Feb 18 2005, 11:36 PM
This is the first chapter of the amazing story by OverrideB1, which has been posted in the ES-forums
So you want to know a little more about me, where I come from, how I got to be where I am? That seems a reasonable request and we should have plenty of time for me to tell my tale.
I go by the name of Sudhendra Vahl. That’s not my real name of course, but you’ll soon understand why. I’ll start at the beginning ~ I was raised in a small village about fifty miles west of Rihad, and I was born in the year 401 of the Third Era. What’s that?
Well, that is uncommonly kind of you to say so, although your flattery will gain you nothing. I come from a long-lived species and certain events (which I will relate) have conspired to provide me with a much longer life than is normal ~ even for one of my kind. Now, let me tell you my tale…
The Tale of Sudhendra Vahl :Prologue
I never knew my parents: my mother died giving birth to me and my father, from what I can discover, was an itinerant adventurer passing through on his way to somewhere adventurous from somewhere less adventurous. My mother, Gods rest her soul, caught his eye and there was a brief dalliance. Nine months later, along I came ~ a very short time after that, my mother departed this vale of tears. I have little, or no, recollection of what happened after that ~ although I have expended considerable resources over the years finding out.
Shortly after my mother’s death, I was taken in by the Stendarr temple and, from there, sent to foster parents to be raised. My foster-parents were Stendarrites, although the milk of his mercy ran thinly in their veins. I was just a source of income from the Temple for them and, when that ran out shortly after my tenth birthday, I became cheap labour for them around the farm. Well, I say cheap ~ unpaid would be a much better description. True, I had food and a bed: the food left over after they’d finished eating and a pile of straw atop the storage shed. It was a brief and unhappy childhood; not helped by the fact I was the only Dark Elf in the village.
I grew up being handy with my fists and feet and wasn’t above using my teeth if push came to shove. And when half-a-dozen jeering children, all of whom are better fed and stronger than you, surround you; shove comes surprisingly quickly. I quickly garnered a reputation as a surly and aggressive child among the villagers. Not that I had much of a problem with that: my foster-parents did, however and I was regularly beaten for “starting another fight”. Any attempt to explain that I’d been set upon by six or seven older, stronger children was conveniently ignored.
However, just so you don’t think that it was completely bad, I did have a wonderful forest near the house and, when my foster-parents were away at temple, I could wander through them to my hearts content. It was about this time that I developed quite the interest in the properties of various flora. I soon found a root, common in the woods, the juice of which alleviated the sting of my frequent bruises. I never made much of the interest other than secretly trading useful bits of root and flower to passing traders in exchange for coin or, more frequently, a tattered old book. I took great care not to be seen with the books as I struggled to learn my letters ~ I knew that they’d end up on the fire and I’d end up being punished again if I was caught.
It was probably around my twelfth year that my Talent appeared. I began to notice strange auras around certain things and the feeling that I almost knew what they were for. As the days passed, I began to notice more of these quicksilver flashes and occasionally, when a Noble or Knight rode through the village, a strange tugging sensation if they passed close to me. Obviously not something I could discuss with my foster-parents, I chose to discuss it with a wandering peddler I’d dealt with before. In exchange for some plants and one of my miserly horded golden Drakes, he explained that I was born under the sign of the Apprentice and that what I was seeing was a manifestation of that astrological sign’s influence on my life.
Over the next three years, my friend the peddler would come visit. In return for my identifying magical items, he taught me a couple of useful cantrips. A fire-touch spell, a spell that allowed me to walk on water, and (my personal favourite) a spirit I could summon that would act as a guardian. In secret, I began marking the fifteenth of Sun’s Height as my birthday.
I said that it was a short and bitter childhood, and the truth of that became apparent shortly after my fifteenth “birthday”. My foster-mother was away visiting her mother ~ a woman I’d never met, but who was reputed to be insanely rich and insanely eccentric. One night, deep in his cups, my foster-father came up into the loft of the storage shed and attempted to… well, I probably don’t need to draw you a diagram, do I? Needless to say, he got a fist in the face that broke his nose and a shovel across that back of the head that turned out his lights for a while. Gathering my few tattered clothes and the meagre stash of Drakes I’d accumulated, I took a sack-full of provender from the larder, the best horse from the yard and, bidding a farewell to my hidden books, I set off in the general direction of away.
I figured that everyone would think I’d headed towards Rihad so that was the last direction I wanted. North lay Taneth and, beyond that, the wilds of Hammerfell. East lay the border with Cyrodiil, as it would if I headed south. Cyrodiil it was then and, angling roughly southeast, I rode off into the night. A few days later, hungry and dusty, I crossed into Sutch. There it became obvious that the supply of coin I had wouldn’t last too long and so, with some reluctance, I sold my steed and blended into the crowds.
Over the course of the next ten years I drifted from town to town, never staying in one spot for long, making a passable living identifying useful plants or identifying ensorcelled items. Naturally, I picked up a few useful skills along the way: my years of chopping wood proved to be handy as I found I could wield a pretty mean axe and I taught myself the rudiments of fighting with a long-blade. I won’t say I led a blameless existence, but I was no more of a thief, cutpurse, or mugger than anyone else of my station. Truth be told, I tried to avoid stealing things except when needs must: often I was the only Dark Elf in the town and knew that suspicion would fall on me pretty quickly.
So I drifted along, wandering from town to town with nary a care in the world. However, it was in one town that I happened to overhear a couple of Legion types asking about a Dark Elf named “Mishkin” who was wanted for assault and theft in Hammerfell. Heart pounding, I ran back to my hideout, collected my sparse belongings and got out of town pretty damn’ sharply, I can tell you. In a panic, I made the cardinal mistake – isolating myself with no options. I hit Anvil running, and booked myself passage on the first ship to very far away from here. It virtually emptied my purse, but I got passage on a vessel sailing to a port near Rimmen. I knew nothing about the place except that it was in Elsweyr and it was very far away from Hammerfell. Sounded perfect.
The journey took a couple of months, and I was more than happy to step off the boat in the bustling port and blend once more into the crowds. Of course, I’d forgotten how quickly bad news could spread, how persistent the Empire is in punishing wrongdoers, and the spitefulness of my foster-parents. I’d travelled under the name of “Vahl” and used the first name “Sudhendra” if I had to ~ it was a name I’d read in a book at sometime and it struck me as being a pretty name, certainly better than Mishkin. There I was, in a foreign place, with no money and a false identity. That’s when I made cardinal mistake number two.
My only excuse is that I was exhausted. I’d been running around trying to gather up some much needed coin and had pushed myself over the limit. I purchased a little bread and meat and sat in a pretty little park to eat my meal. Next thing I know, I’m being shaken awake by a burly guard who was being watched with some amusement by his three equally burly compatriots.
“You can’t sleep here,” he said. “What’s your name?”
I told you I was tired, I automatically answered “Mishkin Dark-Skin”.
“Says here you’re Sudhendra Vahl and, wait, did you say Mishkin Dark-Skin?”
The four of them fell on me like a landslide, hitting me with their short wooden clubs before dragging me, battered and bruised, to the local lockup. Where I spend a very uncomfortable night before being hauled before the local Imperial magistrate. The charges were ridiculous, to say the least: “Assault on a village Elder”, “Theft of three hundred Drakes”, “Theft of a prize stallion”, “Assuming a false Identity”, “Vagrancy”. Oh, and my personal favourite, “Resisting arrest”.
I might just have talked my way out of the first five charges but that resisting arrest one? That one was the clinching offence: the whole trial took under thirty minutes, I wasn’t given a single chance to refute the charges or make a defence and found myself sentenced to ten years in the Imperial prison at Alabaster.
I’d been in prison for a year when things took a turn for the very strange. During my sentence, I’d been a good girl; following orders, staying out of trouble, that sort of thing. Unlikely though it was, there was a very remote chance I might get a reprieve if I showed that I was a model citizen. So, I bowed and scraped, cleaned out the latrines, washed, cooked, and did all the usual stuff they make you do in jail. In addition, I kept in shape as best as I could. Then, one night, the door to my cell slammed open and I was grabbed and dragged out into the courtyard. A cloaked and hooded figure looked at me from the dark recess of his hood and muttered something to the commandant. Next thing I knew I was being hustled into a coach and driven out of the prison. We stopped but once, and I was made to stand there while my original abductors drove off in the coach and another, plainer coach was brought in. The hooded figure turned to me and said something that sounded like “Somnus” and a sudden blackness descended.
Feb 18 2005, 11:38 PM
Chapter One: A Stranger in a strange place
A soft voice was whispering words I couldn’t quite understand in my ear as I stood in a place flooded with a brilliant golden light. They seemed to hold a promise but, every time I tried to understand them, a strange sloshing noise filled my head. Try as hard as I might, I couldn’t focus on the whisperer ~ the bright golden light blotted out everything. Suddenly, the world started to shake…
“Wake up,” a masculine voice said as the dream shattered and fell away in glittering motes of light. “Wake up, you were dreaming. Wake up, it looks like we’ve arrived: I overheard a guard say we’re docking in Morrowind.”
“Not even last night’s storm could wake you,” the Dark Elf I shared this cramped space with said. Bleary-eyed I blinked at him, trying to figure out what in Stendarr’s name was going on. “My name is Jiub,” my companion said, helping me to my feet, “who are you?”
“Mishkin, “ I responded as I swayed on my feet. The Drake suddenly dropped and I realised that not all of the swaying could be accounted for by my debilitated condition. What was it the one-eyed Dark Elf had said? “Docking in Morrowind”? Yes, that’s what he’d said, which meant we were aboard a ship.
“What do you mean, we’re…” I started to ask.
“Shhh,” he interrupted, “here comes a guard”.
“You, prisoner 1356778,” the guard said as he pointed a heavily mailed fist at me. “Follow me up on deck: keep quite, keep in step, and no funny business.” Shrugging slightly at Jiub, I stood up and shuffled after the Imperial, my movements hampered by the heavy manacles around both my wrists and ankles. As the first guard stood watch, two more guards snapped to attention. One bolted the cell door while the other bent behind me and unfastened the chains around my ankles. With a jerk of his head, the first guard indicated I should follow him. Knowing that any other course was both futile and painful, I complied.
I followed the guard past the other (empty) holding cells onto the upper deck. Marching me to a set of stairs, he snapped, “Get up on deck prisoner. They’ll send an escort for you.”
Glad to be obliging, I scrambled up the steps and onto the deck. There, an elderly looking Redguard gestured towards the plank leading towards a jetty ~ at the bottom of which another Imperial Guard was waiting. “Make your way down to the docks prisoner,” he said, not unkindly. "You’ll be taken to processing and released.”
The guard at the bottom of the plank looked up as I approached. “Are you Prisoner Number 1356778?” he asked. When I indicated that I was, indeed, Prisoner Number 1356778, he asked me if I was a Dunmer. I must have looked really confused, because he explained that Dark Elves weren’t called Dark Elves in Morrowind, they were called Dunmer. Still queasy, I blinked at him and nodded: either he was blind, or he was stupid, and I wasn’t in any fit state to deal with either condition.
“I’m sure you’ll fit right in,” he said enigmatically, before ordering me to follow him down to the quayside where I was to see Socucius Ergalla in the Customs and Excise Offices for “processing”.
I stepped into the offices of the Imperial Bureau of Excise and Census, there to be greeted by an elderly Imperial in an ill-fitting robe. “I’m Socucius Ergalla,” he said. “I have a few questions to ask you, then you can sign your papers and leave. Now, you are Sudhendra Vahl, a Dunmer from Hammerfell. Charged with various offences and sentenced to ten years in Alabaster Prison. Said sentence commuted to exile here on the island of Vvardenfell in the Imperial Province of Morrowind. Hmmm, the papers say that you go by the name of Mishkin Dark-Skin, I need to know your real name so that you can be officially entered into the records.”
“Sudhendra Vahl,” I blurted. I was anxious to leave any trace of my old life behind. Here was a chance to start anew, and I was going to seize it with both hands and never, ever let go.
“Sudhendra Vahl,” he said, scribbling my name onto an official looking scroll. “What were the names of your parents?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, bluntly adding, “I never knew them”.
“Uh-huh. And what star sign were you born under?”
“That of the Apprentice,” I said.
He looked up sharply at that; muttering something that sounded like “interesting” before handing me two scrolls and saying, “check that all the details on here are correct, and make your mark at the bottom. I’ll keep one, you take the other to the captain of the guard ~ Sellus Gravius. He’ll give you your release money and any final instructions.”
Release money sounded interesting, at least I wouldn’t be starting my new life here penniless. Signing my papers with a flourish, I handed one copy back to Socucius Ergalla. The room’s other occupant, a stiffly formal Imperial Guard, unlocked the heavy wooden door and ushered me through into the next room. Politely, I shut the door behind me. Directly in front of me lay a short corridor that terminated in a trio of steps down to another door while, off to my right, was a small chamber. Descending the stairs, I found that the door was unlocked, so I opened it. Inside was a small chamber, a sort of storage area I guess. A rough and stained pallet lay on the floor in an alcove ~ alongside it were five Hessian sacks and a couple of wooden barrels. There were bits of plant and strange aromatic herbs inside the sacks: thinking that I might manage to get a few Drakes for them, I took them all. The barrels contained a few items ~ mostly household stuff like jars and bottles. Two kegs, on stands, at the back of the room proved to be disappointingly empty. There was also a key on the bench, but it didn’t fit into the lock on the trapdoor that led into a cellar (I guess).
Back up into the main chamber, where I examined the items on the table. A loaf of fresh bread, some silverware, a bottle of some local liquor, a candelabrum, a strange flaky meat I didn’t recognise, a sheet of paper, a small note, a lock-pick, and a low quality iron dagger. I took the lot ~ feeling very happy now that I had some form of defence. (A girl should never walk around undefended). A nearby bench provided another sheet of paper and three loaves of fresh bread, all of which I “liberated” before turning my attention to the bookcase, munching on a hunk of bread as I did so.
There were a number of empty bottles, two earthenware jugs of some hooch, a number of plates and goblets, a strange and leathery egg, a copy of ‘The Firmament’, and a small locked wooden chest. After filching everything that I could, I turned my attention to the small chest. It took me a while to tease open the lock ~ despite my light-fingered approach to the contents of the Census offices, I’m not really a thief.
Consequently, it was hard work for me to open the chest, despite the cheap and battered lock. After several minutes of monotonous cursing on my part over the recalcitrant lock, it finally snapped open ~ just as the pick snapped in two. I managed to get the half of the lock-pick out of the cylinder before opening the chest. Inside was a stack of thirty-seven coins, which I cheerfully added to my purse. My final act was to check the two barrels by the door ~ they yielded up another couple of those leathery eggs, some strands of a dark dried jerky, and some more of that flaky yellow meat.
I opened the door and stepped into a small, enclosed courtyard. I took a deep breath, and then coughed as I caught the swampy stench of decaying vegetation and a flinty, acrid smell I didn’t recognise. ”Dibella’s heliopauses,” I cursed, “that’s a real stink”. I only hoped that I could get used to it (and that the whole island didn’t smell quite as bad). Nevertheless, I gathered myself together and walked towards the entrance to another building. Beside the door was another barrel, which, naturally, I investigated. Inside was an ornate cube made of a metal I didn’t recognise, a ring (which gave off an arcane glow), and another bottle. Shrugging, I took all of the items, despite the fact I was unable to identify the enchantment on the engraved ring for some reason. It was about then that I realised I had a problem.
So, this prisoner gets off the boat wearing only a pair of stained breeches, a pair of shoes so cheap they’re practically made of waxed paper, a prison collar, and a tattered shirt. After signing her papers, said prisoner walks into the office of the Captain of the Guard laden down with silverware, food, books, and what-have-you. End result? Back off to prison with you Sudhendra Vahl ~ and this time no pardon or exile, stay there until you rot. Not exactly the most auspicious start to a new life my girl, no, not at all.
Julianos teaches that there are no problems that cannot be overcome if you stop and think about them or, at least, so I had read. Making a quick detour back into the storage room, I added a Hessian sack to my haul. Then I did something smarter; I added my haul to the Hessian sack and the Hessian sack to the rain barrel. Now unencumbered by anything that might get me thrown back into jail, I marched into Sellus Gravius’ office like a good little prisoner.
Sellus Gravius was a gruff, self-important man clad in shiny Templar armour. He obviously had very little time for me, snapping, “give me your papers” at me the instant I entered the room. He took a long time examining them before gruffly conceding, “These all seem to be in order. Come here.”
Rather reluctantly, I went and stood in front of him, obligingly turning my back to him when he indicated that I should. I felt a hand brush my hair aside, and then there was a sharp “click”. The heavy metal collar slipped from around my neck and I caught it instinctively. Then I dropped it like I’d just caught hold of a dead rat. Stepping wide around the nullity-collar, I gave it a very disdainful look. Now I knew why I’d been feeling so unwell since I’d woken up.· I could feel the ebb and flow of arcane forces once more, and felt myself slowly recharging my magicka levels. “Here is your release fee,” he continued, handing me a heavy leather pouch, “and here is a packet of documents that you have to deliver to Caius Cosades in Balmora.”
“Your pardon sir,” I said with feigned humility, “but where is Balmora, and how will I find this Caius Cosades?”
He made an annoyed sound as he turned back towards me. “Take a ‘strider to Balmora, or walk ~ it’s signposted well enough. As for finding him, I have no idea. I do know he frequents the South Wall Cornerclub. Try asking there.” With that, he gave me a dismissive glance and turned back to the paperwork on his desk. With a shrug, and a rude gesture at his back, I went back into the courtyard and retrieved my sack. Looking for all the world as though I was doing nothing out of the ordinary, I marched back through the office of Sellus Gravius and out into a new world.
A broad, open area faced me, bordered on the sides with squat stone houses in a common Imperial style: namely rough-hewn stone blocks with a thatched roof. One of the buildings was taller than the rest, and had a wooden walkway around the side that could be reached by a flight of wooden steps. A stiff breeze blew in from behind me, dispelling the fetid odour with the tangy scent of the ocean. I turned to face it, realising as I did that the prison ship I’d arrived on had already departed. I waited a while, but there was no sign of Jiub. Finally, I called over to the guard who’d escorted me from the ship, “Excuse me, but how long ago was it that you escorted the other prisoner into the office?”
“What other prisoner?” he asked, genuinely perplexed. “You were the only prisoner on the manifest to be disembarking here. The ‘Arrow’ is on its way to Falkreath and the Imperial prison there”. Falkreath is a hellhole, well known throughout the Empire as one of the harshest of Imperial prisons. I was disappointed, I had hoped to be able to talk to the Dark Elf and get some information. Information such as how I’d got aboard, where we’d sailed from ~ stuff like that. Anything, really, to get some hint as to why my prison sentence had been commuted to exile in this… dump. With a sigh, I turned from the sea and promptly bumped into someone.
“Welcome to Seyda Neen,” the little Bosmeri said, overriding my apologies. “My name’s Fargoth, and you must be the new exile. I hope the guards weren’t too rough on you, that Sellus Gravius can be a nasty piece of work…”
“Sudhendra Vahl,” I offered, extending a hand in greeting, hoping to cut the little Mer off before he got too annoying. He shook my hand, but carried on yattering away.
“…Sure he’s the one responsible for all my problems. It seems that every day is ‘annoy Fargoth day’ for the guards. They watch my every move, roust me whenever they get the chance. Why, I’m sure it was them that stole my ring.”
“Ring?” I queried, hoping to stop the flow of chatter.
“Yes,” Fargoth replied, “a ring. Beautiful it was, gold and set with a small green stone. The gold was engraved with intricate designs. It’s enchanted you know, belonged to my mother who, quite naturally, had a great many such rings. It’s very precious to me, that ring…”
There are some people who will wonder why I did what I did next. Certainly it is common in every Province that “what you find, you keep”. Digging into my pocket, I fetched out the engraved ring and showed it to the Bosmeri. “Would this be it?” I asked.
“Why yes,” the annoying little Bosmer said, almost snatching it from my hand. “You know, you’ve done me a great favour, and I’m sure that you and I are going to be very close friends. I’ll speak to Arrille and make sure he gives you a discount. He and I are very good friends you know. Why, only the other day, he was saying ‘Fargoth, you’re such a good friend to me’. And he always…”
And there you have the reason I acted so uncharacteristically. It’s always been a policy of mine to get an ‘in’ with somebody in every new town I visit. They’re the people who know where the best deals can be found, who to avoid, what the guard patrol patterns are like: in short, the sort of stuff that that you need to know. The fact that this squeaky-voiced little Wood Elf knew a decent trader was a bonus.
“Sorry,” I said, fighting down an urge to smack the Wood Elf across the face. “I must get on.” With that, I turned my back on him and walked away, leaving him standing there happily reminiscing to the empty space I’d been occupying. By the Divines, Bosmeri are such annoying little gits.
“I see you’ve had a run in with Fargoth,” a male voice said. I turned, and found myself face to face with a dark-haired Man. He could have been Bretonian or Cyrodiil I was uncertain which. When he introduced himself as Vodunius Nuccius, I knew him for an Imperial. “I know this must be hard on you, exiled far from home, but it’s not too bad here ~ well, it’s actually pretty bad, appalling actually ~ but we pretend it isn’t to keep ourselves from running, screaming, for the first ship away from here.” I laughed, then extended a hand and introduced myself.
“Pleasure to meet you Sudhendra Vahl,” he said. “Vahl, that’s a very old name. I guess it’s traditional Dunmeri although it’s not one I’ve heard before. What?” he added with a smile, “you’re surprised I said ‘Dunmeri’ instead of ‘Dark Elf’?”
“I am,” I admitted.
“Most folks around here tend to use Dunmeri to describe you people. It’s only the ignorant,” here he scowled at a passing guard, “or the deliberately rude who don’t. Listen, I must be going but, if there’s any help I can give you, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Well, there are a couple of things,” I admitted. “The guard captain mentioned something called a ‘strider’ that could get me to Balmora. And Fargoth mentioned someone named Arrille.”
“Arrille runs the local Tradehouse, in fact, it’s the only Tradehouse in Seyda Neen,” he said, swivelling to point at the two-storey building I’d noticed earlier. “He’s pretty much a general trader. There’s a decent bar upstairs, run by a Yokudan named Elone, but no beds I’m sorry to say.
“’Strider is short for Silt-Strider; a unique form of indigenous transport.” Taking my arm, he swivelled me around and pointed between two buildings. There I could see a massive creature standing up against some sort of ramp. It looked, for all the world, like a massive flea. “It’s an insect that the locals use to transport people from one place to another. Another good thing is that it’s pretty cheap too. Listen, tell them that Vodunius Nuccius sent you; they’ll give you a little discount.
“Now, I’m sorry, but I really must be going.”
Thanking him profusely, I made my way towards Arielle’s Tradehouse, climbing the short flight of steps and making my way around to the door, which, happily, looked seawards. Inside, an Altmeri introduced himself as Arrille, and asked if I had come to trade. I showed him the items I’d picked up in the Imperial Census buildings. He quickly sorted through them and, sliding the strange cubic object back across the desk to me, offered me five hundred and six Septims. “Why are you excluding this?” I asked, pointing at the device.
“Simple muthsera,” he replied. “That is a Dwemer Time-Keeping Cube. I don’t know where you got it, but trading in anything Dwemeric is against Imperial law. Besides,” he added with a lopsided grin, “I couldn’t afford it.”
“I’ve heard of the Dwemer,” I replied, “but I know very little about them. Nor do I have any idea what this is doing here.”
“Well, I can help you very little with the first problem,” he said. “I understand that the Mages Guild has several experts in the field of Dwemeric history: they might be able to assist you.
“As to how it came to be here,” he continued, “that’s simple. Vvardenfell is, or rather was, the home of the Dwemer. Now, is there anything else I can do for you? Weapons, armour, scrolls, potions, or spells; I have a pretty good stock here.”
I browsed through his stock, eventually choosing a pretty decent sabre, some light armour of local manufacture,· and a fireball spell. I slipped on the greaves and cuirass over the top of my clothing, and strapped the sabre to my belt. Thus armed and armoured, I asked Arielle if he knew of any ventures that might earn a poor exile some money. “There’s not an awful lot of anything in Seyda Neen, to be truthful,“ he said. “It’s just a small fishing village that the Imperials use to dock ships that aren’t heading around to Ebonheart. Although, I have heard that Hrisskar has a few monetary problems and is looking for some cash. But you didn’t hear that from me.”
“Dark Elf,” a big voice boomed as I reached the top of the stairs. “I, Hrisskar Flat-Foot do greet you. Come, a drink I’ll be buying our latest arrival to this dark isle Elone.” The Nord, equally as big as his booming voice, enveloped me in a hug and guided me over to the bar where, with a sly grin on her face, a Redguard female that I assumed was Elone, poured out a small quantity of liquor into one glass before pouring a dark, frothing ale into a mug. My new companion slammed a couple of coins on the counter and then, barely giving me time to collect my drink, guided me over to a nearby table.
As I tentatively sipped the dark purple liquor, Hrisskar Flat-Foot lowered his voice to what he considered a conspiratorial whisper and asked, “Would it be some money you’re looking to earn lassie?” when I indicated that I wouldn’t be adverse to such a venture; he drew his chair closer and continued. “There be a Wood Elf name of Fargoth who owes two hundred Septims to Hrisskar. Yon rascal claims he has nae money, but I know that he tells an untruth there. If ye have a mind to it, I can tell you where and how you can recover the money. I take my two hundred, and ye will be having the rest.”
I asked him to elaborate, and he outlined the plan. “Now, ‘tis known that yon Fargoth does go creeping around late at night, although nobody knows for why. I figure that it’s his money he visits. I be none too stealthy, and am much too well known to yon beastie tae be skulking around trying to find the gold he has stashed. So, what I propose tae ye is, get yourself up atop the lighthouse sometime after the sun, He has gone down. Frae there, ye’ll have the perfect view of all a’ Seyda Neen. Watch where he goes an’ what he does. Speak ye not to him, afore or after, lest he suspect. And, in the Name of Emperor Zero, dinnae let the wee fool catch a sight of ye.”
Common thievery was it? I doubted that Fargoth owed this Nord a single Drake and that Hrisskar was as flat-footed as his last name implied. This was the sort of thing Mishkin Dark-Skin would have done, I had to ask myself, was it the sort of thing that Sudhendra Vahl would get involved with? I would have to think long and hard on that before I made the decision.
I wandered over to the counter, where the Yokudan woman was grinning. “Got you doing a task for him has he?” she asked, not unkindly. “I’m Elone, by the way. You must be the person who came off the Arrow earlier. You do look a little lost.”
“Very lost,” I conceded as I returned her greeting in the traditional Redguard manner. “I have paperwork to take to somebody I’ve never heard of, in a town I have no clue where it is or how far away it is.”
“We’re here, in Seyda Neen,” she said, dropping a well-drawn map on the counter. “This whole area up along this western coast is known as ‘The Bitter Coast’. Now, where is it you’ve got to get too?”
“Balmora,” I said looking at the insignificant dot that represented Seyda Neen. If I was reading the scale correctly, the island was about fifteen miles from north to south, and about ten miles across.
“Balmora is right here,” she said, pointing to an icon representing a blue building. “That’s on the banks of the River Odai, east of here in the area known as West Gash. It’s a good day’s walk away, through some pleasant countryside although you will have to pass through the Mamaea Gap and that’s a little rough. Alternately, you could take a ‘strider from here around to Balmora. That takes about eight hours and should cost about twenty Septims.”
“Thank you,” I said, pushing the map back towards her.
“No, you keep that,” she said. “You’ll probably need that and this,” she added dropping a small golden stone on top of the parchment map. “Do you recognise it?”
“A locator stone,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t afford that.”
“Nonsense,” she replied, folding the map and handing it and the locator stone to me. “Consider it a welcome to Vvardenfell present.” I thanked her profusely for her generosity, which she waved away. “Let me tell you a little secret,” she said, “talk to everyone. Talk is free, and you can pick up some very useful information that way.”
Bearing that in mind, I thanked Elone and circulated through the bar for a while ~ speaking to people about things they’d heard. I was told that the Empire had granted a mining concession in a place called Solstheim. When I asked about Solstheim, I was told it is a Nord controlled island a way to the north between Vvardenfell and Skyrim. The general consensus was that Solstheim is a frozen hellhole and nobody in their right mind would want to go there, despite the rumoured deposits of Ebony. Another snipped I discovered is that, for the foolhardy, there is a boat service running from a place called Khuul to Fort Frostmoth on Solstheim.
Much more interesting was the chat I had with an Imperial Mage named Albecius Colollius. He was deep in his cups and it was hard to understand his slurred speech but, from what I could gather, he was looking for a powerful artefact known as The Mentor’s Ring. According to him, some “fool” had lost it in a tomb somewhere along the Bitter Coast.
Another interesting snippet I heard was that the local tax collector had gone missing. From the generally smug tones, I guessed that the man wasn’t overly popular amongst the local populace ~ something about ostentatiously displaying wealth while taking their money.
Having exhausted the topics of conversation, I made my way downstairs and left Arielle’s Tradehouse for a breath of fresher air. Since the day was relatively pleasant, I decided to take a walk out of the village and look at the local countryside. Crossing the two bridges, I struck out to the west along a fairly well defined path. I’d gone but a short distance before I came upon a very familiar sight. A rounded building with a domed roof stood alongside the pathway, purple and gold banners displaying the device of Mara fluttering from the walls. In front of the door stood the traditional braziers. Although I am a devotee of Stendarr, I was pleased to see a familiar institution here on Vvardenfell. It made it likely that there would be a Stendarrian Temple somewhere should I feel the need to make an offering.
The path wound onwards, curving around a noisome pool before descending into a steep fold. As I walked down the path, I fancied I could hear a noise.
The noise, a yodelling wailing sound, wasn’t part of my imagination: it was definitely getting louder. Drawing my sabre, I dropped into a combat stance as I scanned the area for what I presumed was an attacker. I could see nothing. Suddenly, there was a terrific crash in the treetop near me, accompanied by what ~ for all the Mundus ~ sounded like “ooofff”. A book spun to the ground in front of me, followed a second later by the figure of a Man. He hit the ground with a sickening thud, and lay very still. Cautiously, I approached and, as I got nearer, I came to the realisation that he was very, very dead indeed.
I knelt by the figure, which, for all the appalling force of the impact, was remarkably undamaged. The Man was wearing a pair of good quality shoes and a splendid blue robe. A small money pouch hung from one side of the belt while, from the other, hung a long-bladed sword that glistered with arcane force. His backpack, ruined beyond any hope of redemption, contained three tightly bound scrolls and had, at one time, obviously contained the book. The only thing that marred this picture of sartorial elegance was the fact that the Man was wearing one of those asinine Colovian fur hats: you know the ones, a cone of fabric with a furred trim around the bottom? This one was a remarkably ridiculous yellow.
Since the dead Man, whose name I discovered was Tarhiel, wouldn’t be needing any of these things, I took the money, the sword, the robe, the scrolls and his journal ~ which I read as I continued walking. It seems that Tarhiel was a research-mage of sorts with a phobia about levitation spells and a miserly opinion of the Guild-Guides. To save money (and avoid having to levitate) he had concocted a cantrip for his own use ~ one which would fortify his ability to jump beyond all sane levels. The last entry in the journal virtually crowed about how brilliant he was and how, from atop the tallest tower in Ebonheart, he was going to prove that brilliance the following day before an adoring audience. I could, almost immediately, see the single flaw with his spell and it must have come as a very unpleasant surprise to him when he realised his error far too late.
Creating a spell that will lift you hundreds, if not thousands, of feet off the ground with a single bound is all very well and good. What he had neglected to consider was: what happens hundreds of feet above the ground when the spell wears off? Unless you have a cantrip of slow falling, or a levitation spell, or are some form of super Man, gravity will take a very sudden interest in you. I regarded the three scrolls with a jaundiced eye, resolving to sell them at the very first opportunity. Should I ever get back to civilisation, that is.
So engrossed had I been in the journal, I’d sort of lost the track I’d been following. Steep black cliffs loomed on one side of me while, on the other side; the ground fell sharply away towards another of those foetid looking pools. In front of me, the ground rose quite sharply ~ at least giving me the hope that I would be able to spy out the lay of the land and figure out how to get back to Seyda Neen. What awaited me at the top was a rather more pleasant surprise.
The ground sloped quite sharply down towards a secluded cove, upon the shore of which the sea lapped gently. Trees and large rocks screened off much of the little bay from sight but I was sure that there was some sort of structure down there. As I descended, the shape resolved itself into a sort of tunnel set into the side of the hill. Made of an odd, sandy-coloured stone, it had a rounded, oval shape, cut off at the bottom by a slab of grey-coloured stone. As I moved around, I could finally see that there was a wooden door set at the back of the awning, old and slightly mossy. Next to the door was a column of inscribed characters that seemed to identify the place.
Samarys Card’ruhn was engraved inside the recessed cartouche. I had to dig deep to translate the local script into something I recognised. However, knowing that the engraving said “Samarys Card’ruhn” didn’t help in the slightest since I had no idea what either Samarys or Card’ruhn actually meant. Only one way to find out I reasoned.
Feb 18 2005, 11:39 PM
With a rusty creaking noise, the wooden door swung open. Beyond it, a short flight of stairs descended to a small area lit by a flickering light. As I got closer, I could see that there were two lamps set into the wall, one on either side of the door. It was puzzling, from the state of the door I would guess it had been a very long time since anyone had been down here ~ yet here were these two lamps, burning away merrily. They were comprised of a cylinder of a black tarry substance wrapped around a simple metal hook. Try as hard as I might, there didn't appear to be a way to extinguish them. Chalking this up as another one of those esoteric mysteries I’m unlikely to ever solve, I pushed open the door in front of me.
Well, either “Samarys” or “Card’ruhn” meant “Tomb” and, since the pottery urns on the dais nearest me were labelled up “Velendron Samarys” and “Tovale Samarys”, my money was on Card’ruhn meaning tomb. Carefully, I lifted the top of the canoptic jar, peering inside. There was very little inside to indicate that this was the final resting place of one “Tovale Samarys”, the urn being empty of everything except a small quantity of greyish-coloured powder.
Opening my satchel, I looked inside at the supplies I had. Amongst them were a number of small phials with securely fastened lids ~ all empty of course. Working carefully, I scooped up the powder (which I recognised as Grave-Dust), and poured it into one of the vials. This done, I proceeded to check the contents of the other urns in this small part of the tomb. Most of them were empty, although I did find a small bone in one jar, and a small quantity of a greenish powder that I didn’t immediately recognise. I took it anyway, knowing that many alchemists will pay quite high prices for any form of necrotic ingredient for their potions.
I got quite the shock as I rounded the corner into the next part of the tomb. A flickering spectre that I immediately knew was a Guardian Ancestor noticed me and, skeletal hands awash with ethereal fire, it launched itself at me. Quickly drawing the sword I’d taken from the idiotic Tarhiel, I slashed at it frantically. There was an odd, tugging sensation as the blade passed right through the vorpal fiend. There was a smell of ozone, and a small but perfectly formed cloud sprang into being as twin bolts of arcane lightning lashed into the form of the ghost. Again and again I struck out at the spirit, determined to keep it as far away from me as possible. Most of the swings were wild ~ five years in an Imperial Prison doesn’t give you the time to maintain your skills at their peak ~ but enough connected that I was holding my own. After one particularly vicious blow, there was a smell of putrefaction and, in a sparkle of dust motes, the ghost simply… ceased to be.
Panting heavily, I muttered to myself that being attacked like that was one stupid way to discover what the enchantment on a sword was. Quite handy though, I thought as I returned it to my belt. It is, at this juncture, that I should point out that I’m not much of a swords-woman, much preferring to use the axe as my primary weapon. I’d done a little sword-work over the past few years but I was anything but proficient with a long-bladed weapon. For the record, I have also used a bow ~ although I’m about as good with that as I am with a sword.
Anyway, a search of the area revealed nothing much of great value other than a scroll written in the local script. Careful translation revealed that it called on various arcane forces from the Realm of Ignis to incinerate whatever target the incantation was aimed at. Such a useful spell, so I decided that it would make a fine addition to my growing collection of items. If this kept up, I’d certainly need a scroll case and more alchemy collection equipment ~ not to mention a scabbard, quiver, and straps for an axe. It was becoming increasingly clear that adventuring wasn’t a particularly cheap pastime. Perhaps I should have picked some other occupation to give to Socucius Ergalla, he might have aimed me at a steady, profitable occupation somewhere safe. Still, as I was about to discover, adventuring did have its rewards.
The final door yielded itself to my touch, opening into a small chamber at the end of which stood a single urn on a dais, alongside which was a rough wooden chest. The chest turned out to be locked. I don’t know what prompted me to make the sign of the Serpent and mutter, “Ostendo Sum” near the urn, but I’m mightily glad I did. The revelation spell caused the outside of the canoptic urn to crawl with flickering ghost-fire ~ an indicia of the trap that was ensorcelled into it. I had a probe with me, courtesy of those kind folk over at the Customs and Excise Offices, and I carefully used it to examine the jar. The focus of the trap seemed to be the inscribed metal band that joined lid to urn and it took me quite a while to disarm the bedevilled thing.
Popping off the top, I tipped the urn towards me to examine the contents. I laughed as I saw the jar was partially filled with flaky black ash. Resignedly, I started to return the jar to its upright position when a clump of ash shifted, revealing a glint of silver. Lifting the heavy jar down onto the floor, I plunged my arm inside and started to dig around in the ashes. It wasn’t long before I had withdrawn the two items that had been hidden therein. The first was a brass key with a strangle design cut into the circular part at the top – something like a “B”. This exactly matched the symbol cut into the cap of the lock on the chest. The other item was a ring, made of a silver metal that most definitely wasn’t silver, set with a large purple-coloured stone. Engraved around the stone were the words “ Scientia, Sapientia, Dominatus” or, if you prefer, “Knowledge, Wisdom, Mastery”. So this, then, was The Mentor’s Ring. With trembling fingers, I slipped the artefact onto my hand, gasping as strange purple light flared before my eyes. I could feel my reserves of magicka swelling as the constant effect enchantment took hold.
With renewed enthusiasm, I used the key to open the chest ~ only to find that whatever contents it had borne had long since rotted to mulch. With a heartfelt sigh, I grabbed my new belongings and, swinging the satchel over my shoulder, I stepped back outside into the salt laden air with a jaunty step. Before entering the tomb I had been hopelessly lost, now a quick glance at my map showed me an obvious solution. All I needed to do was follow the coastline around to the east and I would eventually fetch up in Seyda Neen.
It wasn’t long before I could see the squat huts and buildings of Seyda Neen, but I discovered something else before I got there. It was the smell that caught my attention first, a smell I was familiar with ~ that of rotting flesh. Sure enough, sprawled between some large rocks, was a dead body. A couple of sleek and well-fed rats were in attendance, and I made sure to kill the damn’ things before I investigated further. It was, as far as I could tell without getting too close and actually handling the body, a well-dressed Cyrodiilic male. Near the corpse (and thankfully upwind of it) lay an ornately decorated satchel. Dragging this away from the body, I squatted and examined the contents. The satchel contained a tightly rolled and official looking document that, on closer examination, turned out to be a tax-record for the inhabitants of Seyda Neen. It also contained a heavy purse that contained two hundred Septims in gold coin. I wasn’t sure, but I’d be fairly willing to bet that this was Processus Vitellius, the missing tax collector.
And that was a worry, for two reasons. The first reason was that it hadn’t been rats that had done for Vitellius, unless you mean the two-legged variety. Even the most cursory examination indicated that his throat had been cut. And, whoever had done the cutting, hadn’t been even vaguely interested in the large sum of money the tax-gatherer had gathered. Meaning it was a crime of revenge rather than one of robbery.
My other big problem was this: I hadn’t been on the island for a day yet and I had two corpses on my hands. The first one, Tarhiel, I could pass off since his journal clearly showed what an idiot he was. This one, however, was a barbcat of a different stripe. Guards tend to be remarkably unimaginative, and would assume that dead body, plus a woman with money in her hands, equals murderess. It also hinted at the sheer lethality of this place, and gave me grave concerns about my own longevity.
I made my way back across the rickety bridge into Seyda Neen. There I very nervously reported my gruesome discovery to one of the guards, but he seemed supremely uninterested. He did, however, condescend to advise me to report it to Socucius Ergalla. I would do that fairly soon, but first I had a rendezvous atop the lighthouse. As I walked down the path towards it, a trader named Foryn Holyoak, who was selling backpacks, approached me. They were well made, and shimmered with the unmistakable sheen of a glamour: probably a feather-spell. Although such a thing would be very useful, I couldn’t afford such a luxury at the moment.
Arielle had something much more useful, a spell called ‘Hearth Heal’. Although I’d survived my various encounters to date, I hadn’t come away unscathed. And a spell that could heal your injuries, that had to be the top of my shopping list for the moment. I cast the spell right there and then, sighing in contentment as the healing sparks settled into my skin ~ easing the cuts and bruises I’d accumulated.
It was quite pleasant atop the lighthouse ~ oddly, the lighthouse keeper didn’t seem to object to me walking in and heading upstairs ~ what with the cool breeze blowing off the ocean and dissipating the smell of rotting vegetation. I passed the time playing with the Dwemeri device I’d picked up ~ the one Arrille had called a “time-piece”. It didn’t take me long to discover that I could get the device to speak the Hour of the day to me. It would also speak the Phases of Masser and Secundus, and it had a handy little light that I could turn on and off.
I waited, and waited, then ~ for a change ~ I waited some more.
Finally, at the Twentieth Hour, I spotted the little Bosmer creeping around the “square” of the village, clutching a lit torch. He pottered about for a while; presumably making sure that nobody was spying on him, before sneaking towards the lighthouse. Having convinced himself that he was unobserved, he made a beeline for a pool close to the rude huts along the water’s edge. There he waded in and spent a while doing something at a tree stump that jutted from the pond. I guess that is where he hides his treasures.
Making sure I didn’t get between him and the beacon atop the lighthouse, I made my way down to the ground and calmly walked over to the pond. Shucking off the blue robe and my boots, I rolled up the legs of my trousers before wading out there. The stump appeared, even on close examination, to be solid but I soon found the hollowed out hiding place, artfully hidden beneath the solitary branch. The soft leather pouch contained a lock pick, the same engraved ring I’d given him that very morn, and some three hundred Septims in cash. I was almost tempted to keep it all, but resolved that I would give Hrisskar his due on the morrow.
Having resumed an outward appearance of decency, I made my way back into the Customs and Excise offices where I spoke to Socucius Ergalla.
“Murdered you say?” he asked, eyes shining brightly as he stood looking at me. “Tell me, citizen, did he have anything on him when you found him? Paperwork, or anything?”
“He had what I assume are the local tax records,” I said, setting the scroll down on his desk. Setting the purse down beside it, I added “he also had this purse, containing two hundred Septims.”
“Interesting,” he muttered. “Murdered and yet not robbed. Not a usual occurrence, wouldn’t you say?”
“I suppose not,” I replied.
“You are to be commended on your honesty,” he said, looking up from the scroll. “There is a bounty of five hundred Septims on anyone who kills an Imperial officer. If you can find out who was responsible, bring them to justice and I’ll pay you the bounty.”
I agreed to try and find the guilty party and asked for the records to assist in my investigation. He parted with them readily enough, and I left his office, shutting the door behind me. I had a good reason for this as, instead of heading outside, I made my way into the downstairs storage area and curled up on the pallet to get some sleep.
Feb 18 2005, 11:40 PM
I awoke, rested and somewhat refreshed, just a little after the Sixth Hour. Donning my clothes ~ which I’d used as makeshift covers during the night ~ I made my way outside and over to Arielle’s Tradehouse. There I got a meal of wonderfully aromatic conserve, a pat of unsalted Bretonian butter, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. I washed the whole lot down with a tisane made of a local berry called Comberry. As I ate my hearty breakfast, I studied the tax records closely. There were two interesting candidates ~ Arrille himself and somebody named Foryn Gilnith. Both had very high tax bills, although Arrille had paid his on the due date and this Gilnith’s bill was unpaid and overdue.
Having completed my repast, I made my way downstairs where Arrille was serving another customer. “Fair day to you,” I said to the Dunmeri woman who was cleaning the shelves that lined the side of the shop.
“Oh, fair day to you muthsera,” she replied. “Can I help you?” I admitted that I was actually making small talk while I waited for Arrille to finish up with his customer. She didn’t seem too offended, and we quickly fell to chatting. Tolvise, for that was her Given Name, told me many amusing stories of her family, including one about her cousin ~ a notorious drunkard ~ who claimed to have seen a city beneath the waves near the village of Gnaar Mok. Of course, he couldn’t remember where exactly he’d seen this city, and nobody else had seen it. He became the laughing stock of the village and, not long thereafter, moved to Blacklight to escape the ridicule.
Arrille had, by now, finished dealing with his customer, and I spoke to him briefly before showing him the items I’d gathered since I last came in. He was particularly interested in the alchemical ingredients, and we quickly agreed on a price of three hundred and twenty-six Septims for the lot.
Having dealt with that, I made my way upstairs to where Hrisskar Flat-Foot was waiting. He seemed very pleased that I had found Fargoth’s stash, and we retired to an isolated table. He quickly counted out two hundred Septims for himself, then slid the pouch back across to me, “the rest, is yours Ja?”
We got to talking, and he told me that there was a team of Imperial Seekers here on Vvardenfell. A Captain Terris out of Fort Moonmoth near Balmora was leading them, and the captain was looking for good fighters to assist in ridding the province of a number of members of a dark Orcish sect. That was interesting news ~ not because it was something that I wanted to get involved with, but because I knew that I should avoid any lone Orcish Knights.
“Are ye heading towards Suran?” a florid-faced man asked, just prior to introducing himself as Ruflod the Braggart. When I said I had no immediate plans to do so, he said that I must visit “The House of Earthly Delights” if I’m ever there. I’m not sure; it sounds suspiciously like one of those “Houses of Ill-Repute”, if you catch my meaning.
When I got downstairs, Tanden Andralen told me that she knew there was something else she wanted to tell me. It seems that the local militia chased a necromancer out of a hut near the village. He managed to escape, but seems to have left a lot of his stuff behind and nobody, so far, has had the nerve to enter the hut and see what’s there, it occurs to me that a visit there might be useful, before anyone else plucks up the courage to sack the place. Leaving Arielle’s, I wandered out of the town a way until I came upon a doorway into a small series of caves. According to my map, the name of the place was Addamasartus.
Drawing my sword and preparing a spell, I pushed open the door and crept inside ~ if this were anything like the caverns on the mainland, there could be just about anything in here. There turned out to be less of an anything and more of a very annoyed Dunmeri female. I tried to explain that I meant no harm, but she was having none of it and attacked me, forcing me to defend myself. I seem to have forgotten less than I feared, because I was able to hold my own against the dagger-wielding woman with relative ease. The fight reached its gory conclusion when I slipped the blade past her defences and drove it home into her chest. There was gout of blood, almost black in the lamplight, and she collapsed like a puppet whose strings have been cut.
Breathing heavily, I ventured deeper into Addamasartus. There was a whooshing sound as a sphere of eldritch fire went past me, smacking into the wall near my head harmlessly. Even as I spotted the mage, he was preparing to cast again. In a panic, I raised my hands and made the Sigel of Ignis before chanting “ Exuro meus Hostilis”.
I distinctly heard him say, “Bugger, you weren’t supposed to be able to cast sp…” The rest of what he was going to say was drowned out by his screams as the fireball engulfed him, filling the cavern with sooty smoke as it incinerated him in seconds. The shuriken-throwing female further back in the cave met a similar fate. I looked at the Mentor’s ring with renewed respect; the spells had been far more powerful than they should have been and hadn’t drained my reserves as much as they should have. I understood now why the ring was so coveted by every mage between here and the Golden Tower. I resolved to keep very quite about my possession of the ring.
I started exploring the caves by checking out the contents of the crates and barrel on the small wooden platform. Inside, I found several useful scrolls and a small quantity of alchemical ingredients. One of the packs contained a gritty, grey-white crystalline substance that I quickly realised was Moon-Sugar. I returned it to its original location with some despatch: I certainly didn’t want to be caught with any of that in my possession. I also found a crude iron key.
I pressed deeper into the cavern, sparing a cursory glance for the scorched remains of the blade-thrower. There was nothing on her corpse that I could use. A little further back, I found several more crates containing a small amount of coinage, a few more ingredients, a couple of cheaply made weapons, and some more Moon-Sugar. I also found a couple of phials of Skooma, a sort of “liquor” made by dissolving Moon-Sugar in alcohol and then distilling it: known as Khajiiti Beer, it was even more illegal than the raw material it was made from.
A small tunnel curved around deeper into the hillside, and I followed it. Having despatched the rat that blocked my passage, I soon found myself wading in water ~ water that was getting progressively deeper. Not being a brilliant swimmer, I turned back and returned to the cave entrance. The only other thing of interest was a rickety ladder leading up to another platform. Hoping that there were more crates up there, I headed up.
No treasures, but three rather bedraggled Khajiiti slaves were all I found. The key I carried opened the locked door of their rough cell and, rather fortuitously, also opened the Slaver-Bracelets they wore. All three were deliriously happy at their rescue but really shouldn’t have been. I only released them so that they wouldn’t starve now that there were no smugglers in the cave to feed them. Making my way back to the cave entrance, I snuffed out the torch I was carrying and stepped outside into the warm sunshine.
As I left Addamasartus, I spotted a well-dressed Noble and two guards. They seemed to be looking for someone. On the off chance it was me they were looking for, I quickly put the large boulder between me and them as I made my way back into Seyda Neen. As I crossed the unstable little bridge, I noticed the unmistakable golden symbol of Dibella glinting on a tower southeast of town, past the silt-strider. That was good to know.
I'd been doing some thinking about the murder of the tax-gatherer. You see, the problem was it was now an official matter ~ and an official matter with my name attached. I knew exactly what was expected of me, I just wasn't happy about it. That's the big problem with Imperials: they like to get you into impossible-to-get-out-of situations. So, I spoke to several people about the murder of Processus Vitellius, and got pretty much the same reply from everybody. He wasn’t liked (hardly surprising since he was the taxman for a small provincial town) and he wouldn’t be missed. One lady, Darvame Hleran, did suggest that I speak with the lighthouse keeper: Thavere Vedrano. It seems that she and Processus Vitellius spent quite a bit of time together.
Darvame Hleran also mentioned that she didn’t think Vodunius Nuccius was particularly happy on Vvardenfell. I approached him and spoke to him.
“I came here with high hopes,” he admitted. “I wanted a life of adventure: expecting to find riches, fame, and love. Unfortunately I found none of them, and sleeping rough and fighting creatures isn’t the fun I expected it to be. After five years, I have nothing to show for my time here except this…”
“This” turned out to be a silver ring with a small reddish coloured stone. “It makes you run very, very fast,” Vodunius said, “Unfortunately, it also drains your strength as it does so. I’d love to sell the cursed thing, but nobody will buy it.”
“And what would you use the money for?” I asked.
“To get off this damn’ island,” he responded quickly. “I’d go to Ebonheart Port and get a boat to the mainland. Once there I’d head off to Silgrad Tower or Veranis Hall, both places I know well. And it’d only take a hundred Septims.”
“Here,” I said, reaching into my purse, “I’ll buy your ring for one hundred Septims.”
Vodunius’ face lit up like a child’s at Old Life. “You are my saviour,” he gasped. “If you ever get over to Silgrad or Veranis, look me up. I’ll do whatever I can for you.” With that, he blew me a kiss and hurried off towards the silt-strider, presumably to get to the Ebonheart Port place. Silently, I wished him luck, and then made my way up to the lighthouse.
Thavere was, understandably, quite upset when I delivered the news that her lover had been killed. As gently as I could, I questioned her on the circumstances in the village, and who might have had a problem with Processus.
“He wasn’t a bad man,” she sniffled, “despite what people say about him. He was always willing to give people more time to pay what was due, and he never raised his voice. Well, I only ever heard him raise it once, to Foryn Gilnith.”
Well, wasn’t that interesting? I thought as I made my way out of the lighthouse and sat on the wooden dock. Gilnith owed a lot of tax, tax that hadn’t been paid. Recently, Gilnith and Vitellius argued over something ~ my guess would be about the amount of tax Gilnith owed. Then, all of a sudden, Processus Vitellius turns up dead, and in full possession of two hundred Septims. Methinks I should have a quiet word with this fisherman.
Pausing only to take the silver goblet and twenty-five Septims from the hollow stump next to the dock (I’d spotted them while musing on the case), I made an enquiry as to the location of Foryn Gilnith. He was, it turned out, in his hut near the sea.
“Yeah, I killed him,” the wall-eyed and unpleasant fisherman said bluntly. “Him with his fancy clothes and jewellery brought from the money he stole from us hard-workin’ folk. And his cavorting with that strumpet over at the lighthouse.” Here he actually spat on the rush-covered floor. “Bloody disgusting it was. Deserved it he did, right and proper. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
“Your presumption of his guilt doesn’t alter the fact that you killed an Imperial official,” I said, with rather more calm than I felt. “If you felt he was stealing, it should have been reported to the IRIS. Whether or not he deserved to die wasn’t a decision you are empowered to make, and his guilt or otherwise doesn’t alter the fact that you’ve committed a capital crime.”
“You’re another of ‘em aren’t you?” he snarled. “Another one who opens her legs to any Imperial who comes along…” and then he slapped me.
Furious at the insult and the assault, I slammed my hand onto his chest and, with a good deal of relish, hissed, “igneus manus”. His eyes widened as the arcane fire caught hold, and he flailed at me in desperation. Before too long, however, he was in no state to do anything, and he collapsed onto the floor. As his skin started to turn to ash, and his moans became the soft cries of a dying man, I leaned over and whispered, “Never, ever, insult a magic-user unless you want to die in agony”.
It was a lesson he learned well, albeit rather too late, I reflected as his body crumbled to ash and settled into an indefinable heap on the floor. I was still very annoyed and didn’t trust myself to go out amongst the general populace. Besides, he had given me a couple of very hard blows, and I had some spectacular bruises. It seemed strangely fitting that I should spend the night in his hut.
Before I bedded down on his hammock, I quickly searched the hut. Unsurprisingly, there was little on any value ~ although I did find a very nice ring and thirty iron crossbow shafts tucked into a chest along with thirty Septims.
Feb 18 2005, 11:41 PM
After breaking my fast by eating everything edible in Foryn Gilnith’s hut, I made my way to the Customs and Excise building, where I reported what I’d done to Socucius Ergalla. He seemed pleased, pleased enough to pay me the five hundred Septims he’d promised me anyway. With the money safely tucked away, a pair of stout walking boots purchased from Arielle’s Tradehouse, and a lovely clear sky overhead, I decided that a walk to the next town, Balmora, was in order. Skirting the Noble and his guards, I set off along the well-marked path.
The road wended its way up a short incline, and then meandered through a high walled canyon before descending again to a wide, grassy area. According to my map, this was the Ascadian Isles region. In front of me was a large pond, or very small lake at the far side of which was a broad sandbar separating this body of water from a much larger area of water. It was getting on a little, and I felt in need of something to eat. The sandbar looked an idyllic place to take a small break and a quick repast. The place might not have been as restful as it seemed ~ there were lots of scuffed footprints leading to a cavern entrance that dominated one end of the sandbar.
The runes scratched into the door said “Mannamu”, and it turned out to be the residence of a number of bandits. Fortunately, they were well spaced out in the spacious cave-system and, using a combination of magic, summoning, thrown weapons and some up-close-and-nasty blade work, I was able to kill all of them. My efforts proved to have been very, very worthwhile.
There were a number of small, iron-banded chests that, once I’d forced them open, netted me several hundred Septims. In addition, I found quite a large number of scrolls and alchemical ingredients ~ as well as a remarkably fine wooden bow, some arrows and a rather ornate hand-axe. Further examination of the caverns that led off the main one revealed more alchemical ingredients and three large crystalline stones. Both were oddly coloured ~ one being pale brown and the other two a pale pink ~ and completely transparent. It took me a while to realise what I had here, three genuine Ioun Stones. I’d seen these items on one of my visits to Cyrodiil, but knew no more about them than any Commoner would. There was supposed to be some way to use them that gave you magical powers but, because they are so difficult to make, their secrets are well guarded.
Scarcely believing my luck, I continued to investigate the cave, finding a number of ensorcelled charms, a few more scrolls, and a ring. I couldn’t believe this: scarcely three days on the island and I’d found two powerful artefact-rings. For, what I held in my hand was no less a ring than the Battle-Band, an ancient ring of great power. However, it seems that the years had not been kind to it: there were setting for eight stones (Ametrines if I remember the Lore correctly) on the broad golden band, but all eight were missing. Even mutilated as it was, I felt the power of the ring’s magic sweeping through me when I placed it on my finger.
I also found another Restoration Charm, twin to the one I’d found in Addamasartus. Grinning, I put them side by side: imagine, then, my surprise when the two metallic charms shimmered like quicksilver and ran together in the fashion of that rare metal, fusing with one another to make one single charm. I carefully probed the Charm and found that, whilst no more powerful than before, it now had twice the duration of the original item. I’ve seen some very odd things in my life, but that surely ranks as one of the oddest.
I made my way out of Mannamu and found, to my surprise, that a good deal more time had passed than I had thought. The sun was already westering, and it seemed unlikely that I’d make Balmora before nightfall. And, on a strange island such as this one? No way I was planning on walking in the dark ~ who knew what manner of afreets and shades might be abroad. Fortunately, across the road from the very spot I was standing, was a tomb. I deciphered the cartouche (Andrano Card’ruhn) to discover it was the Andrano Ancestral Tomb. Provided I ensured that all of its haunts were dealt with, it would make a sheltered and safe place to spend the night.
Inside the tomb, I had to deal with a couple of unfriendly spirits but ~ to my delight ~ I found that fire-based spells work extremely well against such spectres. In a recess at the back of the tomb I found a skull (which had been inscribed with the rune X), a Chitin dagger with a very powerful cantrip on it, and a small stone chest. The ensorcelled dagger was etched with the runes indicating Divine (DIVINE) and Judgement (JUDGEMENT) in an esoteric version of Aldmeris that I could barely read. Obviously an artefact of some power, I took it for my own. Inside the unlocked box, I found a pale yellow Ioun Stone and another very powerful ring ~ this one the Elementward. Since this would perform a better role for me than the Battle-Band, I swapped the two rings. For some reason I can’t fathom, I also picked up and packed away the skull. I know it was an odd thing to do, but something was telling me that I needed to do this.
The hard stone floor provided cold comfort, but it was better than sleeping outdoors. With that thought in mind, I drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Feb 18 2005, 11:42 PM
Feeling rather achy, and shaking off the residue of a disquieting nightmare that I couldn’t quite recall, I left the tomb and gathered a few sticks together to light a fire. Warming myself, I took out one of my three remaining loaves of bread and a few strips of salted fish. After washing off the salt in the pool, I carefully threaded the fish onto some green twigs and propped them up over the fire until they were brown and sizzling. Having sated my hunger, I packed up my pack and, getting my bearings, headed off down the road towards Balmora.
As I followed the road, I walked past a turning to a town ~ identified on the signpost as Pelagiad. Built in the Imperial-style, it seemed tranquilly agrarian: the ideal place to visit and explore. However, I wanted to get myself set up on the island and, the sooner I delivered this packet of documents to Balmora, the sooner I could make a start on doing that. Shrugging my shoulders to settle my pack, I turned my face away from the town and headed on down the road. Before I’d gone much further, I saw a large stone building set into the hillside. The silver and blue pennants fluttering from the top of the walls immediately identified it as a temple to Kynareth. That made sense, really ~ a temple devoted to the Lady of The Air near an Imperial settlement.
Just down the road a little way was a cave, the markings identified it as Ulumusa. Pushing open the door, and gripping my axe tightly, I ventured inside. It was a small cave, home to a large Nordic warrior and his female companion. The woman was fairly easy to beat ~ my first axe-blow cracked her ribs and she went down fairly easily after that. The Nord, however, was a totally different proposition. Armed with a massive warhammer, which he swung with a great deal of dexterity, he was able to keep me far enough away from him that my axe was, effectively, useless. Shame then, that I had a backup plan. As he recovered from a swing, I dropped my axe, extended my hands and intoned, “Exuro meus Hostilis". He screamed as the fireball wrapped itself around him, staggering off towards the front of the cavern before collapsing in a smoking heap.
I found nothing of any great value in Ulumusa, with the exception of a silver bowl. Inscribed around the rim was the following: To Armond Beluelle, from the East Empire Company, for courage and daring in the protection of the Company's couriers, with our thanks. It was obviously an heirloom, and I packed it into my pack in the hopes that ~ one day ~ I’d be able to track down this Armond Beluelle.
As I stepped back out into the brilliant sunshine, I resolved that ~ under no circumstances ~ would I wander into a cave until after I’d been to Balmora. So far I’d been pretty damn’ lucky but that big Nord had come uncomfortable close to cracking open my skull and I would, thank you very much, like to see my next birthday (and a fair few more after that). So then, no more caverns for a while thank you very much. With that resolution firmly in mind, I set off along the road.
It was much later in the day, around the Twelfth Hour, when I arrived there. After passing an Imperial garrison, I walked down a valley until I came to an obelisk. Upon it, written in Daedric characters, was the name “Balmora”. I crossed two little bridges that spanned a fairly energetic river and, giving the silt-strider a very wide berth, I entered the town. The architecture was strange but not unlovely: squat and curved buildings built of some greyish-green stone. A high wall, built of the same stone, encircled the city; although I did notice that there was no fee to enter the city, nor any form of city gate.
Shops lined the broad, open square that I found myself in ~ along with a couple of Guild Halls. I could see the Shield and Sword of the Fighter’s Guild and the All-Seeing Eye of the Mages. Four other shops, flying banners I didn’t recognise, also lined the square. One showed a strange animal bearing a pack and, on a whim, I entered. The shop was run by a Cathay-Raht by the name of Ra’Virr. It welcomed me cheerfully enough, and urged me to look at its collection of Daedric weapons.
When I looked, they proved to be standard weapons with a summoning enchantment. Ra’Virr didn’t seem put out when I mentioned this, instead urging me to consider purchasing a tent. That seemed a far more useful deal and, after bartering a good deal of my stuff with the Khajiit, I left his shop with a tent and four Septims from my bartered goods, along with directions to the South Wall Cornerclub. One thing he said worried me.
“Ra’Virr hears that many people have seen an Orcish knight clad in strange armour near Hlormaren. Ra’Virr hears that this dark knight has killed many travellers.” Strangely clad knights that go around killing unwary travellers are generally bad news ~ they have a tendency to belong to unsavoury cults.
I crossed the river into Labour Town, the name given to the poorer district on the eastern side of the River Odai, and made my way back to the Cornerclub. Upstairs, a florid faced Man seemed extremely agitated when I asked where I could find Caius Cosades, but he calmed down when I told him I had a package to be delivered. “Cosades rents a bed-and-basket· here in Labour Town. If you go back downstairs and out of the door, turn right and head up the stairs. Head left down the street and you’ll find Caius Cosades’ place right at the end, past the public forge.”
Thanking Bacola Closcius, I then enquired about renting a room in the Cornerclub. After a bit of discussion, I agreed to take a small room on the first floor at a cost of forty-five Drakes for the next five nights. Taking the key, I ventured into the room. It was small but well lit, with a bed, table, and a small chest at the end of the bed. I quickly discovered that the room key also opened the chest. Unpacking a number of the items I’d gathered, I put them into the chest, locked it, locked my room and set out to speak to Caius Cosades. After all, all I had to do was deliver the package and then I was free to pursue my own career and make a life for myself here on Vvardenfell. Do you ever wonder if the Gods get a big laugh out of our certainty about what the future holds?
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the squalid hole I met the elderly Imperial Caius Cosades in. Bare-chested, he stood in a room that was little larger than the one I’d rented at the Cornerclub; except that there were empty bottles and discarded clothes strewn about the floor and the bed was a ruin ~ looking as though the sleeper had been afflicted with violent nightmares. Over everything was a sickly sweet smell that permeated the room. As I stared at the chaotic environment, the elderly Imperial snapped, “You lost? Or is there something I can do for you?”
I looked into the bleary, red-rimmed eyes of the Imperial, asking, “Are you Caius Cosades?”
“I am, what of it young lady?” as he spoke, I saw something that caused me to revise my opinion of the man. Bleary and red-rimmed as his blue eyes were, there was a spark in them that spoke of a fierce intelligence. I got the feeling that there was very little this Man missed and I felt as though I’d just stepped into a room where, unaccountably, there was a very dangerous animal.
“I have this package for you,” I replied, extending the wax-paper wrapped documents.“ Taking them from me, he looked at the (thankfully) unbroken seal, and asked me to wait while he read them through. Turning his back on me, he tore open the package and started to read while I stood there in uncomfortable silence. Finally, making a soft sound in his throat, he turned to look at me.
“You are Sudhendra Vahl,” he said after studying me for a while. I kept quiet, simply nodding my head ~ I know a rhetorical question when I hear one. “Very well,” he continued, “by order of the Emperor Uriel Septim the Seventh, I hereby induct you into the Blades with the rank of Novice.”
I was stunned, the Blades are not even supposed to be real ~ a myth told in dark alleys where sedition was planned by paranoid minds. But, unless the old man was joking with me, they were all too real and I had managed to get myself entangled in their shadowy web. Somehow, I got the feeling that, whatever else he was, Caius Cosades was not big on practical jokes. What followed next was the most bewildering hour I’ve ever experienced: in that short time Caius Cosades gave me a list of other Blade operatives I could contact if the need arose, briefed me on the political and religious situation here in Morrowind Province, told me about the factions and guilds I could expect to encounter here on Vvardenfell, and generally scared the heck out of me with a tale of strange goings-on on the island. Finally, he gave me a deeply appraising look and said, “Here are two hundred Drakes, if I were you, I’d go out and get a bit of seasoning so I won’t have to worry too much when I send you out on missions.”
That stung, more than a little. True, I’d never been the adventurous sort and I was relatively unskilled in magic, and unarmed combat, and the finer points of using an axe (or any other weapon for that matter), and I had very little by way of backwoods survival skills, and… seems as though the Man had a point. Didn’t make his comment any less hurtful though. His advice was to “join a Guild or two, or do some freelance work”, and then come back and see him when I felt ready to take orders from him.
“What if I’m never ready to serve the Emperor?” I thought as, my head reeling from the sudden load of new information I’d acquired I stepped outside. Still in something of a daze, I wandered down a nearby flight of stairs and found myself outside the Bank of Vvardenfell. On a sudden whim, I stepped inside and, with a very sheepish air, opened up a bank account for myself with five hundred Septims ~ a sizeable chunk of my current money but the very minimum they’d consider for opening an account.
The day, already very strange, took a sudden left-turn into downright weird. As I left the bank clutching my statement, a tall, cloaked Dunmer rushed up to me. “Salvor knows you, yes he does,” he gasped excitedly, grabbing my sleeve. “Salvor knows you seek the clothing that belonged… to them!”
“Them who?” I asked, trying to shake off his grip. I have an instinctive distrust of any being other than a Khajiit that speaks of themselves in the third person ~ their stairs frequently fail to reach the top floor.
“THEM,” he exclaimed, as though that explained anything. “The Alliance, the Silent Ten,” he continued, “You seek their clothing. Yes, yes, Salvor knows you have the right to claim the Dunmeri clothing. Seek it, seek it and you’ll find your destiny at the Dren Plantation and Venim Manor.”
“Excuse me,” a voice said as a heavily armour hand descended onto Salvor’s shoulder, “but is this man bothering you Lady?” I’ve never been so happy to see a guard, even one clad in such strange armour, in my life.
Before either of us could do anything, Salvor had broken free of the guard’s hold on him and scampered away towards a short alleyway. Stopping at the mouth of the alley, the Dunmer turned and yelled at us, “Salvor knows tall people. Be warned, Salvor knows some very tall people indeed.” With that incomprehensible warning, he scooted off down the alley with the guard in hot pursuit.
I spent the rest of the day, such as it was, engaged in disposing of some of the items I’d gathered so far in my travels. As the sun set, three hundred and sixty-four Drakes richer than when I’d started, I returned to the South Wall Cornerclub and collapsed, exhausted, into bed.
Feb 18 2005, 11:43 PM
My nightmare, which I don’t remember, shook me awake in the small hours of the morning. I tried to get back to sleep but couldn’t. Finally, I gave it up as a bad lot and, after dressing, stepped out of the Cornerclub into a Balmora that was already bustling and lively.
“Can I interest you in some fletching equipment?” a tall Breton asked as I approached North Bridge. She and I spoke for some while as she explained to me various ways to make bolts and arrows. When we parted, I was nineteen hundred Drakes poorer, but I was the proud possessor of a couple of boxes of flights, some arrowheads, and a small toolkit that would allow me to make my own bolts or arrows.
Mindful of what Cosades had said yestre; I made my way back over to the main market-square and stood looking at the two Guildhouses. To be honest, even though I have an aptitude for magic, the Guild of Mages has never really appealed to me ~ I find them elitist, snooty, and distant. On the other hand, I’m not much of a fighter either. I really couldn’t decide which guild to join ~ always assuming that either would take me in. Finally, my dislike of Imperial Mages won out and, firm of purpose, I stepped into the Guild of Fighters. When I explained my purpose, I was directed to a tall Nordic lady named Eydis Fire-Eye.
She put me through quite a respectable examination, making scathing comments about some of my abilities and seeming, while not impressed, at least appreciative of some of my other skills. Especially since, as she reprovingly put it, I’d not received the benefit of any formal training. Finally the examination was over and she asked if I was still interested in joining the Guild. Assuming that I had passed whatever criteria were needed for entrance, I said that I was ready. She then read me a set of rules ~ no stealing from fellow members, no attacking fellow members, and the like: common sense stuff really ~ and inducted me into the Guild of Fighters with the rank of Associate.
Eager to prove my worth to the Guild, I asked Fire-Eye if there were any tasks I could undertake. She gave me a particularly cool look, as if to say, “Are there any tasks you can undertake”, and then said, “there’s a Dunmeri female in Balmora by the name of Drarayne Thelas. It seems she’s been having some trouble with cave-rats. She lives on the east side of the Odai, near the river. Get over there and sort out her problem.
“Oh, and if you’re in need of supplies, you can take what you need from the Guildhouse supply chest. It’s not much, and we don’t restock it as often as we’d like, so use it wisely.”
On my way out, I checked the supply chest. It contained a couple of restore endurance potions, a couple of restore health potions, and a couple of scrolls. Although the contents were sparse, it provided the essentials for any fighter. Mindful that the chest probably wouldn’t be resupplied soon, I contented myself with an endurance potion and a health potion. Stuffing these into my backpack, I headed down the alleys to the river and crossed back into Labour Town. It didn’t take me long to find Thelas’ house and, after knocking politely, I entered.
“Got a rat problem,” Drarayne Thelas said after I’d introduced myself. “There’s one trapped in my bedroom and another couple upstairs in my storeroom. I hope the bedratted things haven’t got themselves into my pillows. I like pillows, I bet you like pillows too.” Now that she came to mention it, there did seem to be an inordinate number of pillows in the room ~ stacked on just about every horizontal surface. Unslinging my axe, I walked over to the bedroom door and kicked it open.
The biggest rat I’ve ever seen glared at me from a corner then bared its teeth and scampered towards me. Its obvious intention to bite my ankles was thwarted when my axe clove through its skull ~ sending the nasty thing bouncing off in two separate directions. Drarayne Thelas nodded approvingly, and then gave me the key to her storeroom.
The two rats in the storeroom were slightly smaller cousins of the behemoth downstairs and I soon despatched them to wherever it is that rats go when they become dead rats. I must admit, right here and now, that I was sorely tempted by the chests and crates stacked up in the upstairs storeroom. However, I thought that starting my career as a honourable member of the Guild of Fighters with some petty pilfering was not the right way to go. Putting temptation behind me, I went back downstairs and spoke once more to Drarayne Thelas.
“Thank you Sudhendra Vahl,” she said. “I hate it when those little devils get into my pillows. Now, I agreed a price of two hundred Septims· with the guild, so here you go.”
“Back then Associate?” Eydis Fire-Eye asked as I stepped back into the Guildhall. “Am I to assume you took care of the rat problem, or did you have a problem?” Ignoring her sarcasm, I displayed the money that Drarayne Thelas had paid me. “Well, seems like there might be a fighter under that pretty face, after all,” Eydis said. “Keep the money Associate, you earned it. Now, fancy another little commission?”
When I allowed that I wouldn’t be averse to undertaking another small task for the Guild, Eydis Fire-Eye said, “Good. Now, Sevilo Othan and Daynila Valas are, or rather were, Egg Miners at the Shulk Egg Mine. Seems they’ve gone into business for themselves and are stealing eggs from the mine, as well as killing anyone who gets in their way. Great House Hlaalu has given us a bounty on them ~ I’d like you to go and collect it.”
“Okay,” I said. “First, where is this mine? And secondly, EGG mines? Is this the part where you send the new recruit off to find some polish for the holes in chainmail, or get a left-handed dagger?”
The Nord gave me a very severe look at that. “The mine is located just southwest of Balmora, on the banks of the River Odai. Head out of town by the ‘strider and follow the river ~ you’ll come to a small rope-bridge. The mine is just there.
“Egg Mines are a vital resource on Vvardenfell,” she continued. “Kwama colonies set up in caves and the Queen lays eggs. The miners collect those eggs ~ which are used to feed a large part of the populace, both here and on the mainland.”
Suitably chastised, I agreed to accept the commission ~ even though I wasn’t looking forward to a run in with a pair of homicidal egg-miners. To even up my chances, I took a regeneration charm from the supply chest. I was still quite amused to watch the charm I already owned merge with the charm I’d just picked up. Looping the silver chain around my neck, I left the Guildhall and headed through the market square and out through the city gates. Following the river, I quickly passed from a relatively rock-strewn area to a grassy embankment running alongside the water. I’d not been walking for long when I spotted an open fire with two figures standing beside it. Gripping my sword, just in case, I approached.
The standees turned out to be a couple of off-duty miners, a Redguard and a Bosmeri. The Yokudan was rather standoffish but, as is usual with Wood Elves, it was difficult to get Findulia to shut up once he’d started. From his disjointed gabbling I gathered that Othan and Valas both know the mine extremely well and that they’re probably going to be found on one of the lower levels. Another titbit I picked up was that, unless I actively disturbed the eggs, the creatures inside the mine were very unlikely to attack me. That was both better and worse news than I’d hoped. Better, in as much as I had no intention of messing with the eggs in the mine. Worse, because I didn’t like that little caveat: very unlikely to attack me. Which meant that there was a small probability that they might. Wonderful.
With a deep sigh, I unsheathed my sword ~ the one I’d taken from Tarhiel ~ and stepped through the rough wooden door into the mine. Two things struck me immediately. The first was the strange yellowish light permeating the mine and the second was the stink. A sulphurous sort of smell, the sort of thing you smell in the privy after some bad food has worked its way through. Trying very hard not to breathe through my nose for fear of permanently destroying my sense of smell, I carefully made my way into the mine. It wasn’t long before I was stepping around some strange, whitish coloured creatures with rather more legs than seemed necessary and a number of orange-coloured worm-like creatures. All of them seemed to be very interested in the strange pulsating sacs that littered the place ~ it was these that were the source of the sickly yellow light.
There were a number of miners working in the upper shafts that, when questioned, either ignored me or pointed me towards something called the Queen’s Chambers in the darker depths of the mine. Fortunately, even down here, that wan yellow light lit the place adequately. I say “fortunately” because I had, of course, neglected to bring a light-source of my own. I resolved that, whatever the future might bring, I would never be that sloppy or unprepared again.
There was a sudden yell of “die fetcher”, and an unkempt figure leapt out and took a swing at me. There was that “fortunately” again: this time it was the fact that a pickaxe doesn’t make a very good close-quarter weapon. And this Dunmer seemed extremely unwilling to use anything else. I feinted a slash at head height and, as he ducked, I brought my blade up and drove it into the flesh beneath his chin. The flash of arcane magic discharging limned the scene, but the charge was wasted: even with my hazy knowledge of combat to the death, it was obvious that nobody could loose that much blood and survive.
Wrenching the blade loose, I turned to meet the second thief who was yelling something about “en wah”. She proved to be dimmer than her compatriot ~ attacking someone with your bare fists when that someone is armed with a sword isn’t conductive to a long and healthy life. I don’t care how clumsy the sword-wielder is, and I was plenty clumsy, let me tell you.
Panting heavily, I stepped back from the cooling corpses and the cooling puddle that had been my last meal. Yeah, sure they’d attacked me, as they’d attacked other people who’d interfered with their presumably lucrative business. And, if I hadn’t defended myself, I’d be the one laying there in a pool of sticky blood. There had been a good deal more killing in the last few days than I’d seen in my twenty-six years ~ and I had been the cause of quite a sizeable proportion of it. And that thought wasn’t exactly a cheery one. Even the cheers and applause of the miners, as I made my way out of the mine into the blessedly fresh air, failed to raise me from my funk. I’d resolved to start a new life here on Vvardenfell ~ ‘Sudhendra Vahl, the Bloody Reaper’ wasn’t quite the life I’d had in mind.
So it was with a heavy heart and a furrowed brow that I reported back to Eydis Fire-Eye. Even the hundred Septims bounty and the gift of a couple of bottles of a powerful restorative potion failed to cheer me much. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be told that my next task was to locate and “dispose of” four Telvanni agents who were spying on the mining operation at the Caldera mines.
Feb 18 2005, 11:44 PM
“These agents, Alynu Aralen, Sathasa Nerothren, Fothyna Herothran, and Alveleg, are probably hiding in the hills to the north of the mine. Be wary Associate,” Eydis warned, “they’re sure to have posted a lookout.”
I wondered what, or who, a ‘Telvanni’ is as I walked slowly around to the Guild of Mages. Once inside, I made my way down to the inevitable Guild-Guide who, for twelve Drakes, transported me to a town called Caldera, or as close to the mines as I could get.
Let me state, for the record, that I was immediately and completely shaken out of my depression by the realisation of what I’d just done. I hate the teleportation service rather more than anything else in the Grey Maybe. That strange buzzing sensation as your body is ripped apart into tiny and unknowable particles, sent streaming through the Void to be reassembled in some other place. Where you inevitably arrive with a deep and utter sense of confusion and the feeling that your stomach is travelling overland to catch up with you. I rarely use the service and have to fight down an overwhelming urge to check that I have the right number of everything, attached in all the proper places, every time that I do.
Scampering off the teleportation disk, I took several deep breaths to calm myself before looking around. The Guild-Guide looked at me with some amusement but said nothing: two elderly Dunmer stood at the other end of the room watching me ~ I guess to see if I’d suddenly implode, or something would drop off, or something. When nothing overly amusing happened, one of them gestured for me to join him.
“My name is Folms Mirel,” he said, pleasantly enough. “I’m looking for someone to assist me in a little research. Would you be interested outlander?”
In response to my query as to what would be involved, he gave me a genuinely happy smile and said, “many years ago, when this land was known as Resdayn, our ancestors built a series of forts. Using a technique that we’re only just rediscovering, they created a number of chambers ~ known as Propylon Chambers ~ which could be used to travel from one fort to another.
“As you can imagine, such a technique would be extremely useful to understand. I’ve been studying the chambers for many years and believe I can create a Master Index: a key, if you will, that will allow travel between any of these Propylon Chambers. However, to do so, I need the individual Propylon Indexes. I am willing to pay five hundred Septims for each and every Index you can bring me.”
“And where will I find these indexes?” I asked.
“Ah, that I can also help you with,” Folms Mirel said happily. “The first one is right here in Caldera. It is the Hlormaren Index and is property of Irgola the Pawnbroker to be exact. Obtain it from him and bring it to me. I will pay you the agreed sum. And, while you’re doing that, I’ll research the location of the remaining Indexes. Agreed?”
It seemed a simple enough task, and we entered into an agreement. However, it would have to wait for a while ~ the day wasn’t getting any younger and I had a nest of spies to locate. Folms Mirel was kind enough to provide me with accurate directions to the mine and, with a fairly light step; I headed out of the guild.
Caldera was a typical Imperial town, like Seyda Neen of Pelagiad, only more so. Officious looking guards stamped about in their armoured finery while, around them, the ordinary citizens trod a wide berth as they undertook their daily tasks. I was at the northern end of an elongated square. The eastern side of the square was lined with a mixture of shops and housing. On the western side, dominating the town from its vantage point on the hill was a massive stone structure. Too grand to be a simple garrison or fort, it reminded me of the large Imperial residences so beloved of Nobles in Cyrodiil Province.
I shrugged. Standing gawping like a tourist wasn’t getting the job done so, whistling a jaunty tune, I headed off into the wilderness.
My first indication that I was getting close was the arrow that zipped past my head. With a muffled curse, I dived behind a nearby rock and peered out. The next arrows sparked as it bounced skywards ~ it had impacted against my hideout and missed my head by a couple of inches. I did get a chance, however, to see a Bosmeri archer fitting another arrow into his bow. I was in somewhat of a difficult position: the archer could move around and get a clear shot at me while I was effectively pinned down.
Hmmm, if he wanted a clear shot, he’d have to move over there ~ towards the bridge. And that would bring him nicely into my line of fire. And fire it was too: as the Wood Elf darted into position, I extended my hands and chanted the words of my trusty fire-ball spell. There was a muffled scream as the fireball wrapped itself around the archer, but I wanted to waste no time. Leaping from concealment, I raced over and drove the point of my sword into the Bosmeri’s throat, silencing him. The impact of the fireball had knocked the bow from his hand, and I appropriated it for my own use ~ after all, I couldn’t be reliant on a sword all the time and a ranged weapon that didn’t involve the expenditure of magicka would definitely come in handy. All I needed now were some arrows…
The other three spies were strung out in the Ashunammu caves, making them fairly easy targets for me to pick off one by one. Sticking to the shadows and using contact magic· wherever possible, I made my way down inside the chambers and tunnels of the cave until I’d dealt with all of them. Not that I’d escape unscathed, thank you very much. One of them had been a little quicker on the uptake than the others and had managed to skewer me quite efficiently. Using strips torn from their clothing, I was able to make a passable dressing for the wound and the restore health potion quickly stopped the bleeding and closed up the lesion. I was, however, feeling a little woozy from blood loss and shock and desperately needed to get some rest and recuperation. The hammocks slung up in Ashunammu looked extremely inviting…
Feb 18 2005, 11:44 PM
When I awoke, I sat up and surveyed my surroundings. Then I examined my wound ~ the rest and the potion had done wonders; there wasn’t even a scar to show where I’d been stabbed. My resting period seemed to have wrought other changes too; my pack seemed lighter than it had the day before and I seemed much more energetic than I had for quite some time. (Indeed, as the day wore on, I realised I was getting fatigued less often).
A thorough search of Ashunammu revealed enough victuals to prepare a relatively acceptable meal but little else of any consequence: a few cheap weapons and a very small sum of golden coins. I took a couple of the weapons to sell on and a bundle of twenty steel-shafted arrows for my own use, but the majority of the stuff was far too bulky for me to be carrying around. Cutting across the hills, I followed a much more direct path back to Caldera.
After allowing a few moments for my stomach to walk from Caldera to Balmora, I stepped off the transportation dais and made my way up from the lower levels of the Mages Guild and over to the Guildhall. Eydis seemed very pleased that I’d dealt with the Telvanni agents and gave me four hundred Drakes as a reward. In addition to that, and more importantly as far as I was concerned, she also promoted me to the rank of Apprentice.
“I have another job for you, Sudhendra,” she said. “This one requires a delicate touch. I need you to acquire a codebook from a lady named Sottilde, who can be found at the South Wall Cornerclub. I don’t care what it takes, but my client must get that book.”
It was pretty obvious that I couldn’t go in, sword swinging. Firstly that would get me in far more trouble than any book was worth. Secondly, if I created a bloodbath in the South Wall Cornerclub, where would I use as a base of operations? I thought of several options as I walked over the bridge and to the club. It occurred to me that I have a fair bit of clink and that bribery often makes a suitable substitute for brute force.
“I really can’t give you the book,” Sottilde said for the third time as I casually placed another fifty Septims on the growing pile.
“I’m sure I’ll be very grateful,” I said softly, adding another hundred to the pile. With a quick, nervous look around, Sottilde made the money vanish and palmed the book to me. Placing it out of sight in my satchel, I took the time to speak to Sottilde, trying to set her at ease. It worked rather better than I expected. It turns out that the South Wall is the base of operations for the Thieves Guild in Balmora! She also intimated that, for a member in good standing, a bounty could be removed if one knew the right people to speak to and had some cash to cover the expenses. That was a titbit that would be very handy ~ I didn’t intend to get into trouble with the authorities, but it always pays to have a back up plan. Accordingly, I spoke to a Khajiiti named Sugar-Lips Hasabi. After a bit of back and forth, it agreed that I was eligible to join the Thieves Guild and gave me the charming sounding rank of Toad.
Let me stress that it wasn’t my intention to do more with my membership in the Ancient Guild of Thieves than to have a backup plan in case I ran into a problem with the authorities. However, you know what they say about the best laid plans of Men and Mer, don’t you?
Eydis was delighted and, for a fraction of a second, I was sure that I saw her smile. It might have been a sudden gas attack though. Nonetheless, she gave me fifty Septims as a payment for recovering the codebook ~ about a quarter of what I’d paid for it. And that phrase “recovering the codebook”? Hadn’t she told me that it was for a client who needed access to the code used by the guild? So, what was all this about recovering it? I assumed that I’d misunderstood the original instructions given to me and left it at that. Eydis wasn’t going to leave it at that, though. She had yet another task for me.
“There is a woman in Suran, name of Helviane Desele. She owes our client two hundred Drakes, and our client wants it recovered as quickly as possible.”
“And you want me to go there and get it?” I interjected. She nodded tightly, so I said that I’d take the commission and headed on out of the Guildhouse. “Desele”? Where had I heard that name before?
Checking my map, I saw that it was a very long walk from here to Suran ~ much further than I’d be willing to walk today. However, according to the map, there was a silt-strider route between Balmora and Suran. I was slightly less than enthusiastic about riding what looked like a giant flea, especially when I found out that I’d actually be riding inside the creature. But it was either walk, or pay twenty-two Drakes and get there a lot quicker. Not really a contest. Right here and now, I’ll say that ~ despite my reservations ~ the journey was delightful. I could see all of the scenery around me as we swayed from side to side in a particularly restful manner. In fact, it was only the fact that the journey was relatively quick that prevented me from going to sleep. All too soon, we arrived in Suran.
“Where can I find Helviane Desele?” I asked the Drover, and got a strange look in reply. Still, he did give me directions: down from the port and it’s the first building on the right. The buildings in Suran were of the same construction and material as those in Balmora, so I guessed that whatever rules went there also went here.
I stopped outside the building, slightly worried by the red-paper lantern hanging over the doorway and the sign swinging in the breeze ~ Desele’s House of Earthly Delights. It was about then that the Drake dropped, that drunken sot in Seyda Neen had said something about Desele’s House of Earthly Delights in Suran, and how I should visit it if I was ever there. Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to get accustomed to the gloom; unfortunately my nose and ears didn’t get that luxury. Three musicians were playing a thin, discordant tune (they certainly weren’t worthy of the sobriquet ‘Bard’): I recognised the drum that was beating out the erratic rhythm but the other two instruments were totally alien. And a sharp, sickly smell filled the atmosphere, vying with the smell of beer, brandy, and other less identifiable liquors. It was the same scent that had permeated the small room owned by Caius Cosades. Across the back wall were three raised platforms ~ in front of which stood half-a-dozen inebriated and wildly cheering Men. The reason for their cheers and catcalls was the three naked women ~ a Nord, a Redguard, and a Breton ~ that were swaying energetically to the ‘tune’ played by the musicians.
My next surprise was the two women behind the bar ~ or, more accurately, the woman and female Khajiiti behind the bar. Both were topless and seemed totally unconcerned by the ogling looks they were getting from their patrons. As I stood there, confused, one of the dancers stepped off her stage and sauntered into the crowd. Within seconds, she’d taken the arm of a large Nord and was leading him, still stark naked, up the stairs at the back of the room. I’m pretty certain a sum of money changed hands. Meanwhile, a thin Imperial female stepped out of an alcove and took the Redguard’s place and started dancing. I’m not naïve, and I knew exactly what was going on here but I was still shocked and confused that such a place would be so open about what it did.
And that wasn’t my last surprise in this place either. That came when I addressed the Breton behind the bar ~ who I’d guessed was Helviane Desele ~ about the debt.
“What debt would that be Dunmer?” she fairly spat. As I tried to explain, she overrode me, saying, “that’s just peachy that is. The Camorra Tong can’t get their protection money out of me, so they send in their stooges the Fighter’s Guild to do it for them. You want the “debt” paid? Pay it yourself.”
Well, that put a bit of a crimp in my plans, Desele wouldn’t pay the money, and in fact she point blank refused to even discuss it with me any more. I couldn’t go wading in with sword and spell: that would only bring down the wrath of the local guards. Assuming, that is, I survived the wrath of the bar’s patrons. If what she said was true, then I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to pay protection money. Catching the eye of the Khajiit, I ordered myself a tisane and found a quiet corner to sit and think. After fighting off the advances of a few amorous, and very drunken, patrons, I spotted my chance when the Redguard came back down the stairs and stepped into the alcove.
“Might I ask you a few questions?” I said, sitting in a vacant chair near the alcove. Once I’d convinced her that I wasn’t going to moralise, she agreed to speak with me. It turned out to be a very interesting conversation. Rumī told me that the Camorra Tong is the local equivalent of the Thieves Guild and that there is a great deal of animosity between the two. So much so, in fact, that most of the island’s inhabitants are waiting for the inevitable war between them. Rumī also told me that it was fairly common knowledge that the Guild of Fighters is being paid by the Camorra Tong to strong-arm people who won’t deal with them. She also intimated that there were rumours that there might be a deeper involvement between the Fighters Guild and the Camorra Tong ~ although she was unwilling to tell me what they were.
I also gathered a few other interesting things to ponder on as I made my way back to Balmora. Rumī had told me of a strange Orcish knight near a place called ‘The Shrine of Kummu’. He’d attacked some travellers, and I wondered if this was the same knight that was supposed to be roaming the Bitter Coast, or another one. If it was another one, it meant that there were probably quite a few more than just two. Something else she told me was that there was an Orcish knight to the south of Suran. Only this one had been there for quite a lot longer than the red-armoured knight near the shrine. She described him as a ‘madman’ ~ which didn’t fill me with much confidence.
I returned to the South Wall and went to my room, where I sat on the bed for quite a long time. I wasn’t happy about the connection between the Camorra Tong and the Fighter’s Guild ~ this was just the sort of thing that got people trapped into choosing one side or another. And that sort of grief I really didn’t need. I also regretted my hasty decision to enter into partnership with the Guild of Thieves. Again, if they were getting set for a battle against the local thieves, they’d expect me to step in on their behalf. More grief I didn’t need. Pleasant though my life was becoming as I settled down in Balmora, I could see that there was trouble ahead ~ the sort of trouble that got people dead, or very powerful and important people well pissed off at you. The time might be fast approaching when relocation could be in order. I resolved to think about that later
Feb 18 2005, 11:45 PM
The following morning I was up bright and early, selling off some stuff to raise two hundred Septims for Helviane Desele: a couple of scrolls I didn’t think I’d need, a tattered copy of ‘The Alchemist’s Formulary’; and a couple of iron swords. All in all, I managed to raise two hundred and seventeen Septims with my various sales. Marching into the Guildhall, I went up to Eydis Fire-Eye and dropped the money contemptuously onto the table, “there’s your debt money” I said, making sure she could hear the quotation marks around the word “debt”.
“And that’s your share,” she replied obliviously, separating out twenty five-Septim pieces and sliding them back across the table to me. “Now, if you’re at all interested, I have a bounty that needs to be collected. The person is here in Balmora, in a house across the river. You can’t mistake the house, it’s the only one with a tower, and the bounty is two hundred and fifty Septims.”
“And what’s the catch?” I asked quizzically.
“Ah, well, the bounty is on one Dura gra-Bol.”
“Oh great,” I muttered as I gathered up the necessary papers. “A bleeding Orc.”
I’ve met a few Orcs in the past, and a more dour and taciturn race of people you’re unlikely to meet on the face of Nirn. They have some very strange ideas and even stranger religious practices, and almost no sense of humour whatsoever. In fact, the only reason you find so many of them throughout the Empire is that they are superbly skilled warriors. And therein lay the nub of my problem: this Dura gra-Bol would probably outweigh me by several hundred pounds and be skilled in more weapons techniques than I even knew existed. Damn’, time for me to be sneaky.
I paid a visit to the local alchemist, a rather snooty High Elf by the name of Nelcarya. For a sizeable financial consideration, she provided me with two phials. One contained a potent potion that would make me blend into the background for a while. The other a particularly vile poison called Spike. Nasty stuff, it caused partial blindness and paralysis. Making sure I was unobserved, I poured the venom onto the blade my old iron sword before crossing the river and entering gra-Bol’s house. The instant I shut the door, I uncapped the chameleon potion and drank deeply.
“Who there?” the huge Orc rumbled as it thundered down the stairs, dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. As soon as it had its back to me, I stabbed it hard and deep with the sword. It let out a fearsome yell and whirled around, waving it’s hand back and forth through the space I’d been occupying. The reason it didn’t find me was that I’d ducked and sprinted up a few stairs the instant I’d driven the blade into the Orc’s muscular shoulder.
“Gone kill you very dead,” it rumbled slowly. “Don’t know you who, but you dead soon.” I seriously doubted that: the Orc’s voice was starting to slur and its movements were slowing down. In addition, it was blinking its eyes and peering around in a manner that indicated it was having difficulty seeing. Now, before my potion wore off, was the time to strike.
I stood there panting, looking down at the corpse of the slowly cooling Orc, the Spike-envenomed blade jutting from its chest where I’d planted it a few moments before. Even with the poison coursing through its veins, it had been one hell of a fighter. As I thought back on the frantic exchange of blows, my knees buckled and I sank to the floor in a state of exhaustion ~ ignoring the hammering on the door.
“Minute,” I managed to gasp as the hammering became a positive fusillade of blows. Dragging myself wearily to my feet, I opened the door to discover two very aggrieved looking guards. I handed them the bounty paperwork, which made them look slightly less unhappy. Before they dragged the body away, I quickly stripped it of the axe it carried and helped myself to the fifty Septims in its purse. Leaving them to struggle as they took it away, I closed the door behind them as quickly as I could. I was starting to recover, and an intriguing idea had just crossed through my mind.
Even though I was contemplating leaving Balmora for less politically charged climes, I might need a base of operations until I got settled somewhere. I knew Balmora, I knew its alleyways and shops, and the town was well connected for travel. Unless I intended to pay for a room at whatever inn happened to be nearby whenever I wished to rest, a permanent location would be ideal. And, lo and behold, here was a perfectly serviceable residence. If I couldn’t find a key for the front door, I could always ward the place until I could get the lock replaced. It made sense on so many levels.
A quick search of the place revealed its few charms. There was a bed in a small alcove downstairs, by the stairs. A small table stood near the head of the bed while, at the other end, stood a rough wooden chest. It was inside this chest that I found some clothing that had belonged to Dura gra-Bol, seventy-five Septims, and a key to the front door. On the other side of the stairs was another alcove: into here was crammed a large chest of drawers and a roughly crafted, but functional, set of shelves. Up the stairs, and there was a door that led out onto a balcony type thing overlooking the Odai. Another two short flights of stairs led up to a storage area, containing two large crates, several wooden barrels, and a couple of wicker baskets with lids. It was never going to win an award for being an ideal home, but it had plenty of storage and a place to sleep: what more could a girl ask for?
I spent an hour, or so, moving my stuff out of the South Wall Cornerclub and into my new residence before making my way to the Fighters Guildhall. Eydis paid me the bounty on Dura gra-Bol, and then promoted me to the rank of Journeyman. Then she dropped the hammer: she had no more work for me. Rather dismissively, she suggested that I speak with the Guild Stewards in Ald’ruhn, Sadrith Mora, or Vivec City. Actually, that was fine by me, so not into having to deal with the Camorra Tong problem within the Guild. I wondered if any of the other members (there are usually a couple of Guild members in the Guildhouse at any one time) could give me some hints. Obviously, asking Eydis Fire-Eye was out of the question.
I finally found just the person I wanted, a trainer by the name of Hasphat Antabolis. His suggestion was carefully couched, but it was pretty plain that he knew what was happening in the guild and, more importantly, wasn’t too happy about it.
“Yeah, sure, I can make a recommendation,” he said when I asked him. “Try Hrundi in Sadrith Mora, or Percius Mercius over in Ald’ruhn. They’re good people, if you know what I mean?” I knew exactly what he meant or, at least, I thought I did. Thanking him profusely, I made my way out of the Guildhall.
Before I went anywhere, I had a little trading to do. Returning to Dura’s house, I collected together some items and went to town. The excess weaponry I’d collected fetched four hundred and forty-one Septims from the Bosmeri weapons-dealer Meldor. And the oversize clothing that had belonged to Dura gra-Bol? That fetched me one hundred and sixteen Septims from a general merchant named Clagius Clanler. With quite a bit of clink in my pocket, I went to the Mages Guildhouse and had myself sent to Ald’ruhn.
After my stomach had caught up with me, I wandered down the halls of the Guildhouse; nodding to the people I passed. This place seemed a trifle busier than the Mages Guild in Balmora. I was in for a real treat.
“Interested in translocation spells?” a tall, stately woman asked. “I have several pre-keyed translocation spells for sale.” I wondered if these were that same things as the Void-Walk spells I knew about from the mainland. A few questions quickly confirmed that they were. Void-Walk spells were great things, especially the ones with a predetermined location on them. They cost next to no magicka to cast, never fail when you need them, in fact the only downside was that they were very, very expensive. I explained to Delas Mrania that I was interested, but couldn’t possibly afford one.
“Oh, but these are very cheap muthsera,” she protested. “Since there are only a few locations on Vvardenfell, the spells aren’t that difficult to learn and I can sell them to you quite cheaply. How does a thousand and fifty Septims sound?”
It sounded very interesting. I’d discovered that bartering never harms your cause: you can usually sneak a few extra Drakes onto the cost of what you’re selling, or off what you’re buying. After dickering for a while, we settled on a price of a thousand and fourteen Septims for a translocation spell that would send me to Balmora. Now I had the wherewithal to return to my adopted residence from anywhere on the island, at any time I wished to do so.
“Are you Percius Mercius?” I asked the squat and muscular Imperial I found in the lower level of the strange shell that passed for buildings in Ald’ruhn. “Hasphat Antabolis suggested that I should speak to you.” And speak we did, of many things. Firstly, Mercius told me that he had no tasks suitable for a Journeyman, and then we started to talk about the Guild I’d affiliated myself with. It turns out that Percius Mercius used to be the Chief Steward of the Fighters Guild, but not any longer. His place had been usurped by Sjorring Hard-Heart and, according to Mercius at least, the Nord had been issuing some very odd orders and taking the Guild in some very unusual directions of late. Although he didn’t come right out and say it, I guessed that Percius Mercius was referring to the Camorra Tong situation.
He also mentioned that some travellers had seen a dark Orcish knight east of a fort named Berandas. From what he’s been able to gather, this knight is spying on a town called Gnisis. Okay, I could accept one knight travelling between this Shrine of Kummu place and the Bitter Coast: but this third sighting meant that there was definitely more than one of them. His last comment was by way of a piece of advice ~ he suggested that I go to Sadrith Mora and speak to Hrundi in the Guildhouse in Wolverine Hall. He was, according to the Imperial, a good man who knows the value of the old traditions of the Guild.
Feb 18 2005, 11:46 PM
I crossed the dusty track that passed for a road in Ald’ruhn and once more gave myself to the tender mercies of the Mages Guild’s Guide service: allowing them to transport me to this Wolverine Hall place. I’ve been in a number of Mages Guildhalls and, even in separate provinces; they all shared one thing in common. And that is a certain sense of opulence: Balmora had it and even dusty Ald’ruhn had it. But not here, here the Mages Guildhall seemed to consist of one very crowded room in the Imperial style. That was distinctly odd. What was even odder was that when I left the Mages Guild there was a small Imperial shrine on the same floor and, one floor down, the Fighters Guildhall occupied another small area.
I mentioned this to Hrundi, the Guild Steward: a tall and impressively tattooed Nord clad in studded leather armour. “Aye,” he said, shaking his head. “’Tis an unusual situation all right. However, Sadrith Mora is a fairly unique place an’ we’re only just tolerated here lassie ~ an’ only that provided we stick to the rules.”
It was then that I learned that Caius Cosades’ briefing hadn’t been as exhaustive as I’d imagined. For a start, he’d mentioned the Great Houses that ruled Morrowind province and named them: Hlaalu, Redoran, Indoril, and Dres. He hadn’t said a single thing about Great House Telvanni and Hrundi quickly filled in the gaps in my knowledge.
“The Telvanni Mage-Lords pretty much rule in this corner o’ the Province. They’re canny, wise, awful dangerous to cross, live well nigh forever, and hate foreigners wi’ a passion: us Imperial ‘invaders’ most a’ all. We live under a wee set o’ fairly restrictive rules: provided we stay in Wolverine Hall and dinnae mess wi’ them, they dinnae mess wi’ us.”
So that was what ‘Telvanni’ were: xenophobic Mages with incredible life spans. And to think, I’d come over this side of the island to get away from the dangers of West Gash. Listening to Hrundi, it soon became apparent that what he knew was hearsay: none of it came from firsthand experience. As he explained, he’d arrived at Wolverine Hall six years ago and had been into Sadrith Mora precisely six times ~ although he said that it would be an experience for me to do so. I wondered uneasily what he meant by that. Naturally, our conversation turned to my budding career in the Fighters Guild.
“I have a wee job for you lassie,” Hrundi said. “It’s not one I’d normally give to a Journeyman, but it’s very important an’ the only one I have available. I need ye to go to a place called Nchurdamz: a Dwemer ruin way down the coast from here. There you’ll need tae find a lassie named Larienna Macrina and give her any assistance she needs.”
“Larienna Macrina?” I asked. “An Imperial?”
“Aye,” he said, “a Knight Errand o’ the Legion. D’ye have a problem wi’ that?”
“Not really,” I said with a sigh. “I’m just not a big fan of the Legion, or Imperials for that matter.” And that was understating it. I wanted nothing to do with the Legions, or Imperials in general. So far, every bad thing in my life that had happened had an Imperial involved. And it had been the Legion’s town guards that had beaten me so enthusiastically and got me consigned to prison. They were so not my favourite people. Still, needs must, and I told Hrundi that I accepted the job. He suggested that I go to the Mages Guild and get myself sent to Vivec City and, from there, get a boat to a place called Molag Mar. It was a fairly brisk walk from there to the ruins.
I took his advice, first taking the Guild guide service to Vivec City (a place I really must explore thoroughly one of these days) and getting a boat to Molag Mar. Molag Mar turned out to be a miniature Vivec City at the end of a small inlet: posed between the lushness of the Ascadian Isles and the desolation of the Molag Amur. Unfortunately for me, it was into the desolation of the Molag Amur that I now had to head. Pausing to buy a wrap to go around my mouth (a fashion I’d seen in Ald’ruhn and which now made sense to me), I set off.
There’s little to report of my journey through the afternoon, except for one thing. During the late part of the afternoon, before I pitched my tent, I came to the top of a rocky ridge. The path went on a short way before splitting: one branch headed off in the direction I wanted, the other headed towards a large collection of cyclopean buildings. There were each constructed, as far as I could tell, from a single piece of a dark purplish stone that had been hewn as though by a gigantic axe. Tall towers with strange devices on top, tall and harshly hewed walls, bizarre circular buildings supporting domed roofs on thick pillars. The whole thing made me giddy ~ not a one of the angles seemed to be normal, and there were thick pools of shadow where there should have been sunshine. Even more disconcerting were the aura of extreme age and the intense feeling of coldness I got from the place. I was glad the path I needed led away from the place, I had no desire to go any closer than I already was.
I headed off at speed, spurred on by the feeling that I was being observed by a vast and alien intelligence that wasn’t particularly friendly. So intense was the feeling that I soon found myself running pell-mell down the path until, fair exhausted, I collapsed by the side of the road. It was getting dark and I felt I had put enough distance betwixt me and that damnably distressing building for me to be able to rest easily. A little way off the path was a small rocky hollow, and it was here that I pitched my tent and made camp for the night.
Feb 18 2005, 11:47 PM
I won’t pretend that I had a pleasant night: that building featured in a nightmare that woke me in the misty pre-dawn hours, damp with sweat. Quite what the nightmare was I couldn’t recall, but I did have a fleeting recollection of running down bizarrely angled corridors away from some indefinable danger. Things weren’t helped by the discovery of a set of oddly shaped footprints in the dewy grass outside my tent ~ footprints that started and stopped in the middle of the damp patch without any visible connecting footprints. Perhaps I’d been overly optimistic when I thought that I was far enough away from the building…
As you can imagine, it didn’t take me long to pack my belongings away and move on a step. Which was a good thing really since I’d covered a very little distance before I saw the unmistakable towers of a Dwemer ruin. Unslinging my axe from my pack, I made my way up the slope towards them, quite excited. I’d only been close to a Dwemer building once before, up in Hammerfell, and that had been very enthusiastically guarded by the Legion. Now I was about to get far closer to one than most members of the Empire ever do. (The Empire tends to be a little obsessive about these ruins for reasons that escape the general populace).
Anyway, there was quite a brisk fire burning near the ruin, and a tall, white-haired woman sat beside it ~ evidently cooking something with which to break her fast. “Ahoy the fire,” I called politely, “are you Larienna Macrina?”
“I am,” she said, surging to her feet and grasping the hilt of her sword. “Who wishes to know?”
“I am Journeyman Sudhendra Vahl,” I called back. “Hrundi, of the Sadrith Mora Fighters Guild asked that I should join you.”
“You made good time,” she said, visibly relaxing. “Come, join me in a bite to eat and I’ll tell you why we’re here.”
Larienna had made a thick pottage of some unidentifiable meat and local vegetables, and she gave me a very generous portion in a hefty ceramic bowl. My contribution was two loaves of bread (slightly stale I’m sorry to relate) and some Comberry tisane that I reheated. As we tucked into this substantial repast, the Knight Errand told me of her mission.
“We’re here in search of the great beast known as Hrelvesuu,” she said. “It has attacked several travellers in this area and I was despatched, along with two Troopers, to track it down and deal with it.” She fetched a sigh, and then continued, “it attacked us from ambush near Almurbalarammi, killing my compatriots before fleeing here. I sent for help, and then followed it. It’s trapped inside, but I need someone to watch my back while I scour the ruins for it.
“That’s where you come in,” she said, adding, “I’d hoped for someone with more experience, meaning no offence, but I’m sure we’ll make an excellent team. Oh, and by the by, I have some skill in restorative magic and so can heal you at need. Remember, however, I’m no Cleric and casting the spell will weaken me. Well, are you ready?”
Not even in the slightest, I thought as I once more unslung my axe. However, the only way to avoid stinging remarks like ‘I was hoping for someone with more experience’ is to actually get out there and get the experience. Nodding to her, I led the way to the strange circular portal then evidently led into the building. She stepped forward and pressed several of the carvings on the door, causing it to dilate open with a thunderous crashing noise. Although I’d feigned disinterested, I’d made careful note of how she’d opened the door ~ just in case I needed to open one for myself.
There was a puff of slightly stale air as the door opened, but nothing untoward happened. Pausing, I put my hand on my axe and chanted, “Sino exsisto lux lucis”, causing my axe to glimmer with an eldritch light. She raised an eyebrow but said nothing as, with more than a little trepidation, I led the way down the metal steps into the ruins of Nchurdamz.
I barely had time to see that we’d stepped into a cavernous and well lit room before we were attacked by a strange creature ~ which was quickly reinforced by a couple of others. It looked like an oval on six legs but, as my axe hammered into it, it made a distinctly metallic sound. The creature wobbled slightly, but continued to rear up on its back two legs and slash at me with the front two. My axe clove into it for a second time, and there was a distinct spark and quite a loud bang as the thing bounced sideways and crashed into the wall. Its legs quivered oddly for a moment, and then it lay still.
Larienna Macrina had dealt with one of the other spider-creatures and, together, we turned on the last. As Larienna’s sword pushed the thing to one side, it met the flat sweep of my axe coming hard from the other. Again there was a loud “popping” noise and a flash of light ~ this time accompanied by a very disagreeable smell. “’Ware behind,” the soldier called, pivoting to face something behind me. I dived forward, hearing the unpleasant hiss of displaced air as a blade slashed through the spot I’d been standing in. Rolling, I came to my feet…
Larienna was hacking frantically at a golden-coloured ball that seemed to be moving of its own volition. Reading my axe, I stepped in: just as the ball split along the seams. As it opened like some strange flower, a metallic “head” and “torso” rose from the sphere. It had no “hands”, one arm ended on a strange confusion of metal parts and the other arm ended in a flat, circular shield. This it used to shove Larienna out of the way, the other arm slashing out as a blade somehow grew from the odd collection of metal at the end. Seeing that it was momentarily occupied, I reared back and hit the thing as hard as I could with my axe.
It pivoted on its base with frightening speed and, even though I could discern nothing that remotely looked like a pair of eyes, I got the distinct impression it was looking at me. That was when Larienna’s flat-bladed gladius cracked against its torso. As it started to turn towards her, I swung my axe in a flat and deadly arc. Metal crumpled and the head sprang off the neck and crashed to the floor a few paces away. The device spun erratically on the spot for a second or two, then seemed to deflate: like an inflated pig-bladder that’s been punctured.
“What,” I panted, “the frell was that?”
“The Empire calls them ‘animalcules’,” Larienna replied as I stepped up to examine one of the spider things. “Those are ‘Type I’,” she continued, before gesturing to the cracked and broken sphere, “and that’s a ‘Type II’.”
“How many types are there?” I asked, scraping up a thick goo that had leaked from the animalcule into one of my collection phials.
“The Empire has identified three types,” she replied. “There seem to be more Type Ones in the ruins in Vvardenfell than anything else. You sometimes get several Type Twos, the third Type is quite a bit rarer.”
“Would it look something like a heavily armoured Man carrying a big club?” I asked warily.
“Exactly like…” she paused, seeing my eyes widen. “Oh.”
Feb 18 2005, 11:48 PM
The club proved to be very hard indeed, studded metal in a sphere that was extended in the same way as the blade on the Type II animalcule. I can attest to the force it hits with, even through my armour, I felt a rib (or two) crack. Hauling the iron dagger from the top of my boot, I leapt on to the back of the thing as it ponderously turned to attack Macrina. “Die, honoured user thing,” I hissed, repeatedly driving the dagger into a thin joint between the nape if it’s “neck” and the “head”. “Dammit, why won’t you die?”
“Sudhendra, be…” I guess that Larienna’s next word was going to be “careful” but it was a fraction too late to warn me. The battered seam suddenly gave, and the dagger-blade slid into something that had all the resistance of warm butter. Several things happened so quickly that they seemed to all happen at once. There was a loud crackling noise, I was thrown off the back of the animalcule with considerable force, the dagger I’d been wielding flew off in another direction, and the mock-Man staggered a few steps before toppling like a cut tree.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed, pulling myself into a sitting position. “No, like, seriously, ouch.” Larienna rushed over to me, frantically asking after my well-being. I assured her I was mostly undamaged and that what damage I had sustained could be repaired with a draught of a healing potion. This proved, thankfully, to be true and I was up and about in a few seconds. My poor dagger, the one that had been with me since I took it from the Census building eight days ago, hadn’t fared quite so well. The blade was distorted, almost bent backwards on itself, and looked suspiciously melted.
I squatted beside the thing I’d “killed”. The back of the head, rather than being punctured inward by my dagger, seemed to have been blown outward by some powerful force. Very carefully, I peeled back a piece of plate as best as I could, only to have it snap off in my hand. Inside the skull (for want of a better word) was a spongy honeycomb of blue material. Even as I reached to touch it, it liquefied and ran out onto the floor where it quickly evaporated: making a ghastly stench as it did so. Any further examination of the artificial Man would have to wait ~ Larienna was urging me on, saying that we had to find Hrelvesuu.
Tucking the shard of metal into my pack as a memento, I followed Larienna Macrina through the ruins. It was a strange experience: the ruins looked as though they’d been abandoned only recently yet, here and there, were hints of the great antiquity of the items. Stranger still were the odd devices that huffed and puffed in some of the rooms, performing some long-forgotten function even after untold years. Oddest of all were the lights that lined the walls. Made of a crystalline substance, they contained two metal filaments shaped like pyramids. These almost, but not quite, met in the middle of the tube: between them burned a brilliant light that existed without a flame. Or, as I found when I tentatively touched one, generating any form of heat.
At last, we came to a circular locked door, from behind which a strange clicking sound could be heard. I checked the door carefully for traps and was relieved to discover none. The lock, although complex, proved to be little problem for me, obediently clicking open on the second try. As the door swung into the room, I saw a great scaled shape.
“Hrelvesuu,” Larienna breathed softly, her words accompanied by the soft scrape of her blade being withdrawn from its scabbard. Barging past me, she threw herself at the creature. Licking my lips, I hefted my axe and waded in to join her. With two of us to contend with, the beast ~ a sort of upright lizard with a massive bony collar ~ seemed confused as to which of us to deal with first. Since Larienna was the best trained of the two of us, I let her do most of the hard work: keeping the creature distracted and landing the occasional lick of the axe. With a strange, echoing roar, the creature Hrelvesuu collapsed, an unpleasant black ichor seeping from its wounds.
“Well done Sudhendra,” Larienna said, extending a hand in the Imperial fashion. I shook it, grinning at her happily. “I couldn’t have done this without you, and I’ll be making a good report back to the Guild. There are things here that I don’t understand, so I’m going to stay here a while and investigate. As a reward, help yourself to anything that takes your fancy ~ although I do urge you to remember that it’s illegal to own or trade in Dwarven artefacts.”
There were a couple of things I wanted to investigate that I’d spotted on the way in but hadn’t had a chance to do so. As I turned to leave, Larienna said, “listen, I don’t know if this is any help, but there’s a settlement not far from here called Molag Mar. there’s a ‘strider service and you can probably get a boat from there too.”
Thanking her even though I knew this, I took my leave. Now, to see what I could find. A glowing rock formation that I’d spotted turned out to be a deposit of a strange glassy substance: extremely hard and a brilliant green, it was all I could do to hammer a few shards of it off with my axe. Another room we’d passed turned out to have a massive pit in the centre, in which glowing molten rock bubbled and spat. In here were a number of metal drums, the tops sealed by an ingenious arrangement of wire. I giggled happily, for inside those drums were a number of rubies, a couple of diamonds, and a single glistening sapphire: enough, in other words, to earn me a pleasant sum of money from any alchemist.
As I walked past an overturned shelf, I felt a familiar tugging sensation; the sort of thing associated with a magical object. Protruding from under the shelving was a spear-haft: it took me several minutes to move the heavy metal shelves but I finally freed the spear. It was made of the same golden metal as the animalcules Larienna and I had fought upon entering the ruins, but pitted and marked with signs of great age. There were Dwemer runes cut into the surface (Illkurok) that I couldn’t understand. As I examined the spear, the patina of age seemed to fall away from it and, in moments, I was carrying a perfectly new-looking and razor-sharp spear. Considering what I’d just seen and the strange feeling of power coming off the weapon, I decided that I would keep it ~ even though I have no skill with this type of weapon.
Picking up a couple of the immensely heavy items of Dwemeri tableware, I considered the weight of the pack I was already carrying. Shrugging, I took two of the smaller goblets (one fairly plain and the other ornately decorated) and left behind the bowl, mug, and other items on one of the rusted table. So it was, quite heavily laden, that I made my way back to Molag Mar and conversed with the shipmaster there. It turned out that his deep drafted vessel couldn’t get into Sadrith Mora because of all the shallows and shoals there. He did, however, know that there was a vessel sailing regularly from a place called Tel Branora to Sadrith Mora and he offered to get me there ~ for a price.
Tel Branora seemed to be a tiny fishing village perched on the leading shore of a rocky island. The huts were poor and dilapidated and I really didn’t feel that it was worth exploring. So, I got passage on the small craft that would take me to Sadrith Mora, even though we wouldn’t dock until dawn the following morning.
Feb 18 2005, 11:48 PM
So it was bleary eyed and stiff after a most uncomfortable night in the boat, that we arrived at the docks in Sadrith Mora. There I got a most disagreeable surprise.
“You cannot enter Sadrith Mora without the proper paperwork,” the guard standing in front of the massive stone door that blocked my access to the town said. “Speak to the Prefect of Hospitality.” He instructed, pointing me to a set of stairs heading up into the most bizarre building I’ve ever seen. The wooden stairs led up to what appeared to be a mushroom, only a mushroom with a circular door set into the side. A little bemused, I climbed the stairs and stepped into the cool interior.
“What can I do for you Outlander?” the tall, well-clad Dunmer said, turning from the desk that stood at the side of the circular room.
“I’m looking for someone called ‘The Prefect of Hospitality,” I explained. “I need to see him before I can get into Sadrith Mora apparently.”
“I am Angaredhel, the Prefect of Hospitality,” the Dunmer stated. “And it’s true than you need to see me before entering Sadrith Mora ~ as do all Outlanders. We don’t allow non-Telvanni to wander around our town, or deal with our traders unless they’ve purchased Hospitality Papers. Even then, your movements are restricted: you must return to Wolverine Hall or here, the Gateway Inn, for the night. The papers are twenty-five Septims.”
Rather reluctantly, I purchased the papers, although I was happy to discover that one set of papers would cover as many visits to Sadrith Mora as I wanted to make. As Angaredhel took my twenty-five Septims, I’m sure I heard him mutter something about ‘at least making some money’. “Is there some problem?” I asked.
“Problem?” he fairly squawked. “I’ll say there is a problem. A ghost has haunted the South Turret bedroom. It’s been there over a week now, and nothing seems to get rid of it, nothing. I’ve had cleansing rituals performed, I’ve had the ghost killed, and still it keeps haunting the turret. I even got Arara Uvulas to take a look, but she couldn’t find a reason for the haunting, nor get rid of the spectre. I’m at my wits end, and it’s ruining my business: everyone is heading over to Wolverine Hall instead of staying here.”
I sympathised with Angaredhel, but really didn’t see how this was anything to do with me, nor what I could do. Thanking him for the papers, I made my way back outside and down the circular stairs to the guard. He checked my papers and nodded, swinging open the massive stone door and allowing me into Sadrith Mora. It rapidly became apparent that the ‘Gateway Inn’ wasn’t unique in being grown rather than constructed. There were many more of these mushroom-buildings, and the whole town had a grown, organic look to it. Dominating the town was a massive mushroom, far larger than any of the others, set in isolation on the hill in the middle of the island. It was with a sense of wonder that I walked along the street to the rather bland buildings that made up the Imperial settlement on this island.
Heading into Wolverine Hall, I sold a number of alchemical ingredients to a rather disagreeable fellow by the name of Scelian Plebo. Still, I did get six Cure Common Disease potions and a couple of hundred Septims out of the deal. The dour fellow in the Imperial Shrine hadn’t been pleased to see me, Hrundi was.
“Well, well,” he said as I walked into the Guildhouse. “Look who’s back. Larienna Macrina was very pleased with your performance, I have her report here.” (Here he waved a sheaf of parchment at me). “It seems as though you acquitted yourself in an exemplary manner Journeyman Vahl, or should I just start calling you Swordsman Vahl?” In addition to the rather sudden promotion, I also received the not inconsiderable sum of five hundred Septims for the task I’d just completed.
“Now you’ve proven yourself to be reliable,” he said, without any trace of shame at expressing his doubts, “I have a further task for you.
“It seems that there’s some trouble at the Dissapla Mine, over in the Grazelands. The guards there are busy protecting the Empire’s investment so Novor Drethan, the Manager of the mine, has asked for our assistance. I want you to go to the mine and sort out whatever his problem is.”
“Where is this Dissapla Mine?” I asked, “The Grazelands covers a large area.”
“It’s by the ancient Dark Elf fort of Falensarano,” he said. “Here, let me mark it on your map. The mine is just a little way northeast of the fortress.”
I examined my new annotated map; the fortress was roughly west of a town called Tel Aruhn. And by way of being far too far to travel today. I still had a few aches and pains from my visit to the Dwemer ruins, my axe needed sharpening, and I had a serious dent in my armour that needed repairing. So, not surprisingly, I opted to return to Balmora and take care of all of those things, and a few other things besides.
Ra’Virr seemed oddly eager to get his hands on the tiny Dwemeri coins and the items of tableware I’d picked up and gave me a very good price for them. That money, coupled with the money I got for a couple of weapons I’d picked up in Nchurdamz was more than enough to pay Meldor to sharpen my axe and repair my armour: with enough left over to get a soothing balm from Nelcarya for my aches and pains and buy some provisions from the ‘Eight Plates’. After a quick meal, I slipped into a cosy bed and slept the sleep of the newly promoted.
Feb 18 2005, 11:49 PM
After breaking my fast at the ‘Eight Plates’, I walked down to the Mages Guildhall and used the Guide service to get to Ald’ruhn. There I purchased a Translocation spell keyed to Sadrith Mora where, upon casting, I quickly found myself in. Shaking off the inevitable effects of the spell, I cast the cantrip that allows me to walk upon water and, running as quickly as I dared, I skimmed across Zafirabel bay.
As the spell started to dissolve, I made landfall on a small islet somewhere in the bay. As I clambered over the quite steep hill in the centre, I espied a ship cast up on the rocks at the western side of the island. Climbing aboard wasn’t a problem since the rocks that had sunk the vessel protruded over the handrail. I had a moment’s panic as I dropped from the rock ~ envisioning myself plunging through rotten wood to a watery death below. To my immense relief, the wood held, although it did creak somewhat alarmingly. The captain’s cabin yielded nothing; neither did the two holds hold anything of any great value. I did, however, discover a jar of truffles, which I kept: these are a rare and expensive luxury and I was sure I could find someone willing to purchase them from me.
Once more casting the water-walking spell, I ran across the bay ~ recasting the spell at need as it started to dissolve and drinking deeply of my dwindling stock of Replenish Magicka potions. In this way, I quickly crossed the bay and made landfall on the main body of the island. Checking my location on the map, I turned north and clambered over some very desolate hills before descending into the verdant lushness of the Grazelands. Striking out in a northeasterly direction, it wasn’t long before I could make out the bulk of a massive building rising from the hillocks ahead of me.
I circled Falensarano carefully: I had been advised that bandits often used these long abandoned fastnesses as a base of operations. A building that massive could hold a good many bandits, and I wasn’t keen on giving them a target upon which to practise their banditry. Fortunately, the Dissapla Mine was only a few minutes walk away from the stronghold and I slipped into the cool, dark interior with a sense of relief. The glittering green light lit my way and told me that I was in a Glass mine. Taking my directions from the miners, I descended deep into the mine to a chamber where I found Novor Drethan.
“Nix-Hounds,” the tall, well-dressed Dunmer said. Then, by way of an explanation, he added, “there are three, or possibly four, Nix-Hounds that have gotten into the mine. Unfortunately, I can’t spare the guards to deal with them and one of the miners has gone missing. I need you to find Teres Arothan and guide him to safety.”
Nix-hounds. I thought to myself as I unslung my axe and got a good grip on the haft, hardly a major problem. Walking softly, but without being too stealthy, I made my way up the short incline and into another set of tunnels. As I moved past a large pool of molten rock, there came an eerie howling noise from up ahead. Oh yeah, Nix-Hounds all right: I’d recognise that noise anywhere. And there, just up ahead, was one of them.
With a loud yell, I rushed out at the Nix-Hound, axe at the ready. What’s that expression about fools rushing in? I’d neglected to consider that the chamber might have a second entrance and, as my axe thudded into the startled creature, I caught movement in my peripheral vision. Even as I hauled the axe loose, I was struck by a clawed paw from another of the Nix-Hounds that had rushed into the chamber.
Fortunately, the stupid creatures were so eager to get at me that they were getting in each other’s way. Raising my hand, I softly spoke the words of power for a cantrip of fire, slapping the already wounded Nix-Hound with my hand as I completed the incantation. As flames wreathed the designated creature, I spun and swung ~ a vicious upward slashing motion that neatly parted the head of one Nix-Hound from the rest of it. Without even hesitating, I looped the axe up and over, burying it forcefully into the skull of the third hound.
“igneus manus “ I yelled, releasing the axe-shaft and grasping the last hound around the head. Fire bloomed between my hands, and I stepped back sharply to avoid the spell’s backwash. As the Nix-Hound collapsed into a twitching heap, I turned back and carefully worked my axe from the skull I’d buried it in: not much caring for the gruesome cracking noises as I withdrew it.
“Teres Arothan!” I yelled, “Can you hear me?”
“Here,” came muffled cry from deeper in the cavern. Despite the echoes, I was pretty certain it had come from up ahead ~ the tunnels that the Nix-Hounds had come from. Following it up a short incline, I came to another chamber. There was a rock-shelf at the end of the chamber, with crude wooden stairs leading up to it. Much more importantly, there was the faint glimmer of light up there. Clambering up the stairs, I found a Dunmer cowering in a small alcove; just about as far back as he could get.
“Teres Arothan?” I asked. Receiving a nod of confirmation, I told him, “I’m here to lead you to safety.”
“No, no, no,” he gasped fearfully. “Not coming out while those Nix-Hounds are out there.”
“It’s quite alright,” I said, extending a hand, “they’re all dead.” He took my word for that and clambered out of the hole. Keeping him close beside me, I led him back the way I’d come until we reached the chamber where Novor Drethan waited.
“Well done,” Drethan said as kindly hands led the still trembling Arothan away. “I can’t give you too much by way of a reward, but these might prove valuable to you.” He wasn’t kidding, I reflected as I walked out of the mine into the soft sunlight. Four shards of raw Glass was a valuable reward. Taking a deep breath, I raised my hands and chanted “Ex hic absum, ut Sadrith Mora”.
(Okay, so technically I could have used the spell whilst I was still down the Dissapla Mine. Some people have an unreasonable fear of boats; some have a phobia about Nix-Hounds. I happen to have a problem with teleportation spells. Basically, I don’t trust them not to screw up on me ~ I’ve heard far too many stories about translocation spells backfiring for me to ever be particularly comfortable using them. As for using relocation spells while I’m underground? Yeah, you can just forget that idea.)
Hrundi was pleased to see me, or gave that impression anyway. Personally, I think he was more pleased that I’d completed the assignment. Whichever it was, he gave me two hundred and fifty Septims, and then asked if I’d be interested in a bounty. When I indicated that I might be, he gave me details.
“Well lassie,” he said, “there’s this bandit by the name of Rels Tenim who’s been making a wee bit of a nuisance of himself up around Vos. Word has it the Mage-Lord up there is pretty fashed by the whole deal an’ wants this Tenim’s head on a pike. To that end, he’s issued a bounty on the chappie. We were lucky enough to get first bite at it ~ now I’m giving it tae you.”
“There’s another thing you’ll be wanting to take care of,” Hrundi said when I’d agreed to take over the bounty. “There’s a lassie by the name of Berwen in Tel Mora. Says she got some sort of monster in her shop. Since you’ll be up that way, have a look. It’s probably nonsense, but there’s a hefty bounty she’s giving out for anyone who deals with it.”
I agreed that I’d look into the situation in Tel Mora on my way to Vos, tomorrow. It was far too late to be travelling today. Fortunately, Hrundi agreed and allowed me to use one of the beds in the Guildhouse overnight.
Feb 18 2005, 11:51 PM
Hrundi and I broke our fast together before I started out. After that I made my way down to the docks where I circulated amongst the various captains and Bo ‘suns until I found a vessel that was headed to a place called Dagon Fel. The ship’s mate agreed to drop me off at Tel Mora, for a financial consideration. And so it was, several hours later that I found myself on the dockside at Tel Mora.
The tiny island was dominated by another of those mushroom-tower buildings, with a cluster of smaller ‘buildings’ around the base. Since everyone on the dock was busy unloading, or loading, the ship I’d just arrived on I decided to see if I could find this Berwen the Trader myself. Not exactly the wisest of decisions. There was this circular growth at the end of the dock and the instant I stepped past that I was surrounded by guards. They wore the traditional armour that I’d seen guards wearing in Balmora – although of a slightly different design: Bonemold I think it is called. They all wore strange helmets upon their heads, purple-coloured things with horns and strange protuberances. Oddly, they all wore long, ankle length skirts similar to the guards I’d seen in Ald’ruhn.
“Where are you going?” one of the guards asked me, an unmistakable tone of menace in her voice. It dawned on me that each and every one of the guards surrounding me was female.
“I am Swordsman Sudhendra Vahl,” I said, managing to keep my voice firm. “I am here at the bequest of Berwen the Trader.”
The guard directed me to the shop and warned me that she’d be watching me before moving off. Not exactly the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered, these Telvanni, I thought as I clambered up the ladder to the ‘pod’ that served Berwen as a shop.
“Oh thank the goddess you’re here,” the attractive Bosmeri female breathed as I entered the shop. “Wait, you are from the Fighter’s Guild, aren’t you?” I assured her that I was, and she sighed with relief. “The beast’s upstairs ~ I managed to barricade it behind some crates.”
Unslinging my axe from my back, I smiled tightly ~ if there was just one creature (and there certainly was something upstairs, I could hear it) then it shouldn’t be much of a problem. As I climbed the spiral stairs became aware of a smell: like fruit that has started to rot, or butter that’s been left in the sunshine too long. As I moved into the upper area, the smell became stronger.
Something in a dark corner moved as I reached the top of the stairs, and then came a heavy clumping sound as light reflected on the creature’s eyes from the lone lantern. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this ruin of a Man that stepped out of the shadows ~ arms outstretched towards me. Its… no, his skin had gone a greyish colour: not the colour of healthy Dunmeri flesh, but an ashy grey. Huge lesions and sores dotted the almost naked body, where they didn’t, the skin looked flaky ~ as though it needed but an excuse to start peeling off. The face was a ruin, the lips misshapen and slobbering, the hair falling out in patches even as I watched. The nose of the Man seemed to have partially collapsed, as though he’d caught one of those diseases that sailors pick up on shore leave. But it was the eyes that were the worst. I’ve heard it said that the eyes are the windows of the soul: if that was true, then there was nothing left of it in this creature.
As it clawed for me, I swung the axe in a perfectly flat arc. I was outside the creature’s reach, but the extension of the axe-handle put it firmly in mine. There was a horrible, indescribable sound as the creature’s neck split ~ the head parting company from the rest of the torso and hitting the floor with a terrible and final sound. Shaking, I wiped the back of my hand across my mouth. As deformed and corrupt as the creature had been, it still felt uncomfortably like the murder of an innocent.
Adopting a suitably grim face ~ not a difficult task, let me assure you ~ I walked downstairs. I was proud of myself, I didn’t rush even though I wanted to, nor did I stumble, even though my knees felt like jelly. “I’ve dealt with the creature for you,” I told Berwen.
“Oh thank you,” she said, “thank you. You’re so much braver than I am, and I’ll be sure to tell that nice man from the Fighter’s Guild just how good you were.”
I didn’t comment on the fact that I thought she was pretty brave herself, what with staying in the building with that mouldering hulk upstairs. Instead, I bid her farewell and made my way back down to the docks ~ wondering, as I did so, why the numerous guards patrolling Tel Mora hadn’t dealt with the creature. I was in luck, the first real luck I’d had this day: there was a small skiff at the docks and ~ for the princely sum of a single Septim ~ the ship owner agreed to row me across to the village of Vos.
Vos seemed a pleasant enough hamlet, built in a strange style I didn’t recognise. There was a fair amount of hustle and bustle as the locals tended to their crops. I managed to collar one of them and ask him about Rels Tenim.
“Well, arrr. You see, he done robbed the local Temple Miss, arrr, that he did,” the yokel drawled. “We done give a chasing arter him, but he got hisself up to the Ahemmusa Camp. We don’t be goin’ there, them Ashlanders ain’t none too friendly.”
A slightly more alert (and intelligent I thought) guard confirmed the local’s story. Rels Tenim had robbed the local Temple and headed off northeast to the Ahemmusa camp. Following the guard’s directions, I found the camp easily enough. Standing on a hillside overlooking the collection of temporary looking yurts, I considered my approach. Walking in with axe in hand didn’t seem like a very good idea, I’d heard that these Ashlanders could be a bit… touchy about outsiders. With a deep sigh, I holstered my axe and ~ pausing only to prepare a spell in case I needed it ~ I entered the camp.
I was expecting savages, what I got instead were a very proud people who, if they deigned to speak to me at all, spoke with an icy politeness that bordered on the frigid. It took several attempts to get one of the Ashlanders to speak to me and I suspect that was only because I spoke the name Rels Tenim. With utter distain, he told me that the bandit had a camp in the Shallit caves. These were to be found on a small island to the northwest of the Ahemmusa camp. I was also told that, if I came to a Dwemer ruin, I would have gone too far and would have to turn back.
Thanking my informant with as much charm as I could muster, I headed off to the shoreline ~ only a little way from the camp. Licking my lips, I spoke the incantation “rigor unda“ and stepped out onto the shimmering surface of the water. I’d used my water-walking spell several times in the past, but never on an ocean. Seeing that it worked just as well on the undulating surface as it did on a flat, still pond, I stepped out with confidence and began moving as quickly as I dared towards a small bunch of islands to the northwest. I had to recast the spell several times before I arrived at an island that was slightly bigger than the others I’d been past. Another thing that set this island out from the others was the partially submerged door nestling between some rocks. The cartouche on the door clearly identified it as ‘Shallit Cave’.
This is odd, although there is ample evidence of occupation, there is nobody in the cave. There are a couple of crates, one containing a couple of ‘Rising Force’ potions, near the front of the cave and a fire pit and bedrolls at the back. Right at the back of the cave is a door, old and scarred, which (according to the cartouche) leads into the Drethan tomb. Perhaps there’s a clue to Tenim’s whereabouts in there?
You know what they say about the best-laid plans of Scribs and Mer? Well I was just about to get evidence that even the best and most careful plans could go way further astray than you could imagine.
Feb 18 2005, 11:52 PM
The tomb was as dark as… well, the grave to be honest. There was no lighting except that which came through the open door. It was enough, however, to illuminate the figure of a woman who was bent over a stone plinth, reading a bundle of parchments. She turned her head and smiled at me. Not the ‘hello, you’re a welcome visitor’ type of smile ~ more the sort of ‘I want to suck the marrow from your bones while you’re still alive’ kind of smile. I suddenly felt woozy, unable to take my eyes from hers, which, I could have sworn, were glowing in the dark. With sinuous grace, the woman pivoted on the spot and started to walk towards me while a part of my mind, the bit not transfixed by her eyes, clamoured for attention.
Her smile widened, at first to humorous bard proportions and then wider still. The light from behind me glistened on a set of wickedly sharp teeth as her nose started to deform. My unoccupied mind was screaming for attention now. What was it trying to tell me?
With a curse, I tore my gaze from hers and staggered backwards, sliding my sword from its sheath as I did so. The woman hissed and waved her hands whilst muttering some arcane cantrip. There was a flare of purple sparks and she suddenly rushed at me with unbelievable speed. Panic-stricken, I stuck my sword out and let her run onto the end of it. Spitting and hissing like a maddened cat, she threw herself backwards ~ ripping my sword from my hand. Wrapping her hand around the blade, she calmly slid it from her breast and threw it on the floor. My almost instinctive reaction had brought me just enough time to grab my axe.
I’d like to say that the battle went well for me, and that I defeated my opponent easily. That is what the storytellers would have you believe. Ha, let me tell you that this vampiress was the most difficult opponent I’d ever faced. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty damn’ difficult to kill something that’s already dead. Ghosts, mummies, even zombies and Bone-Walkers all attack by instinct and, if you can keep your wits about you, they’re not too difficult to deal with. Your average fampir? An unpleasant mixture of ferocity, instinct, and guile: the whole package wrapped in bestial fury and the remnants of the original human intelligence. In short, not the sort of opponent you treat lightly.
A healthy blow caused my ears to sing and I responded with a wild slice that neatly lopped off one of the vampire’s hands. She danced backwards, her preternaturally fast reactions allowing her to catch the severed body part before it even hit the ground. Giggling, the vampiress gave me a coy and chilling smile as she pressed the ragged end of her amputated hand against the equally ragged stump of her arm. I groaned as I watched the undead flesh knit itself back together. Most of the spells I knew were useless ~ the ability to walk on water was pretty unhelpful at this point and I sure as Oblivion wasn’t getting close enough to her to use my Firebite spell. That left me with pretty much one option. Taking several large backward steps as she gazed in fascination at her repaired hand, I took a deep breath and chanted “Adeo mihi, mortuus animus”.
There was a soft sigh of wind and a tiny, writhing yellow spark appeared. In less than a second it had grown immeasurably and the twisting, writhing knot of light sat at the heart of a whirlwind of glimmering dust particles as the ancestral spirit I’d called forth created a form for itself on the material plane. Then, there stood a kindly faced old Man with a long beard and heavy laughter-lines at the corner of his eyes. The hooded robe he wore was decorated with strange symbols. Despite the fact he was semi-transparent, he radiated a feeling of comfort and warmth: his lips moving soundlessly as his eyes twinkled and shone. Ignoring the phantasmal figure completely, the vampiress hissed and launched herself at me.
The change was sudden and terrible. One second there was this charming and friendly old Man. Then the head whipped around and that gaze fell on the vampiress. Pseudo-flesh sloughed away to reveal a distorted and malformed skull as hands that just as suddenly became skeletal claws reached out. There was a sizzling sound as empyreal flesh came into contact with reanimated flesh and fire flared around the arm of the female vampire. That made her pay attention to the ancestral ghost.
As these two transmundane creatures fought, I took every opportunity afforded me: setting my feet and getting a good grip on the haft of the axe. When I was certain that everything was perfect, I swung. There was a sudden tearing noise, and the vampiress was suddenly shorter by a head. Something seemed to flutter in the darkness, and then the female suddenly dissolved into dust. Panting heavily, I dropped the axe and ferreted about in my pack with some urgency. I could barely hold the slim-necked bottles as I drew them out. First a potion to repair the bruises and cuts the woman had inflicted on me. Then, even as the restorative fire coursed through me, I took a second potion to prevent any infection from setting in. A glimmer of yellow light made me look up, and I was just in time to observe the once more kindly face of one of the ancestors dissolving into yellowish coloured smoke.
I also caught a glimpse of light amidst the dust of my former foe. Reaching down to examine it, I found a powerfully enchanted ring. Made of silver, in the form of a Bretonian Knot, it bore the inscription “MARARA” on it. Pocketing the object, I decided that enough was enough ~ at least for today. Closing the crypt door and wedging the blade of my axe under it, I settled down to rest.
Feb 18 2005, 11:53 PM
Sometimes you get a lucky break, and that was what I got as I was leaving Shallit. There, on the bare rock between the pool and the crates was a line of damp footprints. They led away from the crates and suddenly stopped. Looking up, I saw what I had missed previously ~ a ledge up near the top of the cave that was almost perfectly hidden by some overhanging rocks. Now I knew why there had been so many Rising Force potions in the crate.
Taking a potion, I eyed the thin purplish liquid inside the flask uneasily. With a soft sigh, I pulled out the cork and drank deeply of the oddly smelling fluid. Tentatively at first, then with more confidence, I started to walk upwards through thin air. It felt oddly like walking on marshy ground ~ soft underfoot and giving the impression that you’re going to meet a catastrophic problem at any moment but still managing to support you. I did find, however, that looking down was not a very good thing to do. So, eyes resolutely forward and wobbling slightly, I air-walked my way up to the stony ledge.
Sticking to the shadows, I carefully peered around an outcropping rock. There, a little way in front of me, stood a roughly dressed Dunmer ~ his back to me. I had no idea how many ruffians were in this cave along with Rels Tenim but I was pretty sure they’d all take exception to my being there. And, even if I managed to sneak past them all somehow and find Tenim? I was fairly confident that the alarm would be raised and I’d have to fight them all on the way out. So, divide and conquer seemed my only option.
I had a small dagger with me – a replacement I’d purchased for the one lost at Nchurdamz. Keeping to the shadows as much as I was able and keeping as quiet as I could (and silently blessing the bandits for leaving this tunnel unlit), I crept up behind the Mer and clamped my hand across his mouth. I wouldn’t have been able to keep him quiet for long but then again, I didn’t have to. I brought my dagger up under his chin – hard. He stiffened, then convulsed against me as the sharp business end of the blade punched into his brain. Sagging a little under his now dead weight, I carefully lowered him to the floor and moved deeper into the hidden recesses of the cavern.
Luck had been with me so far, and it was staying with me as I approached a sharp curve in the tunnel. From just around the bend, I heard the soft scrape of leather on stone. Freezing on the spot, I waited to see if I could hear anything else. Yes, there ~ the padding of feet on stone moving away from me. I’m not very proficient with a bow and have certainly had no formal training: that didn’t stop me from unhooking the wooden shortbow I had been carrying and knocking a steel arrow onto the string. With exaggerated caution, I moved to the edge of the curve and peered down the adjoining passageway. Some thirty paces away stood a female Dunmer clad in leather. As I watched, she started to turn…
Ducking back into cover, I held my breath as I pulled back on the bowstring ~ bringing it to tension as I counted the footsteps that approached. At ten, I drew the string back further so that the ends of the bow started to take up the pressure. At twenty, I pulled the bowstring fully taut. At twenty-five, I spun out of the corner and let fly the arrow. Straight and true it flew – punching into the woman’s eye in a welter of blood. Soundlessly, she fell to the floor. I wish the same could have been said of the sword she carried.
“Vad var så pass?” I heard a guttural Nordic voice say as the metallic clatter echoed through the enclosed space. I knew then that my luck had just run out. I had just enough time to prepare myself by drawing my axe and calling a spell to mind before the heavy-set Man rushed into sight. The fight was brutal and messy: his greater strength and reach made him a dangerous opponent for me; I did have the advantage of speed however. We traded blows back and forth until I managed to get in a lucky hit. The Man grunted in surprise, looking down to where his intestines were hanging out of his stomach. He gasped something I didn’t understand and sagged against the wall. I wasn’t taking any chances at this point and ran my dagger across his throat – there was no way I was leaving a potentially dangerous, albeit badly injured, opponent behind me.
(Some of you might be a little confused by my apparent bloodthirsty behaviour in light of my reaction to the poor Man at Tel Mora. That monstrosity hadn’t asked to be the shambling and mindless hulk he became. Tenim and his cohorts had deliberately chosen this life, knowing that they would have to kill to get their booty. That, plus the fact that they’d do their damned best to put me in a grave before I did for them.)
There were a couple more opponents to deal with before I was satisfied that I had cleared the cavern of occupants. I’d picked up several bruises and cuts ~ the worst being a long gash down my left arm. Searching through various chests, barrels and containers I found a nice haul of precious stones, some of the rarer alchemical ingredients and some nice weapons. Much more importantly to me, at this moment in time anyway, was the restorative potion I found. Gratefully, I drank the pungent liquid and then sat moaning as the stuff did its job. I even managed to drift off to sleep for a moment or two.
I can’t put my finger on it, but I seemed to feel much better after my little nap ~ almost as though there was more to me than there used to be, if that makes any sense at all. It’s a feeling I’ve come to know well: that feeling of being better than I used to be. At the time I just shrugged it off as an effect of the healing potion and thought no more about it. Making sure I’d taken everything I wanted from Shallit, I cast the spell that would return me to Sadrith Mora.
“I’d like to deposit a thousand Septims into my account,” I told the stern-faced woman in the Sadrith Mora branch of the Bank of Vvardenfell. She carefully counted the coins and swept them off the counter.
“Your statement of account,” she said. When I handed it over, she cast some spell over it that rewrote the figures and made them reflect my recent deposit. With that done, I made my way back into Wolverine Hall and sold off most of the ingredients filling my pack for almost six hundred Septims. Most of them went to the Altmer in the Mages Guildhall, but I also sold some to a talkative monk named Scelian Plebo in the Imperial shrine. Then it was time to speak to Hrundi.
“Lassie, you came back!” he said happily as I walked in the door. “I heard tell o’ that beast in Tel Mora. Yon Berwen was right pleased wi’ ye.” I’d noticed that his accent got broader the happier he was – if he ever got too happy nobody would be able to understand him. Still, it was nice that he was glad to see me: that’s not a feeling I was accustomed too. “I have here the money she sent for ye, less our commission o’ course.
“And you took care o’ Rels Tenim too from all accounts, so I’ll be owin’ you this sum too.” With that Hrundi carefully counted out seven hundred Septims and slid them across the table to me.
“I’ve another wee job for you, if you’re at all interested,” he said. “I’ll be sorry to say it’s not as exciting as the last two jobs. We hae a contract with the Imperial Legion to supply the soldiers at some o’ the mines here on Vvardenfell. I’ve a load of Sujamma here needs to be delivered to the Dunirai Mines.
“Here, let me show you on your map,” he said. I spread the map on the table and he leaned over and stabbed a finger into an area of nothingness on the map. “It’s right here lassie,” he said, “southeast o’ the Ghostgate an’ roughly between Foyada Esannudan and the Foyada Ashur-Dan.”
Well, I did want to get to know the island that was my home ~ although tramping into the middle of nowhere to deliver the twenty bottles of booze I was now carrying hadn’t figured in my plans for doing so. Besides, how dangerous could it be?
Once more Hrundi let me bed down for the night in the Guildhouse and I slept the sleep of the truly ignorant.
Feb 18 2005, 11:54 PM
I made my way upstairs to the Mages Guildhall ~ where I purchased a levitation spell ~ before using the Guild-Guide service to send me on my way to Ald’ruhn. I’d been impressed by the effects of the Rising Force potion I’d used in Shallit, and could see how levitating could come in very, very useful. I was aware, however, that I wouldn’t always have a potion to hand: hence the spell. I’d also found that the Void-Walk spells were much less stressful than the Guild-Guide service. That’s why I tracked down Delas Mrania and purchased the necessary incantation to deliver me to Ald’ruhn whenever I needed to be there.
There was a trader, one of those that you often find wandering around the Empire, outside and I asked him for directions to the Dunirai Mines. It turned out to be quite a trek from Ald’ruhn, far further than Hrundi had intimated. The journey east past Fort Buckmoth and down into the Foyada Mamaea was uneventful, as was the crossing of the vast jumbled plain of ash and rock. It struck me, for the first time, as I crossed that wasteland that something fairly cataclysmic had happened here in the past. If there had been a volcanic explosion, then it must have been absolutely massive to cause this sort of desolation. Still, philosophising aside, it took me quite a while to make my way to the area indicated on the map. Fortunately, apart from the occasional run in with the local fauna ~ much of which seemed intent on making me their next meal ~ I found the Dunirai caverns with no problem.
The delivery was simple, and I soon found myself back outside the caverns with a substantially lighter pack. I suppose I could have Void-Walked back to Ald’ruhn or Sadrith Mora but the day was pleasant and I wasn’t really in any rush. So I set off in the general direction of Balmora at no particularly great speed. I’d been travelling for a couple of hours when I came across something quite unusual. There, on a large rock, was a chalked arrow pointing northwards. Intrigued, I headed off in that direction.
There were several more of these chalked arrows ~ some on rocks and some on the floor. Then they suddenly petered out. I headed off in the direction indicated by the last arrow and soon found myself in a narrow canyon that split into several smaller defiles. More by luck than judgement, I turned a corner and came face to face with a young Dunmer.
“Erm, you’re not one of those Ashlander types are you?” he asked nervously. Smiling, I shook my head ~ amused that he’d mistake me for one of the natives. “Then perhaps I could ask you to help me? You see, I was exploring and, and… well, I got lost, and my chalk broke, and I think I’ve been going ‘round in circles for the last hour or two. If you can guide me back to Balmora, I’m sure my uncle will be most appreciative.”
The lodestone wouldn’t work in the canyons ~ I guess there must have been some more nearby. I do, however, have a fairly good memory for directions and I was able to lead the young man ~ Mannabu Dren ~ back the way I’d come and out into the wastelands. Checking our location and my map, I saw we weren’t that far from a place called Caldera. As we travelled towards the town, we chatted. It turns out that Mannabu Dren fancies himself as a bit of an explorer and had set out to look for the source of the River Odai. He was a pleasant enough companion, although a little on the chatty side for me. So, it was something of a relief when I spotted the thatched roofs of the guard-towers of Caldera.
It had been my intention to lead him from Caldera to Balmora since the road is well travelled, well signposted, and relatively safe. However, when I saw the “all-seeing-eye” emblem of the Mages Guild outside an unassuming building, I had a change of plan. Leading him inside, I paid for the two of us to be transported ~ via Guild Guide ~ to Balmora.
“What have you gotten yourself into this time?” a Mage in a heavily embroidered robe said as Mannabu Dren stepped out of the small room where the Guide operates in Balmora. “Off exploring again, I have no doubt. Well, you’d better get yourself off to the Eight Plates and see if they’ll prepare a meal for you.”
As the young man headed off, the Mage turned to me and said, “My name is Marayen Dren, and I thank you for rescuing my idiot nephew. Every time he comes here from the mainland, he gets this urge to explore. And every time he goes off to explore, he gets himself lost. Last time we had half the House Guards out scouring the Foyada Mamaea for him. Two and a half days later, he comes in by silt-strider from Gnisis. How he got himself all up there is beyond me.
“Anyway, I am truly grateful that you rescued him. My sister would never let me hear the end of it if something happened to him. Here, I will teach you a spell as a reward. I have three potent spells I know: I can teach you the spell ‘Blink’, a quick and dirty invisibility spell; ‘Fastfall’, which is short duration levitation spell you can cast on a target; or I can teach you “Boiling Blood’, which is a very powerful fire-based touch spell.
“An excellent choice,” he said when I asked him to teach me ‘Boiling Blood’. “It’s terribly crude but effective. It’s saved my life more than once.” We sat and Marayen Dren showed me how to weave the necessary construct for the spell. Once we had finished, I thanked him again and made my way to the house I’d taken over. It was a little early, so I made a few notes and packed away the ingredients I’d not managed to sell yet before settling down in bed for a good night’s sleep. Does the phrase 'the lull before the storm' ring bells? It certainly should have with me.
Feb 18 2005, 11:55 PM
Sadrith Mora was my destination this morning; I needed to tell Hrundi that I’d delivered the Sujamma safely. My first attempt at the Void-Walk spell failed but I managed to cast it correctly the second time and appeared down by the Gateway Inn. Quite cheerfully, I headed up to Wolverine Hall, climbed the stairs and made my way to the Fighters Guildhall.
“Here ye go lassie,” Hrundi said, dropping the last of the fifty ten-Septim pieces into the pile in front of me, “five hundred Septims, the standard courier’s fee ‘round these parts. An’ I’m thinking that ye be due a promotion.
“Aye,” he said, noticing my surprised expression. “Dinnae look so surprised Protector Vahl. You’re getting yourself quite the reputation lassie. There’s some in the Guild as wouldn’t be handing out promotions if ye’d just saved their own selves from certain death. I’m no one o’ them. I give ye a job, I know the job’s gonna get done, nae fashin’ about it at all. Yer a bonnie lass Sudhendra, and I’ve got another one o’ them sweet jobs for ye.”
“Tell me more,” I said, not unflattered by his comments.
“There’s this scholarly type, name o’ Sondaale out of Shimmerene,” he said.
“An Altmer,” I commented, raising an eyebrow.
“Aye,” was his comment, along with a wry smile. “The usual sort o’ thing, you know. Anyways, she’s doin’ some thesis on the auld Resdayni forts, full o’ the usual hot air I’ll be bound. So, this Sondaale is lookin’ for someone to give her a wee helpin’ hand over at Telasero ~ minding her back so to speak. I thought of you straight away, seein’ as how Larienna Macrina gave ye such a glowin’ report.
“She’s agreed to meet you at the fort,” Hrundi said, spreading my map on the table between us. I’d agreed to do the job almost immediately ~ I was intrigued by the forts having seen a couple of them and this was the perfect excuse to go inside and have a look around. “Now, here’s Suran, an’ here be Molag Mar. Telasero is pretty much exactly half-way between the two.
“Now, most o’ these forts are home to an unsavoury bunch ~ bandits and cutthroats mostly. However, the Legion cleared this place out less than a month ago an’, as far as we know, the bandits have nae returned there yet. Still, I’ll be expectin’ ye back in very much one piece so you be mindin’ your back in there ~ ye hear?”
Assuring Hrundi that I’d take great care of myself, and of Sondaale, I went downstairs and had the Guild-guide transport me over to Balmora. From there I caught the silt-strider over to Suran. Checking my map, I saw that I’d have to head south out of the town, and then cut east along the coast towards Molag Mar. It looked to be a fair step, and I wasn’t likely to arrive much before the Twelfth Hour ~ and possibly even a bit later. As I walked out of Suran, I was surprised to see a small ‘mining claim’ nestled in a natural alcove in the rocks lining the steeply downward path. There was a Nord working the claim but I knew that it was available to anyone who had the right tools.
Just a little further down the path was a chalked arrow, pointing up a fairly steep bit of hillside. I’d had some luck following the last set of arrows so I decided to follow this one too. There were several more arrows ~ fortunately leading in the general direction I wanted to go ~ directing me over some fairly strenuous terrain. At the end of them was a massive hunk of rock. Puzzled, I made my way around it until, lying in a hollow betwixt the rock and the cliff-face, I espied a cloth sack. Opening it revealed a pair of perfectly matched Emeralds, an ensorcelled ring, a small bottle of crimson fluid, and a hundred Septims. Tucking these into my pack, I whistled my way down the hillside to the shoreline and made my way more or less eastwards.
I was a little out in my estimation, it was closer to the Fourteenth Hour when I arrived at the imposing bulk of the Dunmeri fortress: I’d been detained by several attacks from a species of flying creature indigenous to these parts ~ a Cliff-Racer. There may be more annoying creatures than these flapping brown vermin with their sharp beaks and spiked, horny tails ~ if so I’ve yet to encounter them. It took a little while before I realised it was my whistling that was attracting them ~ their natural belligerence and stupidity prompted the constant diving and swooping attacks.
So, this was a, what had Hrundi called it? Oh yes, a Resdayni Fortress. The massive bulk of the building rose up from the ash-strewn plain in a series of stepped ledges, with massive reinforcing buttresses protruding from the building’s sides. As far as I could tell, the steep stairs were the only way onto the flat area on top of the fort. A tall ‘keep’ rode up from the middle of this stone ‘plateau’; dark, deeply recessed windows glared balefully from all sides of the tower. Attacking a place like this would be insane ~ this flat killing field would be strewn with bodies if archers who were even semi-competent defended the fort. What a well-trained Mage could do here didn’t bear thinking about.
There did, however, seem to be a complete lack of anyone waiting here for me. Over in one corner were a pack and a small fire, but there was no sign of Sondaale. As I scanned the artificial plateau, I caught a glint of light from the corner of my eye: over by the door. With a prescient sinking feeling in my stomach, I tugged out the dagger pinning the note to the weathered door.
I have waited here for you but decided to enter this fort without you. It seems safe enough and I expect no surprises or problems. You may leave or stay and join me for luncheon, as you will.
Bugger. That meant that this note had been written before the Noon Hour (probably well before since the scholar would have expected to spend a couple of hours exploring the fort) and it was now ~ according to the Dwemer timepiece ~ almost halfway to the Fifteenth Hour. With a sigh, and a not so polite comment about the foolishness of scholastic types, I dropped my pack and rummaged through it for things I needed and could easily carry. A couple of curative potions and a couple of restorative potions went into the makeshift sling I slung from my shoulder; I took my bow and checked my quiver was full of arrows, and checked that my trusty axe was sharp. I hoped that Sondaale had simply lost track of time while exploring the ruined fortress but, somehow, I doubted that.
Feb 18 2005, 11:57 PM
I almost gagged as the door opened under my tentative push and a rush of fetid air came out. Hot, sickly, and carrying a faint scent that was familiar ~ although odour might be a better word than scent. Keeping as close to the wall as I could, I sidled into the building. Red, fitful candlelight flickered at the end of a gently sloping passageway. That wasn’t good ~ anyone entering would be illuminated clearly as they passed in front of the candles and down the ramps I could just make out descending to the floor level below.
I back-peddled quickly as a short steel throwing knife clattered onto the floor ~ having bounced off the wall far too close to my head for comfort. Peering forward and risking another thrown knife (which whipped past my ear with a whirring noise in due course) I took a quick glance into the huge central chamber. Almost directly opposite me, I could see a pair of figures standing on a platform protruding from the wall. One of the figures threw another knife, missing me by a country mile. Hmmm, the candles over there made them excellent targets ~ backlighting them as they did.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not brilliant with a bow. If not, I’d like to emphasis the point here by saying that I am not a good archer. So it was a question of who was the more surprised by my first shot. Knocking an arrow, I drew back the bowstring and stepped forward ~ swinging the arrow-point onto target, releasing, and stepping back all in one smooth, fluid motion. There was a meaty thump, closely followed by a gasp, a metallic clatter and another, much louder, meaty thud.
Risking another quick glance, I saw that the duo of knife-throwers on the platform had become a single knife-thrower. Needless to say, I was unable to repeat my initial shot but did pepper the figure with arrows until one finally hit something vital. There was a splash of red and a gurgling scream as he clutched himself and collapsed onto the platform. Emboldened, I slung my bow over my shoulder and hefted my axe before descending into the gloom below.
The red-tiled ramp led downwards to the main floor of the fort, which was also covered in the same small red tiles. Off to one side I could see a door, at the back of the chamber was a hole smashed into the fort: from the debris, it looked very much like it had been made from outside the building. Despite the shadows, I could see something moving down there. Pausing only to recover my arrow from the eye-socket of the fallen knife-thrower, I walked towards the gaping hole. The grey rock behind the thick walls had a strange, melted look to it but that wasn’t my primary concern right at this moment.
The shambling, half-humanoid figure directly in front of me was. The skin, where it wasn’t a flaky grey colour, was livid red and looked rubbed raw. One arm and leg were swollen and disfigured, covered in weeping yellow growths. The same pus-filled growths dotted the more normal looking arm and leg too. The face was something I’ll never forget: brilliant blue eyes stared out of a bloated ruin of a face. The nose was partially rotted and a huge growth bulged over the right eye. The mouth was a lipless maw in which a few rotting teeth stood like decaying tombstones. This, then, was a Corprus Beast ~ the final stages of the disease that had driven that pour soul in Berwen’s shop to madness.
This wreck of a Mer (or Man, it was impossible to tell) lurched towards me, strands of something best left unidentifiable hanging from it talon-like nails and insane fury in it’s eyes. With a silent prayer to whatever Gods might be listening, I braced myself as it made it’s slow, tortured way towards me ~ swinging hard with the axe as it came close. There was a squishing noise as the curved blade buried itself in the side of the creature’s head. Wrenching it free, I swung again and again in a fury of disgust and fear. Finally, long after any normal creature would have fallen under such a fusillade of blows, it gave a soft sigh and collapsed, twitched, then lay still. Fighting down an urge to scream, I stepped away carefully circling the thing until I could peer further down the tunnel.
Other than the soft “gloop-gloop” of the molten rock that filled the small defile at the end of the short tunnel, nothing moved down there. Once more circling the rotting mound on the rock floor, I returned to Telasero and moved towards the door. Pushing it open carefully, axe at the ready, I stepped into a vaulted corridor. Ahead of me lay another door while, off to my right, a ramp led upwards. The floor was covered with the same small red tiles that were in the main chamber while the walls were made of some dark material, the blocks fused together in some unknown manner. And over it all hung an invisible miasma, a sense of something being very much off-kilter.
The ramp proved to only lead to the platform where the two knife-throwers had lain in wait. The short hallway and the ramp were covered in slivers of wood ~ evidence of my poor archery. I returned to the lower level and ventured deeper into the eerie stillness. Several empty chambers and corridors confronted me as I worked my way towards the heart of the fort and the door that now stood in front of me. From behind it I could hear a faint humming noise. Tentatively, I pushed it open and took in the scene that confronted me.
Two huge stone troughs stood in the room, one at each side. There were two doors on each side of the room and, between the massive support columns; I could see a chamber at the extreme end of the room. Chairs and tables had been dragged and piled along the walls. What caught my attention however, were the strange buzzing noise that seemed to emanate from one of the troughs and the bizarre ‘altar’ I could just make out in the end chamber.
Well, that’s the buzzing noise explained ~ although I rather wish it hadn’t been. One of the two stone troughs was filled with odds and ends, stuff that had been discarded: clothing, a small sum of money, a couple of books, and that sort of thing. It was the other trough the buzzing sounds came from ~ and that was because it was filled with huge chunks of semi-rancid meat. Some of the pieces had a certain shape that, if looked at in the right way, reminded me of… no, I’d really rather not think about what they reminded me of.
Having wiped my mouth and spat out the foul taste, I moved shakily to the altar. There was a large disk at the base of it, at the cardinal points of this circle were more of those red candles. From the centre of the disk rose a three-sided obelisk, each face of which was filled with small niches. In some of these niches were small and grotesque statuettes; there were five in total. A large, round ‘font’ dominated one of the cardinal points. Like the trough, it too was filled with the same disturbingly shaped hunks of rancid meat. Having seen more than enough, I returned to the main chamber and started examining the chambers off to each side.
“You en-war,” the completely naked Dunmer screamed at me as I opened the door. “Time to die defiler.” With that, he rushed at me brandishing a heavy looking club. It was obvious he was completely insane. What else would you call it when an unarmoured man armed with the single simplest weapon there is goes up against an armoured opponent whose carrying an axe? I tried to talk him out of attacking me ~ I didn’t really fancy hacking away at a naked and damn’ near unarmed man but he was having none of it. Frothing at the mouth (literally), he got close to me and started swinging the club wildly. All the while he was swinging, he was spitting out strange phrases – “The dreamer shall awaken” and “That which was destroyed, rises anew” are the only two that I specifically recall. After that it got a little brutal and messy.
Two of the other chambers contained similarly deranged Dunmer, all naked and armed with clubs or their bare hands. I was trying, very hard, not to draw any parallel between five of these crazy Dunmer and the five statues on the altar. The synchronicity between the two was a little hard to ignore though.
The biggest danger in the fourth chamber was a couple of large and hungry looking rats ~ although the little black and red statuette tucked up one corner gave me a nasty turn.
“Are you Sondaale?” I asked the frightened Altmer that was crouching on the table. She nodded and asked me to get her out of the fort. I was only too happy to oblige. “Stay close Sondaale, we’re going to be going at speed.”
True to my word, I sprinted through the darkened corridors while Sondaale, carrying a lantern, scurried along behind me. It was a blessed relief when we raced up the ramp and out into the fresh air without let or hindrance. Clasping my knees, I gasped for breath as Sondaale collapsed to her knees and panted heavily. When we’d recovered sufficiently to speak, Sondaale told me she was heading to Molag Mar. From there she intended to go to Ebonheart, thence to Wayrest where, according to her, she intended to stay for a very, very long time. Without another word, she collected her belongings and headed off westwards towards Molag Mar.
Musing that Wayrest was just about as far away from Morrowind Province as it was possible to get, I examined my shoulder. One of the clubs had caught me awkwardly, and I had quite a nasty cut. The darkening skin around the cut suggested that there was going to be one Oblivion of a bruise there too. Wearily, I spoke the incantation “Ex hic absum, ut Balmora.” When things had stopped spinning, I found myself in the market square of Balmora. I made my way back to the house in Labour Town and, after drinking a couple of restorative potions, fell gratefully into bed.
Feb 18 2005, 11:58 PM
The morning was bright and clear as I stepped out of Dura gra-Bol’s house and made my way to the ‘Eight Plates’. It had become my habit, when in Balmora, to break my fast there. After a brief chat with the patron, I cast a Void-Walk spell and travelled to Sadrith Mora.
As I made my way up from the slave-market, I was stopped by a larger than normal Argonian. He said he was a pilgrim and, when I asked what his pilgrimage was, he replied that he was seeking a saviour for his people. This Argonian even went as far as to state that I might be the saviour he was looking for but, if so, I had a grand destiny to fulfil. That cheered me immensely and kept me chuckling all the way to Wolverine Hall. The only destiny I have is to earn a sizeable sum of money and settle down somewhere comfortable and safe.
Hrundi was pleased to see me and, after expressing his utter lack of surprise at Sondaale’s irresponsible behaviour, he paid me five hundred Septims for escorting her and, as he put it, ‘keeping her skinny Altmer asse safe’. “Now,” he said after I’d scooped the money into my purse, “I’ve got another wee job lassie, but it’s nae one ye’re goin’ tae like.”
I knew immediately that it wasn’t ~ Hrundi’s accent had become broader than normal, and that was always a sign that he was under some stress. I indicated that he should continue telling me about the job he had. “It’s a bounty,” he said, “on a Wood Elf name a’ Engaer. Yon haunless bugger is a mercenary frae Master Neloth if ye please. An’ we’ve been given a bounty on him.”
“Why is that a problem,” I asked. “I mean, I don’t like bounty work very much, but it’s a necessary job.”
“Ach weel,” he responded despondently. “See you, this Engaer is a mercenary frae Master Neloth right? Master Neloth as in Telvanni Master Neloth ~ ye ken, them long-lived buggers that let us wee folk live here under sufferance? Now, hae d’ye think he’s goin’ tae feel about us when we whack one a’ his mercenaries? In three words Sudhendra: blod rasende over!”
“Very angry?” I hazarded.
He grinned and said, “Close enough lassie, close enough.”
“Well,” I suggested, “why don’t we just ignore the bounty?”
“An’ let the problem go away? Would nae be that simple lass,” he responded. “See, the bounty has been put on Engaer by Arch-Magister Gothren: the head o’ the whole House. An’ guess what he’s going tae be if we dinnae complete the bounty?”
“Three words?” I said cheekily. He laughed aloud at that and nodded.
“Aye. Damned if we do an’ damned if we dinnae.”
“I’ll need some supplies,” I said. “A good sharp dagger, a couple of chameleon potions, and some poison.” I listed when Hrundi asked me what I needed.
“I cannae help you with the potions or poison lass,” he said, “but the dagger? Here, take this.” With that he handed me a viciously sharp dagger of a design I’d never seen before, made of a very lightweight, dull grey metal. “Adamantium,” he explained when I raised an eyebrow at him. “Very light and takes a wicked sharp edge. As for yer potions? Try old Plebo downstairs. Get yerself a couple o’ levitation potions too, from what I hear Engaer is up on the top-level o’ the tower. Now, for poisons, I suggest you try…”
“…Dirty Muriel’s” I finished for him. He nodded and smiled. I scooped up the dagger and went to make my purchases. I had no trouble getting the requisite potions from the apothecary in the chapel and, after a little haggling; I managed to lay my hands on a small vial of Brown Spider Poison from a shady character in the local hostelry. While not as… immediate as I would have liked, it was virulent enough stuff to stop the heart of a Wood Elf fairly quickly.
My plan had the elegance of simplicity, and it went like clockwork. Almost like clockwork. Downing a levitation potion, I walked air to the top of the tower and touched down on a sort of balcony affair at the top. There was only the once entrance from here ~ a round wooden door that led into the upper reaches of Tel Naga. Walking up to the door, I swung it open with one hand whilst draining the phial of chameleon potion with the other. Stepping inside, I yelled “Engaer!” at the top of my voice. One of the figures in the chamber to my right spun around and looked for whoever had called him.
Sticking to the shadows (and there were plenty of those in this gloomy place), I raced around behind him and drove the envenomed dagger into the middle of his back. See, elegant and simple? As the Bosmer started to froth at the mouth and convulse, I headed back the way I’d come. Only to have my chameleon potion wear off just at the same moment a large and heavily armoured guard stepped into the doorway. Oh, how the Gods do enjoy their little japes.
“Assassin,” he rumbled threateningly.
“No,” I said quickly. “Fighters Guild.”
“Ahh,” this human mountain said slowly. “You must be here after the bounty on Engaer then? Right.” And, with that, this walking crag simply turned around and strode off. Even more surprisingly, the room’s other two occupants ~ both of whom had started to draw their weapons ~ simply sheathed them and turned away as though nothing had happened. I was, to put it mildly, completely taken aback.
“What the frell happened in there?” I asked Hrundi.
He just shrugged and shook his head as he counted out my one thousand Septims bounty money. “Strange people these Telvanni,” he said, “with some very odd attitudes to things. I really can’t explain it ~ sometimes they react like you’d expect them to: other times they do something completely inexplicable. Like that.
“Well,” he said ruefully, “looks like you’ve cleaned me out a’ work lass. I’ve got nothing except a wild Kwama-Egg hunt left.”
“A what?” I asked, visions of someone wandering through egg-mines picking up eggs going through my mind.
“There’s this old tale,” Hrundi said, “of a Kwama Queen that lays golden eggs. This queen supposedly lays one gold egg once every hundred years. ‘Tis said that the Pudai Mine was found by a lucky young man eight hundred years ago who took some golden eggs and made himself a fortune from them. Now we have a very wealthy Telvanni collector from Necrom who’s looking for the seven eggs that the queen has laid since then.
“The problem is, the whole thing is a fairy tale, the sort of thing mothers tell their bairns o’ a night.”
I laughed and told Hrundi that, should I ever stumble across this lost egg-mine, I’d be sure to bring him back seven golden eggs. We then spoke a little about the situation within the guild. He confirmed that the guild was riddled with Camonna Tong sympathisers, including the Guild-Masters at Balmora and Vivec City. He urged me to be very careful whom I dealt with. Assuring him that I would be, I went to Dirty Muriel’s for a libation and a think.
I’d left Balmora because of the Camonna Tong problems there, I reflected as I sipped a glass of Sujamma. So, I wasn’t too anxious to run straight to Vivec City and get involved in the subterfuges there. That only left Percius Mercius in Ald’ruhn ~ and I had a pretty good idea that he’d want me to be out there fighting the Camonna Tong influence in the guild. And that, at the moment, was quite beyond me. Despite my recent improved skills with an axe and my fledgling attempts at magic, I was still woefully under skilled: and likely to be serious outclassed if I went against some of the higher ranking members of the Fighter’s Guild. As I sat wondering where, exactly, that left me, I overheard a conversation.
Here Ends Part 1[b][/b]
Feb 23 2005, 10:22 PM
Well, I'm only a bout a fourth of the way through chapter 1, but I must say...."AMAZING!" keep up the good work!
Aug 1 2005, 09:03 PM
QUOTE(minque @ Feb 19 2005, 12:43 AM)
My nightmare, which I don’t remember, shook me awake in the small hours of the morning. I tried to get back to sleep but couldn’t. Finally, I gave it up as a bad lot and, after dressing, stepped out of the Cornerclub into a Balmora that was already bustling and lively.
So it was with a heavy heart and a furrowed brow that I reported back to Eydis Fire-Eye. Even the hundred Septims bounty and the gift of a couple of bottles of a powerful restorative potion failed to cheer me much. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be told that my next task was to locate and “dispose of” four Telvanni agents who were spying on the mining operation at the Caldera mines.
The above post (shortened in quote) are missing in "Chapter one, part two" at the main fan fiction site (not on the forums, obviously).
I have just begun reading this story and suddenly encountered a big incoherence that didn't fit in with the first writing.
Aug 1 2005, 09:11 PM
Only thing I can say is awesome. Great story. Keep up the good work Minque. I will be looking for more updates.
Mar 26 2008, 09:39 PM
Great story! Not much more to say. Good work!
By the way; this is my 100th post