11 - Nchuand-Zel

I could tell by the look on her face that she didn't want to go back to Nchuand-Zel, but we had unfinished business there. And I knew that we'd be meeting Frostbite Spiders all over Skyrim, so the sooner she got past this spider problem, the better.

Fortunately, Calcelmo's workers had already made a good start on eradicating all signs of Nimhe and her brood. The first time we saw any webs was when we got to the door where we found Alethius' body. When I opened that, beyond it was a clean Dwemer hallway, with no sign of spider at all.

She shuddered, and took a deep breath, but the expression on her face brightened considerably. We were out of spider territory, but what were we into?

The first of the Falmer was waiting on a bridge ahead of us. I'd been proceeeding slowly, just in case there were still spiders to be found, and I saw him long before he detected us. I drew my bow and crouched. One carefully aimed shot dropped him over the edge, into the water below.

Creeping silently forward, I spotted another waiting a bit further ahead, and repeated the process for him. I looked back, and saw that she'd followed me out onto the bridge, and was looking down to see where the Falmer had dropped. Heights didn't seem to have the same effect on her as spiders.

From up here, I could see a number of doors leading into other parts of the ruins. Somewhere behind any one of those, the lost expedition of mages could be huddled in hiding from the Falmer, or more likely lying dead. Without any indication of where we should start, I opted for the door on the top level. But first there was another Falmer to deal with, on the ledge near the door.

I readied another arrow, but she'd caught up with me, and seen the Falmer, too. A couple of firebolts, one from each hand, quickly dropped him. My arrow wasn't wasted, however, as the noise of the firebolts brought another Falmer up the ramp to investigate, and he wasn't expecting to be shot the moment he appeared.

When we got to his body, I took a look down the ramp to see if there were any more below. I wasn't intending going down there yet, but it made sense to make sure we wouldn't be followed. Nothing was moving, so we proceeded to the door.

Before we met any more Falmer, I found some dwarven metal scrap lying around. From clearing the dig site the day before, I'd discovered which was worth taking, and which were just too heavy to be worth the effort. The solid bars were twelve times the weight of the plates, and only yielded double the ingots, if that. The struts weren't worth carrying either. Large and small plates, and the bent scrap, seemed to be what we wanted.

Sorting through the pieces almost made me miss the Falmer creeping in, but my companion had been watching diligently, perhaps looking out for spiders. A firebolt flew past me, and I pulled my warhammer from my back in time to crush the skull of a second Falmer that was rushing at me with a raised sword. Another firebolt finished the archer behind him.

We had a choice of two paths forward, and I chose to go down a level first, mostly because I could see there was nothing down there. I expected more Falmer around each corner,

It wasn't long before we found the corpse of one of the mages. But before we reached it, I heard "an expression of displeasure" from behind me, and noticed a frostbite spider coming towards us. The creature seemed to explode before it got half-way, and it wasn't anything either of us had done. I suspected it had triggered a trap of some kind, and quickly looked around for more. Just in time, too, as I was about to step up onto the platform at the top of the stairs, and there was a circular mark on the floor that looked ominous. I stepped back, and tossed a piece of scrap metal onto it, and was rewarded with the same kind of explosion that had killed the spider.

The explosions brough a couple more of the Falmer out of hiding, but we were ready for them. Stromm had a journal that described some of the expedition's problems with the Falmer, but suggested that they had split up, and were working in different sections of the ruin. That seemed like a bad idea to me. It clearly worked out that way for Stromm.

I ignored the chest as a possible trap, and concentrated on collecting smeltable scrap. Nothing else appeared to impede us, until we retraced our steps and tried the other path. As expected, Falmer were waiting along the passage, and the group of four proved quite an obstacle.

Beyond them, another Falmer had a spider pet with him, but only a small one, and they crush nicely beneath a war-hammer. I caught a look of approval when I did that.

There didn't seem to be any way out but the way we'd come in, unless we wanted to jump down into the water. Since I had no idea how deep it was, I didn't think that was a good idea. So we back-tracked out to the ledge, and took the ramp down.

We had to swim across to the door of the next section, as the entry ramp was now beneath the water. As expected, we found the same mixture of dwarven scrap and Falmer waiting for us, but this time, we encountered something new. As I passed what looked like a sealed vent on the wall, it opened, and a dwarven automaton, resembling a spider, dropped out and attacked.

This kind of spider didn't have the same effect on my companion as the live ones, and she rushed to engage it. I found that the metal ones crunched just as nicely as their cousins, although it took a bit more effort with my war-hammer. Metal is a bit harder, after all.

There was another dead mage, alone again, in this section. He had a diary too, so I added it to my collection. This one was apprently Erj, and he was here for treasure, rather than scientific reasons. Perhaps that was why he was prospecting on his own; and why he was now dead.

Leaving the ruin and going back out to the next ramp, we found another body. Krag had had the sense to stay with the guards, and set up camp away from the Falmer, but it appeared that they'd been overwhelmed in the night. At least one of the guards lay dead just a little beyond him. His journal made mention of Erj staying behind to try and pick locks in the Armory, which was presumably the section we found him in.

Standing near Krag's body was a giant metal man, in a frame that looked like it would feed power to him if it were active. Since Krag and the guards had been content to camp with it watching over them, I felt no unease. I wouldn't like to have to fight one, if it ever was activated. One arm was a war-hammer larger than my own, and the other an axe of similar proportions.

I picked up a book from on top of one of the bedrolls. "Sithis", it was entitled. Reading it explained some things about alteration I hadn't known before, so I took it with me. Such books often fetch a decent price.

We hadn't found the fourth mage yet, the leader of the expedition. Krag's journal didn't make it clear if he'd been with them when they camped for the night, but then it hadn't mentioned anyone other than Erj. Stromm might have been with them, and fled back to where we found him, or he might also have lingered behind as the others moved ahead.

But it wasn't too far to go before we did so. We'd encountered both Falmer and Dwarven Automata in this "Control" section, so it wasn't suprising that one or the other had killed him. His diary made it clear that Stromm had been left behind to study the area we'd found him in. Staubin made reference to a student being with him, but we'd not seen a second body. It also revealed that he'd escaped the attack that had killed Krag, and gone into this part of the ruin to try and re-activate the Dwarven guardians. That told me that the attackers had been Falmer, and why the guards had trusted the centurion wouldn't be a problem.

I now resolved to carry out Staubin's objective, and set the automata against the Falmer. If nothing else, they'd wear each other down, and not prove a threat to Markarth, or Calcelmo's workers just outside the ruin.

There was quit a lot of scrap metal in this area, and the Falmer were busy trying to convert the guardian automata into more. The latter, of course, were trying to exterminate the Falmer vermin. We let them battle each other before mopping up the survivors, and I gathered metal as we went.

The lever in the room beyond looked like it was the one Staubin was trying to reach. I looked around to see if any of the huge centurions were waiting to stride out of their frames when I pulled it, but saw none. I did pick up everything worth taking before I pulled the lever, just in case.

The door ahead lead back out to a ledge above the ramp where we'd entered. I could see that the centurion we'd passed was now active, and battling a Falmer or two. We decide to move on quickly before that skirmish was decided, one way or the other. If that metal monster lost, I didn't want to face anything that could defeat it!

It didn't lose, and came after us. Fortunately, it was down to a fraction of its health, and an arrow from me, and a firebolt from my companion, sent it toppling over the edge into the water below.

Ahead, on the bridge where we first came in, a Falmer was fighting a Dwarven Sphere. This was a closer contest, and we watched it play out before adding our contributions. The sphere produced a small plate that would be useful.