Warning: potential side quest (Mages Guild) spoilers ahead!
From Garn's recollections:
Arrivals and Departures
Traven was, of course, disgusted over the grim news of Mucianus’s fate. He spared little time to grieve however and moved quickly on to tell me about my next job. I’d been personally requested by Count Hassildor to speak with him at Castle Skingrad. Apparently the Count had some vital information for the guild. I wasn’t sure exactly why he would want to speak with me personally though after my last visit with him I had a few theories. I rode out from the stables within an hour of the conversation.
"I'm so special!"
Upon reaching Skingrad and arranging an audience with the reclusive Count he told me that after our last meeting he had developed some level of trust in me and respect for my combat abilities and that my position within the guild made me the ideal candidate for his task. He wanted me to do him a favor in exchange for the information he had – I was to dispatch of a group of bloodthirsty vampires that had recently taken up residence in the nearby Bloodcrust Cavern. Apparently they had been getting bolder and bolder with their attacks and he predicted that it would be only a matter of time before they started feeding within the city. A big problem. Additionally, he had learned that a group of vampire hunters had heard rumors of vampires in the area and had come to Skingrad to investigate. The Count was uncomfortable with the presence of this band of vampire hunters in his city and wanted to make sure they left before causing any sort of trouble. He was hesitant to be directly involved with either scenario which is, of course, where I came in.
"Bloodcrust Cavern, AKA definitely NOT Castle Skingrad's basement."
Not a problem! I visited Bloodcurst Cavern and skulked through the darkness, slitting the throats of the unsuspecting vampires one by one. Sure, some of them put up some fierce resistance, as vampires are known to do, but for the most part they didn’t seem to be prepared for anyone to come calling on them. I cut the head off of one of the uglier ones, put it in a sack, and visited Skingrad city to try to find this group of would-be vampire hunters. Eventually I found Eridor, a rather rough looking Bosmer and the adventurer in charge of the band, chatting up a barmaid at the Two Sisters Lodge. He was a little rude with me when I approached, having obviously acquired a good deal of arrogance alongside the fame gained from his status as a vampire hunter over the years. I told him that the vampires he and his men were seeking had all been slain. He scoffed at me and asked if I had any proof with an incredulous tone in his voice. I emptied the sack out on his table. He was taken aback but seemed satisfied with the proof.
"Mannimarco has returned!"
Finally back at Castle Skingrad the Count was ready to share his important information with me. It seemed that he had learned that Mannimarco, the so-called King of Worms, an incredibly powerful necromancers of much infamy, had returned to Tamriel. While I wasn’t familiar with the stories of the King of Worms it was quite obvious from the look on his face that Count Hassildor believed what he was telling me and in the extreme danger it presented. He urged me to return to the Council with this information posthaste. I rode as quickly as I could and, when I finally found Traven, he seemed almost shocked by the news and left to form an emergency session with the Council almost immediately.
I didn’t see Arch-Mage Traven for several days. When I was finally able to speak with him he seemed incredibly distracted. Still, he told me I could at least run an errand for him while the Council worked on sorting out the Mannimacro predicament. He said he hadn’t heard anything from Jeanna Frasoric at the Bruma guildhall lately and simply asked that I check up on her for him. I rode into the frigid mountains of the north, taking my time and stopping at a few sites along the way. When the familiar sight of the snow topped city walls appeared on the horizon and I passed through the city gates I veered immediately towards the Bruma Mages Guild guildhall.
"Someone has been remodeling the Bruma guildhall..."
I swung open the front door of the guildhall to reveal an unexpected scene. There were bodies strewn about, pieces of furniture overturned, and books and scrolls littering the floors. Obviously there had been quite a commotion. As I carefully crept about the main room checking the bodies, most belonging to Mages Guild members, I was startled by the all too familiar sounds of a reanimated skeleton springing to awareness and heading my way. Undead! It had to be the work of The Order of the Black Worm! I effortlessly defeated the skeletons and continued investigating the guildhall, only this time with my sword at the ready. I found more of the same upstairs. In Jeanna’s office I received my official confirmation: a necromancer was searching through Jeanna’s desk. She turned towards me, snarled about not letting anyone leave, and began to attack. The fight was relatively short – I was able to blast the Imperial woman with a powerful fireball before she had time to summon any undead minions. From then on I had her in full retreat.
"I wonder if he got that nickname in college?"
Immediately after the fight was over I heard shifting behind me. I spun around to level my sword at the neck of a Khajiit magic user. It was J’skar, the mage I helped find when I received my recommendation from Jeanna. He told me that when the attack began he was able to turn himself invisible to escape detection. It was apparently an utter massacre with Mannimarco himself arriving to finish what his followers had started. J’skar even swore that The King of Worms saw through his invisibility but left him alone anyway, probably to relay the horrors of what had transpired to the Council. J’skar and I finished looking through the gutted and gore littered guildhall and rode double time together back to the University.
The Arch-Mage was quite shaken. It seemed that if he had any doubts about the rumor of Mannimarco’s return they were now put to rest. Again, he left almost immediately to convene with the Council of Mages. I spent the next few days going between my home on the Waterfront and the Market and Arena districts as well as attending to some neglected Fighter’s Guild correspondence. Finally Traven sent for me.
"A warm welcome to Fort Teleman."
Arch-Mage Traven told me that the Council was in chaos after the news of Mannimarco’s attack on the Bruma guildhall. In the debate about how best to defeat the necromancer lord Irlav Jarol and some other mages took an artifact, the Bloodworm Helm, to a secluded location to attempt to research it for the purpose of perhaps using it to defeat the King of Worms. Likewise, amongst much dissent from the rest of the Council, Caranya took the Necromancer’s Amulet fearing that its presence in the capital presented a danger to the entire city. I was tasked with retrieving both items and bringing my colleagues back to the relative safety of the Imperial City. I restocked and set out to find Irlav Jarol in the ruins of Fort Teleman to the southeast in Blackwood.
"Day 1: the necromancers seem slightly suspicious."
Inside the ruin I immediately encountered necromancers on guard. Due to way they were casually standing about I figured that they had been there awhile. That did not seem good for Irlav! Instead of taking any sort of cautious approach I ran straight into a vicious melee at every opportunity. Soon I reached the main chamber of the ruin only to find that I was too late – the mage had obviously attempted to guard himself with a series of powerful Daedric and elemental summons but the large Black Worm raiding party overwhelmed him and his minions. Fighting my way to his body I found the Bloodworm Helm still in his possession. Poor bastard! Poorer still, perhaps, was Caranya. Having found what I came for and cleared the entire ruin of necromancers, I immediately set out for the Fort Ontus ruin, southwest of Chorrol, fully expecting to find another the remnants of another massacre.
"Finally, a friendly greeting! Not sure what all of that necromancer stuff in the background is, but whatever..."
Days later I reached Fort Ontus, where Councilwoman Caranya and her group of loyalists had barricaded themselves with the Necromancer’s Amulet. I was able to sneak into the old ruin quite easily and crept up to my first target as quietly as a Khajiit assassin. I drew my Daedric blade in my right hand and let the lightning begin to crackle in my left, only to notice that the Altmer woman was in fact a guild mage, not a necromancer! I’d almost committed a grave error. I stepped out of the shadows and introduced myself. The mage was a little surprised but pleasantly directly me to where I could find Caranya all the same.
"Run away! Run away!"
Assuming that I was there to join her group, Caranya was very pleased to see me and greeted me with open arms. When I told her that I was here for the artifact at the Arch-Mage’s orders, however, her demeanor shifted. Rage burned in her eyes and she screamed out that she does not answer to Arch-Mage Traven, only Mannimarco. I admit I was a little confounded but after the first flame spear shot over my shoulder I came to my senses and found myself in a pitch battle with the powerful mage. Unfortunately for Caranya, my prowess as a battlemage had reached a point where I could very well have found myself on the Council of Mages alongside her. Her attacks that I could not dodge I blocked with my shield all while slowly gaining ground on her until I could have at her with my blade. In the end she lay dead and the Necromancer’s Amulet was mine. I had to move quickly at that point as it appeared as if Caranya’s followers were also in league with the King of Worms and they were in too great of numbers here to face alone. I had to face a few as I made my hasty exit but soon I was back on my horse and Arcane University bound.
I’ve been absolutely pining to play ArmA again lately - perhaps finally dedicating myself to an organized team with regular play schedules, even. For now I've been sticking to watching a ton of ArmA 2 related videos on YouTube. I've found them to be a great source of background noise and entertainment while at work, especially some of the better channels like Dslyecxi’s fantastic ShackTac stuff.
Additionally, I’ve decided to scratch the itch by replaying the original Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis and Resistance campaigns (using the PC re-release version, ArmA: Cold War Assault.) This is actually the first time I’ve played through the whole game on PC – most of my quality time with the original OFP was actually done with the Xbox “Elite” version, which was pretty much identical apart from some (barely) improved sound work, models, and textures and some enhanced graphical effects here and there. It even had a more or else intact editor and the same rad online co-op action as the PC version.
"Ahh, we were so innocent in those early missions..."
The PC version has aged pretty badly in some respects – barren looking landscapes thanks to a lack of ground-cover, the annoying, choppy radio chatter (A staple of the engine, which seems god awful when you first hear it but after getting used to it and even starting to rely on its information, is rather useful) and the ridiculous soldier models and animations. Regardless, the landscapes are still massive, the vehicle models are still quite serviceable, and the immersion of the soldier simulator-inspired action is still hard to beat in “Tactical FPS” circles once it clicks with you. I’m actually enjoying myself though I really don't remember some of these missions be so brutally fucking difficult. Ugh!
Oh, and coincidentally, I also came across this excellent OFP retrospective after I started replaying it. Fun read.
"M60 versus T80. Seems fair..."
Will I get around to dedicating myself to ArmA 2? That’s hard to say. I plan on playing through ArmA and ArmA 2’s various official campaigns first and then… well, by then ArmA 3 should be officially released. That’ll be perfect timing to hop on that bandwagon, although I might need to build an entirely new gaming rig to play it smoothly.
On the console front I just wrapped up playing through Defense Grid: The Awakening’s main single player campaign on XBLA. If you’ve never heard of it, Defense Grid is a fantastic sci-fi tower defense game. You probably have though – the PC version was quite popular years ago on Steam. Regardless of which version you go with I’d say it’s a “must play” if you’re a fan of the genre – it’s excellently executed on all fronts. Good graphics and sound, challenging and varied maps, and absolutely refined, classic tower defense gameplay. I’ve said it before, but I love a well-done tower defense game and I had a hard time putting this one down for long. I’ve still got plenty more of them on my backlog but I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to Defense Grid to play the Portal themed “You Monster” DLC campaign at some point in the future.
"The more towers the merrier!"
Next on the 360 will be yet more exploration of my backlog. I’ve been feeling like a World War II shooter lately so I think it’s finally time to give Call of Duty: World at War’s campaign a spin, despite how much I’ve grown to hate Call of Duty’s single player gameplay in recent years. Wish me luck with making it through that one without pulling out my fucking hair...
Warning: potential side quest (Mages Guild) spoilers ahead!
From Garn's recollections:
The Shade of the Worm
After riding back to the Arcane University I met with Raminus once again to update him on my progress at Vahtacen. While he seemed genuinely grateful for my excellent work at the site I sensed that he had something more pressing on his mind. When I told him that I was ready to receive my next assignment he leapt at the opportunity to fill me in on the details. The next step in investigating the seemingly growing epidemic of rogue necromancy throughout Cyrodiil was to learn more about the nature of Black Soul Gems, like the ones I found in Falcar's belongings in Cheydinhal. He directed me to find out what Tar-Meena at the University's archives knew about them.
Master-Wizard Tar-Meena was the guild's leading expert in magicka arcana and it seemed like her expertise had been in high demand at the time. When I approached her in the Mystic Archives she was in the middle of conducting some sort of research, books and scrolls strewn about all around her and oblivious to my arrival. When I attempted to interrupt her she started ranting at length about all of the pressure the Council of Mages had been putting on her. After letting her finish I told her that I'd been specifically ordered to find out more about Black Soul Gems. This seemed to calm her a bit, as apparently that specific subject was one that she hadn't already been relentlessly hounded over. She pointed me to a tome called "Necromancer's Moon" which she said was one of the few places she'd ever found any details about the objects recorded. Interestingly enough she also mentioned that Falcar had borrowed it previously. After spending quite awhile sifting through old spell books and volumes of obscure alchemical reagents I eventually discovered the book sitting on a small table by itself.
The book contained a number of important details. First, it seemed to be a call to an order of necromancers called the Order of the Black Worm. Signs had been pointing to the increase in necromancer related activity having been organized but now it was confirmed without a doubt. It also mentioned what sounded like some kind of a magical or perhaps celestial event that signaled an opportunity to create the Black Soul Gems. It could have just been colorful writing but regardless I immediately took this information back to Raminus. Raminus found the allusions to the "heavenly light descending from above" to be as fascinating as I did and directed me to Bothiel, the university's astronomy specialist, to try to learn more.
Bothiel didn't know much about this "Shade of the Revenant" event but did recall another mage, none other than Falcar, asking her about it in the recent past. Bothiel also recalled Falcar having a stack of scrolls and papers with him, one of which he had accidentally dropped. The paper contained hastily scrawled notes relating to the names of four locations. Raminus recognized the name of one of them, Dark Fissure, as being a cave in the Valus Mountains, not far from the Vahtacen site near Cheydinhal. Although we didn't know precisely when this "Shade of the Revenant" event would take place we formulated a plan to stake out Dark Fissure Cave for suspicious happenings.
"Looking back towards the Imperial City from the Dark Fissure altar."
Arriving in the afternoon, I sat high up, wedged between two large boulders for hours until well after sunset. While I had fully expected to spend days, perhaps even weeks camped out near entrance of the cave, to my surprise that very first night I witnessed the Shade of the Revenant as well as a necromancer performing some variety of incantation there. It was unmistakeable - a sinister purple glow enveloped the altar as the necromancer strained against the magical forces pushing out against him. Just then something startled my horse, which I hadn't yet had opportunity to tie up further away, causing the conjurer to stop to investigate. He summoned a zombie and began approaching, scouring the area for intruders. Having seen what I had come to see, I leapt down from my perch and pummeled the necromancer square in the head. A scuffle ensued but, having the initiative, I slew him relatively easily. After inspecting the altar curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take a look at the cave itself.
The Dark Fissure cave was large and definitely occupied. Every large chamber contained the camp of another necromancer or two, and they left little doubt that they all belonged to this same order I had found reference to earlier. After having cleared the cave, which was no small task, I returned to Raminus who was disturbed to learn that the ritual described in "Necromancer's Moon" was in fact a reality, and that this order appeared to be quite active to boot. He bestowed me with the rank of "Magician" and told me that I should go directly to Arch-Mage Traven for my next task.
"Not incredibly subtle, guys."
Arch-Mage Traven seemed pleased enough to make my acquaintance but began getting down to business very quickly, and when it revolved around necromancy he seemed to take business very seriously. He explained to me that the Council had been quietly monitoring the increased necromancer activity in Cyrodiil for quite some time, most notably by use of a guild member, Mucianus Allias, who had infiltrated their ranks. Between having not heard from him in some time and the recent escalation in necromancer activity, Traven wanted to pull the informant out. The Council had other plans, as they were suspicious of Mucianus and suspected the lack of contact was due to something more couched in treachery. A group of Battlemages were dispatched to Mucianus's last know location with the intent on bringing him in for questioning. The Arch-Mage wanted me to intercept them to make sure Mucianus was returned safely. He handed me a hastily sketched map to the ruins of Nenyond Twyll, south of the White Rose River, just below the city, and bid me fast travels.
"Clearing out Nenyond Twyll."
Not fast enough! It seemed that I had arrived at the ruins only moments too late. The Battlemages' horses were already tied up outside and when I entered the still intact lower passages I was confronted by a jumpy a Bosmer Battlemage who introduced himself as Fithragaer. Fithragaer told me that the group had been ambushed and that we had no time to waste in helping them. We raised our weapons and rushed forward into the next chamber. In his haste and perhaps inexperience, the Bosmer ran straight into an Ayleid spike trap and was instantly impaled. As I waited for the trap to reset and clear the way I assessed the situation a little more carefully - I heard no sounds of combat around me but there definitely had been fighting here. I was indeed too late. Regardless, I still had to find Mucianus.
"Sounds grea... hey, wait a minute!"
As I ventured further into the darkness of the ruins of Nenyond Twyll I met my first group of necromancer attackers. Nothing outstanding about them at this point, but I was careful to give each one an opportunity to reveal their identity before attacking them. One of the necromancers I met revealed that she knew why we were there and told me that Mucianus had been turned into a "Worm Thrall" for betraying her master. I had no patience for vain speeches or vague threats and decapitated her where she had stood, her minions crumbling around her as she fell. I searched the ruins for quite a while afterwards, always expecting to find the informant waiting for me in some dark corner, but alas I had cleared the entire ruin without a sign of him.
"Mucianus Allias, slightly under the weather."
Finally, as I was backtracking towards the exit I investigated a faint scratching from behind a stone wall to discover hidden pressure plate that revealed a secret room. Mucianus Allias was locked inside, or at least his zombiefied remnants were. I set the twisted automaton ablaze with a quick flame spell, resealed the room, and continued back to Traven with the ill tidings.
The Dark Fissure was actually a fairly interesting fight, as it was one of the locations heavily modified by Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul to included special NPCs and some tough, leveled enemies. It feels a little odd to be suddenly challenged after tearing through most of my fights with ease.