For those who follow this and got an 'update message', sorry to disappoint. I just was looking through it for a 'clip' that I could use to promote it and saw some typos and formatting problems. One would think by now all that would have been long since ironed out, but it seems like no amount of proofreading ever catches everything. Anyway, this is the same story, just reproofed and corrected. Despite seeing some things I cringed at and considered rewriting, I resisted.

If you've never left a review though, take this as an invitation!

Day One: My arrival in Vvardenfell

I am Arvil Bren, a wizard of Breton descent. Through an odd chain of events and circumstances I arrived this morning in the province of Morrowind. Though I arrived as a prisoner, I was immediately released upon my arrival here in the port of Seyda Neen. It seems the emperor has plans for me, though how they mesh with my own plans remains to be seen.

I received my release, and a fair stipend, from one Sellus Gravius, a Knight Errant of the Imperial Legion who is apparently in charge of the local guard contingent. While he was polite he was not overly friendly. It was clear that releasing me was a matter of following orders. He passed on orders for me as well. I am to report to a man named Caius Cosades in the town of Balmora and deliver a package of documents. I have also been instructed that I will receive further orders. While having my freedom unexpectedly returned to me is certainly a blessing, I am not sure that this service to the emperor will suit me well. I remain undecided about following these orders, and for now the documents languish in my pack.

Even though I am unsure about my desire to serve the emperor, it does seem prudent to ingratiate myself somewhat with the local authorities, and an immediate opportunity to do so presented itself. A Bosmer by the name of Fargoth was the first civilian I encountered this morning as I left the customs house. He is apparently not the most popular fellow with the constabulary, as he immediately complained of weekly shakedowns. Coincidentally I had found the ring that he thought had been stolen, a family heirloom of some sort he claims. He was friendly enough, and certainly expressed his gratitude for the return of his ring, but I feel no overwhelming loyalty to him; and when one of the guards commented on his roguish behavior and requested my assistance I gladly agreed.

I spent the day establishing myself here in the relative wilderness of Morrowind. I suppose I should not judge the entire province by the small area I have seen, particularly since this area, called the Bitter Coast, does not get high marks from it's own inhabitants. It does offer good hunting, and I dined well on the meat of the local mudcrabs after acquiring a spear at the tradehouse. I also had a run in with other local aquatic life, known as slaughterfish. Given my limited skill with the spear and my unarmored legs I felt lucky to get safely back on shore. Fortunately the authorities felt inclined to provide somewhat for their latest immigrant and let me rest on a rough pallet in the basement of the customs house.

I rose at midnight, and on the advice of Hrisskar Flat-Foot climbed to the top of the lighthouse. From this lofty vantage I could see most of the town without being observed myself. As expected this provided me the opportunity to see Fargoth caching his ill-gotten gains in a tree stump in a bog that lies behind the main street's buildings, separating them from the meaner shacks in the poorer part of town. Once he had safely moved on I climbed down from the lighthouse, recovered the booty and reported to Hrisskar. I was well rewarded for my efforts, materially as well as in the goodwill of the guard. Fargoth's ring, while it may be a family heirloom, is not an heirloom of his Bosmer clan as the engraving is in the language of the Altmer. The presence in his stash of a high quality lock-pick suggests that his possession of this item has no more legitimacy than mine, so I will be keeping it for myself.

On the morrow I shall continue familiarizing myself with the area, and meeting the local folk. I did get detailed directions to this town, Balmora, which is also accessible by taking a silt-strider; a great local beast used for caravan transport. How I will go, or even if I will go, remains to be seen.

Day Two: Death of a taxman

My second day here in Morrowind offered yet another opportunity to establish myself with the local authorities. Perhaps it is my fate to become a good citizen and trod the straight and narrow path. The guards here are appreciative of me, the financial rewards have been good, and my memories of prison serve to remind me that my prior life on the shady side of the law wasn't all that desirable. My mind is not yet firm on this though, so I have no definite plan to depart for Balmora.

To expand on how I served the Empire today, let me start by recounting what seemed this morning to be the absolute talk of the town; the disappearance of the local tax collector. As intended, I set out this morning to meet some of the local townspeople and expand my knowledge of the area. It did not take long to realize that everyone I met seemed willing to speculate on the missing Processus Vitellius. I also recognized quickly that there was no great affection for the tax collector, and in my own mind had to suspect that he had met a bad end. If the good citizens of Seyda Neen looked at his disappearance with so little concern for his welfare, I was sure that some of the less law abiding would see his disappearance as such a good thing that they would have been willing to cause it. Even the guards were not too inclined to investigate the matter, adding credence to a rumor that they are on the take, and that a nearby cave is the headquarters of a smuggling operation.

I pondered the situation as I set out hunting in a new area southwest of town, with an eye towards any recent digging that might indicate an unmarked grave. In very short order it was made clear that my understanding of the situation was correct. The body of the dead tax collector had been abandoned to the crabs without even the minimal respect of a shallow grave, and I found it by the off chance of tracking a crab and some kwama; hive dwelling creatures whose foragers scour the surrounding areas for food. The kwama foragers and crabs had begun their grisly work before falling prey to my spear, but the body was easily identifiable. In a belt pouch containing two hundred gold septims was a scroll of tax records.

Making a note of the location I took the tax record and the money back to town. The first test of my newly found good citizenship came up very quickly. The guards directed me to Socucius Ergalla, the overseer of the customs house and the same gentleman who welcomed me to Morrowind yesterday. He also was not overly broken up about the lost life of the tax collector. Morrowind is a dangerous land, lives are often taken suddenly, and, as I was reminded in many conversations throughout the day, no one likes a tax collector. Apparently that even includes other tax collectors. Socucius did take a liking to me though, when to his surprise (and in fact my own), I admitted to finding the money on the body and turned it over.

My first actual act of honesty paid off handsomely as it turned out. Socucius offered me five hundred septims if I could bring the murderer to justice. At the time I was quite put off since he did not reward me on the spot for finding the body and turning in the money, and thought to myself that I should have kept the two hundred in hand rather than being sent on yet another errand for the Empire. As the day unfolded though the mystery was not that difficult to solve and by day's end I not only had a fat purse but a place to lay my head that I can call my own.

I began my detective work by examining the tax records. Four of the entries were not marked as paid, and I reasoned that one of them had opted for murder rather than paying their just due. Although she seemed an unlikely suspect, the Altmer woman Eldafire was nearest the top of the list, so I sought her out first. It was also easy to choose her since I had spoken to her earlier. In fact it was from her that I got the information about the smugglers in the nearby cave. She expressed no surprise at the news confirming Processus' death, but of course I was not the only one to suspect that his disappearance would turn out to be due to foul play. She suggested the smugglers as possible suspects, but I thought that unlikely. No one making their way in the smuggler's trade would leave a full purse on a dead man.

In speaking to those who benefited from the death of the tax collector the lighthouse keeper, Thavere Vedrano, was mentioned consistently as having had some sort of relationship with the dead man, and I put off continuing down the list to speak to her. She was very upset at the news, and I suspect she will be even more of a driving force in having the body recovered and properly interred than the authorities will. In speaking to her I also got a much different sense of Processus. While many in the town assumed he was overtaxing them and skimming off the top to support an extravagant lifestyle, it turns out that Thavere had given him the ring that was most often mentioned as an indication that he lived above his means. While I could not completely dispel my doubts about pursuing an errand for the authorities, her obvious love for the man gave me good cause to seek justice. I promised her that I would pursue the killer, and also try to return her ring.

Thavere gave me a critical lead, saying that Foryn Gilnith, a local fisherman, had been disputing his taxes with Processus for some time. I went to his shack, thinking that if I confronted him with the tax records which showed him having a large unpaid balance he might slip and say something incriminating. I overestimated his intelligence, or underestimated his malice. I no sooner mentioned having found the body than he quite proudly claimed credit for the kill, and informed me that he would not hesitate to kill another 'lackey of the emperor'. He was a brute, with the strong hands of a fisherman, and I considered myself lucky to spit him on my spear before the beating he was giving me knocked me unconscious. I was quite sure that if he put me down I would never rise again.

In turning over Gilnith's body to the authorities I kept the ring he had in his pocket, and was pleased when I returned it to Thavere at the lighthouse. The five hundred septim reward is a comforting weight in my purse as I write, and I am seated at a crude but serviceable table in what is now my own shack in Seyda Neen. At least for the interim Gilnith's shack has been given to me, and under the circumstances I don't expect my sleep to be troubled as I take to the dead man's bed.

Day Three: Cave of the smugglers

The day dawned drab and rainy; appropriate for my attitude. Good citizenship looked like an endless parade of days spent hunting in the rain, my spearpoint is getting blunted from punching through the hard shells of the mudcrabs, and the gleam of gold set off a nostalgia for my old ways. I set out for the nearby cave known to the locals as Addamasartus, with the intent of throwing in my lot with the smugglers that reputedly use it as a hideout. Once again though it seems my fate lies on a new path.

When I entered the cave I was immediately attacked by a knife wielding rogue. She fell quickly to my spear, but it was clear that throwing in with this particular band of smugglers would be most unlikely. As it turns out smuggling here in Morrowind is not to my taste anyway. One of the fallen rogue's pockets yielded a key. I took the key expecting to find some sort of lockbox. As I went deeper into the cave I quickly found out otherwise. Penned behind a locked gate I found three manacled slaves. It turns out that slavery being legal in Morrowind although rightfully banned throughout the rest of the Empire has made for a strong black market in captive labor. I freed the captives, and their manacles now adorn my table. While I might not be the most upright citizen, I will not traffic in slaves.

The smuggler's other major commodity is moon sugar apparently. From their crates and barrels I recovered at least a pound of the illegal granules, as well as two vials of the refined form, skooma. Looting this cache called for dispatching two additional smugglers, one a particularly dangerous mage and the other a rogue who inflicted numerous wounds with small throwing stars before I could corner her within range of my spear. My friend Arrille at the tradehouse gladly purchased their used armor and weaponry, as well as some fair quality weapons that I found laying about. I sounded him briefly regarding the moon sugar, but clearly running a tradehouse directly across the street from Morrowind's major customs house calls for him operating completely above the boards. I thought briefly, well very briefly, of destroying the contraband materials, but my own good citizenship is of such a recent vintage that I could not bring myself to do it. I will just have to transport it to one of the larger cities and find a market for it.

Reasons to make the trip to Balmora are accumulating fast, and I may find myself following the Emperor's orders after all. Being a good citizen for three days has certainly been profitable enough, and the townspeople of Seyda Neen are beginning to warm up to me a bit. The guards response to my elimination of the smugglers does have me convinced that corruption is the norm here, or at least widespread, but it is certainly not my place to sit in judgment. If they were clinging a little tighter to the straight and narrow it would have been a lot more difficult for me to get settled in here the way that I have. While I have taken four lives in three days I go to bed with a clear conscience, and no legal entanglements. Refreshing.

Day Four: Pearls and assassins

I am beginning to accept my fate, and it pays off. This morning I confronted the rain and dreariness of the Bitter Coast and set out to hunt. The rain stopped almost immediately, and very quickly the overcast broke into a sunny day. I made the best of being a good citizen, and one of the guards helped me explore the bay west of town.

I wanted to see if the local shellfish, called a kollop, produced pearls. I waded into the water, only to find myself surrounded by ravenous slaughterfish. Flailing with my spear I backed ashore. Fortunately the ring I got from Fargoth's trove has limited restorative powers. I was considering a plan to make repeated brief forays into the water to draw the slaughterfish in, and then thin their ranks from the beach with the reach of my spear. That was not necessary though. One of the guards recognized the problem and came to my aid. With a little negotiation he agreed to swim out and cover me with his sword while I dove for the kallops. After finding a fine pearl I rewarded him with some gold and we parted company.

It is good to be on good terms with the constabulary for once, but I don't want to press my luck. Returning to my shack full of contraband is too incongruous with my new relations with the authorities. I have no reason to expect a search of my quarters, but why take the risk? In the smuggler's cave Addamasartus there is a deep grotto, only accessible by a brief underwater swim. I secreted the moon sugar in a rusty chest that I found on the bank there. It's most unlikely that anyone will find it. While I will regret the loss if someone does, at least it will not cause me any problems with the authorities. In truth it is probably more secure there than in my battered shack anyway, which led me to also put the pearl I found and a silver dagger in the chest as well.

The silver dagger is the tip of an iceberg of a mystery, which started this afternoon as I was resting on a beach. I was violently attacked with that dagger by a man in black armor. Struggling to my feet I managed to quaff a restorative potion, which I believe is the only thing that kept me alive long enough to bring my spear to bear in my defense. Once I had successfully skewered my assailant I stripped him of his armor, which is apparently made from very fine chain made of a particularly resilient steel. It is fabulously light, and a wonderful matte black in color; excellent for surreptitious night work. Speaking with one of the local guards has convinced me that this armor is a hallmark of the Dark Brotherhood, the assassins guild. I am very concerned that I have seemingly been marked for death by someone in a position to hire such an organization. While I intend to continue sleeping well, I do so now with a cautious ear.

Day Five: The messy death of Tarhiel the mage

This morning I witnessed the messy death of a shortsighted spellcaster. From his journal I know that his name was Tarhiel, and from his dress I can surmise that he was fairly well off, but no one in Seyda Neen has heard of him and I have no idea from where he hailed. Hailed is a word of many meanings, and for Tarhiel more than one are appropriate. My first glimpse of him came as he plummeted like a stone from the sky, though his screaming was far from stone-like.

I rushed through the trees and found the crumpled corpse. He was clearly dead, broken beyond recognition. I wondered how he came to fall from such a great height until I scanned the recent entries in his journal, which though a bit the worse for wear had survived the fall. It seems Tarhiel invented a spell for himself with the intention of leaping great distances. Apparently he forgot that while jumping a great distance would be a boon to a traveler, some provision for landing would be required. In his pockets were three copies of his final spell, but I see no practical use for them.

After burying Tarhiel I resumed my search for pearls, this time in the opposite bay. Even with no assistance I did manage to thin the ranks of the vicious slaughterfish sufficiently to swim out to a kollop bed unassailed; however the east side of Seyda Neen is the harbor and reaching the kollops in the bottom of the main shipping channel was a serious challenge. While I did succeed in retrieving another pearl the effort was exhausting and I returned to town before sunset to recuperate.

With an early evening and feeling expansive I bought a few rounds at the tradehouse, and have established some friendships with the regulars there. I did have a confrontation in the street with Vodunius Nuccius, who seemed intent on taking offence to everything I said. After speaking with his friend Darvame Hleran the caravaner I could see that it is his situation he is upset with, not me. Seyda Neen was definitely not what he had in mind when he came to Morrowind. I purchased a ring from him so that he could catch a ship or caravan and move on. The ring is very nice, but seems to have an enchantment with some bad side effects laid on it. I'm sure I could get most of what I paid back if I sell the ring, and it is an improvement to look forward to having Vodunius' unhappy presence removed from the streets.

Day Six Smuggler's docks

Today I explored southeast of town; an area of small rocky islands ideal for smuggling operations. I located a small dock where a leafboat was tied. I suspect it may have belonged to the smugglers of Addamasartus. There were a number of empty cargo chests on board, and I found some scraps of moon sugar. It also was not a secure place to leave a boat long term, and gave the appearance that it had been left for at least a few days. I would guess that they intended to return to their boat before I dealt them their untimely demise.

I again spent the evening at the tradehouse. There is a Nord scout called Raflod the Braggart. Although he is loud and boisterous, and will talk about anything whether he has any knowledge or not, he has been an invaluable source of knowledge regarding the bonemold plate armors that are popular here in Morrowind. They are lighter than plate metal armors, more comparable to chain mail in weight.

I have also picked up some local lore from a battlemage, Albecius Colollius by name. He tells me that the burial customs of the native Dunmer present some interesting opportunities. Ancestral tombs fall prey to neglect in dwindling or far-flung families, and these neglected tombs sometimes contain very interesting items. To highlight the dangers he mentioned that some foolish spellcaster who had come into possession of an artifact he called Mentor's Ring apparently lost it in a tomb somewhere along the coast. There are hazards, particularly ghosts and other ancestral spirit guardians, but it definitely sounds worth the risk to explore if I come across one. I may get lucky and find this lost ring.

Tomorrow will mark one full week here in Morrowind. As my explorations carry me further from Seyda Neen I get more and more inclined to head for Balmora. My spear is almost completely blunted, and I have picked up a halberd from Arrille, but there is no smith in town to repair my spear or appraise the black armor. I am accumulating some interesting plants, and would like to experiment with some of them, but there is no alchemical equipment available in town. And of course I would like to find a buyer for my growing hoard of moon sugar.

Day Seven: A tomb almost my own

This could be called a successful day of exploration, or a severe setback to mark my first week in Morrowind. Either way, I am glad to be in my rough little shack to write about it. This afternoon it seemed doubtful that I would survive. I found not one but two ancestral tombs along the coast to the west, but learned that finding them might turn out to be the easy part.

I was having a good day; gigged a few crabs and a number of slaughterfish, swam to a shoal close ashore and found a pearl in a kollop, felt pretty confident in my growing ability with the halberd. Then I found the first tomb, a rounded arch of greenish stone sheltering a wooden door. I entered cautiously and quietly and began creeping down a long narrow stair. There appeared to be a chamber of some sort at the bottom, and in the chamber I could see a skeleton of a man. It seemed to be some sort of display, intended to frighten interlopers who entered the tomb, and in its bony hand was affixed a longbow. As I neared the bottom step a hazy figure came hurtling out of the darkness with an eerie wail and magical energies crackled around me in some sort of curse. I took a swipe at the specter with my halberd, but to my dismay the blade passed right through without any effect! My good day was falling rapidly into a black abyss.

Backing quickly up the stair as I slung my halberd, I readied a fireball spell. The spirit was right on top of me, and the chill of it's spectral claws seared my flesh, even though I felt no contact. But wait, I did feel contact! A shocking impact on my iron breastplate that sent me stumbling backwards on the stairs. In my distraction I had not noticed the skeleton springing into animation, but could see him now trying to aim a second shot around the howling guardian that descended clawing at my chest. Without rising I completed the necessary gestures and a ball of magical flame engulfed the ghost, driving it up and off of me. On heels and elbows I scrambled backwards, slipping onto the landing at the top of the stair as a fusillade of arrows clattered off the stone walls above me. There on the landing, still on my back, I battled the enraged ghost; scorching it repeatedly with magical fire as it clawed me with its icy talons. It eventually collapsed into a bubbling pool of green sludge, and staying low to avoid the alert skeleton's gaze I bolted out the door.

To my horror, hanging in the air outside the door was a winged native flyer known as a cliff racer. In my battered and beleaguered state it was all I could do to fend off the buffeting wings, spiked tail, and razor sharp beak. More than I could do actually, and my raw seared flesh was parted in several places by the time I had brought the beast low with several jabs from the halberd. I hoped that the skeleton would not leave its post in the tomb as I collapsed in a heap in the archway. It took several hours of resting and using all the restorative energies that my ring could muster before I felt sufficiently able to defend myself to undertake the walk home. I never expected to be so glad to see this run down shack.

Day Eight: The Emperor's Blade

With yesterday's harsh lesson still showing in the stiffness of my joints I rose well before dawn, packed, and headed for the strider port. What an amazing creature! Riding on a plush seat set in a hollow in the back of a thirty foot tall insect as it strides across field and marsh was an experience that is hard to describe, and is not for the squeamish. The caravaner directs the great beast by applying pressure using a set of levers and cords. These controls are attached to various internal organs and structures, and a delicate touch is required to avoid injuring the vehicle. The ride is comfortable and surprisingly smooth, and the long legs eat up the distance. I arrived in Balmora shortly after dawn, finding the city shrouded in a soft mist.

With much to accomplish on this trip and little idea where to begin I thought my first order of business should be delivering the Emperor's documents to Caius Cosades. I reasoned that no matter what came of the delivery I would be able to get some local information from him. What an underestimation that turned out to be! I started my search at the South Wall Cornerclub, where I expected to possibly catch an early rising proprietor or serving wench. Wrong again. The denizens of the South Wall were just settling in from their night's activities. It wasn't hard to recognize the place as the local Thieves Guild hangout, as the first person I met when I walked in was a pawnbroker who clearly would not have many questions about the origin of any goods that came her way. When I asked her about Cosades she referred to him as an 'old sugar-tooth', and I was even further taken aback. On the Emperor's business, directed to a den of thieves, in search of a drug addict; I considered chucking the whole project and joining the Guild, but the strangeness of the situation got the best of my curiosity. At the direction of Bacola Closcius, proprietor of the South Wall, I headed into the poorest quarter of Balmora in search of the old sugar-tooth.

Caius answered his door and admitted me to a mean little apartment. He was shirtless and rumpled, and the room is furnished in minimal junkiness, prominently featuring a skooma pipe that looked heavily used and hastily hidden, poorly. Without giving any details I suggested that I had been sent to Balmora to seek him out. He expressed surprise that anyone would be that interested in an 'old man with a skooma problem', and frankly I was getting more surprised by the minute myself. With some reservations I handed over the package of documents.

As he rapidly scanned the first page, apparently decoding it in his head, he seemed to transform in front of my stunned eyes. What had seemed a somewhat shrunken old man was a product of magnificent muscle and breath control. With a full breath and a release of the calculated slackness Caius became an obviously fit, well muscled man who I would definitely not want to take on hand to hand. The puzzled and diffident expression fell from his features, replaced by a confident and powerful presence that filled the small room seemingly beyond its capacity, and when our conversation resumed it was clear that his reach did extend far, far beyond the scarred stone walls.

With no further dissembling Caius introduced himself as the Emperor's man in Morrowind, spymaster of the Blades, the Emperor's hidden eyes and ears throughout the provinces. For reasons unknown to me, and also to Caius though the rest of the documents I delivered may make them clear, the Emperor directed him to induct me into this organization, and I am now a novice in His Magesty's intelligence service under the orders of Caius Cosades. When he asked if I was ready to follow his orders there was some question in my mind, but I showed no reservation. I don't know what would have happened had I refused to serve, though I have to wonder if I would have left the room alive.

My first instructions as a member of the Blades were certainly easy enough to take, especially since they were accompanied by two hundred gold drakes. Some of the Blades maintain an open presence, providing services and contact points. Caius gave me a list of some of these stationed throughout Vvardenfell district, which is apparently my turf, and directed me to meet them as soon as possible. I am to meet them quietly, as I am not to be one of these openly acknowledged support personnel. He gave me some suggestions on establishing a cover identity, and my head is still swirling from the complexity of the tapestry of politics and society here in Morrowind. In addition to the usual Guilds, Morrowind politics are dominated by clan affiliations, culminating in five 'great houses'. I will be moving cautiously in aligning myself with any particular threads. At least some knowledge of the weave seems necessary first, for my own survival.

While Caius definitely agreed with my circumspect intentions, he suggested that the benefits of membership in the Mage's Guild and its generally loose structure would suit my immediate needs. The local Guild Steward, Ranis Athrys, welcomed me to the ranks. Not warmly or enthusiastically, but access to the guild hall supply chest and a bed in the sleeping area rewarded me tangibly if not with friendship. Caius suggested that Ranis' apprentice, Ajira, would probably be a better contact. Being an outlander herself she is certainly likely to be less stiff with me, though the cat-people of Khajiit province are not obviously warm to my own Breton origins either. I met her briefly, but it was already late by the time I got down to the guild hall's main rooms, which are in the basement, and it has been a long day. I will take on establishing myself with my guildmates in the morning.

Day Nine: Taking cover in the Mage's Guild

A very successful trip has boosted my confidence, and on the morrow I will return to the scene of my near demise, the old Dunmer tomb with it's undead guardians. Besides a boost in confidence, my trip has left me much better equipped for the challenge. My blunted spear has been replaced with an enchanted spear that will pierce even the ghostly plane of my spectral assailants. One of my Blades compatriots provided a steel breastplate to replace the iron that I found in the smuggler's cave, and from another I purchased, at a striking discount, some fast acting restoratives to heal my wounds. I also put together a complete alchemist's laboratory and refined some other restoratives for myself to quickly remedy the fatigue of my journeys. Overall, it is a new man these fell creatures shall be facing!

In addition to my physical acquisitions I thoroughly enjoyed my day with the mages of Balmora. I cannot say that they would all consider me a friend yet, but they definitely accepted me into their circle. I demonstrated an eagerness to learn, vastly expanding my arsenal of spells, and did not stint on passing out the gold drakes in my gratitude for their teaching. Ajira did turn out to be most welcoming, and connected me to the Khajiit network. The cat-people are known for their taste for moon sugar, and Ajira and a local trader, Ra'Virr, purchased all that I had. Ra'Virr also has a connection among the Telvanni that supplies him with exceptional enchanted weapons at a remarkably good price, and I am very pleased with the devil spear he provided.

I would cheerfully help Ajira with a small favor she asked of me, even if it wasn't considered my duty as an Associate in the guild. She is conducting a study of the alchemical powers of the local fungi, and when she heard that I was returning to the swamps of the Bitter Coast asked me to pick up some samples for her. As she is the Guild Steward's apprentice, I expect doing a small favor for her will carry the weight of a larger favor for someone else. The Mage's Guild seems to operate very much on personalities and relationships rather than real objective rules.

The Blades, on the other hand, are a well organized, almost military operation. In meeting my new fellows I was honestly impressed with their immediate response to me. I get the feeling that they would have given me the exact same welcome if I was an Imperial native of Cyrodiil or an Argonian lizard man fresh from the swamps of Black Marsh. Actually, one of my new compatriots is an Argonian, though he certainly did not just crawl out of the swamps. He lives in a sturdy house in Balmora; not in the best part of town, but better situated than Caius' scruffy abode. Nine-Toes has been assigned to map the Bitter Coast region. He continued my introduction to the world of the spy by informing me he does not know why this mapping is called for, and he does not ask. The only reason he informed me of his task at all was that he considered it a possibility that I could assist him, which I will happily do. I can continue my explorations as part of my studies with the Mage's Guild, which will enhance my own cover, and at the same time build my reputation in the Blades by quietly reporting to Nine-Toes.

For now though, it is good to retire to my own cot once again. I must be well rested for tomorrow's foray into the depths!

Day Ten: Tomb Raider

I rose early and refreshed. The day dawned gray and rainy, which I have accepted as the norm for the Bitter Coast. It's only water, and I tell myself that the rain drumming on the shells of the mudcrabs makes it easier to sneak up on them. The humor being that if it was any easier to sneak up on a mudcrab they would have to be presenting themselves on their backs in front of me. For the most part they seem to depend for safety on their appearance, which is very much like a medium size boulder. A good crab will yield a couple pounds of succulent flesh and they continue to be the staple of my diet, and I am also now using crab meat to concoct my restoratives.

I followed the beach around the bay to my date with the undead. Wanting to be as fully prepared as possible before entering the crypt, I activated my devil spear and hooked a curative potion to my belt for quick access. When activated the devil spear harnesses the power of a captive Daedric spirit, becoming supernaturally sharp and also light as my writing quill in my hands. It also briefly surrounds me in crackling electrical energies which help to shield me. So armed I burst through the door. My nemesis, the skeletal archer, unleashed a torrent of arrows as I charged, most of which were deflected by the devil spear's magic. The shaft of my spear I braced under my arm, and I allowed my steel breastplate to build momentum as I hurtled down the stairs on the bare edge of control. Forsaking a final shot the skeleton tried to dodge, but with the barest flick of adjustment my point followed its frantic movement and struck home, splintering ancient ribs and shattering the magical articulations of the creature. Seeing that the fallen monster was trying to regather itself to rise I swung my weapon to and fro, scattering bones until they fell to dust.

As I recovered my breath I surveyed the chamber. Two stone altars flanked a triangular shrine at the further end of the room, and I edged cautiously around a central support pillar for a closer look. Guttering torches lit my way. Mounted in brackets on the walls and central pillar, they burn with the ancestral energy of the tomb and require no fuel. When I tried to remove one it was extinguished, only to light again when returned to its proper place. A chill ran briefly down my spine, and I turned a wary eye on a wooden door, behind which lay I knew not what. On the altars stood great burial urns, one on the left and two on the right. The two on the right were a matched set, and I assume they held a husband and wife. The decorated face of the shrine depicted Saint Veloth, an illustrious ancestor god of the Dunmer Temple, and identified the tomb as belonging to the Thelas clan. I opted not to further disturb the Thelas ancestral spirits by removing the bonemeal from the urns, but did sift through it quickly with an arrow shaft to check for any useful items or jewelry.

In fairly short order I realized that I was scuffing about in this outer chamber not because I expected to find anything of value, but because I was delaying my entry into the inner crypt. Once again I activated the devil spear, and standing slightly to the side yanked open the door. A howling spirit burst upon me immediately, and its spectral face showed bleak surprise as it impaled itself on my spear. The feeling was quite uncanny. In my hands the spear was solid, but at its tip it was obviously completely embedded in another plane of existence, a plane where the ghost had real flesh and could be felt pulling down my point with a surprising weight. I had no time to appreciate this oddity, and jerked the Daedric sharpness of the blade free from the once more dead hulk, leaving it to splatter into this earthly plane in a shower of gooey green ectoplasm. Freed, I was able to dive clear of the doorway.

My frantic dive was the result of seeing yet another skeletal archer at the bottom of the stair beyond the door, and I thought that I had moved in time. A searing pain followed instantly by horrible numbness told me otherwise and I crashed to the stone floor in a heap, completely paralyzed by a field of coruscating green magical energies. There are curative potions so powerful that mere possession of them would have given me enough muscle control to gulp it down and be released, but alas I did not have one. Fortunately I had landed out of line with the door and sheltered from further assault. I listened for the sound of bony feet on the stairs, but heard nothing. Apparently once I was out of sight the guardian returned to inert watchfulness.

After some time the magical energies of the arrow dissipated and I rose shakily to my feet. I pulled the spent shaft from my thigh and used my ring to heal the wound. Crouched low, I peered cautiously around the doorframe. As expected, the skeleton stood immobile at the bottom of the stair. Calling upon the magical nature of my Breton heritage I toughened my skin until it resembled dragonscale. Though I can maintain this state only for a brief period I counted on it getting me down the stairs without being paralyzed again. I then cast my most effective spell of concealment and crept through the door.

My most effective spell of concealment is not all that effective, and as I passed the midpoint of the stair the skeleton's empty eye sockets flared with magical life. I again activated the devil spear, adding its protective field to my defenses, and dodging from side to side I bounded down the remaining steps. Arrows scattered, flying wide, caught in the crackling field of the spear, or deflecting off of my armor or hardened skin. The skeleton scrambled back, trying to avoid the reach of my spear while firing wildly. I continued my charge and we rapidly covered the length of the chamber, passing between another pair of urn bearing altars.

At the far end opposite the stair lies a ceremonial fire pit, filled with the ashes and bones of untold generations of clan Thelas. Set in the raised lip of the pit are upturned spears, adorned with skulls. My adversary clattered off one of these as it negotiated the step up, and the devil spear found lodging in the brittle animated bones, crashing my opponent backwards into the soft ash bed. With quick thrusts I sent the creature to rejoin its fellows, just another bunch of undistinguished bones in the pit. As my various protective spells expired I surveyed the chamber, noting with a significant easing of tension that there were no more doors.

Catching my eye immediately was a softly glowing scroll lying next to one of the urns. The scroll will be useful I'm sure, as it holds powerful mystic energies which will transport the reader instantly to the nearest Dunmer Temple. This bit of magic would be the major prize for my troubles here. Apparently clan Thelas is not wealthy. I carefully picked the locks on two chests set near the pit, but found only small trinkets of minimal value. Of Mentor's lost ring there was no sign.

I emerged from the tomb into a rainy afternoon, disappointed but in good health and definitely the better for the experience. The mouth of the tomb opens directly onto the shore, sheltered by two small islands that lie across a narrow straight. When I stepped out a large mudcrab on the nearest isle yanked its legs underneath itself and did its best to become just another stone. I waded across, dispatched the crab, and resolved to explore the two islands and collect any useful plant materials I could find. After skewering a number of mudcrabs, slaughterfish, and cliff racers, with my pack bulging with leaves, stems and fungi, I called it a good day's work.

Standing in the pouring rain, with the sun settling in the west, I gave myself a moment of smug satisfaction. Among the new spells I learned in Balmora are some mystical travelers aids that I was very pleased to learn. Last night I cast a spell here in the shack that placed a magical mark upon it. There on the beach I hefted my pack and cast a related spell which would return me to the exact spot where I had cast the mark...in theory. After repeated attempts, with my magical energies too depleted to try again, I set out on the long trudge through the rain. The school of mysticism has never been my forte. I arrived late, wet and tired, and will sleep well in my cot this night.

Day Eleven: Lost to the slaughterfish

Today was a total loss. When I arose this morning I was thinking of myself quite differently. The tomb that had so nearly claimed me was now covered with a glossy success, and I felt like I had the Bitter Coast spread helplessly at my feet, ready for me to wander around drawing maps and collecting whatever caught my eye or fancy. What a difference a day makes.

One of the spells that I learned in Balmora allows me to breath water. It is a simple spell from the school of alteration, in which I have a fair degree of skill. I learned this spell with three things in mind; the deeper water kollop beds, a couple of submerged caves that I've noticed, and an old shipwreck lying across the bay to the southeast. As I stepped out the door this morning the shipwreck seemed most interesting, and I set off across the bay, swimming at a leisurely pace.

By the time I reached the further shore I had completely expended the healing powers of my ring, and was bleeding from several slaughterfish bites. They came at me in a steady stream, one by one or in pairs, and my leisurely swim turned into a tiresome gauntlet. As fish after fish died on my spear I kept thinking they would catch on and start avoiding me, but they are relentless. I crawled onto the beach and tried to rest.

My rest was repeatedly disturbed by mudcrabs, apparently emboldened by my stillness and the smell of blood. The afternoon wore on. Nothing was getting accomplished. I spent my ring's energy as fast as it accumulated. Although I didn't get anywhere near full recovery I finally set off hiking to reach the nearest point to my derelict target. I arrived at a small beach littered with flotsam from the wreck and scanned the sea. The waters near the wreck were teeming with slaughterfish!

I stepped into the lapping waters of the Inner Sea and lay about me with my spear. I tried to kill the slaughterfish faster than they could gather, and whipped the water into a bloody froth, but soon had to retreat onto the beach with numerous fresh bites weakening me even further. The mass of fish was so great that I could stand on the beach and spear those closest to shore as their escape was prevented by their later arriving fellows pressing in on them. In my weakened condition with no healing magic available I could only glare at the fish, and I saluted the shipwreck which defied investigation for another day.

Clearly I was in no shape to swim back, and I had no zest for the long walk around the bay. Gathering my magical energies together I cast a spell which stiffens the water underfoot, allowing me to make the much shorter walk across the bay safely above the realm of the fish. I set out, with my first step onto the water being taken gingerly; then with growing confidence I just walked over the backs of my swarming enemies and out to sea.

At the end of a day like today it is hard not to challenge my lot in life. The Emperor chose me for the Blades without explanation. Do I owe it to him to accept? I am released from imprisonment and free to make my own way. I could just as easily catch a ship and return to High Rock. Life among my fellow Bretons would certainly be simpler. I don't have the coin for passage though. Perhaps tomorrow I will consider selling off my goods and heading home.

A late addendum.

My fate may no longer be in the Emperor's hands, or my own. I have to assume that whatever my mission it is somehow at the source of the Dark Brotherhood's interest in me, and I doubt that returning to High Rock would take me off of their list. The precautions I have taken against them may have saved my life tonight, but I would be loath to maintain them forever.

Before laying my weary head to pillow I placed a plate balanced on edge upon a cross member of the door. While my shack of bare planks crudely nailed together may not be fashionable, the door with its accessible construction does have advantages. When the plate crashed to the floor in the depths of the night I had just sufficient time to grab my spear before the assassin was upon me. Although the confines of my home are close, I was able to stay out of range of his dagger well enough and laid him low with my much longer reach. These members of the Dark Brotherhood are not as fearsome as I was led to believe, but I am concerned.

This second attacker was no more skilled than the first. As long as they do not catch me soundly sleeping and plunge their dagger through my throat I am more than a match for them. There is a question, though. Is this all they have? I must guess not, for the Dark Brotherhood did not build their reputation on the likes of these. I suspect that killing me is for them like gathering mushrooms is for the Mage's Guild; a task for the novice. With the death of this second agent I may have sent a message most undesirable, and started an even more powerful foe down the inexorable path to my door.

Day Twelve: The shipwreck

I awoke this morning before dawn, driven by my need for some sort of healing magic. I am not very skilled with restorations, but Arrille at the tradehouse knows a fairly simple healing spell that I should be able to master. Being a trader, however, he will require compensation for his time to teach me this spell. I have accumulated quite a supply of alchemical ingredients, some of which are quite valuable. Rather than surrender them I settled in with my own lab, determined to make something valuable out of the more common ingredients that I have in abundant supply.

Interesting how magical energies collect in the flesh of ordinary creatures. The scrib is a large insect, the young form of a kwama actually; kwama being almost man sized from what I hear. The shell of the scrib is filled with a jelly substance, which is edible and in fact quite tasty. This jelly is known to boost a persons will, enabling them to better control and resist many magical energy forms. Today I found that when mixed with juices extracted from the meat of the local rats this jelly forms a potent restorative that will negate magical poisons. I only succeeded in making one flask of this antidote, and I will be keeping it for my own use.

I continued my experiments more profitably. The foragers who scavenge the areas around a kwama nest often have a coating of a waxy substance known as cuttle. I had sensed a magical property in this cuttle and have been collecting it whenever a forager tried to scavenge me to take back to the nest. Thinning this cuttle with a light oil and mixing in scales from the slaughterfish (which I have in a discouraging abundance) I created a fluid which when applied to the feet will recreate the effects of my own waterwalking spell for a brief period. While it will not last long enough for a stroll around the bay it will certainly be of value for crossing the narrow straits between islands here in the lowlands of the Bitter Coast, and Arrille cheerfully traded his time for a few vials of this.

Armed with my new healing capabilities and a good amount more caution I set out for the shipwreck. I walked, on land, the long way around. Giving up my previous complaints I took the opportunity to map this part of the coast thoroughly. Nine-Toes will be pleased. I have a complete map of the area southeast of Seyda Neen, all the way to the bridge on the Ebonheart road which crosses into the Ascadian Isles region. In the process I found an egg mine, where the eggs of the kwama are harvested for food and trade. I considered checking on the availability of scrib jelly and kwama cuttle, but there was no one about the entrance and I did not want to take the time to delve inside.

Eventually I arrived back at the littered beach near the stern of the grounded hulk. She lies almost completely on her side with her decks to the sea, about three quarters submerged. After killing the first wave of slaughterfish I clambered up onto the exposed hull and walked her length. The perspective was strange, standing on the hull looking almost straight down the deck into the water. Right at the waterline a door to the stern cabin hung loosely, moving with the swirling currents. Its hinges, which had been on the left side, now held the panel of the door from the top. Further forward a deck hatch also swayed rhythmically. In the almost vertical deck the weight of the hatch no longer held it firmly closed and through it the ship seemed to breathe, exhaling as the small swells ebbed away, the hatch thumping closed with the next swell. I considered whether it was really prudent to enter that maw.

I cast a series of spells, allowing me to breathe water throughout my explorations of the ship. I started with the aft cabin, dropping into the water and scrambling quickly through the door. Inside, the sideways angle of the ship was even more disorienting. As I climbed out I was welcomed by a gathering of slaughterfish which I dispatched, but only after I was bleeding from several more bites. These wretched creatures are the most cursed aspect of my life in Vvardenfell. I returned to the beach, had a lunch of crab meat, and used my new healing spell to recover my well being.

Gathering my courage I again plunged off the hull. As a swell exhaled from the interior of the wreck I propped the hatch with my spear and rode the next swell inside. Through the water I could feel the thud of the hatch closing behind me and fear closed in as well. The boards of the hull had dried and warped where they were above water, and light filtered through, but the interior was still dark and gloomy. Once again I found it disorienting, and the movement of floating crates and barrels did not help. I studied the tangles of wreckage with a chilling premonition.

My fascination with the shipwreck proved worthwhile. Though the cargo was of no particular value in its waterlogged state I recovered two crates of food from the galley and some odd bits of armor. I also learned the value of maintaining my composure. In making my way back to the hatch I got tangled in a snarl of ropes and broken planks. The more I struggled the more enmeshed I became, and I knew that even though my water breath spell doesn't take all that much magica I would eventually run out and drown. Operating underwater, with my legs tangled in the wreckage, I calmly transferred all my newly acquired goods to my pack and released the crates to make their own way. Blotting my previous failure from my memory I completed the gestures perfectly and found myself standing at my appointed mark in my own shack. Seawater sluiced from my clothes as I collapsed with relief.

While I may have yet to master the school of mysticism, I do feel more the master of myself as I lay down to sleep tonight.

Day Thirteen: Bowhunter

Ah, the simple joys of hunting! My alchemy experiments have depleted my food reserves, and I thought that a day of mapping the coast could easily replenish them. It also gave me a good chance to refresh my skills with the bow. While I was fairly accomplished with the bow and arrows in the old days in High Rock I have not drawn since my imprisonment. A longbow recovered from the skeletons of Tharys tomb in hand I set out before dawn.

I am very pleased with the effectiveness of the restoratives that I have brewed. I can run all day. Hunting with the bow also helps, since I more often make a stealthy approach so I can launch a telling shot. When hunting in Vvardenfell with a spear there is no call for stealth. Creatures here do not flee from the hunter. Even rats will charge a man. Of course the rats here are about two feet long, not counting the tail, and more often then not I have had to dispatch them with my spear even after burying a stout iron broadhead in the breast of a charging rat. The flying cliff racers also get all the more fierce when wounded.

I have traveled far, and I am camping out tonight on an island. Early this morning yet another assassin invaded my house, and I am beginning to think it would be wise to move. I would like to complete my maps of the area around Seyda Neen, and today I took the road northwest all the way to the river Odai, then turned and followed the river downstream to its mouth. Turning back towards Seyda Neen along the coast I completed a circumnavigation of the coastal mountains . How I will complete mapping them I do not know, as they are very steep in many places.

At the base of those mountains lies the second tomb that I found. I am not ready to take on another round of spirits and skeletons in search of Mentor's ring, and now have found yet another tomb on this island. I must either take another trip to Balmora to replenish my supply of healing potions or learn to brew my own. Though my healing magic is potent, it is not a spell I would like to try to cast in the thick of battle. For now I will enjoy sleeping in the bracing sea air. The Bitter Coast has surprisingly cooperated by providing a clear night sky.

Day Fourteen: Day in the lab

Tomorrow looks like a great day for a trip to Balmora. I put some coin in my pocket today; more than enough to cover expenses. I spent the long afternoon in my laboratory resting weary feet. I have completed tasks to report, goods to sell, and questions to ask. I have secured my door with the usual measures and look forward to a sound sleep, hopefully uninterrupted by the Dark Brotherhood.

I was awakened before dawn this morning by the settling mists of the Bitter Coast. While I enjoyed my night out of doors I don't think I want to make a habit of it. I skewered a fresh mudcrab for breakfast and set to rummaging the island for useful plants. By mid-morning I had explored most thoroughly and also stuffed my pack. To my surprise I found that I was sharing the island with what I assume is a smuggling operation. A well concealed cave on the north end of the island showed signs of recent occupation. Among other things to be done in Balmora I want to find out from Caius and Nine-Toes exactly what the Blades stance on smugglers is. I may come back and try to join them, or I might try raiding their cave.

With my bulging pack I headed across the water for home, making a fairly quick trip of it. While I was not actively hunting, the regular swamp denizens were, and I did add slightly to my already burdensome load. I also had a chance to use another of my newly learned applications of the mystic arts, which went surprisingly well. One of the soul gems I picked up is now charged with the life force of a cliff racer. Although it is of limited power this gem can now be used to enchant a weapon or other item. I will definitely check with Galbedir the enchantress tomorrow when I arrive at the guild hall to see what can be made of this.

The afternoon passed peacefully and profitably. I am becoming more skilled at refining my invigorating elixers, and sold half a dozen flasks to Arrille when I went to the tradehouse for dinner. Making large batches of potions of course makes for some lulls, and I spent those well experimenting with the wide array of plant, animal, and mineral substances that I have found to contain some trace elements of magic. The most interesting effect I found today came from a combination of juices from the meat of a nix-hound and one of the fungi I collected for Ajira. This odd concoction heightened my magical sense to a shocking degree, lending the mundane substance of the world a degree of transparency through which enchanted items shone clearly. I'm sure this will be most useful in my future tomb raids, as any locked or secret compartment containing an enchanted item will be clearly revealed. What I brewed up today had such limited range that I opted to sell it to Arrille, but noted the recipe for future refinements. Perhaps I will upgrade some of my laboratory equipment.

Tomorrow promises to be a busy day, and I will enjoy resting in my own cot tonight. This trip to Balmora may be more than an overnight stay.

Day Fifteen: Student of history

I arrived by the early morning strider, and quickly made my way here to deliver Ajira's mushrooms. She was very grateful, and presented me with healing potions, exactly what I needed most! Her skills do not yet match Tyermaillin's, and these are not as powerful as his, but they will surely be useful and I expressed my own deepest gratitude to her. As I had hoped she also gave a glowing recommendation to her mentor, and Ranis Athrys has promoted me to Apprentice rank.

I made the rounds, greeting my fellows and receiving their congratulations and expanding what I hope to eventually call friendships. The diversity of the guild is truly a joy, with Khajiit and Bosmer, Dunmer and Imperial, even an Orc, all working together. My own Breton heritage seems to complement the mix and they certainly make me welcome. I picked up good advice for my first major project here in the city as well, and then spent the rest of the day on that; learning more about the assassins that plague my steps.

The Dark Brotherhood, I have found, has a deeply bitter enemy in an organization called the Morag Tong. The Morag Tong is also a guild of assassins for hire, however they operate only here in Morrowind and are governed by a tight body of ancient customs as well as law. To my surprise they are completely legitimate under Morrowind law and operate openly here in Balmora from a guild house in the best part of town. I went there with some trepidation, but ended up spending most of the day with Gilyan Sedas, a well mannered Dunmer who is far more openly friendly to an outlander such as myself than many that I have met. When I asked his trade he answered with complete nonchalance that he is indeed an assassin. He is quite proud of his standing in the Morag Tong, and excellent company.

With Gilyan's assistance I successfully marketed the black armor to every armorer in town, completely draining their coffers. In all three shops as they were making repairs, I noted that minor alterations were being made. In every case there was no intention to resell the fine black mail. Every armorer in Balmora is now clad in as much of the Dark Brotherhood chain as they could afford, leaving me with a full set for myself, some extra pieces, and a substantial weight of gold coin. Through the day Gilyan also taught me a great deal about how to take best advantage of this light armor, and I am wearing most of a set under my formal robes now.

This evening I spent reading here in the hall. Prompted I suppose by being in the Emperor's service, I was inclined to study some Imperial history, and on a couple of recommendations took up k'Thojj's 'Brief History of the Empire'. Brief is of course relative, and this work of four volumes would merit more than an evening's study for a historian. For a former villain forcibly retired into His Majesty's intelligence corps an evening was sufficient. I have a feel for how Uriel Septim VII came to be the emperor and the forces that would keep him there or remove him. I also noted that on more than one occasion the Dark Brotherhood was instrumental in the imperial succession. Clearly the ties that bind me, the Emperor, and the assassins guild have a weight of history behind them.

I feel safe sleeping here tonight, but wonder if even the security of the guild hall will be sufficient if the higher ranks of the Dark Brotherhood come to bear upon me.

Day Sixteen: Intriguing mages

The ways of mages astound me. It becomes more and more clear to me that the guild runs on personalities, petty alliances, and intrigue. I am very comfortable here, unlike my home in Seyda Neen, which has obviously been marked as a regular stopover for passing assassins or sleeping in the wilderness with a wary eye for rats, crabs and other scavengers who can't tell sleeping from dead. But comfort I think would have a cost. By maintaining myself as a visitor rather than a resident I can hopefully avoid becoming too embroiled in the cheerful infighting, if I haven't already.

I awoke this morning among my fellows, who were bustling about getting on with the business of the day. As I left the breakfast table Ajira approached me, slipping a soul gem into my palm. I sensed mischief afoot, and wondered if there was a diplomatic way to stay out of it given that Ranis has me somewhat assigned to helping the wily Khajiit. What I was trying to avoid was getting involved in Ajira's bet with Galbedir. Khajiit and Bosmer have warred on and off throughout history, and here in the guild this battle has been reduced from violence to a steady bickering. Mostly reduced anyway, according to the Orc Sharn gra-Muzgob the debate escalated not long ago to erupt in battling atronachs conjured from the elemental fire plane.

There was no avoiding Ajira's feline hiss. My new assignment was to secrete the gem in Galbedir's desk. It is a fake, and will likely throw one of Galbedir's assignments into complete disarray. I had a tough time with sabotaging Galbedir. Like all Bosmer she is very open with her feelings, and when a wood elf likes you you know you are liked. Galbedir likes me, and in two visits to Balmora she has been probably the friendliest person in town. I justified my actions by telling myself that she did do her part in causing the rivalry with Ajira, and the current bet over which would make journeyman rank first was what really opened up this can of worms. I'm just the latest worm in the fray, so to speak.

I did complete the task, slipping the stone into Galbedir's desk, but partly in atonement and partly because she really is a good enchanter I probably overpaid her for helping me enchant my belt. Even though my gem with the cliff racer's energy is not all that powerful we put almost twice as much healing magic in the belt as my ring could manage. The belt will serve me well, and the practice and sale will look good for her. Hopefully she won't mention who the buyer was, at least for a while. Perhaps I can tell Ajira that I was making the purchase to distract her while I placed the gem.

No matter how the plotting of the betters turned out, I thought it best to be out of the guild hall, and under the pretext of picking up healing potions from Tyermaillin I reported to my contacts in the Blades. Again I got the potions at a terrific discount, and Tyermaillin gave me a small pouch of coins to deliver for him to Nine-Toes, ostensibly as payment for some ingredients he wanted from the Argonian hunter. With that as an excuse I could stop at his house without raising questions.

Nine Toes was very pleased with my additions to his maps, and agreed that it was probably time for me to leave Seyda Neen. The next village up the coast is called Hla Oad. It is nothing but a tiny fishing village and I don't know if I will even be able to find lodgings there, but it should offer me some shelter from the assassins, at least for a while. With Hla Oad as a destination Nine Toes also suggested that I see Larrius Varro, champion of the Imperial Legion garrison at the nearby fort. Fort Moonmoth lies a short hike beyond the city walls, and I sauntered out the gates enjoying the bright midday sun.

Larrius Varro greeted me warmly, though obviously he is burdened with his duties. Maintaining Imperial law in a region dominated by the 'business first' leadership of the Dunmer great house Hlaalu must be quite challenging. When he heard that I was considering a hunting expedition to Hla Oad he requested that I ease some of that burden for him. Apparently some Nord bandit has declared the local roads to be his private tollways, and Varro suggested, in a roundabout way, that even though it was officially the Legion's problem to deal with he would welcome any unfortunate accident that might befall this Nord. Again I find myself questioning my motivations. There was a time not long ago where I would have praised the Nord for his ingenuity, as long as I could slip by without paying him overmuch. Now I seem constantly coming down on the side of the authorities.

I returned to the guild hall as evening fell, and enjoyed a hearty meal and good company. Ajira has moved on from fungus to flowers, and gave me a new list of ingredients she would like me to find. The undercurrent strains among the apprentices provided much amusement, and I considered betting that I would be a journeyman before either of them. As the newest member I thought better of it, but I'm sure it gives my Breton ancestors a chuckle as I head for bed.

Day Seventeen: No home for me

So much for moving to Hla Oad. That town demonstrates the cuddly warmth of a mudcrab. I am bedding down on board the Harpy as a passenger of the shipmaster Baleni Salavel, bound for Gnaar Mok. It seemed a better choice than trying to make camp in the dark.

I arose before dawn, eager to start wrapping things up in Seyda Neen. I even squandered precious magica to transport myself using my recall spell rather than taking the strider. Stowing my city clothes and gathering my travel gear took only a few minutes and I headed out to Hla Oad, planning to accomplish two things along the way. It is certainly time for me to move on. I found myself studying the faces of anyone who was out at that hour. Who was surprised to see me? Were they just surprised because no one saw me return, but here I was walking out of my shack? Or was there something sinister, perhaps a watcher for the Dark Brotherhood? I must move on before I start killing people for looking at me strangely in the street.

By mid-morning I had arrived at my first objective, the tomb. I had first found this tomb the same day I found the Tharys family crypt, and remember thinking on the day I first entered that subterranean nightmare that I would explore them both in one day also. Then I learned first hand about skeleton archers and ancestral spirits. Today I learned firsthand about another undead guardian in the tombs of the Dunmer. I don't know if these horrors are constructs of the interred dead, or the lingering remainders of previous tomb robbers. They walk, shambling in a misshapen human way. Skin hangs from them in patches, but they are mostly made up of the naked muscle, oozing fluids that glisten in the torchlight. In places there are protrusions of bone. They speak in guttural moans and gurgles from their wasted throats, emitting harrowing curses that left me weakened and discouraged. In the first chamber of the tomb I was set upon by a pair of these terrifying monsters, and before my wildly thrusting spear could dispatch them they were joined by another, and then another.

Are they constructs, made from the flesh of the dead? When they are struck by a weapon it seems their flesh parts easily, but wounds do not slow them. Only the enchanted devil spear was effective, and it battered through not their flesh, but a magical binding energy that I believe gives them life. Amidst their decaying flesh I found soul gems, which could be the core around which the flesh is bound. I wonder though if that is truly their origin, because I fear I may have been on the way to becoming one. I seem to have contracted something, from contact or their curses. I felt weak, exhausted, and it appeared as if my skin was beginning to grow soft and rotten, taking on a brownish tone. I could imagine, if allowed to continue, that it would soon be hanging in ragged strips much like the skin of my adversaries. I quickly used a curative spell from a scroll, which solved the problem, but I wonder if without that restorative magic I would have ended up a replacement for the guardians I had dispatched.

Like the first, this tomb contains a shrine to Saint Veloth. There are other similarities in construction and the burial process, with large urns supported on block shaped altars used to inter the dead and numerous upturned spears sporting the ancestral skulls. There are differences though, in the size and layout of the tomb. The Samarys clan, to which this tomb belongs, is apparently larger and wealthier than the Tharys clan. The burial urns are for more numerous, somewhat crowding a double entry chamber connected by a short hall. In the second entry chamber I found the shrine, and a door to the innermost crypt. When I opened the door I was beset by a skeleton warrior, this one armed with a broadsword and shield, who I calmly dispatched. After the horrors I had faced a skeleton warrior just did not seem as much of a problem as in my previous encounters. The shorter reach of the broadsword offered ample opportunity to drive my spear through its defenses and it was soon reduced to a pile of dust and bones.

In a place of honor at the far end of the inner crypt, alone on a stone alter, stands an ornate burial urn lidded with a seal promising serious damage to the unwary. I tripped the trap with a well insulated iron probe I carry just for such occasions and let the energies dissipate harmlessly. The inscriptions on the urn identified the contents as one 'Lord Brinne', and the local spectral population murmured their displeasure as I poked through the distinguished ashes. Buried in the ashes I found an ornate ring set with purple stones. Could this be the lost Mentor's Ring? Cautiously I placed the ring on my finger and immediately I could feel the powerful magic that gave it its name. My will and intellect have been augmented, giving me greater access to and control over all areas of spellcasting. My first intended task of the day was complete, and a resounding success.

From that time to this nothing has gone well. Every attempt to climb into the coastal mountains behind the tomb was thwarted by their steep slopes. All afternoon I circled, trying from every side, following narrow ledges, leaping for imagined footholds. As the sun dipped in the west I conceded defeat and followed the road towards my destination. In the gathering darkness I lost the track more than once, and were it not for a seemingly endless flock of cliff racers I would probably have just made camp. Pressing on I arrived at Hla Oad, only to find that the local tradehouse is a front operation for a criminal syndicate known as the Cammona Tong, everyone in town knows it and no one cares, and as a non-member I was about as welcome as a stray slaughterfish in a bathing trough. Fortunately I found the Harpy ready to set sail, and took passage more for the bunk than the transport.

Day Eighteen: Breeding netch

Gnaar Mok may not be the most hospitable place in the world, but after Hla Oad it's nice to have a place to lay my head. The trade house here is called the Druegh-jigger's Rest, and is apparently named for some local sea creature. When the Harpy docked with the dawn I was not received with open arms, but presenting myself as a simple hunter who had been basically run out of Hla Oad got me directed to the Rest.

In addition to its other functions, the Rest serves as a gathering place for the thieves' guild, whose main operative locally is a Khajiit called Wadarkhu. He is gruff, and the way the others talk about him he is strong medicine. Apparently strong medicine is needed here. The thieves' guild is embroiled in a major gang war with the well entrenched Cammona Tong. The Tong is Morrowind local, almost exclusively Dunmer as far as I've seen, and heavy on bigoted posturing. I don't think my cover in the Mages' Guild or my service to the Emperor would be served by involving myself directly with the Thieves' Guild, but I'm starting think that any of these Cammona Tong that get belligerent with me I'm just going to skewer. If for no better reason than that they are heavily into the slave trade.

I kept my opinions on the Tong to myself mostly, but did curry some favor with Wadarkhu. When he saw I was a hunter he took an interest, and told me about a recent attack his boat had suffered from a pair of netch. I've seen these huge creatures floating in the air, but they have always seemed very docile. Wadarkhu informs me that when they breed they become aggressive and dangerous, and apparently this breeding pair has staked out a territory north of town. I gathered as much information as I could before setting out. The larger netch, with six powerful tentacles dangling from an oval gasbag, is the bull, and will fire bolts of magical poison before closing to attack. The round betty netch is more aggressive, though smaller and with only four tentacles.

Armed with my bow, my poison antidote, my new knowledge, and the best wishes of the locals I set off to the north. It did not take long to identify the culprits. While most netch drift slowly along the breeding pair was jetting around in a jagged pattern. I circled patiently. The opportunity I looked for was to have the two netch separated by a significant distance, and headed in opposite directions. In their random charges they eventually complied and I sprinted to intercept the bull, which was nearest.

I did not get very close, and skidded to a halt nocking an arrow. Aiming high on the gasbag I released, and quickly drew and fired again. One arrow thumped harmlessly off the heavy hide, but the other pierced through and the netch jerked in the air, tentacles flailing as it turned. I started running. I made a couple of erratic moves and used trees for cover as much as possible to spoil the beast's aim. Success. My maneuvering and the pursuit brought me and the netch very close together without any poison bolts fired, and I dodged through the battering tentacles while stabbing up through the softer underside with my spear. With a loud sigh of escaping gas the netch settled to earth, dead I suppose, but I ran my spear through it several times to be sure.

While making sure of the bull I kept a wary eye in the direction of the betty, who had stopped dashing about and was turning in slow circles. Obviously she was looking for the bull, but had not seen him drop through the tree cover. I sighted carefully and launched an arrow, then another, and another. The betty netch either had a tougher hide or is just a lot more durable. My arrows did not slow the creature's charge for an instant. Again I tried to make use of the trees, but this netch was faster and more maneuverable. As our courses converged I called once more on my Breton heritage and toughened my hide for the beating I could surmise was inevitable. I barely completed the spell before I was engulfed in a swirl of thrashing tentacles. As I ducked and rolled I unslung my new steel halberd. The blade left deep gashes in tentacles as I drove the point up into the gasbag hovering above with rapid strokes. More than once I was knocked off my feet, but always I kept my point up, holding the monster off as I gathered myself to continue the fray. Suddenly, with a bursting rush of gas, the full weight of the creature was falling on me! I braced the butt of my halberd on the ground and angled the falling mass away with the blade to avoid being crushed beneath it. After untangling myself and my battered halberd from the sprawling tentacles and flattened gasbag of the netch I healed myself with my belt, cut out some large patches of quality netch leather, and returned to Gnaar Mok.

Having resolved a problem for them the locals greeted my return with much greater appreciation, and I was grateful for their hospitality. I will be bunking in a hammock in the Rest tonight, and I cannot imagine the Dark Brotherhood finding me in this remote corner of the Bitter Coast.

Day Nineteen: A new home

Tonight I am once again sleeping in the security of a ship at sea. It is not as comfortable this time. The shipmaster Valveli Arelas runs a tight ship, but the Priggage is open hulled. I will be bedded down between the thwarts, hoping against the rain. I will probably be a regular passenger, so I'm hoping this first journey goes well.

When I awoke this morning at the Druegh-jigger's Rest I was already considering the possibilities presented by Gnaar Mok. It is so remote that it seems an ideal place to stay out of the path of the Dark Brotherhood. It was a thought, but there were obviously immediate problems with it. The hospitality of the Rest was certainly good...For a night. Probably even for a short stay. Balan the scout and Hinald the pawnbroker had warmed to me nicely even if Wadarkhu was still gruffly tolerant at best. But the Rest could be looked upon as a guild hall for the Thieves' Guild. Unofficial, as is always the case, but already spoken for as a place to reside. Hinald definitely lives there, and for the most part so does Wadarkhu when not on his boat. Without joining the guild I'm sure my welcome would run out quickly.

As I enjoyed the camaraderie this morning I gave some consideration to joining the guild, but again that would conflict with my ultimate aims. It is also clear that the Thieves' Guild is deeply embroiled in their turf war with the Cammona Tong. In Gnaar Mok this isn't just something to consider, it's an every day fact of life that has to be dealt with, and in general there is a consensus that the Thieves' Guild has no chance. The guild has always relied on smooth and skillful operations, and is poorly equipped for a battle with the well established Tong. Even though I will not be joining the guild I will be taking some of the pressure off of my new friends.

Gnaar Mok is located at the narrow waist of a small island, and is connected to the mainland by rough planks for those who want to keep their feet dry, or a short wade for those who don't. In keeping with my guise as a simple hunter I explored the island. I moved carefully at the southern end, site of a cave known as Shurinbaal. This cave is an operating center for smugglers, smugglers who are beholden to the Cammona Tong if not members outright. Enriching myself at their expense would also start shifting the balance in favor of the guild. I took a wary survey and moved on. Now I have to consider whether keeping my own peace with the Tong might be more prudent if I'm going to stay in residence.

Staying in Gnaar Mok became much more attractive in the early afternoon when I discovered an uninhabited shack on a small island to the seaward side of the village proper. The shack is sorely run down, and the mystery of what became of the prior inhabitant may call for some further looking into, but the convenience of his departure is too good to overlook. I placed my magical marker inside, and will use that to transport my laboratory and other possessions from Seyda Neen. Arriving by teleportation in such a remote location should make me very difficult to track.

For now, a good night's sleep.

Day Twenty: Dumb as a kagouti

Today has been a day of running. My time in Morrowind has certainly improved my conditioning. A steady stream of restoratives helps too. I could jokingly say that I ran like the Dark Brotherhood was chasing me, but I wouldn't be able to laugh. Well, safe here in the guild hall I probably could.

The Priggage docked in Hla Oad shortly before dawn. I had no reason to talk to anyone there, so I set out resolutely for Seyda Neen. On the way I mapped out the area from the village to the river Odai, which seems to be some sort of nesting ground for the cliff racers, which attacked me in swarms. My healing belt served me well, as I could heal near instantly and move on where previously I would have had to seek shelter and rest.

Once I crossed the river I was in familiar territory. As I ran along the base of the coastal mountains a feeling came over me, a strange dissatisfaction. Whatever the purpose of Nine-Toes mapping project it would probably be well enough served by just noting this area as 'mountains, impassable'. That weighed on me though, and a new sense of determination welled up in me. I will survey those mountains. With that determination came the beginnings of the plan which has me here in Balmora tonight.

Driven by my sudden urge for completion I added a brief dash across the water to map out some rocky outcrops visible offshore. They turned out to be barren; too small to serve any useful purpose. Adding them to my map added to my own newfound sense of purpose though, and I was glad to have made the slight detour. After making my landfall I rushed on to Seyda Neen, arriving in time for lunch at the tradehouse.

Having settled on spending a little more time before my move to Gnaar Mok I was faced with the prospect of sleeping in my familiar shack, which I had come to consider as marked with a bullseye on some map in Dark Brotherhood headquarters, wherever that may be. I suppose not wanting to sleep there was at the root of my thoughts over lunch, as reasons to make a trip to Balmora boiled to the surface one after another. Gnaar Mok is even more remote than Seyda Neen, I should get all my spears sharpened before I go. Someone at the Mage's Guild should have some idea about surveying impassable mountains. I have a handful of soul gems charged with the energies of cliff racers, perhaps I could get another item that would turn out as useful as my belt.

With all of those thoughts rushing about my conversation with Raflod and Elone, who are both widely traveled, naturally turned to ways to get to Balmora. My only experience had been taking the silt strider, but the two scouts debated the virtues of the roads and cross country paths they had taken. When Ajira set me to the task of collecting flower samples she had suggested the road to Suran along the shores of Lake Amaya as a good place to look. I already had two of the four she specifically requested, and asked my guides if the various roads they were discussing would lead me to areas likely to yield the others.

Armed with Elone's assurances that I could reach Balmora by nightfall, and likely find Ajira's flowers growing alongside the road, I took off at a steady jog. Heavily laden with all of my spears it was a tiresome run. Since I had no desire to camp in the wilderness tonight I pressed for a fast pace and used restoratives to maintain my energies rather than stopping to catch my breath when I grew fatigued. I also reasoned that any assassin following me out of Seyda Neen would be hard pressed to keep up.

My only respite came when the road was clearly blocked by a fearsome looking creature. I halted some distance away after angling off into some underbrush. The creature stood on two powerfully muscled legs, its oval body suspended between. The hide, mottled on top and creamy white underneath, looked to be very thick but pliable, especially around the leg joints. I surmised that the beast would be surprisingly fast for such a behemoth. A bony pointed snout and two long glistening tusks made me suspect that I would not fare well if it ran me down. I considered working my way around through the brush, but Elone had said there were many roads in the area, and while they are clearly marked at junctions I could get lost if I stumbled out of the brush onto the wrong road. Willing my aim to be steady I stepped out into the road with my bow in my hands.

My aim was true enough to get the monster's attention, but the shot fell higher than I had intended and glanced off the thick hide of its back. It raised its head from its browsing, and uttering a horrible bellow charged down the road. Thankfully, as the creature hurtled down the road it continued to raise its head high to scream out its challenge, exposing the wide pale breast. I buried shot after shot, wondering how much punishment the oncoming horror could withstand. With a final shot I tossed my bow to the ground and quickly unslung the sharpest of my numerous spears. I crashed the butt of the spear into the soil to make a divot and braced it with my foot. Bearing down with all my weight I laid the point low. Without hesitation the snout and tusks passed over the tip, and I leaned quickly to lift it into the belly. The weight of the fast charging beast hit the spear and the impact sent me sprawling to the ground. It also drove the spear completely through to emerge in a gush of blood from the thick hide of the back just above the stubby tail. The entry was a long rip in the softer underbelly, and the beast's entrails glistened in the sunlight as it thrashed on its side in the dirt.

I marveled at the four arrows protruding from the breast, only three of which were mine. The fourth was surrounded by thick scar tissue, a memento of a previous encounter from which the beast obviously learned nothing. This evening, when I was describing the incident to Ajira she laughed her purring Khajiiti laugh and said "now friend Arvil Bren, you know the meaning of the saying 'dumb as a kagouti'." There is a market for kagouti hides, and clearly a market among the kagouti for brains, though they don't know it.

Day Twenty-one: The apprentices' bet

Today started off with a bang, literally. I bolted out of my bunk, hitting the floor with spear in one hand and a flask of healing restoratives in the other. The Dunmer mage Marayn Dren chuckled from his own bunk. "Well, I certainly feel safe knowing that such an alert guard sleeps among us," he said. "It is only Ajira raging in her laboratory my friend. Lower your spear before someone trying to get out of bed winds up as a breakfast shish-kabob." I laughed out loud myself as I slid the spear back under my bunk. Marayn laughingly agreed with my dry observation that it was better to be embarrassed a hundred times than dead once, and we went to breakfast.

As the mages gathered around the table we were all somewhat daunted by Ajira's snarling and hissing, except Ranis who watched her apprentice with calm detachment. Overcoming the gutterals and screeches of her native tongue Ajira roared out complaints. "I do two reports to her one. I must gather plants from the wildest reaches of the Bitter Coast. Time consuming journeys, terrible risks, while she putters in her shop selling trinkets! And now she has stolen the reports on which I have worked so hard!" Everyone at the table, seeing Galbedir's open Bosmer face twitching to suppress a smile, knew that the accusation was most likely true. Ajira again lapsed into enraged hissing, and I expected spells and bloodshed to erupt at any moment. Chairs scraped as the rest of us prepared to seek shelter.

Ranis' voice cut harshly through the babble, "silence, apprentices!" In the stillness she continued; "the guild hall table will not be reduced to an arena, you will all sit quietly and eat." She glared around the table, meeting every eye with a steady gaze of command. I was quite surprised to see what I thought was amusement when she looked my way, but considered that the red eyes of the Dunmer might have been giving me false impressions. When order was fully restored Ranis spoke again, and this time I was sure there was amusement under her silky tones. "As to this bet, I am going to declare the victor right now so we can have this over with." Ajira and Galbedir edged forward on their seats. The bet being which one would be promoted to journeyman first they were both eager with expectation as Ranis continued. "Ajira, you have frequently spoken at length about the dangers of your chosen field of alchemy, the hazards of gathering ingredients from the wilderness, the risks of sampling unknown brews to get a sense of their effects without exposing yourself should those effects be undesirable. I agree, alchemy can be a dangerous study, and I have given you assignments that have built your skills in the relative safety of your lab."

She turned to Galbedir and continued, "you have not complained at your assignment, studying the properties and potentials of the soul gems which the guild has accumulated, but you did complain greatly that someone had slipped a fake in among them in your desk. When you were making your complaint I could not help but wonder at whoever had played this trick. You learned much of soul gems Galbedir, but when someone can slip a fake into your desk while a grand soul gem charged with the energies of a winged twilight lies there for the taking one has to wonder if you have a true appreciation for what it takes to charge them. Had that gem been stolen do you think you are capable of replacing it? You are not. You and Ajira together would make a tidy snack for a winged twilight."

Her eyes fell on me and I squirmed in my seat. It was obvious she knew that I had gotten myself enmeshed in the intrigue of this bet, and I braced myself for what I hoped would only be a harsh rebuke. A resigned voice in my head murmured "ah well, there's always the Thieves' Guild." I was now sure I was misreading the deepset red eyes which seemed to be balancing on the edge of outright laughter.

"And you Arvil Bren, we now come to you. You have been the one undertaking the dangerous missions about which Ajira complains, and I know all about the equipment you've purchased so I assume you have a laboratory set up in some dismal backwater somewhere so you can do your own experiments. The minor enchantment you had Galbedir put in your belt she demands recognition for doing in one breath, and condemns as petty in the next, and to some extent she is right. A minor restoration belt does not make an enchanter, and petty soul gems charged with cliff racers cannot even shed a glimmer on what can be done with the power of a winged twilight, so I thank you for having the good sense to leave those gems alone while you were running Ajira's little errands." Without looking away from Ranis I could feel Galbedir's baleful gaze burning at me, but Ranis turned again on the wood elf enchantress. "Galbedir, you would be well served to get out and charge some soul gems for yourself, petty or grand. There is much to be learned about the practical aspects of trying to set a soul trap upon a violent creature in the midst of combat. This Breton with his pocket full of petty soul gems has earned your respect, give it freely or fake it well, but I expect to see it." She turned back to me, now smiling openly. "Arvil Bren, you have won their bet, I promote you to the rank of journeyman in the guild of mages, congratulations." I was stunned.

Day Twenty-two: Sweet new home

Some loose ends are tied up, and I am settling down for my first night's sleep in my new humble abode; my extremely humble abode. Yesterday when Ranis said that I probably had a lab set up in some backwater I think she underestimated just how far into the backwater I was headed. When I told people in Balmora I was living in Seyda Neen the response was usually "that damp little squat? Why would you live there?" I can only imagine their response to 'on an island off Gnaar Mok'. An appropriate setting for a shipwrecked mariner perhaps, so just as well that I kept my change of locale to myself.

I left Balmora this morning just as heavily laden as I arrived, but with a much different load. Among the smiths of Balmora I am very popular, having provided them with the black armor that has them all still fascinated. I made the rounds, and ended up at the Fighter's Guild hall where a Redguard known only as Wyan manages the armory. When I presented my half dozen blunted spears he laughed and boomed in a voice accustomed to being heard over the ringing hammers of a smithy, "Arvil, you don't get to town often enough, and if your visits get any rarer you'll need a slave to carry your spears!" Today I carry only two spears, having traded the rest for an assortment of smiths equipment after spending the day learning to use it under Wyan's watchful eye.

While Wyan described what he gave me as 'portable kits' I find that without his great strength they are more like 'remote site kits', and have set up my own little armory on the deck outside my shack. I lugged it all from the guild hall to the strider port this morning, then down to my old shack in Seyda Neen. That was as much portaging as I plan to do, and I left it piled on the floor for the day. The last task I had set myself before the big transport to Gnaar Mok certainly didn't call for excess weight!

My new status as a journeyman mage will definitely take some getting used to. After hearing about my various difficulties Marayn presented me with a solution to one this morning. He is becoming a good friend, and awakened me early saying "Get up, I want you to have time to learn this spell before you have to catch the strider." He taught me a powerful levitation spell, which enabled me to float up to the ridgeline of the mountains I had described as impassable. He said that while he agreed it was far better to be embarrassed than dead, having a journeyman of his guild wandering around talking about mountains as being impassable was more embarrassment than he was willing to suffer.

I took my supply of soul gems to Galbedir, selling her all but one and hoping to get my new spell enchanted into my boots. It is a bit complicated, and if it wears off while I am far from the ground the certainty of having it enchanted into an item has a certain appeal. She was frostily respectful, throwing in at least a dozen 'yes journeyman, no journeyman, as you would have it journeyman' and the like. Then she quoted me what seemed an astronomical price for the enchantment. I thought I would get some help from Ranis, who was passing by at that moment, but she just raised an eyebrow and said "That seems a fair price. You are a journeyman in the guild, if the price is too high for you just enchant it yourself. There's more to being a mage than running about cracking crabs with a spear."

Alchemy lab, enchanting lab, armory, roll upon roll of maps; do these people realize I'm just one guy living in a little shack? Ah, but among those maps there is a thorough survey of the mountainous highland flanking the mouth of the Odai. They are not impassable for a journeyman mage!

Day Twenty-three: The gang war takes a turn

I felt much safer sleeping in my new home. This shack is built on pilings over the water, and the planking creaks and groans. The rhythmic sound is low and soothing, and as an added bonus the boards can be counted on to shriek their protests when trod upon. I am getting familiar with the few places where tight jointing allows quiet passage, but a prowler in the night would not know. I continued my practice of leaning a plate on a crossmember of the door as an added precaution, and of course slept with my spear close at hand.

The only disturbance to my rest was a sound of voices, which were carrying over the water from some distance, but not far. The smugglers of nearby Shurinbaal on a foray. I strained to catch their words, and the more I heard the less taken I was with my new neighbors. They speak very freely of the coming demise of Wadarkhu and the rest of the guild and of running Gnaar Mok. The only humor I heard from them revolved around the cruel treatment of slaves. I slipped out to the deck and observed their landing. They loaded numerous crates onto the beach, then hid their small boat below the water by weighting it down with rocks. With assistance from others who came out of the underbrush the pile of crates rapidly dwindled, and soon they were gone. I returned to my cot and willed myself into a deep restful slumber, from which I arose knowing I faced a dangerous day. Today I entered Shurinbaal to meet the neighbors.

Unlike my first foray into a smuggler's lair, this time I had no consideration of joining them, and I activated the devil spear before I passed the threshold. As expected they had a warrior posted, and not surprisingly she was tough and attacked without wasting a breath on a challenge. I noted in passing that this would be my first experience of bonemold armor in actual combat, and ducked under the first swing of her mighty Nordic battle axe. The warrior had the dark skin of a Redguard, but I was concerned that she may have gathered some frosty magic from the Nords along with the axe. I quickly gulped a frost shield potion just in case; the swirling cold energies of the barrier served well against the axe anyway. Ajira had supplied me with an array of shielding potions and I breathed her a word of thanks as the Redguard and I continued our intricate dance.

I used a series of short thrusts with my spear to keep her off balance as much as possible. She countered with swipes of her axe, knocking my point aside and trying to snap the shaft of my spear. A lesser weapon would not have served, but the daedric energies of the devil spear were proof against the tactic, and my opponent was soon bloodied at numerous points. Desperately she raised the mighty axe high overhead and brought it crashing down, aiming for my head. Without the protective field I may have been split in two by the blow. Much of the force was dissipated in the frost shield, giving me a split second of extra reaction time so I could take the blade flatter and on my armored shoulder rather than my exposed scalp. Even so I was driven to my knees by the blow. I took a wild roundhouse swing with my spear.

The wicked edges of the devil spear had earned the full respect of the skilled Redguard, and she leapt back to avoid having her legs cut from under her. I had time to lurch to my feet, and her next mighty downward chop I met with the crossed shaft of my spear. Once again, a lesser weapon may have snapped in my hands even though I caught her axe across the haft below the gleaming blade. The Redguards are a race of warriors, generally regarded as the most skilled in the Empire, and I knew that this woman wielding the axe was probably as well trained with the spear as I was myself. It would be expected for a good spearman to use the force of the axe blow, letting the left arm give way, bringing the blade of the spear down into the area under the arm of the axe wielder while guiding the axe away to the side. My recent experiences had made me a good spearman, in fact a better spearman. I surprised the Redguard. Giving way with the right arm rather than the left took her axe in an unexpected direction, and I brought the butt of the devil spear crashing into her forehead. Hardened beyond steel by the energies of the Daedric spirit within the butt of the spear delivered a devastating impact, leaving the Redguard fully exposed as I spun the spear into a killing thrust under the bonemold breastplate. As could be expected from a Redguard warrior the look in her eyes as they glazed over in death held only respect, not fear.

The battle so long in description actually lasted only seconds, and I had time to use my healing belt before anyone arrived from deeper in the cave. The ache in my shoulder took repeated uses of the belt before it was completely eased. I reasoned that the smugglers would have their most accomplished warrior posted at the door, and I hoped my reasoning would prove correct. In a fighting crouch with my spear leading the way I scuttled down the curving passage to meet whoever was drawn by the clashing of arms.

As could be expected of the bigoted Cammona Tong syndicate, most of the smugglers would be Dunmer. To my surprise though it seemed this group of smugglers would consist mostly of women. First to follow her Redguard sister into death was a young girl. Despite the dagger in her hand and snarling hatred on her face she was attractive, and I regretted the choices she had made so early in life that had brought her to this. Fortunately she did not have skills to match her youthful exuberance and in her blind rush up the passage she was easily skewered through.

I jerked my spear free as an arrow thumped into my armored chest. The light chain fabric of my armor blunted the broadhead, and the padding within cushioned the blow, but still the heavy iron arrow had a painful impact. Another Dunmer woman rushed at me armed with a shortsword and clad in netch leather armor. She was far more cautious than the first, using the quickness of her blade to deflect my spear as she tried to work inside its deadly point.

Buffeting the swordswoman with blows from the spearshaft and backing to avoid her point I shortened my grip on the spear. I could match her range, but the long shaft behind it made my blade unwieldy by comparison. I was also limited in my defenses by not being able to circle. The archer perched on a rocky outcrop deeper in the cave waited patiently for such a maneuver to expose my back. These dire circumstances were sure to cost me blood, and I gulped a healing potion. Not only did the restorative magic ease my bruised chest, but it continued to work for a brief period, stopping the flow from the first telling cuts from the Dunmer's wicked blade. Her shortsword was crafted from the serrated edge of some sort of giant insect shell and even a glancing blow from the flat of the blade tore bare flesh, but almost inevitably the matching of my ultra sharp spear against her leather won out over the shell sword against my black chain mesh. As she fell I charged the archer and quickly spitted her as well.

With my wounds again healed by the restorative energies in my belt I continued into the torchlit passage, creeping cautiously as I approached a branching point. My caution was well founded. Another Redguard launched himself from the passage on my right in a swirl of kicks and blows from rock hard fists. My head rang with the impact, and were it not for the quality of my armor I would no doubt have suffered severely from a rain of blows to the ribs and kidneys. I clung to my spear and quaffed one of my restoratives to clear my head, then laid the monk low with a fierce thrust through the heart. Unknown to the Theives' Guild the tide of the gang war was turning their way. I had slain five members of the Cammona Tong in a matter of minutes. I stood at the junction and listened carefully. To proceed down either tunnel was to risk being cut off by pursuit from the other.

After some time had passed with no further clamor I slid down the passage to the right. A gentle lapping sound rose to greet me, and I reached a point where I could see the shimmer of torchlight on water. High pilings supported a platform above the reach of the tides. I could hear voices from above in animated discussion, one with a marked Imperial accent. I reasoned that these two would not emerge to impede any exit that might become necessary, and slipped back to explore the other passage.

Again after some distance I met the sound of voices, a man and a woman. I crept up to a ragged wooden gate and peered through. The Dunmer beyond were engrossed in unloading a crate, which apparently contained armor of fine Imperial steel! The woman already wore the breastplate, and was brandishing an Imperial broadsword; commenting on its exceptional balance. I reached through the gate with an iron probe to dislodge a delicately set bolt trap, while the man handed her a pair of gauntlets. I wanted to surprise them, and I wanted to do it quickly before they got any better armored than they already were. I activated my spear once again and crashed through the gate with a roar; "They defile our armor! Legionnaires to the charge!" The thought of facing actual Imperial soldiers gave my quarry horrified pause, and they had no way to know the gleaming Daedric spear bearing down on them would not be followed by a mass of troopers. In their initial confusion I landed a telling blow across the lightly armored man's throat, evening the odds. More than evening the odds it turned out. Though the woman was well armored, and a fair hand with a sword, the weight of the armor was unfamiliar and she had had no practice with this particular blade. The Cammona Tong was quickly down two more thugs.

I left what was obviously the band's major storage area, and made a quiet return to the flooded cave. The conversation continued on the platform above, and I wondered how to approach the last of the smugglers. As I listened to the conversation it became very clear that only one of the voices belonged to a smuggler. The cultured Cyrodiil tones belonged to some sort of Imperial officer!

I slipped back to the intersected passages and retrieved the body of the Redguard monk. Even with no armor the corpse was a burden, but once I got it up onto my shoulders I could shamble along. Moving as quietly as possible under the load I returned to the water's edge and deposited the Redguard unceremoniously on a ledge, poised to fall into the water. With a gentle nudge from my outstretched spear the body rolled, and the sound of the splash pursued me up the passageway as I ran. At the first usable nitch in the wall I dove for cover and peered back into the chamber. A Dunmer in robes was climbing down from the platform, steel gauntlets gleaming on the rungs of the ladder. The movement of the robes indicated some sort of plate armor beneath them as well. The Dunmer paused and carefully scanned the chamber. I considered taking a shot with my longbow, but without knowing the nature of the armor a hit to the body could easily be wasted, and a head shot would call for greater skill than I could count on having. The Dunmer resumed the climb, then cast a spell and stepped onto the surface of the water.

I considered my options. Charging a battlemage of unknown skills seemed foolhardy at best, but the trail of corpses I had left through the cave really had to be completed if I was ever to be safe in Gnaar Mok. This Dunmer would not fail to associate the new spear wielding hunter with the skewered corpses of his minions. When he reached the body floating near the cave's entrance I held my breath, then sprang into action as he briefly looked down. As I charged down the hall I cast a protective spell that would distort my image in a way that would make me more difficult to strike, then activated the devil spear as I plunged into the water. While it would certainly hinder my movements I counted on some protection from the water, and the reach of the spear allowed me full access to my surface borne target.

The protection I got from the water was not what I expected, but it did save my life. As I lunged with my spear the smuggler chief called upon the energies of the elements, and even though my spear struck home and bit deep he was able to complete the spell. His hand struck the shaft of the spear and it was immediately rimed with frost. My body also ached with a piercing cold, and I could feel my life rapidly ebbing away. I longed to sleep, my body shutting down with the icy chill. My fortune was preserved by the water around me. Though it was not particularly warm, the mass of it did slow the temperature change that would have been my death. I had just enough time to down a restorative potion. I was chilled and shaking, but would live. My enemy had been stricken a severe blow, and it is questionable if he would have survived it without magical restoration. I gave him no chance to try. Even shaking with the cold as I was I managed to ram the devil spear through the armor. The water walking spell expired with his life and the Dunmer's body collapsed into the roiling bloodstained waters.

I looked up into the hate filled eyes of a Cyrodiil. He brandished his short sword, holding the top of the ladder. It would be suicide to climb into the waiting blade. "Come down and fight", I taunted.

"Come up yourself, Breton scum," he replied.

"I can wait. You can starve up there."

A chuckle from the Cyrodiil, "My deceased compatriots left me in abundance. You, on the other hand, are standing in waist deep water with nothing. No my stupid captor, if there is starving to be done it will not be by me."

I drew my longbow, and he scuttled back from the edge. I kept talking, so he would know I had not come around to the base of the ladder, pausing only long enough to cast my levitation spell. I spoke more quietly as I rose; "Stick that misshapen head out where I can see it Imperial!"

"No, you will have to climb up if you want to shoot at me Breton. Come on! Don't be afraid to climb a little ladder." The last word stuck in his throat as I lofted over the far end of the platform.

The Cyrodiil was clearly a low ranking officer of the coastal guard, tasked with combating the smuggling that the mists and uncountable inlets of the Bitter Coast made inevitable. An officer on the payroll of the Cammona Tong. While I had no love for the Imperial Guard after my imprisonment, it was my new sense of honor as a member of the Blades that made me feel so satisfied as I drove my spear through the Imperial studded leather breastplate into his corrupt heart.

It took the rest of the day and late into the evening to gather all the goods into the storage area and assess the spoils of my victory. I don't intend to make any great effort to move all the material. I will bring the true valuables to the shack, but for the rest I will just make sure to always have a full load of trade goods when I head into the cities. I was taken aback when I was opening the cases. The Cammona Tong is obviously equipping themselves for a bloody showdown, and has a strong connection within the Imperial Legion. The amount of Imperial armor and weapons I found would equip a fair unit of guardsmen...or Tong thugs masquerading as guardsmen. I hope that I have severely crimped their operation with today's efforts. In the darkest hours of night I dragged all the corpses out of the cave and loaded them into their boat. For the first time I was happy about the ravenous slaughterfish. They are, I'm sure, very happy with me.

Day Twenty-four: The druegh

After my long labors in the night I slept late today. I was determined to resume my mapping, and set my sights on a string of tiny islands that are visible from my dock. Standing well out to sea from Vvardenfell itself these islands mark the edge where the coastal shelf drops away into the Inner Sea. I cast my water walking spell and set off, towing a string of weighted corpses and trailing a huge school of bloated slaughterfish who swam sluggishly along. I hoped that I could leave the bodies far from shore, and leave the slaughterfish there as closer inspection what I had called an island chain turned out to be little more than rocks, and there are many that lie slightly below the surface. While the Bitter Coast has much to offer for smugglers, it's waters are incredibly treacherous. As I stood on the rounded top of a boulder, gazing down a long submerged slope into the depths of the inner sea, I wondered how many mariners had met their fate on moonless nights on this rock, or its immediate indistinguishable neighbors.

In the distance to the south I could make out the railing of a vessel, standing just above the lowered tide. I opted to swim a while to try to clear the memory of the gore from my skin. The slaughterfish continued to feed on the landward side of my rock, so I stepped off on the seaward side and stroked lazily for the distant shipwreck. I had an eerie feeling of being watched, but treading water to scan the surface around me revealed nothing. I climbed out on another rock and basked in the sun, and again turned a full circle. Nothing but sea, rocks, and sky; and in the distance the trees of my own island broke the horizon.

I stepped into the water to continue my swim. The plunge left me shrouded in swirling froth, and I never saw the hammering blow that drove the air from my lungs. Fortunately my time here has steeled my nerves, and even while gagging on seawater I was able to complete the required gestures of a water breathing spell. My chances would have been slim indeed without that. A creature had my ankle in a crushing grip, and was obviously intent on holding me beneath the surface. As the water cleared I could see that it had the upper body of a powerfully muscled man. One normal looking hand fluttered in the water, but the opposite arm ended in a huge, powerful claw, which clamped my foot in a viselike grip. Beneath these arms sprouted a second pair, heavily muscled, and ending in smaller claws. The beast had no legs, below the waist long thick tentacles swayed rhythmically, drawing the monster and myself down into the depths. I had met the fabled dreugh face to face. While the druegh is indeed a dangerous adversary and has dragged many a sailor to his demise, they are really no match for a water breathing mage. When the creature's favored style of attack failed and I did not rapidly drown it did not adjust, and I was able to impale it. I crawled back out on the rocks and used my invaluable belt once again, this time to heal the bruised flesh and cracked bones of my ankle. There are armorers who craft with dreugh hide, but the beast's face was a bit too manlike for me to set about skinning it. I scraped off a mass of the waxy coating, which has magical properties, and left the remains to whatever fate the sea held for them. I hope the creature's kin had the opportunity to do whatever their kind do for their dead.

Day Twenty-five: All the comforts

It's good to have a home. Even if it is a ragged shack on a rickety pier in the absolute middle of nowhere. Given the complications of my life I think that's actually all to the advantage. It may not be much, but my shack is coming to contain everything I need. And let's face it, the price was right.

As I continue to explore the local area, which is of course mostly water, it becomes easier to think the previous occupant met a bad end. From the number of empty bottles and a note he left it is pretty obvious he was a heavy drinker, and had some long term problems that would lead him to take to the water. And the water around here is too dangerous to be roaming drunkenly around. It is fortunate the dreugh can't get out of the water. I saw a number of them today as I explored the bay between Gnaar Mok and the barrier isles. Between diving for pearls and collecting dreugh wax a man could get fairly wealthy here.

After a long swim I crawled ashore on the main island and visited what I am now calling my storage area. I'm sure the Cammona Tong would not be pleased at the reference, but it was dusk and the clouds had closed in so I am sure I was unseen entering Shurinbaal. I loaded out most of the armor and transported myself home. I planned on practicing on some of the worn armors, but used up my kits repairing the points on my devil spear and halberd. Being my own smith in the remote wilderness is more challenging than I expected.

On a brighter note my enchanting lab came together quite nicely. I bagged a few cliff racers and charged up some petty gems, and this evening set to work. I was very pleased when my first effort produced a working pair of levitation boots! They are not as powerful as my spell so I will move much less quickly, and the duration is not as long, but like any enchanted item they trigger with a one word incantation, so I can count on them keeping me from a nasty fall when my spell wears off, and for quick elevation changes onto rooftops or balconies.

While it is good to have a home, I cannot get too comfortable. By all accounts the Dark Brotherhood does not give up, and eventually I will be found. I am also noticing that somehow being here in Morrowind has shifted my view of the Empire. The Imperial rule that I felt as oppressive in High Rock and rebelled against reigns here. But seeing it from the other side I see the good in it, and the good it served in my homeland as well. Tomorrow I will travel to Balmora and meet with Caius. It's time to find out what the Empire requires of me.

Day Twenty-six: Fjol's bridge

Having my own home is wonderful, even with the isolation; but tonight I enjoy the company here at the guild hall and wonder. Someday will I be able to sleep without fear of assassination? Live openly, and among friends, perhaps family? What fate has set my feet to what appears to be a lonely path?

I took ship this morning, sailing with the dawn to Hla Oad wearing a mixed set of bonemold and steel, the first step in converting my pile of trade goods to more portable assets. My growing loyalty to the Empire could not allow me to return to Balmora without at least a token search for Larrius Varro's bandit. On the docks of Hla Oad my scalp crawled. Every Dunmer, and most others, gave no sign of hospitality. The snarled "outlander" from just behind me after they had passed, the averted gaze, or worse, the glare burning with hatred; all spoke of the influence of the Cammona Tong. I am perhaps being infected with their hatred, but thoughts of burning Hla Oad to the ground crossed my mind. I left quickly.

Not far from Hla Oad lies a bridge, and as I approached a large Nord in the fur armor of Skyrim stepped from the brush. He held a mighty Nordic axe loosely in his hand; not threateningly, but ready for use. "I am Fjol, Breton, and this is my bridge," he said. Very matter of fact, not hostile, but again the air of readiness.

"Did you build this bridge? Has the Emperor himself given you title to this bridge? Or House Hluulu, which I suppose would be the authority here," I replied, shifting to the other side of the road and freeing my hands. No gestures of spellcasting, but enough to let him know that I would be willing to defend myself.

The Nord gave a roaring laugh. "The Tong would be the authority here, if I was beholden to any. If you were Cammona Tong Breton I might even allow you to pass, though the road beyond be dangerous...outlaws you know. You'll certainly be safer with a lighter purse. A hundred gold septims and you may use my bridge."

At the mention of the Cammona Tong my blood boiled. "If you call the Tong master, you will make another notch on the shaft of my spear. My count is eight, and just giving them that information would be worth more than a hundred septims. You would be well served to flee with that information while you can."

The Nord's blue eyes narrowed. "If the information be so valuable, what price shall I have for your head!" His voice rose to a roar at the last, and the axe rose in a glittering arc.

With a quick word and a gesture the devil spear leaped to my hands, and carrying forward with its momentum I dealt the Nord a grievous blow. The raging blood of the people of Skyrim gushed red, but he was not slowed. The mighty Nordic axe crashed down, rending steel and flesh and cracking bone. I fell to my knees, the haft of my spear digging into the soft soil. With the spreading bar of the spear pressed to his flesh Fjol could come no closer, and he paused to yank the wicked point from his chest in another gout of blood. Either of us could die from the injuries we had already been dealt, but the battle lust was upon Fjol, and he would speed my death with another blow from his axe if he could. My own more calculating Breton heritage carried the day, for I saw no shame in gulping a healing restorative during the brief pause in his advance. I rolled painfully to avoid his next chopping blow.

"You should have chosen a weaker opponent!" Fjol roared. He swiped sideways, dealing me a thunderous blow with the flat of the axe, but the restorative had already knitted my ribs, and was continuing to work. There was nothing it could do about the torn edges of steel from my breastplate that dug into my raw flesh though. I continued my roll, eventually getting one knee and a foot underneath me. From this half kneeling position I could wield my spear to some effect, at least enough to hold Fjol briefly at bay. With another sideways swipe the huge Nord knocked my spear aside and charged. With no spear to stop him I had no choice, and rose from my knee in my own low driving tackle to meet him head on. Though he was far larger my heavy armor made me a fair match, and we collided with the force of a catapult shot on a castle tower. I thrust my fingers, with the thin steel plates of my gauntlet, into the gory mess of fur armor and Nord flesh that my spear had made of his side.

Fjol howled with furious agony as he tossed me aside. I staggered, but did not fall, and lunged to recover my spear. The great Nord stood swaying, blood gushing with every labored breath. Bloody foam flecked his lips as he growled "I shall not fall Breton, you must strike me down." He leaned heavily on the haft of his axe, eyes blazing a cold fury. I could have waited. I know the mighty barbarian would have eventually collapsed to die on his knees. He deserved better, so I drove my spear through his throat.

I sold my armor to Wyan, and gathered a great bag of supplies for my armory. He did not comment as he helped me off with my breastplate, opening my wounds as the jagged steel pulled free, but he did nod his respect. That is all the acknowledgement a Redguard would ever give to a battle wound. "I could give you more for this if you repair it first," he said. "It would honor me if you used my forge."

I dined at the South Wall. I wanted to get to know the regulars there, and be known by them. I still do not want to join their guild, but given my opposition to the Cammona Tong their friendship is a comfort. Of course I did not tell them what I had done, or where I was living, but they clearly accepted a relationship rooted in a timeless wisdom; 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. A Bosmer scout, Arathor, was particularly taken with my bonemold boots, which glow softly from the mild enchantment. He gave me more insight into the advantages of the medium weight armors, and we drank far into the night.

I rose in the silence of the depth of night to write, surrounded by the sleeping mages of Balmora. My habit of writing before sleeping was broken. Ajira, somewhat a mistress of the local brews, had laughed as she put me in my bunk. "I tried to tell friend Arvil Bren. The sujamma has a kick like a guar, puts hair on your face." She padded out with a parting swish of her orange and black striped tail before I could get my thickened tongue to answer. It's good to have a friend to thank in the morning.

Day Twenty-seven: Jobs to do

This shack is an excellent base from which to operate, at least until the Dark Brotherhood finds it, but it is lonely. This evening I brewed potions, using my new mortar and pestle. It is of much higher quality, lighter and providing a much smoother grind. My alchemy lab is much the better for it. I got it from Ajira, in trade for the skooma I took from the Cammona Tong. They apparently control the vast majority of the skooma trade, and Ajira was very pleased to get a good supply. I have also improved my enchanting lab. With some assistance I modified my soultrap spell so I can cast it on a distant target. Initially I though this would just improve my abilities with cliff racers, since I could cast the spell and bring them down with arrows. This afternoon I saw a much bigger improvement. Using a higher quality soul gem I was able to trap the energies of a bull netch which has been routinely hanging over my island. This gem is far more powerful than the racers I've been using. In fact I opted not to waste it on my latest project, a demon longbow, which I did successfully complete with a racer soul. I also set up all my new equipment in my forge this afternoon, working from the time I teleported home until dusk. As I said, an excellent base, but compared to having breakfast in the guild hall this morning it is achingly lonely.

At breakfast the talk of my drunken exploits eventually gave way to comments on my boots. Ranis was very explicit in her inquiries, but was soon satisfied that I had indeed enchanted them myself. She followed with some further questioning about my alchemy skills and repertoire of spells, then surprised me by promoting me to Evoker. While my friends are a bit jealous of my rapid promotion, they are also well aware that the comforts of life in the hall appeal greatly to me. It was difficult to take my leave. Ranis made it easier though. I think my promotion was in part just to have me qualified to take on a mission she needs accomplished. I am to recruit a renegade Telvanni, and also collect back dues from a lapsed member of the guild. When I transported myself out this afternoon I gave the impression that I was on my way, although I actually am much further from my destination now. I will pursue my duty to the guild dutifully, but it is not my only pressing concern.

After breakfast I made a trip out to Fort Moonmoth. Varro was pleased that Fjol had been brought to justice. He was disappointed that the outlaw had not been taken alive, but not very disappointed. In fact Varro is a bit on the bloodthirsty side I think. He told me what he called a 'story'. It was about a good officer enforcing the laws, a corrupt magistrate releasing the villains, and the bad people who bribe the magistrate. It did not take a genius to recognize the key figures in the tale. Varro says that the good officer's hands are tied, because the magistrate has powerful connections, but that if something happened to the 'bad people' it would make everything turn out in the end. The direction this was going was ominous, but then there was the clincher. If the 'story' were taken to represent Balmora, which it clearly does, then the 'bad people' in question are none other than the core of the local Cammona Tong syndicate! Varro certainly did not want anything so direct as a statement that I would take care of it, but it is clear that he would appreciate it if I did, and that there would be a tangible reward for me. I returned to town and spoke with my friends at the South Wall. They identified the key players who Varro could only describe. I stopped at the Council Club for lunch and identified them all. The hostile atmosphere made it very easy to resolve to take on this task, though how to conduct the 'bloodbath' that will give Varro the happy ending for his tale remains to be seen.

As if I did not have enough on my suddenly full plate, when I turned over my latest maps to Nine Toes he sent me to see Caius. I was going to check in with the spy master anyway, but the tone of the summons left no doubt that I was going to be even busier. Nine Toes thanking me for my efforts and suggesting that he would be handling the rest of the project without me made that obvious.

Caius wasted no time. "Nine Toes tells me you do good work. Now it's time to expand your experience...And your usefulness." I nodded acceptance and he continued. "You may have heard rumors about 'the Nerevarine'. The Dunmer are waiting for this Nerevarine, who they say will be the re-incarnation of their long dead general, Lord Indoril Nerevar. They expect him to unite all the tribes of the Dunmer and restore the Dark Elven nation to its former glory. The prophecies are handed down among the Ashlanders as oral traditions and poetic verses. We need to know a lot more about these prophecies, and you are going to be instrumental in finding out."

I was a bit daunted by the task. Ashlanders? I knew nothing about the ashlands or their people. Caius gave me a place to start. He sent me to Hasphat Antabolis, drillmaster at the Balmora fighters' guild hall. Hasphat has lived in Morrowind his entire life, and is very well connected with the land and people of the Dunmer. He is also very interested in the disappearance of the ancient dwarven people, a collector of their artifacts, and a wily trader who gives up no information for free. To even begin to talk about the Nerevarine prophecies, he demanded a small 'favor'. In his research he has come across references to a 'Dwemer Puzzle Box', and has isolated it to a particular site. He gave me directions to this ruin, and instructed me how to gain access. He will trade his information for this artifact, and nothing else. What I will do if I explore the ruins and don't find the box is not clear. Hopefully I won't have to figure that out.

Day Twenty-eight: On the road

I laid awake in my cot for much of the night, turning plans over in my head. Finally, not much rested, I rose before dawn and went outside. I settled down on my dock to a breakfast of fresh crabmeat. My pier faces west, and the sun rising behind me chased the shadows of darkness out into the Inner Sea. With them went my uncertainty. I had a plan, and I quickly donned almost a full set of bonemold armor and loaded my pack. I am carrying a tightly bundled set of the black chainmail of a Dark Brotherhood assassin, and topped off my pack with as much spare armor as I could carry. Again I was plagued with uncertainty. I had practiced an intervention spell which would take me to the nearest temple, in fact I have scrolls with this excellent transportation spell traced upon them, but where would the nearest temple be? I hoped Balmora. If it turned out to be Ald'ruhn it would delay me slightly. If anywhere else I would probably need a new plan. I was pleased to find myself in the familiar courtyard of the Balmora temple as the spell's effects cleared.

I quickly sold my spare armor, keeping the dark mail hidden and telling Wyan I needed the travel money. I made a point of telling him how excited I was to be on a serious errand for my guild steward, heading to the far reaches of Molag Mar. I was also very conspicuous in my departure as I swept through the guild hall. Ranis was surprised, since she thought I had set out yesterday, but understood that I had needed to rush home to supply myself for the journey. I made a point with her that the bonemold armor would not make for overly fast travel, but would get me safely there and back. By the time I left the guild hall everyone knew I was embarking on a substantial journey. After the high visibility of my first two stops my final one felt incongruous. I slipped into a deep alcove in the pedestal of the strider port, directly across from the Council Club, and left a magic mark.

I left Balmora in a new direction, headed into the interior of Vvardenfell. Just past Moonmoth Fort is a mighty canyon, the Foyada Mamaca. Foyada is a Dunmer word meaning 'river of fire', a reference to the hot, ash laden winds that roar down from the mighty volcano, Red Mountain. My road passed north of the fort to cross over an ancient Dwemer bridge. As I stepped onto the bridge I saw a man standing near the far end, sunlight glinting from his iron plate armor. Remembering Fjol I approached cautiously, half expecting another bridge claiming bandit demanding a toll. Whether he would demand a toll or just try to rob me I'll never know.

As soon as he caught sight of me the white haired man began the gestures of a spell of summoning, and I sprinted for a cart parked near the bridge rail. He completed the spell just in time for me to see a skeletal warrior summoned from the plane of the dead appear before him, then I vaulted over the rail. I fell out of sight and activated my boots to float down into the canyon, curving under the bridge as I went. Once safely on firm ground, I cast a chameleon spell and crept out from beneath the bridge, dodging furtively down the canyon for a short distance. When I was far enough to consider it safe to proceed I turned and climbed the canyon wall, using my boots to master occasional steep passages. Thus I crossed the Foyada Mamaca, but I was not finished with the white crowned bandit.

From my vantage on a high rock spur I could see him pacing the bridge, pausing occasionally to peer over the rail at the canyon floor far below. He wore only the breastplate of iron; his arms were bare, and bronzed by the sun. At one of his pauses I buried an arrow deep in the meat of his left shoulder. As he dove for cover I was nearly knocked from my perch into the canyon far below. Struggling to maintain balance I turned to face a horrid grotesquery. A cliff racer had glided silently from above and struck me a solid blow with its sharp beak, and was now flapping mightily to regain the air. The beast was hampered by thick meaty growths that dotted its wings, and a thickening of muscles that certainly added to the power of its strike, but hampered its flight. It slammed the air awkwardly with deformed wings. Unslinging my spear I struck the creature full in the breast, what should have been at least a debilitating blow. Blood spilled, but the heavy muscle began rapidly growing around the wound, adding another blob to the sickening mass. It took a rapid series of deep stabs, any one of which should have been fatal, to send the blighted creature to its rest. That is what the monster was; blighted. A victim of the dreaded disease that is supposed to be contained behind the ghostfence that rings Red Mountain. I shuddered at the sight of it.

Of course I knew that I did not have time to ponder how the blight had reached to this distant part of Vvardenfell. The bandit had moved like a man injured, but far from dead, and I had no idea where he had gotten to in my distraction. I crouched and surveyed the bridge. He was huddled behind some crates, peering cautiously at my high perch. We were at a standoff. I skipped an arrow off the top of the crates for good measure. After my harrowing experience with the blighted racer I was willing to concede the bridge to its toll keeper. I slid carefully down the slope on my heels, with my bow at the ready. I could reach the road well past the bridge and be on my way.

I suppose one arrow to the shoulder couldn't be expected to stop a self respecting bandit. Scurrying from shelter to shelter he moved inexorably towards the point where I would intersect the road. My bow was ready, but in my pell-mell slide down the slope there was no way to get off an accurate shot. With the bow in my hands I couldn't activate my boots. A final small avalanche of loose stones and I landed in the road, only yards away from my attacker. He stopped, conjuring again. I drew quickly and fired. The skeleton appeared in front of him and the arrow struck, shattering bony ribs and scattering dust. Still gesturing, my opponent stepped from behind the skeleton, which was turning to charge. A ball of sparks flew from the conjurers hands and enveloped me. I hooked my bow over my shoulder and fled, hoping that the pursuing skeleton would shelter me from any more of the conjurer's spells.

As I ran I triggered first my healing belt, then my boots, and lofted myself over a rockpile and out of harms way. A few more charges from the belt and I was again good as new. Just in time for the conjurer to round the rockpile and open fire yet again. This time I sidestepped his bolt, and returned fire with my bow. We dodged among the boulders trading volleys until he fell from loss of blood. I made sure of him with my spear, but I believe he was already dead.

I continued on my way, following the trail around a huge peak crowned with ancient ruins. The road then descended into an ash covered wasteland, and bits of advice I had received about the Ashland welled up in memory. Don't be out after dark being a common one, and stay out of ash storms being another. As I gazed into the uniform grayness these sounded like wise counsel. The sun was lowering fast with the mountain behind me, and I cast about for some sort of shelter.

Happily I saw a cavern mouth in a ravine, not far off the trail. I entered carefully, thinking that I might not be the only creature taking advantage of such a secure nook. Red candles burning on numerous rocks not far within showed that the cave was home to men rather than creatures...or so I thought, until one such inhabitant shambled towards me. Like the blighted racer I had slain he was horribly distorted, but clearly had once been a man. I fired an arrow into the mass of blobs that had been his chest and the impact knocked him off his feet, perhaps more from a clumsy effort to dodge than anything else. Before he could rise I pumped three more arrows into the mass. I don't know if the internal organs were shifted from their places inside the tortured hulk, but apparently something vital was found by an arrowhead, and the monster accepted merciful death.

To my left I saw a tunnel blocked by an exposed vein of molten lava. I levitated across with my boots. The shambling gait of the corprus stalker would never have managed the narrow ledges and leaps from stone to stone that I magically avoided. The lava thus offers protection as well as warmth and I am bedded down on the cavern's stone floor.

Day Twenty-nine: Collection agent

I write tonight as the denizens of Sulipund settle down around me. I am a guest of Llarar Bereloth. Bereloth is a sorcerer and a member of the Dunmer great house called Telvanni. I was sent here to convince him to join the guild...or kill him. Fortunately I was able to convince him of the benefits. He has a number of retainers here in this isolated tower who would add to the already dangerous task of attacking him. Overall it has been a very successful day.

This morning I left the cavern in which I had sheltered without any further exploration. The red candles still burned, and I wondered at who would be there to maintain them. Did the corprus stalker just wander in there like I did? Or was the diseased man a part of whatever rules that darkened pit? I felt no desire to be face to face with any mystery that might have accounted for the ominous feel of the place.

Today's trek through the ashlands was not unlike yesterday; cliff racers, shalk beetles, and a dubious trail that at times wandered and occasionally disappeared. In the midafternoon heat I found the lake which Ranis had offered as a landmark. The ancient Dunmer stronghold at Marandus loomed to the southeast, but I turned to the north. The trail here is fairly clear and I had no trouble finding my first destination, a cavern opening on the right side of the trail, secured with a stout wooden door.

Inside the cavern, known as Punabi, the crackling energies of magica can be felt in the air. Ranis had told me some sort of research was going on there, and Punabi is apparently a good place for it...it stank of power. Fortunately I did not have to venture far inside to accomplish my task there. The first person I met was Manwe, a renegade mage whom I had been sent to find. When she learned that I was there to collect her back dues for the guild she was furious, and suggested that I might be wise to pay Ranis myself rather than bother her. I was grateful for the education I received on the streets of High Rock. Manwe is, I suspect, a far more capable spellcaster than I, but I know how challenging it can be to concentrate on spells while getting jabbed at with a sharp spear. The diversity of my skills gave me the courage to continue trying to reason with her. Eventually, perhaps just to get rid of me so she could return to her research, she produced the two thousand septims in back dues which would restore her standing with the guild. With a sigh of relief I made my exit.

As Ranis had said, the tower of Sulipund was not much further along the trail, and I arrived well before dark. I was ushered to the highest room in the tower by surly retainers who clearly would have preferred that their master order my death, or at the very least my unceremonious removal from the premises. Bereloth also did not extend a warm welcome, but since he did pause in his research to see me I expressed my gratitude in a stream of praises for his work and the grandeur that he had brought to what had been a long abandoned tower.

Our conversation ranged widely, although it did frequently come back to Sulipund. The Telvanni district does not extend this far into the ashlands, and Bereloth could technically be considered a 'rogue' by the leadership of his house for settling here. It is certainly outside of the Imperial charter, which grants the governance of this area to the Dunmer Tribunal Temple. In order to avoid being held in violation of the charter the Telvanni house would simply disavow Bereloth and others like him, but in talking to Bereloth it was clear that this does not keep him from being actively involved in the activities of his house. While he is not really as isolated as his official status would indicate, he did come to see my point that membership in the guild would be a benefit. We agreed that he would visit Ranis on his upcoming trip into Balmora.

I told Bereloth that I greatly appreciated his hospitality for the night as I had other business to attend to in the area. I did not mention that I had already completed my other task. When he does visit Balmora he will unknowingly provide collaboration of my whereabouts tonight. I am not imposing upon his house for breakfast, as I have informed them that I will be leaving before dawn. Sulipund will soon settle into the early rest of the remote ashlands. I am preparing for a busy night.

Day Thirty: Council Club

I have slept most of the day, in a camp left to me by the departed Snowy Granius. Apparently his taking of tolls on the bridge over the Foyada Mamaca had been going on for quite some time. His camp provides a little shelter from ash storms and cliff racers, and much more importantly will keep me out of sight.

Once Bereloth's house had settled last night I crept out to the hallway and prepared for my task. My black armor I covered with a robe of common material. Nondescript steel gauntlets and my lightly enchanted bonemold boots offered no clue to my identity, and the effect was completed by a closed helm of netch leather that covered my features. I did not expect anyone to see my magical appearance in Balmora, but if they had they would not have known me. I quietly cast my spell of recall.

As expected my arrival in the deep nook under the strider port went unobserved, and I strode quickly to the door of the Council Club and entered. I was immediately accosted by Thanelen Velas, a smith by trade, and according to my sources one of the five local Cammona Tong ringleaders that Varro hoped would meet with an 'accident'. He peered at me with narrowed eyes and hissed "Why the closed helm? This is a peaceful establishment. Are you trying to hide that you are an outlander?" He fairly spat the final word, as if it left a bad taste in his dark elven mouth.

"Many of your brethren Dunmer have manners, dark elf scum," I replied. "Of course with good manners they have no need to shelter among your corrupt and cowardly Tong."

He grabbed an axe of gleaming Dwarven metal from a nearby table and took a wild sideways swipe. I ducked under the arc and drove my halberd through his unarmored body until the blade caught against his ribs. With another heave I drove him backwards over the table, the long shaft of the halberd keeping me beyond the range of his axe. Blood foamed from his lips as he gasped his last. I yanked the wicked point of the halberd free and spun to the stairs.

The main room of the Council Club lies one flight below ground level, and I crashed down into this salon with Velas' blood still dripping from my ready weapon. I raced through unhindered. The bartender took shelter behind his bar while three patrons stared in slack jawed surprise. They leapt to their feet too late to block my progress and I continued into the storage area. My boots skidded on the carpet as I made the sharp turn onto the ramp leading down to the sleeping rooms. At the bottom of the ramp, just emerging from her room, stood the thief Madrale Thirith. I used the steep ramp to accelerate my reckless charge as I activated the devil spear. I was committed. No one who saw that distinctive weapon in my hands could leave alive. The enchanted spear seeked out its target and the full weight of my charge drove Thirith to the ground, stricken through. I was not unscathed though. As she fell the skilled thief delivered a viscous cut with her shortsword, which gleamed with enchantment in the dim light of the hall. A jolt of magical electricity seared the flesh around the wound. With a quick glance at my pursuers I threw open a door to a sleeping chamber and dove inside.

Two of the five leaders of Balmora's Cammona Tong lay dead, and the other three crashed against the open door which obstructed the hall at the bottom of the ramp, slamming it closed at my heels. By stepping into the room I had avoided giving them the same advantage I had used on their partner, but I was still outnumbered three to one. I called on the dragon skin spell of my ancestors and tightened my grip on the devil spear as they tore open the door.

Fortunately in their haste and arrogance two of the Tong leaders had charged down the ramp unarmed. The third however wielded a longsword of fine steel which dripped with green magical venom. Even in my black armor I knew I would not survive many strikes from that blade. I jabbed with my spear, and sent the tip in glittering arcs across the doorway. The narrow access countered their numbers, and I dared not let them enter. In the close confines of the doorway they impeded each other, and first the pawnbroker and then the foppish savant fell to my spear. Unfortunately the skilled swordswoman had taken her opportunities, striking at my spear as it cut down her fellows. Green ichor flowed up the shaft and enveloped my hands and arms in stinging agony. She held a clear advantage as she stepped over her fallen companions into the room.

We glared at each other warily. She respected my spear, which was now completely inundated with the lifeblood of her companions. For my part I knew that I needed to keep well clear of her green stained blade. She raised the blade to strike, I jabbed quickly. Giving up on her swing she parried. I just as quickly feinted back, swinging my spear away from her venom lest my hands be tortured further. She could not close against the spear, but I could not fully commit to an attack; a dangerous standoff. Very dangerous for me, as each passing second brought me closer to the expiring of my defensive spell.

I braced myself, more in mind than body, and leapt forward thrusting with the spear. Her blade rang against my shaft, then slid along to rake my gauntleted hands with agony. I kept my grip through the wrenching pain, and the enchantment of the spear carried it to rest among her shattering ribs. Again red Dunmer blood quenched the Daedric spirit of the devil spear. I gulped restoratives, thankful to have survived.

I grabbed the enchanted weapons and rifled purses for whatever gold I could find, then tore up the ramp to make my escape. The Bartender stood behind the bar, gripping a huge steel warhammer in both hands. As I spun into the main room I growled a warning at him, "Peace friend, my contract does not include you." He lowered the hammer, but watched warily. "This Cammona Tong may be a big deal in Morrowind, but the Thieves' Guild is established throughout the Empire. I recommend you lose your reputation for hosting the Tong, or we will close your doors." With that bit of subterfuge I sprinted up the stairs and out into the street.

My headlong flight into the night was uneventful. I ran up the steps to the strider port until I could clear the city wall, then leapt free. Gulping sujamma, which I had grabbed from the bar, I raced towards the foyada. The sujamma enhanced my strength sufficiently for me to run under the burden of weapons that I had gathered, but muddled my thinking. Fortunately my well laid plan carried me through without calling on my mental resources and I arrived here safely. I spent the day resting my battered legs and easing the pounding in my head, aftermath of my sujamma powered flight. I will sleep here tonight and begin my search for Hasphat's puzzle box tomorrow.

Day Thirty-one: Triumphant return

Today I began the search for Hasphat's puzzle box. I cannot say it has been a great success, but it is a beginning. It also appears to be an opportunity to line my pockets. The ruins of Arkngthand are apparently rich with ancient Dwemer artifacts. Rich enough to have attracted a band of looters.

The ruins crown the mountain just east of the Foyada Mamaca, looming ominously over my campsite at the bridge. Numerous towers jut into the sky, and a huge statue of a Dwemer sorcerer gazes balefully down over the road. On the surface the ruins are buried in ash and dust from the explosive Red Mountain volcano, and overgrown with brambly trama vines. These hardy plants seem to thrive in the harsh ashlands of Vvardenfell. They have little competition.

As Hasphat had said, there is a crank on a pipe near the entrance to the underground halls. The magic and engineering of the Dwemer is astonishing. When I turned the crank a huge stone sphere set in the nearby mountainside split asunder, revealing a metal door inscribed with Dwemer runes. I entered cautiously, and gazed in awe at the entry cavern spread out below me. From the cavern floor great towers rose. Some pierced the ceiling, perhaps continuing on the mountaintop above, while others were completely contained in the great expanse. I stood gaping on a platform of Dwemer metal perched high on the northern wall. The cavern was lit by a combination of glowing tubes that appeared to contain some sort of magically lighted fluid, flames endlessly flickering about the broken ends of ancient piping, and a series of torches burning far below. I wondered at the torches, and who had placed them.

The Dwemer apparently had no concerns about levitation. The entry platform was not their only construction that came to an abrupt end. From where I stood I could clearly see two more. One far below, about halfway to the floor, could be reached using a series of rough ledges. Another was near the roof and attached to one of the great towers. I saw no way to reach it without using my enchanted boots or a spell. With my boots ready to save me from an unexpected fall I began carefully scaling down the ledges. As soon as I was clear of the entry platform the eastern side of the cavern came into view, and again I stopped to gape. A huge metal building loomed, suspended against the native stone. The two levels were open to the cavern, and on the lower level a Redguard paced, obviously in conversation with someone who remained out of sight behind a huge pillar. Broken stones and scrap had been heaped into piles on the cavern floor to provide access to both levels of the building as well as the platform towards which I continued creeping.

I arrived on the platform and slipped into the mouth of a tunnel, which promptly opened into a room. The dust of ages had been swept haphazardly. Obviously not in effort to clean up, merely to reveal the floor and any artifacts of value that may have lain there. Trafficking in Dwemer artifacts is a crime, but is sufficiently lucrative that it is not uncommon, and those who participate are seldom targets of Imperial authority. The biggest hardship faced by artifact raiders is the sheer weight of the goods. The Redguard and his unseen companion were obviously not deterred. I wondered if they were alone, or part of a larger operation. Either way, I suspected they would not be leaping at the chance to share the spoils with me. I peered out through the tunnel and across the cavern to where the conversation continued. The Redguard seemed to have made his point, and now stood listening, nodding occasionally.

The room provided a second exit, a winding stair that lead deeper into the ruins. I grabbed a lantern from a heap of supplies that had been left by the looters and headed down. In the light of the lantern the stairs revealed dismaying evidence of passing feet; far more than two pairs. Although the tracks often obscured each other I identified at least six different shoe prints. I climbed back to the top of the stairs and returned the lantern. The supplies and empty crates seemed to indicate that the looters were undertaking an extended operation. Any interruption and they could flee, taking the cube with them if they had found it. I was not ready to confront half a dozen potentially dangerous criminals today. I slipped out the way I had entered and left the looters to their work.

Abandoning the riches of Arkngthand, even temporarily, cut against my grain. I have to keep my eye on larger pictures though. Such a large band, and they are obviously planning on spending many days in the ruins; searching for the cube myself could take weeks. I do not have the time. Following through with my plans is imperative to avoid suspicion. Hiding from the Dark Brotherhood is a big enough problem; if the Cammona Tong gets an inkling that I am responsible for the massacre at the Council Club my life in Morrowind will be brief and bloody.

As evening set I entered the gates of Moonmoth Fort; roadweary, overburdened with hides and tradegoods from Granius' camp, and moving very slowly. I complained to the guards about the distance from Sulipund, shared a jug of sujamma, and entered the main building having firmly established my whereabouts, in their minds at least. The tales they told of the 'bloodbath at the Council Club' I met with appropriate horror and astonishment. I sold off hides and goods to the traders who frequent the fort's main room, and managed a brief encounter with Larrius Varro as he passed through. He was jovial at the turn of events in Balmora and shrugged off even a pretense at being interested in finding the killer. I compared my encounter with Snowy Granius to that other toll-taking bandit Fjol, and he openly gave me another reward. No one needs to know that the ring he gave me is worth far more than one old bandit's life. I never expected to share a bond of conspiracy with a Champion of the Imperial Legions.

I arrived at the guild hall in Balmora late, and tired. I will sleep well. Tomorrow at breakfast I will report to Ranis that her tasks are completed, and settle for good any consideration that I might have had anything to do with recent events in Balmora.

Day Thirty-two: Dwarven tower

It's good to be home. This shack offers so little in the way of comforts, but it is so secure. I slipped in from the south, walking across the water unseen in the dark. I left Balmora this morning by levitating over the mountains west of the city, dropping rapidly into the swamps of the bitter coast. I would be very challenging to follow. Now my mark is reestablished here, so I will again be able to teleport directly home. Dark Brotherhood, Cammona Tong, any other enemies I might make; Arvil Bren will not be easy prey.

I like my home, but waking up this morning in the guild hall was a comfort as well. Tensions among the apprentices have eased, and the chatter at the breakfast table was lively. I reported to Ranis, and true to her word she split Manwe's back dues with me evenly. While my mastery of magic is probably only average, Ranis unquestionably has a high demand for my skills with the spear. She seems quite devoted to 'join or die' as a promotional system for the guild. We spoke briefly about someone offering training in the restoration arts who does not have guild sanction. I'll probably end up taking care of that for her when I get back there.

For now I am settled in after the long walk. I have become quite comfortable with the swamps of the bitter coast, and enjoyed exploring along my path today. An old Dunmer fortress, a small Dwarven ruin, abandoned ancestral tombs; the marshes abound with secrets, and I thirst to know. Of course the likelihood of plunder and riches does have a certain appeal as well. After my brief foray into Arkngthand the Dwarven ruin I discovered today was irresistible.

It was also convenient. In the mid afternoon I was getting fairly close to Gnaar Mok, and was just beginning to think 'too close'. I wanted to arrive under cover of darkness. With an eye half open to seeking shelter for a few hours I began to follow a more meandering path through the marshes. The ancient metal towers and unmistakable piping systems rose ahead of me like a gift. A gift with a steep price of danger attached. I now have a high regard for those who make their living looting Dwemer artifacts.

The ruin was small, just a couple of towers with a large subterainnian workspace underneath, nothing like the massive Arkngthand. What a testement to Dwemer engineering though. The Dwarves disappeared so long ago that they don't exist in the written records of the Empire, but their legacy lives on. The place was alive with constructs; centurions who have been on guard for an age. Gleaming metal spiders clattered about on six jointed legs. Rolling metal spheres erupted into sword armed warriors like the hatching of a mechanical egg. I felt some remorse at destroying these ancient machines, but the piercing legs of the spiders and the vicious cuts from the swords of the sphere centurions left me little alternative.

Any guilt that might plague me will be assuaged by the loot. There were actually very few artifacts in what was clearly a working shop rather than a luxurious home; a few bowls, a pitcher, some cups. What was lacking in artifacts was made up in material though. Stacks of gears made of gleaming Dwemer metal; metal which has never been duplicated since the disappearance of the Dwarves. Precious gems, raw glass, ebony, all in locked chests that also held an abundance of shining Dwemer coins. I will have to return for the metal and artifacts now that I have replaced my mark here. They are far too heavy to carry any distance. A couple days for the looters in Arkngthand to do their work and I will teleport their entire collection here also, hopefully including Hasphat's cube. First though I will return to my own little ruin, and also clear out the storage area in Shurinbaal. It would be better just to have everything here rather than be seen coming and going.

Day Thirty-three: Daedric shrine

Vvardenfell is certainly consistent. I find a new danger to life and limb on a daily basis it seems. Today I found out that the Dwarven ruins are even more dangerous than I thought, and I found a Daedric shrine where I barely survived. It is good to be home, and for tonight at least I wonder if I will ever go out again.

I rose early this morning, waded across to Shurinbaal, and ambled down to the storage area. I put all the remaining goods in a pile, then gathered them up and teleported myself home. A couple hours work and I had everything sorted and stowed. I think I will set up the armorers of Balmora to meet me in the Temple courtyard tomorrow and teleport myself there with all the spare armor and weapons that I have acquired. I could outfit a small army, but I would prefer to have their gold.

That task complete I set off for the Dwarven ruins to gather my artifacts and metal. I call it mine since I had eliminated all the guardians yesterday. I learned a valuable lesson about the Dwemer when I strolled casually into the ruins today. Safe yesterday means nothing today. I was immediately swarmed under by a centurion spider, a sphere warrior, and two ancient ghosts which I took to be the Dwemer themselves. How all these creatures appeared in the ruins overnight I will never know, but I will always be on guard entering such places in the future. I was forced to consume my last restorative to heal my wounds during the battle, but did dispatch all of my opponents and successfully return home with the metal and artifacts I went to retrieve.

I was down to my last restorative because I had used most of my supply shortly before. Coming at the ruins from a different direction gave me a different view, and as I approached I saw a towering structure on another nearby isle. Curious, I turned and swam ashore there. No sooner had I climbed out onto the stones than I was struck by a scorching bolt of magical flame, launched from somewhere amongst a cluster of pillars. I rolled frantically for cover with seawater steaming from my clothes, gulping the first of many restorative potions. I gathered myself behind a stone platform and peered cautiously towards the center of the structure. To my horror a flame atronach burst forth, waving its fiery arms. Burning eye pits fastened on me, and I ducked as another bolt of flame roared out to lick the stones where I had sheltered.

With spear in hand I held my ground at the corner of a large stone block. I could hear the crackle and hiss of the atronach approaching, and timed a ripping thrust that tore through its burning chest as it turned the corner. Gouts of flame leapt with the point as it tore through, but the atronach did not fall. One swipe of its flaming hand and I was again scuttling out of reach gulping restoratives. The monster bounded after me, intent on finishing me before the restoratives could take effect, and it nearly succeeded. Curative magic from within battled the flames that threatened to consume me from without, and I writhed in agony. Though half blinded with smoke and sickened from the smell of my own charring flesh I held on to the devil spear and entrusted my life to its enchanted point. My vision cleared to find the atronach, still smouldering, stretched on its back with my spear pinning it to the moist earth. I retrieved some of the crystals left from its rapidly disintigrating substance and used numerous charges from my belt to complete my own healing process.

Once healed I ventured into the center court of the Daedric shrine. It was indeed a Daedric shrine, a place where evil people gather to worship the evil Daedra. I had been told that in the troubled times currently besetting Morrowind the Daedric cults had gained a foothold and begun restoring such shrines. I had also been advised to avoid them. Now I know why. The atronach was not the only creature summoned from distant planes of existence to defend the site. A powerfully built Nord woman in elaborate bonemold armor stood on an elevated platform and watched dispassionately as I was beset by three two legged lizard creatures.

The lizards, which the Nord barbarian woman Holmgeira later identified as clannfears, delivered powerful strikes and bites with their beaks while fanlike structures spread from their skulls to protect their necks and bodies. I found myself once again gulping restoratives, and barely able to sustain myself against the rain of blows. Sustain I did, and eventually my spear took its toll and one of the creatures collapsed in a heap. With only two opponents the steady stream of restoratives began to carry the day, and I soon dispatched the two remaining clannfear. As each one fell Holmgeira raised an insincere round of applause, except for the last. When I looked up at her it was plain to see why. She held a bow loosely, an arrow nocked, ready and willing to draw and fire. I spoke quickly, in honeyed tones.

It was not easy to convince Holmgeira that I had no quarrel with her, or anyone else inside the shrine she called Addadshashanammu, but she did relent to letting me leave peacefully once I had promised not to make a quick move for the door. Holmgeira has fiery red hair, and a temper to match. I was happy to leave her cult's shrine behind without having to test her mettle.

Having teleported home with my load of Dwemer metal I set out to brew some new healing potions. I have worked deep into the night sifting through mountains of ingredients, and have found no new formulae. I will either have to buy more potions, or buy the ingredients that I know I can use. I settle into my bed disgusted with the entire field of alchemy.

Day Thirty-four: Armorer's fair

I am beset by doubts. Today I clung to safety, but I have no confidence in my grip. I have friendships. I have wealth. But whatever glimmers of security I have built for myself are just that, glimmers. The false lights that shine from baited gold, and lure men to their deaths. Men like my father.

The man I called my father would have been proud of me today. I teleported to the Balmora temple at first light and gathered all the armorers together. Like a carnival barker I made promises that had their eyes glowing with anticipation. They knew they would be bidding against each other when I reappeared, but I had built their spirits over a cheerful breakfast and they stood joking amongst themselves as I cast my recall spell to return home. I reappeared minutes later, laden with bundles of swords, stacked breastplates and greaves, and bags brimming with odd bits of armor. The auction went well, fulfilling my father's strongest guidance; "take their gold and leave them happy." If only I had followed that advice more often. The armorers bought me lunch at the Eight Plates, each claiming to have gotten great deals while jokingly ridiculing the others for their purchases. In truth they probably all overpaid, but such a good time was had by all that they are eager to do it again.

After lunch I ran to the ruins of Arkgnthand and slipped quietly through the massive portal. From high up on the cavern wall I watched. The Redguard I had seen before was again in the main cavern, with a companion. They were overseeing the operation, talking to others who came and went through massive doors on the lower level of the building. Occassionally they would take some item of particular interest to the upper level and through another massive door. From snatches of their conversation I gathered that they in turn were reporting to their boss, Creto, who was apparently beyond that door. I am comfortable that they are nowhere near moving on from the ruins. There is no rush to claim the cube from them, if they have found it yet.

They are looting a Dwemer site, and clearly criminals, but they are no worse than I used to be. They are working hard, and as I now know they are facing extraordinary risks. All in pursuit of wealth. Again my mind wandered to my father as I clung on the ledge. He took me in when my unknown parents left me abandoned in the streets of High Rock. I saw the good in him every day, but under that good was the heart of a rogue, and he met a rogue's end. Gold he really didn't need but couldn't resist, ambushed by townsmen who honestly wished it had been someone else they caught, and a jail cell that could not confine his roving spirit without killing him, which it promptly did. Now here I am. Prison contained me without killing me. I have enough gold that I could easily spurn any bait that is presented. The townsmen of Balmora call me friend. Father laughed off the oracle who shreiked that I was a child of destiny, congratulating her on the drama of her presentation, but I seem destined to meet my own rogue's end.

I left the ruins and walked back to Balmora in time for dinner at the guild hall. Good company can purge memories, and I enjoyed the evening, but as night closed in and the quiet settled I resolved to transport myself home. My melancholy seems unshakable tonight. The bait that lures me is security, but for me the only security calls for continuing forward, further into danger.

Day Thirty-five: Ruined at the Daedric ruin

Today I hid from destiny and returned to the simple life; mapping the coast and hunting in the swamps. That was the plan when I arose this morning anyway. The islands that the Dwarven tower and Daedric shrine lie on are part of a chain that arcs out into the sea to the southwest, and I put all my concerns aside and set out to explore that chain. I did not get far.

By mid morning I had passed the familiar ruins, skipping from outcrop to outcrop using my spell of water walking. I came ashore and began my explorations of the larger islands of the chain. Sketching maps, watching the netch float peacefully about, skewering the occasional cliff racer, gorging on mudcrabs; I let my cares drift. Not like I stopped thinking about them; the Dark Brotherhood, the Cammona Tong, my responsibilities to the Blades, Ranis Athrys persistent use of me as a thug for the Mage Guild. In little over a month I have become thoroughly embroiled in the swirl of Morrowind events. Such were my thoughts as the twisted towers of another Daedric site rose ahead of me. I am not alone in being affected by these troubled times. Like Addadshashanammu this site has been revitalized by a new Daedric cult, gathered in secret to worship and empower the bad Daedra.

A Daedric shrine, with a cult of worshippers, provides a powerful portal between planes of existence. This access allows the Daedric servants who are normally only seen when summoned by conjurers to roam freely into our plane. Fortunately this particular shrine seems to have only attracted the relatively weak scamps rather than the voracious clannfears and fearsome atronach I faced before. Scamps can be dangerous as they do have sharp claws, but they tend to panic when struck solidly which makes them easy to finish off. Much easier than the high Elven conjurer who I encountered near the entrance to the shrine. I suppose I should have known from Holmgeira's initial hostility the other day that I would not be welcomed with open arms by a Daedra cult.

Before I could even say hello, the Altmer conjured a horribly misshapen creature. It was familiar, similar to the creatures I encountered in a tomb, but seeing it with the bright sunshine reflecting off of its oozing flesh made it all the more horrifying. The conjurer called it a bonewalker. Gasping sounds that may have been words tore from the beast's ragged throat, and I could feel my own muscles sag with decay. Desperately I hacked at the creature with my spear as the conjurer scrambled to a safe distance. The bonds that held the monster in pseudo life failed quickly under the onslaught of the devil spear, but the ill effects it had had on me remained. My spear was a terrible burden in my weakened hands as I charged the Altmer. Had he fled I am sure I could not have endured a chase.

Rather than flee the villainous Altmer opted to conjure another bonewalker. This time I would not allow myself to be distracted. Knowing that the spell would be broken with the fall of the conjurer I drove my spear with all my remaining strength into his unarmored chest. He jerked violently, like a gaffed fish, but clung to life. The bonewalker struck, and my limbs weakened even further. The devil spear which had served me so well became too heavy to hold and slipped from my desperate grip. I lunged forward onto the collapsing Altmer, praying that as we fell the spear lodged in his chest would twist its way into some vital organ and end his life. The ragged gasping of the bonewalker sounded in my ears like eerie laughter. Then it faded off as if to a great distance. The Altmer was dead.

I pulled myself across the corpse to get a grip on my spear. The effort left me near exhaustion, and I could not escape the sickening stench of the blood that had welled from the conjurer's shattered heart. With weakened gestures and shuddering incantation I cast my recall spell. When I appeared on the deck of my shack I abandoned my spear, and rolled free of my bow and quivers as well. Exhausted legs struggled free of my bonemold boots, and I dropped my bloodied clothes into the sea. I struggled to my feet and dragged my pack inside to be left at the door. I could not trust my strength for a cleansing dip in the ocean, and struggled into a rough robe and light sandals with only a cursory wiping off of the gory mess. My brain fogged with exhaustion and I could not trust myself to cast the spell on my own. I drew a scroll from my pack and read, unleashing the mystical energies that would sweep me across the distance. As I appeared once more in the courtyard of the Balmora temple I collapsed in a heap.

Although Feldrelo Sadri, Mistress of the Temple, has taken a strong disliking to me, she did not refuse me when some of the other temple priests half carried me to the Tribunal Shrine. I made a humble offering and the power of the Tribunal was invoked to restore my strength and endurance. I tried to press some additional gold on the priestess in gratitude, but that was clearly a mistake. Judging by her strident rebuke I would be well advised to stay clear of her presence. I suspect nothing short of joining the Temple as an initiate will appease her. Fortunately I have made friends among the lesser priests on my various forays to the city, and Feldrelo's ire did not keep them from assisting me once we were safely out of her sight. Their assistance was of course not free; they clearly do not share their leader's distaste for 'ill-gotten adventurer gold'. I learned an array of spells which will allow me to recover my strength, endurance, or any other attribute lost in battle with undead or Daedric monsters I may encounter. The spells are a bit complicated. I may have to spend some time improving my restoration skills.

When the dinner gong rang through the Temple I thanked my benefactors and headed for the guild hall. I immersed myself in the camaraderie with a sigh of gratitude. I don't think I could live there, but it is so nice to be a welcome visitor. Galbedir has apparently forgiven me and we had a lively conversation about charging soul gems. She has ambition, but it is tempered by her taste for fancy robes and the comforts of the guild hall. She does not seem inclined to the dirty work. The way she listened to my tales of cliff racers and netch I had faced, with ooohs and ahhhhs and her small hand gripping my arm...well I clearly understand how men fall prey to the charms of the wood elves. She made me feel heroic.

After dinner Ranis called me aside. She is so protective of the guild. She had mentioned the unsanctioned healer who was offering training before, and had obviously gnawed at this problem continuously in my absence. In her office she got right to the point; "Bren, what's your status with the thieves' guild?"

I stammered a vague reply. I haven't been a member of the Thieves' Guild since leaving High Rock, and even there I was just a token apprentice registered by my father. "Ranis, I would not join another guild!"

"Relax, relax, I'm not trying to find a reason to purge you from the Guild. There is an Argonian offering training at the South Wall Cornerclub. I know you have frequented the South Wall, and I'm sure you've noticed that many of the patrons there are...a bit unsavory."

I could see where this conversation was headed. "Yes. The South Wall is clearly the local hangout for thieves. I think I know the Argonian you mean. Quiet, like most of his kind. His name translates as Only-He-Stands-There. Ranis, I've made some friends at the South Wall. I don't want to go in there and kill this Argonian."

She looked a bit irritated, but shrugged. "Who said anything about killing the lizard? We aren't a band of thugs." I couldn't help replaying in my mind the numerous times Ranis had said 'or kill them' at the end of her requests. "You say you have friends there. Talk to them. Talk to this Argonian healer." I was familiar with her expression as she said this. Whenever Ranis mentions anyone with any skill in the mage's arts who is not in the guild she looks like she just bit into a piece of spoiled fruit.

"I'll talk to him. I'm sure this can be worked out." I scampered out of her office before things could get any more strained.

When Ajira heard that I was headed for the South Wall she invited herself along. I was happy for the company, and the South Wall usually has an abundance of Khajiit. The cat people are often skilled in the thieving arts, so a hangout for thieves can usually be identified by looking for them. I thought of the taciturn Wadarkhu in Gnaar Mok, obviously a ranking member; and from what I had gathered a Khajiit called Habasi runs the guild in Balmora. Ajira seemed sympathetic, and I found myself telling her about feeling like Ranis was using me as a thug more than a mage.

"But good friend Arvil Bren," she purred, "you are so brave, and face so many dangers. Ranis can not help but be impressed." She laid her paw on my shoulder, extending her claws to very gently rake my skin. Suddenly I had a twinge of foreboding about what Ajira and Galbedir might be betting on now. She did give me a valuable suggestion. Her friend Edwinna is the guild steward in Ald-ruhn, and Edwinna is more interested in research than the recruiting and politics. I could probably improve my standing by assisting her without having to browbeat anyone into the guild.

Overall the evening went well. Only-He-Stands-There was agreeable, after a few drinks, and will curtail his training. I'm sure he isn't really going to stop, but will be far more circumspect and probably limit himself to members of the Thieves' Guild. Arriving with an affectionate Khajiit on my arm raised my status with Habasi, who I am now certain is in charge around here, and she directly offered me an opportunity to join the guild.

On the way back to the Guild Hall Ajira was again embarrassingly admiring, this time praising my diplomacy with the Argonian. She also commented on Habasi, but lapsed into the gutterals and hisses of Khajiiti. I caught a bit that might have referred to 'scratching her eyes out'. We had both drank a fair quantity of sujamma; Galbedir was glaring again when we boisterously returned; and Ranis was satisfied with my brief report. Discretion is the better part of valor. I transported home rather than risk the sleeping chambers of the hall.

Day Thirty-six: The puzzle box

I rose with the dawn this morning and again transported myself to Balmora. I could no longer ignore the call of duty and destiny. The time had come to return to Arkngthand in search of the puzzle box. I hoped that the looters had found it, and even more wildly hoped that they would just turn it over. While I was at it I might as well have hoped that a cliff racer would glide down from the skies and clarify the mysteries of my life for me, then transform into a pile of gold and a hearty breakfast.

I jogged to the ruins and turned the crank to reveal the doors. I crept inside. My goal was to meet the looters from the head down. The layout of the main entry cavern favored me. Lying on a ledge I watched the building which forms the east side of the huge hall. The main operatives continued their work on the lower level of the building, occasionally climbing to the second level to disappear through a round iron door. Behind that door, I believed, would be the head man of the group. I used my levitation boots and floated down to that upper platform, completely avoiding the sight of the operatives below.

I quietly explored before venturing through the door. The Dwemer built everything with metal it seems. A desk, which would have been stout and sturdy in any material, stood here placed for the ages. Tables, chairs, a small stove; all in the same grey steel. The mundane metal of the furniture served as background for the intricately worked cups and pitcher which graced a shelf, and a gleaming spear which leaned against the desk. The keen edges and delicate balance of the spear were a joy in my hands. Exploration complete I took a brief admiring look at the view out into the cavern, then turned to the round steel door.

I entered as quietly as I could, but immediately drew the scrutiny of a large man in an iron breastplate. The expression on his face left me little hope of a peaceful settlement for the cube. "There is an artifact here that I need," I told him. "Barring that single item you can loot these ruins to the last scrap of tin for all I care."

"I can loot these ruins to the last scrap whether you care or not," he replied. "Imperial law, Dwarven specters, ancient machines. None of those have stopped me. Who do you think you are, Breton?" Whoever I might have thought I was, I was sure the axe he wielded was meant to change my mind.

We circled warily as we spoke, and I worked my way far enough into the room to see that it was stacked with crates. Nearby a shelving unit of stout Dwemer construction held an assortment of artifacts. On the lowest shelf gleamed a perfect cube, intricately carved in ancient runes. I considered a lunge for the cube and a quick teleport to safety. "Listen," I said, "I really want no quarrel with you." I flashed a hand signal, a sign of recognition used in the Theive's Guild in High Rock. I had seen it used and accepted in the South Wall Cornerclub. Though not an active member I hoped it would buy me some favor, but it passed unnoticed. Perplexed, I had to ask "Where are you from, Creto? You don't seem a regular thief."

"I am no thief, Breton scum." He lunged with the axe, and I dodged aside. "Though the Emperor has declared all newly recovered Dwemer artifacts to be Imperial property, Orvas Dren, brother of the Duke himself, holds prior claim to this site. I am under his orders, and you will die for your interference." I ducked under a broad roundhouse swing of the huge blade, spear limber in my hands. My inclination to take the cube and leave the looters to their work was rapidly boiling away. Rumor around the South Wall had it that Orvas Dren was the real power behind the Cammona Tong.

"So you are no thief, but you are clearly no native Dunmer. How did Dren choose you as a footstool for the Cammona Tong? Or were you just cheerfully kneeling when he came along looking to wipe his feet?" The conversation ended there, as there was no longer a question that only one of us would survive the day. Creto was weighed down by a pack laden with artifacts. His great strength may have carried the day against some, but life in Vvardenfell has honed my skills with the spear to a razor's edge. He died groveling and exhausted. I took the cube, and some other artifacts, and transported myself once again to Balmora.

Hasphat received the cube gleefully, turning it over and over in his calloused hands. He gave me a compilation of his information on the Sixth House Cult to give to Caius, and suggested Sharn gra-Muzgob, the Mage Guild's own orc healer, would know far more than he about the Nerevarine Prophecies. The sixth house, House Dagoth, was destroyed and dispersed in the first age after betraying the other Dunmer great houses in what he called the War of the First Council. I don't know what connection this ancient house could have to a dangerous cult in modern day Morrowind. Neither did Caius, but he wants to know, so it appears I will have to find out. While he studies the references that Hasphat provided, Caius has sent me to find out what Sharn knows about the Nerevarine.

Sharn gra-Muzgob is always a surprise to me. She is so smart for an orc, but has all the charm that one might expect from those greenskinned folk. That would be none. I have gotten along with her, well enough to buy potions anyway, but she is always disgruntled when disturbed and today was no exception. When I mentioned Caius she didn't break into smiles, but did show a flash of cunning. "Ah. So it's Caius that is behind you interrupting me with your questions. Well Arvil Bren, doing research for Caius isn't exactly part of your duties here in the guild, is it? So there's really no good reason for me to put my own research aside to help you, is there?" She turned back to her books, but paused. "Of course, you could perhaps help me with something in turn, so I would have time to produce a report for Caius."

Caius clearly sees no sense in just paying for information. The Blades budget is apparently balanced on my time and risk of life and limb. Now I am headed back to the Bitter Coast to delve into yet another tomb. This one I suspect not the long abandoned variety with which I am familiar. Sharn would have me retrieve the skull of a most revered individual from its entombment. She provided me with some useful equipment for the journey, but her warnings about upsetting the locals leave me feeling very uneasy. The skull has to be returned quietly, as Sharn worries quite a bit about the temple suspecting she is a necromancer. Where there's smoke there's fire, and I hope Sharn doesn't find herself stuck in one of those fires by the temple ordinators, who take a very dim view of necromancers.

I teleported home for a good night's sleep before setting off on this next task, but it was denied me. I unloaded my pack on the deck of the shack, as usual, but things were not as usual. My pile of Dwemer cogs was shifted slightly, but noticeably, and when I looked closely I found a long Khajiit whisker sticking out from under them. I could think of no explanation. How could a whisker end up under the heavy stack unless it had been moved? I scanned what I considered to be my island carefully, and turned a wary eye to my own door. Slowly I began shifting the stack of heavy cogs. Underneath I found a note from Wadarkhu:

"Wadarkhu knows you are careful Arvil Bren, so I think you will find this note where no one else would look. There is an outlander looking for you. We tell him nothing, but the Cammona Tong will sell their mothers for a bit of gold or a sharp sword. Watch your back."

The gruff and surly Wadarkhu had given me a fair warning. Apparently he had more of a sense for where I stood in the gang war than I had let on. As Calislahn the Dryad would say, fore-warned is fore-armed. I used the tip of my spear to pull open my door, and ducked as a deadly dart shot over my shoulder into the marsh.

The assassin followed, armed with a heavily enchanted Dwemer shortsword. Had I walked in unsuspecting I would have surely been slain. Poison coursed through me at every prick of the blade, but having reversed the surprise gave me a strong advantage, enough to dispatch yet another hired killer. The Dark Brotherhood has raised the standard in what they are sending after me. Once again I have escaped, but I am tormented by a question. Where am I to escape to now?

Day Thirty-seven: Where the heart is

As they saying goes, when a door closes another opens. Tonight I feel as much at home as I have since being thrown into an Imperial prison in the wake of a misguided burglary. The village of Pelagiad could be plunked down in the middle of High Rock somewhere and no one would guess it came from the far reaches of Morrowind. A day that started out so miserable has come to a fine end!

Early this morning I went into Gnaar Mok to visit Wadarkhu. I wanted to thank him for his warning, and I did, but in turn got an even grimmer warning. Wadarkhu has been getting a lot of pressure from the local authorities. The disappearance of a minor coast guard officer has raised the stakes by drawing the Imperial Legion into the mix. The Cammona Tong, with it's connections high in the great house Hlaalu, has laid the blame squarely at Wadarkhu's feet. The Theive's Guild, reknowned for operating with finesse and subterfuge, is beginning to melt under the close Imperial scrutiny, while known members of the Tong walk the streets openly longing for the day the outlanders are driven from Morrowind. It is madness, but it is clear that my activities have done at least as much harm as good.

With a heavy heart I loaded my armor, weapons, and Dwemer artifacts into crates and sunk them under the shack. I picked a few ingredients of known value to leave behind for now, and loaded the rest of my alchemy supplies into sacks. I will be back to reclaim my possessions, probably coming and going rapidly in the night. Gathering the sacks of hides, plants, crystals and other miscellany I transported myself to Balmora. The local alchemists had a field day filling their larders with rare ingredients. The gold in my pouch did little to ease the ache in my chest as my highly prized lab dissipated away.

From Sharn's directions I have a very good idea where the tomb is located, and rather than follow the roads she recommended I set out across the mountains. Some places were too steep to climb, but my levitation boots made them passable. Passable for me. Difficult for anyone trying to follow. I paused frequently, on hilltops, outcrops, and ledges. It gave me opportunities to take down game, but more importantly I carefully scrutinized my backtrail. After a long afternoon winding through and over the hills I descended into Pelagiad, certain that I had not been followed.

What I found when I entered the village was a town straight out of High Rock. The Imperial Fortress dominates the view to the east, and were it not there there would be no village. Soldiers leaving the legion here took land for their mustering out pay and started the village. Their way of life and architecture attracted others, and the village grew. Though there are Dunmer here, they are not the overwhelming majority they are elsewhere, and even most of the Dunmer are not native born. It really is a piece of home.

I checked myself in at the Halfway Tavern, getting a good meal and a room for the night from Drelasa Ramothran. She is a magnificent cook and runs a well stocked bar in the common room downstairs. Though she is a Dunmer her accent gives her away as having come here from somewhere; possibly Cyrodiil or even my own native province of High Rock. As I was enjoying my dinner I surveyed the rest of the patrons. I am comforted to have once again found myself at the informal meeting place of the Thieve's Guild.

While I was unobtrusively studying the locals they were studying me, some with far less subtlety than I was exercising myself. As I finished my meal a striking Khajiit slid into a nearby seat and purred a greeting. Her name is Ahnassi. Even with the attention I have been getting from Ajira, and to some extent Habasi, it had not really occurred to me that a Khajiit woman could have any kind of amorous intention towards me, but as Ahnassi says, we are all outlanders here. A bard struck up a merry tune, and we danced. She commended me for my smooth moves, and when I protested that I was no acrobat, and in fact felt clumsy next to her incredible feline grace she hushed me, saying that if I wasn't I should be. The way she moved, her open affection, my long imprisonment, and the sujamma combined to work some sort of magic. By evening's end I had looked past the soft downy fur and slitted pupils, and was seeing a lovely woman. She pressed, and I promised to visit Pelagiad frequently. I did not tell her that I currently have no place else to call home.

While we danced Ahnassi told me about the others. The music was provided not by an actual bard, but a dashing Dunmer rogue named Nelos Onmar. She was not anxious to introduce the conjurer Samia, a Bosmer. Without offending the woodelf I made clear to Ahnassi my growing preference for women with stripes, and the tension eased from her lithe shoulders. In talking to her there were mentions of extensive time training in secluded monasteries, and I suspect that in unarmed combat Ahnassi would be a startlingly dangerous foe. Samia definitely showed no inclination to cross her, but of course she probably wasn't interested in me to start with. Same with the Cyrodiil, Ladia. While she was charming, she really couldn't have distracted me anyway. The only really difficult moment for Ahnassi came when a red haired Nord woman swept through the room and up the stairs.

"That one is Hrordis", Ahnassi hissed gently in my ear. "My new friend Arvil Bren should stay away from her."

I protested my lack of interest in the Nord woman, but that was not Ahnassi's actual concern. Being the smooth gliding thief that she is, Ahnassi lets no secret go unexplored, and apparently Hrordis is secretly a worshipper of the bad Daedra. Ahnassi has slipped into her room and seen a belt which is inscribed with Daedric runes. Hrordis frosty air made it easy for me to agree to steer clear of her, especially with this beautiful woman purring in my arms as we danced far into the night.

Day Thirty-eight: Depths of the tomb

I woke this morning and had an excellent breakfast. The comforts of the Halfway Tavern are alluring, and I somehow doubt I will miss the shack. There is definitely something to be said for having a place to call my own though. I am considering exploring the hills nearby for a cave that I can use for shop and lab space. But for today there was work to be done.

The Andrano family tomb is not far to the south, and it was not hard to find. Well before noon I stood at the entrance bolstering my courage. I remembered my previous experiences in similar tombs. I told myself that I am better equipped, more skilled with spear and bow, and much better versed in the arts of magic. Gripping my spear with whitening knuckles I ventured into the dimly lit tunnel and started down the long narrow stair into the depths. Letting me know how welcome I would not be here, a fresh corpse sprawled at the base of the stair.

I cautiously approached the foppishly dressed body, and was startled to recognize the young Dunmer face. I had seen this man, barely a week earlier, at the guild hall in Balmora! With my heart in my throat I realized that I was not the first to be sent here by Sharn. Only time could tell if I would be the last. I edged around the dead man so as not to stir up a cloud of flies and rounded the corner into the first burial chamber, clinging to the shadows, barely breathing. I have become fairly confident in my skills with the longbow, and held my enchanted bow in my hands with an arrow charged with magical electricity ready to draw.

Down a hallway to my left I saw a wandering spirit swaying, translucent in the torchlight. I drew and fired, counting on the enchantment of the arrow to carry across the dimensional barriers. There was a flash of lightning and the arrow clattered to the floor covered in green ectoplasm. The ghost was dispatched completely back to the land of the dead. As I crept down the hall I smiled at the faint whiff of ozone lingering in the air.

I followed the long curving passage until it came to a right hand corner, which I peered cautiously around. Wasted caution. I found myself looking down a flight of stairs, directly into the blazing eye sockets of a skeletal archer. I jerked backwards and a blazing arrow shattered against the wall behind me. I ran noisily a few feet up the passage, then turned and drew my spear. Stealthily I leapt back to the corner, any noise I made lost in the clatter of bony feet charging up the stairs. As my nemesis reached the corner I caught him with a shattering roundhouse blow that scattered bones and arrows like straws in a high wind. I gathered the flame arrows. Their enchantment is even stronger than my shock arrows. I am happy to have them added to my arsenal.

The guardian from the bottom of the stairs safely dispatched I considered going down to the chamber below, but there was a door on my right at the top of the stair. I paused to listen, fearful that something within could emerge behind me. Although there was no sound, I could not take the risk. Easing the door open a crack I looked in; a burial chamber with another skeletal guardian. The skeleton stood unmoving at the far end of the room, near a slightly raised pit which had obviously been well used; it nearly overflowed with the ashes of the dead. In the bony right hand an iron saber hung ready, on the left arm a round iron shield. I eased back and brought an arrow to full draw, then kicked open the door. As the skeleton spun to attack the spark arrow caught him full in the exposed ribcage. A flash of lightning and the shield and saber clattered to the floor among the charred bones. On the edge of the ashpit lay a heart, still beating. I could not resist taking this ghoulish souvenir.

Stealth and enchantment continued to carry the day as I entered the chamber at the base of the stair. Another skeletal guardian peered down a passage at the far end of the large space, apparently unconcerned by the earlier departure of his companion. Nothing was coming from the portal it was responsible for, and it never saw me enter and release the shaft that reduced it to a smoking ruin. In a place of honor a sturdy wooden chest held a mighty Nordic axe, scribed with runes. It was obviously a prize claimed in battle by some long dead Andrano family ancestor, and I elected to leave it undisturbed.

Continuing through the large room I found myself in a short passage, which ended at a door to yet another burial vault. The Andranos have obviously prospered through the centuries. This vault was also well used, but unguarded. I let myself hope that having passed the main chamber I had passed the guards. The short hall offered a side door, and I opened it to find another hall curving deeper still. I hugged the wall, bow in hand, and descended. The builders of the tomb could not get deep enough with the sloping path, and when the tunnel straightened I stood at the top of yet another flight of stairs. How deep below ground was I, I wondered; and how deep would I have to go?

By good luck and good timing I came down the stairs behind another skeletal warrior, this one carrying a vicious halberd at port arms as he paced away down the hall. I crouched on the stairs to see his heels turn around a distant corner, then scuttled quickly down the remaining steps. On my right at the bottom was a door, and I could hear the tortured gasping of a bonewalker. I wedged the edge of the iron shield I had claimed under the door, and lay in wait. As expected, the halberd wielding guardian eventually returned, and seeing me began a doomed charge down the hall. Despite the limited space it did try to avoid my arrows, and even succeeded, once; but long before it could reach me this undead warrior joined its fellows in a flash of lightning and a puff of ozone. The huffing and chuffing of the bonewalker grew very animated, but the door seemed proof against its best efforts. I went to see what lay beyond the distant corner.

Following the narrow stone hall around the corner and to its end led me to a door, which opened into the crypt's chapel. A lectern held a book, no doubt holy to the Dunmer, and the rows of kneeling benches made the room's purpose clear at a glance. A glance being all I spared it as my attention was drawn to a high gallery that encompassed the room. Looking up to the heights of the ceiling I wondered if this chapel could save me the long climb to the surface. I activated my boots and floated up the central open well. A door on the gallery level looked like it would lead back to the entry chamber, and the bonewalker who stood guarding the door was completely unaware that I had risen from the depths behind it. I drew my bow and nocked an arrow, expecting a clean kill.

As I began to draw a sudden impact just below my right shoulder threw me forward onto my face, and blazing agony engulfed my back. Writhing in pain I could not respond as the levitation charge wore off, and I hurtled to a bonebreaking fall on the stone floor below. I rolled, shrieking as broken bones ground against each other, and saw a grinning skull peering down on me from the gallery above, the end of a longbow peeking over the parapet alongside. The skull was quickly withdrawn. I assumed it was satisfied that I would soon be dead. I dragged a mangled hand to my healing belt, and forced the short incantation past my bloodied lips. My bones knit as I sent charge after charge of restorative magic through my broken body. Eventually I was able to reach behind my back and yank the spent flame arrow free, allowing yet further charges from my belt to heal the charred flesh and the deep wound. Soon I was completely healed in body, left with only my pride to be recovered.

I cast my levitation spell. It allowed for a much faster rise to the gallery level, and would sustain far longer than my boots. I rose fast, spinning and weaving, only to find the gallery abandoned. Spell still active I floated out the open door, along a short hallway, and through a second door which did indeed open into the entry chamber. The skeleton archer was not satisfied, it was obviously racing down the long flights to finish me off! I rushed in pursuit, but before I had gone far cold reasoning joined my blazing fury.

It dawned on me that when my adversaries reached the chapel far below and found me gone, they would turn and race back the way they had come. I had no desire to run headlong into a collision. I slid to a stop, then crept along the curving passage listening carefully. The passage straightened, and the distant corner where I had ambushed the other archer came into view. The bones scattered there suggested a repeat performance, but timing was not on my side. The archer who had laid me low pounded around the corner and skidded to a halt drawing its bow. I drew my own and we exchanged fire. I threw myself erratically from side to side, pausing to aim only when my bow was fully drawn, and the skeleton did the same. I was struck a glancing blow, which blazed with magical fire, but it was no match for the cold malice in my heart and I continued to launch my deadly shafts. My target was less durable, and finally fell in a shower of sparks and smoke.

While I had shrugged off my wound to continue the battle I was clearly not ready to start another. When the archer's companion hulked around the corner I turned and fled rather than face the gruesome bonewalker. As I ran I activated my belt yet again, and it quickly soothed the charred flesh of my shoulder. I stopped at the next long stretch of straight hall and waited, no longer the prey. A bonewalker is not put together for speed, and it fell easily in a hail of arrows. Ozone competed with the stench of burnt flesh as I claimed the soulgem that lay at the heart of the monster.

Back on the chapel level I stood at the door that penned in the now irate bonewalker. The shield had moved slightly, but remained thoroughly wedged under the door. The skull I needed had to lie somewhere beyond that door. Would it open on a final burial vault, or even more seemingly endless passages winding into the depths? In either event I was going to have to face the oozing monstrosity that pounded on the other side of the door. I kicked the shield free and ran for the far end of the hall where it turned for the chapel. The bonewalker was surprised by the sudden release and staggered through the doorway to smack wetly against the opposite wall. I rounded the corner unseen. A brief pause to fully draw my bow and I popped back around the corner. The bonewalker had guessed wrong, and I could just see its feet disappearing up the stairs beyond the open door.

I rushed in pursuit and reached the bottom of the stairs in time to plant an arrow deep in the fleshy back of the hulking creature. The arc of lightning left hunks of muscle hanging loosely, and they swung wildly as the monster turned. A second shot blasted it backwards onto the stairs, and it fell still. Thankfully, beyond the door was an ornate burial chamber, the crypt of the enchanter, Llevule Andrano. I claimed the skull, and a cruelly enchanted ceremonial dagger. Sharn will get the skull, the dagger will grace my collection if I ever again have a home.

I returned to Pelagiad tired and scarred, but healthy. Ahnassi fussed over me. There was no hiding the holes and burns that had reduced my shirt to a rag. There is a merchant across the street from the Halfway Tavern, a Breton like myself. I will get myself a new shirt in the morning. For now I will relax under the purring ministrations of my new friend.

Day Thirty-nine: Ald-ruhn

Today I have traveled far, mostly by teleportation, and I will rest comfortably knowing the Dark Brotherhood would have no reason to think to look for me here in Ald-ruhn. Edwinna Elbert has given me a comfortable room of my own here in the guild hall. I suppose arriving as an established member with the rank of Evoker gave me more initial status than I had wandering in from the swamps to join the guild in Balmora. Bringing greetings from her friend Ajira certainly didn't hurt my welcome either.

My head is slightly aswirl tonight. I met too many people today. Dinner here at the guild hall was hectic with new names, new faces, and terms that were unfamiliar to me. Talk of 'under Skar' left me quite confused until Vala Catraso saw my plight and explained the term. Apparently the House Redoran council chamber, councilor's manors and the upper crust of Ald-ruhn all can be found under the ancient shell of a giant crab, known as Skar. I felt compelled after dinner to go out and see this wonder. It is indeed immense, covering the entire north end of the city.

I had not seen Skar, or anything else of Ald-ruhn for that matter, because I arrived through the magical transport of a guild guide. These specialists provide instant transportation between all the guild halls on Vvardenfell. I think I will establish my enchanting lab and library here in the room Edwinna assigned me, since it will be easily accessed from any guild hall. This is a good place for a library. Edwinna stresses scholarship, and Vala is actually running a school right in the guild hall, teaching ashlanders to read. I wonder though if Edwinna's studies are purely theoretical. She has asked me to find her a copy of a very rare book, The Chronicles of Nehuleft. She is clearly studying the Dwemer in great depth, and a passing comment or two leads me to believe she is actually trying to construct her own versions of the Dwemer centurions. A risky proposition. The Dwemer are considered an ancient menace by the Tribunal Temple, trafficking in Dwemer artifacts is a crime against the Empire, and the question of how to control such a construct is another serious consideration.

I will not be the one to hinder her though, since I have my own secrets regarding Dwemer artifacts. This morning I met the Pelagiad trader Mebestien Ence, a fellow Breton. Ahnassi had given me a little inside information about his inventory, and when the guard posted in his shop had gone out of earshot I broached the subject. Ence does indeed traffic in Dwemer artifacts, and I told him that I would be returning with some for him to purchase. I claimed a cave near Pelagiad to use for storage and left a new mark, and I will be transporting all my possessions there as soon as I can make the trek to Gnaar Mok.

The cave is small, and even though the former residents apparently lived there I don't really want to become some sort of cave dwelling hermit bandit. The towering Nord and his partner will have to be disposed of when I return. No ready access to a sea of slaughterfish unfortunately. They were obviously bandits and I'm sure they will not be missed. Among their loot I found an engraved silver bowl that obviously did not belong to them. I may visit the East Empire Company and try to locate the owner. A selfless good deed to ease my conscience? While I have confined myself mostly to the bandits and thugs of the Cammona Tong the death that I am leaving in my wake is starting to weigh on me. Today's harmless bandit couple perhaps most of all.

I am proceeding on my fated task, however. In fact Caius is so happy that he promoted me to Blades Apprentice when I brought him Sharn's notes on the Nerevarine Prophecies. I am troubled though. The prophecy involves someone born of uncertain parentage on a certain day, my birthday. Is the Empire thinking of trying to pass me off as this Nerevarine? The Tribunal Temple makes a habit of imprisoning, torturing, or roasting claimants to Nerevar's mantle. Being pushed forward as a possibility would make for a short and unpleasant stay here, but would go far towards explaining my sudden release from prison. Another line in the prophecy called The Stranger says the Nerevarine shall be stalked by the wicked. Could that be the Dark Brotherhood? And is the Emperor sending them after me himself to give the appearance of prophecy fulfilled? I delivered the skull to Sharn to get answers, and ended up with questions. Caius needs a few days to read and plan, hopefully he will be able to make some things clearer when I see him again.

In the interim I will find this book for Edwinna and get myself cleared from Gnaar Mok. It is a long walk from here to the coast. I will have time to think.

Day Forty: Good deeds

My conscience is eased. I did good deeds today, without thought of reward. My former life, and the sympathy it engenders for banditry, is another step further behind me. Sent glimmering into the past by a fiery haired Dunmer woman.

I set out this morning in the pre-dawn mists, headed west from Ald-ruhn. I was told there was no marked path to the coast, so I entrusted myself to direction by the sun and followed my shadow. The Ashland wastes provide few obstacles, and the occasional rocky ridge I could levitate over if need be. My objective was to get clear of the Ashlands, perhaps reach the coast, by days end. The first opportunity to do good presented itself as the sun still climbed through mid-morning.

I topped a small rise, not so steep that I had to levitate, and came upon one of the many trails that seem to run haphazardly through the wastes. Standing at the trail's edge was a Nord, who immediately boomed a less than friendly greeting. "Speak to me now, or when this enchantment ends I will bathe in your blood." I have almost had my fill of boorish Nords, and must admit that sticking an arrow or two into the broad bare chest crossed my mind, but my temper was stayed by the obvious predicament the fool was in. The Nord was paralyzed, frozen in place, wearing only a loincloth between boot clad feet and fur trimmed helm. Rather than kill the great oaf I stood on the hilltop and roared with laughter.

When I had gotten my breath, and calmed the stricken warrior enough to converse, I heard the whole sad tale. Hisin Deep-Raed it turns out had taken on employment as a bodyguard guide to a woman, who apparently has some skill in witchcraft and reportedly is quite attractive. The big Nord was loathe to admit the attractive part though, since he fairly boiled at every mention of his erstwhile employer. My own guess is that he was a little too attracted, and his state of undress speaks volumes of his intentions. For his part he claims no idea why she would do such a thing, but the witch woman opted to paralyze him and leave him on display when she moved on this morning. I made it a point not to laugh any further at this turn of events, and was forgiven my previous outburst when my spell cured Hisin's ailment and set him free to move.

Much to my surprise he rewarded me with his enchanted helm, Icecap, which has a permanent protection from frost cast upon it. I thanked him with a hearty clap on his bare shoulder and continued merrily on my way, leaving him fairly raving about how he would be dashing the witches brains out on the first handy rock when he found her. I did not ask how he thought he was going to avoid her magic the second time around. He did not seem in the mood for questions.

With that good deed behind me I continued on, crossing out of the ashlands into the green hills of the West Gash region. I was welcomed by an angry nix-hound. This grayish green waist high carnivore runs rapidly on four legs which end in broad three toed feet. They are ill-tempered, but not overly dangerous or durable. I made a very satisfying lunch of him.

With a full belly and a spring in my step I was in perfect shape for my next encounter. In a lush little valley stood my red haired vision, surrounded by her guar herd. Drulene Falen is a Dunmer, native born though not on Vvardenfell. She is not fond of the ruling house in her native Tear, and is quite happy with the lax governance of the Redorans. Of course their laxity is magnified because she is in a fairly remote area, which lead to my second good deed of the day.

Although the Redorans are a very martial house, they do not regularly get out to this far flung corner of their district, and Drulene and her neighbors have been being preyed upon without defense. Early this morning she lost one of her guar to a pair of marauding mudcrabs. I could not imagine mudcrabs taking down a guar, or facing a spirited herder, even if she wielded nothing more than a broom, but these were not the ordinary mudcrabs. I followed the bloody trail through a nearby pass into the bracing salt air of the bitter coast. The crabs had stopped at the first bit of swampy ground, and were lolling about gorged on guar meat. I marveled again that they had gone so far afield, but dispatched them without mercy. I butchered what was left of the guar and returned to Drulene.

We feasted on crabmeat and hackle-lo leaf and talked far into the evening. She is boldly independent, living here on the fringe of settled Morrowind, but very good company. Though she did not ask directly and I did not portray myself as some sort of assassin, I will take some time tomorrow to seek out a group of bandits she says have been operating in the area and dissuade them from disrupting this beautiful woman's idyllic farm.