Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Skyrim Day 048 - Up the Mountain, Down the Mountain

3 Frostfall, 4E201

With my dour housecarl in tow I left the inn of Ivarstead and ventured into 'Shroud Hearth' barrow, a tomb not only "close" to Ivarstead but actually inside the town itself. It was typical of the tombs built during the first Era with the exception of the rumor that a ghost haunted it. Draugr are one thing, ghosts are another.

The innkeeper said that once you got close to the barrow a voice would echo from the depths warning you to stay away. Echoing this warning was 'Wyndelius', a Dunmer mage who had descended into the tomb a year ago and was never seen again. Whatever the reason for his disappearance I felt confident that Lydia and I could handle anything the ancient Nords had thought of.

They had not thought of what we found. As soon as we descended underground a voice wavered through the corridors warning us to turn back. Now, I have not been in many Nordic barrows or tombs, but the all of the ones I have explored lacked a vocal warning at the entrance. Intrigued, I crept on, disarmed several traps for my bumbling housecarl, and found a blue blob slumbering next to a lit fireplace.
The blob wound up being Wyndelius, driven mad after an obsessive need to locate a Dragon's Claw key in order to gain access to the rest of the barrow, where, as usual, untold treasures awaited him. But he started paranoid, certain that others would follow him to the barrow and unlock the secret before him. His solution was inspired, if a bit overworked: he mixed a potion to wrap his body in an illusion to make him appear as a ghost and used it to scare off other would-be adventurers.

But he kept drinking the mixture and searching fruitlessly for the Claw, eventually driving himself mad to the point where he actually believed he was a vengeful Draugr spirit from the First Era. This would be why he immediately attacked Lydia as she, not for the first time that day, demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the words 'stealth', 'cautious', and 'quiet'. She killed him in seconds without a word to him or me. The deranged writings of his journal revealed the strange trajectory his life had taken and I took it as proof to the townspeople that the barrow's "haunting" was no more.

Rather than deliver the journal back to the innkeeper I decided Lydia and I would first ascend the supposedly seven-thousand steps from Ivarstead to the monastery of the Greybeards at the top of the mountain. Just before the village's bridge was a man busily collecting wax-paper packages into a cloth sack and as we went to pass him by he stopped us and asked if we were going to the monastery. We were and he offered to pay us to deliver his sack of goods to the Greybeards. The man, Klimmek, admitted that the steps were getting to be too much for his aged knees Having no reason to deny his request, I cheerfully agreed to carry his goods up the mountain, then immediately handed the sack to Lydia.

There may or may not be seven-thousand steps, but the journey upwards was more symbolic than I anticipated. Along the path were nine stone markers, each inscribed with a bit of knowledge about dragons, the Dragon War, and the abilities of the Dragonborn. I wrote each one down:

Marker I
Before the birth of Men, the Dragons ruled all Mundus
Their word was the Voice, and they spoke only for True Needs
For the Voice could blot out the sky and flood the land

Marker II
Men were born and spread over the face of Mundus
The Dragons presided over the crawling masses
Men were weak then, and had no Voice

Marker III
The fledgling spirits of Men were strong in Old Times
Unafraid to war with Dragons and their Voices
But the Dragons only shouted them down and broke their hearts

Marker IV
Kyne called on Paarthurnax, who pitied Man
Together they taught Men to use the Voice
Then Dragon War raged, Dragon against Tongue

Marker V
Man prevailed, shouting Alduin out of the world
Proving for all that their Voice too was strong
Although their sacrifices were many-fold

Marker VI
With roaring Tongues, the Sky-Children conquer
Founding the First Empire with Sword and Voice
Whilst the Dragons withdrew from this World

Marker VII
The Tongues at Red Mountain went away humbled
Jurgen Windcaller began His Seven Year Meditation
To understand how Strong Voices could fail

Marker VIII
Jurgen Windcaller chose silence and returned
The 17 disputants could not shout Him down
Jurgen the Calm built His home on the Throat of the World

Marker IX
For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name
Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to Hrothgar
They blessed and named him Dovahkiin

It sounds straightforward: Dragons ruled the known universe by themselves, then "men" came into being and were subjugated by the Dragons. As is always the case, Men declared war, this time on the Dragons and were overwhelmed. Kyne, said to be the widow of the Nordic depiction of Lorkhan, then collaborated with a friendly or neutral Dragon so that the Dragons' "shouts" could be learned and used by the Men.

The fifth marker says that the Men, after a long struggle, defeated a dragon named 'Alduin' and drove him "out of the world", whatever that means. Now apparently masters of Mundus, the Men conquered the rest of...where ever they had started and founded the First Empire.

But here is where I realized that the markers were not describing a Tamriel-spanning event, but one that likely only spanned what is today the province of Skyrim. The "First Empire" described on the marker could not have been the first Imperial empire, for the creation of that also began the tradition of the Amulet of Kings and the Dragonfires, implying that the ruler of the first Imperial empire descended from the Dragonborn.

If my assumption is correct, then the markers described the migration of the Nordic people into Skyrim, where they fought the Dragons and learned how to use the Dragons' shouts. With that power they won the war and claimed Skyrim for their own. The First Empire of the Nords did not last nearly as long.

I do not know of Jurgen Windcaller, but it sounds as if the Nordic First Empire invaded Morrowind, only to be defeated at Red Mountain, a site of much conflict throughout the ages, apparently. Jurgen meditated for seven years (or weeks, or days...), fought seventeen other Nords, and then constructed the monastery where the Greybeards now reside.
There they remained apart from the world until they named Tiber Septim the first 'Dovahkiin', starting the Septim Dynasty and with it, the Third Era. The stone markers end at that event, but the monastery was just beyond it anyway. Having counted the steps and lost my place twice, I can say there are definitely not seven thousand steps, but somewhere around six hundred and fifty or so. I met two Nords undergoing their own pilgrimages up the path, but it was much shorter than I thought it would be and I just cannot see why it is held in such reverence by everyone else.

The supply chest was nestled between the staircases leading to the main entrance and Lydia dumped the sack inside with barely concealed relief, acidly remarking that she had, in fact, sworn to carry my burdens. It is a wonder that one of us did not push the other off the mountain.

Inside, the Greybeards were waiting.
All of them were men, old, bearded, and clothed in featureless grey robes. One introduced himself as 'Arngeir' and asked me for a "taste of my Voice", which was a particularly odd way of asking me to use the Thu'um forcefully placed upon me. I found that I could draw the power forth voluntarily if I focused, making it much less disorientating to use. The sound of the word 'Fus' caused Arngeir to stagger and the dust on the floor to be blown against the wall, satisfying their request for evidence.

Then he actually asked me why I had come! I bit off the first reply that came to mind, realizing that the question was a test of sorts. So I simply answered that I had come seeking knowledge as to what it means to be 'Dragonborn', as many people in Whiterun were calling me that after the death of the Dragon.

Arngeir assured me that the Greybeards were here to teach and guide the Dragonborn, as they always have been, and one of the other Greybeards taught me another word: 'Ro', the second of three words which together would create a blast of air that could level a building. The word I already knew, 'Fus', was the first of the three and by itself is not particularly potent. With 'Ro', I can now send both words hurtling out of my mouth and into my foes with greater strength.

Or I could just sneak up on them and stab them in the back as I have been doing.

Lydia and I were led outside to the rear courtyard and there I was taught the word 'Wuld', or Whirlwhind. One of the silent Greybeards demonstrated its use: upon speaking the word he shot forward almost faster than I could see, appearing thirty yards away in a second. I was impressed, but then I was told to try it. I stood where the Greybeard had been, focused inward, and "felt" the power within me. I spoke the word 'Wuld' and a giant invisible hand slammed into my back and threw me forwards, propelling me clear through the gate and past the waiting Greybeards. I lost my footing on the packed snow as I landed, ending up in an undignified, crumpled heap. Arngeir tactfully suggested I practice more on my own, Lydia predictably said nothing at all.

And of course the Greybeards had a task for me: retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller from a tomb called 'Ustengrav', north of Morthal. I mentioned that the return of the Dragons and my becoming Dragonborn was no coincidence and Arngeir agreed, stating that my destiny was bound with that of the Dragons, for better or worse. Before I left he warned me about being tempted to arrogance with my new power, predicting that such a path would only lead to my downfall. With that he bid me farewell, for now.
An archway on the opposite side of the courtyard seemed to lead to something, but a swirling maelstrom of snow and ice made it difficult to see. When I tried passing through the arch I found the wind working directly against me, preventing me from taking a step beyond it. Interesting, but a futile effort right now.

The walk back down the mountain gave me time enough to think upon many things, most of them the simple issue of timing. The first Dragon was sighted as it attack the Imperial garrison at Helgen, saving Ulfric Stormcloak from execution. After that, nothing, save for the remnants of battles that could either be with Dragon or a fire-flinging bandit-mage.

Then Farengar sends me to Bleak Falls where I expect Stormcloaks and Dragons, but just get Draugr, a wall of words, and a stone tablet for my efforts. I glanced at it once and I think the tablet had something akin to a map carved in it and I regret now not looking closer. A week passes and I visit Farengar to see what he has learned from it. As we begin to talk a Dragon attacks an isolated, unimportant watchtower, which is thwarted with great loss of life. I return to Whiterun and am attacked by cultists wearing dragon-face masks, yelling about the inevitable dominion of a "Dragon Priest" named Miraak. So much has happened, all of it seemingly connected, in such a short length of time. None of this is coincidence, but what am I to make of it? The Stormcloaks in alliance with these Dragon cultists? A new, third party in Skyrim's civil war? I do not know.

I returned to Klimmek and was paid a thousand Septims for the delivery, two-hundred of which I gave to Lydia. The innkeeper was pleased to hear that the local barrow was not, in fact, haunted and rewarded me with what poor Wyndelius had been seeking: a brass Dragon's claw set with sapphires carved into talons. The underside was marked with an dragonfly, an owl, and a wolf, the combination that would unlock the depths of the barrow.

The barrow was close enough to make a second expedition possible today, so we entered the slightly less haunted barrow and proceeded to the dial-locked stone slab.
There was far more to the barrow than I think the locals knew about. Behind the door was a further expanse of tomb at least six times larger than what lay before it, complete with Draugr and skeletons enough to keep Lydia entertained.
We flung aside the undead and made our way to the "end" of the tomb where a powerful, though outmatched, Draugr awaited us with a host of skeleton guards at its side. The skeletons fell to single swipes of axe and sword, the Draugr warlord falling quickly after that. Our reward was ancient, decrepit arms and armor, but in a chamber beyond I found another wall of words, this one teaching me 'Kaan', which may be an alternate spelling of 'Kyne', the Nordic version of Kynareth.

I found our shortcut out of the tomb to be darkly amusing: a secret door built into a nearby wall was activated via a pull-chain, which opened directly into the room where Wyndelius had been going insane, the "treasure" he was seeking only a wall away from him the whole time.
We returned to the Inn, rented rooms for the night, and will be moving on tomorrow morning. Where to, I am not sure, though returning to Whiterun to rid myself of my sour companion is an appealing idea.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Skyrim Day 047 - Here Be Dragons

1 Frostfall, 4E201

Waking this morning I anticipated a boring day: the only thing I had to do was visit the irksome Farengar in Dragonsreach palace to see if he had translated the tablet I gave to him. After that I thought I would move on to Solitude, see what work was there, then finally visit Dawnstar after ignoring it over my stupid misunderstanding.

I considered my equipment as I left 'The Bannered Mare' and finding myself low on bolts, set myself the immediate task of procuring or purchasing some wood and steel to make some more. I am no craftsman, but bolts are easy: straight pieces of strong wood, some feathers, and a conical piece of metal at the end. Not complicated. Should an amateur like myself make a mistake, the explosive force of the crossbow ensures that even a poorly designed bolt hurts something, somewhere. Not a reassuring prospect if your life depends on it.

Adrianne at 'Warmaiden's' had wood and steel enough for hundreds of bolts, but I chose to purchase material for forty, any more would be uncomfortable to carry. She watched me fuss over the forge for some time, then offered to lend a hand for a modest price, of course. Frustrated, I agreed and soon had forty bolts of excellent quality at a good price.

Thus armed, I walked through the bustling city as it went about its morning business and laboriously ascended the steps up to Dragonsreach. Farengar was busy studying something and was surprised to see me, but he told me that he had translated the tablet and discovered some interesting things.

What those interesting things were, he did not have a chance then to tell me, for Irileth came rushing into the palace, out of breath and heading straight for the mage's workshop. Seeing this, I stepped aside as she charged past, announcing that a Dragon was attacking Whiterun's western watchtower.

Farengar was ready to charge outside immediately, but Irileth wisely insisted I speaking with the Jarl first. As she turned to go she suggested I come along too, "just in case". In case of what?
Three guards had set out at a run for the city once the tower had come under attack, but only one made it. He was waiting by the stairs leading to the second floor of the palace where the Jarl apparently held council. A map of the province with blue and red flags probably denoted Imperial or Stormcloak holdings, showing that he was not as disinterested in the conflict as he presented himself to be.

The breathless guard made his report, but there was not much to say: the Dragon had dropped out of the sky without warning, bathing the tower in flames and incinerating anyone unlucky enough to find themselves outside. Two guards stayed behind with bows to fight back, three ran for the city, with two of them being grabbed and dashed into the ground by the Dragon's claws. The guard supposed the Dragon would still be around, so the Jarl decided to send Irileth after it, along with guards she wisely called up on her run through Whiterun up to Dragonsreach.

I was dismayed, but not surprised, when the Jarl turned to me and requested that I join Irileth's small army in the fight against the Dragon. His reasoning was that I survived the Dragon attack on Helgen and was therefore the most qualified to fight this one. I wanted to point out that at Helgen I was unarmed, unarmored, and bound, spending most of my time running for my life with my hands tied.

I did not, of course. I simply agreed, as I always do, and then suddenly remembered my encounter with the skeleton-dragon underneath Labyrinthian, which made me feel a bit better for some reason. After all, I had fought and defeated that thing, right?

Farengar was to be disappointed. He may have been the only one in the palace eager to fight the Dragon, but the Jarl denied his request, stating that losing him would mean losing any way of finding a way to effectively battle the creatures. The mage did not put up an argument and returned to his quarters.

As a parting gift, the Jarl granted me the right to purchase property within the city, should I survive the battle. And with that we were off to meet the guards Irileth had collected.
Four guards, a nightblade, and a Khajiit of various skills against a live Dragon. The four guards were likely those unlucky enough to be in Irileth's path earlier and the Captain of the guards was conspicuously missing from the ranks. Perhaps Irileth thought he would be more useful in defense of the city should we fail, but I think she did not have the time to seek him out.

The speech she gave was half-Dunmer, half-Nordic: half melancholy, half bluster. She initially jabbed at the guards' honor, saying she would fight the creature alone despite the odds, then switched to pointing out how much glory would be gained if they won. I think I heard a guard mutter that they were all going to die at some point during the short speech, but the four followed her anyway, with myself closing up the rear.

After a short, nervous jog we arrived at what remained of the watchtower. The structure on either side of it had completely collapsed, along with a parts of the tower itself. The Dragon was no where to be seen.
We spread out to search for survivors. but only one of the two guards who stayed at the tower was left. The other had lost his nerve and ran for the city, but was intercepted by the Dragon. The guard gave us a quick summary of what occurred, but stated that the Dragon was still flying about. Just as he said that we heard a roar that seemed to come from the mountains and suddenly the Dragon was upon us.
The ensuring battle is difficult to recall now, actually. I think most of us fought via sheer terror, with Irileth the likely exception. As soon as we saw the Dragon I ran to the top of the tower and fired bolts at it as the guards battled it on the ground. But they were no match for the creature and we were soon down to two guards and a very irate Dunmer. My crossbow was not making up for our loss, so I ran out of the tower, where I faced the thing with a short battle-axe and hide-covered wooden shield.

I was not, at that point, feeling very prepared for the fight.

Fortunately Irileth proved to be quite proficient with Destruction magicka and we soon fell into an unspoken strategy: she would aggravate the Dragon with fire magicka and when it was distracted with the task of tearing her in two I would close in and hack at its wings, an attempt made against its tail ended with me flying at least thirty feet through the air accompanied by a cracked rib or two. Dagoth Ur was kind enough to knit the bones together within a few minutes, but I judged it unwise to test my luck again and I was not stupid enough to attack from the front.

I think we were trying to drive it away, but our constant harrying gradually weakened the Dragon and when it suddenly whipped around from Irileth to snap its jaws around me I drove the butt-spike of the ax right between its eyes, a gruesomely effective miss, as I had been aiming to put out an eye. Blood sprayed from the wound and the thing shrieked, then collapsed at my feet. Had the swing of my ax been a moment later I would have been rent in two, surely something even my body would not be healing from.

Thinking back on it now, I do not know how I managed such a tremendous feat. The same luck that has always followed me, I suppose. Irileth was openly impressed by my strike, but I had no time to reply before the Dragon's corpse suddenly burst into flames.
We all dove for cover, expecting to be consumed by the inferno, but the flames consumed the entire body in seconds, leaving just bones and ash. Irileth and I stared at the skeletal corpse, then at each other as the surviving guardsman ran from the tower to join us, then a wind whipped up and smoke spiraled from the skeleton, into my nose and throat.
Nausea followed the involuntary ingestion of corpse-smoke and I reflexively sank to my knees. I coughed, expecting bread and cheese, but what came out was not breakfast, but a mighty roar of my own voice. The sound was so strong and loud that it echoed off of the mountains several miles behind us and raised a cloud of ash and dirt around me.

Irileth jumped back with an oath, but the guard helped me up almost reverently. He clasped me on the shoulders, entirely too close for my comfort, and in a voice suffused with wonder exclaimed that I was "Dragonborn".

I had heard the term before. Emperor Tiber Septim was known as "Dragonborn", as were all of the Septim dynasty. But that referred to their connection with the 'Dragonfires' and the God Akatosh, Father of the...Dragons.

I cannot believe I did not see this earlier today: Akatosh, Father of the Dragons. Kerra, present as the last of the Septim dynasty summoned Akatosh to drive Mehrunes Dagon from Tamriel. Now Dragons have returned and Akatosh has evidently marked me "Dragonborn", as the Septims were so long ago.

But I had not realized that then. Still shaken, I asked the guard what he meant and he said that the Dragonborn was said to be a warrior who lived during the Dragon War and was able to absorb the dragons' strength after he slew them. Eagerly, the guard asked if that's what happened and I could only shrug and admit I had no idea what just happened. He only shook his head and told me to shout.

My reply was that if I started shouting now I did not think I would stop made him laugh, but then he urged me to concentrate and search for the Dragon's power within me. I humored him, only to find that I did feel something similar to when the walls of words imprinted their knowledge. I focused on that and what felt like a giant word erupted from my throat. The voice was once again mine, if I ever grow to be fifty feet tall. A coil of smoke flew out of my mouth and the three of us silently watched it approach the mountains, my booming voice diminishing as it echoed across the plain. When the shimmering smoke disappeared into the mountainside my voice echoed back, sounding as if the mountains themselves were shouting at us.

The guard was overjoyed, an odd reaction to a man who had watched all of his comrades die brutally around him, but then he was a Nord and therefore expected to be crazy in that regard.

Irileth said that the Jarl and Farengar would need to hear of this and asked that I return to Dragonsreach to make my report while she and the guard examined the Dragon's remains. As I left I heard a bow twang behind me as she shot a flaming arrow into the sky. Sure enough, I was but halfway to the city when a dozen guards ran past me towards the ruined tower.

As for myself, I stopped at Warmaiden's and asked to see their armor. I was not going to be facing another Dragon with nothing better than a wooden shield. The Elven shield and gauntlets I purchased make me feel a great deal more secure about another such battle, should one unfortunately occur.

But as I stepped back outside I was immediately accosted by two men wearing robes and masks that completely covered their faces. One demanded to know if I was the Dragonborn and I answered honestly, saying I did not know. He accused me of making false claims and announced me to be the 'False Dragonborn'.

His voice continued to rise and he babbled faster, saying that the "true" Dragonborn was coming and their gift of my heart would elevate them to great honor. They mentioned a "Lord Miraak", the "true Dragonborn", then both of them rushed me with daggers. I do not even know how he and his friend had heard about what had only occurred twenty minutes prior to our meeting.

The guards were quick to act.
The masks were bone, carved and etched to crudely resemble a dragon's face, as if I did not have enough to be concerned with already. One of the cultists had a letter on him that gave instructions to board a ship at Raven Rock on Solstheim and sail to Whiterun to begin their search for the "false Dragonborn".

I have vague memories of Raven Rock, images of scaffolding, lumber, and piles of bricks, mostly. A dead Khajiit floating atop the ocean and a giant of white fur and horns inside a cavern of ice. Nothing that gave any hint to this "Miraak" the letter was supposedly from. Another mystery, another problem.

The Jarl demanded a report as soon as I approached and I felt that he was anxious with Irileth's notable absence. His steward and brother were in attendance. For the first time I noticed that a carving of a dragon's head sat above the throne.
He impatiently demanded a report and I responded with what I thought he wanted: dry, without embellishment. The tower was destroyed, lives were lost, but the Dragon was killed. This was not good enough, my response only elicited an "...and?" from him once I was done. A little embarrassed, I admitted that one of the guards thought I was "Dragonborn".

His reply was a great deal more illuminating this time. He spoke of people known as the "Greybeards" and told me that they thought I was "Dragonborn" as well. I have never heard of this group, but he had heard their summons blasted from High Hrothgar, a monastery built in the mountains. These Greybeards were said to be masters of the "Way of the Voice", using sound to project power or effects similar to magicka. The Dragonborn was supposed to be uniquely gifted in this and would normally be tutored by these Greybeards.

His steward, Proventus Avenicci, was dismissive of the Dragonborn legend, but I had an ally in the Jarl's brother who upheld the Dragonborn as a cornerstone of Nordic culture. The Jarl had to intervene between the two of them before it came to blows.

As for himself, Jarl Balgruuf conceded that I had done a great service for the city, possibly saving it from complete destruction. As a sign of his esteem I was named a Thane of Whiterun and reminded of my ability to purchase property in the city. He also assigned me a 'housecarl', a sort of bodyguard, named Lydia. Where she was to be found, who she was, what she could do, all not mentioned.

The Jarl explained that the booming voice I had heard from the mountains were the Greybeards summoning me to High Hrothgar and he laughed when I admitted I had heard nothing on my walk back, save for the pounding of my blood. He suggested that I start my ascent to High Hrothgar via the village of Ivarstead...which I had just left!

Thanking him, I took my leave and made to leave Dragonsreach to re-trace the steps I took yesterday back to Ivarstead. A woman clad entirely in steel plate and wielding a sour expression intercepted me at the door.
This was Lydia, my housecarl, and she did not seem happy about it, though I suspect she is not happy with much at all. Somewhat despairingly she announced herself and her willingness to die for me, if necessary. I cared not much for her tone, but even less for an arguement, so I simply told her we were immediately setting out for Ivarstead and received a silent nod in return. Our relationship did not start off well.

Fortunately the walk back to Ivarstead did not require further conversation or much in the way of action and we reached the mountainside village after night fell. The innkeeper was surprised to see customers, lamenting that a nearby barrow was haunted and keeping people away. I may look into it before ascending the mountain tomorrow.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Skyrim Day 046 - A Slight Misunderstanding

30 Heartfire, 4E201
The Bannered Mare

This morning I had nothing to do. This evening I have entirely too much. Nothing new there.

I woke from another poor sleep in Riften and walked outside intending to start my trip back to the College immediately. As I approached the gate a woman rushed at me and grabbed my hand. I turned on her, dagger ready to gut the thief, but she begged me for my assistance.

Her name was Grosta and she worked Riften's lumber mill along the river by the secretive island estate. Her husband, Leifnarr, had left to sell grain and lumber to a merchant camp set up near an old mine locally known as 'Broken Helm Hollow', close to the Skyrim-Morrowind border. Grosta was near tears as she continued on, saying that it was just herself and their young son at the mill and she could not run it by herself. She suspected Leifnarr left with the merchants to find a better life and asked that I go to Broken Helm Hollow to see if I could figure out where he left to.

The old mine was opposite the Black-Briar estate, so other than some trepidation of being recognized by the guards there, I had no reason to deny the bereaved woman's request.

A Khajiit caravan had arrived during my brief sleep and was established outside of the city gate. The leader was 'Ahkari' and she welcomed me to her little group and offered me the best prices on her wares. I instead offered her my own and traded several gemstones to her in exchange for a few vials of healing elixir.

Broken Helm Hollow was, in fact, almost directly across from the Black-Briars' front door and I suspect it may have been an early family possession when the mine was still solvent. According to Grosta it now served as a stopping-point for merchants traveling between Skyrim and Morrowind, with bandits occasionally taking up residence before being chased out by the merchants' bodyguards.
Broken Helm Hollow was tiny, occupied by three bandits with no room for a fourth. I was surprised to find all three of them sleeping on their bedrolls by the time I arrived in the early afternoon. Too much to drink the night before, perhaps. Unlike most of their criminal brethren, these three died peacefully in their sleep with nary a struggle.

The same could not be said for the unfortunate Leifnarr. I found his body behind a false stone door opened using a pull-chain. He looked to have died to arrow shot and dragged into the secret cell. Why and in what circumstance he was killed is a mystery.

As I left the cave I saw a man dart into a small, unfinished cave on the other side of the road. Thinking he was with the bandits, or possibly the merchants, I dove into the cave after him, expecting a fight.

Instead I was met with the realization that I had not entered a cave, but merely a natural archway that led to a clearing within the mountains.

The man was waiting near a small lake and waved to me as I approached, evidently no bandit. He was very excited about being where we were and started babbling about how much he had been looking forward to joining the Dawnguard and so on. Then it hit me: the vampire hunters known as the Dawngaurd were not based at Dawnstar hold like I thought, but the fortification this happy, unnamed man was leading me to: Fort Dawnguard.
I was feeling a bit silly for avoiding Dawnstar and, as if on cue, the Orsimer Durak came trudging down the path, brightly exclaiming how good it was to see me and how encouraging it was to see me change my mind about joining the Dawngurd. I have run into Durak probably half a dozen times on my trips between the holds, his job apparently being to walk to each one in an attempt to drum up Dawnguard recruits. He plied his spiel upon me every time we met as if it were the first and I agreed to visit if I was in the area...which to my chagrin I found myself accidentally in. My unnamed excitable friend ran right past him on his way to the castle gate, so I excused myself and jogged to catch up.
The guard standing out front waved us in and me and my unknown friend walked inside to witness an argument between two heavily-armed men.
One was asking for aid from the other and from the argument I judged the one asking to be a member of the Vigilants of Stendarr. Apparently vampires had attacked the Order's headquarters, killing all present. He sounded as if he believed himself the last of his Order, though I have seen more than a few Vigilants patrolling the roads.

The other man remained unmoved, pointing out that he had warned the first man about the vampire menace years ago, only to be ignored. They went back and forth awhile longer before the Vigilant left, defeated.

Having concluded that business, the man introduced himself as 'Isran' and asked why I and the excitable fellow were there. Sensing an opportunity I responded that I had heard of the call for vampire-hunters and had come to earn some coin. He laughed, replying that he feared I would earn more than coin, but agreed to give me a task: travel to the 'Dimhollow' crypt south of Mzinchaleft and investigate rumors of vampires living there and preying on travelers along the nearby road.

I do not enjoy fighting vampires, but it seemed a simple task, so I agreed to look into it, should my travels place me north again. As for my new friend, his job was more administrative: clear the considerable amount of debris and garbage from the castle grounds.

And that was my business at Fort Dawnguard, at least for today. I had sad news to deliver to Grosta at the lumber mill, so I bypassed Riften and stopped at the mill. She was upset at the news and ashamed to think he was dallying with another woman while his body was cooling. She presented me with a Dwemer blade as a reward, stating that it was his and that she wished Leifnarr had brought it with him. As for her, she will be selling the mill and moving in with relatives in Solitude.

And then I had nothing to do other than visit another crypt, so I decided to visit Farengar at Dragon's Reach to see what progress has been made with the tablet from Bleak Falls Barrow. Walking from Riften to Whiterun means traversing nearly half the width of the province, yet other than a bear fighting a losing battle against three Stormcloaks I bore witness to nothing. On top of that the Stormcloaks were actually friendly.
I walked through the village of Ivarstead, skirted the edge of the hot springs, and passed the remains of an Oblivion gate, awakening hazy, nostalgic memories of a life I can barely remember.
The night hung over my shoulders heavier than usual and I was surprised to be told it was only three hours to midnight when I stepped inside The Bannered Mare, making tonight a comparatively early turn-in for me. I suspect I shall greatly relish this rest and tomorrow I will sell off what I can, stock up on what I need, and then talk to Farengar about whatever menial task he has for me now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Skyrim Day 045 - Death by Greed, Twice

30 Heartfire, 4E201

Even after the not-so-harrowing theft of the horse, Frost, I simply could not sleep last night and woke up as it was still dark. I quietly made my way out of the Inn so as to not wake anyone else, but was in turn surprised by the head of the Black-Briar family, Maven Black-Briar. She and a bodyguard were leaving the Inn as I crept downstairs, much to their annoyance and it was only due to Keerava's personal assurances that I was merely an early-rising guest that saved me from having to gut the bodyguard and probably Maven as well.

My goal was a large tomb built into the mountains to the west of Riften. The Jarl had made a request to Winterhold College for someone to eliminate a rogue wizard there who was costing the hold a good deal of money and goods and of course this fell upon me to complete.

Being so early in the morning, I was keen to explore a little and left the road down a beaten path. After a few minutes of walking I was brought to a large stone staircase reaching up into the hillside.
The stairs led first to a magicka rune trap, which I carefully skirted around, and then a necromancer who was busy experimenting with a dead body inside of a large cage. I felt it was only proper to drag his own body in there as well.

Conspicuous in the morning sun was another dragon's head wall which the necromancer had pushed a chest of supplies against. Approaching the wall caused several of the runes to glow and there was a flash of light, a fortunately brief pain, and the sudden knowledge of the ancient word for 'Fear': Faas. I am becoming quite proficient in ancient Nord, if a warrior from the Second Era finds his way into the Fourth I shall be sure to strike up a conversation.

I rejoined the road at a bridge leading to a large estate, but it was walled and the gate locked. The guard standing on-duty informed me that there would be no entrance for me unless I had business there. As I did not know what the place even was, I could not come up with a lie believable enough to grant me access.
Having failed to satiate my daily curiosity with the island mansion, I returned to the road, scanning for enemies and interesting landmarks. It was not long before a tower, set back into the forest against the hills, caught my eye.

The tower was part of an ancient keep, the wear on the stones making it look like it may have been the home of a warlord during the Second or even First Era.
I was expecting mages or bandits, but the courtyard was deserted. The door to the keep had stopped being secure two hundred years ago but I was surprised to hear fighting as I crept inside. I witnessed what I thought was the murder of a woman and drew my axe to strike down her assailant. The murderess turned to face me and immediately put her hands up, proclaiming her innocence.
I pointed out that she had just struck the woman down with magicka, but she insisted she was given no choice: one of them was going to die and she would rather it not be her. I conceded the logic of her argument and demand an explanation which was readily given.

The woman's name was 'Illia' and she was part of a coven which resided in the ruined keep. The coven worshiped and served the hideous hagravens that resided in the ruins and the coven's leader, Illia's mother, sought to become one of the twisted creatures using a ritual sacrifice. Illia claimed she would have been the sacrifice if she had not killed her former coven-mate and asked my help not to escape, but to ascend the tower and eliminate the hagravens and her mother's coven.

She was willing to lead the way, so I agreed. If this was a trap Illia's magicka would be spent fighting her way up the tower and if it was not I would be saving her from a terrible fate and preventing the creation of another hagraven in Skyrim.

As it was I did not have to do much. Illia was more than a match for her coven-sisters, dispatching most of them with shards of ice before they could react. The few that did were too distracted battling her to notice me before I was sliding my dagger across their throats, so long as the throats were not hagraven. An effective strategy, though some of Illia's spells came a bit too close for my liking.

She stopped outside a door at the top of the tower and turned to me while announcing that the only way to defeat her mother was for me to pretend to be the required sacrifice so that Illia could strike her unawares. I was not too keen on her plan, but she pointed out that I would be unbound and remained armed, in case I thought she was leading me into a trap. I agreed to be the "sacrifice" while silently promising terrible revenge on Illia if she crossed me.
The would-be hagraven looked like anyone else and gave me a kindly smile as Illia explained I was volunteering to be the sacrifice necessary for her to become a powerful, twisted creature. The mother poured her gratitude out as she beckoned me to a hand-made wooden chair placed in front of decapitated pig's head. Charming.

As soon as she turned her back to Illia her daughter struck, sending shards of ice into her mother's back. Her mother's face (I never got her name) contorted in pain and rage as she spun back to face Illia, but she had not wondered at the absurdity of a Khajiit offering to make a hagraven out of an Imperial. Two stabs to the back were enough to end her and the additional four were for safety. The old woman crumpled at my feet with a gurgling sigh.

Illia was not very upset about having killed her own mother, but wanted to get away from the place all the same. She told me to take whatever I wanted of her former mother's and suggested that her staff would be valuable. I could not determine what enchantments were on it, but it is beautifully carved and set with jewels, so I took it anyway.

As a consequence of my curiosity it was late into the afternoon by the time I arrived at the tomb where Riften's bandit-mage was said to be hiding. A recent campsite was sitting in front of it and a journal had helpfully been left behind.

It belonged to 'Medresi Dran', obviously a Dunmer, and she named the tomb 'Angarvunde', gushing about how much wealth and treasure were said to be hidden within. This was a story I have grown tired of hearing. Nothing waits in the tombs but the dead, some of them walking around with weapons. If there was treasure inside it would have found its way back outside a long time ago. The journal closed with the optimistic plan to hire a group of miners to break into the tomb and collect the riches for herself...somehow having dealt with the miners in-between, I suppose.

I assumed the mage-bandit inside killed her and the miners, but when I entered I was surprised to see a Dunmer pacing fretfully in the narrow corridor. She saw me and dropped to her knees, insisting that she was not armed. Slightly embarrassed, I asked her if she was Medresi and she nodded.

The group she had hired to dig had dug into a room of Draugr and the miners, not being fools, fled the ruins with Medresi's swearing clawing at their backs. On her own she admitted she would make no progress and contemplated traveling back to Riften to hire armed mercenaries instead. She must have then only noticed my equipment and asked if I would be willing to do the "physical work" in exchange for half the treasure. 

I would not have agreed if I did not already have a reason to be there, but since I had to walk inside anyway I might as well for half of whatever valuables Medresi thought was there.
The Draugr and my unsuspecting target were in a large cavern behind her and the lack of effort required to send them crashing to the floor does not merit a greater description. I walked back to Medresi, informed her of my success, then had to jog after her as she raced into the now-empty chamber.
She excitedly hopped over the dead body of the mage and the deader bodies of the Draugr, only to be very frustrated to find a portcullis blocking her from the treasure beyond. Once again it was on me to do the work. She pointed out that the chamber had two corridors on either side, one of which would have a way to raise the gate.

As it turned out, both corridors held half the solution to our little puzzle. I fought over a dozen Draugr before the gate was open and had nothing to personally show for it but a lack of crossbow bolts and a chip on my dagger.

Medresi was considerate enough to wait for me to return before sprinting through the gateway and was dead before she realized she had stepped into a trap.

Counterweights hidden somewhere in the ruin were loosened and the floor underneath Medresi shot upwards as the ceiling above her came down. I was quick enough to jump back through the gateway just as the room was showered in blood and viscera. The smell of it was enough to turn my stomach and I felt no better for having violently been divested of my breakfast. The stone plug which she had been standing upon had been hiding stairs leading below the ruin, but before I descended I examined the dripping treasure chest which had been in front of her.

It was empty, save for a broken sword hilt. Treasure indeed.

The stairs led to a small corridor which was faithfully guarded by a Draugr and ended at another wall of words, this one teaching me 'Raan', or "Animal". The reason for these walls and why some are above ground on their own and others underground within tombs is still a mystery, but I assume the knowledge contained on the wall was the "great treasure" the tomb was said to have.
The walk back to Riften was uneventful, dark, and entirely too long. The city's earliest risers were starting to wake up as I stepped through the gates and I can hear the rest of the inn's guests leaving for the day on whatever business drives them as I finish writing this entry. Another long day, a poor sleep, and little to show for it.

I detest the thought of returning back to Winterhold again, but I cannot think of any other place awaiting me right now.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Skyrim Day 044 - No Arrows In My Back

28 Heartfire, 4E201

Another day in passing and I am still at Riften, slowly drowning in the particular corrupt drive towards profit that seems to keep the Hold in one piece.

Everything started to go wrong as soon as I woke this morning. Surprisingly all of my goods were still in my pack and no one seemed to have attempted to open my door, but as soon as I descended the ladder into the common room I was approached by a man calling himself 'Louis Letrush' who, sparing any pleasantries, asked if I was interested in earning some coin.

I was and I should have known better than to tell anyone in Riften that. But I did and was in turn told a tale of a man's noble quest to breed the finest horses in "acquiring" one owned by the powerful Black-Briar family. One of the family, a son of the family unfortunately named 'Sibbi', agreed to sell Louis the horse, Frost, when Louis began to shop around and he paid Sibbi half the cost with the understanding the second half would arrive as the horse did.

But the Black-Briar matriarch, Maven, had Sibbi arrested, possibly due to the horse deal or some other matter entirely. Sibbi let Louis know that his arrest exempted him from completing their transaction and pocketed Louis's pre-delivery payment. Understandably upset by this, Louis asked me to speak to Sibbi and convince him, in whatever way I needed to, that their deal was to be completed to Louis's satisfaction.

This seemed simple, which should have been warning enough to leave it alone. But I agreed to speak with Sibbi and left my promises at that. Over breakfast I spoke with the male Argonian, Talen-Jei, and we got to talking about our mutual arrival at Riften. His story was a familiar one: he had been traveling the provinces trying to find a place to settle down and his wandering eventually brought him to Riften. Keerava owned the Inn then and he immediately became smitten with her, privately vowing to not leave the decrepit city without her.

Noble as that was, it did not translate into earnings enough to pay for a traditional Black Marsh wedding band. He explained the meaning of the band, but I do not remember much of it other than that it involved three amethysts, not a commonly seen item in Riften, largely due to someone selling or stealing it as soon as it was spotted. I, however, had three of the gemstones courtesy of the Dwemer constructs I pried them out of and offered them freely, having little use for more coin.

Talen-Jei was clearly taken aback by a sudden act of generosity erupting within Riften's walls and pocketed them quickly, wisely nervous about anyone else witnessing our trade. He told me to wait for a moment, disappeared into a room behind the counter, and reappeared with a vial which he said contained a powerful healing draught. He had been saving it for an emergency, but felt that my lifestyle would likely make more use out of it. I thanked him and left.

A second Black-Briar interrupted my walk from the Inn to the jail, this time a woman, Ingun, stopped to ask if I was interested, once again, in earning some coin. She gushed about how obsessed she was with alchemy and its the ability to snuff out a person's life with a simple ingredient. She certainly came off as a bit unhinged, but offered good money for nirnroot, nightshade, and deathbell, so I agree to supply her with any should I come across the plants in my travels.

Even the smith of Riften had goods he needed, this time a Fire Atronach's salts to make his forge burn hotter. It would appear that the cities reputation inhibits deliveries of many items, for nearly everyone I spoke to was lacking something they were willing to pay for. Fire salts are something I am likely to find, so I agreed to his request as well.

The Jarl, Laila Law-Giver, is a most politely described as "distracted" and more accurately as a complete buffoon. I only spent a few minutes inside her Hall, but it was enough for me to see that she has no idea where the power lies in Riften: during my short stay I watched her steward override three of her decisions, with nary an objection.
During our very short conversation she asked after a task she had sent to the College about eliminating a nearby rogue mage that has been terrorizing travelers along the west road. I promised to look into the matter, but it is doubtful she will remember the job needed doing if I return after having done it.

My next stop was Riften's jail. The guard at the entrance did not care if I entered or not, stating that just arriving at all meant I was there on important business. The logic of this statement escaped me, but he unlocked the door, so I agreed with him and visited Sibbi Black-Briar.
His cell was luxuriously outfitted as befitting his family's influence and wealth. His imprisonment was clearly not the punishment it seemed to be and I wondered what the true purpose behind his relocation was. Whatever the reason, Sibbi was not bothered by it and was treating his imprisonment as a vacation of sorts, making demands of the guards and generally getting his way. He cockily admitted to his part in Louis's plan. He breezily washed his hands of the matter, handing me a key to his family's estate east of Riften while telling me to get the horse myself if Louis wanted it so badly. What a strange family.

I could have gone west to take care of the Jarl's magicka bandit, but I found myself leaving Riften via the east gate towards the Black-Briar estate. Stealing horses is never something I reduced myself to in the past, but I admit I felt a little thrill at the thought of taking something from the most powerful family in the city. Perhaps there really is a thief inside of every Khajiit. My plan was a simple one: pretend to be delivering jewelry to the estate to gain entrance, swipe the ownership papers of 'Frost', then leave via the horse's back. Unfortunately it did not work out quite that way.
Sibbi had warned me of the mercenaries guarding the house, but I thought I would be able to bluff my way past them. Instead I found myself immediately assaulted, the mercenaries evidently having been told to kill anyone who approached who was not with a Black-Briar family member. The Redguard who intercepted me on the grounds was little more than a bandit though and I had little trouble with her. I decided to avoid anyone else I found inside.

This was a far easier task than it should have been, for all the mercenaries in the house were completely drunk. I had no trouble remaining unseen and found the ownership deed for Frost in an upstairs bedroom. With that in hand I had only to lead the horse to Louis and I would be done. I sneaked back out of the home and Frost gave me no objection when I mounted up. I heard a shout behind me as I rode off, but whomever it was was quickly left behind.

The jostling almost immediately became unbearable painful and I was relieved to reach Louis without any delay. For my crime I received over a thousand Septims, more than enough to bribe my way out of anything else. Sibbi will probably keep his mouth shut to avoid crossing his mother any further and a Khajiit looks like any other one while she is riding away on a horse.

That was enough for one day and I returned to the Bee and Barb, paying another ten Septims for my room again tonight. Tomorrow I will visit this bandit-mage, then hopefully be done with Riften entirely.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Skyrim Day 043 - City of Scoundrels

28 Heartfire, 4E201

I woke surrounded by the bodies of Forsworn and counted thirteen before I lost interest. Instead of taking that grim tally I turned my attention towards finding the burial cairn of Red Eagle. The blade I swiped from the wild rebels yesterday was the key to the ancient warlord, but the ritual was supposed to summon him back to the Forsworn cause. Nothing was mentioned of what would happen if a curious Khajiit called him to this Plane instead.

Finding out proved to be far simpler than even what I assumed a Forsworn plan would consist of. Locating the cairn was the most difficult part: it was behind the Forsworn camp, accessible only via a drawbridge lowered from a nearby watchtower to an adjacent one on the opposite side of a steep ravine. No one was manning either tower, nor did I encounter anyone on the plateau beyond.

After some wandering I started to smell smoke and my nose led me to a brazier happily burning away in the early morning dawn.
The cave was very small, a single room made up the entire thing. Inside was a dead Orsimer clutching a book telling of the Red Eagle. Apparently the legend led him this far, only for him to fall to unknown foes, probably Forsworn. A pedestal in the middle of the room had a slot cut into it and pressing the sword inside it triggered a fake wall which opened to a more richly furnished room.

The funeral bier warned me of what was going to happen and sure enough, as soon as I started to ascend the stairs, the lid of the coffin shifted and a well-equipped Draugr stepped out and looked about menacingly. Fortunately I was no where near the stairs by the time he was walking about, having hidden behind a large column while he lumbering about.

Four piles of bones around him also took the form of warriors, two of them with swords, the others, bows. But I was easily able to sneak up behind each skeleton and sever its connection to this world without being seen and soon it was just me and a confused Red Eagle wondering why he had been woken up to a seemingly empty chamber.

While his back was turned I drew my dagger in my off-hand and my battle-ax in my right and crept up to him. A well-aimed blow with the dagger brought him to his knees and a swing of the ax sent his skeletal head clattering across the room. Such was the end of the impressively described 'Red Eagle'.

The funeral goods were more impressive than the former warlord: a chest behind the bier held a very rare Ebony longbow. The rest of the chest's contents were either too old or too worn to be valuable, so I left it for someone else, as I did the blade in its pedestal. Perhaps a Forsworn will arrive one day and name himself the new 'Red Eagle'. Perhaps they will also stop lashing stone and wood together then calling it a weapon. One can hope.

Feeling like I had just wasted several days chasing a worthless legend, I turned around and started the long walk to Riften. Miraculously I managed to have a completely uneventful walk halfway past Whiterun before I saw a waterfall.
Naturally I had to visit the lake beneath it and also naturally, there was a intricately carved door along one side of it that beckoned me inside.
I am not sure what I had been hoping for, but all I found was damp, Falmer, and Chaurus. Whatever the cave was used for previously it had long since lost that dedication in place of Falmer tents and Chaurus egg piles. I exited the cavern via an exit on the far side with nothing to show for surviving a Falmer/Chaurus den.

The exit placed me near a small village named 'Darkwater Crossing'. A few farms and a blacksmith's shop accounted for the entire place, but the villagers were friendly and helpfully described the fastest way to reach Riften, though no one I spoke to thought reaching it was a particularly great idea. An old miner asked me why I even wanted to go there at all and I replied that I simply wanted to visit each of the Holds. He stared at me a moment, then advised that I not plan on staying in that one for more than a day. I assured him I would be fine and found his concern to be oddly touching.
It was night when I arrived at Riften and the gate guard lazily tried to extort a "gate tax" from me, but I was not having such nonsense. I bluffed and told him I was an old hand to the game and he sheepishly opened the gate, sans tax. His partner at the gate, an otherwise silent woman, laughed at him as I walked past.
Finally inside the infamous city, I was immediately accosted by a Nord calling herself 'Mjoll the Lioness'. She had been talking to an Imperial sitting near the gate, but called out to me as soon as I was past the wall. She introduced herself and asked what my business was in Riften. I gave the same answer I did to the miner at Darkwater, but I was met with a skeptical look this time. Mjoll warned me not to get tangled up with the Thieves' Guild, then laughed at even calling the group a "Guild", declaring that the once-fabled institution was now little more than a gang.

A man relaxing against a post straightened up as I approached. He descriptively called himself 'Maul' and threatened me with "harsh action" if I became involved against the Black-Briar family business. As I had no idea who that even was I promised him I would not be causing any trouble and thus relaxed, he asked if he could be of any service.

I know the type: gate-watchers who make their living by acting as guides for new arrivals and spreaders of news and rumors for everyone else. If they cannot sell you on either service you will usually find your purse a little lighter once you manage to shake them off. 

Maul drawled that he could introduce me to any merchants I might have need of, so to confound the man I showed him a gemstone that had the peculiar quality of floating above whatever surface you placed it upon. I had taken it from the Arch-Mage's quarters some time ago after finding that no one at the College could tell me what it was. I have been asking gem merchants and the Khajiit caravans about it, but met with a similar lack of results.

Maul eyed the gem greedily and suggested I take it to a man named 'Vex', an "associate" with the local Thieves' Guild, an organization I do not want to become involved with. For lodgings I was directed to 'The Bee and Barb', run by a haggard Argonian named 'Keerava'.

As soon as I walked in I heard someone lecturing the patrons about the return of Dragons. I was immediately interested, but Keerava and another Argonian whom I assume is her husband, tiredly asked him to stop bothering everyone or leave. The man chose 'leave' and brushed past me without a word.

Keerava apologized and asked what I needed. The answer of a room seemed to perk her up and she happily pocked ten Septims and led me to a tiny room just wide enough to admit a bed. At least it is lacks a window and is small enough for an intruder to wake me up before I get a dagger buried in my back.

As expected, there is really no good reason for me to be here, but other than Dawnstar, which is technically not a Hold, I have now visited all of them. I think I shall be leaving tomorrow, though to what purpose I do not yet know.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Skyrim Day 042 - A Mage's Child and The Red Eagle

26 Heartfire, 4E201
Another Ruined Fortress

I am looking around me and I certainly do not remember Falkreath looking like this. But then, I am not in Falkreath tonight, but another ruined fortress, surrounded by bloody, cooling bodies.

I left the ruined fortress of yesterday and made my way down the road towards the Pale Pass where I had been captured by the Legion over a month ago. Along the road lay a cavern known locally as 'Southfringe Sanctum' and said to have been occupied as late by a powerful group of necromancers and spellswords. I felt that I would have little to fear from another yet another group of bandits.

As it turned out, they were a bit more than simple bandits and had they been capable of exercising anything like caution, discipline, or strategy it would have been a hard-fought battle. But it was not. Their lookout was too busy experimenting with his camp alchemy table to notice a Khajiit sneaking up behind him with a dagger and a list of other things to do after his death.
This self-centered behavior repeated itself throughout Southfringe: two men died at their own alchemy tables inside, one at an anvil, and another with a mining pick in his hand instead of a blade. Their leader, an Orsimer I later found was called 'Bashnag', died to two thrusts of my dagger while he was studying an enchanting table.
Runil's journal was in a chest sitting on the floor next to the table, but as I turned to leave with it I heard a woman's voice begging to be let free. There was no one in the main chamber, but pushing aside some small, hardy bushes revealed a small passage directly behind where Bashnag had been standing.
The voice belonged to Selveni Nethri, a former necromancer of Bashnag's. Accused of practicing necromancy in Riften, she was driven off and her daughter taken to the local orphanage. Selveni wandered around for days in grief and confusion before finding Bashnag's mages, whom she successfully ingratiated herself with. However, she had not forgotten her daughter and stole away back to Riften for a few days in an effort to find her child. The orphanage no longer had her and Selveni crept back to the Sanctum to plan her next move.

But Bashnag had noticed her absence and accused her of conspiring with the Thalmor, an unlikely happenstance given that Selveni is a Dunmer. Bashnag used some sort of spell to drain Selveni's magicka and chased her deeper into the Sanctum, eventually trapping her in the spiderweb I cut her down from.

Unable to cast her spells, she asked that I make sure the way out was clear. I agreed and she kept well behind me as I left the Sanctum, though nothing further barred our way. We stepped outside together and she wished me well, stating that she was planning on traveling the rest of the province to find her daughter. I wished her luck, though the difficulty of such a task must weigh heavily upon her.

With Runil's journal in my possession I began the walk back through Helgen and to Falkreath. Nature offered me a chance to try my new soul-trapping spell and after a short battle I was the somewhat proud owner of a soul gem occupied by a Spriggan. We all start somewhere.

The old Altmer had mostly concerned the journal with his daily religious responsibilities, but one entry complained of nightmares he felt originated from his time with the Thalmor (interesting!) during the Great War. In the nightmares he was leading his battlemages against the Imperials, but this time there were great creatures in the sky, swooping down on friend and foe alike, killing indiscriminately. A Dragon or perhaps several Dragons, he did not make note of it.

One of these Dragon-dreams suddenly shifted him to his present role in life and the dream hinted at a great power just out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned to look, it disappeared with the roaring of a Dragon. Then he woke up. Yet another mention of Dragons, this time by someone uninterested in them. A portent of things to come? Or just the manifestation of an old soldier's guilt? I doubt Runil knows.

With that task complete, I looked to my journal for one that might be close to Falkreath. I had written a reminder to investigate the rumors of an ancient Forsworn warlord known as 'Red Eagle' who lived during the First Era. According to my notes, it was said that his blade was still kept by the Forsworn with their hope to use it one day to summon his spirit and drive everyone else out of Skyrim.

I rank the Forsworn just below Draugr in brains and co-habitability and the thought of stealing their hope away was an appealing one.

Before leaving Falkreath I traded in my bow and arrows for another crossbow and bolts. The crossbow may be heavier, but it is much easier to use, especially when I do not wish to be seen. Lod was pleased with his acquisition of my Glass bow, an item he assured me would not be languishing in his shop for long.

Back on the road I went. I briefly stopped at the side of the road to examine a small pond and was quite alarmed to turn around and see a glowing red door set into the hillside behind me.
The door was solid stone and carved with the visage of a skull with a bloody hand-print. Underneath it lay a skeletal corpse sitting atop a pile of more skulls, one of which had a dagger embedded in it. Clearly style meant more to the group behind the door than subtlety, whomever they were.

Curious, I knocked on the door and a rasping voice responded, asking me what the music of life was. I guessed the lute and was coldly rebuffed. Oh well. I never much enjoyed the lute anyway.

The resting place of the warlord 'Red Eagle' was somewhere between Markarth and Solitude, but I guessed that the ancient Forsworn would be closer to his people than otherwise. It took me a but of exploring, but my hunch proved to be correct,  though I would not realize that until after dispatching a small host of Forsworn.

It was night when I found the decaying remains of what appeared to be a temple cut into the hillside. Stairs led the way further up the hills, but Forsworn were all over the area, making me suspect at the time that I had found the resting place of Red Eagle.
The Forsworn lack the magicka-enhanced senses of the Draugr and, aided by the night, I probably slew two dozen of the bizarre cultist-rebels without them realizing they were even under attack. One was seated upon a throne at the conclusion of the stairways and upon his body was a key and a chipped, rusted sword with a minor enchantment. Trusting my hunches again, I figured it to be the legendary blade, poor as it looked.

A nearby pamphlet described the ritual to raise Red Eagle from his rest: bathe the ancient blade in human blood and present it at a nearby cairn creatively named 'Rebel's Cairn'. There was also a chant to accompany the return of the blade and I was curious to see what would actually happen if I went through with it all.

But by then it was after midnight and it had been a very long, busy day for me. I may nap for a few hours in one of the Forsworn tents, then see about this ritual.