I'm playing Skyrim with a rule: illusion magic only. No direct violence, just pure deception. So naturally, I've enlisted myself in the emperor's army: the Imperial Legion.
For my initiation, Legate Rikke wants me to get to Fort Hraggstead and kill all of the bandits, which I'm sure will be easy with no way of actually attacking them.
"I've got a good feeling about you," she says, "and I don't often get good feelings about anything."
After this, you will have even fewer good feelings.
The fort is a little way West of Solitude: an easy stroll down the city road eventually branches into a rockier path up into the mountains. I try to infuriate a passing rabbit and miss six times. This bodes well.
By the peak, the snow's thick on the ground and falling gently. When the fort walls come into view, I stop and scope it out. Squinting, I can see one guard on the battlements, and another patrolling the perimeter—no clue how many more inside, but it's big. I sneak over to a large rock, and plan.
The battlements guard is stationary. I don't see anyone near him he could attack, but it's got to be worth flinging a speculative Fury spell at him. After a long flight time, it hits. He flashes red and draws his bow, aiming down inside the fort. I never see who he's fighting, but after a while another bandit runs up to the battlements with a two handed sword and thwacks him. They spar, and then abruptly calm down. The sword guy wanders off. I duck back behind my rock. This might take a while.
I keep tormenting the archer with sneak Fury bombs, hiding behind my rock until the 'slightly suspicious' warning on my sneak-o-meter fades. When I look out again, he's gone—no idea whether he died or just got sick of the inexplicably shitty time he was having on the battlements and wandered off. The sun sets. I re-strategise.
I can't hit a moving target from this distance, so I wait for the patrolling guard to head away from me, and scuttle over to a closer rock. I can shadow him from behind a ridge, safely out of sight, peeking over in third-person mode. But there's no-one else outside the fort walls for him to attack, so when he turns back I carry on, skirting the perimeter.
The fort is built on a cliff, and I've reached the edge. The northern coast of Skyrim stretches out below, the aurora adds a tinge of green to the darkening sky, and a narrow stone ledge leads around the castle walls. This way, I guess.
I skirt the fort, switching nervously between scanning the battlements for bandits and checking my footing on the ledge. By the time I circle back to more solid ground, I can see a breach in the fort walls. I can sneak in!
Crouching behind some rubble, I can see into the courtyard. The two-handed sword guy slouches by the gates to the keep. Another bandit works at a forge in the corner. And, gratifyingly, a body lies in the center—presumably the archer.
The first bit is easy: I Fury the sword guy, then jump out and attract everyone's attention. The forge guy runs over, sword guy comes for me, then changes his mind when his friend shows up. The two clash in the courtyard, and in a few heavy blows sword guy wins. I run back to my cliff ledge and hide until he calms down.
During the commotion, I saw an archer on the battlements, and I think I can lead sword guy up there. I run back in, Fury him on my way past, and scamper up the steps to the battlements. The archer takes aim, and as I dodge, sword guy catches up.
He's cut me off: the only way I can run is away from them both, towards the high tower. I run up the spiral staircase inside with him hot on my tail, then jump clear over his head and bolt back out. He chases me towards the archer on the battlements, who's aiming an arrow right at my head. I dodge her shot and barge past her, hitting her with a Fury spell as I go.
When I turn back, I'm hoping to see her intercept sword guy for me. Instead, she spins round, looks at him, and falls backwards off the battlements. Er.
This is half-good, half-bad. On the one hand, that's one less bandit. On the other, sword guy has me cornered, and there's no-one left to help. I throw myself off the battlements too.
Next: the chase.