December 28, 2013

The Thief in the Snow - Entry II: Choosing Sides
The Thief in the Snow
Entry II: Choosing Sides
Location: Helgen, Falkreath Hold
Date: Sundas, 17th of Last Seed, 4E 201

My choice was simple, travel with Ralof the Stormcloak or go with the Imperial Soldier who was about to have me executed. I picked my side using the single motivation that had always driven my choices in life; money. The Imperial Soldier had better equipment. I could steal it after we had escaped and be on my way.

I heard the Imperial Soldier call out, “With me prisoner, let us go!”

“Right behind this one!” I answered back, following him into the keep.

We entered the keep and we both took a moment to catch our breaths. He could not believe a Dragon, what he called a ‘bringer of the end times’ had appeared. He collected himself and removed my shackles. I was surprised; it was not like he had much of a choice. He needed my help but still, the sign of trust caught me off guard. He motioned towards some chests and told me to find any and all gear I could use and he would search for a safe way out of Helgen. He did not have to tell me twice to loot a chest.

I quickly searched the chests and found an Imperial Light Helmet and four gold coins. I found some more gold lying on a table next to a bucket and a book about Mixed Unit Tactics. I could not resist taking the book, though I did leave the wooden bucket, much to my disappointment. A few bottles of Wine lined the shelves along with an Iron Sword. I took them all; I could use the Wine to treat wounds. Probably. I searched the last chest and found another Iron Sword, Imperial Light Armor, Imperial Light Boots, and the Helgen Keep Key. I have always preferred light armor, it makes less noise when sneaking around and keys, well who does not like keys? They open all sorts of things. But I had no time for this, there was a Dragon about and I still needed to escape.

I put on the equipment, pulled out the two Iron Swords and readied myself for what was to come. As the Imperial Soldier opened the door, I spied another Iron Sword that I just could not resist taking. I was going to survive this ordeal and I was going to make some profit out of this horrid situation. We traveled deeper inside the keep until we reached the sound of voices. They must have been other survivors who had found safety here. We hurried into the room where they were only to find Stormcloaks. The Imperial Soldier tried to reason with them but they attacked us on sight. At first, I could not understand why they were attacking me until I realized I was dressed as an Imperial too. How stupid could they be?! Had they ever seen a Khajiit in the Imperial Legion before?! It mattered little as I was forced to draw my blades and defend myself.

We made quick work of the two Stormcloaks, I have many skills and can handle myself quite well with a blade and the Imperial Soldier was a warrior true to form. As the Imperial Soldier searched for a route out of the keep, I quickly pilfered what little possessions the Stormcloaks had on their persons. There was also some food in the room. Tomatoes, a few Potatoes, and a couple of Cabbages; I never leave behind good food. You never know when you are going to need it. We carried on down the hall when suddenly we were knocked to our feet. The ceiling crumbled in front of us as the Dragon attacked the keep with fervor. The Imperial Soldier cursed the Dragon as we turned back and headed down a different hallway.

We entered an old storeroom just in time to find two Stormcloaks looking for supplies. We overwhelmed them easily. The Imperial Soldier thrust his blade through the back of one and my Iron Sword found its way into the heart of the other. Of course I could not resist the opportunity to find more ‘supplies’ that could assist us in our escape or that would make a tidy sum when I was free of this place. I found quite a few Potions of Minor Healing, some Salt Piles, and more food. I took them all and then we continued on our way.

We carried on and found an Imperial Torturer and his Assistant killing a Stormcloak in the lower levels of the keep. My companion tried to talk the two into joining us but neither of the men would hear any of it and both vowed to perform their duties until relieved. While the three Imperials were distracted I searched the torture room discreetly, picking up anything I found of value including my best friend, the Lockpick. I also found two Iron Daggers and equipped those in place of the swords. While swords did more damage, they hindered my natural speed in battle. I much preferred the elegance of a swift dagger across the throat than the cumbersome swing of a sword.

The Imperial Soldier noticed some items still left inside the cages where they had tortured the Stormcloaks and he encouraged me to try my hand at opening the locks. I acted offended that he assumed that I had such skill. He only rolled his eyes as I went on to deftly open the locks without much effort. Inside one of the cells was a Spell Tome entitled ‘Sparks.’ Hmm, I ran my fingers across its cover ever so gently. While the Imperial Soldier had his back turned, I quickly thumbed through the tome to learn all of its secrets. I am quite adept at magic, maybe not as skilled as a Mer but good enough for a Khajiit. After I had learned the spell, I quickly hid the tome and told the Imperial Soldier that we should move forward. Lockpicking all these cells open seemed to increase my skill, something that would prove useful once we had escaped.

I continued onward with my companion as we searched for a safe passage out of the keep. What we found in the lower levels of the keep was quite gruesome. Dead Stormcloaks in cages hung from the ceiling, they looked like animals. I had no love for either side but the sight put a knot in my stomach. If they were willing to do this to the Nords, their fellow man, what would they be willing to do to a measly ‘cat’?

We pressed forward, past a hole in the keep wall that led to a kind of cave system. Dark and musty, the cave was not at all inviting but proved to be the only means of escape from the keep, from Helgen and more importantly, from the Dragon. The Torturer’s Assistant had caught up to us by now, stating how he did not want to stay behind and die at the hands, er, claws of a Dragon. He came just in time as the cave opened into a clearing filled with Stormcloaks.

There were five in total, three attacked us head on while two remained near the far opening and rained arrows down on us. I charged quickly striking the first in the neck and spun off the second, leaving her for the Imperials behind me. My focus was the Stormcloak Archers but the battle axe wielding Stormcloak in front of me stopped me in my tracks. I could not block his attack with just my daggers so my only option was to evade. I side stepped his first attack and countered, kissing his forearm with my blade. He swung again and missed but a swift pivot brought the axe crashing down on my right shoulder. I was able to avoid a fatal wound but the axe inflicted damage.

I mentioned before how I was adept at learning spells and quickly pulled out my most useful spell to date; Healing. With my left paw, I sheathed my dagger and began conjuring the spell. The gaping wound on my shoulder closed as if it had never existed at all. Regaining full mobility, I was able to plunge my dagger into the axe wielding man’s heart. Next, I turned my attention to the Archers but the Imperials had already sorted them out. The Assistant turned to us and said that he would remain behind in case any more Stormcloaks tried to escape. As I picked up a bow from the dead Archer, I nodded my thanks. As I began to follow the Imperial Soldier deeper into the cave, I could not help but regret having to leave all those weapons and armor behind.

As we walked deeper and deeper into the cave, it violently began to shake above us. I shot the Imperial Soldier a worried look but he only continued forward. Suddenly, a loud crash echoed behind us. I looked back to see our way blocked by the newly collapsed cave ceiling. The Imperial Soldier only remarked that we were lucky it did not collapse when we were walking under it. ‘Yes, terribly lucky.’ I thought. ‘We were terribly lucky that a Dragon, who had not been seen since, since I do not know when! A Dragon that wants to kill all of us!’ I bit my tongue and kept these thoughts to myself. He was probably just as confused and scared about what was happening as I was. I needed to focus on the task at hand, getting out of here alive.

We found a stream running through the caves and decided to follow it, hoping that it would lead us outside of the village. It did not, it led us to a large open cave filled with… filled with Frostbite Spiders! I drew my bow, I was not about to go and attack those things head on. I would rather take my chances with the Dragon than with spiders. Luckily they were no match for my companion, as his blade dispatched them effortlessly. My bow did its own amount of damage, from a distance. The ordeal with the spiders left me feeling weak so I pulled out the food I had collected previously and began to eat. I did not realize that some of the ingredients had properties that I could use in Alchemy. Eating these ingredients seemed to reveal some of those properties to me. Too bad I did not have the time or the tools to do anything with the knowledge I had just gained. Refreshed, we continued onwards and I prayed we would not run into any more spiders.

“Hold up. There is a Bear just ahead.” the Imperial Soldier whispered as he crouched behind a rock, “See her?”

I nodded as I looked to where he was pointing. It was a Bear alright, sleeping peacefully in what must have been her den. We could have tried to sneak around her but I whispered to the Imperial Soldier that I could easily land a few clean shots from my bow before she had time to react. He agreed and I proceeded to sneak to a higher vantage point before I took aim. It only took me two shots straight into her side to bring her down. She did not even have time to fight back before I hit her with the killing blow.

We could now feel a cool breeze coming from the opposite side of the bear den. I looked at the Imperial Soldier with a grin and he smiled back. We hurried to the end of the cave until we finally burst through and found ourselves well outside of Helgen. We did not have time to rejoice as he hurriedly told me to hide. We dove under a giant boulder just in time to see the Dragon flying into the distance. With a sigh of relief we both stood and faced each other. He thanked me and introduced himself as Hadvar; he was a Nord and had grown up not far from Helgen. His uncle was a blacksmith and still lived in his hometown village of Riverwood. I introduced myself as well; telling him that my name was not ‘cat’ but Dar’Raza, and he could call me that. He chuckled and nodded. Who would have thought that I would befriend the Imperial Soldier who was about to execute me only hours earlier?

We traveled together down the mountainside road towards Riverwood. Hadvar told me about his hometown of Riverwood, about the area, and a little about his uncle on our descent down the mountain. He also added, if I was so inclined, that I should travel to Solitude, join the Imperial Legion, and fight beside him against the Stormcloaks. I laughed out loud, but he told me he was serious, that they could use a good cat like me in their ranks. He then pointed out some ruins in the distance, ‘Bleak Falls’ or something like that. It was an ancient Nordic Tomb; Hadvar informed me that these burial sites were found all over Skyrim. He recounted that when he was a child he was afraid the Draugr would creep down from the ruins and snatch him away in the middle of the night. I could not help but feel a sense of uneasiness as I stared at the ruins in the far distance.

We left the road and cut through the woods, Hadvar said it would be faster this way but it was not safer. We came across Embershard Mine and were ambushed by a Bandit. I was so startled that I did not have time to draw my bow when she attacked. I fell backwards and scrambled on the ground, trying to get my footing. Hadvar rushed behind her, grabbed the Bandit’s hair, and thrust his sword into her back. She collapsed in a heap instantly. Hadvar held his hand out to me and helped me off the ground. I thanked him but he said it was nothing and that I would have done that same. I was ashamed to think that I only chose to go with him because of the valuables he was carrying. Sometimes a good friend is worth more than shiny armor and sharp weapons and this was one of those times.

We climbed over a small knoll and found Riverwood sprawling out below us. As we approached the outskirts of Riverwood, I hesitated. Hadvar looked at me and gestured forward but I informed him of how Nord villages reacted to the likes of my kind. Khajiit were not allowed inside any city in Skyrim. The Khajiit Caravans would set up their stores outside of the city walls and would wait for the Nords to come out, that is, if the Nords were willing to trust the Khajiit enough to do business with them. Hadvar glanced down at his feet. He apologized for judging me so quickly when we first met. I let out a laugh and he gave me an odd look. I told him he had every right to judge me, after all I was an Imperial prisoner about to be executed. He grinned and restated that he should not have judged me on my looks alone. He insisted that I enter Riverwood walking next to him with my head held high and that if anyone tried to stop me, they would have to answer to him.

Thus I entered Riverwood, alive and free.

November 10, 2013

The Thief in the Snow - Entry I: Dar'Raza is Dar'Raza
The Thief in the Snow
Entry I: Dar’Raza is Dar’Raza
Location: Near the Skyrim and Cyrodiil border
Date: Sundas, 17th of Last Seed, 4E 201

The wagon jolted me forward violently, jarring me awake. For how long I had been unconscious, I do not know, but the large welt that had formed on the back of my head gave me a good indication. I am unsure exactly why I found myself shackled and traveling with what appeared to be three other criminals. Was it the gold I had stolen from a temple in Cyrodiil or maybe it was because I broke the nose of that guard from Bruma? They could not have possibly pursued me all the way along the Pale Pass, would they? Could it be because they just do not like my kind here in Skyrim? Whatever the reason may be it matters little now. All I knew was that my captors were Imperials and while I did not know where the wagon was taking me, I was sure my destination would be revealed in due time.

One of my fellow companions noticed I had awakened and began to speak to me. He was clad in a bluish armor, could he be one of the Stormcloaks I kept hearing about on my journey from Cyrodiil? There were stories of a civil war breaking out all over Skyrim. Escaping the Empire had been a primary reason for my journey north but also the prospect of war had brought me to the Nords’ land. War, war always meant lots of money to be had. The Soldier informed me that I had walked right into an Imperial ambush when I crossed the border into Skyrim and had been captured along with him, his comrade, and a thief.

He asked who I was and why I had been traveling on the Pale Pass but I merely replied, “Dar’Raza is Dar’Raza.”

He raised an eyebrow but inquired no further. The thief spoke next, complaining about how the Imperials only wanted the Stormcloaks and his capture was just a mistake. ‘I was right.’ I thought. I cared little about this war between Nords and Imperials, I had more important things to ponder like escape but the thief would not shut his trap. He kept going on and on, finally turning to our final companion, who was bound and gagged, inquiring as to his identity. The Stormcloak Soldier, the one who had first spoken to me, called the Gagged Man ‘Ulfric,’ this seemed to frighten the thief. Something about him being a jarl but this information did not matter to me; my freedom and my neck were all I cared about.

The two men kept blabbering on but fell silent when we approached a town.  Hmph, Nords hated my kind and would never let us enter their villages. This would be my first time to enter a village in Skyrim and if the Imperials got their way, the last village I would ever visit. Too bad the execution would not be held in Solitude, I heard that city was overflowing in riches. And then I saw them. I seethed. Thalmor. Those pompous stuck up asinine Mer. The Thalmor were a group of supremacist Elves who wished to end the rule of Men. Even though it was the Thalmor who ended the Void Nights, I still hated them all. I am sure their presence in Skyrim had something to do with the Nord uprising that recently begun. While they held no love for the Empire, they held even less for the Nords. The Thalmor’s ongoing eradication of the worship of Talos had rubbed the Nords the wrong way. It had been a rallying cry for the Stormcloaks and their rebellion against the Empire who had placated to the Thalmor.

Their presence should not be a concern to me; I had larger issues to contend with, like escape. The Stormcloak Soldier started to reminisce about his past. His life was flashing before his eyes much too early for my taste but his memories did reveal our location; Helgen. Sounded like a bloody horrible place to die. The wagon pulled into an open area where another wagon filled with prisoners had already arrived. Our captors ordered the two wagons to empty and we began to file out of the back. We were first lined up in a row and then an Imperial Soldier began calling out our names one by one. The Gagged Man was first, then the Stormcloak Soldier. Ralof was his name? It did not matter now. Next was the thief. He panicked and tried to run to his freedom but the Imperial Archers in the high towers fired a few well-placed arrows into his back. I guess I needed to think of a new plan of escape.

The Imperial Soldier gestured for me to come forward; it seemed he did not know my name. He was surprised to see the likes of me so far north. He examined me from head to toe with a quizzical look. I have never been terribly large, always half starving throughout most of my life but being on the run from the Imperials had brought my weight down considerably. My usually clean gray fur was matted with mud and snow. My black mane, which was thick and styled, had become an unruly mess. The rings in my ears, prizes I had stolen, had lost their previous luster. Only my piercing eyes had kept their usual vibrancy for unlike the thief and the Stormcloak Soldier, I had not accepted my fate just yet.

The Imperial Soldier asked for my name and I answered. He snickered and repeated my name, mocking my Khajiit accent. He told me how much he hated the Khajiit Caravans that roamed the open roads of Skyrim and how the Khajiit were the filth of Tamriel. I restrained a low growl in my throat. I wanted to show him exactly what happened to the last Imperial soldier who mocked my caravan, my family. Escape was more important now, the Imperial Soldier would be taught his lesson soon enough but first I needed to find a way to escape… but how? Running was not an option unless I fancied a few new holes in my back. My shackles were impossible to break, I had been trying to loosen them ever since I regained consciousness but to no avail. My only hope was that some miracle would stay the execution. I could pray to Arkay but he never seemed to answer me. As silly as it sounded, Mara always seemed to hear my prayers, well, whenever I stopped long enough to offer one.

I was pulled out of my thoughts when the Imperial Soldier began to speak again. Apparently, I really was not supposed to be there but his captain ordered that I die like the rest. In a surprising turn, he apologized for my misfortune and promised to return my remains to Elsweyr. I thought back to my family or at least the closest thing I had to family. I was born in Elsweyr, or so the caravan members told me. They were the ones who named me ‘Dar’Raza’ and had raised me. 'Dar’ meant ‘thief’ in the Khajiit tongue. They had given me the great distinction in my name because I was a master thief even at birth. ‘Dar’ also had another meaning, ‘clever’; I would find a way to escape.

My attention soon turned to my surroundings. The Gagged Man was being brought towards a great stone slab with a bucket next to it. I did not like the sight of the bucket or the large man with the even larger axe. A pompously dressed Imperial began to address the so called ‘Jarl of Windhelm,’ lecturing him about abusing powers and killing a king. What did I care, if I did not find an escape soon it would be me who would be killed next! So what he started a war, war is good. I make a lot of profit in times of war but I would not be able to do so if my head were lying in a bucket instead of on my shoulders!

The next few moments were a blur. A strange murmur came from the distance. The Imperial Captain pushed another Stormcloak Prisoner down on his knees, in front of the stone slab. A Priestess of Arkay began to pray. Maybe I should have said a prayer to Arkay after all; she could have said a few nice words on my behalf. ‘He is only a lowly thief, Arkay. He would stink up the place, Arkay.’ I doubt that would help me much. The loud crunch of the axe yanked me quickly out of my thoughts. A headless body lay on the ground. I could not stop myself from cringing. I liked my head, my head fits my neck and shoulders perfectly. It would be hard to find a replacement on such short notice. I did not observe that a crowd had gathered until shouts rained out from them.

“Imperial Bastards!” cried one woman.

“Justice!” shouted another man.

Clearly there was division in the crowd, maybe a riot would break out and cause a distraction. If only.

Ralof, who had been standing next to me this whole time, spoke, “As fearless in death as he was in life.”

I had no idea what he meant until I followed his gaze back to the headless body lying on the ground. I highly doubt the same could be said for me.

The Imperial Captain called out, “Next, the cat!”

My nose twitched. The murmur sounded again. It was much closer this time. Was it a cry of an animal? It sounded nothing like anything I had ever heard. The Imperial Soldier who had mocked my accent earlier saw I was distracted and called me forward. His tone was sincere, maybe he saw the fear in my eyes or maybe he was just playing me for a fool. I knelt down and lay my head on the slab. It was cold and wet; I did not want to think why it was wet. I could only stare up at the Headsman, more specifically, his very large axe that he held in both hands. He began to raise the weapon when a ferocious roar came from the skies.

“What in Oblivion?!” I cried as a black creature filled the skies and blotted out the sun. The Imperial Captain began shouting orders to the Archers. I watched as what could only be described as a Dragon landed on the tower facing me. Its roar knocked the Headsman off his feet and sent the Imperials scurrying like rats in every direction. I could only stare, stare directly into its red eyes. It felt like those eyes pierced into my very soul. Another roar ripped through the air, knocking me onto my back. Hectic sounds of screaming and destruction filled the air. I heard a familiar voice call out. It was Ralof urging me on, telling me we would not get another chance to escape. He was right, I needed to gather myself and focus on escaping while I had the chance. I followed him as he led me through the maze of what had been the village of Helgen.

Debris lay everywhere. Boulders, wood beams, and bodies were strewn about the streets. My head still felt foggy as I tried to shake off the blow from the Dragon’s… breath? I did not even know what I had been hit with. I had no time to think. Ralof lead me to a tower where the other surviving Stormcloaks had gathered including the Gagged Man who was gagged no more. He spoke to Ralof in a commanding voice; this man was truly a force to be reckoned with. This man, Ulfric Stormcloak, had murdered a king.

The Dragon was still decimating the village outside or at least it sounded that way. Screams and shouts rang out as that horrible roar cracked overhead. I could not think; I could only follow Ralof up the stairs to the top of the tower. As we reached the top, the Dragon burst through the stone wall of the tower, crushing a man under the debris. It breathed fire into the room, sending Ralof and I scrambling down the stairs again. The heat was searing, I thought I had been burned but I was not even near the flames. The Dragon disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Ralof ran to the newly created opening and pointed to a building below us.

“Jump!” He commanded, “We shall follow when we can!”

“Is this one insane?” I frantically screamed, “It is too far!”

Ralof slapped me on the back and retorted, “Khajiit always land on their feet!”

I would have made a scathing reply but there was no time and the Dragon was circling back again. I quickly leapt down to the building below and began to search for a way out of the burning debris. I glanced at a few pots and pans on the floor. I thought about stealing them only to catch myself. ‘Idiot!’ I screeched in my head, ‘A Dragon is attacking, you need to flee!’ I looked out the window, trying to find a clear path out when I saw the Dragon swoop down on the guard tower, snatch an Imperial Archer, and fling him across the sky like he was a doll. These pots were not worth the measly gold, I needed to get out of here.

“Haming, you need to get over here. Now!”

I had found my way to the main road when I recognized the voice; it was the Imperial Soldier who had promised to return my remains to Elsweyr. I turned to run down the main road when I suddenly stopped. He had a sword and swords were good, I should stick with him. The Dragon landed on the main road and let loose a massive fireball just as the Imperial Soldier dodged out of the way.

He saw me and called out in a snide tone, “Still alive, prisoner? Keep close if you want to stay that way.”

“That is fine with Dar’Raza.” I hastily called back.

He shouted orders to his men and then began to follow the village’s outer wall. A huge gust of wind came from above as the Dragon descended directly on top of us. We pushed ourselves up against the wall as tightly as we could. Fortunately for us, the Dragon was too focused on its prey in front of it to notice us below. The Imperial Soldier barked at me to hurry up and stay close. I had no issue following his orders. I was going to survive this horrific nightmare, no matter who I had to listen to in order to achieve that. We raced through destroyed houses, weaving back and forth between burning walls and smoking corpses. We finally reached a crossroads that led to the keep when Ralof appeared in front of us. The two opposing Soldiers exchanged a few heated words but before they could come to blows the Dragon appeared above us. Both shouted for me to join them as they ran their separate ways. Which one to follow? I could not think clearly. Only a single thought crossed my mind.