16 - Mzinchaleft

More wolves before we passed the Nightgate Inn, and several other roads we did not travel. As we passed an entrance to a Nordic ruin a short way further up the road, a bandit warned us to stay away. At any time in the past, I'd probably have attacked him for his insolence, but this time I just laughed, and carried on walking up the road. It wasn't worth my time.

Fort Dunstad couldn't be overlooked, as it blocked the road, and almost filled the valley. We headed around it, but the bandits weren't in the mood to be ignored, and came out to greet us. The gap between the wall and the rocks, however, was narrow, and prevented too many of them from attacking us together. With her behind me, sending firebolts over my shoulder, I was as much of a block to them, as the fort was to us.

I was glad that she was using the lesser spell. I wasn't blinded by the explosions that fireballs produce, and she'd be able to keep up that barrage as long as she needed to. It was sufficient to keep the archers and mages suppressed, and I could deal well enough with the others. The battle was long and tedious, though, and I'd used up most of my stamina potions by the time it was done. We back-tracked a little and went through the fort, looking for more.

I didn't find many, but at least they had an alchemy lab, and I could make some. I don't have the skill to make strong ones, but it's improving slowly.

We continued into Dawnstar, before turning back to take the other road. I didn't want to get involved with any other quests until I'd completed Mjoll's, but knowing what was here would be useful. I'd heard about the Quicksilver mine from Belethor, when he told me about the vein near the Battle-Born farm. Now I knew where it was. I also knew that there was a smithy here, and an alchemist's. And that reminds me, stamina potions!

The trail off towards Mzinchaleft was marked by a cairn of stones, and a couple of wolves. It was likely that they waited there in ambush, as deer used the trails at least as much as people did. A grateful rabbit fled the other way after we killed them.

The dwarven ruin was down in a hollow, and I suspected that this was just the entrance to something larger, and mostly underground. Avanchnzel had had almost no visible structure near the entrance, and had been almost entirely beneath the hills. Nchuand-Zel was an exception of a sort, as either it was entirely underground, or the whole city of Markarth was its entrance.

There was enough above ground here to make a decent home for bandits, and that was who greeted us as we arrived. They'd left an archer on guard outside, but most of them were camped in the buildings behind him. We met about half-a-dozen of them, one at a time. Fortunately, they didn't have the coordination to attack as a group.

That probably meant that their leader, if they had one, was inside the ruin proper. I opened the door cautiously, not knowing if the fighting outside had alerted anyone within. Apparently not; these thick doors must shut out all the noise.

The bandits inside were just as disorganised, and we dealt with them in ones and twos. No sign of any leadership yet. The last one had a key labelled "Maluril's room" which opened the door he'd been guarding. There was no sign of Maluril, just a diary, left on the table. He'd been their leader, of sorts. A "scholar" looting the Dwemer artifacts from the ruins for sale, who'd hired the bandits to protect him. Maybe we'd find him deeper into the ruin.

I say the last, but in fact he was just the last we had to deal with. There were a few more more not much further down, but they were battling the dwarven spheres behind the next gate, and we let it all work out before we opened that.

The spheres had won, but didn't have a lot left. I soon dispatched each of them with a swing of my war-hammer. One of them yielded a large plate I could melt down. I looked around the room for more scrap, but found none.

Mzinchaleft had less traps than Avanchnzel, but just as many automata guarding it, and like we did there, I handled the spheres while she took care of the spiders. There was one unique feature here, an elaborate puzzle gate with multiple levers to pull in sequence, before I reached a valve that turned it all off. That gave us access to an elevator that took us down into Mzinchaleft Depths.

This would be different. Just outside the elevator at the bottom, was a dead body. It was a Falmer, like we'd met in Nchuand-Zel. There was also a broken dwarven spider, so most likely they'd be fighting each other down here. That's if we were lucky. If not, one side would have won, and we'd be the only adversaries.

We had to fight our way past several Falmer to reach the next building, and there were more inside. Mjoll had told us about the centurion that had nearly killed her, so had these blind elves dealt with that? If so, they would be tough to beat.

We emerged into a courtyard, where more of the falmer tents had been erected. It looked like they were in control in this part, too. There was a barred gateway to the left, with no visible way to open them, and a ramp to the right. Maybe the control to open the gate was up there? We'd have to pass the ones in the tents to find out.

A fireball into each tent had the weakened occupants coming out to meet us. They all wielded bows, and so I rushed the nearest, trying to put him between myself and the other two. If I could just keep them lined up, I could handle them one at a time. The two at the back knew that, and spread apart. A well-timed fireball spread them even further. By the time they recovered their balance enough to raise their bows again, I was on the next one, and the last was getting her full fire.

I found another Falmer up in the tower, guarding the switch. He couldn't fire down where we'd been, directly below him, or we'd have been in trouble. I knocked him over the balcony to join his late fellows.

The gate bars rattled down when I used the switch. If we'd been trying to sneak into the next area, we wouldn't have got far. However, we weren't trying to sneak, and the nearest Falmer had come over to investigate, leaving the other behind. Separately, they were less trouble than they would have been together, not that the boss was easy. He threw frost at us before he drew his sword, and took several good blows from my hammer before he fell.

Beyond him, a ramp led up to a large door, and I could see both Falmer corpses, and broken dwarven automata lying around, as if there had just been a major battle here.

Through the door, there was no sign of Falmer, but I could see an active centurion standing in his charging frame at the far end of the hall. Since we'd dealt with the one in Avanchnzel, I believed we could handle another, as long as we used the right tactics. I needed to get in close, below the steam blast he could use, and she needed somewhere to get out of its way.

We had one more thing going for us here. It hadn't seen us yet. That meant we could each get a long-range shot in before he came for us. Then we could retreat back around this corner, and wait until he got closer.

Yes, my plans included retreating. The Kyn do not retreat, ever. Except when we do, and then we don't talk about it afterward.

Strategic withdrawal. That sounded much better than retreat, and it fit the situation better. Anyway, it was what we needed to do, and so we did it. Both of us, although I'd worried that she'd charge in like she had against the Draugr in Soljund's Sinkhole.

It turned out that we'd also left a dwarven sphere out of the fight by luring the centurion to us. That popped out of its hole in the wall as we got closer. On its own, it wasn't a major threat, but in the middle of fighting the big guy, it would NOT have been welcome.

Mjoll's sword, Grimsever, was just lying on a bench near the centurion's charging frame. That may have been exactly where she dropped it, or it might have been put there by a spider worker clearing up. But it was in one piece, and we'd found it!

I'll be honest, I was almost as excited by the amount of usable scrap metal I'd been able to collect as we went along. I had some malachite, and I intended to give Grimsever a tune-up before I handed it back, but dwarven work was taking me closer to my goal of proper daedric equipment.