Monday, May 30, 2016

Skyrim Day 029 - Cogwheel Adventure

14 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold College

After a not-very restful nap outside of Ansilvund I was back on the humid road through the springs. I had not gone far before a thief (not a Dark Brotherhood assassin, surprisingly) jumped out of the bushes, literally. I suppose one could commend the man for tradition, if not creativity. 

The worn and dirty Imperial leathers marked him as a likely deserter from the Legion, though the Elven dagger suggested something more nefarious. He demanded my money or my life and I asked him if I looked like I was willing to accept either of those two options. I recommended that he walk away if he wanted to live and to my surprise, he did, backing away and jogging down a path into the hills. Smart man.

The next individual to ambush me was a Khajiit hiding amidst the snow drifts near Windhelm. This time my assailant was a Dark Brotherhood assassin and wielding an expensive Elven sword. I would like to know if the assassins bring their own gear or are equipped by the Brotherhood. It would make putting up with the constant attacks a bit easier knowing I was steadily bankrupting enemies I am not sure how I made.

When I arrived back at Winterhold I visited Birna's shop, sold off some jewelry and gemstones, then hoisted the very heavy dragon claw I purchased from her, with the intention to figure out what to do with it later that day. Like all of my plans, this one did not meet with fruition.

Enthir was gruffly appreciative of having his staff back and handed me Onmund's amulet, a simple gold medallion with a small ruby set inside. Onmund was surprised to see his amulet again and even more to be given it unconditionally. He pledged his undying loyalty, but I assured him that was not necessary. I have not been at the College long, but it is clear that there is no harmony among the students. They will need that once I leave and I hope my easing their personal burdens will allow that to grow, even just a little.

Speaking of the lack of harmony, I tracked down J'zargo next to report on the explosive nature of his scrolls. At my approach he purred that his scrolls had no doubt been magnificent and deflated only slightly when I informed him that they also exploded. Violently. He promised a review of his technique and proudly stated that I had earned the right to fight by his...whenever I needed him. A bit contradictory, but the gesture was appreciated nonetheless.

That left only Arniel and his Dwemer cogwheels. Though not a student, he had approached me about sourcing ten cogs from the Dwemer ruins that dotted Skyrim and I agreed, not realizing at the time how large the things were. I stopped to talk with him while on my way out and inquired as to where the closest ruin was. His answer: Alftand, a few hours walk southwest of the college.

In any other province the distance from Winterhold to Alftand would have taken less than an hour to traverse, but this is Skyrim. I had to contend with a snowstorm during the entire walk, almost plummeted off of cliffs that suddenly appeared in front of me, and was attacked by wolves several times. I finally came upon a crevice marked by Dwemer ruins and eagerly went in, assuming the entrance to Alftand was somewhere just in front of me.
The wind funneling between the hills nearly knocked me flat as I trudged through the snow, but my perseverance paid off, or so I thought. Near the termination of the crevice sat a ruined tower which I thought was the entrance to the Dwemer ruin.
Alas, I was wrong. The tower was just that and each of the two doors inside only led to a single room. It was only when I left the tower that I saw the scaffolding above me, at the lip of the crevice.
So it was back through the little canyon, this time against the freezing wind and around to the top of the hillside, where a collection of hastily-built, dilapidated cottages suggested the origin of the scaffolding that led to the entrance of Alftand. A journal, forgotten and frozen to a table inside one of the cottages, was recently penned.

Its author, Sulla Trebatius, seemed to think that his expedition of seven had stumbled upon a hidden vault of vast treasures and had a notable bias against the College, going as far as to hire an unaffiliated mage at great cost to himself. The journal was only two three pages long and served only to record who had gone into the ruin, not what had happened.

The upper level of the ruin where I and the expedition entered from opened to a cavern of ice. Not far in was a camp site in disarray, the frozen blood spatter suggesting a very rude awakening. Sulla had left another journal here, lamenting the destruction of one of the Dwemer's spidery automatrons, even after it had almost killed two Khajiit that were part of the expedition. Ominously, the journal ended with Sulla wondering to himself whether he had just seen something "humanoid" out of the corner of his eye. Excited, he penned his plan to move the expedition further into the ruin to investigate.

The fool. Anything looking even vaguely human in a Dwemer ruin was almost certainly going to be Falmer and not just one of them. I followed the trail of blood and began to hear someone muttering, quite clearly a Khajiit, one of the two brothers Sulla had hired to swing pickaxes. As I drew closer the muttering became shouting and I thought he was arguing with someone, but if he was the dead body he was standing over was not much for conversation.
When he saw me the mad Khajiit screamed and charged at me with an axe. That did not end well for him.

The ice gradually gave way to the hot gouts of steam and warm metal floors that the Dwemer preferred, but I found no trace of the rest of the expedition, nor of Falmer. I proceeded cautiously, fought a few spider-things, and found three Dwemer cogwheels.

The deeper I went, the more I found evidence of Falmer living somewhere further below. Fresh blood splattered near bedrolls was the most obvious, but then I began to find discard equipment the creatures regularly glue together from the Chaurus they breed and raise.

I found another one of the expedition members, dead of course, wedged into a small corridor beneath some Dwemer machinery. The man scrawled a final message on a piece of parchment, confirming my suspicion that Falmer ambushed and wiped out the small group, though it did nothing to explain the murderous Khajiit rambling near the entrance. Skooma, perhaps.

The group was not prepared for the ambush and they panicked, half of them fleeing for the surface, two of them missing, and the remainder, Sulla and his bodyguard, actually descending deeper into the ruin. What a disaster.

Below a broken spiral ramp was the body of the Orsimer, simply named 'Yag'. Sulla had hired her to keep the laborers, the two Khajiit, in order, but according to the body of the man I found in the alcove, Yag had stuck with him during their retreat, flinging him on to the broken platform before evidently expiring from multiple arrow wounds, all of them fletched in the distinctive style of the Falmer.
I clambered down some pipes near the edge and peered over the edge of her final resting place. Falmer huts were haphazardly scattered on the floor below, but none were occupied. Behind a door guarded by a Dwemer flame-throwing trap I found the Falmer, in all of their misshapen, hideous glory.
They are said to have exceptional hearing and be able to track their prey by scent alone, so I must be getting much better at sneaking about, for every one I killed, save for two, was from behind with my dagger, silent and instant. Good to see I am getting back into my "old" ways, though I do recall that none of those ways involved effective stealth then.

Sulla's rogue mage, the Altmer Valie, was shackled to a Dwemer table when I found her. The Falmer had eviscerated her, hopefully after she died.
Beyond Valie's violent end was either the end of the ruin or the beginning of it judging by the battlements.
After dispatching the Falmer that were sulking about I opened the Dwemer gate and started to walk across the small plaza when a scream suddenly erupted on my left.
It was not a scream from a foe, but the sound of a lot of steam being sent through ancient pipes...I guess. Whatever caused the sound also activated a giant Dwemer machine built to resemble a Dwemer warrior. A massive war-hammer served as one of the thing's arms, the other a battle-ax. If it had other abilities I did not wait around long enough to see them. A dagger against a semi-living siege engine did not seem a fair fight. As I fled, I noticed that the thing had a companion opposite it, but it had long since fallen to pieces.

The machine did not appear to be able to navigate stairs, so once I was on the top of the stairway I felt like I could finally relax...just as two people walked inside the ruin from the door in front of me, each arguing hotly with the other.
Their argument identified them as Sulla Trebatius and Umana, the pair which Sulla's journal described as loyal and inseparable. I was surprised to see that Sulla was no scholar, but a powerful-looking Legionnaire. Opposite him was Umana, a Redguard with an axe and a cruelly spiked buckler. As I sneaked behind a pillar their arguing grew more violent only to be cut short with a gurgling sound. Umana had smashed Sulla in the throat with her shield, the spikes ensuring his life was extinguished quickly.

She muttered something and started to search the twitching corpse, no doubt very surprised to suddenly find my hand over her mouth and my blade in her neck. So ended Sulla's expedition to Alftand and I never learned what he thought he was going to find here. As for me, I found eight Dwemer cogwheels, two short of what I had sought.

I thought it was close to midnight when I finally emerged from underground and was a bit confused when the sun rose during my walk back to Winterhold. The College was settling down for breakfast as I dumped the cogwheels on the floor.
I hope they can eat quietly, because I am going to bed.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Skyrim Day 028 - Not Your Typical Transaction

12 Heartfire, 4E201
Wilderness near Riften

I had promised Brelyna I would resume our already-disastrous experiment when my eyesight stopped being so green and blurry, but it took a decent night's sleep before the drab colors of Skyrim were sullenly presenting themselves normally again.

Typical of my mornings the sun was just starting to rise, but Brelyna was awake anyway, paging through a volume in front of her room. Whatever it was must have been engrossing, for we were nearly nose-to-nose before she noticed me. After recovering her breath she remarked that my eyes appeared to have lost their green luster and that she thought she knew what had gone wrong. She wanted a second chance, with my permission, of course. What's the worst that could happen, right?

I am not sure what happened next. She cast her spell and all of a sudden I felt slightly drunk, my vision blurry, but at least not green. I remember hearing her fret and casting the spell again, making me quite tall, but then she cast it once more and I was closer to the ground, my eyesight black-and-white. A final casting of her spell put me back from whatever had happened and she nervously laughed, saying that it looked like everything worked out in the end. 

I actually have no idea what it was she had even done. I told her to not hesitate if she needed any further help, but she assured me that she was done for awhile and remarked off-hand that she would enjoy a trip or two around Skyrim if I needed the assistance. Something I shall keep in mind.

Enthir's regretful trade was the next item on my College list to resolve. He suspected the mage he sold the staff to was bringing it to an ancient Nordic ruin built into the hills northwest of the chronically impoverished city of Riften...which put it very close to Mzulft, where I was just a few days ago. People really do seem eager to see me traveling to and fro. So it was back on to the frozen road for the new Arch-Mage. Did Savos have people to do these sort of tasks for him?

While I was puzzling over that question a man ran up to me, shoved a bow into my arms, and said he would be back for it in a few days. Apparently not having the bow when he returned would be to my regret, but then he ran off. Not more than twenty seconds passed before a second man approached, equally out of breath, asking me if I had seen the first pass by. This second man was a hunter who had his bow stolen by a man he had showed hospitality to at his campfire.

I returned the bow to him and he grimly thanked me and stated that the thief would be shot down by it before night fell. Not caring either way, I wished him luck and proceeded onwards, only to be interrupted by a deranged Khajiit calling himself "M'aiq the Liar" who rambled on about nonsensical things. He was likely on the bad side of his sugar and abruptly ran away with no provocation at all, hopefully to somewhere safe.

The ruin Enthir vaguely pointed me towards was past the stinking springs, maybe ten minutes of walking along the road past Mzulft. A trio of revelers drinking near the springs knew of the ruin and one cautioned me that a band of mages had recently taken up residence. Of course.
Only one mage was guarding the entrance leading inside the mountain, but I managed to alarm him before I could fire an arrow. He conjured a colossal Atronach of ice, but it was weaker than the one I had fought in Labyrinthian and crumbled after only a few blows from my sword. The conjurer fell after only one. He was carrying an excellent Glass dagger which he had not thought to draw against me, for whatever reason.

The inside of the ruin was being patrolled by awakened Draugr which I immediately suspected were being used by the mages. I was correct, but not for the right reason.
The Draugr were not only being used as guards, but as labor. The mages enthralled them to hack away at the cavern walls with their weapons, though after what I could not tell. The noise was loud enough to mask my approach and the bored mage soon had his throat opened by my new dagger. The Draugr paid his demise no notice and I put both of them to rest as well.

A woman's voice sounded from deeper within the cave as I turned away from the three corpses, announcing herself as "Lu'ah Al-Skaven", a name which meant nothing to me. She claimed to have an army of undead waiting for me and I of course was reminded of the late Dragon Priest who boasted a similarly penetrating voice.

J'zargo had asked me to test his scrolls on the undead and unexpectedly I had an opportunity to do so somewhere in front of me, if Lu'ah was to be believed. A hallway lined with desiccated bodies turned out to disguise several of her undead soldiers and I rather nervously let three close into melee before unleashing what should have been a ring of undead-destroying flame around my person.

Instead the three Draugr exploded simultaneously, hurling themselves to pieces and me backwards almost thirty feet into a wall of stone. First Brelyna turns me green, then J'zargo has me slamming myself into rock. It is no wonder that half of Winterhold is went missing.

Despite the surprisingly ballistic nature of his spell, J'zargo did craft something effective and that was the end of Lu'ah's little ambush, with only a slight concussion to suffer on my side.

After freeing a few more Draugr from their mining labor I came upon the motif-locks the ancient Nords seem to have been fond of. The locks are simple: columns, usually three, each have facets with a different animal on them. Spinning the columns around to form a specific combination of animals unlocks a gate, or a lever, or something.
In Ansilvund, the motif-locks were set along a ledge, behind a lever which I guessed would open the gate on the far side of the room. Operating the lever caused darts to fire out of the walls if the motifs were not correct, though I had the presence of mind to hide behind a table before I threw the lever forward.

What few ruins I have so far visited normally had the correct sequence of motifs engraved along the walls, which I suspect served as a device to keep Draugr in the ruins rather than people out of them. But this time there was no obvious clues as to the correct order, but a book on the table wound up spelling it out somewhat obliquely.

The book was titled 'Of Fjori and Holgeir', one described as a 'huntress', the other a 'warlord'. What their reason for fighting was is lost to history, but according to the story they fought until each broke a piece of the other's equipment, her sword breaking his axe and his shield breaking her sword, as implausible as that sounds. Even more implausible was that they then fell in love and were married.

But theirs was a difficult one, for then a snake bit Holgeir, a whale somehow greeted Fjori and told her to seek a cure from the Akavir, Returning from the Akavir, Fjori gave the elixir to Holgeir, curing him instantly. However, the snake then bit Fjori, who succumbed immediately.

It was a very strange story, but I think it served more to reveal the correct lock combination: Eagle, Snake, Whale, Snake. The book ended with Holgeir building a tomb for Fjori, then committing suicide in order to join her. Very grim and therefore probably very Nordic.

Next to the book was a small journal written in recently. The author lamented the death of her husband, a Legionnaire named Saeel, twenty-five years ago and spent those years researching ways to pull his soul back from where ever it had gone to, without success. The fable of Fjori and Holgeir brought her to this ruin and the author, who I suspected then was really Lu'ah, was using the tomb to build an army of Draugr to exact revenge upon Skyrim, the Empire, and likely everyone else after that.

Anyway, the combination unlocked the gate and I passed through another room full of Draugr, safely not using my last scroll from J'zargo to dispatch them. Lu'ah's voice screamed from somewhere within, vowing that her army of undead would avenge Saeel's "defilement", whatever she felt that was.

Lu'ah Al-Skaven was waiting for me in a chamber typical of those ruins, with an altar built at the far end.
As soon as she spotted me creeping towards her she let out an incoherent scream of rage and cast a spell which somehow simultaneously raised the bodies of two Draugr in the coffins behind her as well as a skeleton on the ground in front. No doubt she felt that was enough, but she did not know of J'zargo's explosive eagerness to prove himself.

The blast felt like the ground had been torn out from underneath me and I was flung right out of the chamber and through the doors, fortunately not striking my head a second time. The remains of my undead adversaries were spread about the chamber, some of the pieces smoldering and Lu'ah was dead, the back of her skull crushed by its sudden impact with the wall behind her. I must remember to give my thanks to J'zargo, so long as it does not inflate his ego too much.

As I was poking around the room in the search for valuables two spirits materialized next to the altar.
Part of the legend had been true: the spirits introduced themselves as Fjori and Holgeir, both of them thanking me for saving their remains from being Lu'ah's pawns. Evidently the two Draugr that had been blasted apart were actually the remains of the couple, which was a bit embarrassing, in a way.

They thanked me for ending Lu'ah's enslavement and bid me to accept a gift from them. I was not aware spirits could give gifts, but after they faded away a shimmering blade appeared on the pedestal behind them. In appearance it looks very similar to a conjured sword and happily is just as light. It will be interesting to see how it performs against my Dwemer sword and new Glass dagger.
A small chamber off to the side served as Lu'ah's living quarters. On the table I found a letter dated on 4E 175 from an Imperial Praefect informing her of Saeel's death during the liberation of the Imperial City. Also in her room was a large chest which contained Enthir's staff, among other minor items of value.

As expected, when I finally left the ruin it was once again close to midnight. Rather than walk back to the College in the dark I simply re-entered the desolate place and am sleeping in the would-be necromancer's cot. To the victors go the spoils.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Skyrim Day 027 - An Unexpected Promotion

11 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold College

Morthal holds few charms and its inn is not one of them. I spent a clammy, uncomfortable night in the swamp-town and woke up almost as tired as when I had tried to go to sleep. Despite Urag's book being nearby I had little energy as it was and was anticipating an eventful day. The book remains where ever it is, at least for now.
Staying on the road kept the walk safe, but boring. I stopped at the coastal city of Dawnstar to trade my crossbow for arrows, then walked back outside the city, encountered a pack of wolves, and missed all five shots I took with my bow. Money well spent.

I intended to leave the road and walk along the coast as I usually do and came upon an Impeial Legion camp just on the other side of a small hill which hosted a ruined temple of Dawnstar.
No one had much to say to me, but the soldier doubling as their blacksmith was willing to sell me some arrows, some of which I hope to shoot something with some day. The wilderness outside Dawnstar provided only goats and wolves and I soon sighted the semi-ruined College of Winterhold, far into the distance.
It did not seem to be in any more pieces than it was when I had left, a good sign. When I arrived in the almost completely ruined town of Winterhold a storm suddenly whipped up, leaving me almost blinded by the snow. Beams of lightning and balls of fire were erupting ahead of me on the college's walkway, but when I arrived the skirmish was already over. Tolfdir and two students were standing among piles of the strange globe things I fought the other day.

They were stuck, the way back to the College was blocked by a storm of magical energy caused by whatever Arcano was attempting to do. Tolfdir urged me to waste no time in using the staff, but I had no idea how to actually use it. I tried pointing it at the whirling maelstrom in front of me and with a loud zapping sound it abruptly disappeared.
The students stayed behind to guard against any more floating globe things leaving Tolfdir and I to charge inside. During our short jog I learned that Mirabelle had also been killed, having stayed behind to ensure everyone else escaped. With her death Tolfdir became the leader of the College, if not the Arch-Mage, but it  was clearly something he did not want.

Dagger in one hand, staff in the other, I pushed the gates open and we stepped inside the Hall of Elements where Arcano was still siphoning power from the Eye.
Tolfdir shouted at me to use the staff on the Eye as he attempted to distract Arcano with his spells. He ran towards the Thalmor, his spells uselessly parting themselves around Arcano, while I approached the Eye, one of my own on it and the other on Arcano.

Pointing the staff at the Eye caused a beam of energy to lazily form between the two and so long as I kept the staff close enough this energy seemed to "open" the Eye, revealing blinding blue light within. The Eye continued to open and Tolfdir continued to exhaust himself when suddenly there was a flash of light from within the Eye. Instinctively I dropped the staff and shielded my eyes and when my vision returned to normal Tolfdir was unconscious and Arcano had moved to the rear of the Hall, cursing as he battled the magical globe things.

Bright balls of light were being flung from the Eye all over the room, forming the hostile globes as soon as they struck a surface. I scrambled around the globes to recover the staff and, on a hunch, held it up to the Eye again. This time it slowly closed, more energy being drawn from the staff. Once it was closed Arcano's cursing changed from sounding 'mildly annoyed' to 'greatly alarmed'.

Whatever occurred between the staff and the Eye had disconnected Arcano from his source of new-found power. The globes were doing their best to batter him into submission, but they were not a great threat. He screamed at me to help him, which remains confusing even now, so I walked up behind him and buried my dagger into his back, helping him as he did Savos and Mirabelle.

It was over. I woke Tolfdir and helped him to his feet. He glanced at the Thalmor's body, but said nothing. We both stared at the docile-looking Eye of Magnus for a few moments, then he sighed and admitted he had no idea what we should do with it. As if on cue, a mage of the Psijic Order suddenly teleported in and congratulated us as two of his Order also arrived. He stated that recent events proved we were not ready to harness its power, a statement I certainly could agree with. Having said that, the three Psijic mages faced the Eye, rasied the hands, and disappeared, bringing the Eye with them.
What followed was a very awkward conversation. Tolfidr laughed nervously and said he wondered what the College would do without the Arch-Mage and his second-in-command. He continued on without letting me speak, saying that he was too old and too tired to assume responsibility and the other teachers were not going to be willing either. Forging ahead, he babbled that I had obviously proven myself to be strong, resourceful, and skilled in magic, though I am not sure where the last part came from.

With that I was named Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold...after being a student for less than a week. But I gather that is how organizations in Skyrim work: the strongest dies, the next strongest assumes the mantle. In my case this was literal: two sets of 'official' wardrobe was waiting for me in the Arch-Mage's Quarters, though I will have to send them away to be modified for Khajiit use.
Having been at the College for only five days I barely knew the other students and none of the surviving instructors, save for Tolfdir. I figured I could do worse on my first day as Arch-Mage than to walk around and talk with everyone.

Arniel Gane, the Breton I tried to assist in Saarthal. While not a mage, he rents space at the College to perform his research in and has hit a bit of a problem with resources. In an effort to solve this he requested that I bring him some Dwemer artifacts, specifically ten cogwheels from their ancient machines. I assured him that if I ever found myself in an Dwemer ruin again I would bring him his wheels. To what end, I neither know or care.

The College's sole Nordic student, Osmund, had a tale to tell me. He had traded his family's amulet to Enthir, a Bosmer also renting space at the College. Apparently Enthir has a reputation for "finding" items for a small fee, in other words: fencing stolen goods to the students. The trade of the amulet was for scrolls and rare books, but Osmund was now regretting the transaction, the amulet being the only link he had left to his family. My assistance was requested. Had Savos dealt with things like this? I suspect not.

Enthir pretended to be a slippery sort of fellow, but he sounded a bit unsure of himself in front of the new Arch-Mage. When confronted with Osmund's request he stammered that he had misplaced the amulet, but that if I were to retrieve a poor trade of his own he was sure to have found it when I returned. You could almost admire the arrogance. His task would at least take me out of the College, so I agreed, much to his relief.

Brelyna Maryon of House Telvanni also had a request to make of me: be her test subject for a variety of spells she had researched. I agreed, hoping that she would not be so foolish as to cast destructive magic inside the student dormitory. I am not sure what she was trying to do, but her spell turned my vision blurry and rather green. This was noticeable in some way and she profusely apologized, assuring me that a night's rest would dispel the effect.
J'zargo descended from the great height of his pride to admit a need for assistance as well. Much like Brelyna he had been researching new spells, but needed someone else to see if they worked correctly. Fortunately, he only needed someone to use the three scrolls he prepared on the undead, which he claimed the spells were specifically designed to destroy. I agreed to his task as well, guessing that I could find some undead while on my way to collect Arniel's cogwheels.

By then my green eyesight was beginning to give me a headache and I had a list of things to do that was longer than my arm, so I somewhat hesitantly settled down in the Arch-Mages's quarters, well aware I was sleeping in the bed of a man whose body was presently floating out to the sea. I have slept in worse places, but I was not prepared to be waking up tomorrow as the leader of a College I barely know.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Skyrim Day 026 - Savos's Sacrifice

10 Heartfire, 4E201

Labyrinthian wound up being much closer to Morthal than I thought it was, but Whiterun was no doubt more comfortable, so I considered my mistake a fortunate one.

The area around Whiterun is patrolled somewhat regularly, but I still had to fight off one of Skyrim's giant Sabre Cats along the westbound road. As I made my way along a road leading into the mountains where Labyrinthian was built I passed a pit lined with stone coffins.
A door was set into the wall and something about the arrangement intrigued me. As it was, the area closely resembled the tombs I remember hesitantly exploring on Vvardenfell: small and not worth the trouble. The inside was just one room, a hallway along one side having caved in. Three Draugr awaited me, but they were guarding nothing of value. I pressed onward to frozen Labyrinthian.

The city must have been quite a sight in its time, but now its only inhabitants were trolls, two of whom I had to cut down before the rest scattered away from me. The ruins were littered with carvings of what could have been either a bird or a dragon and a large dome dominated the courtyard.
But my business was inside the ruin, so I ignored the dome and approached the massive door. As I drew close a shimmering in the air in front of the door came into focus and suddenly I was surrounded by spirits.
Ambushed, I drew my blade, but the spirits paid me no attention. They talked among themselves and I realized that the Dunmer-looking one was their leader...and the former Arch-Mage of Winterhold College.

From what I could make out, Savos was far younger in this strange manifestation than when I briefly knew him and he seemed to have convinced the other spirits, students of the college, to follow him to Labyrinthian on a quest for knowledge and artifacts. The group was more varied than today's: one of them sounded like a Bosmer and another was unmistakably an Argonian. As he quelled the fears of his fellow students the spirits faded and I was left alone once again.

I spent several minutes trying to figure out how to open the front door, certainly not a good sign for me. After examining the decoration on the door I realized that the heavy necklace that Mirabelle had given me was actually the door's handle, though how thing thing came to be required to open the door at all was a mystery.

The inside was littered with ancient skeletons and weapons, the remains of guardians that Savos's group had probably blasted apart.
Their spirits reformed at the end of the chamber, the others complaining of the dangers they were likely to face. But Savos assured them he had been there before and skeletons were the worst they were going to find inside. The spirits disappeared and I proceeded in their ghostly footsteps.

I wish I had not. After a few small rooms of Draugr and skeletons I found a portcullis which was operated by a nearby lever...which meant anyone coming inside the underground city could open the gate. I started wondering why this was the case as I opened the gate and walked through, but then everything became entirely too clear for me.
The large cavern which the gate opened into was occupied by a massive, dead dragon. The "dead" part did not seem to concern it much and its skeletal remains roared and moved just as the dragon at Helgen had, though this one was able to "breathe" ice instead of fire.

Panicking, I fired two bolts at it with no apparent effect other than to anger it. I tried to retreat back through the gate, but it had closed behind me, making its purpose a lot more clear. The only way was forward: providing I survived the dragon and its retinue of skeletal archers.

Being made only of bones held together by magicka does not give one the best of reflexes apparently, for I was able to easily outrun the dragon while the archers ineffectually lobbed arrows at me. I made it to a stairway at the opposite end of the cavern, drew my sword, and turned around to see how much distance I had put between myself and instantly freezing to death.
As it turned out, not nearly enough! I might have outrun the dragon, but only by a few steps of its massive claws. I could have retreated further down the stairway, which was too narrow to admit it, but I thought, at the time, that would mean only facing it on my way out. So I drew my Dwemer-forged sword and turned to face the monstrous thing.

My strategy was just as simple as the creature's was: wait until it reared back to utilize its ice "breath", then scamper down the stairs so that the spray of ice passed over my head. Then I rushed back up the stairs, hacked at the thing's bony skull, and ran back the stairs. If I had not been so terrified it would have been almost amusing.

Eventually the small chips and cracks resulting from my blows began to leak wisps of magicka and the poor creature...ran out of magicka, I suppose. I do not know what held it together, but after what seemed like a long time the dragon's skeleton lay still and I was still alive.
The winding staircase led me to a small altar with am engraved plaque on top of it. I was surprised to find that it was written in Cyrodilic:
Hail All-Brave City Bromjunaar
Forever These Walls Shall Stand
May Enemies See Her Majesty
May All Quake to Behold Her
I can only assume Labyrinthian used to be named Bromjunaar, or was built on the ruins of it. Perhaps the dragon guarded the entrance to Bromjunaar from Labyrinthian, though to what purpose I cannot see. As I was puzzling this thought over, the spirits came back again, all of them seeming to stare at me, a rather uneasy thing.

Stepping away from their gazes, I realized there was one less. The students were greatly upset at the death of the student called 'Girduin', Savos had led them through the same cavern I had fought the dragon in, but it had been there for them as well. They simply ran past, but Girduin had been killed by the dragon, apparently it tore him into many small pieces.

Savos smoothly pointed out that they could not very well go back to the dragon, insisting that it was safer to go forwards rather than back. They agreed somewhat reluctantly and disappeared from my sight. I suspected I would find them one less again the next time they appeared.

I continued along, battling the odd Dragur here and there without much trouble. Suddenly, a voice seemed to boom from beneath me, uttering some guttural language I could not understand. With it came a wave of blue light that washed over me and sapped me of my magicka strength, which I quickly recovered anyway. I waited a few minutes but nothing else happened, so I pressed on. After maybe ten minutes of sneaking about and shooting Dragur the voice and the magicka-sapping light came rushing up through the floor, the voice saying something different but just as alien to my ears.

The spirits had not returned yet, but I found a stone door guarded by a magicka ward which I set off with a crossbow bolt. Behind it was a Draugr standing next to a decapitated skeleton sitting in front of an ancient alchemy field set. Nothing about the macabre sight indicated that the corpse was of one of Savos's fellow students though.
Just past that I was accosted by the voice and the light once again, but this time in Cyrodilic. The voice accused me of not answering him, asking if I was really forcing it to use "...this guttural language of yours." That was interesting, as it implied the voice knew someone previously who spoke Cyrodilic and whatever the voice spoke initially. I had my suspicions as to who that was.

Unfortunately I then had to wade through an almost-frozen sewer and when I was beginning to emerge from it in front of an ornate door the light came through it and the voice inquired as to whether I was Aren, the voice's "old friend". Suspicion confirmed.

After that the voice decided to assume I was Aren Savos and became quite chatty and boastful, asking if I had returned to finish what I could not previously and that I only faced failure "once more". Still, the spirits of Aren Savos and the students had not reappeared. I continued to creep forward, unable to shake the extremely uneasy feeling that someone was constantly right behind me. Draugr and trolls fell to my crossbow bolts until I ran out completely. It was only my sword after that.

Perhaps something was watching me, for the voice came again, this time sounding uncertain with the realization that I was not actually Aren Savos. It asked if he had sent me in his place, though did not say as to what purpose. It was then that I began to get a really bad feeling as to the fates of the other students, the sensation of being watched stronger than before.

Because a skelton-dragon, Draugr, voices from below, and the spirits of the deceased were not terrible enough, I then found myself battling some sort of coldly horrific spirit-woman whose face hosted what I could best describe as a grimace of utter hatred. Whatever she was my sword was enough to send her back to where she had come from.
The voice continued to goad me, asking if I knew my coming would only lead to my undoing and his strengthening. Each boast was accompanied by the blue light, which I feared might be the strengthening part of his assurance.

Around a small column the spirits reemerged and as I had suspected they were greatly fewer in number than the last time I saw them. It was only Savos Aren now, plus two other students. The two babbled fearfully of the others' fates, but Savos insisted that they must press forward, lest the deaths of the friends be for nothing.
The mysterious voice spoke only once more, inviting me to come "meet my end", a bit overly dramatic for my taste. I could only assume I was growing close to this unseen speaking thing as the guardians of the ruins began to...change.
Formerly of flesh and...more flesh, the Draugr deeper inside were different, seeming to consist solely of blue light. They fought just as physically as their more corporal cousins and suffered my blows just as well, making them no more difficult. I also fought a few dogs, which I have not encountered in a ruin before.

Another door, more Draugr, and surprisingly, a very rare Ebony shield nestled in a burial niche. It is very heavy and I cannot wield it myself, but one does not find equipment hammered from the blood of Gods every day.

The only other enemy of note was a Frost Atronach which my blade did little against, but my pathetic Fire magicka managed to destroy the creature completely. Makes sense, but I was surprised to find I could cast anything in combat of use.
The spirits of Savos Aren and the two surviving students appeared before a large door, the two lamenting at the loss of their friends, but vowing to stick together and move forward. Savos was unusually quiet, which put the fur on the back of my neck up, always a bad sign.

I am not sure what I expected, but I did not find it.

Two mages were kneeling before some sort of imprisoned creature sending beams of energy that were either entrapping or sustaining it. The voice, which I took to be the creature, laughed and revealed that the two mages were the survivors of Savos's little band, sacrificed by Savos himself to keep the creature entombed within Labyrinthian.

The two students were frozen in place above the haughty thing, but when I approached one he suddenly jumped up and charged at me, screaming nonsensically. It was either him or me. Nothing I could do prevented his friend from also attacking me and with their deaths the creature was free. Oddly, the last time I saw the spirits together there was a female student still alive, but she had evidently met her end before the chamber.
And a great deal less friendly than they had been. It might have been a man at one time, but now it was just floating bones wrapped in rotting clothes, wearing a metal mask with a slightly disapproving expression. The creature held a staff which looked similar to what I was told the Staff of Magnus looked like, making my next move abundantly clear. Again, it was either it or me.

The battle was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The staff the creature held shot lightning magicka at me, but it was more draining than it was damaging. Had I been a mage from the College I would likely have been slaughtered, but I have not relied on spells in hundreds of years. Once I managed to corner the rotting thing it fell to my blade, screeching as its body dissolved into dust. Only the mask and the staff remained, so I took both with me and tried the door at the far end of the chamber.

It opened and I took a moment to rummage through an ancient chest sitting nearby. To my delight I found a Glass-backed bow, instantly dispelling any desire I had to continue using my crossbow.

As I exited the chamber I found myself being stared at by the spirit of Savos Aren. Ruefully staring through me at the door, he admitted to the trapped students that he was ashamed that he tricked the group into Labyrinthian, but that it was the only way to keep the Dragon Priest, Morokei, imprisoned. At last the voice had a name...and a title: Dragon Priest. Something to research later.

Rather anticlimactic was the arrival of a Thalmor agent as I was making my way towards what I hoped would be the exit.
After fighting a presumably undead priest of great power from ages ago, a sniveling Thalmor agent was far below the level I was prepared to handle. It really is not even worth writing about.
He had descended, appropriately, into an old midden behind the little chamber where he met his death. A wooden ladder led outside atop a small tower. The sky was clear and I estimated that it was just about midnight. Another all-day adventure under the ground.

Dismal Morthal held the closest inn, but I wanted to investigate the giant dome before leaving. I had a hunch it sat directly over the re-deceased dragon below. Sure enough, the inside hosted an altar dedicated towards dragons, the centerpiece being a large stone dragon's head. It was cracked and gradually falling off the altar and there were stone hoods set alongside either side of it, some of them missing.
Another decapitated skeleton completed the grim picture of the place. A wooden mask very similar to the metal one I won from the Dragon Priest lay next to it and a tattered journal nearby chronicled the complaints of a mercenary hired by whomever it had been to escort him or her to Labyrinthian. The journal states that the person placed the wooden mask on their face in front of the altar...then disappeared completely. Twice this was done before the person failed to return promptly and the writer swore he was leaving soon. Whether the mask wearer was killed by the mercenary or a troll, who knows?

I am sure if I had put the wooden mask on I would have found out where the person had been going, but I was in no state to make another trip. That will have to wait for another day.

The walk to Morthal was short and uneventful, which I am very thankful for. The room at the inn cost me ten Septims, though I think I would have been willing to pay one thousand given the events of the day. Tomorrow I will return to the College, if it is still standing, and cast the Thalmor "advisor" into the sea.