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Saturday, May 26, 2012

XIX - The Clockwork City

Almalexia’s eyes seemed to flash as Fen drew Trueflame from her belt. The fire reflected in the goddess’s golden eyes and her face was lit by a sort of manic joy.

“The blade is reforged!” she exclaimed gaily. “Our time has almost arrived. There is but one obstacle that stands in our way, though it pains me to believe it is so.” Almalexia’s face darkened. “Sotha Sil. I cannot count the times I have fought by the Magician’s side. It was he who stood with me the day I fought in Mournhold and banished Mehrunes Dagon to the depths of Oblivion. It was Sotha Sil who was able to delve the mysteries of Kagrenac’s tools, and raise me to my rightful station. Now, though, the Tinkerer has become unstable.” Fen frowned. She was not overly pleased that Almalexia had blatantly admitted to using Kagrenac’s Tools, but she said nothing and let Almalexia continue.
“Once, Sotha Sil was like we are, the Lord Vivec and I. He spent time among these mortals, instructing them, counseling them, protecting them from harm. He may have loved them more than any of us, though I know not why. It has been many years since any have seen the Sorcerer, though. Many more since he took initiates into his service. I believe he grew weary of mortal imperfections, and retired to his Clockwork City, where he reshapes life, and some say the very world, into an image he finds pleasing.
“His lair is as puzzling as the mind of the Sorcerer himself. Ever-moving, ever-changing, its levers and gears responding to its master’s will alone. It is here he performs his profane experiments, aided by his magic and tainted by his madness.” Fen faltered, lowering Trueflame and sending spiky shadows across the angles of the goddess’s face.
“I have suspected for some time that the Lord Sotha Sil had entered Sheogorath’s realm,” Almalexia spat, a foul look crossing her face. “His visits have been more and more infrequent, and punctuated by violent fits of anger. He began to speak of the fall of the Tribunal and the return of the Old Gods. But Sotha Sil is not a Seer; he is a Maker. He shapes the Here and the Now, while only I have been privy to what is to come. I know this...he is no longer the man he once was.” Almalexia focused her strange, golden eyes on Fen, and they seemed to penetrate her very skin.
“I believe it is your calling to stop Sotha Sil’s mad schemings. I do not know that he can be reasoned with, Fen, but it is possible. If he cannot be, you must end his life. Though the idea saddens me, it is best for Morrowind...and it is best for him, as well. You have the power to do this. The Trueflame can kill a god, if wielded by one of noble intent. Steel yourself, Fen, and do what must be done. I will send you to his Clockwork City now, if you are prepared.” Fen slowly slid Trueflame into her belt.
“Only if you will allow my companion to accompany me.” Almalexia hesitated for a moment, and for a fraction of a second she looked…afraid? But then it was gone, and she was serene once more, palms pressed together and eyes half closed.
“Very well,” she said, and the doors of the High Citadel began to crank open, making the whole chamber shudder. “Send in the young man,” Almalexia said, to no one in particular, and a few seconds later Julan entered the chapel, blinking in the dim golden light and looking confused. Fen gestured, and he joined her on the platform, watching Almalexia apprehensively.
“Are you prepared to leave?” she asked.
“Leave where?” Julan said at once, turning to Fen while keeping his eyes trained on Almalexia.
“Do you have all your things?” Fen asked him in an undertone.
“I – yes, but – ?”
“I’ll explain everything later,” Fen murmured, taking Julan’s hand. “We’re ready,” she announced to the goddess.
“Very well,” Almalexia said serenely “Godspeed to you, Nerevar.” She made a fluid gesture, then the High Chapel was dropping away, replaced by hurtling blackness and wind, then –
There was a loud splash, and suddenly Fen was sopping wet, standing on her hands and knees in waist-deep water. Everything around her was dark, and all she could hear were more splashes and someone coughing. Fen got to her feet, her robes dripping, squinting as her eyes slowly adjusted. Beside her, Julan was splashing upright, sputtering.
“What the hell is going on, Fen?” he gasped, finally splashing to his feet and breathing heavily.
“We’re in the Clockwork City,” Fen told him softly. “Sotha Sil’s domain.”
“Why did she send us here?”
“To kill him.”
“Oh, okay,” Julan said with mock ease. “Just another god we have to kill. No problem.”
“Sotha Sil isn’t bound to the Heart of Lorkhan anymore,” Fen told Julan firmly. “He’s gone completely insane.” She glanced around the water-filled passage. “Come on, let’s get this over with.” They passed under an arch to a low-ceilinged, green-tinged hallway, completely flooded up to their waists. There was a large, circular brass door at the other end of the deserted hall, and they waded across to it only to find that there seemed to be no way to open it. It was Julan who first found the rusty crank portruding from the wall.
He pulled the crank, and there was a great grating noise as the door slowly moved up, then was pulled out of the way and lodged firmly on the ceiling with an echoing clang, revealing another stretch of flooded hall beyond. They had barely made it three paces when an enormous rusted steel axe came hurtling out from a narrow niche at the wall, passing within millimeters of Fen and Julan. They waited until the axe was firmly lodged in the other side, then passed through unscathed. The next room was guarded by a white, long-necked fabricant, one of the creatures that had attacked the Plaza on the Day of Lights. The combined efforts of Trueflame and Han-Sashael’s sword put it quickly to rest, but still left Fen feeling uneasy. They continued to wander the flooded passages, avoiding various traps and taking down fabricants that attempted to slow them, moving methodically as they searched for a way that would lead them deeper into the citadel.
They soon located a door that, when they pulled the nearby crank, led them upward and out of the greasy, stagnant water. The light here was only slightly better, for the walls were constructed of a copper-like substance, roped with wires and cogs. There were dozens of outlets on the ceiling, and every few seconds one of them would emit a shower of golden sparks that bounced off the corrugated metal floor a few times before they vanished, hissing and spitting like snakes.
In several places, the floor was stained deep brown with blood, and there spikes shot out from narrow slots at random intervals. Deciding they ought to bypass them, Fen and Julan found a detour around the spike traps, cutting down several more fabricants that attempted to deter them. They continued making their way through the Clockwork City, through passages lined with rapidly spinning cogs and guarded by fabricants. They soon found themselves in a large domed room, occupied by several fabricants. After a few moments, when the fabricants had been dispatched, Fen glanced around and noticed the dome was strangely empty-looking, though the floor was littered with what looked, eerily, like human bones.
Fen started to lead the way up the stairs at the back of the dome and was almost to the curved metal mezzanine when she felt Julan seize her arm and drag her back down. Her knee hit the steel stair and she lost her balance, stumbling into a crouch beside Julan halfway up the passage.
“What was that for?” she said crossly, and Julan pointed. Fen looked up and her throat caught. An enormous steel arm was swinging around the mezzanine, tipped with a rusted steel blade. Fen had completely disregarded the loud clanks and swinging of the arm, figuring them to be normal sounds in the Clockwork City, and she saw now, by the bloodstains on the mezzanine floor and dribbling down the stairs, that if she had continued her body would have been severed in an instant. “Thanks,” Fen muttered, glancing up as the arm swung overhead again.
“What do we do?” Julan asked, peering up. The exit was on the other side of the dome. To get to it, one would be forced to sprint around the mezzanine without the swinging arm catching up.
“Let’s just levitate up from the other end, then when it comes around we can go past it and nip into the alcove,” Fen said. They dismounted the stairs and crossed the room, but found their spells were being blocked by some sort of outside force. After several more attempts and a few Fortify Magicka potions each, they were forced to think of something else. While Julan walked in circles rubbing his eyes, Fen went to the dead fabricants they had slain upon entering. Just like the ones in the Plaza, their bodies were beginning to excrete a strange-smelling, sticky sort of slime. Fen rubbed the substance between two fingers, thinking…
“Julan, I have an idea,” she said. He came over. “I think that this…excretion will fortify our speed,” she said, kneeling down by one of the fabricants.
“What makes you think that?” Julan replied, looking sick.
“Kagouti get this sticky sort of cast when they die as well, and if you crush it with marshmerrow and moon sugar, you’ll get a diluted form of skooma that increases your speed without the affect of the drug.”
“How do you know it’s the same stuff?” Julan asked apprehensively.
“The smell,” Fen said at once. “Yes, I’m sure of it. This will fortify our speed. Help me collect it.” After ten minutes, they had managed to gather two vials full of the substance from the bodies of the fabricants. They carried these vials up the stairs, where they crouched just below the point where the blade came past. “I don’t know how much faster these will make us,” Fen told him, glancing up as the blade hurtled by. “So move as quickly as you can.” Julan nodded, his face set, and when the blade was directly across the room they both drained their vials. The arm swung overhead and Fen and Julan leapt onto the mezzanine and began to run, sprinting side-by-side toward the door. The residue, whatever it was, had certainly increased their speed, but the swinging arm was still much faster and was coming lethally around the bend, about to slice them in two…
Fen put on a final burst of speed, hearing the clanking of the blade behind her, and she felt Julan, who was faster, seize her arm as he dove into the alcove. Fen was pulled alongside him, and although she felt the fabric of her robe tear, they both lay in the alcove unscathed. They sat up, panting with exhaustion, watching the blade hurtle past over and over.
“Gods,” Julan breathed. “I can’t believe we did that.”
“We’re not out of this yet,” Fen said firmly, handing Julan a Restore Strength potion and taking one herself. “Let’s keep moving. I don’t want to be in this place any longer than we have to.”
They came through into the next dome, which was dominated by a round machine with a door in the front that concealed the exit into the next area. As they entered, the pipes above the machine began to move and whistle steam, and the doors slid open to reveal a fabricant. When they had dispatched it, Fen moved forward into the machine to examine it. There was a second door, which presumably led to the exit, though it was sealed tightly.
“Hey, Fen,” she heard Julan call, and she left the machine and came over to where he was examining two switches with lights atop their mounts, both glowing red. “What do you reckon these do?”
“Open the door, I hope.” Fen pulled the switch on the left and its light turned green. Julan peered around.
“The exit door’s still closed.” Fen tried to pull the other crank, but it refused to give. When she pushed in the left crank and pulled out the right one, making the right light turn green, however, the front door of the machine slid shut. Before Fen could pull the cranks again, the pipes whistled and another fabricant emerged. They dispatched it, and Fen stared thoughtfully up at the pipes.
“I think I know what to do,” she said after a moment, pushing both cranks in so their lights glowed red. When the pipes overhead next began to clatter, Fen pulled out the right crank and they quickly cut down the emerging fabricant and went through the now-open door to the next dome.
“I feel like we’re in a clock,” Julan muttered, glancing around at the dome they now stood in. There was a narrow steel mezzanine halfway around the room, and the door was on the far end. The floor was covered by what looked like still-standing poison. The ceiling was entirely covered in rotating cogs of all different sizes and speeds, causing a loud clanking to issue frequently down to them. Fen and Julan went to the far end of the mezzanine, where another crank stood. Julan attempted to pull it out, but the crank was rusted firmly and refused to give.
“Help me with this,” Julan said, and with their combined efforts the crank clattered up. Steel arms holding sheets of flat steel groaned out of their positions and moved downward, forming a crude bridge to the other side.
They made their way through another set of passages occupied by various fabricants and soon found themselves at a door marked IMPERFECT in Aldmeris. Fen frowned as Julan pulled the crank and the door began to grate upward with the now-familiar shriek of metal on metal. Just what the Imperfect was, she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out.
They entered through the doorway into the next dome, which was the largest yet. It was completely empty save for two enormous, hulking robotic creatures that appeared to be screwed into the wall, hunched over the door that led to the next area. They were strange and unsettling in appearance, with plates on their shoulders as large as guar and long, narrow faces with impassive lips and dull, blank red eyes. The door clanged shut behind them, and Fen and Julan started cautiously across the room. They barely made it a few paces, however, when steam began to pour from the creature on the right. With a sudden roar, it tore itself loose from its fastenings and suddenly shot a powerful-looking shock spell at them from its steel hand. Fen and Julan dove in opposite directions to avoid it, and the creature began to move across the room, its footfalls shaking the floor and sending dust and sparks showering down from the domed ceiling.
Fen immediately summoned every creature she could and began to shoot shock spells at it, praying that it was as weak to the element as it was adept at it. She saw Julan on the other side of the room start to draw his blade.
“Julan! No! Julan!” Fen’s voice echoed shrilly among the inhuman screeches of the Imperfect, and Julan glanced up. “Use your bow!” Fen shouted. “Stay away from it!” Julan seemed to understand – he sheathed his father’s sword and instead drew out the Bonebiter bow, starting to pepper the Imperfect with enchanted arrows. Fen steadied her feet as the Imperfect began to swing its huge fists up and down, attempting to crush her summoned Daedra, and began a steady barrage of shock spells, only pausing to summon more creatures to replace those that had fallen and drain a quick restore magicka potion.
The battle seemed to last for hours. They rotated around the great dome, Fen and Julan avoiding the Imperfect as best they could. It was simply too dangerous to get close to, so they were left with using ranged attacks. At long last, with a final well-placed arrow from the Bonebiter bow, the Imperfect stumbled, emitted a hiss of white steam, and clanked to the ground, shattering into pieces. Breathing heavily, Fen vanished her summons with a gesture.
“You all right?” she asked Julan, picking her way through the scraps of twisted metal over to him.
“Fine. You?”
“I’m fine.” Fen handed him another restore strength potion and drained one of her own. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “Let’s go, then.” They crossed the hall, both of them immensely grateful that the second Imperfect did not animate, and stopped before the round door. Fen felt an enormous sense of trepidation, and she squinted at the door through the gloom and saw why.
“This is it,” Fen murmured. “Ready?” Julan nodded, his face set, and Fen pushed open the door.
This room was smaller than the Dome of the Imperfect, and much darker. Fen could see the shadow of a large arc formed over a circular platform in the centre of the room, to which all manner of wires and pipes and cogs were attached, turning and hissing out steam. She glanced around cautiously, Trueflame held aloft. The door clanked shut behind them, closing with a final-sounding bang. They stood stock-still as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, and Fen stared straight ahead, sensing something there. Dozens of wires hung from the underside of the arc, supporting a figure that hung just above the platform, its head rolled back and its arms outstretched. Fen glanced at Julan, then, holding Trueflame aloft, slowly stepped forward.
“S – Sotha Sil,” she said, struggling to keep her voice calm. She stepped onto the platform. “I am –” Fen froze, for a terrible smell had reached her nose. A smell like rotting flesh. Like death. Her hands shaking, Fen moved forward, toward the figure. She lifted Trueflame, raising it to see the hanging body clearly.
He was mangled beyond belief, pieces torn brutally from his face, his flesh rotted and matted with dried blood. His very legs had been ripped away, leaving dark, stringy tendons brushing the floor, blackened with long-dried blood. His jaw was broken, his mouth hanging open in agony, one eye half closed and the other wide and blank and staring at nothing. Fen tightened her grip on Trueflame, feeling her breath quicken in her throat as she realized what was happening.
Sotha Sil was already dead.

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