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Saturday, February 9, 2013

X - Castle Karstaag

I have been playing the Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim since it came out for PC this week, and if you have not played it you really should! Bethesda did a really amazing job incorporating a lot of elements from Morrowind and Bloodmoon and it makes a Morrowind player feel very nostalgic. I almost forgive them for The Elder Scrolls Online ;)

Fen was surprised to see Korst Wind-Eye standing stock-still in the centre of the village, his back to her as she approached, his neck craned upward at the sky, leaning heavily on his cane.
“I have the heart,” she said quietly, approaching him. Korst did not turn. For a moment she thought he had not heard her.

“Thank you, Blodskaal,” the shaman finally said, still staring up at the starless sky. “But I fear we must speak more of the ominous signs that have appeared on this island.”
“What signs?” Fen asked softly. Korst sighed.
“There have been many, though I have been reluctant to speak of them. The coming of the werewolves, the fire on the lake…and now I’ve been told that the northern shores area scene of a massacre. Many horkers are dead. The shores are littered with corpses, and the death of the horkers has not been explained. All these things are suggested in the Bloodmoon Prophecy.” Fen slowly walked around so she was facing the tired shaman, her face set.
“I think it’s time you told me of this prophecy.”
“It is an ancient Skaal legend that tells of the time before time, when a demon god would walk the lad. It is told there are signs that precede the Bloodmoon, and I fear we have been witness to some of these signs. But Fen, you must understand me. There still may be hope that the Bloodmoon Prophecy is not the cause of these misfortunes. I refer to think that it is the work of mortals. I would have you travel to Castle Karstaag and confirm my suspicions.”
“I thought Fort Frostmoth was the only castle on Solstheim.”
“Castle Karstaag is a colossal fortress of ice on the northwestern end of Solstheim that is home to the frost giant Karstaag. The Skaal have lived in peace with the monster for many years, but we have heard nothing from the giant for some time. This slaughter could be the workings of the Rieklings who serve him.” Korst glanced up into the sky again, his face dark. “On the morrow, go there and find out what you can. You will not be allowed in the main entrance, but there is a tunnel in the waters north of the castle.” Korst looked back down at her, his eyes heavy. “I must rest, and so must you. Leave me, Blodskaal.”
Fen returned to her cabin and stripped off her bloody clothes in exchange for a woolen robe and bear hide slippers. Wind began to howl against the shuttered windows as Fen settled herself in a pile of furs before the fire with a book, too harrowed by the Ristaag to sleep.
I’ve seen so much blood and death before, she told herself as she stared into the flames, thinking of fighting bandits in Vvardenfell, Almalexia’s attack on the Day of Lights festival, the Clockwork City…
She squeezed her eyes shut, but the vision of the flames still lingered there. That was different, she thought. That doesn’t count.
When morning dawned, Fen left the village and started north until she hit the coastline, then west. The sun was rising pale and watery over the restless, icy horizon, turning the sky shades of chilly pink and opal. The beauty of the morning was ruined, however, by the carnage that blanketed the coast. Horkers were piled thick upon the freezing shore, thousands of slick white bodies as far as Fen could see. Maggots had already found them, and the corpses were coated in the wriggling worms, sending the nauseating stench of rotting flesh and death floating along the waterside. Fen walked on a slight ridge just above the seemingly endless line of dead Horkers, trying at first to count them, then losing track and giving up. The bodies never seemed to end.
At long last, Fen began to make out an outline of a huge structure, rising out of the ground and ending in jagged-tipped spires. As she drew closer, the sun reflected off of the ice that had to be Castle Karstaag, which stood taller than the Tribunal Temple in Mournhold and almost as wide. The land surrounding the castle was lonely and silent save for the wind howling off the hilltops, so Fen circled the structure once, out of pure curiosity. There was an enormous door carved from the ice on one face of the castle, but, just as Korst said, there seemed to be no way to open it.
Remembering the shaman’s words, Fen walked a short way north to the water and cast a mark upon the coast, just as a precaution. She waded into the icy waves, struggling against the shove of the Sea of Ghosts as she forced her head beneath the surface. Fen had grown used to swimming the frigid water by now, and the cold did not shock her nearly as much as it once had. She found the tunnel Korst had mentioned, a gaping hole in the ground.
Fen surfaced only a few seconds later, gasping as her head broke the water. Her breath echoed and she glanced around – it was a cave, that much was clear, carved from ice. This was certainly beneath Castle Karstaag.
Fen climbed up out of the water, using a mild fire spell to dry herself, and was pulling back on her boots when the sound of boots slipping on ice and a high-pitched squeal interrupted her.
“Whoa! Who’s this now?” Fen snapped up to attention, sliding Trueflame from her belt in an instant, and the light from the blade illuminated a single Riekling standing before her, making no move to attack. Fen lowered the blade slowly, more shocked than threatened.
“Rieklings can speak?”
“I was surprised too, I didn’t know elves had brains,” the tiny man snapped back, and his voice was so high and pinched that Fen felt as if she were talking to an overzealous puppeteer. “A Dunmer, huh? Ugly thing, aren’t you?” He slipped over on the ice and kicked her unceremoniously on the shin.
“Ouch!” Fen snapped, swatting him away with Trueflame. “What was that for?”
“Too tall. What business you got at Castle Karstaag? And make it quick, no time to talk.”
“I’m here about the death of the horkers along the coast,” Fen told him darkly, rubbing her shin. “To find out whether or not Karstaag had anything to do with it.”
“Dead horkers? Mmm, rancid horker meat. You like horker meat?”
“What? No, I just want to know who’s been killing them.”
“Well, you’re asking the wrong guy,” he squeaked back. “I know someone who might be able to help, though. But I got my own problems!” Fen sighed.
“What problems?”
“The master – Karstaag, that is – he’s taken off. Gone. Don’t know why, don’t know where.” The Riekling tapped its blade on its boot, looking frustrated. “Didn’t seem like he was coming back. So some of the boys and I figured we’d take over the place. Dulk has been running the show upstairs.” He scowled. “Moron. Toady. Master’s pet.”
“So you took over…” Fen prompted.
“Right. Sneak attack. From below. Very clever. We even made a deal with some grahl to act as muscle. Didn’t work out so well. See, these grahl aren’t the most trustworthy. Turned on my guys. Ate ‘em, actually. I’m the only one left. And now I can’t even get upstairs!”
“Why not?
“Have you been listening, stupid? The grahl are in the way! And you can’t get upstairs neither. See, no one can enter the castle without the mast – without Karstaag’s blessing. Which I have. I figure, you help me get past the grahl, I’ll get you into the castle. Then you can ask little Dulk anything you want. Deal?”
“Sounds fair,” Fen answered, though she had no idea what grahl where. If the tiny man spoke the truth, it was the only way she would get into the castle.
“Good. Let’s move it then. I’m Krish, by the way.”
“That’s a stupid name.” Fen didn’t reply, but led the way past Krish and into the ice caves. When she turned a corner, Fen realized she had seen grahl before – while she sought to restore the sun and took down the creature guarding the light trapped in ice. The grahl here were easier to take down, though, and the bizarre, red-eyed and long-tusked creatures looked far more threatening than they appeared. After Fen struck down three of the grahl, she turned back and saw Krish standing casually (or as casually as a Riekling can stand) behind her, picking out his nails with a tiny dagger.
“Were you planning on helping?” she asked irritatedly, sheathing Trueflame.
“Thing is, if I helped you, I’d probably die, and you’d never get into that castle. So I’ll just watch. Moron.”
Irritating as he was, Fen knew he was right, so she allowed Krish to wander behind as she traversed the caves and took down the grahl that lumbered through the darkness, ignoring his constant quips about her intelligence and choice of hairstyle. When the last grahl was down, Krish took the lead and trotted merrily through a tiny passage carved in the ice. It took some effort for Fen to get through after him – it was clear that the passage had not been designed for Karstaag.
“Ready, Fatty?” Krish asked as Fen stumbled out into a high-ceilinged storage room carved from ice, stacked with dented barrels and half-rotted crates.
“Lead the way,” she replied, and Krish turned and waddled up a short slope and out of sight. Fen followed, and the sight that met her eyes nearly took her breath away.
They had emerged into what appeared to be a cavernous dining hall. The ice had been shaped to form a huge table that stood laden with heaps of molding food on stoneware, huge spilled pitchers of wine, several dented swords, even a dead Riekling. At the head of the table stood a massive throne of ice surrounded by bowls larger than Fen filled with teetering piles of skulls. Dozens of Rieklings crowded the ice benches around the table, shrieking in their tinny voices, squabbling over food, and generally making a great deal of noise. Even as they watched, one pulled out his dagger and stabbed his neighbor, then reached over and took a withered crabapple off his plate to eat.
“Hey, morons!” Krish shouted suddenly, and silence gradually fell. Only one Riekling on the far end of the hall continued shouting until another bludgeoned him over the head with a crossbow. “Where’s that shitface Dulk?”
“You’re not supposed to be in here, Krish,” another Riekling squealed, and Krish kicked him, hard, in the shin.
“Shut up, Hob. Where’s Dulk?”
“In the throne room, eggbrain,” someone yelled, and a dead rat flew over the table and hit Krish square in the face.
“Shove it, toadtongue!” Krish yelled back, and he turned to Fen. “This way, stupid.” The Rieklings turned back to their revelry as if they hadn’t even noticed Fen, and Dulk led the way to an enormous door at the back of the hall.
At the top of a tall flight of slick stairs that Krish and Fen both stumbled on a number of times, they found Dulk perched on another huge throne surrounded by blue torches, eating a strip of salted meat.
“What are you doing here?” Dulk snarled when Fen and Krish came into the light. “The master will not be pleased! And you come with Krish! Evil, evil Krish! Krish is bad, and you are bad for helping him! What is it you want?”
“Stop yammering, foot-face,” Krish snapped, and Fen quickly interjected.
“I’m here about the death of the horkers along the coasts. I need to know if you had anything to do with it.”
“This was not our doing!” Dulk replied, looking affronted. “Not even Krish could have done this!”
“You –”
“What about Karstaag?” Fen interjected quickly.
“The master is gone, gone with the wolves! Big wolves! Evil wolves! Wolves that walk like men! Took the master days ago! No time for the fat horkers! And Dulk did none of this!” Fen frowned. Werewolves had been to Castle Karstaag too, and they had taken the giant just as that Imperial captain and the chieftain had been taken. “Yes, yes, master is gone,” Dulk went on. “He must return soon. The wolves came and took him away. Big wolves, evil wolves! Wolves that walk like men! Left Dulk all alone! But the master will be back soon. The master must come back soon! Krish, stop that!” Fen turned and saw Krish was making an obscene gesture behind her.
“That’s all you know?” she prompted, looking back to Dulk.
“Big wolves,” Dulk repeated, his tiny feet kicking the base of the ice throne nervously. “Evil wolves. Krish, stop it!” Leaving Krish and Dulk to their squabble, Fen made her way back through the castle and outside, where night had fallen. The stars had begun to peek out from beneath the darkness of night, but something – she couldn’t quite tell what – didn’t seem right about the sky.
The night was dark and freezing by the time Fen returned to the village, the wind blowing as fiercely as ever. She was surprised to find that, despite the late hour, nearly all that remained of the village after the werewolf attack was outside, some of them speaking quietly amongst themselves, others staring up at the stars with dark expressions on their faces. Fen found Korst standing where he usually was in the centre of the village, gazing upward with all the rest.
“Have you learned more about the death of the horkers?” he asked, though there was no hope in his voice for a positive answer.
“It wasn’t Karstaag,” Fen answered. “Karstaag wasn’t even there. He was taken by werewolves, just like the Imperial captain and Heart-Fang.” Korst looked down at her, his face grim.
“I feared as much. Even Karstaag could not have caused such carnage. This is a bad sign, Fen, and I fear we have yet to see the worst. It is time at last we spoke of the Bloodmoon Prophecy.” The words sent a shiver up Fen’s spine, the way Dagoth Ur’s name used to before she even knew who he was.
“Go on.”
“The legend tells of a time that occurs once in each era, when a demon god will walk the land in the company of his Hounds, creatures of terrible might. He is The Hunter, ad his coming is preceded by three signs. I prayed I had misread the signs, misunderstood the prophecy, but…” Korst shook his head. “I do not believe it is so.”
“What are the signs?” Fen asked quietly.
“The first tells of Fire From the Eye of Glass. His we have seen on Lake Fjalding, though I hoped it was the mere magic of the draugr lord. Next, the prophecy tells us of the Tide of Woe. Even now, our shores are lined with the corpses of the horkers, dead for a reason we cannot fathom. Finally, the prophecy tells us of the Bloodmoon, when the young moon itself runs red with the blood of the Hunter’s prey.” Korst raised a hand upward. “Look to the skies, Blodskaal. The third sign is upon us.” Almost afraid to look, Fen raised her eyes and saw Korst was right – Secunda, the smaller of the two moons that orbited Nirn and usually shone a pearly white, now glowed a deep crimson, redder than its brother Maaser, and more feral, more hostile. The colour of death. Fen looked back down at the shaman’s face and realized his face was bathed in the red of the small moon. “Now we wait for the Hunter’s game.”

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