Alice’s Adventures In The Shivering Isles: Part 6

Alice’s Adventures In The Shivering Isles: Part 6

A Question Of Eating & Drinking

In part five of this diary, Alice met two members of the ruling class of the Shivering Isles: Thadon, the Duke of Mania, and Syl, the Duchess of Dementia. They were precisely as crazy as those titles make them sound.

All this shooting arrows at agents of Dementia and swinging a sword at Knights of Order has improved Alice’s skills. She’s ready to ascend to level two. That’s not a good thing, though. I’ve tried to spare you this so far but at some point I have to explain something that is more insane than the inhabitants of the Shivering Isles, and that’s the levelling system of Oblivion. Just skip the next four paragraphs of whinging if you want to get to the next bit with the prince of madness saying things that are zany.

Characters in Oblivion get better at their skills by using them, which is fine. Jump around and you get better at Acrobatics; run everywhere and your Athletics score climbs. Some of your skills are major ones, which start out with a higher score because that’s what your class is good at. Improve those skills a certain amount and you level up and get to spend a variable number of points on base abilities, like Strength and Speed and Endurance, which control things like how much health you’ve got. The amount of points you get to spend on those abilities depends on how carefully you worked up skills relating to each one, meaning that to get the most points per level you need to grind up your minor skills – ones that don’t relate to your class.

That’s an issue because Oblivion has level-scaling. The challenges increase as you level up, so bandits you fight when you’re level eight will be tougher and better armed than the ones you fought at level one. If your level eight-character hasn’t earned enough ability points, the rest of the world will suddenly become tougher than you because you levelled up too fast. If you play a Thief like a Thief, sneaking and shooting and stealing instead of plugging away at other skills like Alchemy or Block, you’ll soar up the levels and discover a world where you can’t leave town without being murdered. Oblivion punishes you for staying in character.

Also everybody suddenly gets expensive magical gear to match the stuff you’re supposed to be carrying, which makes characters who are supposed to be poor but are now wearing golden armour look pretty silly.

You only level up when you sleep, so some Oblivion players simply never go near a bed and play the entire game at level one. Occasionally events are triggered by napping, however, and some of the best quests can’t be accessed until you’re the right level. I’ve been keeping Alice’s progression slow, but eventually it had to happen.

“Coasting along as if you were in a dream?” You don’t know how much effort it takes to improve this slowly, mate.

ON WITH THE SHOW. As usual, Alice reports to Sheogorath about her latest success – that she managed to join the courts of both Mania and Dementia – and he demonstrates his pleasure via thinly veiled threats alternated with outbursts of jocularity. He also explains what he’s preparing us for with all these oddball tasks. Sheogorath wants Alice to replace him when the apocalyptic ordering of the Greymarch comes, in the hope that she can stop it. She’s in training to become princess of madness. Which is nice. But why can’t Sheogorath do his own bloody job during the Greymarch? Where will he be?

I know, who makes up these rules?

The next step in battling the Greymarch is to light the Great Torch of New Sheoth, which will calm the populace. They’ve seen Knights of Order appearing on the edges of the Isles and started getting antsy. To light the Great Torch first we have to fetch a magical flame from a place called Cylarne, where it’s guarded by both Golden Saints and Dark Seducers. Here’s the rub: like all the Manic and the Demented, they don’t get along. They’re basically at war with each other.

Lovely. Another easy task.

Here is the leader of the Golden Saints at Cylarne, south of New Sheoth.

She’s as haughty as haughty can be but, given the choice between siding with her and the Dark Seducers, a shred of Alice’s Victorian morality that hasn’t been burned away by the surrealness she’s endured — not to mention the hallucinogenic spores and the bug-juice heroin she’s ingested — convinces her that siding with people who call themselves “Saints” is the best idea.

There are two altars at Cylarne, and it takes both to light the flame. Of course, one is held by the Saints and one by the Seducers. As an emissary of Sheogorath, Alice is allowed into both camps. The Saints are planning their next attack through a passage Alice discovers is full of archers and traps. She then discovers an alternative, underground route, which is guarded by one lady in her undergarments.

Don’t mind me. Um, surprise inspection?

Alice suggests to the Saints that the underground path is the best direction to launch an attack from, and battle is joined. Although Alice takes part, vaguely waving a sword while shouting, “I’m helping!” isn’t really needed. The Saints win the day easily enough on their own, and with access to both altars the flame of Cylarne can be lit. But the Great Torch is in the city of New Sheoth, and we have to get this magical flame all the way back.

Sure, a common oik like you might well carry the flame on some sort of torch, if you had no sense of style. Alice opts instead to step directly into the flame and carry it on her body.

Tingles. Magic, hey?

After jogging and burning all the way back at New New Sheoth, there’s another choice between Mania and Dementia to be made. Turns out there are actually two Great Torches. Which one will we light? The priest of Mania speaks up.

The Hero who lights the Great Torch for Mania is traditionally rewarded with the Raiment of Arden-Sul. Not that this should influence your choice at all.

I’m resistant to bribery, but I do like pretty dresses. This will be a tricky decisio- FWOOSH!

The flame flares and becomes visible over the city, calming the populace like schoolchildren who’ve been given opiates. Who should be waiting for us afterwards but our old friend Sheogorath, with some thanks and some tidings of doom.

The Greymarch is upon us, and the Ordering begins. Armies of Order sweep My Realm. Death. Destruction. Then I have to pick up the pieces. I don’t like it, having to rebuild My Realm every era. Sometimes I forget where things go. Like New Sheoth. I can never remember where it belongs… You’ll change that. Break the cycle. You’ll stop Jyggalag, and I’ll have my Realm to come back to. I’ve never actually tried that before.

Are you sure the best plan is to coerce a young girl into becoming your champion? Not that I doubt your godly wisdom or anything potentially fatal like that, but this might not actually work.

Why not? Something has to work. Once, I dug a pit and filled it with clouds. Or was it clowns? Doesn’t matter. It didn’t slow him down. To be honest, it wasn’t the best idea. And it really began to smell. Must have been clowns. Clouds don’t smell bad.

If we could get back to the subject at hand rather than your demented ramblings, what impossible task do I  have to perform now?

Now? You’ll need the respect of My citizens. They’ll need a leader, someone to look up to when I’m gone. They’re the backbone of any great land. Except where the backbone is an actual backbone. Ever been to Malacath’s realm…? You’ll need to control one of the Courts of Madness. Replace a current Duke. Or Duchess.

I’m already considered a queen in some places, you know. Won’t the current Duke — let’s say I hypothetically choose to replace the Duke, purely for the sake of argument and not because I covet his hat and think it would go smashingly with my new dress — won’t the Duke be miffed at a slip of a girl deposing him?

No. No, no, no. Absolutely not. Well… yes. Absolutely. Bit of a shame for them. But, sometimes you need to break a few eggs. Or skulls. There are rules, though. Even in the Isles. Rituals and rules. You need to follow them. Once I’m gone, things usually get bad quickly. Lots of defections. Lots of carnage. But with you at the helm, things will be different! This time I’ll beat him. I can’t stand losing. And I don’t mind cheating.

You should download some mods then.

According to the Manic priest, who is my new bestest friend forever since I lit his torch, each regent of Mania retires in the same way: by consuming an overdose of a substance called Greenmote that fills his heart to bursting with delirious joy. The regent takes this greenmote at a dinner party attended by their successor, who steps forward to replace them. Dinner party! An excuse to wear my new dress already.

“Fortify Intelligence 5 pts”? Who’d have thought wearing a corset made you smarter?

Alice begins preparing for the party by asking one of the Duke’s advisors what he likes to do for fun.

Apart from enjoying his painting, reading a good book, or a rousing night of erotic bedroom games?

Hey, I write the slashfic around here.

Following the advisor proves more effective. Alice sneaks around and discovers the court’s secret stash of recreational Greenmote. So that’s what they do for kicks around here. Alice swipes a few doses.

Do you know the street value of this mountain?

The dinner party goes well enough, until Thadon stands and announces that he’d like everyone to hear his latest soliloquy. “It’s not a soliloquy if you deliver it to the other characters,” Alice thinks. Thadon probably didn’t even go to a grammar school, the poor man.

Thadon never gets to finish his soliloquy (“Monologue, technically”) – thank you, Alice – because earlier Alice slipped all that Greenmote into his food and drink. Alice always was concerned with questions of eating and drinking.

Thadon clutches his chest and collapses.

Serves him right. Serving red wine with Grummite eggs? How uncouth.

The Duke’s heart has literally burst. Popped like an over-ripe plum. Killed him stone dead. That makes the next part of the ritual easier. As the kindly priest of Mania explained, the heir has to drain some of the departing regent’s blood – just a pinprick drop, nothing monstrous. She doesn’t have to steal his hat while she’s at it, but Alice makes her own rules.

In this style, I look great.

(All that sneaking has led to another level-up. Not as bad as last time, but still sooner than expected. I should be paying more attention.)

After a nap, it’s time for the ceremony at which Alice will be officially sworn in as Duchess of Mania. But what’s this? It’s Syl, Duchess of Dementia, who is unhappy about her secret boyfriend being usurped and maybe poisoned a bit. She’s also afraid that she’ll be next – she shouldn’t worry, her clothes are a bit tacky and I don’t really want to loot them from her corpse. Syl makes an ugly scene, swearing that she’ll defect to join Order and then making her escape. And I thought today was supposed to be all about me.

See what I mean about that outfit? Tacky, tacky, tacky.

After she’s finished Sheogorath gives Alice the Ring of Lordship and her rulership of Mania is made official. It’s not all dinner parties and drug overdoses when you’re a regent of the Shivering Isles, however. Oh no. Word’s arrived that Order has retaken the Fringe, the area of the Isles beyond the gate where we first arrived, and Duchess Alice is dispatched to take command of the Golden Saints who are already fighting to regain the place. She can also summon one of them for 60 seconds once a day now, which is handy. You know, if she needs someone to do up a zip or answer one of those awkward questions about boys or murder her enemies.

But first, we travel to the Fringe, where heroic fighting happens.

Running backwards while shooting is the definition of heroism. I looked it up and everything.

The first wave of knights is rendered inert, but they keep coming. Someone needs to deactivate the obelisk that they’re using as a portal and that someone is Duchess Alice. I imagined being a duchess would involve more charity functions and less closing interdimensional portals for some reason.

Alice sneaks into the ruins of a place called Xedeffen, which is where the Knights were first seen, while the Saints defend the town of Passwall. In the ruins Alice stumbles across the town’s mayor, Shelden. Not the smartest place to hide.

Shelden is kind of a sadist, which is useful once we find the obelisk. It’s that thing over there a squad of knights are swarming out of. Alice jams it full of hearts to close it, like Haskill taught us, while Shelden fights the knights. As it happens, that was a load-bearing interdimensional portal. Now it’s gone, the ruins begin to shake. We make for the exit as the ceiling collapses.

The Golden Saints have defended Passwall in the meantime, making the Fringe safe for lunatics again. Well, safe-ish. As Sheogorath points out, the Isles are unprotected. The dungeon of Xedilian we reactivated only distracts adventurers – it does nothing to deter the grim, grey armies of pitiless metaphysical forces. For that, you need an angry giant with a club.

You will seek the assistance of Relmyna Verenim in Xaselm to rebuild the Gatekeeper. You remember, the creature you killed to get in here?

I might remember something about something resembling that, I suppose.

With that done, the Fringe should be secure. For now. I can feel things start to get a little hairy. And not in the good way, like on your head.

When I met her around the time I was harvesting her tears to make poison from, I got the impression that Relmyna fancied you a little bit.

She’s a bit obsessed with Me. Makes dealing with her difficult. You shouldn’t have any problems, though. No one likes you that much.

It’s obviously your flattery she likes so much. Are all the Daedric Princes so charming? When Jyggalag arrives, is he going to flirt with me?

He’s almost here. I can feel it. You won’t like Him as much as Me. He doesn’t even carry a cane! More the giant, bone-cleaving sword type of Prince. If he’s on his way, I’m on My way out. I already feel not quite Myself. Not quite someone else… but not quite Myself.

That sounds ominous. Spooky foreshadowing isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. Relmyna the witch, the Gatekeeper’s mother, has moved from the Fringe into the Isles proper and is conducting flesh-manipulating experiments here at a place called Xaselm. Every dungeon in the Isles seems to have a bloody X in the name. Stay away from anywhere whose name starts with X, I say.

See, this is just icky.

Relmyna’s at home, doing horrible things for science. Please stop doing horrible things to people in cages, Relmyna. Sheogorath wants you to make a new Gatekeeper.

Fine. If it be my Lord’s will, then it is also my own. But, I am too distraught over the death of my child to return to his womb. This you must do.

I don’t care if it saves the entire world, I am not climbing into anyone’s womb.

You will travel to the Gardens of Flesh and Bone. There you will gather mystical components needed for the ceremony.

Oh! The Gardens of Flesh and Bone, I’ve been there. That’s where I collected the bones I had made into arrows that I killed your baby with.

Go fetch me Blood Liqueur, Osseous Marrow, Dermis Membrane, and Essence of Breath.

All right, so long as it definitely doesn’t involve anyone’s uterus.

Alice’s last visit to the Gardens of Flesh and Bone was just a jaunt to the surface area. This time she has to travel deep under the Gardens, which are creepily organic. Although they’re guarded by Frankensteinian creatures called flesh atronachs, the ingredients Relmyna needs are mostly easy enough to find. Except one. The breath is a different matter. It’s housed somewhere in the Caverns of Sussuration, a twisting labyrinth of tunnels (all alike) full of gnarled roots that only part in one direction. Backtracking is impossible.

I feel likely to be eaten by a Grue.

The strange fog in the air here moves in time with ghostly sighs, like deep breaths being drawn. Alice follows the currents in the fog until she comes to their source: the Essence of Breath.

The good news is, that’s the last ingredient we need to make a Gatekeeper. The bad news is, I just hit level four. That’s Oblivion: the game where you level up and wish you hadn’t.

Come back soon for part seven, in which we make our own giant out of spare parts and discover something else Sheogorath has been keeping from us.

Part 1: We’re All Mad Here
Part 2: Splitsville
Part 3: The Fork Of Horripilation
Part 4: New Sheoth, The Town So Nice They Named It Once
Part 5: The Duchess & The Duke
Part 6: A Question Of Eating & Drinking
Part 7: Putting Him Together Again
Part 8: End At The Ending