Stuff!

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a genuine post, so I think now’s a good time to make one up as I go along.

I hit myself in the face with an arnis stick in training last night. We were practicing stick disarms, and as I pulled the stick from my partner’s grasp, I managed to hit myself in the head. My teeth are a little sore, and my lips a little broken, but hopefully there’s no long-term nerve damage. I also strained my injured wrists, probably from holding on longer than advisable during the disarm drills. Logically I knew it was foolish to risk exacerbating an injury, but I really wanted to teach a junior member how to lock a person’s wrist to make it easier to disarm them. My knuckles are very sore, too, from all the knuckle-based exercises I did because I was unable to flex my wrists into a plank position.

I seem to get quite a lot of injuries from training. Why would any rational human being do that to themselves? you might ask. It’s not particularly practical, it’s quite expensive and I seem to accumulate ridiculous injuries unnecessarily. So why do I do it? My friend recently asked me such a question on camp (which was awesome, by the way. I really missed sleeping in a tent, though Bethwyn didn’t find it too comfortable). I took a while to think about it, and finally responded “Because I love it.” The martial arts are inherently part of me- as Jackie Chan says in “The Karate Kid”, all things are kung fu. Dozens, if not hundreds of times a day, I train. For example, as I was waiting for Beth to try on some clothes today, I used the mirrors in Sportsgirl to practicexingyi stepping/turning. I did taiji when I woke up this morning, as well as feng quan (mountain top boxing) and the tiger crane form. But less formally, when I open a door I pivot my front foot out of the way by turning on the heel, or I shift my weight back to avoid and swing. When I turn off a light switch, I practice my age ko uke. When I open a door, I use my washide to catch it before it swings too widely. As I walk around, I practice twisting, turning, closing and depressing my hands in various ways, just because I enjoy the feeling and beauty of the movement. I might brush my teeth in mabu, or playfully deflect Bethwyn’s pokes with single whip. Practically every physical expression of who I am is through gong fu and my martial arts. And that is why, even on my birthday, there are very few things I would rather be doing than training with the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts in Bayswater on a Monday night.

My morning ritual has become very undisciplined. As part of my counselling, I am encouraged to write lines every day. I think I’d like to write at greater length on the power of affirmations, but the gist of it is thus. When we are children, we learn certain thoughts in order to help us survive. These thoughts have kept us alive, but may no longer be helpful to us in adulthood. For me, these are thoughts such as “I always have to be doing something productive”, “I cannot waste resources/opportunity”, “I must make sure nobody dislikes me”, “I must help others because they are more important than myself” and other such things. I stress, these thoughts are not wrong, but nor are they helpful to me now. Every day, I spend fifteen minutes writing/reading aloud the following statement: “My future is positive and bright. I am happy, I feel good.” It helps to neutralise the negativity and stress that I have running in my subconscious, and I usually feel much better after even a few minutes of writing. It’s only been a month now, but over time (and as I take on new affirmations), I trust that I will be (more) ready to let go of some of the things that frustrate my ability to be happy.

Skyrim is going awesome, yo. I’ve got about 206 hours of gameplay saved, several hours of which has probably come from loading screens and idle time. I am amazed that I have been so interested for so long, but it is tremendously satisfying to say that I’ve completed every quest in the game that I’ve come across (and that my character would take on). Furthermore, about half of my skills are maxed out at Level 100, and I am probably the strongest mage in the history of Skyrim (including conjuration, not through summoning creatures, but from binding energy into the form of weapons, and enchanting, not through trapping souls, but from releasing them through the disintegration of enchanted objects and soul gems). At last, at last, I am going to continue the main quest line. In my monks robes, with Dawnbreaker across my back and my plain armour in my pack, I shall fulfill my destiny as the Dragonborn.

Well, this is rather less interesting than I thought it will be. Oh well! Toodles.

Tales from Skyrim: Part 3

Having previously contributed to the unfortunate death of Grelod the Kind, and then accidentally killing a fellow Khajiit who I took to be a bandit, a messenger approached me one day while I was passing through Windhelm. He gave me a note and went on his way, and when I opened it, my blood ran cold. All it contained was the imprint of a black hand and the two words “We know”.

I knew this to be the work of the Dark Brotherhood, that infamous band of assassins who recruited those who committed the travesty of murder. How they had found me I could not know, but legend had it that they would appear the next time the murderer slept. Not wishing to delay my fate, I went to bed almost immediately, casting on myself a spell to harden my skin like stone, and I wore full armour beneath the sheets. Yet my preparations were in vain, for when next I woke, I was in a small, darkly lit cabin, the door of which was locked. Sitting daintily on top of a tall shelf was a petite woman wearing shrouds of cloth and armour about her person, disguising all her features save the amusement in her eyes. Having been drugged and kidnapped, I was cautious in my proceedings.

Astrid, for that was her name, explained to me that by killing Grelod the Kind, I had stolen a contract that was meant for the Dark Brotherhood. She gave me no chance for explanation, but instead turned my attention to the rest of the cabin. It was only then that I realised I was not alone- bound, kneeling and with sacks covering their heads were three other prisoners: a Khajiiti gangster, a scornful mother and a frightened mercenary. Astrid tasked me with figuring out which of them the Brotherhood had been hired to kill, and promised me that I would not leave the shack without someone in it dying. Her choice of words were peculiar and hope flared in my heart, but I set about questioning the prisoners nevertheless. Having discovered all I could from them, and deciding it was probably the Khajiit, I suddenly turned about and attacked Astrid! She constituted a “person in the shack” and so I assailed my kidnapper. She put up a fight but was soon overwhelmed by me, and with her dying breath, she seemed to smile as she whispered “Well done…”

I took from her body her unusual armour and weapons, signatures of the assassin, and set the other prisoners free. Thereafter, I resolved to learn all I could about the Dark Brotherhood to prevent their vengeance from extinguishing me. As it so happened, an Imperial captain had been tracking the assassins to their lair and had just discovered a means of entry. So, I raided the Lair of the Brotherhood, besting each of its assassins in single combat (so as not to draw them all to me at once). It was rather like Bruce Lee working his way through the tower in Game of Death. When my gruesome work was done, I took from their headquarters every trace of their Shrouded Armour and Clothes, the enchanted raiment which was their signature, so that no one else would ever use it. Although I slay all who were present, the number of living areas within their hideout suggested to me that there were other members who were still at large. I have not yet found them, but it would not surprise me to find myself the target of an ambush some day soon.

***

In the town of Falkreath, I met a couple in the cemetery who were mourning the loss of their young daughter. When I inquired what had happened, I learned that the farmhand they had hired had turned into a werewolf and attacked the child. Sorry for their loss, I slipped a flawless emerald into the woman’s pocket and went to the jail to talk to the man. It seemed that Sinding, for that was his name, was cursed with the werewolf blood and was seeking a way to control the transformations that wracked him every month. He acquired a Ring of Hircine, Daedric Prince of Hunting and werewolves, but Hircine cursed the ring so that Sinding would transform at random and would be unable to remove it. He hoped that Hircine might be appeased by the hunting of a legendary stag, and so I accepted the ring in the hopes of breaking the curse upon it.

Unfortunately, the ring molded itself to me and would not be removed. Fearing that I might spontaneously transform and endanger the inhabitants of the town, I quickly fled into the wilderness. I assumed the only way I could undo the curse was gaining an audience with the Daedra, and so I tracked and killed the stag. Hircine manifested before me and warned me that Sinding had already escaped from jail and fled, and that it was now my duty to slay him if I wanted the ring to be removed. With a heavy heart, I tracked the werewolf to a lair he had fled to, and found therein a dying hunter. Hircine, it seemed, had rallied all those faithful to him to kill Sinding who had insulted him. As I continued into the cave, I eventually came upon Sinding in his terrifying lycan form. He besought me to help him defeat the remaining hunters, and seeing in him a man who just wanted to be permitted to live without persecution, a man sorry for the hurt he had caused, I agreed. I fought and defeated each of the hunters who sought to make Sinding their prize, and from each of their bodies I took a weapon. When finally we killed them all, Hircine appeared. Fearing his intention was to chastise me for killing his servants, instead he praised me on my excellent hunting skills and gave his blessing to me in the form of a new ring. Sinding promised he would never trouble civilisation again and would enjoy the hermitage he had chosen. As a way to dissuade further would-be-hunters from seeking his lair, I left the weapons of those I had slain by its entrance to serve as a warning of the danger within. It is said that on nights of the full moon, a werewolf can still be found lurking around those parts of the forest.

***

Speaking of hunting, I came upon a cabin in the wilderness one day that richly furnished with animal furs and the mounted heads of a wolf, sabrecat and troll. Its occupants were Froki, an aged hunter, and his grandson, who wished to test my dedication to the warrior goddess known as Kyne (or Kynareth, though the latter is but a poor remembrance of her full glory). If I wanted to prove myself worthy as a hunter, I would have to hunt a number of guardian animals of increasing strength and challenge. I rose to the task, keen to prove myself and gain the favour of the goddess. But I was faced with a dilemma: I had no skill with a bow! I barely knew how to draw one let alone hit anything with it. I could use magic to set my prey aflame, but I felt this would be a dishonourable way of hunting. I could use armour and weapons, but what natural creature could ever hope to best a man whose clothes were harder than steel and whose weapons were far deadlier than teeth? No… The only way of hunting was to do it the way nature intended. Having accepted the quest, I set about collecting animal hides. These I turned into high quality leather, which I crafted into even higher quality armour. Being a Khajiit, I was myself a beast, with claws to scratch and padded feet to stalk. Wearing only this set of leather vambraces, boots and cuirass, I left off all reminders of my civilised life (my wedding ring, my amulet, my circlet) and killed my prey with my bare claws. It was a savage joy I felt in returning to my predator roots, though I found myself somewhat far out of my depths when I fought a mammoth thus armed. (I concede, to claim that victory I hardened my skin and closed my wounds with magic.) When I had defeated each of the guardian animals, I returned to Froki who acknowledged my spirit and rewarded me with a token of Kyne. I made sure to don my usual clothes and ornaments before I returned to civilisation to tell my wife of my adventures.

***

In that corrupt city of Riften, home to the infamous Thieves Guild and the old woman ironically named Grelod the Kind, the Jarl has little influence over the running of the town. Though she is officially its leader, she (as well as all townsfolk) defer to Maven Blackbriar as the woman who calls the shots. Maven built up an industry by fermenting high quality mead and selling it across Skyrim. She also achieved status and wealth through blackmail, bribes, defamation, piracy and assassination. All in all, she cuts others down to raise herself up, and due to her connections with the Empire, the Thieves Guild, and the band of assassins known as The Dark Brotherhood, she considers herself quite untouchable by both the guards and any civilian. But not, perhaps, by the Dragonborn.

After much deliberation, I decided that the world would be better off without Maven Blackbriar. Although an Imperialist, her corruption and selfishness have ruined countless lives already, and her influence could only lead to further destruction. However, driving her from Riften would not be enough- she, with all her resources, would doubtlessly wind up in some other part of the continent to ruin other people’s lives, or worse, she would turn the Empire against me. No… There was no alternative but for Maven to die. This was not a responsibility I took lightly. I ruminated on the effects it would have on her family and those close to her: her son was an arrogant bully, confident in his mother’s ability to protect him. Her grandson, too, was a bully (of little influence or consequence), and her granddaughter wanted nothing more than to prove her skill in concocting poisons, which might one day earn her a place among the Dark Brotherhood’s ranks. Maven’s death would lead her son to inherit her property and businesses, and he would do a miserable job- if he proved to be as cold and ruthless, I would deal with him in turn. Her granddaughter, the skilled alchemist, was mentally unstable and it would be impossible to predict the effects Maven’s death would have on her. Yet I fancied that without her grandmother’s oppressive rule, she might flourish into a young woman of talent and morality, no longer starved for approval. Her brewery would suffer for a time, but I felt confident that its successive owner would treat its workers more kindly and produce a more ethical mead for Skyrim. And, doubtless, the citizens of Riften would thank me for the service I would do them. Thus I condemned her to death.

But I had to take some actions to protect myself from retribution, for Maven was not an opponent to be trifled with. My first task was to gain immunity from the Thieves Guild. I did this by joining their ranks and being invited into their inner circle. Although they all yielded to Maven’s authority, they would at least have cause to hesitate before turning on me. Next, I nullified the threat of the Dark Brotherhood through the adventures I have already described. Finally, I sought to rise to a place of influence within the Hold. I helped the people of Riften and performed certain tasks for the Jarl herself to win her favour. She rewarded me with Thanedom (Lordship), one of the boons of which was total immunity from a single crime.  Furthermore, having broken into Maven’s house, I had discovered (among letters of blackmail and other suspicious evidences) the remains of a body in her cellar: it had been covered in nightshade and stabbed several times. As you will no doubt recall, this is the Black Sacrament, that damned ritual which is meant to alert the Dark Brotherhood to your desire to employ them. Knowing this damning evidence was beneath her house, I decided to further condemn her by making it seem as if some remaining agent of the Brotherhood had sought revenge on her. Thus I donned the shrouded armour the Brotherhood favoured and took up the Blade of Woe. I also still possessed the note they had left me which, if left upon her body, might draw an accusing glance upon Maven’s fate. Thus, with these preparations in place, I plotted the deed.

I stole into her house in the early hours of the morning, covered my blade in a poison that would render her motionless, and stabbed her wildly as she slept. It was messy, unkind work, but I deemed it necessary for the good of Skyrim. She faded from existence, not metaphorically but quite literally; the game appeared to glitch as she vanished. I was alerted that I had been kicked out of the Thieves Guild for attacking one of its members, and her son (though formerly asleep in another part of the mansion) rushed into her room and attacked me. I planned on flight to save his life, but to my astonishment, Maven fizzled back into existence and joined in the attack. Overwhelmed, I defended myself and struck her down again. It was only then that I realised my mistake: she had not, like any other person, died when she was struck down. Instead, she fell unconscious and revived a few seconds later, because the game deemed her too important to the storyline to be killed. And so, having failed my attempt, I reloaded a previous save and plotted other ways to minimise the damage she would do when the Empire came to power.

***

If you haven’t already read them, you can read more about the adventures of the Khajiit named Xin in parts 1 and 2.

Tales from Skyrim (and Tamriel!) Part 2

So this is the second installment of my adventures in the land of Skyrim, continued on from Part 1. I also thought it might be worth mentioning how I chose to conclude the end of my adventures in Oblivion

***

The realm of OblivionThe Oblivion Crisis (as it would come to be known) was terrible. The cult of the Mythic Dawn was driven to reunite the plains of Oblivion (hell) with that of Cyrodiil, opening portals into the demon world all across the land. Every time I happened upon one, I instantly darted into it, seeking out its anchor to the world and destroying it, sealing the portal forever. But as time passed on, more portals began opening exponentially faster than I could discover and close them, and daedra (demons) were pouring into the world at an alarming rate. I saved cities and towns from destruction, rallying soldiers and leading raids into the demonlands, even stopping an incredible war machine from drilling through the walls of the Imperial City. The people started calling me a Hero and built a monument to honour me. (As I posed for it, I was careful to wear only Elven armour, the akaviri daikatana across my back and the two enchanted rings I forged which I named Moon’s Tear and Tiger’s Flame. Although there were far more powerful weapons and armour in the game, this ensemble looked the best, and I felt it was truest to my desired playing style.) Through powerful and ancient magic, I travelled into an alternate dimension to put an end to the cult once and for all, but despite my victory, I was unable to stop the demon prince Mehrunes Dagon from invading Tamriel. In order to save the world, the young emperor Martin gave himself up to the Aedra (gods) and became the avatar of Akatosh. Thus transformed, he conquered Mehrunes Dagon and perished.

The world became very quiet. Signs of the Oblivion Crisis scarred the land, but the danger had passed, and with it, the need for my presence. People still greeted me as a hero, but there was nothing left for me to do among them. How could I have done so much and been so great, only to resume looking for fish scales to help a farmer retire, or gathering stolen bread for a scorned baker? I had finished almost every quest the game held (at least, the ones that my character would take on) and now I had finally accomplished my destiny of saving Cyrodiil. The Elder Council wanted to thank me for my service by providing me with a set of Dragonscale Armour, but otherwise the world continued as normal. I no longer felt connected to the denizens of Cyrodiil, and so in the dead of night I vanished. I stole into my house in Chorrol, invisible and undetected, and left my weapons and armour there. I donned a simple monk’s robe and sandals, took with me the daedric artifact I had earned (the legendary katana, Goldbrand) so that none other might misuse its power, and headed north into the snowy mountain peaks.

The mountains bordering Skyrim

Once whilst I was adventuring, I discovered that the empty mountains held a secret monastery. It was the Temple of the Ancestor Moths, an Order devoted to studying the artifacts known as the Elder Scrolls. The Elder Scrolls contain information beyond human comprehension, but those that studied them achieved a form of enlightenment as they attained insight into the nature of existence. Unfortunately, the price for reading the scrolls was blindness, and each reading diminished one’s eyesight a little more. I did not know whether I wanted this fate, but I felt the Temple would be a suitable place to withdraw from the world and live out my days.

The journey was long. I had intended on leaving no trace of my path, but I was set upon by wild beasts and was forced to kill them with my bare hands (for I dared not sully the blade of Goldbrand lest the blood wake its demonic hunger). As I wandered, I scattered what few remaining belongings I had, the potions I had masterfully concocted left to waste in the snow. But when I came upon the Temple in the dead of night, there were no apprentices about, so I picked the lock of the chapel and let myself in. There I waited for the remainder of the fortnight until I knew the Council had completed forging my armour. But I would not be there to receive it, and the world would never hear from me again.

***

It has long been my ambition to join the College of Winterhold. In Skyrim, most people are ignorant of the nature of magic and shun it with fear and scorn. I, a Khajiiti foreigner, dared to practice it openly with the hopes that those that knew me might come to accept the potential of magic. I would buy the town’s supply of iron ore and turn it to gold and silver before their eyes. I used it to save the Companions, and to slay dragons that were besieging the towns, defeating any challenger with fire and light. Yet I hesitated to join the College, one of the only places in Skyrim that accepted and encouraged the study of magic. Having decided to support the Imperials in uniting the Empire, I could not decide whether to become Arch Mage of Skyrim and then help the Empire, or to help the Empire and then become Arch Mage. On the one hand, if the Empire were to triumph first, the restoration of the College of Winterhold would be seen as one of the many good things that came from the reunification. On the other hand, if the Arch Mage (i.e. me) chose to side with the Empire, it might further provoke the hatred of the Nords towards magic. Despite my reservations, I decided to complete the College’s questline before the Imperial’s, because regardless of what common Nords believe, I felt it was worth showing the world that magic could be used for good. And more importantly, the liberation and restoration of the land should come from the country’s own strength, rather than rising to its glory due to the generosity of the Emperor.

***

Having resolved to become Arch Mage, I finally visited the College. At level 63, I was an advanced spellcaster with expertise in Illusion, Destruction and Restoration, some experience in Enchantment (gained solely through the destruction of enchanted items and reading lore) and mastery of the school of Alteration. Of Conjuration, the dark magic of summoning daedra into the world, I had no experience whatsoever (aside from a few books I had read on the subject). In my opinion, the only greater misuses of magic were necromancy, the reanimation of the dead, and Enchantment, the practice of trapping the souls of slain creatures (humans included) and using their energy to fuel magical artifacts.

I had chosen to learn all my magical skills outside of formal tuition, to show the College that they did not have a monopoly on magical education, and that magic was for all peoples, not just academics in a corner of the world. Yet when I finally joined, I was overwhelmed by how enchanting the grounds were. It was remarkably like Hogwarts. Alteration could be likened to Transfiguration, Illusion to Charms, Alchemy to Potions, Mysticism to Divination, Destruction to Defence Against the Dark Arts (or indeed, the dark arts themselves) and so on. I was keen to start my lessons, but first I wished to explore the College grounds. What I discovered there still gives me chills.

Hidden in the basement of the College is a place called the Middens, accessible by one of two trap doors, or a well-hidden cave in the side of the mountain. It is something like a sewer system underneath a town, but this sewer held dark secrets. In one section there was an “Atronach Forge”, a device for summoning daedra and other creatures from alternate realms. As I have already said, I consider Conjuration to be among the foulest uses of magic. From a diary discovered nearby, one of the students had learned of the forge from his or her uncle, and was practicing this dark art in secret. I left quickly, resolving to alert the Arch Mage to the danger.

In another section of the Middens, I discovered a pit of skeletons. It filled me with utmost dread to learn they were the remains of students who had attempted a complex Conjuration spell and failed. In the centre of the room was a gauntlet on a pedestal, the glowing rune of Oblivion in its palm. A nearby journal explained that an investigator had found the bodies and the hand, but the artifact could not be moved. Fearing for the safety of other students, he pried four rings from its fingers and locked them in the library. I hurried to the library to retrieve the rings, not hoping to use them but to protect them from those that might misuse them (especially since a self-proclaimed thief had recently been initiated into the College). Now possessing these terrifying artifacts, I returned to my house in Whiterun and stored them in my dresser. After some time, I realised they would not be safe there. I have resolved to separate the rings: one I shall hide in the Underforge, the secret meeting place of the Companions where none but the highest ranked among them may enter. The second I shall keep in the safe in the Arch Mage’s quarters once I become Arch  Mage. The third I shall store in my house in Solitude, the capital of Skyrim, in the safe there along with my daedric artifacts and the raiment of the Dark Brotherhood. The fourth, my brother told me to hold on to. Further in the story, there is a place that only the Dragonborn may enter at the top of the Throat of the World, Skyrim’s tallest mountain where the Masters of the Voice live. In this secret place I shall hide the fourth ring, and thus shall I prevent disaster

The Oblivion gauntlet

In retrospect, this whole process felt rather like Lord Voldemort trying to find good places to stash his horcruxes.

***

Early in the game, I met a young woman named Ysolda. An aspiring trader, she was the only person who openly did business with the Khajiiti caravans. Thanks to the invasion of the elves and the xenophobia of the Stormcloaks, most Nords despise Khajiiti, Argonians, Redguards or any race that isn’t Nordic. Being a Khajiit myself, I admired her for her lack of prejudice, and willingly helped her find the mammoth’s tusk she needed to kick start her trading business. As time went on, I came to know her quite well, in that drunken accident where I nearly married a hagraven and when I discovered that she had been selling an immoral but sort-of-legal hallucinogen. Disapproving, I talked to her about it and I came to understand that it was not out of malice but ignorance that she facilitated this drug. After much deliberation, I proposed to her, and we were engaged.

Before the ceremony the next day, I laboured to forge a golden ring inset with a flawless sapphire, which I gave to her by slipping into her pocket when she wasn’t looking. We moved into my house in Whiterun, and we were very happy. She opened a store and made a tidy profit every day, and to keep her safe I obtained and sharpened a sword and axe made from Skyforged steel. The sword I left on a rack by the door, but the axe I handed to her myself (through an incredibly difficult reverse-pickpocket) because I knew she was proficient with two-handed weapons. I had initially planned to give her an enchanted glass halberd, for its lightness and its strength, but unfortunately it was beyond my capacity to pass on to her without her detecting it, even while she slept. Now, when I return from my days of adventuring, the first thing I do is go to bed with her. At first I spoke to my housecarl (the bodyguard who lives at my house because I am a Thane/lord) to follow me, and asked her to wait in her quarters until morning. But it’s a lot of effort and she’s not particularly good at following orders, so now I let her do what she likes as my wife and I go to bed. I assume that she leaves out of politeness, but my wife and she do spend a lot of time together, so it’s also possible they’re quite intimate when I am absent (or, perhaps, even when I’m not).

***

In Skyrim, there are few people who can speak the tongue of the dragons (aside from the dragons themselves, of course). The language of dragons is terribly powerful, and in this plain it manifests as fire, ice, speed, wind, time, peace, poison and many other elements. I, being the Dragonborn, discovered this talent innately: by slaying dragons and absorbing their souls, and reading ancient words from certain walls of text, I have learned whole phrases in the language of dragons. Those who study this secret way can blow down houses by accident, and so tend to speak little and live in recluse at the Throat of the World. Yet Ulfric Stormcloak used it to cast down the High King of Skyrim and wreak havoc upon the world. Once I learned that the dragon tongue is sacred and should not be idly used, I have since refrained from shouting, even when my life has been in danger. The only time I will ever deign to use Thu’um (shout) is when I am faced with a dragon, who speaks the same tongue and has equal chance of shouting me to pieces, or Ulfric himself when we meet in mortal combat.

For more adventures of Xin the Khajiit, you can read Part 1 and Part 3!

Tales from Skyrim

So I’ve been playing a fair bit of Skyrim lately. Not quite as obsessively as I played Oblivion, but it’s a damn fine game with so much to do (even if it is rather bug-ridden). And, just because I can, I’d like to write about some of the experiences I’ve had in the game so far. I caution you: they will be long, and likely boring unless you have any interest in role-playing adventure games and/or my strict moral code.

***
Rumour had it that there was an Aretino lad in Windhelm who had been practicing the Dark Sacrament. This was a mysterious and macabre ritual that involved creating an effigy of a human body, skeleton, flesh and heart, covering it in deadly nightshade, stabbing it over and over and chanting to the Night Mother to hear one’s prayer that the sins of the unworthy might be cleansed in blood. Despite the privacy of this ritual, every time it was performed it would be answered by the Dark Brotherhood, a guild of mysterious assassins who would kill for a price. Concerned for the boy I sought him out and came upon him performing the ritual in his house. He was an orphan who had fled an orphanage where the caretaker, Grelod the Kind, was supposedly a monster who deserved to die. He mistook me for an agent of the Brotherhood and insisted that I kill Grelod for him. He would hear no sense from me, so I sought out Grelod to form an opinion of her myself.

From the moment I met her she presented as intensely dislikable. She beat the children often, crushing their hopes of freedom and turning away anybody who showed interest in adopting them. I spoke to everyone in the orphanage and some of the townsfolk who knew her, and it was clear that everyone hated her. I thoroughly explored her living quarters, which contained wine, books on evil women who exacted revenge on witless travellers, even going through her pockets to see what she owned. She was not rich, nor drunk, but appeared to harbour enmity towards life. Speaking to her myself, she was hostile and discourteous, and a horrible influence on the children. Still, I did not give up hope, and I persisted in talking to her. I believed that if I showed her enough love, enough kindness, she would start to warm to people. Kindness is most powerful when it is least deserved. Unfortunately, the game’s morality is not as deep as my own, and my dialogue options were limited to being insulted. At this dilemma I decided I could not let the children grow up under her oppressive rule, but nor should I use murder as my next option. I decided to intimidate her.

I returned to the inn to sleep a few hours, and crept out undetected at midnight. I figured the children would all be sleeping- as much as possible, I wanted to shield them from violence or death as a solution to one’s problems. When I arrived at the orphanage, I crept successfully undetected past the sleeping children and the worrying maid and into Grelod’s chambers, closing the door behind me. I decided to talk to her one last time to see if she would see reason, but she was as caustic as ever. I decided, then, to drive her out of town, to intimidate or humiliate her into leaving for good. Persons in positions of power who abuse their powers on other, weaker people are often shaken to the core when they are overpowered themselves. If I could show her I was more powerful than she was, it was possible I could help her to change her ways, or at least protect the children from her destruction. To provoke her, I stole some coins from her desk in plain sight and she became outraged. Yet, a moment later, her anger turned to fear (though I had not done so much as raised my fists) and she fled, begging for her life. I gave chase, and unfortunately she woke all the children with her cries. One child asked why we were hurting each other, though I had still made no hostile movements. I chased Grelod out of the orphanage and all throughout town, trying to yield to her, but she would not be mollified. Realising I could use this to exile her from the city, I tried to herd her towards the town gates. The guards did nothing to stop me. Unfortunately Grelod ran into the inn, still bustling with people at this late hour. I imagined they thought it quite amusing as they goaded us on (Nords love a good fight). I did my best to block her path, but she ran past me into the private living quarters of the innkeep. I had done the man a great favour earlier by providing him with the precious gems he needed to propose to his lifemate, and seeing Grelod flee from me he drew his knife and killed her in one blow. I felt sorry for the old woman, yet relieved that she could oppress no longer. I suspect my friend the innkeep felt no guilt- she was not well-loved.

I returned to the orphanage to talk to the children about what happened- how Grelod had died, despite my intentions. The children were too gleeful to hear it, and their matron was too distressed. Every time I approached her to talk to her she fled from me in fear, despite the calming spells I cast on her and my lack of hostility. Not knowing what else to do, I fled the orphanage and crept away undetected, making my way to my horse outside of town and riding back to tell the Aretino boy what happened. He was overjoyed that I had completed my mission and gave me a family heirloom as my reward, which I promptly returned. I tried to tell him it was not my fault, but he was too inspired by my “assassination” to hear me. I hope I had not been a horrible influence on them, and that I can return to them again when they’re older to explain what really happened.

***
Shortly after the incident at the orphanage, I was riding out on a new quest to retrieve a magickal phial for an old alchemist when I came across an unmarked circle of stones. Curious, I dismounted and explored it, discovering some mildly valuable treasure but not much else. I pondered if it was a burial site, or perhaps used for some sort of religious ritual when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. My horse was fleeing- it had been attacked by something! I gave chase and caught it, reining it in before turning to see what had startled it. A humanoid creature was running towards me, and assuming it was a bandit trying to steal my horse, I shot a firebolt at it and killed it dead. A moment later a frost troll came blundering out of the trees and I hit it again and again until it too fell before me. In horror, I approached the person I had shot down and it turned out to be one of the few Khajiit in Skyrim- an acquaintance of mine, if not a friend. He was part of a nomadic caravan of traders and I had spoken to him before. The rest of the caravan was about to attack me when I yielded, putting my flaming hands away peacefully. Before they could sheath their weapons though, they turned to face a new threat- another frost troll just behind them. I ran to their aid, intervening not a moment too soon as it nearly cut down another member of the caravan. I felt deeply guilty about what I had done- a murder, after I had tried so hard to avoid it with Grelod. The caravan didn’t seem too fussed- I healed their wounded and prayed for my lost friend to walk upon warm sands once more. Wanting to protect him from robbers, I took his valuables (as is the Khajiiti way- no use going to waste when others could use them), but gave him gifts in return: a purple mountain flower, to remind him of his days when cold white powder would fall from the skies, and the wing of a monarch butterfly, so that he might chase them forever more in the afterlife. It was very difficult for me to avoid reverting to a previous save, as I paused the game for several minutes to debate the transient nature of life, the importance in accepting change, purity of intention regardless of result and other such things, not just for myself, but for his companions. In the end, I left him there, hoping the caravan would forgive me some day.

***
I was visiting a small town named Riverwood in search of moonstone, a rare material I could use to improve the quality of my sword and armour. Having successfully purchased some from the town blacksmith, I set off to the next town in pursuit of more. But just before I left, I noticed a small icon on my marker indicating an unexplored cabin to the West. Curious, I set out on horseback until I found it. The cabin was in a state of disrepair, but an old woman named Anise sat out the front, lamenting her loneliness. Inside I recognised a number of alchemy ingredients, including a rather rare book detailing some of the alchemical effects of common plants and insects. I decided she was curious but harmless and was just leaving when a roar shook the ground. On instinct, I summoned fire to my hands and turned to face the skies, and sure enough a dragon flew overhead. I shot firebolt after firebolt at it, blasting it in the air and stunning it on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed and extra torrent of flames, and when I turned to look Anise had leapt from her chair and was shooting fire from her hands. Together we slay the dragon and I, as the Dragonborn, absorbed its soul. Anise, amazed, soon went back to her chair on the patio as a ghost-like wolf sat beside her. A familiar, I realised. It seemed that Anise was a witch, the hated and despised old crone kind. But my opinion of her was no different than before- I too explored the unknown arcane that so many Nords feared by openly practicing magic, and I too enjoyed the study of alchemy. I left her to her business and set out looking for more moonstone ore.

***
In essence, there was a war going on in conflict between Ulfric Stormcloak, who fought for the freedom of the Nords and Nordic way of life, and the Imperials, who insisted that the land of Skyrim was part of the Empire and should be held accountable. Ulfric’s argument is that when the high elves invaded the rest of Tamriel, the Nords bled trying to repel them while the Empire, overwhelmed, ultimately surrendered and signed a peace agreement which forbade the worship of a Nordic god. After thinking about it long and hard, and visiting both the Imperial headquarters and talking to Ulfric himself, I decided the so-called High King of Skyrim was powerful and eloquent, a born leader… But megalomaniacal, narcissistic and xenophobic. His city was a perfect metaphor for him: he was the self-declared ruler, and almost all the Nords looked to him as an example while every non-Nordic citizen was ostracised and discriminated against. Although the Empire had surrendered to the Aldmeri Dominion, they did it for the greater good. If they could reunite a strong Empire, there might come a day when they revoke the peace treaty and delivered justice unto the elves. Dividing the land, delineating between Skyrim and Cyrodiil, would only lead to further power struggles and discord. A single united realm could achieve more, like the Emperor did in ancient China. There would be problems of successive leadership, as with any group, and it was not easy to say whether Ulfric’s successor would be as eloquent as he was, nor the Emperor’s as wise. Although not every Imperial was a long-term visionary like their Emperor, and not every Stormcloak soldier was a xenophobic brute, ultimately their leaders would shape the face of the world. And I believed the dream of a united Empire was worth fighting for.

***
Continued in Part 2 and Part 3