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Saturday, November 6, 2010

IV - Dwemer Ruins

Fenara’s prediction proved to be correct. She spent her first day in Ald’ruhn teleporting to other guildhalls and fetching potions and books and ingredients and all other manner of things for Edwinna. When Edwinna was finally out of chores for her to do, Fenara went up to her room, exhausted, and fell asleep almost immediately. The next morning, Edwinna sent her straight to Maar Gan, a settlement north of Ald’ruhn, to check on someone called Huleen who she hadn’t seen in a while.
“You can take the silt strider. It’s only a couple of hours,” Edwinna said, turning back to her work.
“Um…I don’t do well with silt striders, actually.”
“You’re going to have to buck up if you want to live in Ald’ruhn, Evoker,” she said, for Fenara had recently been promoted in rank again. “Traveling the Ashlands by foot is tricky business, and silt strider’s the only other way to get around.” Fenara didn’t answer, and Edwinna sighed. “If you must know, you can get there by leaving past the silt strider port. There are signs the rest of the way.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said, and she hurried on her way.
The skies over Ald’ruhn were bleak as Fenara left town and started north. Ald’ruhn wasn’t even out of sight yet when a Nix Hound, an odd, four-legged creature about as tall as Fenara, attacked her. She killed it with a simple fireball spell, but the encounter left her somewhat shaken.
Fenara walked the whole day, stopping occasionally to check the map Nine-Toes had given her. When night fell, she paused for a while, wondering whether or not she should keep going. But the dark emptiness of the Ashlands unnerved her, and she decided to sleep under a rocky outcropping along the road.
Hours later, Fenara awoke. It was still dark, and something told her it was still late as well. Wondering what had roused her, Fenara crawled out from under the outcropping and stood up, then screamed as a patch of shadow detached itself from the darkness and leapt at her.
Fen dove to the side, and her assailant’s dagger hit stone with a loud ringing. He swore and grabbed the end of her braid. She struggled for a moment, then kicked one of his feet out from under him. He lost his balance and released her, and she started to run. But the assassin was faster, and she hadn’t gotten far when she heard him coming up behind her again. She turned, and her sudden movement surprised him just long enough to give her time to throw a fire spell at him. It hit him in the chest and he stumbled backward, and Fenara took the opportunity to summon a scamp with a spell she had purchased in Caldera. It ran towards him, screeching, and Fenara continued to throw fire at him while he parried the scamp. But soon the scamp was gone, and he was coming towards her again. Fenara used her last bit of magicka on a final fire spell, and he fell back and hit the ground. Dead.
Fenara fell to her knees, her breath heavy in her throat. She looked at her hands, which were shaking violently, then back at the body before her. She had taken someone’s life. She had killed a man. Fenara buried her head in her hands, exhausted and confused. Killing Nix Hounds was one thing, but killing a man was another.
Slowly gathering herself, Fenara crawled over to his corpse and pulled off his helmet. He was a Dunmer, unidentifiable. She couldn’t ever remember seeing this man in her life. So why did he want to kill me? She asked herself. Perhaps he knew she was a princess. Perhaps – and her stomach knotted at this thought – her father had sent men to have her killed. All the same, she kept the helmet, figuring she ought to report the attack to the guards and thinking that the helmet might tell them who he was, and, more importantly, why he had tried to kill her.
Fenara got to her feet and walked the rest of the night, not wanting to sleep next to a body. It was dawn when she finally heard the moans of a silt strider, and not long after that the tall, Redoran-style walls of Maar Gan came into view. Fenara breathed a sigh of relief and jogged the rest of the way into town, desperate to get a bed and sleep for a while.
When she woke, it was midday, and she took the helmet to a guard she saw patrolling in town.
“This is the Dark Brotherhood,” he said, examining the helm. He handed it back to her. “I don’t know what they want with you, but it can’t be good. When the Dark Brotherhood gets involved, most people just accept that they’re going to die.” Fenara frowned, her heart skipping a beat as the guard walked away. She looked down at the helm in her hand, hammered out of black material and covering the wearer’s entire face.
“Wait!” The guard turned. “Is – isn’t there anyone I can talk to?” The guard considered her for a moment.
“I suppose you could always tell Apelles Matius. He likes to know these sorts of things. Just arrived from Cyrodiil. You should find him in Ebonheart.”
“Thank you. And could tell me where I would find Huleen’s house?”
“Sure,” he said, and he pointed past the silt strider. “Huleen lives just outside of town, there. You’ll have to go around the strider port.”
“Thank you,” she said again, and put the helm away as she walked outside the walls and beneath the silt strider to where Huleen’s house was, feeling a little less worried than before. Fenara knocked, but there was no answer. She pressed her ear to the door and heard were sounds of something scratching around and faint snuffling noises. She opened the door cautiously, remembering that Edwinna had told her that there had been a strange disturbance there.
The house was in disarray, but the source of it seemed to only be a scamp that was walking about stepping on broken pottery. Fenara dispatched it with the help of her own summoned scamp and went downstairs, looking around the disheveled room carefully. She found a key on the ground unlocked a closet door, bracing herself for the worst.
There was a shout, then a clay pot was hurtling towards her. Fenara ducked and the pot hit the wall and shattered. She looked up and saw a starkly naked Breton man standing there, another pot raised above his head. She looked away, her face flaming. Her father had always been careful about keeping her sheltered from such things, and being suddenly exposed to it embarrassed her more than anything else on Vvardenfell had yet.
“Oh,” he said, seeing her and dropping the pot. “Is it gone?” He took a step towards her, and she quickly stepped back, trying to keep her eyes on his face.
“The – um – the scamp?”
“Yes! Did you get rid of it?”
“Ah…yes. It’s gone.”
“Oh, thank you!” he said, and he moved forward as if to embrace her. She quickly stepped back again, and he looked down, seeming to suddenly realize his nudity. “Oh, gods, you’re a lady. So sorry. Um…” Fenara grabbed a tattered robe from the floor just outside the closet and quickly tossed it to him. He pulled it over his head. “Sorry about that. Yes. Well. I thank you for getting rid of that scamp. It was all my fault, really.”
“What did you do?”
“I’m just…I was tired of being Huleen’s apprentice. I wanted to be an actual sorcerer. I summoned it to prove myself to her, but…it got a bit out of hand. As you can see.”
“That’s quite all right,” Fenara answered. “Um…where’s Huleen?”
“She had to go up to Dagon Fel for something. A meeting with someone. She told me to keep house while she was gone. I’m Listien, by the way. Listien Bierles.”
“Fen,” she said, and they shook.
“Well,” Listien said after a brief moment of awkwardness. “I’m sure you ought to be going.”
“Yes,” Fenara said. “Take care of yourself.” She left the hut and reluctantly took the silt strider back to Ald’ruhn, not wanting to take another two-day walk. When the silt strider pulled into port, she was violently sick again, and the driver rolled his eyes and asked her to watch his shoes. When Fenara reported her success to Edwinna, Edwinna was unsurprisingly irritated.
“Her apprentice summoned a scamp? That interrupted me from my studies? Gods, the people working here are such imbeciles. Anyway,” she said, slamming shut the book she was reading. “I need a Dwemer tube. And I need you to go fetch one for me.” Fenara had no idea what a Dwemer tube was, but nodded glumly anyway.
“Where can I buy it?” Edwinna smiled slightly, the first time Fenara had seen one from her.
“You won’t be able to buy a Dwemer tube anywhere legally,” she said. “You’ll have to find one. I know that there’s one in Arkngthunch-Sturdumz that you should be able to find.”
“In what?”
“Arkngthunch-Sturdumz. It’s a Dwemer ruin just west of Ald Velothi.”
“A Dwemer ruin.” Fenara recalled hearing the phrase at some point in her studies, but her tutor had never dwelled on it.
“Yes, Evoker, a Dwemer ruin.” Edwinna paused, studying Fenara’s face. “You’ve been in Dwemer ruins before, haven’t you, Evoker?” Fenara shook her head.
“I’m not even sure of what a Dwemer ruin is.” Edwinna stared at her for a moment.
“How long have you been in Vvardenfell, Evoker?”
“About two and a half weeks.”
“Well that explains it. The Dwemer were an ancient race of people that used to live in Vvardenfell. One day they just vanished without a trace. No one knows why. But their underground strongholds are still here, called Dwemer ruins. They’re fascinating places, but the Empire has banned the trade of Dwemer artifacts, which makes it difficult for me to study them. You’ll get a nice first-hand look at the ruin when you go to Arkngthunch-Sturdumz to get a Dwemer tube for me.”
“There aren’t…things still in the ruins, are there?”
“What, you mean people? No, the Dwemer are long gone. Some of their machinery is still there, and sometimes smugglers and bandits take up residence in the ruins, but Arkngthunch-Sturdumz was empty last time I sent someone down there to get something for me. Now off you go. You can take the silt strider to Gnisis, and from there it’s an hour’s walk to Ald Velothi. The ruin is just west of town.”
Fenara opened her map as Edwinna strolled away carrying her book, wondering if she could possibly walk to Gnisis and avoid the silt strider. But it was a long walk, at least two days, and she decided, having no shelter and not enough food, to take the silt strider and deal with the motion sickness.
She arrived in Gnisis (after retching over the silt strider platform) and started the walk to Ald Velothi at once. It was late in the afternoon, and she wanted to be back in Ald’ruhn by nightfall if she could. Rain threatened the whole walk, but thankfully stayed away until she reached the small fishing village perched on the edge of the Sea of Ghosts.
A guard directed her to Arkngthunch-Sturdumz, and she soon reached a wide bridge made of rusted metal. As she crossed the bridge, the ruin began to come into view, and Fenara paused to take in the splendor of it.
The stronghold was comprised of a confusion of rounded towers and sharp-tipped spires. The buildings were all made of the same decrepit metal as the bridge, and they were all connected by thick pipes. At the end of the bridge, an enormous stone statue of a man with a curled beard and pointed ears pointing a stone crossbow down at whoever was crossing the bridge at the time. Fenara slowly walked around the statue and into a small open space around the towers, gazing around. There was an enormous golden crossbow that was stained with age, but looked like it had once been grand, pointing off the edge of the cliff that Arkngthunch-Sturdumz was built on. Loose bricks and bits of pipe and metal were scattered around the space, and a few rats scampered back and forth. She found a round door set deep into one of the lower buildings and pushed it open with a loud scraping noise of metal on metal.
Inside, the ruin was dim and low-ceilinged. Fenara descended a set of stairs into a small entrance room, where she could hear the mechanic clicking and whirring of…something. A thick pipe ran the length of the room, dotted with hazy yellow lights that buzzed and flickered and carved with odd, spiky characters she could not read. The hallway beyond had a grate set into the floor, from which a red glow was lighting up the hallway. Beneath the grate, Fenara could hear a loud, slow rumbling.
There was a sudden clicking, and a large creature made of tarnished yellow metal came around the corner. It had a body the size of Fenara’s head with six long, spiky legs that clicked on the ground. It looked like some kind of overgrown spider. The spider creature clicked over to Fenara, standing up on its back legs and attempting to swat at her with the front two. It didn’t seem like much of a threat to her, but it continued to swat, so she used a fire spell on it and it fell backwards and stopped clicking. Fenara stepped over the spider and found a small antechamber where a large machine that was bolted to the wall was vibrating slightly as it spun and clicked, releasing steam from a vent every few seconds. Fenara watched it for a moment, unsure of what it was doing, then turned and went down the red-lit hallway, which turned out to be blistering hot. As she walked over the grate, she glanced down and saw molten lava was flowing through it. Geothermal energy? she thought to herself as she passed into the next room. Whoever these Dwarves had been, they were clever.
Fenara passed through the rest of the ruin, finding nothing but clicking spiders and hissing machinery until she reached the last chamber, were a long metal cylinder sat on a dented steel shelf. She picked it up, surprised at its weight, and examined it carefully. There wasn’t anything else of interest in the ruin, so she assumed this to be the Dwemer tube Edwinna wanted and carefully put it in her bag before backtracking out of the ruin.
It was much cooler outside, as evening had just started to settle. Fenara glanced back at the fading ruin over her shoulder as she crossed the bridge. Odd, she thought to herself. Very odd.
The journey back to Ald’ruhn only lasted a few hours, and she delivered the tube to Edwinna by nine.
“Good work, Evoker,” Edwinna said approvingly, taking the tube from her. “I might have something else for you here…”
“Edwinna?” Fenara said quickly, before Edwinna could dig up another job for her to do. “Could I – I mean, could I just – um – go to bed early tonight and take tomorrow off? I’ve just been doing guild work nonstop all this week and –”
“Fine, fine,” Edwinna said easily, waving her away. “Just come see me again when you want something to do.” Surprised at her good luck, Fenara went upstairs and gratefully climbed into her bed.
Early the next morning, she took the guild guide to Vivec, and from there managed to navigate the Foreign Quarters until she got to the bridge that took her to land. Vivec was a monstrous city, comprised of nine enormous tiered buildings that floated in the water called cantons. The cantons were connected by various bridges and spanned an area far greater than Ald’ruhn and Balmora together. Fenara went to the small ship that docked near the silt strider and paid for passage to Ebonheart, a small Imperial town just west of Vivec. It was midday when she arrived, and she wasted no time in seeking out Apelles Matius, who she found patrolling the battlements at the back of town.
“Sir,” she said, reaching into her bag to take out the Dark Brotherhood helmet. “I was attacked a few days ago, by an assassin wearing this mask. I was told to report to you.” She held out the helm. He gave her a quizzical look, then took the helm from her and examined it, a grim expression on his face.
“This is the Dark Brotherhood.”
“That’s what the guard I reported it to told me,” she answered. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, studying the helm.
“Truthfully, I’m not sure what to tell you, other than to write a will. You must’ve done something to anger someone pretty badly if they sent the Dark Brotherhood after you.”
“But I haven’t done anything!” Fenara said incredulously. “I just want them to stop attacking me!” Apelles Matius tucked the helm under his arm and looked up at her.
“If you really want to clear this business up, I’d suggest you go to Mournhold yourself.” Fenara’s stomach flipped.
“G – go to Mournhold?”
“Well, yes. Let me see, Asciene Rane in the Grand Council Chambers should be able to teleport you there. All ships have been stopped, you see, because of the Blight. But if you just let her know…” he continued talking, but Fenara wasn’t listening. She could go back to Mournhold. To the City of Light. She could see her grandmother again.
“Thank you!” she said, cutting him off in the middle of his sentence and sprinting away, towards the small castle that was called the Grand Council Chambers. She quickly found Asciene Rane, an elderly Breton woman that was standing idly in the corner of the entrance hall. “Excuse me,” she said breathlessly. “I was told you could take me to Mournhold.”
“You want to go to Mournhold?” she said, smiling merrily. “Well, certainly, I can teleport you. What business do you have there?”
“I’m – er – I was attacked by the – um, Dark Brotherhood, and I need to investigate.” Fenara bounced on the balls of her feet, unable to contain her excitement.
“Oh my! Well, that’s dangerous business. I hope you get that cleared up, dear. Now then, I’ll take you to the Reception Area of the Royal Palace. When you want to come back, speak to Effe-Tei.” Effe-Tei! Her heart leapt at the mention of a familiar name. Asciene Rane took Fenara’s hand, and there was a brief sensation of hurtling through space, then her feet were on solid ground again. Fenara opened her eyes and saw Effe-Tei standing there, just turning to greet the new arrival.
“Effe-Tei!” she cried, running into his arms and embracing him. “I’m back! I’ve come back, Effe-Tei!” She buried her face in his shoulder, restraining herself from leaping with delight.
“Princess?” Effe-Tei gently took her arms away from him and held her back slightly. Where Fenara had expected to see joy identical to her’s, Effe-Tei’s reptilian face suddenly portrayed terror.
“What is it?” she asked, letting her arms drop.
“Princess, you cannot be seen here,” Effe-Tei said, hurrying to check that they were alone in the room. He pulled a curtain over the rose-glass window.
“What do you mean, Effe-Tei? I’ve come back. I found a way back. I just need to talk to my father, and –”
“You cannot,” Effe-Tei said hastily. “King Helseth has issued a warrant for your immediate arrest if you appear anywhere within the city walls.” Fenara’s heart sank.
“If anyone sees you, you will spend the rest of your life in the prisons without trial, Princess!” Effe-Tei exclaimed nervously. “At least in Vvardenfell you have a chance!”
“I just need to talk to my father, then,” she said, starting towards the door. “I just need a chance to explain to him that –”
“No, Princess!” Effe-Tei seized her arm and pulled her away from the door. “I am doing this because I care for you, Princess. Please do not put yourself in peril.” There was a sudden hammering on the door and Effe-Tei’s eyes widened. “I must take you back!”
“No – no, Effe-Tei, wait!” she cried, but she was already spinning, already moving through space again, and when her eyes opened she was in the Grand Council Chambers in Ebonheart. The fantastically familiar reception hall was gone. Effe-Tei was gone. All she wanted to do was fall on the ground and sob.
“Well that was a quick journey!” Asciene Rane chuckled. Fenara ignored her. She went outside as if in a trance. Thunder boomed overhead and began to fall, and she stared silently up at the sky, her heart sinking.

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