Friday, September 13, 2019

Skyrim Day 098 - An Unexpected Ally

28 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I awoke in my own manor no better rested than when I woke yesterday morning atop a mattress of cold hay. What will it take for me to have a decent night's rest?

That I woke three hours before sunrise may explain that, I am getting into the habit of starting my days quite early. This has been useful for the past week or so, for the Legion has no inhibition against ordering me from one side of the province to the other. Perhaps they believe I own a horse and can ride one, neither of which is true.

Whatever the reason my latest assignment was to report to Legate Rikke at her Winterhold camp between Dawnstar and Winterhold, but much nearer to Dawnstar. From Solitude it is a shorter, but much colder, journey, but I will take shorter any day.

One advantage of sleeping poorly is being awake before most others. I managed to walk from Solitude to the ruin of Mzinchaleft without being accosted by Dragon-worshiping zealots, Dark Brotherhood assassins, skooma dealers, or irate Orsimer. I decided to cut through the pass as the road turned north towards Dawnstar and passed Mzinchaleft.

Unsurprisingly a new band of bandits have already taken up residence, one just sitting at the front gate nursing a potato over a small fire. The hungry guard never noticed me and I saw no reason to change that. Perhaps some Hero will come to Mzinchaleft one day seeking glory and be offered a baked potato.
At the Nightcrawler Temple next to Dawnstar I managed to avoid the notice of three Trolls that were meandering about the entrance. I am not sure what they felt was appealing to the place and I imagine some enterprising individual in Dawnstar will be along to eliminate them soon enough. I would have taken the matter on myself were I not short of bolts thanks to Beirand selling the entirety of his stock to the Legion yesterday. He had offered his workshop to me this morning so that I could make my own, but they would just about fly off my weapon sideways if I tried.

After the events of today it seems a better, if more frustrating, armament would be to go back to the more common bow and arrows, lousy shot or not.
The Imperial camp was along the opposite hillside of the Nightcrawler Temple, but no one appeared much concerned about the possibility of the trolls lumbering in for a quick meal.

Legate Rikke was hunched over one of her maps, mystifying me as to what she believes staring at it accomplishes. She addressed me as I approached, not even turning her head from the all-important map. My objective was to meet with a squad of Legionnaires outside of Fort Kastav and assist them with freeing Legionnaires imprisoned beneath the fort. The fort would then be taken between the squad outside the fortress and the vengeful armed prisoners within it.

Fort Kastav sits on the only road leading to what remains of Winterhold, though I know from experience there are several ways of reaching the ruined town from Dawnstar or Windhelm without passing through Fort Kastav, but none of them easy. Fortunately, the walk from Dawnstar to the fort was without incident today.
Hadvar has been moving up in the Legion and not honorarily as I have been. Technically I outrank him in some vague way, but he had five soldiers with him and I have none.
Despite this the capture of Fort Kastav once again depended on me. This time I was to sneak up to the walls, find the hidden sally port, and use it to enter the fortress unnoticed. Once inside I had to find the prison, kill the guards, and free the prisoners. Having done that I would join (not lead, of course!) them in assaulting the courtyard which would signal Hadvar and his men to join us, hopefully overpowering the defenders and adding another Imperial flag to Legate Rikke's map.

So simple.

Hadvar recommended I wait until nightfall to make my approach, but I had several vials of Invisibility elixirs, making that entirely unnecessary.
The sally port was not exactly hidden and nothing about the walls suggested there had been anything around to hide it. The trapdoor was unlocked, so I simply opened it and climbed down the ladder, thereby gaining an unannounced entrance to an enemy fort. How has this farcical war lasted as long as it has?

There were only two Stormcloaks in the underground passages of the fortress, one of whom was the jailer. They both died soundlessly. I expected the imprisoned soldiers to be suspicious of a murderous Khajiit sneaking about, but they all readily accepted my explanation of being an Imperial agent. Once freed they armed themselves with Stormcloak weaponry and charged upwards, leaving me behind.

The battle for the courtyard was about the same as all the others: charge out, get peppered with poorly-made homemade arrows, and close to melee. But this battle did not remain ordinary.
The sudden wash of intense heat singing my fur and immolating two rebels heralded the silent arrival of a third party displeased with all the noise.

A Dragon, for reasons that are its own, had flown over the fort just as I emerged from it and incinerated two Stormcloaks firing arrows from a small watchtower inside the courtyard. Only then did it roar, driving the Imperial prisoners back inside and I imagine Hadvar and his men back to their hiding place.

But the Dragon was satisfied with the minor carnage it had wrought and flew away south over the mountains, leaving me with five bewildered Stormcloaks. The bewilderment died off about the same time as their burnt comrades did and I found myself battling all five at once.

Fortunately the prisoners re-emerged and engaged the rebels and I suppose Hadvar and his men did the same. Sadly, they came too late to reinforce the prisoners and while we were victorious it was at the cost of all the imprisoned men. Hadvar assured me their names would go down in the official record of the battle, whatever they were.

He and his men remained at the fort to clean up and garrison the place, though I cannot see how six men constitute a garrison for an entire fort, even one as small as Fort Kastav. His orders, not mine.

As for me, I walked back to Dawnstar, a bit more nervous for having confirmed that the Dragons are truly still about even if they do not seem to be interested in the Dragonborn for the moment. Tomorrow I will report back to the General and see what awaits me in the Legion. I cannot help but hope this war is over soon, for I am getting quite tired of all this foolishness.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Skyrim Day 097 - Another Worthless Promotion

28 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

My rest at the quarters of Fort Greenwall's missing captain was the first decent sleep I have had in three days. Nonetheless, the exertions of the previous day were not enough to cause me to sleep in and I woke before sunrise.
Some of the Legionnaires were still dragging bodies away while others erected new barricades at the gates as I emerged. My role at these battles seemed to be that of a siege-breaker rather than an occupier, so I simply walked out of the fort's south gate back on the road to Riften and Whiterun.

While on the road I was assaulted by a hungry vampire, a Skooma-crazed Orsimer, and one of the limitless assassin's of the Dark Brotherhood. I do hope the roads become safer once the Stormcloaks are finally eradicated, for this is growing quite tiresome.
I reached Whiterun late into the morning, but continued onward without stopping, another cross-province journey just to deliver a bit of news, and reached Solitude some time late in the afternoon.
The General was, as always, discussing strategy with whomever was in the same room with him. This time it was a Legate whose name I have not yet been given. Apparently my name has been given to the Legate, for they both stopped talking once I entered the room and turned to me in expectation of a report.

I noticed that the location of Fort Greenwall was already marked with a red Imperial flag, so news of my success somehow preceded me, making my trip entirely pointless. But protocol dictated that I ignore this enraging fact and formally report my success.

General Tullius congratulated me on another success, stating, to my surprise, that he did not believe the progress being made by the Legion could have been made without my involvement. My surprise stems from my involvement being, so far, a finder of lost heirlooms and an extra sword-arm. For my findings and armings I have been promoted to the ceremonial rank of Tribune, granting me absolutely nothing.

My next assignment with the Legion is in Winterhold, so at least I can claim the benefit of my College quarters instead of the bedrolls of slain men.

I spent the remainder of the evening on my personal hobby, turning my hand to the making of jewelry, a craft I have gained some skill in over the long years. While it has been some time since my last practice I did manage to hammer out a simple silver necklace with a small sapphire inlaid into it, which I will probably be able to sell to one of the caravans for a decent sum.

Tomorrow it is off to the half-destroyed town of Winterhold and one more battle closer to the surrender of Ulfric Stormcloak. Then perhaps I can turn my attention to the bewildering question of where all the Dragons seemed to have disappeared to all of a sudden.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Skyrim Day 096 - The Final Refuge of Redwater Den (also The Battle of Fort Greenwall)

27 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

The nap was too short as naps often are.

My latest orders are to report to Fort Greenwall on the road between Riften and Windhelm and assist the Imperial Legion in the taking of the fort. After having spent a considerable amount of time in the Rift between the Imperial Legion and the Dawnguard I cannot help but wonder if it would have been easier to simply send me a rider with a message and an Imperial flag so that I could have claimed the fort myself when it was still occupied by bandits.

Hoping to save some time I decided to not take the road to Riften, instead crossing the river at a bridge near a fort along the shore. That way I would be walking directly towards Fort Greenwall instead of wasting time going to Riften.

This plan went awry as soon as I came to what appeared to be a ruined farmhouse. Closer investigation revealed it to, in fact, be a ruined farmhouse, but smoke was rising from the chimney and I could hear someone talking to themselves inside.

The talkative woman inside was a Redguard who deigned to introduce herself, instead telling me to go down the trapdoor behind her for "a fix". When I asked what the fix was she simply laughed and told me to see for myself. This did not come off as friendly as she perhaps thought it did. Forewarned, I opened the trapdoor and skipped the ladder, jumping down to ambush the ambush I was sure awaited me.

No ambush awaited me, only a bemused Nord in scaled armor who warned me that entering the "Den" required that I keep all weapons sheathed. I agreed and was allowed to pass inside.
The first thing to assail my nose was the sweet smell of boiling moon sugar. The second was the purple cloud wafting from a collection of rooms in front of a gated counter. I asked the woman behind the counter what the place was and she was genuinely surprised, exclaiming that the farmhouse's suspiciously extensive basement was the "Redwater Den", home to the best Skooma outside of Balmora.

I do not remember Balmora having a lot of Skooma, but then I do not remember much of it at all anymore. I may simply have not noticed or forgotten. For my first time I was gifted a red flask of what she called "Redwater Skooma", which she claimed was a more potent Skooma unique to the Den. I thanked her and pocketed it intending to deliver it to an alchemist, but that wound up not happening due to events that followed.

There were six rooms, each occupied by an occupant either unconscious or on his way towards that. An "attendant" patrolled the small hallway, but to what purpose I do not know, for he only told me to pick a room and be quiet. I paused at one room in which a man in Imperial Legion armor sat miserably. I entered the room and asked if he needed assistance, but to my surprise he recognized me from Helgen. 

He had barely escaped, badly injuring his back and legs after he leaped from a battlement to avoid being set ablaze. He managed to crawl to Riverwood some days after I left, but the damage to his back could not be fixed. Skooma took the pain away, at least for awhile, but each dose was less effective than the last, an unfortunately common story among addicts. The Redwater variety helped more, but it could only be found in the Den and he was loathe to leave. He asked me to leave him be, so I left and continued down the hallway where the purple haze was wafting from.

I suspected that the attendant would not be happy for a customer to explore further into the Den, but the Dunmer's wits were addled by the free Skooma he must have been receiving and I was able to creep behind him and unlock the iron gate he was guarding.
The haze was rising from giant metal vats of boiling moon sugar being reduced into Skooma. I saw no one at the vats, but after a minute someone walked in from a room beyond and dumped buckets of red liquid into the vats before stirring each one with what looked like a comically large wooden spoon.

Then he looked up at me in the shadows and mostly behind a crate, which should have rendered me nearly invisible to most folk. He yelled his alarm and grabbed a bow from some place behind the vats, inexpertly loosing an arrow in my general direction.

He and I engaged in a brief ranged duel, his bow versus my crossbow, as I pondered his unexpected perception. Neither of us won, for I had no desire to run out of bolts. Instead I dashed out of cover to cover ever closer to him until I was close enough to charge at him with my axe. Shouting and footsteps from further inside the cavern heralded the arrival of his comrades, but the thud of my blade into the side of his neck solved the mystery of his awareness as his body started to dissolve into black dust. 

Vampires again, perhaps a splinter group unaffiliated with the Serana's father's mad plot, but vampires nonetheless. The man had likely sensed my blood rather than seen me, not that it made a difference.

His friends had come too late, but they would not have made a difference either. No doubt they were prepared to strike down a manic Skooma addict, but they had no chance at all against an experienced fighter.

Deeper into the cave I noticed the wall carvings and fixtures were starting to becoming more frequent and familiar for they were ancient Nordic, just as in any barrow mound littered about the province.
While creeping about I came upon a slim journal, the first entry dated a year and a day ago. The anonymous author had stolen a book of short stories, for some reason, and read the tale of a "Bloodspring of Lengeir's Feast", an ancient source of power for vampires. According to the thief's storybook, the Bloodspring was buried by an earthquake some time in the Second Era, well before my time.

The second entry were of this year some months back while I was still in Cyrodiil. The author traveled from Summerset to Skyrim by ship and chanced upon a fellow vampire in a Solitude inn. His unnamed comrade thought his journey a fool's errand, but suggested that elements in the story (which the thief left out) pointed to a location in The Rift.

The subsequent entries detail the man's incredible luck in finding the Bloodspring by way of overhearing a visiting hermit in Riften mention finding red water bubbling out of the ground. He turned several locals into thralls to enlarge the basement of a nearby home and join it to the underground spring. The Bloodspring, however, provided vampires with no sustenance and only disease and addiction to mortals. The latter problem solved the former, such as in the case of the unfortunate Imperial soldier I encountered.
Redwater Den must have been a small enterprise, I encountered no one after the vats until I was just about at the Bloodspring itself. The vampires there had set up a lot of traps in a small passage lined with burial alcoves, but I was able to avoid them all, shoot one thrall with a bolt, then retreat back down the passage. I can only imagine their shock when their own traps incinerated, crushed, and impaled them all. Blood-hungry fools, the whole lot.

I found a journal in a pile of black dust when I returned, this one with the same handwriting as the earlier one detailing the history of the place. The Bloodspring had once been a normal spring of water dedicated to Arkay during the First Era, but a priest went mad after his lover was turned into a vampire. 

After accepting the infection from her the two went on a rampage, killing all the other priests. A number of them took to the sacred spring to beg Arkay's protection, but were killed there, turning the water forever bloody via the use of an artifact called the 'Bloodstone Chalice'. 

I have never heard of this chalice, but the idea that the water really is blood is interesting, that it is due to the corruption of an ancient God even more so. I thought it would simply be a spring of water passing through an underground vein of iron ore.

This made the actual Bloodspring very disgusting, of course. The skeletal remains of the vampires' previous meals did not help either.

I found nothing and no one beyond the Spring, only a spiral staircase back to the surface some distance away from the ruined house. I returned with the intention to bring the addicts in the basement back to the surface, but alas, the attendant, also a vampire, had already killed the poor souls. I dispatched the surface lookout, the doorman, the dealer, and the "attendant" before leaving, but it did little to assuage my guilt over the injured soldier's demise.

And after all of that I had still to travel to Fort Greenwall for the attack! Fortunately my assault upon Redwater Den took not as much time as could be expected and I reached the fort before evening.
There is a great deal less to say about Fort Greenwall. I met the Legionnaires outside the fort where they were waiting, in broad daylight, out of cover, with not a care in the world. We charged the fort, slew the few Stormcloaks manning the walls, then methodically overwhelmed the rest as they emerged from inside in ones and twos.
The only indication any of the rebels were capable of strategic thought was the sole Stormcloak who ran out of the fort along the road to Windhelm, pursued by two Legionnaires. This is a very strange civil war.

Of course this means I must once again trek the width of the province to report my success to General Tullius in Solitude. As per tradition I will be spending the night in the captain's quarters, the body of whom we were not able to find. Perhaps he was the one that fled.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Skyrim Day 095 - Regaining the Rift

27 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

After having been given the toothless title of 'Praefect' in the Imperial Legion I was told to walk nearly the length of Skyrim to an Imperial camp south of Ivarstead from Solitude. There was no possible way for me to walk from Solitude to Ivarstead in less than a day, so I simply walked out of Castle Dour and proceeded to Ivarstead without pause or rest as the sun began to sink.

The inquisitive fauna of Skyrim become a great deal more inquisitive after the sun sets, forcing me to slay four bears, two sabre-cats, two giant spiders, and half a dozen wolves while on the road. The Dragons once again proved more elusive. Fortunately the constant threats to my life kept me awake and alert throughout the night and the sun rose to greet me as I arrived at Ivarstead early on 26 Sun's Dusk.

I walked through, needing nothing from the sleepy little town, and left the road for the forest at the crossroads leading to Whiterun and Riften. The Imperial camp lay directly south of the town, close to a Dwemer ruin of little note. I found the Legate poring over her maps, as usual, no doubt contemplating how to single-handedly end the war herself...which it feels I am doing anyway.
My orders were brief: Go to Riften, my second-least favorite city in Skyrim. Once in Riften I was to seek out the Jarl's steward, Anuriel, whose "arrangement" with the local Thieves Guild has been made known to the Legion. I was to find evidence of this arrangement and use it to blackmail the steward in advantage to the Legion.

To be fair, this was the first task I have received from the Legion that almost seems suited for my skills. I cannot see the average Legionnaire employing something akin subterfuge, least of all successfully.

So as the camp settled into breakfast I left to rejoin the cobblestone road to Riften after walking all the way from Solitude very much aware that I would be walking from Riften to the camp at some point and eventually from the camp back to Solitude. Little wonder this civil war has been dragging on for so long.
My jaunt to Riften occupied much of the morning so I encountered less in the way of hostile creatures, though I was accosted by a self-proclaimed "Fire Grandmaster" who fell quickly to a dagger in the kidney. Less anyone who ever might read this think me a highwayman myself, the mage had a desiccated heart in his pack that certainly belonged to no animal.

Late morning saw the road shrouded in the cold fog of Skyrim I have grown to detest, but considering my destination and purpose I suppose it is only fitting.
I spoke with the young son of the Jarl, a man named Saerlund, who groused to a Khajiit he had never met before that he was a prisoner of his own family. According to him he is the only one in his family with pro-Imperial views to the point that his mother, Jarl Laila Law-Giver, believes him to be magically cursed. Much of the court mage's time has been spent either trying to find the curse or pretending to be working on it, or so Saerlund says. What a confusing mess.

But my purpose at Riften was not to heal family ties. No one seemed to notice or care that a Khajiit had wandered into the palace, so I slipped behind a pillar, swallowed an Invisibility draught, and walked into the Jarl's family's quarters where I suspected the steward's would also be.

On a hunch I guessed the steward would be on the ground floor, the family above, and I was correct. To my amusement the evidence I needed was hiding in plain sight: a letter written in Black-Briar Meadery's letterhead thanked Anuriel for her value in their "operation" and hoped the garment which accompanied the letter met to the steward's satisfaction.

As I said: it is foolish to expect subtlety in this land. A Khajiit would have used a competitor's paper, not their own!

I sneaked back into the hall and quietly approached Anuriel. She was oblivious to my presence until I slipped the note into her hand and suggested we talk about her business arrangements. She was not quite as stupid as her co-conspirators and whispered that I should follow her before turning around and starting back to her room.

On my way I overhead one of the guards tell another guard that a Dragon had claimed another town, the village of Kynesgrove, but I could not stay long enough to learn when. I will have to make time to visit the area.

Anuriel closed the door behind me as I entered, then turned around hissing that an attempt at extortion would only lead me to an executioner's block. I placated her, saying that I came not in my own interests, but a larger power. She understood what I meant and professed no love for the Stormcloaks nor the Empire, pointing out that her arrangements with the local guild brought benefit to the Jarl and to Riften, though this could never be admitted.

She suggested a token of goodwill on her part in the form of a shipment of coins and arms the Stormcloaks were scheduled to move to Windhelm in the next day or so. I felt this was a reasonable offer and agreed to leave her in peace in exchange for the shipment. I expected to be told where to find it, but she provided written orders acquired from a Stormcloak showing the route and inventory of the wagon. Reasonable indeed.

With the orders in my pack my work in Riften was mercifully complete in a short amount of time. The weather, alas, had not changed.
My repeated trips along Lake Honrich seems to have thinned the wildlife a bit for the only delay I encountered en-route to the Imperial camp was a foolish Argonian bandit who thought my leather armor signified me as an easy mark and a bloodthirsty Nord in glass armor wielding a poorly maintained two-handed battle-ax.

I made good time back to the camp, arriving just as the soldiers were having their dinner. The Legate was not eating, as this would require she pause from the constant contemplation of her map.

She was pleased to hear of the shipment, having posted soldiers along the roads and known paths to Windhelm from beyond the province in suspicion of this thing. However, her command was broader than it was deep and she had too few soldiers to assault a guarded caravan without recalling the soldiers posted along other routes. There was no time for this, so I was ordered to proceed to the road between Riften and Windhelm in the hope that I would meet up with the scouts at Shor's Watchtower, just north of the village of Shor's Stone.

So again I was off to Riften!

This time though I skipped entering the town and instead walked around the walls to the northern road. I thought to pass through Fort Greenwall, but when I arrived in the evening I encountered a large patrol of Stormcloaks entering the fort they evidently claimed since I had last visited. Approaching the gates resulted in drawn weapons and threats, so rather than pointlessly slay them I elected to take a smaller foot-trail around the road, making the garrison a bit useless.
The scouts posted between Riften and Windhelm were led by my comrade-in-flames, Hadvar. Upon spying me coming down the road greeted me by asking if it was my mother or father who was the Dragon, a joke I am sure will never get old.

He was pleased to see me, admitting that he was a bit nervous as this was his first command following a promotion after the battle at Whiterun. I was surprised, for his "command" was three other men, unless he was also coordinating scouts along other roads.
Apparently news of my coming had not preceded me and he asked what brought me to him. He laughed when I told him I was tracking a wagon of Stormcloak supplies, for he had been doing the same with a wagon guarded by several rebel soldiers. Hadvar was pleased to hear the wagon contained valuables, the capture of which would do very well for his career.

Fortunately for Hadvar and his career the wagon had broken a wheel earlier in the day and Hadvar had been preparing to ambush it before I arrived. This was now still the plan, but with the addition of myself. The plan was simple: I was to take out the posted sentry, Hadvar and his men would creep up a small bluff overlooking the wagon, then I was to attack along the road, distracting the Stormcloaks from the Imperial arrows that would rain down upon them.
The plan went well. I eliminated the sentry with my dagger and charged into the camp, killing one surprised Stormcloak with my ax before the rest could rally against me. A few moments later arrows sped from the former sentry's position, thudding into armor and bodies.

Hadvar was extremely pleased at this bloodless (for his side) victory and asked that I return to the Legate with news of the successful capture. He and his men would stay with the supplies until reinforcements could be brought up with a new wagon.

By then it was close to midnight, another night of no sleep at all for me. I suffered the walk back to the Legate, again, and was ambushed by a Dark Brotherhood assassin, again. I met the Legate in her tent and reported Hadvar's success at which point she ordered me to meet more soldiers near Fort Greenwall where I had just been, twice, to take part in an Imperial assault.

I am going to have a nap first.