Part 44 - Northshore Landing

"So you know my purpose here, then? I suppose you must have found that dullard of a blacksmith. Unfortunately for you, my mission here is also a secret. To protect it, I have no choice but to silence you. Now, give me one good reason that I should not kill you where you stand."

It was clear to Clark that Ancarion was feeling a bit frustrated by the lack of success his mission was having. He suggested that if the map wasn't any use to the Thalmor at this point, perhaps he could just take it back.

Ancarion's response was a blast of lightning that sent Clark flying backwards over the side of the ship. He'd cast his mage armor spell before boarding the vessel, so he was more annoyed at being dumped in the cold water than anything else. But that kind of rudeness deserved a fitting response.

By the time he got back on board, however, Diablita had beaten him to it. "Where did Ancarion go?" he asked her.

"Most of him went over the other side of the ship," she replied. "But his head's rolling around the deck somewhere, if you want to go looking for it."

"It's the piece with the map that I need. I hope he landed on the shore, and it didn't get soaked."

Fortunately, the map was in a waterproof leather pouch in a pocket of his robe. "We should go check the location, and make sure this isn't a fake," Clark decided. "We'll take a sample back with us to Baldor, and he can tell us if it's proper Stahlrim, or not. You're carrying that pickaxe, aren't you?"

Diablita nodded. "How far is this 'secret source' from here?"

"Not far, but it's inland a bit, and we may have problems finding a way up the cliffs. The map shows a location, not a route to get there."

Even with the map, it wasn't easy to find the way in. Nestled in a corrie on the side of the mountain, it was hidden by the rocks from all sides but one. A circular stone wall, looking like one of the nordic ruins on the mainland, hid everything from view even from that side. They crested the wall, to find a set of stone steps spiralling down into a depression in the centre, ringed with draugr coffins. Each one had a lid of Stahlrim, instead of the usual stone. A few more like them were face-up in the middle.

Diablita took out her pickaxe and went to work on one of the middle coffin lids. It took a lot of blows with the pickaxe before anything came loose. "I can see why this needs a specially hard tool," she remarked. "I'd have broken an ordinary one by now."

While she continued hacking at the lid, Clark examined the piece she'd removed. It had the same blue sheen that he'd seen on Chillrend, and the Chrysamere. The Stahlrim didn't feel cold, even though he knew it was a magical form of ice. That presumably meant that it wouldn't melt like ice, either. He wondered just how one did forge the stuff.

"Baldor knows, or the Thalmor wouldn't have taken him," Diablita reminded him.

"Does the way back to the Skaal village take us past Castle Kaarstag? Glover Mallory mentioned that he'd lost his improved bonemold formula, and he thought the thief was heading there."

"Why would anyone go there? The place is full of Rieklings!"

"It seems this Esmond Tyne fellow, the one that stole it, thought he could fence a few things there, or at least that's what he told Glover. Maybe somebody else lived there before the Rieklings moved in."

"It wouldn't surprise me," Diablita concurred. "The Thirsk Mead Hall got taken over by a tribe of the little beggars."

They found Esmond's corpse just a short way into Kaarstag Caverns, the cave that formed the back entrance to the castle. Whether he was killed arriving, or leaving, wasn't clear, but it didn't really matter. The only important consideration was whether he still had Glover's formula for improved bonemold, which he did.

The Rieklings Diablita had mentioned didn't make an appearance. They must all have been further into the caverns. Clark wasn't interested in looking for them, so they left the way they'd entered.

Baldor confimed that it was real Stahlim. "I could make you a greatsword from it," he told Diablita, "but it would only be the equal of the one you have, and without its enchantment. Perhaps I could make you some armor, instead?"

Clark didn't expect her to want any, and he wasn't wrong. "I'm about as prepared as I can be for Miraak. I'd better talk to Storn. No more putting this off."

Talking to Storn

Diablita gave Storn all the facts she had, including how Septimus Signus had died when Hermaus Mora had decided he was no longer useful.

"But Herma-Mora was keeping him alive just to open that box, wasn't he? He'd have been dead long before without his intervention. That's why he crumbled into dust when you succeeded in retrieving the Oghma Infinium. And why you walked out with the book. The Demon of Knowlege is not preserving my life. I won't be changed." Storn dismissed her fears as groundless. "Besides, I'm an old man, with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Give me the book, and let me do what is needed. I'll make sure he lives up to his side of the bargain."

Frea tried to persuade her father to change his mind. "Father, you must not do this. That book is... wrong. Evil. Against everything that you have taught me my whole life."

"I must, Frea. It is the only way to free Solstheim forever from Miraak's shadow. There comes a time when everything must change. Nothing that lives remains the same forever. Do not fear for me, my daughter. This is the destiny that the All-Maker has laid out for me"

"I stand beside you, father, as always."

"I am ready for whatever the foul master of this book has in store for me."

Storn opened the book. Diablita watched intently, as it had always been her reading the books before, and she had no idea what it looked like to anyone else. Frea had watched her reading one before, so she was the first to see that something was different this time. The tentacles that had pulled Diablita across into Mora's realm were acting strangely. Instead of just wrapping themselves around her father, the largest was rearing back like a snake about to strike!

And strike it did, impaling the old Skaal's head. "At last, the Skaal yield up their secrets to me." a voice spoke from nowhere.

"That's Hermaeus Mora's voice," Diablita whispered to Clark, as if he couldn't have guessed.

The voice addressed Diablita. "Dragonborn, you have delivered me the gift I requested. In return, I keep my promise, as befits a Prince of Oblivion: I give you the Word of Power that you need to challenge Miraak. You will be either a worthy opponent or his successor, as the tides of fate decree."

Frea stood frozen for a few moments as her father dropped lifeless to the ground, not believing what had just happened. Then she turned to Diablita. "Go. My father sacrificed himself so that you could destroy Miraak and lift his master's shadow from the land. Go, then. Kill Miraak. Do not fail."

Diablita looked at Clark, and pulled another book from her pack. "Wish me luck."

She opened the book, and Clark could see the tentacles emerge and wrap around her, just like they'd done with Storn. None of them threatened to impale her, though, and as he watched, she began to fade.

"Is this what happened before?" Clark asked Frea.

Frea was still staring down at her father's body. "What? Oh, yes, that's what she always looks like when she reads one of those books. And it only lasts a few minutes, even though she tells me it was hours to her."