I descended into the dark carefully, not sure what to expect. Certainly, I knew I had to be on the watch for Falmer, but I recognized there were other threats as well. Certainly, the copious spider webs warned that I might encounter hungry arachnids. I could only guess at what other sorts of monster hid in the shadows. My little bauble seemed equally concerned, flitting about left and right and zipping off towards any little sound that broke the silence.
"Hey buddy," I whispered after maybe half a dozen such excursion, "it's OK." The orb snapped its wings, evidently not convinced.
I opened the flap on my travel pack and gestured towards the space within. "Don't worry, I'll keep you safe, but why don't you take a rest in here for a while?"
The little critter hesitated for a moment, and I cajoled it, "you'll be fine." After just a little more hesitation, it pumped its wings a few times and dropped into the bag. I loosely closed the top strap and made sure the bag was seated so that it wouldn't get crushed.
With the bauble out of the way, I realized that its green glow had been blinding me every time it flapped past my head. Of course, the magical light cast by the lantern wasn't doing any big favors for my night vision either, but at least it was predictable and steady in its intensity.
As I slipped deeper, a dull roar started to fill my ears and soon I was at the bank of a fast-rushing underground stream. Fortunately, a rocky protrusion formed a natural bridge, and I was able to hop over without having to risk wading through potentially treacherous waters. On the other side, I still saw no sign of immediate danger, but the thickening spider webs argued caution nevertheless.
I pushed through the webs with care, following a descending slope in something akin to a corkscrew pattern, until - to my surprise - I found myself confronted with signs of habitation - and not the sort of savage dwellings that the Falmer were said to craft. No, I found a torch sconce, a bridge made from wooden planks, and beyond it white marble lit by the flickering light of a brazier. I wondered for a moment if this was one of the shrines Millonce had said I should look for.
I proceeded with caution, wary that one side of the bridge seemed poorly anchored. The boards flexed a bit under my footfalls, but they all seemed dry and fresh - no signs of rot. Still, I didn't waste my time and felt a surge of relief when I was standing on the firm ground of the other side.
The shrine, if that's what is was, was in terrible condition. It had already looked like it was leaning off center from the far side, but now I could see that in fact this was the top of a larger structure. What had previously stood below had been smashed - or maybe quarried for material - with the remains left abandoned. Curiously, I also saw chunks of black chitin, shining in the reflection of my lantern. I wasn't sure what kind of creature would have left those pieces behind, but it reinforced my sense that I needed to be careful.
After spending a few minutes fruitlessly digging through the debris, I concluded that any artifacts yet untaken would be deeper in the cave. I walked left and right along the ledge, but each way I went came to a dead end. I did note with interest the golden streaks in the rock face. I hadn't heard of Skyrim containing moonstone mines, but these veins looked like they might contain that mineral so coveted by the elves.
At last, I realized I would have to backtrack. I headed back along the bridge - only to hear a loud crack as I reached the midpoint. Before I could react, I was falling into the darkness. After several seconds, I splashed into cold water. Struggling to reach the surface, I saw the grain of the rock fast passing me as the current carried me along. I started to grow concerned as the ceiling got closer and closer to me, threatening to force me underwater, but then the stream opened up into a large chamber - just in time for me to realize that I was being hurled over a waterfall.
Again I crashed into deep water, and again I fought my way to the surface. Grabbing at a passing outcropped, I dragged myself onto the shore... just in time to see my lantern light shining on the srough shells of frostbite spiders. The monsters were practically right on top of me, and I drew out my sword to defend myself. I skewered the first one with my sword, but now the second one was under my guard, fangs flashing.
However, the deadly bite never landed. With a roar, a mass of brown fur fell upon the spider, driving it down into the rocks and smashing it to paste. Belatedly, I realized that a bear had attacked the spider. Then, just as fast, it was gone... replaced by an electric tingle between my legs.
I realized then that the bear must have been the bound Daedra that Millonce spoke of. Evidently, her theory was correct and my reserves of magicka were enough to coax the long-faded enchantment back to life. Hearing chittering to my right, I spun and struck down a third spider. After that, I found myself alone, with only the sound of rushing water keeping my company.
Looking up and behind me, it was immediately clear that I didn't stand a chance of climbing back up the stone wall by the waterfall. I'd have to find a different way out of the cave. So, watchful for more spiders, I crept deeper yet. While my lantern certainly lit the way, I wasn't in total darkness. On the walls and ceiling, patches of glowing mushrooms cast a dull blue light over the chamber. Not enough to clearly see my surroundings, but at least enough to keep me from walking off any cliffs. After a ways, the tunnel started to grade upwards, and I began to see signs of habitation again - more sconces and braziers along the path.
An uncomfortable thought had been tickling the back of my mind for a while now: I'd always heard that the Falmer were blind, so why were there torches and braziers here? I got my answer when I emerged into the next large chamber. Within, I found a massacre. Evidently I hadn't been the first person to learn about the moonstone deposits, because I'd come across the ruins of a mining camp. Relatively recently put to ruin based on the still-burning campfire.
On one of the dead miners, I found a hastily scrawled note. I skimmed over most of it - final words adressed to a relative - but the final part was very relevant to my interests. The miners had been set upon by trolls, of all things, and this camp had apparently been their last stand. I didn't have any experience fighting trolls, but I'd heard they were tough but clumsy. I redoubled my care in sneaking, hoping that I'd catch any such enemies unaware and defeat them quickly. I was pretty light on my feet, and if I could face the trolls one on one I was pretty confident I could defeat them - however, I decided to play it safe and got my bow ready.
I snuck carefully deeper into the caverns where the miners were working, and eventually I caught sight of a dark shadow in the distance. I was pretty certain it was a troll. Nocking my bow, I took careful aim and loosed an arrow.
The arrow flew true and struck the hairy monster in the chest. Unfortunately, it just made him angry. I managed to land a second arrow, but soon I was running away as fast as my feet would take me, trying to open up the distance. Once I'd managed to get out of reach, I spun and drew my sword. One stroke flensed the skin of its chest, then I had to step back quickly to dodge a swing from its huge hands. On the second stroke, I skewered it right where it's heart should be. It took two steps, then fell to its knees and collapsed. I knew I didn't have time to relish my victory however, since I could hear more roars further down the passage. I was certain there was at least one more, and I advanced cautiously.
There was indeed another, and this one was faster on its feet. I staggered as it put a decent sized dent in my breastplate, but that was the only hit I let him place on me. After a few thrusts that seemed to have little effect, I opened its abdomen, causing its guts to spill out on to the cavern floor. Thrashing and howling, the monster blindly struck out and I quickly leapt past him.
I pushed in until I found what I was certain was the trolls' lair. If there were any others, however, they were elsewhere, because the cavern was empty except for the dismembered remains of another miner. I took a moment to catch my breath, then took stock of the contents of the lair. Near the dead miner, I found a chest - it mostly contained junk, but I did find an ingot that appeared to be moonstone as well as some coins. More importantly though, I could just make out more white marble on the far side of the chamber.
Most of the lair was flooded thigh deep with water, and I moved very carefully to keep the disturbance I made to a minimum. Once I was back on dry land, I crouched low and tried to approach the area from behind cover. As I got closer, though, I started to suspect I'd come across exactly what I was looking for - though the marble structures had again been largely dismantled, at the center of a raised dais was a... well, a shrine. I could feel the subtle radiance of its holy power. I was looking at a shrine dedicated to one of the Divines.
As I came closer, I could see that not only was there a dais-mounted shrine, but also a larger, domed structure with a similar sculpture at its top. I could see the symbology clearly now - a flared, eight pointed star. I was almost certain this was a shrine to Akatosh, or as the Snow Elves would have called him, Auriel.
Unfortunately, I also wasn't alone. Roars echoed off the walls of the chamber and two more trolls emerged to challenge me. Backpedaling and hopping side by side, I dodged one punch after another, until I saw my opening and drove my sword home into one troll's chest. Unfortunately, this left me momentarily open, and the other one smashed me to the ground. He started to tear at my armor, and I wasn't sure if which worried me more - that he intended to pull me limb from limb or that he'd have his way with me first.
Then, in the midst of my struggles, the troll dropped me to the ground and spun. Again, I heard the roar of a bear and after a brief struggle the troll lay broken on the floor. Again the Daedric bear considered me, standing on its back legs and watching me with intelligent eyes before slowly walking away and then vanishing in a swirl of blue energy.
I hurt all over. I'm pretty sure the troll had broken some ribs when it hit me. Opening my pack, the little bauble greeted me with an agitated buzz of its wings.
"Don't worry, little guy. We're okay. We got 'em all." I didn't feel OK, however. My arm ached terribly where the blow had landed, and my breathing was labored as each inhalation came with a burning pain in my side. Quickly rifling through the pack, I retrieved a healing potion and quaffed it - that took the worst of the edge off, but I still felt weak. I was going to have to take it easy for a while.
Fortunately, I found that I hadn't been the first to find this shrine. Someone had set up a small lean-to with a bedroll and a rough shelf filled with books. Perhaps Millonce hadn't been the first scholar to discover this shrine. Eitherway, I settled down on the bedroll and, to my surprise, found the bear beside me again.
"Are you going to stand watch while I rest?" I asked him.
The bear grunted and started sharpening his claws on the plank floor of the lean-to.
It struck me then, I'd just defeated four trolls in hand to hand combat... well, three trolls - but I still think I at least made a good effort on the forth. I settled in, trying to get comfortable, then opened up the pack and let my little companion fly free.
"OK, buddy, thanks for being so patient. I'm going to take a nap, I think... I earned it."
It didn't take long before I was flopped over on the bedroll. Dozing off as the bear patrolled the shrine and my little green friend flitted in lazy orbits around my bedroll.
Behind The Scenes
So, fun fact: if you use the timefrozen free camera (TFC 1) while the LOTD hammer and chisel animation is playing, Skyrim experiences a hard freeze at the time index when the animation would normally end. So, no pictures of Kirsti digging through the rubble. Sorry
As I delved deeper into Darkfall Cave, I ran into a possible glitch: an untextured campfire.
ENB Light is providing the mesh for this object, so let's open it in NifSkope and see what texture it's expecting.
Well, there's the problem: the textures are missing. I considered going back and reinstalling ENB Light, but I know why this is just now coming out as a problem: I changed the asset load priority for Embers XD, which normally would serve up this mesh (with a different texture set). So we'll just do a switcheroo and let Embers XD win the asset conflict again. Embers really should be winning anyway, since it also supports ENB and offers a more specialized asset. You can see the corrected graphics in the main story above.
As a side note, this dead-ends the ENB Light Vanilla Torch Fix, so we'll go ahead and disable that mod and then put it in our "not used in this build" section.
As I proceeded deeper into the cave, it became clear that enemies who detected me weren't promptly attacking. They'd fight Wojtek the bear, but not me. I was almost 100% certain that this is either from Naked Defeat or Dohvakiin's Infamy, probably by putting me in a faction that is friends with everyone (either after the bar fight or the wolves interrupting the DI sex scene) and then not removing it, but it's not the only possible explanation. Trolls are friendly to a few factions that we might be interested in looking at:
- nade_Defeat (D5000800)
- nade_Harmless (D5164F97)
- CreatureFriendFaction (D25A6)
Now let's see if Kirsti is a member of any of these factions.
And, there's the defeat faction. We'll use removefromfaction D5000800 to get rid of it. This fixed the problem and enemies started attacking me again.