Speaker’s Journal, Entry 1-4: A River Runs Through It

Passing through the last door, we emerged into a vast space of tall cliffs, strange, sharp edged spires, scattered fires in red and blue, clusters of tents, and an assortment of distant people. The sky was a shifting blur of grey and dark blue, and the wind was chill and acid-tinged.  If I’d had any doubts about this place being in Oblivion, that sky erased them.  I had not been everywhere in my family’s travels, but I had been in many places, and this sky was found in none of them. It hurt the eyes to look at, so I decided not to.  “If you can’t eat it, and it can’t eat you, you are free to ignore it.” (Another of Aunt Leaf’s sayings.) I did have a nagging urge to open my map, which, seeing as I did not have a map, seemed a bit daft.

[Here, let me do that for you.]

An image bloomed in my mind, of the space in front of me.

WailingPrisonMap

I shook my head. And there I thought I was doing so well, and now we’re back to voices and hallucinations.

[Look, I’m sorry you’re hearing me right now. You’re not really supposed to, I’m supposed to be an instinct and you’re just supposed to go with it.  See, look at the map: you’re that little blue arrow at the top.  See how the valley in front of you lays out to the south and matches what you’re looking at?  That’s helpful, right? My advice is to ignore me, and just let me be helpful.]

I am full of helpful voices in my head today. You’re the same one from before, right, the one talking about Jypshins?  And what should I call you, “Mad Prophet #2”?

[“Egyptians”.  But, yes, that was me.  And I said I’m not him, I’m another part of you.  You can call me Charles, but really, just ignore me. Sorry to distract you; you mentioned the map, so there it is.  Do go on.]

Fine, J’Arlz, just don’t show me things like that during combat, or we’ll both be dead.

[No problem.]

“Come,” Lyris said, almost as if she weren’t talking to a raving lunatic. “The Sentinels are at the top of those towers. We need to find a way up.” To my natural question, she responded, “Magical constructs created by Molag Bal” (I winced at his naming) “to guide his vision in Coldharbor. The Sentinels are connected. If we destroy one, the others will be blinded. With any luck, that will buy us the time we need to find the Prophet.”  Nothing like relying on luck to avoid the threat of eternal flaying.  Hoping that there was some practicality to her, I asked, “How can we destroy it?” “I’ve no idea. Brute force? We’ll find a way. We have to. Be ready for anything, I doubt Molag Bal left the Sentinels unguarded.” This is practicality to a Nord: in lieu of a plan, she offered more danger, a homeopathic treatment of peril. Lacking a better idea, and with every indication from her that I still needed to prove myself by leading, I proceeded down the stairs from our entry platform, into the valley of madness and packing in my own supply.

The floor of the cavern was a patchwork of tents and lean-tos, clustering around rocky outcrops, with burning fires that offered scant warmth, chests and barrels with meager foodstuffs, and several kinds of people. Well, people-ish. The Lord Sheggorath holds sway over many forms of insanity, and so many were on display here that I wondered if my new friends were blaming the right Daedric Prince. Panic from my fellow prisoners was the ruling emotion, as they ran to and fro looking for a way out or defending themselves from random attackers who were clearly surprised and displeased by the jailbreak. Enthusiasm from the small handful of those prisoners who were clearly adventurers with a poor sense of self preservation. Savage fury from scattered, white faced folk who clearly must be those “Ferals” that the Argonian had warned me of, who would leap at anything that moved, ripping and tearing with clawed fingers and, in at least two cases that I saw, feeding afterward. Or during. Catatonia from many, who stood by the hundreds gazing blankly at nothing, perhaps safe from the Ferals by virtue of their immobility. And then the Daedra, a new kind: elemental atronachs of blue flame, perhaps serving as guards to the rest, although their guardianship seemed limited to hurling fire at anything that got near them.

I had seen the towers that Lyris had mentioned, but how to get up to them without dying horribly? Lyris confessed that she knew the way up no better than I.  Could Map Guy help?

[You’re doing fine.]

ColdharborCampOf course he would say that; why be useful when you can just annoy me?  Fine, then; as a methodical Khajiit, I turned immediately to my left, and started exploring the valley as if it were a garden maze, sticking to one wall and following its twists and turns, looking for any stairs or doorways. This had a couple of secondary advantages: it gave me a chance to approach threats cautiously and kept me from being surrounded by melee on all sides, and it let me check every crate, chest, and bag I encountered, looting like mad in the hope of finding any weapon or shabby piece of armor better than these old rags.  Lyris started to protest the delay, but I cut her off. Did she know the way up? No. Did she have armor for me? No. Then if she wanted my help with their addled scheme, she could put up with me being able to survive long enough to give it. She grumbled, but started to settle when I found an iron chest piece and a second sword. She settled further when we hit our first enemy, a Feral whose engagement with another prisoner had brought them to block the exit of a cul de sac we were about to leave.

ColdharborFeralWith two swords and a bit of armor, I felt confident enough to leap on the creature — in defense of my unnamed compatriot — slashing at the thing’s vulnerable back from behind. Lyris joined in, and the thing was down in seconds.  The woman nodded her thanks, and ran on her way, and Lyris was grinning her widest yet, a Nord in her natural element.  After that, we fell into a pattern: loot, look for enemies, and I’d do my best to hit them from behind before Lyris alerted them with a battle cry.  “Scream and leap!” may be my ancestral motto, but I’ve always preferred “Leap and no time to scream” as being much more satisfying.

In that fashion, I acquired a motley but nearly complete set of armor from assorted chests — bits of cloth, leather, and iron, all in bad shape and ill fitting, and I would win no fashion shows, but thank Rahjin nonetheless. ColdharborAtronach2I also gathered enough distressed foods to open a restaurant for carrion crows, a book on Orcish crafting styles that would surely prove an invaluable diversion later when we paused at a tea shop to relax and take in the night air.  And a handful of golds.  And to keep Lyris happy, we slew no less than a dozen Ferals and nearly that many Atronachs, who, it turns out, go down just as quickly from punctures to their flaming kidneys as do any more conventional enemy. Though you must jump back quickly once they go; their flame explodes when they discorporate, and the first nearly burned my whiskers off.  (I’d not have dared them, but for Lyris charging in when one surprised us.)

ColdharborAtronachIn the process, I felt myself strengthening, almost by the minute. This, of course, was relative. I could swing and dodge a bit better, but I couldn’t manage more than a couple of special techniques, and they quickly left me winded.  As did sneaking for any distance… my thighs would start to burn from the constant crouching, an embarrassment to any self-respecting Khajiit.  But it was the right direction.

ColdharborSentinelEventually, we found our way up a ramp, past a few routine adversaries, and arrived at a giant floating eyeball.  It matched the description of Sentinel On A Tower remarkably well, certainly better than anything else we’d seen so far.  Neither of us was a mage who could blast fire or lightning at it, but as Cousin Elf Eater says, “When all you know are horseshoes, everything is a horse.” (Cousin spoke rarely, but as a battle cat the size of a small house, you could tell that such mistakes were a sore spot for him.)  So I used the tools I had, summoned what little skills and magicka I had, and leapt upon the eyeball, blades first, finally taking the opportunity to scream beforehand.  This was probably overkill: eyeballs are notoriously fragile things, and this was no exception.  There was a soft bang and a great wash of light, and the thing evaporated as if it had never been.  A bit anti-climactic, if you ask me, but that’s probably for the best.

“Quickly! While he’s blinded, we must get to the Prophet’s Cell!” Lyris nearly led the way this time, spurred by her own enthusiasm; I think she caught herself at the very last moment. I began to wonder what she knew that I didn’t, letting me take the lead when she was the one that knew the route.

{The God of Brutality knows of your escape. Hurry!}

The Prophet again. It must be frustrating to be in a cell, know how you can get out, and have to rely upon nagging others to do it for you.  Out of compassion, I would try to move faster. The place Lyris led us was up a broad set of stairs, but when we got there, the door was blocked by a shimmering blue barrier. “Damn it! Destroying the Sentinel must have triggered these wards. We need to find another way in.” She paused in thought, while I sent helpful prayers to Khenarthi, the Goddess of the Winds. “Hmm. Maybe Cadwell can help us.”

“And who is Cadwell?” I prodded.  “Cadwell is the oldest of the Soul Shriven. After years of torment, Soul Shriven usually go insane and turn feral, but not Cadwell. He was already insane before he left Tamriel. Mad as a box of frogs, but completely harmless. You’ll see.”

I myself prefer to label people and things no more generously than “mostly harmless”, and I wasn’t changing this preference for Lyris’s sake.  I asked how this mad man could help us — not that he couldn’t.  With all the mad people and the disembodied voices already in my head, another mad man could only be a positive boon!  But more to the question of what he could do.  “Cadwell sees things as he wishes them to be.  To him, Coldharbor is a wondrous place. It’s his home. And he knows it like the back of his hand.  He’s usually down by the river. Let’s go find him.”

I was getting a pretty good sense of the place, after all this wandering about…

[And the map.]

CadwellYes, and the map. And Cadwell was so close that I moved towards his location unerringly, as if he had an arrow hanging over his head.  When we arrived, we found a man who looked for all the world like he was having a rustic camp at a summer fair, playing for the enjoyment of a few friends. (Instead of another cluster of catatonic drones.)  He looked up and exclaimed delightedly, “Hello, what’s this? Out for a stroll then? Lovely day for it.”

[He sounds like he has a silly walk.]

Shut up, Map Person, you’re not helping. “You must be Cadwell,” I replied, distractedly. “Sir Cadwell, yes indeed,” he corrected gently. “A pleasure! And fair Lyris! Good to see you, m’dear” How are you then?”  I gave them a moment to exchange greetings, and when he asked if he could help us I responded, “We’re trying to get inside the Prophet’s enclosure.  The door is sealed.”

“Oh dear, oh dear.  Well, that is inconvenient, isn’t it?  Tell you what — I happen to know another way in!  Much more of a scenic route. Rather a fun little jaunt, actually.  Full of traps, and corpses, and nasty beasties filling up the bits in between.”  Hoping that he knew of a trick to bypass all of that unpleasantry, I asked, “How do we get through all of that?”  “Rather cautiously, I expect.” Well, said, sir! What delightful company he was. “Watch your step, hold your nose, and do mind the traps.  There’ll like as not be a fair dose of running and skull-bashing as well.”  He directed us to the entrance: down the river, through a door at the water’s edge, follow the lights of the tunnel, and go up the ladder at the end. “Do give him my best.”

Before we left him, I had to ask if he wanted to accompany us out.  I’d have asked the Argonian, too, but he was long behind us. Cadwell then launched into a tale of how he’d gotten here to begin with, “Gallant knight, epic quests, rescued maidens!” and so forth. Followed by decapitation, eons here, and now he thought the place felt like home.  Didn’t think anyone could really find a way out, either. “But a good uprising now and again is a pleasant diversion, so where’s the harm, eh?”

We took our leave, with thanks, cut our way through the atronachs between us and the river, and followed it to the door he’d mentioned.  We weren’t the only ones trying this route, but for us it wasn’t a random guess, and we moved through the entry and into — what had Cadwell called it?  The Undercroft.

 

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