Monday, January 5, 2015

Black Horse Dispatch 17 - The Road to Riften

Continued from Dispatch 16 - A Blade in the Dark.

With that, the Agent leaves to ponder how to best do some sniffing around the Thalmor Embassy. This will likely take some time, which leaves me to ponder what lead I should pursue next.

High Hrothgar, again, seems like the obvious choice. I've found the horn for the Greybeards, so hopefully they will now be willing to let me talk to their leader (presumed ancient and winged). Rather than heading towards the White River, I decide to take the scenic route through the Rift. That the climate there is supposed to be warmer than up here in the north admittedly played some part in my decision.

When we hit the main road from Kynesgrove, a red-brown dragon (also recently resurrected?) approaches from the south - but it only circles us a few times before flying off towards the Jerralls to the southeast. Was it sent by the Black One to keep an eye on us? Or did it see the slain dragon near the mound and decided it didn't want to challenge us right now? I can only hope that the word spreads among the dragons - "be careful around humans, for they might kill you and devour your soul." But to they even have a gossip vine?

Then I spot another dragon - this one with dark ochre scales - attacking a giant, while a third dragon attacks my group. But by now the group is fully versed in dragon slaughter, and it goes down quickly, while the other dragon has apparently lost its fight against the giant as well. And the soul-stealing process is triggered when I merely approach the corpse - quite obviously I don't have to be the one to slay it to make this work. We see a third dragon circle a small hill in the middle of the volcanic plateau to the west of the road, but decide not to approach. A small group of travelers were not able to avoid the dragons, however, as their corpses were scattered next to a burning wagon. Only their dog had survived, and it decides to follow us after Vilja feeds it.

A short time later we come across a lone Khajiit woman who claims that her caravan was attacked by bandits. She asks me to take her to Windhelm, where another Khajiit caravan is currently located, and I agree. However, shortly after I turn my back it turns out that she apparently has suicidal tendencies, as she mutters "you adventurers are so gullible" and draws her axe on me. As she is surrounded by my murderous minions (and Vilja), she is cut down before I can turn around again. I really need to teach them to leave more people alive so that I can question them.

As it turns out, she has a letter with her.

Lajjan hopes this is a joke. If so, she is not laughing. She will not help you and your bandit friends sack the caravans, and if their paths cross, do not think she will spare you because Khajiit are friends.

Well, if I come across this Lajjan person, I might get the full story from her - but for now, I have more pressing concerns.

It's a nice, sunny, noon and hardly anyone tries to kill me after that last dragon, apart from some pesky local wildlife, and while climbing the steep path up to the Rift is somewhat exhausting, the view is worth it. Why can't travel in Skyrim always be like this? I even meet a few pleasant people, such as an Argonian trader who sells me a warm travel cloak and a comfy backpack. Really, I don't know how I managed to store all my gear without it.

Alas, the tranquility ends at a small mining village named Shor's Stone, as another dragon approaches. This one hurls great balls of fire from the sky - a new trick, and it's a miracle the straw roofs of the village do not catch fire. Immediately afterwards we are attacked by bandits who seem to be too stupid to live - do you really want to attack the people who just attacked a dragon? Especially since the town guard is nearby?

Next up north is another fort, where there currently seems to be a three-way skirmish between more bandits, Stormcloaks, and Imperial soldiers. Two Imperials were the last ones standing (current score: 2:1 for the Stormcloaks).

I reach Riften, and one of the gate guards attempts to shake me down for a "Visitor's Tax" - but after I ask him if he wants to explain the purpose of this tax to the readers of the Black Horse Courier, he quickly backs down.

Inside, I overhear a conversation between to people, a huge warrior woman named Mjoll who apparently had a run-in with the local Thieves' Guild. Her companion, one Aerin, warns her that the Guild is backed by one Maven Black-Briar - a name I heard about back in Cyrodiil, and no in a good way - and opposing her could land one in jail, or worse.

After Aerin leaves, I talk to Mjoll and she informs me that the "rabble" of the Thieves' Guild is currently recruiting, and that I should be careful, and tells me about some of the members of the Black-Briar family - real charmers, by the sound of it. Apparently she retired from a life of high adventure after Aerin managed to rescue her from a nearby dwemer ruin, and now she has embarked on a mission to clean up this time. I wished her luck - she will likely need it.

I take a few steps further, and a shady character seizes me up suspiciously, and asks me if I came to Riften looking for trouble.

"What's it to you?"

"Don't say something you'll regret. Last thing the Black-Briars need is some loudmouth trying to meddle in their affairs."

"The Black-Briars?"

"The Black-Briars have Riften in their pockets and the Thieves' Guild watching their back, so keep your nose out of their business.

Me? I'm Maul. I watch the streets for 'em, If you need the dirt on anythin', I'm your guy... but it'll cost you."

He does end up giving me a few scraps of information for free:

- It turns out that Aventus Arentino, the boy in Windhelm attempting to contact the Black Brotherhood, used to live in the local orphanage but ran away. "Can't say I blame him."

- He also claims that Maven Black-Briar has ties to the Dark Brotherhood. Hmmm... given my own recent run-in with the Brotherhood, this may be worth investigating. Later...

Next I witness one of the local loan sharks, a woman named Sapphire, intimidate one of her victims, a Redguard stable worker who apparently had loaned money from her - only to have the shipment stolen, likely by someone working with Sapphire.

I follow Sapphire into the local pub to talk with her about this, but am momentarily distracted by a priest of Mara blaming the dragons on the constant drunkenness of the pub patrons.

...this is going to be a trend, isn't it.

I can't convince Sapphire to drop the debt, so I pay the 163 septims myself - I am flush with coins from Ustengrav and can afford it. As I go out to the stables, I see an orc with an axe drawn standing over another dead orc - but the gate guard is too jaded to intervene. An Argonian standing right next to them mutters: "All I want is a pair of boots. How hard can it be?" I quickly press on to give the worker the good news, who hands me a potion of invisibility out of gratitude (he said he feard he might need it to flee from Sapphire).

After a trip to the alchemist to brew some potions and sell the surplus, I head back to the pub in search of a room for the night - and there a member of the Thieves' Guild makes his expected recruitment pitch. He wants me to plant some fake evidence on a local merchant, but I remained noncommittal. He... kept not noticing that. I went to bed, and will attempt to avoid this guy for the time being - I don't want to linger here.

Continued in Dispatch 18 - Into the Void.