Chapter 36 -- Scrolls
I'm not sure how long Alftand had been abandoned. I knew the dwarves had disappeared long ago, but the ice had well and truly taken hold of the entrance, and we all remained bloody cold as we walked through the crevice, ice to either side, blow and above. The expedition must have been well prepared, as we passed by more barrels, sacks and chests of supplies, but of the people themselves, they must have been further within.
Finding another camp was a surprise, agreeing that they probably escaped into the crevice during a bad storm. If the blizzard we'd experienced was anything to compare, then it was little wonder. What did concern us was all the blood. Pools of it remained unfrozen on the ground, but even more was sprayed on the walls, some even reaching the ice ceiling over our heads.
"Falmer?" I asked Aela.
"No. They're bastards, but this is something else entirely."
Delphine put her hand in the firepit. "This hasn't been lit recently so any survivors are probably further in."
"I'm guessing we're going to find bodies soon enough," Vilkas muttered.
All of us unsheathed a weapon, either one-handed swords or two-handed great-swords. No point using bows in the tight confines, and none of us were mages. The amount of blood was staggering. But where were the bodies?
Moving on, we could soon hear voices, and there was no doubt they were Khajit. They had an unmistakable accent, though I couldn't ascertain whether it was one or two. It did sound like they were having one hell of an argument and it sounded like it was about skooma. No real surprise there, as they were responsible for the making and distribution of it. Well, usually...
The ice slowly disappeared around us with evidence of the dwemer ruin replacing it. We could hear the dwarven machines still operating all around us, and the spider like machines made an appearance, though with six of us, they were turned into scrap metal with relative ease. A few more of them appeared the further in we walked, a few appearing in front, though a couple also hit us in the rear. Nothing we couldn't handle, but we made sure to keep the chatter at a minimum, as we could hear them coming down pipes.
We eventually found one of the Khajit we'd heard earlier, standing over the body of another. He turned towards us, the dagger still dripping with blood. I didn't know if he was responsible for all the blood we saw earlier, but when he charged at the six of us, it was obvious he was drugged up, and there was little chance of asking him questions.
Once the Khajit was dead, which didn't take longer than a couple of seconds, we searched the pair of backpacks near the other body. Apart from a load of empty skooma bottles, and various odds and sods, we did find a journal. It didn't give too much information except that the expedition we were following had been on the road for weeks.
Moving on, we continued to find even more supplies, plenty of barrels and sacks full of fresh food, kept fresh by the fact it was still freezing cold. We took some fruit and salted meat, unsure of how long we would be, and later found another journal, this belonging to someone called Umana. It gave us more background information on the purpose of the expedition, but it also suggested supplies were running low -- strange, considering we'd walked by plenty -- but that there were signs they were being hunted by the Falmer.
We could only keep moving forward, continuing to run into more dwarven machines, includes the larger contraptions that rolled on what looked like some sort of sphere, and could strike with thick metal arms. All of us now carried shields as protection, but even when holding those, it felt they could break an arm at any moment. The further on we walked, the more enemies we ran into, almost as if the ruin itself was coming alive to stop us.
In addition to the machines, there were plenty of traps and other mechanisms to catch out the unwary. We noticed blood by a doorway and it was only quick thinking that stopped a pair of us being impaled by spears that came out of the floor and ceiling. Another room had pressure plates that, if stepped on, released flames from various nozzles. We still found no sign of any bodies, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a sense of foreboding. The ruin was alive, and I knew at heart that it wasn't just the machines that were going to bother us.
Eventually entering what looked like living quarters, now having left the ice behind, there were stone beds and other furniture as we passed by a series of rooms. It was no surprise that we found another body, this one relatively fresh, his body covered with numerous wounds. Delivered by machine or Falmer, we couldn't really tell. Vilkas found a journal on his body that suggested they'd fun into both Falmer and machine, though who had actually killed him, we figured it was the Flmer as he mentioned 'eyeless creatures'.
The ruins of Alftand must have spread across half of Skyrim, and we ended up in an enormous cavern. Looking over the edge of the pathway, the lower levels must have been hundreds of metres below. We still hadn't run into any Falmer, but walked by chaurus sacs. I could handle Falmer, but I hated the chaurus. Evil creatures which everyone hated fighting.
It was entering this enormous cavern that we found the first bodies of whatever expedition we were following. In addition to the bodies, we ran into Falmer, and the bloodletting began again. The Falmer were vile creatures. I understood a little of their history, but they showed no mercy, so we showed none in return. As we weaved our way ever downwards, we came across more bodies that suggested the Falmer had performed either cruel experiments or even ate their victims.
That certainly stoked the fire in all our bellies, and we fought with renewed ferocity as we also explored every nook and cranny of the dwarven ruin. The sheer enormity of it was breathtaking. There was nothing like it on the surface at all. Even the grandest cities or forts could not compare to what the dwarves appeared capable of.
The Falmer were smart, I'll give them that much credit, as in addition to fighting them, they also laid traps for the unwary. Thankfully my Companion colleagues could usually sniff out any trouble, so tripwires were cut to spring traps before we walked into them, while we did manage to catch a Falmer or two by surprise, though more often than not, we ended up fighting our way through most chambers.
After battling through caves, we ended up back in the dwarven ruin itself, and it was there that we had to deal with an enormous dwarven contraption, what Aela called a Centurion. It was huge, towering over all of us, and it seemed to have plenty of its own tricks. That's when I just used my Thu'um, blowing it clear across the room, and the six of us just hacked at it until it stopped moving.
We then found two people bickering among themselves, realising quickly that one of them was Sulla, the leader of the expedition. I'm not sure if they were both crazy beforehand, but they may have spent far too long getting past all the Falmer, traps and everything else, as their argument quickly turned physical. Though Sulla appeared to be better armed and armoured, his colleague fought with undoubted skill, making short work of him. Once she saw us, she roared and charged.
Idiot. I would have preferred to ask her some questions, but she received a sword through her gut instead. A complete waste, to be honest.
Using the dwarven contraption to open the next door, we then walked into Blackreach. And I simply don't have the words to describe it in detail. It was hauntingly beautiful, left flabbergasted that something so grand could remain undiscovered underneath Skyrim. It boggled the mind how it hadn't all collapsed, though I figured we were incredibly deep underground.
Noticing a small building directly ahead, we made straight for it. We found a body inside, obviously dead for a long time as the clothing contained only a skeleton, though Aela found a journal that told us his name and reason for being in Blackreach. By now, we were all knackered, and after stoking the fire, we sat down on the floor and enjoyed a little food, suggesting we take watch in turns as the others slept. I offered to take first watch, Delphine offering to join me outside.
We took a seat together, keeping an ear out but it appeared either Blackreach was deserted, or the section we were in was anyway. "I'm glad I've kept fit over the years," she said, sipping at a tankard.
"Finding it tough?" I asked.
She looked at me with a smirk. "I think I've proven I can keep up with you, Ragnar, in more ways than one."
"Can't argue with that. And I guess Lydia has figured that out too."
That made her smile. "Well, she's certainly vocal about certain things and I'm glad she appreciates what I can do."
"Do much exploring like this though?"
"Rarely. I've plunged the occasional Nord ruin but nothing like this. No, this is definitely a first." She reached out and grabbed my hand. "Thanks, Ragnar, for letting me tag along. The whole act in Riverwood was, quite frankly, boring." She paused before adding, "The great sex is a real bonus too."
"No complaints from me either." I glanced at her and knew she was thinking, but nothing else happened, sharing the tankard of mead and chatting about our lives a little more. I knew she kept some secrets still but I didn't expect her to be an open book.
We eventually headed in after a few hours, woke up the twins, and once they were outside, Delphine figured joining me in my bedroll would be a good idea, no real surprise that she was naked. But we were both tired after a very long day, and though my body reacted, all she did was settle her body against mine and go to sleep. Waking the next morning, I shared breakfast with the three girls, the twins heading in once food was prepared, and after frankly filling ourselves to the brim, we packed and headed back out.
I'll admit we were quickly distracted by everything we found in Blackreach. It was clear this was once an enormous dwarven city. That sheer size left me wondering if it wasn't some sort of capital. It was remarkably preserved, much like other dwarven ruins I had seen, though it was still filled with the Falmer and chaurus I was already used to battling far beneath the surface.
Though we could have possibly spent days exploring Blackreach, I knew we had to find some sort of tower, and after a few hours walking, we finally found what I hoped was the Tower of Mzark. We didn't make it there without encountering a few enemies, though we were already used to Falmer and dwarven creations, taking a minor wound or two at most for our troubles. The tower looked solid as we approached the main door.
The tower didn't contain much, though it looked like someone else may have passed through, though not recently as we discovered a skeleton near an enormous sphere inside. Aela found a journal, and though most of the writing had faded, we could make out some passages, which helped us a little when we reached the top of the sphere.
As usual, or so it seemed by now, it was a dwarven puzzle. Remembering what Septimus wanted, we looked around and found some sort of pedestal on which we could place the lexicon. Then we had to figure out how to make the contraption work.
"Are we sure the Elder Scroll is even here?" Farkas wondered.
Good question, I thought, though I wasn't going to be negative. Looking around, we slowly but surely figured out what we needed to do. Took a little magic, pressing buttons and lining up the glass to the right place, but after perhaps an hour or so of trial and error, we finally managed to make it work and some sort of container appeared that held the prize.
"An Elder Scroll," Delphine whispered, almost reverently.
"Don't attempt to read it, Ragnar," Vilkas warned, "I've read stories of people gone mad who even attempted it."
I simply placed it into my pack and we headed for the exit. As usual, we ended up exiting far away from our entry point, but having left our horses at base camp, we had to trudge our way back to retrieve them before leaving. Considering we were already this far north, I suggested we head to Winterhold, where I could return the lexicon to Septimus at least, before we journeyed south. The others agreed, and I think we all thanked the gods for the clear, bright though bitterly cold weather experienced on our ride back, it having fallen dark and, if possible, even colder by the time we made it to Winterhold.
The late hour meant another night at the inn, and it was obvious we must have been the only regulars, as the innkeeper gave us every room available for a few coins off. I took the big room, joined by Aela. The twins had their own room with two single beds, leaving Delphine and Lydia to share a bed too. We enjoyed a few drinks by the fire, as the inn was almost as cold as outside, and Lydia couldn't help going into detail about how Delphine made her cum really hard. Even the twins couldn't help laughing at the rather explicit descriptions, little wonder Delphine and Lydia were soon making out and, to no-one's surprise, they made their excuses and disappeared.
"Well, those two fucking at least leaves you for me, Ragnar," Aela whispered in my ear.
That was definite sign for all of us to head to bed. As soon as the door was closed, Aela was all over me. I returned her eagerness by stripping her within about three seconds, and there was no real though of foreplay, as I was pushed back onto the bed, and I'd barely relaxed when Aela straddled my lap and sat down on my cock. We both groaned as she did that, and within a few seconds, she was riding my cock hard and fast.
"By Talos, woman!"
"It's been a couple of days, Ragnar. Do you blame me?"
I paused for a moment. "No, not at all. Carry on."
She came really hard and fast, so I think she'd been horny for a little while. All she did once she'd cum was get on her back, spread her legs, and basically order me to fuck her. Gods, I liked her in that sort of mood. And I made sure she was properly fucked for all of five minutes before I needed to cum too.
We lay back afterwards, Aela cuddling into my side, when our eyes met and we burst into laughter. "We both needed that," she said.
"Aye. No complaints from me."
I threw on some underwear and ordered us some mead from the innkeeper, and after sating our thirst, we made love a little later, making sure that lasted a lot longer second time around. She was usually bare-faced whenever we went to bed, and I couldn't help gaze upon her face as we made love. It occasionally made her self-conscious, but I'd just reassure her that she was beautiful. I'll admit, I had luck when it came to my partners. Muiri, Haelga, Astrid and now Aela. All of them were gorgeous. I had others, of course, but I'm talking the women I adored above all.
Lying back again later, both of us now feeling rather worn out, I broached a subject we'd discussed before, as I had been thinking about it. "Aela, the woman I met at the college..."
"You've been thinking about her?"
I sighed. "She's too much of a reminder. And part of me..."
Aela lifted herself up and rested on my chest. "What do you want, Ragnar?"
"I'm not for a second suggesting leaving," I whispered, stroking her cheek, "But... There was definitely an attraction. And not just from me. She was... perhaps intrigued, and no doubt knew of my immediate interest."
"I've already said I don't mind, Ragnar. I know your past. I know what you're like. You have other women now and you know I will have other partners. Women, of course, but I have a feeling you don't mind that."
"What I'm thinking is I drop the lexicon with Septimus then perhaps head to the college?"
"What should we all do?"
"Well, to be honest, after that, I'll head straight back to the Greybeards and..." I sighed, "There are a couple of secrets that I simply cannot share regarding them. And the one person I definitely cannot take to High Hrothgar is Delphine. She will simply not be welcome there. So in the morning, I will ask everyone to return to Whiterun, though Delphine will likely return to Sky Haven Temple."
She kissed my cheek. "If that's what you think is best, then by all means, Ragnar."
I kissed her back. "Thank you."
We made love again the next morning, making sure Aela felt completely and utterly loved up by the time we were done. Heading out for breakfast, there was little doubt Delphine and Lydia had fucked all night, and I had a feeling Lydia was now feeling rather enamoured by the older woman. If the twins had heard anything from either of us, they said nothing. As we were eating, I told all of them my plan. The twins agreed that it was fine, Lydia was unhappy but complied, and I think Delphine was a little suspicious but kept them to herself.
The five mounted up outside, letting them know I would return to Whiterun as soon as possible. Delphine said she would return to Sky Haven, but it would be easy to keep in touch with each other. She knew where I lived anyway, and she said she'd journey there every so often if I was gone for a while. Lydia blurted out that it sounded like a fine idea. Yep, definitely enamoured.
I left my horse by the inn and began the long walk north. It was a clear day but bitterly cold, wrapping my furs tight as I started to cross the field of ice separating the mainland from the cave. It took a few hours as the wind was strong enough to almost blow me off my feet into the freezing water, but I made it to the cave safely.
Septimus hadn't moved, or it looked like he hadn't anyway. He did notice my arrival, though, and shuffled towards me as I reached into my pack for the lexicon. His thin fingers grabbed it eagerly out of my hands. "Look, that was a real pain in the arse, despite getting the Elder Scroll I needed." Gesturing at the dwemer thing, I asked, "What is all this about?"
"The box contains the heart. The essence of a god. I have devoted my life to the Elder Scrolls, but their knowledge is a passing awareness when compared to the encompassing mind of divinity. The Dwemer were the last to touch it. It was thought to have been destroyed by the Nerevarine, but my lord told me otherwise."
"Lord?" I asked, "What lord?"
"The Daedric prince of the unknown. Hermaeus Mora. I thought there were no secrets left to know. Until I first spoke to him. He asks a price -- to work his will. A few murders, some dissent spread, a plague or two. For the secrets I can endure. In time, he brought me here. To the box. But he won't reveal how to open it. Maddening."
I was left in no doubt that this man was now one hundred percent insane. Whether he was insane before heading to this cave, I couldn't be sure. So while he'd helped me with the Elder Scrolls, I was pretty much ready to just leave the lunatic to his desires. I figured he'd stay where he was until finally dropping dead. But he continued speaking anyway.
"Extraordinary. I see it now. The sealing structure interlocks in the tiniest fractals. Dwemer blood can loose the hooks, but none alive remain to bear it. A panoply of their brethren could gather to form a facsimile. A trick. Something they didn't anticipate, no, not even them. The blood of Altmer, Bosmer, Dunmer, Falmer, and Orsimer. The elves still living provide the key."
Now I turned to look at him. "What?"
He shuffled across to his own belongings, walking towards me seconds later holding some contraption. "Bear you hence this extractor. It will drink the fresh blood of elves. Come when its set is complete."
"You want me to commit murder?"
Look, I know I probably sounded like a hypocrite asking that question considering my past, but I liked to think I'd move on since then. Septimus looked me up and down. "You are a warrior, yes? Take the blood from your enemies. It matters not how it is gathered, but the blood must be fresh when taken."