A/N: A friend on deviantART mentioned that my Lurker died a bit too easily, so I did some research, and boy was he right! I’ve redone the fight scene with the Lurker to make it a bit more realistic.
Selene and Brynjolf spent the morning in Raven Rock, getting to know the vendors and some of the other townspeople, most of them Dunmer. Although getting to Miraak’s temple was urgent, they weren’t ready to rush right in, either. They wanted to ask some more questions and basically get a feel for the island before venturing off into uncharted territory. As expected, everyone they spoke to had the same reaction as Glover and Adril when asked about Miraak, although some did mention the temple at the center of the island.
While they were wandering through the town square, they stopped at the stand of an elf working at a tanning rack and said hello.
“Did you come to buy anything or just laugh at our misfortunes?” he snapped.
“Sales are that bad?” Brynjolf guessed.
“Hmph! Bad? What if I told you you’re the first people that have even considered looking at my wares today? I’ve half a mind to contact my friends at the East Empire Company and see if they need an extra hand in Windhelm.”
“You have friends at the EEC?” Selene asked.
“Oh, absolutely!” he bragged. “In fact, I’ve corresponded with Vittoria Vici herself more than once. You know, the lady who runs the warehouse in Solitude. It’s the biggest warehouse they have in Skyrim.”
“Aye,” said Brynjolf, “she’s our next-door neighbor.”
“Oh,” the merchant muttered, the wind taken out of his sails.
“I’m Selene, and this is my husband Brynjolf.”
“Fethis Alor, at your service.”
“What do you sell?”
“The question should be what don’t I sell? If it’s not a weapon, potion or armor, then it’s likely that I have it. Gjalund over at the docks brings me all sorts of things from Skyrim, and Glover gets me a few curiosities once in a while. He usually has the most amazing deals I can’t pass up. I have an eye for trinkets.”
“Well, if we find anything unusual while we’re here, we’ll bring it to you.”
“Fine, just fine! One thing I’m always looking for is East Empire pendants. They’re amulets made by the East Empire Company for their workers; gave them as incentives. They’re no longer being made, so they’ve become collectors’ items. You might find one or two of them around the island.”
“We’ll keep an eye out.”
When they left Fethis’s kiosk, they discovered the Raven Rock Mine, and Brynjolf mentioned that they might be able to locate Crescius Carellius inside. They went inside and found a man and a woman in the main office. She was Dunmer, petite and attractive, and he was an elderly Imperial. They stood face to face with their hands on their hips and angry expressions on their faces.
“Damn it, woman! I said leave me be!”
“Crescius, you’re too old to be traipsing around down in the mine! I’m not spending the rest of my days as a widow.”
“Of course you are! Do you think I’m going to live as long as you?”
“I am not having that conversation again.”
Crescius noticed Selene and Brynjolf and looked up. “Who in blazes are you? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Glover Mallory sent us,” Brynjolf told him. “He wants his Ancient Nordic Pickaxe back.”
“Bah! The damn fool doesn’t even deserve to have it! I’ll bet he stole it from the Skaal in the first place!”
“That’s his concern, not yours.”
He groaned. “Oh, very well.” He reached behind his desk and retrieved the pickaxe. “Here. Tell him I hope he drops it on his foot.”
“I couldn’t help overhearing you talking about exploring the mine,” said Selene. “Is there something we could help with?”
“I don’t know. Been difficult trusting people lately. They all think I’m crazy. But mark my words: if I’m right—and I know I’m right—I have a secret that will put the Raven Rock Mine back on the map.”
“Back on the map?” the Dunmer woman countered. “It hasn’t been on the map in two hundred years!”
“Just ignore her. She thinks I’m crazy, too.”
“What kind of secret?” Brynjolf asked.
“One that the East Empire Company swept under the rug. My great grandfather died trying to uncover it. The company called it a ‘terrible accident,’ claiming it was a rockfall, but I know better. That mine is solid; there was no rockfall. See, my wife—Aphia, there—she and I were cleaning when we came across some of my great grandfather’s things locked in an old chest. I found an unsent letter he had written to the company describing a discovery that was made in the mine. They wanted Gratian—that’s my great grandfather—to have a closer look. Then he was killed, and they locked that section of the mine, I think to cover up what Gratian really found. But I have the key. Well, I assume it’s the key to the locked section. I haven’t managed to get all the way down there.”
“Why are you even entertaining this notion?” Aphia demanded.
“I’m guessing you don’t agree with his story,” noted Selene.
“Poor Crescius is aging, and I believe it’s addled his mind.”
“I’m standing right here, woman!”
Aphia ignored him. “I’m sure his great grandfather is down there somewhere, but there was no conspiracy. It was a simple cave-in, like they said. My greatest fear is that my stubborn mule of a husband will end up suffering the same fate.”
Selene shrugged. “I have to admit it sounds suspicious to me.”
“Finally!” Crescius exclaimed. “Someone who believes me! Look, my harpy of a wife nags that I’m too old to go down there chasing my theory, but perhaps she’s correct. I’m afraid time is my enemy. It’s caught up with me before I could find the answers I’m looking for.”
Selene looked at Brynjolf, who shrugged and said, “We can take a look. Any idea where to start?”
“Gratian kept a journal of notes about his discoveries. If you can find his remains, I’m hoping it will help.” He went to his desk and pulled a letter and a key out of the drawer, then handed them to Selene. “Be careful down in the mine. The way can be treacherous.”
They started to head back out to town to get supplies from their room and give Glover his pickaxe back before venturing down into the depths of the mine, and Aphia followed them to the door.
“Thank you,” she told Selene softly. “I know I won’t have him much longer, and I don’t want to risk losing him before his time.”
“How did you two meet?”
“I was a priestess at the temple. He was going through a deep depression, and Councilor Morvayn sent me to care for him. Eventually we fell in love and married.”
“You’re a priestess?”
“Yes. I had a falling out with the other priests at the temple, but I still practice Restoration magic. If you need healing, come to me, and I’ll be happy to help you.”
“That’s good to know,” Brynjolf said. “Selene is pregnant.”
Aphia’s eyes lit up. “Wonderful! Best wishes.” She placed a hand on Selene’s belly. “If you need anything, you know where I am.”
Selene thanked her, and she and Brynjolf left the mine and headed across the square to the forge. Glover chuckled when he saw Selene and Brynjolf approach with the pickaxe.
“Crescius is quite a character, eh?”
“He said he hopes you drop it on your foot,” Selene quipped.
Glover laughed heartily. “He’s a crazy old man, but I love the guy. Hey, since you went through all the trouble of getting the axe back, why don’t you keep it?”
“What? After all that?”
“I just wanted to remind the old codger that you can’t just go around taking things from other people.” With that, Selene and Brynjolf chortled. “I know, I know, it’s ironic coming from me,” he admitted with a chuckle. “Look, that pickaxe hasn’t done me any good in years. By all the questions you’ve been asking, I’m assuming you’re about to explore the island. Maybe you’ll come across some stalhrim. If you do, bring it to me and I’ll give you a good price for it.”
“Sure thing, Glover,” Brynjolf said, still trying to control his laughter.
* * *
After stocking up on arrows, potions, and first aid supplies, Selene and Brynjolf descended into the Raven Rock Mine. It was dark and musty, and the air grew hotter the farther down they went. They fought a few frostbite spiders along the way, climbing over the carcasses that completely blocked the path. They found several rich veins of ebony along the way and noted the locations so they could tell Crescius.
Perhaps two miles down into the shaft, they found a locked gate. The key did work on the lock, and they went through, but they found no evidence of a cave-in. They did, however, find a Nordic ruin. They killed several draugr as they navigated the narrow, ivy-covered maze of sarcophagi. In a round room that appeared to be some sort of council chamber, they found a nice chest loaded with gold and gems. There was some enchanted armor as well, but it was too heavy to carry through the ruin.
In a small, dark chamber, they found a patch of shimmering ice covering one sarcophagus. The room was uncomfortably hot, but the ice didn’t melt.
“Stalhrim?” Selene guessed.
Brynjolf used Glover’s pickaxe to break off a chunk to take back to him.
They got caught in the crossfire of a couple of soul gems in one narrow passage. Selene attempted to shoot the gems off of their stands, but she didn’t have time to aim before one of them shot a bolt of lightning at her, and she cursed.
“I’ve got this,” Brynjolf told her. “I don’t want to risk hurting the baby.”
“You’ll let me fight draugr, but you won’t let me dodge soul gems.”
“I know it’s a contradiction but blocking a sword is easier than blocking lightning. Just let me handle it,” he grumbled impatiently. Ducking and dodging the lightning and grunting painfully when it hit him, he ran quickly up to one of the soul gems and knocked it off.
There were a lot of false starts and dead ends, but they were usually lucrative, often ending with a chest or urns containing gold. As was their habit, they kept the gold and the lighter items and left the heavier things behind. The long, winding tunnel finally terminated in a sheer drop to a cavern below. Several levels of pillars and tiers led down to a platform, which was flanked on both sides by a rushing stream and stood before a huge, round door, its intricate carvings glowing with red light. Two horizontal fissures leading away from the door also glowed red, as did the junction where the two halves of the door met. Selene figured the lights were part of some sort of puzzle seal.
“Well,” Brynjolf sighed with resignation, “looks like it’s either jump or go back.”
“Jump,” she declared. “We haven’t found what we’re looking for yet. Besides, the drop isn’t that far.”
She leapt down to the next level, then followed the drops and tiers to the floor below. Two draugr and two human skeletons lay on the platform and the steps leading down to the stream. One of the humans had evidently been killed fighting the draugr; the other seemed to have died lying on his bedroll. A greatsword lay next to him, a red aura shining around the brilliant blade, and a journal was curled in his hand. Selene pulled the diary away carefully and paged through it.
“This is Gratian Caerellius,” Selene announced. “We’re in a barrow belonging to the Bloodskal Clan, and that is the Bloodskal Blade. It seems the draugr were released when Gratian took the blade from its stand. It says his assistant was killed in the battle; I’m assuming that’s him at the bottom of the stairs.”
Brynjolf picked the sword up and swung it a few times. When he swung, it emitted a humming, red ribbon of energy. “Lovely!” Brynjolf remarked appreciatively.
“Gratian said he thought the direction of that ribbon of light might have something to do with opening the door, but he had been badly injured in the fight with the draugr and was too weak. He died before he was able to get the door open.” She put the journal down and held her hand out. “Can I try?”
Brynjolf handed her the weapon and she swung the blade, testing its weight. She walked over to one of the horizontal cracks and placed her hand on it. The light pulsed around her hand, and the sword vibrated. Stepping back, she swung it and watched the band of light whip out from the blade. The ribbon merged with the beam emitting from the crack, and the wall shuddered. She swung again, harder this time. The doorframe hummed and vibrated, and the side she stood on began to move. The designs shifted and move up the wall, and the red light went with it. It stopped when the red beam was about halfway up the door, now vertical.
She looked back at Brynjolf with a grin. “I think we figured it out.”
“Aye, try doing it vertically this time and see what happens.”
It worked. A few swings of the Bloodskal Blade on either side of the door, and the designs on the door itself glowed brighter red. But the door didn’t open. The light from the bands, however, settled into the crack at the center.
“One more time.” She arced the blade in another vertical swipe, and the two halves of the door trembled, creaked, and parted. Selene grimaced when she saw what awaited them on the other side.
“You have to be kidding me,” Brynjolf groaned as he looked at the tableau before him. It was a long corridor like a hall of stories, and perhaps twenty pendulum blades swung back and forth, blocking the path.
“This place just gets better and better, doesn’t it?”
It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t as bad as it looked. The blades were gathered in groups of four or five with lengthy gaps between the groups. They swung slowly and very close together, leaving a good second or two between each pass. They were easy to get past, and in only a few minutes they had moved on to the next room. It was long and narrow, sunken in the middle like an amphitheater, with a raised platform in the middle containing a chest. “Sunken” was the operative word; the chamber was under about four feet of water. A Word Wall stood at the other end of the room.
“Now, there’s a happy sight,” she said, stepping into the water, which was as warm as a hot spring.
When they got about halfway into the room, there was a screech, and a dragon priest came flying up out of the water. Selene reached for an arrow, nocked it, and shot before the creature could even get moving, and she managed to get another one out and fire before it reached them. The second arrow was enough to send it plummeting back into the water; and there was nothing left but a pile of soggy ash, some gold, and one of the creepy masks the dragon priests always dropped. She reached into the water and picked up the mask, handing it to Brynjolf with a cringe.
“They’re not that bad,” he teased her.
“They give me the chills,” she complained.
“Go to your Word Wall. I’ll get the gold and the chest.”
She squeezed the water from hair as she walked up to the wall, where she absorbed the new Word of Power. Mul meant strength. She tapped into a soul inside her to get an understanding of the word, and an image drifted through her mind of herself, covered with an orange and blue nimbus in the shape of a dragon. Dragon Aspect, she thought to herself. This one would be fun to try out.
“Mul!” she Shouted, and strength and power surged through her.
Brynjolf, who had just walked up, hair and armor dripping, gaped at her. “Was that what the Shout did? That’s fantastic!”
Selene looked down at her hand, and it was indeed surrounded by light in the shape of scales and bone. It didn’t last long, though, and after only a minute or so the light and her strength began to fade. “I’ll be looking for the other Words of Power for this one,” she noted. “What was in the chest?”
“Two bloody gold pieces. But the dragon priest had quite a bit of coin on him. Worth diving for, anyway.”
A distant memory came to mind, and she laughed softly.
“Farkas said once that he wondered why draugr hoarded gold. It’s not like they could spend it.”
Brynjolf chuckled as they began to look for an exit. They found the way out on the other side of the platform in the center and stepped into a room with a thick, black book sitting on a pedestal. Another chest rested against the wall, and Brynjolf checked it out while Selene looked at the book. An image of a many-tentacled creature was stamped into the cover, but there was no title. She opened the book and read the words, “The Winds of Change.”
The world blurred around her, and she was suddenly somewhere else. “Oh!” she cried with a start. She looked around to ascertain that she was alone, not much of a comfort but at least there were no enemies accosting her before she got her bearings. Poor Brynjolf; he’d be scared to death. Truth be known, so was she.
The place seemed to be made of books. The floor was covered with pages, and the walls and archways along the path ahead were actually stacks of thousands of volumes. To each side of the path was an ocean of ink, from which many black tentacles waved lazily under a yellow sky. Further up the path, light fixtures that looked like big plants lined the path; others flew back and forth overhead. She could see little whirlwinds of pages here and there, and off to the side, hovering above the sea, were black masses of smoke and tentacles. A stairway led higher into the construct.
And then came the voice, thick, slow, and heavy.
“As I told you, your free will is an illusion. Why else would you be here?”
Hermeus Mora. Great.
“Where am I?”
“This is Apocrypha, where all knowledge is hoarded. Sate your thirst for knowledge in the endless stacks of my library.”
“No. I want out of here.”
“You want to learn,” he argued. “Do you think I cannot sense your lust? My library calls to you. Use it. When you tire of your search, read your black book again to return to your mortal life. But know that the lure of Apocrypha will call you back. It is your fate.”
A sudden weight in her knapsack made her realize the book had materialized. She reached back and touched it, as though grabbing onto a lifeline, but she had to admit she was curious. Thus, she started down the path. Sometimes, when she got too close to the ink, tentacles would lash out at her like a whip. She was able to avoid them for the most part, but one of them caught her leg and flayed the leather and skin right off. “Gods damn it!” she squealed as she leapt away from the edge.
Selene heard a shuddering sound and turned to find a creature with several bony arms, a slimy face with long tentacles, a cloak made of fuzzy feathers, and a toothy maw where its abdomen should be. It had no legs, only tentacles, and it floated a few feet above the floor. It was shooting invisible bolts of power at her that hummed like the energy ribbons from the Bloodskal Blade. They hurt like crazy and instantly sapped her strength. She nocked an arrow, aimed and shot, but it continued to hurl the energy bolts at her. One more arrow dropped the creature, and she sat down on the floor, exhausted.
“Seeker,” Mora’s voice whispered. Was that what the creature was? A seeker?
A dull ache spread through her abdomen, and her heart skipped a beat. She placed a hand on her stomach. “No, no, little one. Don’t fret. I’ll take good care of us.”
She got up and looted the creature for a few gold pieces and a book she didn’t already have, then pressed on. She found several books and soul gems as she walked the path, dodging the whipping tentacles which thrust out of small pools along the way. She came to a locked door, but it wasn’t a standard, pickable lock, and she didn’t see any sort of lever. One of the plant-like light fixtures bobbed merrily nearby, almost as though it was trying to get her attention.
“Scrye,” said Mora’s voice.
Selene reached out and touched the fixture, and it retreated into itself as if she had frightened it, but the door opened. She passed through many halls, arches and tunnels, all made of books, sometimes using a scrye to open a door. She found one more seeker, but she managed to shoot it before it saw her. She finally came to a courtyard that was enclosed by a high fence made of complex wirework. The panels resembled stained glass windows, only without the glass. Greenish clouds floated in the pale sky, and an apparatus hovered overhead, spewing out books, which drifted lazily on the breeze. The courtyard was actually quite lovely, but the creature emerging from the inkpool in the center did detract from the beauty of the place. It was perhaps eight feet tall, humanoid but with features like a fish and lots of long, spiky teeth. It spat inky tentacles at her, but she was too far away for them to catch her. She nocked an arrow and shot the creature in the face, that the arrow only seemed to piss it off, and it lurched across the courtyard at her.
“Oh, crap,” she exclaimed, dodging the tentacles it spat. She slipped past him and ran several yards away, readying an arrow as she moved, then turned and shot it again, catching it in the chest just as it spat again. This time, the ink settled before her and turned into even more tentacles, which whipped up from the floor and grabbed at her. One of them connected with her already injured leg, and she squealed with pain as she leapt out of the way. The monster was coming at her again, and she nocked, aimed, and shot before it got close enough. This time is shrieked, but it still kept coming, and she was barely able to get out of the way before it stomped on her with its massive feet.
“Fuck me!” She took a breath and Shouted, “Fus…ro dah!” but the creature barely noticed. It still charged after her, chasing her up a flight of stairs, and soon Selene had nowhere to go. She dropped the bow and drew Dragonbane, snarling as it reached her and swiped with its giant, clawed hands. She thanked the Divines for her speed as she ducked the hand and planted the sword into the creature’s abdomen. It threw its head back and flailed its arms wildly, screaming in agony, and Selene had just enough time to remove her sword before it fell backward, tumbling down the stairs and into the inkpool. She sat down on the stairs for a few minutes, trying to catch her breath before getting up and preparing to move on. The creature was lying half-in and half-out of the inkpool, but she figured looting it wasn’t worth getting lashed by another tentacle, so she left it alone.
Two scryes opened the way to a small room that sat beneath the book machine. A stone sculpture depicting a mass of tentacles dominated the center of the room, and another black book rested on a pedestal to the side. It was also entitled The Winds of Change, and Selene realized the book was no longer in her pack. There seemed to be nowhere else to go, and she was ready to get out of this place anyway, so she opened the book. At first it was blank, but as she watched, text began to bleed onto the paper.
Behold the Book of Insight. Choose.
She read through the choices, and they seemed beneficial and pretty straightforward. Lover’s Insight would give her more allure and an advantage over male merchants and enemies. Scholar’s Insight would give her a better understanding of any books she read. Companion’s Insight, however, was the one for her. This knowledge would allow her to fight alongside Brynjolf without risk of harming him. No attacks, Shouts or spells she used in battle would cause him injury.
Selene rolled her eyes. “Are you serious?” she said aloud. “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
More words appeared on the page. Insight is your reward. You have already paid the price.
“Fine, then I choose Companion’s Insight.”
Selene closed the book, and she was instantly back in Bloodskal Barrow. Brynjolf stood before her, watching her with concern. Her leg stung badly, and she gasped at the pain.
“You’ve got to stop doing that, love,” her husband scolded.
“What happened this time?”
“You just stood there and read, and you sort of faded out, and I could see through you. I couldn’t get your attention no matter what I did.”
Selene told Brynjolf about Apocrypha, Hermeus Mora, the seeker, and the gift of Companion’s Insight. Both agreed they wouldn’t go out of their way to try it out. They ascended a long, spiral staircase and went through a short tunnel to a hidden doorway bearing a conventional lever. Selene pulled the lever, and they emerged into another part of Bloodskal Barrow. It seemed bandits had taken up residence in this section, and Selene and Brynjolf took care of them quickly and silently, as well as the ones they found outside.
It was dark out, and rain drizzled on them all the way back to town, where they went straight to the Retching Netch and crawled into bed—rather, Selene crawled into bed and Brynjolf lay down on his bedroll.
“I don’t know if I want to sleep,” he said. “What if we end up out there, working on that shrine?”
“We can’t go completely without sleep, love. Besides, I’m exhausted. Let’s just hope for the best.”
If they went to the shrine, they didn’t know it, because they woke up where they had gone to sleep. Selene dreamed of the hunt, not of Miraak, and though she couldn’t say she was rested, at least she didn’t have the disturbing feeling she had been enslaved overnight.
They got up and had breakfast, then found Crescius at his house.
“Good, you’re back!” he exclaimed. “What did you find?”
“You were right, Crescius.” She handed him Gratian’s journal.
“Ha! I knew it! See, Aphia, his death wasn’t because of a rockfall It was just a story to keep people away from the tombs.”
“There’s more. We found ebony in the mine and stalhrim in the ruin.”
Aphia smiled. “You know what this means, don’t you? It means we can open the mine. Give people jobs. Give people hope.”
The old man seemed rejuvenated by the news, and he practically jumped up and down, a joyful expression on his face. He hugged Aphia, then looked over at Selene. “I believe I owe you a little more than a debt of gratitude.” He went to a desk and retrieved a hefty coin purse. “This isn’t much, but it’s the best an old, retired miner can do.”
“Thank you, Crescius,” Selene said, resting a hand on his shoulder.
“No, my dear. Thank you.”