Friday, January 2, 2015

Black Horse Dispatches 13 - The Road to Ustengrav

Continued from Dispatch 12 - Tears of a Clown.

When I last visited Skyrim all those years ago, giants only lived in the most remote regions, and I never saw any of them. Now they lair close to the main road heading north from Whiterun, among other places - plain for everyone to see. Fortunately, they do not seem overly aggressive, but the holds are apparently incapable of keeping them away from their trade routes.

Which is also true for a small army of bandits, which is engaged in a skirmish with a Stormcloak patrol - and winning. My murderous minions have no trouble mopping up the survivors, however. A short time later we come across further Stormcloaks who had just finished butchering a group of Impterial soldiers - one of whom is wearing the insignia of the Penitus Oculatus. What was one of their agents doing in this remote part of Skyrim? Double-checking on General Tullius' claims? There must be some serious doubts about the General if this is the case...

It is getting late and I am getting cold - the snow is deep this far north of Whiterun. I decide to ask for shelter at a nearby fort and follow a Stormcloak patrol into it - only to discover that I have stumbled into yet another running battle, as the Fort has been overrun by bandits! To avoid getting mixed up into this skirmish, we barricade ourselves in the local inn, the Stumbling Sabrecat - where we discover that the barkeep has already been slaughtered by the bandits. We put down his murderers, still at the scene, and I spend a few short moments heating up my chilling bones at the fireplace before we press on.

As we exit the fort, we immediately run into another group of bandits - who are, in turn, set upon by a dragon. At first, the monumental beast attacks some stragglers further away, and I focus on the immediate threats closer to me. A big mistake - after I lose sight of the creature for just a few moments, the beast lands almost on top of me, and the sheer impact from its landing throws me into the air like a ragdoll before I land in a distant snowdrift. Fortunately, my minions are quicker on he uptake and after I recover, our volleys of arrows and bolts manage to bring it down.

At the fork of the road, I decide not to press on to Dawnstar - while night has fallen, I still feel fairly warm and Dawnstar would be a huge detour to Ustengrav. Instead, we follow the west road into the direction of Morthal, passing some ancient ruins on the way. But even the night does not stop the skirmishes between the Stormcloaks and the legions - and here, the Stormcloaks are victorious. Their leader wears the same strange, skimpy pink armor which I have seen other women wear - has this armor some special significance?

I soon curse my overconfidence as my limbs begin to freeze, and we manage to find a still-operating mine before they fall off. But just as I start to huddle before the blazing fire, yet another dragon appears, this one dark red in hue. It circles and roars, giving the miners and soldiers time to shake in fear. But as I watch the skies and try to aim at it with my freezing fingers, more figures right out of a nightmare race out of the shadows - black, hound-like things with glowing eyes. Did they arrive with the dragon? No time to think about that - fortunately, my companions quickly slay those creatures.

Now it hovers and breathes... and it breathes frost. Why does it have to be frost? It picks up soldiers and miners one by one, grabbing them and letting them fall to their doom or swallowing them whole. Finally, we manage to bring it down, and I race into the mine supervisor's house to warm myself up - only to get kicked out again. Thus, I spend some time outside, with the miners - who have to sleep in flimsy tents in this cold - and stare at a dead, brutish black hound next to the fire. As I finally feel warm enough and get up, I stumble across another corpse, of a male Altmer... which begins to crumble to dust under my hands.

A vampire!

But I have scarcely time to ponder this discovery as another dragon appears (this one breathing fire, thank the Divines!). It makes the mistake of landing on the roof of the supervisor's house, a spot we can hit easily, and it slides off the roof and falls behind it as its flesh turns into energy and rushes into my soul.

I feel warm again.

From now on, we leave the road and head northwest into the half-frozen swampland surrounding Morthal. Fortunately, we do not disturb any creatures of the swamp on our way - apart from two bandits and a necromancer who lair at the entrance to our destination, and who are quickly dispatched.

And with that, the depths of Ustengrav open to us.

Continued in Dispatch 14 - The Lost Horn of Jurgen Windcaller.