Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 26

25042015-26042015

7.1

Interlude

Sun’s Dawn, 1st, 4E 202

I found out after waking up that time had moved differently for me in Sovngarde. More time had passed than I had been aware of—an extra day. My first thought was to head to Riften and let Brynjolf know I was all right.

I got to Riften fairly late and made sure to swing through the city before leaving again and going invisibly to my house. One of Brynjolf’s informants would probably let them all know the Dragonborn had been sighted so he would know where I went. Presumably.

He showed up a few hours later and joined me in the mushroom. I was still wearing my disguise, but the mask, helm, and gauntlets had been set aside. “So, lass, you’re back.”

“You’re so observant!” I teased. “Yes, I am. I have seen Sovngarde and lived to tell the tale.”

Brynjolf took his seat and grabbed a bottle of mead I’d set out for him. “Bring me anything?”

I grinned. “I wanted to, but I didn’t think Shor would approve of me running off with his solid gold tableware. I thought about bringing some food from there instead, but, really, I wasn’t sure how that might affect someone still living. The only thing I allowed myself was a single sweet roll, and that will be put on display until it gets all mucky.”

“You never know. It might be special enough to endure,” he pointed out.

“I suppose so. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, Alduin won’t be bothering us again. Master Arngeir thinks he might be brought back when it really is time for the end of the world, but I doubt any of us will be alive to see it happen. It’s possible that Akatosh arranged for a ‘Last Dragonborn’ to give his eldest dragon son the equivalent of a spanking, and now Alduin is off doing menial work to repent for his arrogance?”

Brynjolf snickered at that. “Never lose that irreverence, lass.”

Sun’s Dawn, 3rd, 4E 202

I went to the College as myself, using a cave near Winterhold to swap identities after I’d cleared it out. Places like that always seemed to attract more animals or bandits over time. I left it under cover of invisibility and didn’t reveal myself until I got to the gates.

I couldn’t tell anyone there the details because they had no idea who else I was. And while the Thalmor had not tried to foist off another “adviser” on us to spy—they were probably too embarrassed and too sensible to think they could get away with another one after the destruction Ancano caused, and almost caused—it could still come to pass that anyone spending time down in town might spill secrets after too much mead, ale, or wine.

I settled in for the usual paperwork, approving decisions made by the staff, and so on, as well as spending time in the Arcanaeum. I noticed that damn chest again and thought about opening it, but it always worked out that I went in there when Urag was present, and usually something distracted me before I could remember to come back after hours.

I wanted to try to find more information about the odd blue shard of material I had found in that Dwemer ruin—Mzulft I think it was called. I asked Urag and he pointed me to a copy of The Aetherium Wars, by Taron Dreth. One section read:

Modern scholars know Aetherium as a rare, luminescent blue crystal found in some Dwemer ruins. Most consider it little more than a curiosity, as it has proven all but impossible to work with: while it has a strong magical aura, it is alchemically inert, and no known process can enchant, smelt, mold, bind, or break it.

So, Aetherium? The piece I had found looked as though it was part of a larger piece, so perhaps there were more out there? He only mentioned two other things of interest. Arkngthamz, a “research center” in the southern Reach, and an Aetherium Forge that was presumed to be somewhere in Skyrim.

I returned the book and asked Urag about Dwemer ruins, which resulted in a bunch more books to go through. ‘Ugh, they’re all over the place,’ I thought. I’d been to Alftand and would go to Arkngthamz. I had already poked around in every building I could find at Blackreach, Irkngthand, Mzulft, and Mzark. And preferably, I would leave Markarth for last, because I hated constantly getting attacked by the Forsworn.

I continued to mark ruins on my map and finally decided on an order to check them in. Sightless Pit would be first, then I’d return east and take the road toward Windhelm. From there I could check Raldbthar. Then into The Rift to Kagrenzel, a stop in at Riften, then swing west to check out the Ruins of Rkund, Avanchnzel, and the Ruins of Bthalft.

From there I could pass through Whiterun and up north and west, to check out Bthardamz. Nchuand-Zel was in Markarth itself, apparently. Some Altmer researcher named Calcelmo was investigating the place. Reachwind Eyrie wasn’t too far from Karthspire. And of course, Arkngthamz, south of Reachwind Eyrie.

I exhaled heavily and put all the books away—Urag would become hostile if I didn’t—and went to tell Tolfdir about my planned expedition, though I may have neglected to mention precisely what I was looking for.

Sun’s Dawn, 4th, 4E 202

Sightless Pit was a waste of my time so I continued on to Raldbthar. I honestly wasn’t interested in getting into fights just then so I invisibly sneaked past all the bandits inside the first part of the ruin (though I did pause long enough to loot chests and other valuables) and only stayed visible once I was dealing only with automatons. And, as I was probably going to run into more dragons on my expeditionary journey, I swapped back to my disguise before continuing on.

Bizarrely enough there had been a copy of The Aetherium Wars in one of the bandits’ sleeping areas that I tucked away. I eventually came to a very large rectangular room with a number of Falmer huts, chaurus, and a raised drawbridge. After they were dealt with I investigated more closely. Some of the gear mechanisms were blocked by bones, preventing a Dwemer-style button pedestal from functioning, so I got them all cleared and tried again, which dropped the bridge and revealed a Centurion.

I had purchased a new tome while at the College, so I was summoning a Dremora Lord of late, though I rather thought he talked way too much. But, well, it was probably a great thing for him to be on Nirn even temporarily, so I did my best to ignore all the chatter. Beyond the Centurion’s cradle was a door leading to a couple of rooms, one of which held another Aetherium Shard. There was also a device for opening the way to Blackreach, but I saw no reason to open it, instead opting to take the lift up to the surface.

Sun’s Dawn, 5th, 4E 202

Kagrenzel was bizarre. A tiny little place on the surface, but deep inside. It dead-ended in a fairly large room with a circular panel in the center of the floor with pillars around it. There were a bunch of pots scattered over the panel and several dead bodies, and at its center was an odd little thing, rather like the magicka wells at the College, except much smaller and the light orb above was yellow instead of blue.

I kicked the pots out of the way and dragged the bodies off, then returned to that yellow orb. It was crazy, I was certain, but I wanted to know what it was, and what it was doing in a Dwemer ruin. So despite there being dead bandit sorts around, I reached out and touched it. A cage shot up from the groove around the panel and the orb flew off to shriek and circle the cage over and over and over.

And then the floor dropped out and I fell.

I looked down to see an endless-seeming pit with a faint suggestion of water at the bottom. Well, I had done the whole destiny bit, so if I died. . . . I could always unlock Feim if necessary, I supposed.

I landed in a deep well of water and quickly enough rose to the surface. After that it was boring. I eventually came to a waterfall formed by the stream from the well which exited into a cave. Someone in there was mining, so I went invisible and sneaked through the place until I got back outside.

A look back at the mountain behind me to orient on the dragons—I suspected that was Skuldafn back there—told me I had emerged a bit to the north, so I could turn left to head south toward Riften. As it was, I decided to simply follow the edge of the mountain on my way south and eventually stumbled over an odd little place. There was an encampment outside and one of the tents had a journal.

Day 14

I knew I should have volunteered for the excavation earlier. For months, Moric had been going on to the Vigilants about detecting mystical energies deep in the east mountains. Said he’d found some old tomes about the ruins of “Ruunvald,” or something the like, a Nordic chamber thousands of years old. I remember thinking “Yeah, if it’s so old, how come no one’s found it yet? There’s plenty of adventurers wandering around these parts.”

Seemed like most of the other Vigilants agreed, we had more important things to do. But Moric took a team and went digging, and when he started turning up a long buried temple, well, didn’t I feel like a troll in a dung heap.

Soon enough, he was sending back letters to the Hall, begging for as many men as we could send. I didn’t volunteer at first, still seemed like a myth to me. But when word came back that they’d hit the main chamber, I packed up and headed this way to help. Always did want to be a part of history, and better late than never, they say.

Well, “they” didn’t mention that the late comers would be stuck with guard duty. I just sit up here all day, watching for bandits and wolves, neither of which I’ve seen. Mostly I just see diggers coming up for supplies. Gotta say, I been seeing them a lot less regular, now that I think about it...

Day 19

All right, it’s been 3 days since anyone’s come up. The last one to emerge was Apa, and he just walked around a bit with a weird vacant look in his eyes. Told Florentius and me to come down as soon as we had the chance, then trudged back in.

Something ain’t right, and I aim to find out what...

– Volk

Right. Mystery ahead! I grabbed a key that was also in the tent and went inside. There were a whole lot of Vigilants in there, mining, digging, and attacking me the second I was spotted. I found books along the way, Discovering Ruunvald, volumes I-IV, but it was the third one which started mentioning a “Minorne” which seemed to be taking over the author’s every thought.

I entered into a new section of the ruins, a temple, perhaps, and found a book titled Minorne by the same author, and it was more or less evident that the poor bastard had been completely thralled. In fact, the only person left in the entire place who hadn’t been was some fellow in a cage praying to Arkay. Or speaking to him. I wasn’t quite sure on that point.

I took care of Minorne, who turned out to be just another Altmer mage gone mad, and picked the lock on the cage to release the prisoner.

“I knew you had it in you!” he said to me. “Arkay wasn’t so sure. Between you and me, I think he didn’t expect you to make it. But not me! I knew it all along!”

I nodded. I mean, I’d seen evidence enough that the gods were real, so this fellow. . . . Sure. He asked how he could repay me and I confess I blinked in confusion. “Ah, no need,” I said. “I just wandered in here on a whim. You go do whatever it is you do.” Then I turned away and went through a door at the back of the room to find the mage’s quarters. I looted it, giving the copy of The Aetherium Wars I saw a deeply suspicious look, then took the next door to eventually end up back outside.

Sun’s Dawn, 6th, 4E 202

Riften. Such a wretched hive of scum and villainy. I wondered if there were towns like this one in other provinces. And if they were located in such lovely territory. I spent some time in town, listening to guards praise me to the skies for having “won” them The Rift, and one who told me I was crazy to have trapped and released a dragon. I took him aside and explained why as succinctly as possible and assumed he would spread the word.

I also ran into an Argonian who was moaning about her job at the fishery. Turned out she had a little skooma addiction problem. She asked me for a healing potion to help her in exchange for a promise to never use skooma again, so I gave her one. It’s not like I used the things myself. At the time I thought little of the incident and went on my way. I had never actually investigated the door near Balimund's smithy so I went through that and found myself on the docks.

There, another Argonian caught my attention. She was mumbling crazily to herself and when I got too close she turned to me and said, “You. You must take the Lexicon. Free me of my burden.”

“Eh?” ‘Lexicon? Like that thing Septimus gave me to inscribe an Elder Scroll on?’

“The memories. I cannot stand them. You must take them away, return them to Avanchnzel. You must take the Lexicon from me. Please . . . take it now.”

Well, I had planned to go there anyway, so why not? I nodded and she handed me a familiar-looking item.

“You must bring it to Avanchnzel, in the west. Return it to them. It must go back.”

Right. I decided that the docks were much too exciting and returned to the city. When I saw Brynjolf nosing around I bought some mushrooms from Brand-Shei in the marketplace and left town by the main gates.

Sun’s Dawn, 7th, 4E 202

On my way to the Ruins of Rkund I passed a tower and decided to go inside, just in time to see a woman kill another. The woman, Illia, turned to me seconds later and immediately started trying to explain. Her mother, Silvia, was going to conduct a ritual to become a hagraven and had tasked her daughter with finding a human sacrifice—an innocent one—for use in the ritual. Then she asked me for help in stopping her mother. It felt a bit like the situation with Erandur, but with less Daedric involvement, or even Paarthurnax in some ways. In any case, I wasn’t going to judge, so I agreed to help; and soon enough Silvia was dead.

After that I continued on the Rkund, but there was nothing much to the place, just a wispmother and some dead hags. I returned to the road and continued west to get to Avanchnzel and was treated, inside, to more spirits, this time of a red hue instead of the blue from Labyrinthian. Thieves of a sort, after the knowledge of the Dwemer, and all of them died but one: From-Deepest-Fathoms. I returned the lexicon to its pedestal and departed, having not found any Aetherium Shards within.

The ruins of Bthalft was a bandit camp. There was something very interesting there (aside from plenty of blood for potions), but nothing I could use at the time. I would keep the place in mind, though. It was very late by that point, but I was close to Ivarstead, where I ended up spending the night.

Sun’s Dawn, 8th, 4E 202

On my way north I made it a point to find Farkas in Whiterun (though I admit I did sneak into Elysium long enough to drop some things off first) after a quick visit to Jarl Balgruuf and give him a very brief assurance that Kodlak was safe in the Hall of Valor in Sovngarde. He rushed off to tell his fellow Companions and I left the city to head north.

Sun’s Dawn, 9th, 4E 202

On my way to Bthardamz I ran into a couple of children, which I found strange given that Karthwasten was a fair distance and Markarth even more so. “Hey there,” one of them said. “Check out what my friend and I found. I can sell some of it if you want!”

Out of curiosity I asked to see what he had and was shown a variety of Dwemer items. I wasn’t interested in any of it, but I was interested in where he’d obtained them. It seemed unlikely it had been Bthardamz, but maybe the child and his friend had so little sense as to be actively suicidal?

“I can mark the location down for you on your map if you want,” he said, “for a small fee.”

I rolled my eyes. Precocious little beasts. I handed each of them five septims and showed the chatty one my map. He made a quick mark on it and I checked to see it was north of Bthardamz and a little bit west. “Extortionists,” I muttered, and went on.

Bthardamz turned out to be where all those Afflicted had been coming from, so I did an about-face and went to the place the child had marked instead. If I couldn’t find all the pieces I would have to return, but for now I was leaving the place alone. The unknown place was very close to the border with High Rock and might well have been a crossing point some time in the past. As it was, I found another shard there, which brought me up to three.

I didn’t much care for the idea of entering Markarth just yet, so I would go to Reachwind Eyrie and Arkngthamz first, and only enter Markarth if I had to. I startled some Legionnaires by sprinting through their camp on the way south, disdaining the road in favor of a more timely route.

The Eyrie turned out to be a small tower that was almost directly in line with Sky Haven Temple. Maybe at some point I would go there again, but not now, and not for some time. But there was very little in the place to speak of so I continued on to Arkngthamz, giving wide berth to an Orsimer settlement along the way.

As I drew closer the ground started shaking every so often and I kept looking around to see if a dragon had landed. The ruin itself looked like any other Dwemer ruin. I went inside and staggered a little when another quake hit.

“Please, turn back . . . before it’s too late,” sounded a female voice.

I looked around and saw no one. A spirit? I had never been all that scared of them, even when they were trying to kill me. Now, should the ceiling fall in and prevent me from going deeper? Different story. I kept going and the tilted hallway opened up into a huge area bisected by a gorge, partly ruins and partly a cave. As I looked around another quake hit and one of the huge pillars crumbled and fell down into the gorge.

“Are you here for the treasure?” that same voice asked.

I turned toward where it originated from and saw a ghost of what looked to be a Nord female. It’s always harder to tell when they’re in spirit form.

“And you are?”

“The name’s Katria. I am—was—an adventurer. Raided ruins like this for nigh on twenty years. I was on the trail of something big. It led me here, and . . . I didn’t make it.”

Another quake hit, with chunks of stone falling down into the gorge.

“That name sounds familiar,” I said thoughtfully.

“Yes. If you’ve read The Aetherium Wars. That was my theory, you know. My research. My life’s work. All of it, lost! Stolen by my own damn apprentice! That’s how I ended up here. I can’t rest. Not until I find the Forge, until I can prove that it was my discovery. Mine, not his!”

Right. I had a very pissed off spirit on my hands.

“I died here. You should turn back, unless you want to end up like me.”

“I’ve been through a lot,” I said simply.

She sighed. “I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to convince you. Well, I can come along if you like, give you a hand. I made it pretty far before I died.”

I saw no reason to say no, so I nodded. She pointed off to the side and said, “Down that fallen pillar and then up to that opening over there.”

At the base of the pillar was a small bit of land in a narrow column of rock and soil. It had probably been larger at one point, right after the ground had split? Or maybe there had always been such a sharp separation between sides of the cavern. Either way, the river down below had likely whittled away at it over time.

Katria’s body was there, sprawled face up.

“You should take my journal. It has a lot of information in it,” she suggested.

It was the only thing I took. It held her notes, sketches, possible puzzle solutions. . . . On the way up the other side, up another pillar, I saw a few things under the metal grating being used as the floor of the corridor and was forced to use Telekinesis to get them. We were attacked in the hall by automatons and at the end was a large room almost entirely submerged in water. But, there was a wide pipe I could walk on to get higher and get around to another hallway.

And then we were back in a cavern setting, with Falmer. Every so often another quake would hit, occasionally staggering one of the Falmer right over the edge of a narrow land bridge, and it always amused me to see it happen. Katria was a decent companion and she preferred using a bow, which meant she was unlikely to get in the way of my magic.

The route we were taking just kept circling around, passing over the gorge, and I would occasionally catch glimpses of her corpse. We eventually came to a less Falmer-infested area and Katria gasped and surged forward. “My bow! See? It’s there, at the end of that tree.”

Yes, the fallen tree that had most of it out over the open expanse of air. Still, it was obviously important to her, even if she could only use her ghostly version of it, so I waited until after a quake had happened to lightly scamper out to the end and retrieve it, then get back to solid ground.

“I call it Zephyr. Please, take good care of it.”

“I will,” I assured her. Good care meant being on display, but at least there it would not be damaged, dropped into a river, used by Falmer. . . .

“It’s not much farther,” she said, pointing up an earthen ramp.

And it wasn’t. We came out into an almost glade-like area fronting a ruin built into the cavern wall, with squared-off arches lining the path that switchbacked down. The ground was absolutely littered with arrows, and there were more than a few corpses, one of which was up against a tree with one of the Dwemer bolts through its chest, the ones used in the heavy, stationary ballista.

The building itself had those metal grate doors, one set to either side of the center. Up above was a series of kinetic resonators, as Katria called them. Her journal had mentioned the combinations she had tried—the ones that worked and the ones that failed.

“You know what this is?” she said. “It’s a lock. A ‘Tonal Lock’. Simple, and very, very deadly. See the resonators up there? Strike them in the right order, and the doors should open. Get it wrong, and . . . well. You’ve seen what happened when I tried it.”

“Any advice?”

“Hmm. Well, you can pick up where I left off. My notes should still be in my journal. Beyond that . . . well, maybe one of our predecessors still has a clue.”

Which meant at least one of them had come after her death. I rifled through the bodies and found a scrap of parchment on one of them with a crude representation of the tonal lock. Combined with Katria’s journal it gave me a decent idea of how to go on. I knew the positions of the first three resonators to hit, so I decided to go with symmetry.

Rather than pick up a bunch of arrows from the ground I conjured a bound bow and carefully took aim at the lower left resonator, and released. Then the lower right. Upper left. Upper right. Lower middle. Both sets of doors swung open and Katria hastened off. I released the bow and followed her, ending up in a small room back behind the center. It was odd, actually, that such a large façade had so little behind it.

And there was an Aetherium Shard.

“Let me see it,” Katria said excitedly. “Huh. . . . What? What is this? Look, on the edge here. This has been cut, precisely cut. If you had another piece, about the same size, it would . . . it would snap right in. I saw a drawing of this once. This shard . . . it’s . . . it’s part of a key. A key made of pure Aetherium! The key to the Forge! We have to find the other pieces, of course. There should be, hmm, three more. One for each of the four cities that worked on the Forge. I had a map, in my journal. That’s where we should start.”

“I have the other three pieces already,” I pointed out. “I found one at Mzulft and did some research, then I started systematically checking every Dwemer ruin I hadn’t yet been in.”

Katria looked nonplussed. “We still have to find the Forge itself. I had a lead on that, too.”

I nodded. “If the map in your journal is correct, I think I know where it is. Bthalft. There’s a bandit camp there right now, but I saw a very strange device.”

“Oh?” She had that look on her face again. “For the first time in a long while, I think I—we—may actually be able to do this. And . . . and I owe it all to you. Thank you.”

“You know the place I’m talking about?” When she nodded I said, “I’ll meet you there. I think I want a little extra help just in case. I imagine the Forge will be well guarded.”

“Okay,” she said, and faded out.

Sun’s Dawn, 10th, 4E 202

I spent a little time in Riften, considering, and decided that in the morning I would hire Marcurio. He was there, after all, and a mage, which meant he probably wouldn’t get in the way of my spells or Katria’s arrows. I really wondered if anyone ever hired Marcurio, as he always seemed to be there whenever I was in town, but if not, he must have plenty of money from one source or another to be able to afford sitting in a tavern most days.

Sun’s Dawn, 11th, 4E 202

Marcurio acted as though it had just been a matter of time. The man had seen me all of, what, once? As the Dragonborn, anyway. He fairly dripped arrogance, and I realized if he died between right then and when I was done wanting the extra help I wouldn’t much care. I paid him his fee and headed to the Ruins of Bthalft.

‘Oh gods, does the man never stop bragging?’ I thought.

We finally arrived, and as I stepped up to the device Katria appeared, which startled Marcurio. I repressed a snigger.

“You made it!” she said. “Look at the device—the gear in the center is just about the right size. Try putting the shards in and . . . we’ll see what happens.”

So I did, carefully setting each one into place. The bit on top that looked somewhat like a Centurion’s core spun around and I could see that the individual Aetherium pieces had melded into one. But aside from that, nothing else happened.

Katria made a thoughtful noise and suggested, “Try taking it back out?”

I saw no reason to disagree and retrieved the . . . crest? The ground began to shake and Katria backed away quickly, urging me to do the same, which I did. Marcurio, however, was not so quick, and was launched into the air when the entire thing suddenly shot up to reveal a Dwemer lift.

I repressed another snigger of amusement when I saw Marcurio over in some bushes, groaning from a combination of pain and embarrassment. He got up and brushed off his robes, healed himself, and strode over as if nothing had happened. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had bits of vegetation in his hair. Or maybe I just wanted to be able to look at him on occasion, see how mussed he was, and have to repress my amusement a few more times.

“Let’s go!” Katria cried.

The ride itself went on for a very long time, making me wonder just how damn deep the Forge was.

“No one’s been down here for thousands of years,” Katria said. “I’d say the place is about four thousand years old.”

I wondered how she came to that conclusion because obviously I had not done enough research, but I didn’t care enough to bother asking. I would annoy Urag later on, perhaps. The place was creepy in a way. There were no Falmer whatsoever, for one thing, which was just plain bizarre at that point for anything Dwemer.

“Had they placed their faith in magic instead of machinery,” Marcurio said snottily, “the Dwemer might still be around.”

Katria turned to stare at him and said, “You have grass in your hair.”

I chortled as Marcurio immediately reached up to brush his hands through his hair repeatedly.

We came to more of those land bridges, except these were in near complete darkness, though braziers lit themselves when we got close enough to them. In a way they made it even more difficult to see because they mucked up the adjustment of one’s eyes between the too bright light and the remaining inky darkness. Still, when we got to the end of the second land bridge we were in a much more reliably lighted area, and it was a more proper Dwemer structure.

Marcurio kept twitching, probably because of the sphere guardians on display at the base of several sets of stairs leading up to a structure against the cavern wall. “I would find the Dwemer mechanical guardians fascinating if they didn’t try to kill everything on sight,” he commented.

To either side were two smaller buildings, but they were nothing special, I realized, once we got up there. At the center of that level was a dead tree that had somehow escaped decaying away; it was almost like stone itself.

Katria examined the structure in front and said, “Door’s shut tight. I bet those resonators would open it, though.”

Before I dealt with those I poked around a little, finding a fissure in the cavern wall to our right, but that just led to a sheer drop off. There was no indication of which order to hit the resonators in so I just tried left, then right, and the door swung open. Beyond it was a tunnel that felt endless, and more lights that came on as we got near them.

“The air here . . . it feels different,” Katria commented. “Almost like. . . .”

Nothing I would ever know because she never finished the thought. We finally came to a door and went through it. A large room, of sorts, but more like a half-finished building created in yet another cavern, except this one had a lake of lava taking up the back half. Central was some sort of device, presumably the Forge, with a stream of that same lava pouring down from a pipe behind the usual Dwemer head (the same or very similar to the ones on the Centurions) and into a large cylindrical container.

Taking up most of the floor was metal grating allowing the lava to show through, but it was edged with a decent amount of stone, and there were alcoves and steps leading up to elevated platforms. There was also a fair amount of steam jetting up from below, making it difficult to see properly. Marcurio pointed out that there were large red valves on the elevated platforms and suggested we use them to see what happened. I nodded and pointed him right while I went left, and together we turned them, succeeding in shutting off the steam.

Of course, then numerous spiders and sphere guardians dropped out of conveyance tubes, and a prodigious Centurion walked up out of the lava, which necessitated a lengthy fight, during which we were forced to turn off the steam again. It didn’t so much hurt me as Marcurio, which told me he wasn’t wearing the proper enchantments. Very odd for a mage, to my mind.

Once all the automatons were broken Katria rushed up to me and gushed, “I almost can’t believe it. We did it! We actually did it! There’s only one thing left to do. We have to prove this actually works. That this is the real Aetherium Forge.”

I nodded, but before I approached the device, I investigated the room properly and looted the place to the bedrock. Only then did I go to the forge. Unfortunately, though I could more or less see how the thing functioned—because it wasn’t completely dissimilar to a normal forge—I wasn’t sure how to go on.

Katria let out a long, wavering sigh. “There isn’t any Aetherium here, is there? Damn it! Wait! Yes, yes there is. The shards we collected—they’re pure Aetherium, remember? It’s not much, but it should do. With them, the materials in this room, we should have everything we need.”

There was a panel on the left-hand side with three glyphs, a diadem, a shield, and a staff, and each one had smaller glyphs associated with them. I never used staffs, or shields, so I decided to make the diadem. It didn’t matter in the end, really. I followed the recipe and the forge spit back out a simply lovely creation, with a glimmering disc of Aetherium edged in what looked like a cog at the center.

“And with that, it’s done,” Katria said solemnly. “No one could possibly deny what we’ve found now.” As I turned around I could see she was starting to fade away. I wondered if her death counted as good enough to get into Sovngarde. “For me? I’ve done what I set out to do. But you . . . take that out into the world. And if anyone asks, tell them what we discovered. Together. And now . . . I think I can rest. Farewell, my friend, wherever your travels take you.” Just before she vanished completely she went down on one knee in a gesture of respect.

And then Marcurio opened his mouth. “I wonder what keeps these machines working so long after their masters disappeared.”

I sighed softly and turned to leave, tucking the diadem away.

Sun’s Dawn, 12th, 4E 202

It was fun to tease Marcurio and get him all riled up; he never seemed to catch on to what I was doing. I knew it would pall rather quickly, but I kept him around for the time being and dragged him around the countryside a bit aimlessly. When we ran into a dragon, though, I eyed him and said, “This is a bit beyond your fee. If you want to return to Riften, that’s fine.”

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I have to try my skill against one!”

So we did. And then we ran into a second dragon. After that one was dealt with he looked a bit put out. “Does this happen often?” he asked.

“They seem to follow me around, actually,” I said, stretching the truth a bit. “The day I hired you was apparently an exception.”

“Oh. That must be difficult if you’re traveling alone.”

“No,” I said with a shake of my head. “Not really.”

He was sweaty and disheveled and I could tell he was seriously considering going back to Riften, so I made the decision for him and headed there myself. At the Bee and Barb I dismissed him, giving him a tip of one dragon scale and one dragon bone, then hastened off before he could say anything.