To Fetch An Elder Scroll
There was nothing for it – we had to carry on down into the dark, extinguishing our torches and allowing our eyes to get used to the eerie blue glow from the funguses on the walls and ceilings. It was strangely beautiful and yet entirely foreign to anything any of us had seen before. I’d had a taste of it when we tracked Mercer, but it was completely new to Vilkas, and he scowled, blinking myopically in the blue-tinted light.
We came to a door which had no key or mechanism that Karliah or Brynjolf could dismantle. “It looks like something is supposed to go here,” Karliah murmured, nodding to a round crevice in the machinery.
“Those things we were given by Septimus, maybe?” Vilkas said, looking back the way we had come with blade drawn.
I kneeled down, and opened my packs, taking out the Attunement Sphere, turning it this way and that, before just deciding to trust to luck and shove it in. Apparently that seemed to work well enough, for the sphere slotted perfectly. We stepped back as old machinery began to churn, gears grinding and echoing clicks and rumbles came up from the deep. Beneath my feet, the floor began to shift, and I skipped hastily back as the stones parted, revealing a stair which led down to a intricate, golden door of dwemer make.
“Here we go, then,” Brynjolf said, bracing himself as he took the lead, and the rest of us, giving a final glance back, followed. We piled into the tiny room before us, shuddering as the walls rushed on above us and our stomachs lurched, only to find ourselves now far beneath the world above, and in the bowels of Blackreach proper.
I think we spent at least three days in that lightless, Divines-forsaken place. We slept in shifts and crept quietly through the dark, ever on the watch for Falmer. They didn’t have to see us to track us, and we had to be ruthless – cutting them down before they could report back, and then moving on. For three days, there was not a whisper of Farkas and Aela, and though neither Vilkas nor I said anything, we grieved, grimly marking our way with pieces of chalk which were now starting to run down to nubs though we felt it wasn’t of any use.
Wrong turns, and flaring tempers, silence and cold and damp. It was easy to see how adventurers before us had lost their minds, but we pressed on, making our way ever deeper into the bowels of the Falmer holdings, staggered at its size.
“I don’t think anyone in Skyrim knew how many falmer there are,” Brynjolf whispered in a hushed voice. “It’s worrying, if they decided to rise up at night…we’ll be hard pressed to fight them off.” It was only what we were all thinking – we could dent their flanks a bit down below, but four people weren’t going to inflict too much damage upon them.
We were deeper than any topdweller had ever gone now; and we were filling our packs with spoils that many a scholar would have sold his soul for. We had to be picky, but we managed with gems and gold and forgotten weapons. We even found what must have been a marketplace for the dwemer in ages past – a vast expanse of space which, after the claustrophobic tunnels we had been skulking in, almost made us uneasy at the sheer amount of space overhead.
We made our way hastily through, but Karliah held up her hand. Our senses were growing more acute in the gloom but not as good as the falmer. Someone was coming up behind us, possibly another patrol. We scrabbled for hiding places, weapons drawn, as falmer came into view, leading their trained insects along. They must have followed in our footsteps, no matter how quiet we had thought we were being. Hiding from falmer was impossible – they could hear our breathing even though we were halfway through the hall, and there was nothing else for it but to put the walls to our backs and prepare.
I drew my Nightingale bow and made it sing, hitting one of the spiders full square. Down it fell as Vilkas stood up before me, brandishing his blade as the falmer turned their sightless faces toward the sound of his shifting armour. They surged and prepared to leap –
– and never reached us. Their heads turned again, wet noses sniffing – they had enough time to emit one of their batlike squeaks in alarm before a blur – huge, black, furry – swept into their sides with a growl. Ripping, tearing, and leaving them bleeding upon the stones, the shape turned its glowing yellow eyes to us as Farkas stepped out from behind some waterpipes.
“Thanks,” he murmured to Aela in her shifted form. “I hate spiders.”
We stared at them both, almost unable to believe they were standing before us. Vilkas literally dropped his sword and rushed to his brother’s side, nearly crushing him in a mute embrace. I was just as happy to see them both and Brynjolf and Karliah clapped and praised Nocturnal as Aela stepped back for a moment to shift out of her beast form and put on her gear.
“Brother…” Vilkas’s voice was rather choked, but Farkas grinned and waved a hand after he extricated himself from his twin’s grip.
“Me too. We thought we had lost you all. We took a wrong turn, but Aela managed to track your scent. Everyone all right?”
“Fine now,” I said quietly, striding up to tap his chest with my fist and give Aela an awkward hug. “Never happier to see you both. Now, let’s press on.”
Our spirits slightly lifted with our reunion, we continued onward, trusting to Brynjolf’s uncanny ability to navigate through. We were travelling blind now – there were no maps in existence for a journey this deep into Falmer country, but Brynjolf had a way with keeping his bearings even so.
“Double back, and then…yes – this way, have a care.”
We came through a massive expanse – higher than even the phosphorescent light could reach. We were hushed, one and all, at the spectacle of the lit tower before us, with vast pillars, arches and walkways arching round out through space.
“Up we go,” I said, then gestured to the Tower entry. “Karliah?”
“Done and done,” she replied, melting into darkness to be on lookout. She could alert us if the Falmer approached – getting into the Tower seemed simple enough, but getting out would be impossible unless we had enough time to escape.
Brynjolf managed to open the door, and the rest of us ventured inside, eyeing the silent room and the spiralling staircase beyond.
“With me, Ice-brain,” Aela said grimly as she tapped Farkas on his huge bicep with her fist. “Too close now to botch this, so let’s make sure to clear a path.” And clear they did! There were traps of course, and a centurion or two but we won through, finding a few books on the way clutched in the mouldering hands of adventurers from before. I no longer turned my nose up at such doings, as the books often held secrets or riddles – and once we came to the main room, we were aware we were going to need more than swords.
I could try to describe what we found in the Tower of Mzark, but you’d not believe me. The machines were so far beyond anything I’ve seen before or can possibly comprehend. In the centre was a pod of some kind, and within this a cylindrical tube of a metal I had never seen before, sealed behind seamless glass. Our Elder Scroll, apparently, though we could tell there was no way to open it, and were sure if we tried we might come to a fair bit of harm.
“A puzzle, more than likely. There has to be something here that explains what this is, and how it works,” Brynjolf muttered, scanning over the room.
“I’m not a great reader,” Farkas sighed. “I’ll keep watch on the stairway.”
The rest of us set to, scanning through crumbling books and trying to piece together bits of knowledge well beyond many of us. Still, luck, wyrd, whatever you wish to call it was with us.
“Here, I think,” Vilkas said, as he gestured to one of the books he was holding. “Oculory – it’s going to need some form of focus; I think I know what Septimus was babbling about now. Dreema, love, where’s that Lexicon?”
I rummaged the square-shaped artifact out of my packs and tapped it. “Should I find somewhere this is supposed to go?”
We searched and sure enough, managed to find a depression which the Lexicon fitted perfectly. There was a soft hum, a click of gears and the hairs on the back of my arms began to stand on end. Aela shivered and growled as several pillars began to pulse then went dark again, but the chamber which held the scroll stayed locked behind its glass.
“Let me think,” I said, my eyes half closed as I studied the pillars with a frown.
There was nothing else for it now but a trial by elimination. Thankfully I had Companions and Thieves with me; people who were committed to getting a job done, and could think quickly. Eventually, we managed to work out the pattern, and with Aela and Brynjolf holding down the respective buttons on the appropriate pillars, Vilkas and I watched as the pod opened. The scroll was offered to my hand, and I strode forward –
– and Vilkas was right there beside me with his hand on my arm. “Don’t touch that thing. I’ll carry it.”
“Vilkas, you mustn’t.”
“If that’s going to end up making any of us blind by mistake, it’s going to be me,” Vilkas said tersely, and before I could take another step, he stepped in front of me and took the Scroll into his hands, bundling it away into his packs as I snorted, sighed, then reached for the Lexicon.
Aela turned now toward the door, and frowned, drawing her blade and grabbing her shield. “I heard something.”
It was Karliah, with Farkas behind. The Dunmer raised a hand, panting. “There’s a patrol of Falmer making the rounds. They may not have scented us yet, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it.”
Time to leave, then! “Nearest way up, Brynjolf?” I asked, shoving the Lexicon down into my bags.
“Easily solved, for once,” Brynjolf said, turning to a golden door to one side of the Oculory. It took some work to get it open but we managed it – all of us straining to fit into the tiny elevator room. I am probably not the only one who worried that it wouldn’t move, or would break before we reached the summit. We had been underground for days and to breathe fresh air again seemed a distant memory.
But out we came, upon the white crust of the world, gasping at the chill air and shielding our eyes from the sunlight. Light! Air! Space! Sky! It was a blessing, and we cheered weakly and praised the sunrise, hugging each other and taking the time to marvel at the spoils we had brought up from below. I was as euphoric as the rest – but Vilkas was not. He slung his pack over his shoulder and waited, his face drawn and wary as he scanned the horizon.
“I’d take a guess at where we are, but I’d fail utterly,” he sighed, rubbing his brow with a gauntleted fist.
“Dawnstar, or near to it,” Karliah said, proudly wrapping some gems back up in cloth and placing it in her bags. “We can manage to rest there and bathe – yes, a bath! I’d give one of these sapphires for a bath – but only one!”
And so our merry band won out, and in one piece as well. Joking and laughing even though our feet ached, we made our way to the small port-town. But Vilkas still said nothing, and still did not smile, even with a belly of venison and mead when the we stuffed ourselves at the inn and prepared for some much-needed rest. Vilkas placed his pack beneath his pillow and wouldn’t let me touch it as he stared at the ceiling with his hands behind his head.
“Your wyrd frightens me,” was all he’d say, and I got no more out of him. I didn’t need to tell him I was also afraid of the morrow. He knew. He always knew.
But the morrow would keep, and I rested my head upon his shoulder and slept.