Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Skyrim Day 033 - Learning the Words

17 Heartfire, 4E201

With no room available at Riverwood I had two choices: sleep at a table or leave. No stranger to sleepless nights, I chose to leave on a small errand I otherwise would not have had time to attend to.

This errand involved the retrieval of Kharjo's 'Moon Amulet' which he suspected had made its way to a poachers' hideaway the locals called 'Halted Stream Camp'. I have already been there once before on a job for Proventus Avenicci to clear the camp of bandits and was not surprised to find that others had taken up residence there since then.

Fighting mere bandits hardly merits description any longer. Compared to the powerful Draugr I have been facing I could have cleared the poachers with my eyes closed. As it turned out I eliminated all of them while barely being seen: the cheap Illusion spell I purchased at the College a while ago was sufficient to drive them individually mad, attacking friend and foe alike. As there were only "friends" about them the camp quickly collapsed into chaos. I wound up finishing off the weakened sole survivor with my dagger. I found the amulet, a simple silver pendant, in a chest inside the camp's cavern. 

Tracking down Kharjo's caravan would prove only slightly more difficult. As luck would have it I ran into a Whiterun guardsman on the road near the poachers and he told me that the caravan had left Whiterun that morning towards Dawnstar. So after my too-brief journey to the warmer parts of Skyrim I found myself surrounded by snow and ice once again.
Kharjo was lavish in his reward and gratitude, handing me a pouch of one thousand Septims and assuring me he was available to fight at my side should I ever need a Khajiit warrior. He would likely be less grating on the nerves than J'zargo, though perhaps not as unintentionally amusing.

I sold some excess equipment to the merchant Ahkari and wished them luck along the road. My next destination was the Shrine of Azura to return the broken artifact, but my curiosity got the better of me before I arrived there.

Skyrim boasts many methods from which the lives of the adventurous and the foolish can be taken: scalded to death or shot full of Falmer arrows in Dwemer ruins, hacked to pieces by Draugr in the burial barrows and ancient Nordic halls, robbed and murdered by bandits along the roads, or made a meal of by vampires in the cities. None of those particularly appeal to me, but as I passed a Nordic ruin it occurred to me that I have never seen the inside of one before.

I am not sure what I was expecting, but it turns out that the small ruins that litter the province are very similar to 'Bleak Falls' barrow, only less in scale. The bandits outside of the ruin I chose to investigate did me the honor of attempting to strike first, but a quick Illusion spell had them fighting one another as I walked by.
They were the lucky ones. Even just inside the ruin two bandits had met a bloody demise, likely at the undead hands of Draugr. The illicit expedition to claim this ruin for their own must have been a sizable one, else multiple groups made the same attempt, for I counted at least two dozen bodies throughout the place. 

Why they died was no mystery after I encountered one of the strong, magicka-shouting Draugr guarding a small portcullis.
I would have had a tougher time of it if the ancient architects had not placed two spring-loaded gates just before the creature. It was a simple matter to lure the mindless guard in front of the traps, then cheerfully send it on its way across the room in pieces.

A rather grim decoration lay beyond the gate: a skeleton with a story to share.
The story was titled 'Thief', so I can only imagine what prompted the man to lose both his head and his hands.

My final battle was in a large chamber dominated by, once again, a stone dragon's head surrounded by ancient Nordic script. And a fire trap. And a dead bandit. And a very powerful Draugr, who ultimately succumbed to the fire trap.
The Draugr had an Ebony single-handed battle axe, but I suspect the real treasure of the ruin was supposed to be the ancient word which agonizingly burned itself into my mind when I stupidly approached the dragon carving. This word was 'Zun', meaning 'weapon', though I still fail to see the point of the whole thing. Was there no other way for Nordic children to accomplish their schooling than this?

Though the ruin probably took me no more than two hours, it felt like a very long day when I finally sighted Azura's shrine in the distance. More immediately, I witnessed a battle on the road between bandits and Imperial soldiers, the latter whom prevailed due to their crossbows.
Aranea was somberly pleased to see me return and demanded the return of Azura's Star immediately. I saw no reason to argue and relieved myself of that burden, or so I thought. After a few moments of silent contemplation Aranea announced that Azura herself wanted to speak with me, her 'champion'. The irony was not lost on me and I really do not think Azura has forgotten that our paths have crossed before.

Azura's new request was a strange one: I needed to actually go inside the Star and purge it of Malyn Varen's trapped soul. The thought of being inside something that entry was usually made by being trapped into it made me uneasy, but Azura assured me that she would pull me out once Malyn was dead. I had no choice but to agree.

The inside of Azura's Star is very blue and seemingly built out of crystals. When I arrived inside the star I was standing on a floating platform of crystal tiles which stretched forward and around larger floating crystals. Malyn was right in front of me, wasting no time in gleefully gloating of having another soul to experiment on. In this I had to correct him and he ran off, summoning Dremora to cover his retreat.

The Dremora flung powerful fire magicka, but had no room to maneuver. Most I simply pushed off of the platform, a few died to hurried thrusts of my dagger. Malyn made his stand in what could be considered a courtyard and died not to me, but to a Storm Atronach I summoned via a scroll I picked up somewhere. Anti-climatic, but effective. Azura was true to her word and I felt myself withdrawing from the star as the crystals started to explode.

Once back outside Azura gifted me the revived artifact and sent me on my way. Aranea was also dismissed, an upsetting turn of events for the woman who dedicated her life to the Daedric Prince. Evidently she had nothing else to do and like Kharjo offered to join me on my travels. She said she would remain at the shrine to tend to the grounds otherwise. I had no need of a companion, so she returned to her janitorial duties and I started the walk back to Winterhold, a destination I am rapidly tiring of.
The short trip offered no further excitement and I spent an hour or so in my quarters experimenting with the enchanting table. As expected I am a very poor enchanter, but with an artifact such as this there is a great opportunity for improvement. Time will tell.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Skyrim Day 032 - The Golden Claw

16 Heartfire, 4E201

Having fought within the barrow unlocked by one dragon claw, I woke this morning with the intention of finally securing the poor merchant's "golden" dragon claw heirloom. After all, it has only been a month or so since I have been asked of it and I am sure Lucan is a patient man.

There was really no reason not to do this. I have already found what Birna's dragon claw unlocked: the resting place of a powerful warrior who still had some fight in him. My thinking was that if Lucan's "golden" (really doubt it is actual gold!) claw also led to a powerful spirit then one could discount dragons and Stormcloaks as being involved at all, as was my original suspicion. Besides, the walk back to Azura's shrine from Falkreath placed me as passing through Riverwood anyway.

Before leaving Falkreath I spent some time with Lod, the Smith who sent me on that stupid journey with Clavicus Vile's dog. Fortunately Lod had no more tasks for me and for a handful of Septims I paid for the brief use of his forge. An hour later I had a decent enough leather breastplate and bracers which I complemented with a pair of enchanted leather boots I had found in the Barrow. The outfit is more restrictive than my robes, but I consider the additional protection to be well worth it.

I came upon two wooden watchtowers built alongside the road which bandits were using to extort travelers, but I was able to simply run right past them, arrows clattering against the cobblestones as I fled. There was no time to handle them in any other way, for I am very tired of catching only a few hours of poor sleep at a time.

Lucan thought the claw was taken to 'Bleak Falls' barrow, a massive Nordic ruin that I believe once served as the only resting place for the Nords in Skyrim before barrows started to become more local to the settlements. I passed a ruined stone tower on my way through Riverwood to 'Bleak Falls' and was able to completely sneak by the bandits and arrive at the barrow without raising an alarm.
The size of the exterior prevented the bandits from effectively patrolling the area and I surprised myself by also sneaking by them and letting myself in with no one the wiser.
The bandits' concern for their comrades was evident in the chewed dead body surrounded by skeevers. No more than twenty feet away from the corpse were two bandits causally chatting about another of their number who had ventured deeper into the barrow while in possession of "the claw". They were dismissive of the man and the claw, hoping that his duplicity would be the end of him. With that they both turned their attention to the pot cooking over the fire. Once again, I passed unnoticed and crept down the stairs behind them. My goal was to find this ambitious thief and the claw, not clear the barrow of bandits.

An unseen man started to shout at me as I descended into the barrow, naming several of the bandits and apologizing for stealing the claw. He revealed that he was in trouble and pleaded with me, whom he thought was one of the bandits, to rescue him. I found the man, a Dunmer, hung in an archway in a spider's web. A very large spider's web.
It was likely the bandit's first encounter with a giant spider, but not mine. Even with the short reach of my dagger I was able to keep the creature at bay and wear it down with strikes to its mouth and eyes.

Once the spider was disposed of I approached the unfortunate thief who introduced himself as 'Arvel the Swift' despite still being stuck in the web. I told him he would go free in exchange for the claw he stole, but he cleverly pointed out that I could not get the claw until he was cut down. I knew he would run away as soon as his feet touched the ground, but a barrow is not a place to be running about.

As I suspected, he ran off while laughing at my stupidity. I let him run ahead and predictably heard his scream amid the screeching of metal a few minutes later. The fool had stepped on a trapped stone, triggering a fence of spikes which tore into his body and flung him into the wall.

Arvel the Swift's noisy demise was enough to wake the resting Draugr nearby and I soon found myself under assault from all sides...which was a perfect opportunity to use the last of J'zargo's scrolls. It took a bit of searching but I was able to recover the golden claw. I could have left the barrow then and returned it to Lucan, but I wanted to see what the claw unlocked.

The claw unlocked a door almost exactly the same as the other: a large stone door with three discs surrounding a plate perforated with three small holes.
The underside of the claw showed the correct pattern to be Bear, Insect, then Owl and the door slid open with a terrible grinding, some settling having occurred over the centuries. I prepared myself for a tough fight and walked into the final chamber of 'Bleak Falls' barrow.
It was far more ornate than the previous barrow. There was a coffin facing a large stylized effigy of a dragon's head around which ancient runes had been carved. There seemed to be no Draugr about, so I stopped to look at the dragon carving first. As I gazed at the unreadable runes a set of them seemed to glow, then suddenly I suffered a tremendous pain in my head. I fell to my knees, but the pain was only for a moment. As it faded, I realized I could read the formerly glowing runes, 'Fus'. That was it. I do not even know what 'Fus' means. The rest of the runes were still undecipherable to me.

The grinding of the coffin's stone lid alerted me to the barrow's guardian, a Draugr wielding an ancient two-handed sword and wearing some equally ancient armor.
I expected that this Draugr would have the ability to 'shout' the weapon right out of my hands, but this one did not. Rather than yelling at me he simply relied on good equipment used very skillfully, plus a body that could take far more punishment than mine, even with Dagoth Ur's little gift.

Draugr make for great soldiers: they are tough, somewhat skilled, and show no hesitation or fatigue during battle. Unfortunately for them, they also show no ability to think. Had I been matched with a living opponent equipped and skilled similarly I would have been hard-pressed. But the Draugr had only one trick: rush at me while taking tremendous swings of his blade. Any one of his strikes would have lopped my head off, but that required one connecting with my body first.
My dagger was eventually enough to sever the magicka animating the poor man's remains, but it was a battle against Chance the whole way through. It occurred to me that I really could have used the ghostly blade I left at the College and the large chest next to the Draugr's coffin helpfully gifted me a glass long blade to match my dagger. I will not be able to sneak up to foes while wielding it, but for times when stealth is not an option I do believe I shall be glad to have it.

Also in the chest was a stone tablet engraved with the same dragon's head that the runes were carved around and I took that with me as well, I figure if it was guarded so well then it must be valuable to someone, somewhere.
As always it was night when I exited my latest adventuring site, but this time I had the luxury of being a short walk away from an Inn...or so I thought. I was right in thinking the walk back to Riverwood would be short, but when I arrived at the Inn I was told the innkeeper had gone out on important business and would not be returning for several days. Legally the man left to take care of the inn could not rent me a room, so he gruffly suggested I just lay my head on one of the rough-hewn tables in the common area.

It seemed I had no choice, but I visited Lucan and his sister and their general store before returning to the comfort of a table. Lucan was amazed to see the claw again and happily gave me four pouches of coins, eight-hundred Septims in all. I promised to visit him again in the morning for purchases and returned to the Sleeping Giant Inn to claim my part of a table.

The joke that I have slept in worse places is getting very old now, but I must say I cannot remember the last time I was forced to sleep sitting at a table. This is a new one and of course, very uncomfortable.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Skyrim Day 031 - Azura's Fallen Star

16 Heartfire, 4E201

My night spent on the wrecked ship amid splatters of frozen blood was not a pleasant one and I do not thing I actually slept at all. I thought I would walk back to the College to thaw out my limbs and spend the rest of the day practicing my Illusion spells. While walking back to the College, why not stop by the very large shrine to Azura? Why not indeed.
From what I remember hearing the statue was built by Dunmer migrants fleeing the destruction of Vvardenfell. The statue was a sign of their gratitude for Azura having guided them safely out of the broken province of Morrowind. I cannot quite see how Azura helped them at all really, perhaps stopping the destruction of the city of Vivec might have been more helpful, but who am I to judge a Daedric Prince?

I remember Azura being prominent during my rise to Nerevarine, but so much time has passed that I actually remember very little of my time on Vvardenfell. Fragments of memories mostly...fighting a Ash Vampire beneath a volcano, a few hazy memories of a small fortified outpost gifted to me by the now-extinct House Redoran, the damp fishing village that I spent my first nights at, things like that. I barely remember Dagoth Ur, Vivec, or Almalexia. I spent some time on Solstheim, but I do not think I accomplished much there.

The shrine was larger than I thought, most of it consisting of a foundation with a small campsite laid on top of it. The camp belonged to a worshiper named 'Aranea Ienith' who lived her life literally at Azura's feet, Aranea kept the shrine and surrounding area clean and tidy while occasionally fighting off wolves and bears. She had her back turned to me as I stepped in front of the altar, but turned quickly, declaring that, at last, Azura's champion had come.

To say I was a bit taken aback by this remark would be understating it, for I thought she was referring to my time as the Nerevarine. Dunmer generally live long and I have no doubt that there are a few alive today that were alive at the fall of Dagoth Ur hundreds of years ago. Aranea continued on and I realized that she spoke of me as someone who would be declared champion following a task done for Azura. I suspect anyone else could have walked up those steps and had that dropped on their shoulders.

I agreed to the task, feeling that I may as well for old time's sake, as they say. The job was predictable: fetch an artifact of Azura's, the infamous 'Azura's Star' soul gem, and bring it back to the shrine. Aranea said that Azura told her that there was a mage in Winterhold that could direct me to the artifact and bid me good luck. Once again I was doing Azura's bidding, but there are worse Princes to associate with than the Lady of Twilight.

Winterhold was very close to the shrine, so I had some sunlight to make use of yet. I thought to wander around in an effort to locate another Dwemer ruin and much to my surprise I found a Falmer hut on the surface next to a pit lined with Dwemer stonework, somewhat to the west of Azura's shrine.
The expedition was a complete failure. Save for an interesting star-studded ceiling in the final chamber, the ruin contained no cogwheels and too much Falmer, the latter of which I did my best to rectify.
After wasting several hours there I ascended back to the surface and made my way to Winterhold for Azura's mage, the Altmer 'Nelacar'. I found him in the local inn, not the College, drinking in a private room while grumbling to himself. When I approached him about Azura's Star he denied any and all involvement until I told him that Azura herself had marked him. Then he was very eager to cooperate.

Nelacar had not taken the Star, but he knew who had: a former College instructor named 'Malyn Varen'. Sick and dying, he had started experimenting with the Star in an effort to prolong his life, but his work resulted in the death of a student and he was banished from Winterhold entirely. Malyn left with a few loyal students and took up residence in an old Imperial fortress north of Falkreath, a not-delightfully long walk from Winterhold.

I will admit that it was nice to be in the relatively warm southern region of Skyrim again, though it was close to midnight before I was even close to the ruined fort. The former Fort Ilinalta sits along the shore of Lake Ilinalta, collapsed and slowly sliding into the water. This makes it an ideal location for nefarious deeds, but it is anyone's guess as to how much longer it can remain serviceable for any use.
The entrance to the fort was gained via a trapdoor atop the keep and a grisly sight awaited me: a skeleton tied to a cross, evidently the unwilling subject of Malyn's experiments.
Necromancers are quickly becoming my favorite enemy, they are not particularly bright fighters and rely far too heavily on their undead to handle the messy details. With two of J'zargo's botched flame scrolls in my robes they had no chance at all. I think one of the necromancers died from bone splinters flying about following the destruction of several skeletons via explosive fire from Winterhold. The others mostly succumbed to slit throats or perforated lungs, their undead servants being very poor at spotting and warning of an increasingly sneaky Khajiit.

One of them had a rare Black soul gem which I smashed into very small pieces. Living for as long as I have has given me a good deal of tolerance for the questionable behavior of others, but trapping the souls of other people is unforgivable.

I found Malyn in a chamber full of skeletons, blood, and wet strands of flesh sticking to nearly every surface. It was as if a group of people had  huddled together before exploding all at once. The smell was indescribable.
The late College instructor was busy penning a novella before his flesh graced the walls, the title arrogantly described his achievement as victory over Daedra by a "Master Enchanter". Inside he crowed that he had achieved immortality, a two-edged blessing at best, as I would certainly know. Azura's Star lay at his skeletal feet, but it was cracked and dull. Aranea may know how to repair it.

The warm night air came as a welcome relief from the damp of the ruin and the road to Falkreath was devoid of thieves, wolves, and assassins. Once again I reached a bed just as everyone around me was reaching breakfast, I just hope I do not sleep the entire day away.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Skyrim Day 030 - Battle Within the Barrow

14 Heartfire, 4E201
A Shipwreck

Following a deeply unsatisfying rest at my quarters I stumbled out of bed and threw the robes of my new office back on. I still had to find two more Dwemer cogwheels, but I could not bring myself to search out another ruin and descend into the steam and Falmer that no doubt would be awaiting me.

Instead I chose to leave the College to its own machinations today and interrupted Birna's dinner to pick up the ornamental dragon claw I purchased several days ago. Its origin, Yngol's Barrow, was east of Windhelm on the opposite side of the river. I hoped that whatever mysteries the claw's three coins unlocked would help me understand what I would be facing when I retrieved the golden dragon claw for that shopkeeper I spoke with almost a month ago.

So it was back into the cold and the ice as the College was finishing their collective dinner. No one had taken notice of my late arrival and my subsequent departure garnered just as much attention. I suspect if half of the College slides into the sea I shall have to distribute a notice informing everyone. And there are those here that think they can accompany me, which is even more frightening.

The thieves and Dark Brotherhood assassins were apparently also away eating their dinners and I managed to walk from the College to the back of Windhelm without being troubled by anything other than the onset of the night. 

Yngol's Barrow was just another cavern dug along the shore of the river, with a small altar built out of loose stone and a metal bowl.
On the altar was a small book titled 'Yngol and the Sea-Ghosts'. Risking death by exposure, It would not be the first time an ancient Nordic book provided clues to a problem nearby. I did not understand the story, it sounded like it was incomplete. The book briefly spoke of an expedition that landed on the shores of Skyrim during a storm, with the loss of several boats, including one of Yngol's.  A Nord named 'Ysgramor' took a boat back into the storm to fetch Yngol and the lost ships, but he was unsuccessful: the ships were found the next day along the shore, broken and devoid of life, one evidently containing the corpse of Yngol. Ysgramor sacrificed animals for Yngol's spirit and built the barrow to house his body and I suppose simply moved on after that.

Short as it was, the story did provide a bit of a clue as to the dragon's claw. The events in the story must have taken place prior to the founding of Skyrim, yet the ancient barrow was secured in some way with the claw and its three animal motifs set into the base. Perhaps the golden claw would also open a barrow, but I do not know what the Stormcloaks would require that for.

I was alarmed to find that as I proceeded deeper into the Barrow I was being followed by an increasing amount of bouncing blue lights. If I stopped moving they would bounce and slide some ways ahead, then seem to wait for me to catch up. The effect was rather like having someone constantly two steps behind you which, in a tomb devoid of life, was not welcome.
The ice gradually gave way to finished stone and I eventually found what I guess was the entrance to the actual barrow. I was not surprised to find that there was a corpse, frozen solid, in front of the barrow's gate.
Helpfully, the dead person was keeping a journal before he expired. The journal spelled out the animal-column combination required to open the gate, but the unidentified scholar had decided to operate the gate's lever prior to setting the columns, sending dozens of steel darts into his body. Not very smart.

Beyond the gate lay...not much really. There was a stone bridge lined by ancient candles that I thought was a nice touch. The candle-lit bridge led to a small memorial marked with a two-handed Elven greatsword that I had no use for.
The dragon claw came into its own in front of a massive iron door into which three stone discs were set. In the center of the discs was a carving with three holes in it, one for each of the toes of the claw. My escorts, the bouncing blue lights, were very excited about the door and were seemingly able to pass through it without any trouble.
Using the steel coins set into the underside of the claw, I spun the stone discs to line up their animal symbols in the same order as the claw's. Unsure of what to do next, I pressed the claw into the door, causing the carving to depress into the door which released a counterweight somewhere which pulled the door apart.

Whatever the blue lights were they instantly sped into the chamber beyond and started circling around a hazy shadow in the middle of the room.
The shadow gradually came into focus as an armored Draugr with a long, thin blade, unusual weaponry for a Nord. What followed was a dance: me dodging behind pillars and striking with my dagger when I could, it stomping towards me while swinging its blade. Twice it used some sort of spell that it seemed to yell at me, causing a blast of wind to strike me and carry the dagger out of my hands. 

Scurrying after your weapon while being attacked by the angry spirit of an ancient Nordic warrior is not a fun time.

Eventually the spirit collapsed, yielding its blade to me, the victor. It is an ancient, but still serviceable, Ebony long blade, a weapon I will certainly be keeping with me. My other long blade, the ghostly one I received from the two friendlier spirits of Fjori and Holgeir, is difficult for me to wield, as I keep expecting to swing something with weight behind it. I will likely leave it in the Arch-Mage's quarters at the College.
Yngol's skeleton remained seated upon its throne even after our battle and I saw no reason to disturb its stately rest, even if his spirit did try to kill me. Perhaps that is where the blue lights came from. I shall never know. The barrow also shed little light on the golden dragon claw I have yet to retrieve.

A partially-collapsed staircase led to a trapdoor that opened along the coastline. The moon revealed the wreck of a trading ship which I thought would serve as a place to spend the night instead of walking back to the College in the dark, again.
Unfortunately I was not the only one with this idea. The bandits were poorly organized, lacked any sort of cohesion, and after I killed their leader while he slept, tried to pile through the narrow doorway all at once, allowing me to wield my weapon with practically no opposition.
A dead fisherwoman lay in a cage nearby, confirming my belief that killing them meant only good things for everyone else around. I pushed all their corpses into the sea, flipped the leader's bedroll around, and am not looking forward to a very cold night. I would say I have slept in worse places, but I am beginning to set a pattern of increasingly poor evenings. I need to find my way back to the south, I am growing very tired of snow and ice.