46 - Black Books

Storn told me that I'd need all of Miraak's powers if I was to defeat him, and some of those he'd doubtless acquired in Apocrypha, so I'd need to pursue him there. That would mean seeking out the Black Books that acted as portals to the realm, and finding all the word walls on the island. I'd learned "Bend Will", or at least the first word of it, to cleanse the All-Maker Stones, but I'd need the other words, and probably other Shouts. I also had a word of "Dragon Aspect", whatever that was, from the wall in Miraak's Temple.

Storn suggested talking to Neloth about the Black Books, as he'd contacted the Skaal on that subject before. So when we went back to see Brelyna again, we did so. Neloth had one, but he was sure it had nothing to do with Miraak. He knew of another Black Book, but it was at Nchardak, a nearby Dwemer ruin, and he hadn't managed to retrieve it. "With your help, however, I think we could do that."

With the All-maker Stones cleansed, Brelyna was now free of Miraak's influence, and able to accompany us, with Ranyu, of course.

As we passed near the Sun Stone, we flushed out another of the Ash Spawn. Despite what we'd achieved with the Stones, they were still a nuisance we'd have to deal with. One thing at a time, however. The Black Books and Miraak were the bigger problem.

Nchardak was essentially submerged off the coast, a little north of Tel Mithryn. There was a portion of the ruin above sea level, acting as an entrance, and that part had become the camp for a bunch of reavers. In that, it was quite similar to the Dwemer ruins of the mainland, where the entrance buildings were often the haunt of bandits.

With five in our party, and all but myself using ranged attacks, we quickly dealt with the reavers. I had to ferret out the last archer, who was hiding in one of the towers from the flying spells, but he offered little resistance when I found him.

It was clear that this Dwemer ruin was going going to be a bit different when Neloth produced a "control cube" to unlock the outer door. This was the first time I'd seen one of those. It looked a bit different from the lexicon cubes we'd used at Avanchnzel and Mzark, apart from being cubical, of course. And the receptacles they fitted in were different, too.

Neloth told us that it was the only one he had. He'd found it on his last trip, and had used it to lock the door, and keep out the riff-raff (presumably the reavers, but maybe it included more). He implied that they operated more than just doors.

He led us into the "reading room", where he pointed to a thick glass plate in the floor, through which we could see the black book. "It can't be accessed by any magical means. Believe me, I've tried, and if I can't, nobody can. However, I believe that if power can be restored to this room by restarting the boilers, then this switch over here will do the job."

We followed him through another door, and down an elevator to a deeper level, presumably well beneath sea-level.

"The last time I was here, I only explored a small part of the ruins. I was here alone then, and I find an assistant is absolutely essential for this kind of dirty, dangerous work," he told us as we walked along the corridors to the next chamber.

Neloth told us that history claimed that the entire city had been sunk deliberately to thwart the attacking Nords. It certainly was flooded to just below the level we were at now. Neloth walked to a railing overlooking the water, and put the control cube into one of the pedestals there. It turned on a pump somewhere, and the water level dropped considerably, revealing a platform lower down, where there were more of the pedestals, and some large Dwemer mechanisms.

"The pumps only operate when a cube is in the pedestal. And unfortunately, I have only one cube. These four boilers provide steam to the room upstairs. They're shut down, but they still respond to the control cubes. So, if we can find four more cubes, we can turn these boilers back on and restore steam power to the room upstairs. Then I should be able to open the book's protective case. Bring that cube. We'll need it."

We managed to find three more of the cubes on the same level, and they were guarded only by the small Dwarven Spiders we were used to from the mainland ruins. Some of them were activating traps, so taking them not only advanced our cause, but made our progress easier. I suspected we wouldn't be that lucky with all of them. Others operated pumps, and we found ourselves having to swim back through areas where we'd walked on the way in.

To find the fanl cube, we needed to access a lower level, so one of the cubes was used to activate another pump to drain the water in the main chamber further. We walked down the ramp, following Neloth, but he paused at the bottom of the ramp and let me take the lead. I soon found out why, as a heavy arrow bounced off my armour, and made me stagger.

Before I got my balance back, the Dwemer construct that fired at me was hit by a fireball, an ice spike and a bolt of lightning from the mages, and an arrow from Ranyu for good measure. I spotted its twin on the other side of the doorway, and ran towards it, keeping a pillar between us, as those arrows were dangerous!

I got this one myself. I hate to think what one of those over-sized arrows would do to an unarmoured mage, or archer. I asked Neloth what these things were, and he called it a Ballista. He'd apparently encountered them before, perhaps on his earlier visit here.

I still had two of the control cubes, and I needed to use one to unseal the door. The pedestal didn't keep the cube. It seemed that the red ones performed transient functions that didn't need the cube to remain there, like opening doors, or lowering bridges. The blue pedestals kept pumps working, or traps, and needed the cube to remain.

That meant that I only needed one of the cubes to operate the bridges in the Aqueduct. However, the controls worked multiple bridges at once, and it took a couple of tries to find the right sequence to get them all in position.

"That's it, Don't touch anything else!" Neloth commanded, and charged off acroos the first bridge. Of course he let me catch up as soon as the first Dwaven Sphere blocked our way.

There were several of those, and the path led us to an empty pedestal. Placing a cube in it drained the water from the chamber, and revealed a door at the other end. "I'll stay here and collect this cube when you've got the last one," Neloth announced, looking at me when he said it. I suspected that the last one would not be easy to retrieve.

And I suppose it wouldn't have been possible without the "become ethereal" shout to simply walk through the many traps in the room. Most of them stopped when I put a cube in the red pedestal to open the door at the back, but taking the cube from the blue pedestal behind it stopped the pump that was keeping the water out of the room. I had to swim back out.

When he saw me returning, Neloth picked up the other cube and the waters rose even further, chasing us all out of the room.

Back up in the main chamber, we checked our count. Five cubes in total. The two we'd taken down to the Aqueduct, the one we'd found there, and the two that were keeping the pumps running. We could let this chamber flood back up half-way, but one of the cubes was needed to keep the water level below the boilers. That left one for each boiler control.

When I placed the last of the four cubes in the boiler pedestals, it did more than just start up the last boiler. A bridge lowered, revealing a large Dwemer Centurion, powered up and ready to attack. Fortunately, the others were all beyond the range of any steam blast, provided that I didn't let it cross the bridge. And those are best dealt with up close. They can't get a proper swing of those arm weapons if you're right in there. I'd prefer to be a bit further away to swing my war-hammer, too.

Aim for the joints, I told myself, and stop him advancing. I bashed one knee while I ducked his first swing and came up inside his next one. That stopped him, and he spun at the waist, whirling the axe and hammer over my head, without hitting me at all. I continued to beat on the central pivot until it seized and he fell.

All Neloth had to say was "I'm going to head back upstairs and see if the reading room has steam. If so, it should be a simple matter to release the book."

There was a chest in the space behind his frame, with a few useful items that I collected before following. I was the last to arrive back in the reading room, and the black book was already raised up on its pedestal.

To say I was apprehensive about reading the book would be an understatement. The last time I'd read one, under Miraak's Temple, I was ambushed. I knew that this book would also be a portal to Apocrypha, but would it take me to the same location, or a different one? And would Miraak know I was coming and lay another trap for me?

Although the last time had been unpleasant, I had returned to where I read the book, so if the worst of my imaginings came true, I'd be no worse off. I open the pages ...