Friday, July 29, 2016

Skyrim Day 041 - The One-Khajiit Siege

25 Heartfire, 4E201
Ruined Fortress

With nothing pressing to attend to this morning I awoke much later in the morning than usual, enjoyed a full breakfast at a leisurely pace, and spent the remainder of the morning at Warmaiden's alternately buying and working pieces of leather in an effort to become more skilled at my own armor-smithing.

It would have been considerably more kind for Ulfberth or Adrianne to have prevented me from wasting my coins. My previous set of leather armor was also self-crafted and could be best described as 'servicable', with a greater concern placed upon making too much noise over providing protection for its wearer. Since I have been sneaking about far more often these days I thought I could design something more protective.

I simply wound up with a 'servicable' set of leathers not much different than the first set which was destroyed in the process of creating the second. When I had finished wasting my time it after noon and I gave up, selling my second set to Adrianne and purchasing a third set of leather armor, this one made by someone directing its creation via skill rather than hope.

My list of small tasks placed a journal of Runil from Falkrath's at a bandit encampment south of Helgen called 'Southfringe Sanctum'. According to my logbook, I had promised Runil that I would venture forth and bravely retrieve his journal for him, though I apparently made no note of the reward or he made no mention of it. Still, I had given my word, so after a good lunch at the Bannered Mare I left Whiterun and walked through Riverwood towards the ruin of Helgen.

More bandits have occupied Helgen's remains, but I was able to sneak through the ruin without any of them noticing me. The road beyond leading back towards the Pale Pass was seemingly abandoned by both men and animal alike. However, when I came to a split of the road I found myself facing a massive fortress in what appeared to be good condition.
It was starting to get dark, so I figured my choice was a night at the fortress or a night in a damp cave. Granted, the cave would likely not have as many enemies inside of it, but the fortress would certainly have a fireplace, so the choice was an easy one.

So was the combat. As I had guessed the fortress was overrun by bandits, but they had grown complacent. I found most of them sitting in separate rooms, having a meal, there were none on watch, and only one, an Orsimer, was even holding a weapon as they died and the Orsimer still died unawares, too focused on bashing a dummy to notice the Khajiit behind him.

Even the purported "leader" of this sad group went without a fight, but the journal she had on her person made me feel as though it was a fitting fate. According to her writing, the bandits had ambushed the Imperial Legion garrison soon after the destruction of Helgen. Cut off from reinforcements, they fought a fighting retreat into the keep and eventually room-by-room before they were overwhelmed. The eulogy ended with the excitement of having found a library under the fort and with it the hope for artifacts and wealth. A key on her belt was said to be for the library. The last she wrote was that she had sent her rogue mage down there to evaluate what could be found.

This was odd, as I found the door to the library to be locked. Perhaps the mage did not appreciate interruptions. He appreciated mine even less: an arrow to the chest. I found nothing in the library worth much of anything.

After dragging the former bandit leader's corpse out of the room I have barred it, lit the fireplace, and am enjoying a light dinner, courtesy of several bandits who did not finish theirs. It is a very short walk to Runil's journal, so I anticipate I shall be sleeping in Falkreath tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Skyrim Day 040 - Pleasantly Uncomplicated

24 Heartfire, 4E201
The Bannered Mare

Having been made aware of my forgetfulness surrounding the 'Bleak Falls' business I wasted no time with breakfast this morning, instead grabbing a roll on my way out of the College on yet another urgent task. The court mage of Whiterun, Farengar Secret-Fire, had been waiting for the barrow's stone tablet for well over a month now. I would not think this any more urgent than any one of the other requests I have received except for the suspicion that the tablet may shed some light on a few mysteries I have unearthed.

To my surprise I have absolutely nothing to write about my walk from the College all the way to Whiterun. No assassins, no wolves, nothing. It is a pleasant change from the usual schedule of my life and made for a quick trip, arriving at Whiterun just as the afternoon began. 
The Jarl's palace in Whiterun, the ominously named 'Dragonsreach', is situated at the very top of the hillside Whiterun is built upon, making it a very defensible stronghold. It also makes it quite an ordeal to arrive at. The town is built to the contours of the land it sits on and the path from the town's gate to Dragonsreach required far more steps than I liked.

Jarl Balgruuf was not in attendance this afternoon, but his steward, Proventus Avenicci, was busy worrying about something and distractedly pointed me to the side room that served as Farengar's workshop. The court mage was there, as well as a cloaked and hooded woman who was demanding to know of what progress he had made in deciphering the unfortunate event at Helgen.
What the woman said was interesting: that dragons have come back. Not that a dragon has come back, but dragons. Multiple dragons. I have not seen the one since the attack on the Imperials at Helgen, but perhaps each province of the (former) Empire is suffering from similar attacks. Yet after the destruction of Helgen Skyrim's dragon has not made an appearence. I have certainly witnessed what may be the after-effects of a dragon's attack, but the smoldering carts and dead travelers may just as well have been Fire Atronachs or rogue mages under the employ of bandits.

The woman's knowledge about dragons was evidently not for Khajiit wandering in, for she brought my presence to the Farengar's attention and excused herself from the room. The court mage greeted me by making the observation that I had not died in the barrow and asked after that stone tablet that was said to be there.

He appeared to disapprove of me dumping my travel pack all over his table, but that was the only was I was going to remove the tablet. Handing it to him was like handing a child the most delicious piece of candy in the city, but he quickly composed himself and directed me to the Jarl so that I might receive my reward. As the Jarl was not in attendance, neither was my reward. He asked that I not travel far in case he had additional work for me, but I suspect he will be too busy with the tablet.

With nothing pressing to do I consulted my second, smaller journal which I got in the habit of keeping when I was toying with the idea of becoming a trader...a hundred years ago or so. I wandered around aimlessly, writing down the prices for things in hope that eventually I would come across a profitable connection no one else had noticed. It was not a productive time in my life.

Now though I keep a second journal of mostly work, small tasks. It was more useful when I was a bodyguard, but even now I have been collecting a list of odd jobs to help fill in my days, as if I needed help with that.

One of the tasks was to retrieve a sword for one 'Amren - Redguard - Whiterun'. My notes stated that Amren managed to find out where his sword had been stolen to: Redoran's Retreat, a historically named bandit's hideout that likely had nothing to do with the Great House at all. The Retreat was just a former mine and located close to Whiterun to the west along the road, just north of the ruined fortress.
Amren could have probably retrieved his sword on his own, if his wife would have allowed it. Redoran's Retreat boasted a whole three bandits, plus one dog. What I assumed to be Amren's heirloom was an ordinary-looking iron blade engraved with a name, but I could not read it through the rust.

It was evening when I left the cave and Amren's family was just settling down to dinner when I knocked on their door. He was surprised to see me, having thought that I either forgot his request or simply decided it was not worth my time. Amren's exclaimed how wonderful it was to have the sword back again and his wife, whose name I do not believe I have heard, dryly replied that it could hang next to all the other weapons he never uses anymore. He pressed some coins into my hand, his daughter thanked me, and I left them to their meal.

Next on my list was 'Runil - Altmer - Falkreath' for a misplaced journal in a cave system named 'Southfringe Sanctum' almost directly south of Helgen. As it was already night I took a room at the Bannered Mare and may visit the sanctum tomorrow. 

These minor tasks are a marked contrast to the reality-warping emergency I dealt with at the College, but at least I can use this time to relax a bit, study, and work on my equipment. You never know what tomorrow may bring and it always pays to be prepared.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Skyrim Day 039 - A Courier Day

23 Heartfire, 4E201
Winterhold College

I slept much better in the former bandit chief's blood-spattered room than I did in the half-ruined tower the night before, but still woke early and was on my way to the last of the 'Convector' devices as the sun began to rise. The weather was hazy and, being close to the springs, quite warm.
The last of Arniel's 'Convectors' was almost directly due west of the fortress I had emptied of the living the night before. Expecting another Dwemer ruin I was pleased to see that I had arrived at a small shrine built amidst a small collection of Dwemer debris. In one of the debris piles I unearthed the 'Convector' and baked the gem inside of it, as I had done twice yesterday.
Returning to Winterhold via the road would have taken me most of the afternoon. Instead I chose to climb over the hills north of Riften so that I could cut through the hot springs all the while heading in a direct line towards the College. Besides, I have never before been atop the hills near Riften and only really explored the hot springs once before on my quest for Eldergleam's restorative sap.

My seemingly impulsive decision quickly granted me the contemplative gift of a small pond overlooking the northern half of the province. Due to the morning's haze I could not see very far, but it was an oddly peaceful experience nonetheless.
The sulfur springs were an entirely different set of experiences. The heat and humidity hanging over them produced a suffocating sensation of trying to breathe water as I made my way through the area, a task difficult and tiring enough without being attacked twice.

Before I was twice-ambushed I found one of the ancient 'Standing Stones' the ancient Nords enchanted to better communicate with their ancestors...or something like that. This one was carved with the Atronach constellation and I left it alone, at least for now.
The first ambush occurred because I recognized a familiar shape some ways away from the Standing Stone.
The carved stone rising from the hill looked very similar to the wall I found guarded by mages while on my way to reverse another one of Enthir's regrettable business transactions two days ago. A crippling headache always accompanied my involvement with the things, but I felt drawn to it anyway.

Finding a way up the hill was an adventure by itself by eventually I managed to clamber over some boulders and up to the plateau. Bones, both of men and animals, littered the area and it was not much of a surprise when the only coffins present each disgorged a skeletal guardian. One was armed with a bow, the other two a simple iron axe and it took only a single swipe of my axe to disperse the magicka holding them together. It was then just me and carved dragon's head on the wall.
As I approached a portion of the runes began to glow. Rather than try to get away from them as I have previously been doing, I closed my eyes, relaxed, and walked closer. There was a slight sensation in my head that is difficult to describe and I suddenly knew how the word for 'Frost', which is spoken as 'Fo'. There was no pain either immediate or lingering, a curious difference likely related to my approach. While I still have no idea as to what purpose these walls serve or what dragons have to do with them, it is reassuring to know that an encounter with them is no guarantee of pain thereafter.

I was ambushed a second time as I was on my way out of the springs, but this one was far stupider and less rewarding. My walking took me to an altar upon which two Draugr had been laid and I paid it little mind, assuming it was from a mage's experiment gone either wrong or not at all. To my surprise two mages suddenly popped out of their Invisibility magicka in front of me, flinging ice and fire. 

I guess I looked like a wealthy mark of some sort, but they were not prepared to defend themselves against dagger and axe.
My walk from the altar all the way to Windhelm passed without incident, though the weather quickly changed from hot and humid to windy and cold in a startlingly short amount of time. When I arrived outside of the city the wind had blown up a snowstorm that restricted my vision to maybe a dozen paces in front of me.

Given that I was hesitant to proceed to Winterhold via the rougher path east of Windhelm and instead stuck to the road curving around the west of it. A longer walk, but one that would not have me accidentally stepping off the edge of a snow bank and plummeting to the ice thirty feet below.

When I arrived at Winterhold a guard stopped me to inquire about the roads and he mentioned that the Jarl was looking to make a trip to Windhelm. I had not even known there was a Jarl at the ruined town and the guard laughed, telling me that the Jarl felt pretty much the same way.
The Jarl was, understandably, a bitter man. His father was Jarl of a prosperous harbor town and he of a wrecked ship held afloat by the College which he hates. Jarl Korir blames the College for the destruction of Winterhold, but I have heard the mages within the College speculate that the explosion of Red Mountain in Morrowind was responsible. I care not either way. His steward openly asked if I knew anyone who wanted to join the Stormcloaks, so I quickly left before he realized I was not a Nord.

Arniel was surprised to see me back so quickly and escastic over receiving his "cooked" gem. He asked that I not travel far, for he would have additional work for me after experimenting with the gem for a few days. I shrugged and promised him nothing. We parted and as I was leaving the barracks area I heard Enthir and Arniel arguing about the latter's research.

From Phinis I purchased a tome for a soul-trapping spell so that I might start to experiment with Azura's Star and he told me that Urag was asking everyone to tell me to stop at the Arcanaeum as soon as I was in the College. I mounted the staircase with some trepedition, but the gruff Orsimer only wanted to present me with the translations from 'Shalidor's Insights' in the form of three scrolls that he said would prove very instructional in regards to the use of Conjuration magicka...which I do not use.

He also said that Tolfdir left a message of his own with him: the stone plaque from 'Bleak Falls' barrow would likely be of interest to the court mage of Whiterun: 'Farengar Secret-Fire'.

The reminder made me feel very stupid. I had met the court mage roughly a month ago when I first visited Whiterun and he had even asked me to retrieve a stone tablet from within 'Bleak Falls' barrow. Here I have been carrying it with me this whole time when I was already told where to bring it. At least I will be rid of it soon. Reading that day's entry now I seem to have thought then that the Stormcloaks were within the barrow trying to unlock the secret to summoning more Dragons.

I do not believe that is their strategy now. Too much has occurred in relation to Dragons for their awakening to simply be the side effect of the rebellion. The Dragon Priest whose mask I took, the walls which blast words into my head, and the complete lack of Dragons since the attack on Helgen makes me feel as though there is a puzzle here whose pieces are mostly still missing. I learn one thing and uncover three more mysteries at the same time. This will make sense eventually, but not today and probably not tomorrow either.

At least this is one of the few nights I am not either freezing to death or falling asleep well after midnight. It is just after dinner, I have eaten, and am very much looking forward to a long, pleasant sleep in a warm bed. Tomorrow I will visit Whiterun to drop off the stone, then perhaps north to Solitude or even east to Riften, if I feel like having all of my possessions stolen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Skyrim Day 038 - No Rest For the Weary

23 Heartfire, 4E201

I napped rather than slept in the near-frozen bedroll, but it was enough to quiet the pain in my head. My goal, as usual, was Winterhold College so that I could deliver another one of Enthir's illict goods. Unable to get much rest I wound up moving out of the towers a little after midnight and was halfway to Winterhold when the sun started to rise.

With the freedom more time had given me I felt at liberty to wander a bit and discovered absolutely nothing of value or use. I stopped at a ruined fortress and slew several hostile necromancers before realizing I was surrounded by the dead bodies of the fort's former garrison: Stormcloaks. It would have been quite a fright to have had one of the necromancers re-animate an unseen body behind me, but I was the unseen body behind them this time, stabbing them in the back or drawing my blade across their throat.

I saw no reason to enter the fort and left the crumpled necromancers in the courtyard as a gift to the next person to step outside for a moment.
Enthir was pleased to have the staff back and exchanged it for a twisted soul gem. I could not see the use for the broken thing and neither could Enthir, but he shrugged and said that is what Arniel had specifically requested.

I found Arniel fretting and pacing in his room, muttering something about heat exchange calculations. Neither understanding this or caring, I interrupted him to present the soul gem I killed a keep's worth of mages for. He immediately pressed it back into my hand and began telling a tale of perseverance and broken dreams.

At least that's how he described it. The "tale" was really an explanation of where ten Dwemer cogs had disappeared to: into a machine he built and designed so that the soul gem would retain Dwemer energies for the final phase of his experiment. The machine exploded, melted, or simply failed to work when he turned it on and he had no patience to build another. Instead I was given a list of Dwemer ruin locations, vague directions on how to find each one, and told to bring the gem to part-magicka, part-mechanical Dwemer devices. With the gem inserted into these machines I was then to cast a specific spell (which he quickly taught me) to siphon the Dwemer machine's energy into the gem.

This ritual need not be completed just once, of course, but three times! The only bright light in this terrible turn of events was that the ruin Mzulft, where I had found the Synod mages from Cyrodiil and used the Dwemer Observatory, had two of these machines, requiring a trip only to one other ruin rather than two.

My head filled with satisfying images of Arniel's experiment concluding to an explosive, fatal end as I agreed to travel to another place I have already been to for the sake of someone else.

Fortunately the ruin was still completely deserted and I easily found the chest-like deviecs Arniel described. They looked like simple boxes with a small lid on the top. Per Arniel's instructions I opened the lid, placed the gem inside the compartment, closed the lid, then used his otherwise-useless flame magicka spell on the whole thing for several seconds. I retrieved the gem which was no different for the process and repeated it for the second device in Mzulft.
The third and final device, the 'Convector', as Arniel calls them, was listed as being near the mining village of 'Shor's Stone' on the road between Windhelm and Riften.

Night fell as I walked into an area of Skyrim I have not seen in probably forty years. When I was last in Skyrim doing odd jobs and being accused of thievery I avoided the southeast, choosing instead to work between Solitude, Whiterun, and Falkreath escorting wagons of lumber and the occasional merchant.

Mindful of the previous night's unsatisfactory sleeping arrangements I put off any thought of finding the third 'Convector' and instead concentrated on a place to sleep that would not have me waking up within a shell of ice and snow.

A lit cooking fire by a watchtower suggested a warm place to rest, but when I arrived I was greeted only by Stormcloak corpses.
A letter inside (with Stormcloak letterhead, no less!) warned of Legion troops heading their way, but either they dismissed the letter or received it too late to make preparations. The battle must have been over quickly, of the five dead soldiers only one had even withdrawn his weapon. Even the two sentries atop the tower died without their bows in hand, suggesting a puzzling lack of concern among the tiny garrison.

The tower also looked over Shor's Stone and I heard the sound of arguing before I sighted the little town. Several miners were seated around a fire, most of them arguing with an older Nord whom I assumed was the overseer or more likely, the oldest miner there.
The Nord introduced himself as 'Filnjar', the village's blacksmith as well as one of the miners. The argument was over a large family of spiders that had infested the mine. Most of the miners wanted to abandon the mine until the local guards took care of it, but Filnjar wanted to pool everyone's money to hire a mercenary or two instead.

I felt that spiders were something I could easily handle and offered my services. He was surprised to hear a Khajiit walking out of the dark offer to assist him with his problem, but agreed very quickly. Filnjar warned me that the mine had a constant red haze floating about, the origin of which no one was quite sure of. I thanked him and walked past a nervous guardsman at the entrance of the mine.
The mine was a lot smaller than I expected and the spiders far fewer. The red haze reminded me of something from long ago and though I wracked my brain trying to remember, I could not. I crept along, bow at the ready and the sensation of a memory just about to emerge playing at my mind. I shot nine spiders, making the mine safe again. I returned to Filnjar and was paid over a thousand Septims, an embarrassing amount for such a simple task.

But all the money in Skyrim could not rent a bedroll that did not exist and I had to leave Shor's Stone still searching for a place to sleep. When I spied the silhouette of a ruined castle hanging over the road I made the decision to sleep there, regardless of who currently occupied it.

It was a lucky night for me and I managed to kill all the rogue mages wandering blind in the castle's courtyard without being noticed, then descended inside and silently eliminated the rest one-by-one. The leader of the little band had an expertly-crafted, engraved steel breastplate that would probably fetch over a thousand Septims...if I felt like carrying it, which I do not.

Having pushed her body out of the room I have barred the former chief's bedroom door and am ready for a good night's sleep on a warm bed in a heated room. Tomorrow I will find the last 'Convector' and return to the College to see if anyone has any clue as to what the stone plaque is supposed to represent. The words I continue to have blasted into my mind also bear mentioning, though to who I am not sure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Skyrim Day 037 - What's Old is New Again

21 Heartfire, 4E201

Can no one do anything for themselves in this province? Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but today I have risked my life for very little, visited a place I have already been to, and am now ending the day in a freezing, broken tower with almost nothing to show for my troubles and discomfort. Meanwhile, the reason I am out here is probably settling down to a nice supper at a comfortable table in a heated hall. I must remember to murder Enthir when I next get the chance.

Before leaving the College this morning I dumped the engraved plaque I had taken from Bleak Falls Barrow and asked Tolfdir to take a look at it, maybe show it around a bit, try to figure out just what the thing actually is. The dragon's head on the plaque closely matches the engravings I have been seeing just before ancient, useless words are burned into my head, but I cannot quite make the connection between the two.

I had not planned on staying at the College today and I happened to run into Arniel as he was heading to breakfast, so I asked him if there was anything else he needed for his experiment. I really should have expected that he did. Unfortunately for me, what he needed could only be acquired through Enthir, my rapidly least-favorite individual at the College.

Enthir could provide what Arniel needed...for a price, of course. I was ready to hand over any number of Septims just to avoid another droll task from the slippery Bosmer, but the cost of his assistance was the retrieval of yet another piece of merchandise he parted with too hastily. The job was no more attractive for the fact that the staff had made its way to Fellglow Keep, the place where the late Orthorn had stolen away to with the College's books and where I was sent two weeks ago to undo that little event. 

Apparently more necromancers had moved in and started delicately sourcing magical items for some sort of ritual. Enthir, never one to turn his nose up at profit, sold one of their number a staff that he was now having seller's remorse over. He asked that I travel to the ruined keep and bring back the staff. The survival of his former customers was not a concern. I also strangled him right then and there. I wish I had.

And so it was back into the hills of north Skyrim. I passed by a wrecked horse-and-cart and its former occupants, all of them frozen solid into the ground.
Continuing along the rough-hewn path I came upon a shrine of some sort built up against the mountainside. There were mages examining the shrine's wall, but when I drew closer one of them shouted and started flinging spells at me.
I was very quickly engaged by four mages and spent a lovely time running and jumping all over the place, firing my bow when I could between the giant icicles and fireballs they threw at me. Eventually the last of them fell into the snow clutching an arrow sticking from his chest and I returned to the shrine to see what it was that interested them.
Unaccustomed to finding the things outside, I realized too late that it was another teaching-wall and before I could get away I had a terrific headache and the knowledge of how to spell "ice" in a language no one else is using. Very useful.

Cursing my luck and curiosity I resolved to waste no further time in getting to Fellglow Keep and immediately broke my own promise. Trudging along the road I heard two people arguing and just had to know what it was they were angry about. Their names were Salma and Beem-Ja, a Redguard and Argonian. They were undecided as to whether they should enter the barrow they were camping in front of, but my arrival emboldened the adventurers and they dove inside, calling for me to follow.
The two of them dealt with the spiders and Draugr that infested the barrow and we soon came upon a rather imposing dome of granite. They paid my warnings no heed and rushed up the stairs and inside what I knew to be the tomb of whomever the barrow had been dug for.
The barrow's owner, a hulking seven-foot armored Draugr, was not pleased to have visitors.
In its bony hand the Draugr wielded an Ebony blade, guaranteed to lop off an arm or a leg with a single blow. Against this and his retinue of skeleton archers I had a brave but rather inexperienced Redguard warrior and an Argonian mage above us. Beem-Ja was actually very helpful, killing the skeleton archers with bolts of lightning before turning his magicka against the Draugr Salma and I were dancing around.

The Draugr fell and Salma re-joined Beem-Ja above the little pit we had been fighting in, but they started arguing almost immediately, so I walked back to them to see what the trouble was after their victory.

Their trouble turned out to be the small matter of Beem-Ja announcing he would kill us both and use our blood to enact a ritual designed to siphon the Draugr's power into his own body. I have no idea why these sort of plans are always boastfully declared beforehand. The Argonian had hardly stopped speaking before my battle-ax cleaved his skull in two, greatly startling Salma. Understandable she was very upset and tearfully made an announcement of her own: a retirement from adventuring and a return to her father's home in High Rock. I wished her well and began to walk past the Draugr's ancient throne, when my head exploded.
I had not even noticed the wall of runes this time. A blast of pain and another word: "Fade", spoken and written in the ancient style. Two words in the same day and I could barely see for the pain lancing through my skull. I stumbled out of the barrow and back outside, the sunlight elevating my headache to new, undiscovered heights.

Fortunately the pain diminished somewhat to a dull hammering by the time I found the road again and when a thief jumped out of the bushes demanding my money I irritably asked him to look at the ax on my belt and reconsider his demand. He fled, wisely.

Fellglow Keep had not changed in the two weeks since I had last seen it and I remembered the layout quite well, enabling me to slay the entire group of wayward mages with not a single alarm or shout. Enthir's staff was in a chest stuffed into an alcove at the back of the ruin. When I exited Fellglow it was already night and I decided to investigate the two towers that spanned the river nearby. If they were still abandoned from the last time I visited I would stay there for the night, saving myself an hour's walk in the dark with my head feeling like it was about to split open.

Luck finally showed its hand to me today for the towers were free of inhabitants. I chose the least-frozen bedroll in the least-ruined of the two towers and am not looking forward to a very cold night. Still, I know I will fall asleep eventually and feel all the better for it tomorrow morning, frozen or not. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Skyrim Day 036 - The Joys of Literature

21 Heartfire, 4E201

Morthal has its charms, if you find the constant stench of swamp to be attractive. The inn was comfortable enough, but I was already a day behind on my self-imposed schedule and left earlier in the morning than I was perhaps expected to.

'Hanging Gardens' was located somewhere north of Morthal, according to Urag. How the book came to be in such a book-unhealthy place is a mystery to be pondering alongside how Urag knew it was there to begin with.
The marshland was as pleasant as I expected it to be and a man walking into town as I was leaving warned me to not go into the swamps at night, advice I did not need to be told in this case. Surprisingly there were few monsters about, mostly just elk and the occasional mudcrab.

I came upon a cave marked with a lit brazier and could only guess that it might be the location of the book I was seeking. Inside I was greeted by two giant spiders, each of which fell to my bow. I thought I was facing ordinary bandits until the first one I killed started dissolving into black dust. Vampires. Terrifying to most people, the trick is in making sure they never bite you as you stab them to death.

Further inside the cave I heard someone talking to himself and watched as a vampire dragged three bodies from his cart into a nearby pit. He was so intent on his grisly task that he could not hear me creeping up behind him with my axe. One more body for the pit.
Those two were the only to die in their cave today. There were three more vampires sitting together in a small common area set with a table and chairs, but I stayed against the cavern wall, in the shadows, and passed by them with no notice at all. I am evidently becoming very skilled in not being seen, but I do not really live a life that greatly requires that. Perhaps I would make a good burglar if I was the kind of Khajiit everyone in Skyrim seems to expect.

'Hanging Gardens' was tucked into a chest underneath a a Dwemer warhammer and an Ebony mace, making the origin of the book even more mysterious. Whatever its journey, I stole the book back from the vampires and quietly exited their den.

Urag's second volume was south of Morthal, along the river. The weather was, once again, quite nice and the walk along the river peaceful, even with mudcrabs stolidly crawling at me every couple of seconds to defend their portion of the mud bank. I met a Redguard fisherwoman at her shack and paid her a few Septims for some dried fish.
The entrance to the bandit hideout was a great deal less ambiguous than the vampires'.
I suspect the bodies to have been dug up, for the bandits were organized more as a blacksmith's shop than a group of dangerous outlaws. Four of the six bandits died with smithing tools in their hands, not weapons. 'Shalidor's Insights' was also in a chest underneath a collection of valuable armaments.

With that I began the walk back to the College. Nothing interesting happened and I stepped into the icy courtyard just after midnight. As expected most of the instructors and students were still awake, toying with whatever experiments allowed them to ignore the rest of the province. 

Arniel was happy to receive his ten Dwemer cogwheels and Urag to have a copy of 'Hanging Gardens' and the unreadable' Shalidor's Inights'. He assured me that the latter could be translated if I gave him a day or two. I have no interest in such a thing, but I thanked him anyway.

I need to get rid of the stone plaque I found underneath Bleak Falls Barrow. I think I will simply prop it against something in the Arch-Mage's room and invite everyone in to see if they know what to do with it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Skyrim Day 035 - Ghost Women and Metal Men

20 Heartfire, 4E201

Retrieve some books or get distracted twice, dive into two ruins each occupied by a different group of hostile people, and be rewarded by some coin, more fatigue, and a mounting list of things to do the next day? I wound up choosing the latter, of course, but I complain when I am stuck at the College only to complain once I am free to roam. Nevertheless, this day offered some hints towards adjustments I could be making for myself, advice I am always glad to receive.

I thought I would visit Morthal first to get the first of Urag's books, then walk through Dragon Bridge to retrieve the second. The Nightgate inn's lack of comfort, heating, or quiet ensured I was up at two in the morning, not quite ready for the day's journey but unable to fall back asleep anyway. After a quick breakfast and a glare at the bard practicing in the common room at such an early hour I left the village and proceeded down another snowy road.

Under the bright moon I met with the Khajiit caravan, run by Ahkari, which Kharjo is tasked with guarding. Trading had been profitable for them so Ahkari was happy to pay for the assortment of jewelry taken from the assassins and ruins I seem unable to avoid. Kharjo wished me well and we parted ways, again.

The moon settled down for another day's rest and the sun had risen several hours ago when I turned the corner of the cobblestone road just in time to watch a mammoth catch a hunter with its tusks, flinging the woman thirty feet through the air. She hid the ground head-first with a too-familiar crack, her head broken from the impact against the frozen earth.
The mammoth stomped away and stopped next to a dead Giant, its sinewy body stuck full of cheap-looking arrows. The unfortunate huntress evidently killed the master only to fall against the pet...I think. My understanding of Skyrim's unique semi-intelligent herders is not very clear and I do not know what the relationship is between the Giants and their mammoths. All I know is that tangling with either is asking for trouble no one needs.

On the subject of trouble no one needs, I briefly ventured off the road near Dawnstar and came upon a magnificent Dwemer fortress in seemingly excellent condition.
My pride as an adventurer, if such a thing exists, would not let me pass the fortress without stopping for a cursory look around. I hoped to also find the remaining Dwemer cogs for Arniel. This, of course, meant that several bandits met their end, but that is now nearly a daily occurrence. Once I finished stalking the courtyard I proceeded inside and was almost immediately rewarded by battle debris left from a fight between the bandits and the Dwemer constructs. I found the required cogwheels without much trouble and could have left then, but curiosity insisted that I proceed.

Inevitably the bandits were replaced by Falmer as I crept deeper into the fortress, with the Dwemer constructs a constant, noisy companion. Why bandits see Dwemer ruins as great places to camp in I shall never know, for the Falmer are always there first and will likely always kill whomever stays there for longer than a day. One of the Falmer I shot down had a desiccated human heart in his pouch, a grisly trophy from a battle some time ago.

I made it through bandits and Falmer only to find myself facing one of the massive Dwemer battle-men similar to the one I had ran away from in Alftand.
There was no running away from this thing, yet all I had on me was my dagger, a bow, and an Ebony war axe I had won from a Draugr in the ruin where I found my first Nordic 'word'. Now I have never before wielded an axe in battle, but I felt nonetheless that my chances against the giant machine would go up if I wielded something with a reach longer than eight inches.

Unaccustomed to the lack of balance on the axe, my first few swings were probably more dangerous to myself than my opponent. But my next swings were directed into the thing's legs, satisfyingly crushing in the Dwemer plate protecting its joints. It attempted to defend itself, but even with the axe I was far too quick. We danced around for what felt like a long time before I managed to work a plate free of the machine, exposing the levers and gears beneath. Once these were destroyed the thing collapsed and I drove the butt-spike of the axe into its chest, silencing it forever.
The axe dislodged something in its chest and a bit of digging around revealed a a spherical shell with a red gemstone set inside of it. There were knobs on the outside of the shell that allowed for some sort of adjustment, but I could not figure out what to do with it. Whatever it was it appeared to be the power source for the machine and I guessed it to be valuable to someone, somewhere, so into my pack it went.

A door on the far side of our arena led to an elevator platform which deposited me back on to the surface of Skyrim. It was still day, the weather was clear, and there did not seem to be anything that could prevent me from recovering at least one of the books today. Save, of course, for my curiosity again.

I had only taken a dozen steps along the road when I heard the sound of fighting in the direction of a packed snow path off of the road. Thinking someone might be fighting for their lives against bandits, I drew my bow and tried to be as fast and sneaky as I could at the same time. I need not have worried. By the time I reached the fighting it was already over: a woman was walking away from the bodies of two bandits sprawled on stairs leading into a Nordic burial crypt and while she was surprised to see me, she was not hostile.
She introduced herself as Eisa Blackthorn, former bandit of the White River Gang, a group I had no knowledge of, and a more-recently former member of treasure hunters camping inside of the crypt. Eisa stated that she and another hunter had been marked for death after the disappearance of the boss's sword. She fought her way outside the crypt, but the other hunter had gone further inside, ranting about a lady he had to see there. She invited me to explore the mystery myself, but stated she would have nothing more to do with the entire business. What that she walked down the path to the road and I, having been provided another mystery to solve, stepped over the bodies and entered the crypt.

There was nothing interesting about it, other than that the treasure hunters (bandits) had discovered a forest somehow growing underground. One of them, the other hunter Eisa spoke about, went mad after exploring the area and stole a sword from the group's leader. That was all I found out from listening to the bandits talk among themselves before they died.

I arrived at the forested area just in time to witness the mad hunter attack a ghostly woman who killed him almost instantly.
This forest was dim, cold, and misty, as unpleasant as it was unusual. The ghost resembled a creature I have fought before: a bluish-green semi-transparent woman wearing wraps about her who was able to command wisps to fight alongside her. Whatever these things are, this one also had the ability to create copies of herself as well as wisps. She lacked endurance however and dissipated into nothing after only a few blows from my axe.

The dead hunter was a sparsely clothed Khajiit and he managed to retain his grip on the stolen sword even in death. It was a short blade, no more than a foot and a half and oddly shaped from a dark steel. The weapon fit perfectly on a pedestal just in front of the mad Khajiit, making me wonder if the ghost had not called the Khajiit to steal the blade back to her for some purpose. I had no need of it so I placed it on the pedestal and started towards a staircase carved into the rear of  the cavern.

As I approached I noticed that the stone alongside it was worked and through the mist I realized it was almost exactly as the other stone monuments which taught me the Nordic words. As before certain runes in the stonework began to glow as I drew closer.
A blinding light, a crippling pain in my head, and suddenly I knew the runes for 'flesh of ice', a phrase utterly mystifying without context. Now nursing a terrific headache I stumbled up the stairs and into a clear Skyrim night.

There was no place to stay between the crypt and Morthal, so it was early in the morning when I finally arrived at the dismal place, my head pounding and my feet slightly less so.
The room was the standard ten Septims per night and I settled in to write this just after midnight. One of the volumes Urag wanted is just north of Morthal, so I am confident I will be recovering at least one of them, if not both, tomorrow. Then it is back to the College again. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Skyrim Day 034 - The Last Lesson You Learn

18 Heartfire, 4E201
Nightgate Inn

With ancient Nordic words bouncing around in my head I woke this morning with no desire to attempt anything particularly difficult. The Conjuration instructor at the College, Phinis, had asked me some time ago to investigate the disappearance of the previous group of apprentices, a task which did not sound taxing.

Phinis referred to them as 'missing', yet he knew where they were going and kept a list of their announced destinations. He just did not want to leave the College to actually check up on them, a depressingly typical attitude within any group of mages.

The first was Rundi, one of two Nord twins who had enrolled at the College together, truly a rarity. According to Phinis's list Rundi was going to be practicing magic near a small altar just southeast of the College.
Someone, probably the late Rundi, had placed magicka runes around the altar, but I could not find Rundi himself. I was able to step very carefully through the runes and examine the altar, but all I found was a book and a dagger helpfully engraved with his name. I took the dagger and looked at the next name on the list: Borvir, brother of Rundi.

Borvir had walked further south to a well-known ancient stone shelter known as 'Journeyman's Nook', half-way between the College and Windhelm.
His death was much less a mystery. Just inside the shelter was a man clad in skins and wielding a bow. I took a shot at him from outside and missed, but he came charging out of the would-be fortification anyway. I quickly climbed to the roof of the shelter and jumped behind him as he ran out. It was over quickly. Borvir's body lay inside, three arrows still stuck in his chest. Evidently he died while experimenting with alchemy, for he had brought a small table with him. Like his brother, he had a steel dagger engraved with his name along the blade. So far the apprentices were not being found in great condition.

The third apprentice was Yisra, a Redguard with an affinity for fire, at least according to Phinis. She had chosen to travel much farther than the brothers, electing to practice her magic on the shore near Dawnstar, possibly to have access to water in case of an accident. With such vague directions I thought it would be difficult to find her, but unfortunately that wound up not being the case.

A sudden reveal of a very blue, clear sky came as a pleasant surprise, the first I have seen along the north coast of Skyrim, though I think I would have been happy with anything that was not blowing more snow and ice in my face.
Naturally this did not last long and by the time I reached what passed for a shoreline the weather had sunk back into a freezing, gloomy overcast.  Horkers shuffled about as I tried to hop from one dry section to another, but inevitably I ended up in the freezing water more than once.

The tell-tale scent of smoke and burnt flesh assailed my nostrils as I carefully made my way past a small grouping of Horkers and I followed the smell to Yisra's final experiment.
What was left of her corpse was twisted in agony and fused solid by intense heat. The surrounding grasses were still smoldering around her and a spell tome, no doubt enchanted against magicka damage, lay within the charred circle. It described a powerful 'flame cloak' spell, much the same as J'zargo attempted. However, where J'zargo managed to accidentally substitute 'flame' for 'explosion' Yisra looked to have left off the 'cloak' portion of the spell, providing herself with just the flames.

The last apprentice was Ilas-Tei, obviously an Argonian, who went to an island just off the coast to the northwest of the College. Phinis's notes suggested that I look for a shrine to Talos. Ilas-Tei's specialty was Illusion, so I wondered what bizarre manner of death I would be discovering next.
Ilas-Tei's death was the result of poor planning: the unfortunate Argonian was testing 'Calm' and 'Fury' spells on a bunch of Skeevers she had caged, but for whatever reason they wound up getting loose and eviscerated her before turning on each other.
At least I think that's what happened. There was a cage, five dead Skeevers, and one dead Argonian. A scroll of 'Fury' was still clutched in her hand, but the much-needed scroll of 'Calm' was sitting on a barrel by the cage.

None of the apprentices would have died had they stuck together, but no one at the College seems able to look out for one another. Little wonder the College is so distrusted by everyone else in Skyrim. Phinis's payment for my discovering the ill-fated apprentices was a staff enchanted to cast 'Calm' with his hope that I could use it to avoid ending as they did. Considering one was ambushed by a bandit, one set herself aflame, and another simply disappeared entirely, I do not know how the staff is supposed to avoid any of that. I suppose it would be helpful against Skeevers, but I am fairly sure a Nordic child over the age of eight can kill a Skeever. Possibly bare-handed.

Still stuck with College responsibilities I consulted my journal to see what else needed to be done. According to my writings Urag had asked me to retrieve some volumes quite awhile back, at least a week, I think. He has been very patient so far, but I am willing to accept anything that gets me out of this ice and cold. The books Urag is desiring wound up somewhere south of Dragon Bridge along the river, but if he told me how he knew that I had forgotten to write it down. There is also a book somewhere north of Morthal, but the one close to Dragon Bridge he rated as more important, I only have 'Shalidor' written next to it though, so I do not remember why that is.

Once again the weather was unusually kind to me and I was assaulted by neither ice or snow on my walk from the College. As it was late in the day when I left the sun soon set and I was granted a view I have never seen before.
Whatever was up in the sky shone brightly enough to almost turn the night back into day. The effect reminded me of how the weather would warp near the gates to Oblivion so long ago and if I concentrate I can almost remember something similar around Red Mountain on Vvardenfell. While I did appreciate the increased visibility I do hope this is temporary. The dark is a Khajiit's friend just as much as the light.

I chose to stop at the inn built along the road between the College and Whiterun, the Nightgate. Tomorrow I hope to have the book in my possession and then I might visit Solitude or Morthal before returning, once again, to Winterhold. There is also the matter of the tablet I took from Bleak Falls Barrow, though I do not know who I should speak to about it.