Part 85 - Hunt for Aetherium

They soon found themselves walking down a ramp, for the first time in ages. And there in front of them was the arrangement of tonal locks that Katria had drawn in her journal.

"I only figured out the first two before the Falmer jumped me. And if you use them out of sequence, then you'll get attacked by the Dwemer guardians - spheres, ballistas, and probably that centurion, eventually."

There were several skeletons lying around, and one more recent body, mostly riddled with dwarven arrows and bolts. The dead adventurer had a crude sketch of the locks, with some extra results from his attempts.

"With his notes, and yours, I think I have enough to do this," Clark announced. "Can you hit that one first, please?"

Katria tried, but her arrows didn't affect anything material. Gilda couldn't use a bow, so Clark ended up using Zephyr to fire some of the dwarven arrows he'd picked up. The women retreated to a safe distance as he did so, but came back to him when there was only one left, and he couldn't make a mistake.

As he hit it, two doors opened at the base of the wall. "Which do you think?" Katria asked, "Is one the real entrance, and the other a trap?"

Clark and Gilda each went into one and soon found themselves facing each other, behind where the centurion stood. And behind that were a number of chests, and a glowing piece of - something - lying on a table. Whatever it was had a round side, and a jagged side, like it had been part of a circular item that had been broken apart.

"That's a piece of Aetherium," Katria told them, "and I'd bet there will be other pieces like it at the other locations on my map."

The nearest was almost on the border with High Rock. When they arrived at Deep Folk Crossing they found a bridge over the stream, but it looked like any further Dwarven ruins were buried under the ground with no visible entrance. Possibly this had already collapsed like Arkngthamz was starting to. In that case the piece of Aetherium was likely to be under a mountain of rubble.

But no, Gilda found it on a pedestal out in the open, behind a few pieces of Dwarven armour. Clearly nobody ever bothered coming here, or it would have been taken long ago.

The next location on Katria's map was familiar to Clark. "That's the storeroom at Mzulft. I went there with Iona to collect scrap metal, but we didn't take everything, just as much as we could carry. There was one door we didn't bother opening, and I'd bet the shard's behind that."

Gilda had no problems with the lock, and sure enough, the shard was there, among a pile of other Dwemer scrap. "That's three of the four; just one left," Katria reminded them.

"So we should expect that one to be trouble. It's been much too easy so far."

They went back to Mjoll in Riften for advice. She knew more about Dwarven ruins than anyone else they knew. She recognised the location, and told them that it led into Blackreach, so you could enter it from there, too. Mzinchaleft, or Alftand, could get you into Blackreach. And there was a lift to the bottom - if you could find it in the hills, and the gates weren't closed. "The only lever to open them is on the inside," she remarked.

Mzinchaleft and Alftand were likely to be full of enemies again. It was ages since Clark and Iona had fetched Grimsever, and Diablita had gone after the Elder Scroll at Mzark. "Oh, and I recall the entrances to Blackreach had a special lock on them," Mjoll added as an afterthought. "You'd need a special attunement sphere to open them."

So they might as well go the long way through Raldbthar. "I'll come with you, if you like," Mjoll offered. "I'm itching for a good fight."

There were bandits, Dwarven automata, and Falmer, but that was all the better for Mjoll's itch.

Eventually, they found themselves in a large chamber, with Falmer tents around the walls, a number of chaurus penned behind dwarven gates, and a pool at the other end with a raised drawbridge that they'd need to lower before they could cross. All around, gears were grinding, as if something was blocking their movement.

The Falmer had spotted them, and several were advancing from different directions. Clark used his ward to block a frost attack from the shaman, and drew his sword to go deal with her. Mjoll picked the shield-carrying gloomlurker, and left Gilda to sneak around the edge of the room, looking for any archers that might interfere.

Soon the Falmer were dealt with, and a fireball or two made sure the chaurus wouldn't be coming out to play.

Clark walked over to the pool, and pressed the button he expected to lower the drawbridge. Nothing happened. However, he noticed that something had been jammed into the nearby gears, and was preventing them from moving. He pulled out the bone, and the gears turned freely again.

He tried the button again. Still nothing.

"The Falmer must have jammed more of the gears," He surmised. "Look for more that are stuck."

Another set in the corner of the room had a skull wedged between the gears. "And look over there, behind the drawbridge," Gilda pointed. Clark could just see a piece of a centurion, standing impassively in its frame.

"They used someone's spine over here," Mjoll called from the other side of the pool.

They met back at the button, which still didn't respond. There had to be another jammed gear somewhere.

"In the pool? There are steps leading down over here." Mjoll went down a few steps and ducked her head beneath the water. "Yes, I can see it. Just below the button."

She emerged a few second later. "Try it again."

"Come up here first. We should all be togther when I do."

"I see why," Mjoll exclaimed as the drawbridge lowered, and the centurion began to stir. "He's mine!" And she ran forward, to engage the monster construct.

Clark raised his ward. He wasn't sure if it would stop a steam blast, but it couldn't hurt. Gilda was already running to try and get behind the centurion. A backstab might be more effective, even on a metal thing like this.

But Mjoll was determined to deal with it herself, and was hacking away with Grimsever, as fast as she could. The centurion was wobbling, and his swings at her weren't doing much. She was too close for a full swing of his hammer or axe arms, and his joints were getting damaged and reducing his power.

"Watch out, he's falling!" Mjoll shouted to Gilda, who scuttled out from behind him just in time.

The door the centurion had been blocking led into a passage, that was blocked further in by spears. A lever retracted them - accessible from this side only, Clark noted. Beyond them, they could hear dwarven spiders working, doing whatever they did, and Gilda thought she heard a sphere rolling around.

"That thing in the middle of the room turns into a staircase down to Blackreach," Mjoll told them, "but only if you have the key."

The Automata were coming their way, and they needed to deal with those before concerning themselves with Blackreach. And once they were lying in pieces, they found they didn't need to go any further. Behind a gate at one side of the room, Gilda had spotted the shard that they'd come for. A momemt later, she had the lock picked, and the door open.

"Who's that?" Mjoll wanted to know, as a ghostly figure suddenly appeared.

"I'm Katria," she told Mjoll. "and you are?"

"I'm Mjoll. I came with my friends Clark and Gilda for a bit of sport, but I gather they were looking for this thing," and she pointed at the Aetherium shard.

"Yes, that's the last one! I'll met you again at the Forge." and Katria disappeared as suddenly as she'd arrived.

"Where's this forge she was talking about?" Mjoll asked.

Clark showed her the map in Katria's journal.

"That looks like the ruins at Bthalft, but there's nothing like a forge there. Just a few walls and piles of rubble. And usually a bunch of bandits. It makes a decent place for them to camp."