Selene and Brynjolf spent the night in the shelter of Saering’s Watch and went up to Benkongerike the next morning. The map and the pillars leading up to Benkongerike indicated that it was a Nordic ruin, but from the outside, it just looked like a cave. It faced the ocean and afforded a majestic view.
“That’s beautiful,” Selene gasped as she looked out over the landscape.
“Yes, yes, this is a fertile land and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land and we will call it…This Land.”
Selene laughed and punched him playfully on the arm. “Brynjolf, you’re so full of shit.”
“Ach! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal.” He bent down and kissed her on the neck, and she half-heartedly batted him away.
“Stop it. A troll is going to come along, and we’ll be killed because we were too busy making out.”
“Nah, you’d smell it before it got to us. Kiss me.”
Selene complied, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding him close.
“I love you, wife,” he whispered.
“I love you, too. Are you ready to go inside?”
“Oh, I suppose,” he replied with an exaggerated sigh.
She turned toward the entrance to the cave, which was flanked by fence posts and barrels. A chest stood by the door, and inside it Selene found some gold and cheap trinkets. In the cave, a snowy ramp led downward to more fence posts, trinkets, and hide tarps, as well as a small hut.
“Rieklings,” said Brynjolf, echoing Selene’s thoughts.
They found them a little farther in, just below an overhang and short slope. They didn’t see Selene and Brynjolf, and she picked them off quickly and easily with her bow. Rummaging through the little men’s rubble for valuables, they found lots of gems, some gold, and oddly, several statues of Dibella.
Brynjolf chuckled. “Do you think they appreciate tall women?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen any females; maybe they appreciate any women.”
“Or we have seen females and just couldn’t tell. Maybe they look just like the males. They remind me of the Falmer.”
“Perhaps, but the Rieklings are cuter.”
Eventually the icy cave gave way to the Nordic ruin, and they navigated the familiar long corridors, puzzle gates, and hidden chambers. Selene even found a Word Wall and learned a Shout that would hurl a violent cyclone at her enemies. In a chamber just beyond the Word Wall, they found the Black Book.
“Just put it in your pack and take it to Neloth,” Brynjolf suggested.
But it didn’t work that way. The book wouldn’t budge from its stand. Selene discerned that she was going to have to read it here, and Brynjolf was not happy about it.
“There’s no way in Oblivion I can talk you out of this, is there?”
Selene shook her head. “It’ll be all right, love.” She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, and he held her tightly, burying his face in her hair. Anxiety permeated his scent, and Selene wished there was something she could do to reassure him.
“Take care of yourself and Rowan,” he pleaded when they parted.
“I will.” She turned to the pedestal where the book rested and opened it.
The title was Untold Legends, but she didn’t read further before a green mist surrounded her and she was transported to Apocrypha. She emerged in an arched hallway made of books, with pages carpeting the floor. A sickly yellow mist wafted through the air, which was stale and musty.
She sighed and placed a hand over her abdomen. “Very well, little one, let’s get on with this.”
She strode down the long corridor without incident until she came to a dead end and a book entitled Chapter II. When she opened the book, she was sent to a high platform out in the inky sea. A bridge led to another platform and, unfortunately, a Lurker. Praying the Lurker’s sense of smell wasn’t as good as her own, she invoked the Shadowcloak of Nocturnal and snuck past it. She came upon two paths leading in opposite directions, and from her vantage point she could see that both had chapter books. She arbitrarily chose the path to the right, and the book she found read Chapter III.
When she opened the book, Selene wished she had just skipped to Chapter IV. She came out in a small room with nothing in it but a table holding a book pod and a Seeker. A terrible, oppressive weight settled over her, and she thought her heart would stop beating altogether. The fluttering in her belly made her wonder if Rowan knew what was going on and was afraid, too. It was all she could do to control her breathing as she drew an arrow and aimed at the creature, who was hurling an energy bolt at her. She managed to dodge the bolt and let her arrow fly, and the Seeker screamed in pain. It disappeared, and Selene took the opportunity to draw another arrow, tracking the invisible creature by its scent, which smelled like wet paper. She was ready when it reappeared, and she fired the arrow before it could send an energy bolt at her. It did get the shot off, however, and it hit her squarely in the face. She reeled as pain radiated throughout her body, but she did her best to shake it off and draw another arrow. This one finally took the Seeker down.
The pod on the table held a grand soul gem and a couple of books she didn’t have. Not really knowing if anything she picked up would make it back to Nirn with her, she stuffed the books and gem into her knapsack anyway. Behind her was a book marked Chapter II, and she opened it and went back.
Chapter IV took her to a large room with alcoves to each side and at the back and a gated room in the center. Some of the nooks were open, but two at the side and the one at the back were closed off with stained glass gates. Stairs led up to all of the nooks except the one at the back, and with this one the stairs seemed to be folded up, leaving a blank wall below the door. One of the closed doors had a scrye outside, and Selene figured activating the scrye would open the doors. The closed doors weren’t the problem, though. The problem was the two Seekers that guarded it and the door in the center.
They didn’t see her yet, so she said a silent prayer to Kynareth and took aim at the nearest one. It must have been a very lucky shot, because the Seeker fell with one arrow. She muttered thanks to Nocturnal, as well as the goddess, then set her sights on the other creature, who was slowly approaching. It got a shot off before she did, and the energy bolt rattled her, but she recovered as quickly as she could and sent an arrow right into the toothy maw in its gut. The Seeker screamed and hurled the next energy bolt wildly, missing Selene altogether. The thing continued to whine and whimper, and she realized she had found the Seekers’ weakness. She aimed and shot the next arrow at the mouth and watched the Seeker fall backward, wailing like a little girl. One more arrow killed it.
When she searched the two dead Seekers, Selene found a spell tome. It was Candlelight, a spell in the School of Alteration. Such a light might come in handy if her night vision ever failed her, and it was a simple incantation that didn’t require a lot of magicka. She read through the tome a few times and memorized the spell; then concentrating her will, she held out her hand and said the words. With a small poof, a ball of blue light blinked into existence and rose into the air above her head. As soon as the light appeared, the book disappeared, startling Selene. She didn’t understand how learning a spell could destroy the tome. Then again, she understood so little about magic, she probably shouldn’t be using it anyway. But she added the Candlelight spell to her small magical arsenal anyway and got on with it.
The scrye opened the gate onto a room with nothing in it but another scrye, which opened the door gate the opposite side. The scrye in that room opened the door in the center, where she only found another scrye, albeit a bit more ornate. This one opened the door at the back and extended the stairs so she could reach it. In the little room were some books and a lot of gold, in addition to the book for Chapter V.
She emerged into a long hallway with more yellow mist drifting through. As she walked through the corridor, she came upon two doors on opposite sides of the hall. Both were locked, although they had scryes on the other side of the doors. With nothing else to do, she continued on her way, but as she moved down the hall, the whole thing started to move beneath her. The corridor was changing position, drifting toward the left. When it stopped, it opened onto a room with an ink pool in the center and a Lurker emerging from it.
It saw her immediately, so there was no slipping past it. She backed up and shot at the Lurker, and it snarled and spat tentacles and acid at her. She managed to turn her head before the acid got in her eyes. It charged her and she couldn’t recover fast enough, and it kicked her across the room. She thanked Kynareth and Nocturnal it didn’t kick her in the stomach. There was no time to lie and lick her wounds, though, because it was coming after her again. She scrambled up and darted out of the way, drawing and shooting at it. Her quickness was the only thing that saved her, because she managed to stay two steps ahead of it as it charged her, taking shots whenever she could. The Lurker finally collapsed and died, and Selene dropped to the floor with exhaustion. She placed a hand on her belly.
“Are you all right, little one? I’m not all right.” She dug in her pack for a stamina potion and drank it down. Starting to feel better after a few minutes, she continued on down the hall, which came to a stop at the original corridor. She was on the other side of the left-hand door, and the scrye put her back where she had come from. She stared at the other door, then back up the hall, which had shifted back to its original position. Groaning, she muttered, “I’ll bet the same is about to happen on this side, Lurker and all. Lovely.”
She was right. The hall shifted, the Lurker appeared, and she played cat and mouse with it for half an hour before she finally defeated it. This time, however, she needed a healing potion instead of a stamina potion. The acid had gotten into her left eye and mouth, and the Lurker had swiped at her with its long claws, flaying the leather and skin off her shoulder. She just hoped her body in Nirn wasn’t bleeding; it would scare Bryn to death.
The hall led her back to the beginning and she grimly trudged down the hall a third time, but this time it stayed straight and led to the Black Book, which had again mysteriously disappeared from her pack. The symbol on the front pulsed with green light, inviting her to open it and claim her reward.
Behold the Book of Convenience. Choose.
The choices were Black Market, which would summon a Dremora merchant to trade with her at any time; Secret Servant, which summoned a Dremora butler to carry excess items; and Bardic Knowledge, which would summon a spectral drum to play for her, assisting her and her companions in battle. Black Market might come in handy if they were in a dungeon and came across a piece of valuable armor they didn’t want to carry. She would rather not have a Dremora butler following her around, and being able to sell the gear right then and there was definitely preferable to leaving it behind. Thus, she chose the Black Market circle.
When she closed the book and materialized in the chamber with Brynjolf, he sighed with relief and wrapped his arms around her, covering her mouth with his for a long, greedy kiss. When he pulled back, he said, “You have no idea how frustrating it is standing here watching you read that book. You never move.”
“Nothing happened to my body this time?”
He shook his head. “Why? Did something happen in there?”
“Lots of Seekers and two Lurkers. One injured me pretty badly. How long was I in there?”
“Hours. Did you get anything out of it?”
By the weight of her knapsack, she determined that she had managed to come out with the gold and books. “Aye, I did. I got the ability to summon a merchant wherever we are, and I learned how to kill the Seekers. Now if I could just figure out a better way of dealing with the Lurkers, Apocrypha might not be such a challenge.”
“Be careful what you wish for, love.”
She stuffed the Black Book in her knapsack. “This is getting heavy. Let’s stop in Raven Rock and drop a few things off before heading to Tel Mithryn.”
* * *
They arrived at Tel MIthryn late the next afternoon and walked through the maze of giant mushrooms until they came to the ones that had been made into homes. There were three of them, all with paths of packed dirt leading up to round, ornately embellished doors. Although she had seen them from a distance, Selene had had no idea how immense they actually were. The scent of the mushrooms was thick and cloying, not particularly pleasant. She wrinkled her nose.
A man and a woman, both Dunmer, stood in the center yard. The man was studying a book, and the woman was glaring at him with her arms folded.
“Why are you out here?” she demanded. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the tower assisting Master Neloth?”
The man shoved the book at her, and she clumsily caught it before it fell to the ground. He raised his hands, and purplish light appeared in them, but when he cast the spell, nothing happened. “Why won’t this summoning work?” He looked over at the woman and huffed impatiently. “If you must know, I’m trying to summon an ash guardian. What about you? Shouldn’t you be working on repairing the tower?”
“Master Neloth has tasked Elynea with repairing the tower. Besides, what I do is not your business.”
“I could say the same to you.” He turned and casted the spell again with no results.
“Talvas, why aren’t you doing this in the lab, where it would be safer for all of us?”
“The, uh, the lab is too small, and I need the ashy soil. But Master Neloth knows what I’m doing, so don’t bother him about this. He’s…quite busy at the moment.”
“Of course, he is,” the woman muttered dryly. When Selene and Brynjolf got close enough, she looked over them critically. “We don’t get many visitors here. Can I help you?”
“We’re looking for Master Neloth,” said Selene.
“He’s in the largest tower. Up that path there. I am Verona Nelas, the steward. That’s Talvas, his apprentice.”
“I’m Selene Stormblade. This is my husband Brynjolf.”
“I have to ask,” Brynjolf began. “How is it that he lives in a giant mushroom?”
“We all do. In Morrowind, the Telvanni grow buildings from special fungus spores. Master Neloth managed to grow them here; don’t ask me how. Master Neloth should be in the lab. There is no need to knock; just go inside and up the shaft. If you need anything from me, I will be around.”
“Thank you,” Selene told her.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to be here,” Talvas grumbled, eyeing them critically.
“We just said we were here to see your master. Weren’t you paying attention?”
He gave her a long-suffering sigh. “I’m busy and can’t be bothered with meaningless conversation.”
“Aye, the ash guardian. What is an ash guardian?”
“It’s a daedra. An atronach. Don’t you know anything?”
“You’re kind of an ass, aren’t you?” Brynjolf observed.
The apprentice rolled his eyes and went back to his spell tome.
Selene and Brynjolf moved past the two Dunmer and up the slope to the largest mushroom. Brynjolf opened the door for Selene, and she stepped inside onto a lighted rune that took up the entire floor. Blue light surrounded her as soon as he stepped on it, and with a whoosh, she was lifted through the air in a cloud of blue light. She squealed with surprise as her body ascended through the shaft, a cool tingling sensation traveling through her limbs and Rowan kicking excitedly. She sighed with relief when she was deposited safely on an observation deck at the top and stepped out of the way as Brynjolf landed next to her.
“Well, now, that was an adventure,” he quipped.
“Hopefully the way down will be just as smooth.”
They stepped off the deck and into the lab, which ringed the shaft. Many tables held candles, soul gems, potions, and Dwemer artifacts. A couple of doors led off to other rooms, one of which was closed. The scent of the mushroom was stronger her, and a chemical odor also permeated the air, laced with a hint of ozone, as though someone had been casting a lightning spell. Neloth was hunched over one of the tables, tinkering with a Dwemer apparatus. He didn’t appear to have heard them come in.
“Neloth?” Selene said as she came up behind him.
The Dunmer turned and raised an eyebrow. “You again! You were in Raven Rock, yes? Hammering away at that temple.”
“That’s not a problem anymore.”
“No, I suppose not. I do have to admit it is nice not to have my servants going off every night to work on that ridiculous stone, and I hear I have you to thank for that. To what do I owe the…pleasure…of your visit?”
“I hear you know where to find Black Books.”
He folded his arms. “You’re referring to the esoteric knowledge that Hermeus Mora has scattered throughout the world?”
“Aye, I found a couple of them, and I need to find more. I believe they will aid me in my search for Miraak.”
“My, that is a dangerous path. You read them, didn’t you, the Black Books? Don’t try to deny it; I can tell. Well, they don’t appear to have driven you mad—yet, anyway. Dangerous knowledge, no? But dangerous knowledge is still knowledge and is therefore useful. Usually turns out to be the most useful, in my experience. You know Hermeus Mora gives nothing away for free. You may end up like Miraak before all is said and done. Then again, two power-mad Dragonborns facing off would be quite interesting.”
“So can you help us or not?” Brynjolf asked impatiently.
“Oh, yes. They’re not hard to locate once you know how to look for them. I have one here that I’ve been using to find the others.”
“Can we see it?” Selene asked.
“My book isn’t what you’re looking for. I’m quite sure it isn’t connected with Miraak. It is clearly not associated with the same power that has overtaken the island. And I’m not talking about Hermeus Mora—these books are all his, of course—but what you’re looking for is a specific book, presumably because Miraak’s power derives from it. I know where it is, but I haven’t been able to get it. Perhaps together we can unlock the secrets the Dwemer left behind.”
“The Dwemer?” Brynjolf repeated. “What do they have to do with it?”
“Forbidden knowledge was somewhat of a specialty for them, no? I would imagine the Black Books figured very prominently in their lives. I found the ‘reading room’ in the ruins of Nchardak, and a Black Book is there, but I wasn’t able to open its protective case. Perhaps the three of us together can get at the book.”
“Where is Nchardak?”
“Just around the bend. Not a half-hour’s walk.”
“Then let’s get started,” Selene urged him.
He nodded, picked up a Dwemer cube from a nearby table and went to the shaft, where he floated down without injury.
“That’s reassuring,” Selene said as she stepped off the deck and was caught up in the magic of the mushroom’s shaft, floating gently down to the floor below. When Brynjolf was with her, they followed Neloth out the door and down the slope toward the Dwarven ruin and another Black Book.