Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Skyrim Day 092 - The Battle for Whiterun

23 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I had allowed myself a rare moment of tardiness in convincing myself that my arrival at Whiterun last night was too late to call upon the Jarl. I knew my news of Ulfric's reply to Balgruuf would gain me entrance at any time of the night, but I told myself this morning would not be too late.

It was.

I awoke to the sounds of horns and shouting men beyond the city's walls and realized that Ulfric made good on his word much quicker than I anticipated. I thought he would need to rally his soldiers, gather supplies and equipment, then march on Whiterun.

Instead the Stormcloaks must have nearly marched on my heels last night, for they were arrayed around the city, catapults somehow constructed overnight, and were beginning to surround the city as I rushed to Dragonsreach.

I found the Jarl in an upstairs chamber planning the city's defense with an Imperial Legate I had not seen before. No one gave me a second glance as I ascended the staircase, so I stood to the side and listened to the Jarl and the Legate bicker. The Jarl arrogantly declared that he was not concerned with his guards, only the "Imperial milk drinkers". The Legate tartly replied that he and his men could sit the battle out if it would help...though I doubt that would have been truly possible. Whatever the case, the Jarl apologized. Stress was high.

An Imperial messenger arrived out of breath, shouting that he had arrived just as the Stormcloaks closed off the approaches into the city. The Legate ordered his advisors to see to the Legion's deployment, leaving the Jarl, the Legate, and Irileth peering at a map of the city, the latter whom excused herself a few moments later to see to the city guards.

I announced myself then, startling the two men, but the coincidental return of his axe made the Jarl chuckle, replying that he had a feeling Ulfric would provide such a reply. Anticipating it, he had sent for the Imperial Legion as I left Whiterun, making my journey necessary only to goad the Stormcloak leader into rash action. Balgruuf suggested I resume my duties as a Legionnaire and asked the Legate if he had any business for me. He curtly replied that all Legionnaires were expected to be already at the walls, so I bowed and left Dragonsreach.
Balls of fire were raining down on the city as I rushed down the stairs, but they seemed unable to damage the buildings, even with a direct impact. The villagers were in far more danger, but other than an orphan who quickly scampered into a house I saw no one on the streets who was not armed and heading for the gate.
Unfortunately I was still dressed as a commoner! I dashed into Breezehome, just about turned over the bedroom chest, and quickly armed and adorned myself with my familiar equipment. Lydia asked if I wanted her at the walls or in the house, obviously desiring the former, so I suggested she equip a bow and join the defense. Suitably equipped a minute or so later I followed her out and towards the sounds of battle outside the walls.
The first wave of Stormcloaks were laying before the rushed barricade jammed underneath the decrepit outer gate, the bodies peppered with arrows and bolts.

The Legionnaire at the crumbling battlement over the outer gate shouted that a second group was charging and everyone leapt to what remained of the walls to pick up bows left there in an effort to thin the Stormcloaks' ranks. I had forgotten the bolts for my crossbow and waited, axe in hand, to slow down any rebels that might make it past the barricade. I saw several Stormcloaks fall, one with an arrow in his side from Lydia atop the larger and stronger city wall flanking the outer gate.

More Stormcloaks came pouring down the road towards the gate and the soldiers at the walls had fewer arrows than the rebels had bodies. The took up positions behind me, swords and hammers in hand as the Stormcloaks rolled the barricade away from the gate. I would look stupid suddenly running behind the others, so I stayed in front, a Khajiit bearing the first melee for a city which did not normally let her kind enter.

What happened next is quite a blur. Many of the Stormcloaks simply ran past me to engage the Legionnaires and guards, perhaps thinking I was a member of a caravan caught in-between. So it came to be that out of thirty or so rebels I fought only two at the small stream which the city uses to dispose of its waste.
It was a terribly uncoordinated attack that fed in soldiers in threes and fours, many of them getting shot down by archers on the city wall before they passed the outer gate. Those that survived that (and ran past me) fought Legionnaires and guards standing shield-to-shield with further support from archers on the watchtowers behind them. The Stormcloaks had no chance.

Ulfric, or any Stormcloak of note, was not in the battle. Of course.

The bodies of both sides were collected for the funeral pyre and a speech given by the victorious Jarl with the ever dour Irileth standing alongside. I did not see either of them in the battle either.
The speech was as expected: praise for the bravery of the survivors of Whiterun and Sovngarde for those that did not. A nod to the Imperials was also provided in the form of the obvious prediction that Ulfric would soon attack the other cities and that we would all need to band together to finally end Skyrim's civil war.

With that everyone walked back inside the city to tend to the wounded, but a Legionnaire stopped me as I turned to enter.

It was Hadvar, equipped as a front-line "heavy" Legionnaire. He laughed when I turned to face him and joked that he had expected to find me face-down in the dirt somewhere in Skyrim. A bit insulting, perhaps, but he seemed sincerely happy to see me again. Having already run out of things to say he clapped me on the shoulder and jogged down to the outer gate to make sure no corpses had been missed.
The town was smoldering, but the fires seemed under control and I had to report back to Solitude with news of the Imperial victory.
So it was on the road once again for me.

I had just passed the ruined watchtower which Skyrim's first awakened Dragon had nearly destroyed when one of the sentries shouted "Dragon!". I had just enough time to duck as a giant gold-colored Dragon swooped low over the road, attacking someone further ahead of me.

The "someone" was a mounted Imperial detachment returning to Castle Dour and they rushed back to the tower as the Dragon swept around for another pass at them. They reached the tower just in time to save themselves, but their horses were not so lucky. The Legionnaires joined the guards in loosing arrows at the beast from atop the tower as I drew my axe. I am sure it looked stupid, such a short weapon against the Dragon, but I have suspected that they know of the Dragonborn and anticipated that they would start targeting me. In this I appear, at least, to have been correct.
Once the Dragon noticed the Khajiit standing alone on the road it ignored the watchtower and landed right next to me with a bone-shaking thud. This provided my allies an easier target, but their cheap iron-headed arrows mostly glanced off the Dragon's hard scales. As usual it was down to my hand weapon to fell such a great creature.

The strategy I have found to be effective is to concentrate on the wings first to limit its mobility, then the head. Plodding along the ground seems to wear them down very quickly.
With a grateful wave to the cheering soldiers on the tower I resumed my journey to Solitude...

..and encountered absolutely nothing else along the way, reaching the city before the gates locked for the night. I chose to not repeat the mistake I made last night and immediately reported to Castle Dour with news of the Imperial victory. As expected I found the General and the Legate still at the map table.
General Tullius congratulated me on "my" victory and promoted me to Quaestor, which I gather has no practical benefit to me. He stated that my unique skills would be wasted on the line and felt I would be more useful as a "flexible agent", which I agree with. To that end I am to report to The Pale, an L-shaped region containing Dawnstar and little else. The Legate will be on her way there tomorrow in order to take command of a raid there, one I anticipate I shall be taking part in.

Best to rest up and travel with the dawn. The sooner the Empire regains its hold on Skyrim the sooner the menace of the Dragons can be countered.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Skyrim Day 091 - Underwhelmed by Windhelm

22 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

It had not occurred to me before I accepted the axe, but there was only one Khajiit at Helgen and it was possible that Ulfric  would recognize her, which is to say myself. I spent more time last night thinking of creative (mostly magical) ways of disguising myself before realizing that the answer lay within forty Septims or so.

My plan was very simple: store all my gear at Breezehome and purchase the cheapest, most worn equipment Belethor and Ulfberth had to offer at their respective shops. This meant waiting for Belethor to stagger into his shop apparently whenever he pleases.

I decided to wait in the plaza as the town awoke around me.  The smaller merchants have stalls in the plaza square, most selling sundries I had no use for. I listened in on a conversation between a townsperson and an elderly merchant named 'Fralia' who was selling a small quantity of weaponry from the Battle-Born family forge.

The customer asked if the family had ever considered selling their wares to the Khajiit caravans, but she haughtily replied that they had enough customers as it was and did not need the help of Khajiit. A more vengeful one than I would relieve the Battle-Born of their goods, but I have no time for petty thievery...nor the skill to succeed, probably.

Distracted, I did not notice the Dunmer striding into the square until she was just about in front of me, leaning against a post holding up the overhanging roof of Belethor's shop.
She was extravagantly equipped, fully dressed in steel armor adorned with meteoric glass shaped to deflect and absorb blows. The stuff is too heavy for my liking, though I do prefer a glass blade to steel.

Obviously a mercenary, she introduced herself in typical Dunmer style: as an artist of blood painting upon the canvas of life...or something like that. I do not believe such flowerly language is appreciated by the Nords, less by a potential customer. We talked for a few moments, but it was clear to her that I was not a potential customer. Belethor unlocked his shop a few moments later, so I wished her fortune and stepped inside the shop as she nodded at me. 

Belethor had a better selection than I had been hoping for. I was looking for a farmer's canvas shirt and pants, but the man had specialized in expectation of the coming war between the Imperials and  the Stormcloaks, so I settled for a poorly-made set of fur armor into which large iron studs were set. It made me look more a bandit than impoverished wanderer, but I had to settle for what I could find.

Ulfberth was more accommodating, stocking dozens of the steel daggers Nords use a hundred times for just as many reasons every day. With the axe strung tight against my back and the dagger into my ill-fitting fur armor I set out on the road once again.

With my crossbow, bolts, weapons, armor, flasks, and ingredient pouches at Breezehome I felt very light on my feet with just a dagger, axe, and soft fur armor. I was also defenseless at range save for my magicka, but I had decided that was a last resort just in case Ulfric has agents along the roads.

That wound up not being a concern, the road between Whiterun and Windhelm was empty, I encountered only a single Sabre Cat which I bypassed with the aid of a Calm spell.
Windhelm is aptly named, the city sits on the coast north enough of the springs to receive no help against the cold coming over the sea from the north. 

The location is a bit of a mystery. Windhelm's docks are built in the shallows of the river, unlike Solitude's deepwater docks on the sea. The navigation into the river is treacherous, one can even see an old wreck nosing into the river from the city's gatehouse.

I was allowed into the city without challenge, making me suspect that my identity and arrival were already known, but Windhelm is so chaotically built that I would have had no trouble dodging the guards if it came to a chase. The twisty alleys reminded me, poorly, of Markarth's channels and chambers.

Finding the palace was easy enough, all I had to do was head in a general direction for the largest building within the walls. Again I was let inside without a single question and this was to see the leader of the rebellion! I cannot help but wonder if I would have been allowed inside if I had been wearing my Imperial gear. Perhaps I would have for all the security I have seen in the place.
The outer door opened right into the throne room, another perplexing strategic decision. It was surprisingly blue, with blue banners along the wall and ceiling facing a rough, blue carpet which led to a throne draped with blue fabric of some kind. Probably needlessly expensive.
But Ulfric was not in attendance. His steward, who readily admitted he did almost nothing, pointed me to a side-room. The door was open and the voices of several men floated out of it.
This was a meeting of the Stormcloak war council, which apparently is open to the non-Nordic public. I did not know of this. Apparently neither does General Tullius. 

Ulfric was not a very active participant, seeming to prefer to listen than speak. He looked smaller than I remembered him being and far more tired. I felt the best way to handle this situation was to play it very proper, for it could easily turn into a hostile one.

So I bowed to "War Leader Ulfric", a title which brought a wry smile to his face, and announced that I had a gift from Jarl Balgruuf. He did not move, but everyone else in the room drew blades and axes. Ulfric waved them down and asked if the gift was the axe or the dagger. In response I handed him the axe, but he handed it back immediately, telling me to inform Balgruuf that he would be entertaining visitors shortly.

A Stormcloak invasion it is then...but with what troops and hardware, I cannot tell. I have not seen one war-engine in the entire province or anything to suggest either the Imperials or Stormcloaks are capable of even battering down a simple gate. Perhaps they simply all rely on ladders.

Ulfric excused himself from the council and went into the Hall, giving orders to his steward before he was seated.
No one paid any attention to me, so I left the palace. I thought at first to immediately continue back to Whiterun. I hurried out of the gates, again unchallenged, hit the Sabre Cat outside with another Calm spell and proceeded along the road for several hours.

Again I was undisturbed, reaching Whiterun as the night's guards began their patrols. It was too late to call upon the Jarl, so I have retired to my own home and will attend to Ulfric's business tomorrow morning.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Skyrim Day 090 - Demoted to Delivery

21 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I left Dawnstar before most of the town was awake, the Jagged Crown safely hidden in my pack. I anticipated an increase in Stormcloaks along the road to Solitude in hopes of recovering the artifact, but I encountered no Stormcloaks, only an Orsimer skooma-dealer who attacked me bare-handed.

Arriving at Solitude found the Imperials in an equal torpor. Had I been in command I would have certainly increased my local presence and increased road patrols, but nothing seems to have been done. I found General Tullius just inside the keep enjoying a late breakfast, though I suspect he is the type of man who enjoys nothing.
He seemed surprised to see me, perhaps assuming that the Crown would be returned by the Legate, and asked if we had any trouble. I told him of the Stormcloaks earlier arrival to the ruin and he admitted, ruefully, that the Legate had been right to advise that troops be sent out earlier. I handed him the crown and he barely gave it a glance.

Completing that task led to another: Imperial intelligence showed that the Stormcloaks were planning on storming Whiterun and I was to deliver this intelligence to Jarl Balgruuf in order to sway his opinion firmly into the Imperial camp.

I doubted this 'intelligence' right off. From what I have seen neither the Imperial Legion nor the Stormcloaks have the numbers required to storm any of Skyrim's cities, even as small and isolated as they all are. The fact that the intelligence is for the Jarl alone supports my suspicion. It very well may be an Imperial threat of its own.

On my way out of the city I passed an encamped Khajiit caravan busily arguing amongst themselves. I paused a moment to listen in and the matter was an economic one. One of the Khajiit, the youngest, I think, was trying to convince the others that they should sell arms. When asked to whom he replied to both the Imperials and the Stormcloaks. The Khajiit he was arguing with looked as though she wanted to slap him, replying that it would only result in the eventual winner hunting them down for aiding their opponent. A good point, I thought, and one that he conceded to.

I had little to sell though and moved on without stopping to talk.

The road was unusually clear today, save for a docile Giant herding a painted beast before him, both I gave a wide berth. A trio of fire-flinging cultists assaulted me, but they are predictable in their incompetent strategies and hardly a trouble.
The moon was high when I arrived at Whiterun. I did not stop at my (more accurately, Lydia's) home, heading instead straight to Dragonsreach to hand over my 'intelligence'.  The Jarl was languishing on his throne, as usual, his Dunmer captain standing somewhat more attentively behind.
My message was evidently a common delivery at Dragonsreach. The Jarl sardonically asked if the General was asking, again, to garrison soldiers in his castle, but I just shrugged. The missive was sealed with wax, there was no way for me to have read it on the way without the Jarl (and the General) knowing I broke it.

When I informed him that there was a credible threat to Whiterun which the Imperial Legion was willing to offer aid against he waved a hand and told me to give the papers to his steward, Proventus Avenicci, effecting an air of nonchalance. But Irileth's eyes widened and I saw her give a quick motion of her hand to a guard standing nearby. He left without a word, no doubt collecting guards for additional patrols.

I replied that I was under orders to give the papers directly to the Jarl of Whiterun and he laughed, taking the packet from me and immediately handing it to his steward. I wonder now if the Jarl can read or perhaps can read only poorly. I should have thought of that earlier.

Whatever the case, Avenicci advised that the current wait-and-see policy be continued, but Irileth, spoiling for a fight, sneered that prey waits. The Jarl, whatever his literacy, had a slightly different idea than either one of his advisors.

His was to present his personal challenge to Ulfric: a challenge to face Balgruuf in single combat or declare his true intentions for Whiterun. The choice for Ulfric here was clear: either battle Balgruuf for control of the city or let it be known that the Stormcloaks would attempt to take it which would allow Balgruuf to accept Imperial reinforcements without looking like an Imperial pawn.

The decision rendered the steward temporarily speechless, but Irileth dryly pointed out that Ulfric had been rather straight-forward with Torygg. Having regained his voice Steward Avenicci suddenly changed direction, urging his Jarl to accept the Imperial garrison.

The discussion soon sank into politics I had not bothered to follow before all this Dragonborn business and they argued among themselves for a few minutes. When I resumed listening to them I found that the steward had, somehow, reversed his reversal and was favoring his original caution. But the Jarl had made up his mind to personally push the issue between himself and Ulfric.

To that end I was to continue east into Windhelm, delivering Jarl Balgruuf's personal weapon to Jarl Ulfric. If Ulfric sent me back to Whiterun with the axe then the two men were at war. If he kept the axe, they were at peace. A uniquely Nordic negotiation and not one I fully understand.

I was officially dismissed, as was the court for the night, but before I could leave a servant came bustling up with a simple steel battle-ax wrapped in linen. The Jarl's personal weapon...or one of them. As I left I heard the Jarl ask for ink and parchment for a letter to General Tullius, so perhaps the man is not illiterate, else he was requesting it for someone else.
I passed by the tree I had helped to replenish some time ago and it looked to be doing very well.

Having finally completed my business at Dragonsreach I retired to my private home that I barely visit. If Lydia was surprised she did not show it, though I suspect now that she knew of my arrival long before. It is not as if many Khajiit are seen inside any city of Skyrim's, after all.

So tomorrow I am off to Windhelm, the last city in Skyrim that I have not visited. I was hoping to avoid trouble by avoiding the rebellious city, but I am now firmly mired in it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Skyrim Day 089 - The Jagged Crown

20 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I had been told after receiving my orders that the Legate and her squad would not be leaving until late the next day, but when I woke this morning I found them to have left several hours before. As no one had taken any trouble to track me down (hardly an effort, I own a mansion!) or wake me, I guessed my participation was a "want" and not a "need".

The Nords' 'Jagged Crown' heirloom was at a ruin called 'Korvanjund' neat the crossroads between Winterhold, Dawnstar, and Whiterun, a relatively easy journey almost entirely by road. While on my way out of town I was stopped by a hassled-looking man who introduced himself as Xander, former captain of the vessel 'Argent Raptor' which he lost to an iceberg north of Windhelm. I am not sure why he wasted both our time telling me this.

The walk was cold, but without event. I caught the distinctive tones of Legate Rikke over the wind as I approached the crossroad.

I joined the group and was almost immediately greeted by a boisterous Legionnaire who took my hand and shook it, laughing. I thought the man mad until I looked at him more closely and, to my surprise, recognized Hadvar, the Imperial who led me out of Helgen. He admitted to being relieved to hear that I both had joined the Legion and that I was standing with him today, for he was uneasy around the ruins. I was surprised to hear that, but kept it to myself. Having been in an innumerable amount of ruined fortresses, tombs, and temples I cannot say the prospect of yet another Nordic burial hall provides much dread.

The Legate cleared her throat and another speech began. The virtues of courage and dedication were lauded alongside the update that the Stormcloaks had gotten inside the ruin first. That was met with a few grumbles, but the Legate was quick to eye those with an opinion. Finishing her speech she drew her blade and advanced towards the ruins, her men and I following.

However, she soon stopped and signaled for our company to hide behind some nearby rocks. Peering from around the largest she swore and cursed her luck. The Stormcloaks had beaten the Legion to Korvanjund, even after Rikke's early-morning march. I did not see the problem with this, but the other Legionnaires looked more uncertain than when they anticipated mere bandits. Only then did it occur to me that, with the exception of Rikke and Hadvar, the other soldiers were completely "green", as we used to say.

Fortunately the Battle of Korvanjund was a short one. The Stormcloaks had done us a favor in removing the bandits, but suffered losses of their own in doing so. The few that were patrolling outside were quickly overwhelmed or shot down.

There were more Stormcloaks inside than there were outside, but they committed the folly of grouping together against foes armed with bows and crossbows. Five Stormcloaks lost their lives on the stairs of a large chamber just past the entranceway, four to arrows or bolts, for one of the Legionnaires had with him his family's crossbow. Why the uptight Legate allowed this is a mystery, but a welcome one.
Beyond the large chamber was a narrow two-story chamber with stairways and hallways dotted along its sides. Scaffolding split the chamber into a second story, a perfect spot for archers to ambush us had any Stormcloak thought of it.

The Legate did not like the many avenues of approach and declared it the perfect site for an ambush, unknowingly echoing my thoughts. She mused on the strategy of sending someone ahead to scout for the remaining Stormcloaks, then looked dubiously at her little band. She had left two soldiers at the entrance to guard against the possibility of reinforcements, leaving Hadvar, myself, and two uneasy soldiers with her.

Naturally the "auxiliary" was chosen for the thankless task, but I was glad to hear it. Serana aside I have spent most of my adventuring alone, save for the odd merchant I may have escorted back in the day.

Besides, I had a much greater chance of surviving.

I crept ahead and picked off two Stormcloaks with my odd thing to say given that it takes nearly half a minute to reload it, but the second rebel stood her ground the whole time, shouting and brandishing her shield. I am not sure what she meant to accomplish.

Moving through the ruin we passed the corpses of several Stormcloaks with the unanimated bodies of draugr lying near them. The Stormcloaks must have killed or driven off the bandits, but the bandits had not entered the ruin. Once the Stormcloaks did they must have disturbed the dutiful guardians and gotten caught in an ambush. To our advantage, of course, but one of the Legionnaires stopped and wondered at it, evidently having never encountered draugr before. The Legate snapped at him to stop gawking at 'bonewalkers' and move on, but it confirmed my suspicion that many of our band were untried.

The Legate knew a thing or two about Korvanjund, naming a portion of hallway the 'Hall of Stories' as we entered it. The green soldier spoke up, probably wanting to make himself look useful, and explained that the carvings on the walls were supposed to be stories of the ancient civilization that built the place. I had assumed all (or at least, most) of the ruins were ancient Nordic, but it sounds as if this may not be the case.

Whatever their origin the mechanism for entry was familiar: at the end of the hall sat a huge door with three discs of stone set inside it. At the foot of the door lay two dead Stormcloaks, next to which an ornamental black Dragon's claw of stone lay.

How the Stormcloaks got it wrong, I do not know, for the match was set into medallions at the back of the claw, as usual. This one was Fox-Dragonfly-Dragon and the door opened smoothly once I inserted the claw into it. Had I not I am sure more darts from hidden pipes would have peppered me as it did the two curious unfortunates. The relatively warm air of the ruin rushed past us through the door as it opened and a whirl of stale, frigid air greeted us.

Behind the door was a high chamber poorly-lit in stark contrast to the rest of the ruin. Given that the claw-door does not seem to close again it was likely we were the first to enter in a very long time. This was to the Legate's satisfaction and the unease of everyone else. I whispered to Hadvar that we were likely to encounter strong foes and he nodded, jogging to join the skittish Legionnaires and calm them.

There was no obvious way to continue forwards, so we spread out, the Legate remaining in the center of the chamber, Hadvar and the others on one side, myself on the other. I quickly spied a section of wall with telltale irregular lines and a bit of searching rewarded me with a plug-style switch nearby. Pulling it slid the section of wall aside, revealing a staircase leading further down. I called to the others and we proceeded further inside.
This led to the largest chamber in the ruin, dominated by a platform upon which a hunched corpse sat upon a throne. Having a strong suspicion of what was about to happen I started to circle behind the platform, but Hadvar stepped on to it and examined the corpse closely, yelling that it had a crown and asking if it was the one we were looking for. Foolish.

I had enough time to shout a warning and he leaped back just in time to avoid the sudden lunge of the draugr lord's ancient two-handed sword. Two stone pillars, one on each side of the throne, dislodged their lids as two more draugr emerged, both armored.

The two green Legionnaires panicked, but to their credit they panicked forwards instead of backwards, recklessly engaging the draugr that had emerged from the pillars. Hadvar and the Legate pressed the draugr lord, but the draugr were armed with ebony weapons versus their cheap Imperial blades. Hadvar and the Legate were holding their ground by virtue of skill alone and one of the Legionnaires had already fallen.

As for my part I still have my Dawnguard war axe and the draugr were occupied with my companions. A quick strike to the unarmored back of the one pressing the foolish soldier felled it and I expected the man to run for the exit, but he turned to engage the draugr lord, falling almost immediately as it turned and cleaved his blade in half, continuing into his head. Death was mercifully instant.

I finished off the second draugr guard without much trouble and turned to assist Hadvar and the Legate. Hadvar had retreated a ways back and was on one knee, looking for something in his satchel. I tossed him a restorative and attacked the draugr alongside Legate Rikke.

My hand-axe was not the proper weapon to face a two-handed sword with, so I dropped it and drew my ebony dagger instead. A quick drink of an invisibility draught allowed me to circle behind the ancient lord and bury my dagger in the back of his rotting skull.

The battle for the Jagged Crown was over and at cost: two of the four Legionnaires that entered Korvanjund were not leaving it and all the Legate had to show for it was a dull iron helmet set about with horns. Neither she nor Hadvar seemed interested in acquiring any goods, so I claimed an ebony-faced war-hammer I found leaning against a chest at the rear of the throne. It is not to my style of combat, but it will look nice on the wall at Proudspire.

The Legate tossed the crown (crown helmet?) to me, ordering that I return to Solitude with it. She and her soldiers were going to comb the ruin for anything useful, which a war-hammer, in her eyes, was not. Odd.

I found the two soldiers stationed at the entrance cowering behind a pillar, swords drawn against a foe that did not exist. I laughed, startling them so badly that one dropped his blade. Red-faced, they both started with excuses but I shook my head and suggested they report to the Legate.

The moon had risen while we were fighting and the sky shimmered with a beautiful green ribbon of light that I have never seen before. It is nice to know that there are still mysteries to discover after so many years.
I have stopped at the Windpeak Inn in Dawnstar for the night and will continue tomorrow to Solitude to return this crowned helmet the Nords hold in such esteem. I am curious as to what use the Imperials plan on putting it towards.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Skyrim Day 088 - Re-Enlisting

19 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I discovered this morning that I had indeed forgotten something: to take a curative or two after the battle at Volkihar Keep. I was already starting to show signs of the disease this morning, the symptoms having started quite early, or so I thought.

Angeline's Aromatics was well-stocked with restoratives and curatives, making my ironic descent into vampirism a very short story. I asked the date after drinking two of the required elixirs and was told it was 19 Sun's Dusk, three days after the Volkihar Clan's final stand. The Cairn took three days from me for a walk, though minorly waylaid, that felt only a matter of hours.

It fell upon me then to decide upon my next course of action. Delphine's was pressing, but if it was critical I expect she would have sent a courier. I still have the very strange device Septimus Signus gave me, now full of the blood of various bandits he claims to need to unlock his Dwemer cube. He, however, is north of Winterhold and I do not expect to return there for some time.

Reviewing my notes I saw that Delphine thought that the Thalmor were resurrecting the Dragons, no doubt to assist them with further conquests. If that were the case, would it not be preferable to see Skyrim's civil war ended to the advantage of one of the non-Thalmor factions?

My choices were the Imperial Legion or the Stormcloaks. These options made for no choice at all, for I doubt the Stormcloaks would have accepted a Khajiit to begin with. Besides, I felt it would be interesting to serve within the Legion once again, even if my previous rank was not to be granted a few hundred years later.

The enlistment point for the Imperial Legion in Skyrim happens to be a block or so away from Proudspire Manor in a small fortress built into the city walls. The fortress, named 'Castle Dour', overlooks the coast and is the most fortified position in the city, even more than Skyrim's current seat of power in the Blue Palace.

During my short jaunt I overheard two guards talking about hearing howling at night near the walls, one trying to convince the other that the howling was from werewolves. I do not understand why the guard would think the howls to be from werewolves, which are very rare, instead of wolves, which are not. I myself have not fought werewolves since my time on Solstheim, but the memories of so long ago a time are hazy and only getting hazier.

The soldiers standing watch at the Imperial garrison entrance proved surprisingly unconcerned regarding an unknown Khajiit walking past them and into the headquarters of their general. The argument inside was enough to drown out the sound of my entrance, one voice had the clipped tones of a Cyrodiil nobleman, the other was a woman's, obviously Nordic.
The nobleman was none other than General Tullius himself, an acquaintance from my near-execution at Helgen. Seeing me enter he wryly remarked that his guards seemed to be allowing anyone free reign of the castle.

I introduced myself as having been at Helgen and he nodded, remembering me as one of the prisoners. I replied that I had helped Hadvar (fortunately remembering his name!) escape and that he suggested I enlist with the Legion.

However Hadvar, after eighty-eight days or so, had still not reported back to Castle Dour. He likely reported to one of the local garrisons closer to his home, for I do not remember him as being the sort to be intimidated out of duty, even by a Dragon. The General was willing to wait for Hadvar to show and suggested I speak to his second, Legate Rikke, about opportunities for individuals as 'resourceful' as myself. He ended our conversation by stating that he was sure my imprisonment was all just a misunderstanding...which it actually was, but I did not press the point.

I do not remember seeing Legate Rikke at Helgen and she gave me no time to inquire. The Legate looked me over and brusquely declared that she had a "good feeling" about me, a rarity. Rather than go through enlistment, a process she did not explain, Legate Rikke instead gave me a "special mission".

The mission was as follows: Travel to a ruin once known as Fort Hraggstad located on the coast halfway between Solitude and the dock built for Volkihar Keep. Once there I was to eliminate the group of bandits that had taken up residence. Rikke judged the risk of losing even one soldier to the paltry band not worth the dubious reward and had been sitting on the assignment until I walked in.

Seemed simple enough.

It began to storm as I left Solitude, but the thunder was not enough to drown out the roaring of a Dragon that flew overhead as I ascended into the hills along the coast.
But once again this Dragon only circled about, made some noise, then flew off. Perhaps it did not notice me or particularly care. It has been awhile since I have been attacked by a Dragon, save for Durnehviir in the Soul Cairn. It may be that Delphine is correct in guessing that the Thalmor are controlling the Dragons and have had them stand off after their early losses against myself and the guardsmen of whatever towns they have assaulted.

I reached the remains of the fortress without incident and found it much like any other fortress in Skyrim: weather-beaten, ill-maintained, and occupied by bandits.
Most of the bandits were in the courtyard, two walking along the ramparts. I felled one with a bolt, bringing the other four charging out at me through the gate. I felled another at range as they closed in and dispatched the other three with barely any effort, their fur armor no defense against my ebony blade.

The leader was inside the keep guarding an empty set of  prison cells. I caught him muttering to himself as I sneaked in and silently ended his concerns with a blade across the throat. I left the bodies for Rikke's soldiers to throw into the sea.

Rikke and General Tullius were talking about a cultural artifact called the 'Jagged Crown' when I returned to Castle Dour. The exasperated Legate was trying, unsuccessfully, to explain to the General why the Jagged Crown was important to the Nords. For his part, the General kept insisting that the Moot was more important, regardless if Legate Rikke kept insisting the holder of the Crown would win the Moot.

The General glanced over at me while in the midst of their conversation and suggested that the 'Auxiliary' be sent to retrieve it. It took me a moment to realize he was referring to me. I have not gone by that title in hundreds of years and have been getting used to 'Dragonborn', to be honest. But Auxiliary I am once again.

The conversation broke for the moment and Rikke administered the Imperial oath, officiating my enlistment. Once that was done she ordered me to report to the local blacksmith, Beirand, to receive the official raiment, after which I was to proceed to Korvanjund, a Nordic ruin somewhat northeast of Whiterun, probably near Aftland. 

The Legate and her soldiers will also be traveling to the ruin, but naturally I am to travel ahead by myself, as a scout of sorts I suppose. It is funny to be hailed as the Dragonborn while at the same time occupy the very lowest rank of the Legion in which I have served alongside for so many years.

But she and her squad will not be leaving until late tomorrow, so I will set out early tomorrow. I may as well enjoy the comforts of my home in the limited time I am able. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Skyrim Day 087 - Family Disunion

Unknown Date, 4E201

Sleeping in the former castle of the Volkihar family was easier than I had anticipated. Once I found an actual bedroom I pushed several bookcases behind the door and fell upon the bed, falling asleep almost instantly.

No one attacked me in my sleep, though I did wake with a terrible thirst. Some minor illness, I  hope.

Finding my way back to Valerica's laboratory proved more difficult a task than I anticipated, largely due to my somehow forgetting how to get there! I am not sure how long it took me to find my way back, but it must have been at least an hour of pointless wandering among the rubble of Castle Volkihar. When I arrived the portal to the Soul Cairn was still spinning energetically, sending purple light and shadows dancing about the room.
The Cairn had not changed much in my absence. The confused souls were still lounging around and the soul fragments were still flitting about, chased by blackened skeletons inexplicably wielding swords and bows. For as much as I know about the place it is possible a thousand years passed from my last visit, or a few seconds.

Walking back to the ruined castle Valerica was using as her field camp was just as disorientating as it was originally. At times I felt I was walking without covering any discernable distance, others I was sprinting across the land making great progress. In the end I doubt I approached the place at any pace greater than a careful walk, whatever my confused senses were telling me.

Valerica was still busy at her makeshift alchemy lab and seemed irritated at having her research interrupted. If she wondered why Serana was not with me she hid it well. She took the news of her estranged husband's death with no joy, only commenting that she would move her work back to her old study. She thanked me, but I am just glad to be done with the whole mess, gratitude or not.

I wasted an more time trying to walk back to the portal than I did from it. I kept getting turned around, ending up in sharp-edged ruins and crumbling tombs, assaulted by skeletons and magicka-flinging spirits despite being very sure I was heading in straight line back to whence I came. The skeletons were not a great concern, but I could not help but feel increasingly panicked at the thought of never finding my way back to Tamriel.

This was foolishness, of course, perhaps some side-effect due to the oppressiveness of the place. I eventually found myself at the wall that divided Valerica's portion of the Cairn in two, then followed it until I was able to pass through its gatehouse to the side hosting the portal.
I had barely time enough to ascend the staircase back inside her laboratory before Valerica appeared at the portal, more proof that time and distance in the Soul Cairn is not quite as measurable as it seems.
The vampire matriarch nodded at me as she passed by me on the balcony, declaring that it was time for her to resume her work as an odd desire considering nearly all of her family had been slain and her only daughter, who evidently forgot to retrieve her, was joined with a band of vampire hunters. Alchemy was more important, I suppose.

I asked about the continuing existence of the Cairn portal, desiring privately that it be destroyed, but she offhandedly declared it useful for her research as if there was no reason to not want it to remain open. She must have thought I felt the same way, for she assured me I would be able to come and go through the portal as I please now that my soul has become "attuned" to the place. Great news.

I retraced my steps back out to the jetty and re-entered the castle through the bloodied entrance, where I will be spending my last night in this accursed place. I am not sure what day it actually is due to the capricious nature of the Soul Cairn, but I shall enquire to that tomorrow. 

Tonight I rest victorious, but uneasy. I cannot shake the feeling that I am forgetting something important.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Skyrim Day 086 - Bittersweet Victory

16 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Isran is a driven man. There was no message at Solitude for Serana and I and no one I spoke to had even seen the Dawnguard passing nearby. With no instructions we had to assume we were to meet the Dawnguard at Volkihar Keep itself...which struck me as odd. No preparation for the attack? No coordination? Their choice, I suppose.

On our way out I overheard a guard complaining to his friend that the "vampire menace" had gotten worse as of late and that they should wipe them out before it became unstoppable. I wonder who "they" was in his mind. Himself and his friend? The Solitude guard? Imagining his reaction to knowing most of the actions against the "menace" have been at the hands of a Khajiit and a vampiress is an entertaining thought...though he would probably not believe me anyway.
But I was not so eager to be rushing off without readying myself. Coincidently a Khajiit caravan was camping outside the gatehouse, allowing me to stock up on restoratives that Angeline's Aromatics had lacked and sell some gems that had been rattling around in my pack.

Of course it would not be a day in Skyrim without a lunatic or two assaulting us on the road. This one had somehow managed to find an Ebony breastplate which did all the more to make his cheap iron sword look even cheaper. I considered carrying the breastplate back to Solitude to display in my manor, but Serana reminded me I already had one there anyway. Luck to the fortunate farmer who stumbles upon that body!

I guess we reached the jetty across Volkihar Keep by noon or so, the icy haze making it impossible to accurately judge.
Once again I was surprised by Isran's lack of coordination, figuring that he and his vigilantes would be waiting for me at the jetty if not before the gates of Solitude. Figuring they were either waiting for me at the actual Keep or had been successfully ambushed en route, Serana and I climbed into the old boat and rowed to her family's estate.

That's where we finally found the Dawnguard...all lined up before the gatehouse bridge.
Upon seeing us arrive Isran let out a cry and sprang forwards, the rest of the Dawnguard following as he charged up towards the Keep. As I expected, several of the gargoyle "statues" came to life, attracting the attention of armored trolls (when did the Dawnguard tame trolls?!) who tussled with the stone beasts as the Dawnguard streamed past them.

Just as they were halfway across the bridge the gates opened and vampires charged out, magicka crashing through the air as they closed to melee. The battle soon became a chaotic mess of individual combats in a very small space. How long it lasted, I cannot recall. But when it was over the vampires were vanquished along with most of the Dawnguard.
Isran and two others ran inside while Serana and I hurriedly took stock of our wounds. Neither of us were badly hurt and I had a bloodied Dawnguard axe in my hand that I did not remember picking up. We each drank a few restoratives and followed Isran.

The two Dawnguard survivors were already dead when we entered and Isran was down on one knee, heavily wounded. We arrived in time to cut down his assailants and provide much-needed healing. Without a word of thanks Isran sprang back up and charged deeper into the Keep, alone.

I was starting to have doubts regarding the leader of the Dawnguard's sanity.

A second melee erupted in the Great Hall where Isran had run into. I feared he was greatly out-numbered, but two Dawnguard members I had not previously noticed were fighting alongside him against four vampires and  two thralls or reanimated bodies, I could not really tell the difference.

We lost one of the Dawnguard, but with myself and Serana the Dawnguard prevailed, again with losses. The Great Hall was clear and Isran moved to the doors at the end of the Hall, but Serana warned him to stay where he was. Lord Harkon was for Serana and I to deal with.
No well-dressed Nordic lord was waiting for us, but the gargoyle form of what he had called a 'Vampire Lord'. Whatever it was called it certainly looked grotesque. He and Serana traded words, but it was clear each of them knew the final battle was at hand. He even asked me to return Auriel's Bow to him, promising me that everything previous would be taken as a simple misunderstanding. It was a desperate request and one I rejected, of course.

The battle that followed was rather anti-climatic. His followers slain, all Lord Harkon could manage was flinging magicka around the room and summoning weak Draugr as he glided around. When wounded he retreated to a statue at the end of the room which provided him with a red shield of magicka.
The first time he did this Serana shouted at me to fire an arrow at the shield with Auriel's Bow. I am a much better shot with a crossbow, but I was never far from Harkon anyway. The first arrow burst into flames against the shield, but it destroyed the shield as it did so. The Vampire Lord shouted something in frustration and resumed his spells and summonings.
Three times we did this, but the fourth arrow against his shield did not cause it to harmlessly explode, instead seeming to draw the energy into Harkon himself. He screamed, burst into red flames, and was utterly destroyed, his blackened skeleton lit for a moment against the fire.
Serana and I walked over to the vampire shrine and silently gazed at the smoldering pile of ash that was her father. Footsteps sounded behind us, but it was just Isran, respectfully alone. Serana sighed and, sounding relieved, told him that the job was finally done. He nodded and thanked her, then, to my surprise, invited her to join the Dawnguard, which she accepted. They left, Serana asking me to stop by and visit if I had any more adventures planned.

I felt like correcting her: none of my adventures have ever been planned! But then was not the time for japes.
In the ashes was a blade in the ancient Akaviri style, the likes of which I have not seen since the Oblivion Crisis. I am loathe to wield it and am planning on displaying it in one of my homes. Perhaps I should see what Lydia has been doing while I have been away.

I have one final task awaiting my attention in Volkihar Keep, one that I am very surprised Serana has failed to remind me of: returning her mother,  Valerica, back to Tamriel. That, however, will have to wait, for I am in need of rest, though I am greatly relieved to have this Dawnguard business finally taken care of.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Skyrim Day 085 - Onwards We March

14 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Dragon Bridge

It appears that my previous journal entry was too optimistic, for we have settled in for the night at Dragon Bridge, still quite a distance from Castle Volkihar.

As usual we left just as the sun was beginning to rise, confident that we would be masters of Castle Volkihar before night. We were careful to stay on the road and were delayed only by a Bosmer Skooma dealer who foolishly assaulted us and an assassin of the Dark Brotherhood, only slightly less foolish.
The day had started grey and remained grey, making for a rather morose trip, even given our anticipation of being done with the entire Dawnguard-Volkihar feud. A little while after the assassin it even began to rain, which Serana remarked as having not happened since the two of us met. Skyrim seems only to provide, in my opinion, days separated by having snow and day which do not, so I will have to take her word on this.

We arrived at Dragon Bridge before night and could have possibly made it to Castle Volkihar before midnight, but Serana reminded me that the night is not a good time to engage vampires, especially a castle full of them.

I expected Isran would have left a message somewhere along the way for me, but it appears his party traveled the north road, Serana and I the south, so if there were any I have missed them entirely. I may briefly stop at Solitude tomorrow just in case, that is the last settled stop between Fort Dawnguard and Castle Volkihar.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Skyrim Day 084 - The Dawnguard Rise

13 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I barely slept last night despite the considerable comfort of the Grandmaster's quarters, too excited to finally march with the Dawnguard against the deadly, but misguided, vampires of Castle Volkihar. My excitement, however, is less to do with the Dawnguard's cause and more for being done with them entirely. Serana, too, was eager to leave early, no doubt for the same reason.

The only saving grace of the taking the eastern path from Winterhold to Windhelm is that no one else is masochistic enough to want to. The trip has the resilient traveler buffeted between winds screaming at her from the mountains at her right and a constant barrage of icy slush from the sea on her left. This continues even as the road does not halfway to the city, leaving you searching for a few Septims to pay for a local fisherman to ferry you from your side of the city's river over to the civilized side containing a road. It is an uneventful, miserable path.
A few Septims poorer, Serana and I set foot on the opposite shore and continued along the mountainside. Taking the road to Riften is easier, but slower and I feel both of us are in agreement that the quicker this is over with, the better.
We came upon an Orsimer fortress and I made to pass it by, but Serana wanted to stop to barter for some furs, her family's raiment being ill-suited for the cold. Inside we found few furs for the fortress protected a mine dug into the side of the mountain, providing the Orsimer with all the wealth they needed.

But the Chief gave me a tale of woe no wealth could alieve him of: every wife he has taken dies soon after, none of them providing him a son. He asked that I inquire about an 'Uglarz', a childhood friend of his whom he, for some reason, thought would make a good wife. Why he thinks Uglarz is still in Skyrim and also why she would consent to marry him (if she is not married already!) is certainly unwarranted optimism. At least the conversation gave Serana enough time to buy her pelts.

A Dragon roared over top our heads as we were leaving and we rushed back into the fort to prepare to battle alongside the Orsimer. But after roaring a bit more the Dragon flew back over the mountain to wherever it was calling home. They have been less aggressive as of late, though no less advertising.

We arrived at the entrance to Dayspring Canyon by mid-afternoon and did not experience the ambush we were anticipating.

Isran was more awed by seeing Auriel's Bow than I thought the dour man was capable of. He questioned whether Serana could be trusted in the battle ahead and I assured him she was just as eager to see Harkon de-throned as any one of us...possibly even more. He nodded once and turned to the assembling soldiers of the Dawnguard to address them.
The speech was the typical "This is our hour!" sort of thing, but the soldiers seemed to have appreciated it. I thought Serana and I would be traveling with them, but as the Dawnguard began to file out Isran turned and told us to meet them all at Castle Volkihar. Apparently we were to travel on our own.

So on our own we were, once again. We trailed behind the Dawnguard until Riften, where they turned north and we proceeded west, the more direct route. Isran is probably counting on stopping at Windhelm, Whiterun, or Solitude for supplies along the way.

While navigating the now-dark and icy pass between Ivarstead and Helgen we were accosted by a traveler in the escort of several mercenaries. The traveler introduced himself as 'Taron Dreth', an eminent scholar on the subject of Aetherium, or so he claimed. Recognizing my circlet as being of that metal drove him into an unexpected rage, attacking us along with his rather docile guards.
I will never understand why people are so eager to chance their lives over such petty things.
The ambush we had been expecting at the entrance to the valley came nearly seven hours late and half a province to the west: a Vampiress and a gargoyle jumped out of the woodland as we approached the gate of Falkreath. The gargoyle was a surprise, though not an overly dangerous one.

We shall be at Castle Volkihar tomorrow and, for good or ill, this business of the Dawnguard will be concluded.