Friday, April 19, 2013

Absolute Beginner's Guide to Surviving Better Than Wolves

I wrote this for a couple of my friends who keep dying on my server, (they've never played BTW period, much less Hardcore Hunger - one of them is actually new to MC in general) and I thought it might be useful to some people. It's all text, no screenshots or videos, so if you want screenshots and videos, might I suggest some of the other fantastic guides already present on this very forum?

There may be some minor spoilers, but I couldn't fit that in the title, so it's here.

If you don't want anything spoiled for you, why are you reading a how-to guide anyway? 

Go get yourself killed a lot, that's what I did.

The scope of this is strictly the early stages of survival. It's more of a loose set of guidelines for what to do than a hard and fast guide. This encompasses what I've learned from my experiences so far. There is no one true way to actually play - this just seems to be the best way to pull it off without villages and without doing a lot of nomading.

That's a word now.


The goal of early survival is attaining a sustainable food supply.

Early Game Tools:

Wood Pickaxe, Wood Shovel, Stone Pickaxe, Stone Axe

Early Game "Weapons":

Stone Axe (Extremely low durability, use only in an emergency!)


Early Game Foods:

Brown Mushrooms, Pumpkin Seeds, Cooked Meat, Eggs

Note that mushrooms spread extremely slowly without bonemeal, which is not an immediately available resource, and pumpkins cannot be farmed until you have iron. Still, a nice dark mushroom-spreading area is a nice thought. Just be careful: it's quite possible that the mushroom farm will spawn monsters if you miscalculate even a little bit on the light level. It has to be low enough for mushrooms to spread, but high enough to keep monsters away - it's probably safer not to worry about it for now, especially if you're new to Minecraft in general and aren't sure what light level actually means.

Combat is to be avoided at all costs. Seriously, run away from combat if at all possible.

So the first thing you do in any version of Minecraft is punch wood. BTW is no different, so go gather a some wood. You'll want around ten wood logs to start with. Break them down into planks and the planks down into sticks, leaving enough wood for a wooden pickaxe. Mine all eleven cobblestone you can, and turn that cobblestone into a stone pickaxe and a furnace. Then mine more stone, then make a stone axe and some more stone pickaxes. If daylight still exists, consider getting more wood. You'll want it. 

Do not go out at night if you can at all help it. If night falls and you're unprepared, dig a big hole and cry in it. Hopefully you won't starve.

Now that basic supplies are out of the way, let's discuss food.

If you find a swamp, harvest most of the brown mushrooms you find (leaving a handful under trees in case of emergency and for repopulation purposes). If you find pumpkins, collect them. Hunt for meat, but beware that animals run away, and chasing animals may be a greater waste of food resources than it returns. One porkchop is not worth three or four shanks off your food meter because you ran and jumped all over the place. Punch all the tall grass you find: hemp seeds will be an extremely vital part of the settling-down process.

Beware of over-hunting: You're not the only 'person' trying to eat animals now. Keep at least two of every animal penned up somehow, even if you don't have the crops to breed them just yet, as they will become important later in the tech tree.

If you don't care about wool, then sheep would be your best target for over-hunting early on; you simply don't need sheep if you don't want wool, and by end-game you'll have other food supplies.

When you think you've got enough resources to settle down, find a place you'd like to build. My ideal place is near a desert for optimal windmill usage, but a desert is not necessary, and I'm actually currently settling in a swamp by an ocean.

Chickens provide the earliest, easily-sustainable food source: feeding chickens hemp seeds from tall grass will provide eggs, which when thrown will either hatch into a baby chicken OR will give you a raw egg.

You want chickens around.

Raw egg can be mixed with brown mushrooms to create an omelet, which can then be cooked for best results. Alternatively, you can mix the egg with a bucket of milk and a bowl for scrambled eggs, which can also be cooked, or you can cook the egg alone for some benefit, if you never find milk or mushrooms.

If the chicken hatches, on the other hand, then you have access to more chicken meat or another source of eggs, depending on your preference, as soon as the baby chicken grows up.

It's important to note that you should create a safe chicken coop with a roof on top: the chickens' primary predators (other than you) do not care about walls!

After you've got your chicken situation settled, you should move on to farming properly. This will require at least eighteen iron ore to create the hoe, so it's time to start digging. You want as much iron and coal as you can get. Do not use the coal to smelt the iron you find; logs cook for variable times based on species but are now just about as effective as (char)coal in terms of fuel. You're going to want torches. Torches are important, and torches are much more valuable in BTW.

You will need a lot of stone pickaxes: the durability on them is not particularly spectacular, and you can no longer repair them by banging them together until they're fixed.

Suggestions for branch mining can be found all over the place, but I find that it's the most effective way to locate pretty much any mineral resource in vMC, and BTW doesn't change ore-spawning rules. 

A general guideline I use is:

1: Dig to bedrock.
2: Go back up five blocks. This should put you right above the lava layer.
3: Dig in a straight line about three blocks high until you run into open air or something you can't actually mine.
4: Stop (it's hammer time).
5: Turn cobblestone into cobblestone slabs.
6: On your way back to the start of your mine, place half-slabs on the ground to prevent monster spawning.
7: Your mine will be very dark. You can use torches at important locations, but I would recommend only placing them as you absolutely need them: coal is much more valuable than cobblestone.
8: Dig side branches following the same guideline as #3.
9: Rinse and repeat.

You will also want stone stairs to take you to and from your mine. You can crawl up stairs when starving to death, but you can't jump. Besides, jumping wastes food resources. At this stage in the game, you do not have food resources to spare.

You should also consider this principle when terraforming the land around your home. Dirt half-slabs are an amazing invention. Use them liberally because you do not want to jump everywhere. You just don't. Stairs are also effective. 

Running and jumping should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary.

So, mining. You have some options on what you want to create out of iron. If you find diamonds, consider saving up twenty-seven iron ore instead of just eighteen. Two diamonds can be used to make a hoe, and your first iron pickaxe is a major milestone. Otherwise, just save up the eighteen iron ore you need to make a hoe, and craft it as soon as possible.

Yes, I said a hoe for your first two diamonds. Not a sword. You want to avoid combat at all costs. Combat will cripple you, and crippled Steves die horribly. The end.

Now that you've gotten a hoe somehow (we'll go with magic for this one), it's time to start up your real farming endeavors.

If you were lucky enough to get pumpkins in your early nomadic stages, great! Add pumpkin seeds to your farm, leaving a blank plot of dirt for each stem you plant. Note that pumpkin growth is pretty slow, but you can eat pumpkin seeds raw for 1/2 a shank of hunger each, at the same level as brown mushrooms on their own. Pumpkin pie is not available at this level unless you somehow wandered across an inhabited village and it had wheat - this guide is mostly about surviving without a village, so we're skipping pumpkin pie entirely. 

You will want a decently-sized farm for hemp and hemp-seeds regardless of the presence or absence of pumpkins. Not only will this assist with feeding your chickens, resulting in more eggs and chicken meat, but a good hemp farm is also the first step towards the first major technological development in BTW: the windmill. Remember that your hemp farm must have open air or glass above it - and nothing else - or the hemp won't grow. 

If you've found any bones in your travels from dead skeletons, or temples, or other players who had bones on them when they died (get creative! And remember, don't engage in combat if you can help it) you may want a millstone and hand crank to make bonemeal. The exact recipes can be found on the wiki, found here:, so go take a moment to look that up now. The materials are things you should already have on hand if you've been following along. 

(Hint: Wood and stone. Entirely. Some of it has to be processed.)

The hand-crank drains hunger extremely quickly, so always make sure you've got food to spare for this!

Bonemeal does not grow plants instantly in BTW, nor even at the rate that vMC now provides. It does, however, accelerate plant growth, including hemp plants and pumpkin stems. 

So, now's a good time to analyze your resources. Do you have enough food to power the hand-crank to make bonemeal, and regardless of that, do you have enough food to survive the wait for your plants to grow? You should also consider whether or not you've encountered any wolves yet. If you have, you may consider using the raw bones to tame them instead, as they are a vital part of the later tech tree, can help you in combat, and may do as a food source in a pinch.

Never directly attack your (or anyone else's) wolves. It won't end well. Also feeding them their fallen kin is a Bad Idea.

If you don't have bones, of course, this is obviously a pointless consideration until you feel you are ready to fight skeletons, you create a mob grinder, or until the dawn greets you with a lucky stockpile of monster drops.

Regardless of the presence or absence of bones, you should focus on improving your food supply so you can grind the roughly 70 hemp plants you'll need to collect for a windmill and axles. Remember to only cut the top half of the hemp plant, as it will grow back much, much faster than growing a whole new hemp plant.

More in-depth guides cover advancing through the tech tree from here. One of the best guides is actually the front page of the BTW wiki, so take a peek at that to see where you should go next. 

At this point you're mostly settled in, so your survival is entirely dependent on you.

Some considerations for your next goal: a compass is nice for finding the original spawn point. Building a road back to the original spawn may help you find your way back to wherever it is you settled if you die. If you've died a few times, there are good odds you have no idea where either point actually is until you build a compass and/or a map.

You will also soon want a nether portal to continue climbing the tech tree. More diamonds are therefore in order, as Hardcore Buckets does not allow for the bucket method of building such a portal. Just make sure your nether portal is someplace secured from the outside world. Optimally, nothing (except you) comes out, nothing (except you) should go in.

That's basically it!

Feedback is appreciated, as well as any other tips for absolute, complete nooblets.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Stranger in Skyrim 21

Chapter Twenty-One: Back to Business

In which magic cures all ills.

A tumble of nonsensical words rolled through her mind, the loudest voices actually Shouting at her.

Dovahkiin!” they seemed to say.

She groaned, opening eyes that refused to focus properly.

She tasted copper in her mouth. Reaching up to feel her face, her hand came away wet. She looked around to try and figure out where she'd ended up, but it was impossibly dark.

She started to panic.

Although she had excellent night vision, it did her no good if there wasn't any light. Trying to keep calm, she felt around her. She was in a tight space. Wall, door – there, cold porcelain. She identified it immediately as the bathroom. She was sitting on the floor next to the toilet, which explained the tight confines; her bathroom was ridiculously tiny. Feeling up the wall, she found the light switch and flipped it on.

Relief flooded her, even though her eyes complained at the sudden light and she had to close them.

Now all she had to do was clean up all the blood.

She deliberately did not think about exactly what would cause that kind of a reaction, because she had her suspicions and they were wrong.

She picked herself up, unlocked the door, and, taking a deep breath to prepare herself, opened it.

There was nothing there.

She laughed a bit at herself. She was being silly. Why would there be anything inside her house?

She walked to her bedroom, took her night meds, and crawled into bed. Nothing popped out at her, nothing was there but her own foolish imagination.

For the first time in months, she left the bedside lamp on when she went to sleep.

She was roused out of a vague nightmare by another: everything was pain. She felt her bones grinding against each other as they set themselves, and she cried out in agony as the nerves protested their treatment.

A woman stood above her, her hands glowing with white light. She wore brown robes with a yellow hood, and she spoke soft, soothing, nonsense words.

The pain slowly subsided as everything sank into its proper place. Mariah sagged with relief.

“You're awake then? Good. I was afraid … generally it's a bad idea to let someone with a cracked skull sleep, but nothing could rouse you.” The woman smiled. “You've had a lot of visitors. Mostly well-wishers, some of the guards who were with you when you killed that dragon. The Jarl himself even came down from Dragonsreach. You're a popular lady.”

She sat up slowly, with a groan. “What time is it … ?”

“Morning. You're hungry?”

Mariah nodded slowly.

“We'll get you something to eat.” Another smile. “Now, and this is important: don't do anything too strenuous for the next couple of days. I had to heal a lot of damage, and you're still on the mend.”

She rubbed the back of her head. “Define 'strenuous,' please.” She doubted she'd get a real chance to rest, after all. What had even happened to her possessions?

“No fighting. Period. No heavy lifting, no long journeys, no running, or jumping, or … whatever it is you hero types do, don't do it. Understand me, if you strain yourself too much, you won't heal properly. You're fragile right now.”

She nodded. “Understood. Can I at least make the trip up to Dragonsreach? If the Jarl came to see me, I'm sure it's important.”

“If you think you're up to it, I suppose. Just be careful. I don't want to see you back here because you broke something again.”

A smile. “I'll do my best. Now … what was this about food?”

She ate a hearty meal of meat, bread, and cheese, put together in a configuration she chose to call a “sandwich.” It was a medieval time period, so she was fairly sure she got to “invent” certain modern ideas like that.

“Thank you again. Do I owe you anything?”

The woman shook her head. “Your expenses were covered by the Jarl. He said that it was the least he could do for a dragonslayer.”

“I – see. Well, thank you anyway. I didn't expect to survive that fall.”

Another shake of the head. “You wouldn't have, except that Irileth managed to get an extremely powerful healing potion into you, and quickly.” The woman smiled. “I just finished the job. If you thank anyone today, it should be the housecarl.”

“I will, but you have my thanks anyway. Where are my things, please?”

The woman produced all of her gear, even the pieces Mariah hadn't noticed were missing. She had to get used to the idea of carrying a weapon with her everywhere.

She arranged her things in their normal places. Everything felt heavier than it had been before, but then, she was still worn out from the healing. If she'd been as battered as she still felt, it was a miracle she was up and walking. She remembered the first day after her surgery, and her inability to move.

Magic beat modern medicine, apparently.

Who knew?

The trip up to Dragonsreach, though exhausting, was largely uneventful. She sagged against the great doors of the place before she finally pushed them open.

Spying the Jarl, she noticed he had other people with him.

“Good,” the fancy-robed man said. “You're finally here. The Jarl's been waiting for you.”

The Jarl had another visitor, a man in leather armor that looked like it had been ripped off some ancient barbarian hero … wait, he probably was an ancient barbarian hero. He was big, muscular, and looked kind of mean.

“You heard the summons,” the Jarl was saying as she approached his throne. “What else could it mean? The Graybeards ….”

The barbarian shrugged slightly, turning to look at her. “We were just talking about you. My brother needs a word with you.”

“Aye-aye.” She said it tiredly, with a faint smile.

The Jarl regarded her calmly. “My guards have given their reports, but I'd like to hear your tale, please. Leave nothing out. Any details you remember might be important, if we should have to face another.”

She looked up at the ceiling, for a moment, folding her hands behind her back. “Yessir. The watchtower was destroyed; there was rubble everywhere, and everything was burning. Only one guard had survived the dragon's attack, and he was telling us to get away. The dragon swooped down – Irileth did most of the fighting.” She ducked her head, embarrassed. “I mostly just shot lightning at it.”

“I knew I could count on Irileth. But my guards tell me that you had your moment, no?”

She shook her head. “I grabbed the dragon, when it was about to take off, and nearly got killed for my efforts, sir. I guess I dealt the killing blow, but really, I would have died on my own.”

He nodded. “And then?”

The dragon – when it was dying, it … melted. I remember that. And then … there was a white light, coming from its corpse. I think – I think it was coming for me. I blacked out … I don't remember, I'm sorry.”

The Jarl closed his eyes, processing that. “So it's true – the Greybeards really were summoning you.”

“The … Greybeards, sir?”

He nodded once. “Masters of the Way of the Voice. They live in seclusion high on the slopes of the Throat of the World.” Oh goodie. She was going to get to go mountain climbing.

What … I'm sorry, what would they want with me?”

The Jarl regarded her oddly. “That light you saw … it was most likely the dragon's very soul. You absorbed it into your body … I'd wager that power is part of why you didn't die from your injuries. If that's true – if you are Dragonborn, then you should be able to Shout, like the dragons do. The Greybeards could teach you to use your gift, if you let them.”

“Didn't you hear that thundering sound as you returned to Whiterun?” The Jarl's brother asked. “That was the voice of the Greybeards, summoning you to High Hrothgar!”

She shook her head. “I don't think I was conscious for that.”

But she remembered. Dovahkiin, they'd called her, in her dream. Dragonborn.

“This hasn't happened in … centuries, at least. Not since Tiber Septim himself was summoned while he was still Talos of Atmora!” Talos … one of the Divines?

The fancy-pants man folded his arms. “Hrongar, calm yourself. What does any of this Nord nonsense have to do with our friend here?” He gestured to her. “Capable as she may be, I don't see any signs of her being this, what, 'Dragonborn.'”

“Nord nonsense?! Why you puffed up, ignorant …” He sputtered for a moment. “These are our sacred traditions that go back to the founding of the first Empire!”

“Hrongar,” The Jarl smiled, humor in his voice. “Don't be so hard on Avenicci.”

Fancy-pants – Avenicci – shook his head. “I meant no disrespect, of course. It's just that … what do these Greybeards want with her?”

She'd like to know that, herself.

“That's the Greybeards' business, not ours.” He looked away from his brother and his advisor, staring straight at her. “Whatever happened when you killed that dragon, it revealed something in you, and the Greybeards heard it. If they think you are Dragonborn, who are we to argue? You'd better get up to High Hrothgar immediately. There is no refusing the summons of the Greybeards. It's a tremendous honor.”

She shifted a little, uncertainly. “There might be a slight problem with the 'immediate' part of that. I'm not to do anything strenuous for the next few days ….”

He waved his hand, dismissively. “I envy you, you know. To climb the seven thousand steps again... I made the pilgrimage once, did you know that? It's a difficult journey … perhaps you should wait until you're well.”

“What can you tell me about this 'High Hrothgar?'”

He looked distant for a moment. “High Hrothgar is a very … peaceful place. Very disconnected from the troubles of this world. I wonder that the Greybeards even notice what's going on down here. They haven't seemed to care before.” He shook his head. “No matter. Go High Hrothgar. Learn what the Greybeards can teach you.”

A slight pause, as one of the servants came up with a few items.

You've done a great service for me and my city, Dragonborn,” Jarl Balgruuf announced. “By my right as Jarl, I name you Thane of Whiterun. It's the greatest honor that's within my power to grant. I assign you Lydia as your personal housecarl, and this weapon from my armory to serve as your badge of office.” He smiled. “I'll also notify my guards of your new status. Wouldn't want them to think you're part of the common rabble, now would we? We are honored to have you as Thane of our city, Dragonborn.”

My – my lord, I can't – ”

He took the axe from his own belt, holding it out to her with both hands. “You can, and you will. My servant will lead you to the armory to choose a small selection of items for your past deeds, as well.”

She shook her head, but obediently followed the servant when he beckoned. As she was walking away, she heard the Jarl speak again.

“Back to business, Proventus. We still have a city to defend.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Stranger in Skyrim 20

Chapter Twenty: Mirmulnir

In which bad decisions are made.

“Here he comes!” Irileth called. “Find cover, and make every arrow count!”

What the fuck was she supposed to do? She wasn't an archer, she wasn't even particularly good with the crossbow, she was just going to get roasted by a dragon and die.

Oh right. Magic.

She had magic. Maybe – maybe – that would help.

The dragon roared down from the mountains. There came the whoosh of air over his wings, and then he landed, with a roar.

He spoke words, but she didn't understand them, exactly. There was mirth in his tone, however, as he reached out and bit one of the guards in half.

Can't think, can't think –

She reached out with both hands, spewing lightning at her foe. He snapped those massive teeth at her, catching the front of her robe. It tore, loudly, but he used it to fling her to the side. She landed against a wall with a loud crunch and a groan.

Gotta get up –

She pushed herself up on hands and knees. There came the whoosh of air as the dragon took flight once more, circling around the tower. The other guardsmen shot arrows and crossbow bolts; Irileth seemed to be using lightning, to somewhat better effect than Mariah had.

She made it to standing, wobbily. The beast landed again, right in front of her. One eye was turned towards her, as though he was inspecting her.

She froze, lightning crackling ineffectually on her fingertips.

“Look at me, you great, overgrown lizard!” Irileth brought her sword down on the other side of the dragon's face. He roared, breathing fire in her direction, only it seemed to spray across some kind of half-invisible shield. “You'll have to do better than that!” the housecarl cried. Mariah regained her senses; she shot a continual stream of electricity at him, while Irileth bravely slashed at him with her sword. Arrows and bolts pelted the beast's armored scales, bouncing off to no effect.

She knew what she had to do, she just didn't relish the idea of doing it. Somehow, though, they had to pierce the creature's thick scales, maybe crack its skull open.

“What are you doing?!”

Mariah grabbed one of the beast's horns with one hand. It looked at her, speaking in draconic. “I can't understand you,” she said, grimly pulling the greatsword. He tried to snap at her, but she danced out of the way, keeping her handhold on his horn.

He bunched up, intending to take off again, and she had this wild, crazy idea. Right before he took off, she swung one leg over his neck. He rose into the air, and she clung for dear life. The crazy idea quickly became a bad one as she realized that it would be so, so easy for her to fall. The height became dizzying, raw terror lending her grip strength, the greatsword, forgotten on the ground. She hadn't planned far enough ahead for this.

“What do you plan, little mortal?” The dragon's words were serious. He glanced back at her, but it was obvious he wouldn't be able to bite her from this angle. She had a death grip on both of his horns, her legs wrapped tightly around his neck. “Think you to tame me, then? Bah!”

He rolled in midair, and the world rolled under her, and all she could think was that this was why roller coasters had such safety precautions, because she was going to die, she was so going to die, her hands were slipping –

He couldn't stay that way for very long; he righted himself and resumed circling over the tower below.

She had to do something.

She had a mission.

One of the guards' crossbow bolts punched through her leg, and she screamed in pain.

No time to think.

She drew one of her remaining swords with both hands, clinging to the dragon's back with her legs, and began to pry at the back of his neck with the weapon. It slipped between two scales, exactly as she had planned, and drew blood. He roared in wordless agony as she slid the sword through the back of his skull. This time, when he tumbled, it was not a controlled roll. She thought fire at the sword, desperate to finish her task before her task finished her.

The dragon's skull exploded.

And she realized with horrible clarity that there was no longer anyone piloting his body. The beast began to burn, an all-over sort of thing that somehow left her unscathed. White light streamed towards her, blinding her as her legs failed to keep their grip. She realized suddenly that she was falling free of the dragon's corpse.

She felt like she was floating in midair, her perception slowed down to the exact moment of her inevitable doom, before she went flying all on her own.

She felt like she was crash landing as she woke in her own bed, her body shoved downward into the soft memory foam. Fortunately, her bed was more forgiving than the hard ground she'd been headed for, and despite a slight protest in the form of squeaky springs underneath the foam topper, she was largely uninjured. Sunlight fought its way past the tall bookshelf to peek into the room.

So she'd died. That was it.

As demises went, hers was surprisingly less than final.

She'd never get to see Lucia again, and that made her unaccountably sad.

She sighed, rolling over and burying her face in the pillow. She wasn't ready to be conscious yet, so she made the decision she just wouldn't be. She fell back to sleep in short order.

…. the taste of something bittersweet on her tongue. “Don't you die on me.” The housecarl knelt over her broken body, pouring the potion into her mouth. Everything hurt.

A soft moan of pain escaped her, and she crawled back into the darkness of her mind.

Her dreams didn't make much sense, but then, they rarely did. She got the sense that she was fighting, struggling against something, but she didn't know who or what she was fighting against.

She woke a while later in the real world. Mondays were always the same. Breakfast first, then a visit to the chiropractor, then home, then video games. Simple, boring, Monday.

She locked her computers, pushing away from her desk. She went about turning off all the lights in the house, going about her nightly routine.

All the lights were out, and she was going to bed, and she looked out the dining room window idly.

There was a sense of fear, and then the world went dark.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Stranger in Skyrim 19

Chapter Nineteen: The Western Watchtower

In which her competence is over-estimated.

“A dragon! How exciting! Where was it seen? What was it doing?” Farengar was unreasonably excited.

Irileth was not impressed. “I'd take this a bit more seriously if I were you. If a dragon decides to attack Whiterun, I don't know if we can stop it.” Personally, Mariah agreed with Irileth. The idea of a dragon destroying Whiterun … she could picture Lucia burning to death in a dragon's flames. The very concept horrified her. The city destroyed, its people slaughtered in the streets … she could imagine it vividly.

Farengar's informant walked out past them. Despite her apparent interest in the dragons' return, she didn't seem to want to know about the dragon attack. Or maybe she just had somewhere important to be, somewhere that wasn't about to be attacked by a dragon.

Mariah shrugged, following Irileth and Farengar out of the room. One of the guards joined their group on the way up a set of stairs she hadn't actually noticed before.

“So,” the Jarl began. “Irileth tells me you came from the western watchtower?”

The guard nodded. “Yes, my lord.”

“Tell him what you told me,” Irileth said. “About the dragon.”

The guard looked slightly uncomfortable, under his face-concealing helmet. “Uh … that's right. We saw it coming from the south. It was fast … faster than anything I've ever seen.”

“What did it do?” The Jarl demanded. “Is it attacking the watchtower?”

The guard shook his head. “No, my lord. It was just circling overhead when I left. I never ran so fast in my life – I thought it would come after me for sure.”

“Good work, son. We'll take it from here.” The Jarl clapped the man on the shoulder with a confident smile. “Head down to the barracks for some food and rest. You've earned it.” He turned his attention to his housecarl. “Irileth, you'd better gather some guardsmen and get down there.”

The woman nodded. “I've already ordered my men to muster near the main gate.”

“Good. Don't fail me.” Then, the Jarl turned his attention to Mariah. “There's no time to stand on ceremony, my friend. I need your help again. I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this dragon.”

A choked noise of disbelief escaped her. “Me?”

“You survived Helgen, so you have more experience with dragons than anyone else here,” he pointed out. Damn his logic, but he was right.

She shook her head. “My lord,” she said, figuring she'd use the more familiar term for his office, “I mostly just ran for my life. I don't know that I'm the best choice ….”

“Nonsense. You'll do fine.” He smiled, and she almost felt … competent. Like she could maybe handle what fate apparently had in store for her. “But,” he said, and this time he clapped her shoulder. “I haven't forgotten the service you did for me in retrieving the Dragonstone for Farengar. As a token of my esteem, I have instructed Avenicci that you are now permitted to purchase property within the city. Furthermore, I will have my servants choose another item for you from my personal armory.”

She gave a small bow. “Thank you, my lord.”

“I should come along,” Farengar spoke up. “I should very much like to see this dragon for myself.”

The Jarl shook his head. “No. I can't afford to risk both of you. I need you here working on ways to defend the city against these dragons.”

“As you command.”

Jarl Balgruuf looked towards his housecarl once more. “One last thing, Irileth. This isn't a death or glory mission. I need to know what we're dealing with.”

“Don't worry, my lord.” There was an odd glint to the elf's eyes. “I'm the very soul of caution.”

Somehow, Mariah didn't think that was true.

It was still raining as she followed Irileth out of Dragonsreach. Lightning lit up the sky. She tugged the hood up a little tighter around her head, moving as quickly as her legs would take her.

They met up with four guards at the main gate. Three of them wore horned helmets, rather than the standard face-concealing mask most guards wore. The fourth had apparently decided to stick to his normal uniform. A cynical part of her suspected that he'd be the one to die first.

“Here's the situation,” the housecarl announced. “A dragon is attacking the western watchtower!”

One guard gasped. “A dragon?”

“Now we're in for it ….” Number Three (he was third from her left) shook his head.

The housecarl continued as though she hadn't been interrupted. “You heard right! I said a dragon!” Irileth seemed to relish the chance to give a speech. She continued, with gusto. “I don't much care where it came from, or who sent it. What I do know is that it's made the mistake of attacking Whiterun!”

“But housecarl …” Guard Two began. “How can we fight a dragon?”

The elf paused. “That's a fair question. None of us has ever seen a dragon before, nor expected to face one in battle. But we are honorbound to fight it, even if we fail. This dragon is threatening our homes, our families!” Irileth paused, looking straight at Guard Two. “Could you call yourselves Nords if you ran from this monster? Are you going to let me face this thing alone?”

“No, housecarl!”

Guard number one whispered, so it was barely audible above the rain. “We're so dead.” Privately, Mariah agreed with him. She knew she, at least, was not making it out of an encounter with a dragon alive. Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup. That proverb was at the forefront of her mind.

But it's more than our honor at stake here,” the housecarl continued. “Think of it – the first dragon seen in Skyrim since the last age! The glory of killing it is ours, if you're with me! Now what do you say? Shall we go kill us a dragon?!”

The guards cheered.

It was a rousing speech.

Now if only the sinking feeling of impending doom would just go away.

Let's move out.”

She followed Irileth and the guardsmen at some distance, praying to no one in specific that maybe, just maybe, the dragon wouldn't even see her. She didn't normally think of herself as a coward, but she was terrified. And still she was heading toward her ultimate demise like an idiot.

What fun.

The rain passed shortly after they left the city. They followed the road west, until they came across a destroyed tower. Parts of it were still burning from dragonfire, and rubble was strewn everywhere.

No signs of any dragon right now, but it sure looks like he's been here.” Irileth looked over at the guardsmen. “I know it looks bad, but we've got to figure out what happened. And, if that dragon is still skulking around somewhere. Spread out, and look for survivors. We need to know what we're dealing with.” All of the warriors unsheathed their weapons. Mariah? Her mind was her greatest weapon.

Too bad she'd rotted it by playing video games all the time ….

The others spread out. She walked up to the tower itself, picking her way through the rubble carefully, so as not to have her robe catch on fire. A guardsman hesitantly edged out towards the door as she approached. “No! Get back!” He cried. “It's still here somewhere! Hroki and Tor just got grabbed when they tried to make a run for it!”

It's all right,” she said, trying to radiate confidence she didn't feel. “We brought more men.”

He shook his head. “Don't you understand? It'll just kill you all!” He looked up, and horror dawned on his face. “Kynareth save us – here he comes again!”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Stranger in Skyrim 18

Chapter Eighteen: Argonian Ale

In which possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Her dreams were completely normal, which was a relief. No work, no prophetic visions, no horrible death, just random adventures in lands her mind had made up for her.

She promptly forgot everything about the dream as she woke up, a little disoriented, in her bed at home. She remembered, dully, that it was her day off, and Mom had woken her up a bit ago, announcing that she was heading out to Amtgard. Woo, freedom and solitude.

She spent most of it lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. She just couldn't persuade herself to get up.

When she finally did get up, she went out to the kitchen, burned a pan with eggs in it, and ate the edible remains. She wasn't really a great cook.

That done, she spent her day doing something slightly different; she sought out and downloaded various Minecraft mods, playing around with them until she got them to work together. She didn't actually get to play the game before she woke back up in Skyrim.

Tragic. Still, she woke well-rested, rolling out of bed.

“Hullo.” The girl's voice came from the doorway, and she looked up and over at Lucia, tilting her head to the side. “I'd say good morning, but it's actually night time.”

She reached up to rub the sleep out of her eyes, yawning hugely. “Uh huh. What are you doing in my room?” She honestly didn't mind, it was just an idle question. Lucia's face fell anyway. “I mean, it's okay, don't get me wrong. I'm just curious, is all.”

“Oh, well … Miss Hulda told me you were up here, and I have something for you, is all.” The girl walked over, holding out a vial with both hands. “Brenuin says it's a healing potion.”

Taking the vial, she smiled up at Lucia. “Now, what makes you think I'm going to need this?”

“Well,” the girl said, thoughtfully, “you kind of look like you've been getting into fights. Your robes are all cut up, and there's blood on them.”

Oh. That made sense. “Okay, how about this – where'd you get that, anyway? Aren't healing potions kind of expensive?” She assumed they would be; anything with magic in it had to be outside the price range of the average beggar child.

Brenuin gave it to me.”

She frowned. “And what did you have to do for Brenuin to give it to you?”

We-ell … ” The girl looked down and away, guiltily.

She smiled. “It's okay, you can tell me, I promise.” Inside, she was fuming, but she couldn't let that show on her face, or the girl wouldn't share. Whoever 'Brenuin' was, it looked like he'd been taking advantage of a child.

Okay … Brenuin said he was thirsty, and he wanted this special bottle of ale Miss Hulda keeps in the back room. So I got it for him, and he gave me the healing potion, and now I'm giving it to you.”

She shook her head. “So you stole something for him?”

Well … I guess so, but he said Miss Hulda wouldn't miss it anyway, and he's always so nice to me and … And …. ”

She sighed. “Look … I'm sure Brenuin is nice to you, but stealing like that can get you in trouble. You don't want Miss Hulda to kick you out of the inn, do you?”

Nobody saw me take it, I made sure!”

Not … precisely the lesson she was going for. Still …. “If you're going to do stuff like that, I can't stop you, I guess. Just try not to get caught, okay?” She stood up, reaching out to ruffle Lucia's hair. It was the thought that counted, anyway.

Sort of.

Now, I've got to go up to Dragonsreach. Did you need anything from me before I go?”

The girl gave her the saddest face. “I'm really hungry, ma'am.”

Let's get you something to eat.”

She picked up her gear, the Dragonstone, and her sack of gold, and they headed downstairs. She traded a handful of gold for a filling meal, which they shared at one of the tables.

You can use my bed for the night; I won't be, so someone might as well get some good out of it.” She smiled warmly at Lucia.

The girl beamed. “Thank you, ma'am.”

Don't call me that,” she said absently, smiling.

An impish grin. “Yes, ma'am.”

When the meal was finished, Lucia headed upstairs with a wave. She headed outside into the night.

Fantastic, it was raining again.

Foolish old woman! You know nothing! Nothing of our struggles, our suffering!” She couldn't see the speaker, nor did she care to. She leaned back against the door, hiding under the scant protection of the protruding roof of the inn. She didn't much care for the rain.

The old woman folded her arms. “And what of my son? Hm? What of Thorald? Is he nothing? So don't talk to me about suffering.”

Your son chose his side, and he chose poorly. And now he's gone.” These callous words came from a man in Imperial leathers, illuminated by a brazier outside the Bannered Mare. “Such is the way of war. The sooner you accept his loss, the better.”

The woman sounded defiant. “I will never accept his death. My son still lives, I feel it in my heart. So tell me, Battle-Borns, where is he? Where are you holding my Thorald?”

Do you believe this old hag?” The first man's voice was dripping with contempt. “'Holding him'? Why, I've got him in my cellar. He's my prisoner.” The man was obviously being sarcastic. “Face it, cow, your stupid son is dead. He died a Stormcloak traitor. And you – you best keep your mouth shut, before you suffer the same.”

Come on, Father. There's nothing more to be said here.” The two men began to walk off.

What could she possibly do? She sighed, hugely, letting the woman go, too, before she began her ascent to Dragonsreach.

She wasn't some kind of hero, she reminded herself. She'd been extremely lucky to survive as long as she had, and frankly, pretending to be a hero would get her – and the people she tried to help – killed.

No, best stay out of it.

By the time she'd made it up to Dragonsreach, she was already damp.


One of the guards was kind enough to open the door for her, and she stepped inside, heading up the stairs and to the right.

You see? The terminology is clearly First Era, or even earlier,” Farengar was saying. “I'm convinced this is a copy of a much older text, perhaps dating to just after the Dragon War.” If only she'd paid attention in history class … ah, who was she kidding, even if she had, her history would have been useless in this world. “If so, I could use this to cross-reference the names with other, later texts.”

Farengar had a shady-looking woman in tight-fitting, leather armor as his guest. “Good,” she said simply. “I'm glad you're making progress. My employers are anxious to have some tangible answers.”

Oh, have no fear!” Farengar smiled to the woman. “The Jarl himself has finally taken an interest, so I'm now able to devote most of my time to this research.”

Mariah leaned on the doorframe, watching the two talk.

The woman pushed off of the countertop, looking over at the mage. “Time is running, Farengar, don't forget. This isn't some theoretical question. The Dragons have come back.”

Yes, yes, don't worry.” He waved her off. “Although, the chance to see a living dragon up close would be tremendously valuable ….” He shook his head. “Now, let me show you something – ”

The woman looked straight at her. She tilted her head to the side. “You have a visitor.”

Hm? Ah, yes!” Farengar turned his attention to her. “The Jarl's protégé! Back from Bleak Falls Barrow? You didn't die, it seems.”

She felt one eyebrow lift. “Was I supposed to?”

Well – I mean, no ...” His eyes fell on the stone in her hands. “Ah, the Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow! Seems you are a cut above the usual brutes the Jarl sends my way.”

She shifted the stone, then rested it on his desk. “So, I got you the Dragonstone. What happens next?”

That is where your job ends, and mine begins. The work of the mind, sadly undervalued here in Skyrim.” He glanced over at the woman. “My … associate … here will be most pleased as well. She located the Dragonstone, through means she has yet to divulge to me.”

The woman regarded her curiously. “You went into Bleak Falls Barrow and got that? Nice work.” She turned her attention to Farengar. “Just send me a copy of …. ”

Farengar!” Irileth called. “Farengar, you need to come at once! A dragon's been sighted nearby!”

The elf looked over at Mariah. “You should come, too.”

A Stranger in Skyrim 17

Chapter Seventeen: Turning In

In which Dragonstone juggling becomes an Olympic sport.

She made it back to Riverwood, still carrying the Dragonstone in both hands.

People looked at her a little strangely as she walked up to the Riverwood Trader, but no one stopped her to ask what she was doing, a fact for which she was infinitely grateful. She leaned the stone on the wall, then opened the door, then propped the door open with her foot, then collected the Dragonstone, then entered the building.

“That is not my claw,” Lucan announced.

She smiled. “No, it isn't. But, I do have your claw.”

You – you found it?” He sounded unbelievably eager.

She nodded, walking up to the counter and depositing the Dragonstone on it. That done, she swung her backpack around. The golden claw was resting on top of a pile of gold. She held it out for him with a flourish and a smile.

There it is!” He laughed, taking it in both hands. “Strange, it seems ... smaller than I remember. Funny thing, huh?”

She nodded.

I'm going to put this back where it belongs. I-I'll never forget this.” He smiled, looking down at the claw. He rested it on the countertop. “You've done a great thing for me and my sister.”

Another nod. “So about that coin … ?”

Yes, yes, here it is.” He produced a large sack of gold, setting it on the counter next to her backpack.

She continued to smile, opening it up and peeking inside. “Thanks.” Collecting her things, she headed for the door. She needed food and water, and then she'd head out again.

The next building over was the inn; she headed that way.

A part of her thought she might be able to beg for something from Alvor and Sigrid, but no. She'd imposed on them enough already.

You there – ” A blond man in a yellow vest stopped her on her way to the inn. “Were you – were you talking to Camilla Valerius, just now?”

She blinked, tilted her head to the side. “Uhm. Who?”

Camilla Valerius. Lucan's sister?”

She was supposed to know that? “Oh. Uh … no. I had business with Lucan.”

I see … ” He looked at her thoughtfully. “Well … could you deliver a message for me?”

Buh. She just looked at him. “Depends. Will I get paid to play courier?”

Oh, yes, of course. I've got some money I've saved up from working at the mill. It's yours – if you deliver one little letter for me.” He held up a note for her.

She eyed the note. “And what's the catch?”

The catch? There's no catch. Just tell her the letter's from Faendal. Come back, and tell me how it goes. All right?”

She nodded. “Just put it on top of the stone.”

All right. And – thank you.” He smiled, waved, and wandered off.

The fuck had that all been about, anyway?

She shrugged slightly, entering the inn. The fire was warm, the stone floor covered by large fur rugs. She smelled meat cooking on the spit, and her mouth instantly started to water. She set her burden down on the counter, looking up at the man behind it. “How much does it cost to get some meat?”

Say … twenty-six gold.”

She nodded, fishing in the sack until she collected the money needed and set it on the counter.

The man nodded to her, in return, and went to the spit. He cut a leg off the animal roasting there, walked back, and handed it to her.

She began to eat, hungrily devouring the meat off the bone. It was delicious, at any rate.

Where's the innkeeper?” she asked, idly.

The man shrugged. “Out. She owns the place, she does what she wants.”

So ... how would I rent a room?” She tore off a big chunk of meat with her teeth, chewed, swallowed.

Another shrug. “Inn's closed,” he said simply. “Bar's still open though. Feel free to sit and put your head down on the table for as long as you like. I won't bother ya.”

Sure. Maybe I'll take you up on that.” She smiled.

When she finally finished gorging herself on the animal-of-some-description, she left the bone on a plate and headed out of the inn. Back to the Riverwood Trader, she opened the door and stepped inside.

Hello, hello! Did you need something else, friend?”

She smiled at Lucan. “Actually, I need to talk to your sister.” She turned to look at Camilla, who'd been enjoying some tea by the fire.

Oh, all right.”

She shifted the stone around so she was holding it one-handed, its weight mostly resting on her hip. She held out the letter for Camilla. “Your friend – blond hair, blue eyes, kind of tallish – wanted you to have this. I think he said his name was Faendal?”

No … ” The woman frowned. “Faendal is a wood elf. He's got dark hair and eyes, like most of his people.”

Right, well then. Your friend wanted you to think Faendal wrote this.”

The woman shook her head, looking a bit confused. “Sven wanted me to … What's in that letter?” Camilla took the letter from her, reading it over. Whatever was in the letter made her eyes widen a little bit. “Oh – oh my. He wanted me to think Faendal wrote this? Thank you for telling me the truth. Could you talk to Faendal as well? I'm sure he'll want to thank you for standing up for him.”

Considering she'd apparently just blown her chance at yellow-shirt's life savings, she might as well. A slight shrug, and she resumed holding the Dragonstone in both hands. “Sure. Where is he, do you know?”

He'll be working at the mill. Tell him I asked him to come over when he's done, all right?”

Another shrug. “Why not?”

So she walked out of the Riverwood Trader again, headed across the wooden bridge to the lumbermill proper. She found the elf chopping wood. “Hey,” she called. “Faendal, right?”

Ye-es?” The elf paused for a moment. “Can I help you?”

She nodded, walking up behind him. “Camilla wants to see you tonight. Apparently, some guy named Sven was trying to make you look bad.”

Oh, really?” He looked confused. “And … how do you fit into all this, friend?”

She shifted the weight of the Dragonstone slightly. “Me? I'm just the messenger. Sven handed me the letter, tried to pass it off as your handwriting. So, I told her what was doing.”

You don't know what this means to me. If my heart didn't already belong to Camilla, I'd kiss you. Instead … how about some gold for your trouble?”

A bright smile. “Honestly, the gold will do me more good.”

I thought it might.” He responded with a smile of his own, adding a small coinpurse off his belt to her load.

The trip back to Whiterun was uneventful. She caught herself yawning – when had she even woken up?

Ah well. She'd make it to Whiterun, rest up in the Bannered Mare, and then take the Dragonstone to Farengar in the morning. She passed a small crowd of people in the market on her way to the inn. Ignoring them, she did the awkward Dragonstone-juggling act to open the door, edged inside. Only a small handful of people were hanging out in the inn. Most of them looked like tough warrior types. Serving as the entertainment was a blond man with a stringed instrument – a lute, maybe? – singing a song about killing Stormcloaks.

Good times. “I'd like to rent a room,” she managed around a large yawn. “Here's the fee.” She counted out a hundred gold pieces of Lucan's reward money, carefully stacking them on the counter beside the Dragonstone.

You know the way.” Hulda smiled, collecting the coin.

Mariah took her things up to the room she'd rented. She didn't remember setting anything down, exactly. She just collapsed on the bed, and that was that.