arena still thronging with Draugr spectators and nobility, all of whom tried to kill us.
One side of the Arena housed a Word Wall which taught me 'Gaan', Stamina. If Serana thought the learning process odd she did not make mention of it.

By then it felt as though I had been underground for a week, but the double door on the far side of the arena's cavern opened to a rough-hewn passage that smelled encouragingly of fresh, cold air, which Serana complained of almost immediately. I do not seem to get along with people any longer.

Once we were outside she also complained of the sunlight, but I ignored her. The exit from Dimhollow placed us on the opposite side of the hill, I found a rough path that led to the road to Dawnstar, but I had to fight through the partially ruined Fort Dunstad to get there. Serana had disappeared somewhere between the crypt and the fort, but I had no problems killing a few bandits on my own.

One had a unique-looking weapon, a single-edged sword with intricate carvings along the cleaver-like blade. I have never seen its like before, probably a family heirloom of the late, unnamed bandit. I decided to give it a try myself and will be using it through the next few days.

Continuing to Dawnstar I passed another fort on my right and a giant's camp on my left, neither causing me any trouble. Serana decided to join me again just as we both arrived at Dawnstar.
As the last city I had to visit in Skyrim, Dawnstar was a bit of a disappointment. The best that could be said about it was that it was a well-ordered fishing village, somewhat large for the type, but the docks had little traffic, most of it likely passing Dawnstar in favor of Solitude.

A courtesy visit to Jarl Skald found him in bad humor, everyone in Dawnstar was sleeping terribly, plagued by nightmares. A priest of Mara was staying in Dawnstar, attempting to rectify this situation. It was suggested I speak to him if I had any interest in allowing the town its sleep. The Jarl mentioned that the town has seen a few Dragons flying over as of late, but blamed the sightings on the Empire's abandonment of Talos. Once the Stormcloaks have driven out the Empire, in his words, the Dragons will go away too. I could not think of a response to that.

Serana excused herself and went to find the Inn, the sun-lit snow too bright for her unaccustomed eyes.

I had not forgotten Silus Vesuius or his Mythic Dawn museum. Finding it was easy: I had only to follow the sound of a heated argument taking place in front of a house adorned with ragged banners bearing the Mythic Dawn's rising sun.
The argument was between a man on the porch, shabbily dressed in an imitation of Mythic Dawn robes, and a woman, mage by her outfit, at the foot of the steps. The discussion was over by the time I reached the house and the woman introduced herself as Madena, Court Wizard of Dawnstar. She begged me not to step inside the museum, that things such as the Mythic Dawn are best left forgotten. I could not agree more, but I said nothing. She excused herself and I went inside, the man, presumably Silus Vesuius having gone inside as I spoke with Madena.

Silus was surprised to see a visitor, but welcomed me enthusiastically. His "museum" was not terribly impressive: a faded banner, a hood and cloak, the single page of the Mysterium...something, and a set of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries, written by the deluded Altmer, Mankar, may he still suffer to this day.

The last display case had a scabbard marked with an Oblivion rune. When I asked Silus about it he excitedly exclaimed that it belonged to Mehrune's Razor and announced that he had a job for me.

Unknown to me groups of vigilantes formed after the Oblivion Crisis for the sole purpose of eliminating the remnants the Mythic Dawn cult. Mehrunes' Razor was acquired by one of these groups and, true to their cause, broke the blade into three pieces rather than use an artifact of Mehrune Dagon

Silus said that the blade was broken over one hundred years ago, the pieces being passed down to the group's descendants, all of whom were, coincidentally, now living in Skyrim. Silus had a list of the three individuals and their locations, two of whom fell to banditry, one to an unknown profession in Morthal.

I told him I might look into the matter, though I did not promise anything. Inside 'Windpeak' Inn I spoke with the priest of Mara, a Dunmer named 'Erandur'. He explained that the nightmares were merely a symptom of the real problem: the Daedric Prince Vaermina. Erandur had tracked the source of the Prince's manifestation to the ruins of the nearby "Nightcaller Temple", but was too inexperienced in combat to venture in himself. I agreed to help, as it will no doubt be useful to have a reputation as a problem-solver with the Jarl, should he and I have any future business.

But Serana had disappeared to a room of her own hours ago and I unintentionally passed the night of 6 Frostfall in Dimhollow Crypt, so I desperately needed the rest. I got the directions to the temple from Erandur and promised to meet him there tomorrow. I am sure Serana can wait one more day.