Things have settled down some, so time to get caught up.
...in which Ryne meets a damsel in distress, gets suckered by a pretty woman, proposes a Skyrim-wide moratorium on the use of Unrelenting Force, and begins some sensitive cross-species diplomacy...
...so after picking myself up at the bottom of Mount Anthor - after I broke his skull, the dragon's corpse was kind enough to break my fall - I trudged back to Whiterun to repair the dents in my armour and catch some shuteye. Fortunately, bouncing down the mountain is a fair bit faster than trying to gingerly walk down, so it didn't take me long to get back to Breezehome and collapse into bed. I dropped most of my gear in the doorway - Lydia can deal with it, she's an employee, not my wife - and slept like the dead.... which, given my recent experiences, was a little too close to possibility for comfort.
I woke up around midnight and felt like a drink, so I trudged up the slope to the Bannered Mare - Whiterun's guards being their usual cheery selves, alternating between complimenting my skills and disparaging my character. I wandered in and sat down at the bar, and was startled to realize I was being served by a Redguard woman who matched the description given to me by a couple of Redguard warriors I saw the guards eject from Whiterun a few months ago. I said something to her and she insisted I meet her in the back. Not quite knowing where this was going, I reluctantly followed. My experiences thus far in Skyrim suggested I was likely to be greeted by violence, while the sway of her lovely hips suggested perhaps the residents of Hammerfell are nicer than Nords.
It's a bloody good thing I'm a cynic. Hammerfell, Skyrim... different skin colour, same bull****. We no sooner arrived in a private room than she pulled a dagger on me. Apparently my hot-n-cold damsel used to be a princess who was on the run from the Alik'r, some sort of guard force that was out to kill her, and she was happy to pay me to deal with them. What can I say, I'm a sucker for nice hips.
I headed up to the Whiterun dungeons and met with one of the Alik'r who apparently landed himself in jail through his own stupidity. Considering the combat skills and wit of the majority of Whiteruns guards - these are the same idiots I watched stand beside a stone tower while they shot arrows at a dragon - I seriously began to question the supposed talent of these Alik'r. Nevertheless, after paying the guard to let him out, he informed me that his leader was holed up in a cave a half-day's trudge west of Whiterun... so off I set.
Arriving at Swindler's Den, I was confronted by a nervous-looking bandit who, instead of meeting my entreaties toward peaceful entrance with thoughtful understanding, unsheathed his axe, yelled that I was going to die, and promptly impaled himself on my outstretched sword. I've noticed that Skyrim's inhabitants seem a bit thick - when I was running around in leather armour, I certainly did not charge someone twice my size in glass armour with a black sword who was trying to convince me that violence was not in my best interest. Experience suggests this is why I'm still alive while several hundred bandits I've run into are not.
Shaking my head, I strolled into the cave and crouched - discretion being preferable to a brawl - and listened to a couple of other bandits just inside talking about how they were protecting these Alik'r and the usual bravado about dispatching intruders. My dagger took care of both of them and several more of their compatriots further in. I've found in remarkably easier to avoid all the fuss of a battle where a quick knife can make short work of the opposition with a minimum of fuss. I had one dicey moment when I dropped an Orc and his fellow across the way heard him drop - the sword came out to deal with an Imperial and a Dunmer mage, then - but other than that the trek through the cave was remarkably quiet. I moved down the cave and into an underground stream. I no sooner passed into a waterfall that I realized I was in very deep trouble - and not due to the water seeping into my smallclothes through the armour.
A shout of "Alik'r, Hold!" stopped me in my sneaking tracks, and I met Kematu, a Redguard with an imposing demeanor and remarkably good sense. Well, I suppose it wasn't that remarkable - he wasn't from Skyrim, after all. Kematu promptly explained that Ms. Nice Hips had lied through her immaculately formed teeth and lips. Updating my list of people who deserve an introduction to a dragon's stomach at the earliest opportunity, I listened attentively as he explained that dearest Saadia had betrayed her country to the Thalmor - entry #1 on the aforementioned list, I might add - and then fled to Skyrim to escape punishment. Traitor, coward, hussy, liar, and all-round trollspawn... this woman's list of qualities just keeps getting better and better.
Kematu informed me that he could not gain access to Whiterun, but if I could get the wicked wench outside, he would happily take her into custody and haul her back to Hammerfell to face her fate. As second options to dragon snacks go, this didn't sound half bad. For one, no combat required. For two, I can never find a dragon when its convenient. In fact, they seem to have a knack for only appearing when it is not in the slightest bit convenient. While the idea of dragging someone around precisely for their knack of keeping the dragons away seemed fleetingly appealing, I then recalled that this woman first flirted with me and then shoved a dagger in my face, and thought the better of it. Having random strangers trying to constantly kill me is one thing - towing around a traitorous woman with a penchant for pointy things is quite another.
As I wandered back toward Whiterun, I briefly wondered if I was doing the right thing, but Kematu's story was considerably more detailed and convincing than Saadia's, and if it suddenly changed at the stables after I got Saadia out, I was fairly certain I could handle these Alik'r. Not to mention, the refreshing honesty, dialogue, and lack of immediate violence from Kematu impressed me.
Upon arriving back in Whiterun, I found Saadia and convinced her that she had to flee the city. Leading her out to the stables, I found Kematu waiting in the shade, and noticed the remarkable personality transformation Saadia underwent: (1) because I clearly made a good call and she was a lying hussy, and (2) because she fell over flat on her face lying in some horse leavings like a brick. Kematu is pretty handy with a paralyze spell. I kept my hand on my sword - one can't help but think that in Skyrim everyone is likely to lie, betray, or attempt to kill you - but he promised no harm would come to her... until, at least, she faced justice back in Hammerfell, and the man ACTUALLY paid me. No, really, how do I move to Hammerfell? Is this dragonborn gig permanent, or what?
That finished, I decided that since I've stumbled into at least two parts of this mysterious Galdur amulet, I might as well locate the remainder and put this forgotten legend to bed.
Folgunther, where the last amulet fragment was found, was fairly uneventful - Draugr, draugr, and more draugr... and just to change it up, a cursed brother with a whole village of draugr thralls. I love Nordic barrows. At any rate, I recovered the amulet fragment, and some notes and headed off to Galdur's final resting place where I could apparently reforge the thing.
My first hint that perhaps this wasn't going to go smoothly was a very dead adventurer next to an Emerald dragon claw. Dead adventurers means trouble. Dragon claws meant traps. This did not bode well. However, after some careful observation of the dragon claws I made it through both doors with only minor singing - snakes and dragons look bloody similar when they're carved that small - and into the cave.
Let me paint you a picture: the cave was a long hall, filled with columns, had a large altar at the far end, and was covered in draugr coffins. COVERED. Well, this is going to go well. I strolled down the hall and laid each of the amulet fragments on the altar. To no one's surprise - well, maybe the dead adventurer, he looked the flighty sort - the general ominous feeling of the place immediately manifested as three ominous ghostly figures in front of me. Three familiar-looking ominous figures. Will that undead trio never die? Sure enough, there was my sword-wielding friend who was so fond of draugr thralls, his magic-wielding sibling from Saarthal, and last my friend with the bow and the horned cap.
My swordy friend re-manifested his ghostly self at the exit, and all the coffins sprung open with thralls coming toward me. Saw that coming. I don't think he saw my sword, though, as I swung in through three draugr and into his ghostly face. Well, soultrap worked. Here's hoping that's the end of... no, he's back there on the altar on his knees. Now what?
Ghost jerk number two teleported and appeared, along with about five copies of himself, all along the walls. I got a sinking feeling that this was not going to be good. It wasn't. I swear, if I ever hear Fus ro da again this year it will be too soon. I promise I will stop using it if everyone else does - especially this idiot and his 5 clones. Suffice it to say, I had the opportunity to inspect every inch of that room from a distance of a few inches as I was flung about the room. Apparently the bow-shouter didn't pay as much attention to his clones' helmet, as his was diffferent. Finding him was easy - hitting him before I was introduced to another chamber wall was not. So - nationwide moratorium on Unrelenting Force? Please?
I finally dispatched he blowhard, and was by now in a foul enough mood that I took three strides up to the axe toting third ghost, whacked it with my shield - anyone else wonder why I could whack a ghost with a shield? - and slit it from skull to pelvis with a swordstroke. When I turned, all three were again standing at the altar looking menacing. Seriously, what does a guy have to do to be rid of a haunting?
Turns out, not much. A fourth ghost appeared and Shouted the other three into non-existence. That must be Gauldur. The amulet repaired itself, and my friendly ghostly companion also vanished. Could have appeared before I did my building inspection, could you?
On my return to Whiterun, I stashed the amulet in the house - my custom-enchanted magical resistance amulet is of far more use - and opened the door to stumble into one of the Grey-manes. And got suckered, again. After trudging after Fralia, meeting her hidden son, and then breaking into the Battle-born residence, I discovered that the friendly neighborhood Thalmor had apparently captured Fralia's other son and locked him up in some tower up near Solitude. Avulstein, the brother in hiding, wanted to charge off and assault the place but I had other ideas - while I knew from experience that Thalmor are not reasoned with, the Imperial Legion might be, and I would be damned to Oblivion before I headed off to a frontal assault on a Thalmor-held fort without trying an alternative. Not that I have any qualms about killing Thalmor in particular, but rather that I grow tired of constantly being forced to violence by others. If violence was to arise, it would be a last resort.
Knowing General Tullius was near Solitude, I gritted my teeth and hired the carriage driver down at the stables, hoping this carriage ride would be somewhat less eventful than my last - which was my arrival in Skyrim that nearly led to beheading, incineration, crushing, and the current mess I'm dealing with as far as this destiny business goes. Come to think of it, Tullius had a fairly direct role in that attempted beheading, which just goes to show how little sense I have some days.
I arrived near Solitude in the middle of the night and immediately had to dispatch a few vampires that showed up too. I'm starting to notice a disturbing pattern that when I show up near a city at night, so do the bloodsuckers - the vampiric kind, not the bankers. I decided to head to Northwatch Keep to see what could be done about the Grey-Manes before disturbing Tullius - my neck was itching. On my arrival at the gate, I inquired about getting Thorald Grey-Mane released, and the guard replied "Are you joking? Even if we had a prisoner by that name, the only way he'd be released is by order of the Imperial Legion." Haughty, puffed up, miserable pointy-eared troll-fornicator.
Since it was still dark, I decided to check out the local landscape rather than have the Solitude guards draw any conclusions about me and the vampires, so I hiked up the hill and soon found myself not far from an odd-looking secluded structure, which turned out to be the Thalmor embassy. Figures those pointy-eared bastards would park themselves on the highest point above the capital city of the country. I should mention, since my disparagement of the Dominion's inhabitants may seem unreasonable to those who have not met them - I had a couple run-ins with Thalmor justicars in which the aforementioned bastards seemed to think that exercising my right to freedom of belief was grounds for murder; though incidentally, I've never had much use for any of the gods and my obstinacy has more to do with annoyance at busybody elves thinking they can tell everyone what they can believe than any particular affinity for Talos. Nevertheless, they discovered that Bretons are quite hardy when it comes to trying to off them with spells, and this Breton is quite handy with a large conjured sword. So, no love lost for the Thalmor.
Making that irritating discovery, I consulted my map and discovered that with all the winding I did on the way up, Solitude should be just over the ridge. I headed over... and found myself a mere pace from Solitude. Well, a pace, and a several hundred foot drop. Precipice didn't do that description justice. I did see promising handholds most of the way down, so I figured it would be a trifling matter to simply climb down instead of trekking around the long way.
The guard who broke my fall felt otherwise. In fact, he felt very strongly otherwise and encouraged me to be on my way as quickly as possible, or at least that's what it sounded like - that northern accent can be a little difficult to understand, especially when you're sprinting in the opposite direction of the mouth its coming out of. Next time, perhaps I'll take the long way - two mountain-tumbles in the span of as many weeks is two too many.
When I headed into Solitude, I watched the Legion dispatch some unlucky guard who apparently was stupid enough to think that Imperials would follow Nordic law - as personal experience in Helgen taught me, you're lucky in Imperials follow their own laws - and headed for Castle Dour, where I found Tullius.
On the plus side, he didn't order me executed. Rather, he congratulated me for my skills and offered me a place in the Legion. Let me get this straight - first, you try to behead me without knowing why but just as a mere matter of routine, and now you're inviting me to join an army of arrow-fodder fighting a Nordic rebellion in the middle of a dragon resurgence? Yeah - that's going to happen. I promptly refused that offer, half-expecting to be drawing swords immediately thereafter, but rather found myself in conversation about the civil war progress. When Tullius finally quit rambling, I inquired about getting a prisoner released.
Tullius looked at me, shook his head, and said "The Thalmor? Do you have any idea what you're asking? I'm sorry, that's just not possible. It would cause far too many problems."
General, you really have no idea just who you're talking to, do you? Allow me to instruct you as to the nature of problems.