Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 33

01062015-02062015

10.2

Solstheim

The Fate of the Skaal
Rain’s Hand, 28th, 4E 202

“You see that green light?” Frea asked once we were outside. “That comes from the Wind Stone, where my people work against their will. They must be freed soon.” She started walking again, saying, “The village is just ahead. Storn has used his magic to raise a barrier around it, protecting the few of us left. That the barrier is still there is a good sign.”

I followed her and we came to her village. There was a group of three kneeling in front of one of the buildings, a bright blue-white light rising up from the center of the rough triangle they made.

“Father! I have returned! There is yet hope!”

The old man looked up slightly. “Frea! What news do you bring? Is there a way to free our people?”

“No, but I have brought someone who has seen things. . . . She has confirmed that Miraak is the one behind the suffering of our people.”

“I feared that would be so,” he replied.

“But how is that possible?” she asked. “After all this time. . . .”

Storn lifted his head a little higher and said, “I fear there is too much we do not yet know.”

She sighed. “Please, tell Storn what has happened.”

I found it a bit strange that she used her father’s name so much, but who was I to judge?

“So, you have seen things, yes?” he said to me. “My magic grows weak, and so does the barrier around our village. Time is short. Tell me what you know.”

“I have seen Miraak,” I said as Frea joined the others in kneeling. “I read a book in his temple, and went somewhere else. He was there, in that strange place, with strange creatures, and flew off on a dragon.”

“The legends speak of that place. Terrible battles fought at the temple. The dragons burning it to the ground in rage. They also speak of something worse than dragons buried within. Difficult to imagine, but if true. . . . It means that what I feared has come to pass. Miraak was never truly gone, and now has returned. If you could go to this place and see him. . . . Are you like Miraak? Are you Dragonborn?”

“I am indeed Dragonborn,” I verified.

“Then perhaps you are connected with him. The old tales say that he, too, was Dragonborn.”

“What do you think it means that we are?”

“I am unsure,” he admitted. “It may mean that you could save us, or it may mean that you could bring about our destruction.”

Which told me absolutely nothing.

“But our time here is running out. The few of us left free of control cannot protect ourselves for much longer. You must go to Saering’s Watch. Learn there the Word that Miraak learned long ago, and use that knowledge on the Wind Stone. You may be able to break the hold on our people there, and free them from control. All-Maker shelter you.”

I got rough directions from him and walked away. I felt extremely divided on the whole issue. It meant dealing with Hermaeus Mora in some fashion! But I would, at the very least, go to Saering’s Watch, learn the Word, and help free his people from Miraak’s control, and those of Raven Rock.

Even though it was after midnight I started off. West to the Wind Stone we passed on the way in, then west and a bit north. I was attacked by a crazed Nord on the way. I drained him because I was feeling irritable.

When I saw the the place ahead I backtracked a little and jogged up the nearby rock formations leading to the mountain that backed the place so I could come at it from above. There was no telling what was in there, after all, and most hostiles didn’t look up.

‘Oh look. Draugr and a dragon.’ I planted a Dremora Lord into the party and dropped down to inspect the wall: Gol—Earth. And, while I arced lightning at the dragon on my way down the steps, the damn thing was a coward. It fled while I was busy fighting a shouty draugr. Once the place was cleared up I took off in pursuit, using Aura Whisper to give me an idea where it went beyond “over that way”.

Stumbled over a bunch of werebears, but I went invisible and kept looking. Unfortunately, the dragon eluded me, which just pissed me off. I probably should have just used Dragonrend on it to make sure it stayed grounded, but. . . .

That being the case, I delved for the meaning of the Word and backtracked to the Wind Stone, then Shouted at the central, green-glowing pillar. The glow vanished and the stonework being constructed shattered into dust, but Miraak obviously was on guard for tampering, because some nightmare creature came out of the water. Not like the one I saw via the Black Book, but something just as disgusting—and as prone to tentacles.

The townsfolk were a little too dazed still to help, but I took the, uh, lurker down without too much trouble. The people there thanked me and started to file off toward Skaal Village. They could let Storn know about the change, just by walking into sight.

On my way to Raven Rock I stumbled over another one, and killed the cultist playing guard. Shouted that stone free, too. The workers there were funny little creatures—maybe those Rieklings Glover had mentioned? The lurker that rose up was hilariously simple to kill, so perhaps they were not all alike.

I saw and noted a Dwemer ruin, but had no intention of poking around. Maybe some other day. There was a tent outside on the same level as the surrounding terrain, a fairly large one, with a dead Dunmer inside. I expected he had been investigating the ruin, but I saw no obvious explanation for his state of not living.

‘What in Oblivion!?’ I had spied an ore vein and veered that way—I had a problem, yes—and a strange glowing spider hatched out of an egg or something, skittered over to me, and exploded. ‘What is wrong with this island?’

Finally got to that bandit camp again. They died. Those strange ore veins produced some odd stone, I didn’t know what. Maybe a smith would know, if I remembered to ask. I freed the Earth Stone, and promptly got back on a ship to Skyrim.

As soon as I hit land and was a decent distance from Windhelm I changed back to my proper appearance and gear, and started the trek to Riften, sprinting quite a lot. I wanted to speak to Brynjolf. And if that didn’t help, Serana.

And then I saw something that made me laugh myself silly. A Dark Brotherhood assassin, Dunmer, was charging up on his mission to end my life. I made a meal of him, patted him fondly on his rapidly cooling cheek, and kept going. I relaxed quite a bit after that. Familiar events, familiar sights and plants, and delicious ore veins just begging me to plunder them.

Brynjolf wasn’t in the marketplace so I went down to the Ragged Flagon. I found him at one of the tables and took a seat. We only chatted lightly, but the mushroom I was nibbling on got the message across nicely. On my way to the house I heard that sound and stopped cold. There was a dragon up ahead and it was awfully close to the city.

I listened carefully, but could hear no voices, nor the sounds of bears or cats or wolves. I decided it was probably tussling with some frostbite spiders and took a slightly longer way to get to the house. It was a beautiful day in The Rift so I sat on the porch while I waited. At one point I thought I could see him coming, but it was just a random hunter and her dog. It was obvious to me that she couldn’t see the house, which was a fine thing indeed.

He showed up a couple of hours later and we went inside, and into the mushroom. “So, lass, what’s up? You seemed troubled.”

“You know me too well,” I said with a sigh. So I told him about my latest adventures, and why I was so, well, scared.

“I’m not sure what to say.” He took a long drink from his mead and shook his head. “I can’t even say anything about you bringing someone along, because it sounds as if that wouldn’t help.”

“It wouldn’t. True, I wasn’t there for very long, but there was nothing I couldn’t handle by myself. And I doubt I could pull a companion in with me. Besides, most people would balk at having to go to a Plane of Oblivion. Besides, the only person the Dragonborn dragged around was Marcurio. There’s Serana, but she’s known for associating with me, not a damn Nord hero. It’s just—I already walked away from him once. I resisted temptation. I’ve seen what he does with his tools. What happens to me if I go in there? Does that give him a chance to get his hooks into me?”

“Tentacles, you mean,” he said, smirking.

I rolled my eyes and pelted him with a grape.

“He’s got a lot of suckers for the suckers out there,” he added.

I groaned and hid my face in my hands. “That was horrible. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Come on, lass. Let’s get you to bed. You can sleep on it. Think about it some more in the morning.”

“Oh, all right.”

Rain’s Hand, 29th, 4E 202

I woke up, and remembered. I had dreamed. Vampires don’t dream. Never. That’s just the way it was. A vampire might sleep badly, restlessly, as if, had they been able to, they’d had a bad dream or nightmare, but they wouldn’t actually dream. Dawnstar before Erandur and I fixed things would very likely have been very uncomfortable, but even for that I wouldn’t have expected to dream.

But I had dreamed. Assuming I wasn’t completely around the bend, Akatosh had spoken to me in that dream. It was all fuzzy around the edges, but the center was in sharp relief, almost painfully so. I had been assured that my soul was safe from Hermaeus Mora through the agency of Bormahu. And that yes, I should go back and deal with the issue. I looked up at the ceiling of my bedroom unhappily, but still got out of bed and got ready. I would go let Brynjolf know.

It was early enough that the market wasn’t open, so I went down to the Ragged Flagon. Brynjolf was already awake, so I took a seat at his table. “I had a dream,” I whispered, and explained briefly. He looked somewhere between incredulous, uneasy, and resigned. Before I left I said, “And tell Delvin to write his brother a damn letter!”

“Well. . . . I guess nothing bad happened the last time,” Captain Gjalund said when I approached him for passage back to Solstheim. “Fine, we’ll sail as soon as I’m paid.”

Rain’s Hand, 30th, 4E 202

We docked at some time after midnight so I headed for the inn, rented a room again, and slept. I shouldn’t have to fear that I’d be co-opted again, and I wasn’t. I neither dreamed nor was mind-controlled away to work on the Earth Stone. It was time to go check Skaal Village.

On my way out I heard that mercenary—Teldryn, I think his name was—telling someone, “Vampires are wretched beings. Feeding off of others the way they do . . . it’s disgusting.”

‘Well, I know who I won’t ever be hiring,’ I thought, then quit the building.

Storn greeted me with, “The air is different. We are safe, which means you have succeeded.”

‘Well, yeah,’ I thought. ‘All your people are back wandering around the village. That would have been a huge clue.’ “Yes, your people are free,” I replied, just in case he hadn’t, you know, noticed.

“You have proven yourself an ally to the Skaal, and so the Skaal shall be allies with you.”

‘All right.’ “And now?”

“If you have released the Wind Stone and broken the hold on my people, perhaps you can do the same for the rest of Solstheim,” he said as Frea got up from the bench they were seated on and wandered off. “I doubt it will fully stop whatever Miraak is doing, but it may slow his progress.”

“My goal is to stop Miraak.”

“I cannot help with that. None here can. You will need the knowledge Miraak himself learned. You will need to learn more about this Black Book. Miraak had this, you said? This does not look like something of the Dragon Cult. It is a dark thing, unnatural. I would have nothing to do with it. But the Dark Elf wizard, Neloth. . . . He came to us some time ago, asking about Black Books. I believe he knows a great deal about them. Perhaps too much. Seek him out to the south. Be cautious, Dragonborn. There is something else at work here.”

Cleansing the Stones; The Path of Knowledge
Rain’s Hand, 30th, 4E 202

“Neloth is searching for them,” he added almost as an afterthought. “In fact, he has already found one. He showed it to me when he came here. It was very like the one you found in Miraak’s temple. A thing of dark magic, not of the All-Maker.”

I got directions to the two stones I had yet to cleanse. I sincerely doubted the one at Miraak’s Temple could be fixed, not when it sat at the heart of his domain. The Water Stone was on the west coast, north of the Earth Stone. The Sun Stone was just north of where Neloth could be found, in the southeast area of the island. So, I’d head to the Water Stone first, then Sun, then Neloth.

On the way I was attacked by Rieklings, at some Dwemer ruin. One of them was riding a boar, which I thought was terribly cute, except when the thing tried to gore me with its tusks. At the Water Stone a cultist was on guard, and since my hunger was almost unbearable at that point I drained him. I could only hope that the crazy infecting these people (possibly via their gear) would not be in their blood.

The lurker that emerged when I Shouted at the stone was a lot tougher than the last one, and added on to that was a dragon attacking. I took out the lurker and used Dragonrend on the unexpected guest. It landed some distance away so I had to sprint and leap like a mad rabbit to get to it. I killed it, of course, but then Miraak showed up in some glowy white portal of sorts.

“Do you ever wonder if it hurts?” he asked as he absorbed the dragon’s soul before I could. “To have one’s soul ripped out like that? One step closer to my return.” Then he vanished into that glowy white whatever.

Bastard thief! I didn’t care that there were thieves out there, so long as they didn’t fucking steal from me! He would pay for that. I kicked rocks on the way toward the Sun Stone, but then had the good fortune to run across a group of bandits. “Thank you kindly for your donation,” I told them before obliterating and draining them.

Did you know that burnt spriggans like to hang around lava pools and stare at them longingly even as the sheer heat involved crisped their “flesh”?

‘Hang on,’ I thought, casting around for the source of the voice I heard. ‘Do I hear the dulcet tones of a reaver? Yes! Time for a snack.’ And then I freed the Sun Stone. Another cultist was there on guard, but he was no trouble.

I just headed toward the prodigious mushroom to the south and stumbled over two people outside, a male and a female Dunmer. “Why are you out here?” the woman asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the tower assisting Master Neloth?”

“Why won’t this summoning work?” the man muttered, pouring over a book in his hands. Then he looked back over his shoulder at her and said, “If you must know, I am trying to get this Ash Guardian spell to work. Now let me concentrate. Besides, shouldn’t you be worrying about the damage to the tower?”

And then I got bored and zoned out until they were done talking. There were at least three mushrooms there, maybe four, big enough to house someone, so I wanted to know which one to enter. I was finally able to ask her and get on my way, but as I jogged up the ramp to the correct mushroom I heard the man mutter, “Tart bones? That doesn’t even make sense. I’ll just ignore that part.”

‘Gods above. That boy is a disaster waiting to happen.’ Inside was a deep shaft of—vines? The floor glowed and I felt like I was floating, standing there at the edge of the light. When I stepped into it fully I floated upward and landed on a little dock, I guess you could call it.

Neloth spotted me straight away. “You again. Didn’t I see you in Raven Rock?”

“I was told you know where to find Black Books.”

“You refer to the tomes of esoteric knowledge that old Hermaeus Mora has scattered throughout the world? Is this somehow connected to your search for Miraak.”

‘Ooo, good memory.’ “I found a Black Book—two actually—but apparently I need to find more.”

“Found one? Yes, and you read it, too, didn’t you? Don’t try to deny it, you’ve got the look. I can see it now.”

‘What is with you people on this island? I’m wearing a mask! All you see is my eyes and that I’m short!’ I didn’t bother to point out that I read only one of them, and that I was being prodded on by Akatosh.

“Dangerous knowledge is still knowledge and therefore useful. Usually turns out to be the most useful, in my experience.”

“I need to know what Miraak knows if I’m to have a chance at stopping him.”

He fiddled with his beard. “Now that is a dangerous path indeed. Hermaeus Mora gives nothing away for free. You may end up like Miraak, of course. Two power-mad Dragonborn. It could be very interesting.”

‘Not if I can help it,’ I thought. ‘Just imagine. Miraak going the way of Reman Cyrodiil or Tiber Septim, with the added advantage of mind-controlling the populace. Blech.’ “Do you know where I can find another Black Book?” I asked, pushing the issue again.

“Oh yes. They’re not hard to locate once you know how to look for them. I have one here that I’ve been using to locate more. I haven’t been idle while this fascinating madness engulfed Solstheim. But my book isn’t what you’re looking for. I’m quite sure it is unconnected with this Miraak. But I do know where to find a Black Book that can help you.”

I wondered how he knew which one would work. I expected they all took a person to Apocrypha, so why—whatever. “All right. Where is it?”

“I haven’t been able to get it, though,” he said, as if I hadn’t even spoken. “But maybe together we can unlock the secrets the Dwemer left behind. Forbidden knowledge was something of a specialty of theirs, eh? You don’t think they would just leave it alone, do you?”

‘I can’t say that I’ve bothered to think about it? And they managed to tonally whisk themselves out of existence.’

“It seems the ancient Dwemer discovered this book and took it to study. I found their ‘reading room’ in the ruins of Nchardak. The book is there, but it’s sealed in a protective case which I wasn’t able to open. But perhaps the two of us together will be able to. To Nchardak, then. Follow me.”

On the way to the ruin—it was north-ish along the coast from Tel Mithryn—Neloth babbled at me, “The Dwemer certainly knew how to build for the ages. These towers have outlasted their creators by millennia. The book is housed inside that dome. I’ll need to unlock the door for us. Let’s get on with it.”

‘Dome? What dome? I can’t even see the ruin from here.’

The outside was infested with bandits; there were always bandits. In front of the main doors, just off to the side, was something Neloth called a “control pedestal”. It reminded me of the pedestals that seated lexicons, actually, but Neloth had something he called a “control cube” that would make the thing function to open the doors.

Second Seed, 1st, 4E 202

“You can see the book right here,” he said, striding toward a clear section of the floor. It was ringed with that Dwemer alloy, then stone, alloy, stone, alloy. . . . In the first stone ring were four smaller, convex circles, equidistant around the center. Each was ringed with a thin band of alloy, but the center was a greenish material, carved with a symbol I didn’t recognize. Up above was a crystal, held in place, and at the far end of the room was one of those Dwemer-style button pedestals. Doors led off to the right, but they were enclosed with some kind of cover. I suspected the pedestal next to it would cause that cover to move out of the way.

“So tantalizingly close. . . . But trust me, no magic will open that. I’d have had the book already if it could. No, we’ll have to do this the hard way. If we can restore the steam supply to this room, I’m certain I can open it. As you’ll see, that’s easier said than done. This way to the boilers.”

I was just impressed that the Dwemer could make clear glass, or something similar. All the glass I had seen in my life was thick, bubbled, and next to impossible to see out of. But it let in light, and that was all that mattered.

We went down on a lift and Neloth rabbited on some more about things that really didn’t matter to me. I paid enough attention to know that we needed four additional control cubes and we were going to find and fetch them. Also that the two pedestals on the top level of the boiler room controlled the level of water in the room, and four boilers down a ramp would power the contraption upstairs.

It was a Dwemer ruin—not much to say there, really. Spiders, Centurions, sphere guardians, control pedestals, “clever” puzzles, and so on. A fair amount of swimming because of the flooding. I did find one interesting thing, a very strange gem, but I had no idea what it was so I tucked it away safely.

After a long and pointlessly chatty journey we made it back to the boiler room. One cube went into a pedestal on the top level, the other four into the boiler pedestals, to turn them on. After we fought a Centurion who came out to scold us for mucking about with things, we retreated back up the lift.

“Yes, it worked!” he cried happily. “The steam is flowing. Now it should be as simple as. . . .”

I waited, but he just stood there, staring at the button pedestal. I heaved a sigh and reached over, and pushed it. Beams of light appeared, going from each of the four discs to the crystal up above. The “glass” slid out of the way and the section underneath rose. There sat the book innocently on its pedestal.

“At last. I hope it was worth it. Please . . . be my guest. You deserve the first look. Besides, it could be very dangerous. These books are known to drive many people insane. Don’t worry, I’ll take careful notes of what happens to you.”

‘And that’s one person I’m not inclined to do any experiments for.’ The book, when I opened it, was shown to be titled Epistolary Acumen. The same thing happened as last time. Bands of glowing green symbols that morphed into tentacles, entrapping me.

The Gardener of Men
Second Seed, 1st, 4E 202

As I started to fade I heard him say, “Oh good. Be sure to say hello to Hermaeus Mora for me, if you see him.”

‘I don’t think so, friend. You want to say hello you can read a book for yourself.’

Hermaeus Mora’s avatar showed up when I got my bearings. “So, another seeker after knowledge enters my realm. This is Apocrypha, where all knowledge is hoarded. Perhaps you will prove clever enough to uncover the secrets hidden here. If so, welcome. Perhaps you are a fool or a coward. If so, you are in peril. Read your book again and escape before Apocrypha claims you forever.”

After he disappeared I set out. Just listening to him speak was soporific and I needed to move to shake that off. The place was the same as before in terms of looks, but it was obvious I was in a different location with the Plane. It was divided up into “chapters” with each of them being accessed by something similar to a Black Book. But all they did was warp me to a new location within the area. Eventually, after defeating any number of lurkers and seekers (as I called them, considering they often held books, and Hermaeus Mora had used the term “seeker of knowledge”) I came upon the actual Black Book.

The version in Apocrypha had a heartbeat, of sorts, and the symbol on the cover brightened and dimmed in time with the sound. Though I wasn’t sure what touching it would do, touch it I had to. After it opened Hermaeus Mora’s avatar appeared again. “All seekers of knowledge come to me, sooner or later.”

Ugh. “What do you want of me this time?” I asked.

“You have entered my realm. You have sought out the forbidden knowledge that only one other has obtained.”

‘It can’t be too forbidden if Akatosh pushed me in this direction.’

“You are Dragonborn, like Miraak before you. A seeker of knowledge and power. All that he knows he learned from me. I know what you want: to use your power as Dragonborn to bend the world to your will.”

‘Ah, no, friend, I don’t. The idea of controlling people like Miraak does makes me feel sick.’

“Here then is the knowledge you need, although you did not know you needed it. The second Word of Power. Use it to bend the wills of mortals to your purpose.”

Hah—Mind.

“But this is not enough. Miraak knows the final Word of Power. Without that, you cannot hope to surpass him. Miraak served me well, and he was rewarded. I can grant you the same power as he wields, but all knowledge has its price.”

“What is your price for the final Word?”

“Knowledge for knowledge,” he replied. “The Skaal have withheld their secrets from me for many long years. The time has come for this knowledge to be added to my library.”

“I will speak to the Skaal and bring you their secrets,” I said. ‘Hopefully?’ It truly depended on just how much Storn was willing to give in order to see the threat of Miraak abolished.

“I know you will. And then I will give you the knowledge that you seek. Send the Skaal shaman to me. He holds the secrets that will be mine.”

The avatar disappeared and I looked at the Black Book as the three black-as-night circles on the pages glowed and from them rose three green orbs of light. Examining them revealed that choosing one would boost my power in some fashion, but I declined. To my way of thinking I had already received a reward for having threaded the maze. Taking something else would be just begging to fall in as Hermaeus Mora’s servant, and I’d already turned away from that once.

I was a bit revolted that anyone would accuse me of wanting to surpass Miraak. I just wanted him dead. Surpassing him in the way Hermaeus Mora meant was not something I was interested in. So I reached out to close the book, but simply touching it sent me back.

“What happened?” I heard Neloth say as my vision came back to me. “What did you see? Different people have very different experiences when reading these books.”

“I talked to Hermaeus Mora,” I said dryly.

“You’re still acting surprisingly sane, too. What did he have to say? He must have wanted something from you.”

I saw no particular harm in telling him, so I replied, “He wants the ‘secrets of the Skaal’.”

“Hmph. What secrets could they have worth keeping from old Mora? Sounds like a bargain to me. Hermaeus Mora learns some fascinating new ways to skin a horker, and you become the second most powerful Dragonborn that ever lived.”

I took exception to that, too.

“Well, that gives me a lot to think about. I need to get back to Tel Mithryn. I have some ideas about how to locate more of these Black Books.”

‘You do that, friend.’ We headed outside and walked straight into a dragon attack. Why was I not shocked.

“By Malacath’s toenails, where did that come from?” Neloth swore.

The dragon said something to me—I know it did because I heard the word “Dovahkiin”—but I was too busy killing it to pay attention. At least I got the soul from that one.

“I wonder if a dragon could be captured alive? It would make a fascinating test subject.” Neloth said as he started back toward his home.

‘He obviously does not have a subscription to the Black Horse Courier.’