49 -BloodSkal

There were a couple of spell-casting traps ahead, and I considered using my Become Ethereal shout to go and disarm them, but I let Ranyu try knocking the soul gems down from outside their range. He's a better arecher than I am, by a long way, and soon had the problem solved.

The iron door beyond led to a chamber patrolled by some of the nastiest draugr I'd encountered so far, all equipped with ebony weapons and aware of our presence. I set Ranyu to keep the archer occupied, while I engaged the first of the sword-wielders. The mages would take whatever targets offered themselves.

Grabbing the initiative can make a lot of difference in a fight, so I charged the draugr, to make sure I got in the first blow. My heavy hammer made him stagger, so I had time to swing again. That still wasn't enough to finish him, but he was falling back each time and not able to reposte.

So this would be a question of whether I had enough stamina to keep up these power attacks, or whether he'd get his turn. If I took the time to swig a potion, I knew what would happen. When he fell, I did down a potion or two before looking around for the next one. I nearly had the archer fall on top of me, as Zahra's fireball knocked him off the bridge above.

So now they were down to one, and he'd sheltered behind a pillar from the barrage of spells. I went around behind him, and bashed him into the open. That was the last of him.

The nearby gate was locked, but Brelyna spotted a pedestal on the ledge opposite that looked like it had some kind of handle on top. I crossed the bridge and turned it, and the gate opened.

Past some more traps (but no more draugr) we came to a narrow passage that twisted and turned its way deeper underground. At the end, we emerged into a large chamber where waterfalls cascaded into a stream that disappeared underground. At the end of the chamber was a large ominous-looking door, and a skelton lying nearby.

We jumped down off the ledge before we really thought about how we'd get back up if that door wouldn't open. It probably wouldn't be impossible, if Ranyu stood on my shoulders, and the women climbed up that way, but we'd rather not have to do it. And that wouldn't have been an option for anyone who came here on his own.

The diary I found next to the skeleton suggested that was exactly what had happened to him. This was Gratian Caerellius, the ancestor of the old mine foreman who'd sent us down here. He come here with a companion, who fallen to the draugr somewhere back in the tomb. And he'd found an ancient sword, the Bloodskal Blade, also lying next to his skeleton, which had strange powers. He'd thought they were the key to getting out again, but, by the time he reached the door, he was too weak to use the sword. He had succumbed to the draugr before he could escape.

I picked up the blade and swung it, to see if it emitted the energy pulse that the diary described. Sure enough, a ribbon of light flew from the tip of the blade and struck the door. A piece of the surrounding rock slid aside. I swung again, and the energy was again released, but nothing changed on the door. Then I understood why. I'd swung the blade in the wrong direction. My swings had to match the glowing lines on the door-frame to make anything happen.

With everyone else standing well out of the way, I swung furiously at each of the lines, and soon the only one left was down the center of the door itself. I was getting a bit short of stamina by this time, but I had just enough for the final swing. The door opened, to a long corridor of swinging blades.

"Become Ethereal" took me through them, and I used the lever at the end to turn them off for my companions. I just hoped I wouldn't need that shout again before we emerged, as it took forever to recharge.

When I used the lever, it had also opened the door into a large chamber, and I could see a word wall at the end of it. The majority of the room was flooded, but the edges were raised and we could move along next to the wall. However, before we got half-way, a dragon priest emerged from the central pool and attacked. Since my new weapon gave me a ranged attack, albeit a rather inaccurate one, I used it, while my companions hurled fireballs, frost and arrows.

Zahkrisos threw lightning back at us. Fortunately, most of it was directed at me, so the mages weren't hampered by any loss of magicka. It did make me rather eager to put an end to him, and I waded into the water to use the sword as a sword. It wasn't as deep as I feared, and we soon had him cornered, and weakening.

When he fell, I was able to approach the word wall, and learn a second word of Dragon Aspect, which was that armour spell that Miraak had shown me when we first met. If he thought it was important and impressive, I should take note of that.

One thing I'd already noted was that Dragon Aspect increased the damage of power attacks, which was a strange thing for a mage. I'd seen that Miraak carried a one-handed sword, but he also sported a staff, and wore robes, rather than armour. So it was clear which direction his preference lay. Perhaps this shout, and the sword that we'd just found, were the keys to defeating him.

I wasn't expecting to find a Black Book as well as a word wall, but perhaps Miraak's temple should have made me think differently. A pedestal on out way out held the book "Waking Dreams". I told Brelyna and Ranyu what to expect when I opened it, and did so.

Lurkers, seekers, scryes, and a book at the end, just like the one at Nchardak, except without all the "chapters". And this time I knew what to expect, and where to rest, and where to look for fonts. Progress was tedious and not what you'd call comfortable, but at least predictable. The reward at the end was pleasant and unexpected, however.

The book that let me return to Solstheim also taught me a new power - Companion's Insight - that meant that I'd never accidentally injure my companions in battle. That might prove important now I had the Bloodskal Blade. That energy discharge was a dangerous feature, as I had little control over when it happened.

The reavers inhabiting the ruins on the way out were a nuisance, but little more, to a party like ours. On the other hand, they didn't have any decent loot to collect, either.

Since Neloth had expressed an interest in collecting the Black Books, once I'd used them, we figured we might get more from him than we had from the reavers, and set off for Tel Mithryn as soon as we emerged. We stopped in Raven Rock on the way to return Glover's Ancient Nordic Pickaxe, and tell Crescius what we'd found out about Gratian's true story.

Crescius was delighted with our news and especially that the mine wasn't worked out as the East Empire Company had declared. "I knew I could still smell the ore."

Glover told us to keep the pickaxe for now, and maybe mine some more Stalhrim with it. He'd like to know what could be made from it, too. I was surprised that he didn't know, if he had the pickaxe. "Never found any Stalhrim to use it on," he told us. "I think it's all up in the northern part of the island."

I pointed out that I'd found it in the ruins beneath the mine.

"Well you won't catch me in any of those ruins, any more than trudging through the snows in the north."

We showed the Black Book we'd found to Neloth.

"Excellent! I'll just make a copy for myself. It's far too dangerous to carry the real book around. Of course, I'm sure you can handle yourself. Of course you can. Of course. Now, take this for your efforts, and we'll call the matter closed."

When asked if he knew of any others, he replied: "Yes. Hermaeus Mora is devious, but then so am I. Now, it's only a rumor of a whisper of a conjecture. But I think this is the place. Now, hurry. That book might contain the final secrets of Xarxes, for all we know."

White Ridge Barrow was well to the North, and West. There was also a ridge of mountains between here and there, and we'd have to go a bit further North to the only pass throught it. That would take us to the familiar (to me and Zahra) territory near Saering's Watch on the way, so there was a good chance it was still clear of enemies.

Once we passed there, of course, it would be new lands, and we didn't know what to expect. Well, we should have expected Rieklings, I suppose. Zahra and I had met them while we were cleansing the All-Maker Stones, both on this side of the island and at the Beast Stone. However they seemed to be more numerous up in the North.

We declined to enter their lair at Benkongerike, and just passed by (for now). I suspected I might have to go back there at some time, but as long as the little creatures didn't attack me, I wasn't going hunting for them. Turning toward the ridge, instead of Searing's Watch this time, we soon saw White Ridge Barrow ahead of us.