44 - Solstheim

It wasn't easy persuading Captain Gjalund to make another trip. The cultists had come aboard in Raven Rock and the next thing he knew, he was in Windhlem, and they'd disappeared, without paying their fare. We paid in advance, and convinced him he owed me a favour. Those cultists had attacked me, after all. And perhaps the news that they were dead helped, too.

The people in Raven Rock had me wondering if we did the right thing by coming here. They seemed to be distrustful of strangers, and even Brelyna, who was a Dunmer like them, wasn't from the right House. And when we asked about Miraak, we couldn't ge a straight answer from any of them. So we decided to head for Tel Mithryn, and Neloth. We did at least get decent directions to there.

We walked out on to the ashen trail that lead out of the Bulwark, with Ranyu and Brelyna in the lead. "Look how they're holding hands like a pair of teenagers," Zahra remarked.

"Not a good idea if we don't know what to expect on this road," I replied. "They're supposed to be watching out for danger, not distracting each other."

"If we were really worried about that, I wouldn't have let a pretty young woman walk ahead of you, " Zahra rejoined.

I think Brelyna heard her, because the sway of her hips became a bit more exaggerated. "And if I really want to distract Kothet, I do this." Her outfit briefly disappeared, just like when she'd been practising her spell.

I didn't get the chance to encourage her to do it again, because we all saw the creatures rise up out of the ground near the ruined farmhouse further down the road, and start throwing fireballs at the man emerging from it.

We ran to his aid, and quickly dispatched the things. "Ash Spawn" he called them.

Captain Veleth, of the Redoran Guard, was in charge of security in Raven Rock. When one of his men hadn't returned from a patrol to this farm, he'd come here himself to investigate. "I was just searching for clues when they attacked."

We naturally offered to help, and soon found a note in one of the piles of ash they'd left behind. "That's strange, this note is written by General Falx Carius, but he died over 200 years ago when the Red Mountain erupted and leveled this place. And he was an Imperial, the garrison commander at Fort Frostmoth. There's no way he could still be alive after all this time."

The Captain returned to Raven Rock to rally the guard, after telling us that the Fort lay between here and Tel Mithryn.

There were several more of the Ash Spawn creatures at the Fort, and of course, the main door was locked and we had to take the long route through the prison. More of them were inside.

But their main attack was those fireballs, and Dremora and Dunmer both resist fire well, even before that's enhanced with a bit of magic. They had weapons, but nothing approaching my war-hammer.

We came across the journal of a conjurer named Ildari, who was probably responsible for raising these ash spawn from the dead bodies of the imperial soldiers. It was likely that the General, too, was undead.

When we got into the main fort, we discovered that the General himself, Falx Carius, had a war-hammer of his own, and not an ordinary one. It seemed to have multiple enchantments, and dealt damage from all the elements, although thankfully, just one at a time.

So it became a test of skill. Who could block best, and react fastest. I'll confess that I quite enjoyed the challenge. My companions could not help; in the narrow corridor none of them could reach past me. It also meant that neither of us could really swing our weapons, so it took longer than it might have in the open.

I did eventually prevail, after starting to wonder if I might become an ash creature if I didn't. That might have been the extra spark I needed.

We debated for a while whether to return to Raven Rock first, or carry on to Tel Mithryn. The Champion's Cudgel that Carius had been using was too valuable to leave behind, but it was also rather heavy to carry with us. And as the the strongest, I knew who'd have to carry it. I already had a full set of Deadric Armour, and my own war-hammer.

"Perhaps they'll buy it at Tel Mithryn," Brelyna suggested. "Neloth might be interested in that unusual enchantment. And even if he's not buying, I'd like to know more about it."

We continued in the direction of Tel Mithryn, and I noticed Brelyna and Ranyu holding hands again. This time I mentioned it directly to Brelyna, and she told me that it wasn't just the show of affection it appeared. She'd been getting a strange feeling that something was trying to control her. Apparently none of the rest of us could feel it, but she could. So she'd asked Ranyu to hold on to her, in case she tried to run off. "I don't know if I would try and run towards the source, or away, but I'd probably be able to run faster than any of you. So don't let me, please!"

"Where's it coming from?" Zahra asked.

"That's the problem. It's coming from everywhere. If I could identify a location, we could all go and do something about it, but I can't. It's not very strong, and I can resist now, but I don't know if I'm getting closer to it, or farther away."

"So there are most likely several sources, if not the entire island," I deduced. "Perhaps Neloth will have a clue."

Neloth did, and the whole thing had him fascinated. "It appears that you're safe from it here in the tower, so if I were you, Brelyna, I'd take a nap here while you have the chance. It's more likely to take you over when you sleep, so you won't want to do that anywhere else."

While she did that, he took the rest of us to see the Sun Stone, which was just along the trail to the north. Several men, completely oblivious to our presence, were laboriously constructing a stone edifice around it, chanting as they did so.

"These were a bunch of marauding Reavers until this happened to them," Neloth told us. "It appears that they camped too close to the Sun Stone, and its influence was too much. I'm almost immune to Illusion spells myself, so I don't feel it, but some of my staff aren't so fortunate. I've had to enchant some of their gear to compensate."

"Aren't you going to do anything about these people?"

"Stop them, you mean? Certainly not! I would be unable to see how this all turns out."

We asked him about Miraak, and he recalled the name, but not much detail. "Miraak ... it sounds familar, and yet I can't quite place... Oh, wait. I recall. But it makes little sense. Miraak's been dead for thousands of years. There are ruins of a temple with that name in the middle of the Island, but I'm not sure there's any connection."

I still didn't understand why Neloth was not affected, and nor were we three Dremora. He believed it was because he'd developed a resistance to it, after it had been used on him a lot back in Morrowind. "The Telvanni are always trying to put one over on each other, and getting someone to do something embarrassing was a favourite trick."

That rang true. The three of us had probably been summoned hundreds of times in our earlier days, until we advanced beyond that. Even when mortal wizards learned stronger spells, the command component became less effective, and was replaced by our respect for the caster's skill. We'd all learned to resist it, and Brelyna hadn't.