26 - Septimus

I think Brelyna made the better choice. Septimus' outpost was on an island in the middle of the ice, well off the coast, and it was quite an unpleasant trip for those who prefer the heat to the cold. And Septimus himself was quite as obtuse as his writings. He'd found a Dwemer lock-box that he was convinced held the heart of Lorkhan, but he couldn't open it. We had to wait for him to finish rambling about that before we could bring up the subject of Elder Scrolls

We were able discover that he knew the location of an Elder Scroll, deep under Skyrim in an area he called Blackreach, a huge cavern you could only get to through the Dwarven ruins. And then only if you had the key, which Septimus could provide if we did a task for him at the same time. He wanted the Dwemer knowledge from the ruin that contained the scroll, and gave us a cube to record it. He said it would allow him to open the Dwemer lock-box.

"If Septimus knows where the scroll is, and he needs its knowledge to open the lock-box, why doesn't he fetch it himself?" Zahra wanted to know.

"Because it will be guarded by the Dwemer automata, and you know how magic-resistant they are. He needed someone like me to do the job for him. And I expect only mages from the college know how to find him, so I'm the first to turn up."

We weren't sure where Alftand, the Dwemer ruin Septimus had told us was the closest, actually was. We wandered around the coastal area a bit and headed inland when we got the chance. The valley led not to a Dwemer ruin, but a word wall with a resident dragon. At the foot of Mount Anthor, I learned a second word of Ice Form.

Except that "Slen" wasn't just the second word of Ice Form, it was also the first word of the shout that Alduin had used to restore Sahloknir at the burial mound above Kynesgrove. That was "Slen Tiid Vo" if I recalled it correctly. The other two words were still without any meaning to me, but now I knew that "Slen" meant "flesh", even if that wasn't all I needed to know about the word before I could shout it.

This was something I needed to discuss with Paarthurnax. If all the words were going to be on word walls for me to find, did he have any clues where I should go? And what other shouts would I need?

I'm sure Angeir would have reminded me that finding out my destination was part of finding the path. I didn't really know yet what I was trying to achieve. I'd got started on all this because I'd made a promise to Jarl Balgruuf, and the Kyn keep their word, but it had all grown beyond any reasonable expectations.

No, that wasn't the real start. That was when Alduin interrupted the Legion's executioner. Without that, it all would have taken a different course. I had become inextricably linked to that dragon, and I needed to find out why.

And I must admit, it was a change to have someone other than Mehrunes Dagon steering my life. Serving the Lord of Chaos does make for a confusing existence, and I much preferred this, even if I wasn't sure what this was. And a large part of my preference for this was Zahra, naturally.

We found Alftand at last. The surface buildings were a bit scattered, and the entrance to the underground part appeared to be through an excavation that wasn't actually part of the Dwemer buildings. Presumably the original entrance was now buried under the ice.

Apart from an encounter with a skooma-addicted Khajiit near the entrance, Alftand was just another Dwemer ruin, like Nchuand-zel or Avanchnzel, except the latter had no Falmer to deal with. This one had plenty, and the usual complement of spiders, spheres, and at least one centurion. The expedition before us had apparently dealt with one already. At the end, however, we encountered the last two members of that expedition, engaged in a fight over something. When the woman emerged victorious, she decided to turn on us, even before we'd hailed her. Not a very bright decision.

We presumed that the fight had been about where to go next. It appeared that there was a lift out of the ruin, and a mechanism in the middle of the room with a receptacle for the spherical key that Septimus had given us. The dead woman didn't have one, so I can only assume they intended to try and force the mechanism open.

It wasn't exactly clear how it would open, and whether it involved any of the traps the Dwemer seemed to like. I told Zahra to stand well back while I placed the sphere into the receptacle.

Not exactly a trap, but the floor around the "lock" did fall away when I did that. It actually dropped to form a staircase down to a lower level, but if you were standing in the wrong place, it wouldn't have been good for you.

We went down to a short corridor, and a door that led out into a huge cavernous underground city. This was presumably the "Blackreach" that Septimus had told us about. Mzark was just one of its towers, and we needed to find the right one.

We had to deal with a Dwarven Sphere, and a Falmer, almost as soon as we emerged. Rather than wander around just hoping to find the tower, I decided to check the nearest building, in case the place was inhabited, and we could ask for directions.

I was almost right. The place had been inhabited, but the alchemist Sinderion was long dead, and we found his skeleton on the floor. The number of dwarven arrows lying among the bones told me how he died. We knew his name, and his trade, from the journal we found, still clutched in his skeletal hand. There were ingredients all over the place, including some growing in containers. The Crimson Nirnroot was the focus of his studies, and the journal suggested that it grew only down here in Blackreach.

"Someone should follow up on that research, but it won't be us," I announced. "I'll take the journal with us, at least."

Zahra had found some other books. "Read this one, it will teach you something about alchemy," she told me, handing me a copy of De Rerum Dirennis . I did make use of the extra knowledge to turn some of the ingredients into useful potions before we left.

What I hadn't found, but wanted, was a map, or at least directions to Mzark. I cheered myself a little by reflecting that if Sinderion didn't have one, perhaps he didn't need one, and this place wouldn't turn out to be too big.

When we came back out of the building, I picked a direction to explore almost at random. We'd follow the roads, on the assumption that they'd lead to towers and other buildings, rather than Falmer camps.

Almost immediately, we found the entrance to a lift back to the surface. It was barred by spears, that retracted when I pushed a button on a plinth outside. There was no sign of any similar mechanism inside the lift itself, so you could come down and find yourself with no way out except back up to the top. If we found any more of these, it would be a good idea to open them.

Mzark was naturally on the other side of the cavern from where we entered. We were attacked by Dwemer automata, and Falmer, and their chaurus pets, but not in large enough groups to cause us major issues. There was a giant down here, too, but we just avoided him, and nothing happened.

The tower, when we finally found it, was a bit of an anti-climax. There were no defenders to battle through, just a ramp up around a huge spherical room that contained some complex Dwemer contraption with multiple buttons and a lexicon pedestal. The latter was the simple part, so we put the cube Septimus had given us into it, and two of the buttons opened and started to glow.