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Saturday, July 16, 2011

XXXIII - Sunder

Just as they had yesterday, Fen and Julan rose early the next morning and started their third climb up Red Mountain. The wind blew as wildly as ever, and Fen had to keep both hands on her hood to keep it on her head. It took them nearly two hours to battle and climb their way to Citadel Endusal, a Dwemer stronghold built precariously into a steep slope. In the small entryway, they paused to shake the dust out of their clothes and take a swig of water from Fen’s skin.
“I think it’s worse today,” Fen muttered, shaking out Gildan’s scarf and sending sand skittering onto the metal floor. She had a nasty feeling that Dagoth Ur knew she had Keening, and that surely meant Sunder would be well guarded.
They came down a short flight of stairs into a long rectangular room occupied by a single Ash Ghoul. When the Ghoul was dead, Fen noticed large, oddly-shaped pieces of machinery on tables and leaning against the walls. On closer examination, she discovered one enormous piece was an iron hand.
“Wonder what they’re doing with this,” Julan said, squinting at what looked like a jackal head laying on a desk.
“They’re building something,” Fen answered quietly, shifting her gaze from the hand to a large foot, a colossal thigh leaning against the wall, a large torso with a plated gold chest. “At least, the Dwemer were. They look like they haven’t been touched in a while.” Fen turned her back on the giant hand and started out of the room. It gave her a bad feeling, worse than the one she got from simply being on Red Mountain.
In the next chamber, they encountered Dagoth Endus, who, like Dagoth Tureynulal, didn’t seem to want to talk. When they had dispatched the Ash Vampire, Fen moved along the shelves in the room there, looking through the various books. Then, folded between a dusty copy of Azura and the Box and House of Troubles, Fen found a thick piece of folded parchment, which she opened to reveal a complex diagram of an enormous metal man.
“Julan, look at this,” she said, carrying the schematic over to a table and laying it out flat. “This has to be what all those parts were for.”
“What is it, though?” he asked, joining her at the table.
“Maybe they were plans for their machine god.” Julan gave her a quizzical look. “The Dwemer were based in logic and reason,” she explained. “That’s why they didn’t get along with the Chimer, because the Chimer were so religious. The Dwemer had plans to build a god, called the First Numidium, and when they tapped into the Heart of Lorkhan to activate it, they disappeared.” She knew trying to decipher the plan was pointless, but she folded it up again and slipped it into her bag anyway.
Soon she and Julan were out in the storm again, levitating over the steep hills and crags for nearly four hours before they finally reached Vemynal.
The interior of Vemynal was dark, much darker than the other citadels had been. It gave Fen a nervous, jumpy feeling, and she resolved to try and hurry through it as quickly as possible. They soon fought their way through to the bowels of the citadel, into a high-ceilinged room where Dagoth Vemyn stood waiting.
“Welcome, Nerevarine,” he said, and his mouth formed into something like a smirk. “You have destroyed my brothers, I see.” Fen didn’t answer. “You may have found that they were exceedingly easy to defeat. Our Lord Dagoth Ur requires all their power at this time, rendering them as weak as children. I, however, am the Lord’s most trusted brother, and you will not find it so easy to vanquish me. He has need of my talents, you see.” Dagoth Vemyn held one spindly hand out in the air before him and a small gold and black hammer materialized there. He laughed at the expression of wonder on Fen’s face.
“I have it, you see, Nerevarine. But you’ll have to kill me for it. And that will not happen, I am afraid.” He made a swift motion with his hand and Sunder was gone. “Lord Dagoth will be most pleased that you will die in this place, Nerevarine. Your soul will feed his army as we march out across the land to set Morrowind right again. Hai Resdaynia!” With that, Dagoth Vemyn lashed out suddenly, sending a shock spell spiraling towards them. Fen, however, wore Wraithguard, which not only protected her against Keening and Sunder, but also protected her from most magic attacks. The spell hit an invisible force around Fen and bounced straight back towards Dagoth Vemyn, giving her time to summon a Winged Twilight.
The Twilight screeched and flapped forward to attack Dagoth Vemyn as Julan pulled out his bow. Fen drew her Mages’ Staff and sent a bolt of energy towards Dagoth Vemyn, sending him toppling backwards. He quickly regained his footing, however, and destroyed the Twilight with an easy swipe of his hand. Moving with surprising agility, he struck at Julan, knocking the bow out of Julan’s hands and sending him flying into the wall with a sickening crunch. While Dagoth Vemyn was distracted, Fen reached out, pressing her fingers to the closed third eye on his forehead and paralyzing him with a spell. While the Ash Vampire was frozen, she finished him off with a powerful fire spell and he toppled to the ground.
“Are you all right?” Fen asked quickly, hurrying over to Julan.
“I’m fine,” he said, gingerly getting to his feet. “Just surprised me, that’s all…the fetcher.” He glanced past Fen and she turned. Sunder was rematerializing, this time in the air above Dagoth Venym’s body, where it hung still. Fen and Julan exchanged a glance, then she moved forward, reaching out for the handle with Wraithguard vibrating on her hand. Slowly, Fen closed her fingers around Sunder, feeling its energy jolt up her arm, countered by Wraithguard. She pulled the hammer out of the air and brought it down to her eye level. It was just as ornately fashioned as Keening, with the same intricate brass designs and crystal inlays.
“Right,” she said quietly, wrapping Sunder in leather and removing Wraithguard from her arm. “It’s nearly midnight. Let’s go back to Ghostgate and get some rest. Gods know we’re going to need it.”
It took them another few hours to get back down to Ghostgate, and it was nearly midnight by the time they entered the Tower of Dusk. Fen gave Julan a few septims to go and have his armor and weapons repaired (for the smith, though irritated, was still awake) while she went to the bar and bought them both a loaf of bread and a slab of hound meat. They met in Fen’s room, where she unpacked her bag, arraying everything out on the floor.
“Okay,” she said, finding a spare bit of parchment and a quill. “What do we need more of?”
“Potions?” Julan guessed, tearing off a hunk of bread and shoving it into his mouth. Fen studied the few bottles they had left and made a note on the parchment.
“Do you need any more arrows?”
“Yeah,” Julan replied offhandedly. “But the smith here only has those flimsy chitin ones.”
“I’ll pick some up for you,” Fen said, making another note. “Let’s see…we could use a few more scrolls…I think I still have those summon Golden Saint ones that Dratha gave me. And I’ll get an extra Divine Intervention amulet for you,” she added, making a final note and putting the quill away. “Okay,” she said, counting out the septims she needed. “I’m going to Vivec. I’ll be back in about an hour. Don’t go to bed yet.” Julan nodded and Fen recalled to the quiet guildhall, where most of the mages were probably asleep. She climbed the stairs to her study and fired up her alchemy equipment, starting with the potions.
When she had a sufficient number of replacement potions, Fen collected the scrolls they needed and found a spare Divine Intervention amulet in the supply chest in the main hall. After paying a quick trip to the armorer’s for a new quiver of arrows, she was confident she had everything she needed, she recalled to her room in Ghostgate, where Julan had fallen asleep on the floor. Fen picked up Julan’s armor at the smithy, woke him up, and set about repacking her bag.
“We’ll get up at four,” she said, trying to find a space for an Almsivi Intervention scroll. “It’s a straight climb up to Dagoth Ur, and it should take us a few hours.”
“Fen,” Julan groaned, rubbing his eyes. “Four is in two hours. Can’t we have a bit more of a lie-in than that?”
“We haven’t got any time to waste,” she said impatiently. “So it’ll be more like taking a quick nap, really.” She squeezed Keening and Sunder in with Wraithguard, then buckled the bag shut with some difficulty. “There.”
“Can I go to bed now?” Julan asked wearily.
“Yes,” Fen said, dragging the bag over to sit at the foot of her bed. “I’ll wake you up at four.” Julan murmured something under his breath and left, leaving Fen in the room alone. She changed out of her dust-choked robe and sat on the bed, looking down at her hands. She remembered her first day in Vvardenfell, when she had sat in the tiny apartment over Caius Cosades’ house, in this exact same position. Now they were callused and rough, crisscrossed with small scars and scratches. Not the hands of a princess.
Fen lay back on the bed. She had fully expected to be unable to sleep, awake all night with the thought that this could be her last time in a bed. But it was only a matter of seconds before she succumbed to exhaustion and let her eyes drift closed.

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