Never fear, I am still here. I'm not even going to try justifying the ridiculously long wait for this chapter, so just read on.
This story is by no means dead; I will be finishing this and more. As always, any and all feedback is welcome. And please check out the end of chapter 9 for the small contest I am having. You'll see it in bold text at the very end. Also, bonus points to anyone who gets the reference in the chapter title.
Chapter 10: All Nightmare Long
His whole body was numb as he lay in the snow, slowly bleeding from numerous wounds. Forcing his eyes open, he looked up and saw a figure standing a short distance away, its entire body glowing a bright blue. All around, other smaller blue shapes flew through the air, arcs of lightning shooting from them occasionally. Gritting his teeth, he slowly turned his head, nearly causing him to black out. A short distance away, he saw the broken bodies of his closest friends nearby. The young Redguard he had known for almost his entire life was now reduced to a shriveled husk, drained of all his life essence by the blue shapes flying above. On his other side was the Dunmer who had become one of his closest friends; she too reduced to a lifeless corpse. He always thought there would be more time to tell her how he felt, but now it was too late.
Turning his head back, he saw the glowing figure had approached him and was now towering over him. Trying to gather what little strength he still had, he tried to lift an arm fire a spell, but he had nothing left. There was no magicka left in his veins; he was defenseless. Letting out a laugh, the figure reached down and picked him up, causing a fresh wave of pain to course through his broken body. He was lifted until he was face to face with the blue figure. "Now, time to finish this," The figure said before he raised its hand. There was a flash of blue light, and then everything went dark….
Revan woke with a start, his face drenched with sweat. Just a dream he thought, but his body was still shaking. Just a dream.
Revan sat up and held his hands up to his face. Gods, that felt so real, he thought as he swung his legs out of bed. Maybe it was more than just a simple nightmare. Slowly getting up, he made his way over to the washbasin and splashed some water on his face. Wiping off the water with a towel, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. If it was something more than just a nightmare, I'll make damn sure nothing bad happens to anyone, especially my friends. Sighing, Revan walked back to his bed and lay down. He lay there, staring up at the ceiling, for what seemed like hours. His mind kept wandering back to the dream that had woken him. Growing frustrated, he turned his side and tried to will himself back to sleep. It may have been more than just a simple nightmare, but I can't dwell on it now. I need to be alert and focused once we get to Mzulft.
Eventually sleep came, but Revan awoke several more times before finally deciding to get up. Despite the less than desired amount of sleep, Revan felt ready for anything. I must be more sleep-deprived than I feel, he thought as he pulled on his boots. Or I'm just crazy.
He was just finishing adjusting the straps on his weapon belt when there was a knock on the door. "Revan, are you awake?" Brelyna asked.
Pulling the last strap taut, Revan walked over and opened the door. "This answer your question?" he said with a smile. "Ready when you are."
Brelyna nodded. "I'm all set. I took care of paying for the rooms, so we're good to go."
"You didn't need to do that." Revan said as they started walking out of the inn.
"I know, but I wanted to say thank you for letting me come with you." She replied, pulling her hood up once they stepped outside.
"Well, it wasn't exactly a difficult decision. Frankly, I enjoy your company, and it's always nice to have someone watching my back." Revan said, pulling up his own hood. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a map of the area. "Looks like we need to go this way." He said, holding the map out to Brelyna and tracing the path leading to the ruins.
Brelyna nodded. "It shouldn't take us more than a couple hours to get there. Let's get going." She turned and led the way out Windhelm. The sky was grey with storm clouds as they walked out of the city and across the bridge. Several guards passed the two mages, and though their eyes were hidden behind helmets, Revan could tell they were looking at them with contempt.
They reached the end without incident, but as they stepped back onto the road, Revan suddenly turned back and shouted, "Thanks for your hospitality. We'll be sure to recommend this place to our friends."
One of the guards at the end of the bridge shook his fist at the departing mages; the other shouted back, "Don't bother coming back, grey skins. Hope some bandits get you out there."
Giving one last wave, Revan turned back to the road, giving Brelyna a mischievous grin. "Something tells me we won't be welcome back to Windhelm anytime soon."
Brelyna was shaking her head as they walked, but Revan could tell she was trying to stifle her laughter. "I certainly got that impression. Guess we'll have to find somewhere else to stay on the way back."
They reached a crossroads after a short while, where Revan pulled out his map again. Confirming that they were still going to right way, he nodded and put the map back in his pocket. "Still on track. At this rate, we'll be there by midday." He said as they resumed their journey.
The rest of the trip to Mzulft was uneventful. The storm that had been brewing finally started, with cold rain pelting the mages while they walked. But nothing harassed them along the roads, and before long they were standing outside the door to Mzulft. "Well, if this door is anything to go by, the Dwemer certainly loved making people feel small." Revan said, looking up at the massive door leading to the ruined city.
Brelyna walked up and put her hand on the door. "I've read so many books on the Dwemer, but to actually be standing before one of their great cities, it almost doesn't seem real." She said, running her hand down the runes carved into the metal door. "Now's not the time for that though. Ready to find out what's inside?" she asked as she grabbed one of the handles. Revan nodded and grabbed the other handle. Slowly, they pulled the great doors open.
The first thing Revan noticed about the Dwarven ruin was how warm it was. The fact that they had just left a storm outside only made the room seem warmer. Revan shook the water off of his hood and pulled it down, Brelyna doing the same, before examining the entrance. The room they were in was small and square, with a door across from them leading deeper into Mzulft. Large bronze pipes lined one wall, while several slowly spinning cogs were on the other. The most striking feature of the room, however, was the corpse lying against the wall next to the door.
"This must be one of the Synod researchers." Revan said as he walked over to the body. The man was clad in basic blue robes with the hood still pulled up. Revan knelt down next to the man, trying hard not to breathe through his nose. "Hasn't been here too long, but long enough to start to stink."
"What do you think killed him?" Brelyna asked.
Revan shrugged before looking down at the Synod's hand. "He's clutching some kind of journal. Might give us a clue as to why they're down here." He said as he gently pulled the small book out of the corpse's hand. Carefully opening it, Revan pulled out a folded letter and read:
The Council has become aware of the lack of progress in your group's efforts. They are particularly displeased to learn that your specifications for the focusing crystal were completely incorrect.
The entire Binder's conclave has worked tirelessly, and the Council is quite sure this new crystal will suit your needs. You are herewith entrusted with delivering the crystal to the site, completing your work, and delivering a full report to the Council will all possible haste.
The Council trusts you will deliver the crystal to the Oculory personally, and that there will be no further complications.
-First Adjunct Oronrel
The journal itself was full of formulas and sketches, most of which appeared to have been hastily written. "Looks like he was a bringing something back for the expedition. This letter seems to be a message from his superiors. It mentions some kind of focusing crystal, and an experiment the Synod were conducting." Revan said as he looked over the body again. "Doesn't appear to have it anymore. Maybe whatever killed him took the crystal." Standing back up, Revan turned to Brelyna. "Sure you still want to go through with this?"
Brelyna nodded. "I'm with you, no matter what we find down here."
Revan smiled, and then gestured towards the door. "Shall we then?" he said before opening the door.
The two mages found themselves in a wide hallway. More bronze pipes lined the walls, some of them venting steam. Several shelves were scattered along the walls, with numerous Dwemer relics on them. Revan and Brelyna walked down the hallway cautiously, Revan holding his sword in one hand and lightning ready in the other, Brelyna with her bow strung and ready. As they moved down the hall, they came across two broken and bloodstained arrows. "I think we know how that researcher died." Revan said as he picked up one of the arrows. "I don't recognize what this is made of. It doesn't feel like any other arrow I've seen."
Brelyna reached out to touch the arrow. "I think I know what this might be made of, and if I'm right, we need to be careful. May I?" Revan handed her the arrow, which she examined. "I think this might be a Falmer arrow."
"Falmer? What's that?" Revan asked.
Brelyna handed him the arrow. "The Falmer were once a race of elves known as Snow Elves. They sought protection from the Dwemer against the Nords during their purge of Skyrim of all Elven kind. Long story short, the Dwemer betrayed the Snow Elves, enslaving them and causing them and all their descendants to be blind. No one's really sure what happened to the Dwarves and if the Falmer had anything to do with it, but we do know that the Falmer consider many of these ruins to be their homes. We need to be careful and find the location of the Staff of Magnus quickly."
Revan nodded, dropping the arrow. "Got it, we'll be quick and careful. Come on." The mages continued down the hall, which had now opened up further to accommodate what appeared to be large bronze cages against either wall. Inside was more Dwarven machinery churning away, sometimes venting steam through the bars. Revan was about to walk past the cages when he stopped.
"What is it, did you hear something?" Brelyna asked.
Revan shook his head and pointed down at a slightly raised part of the floor. "I think that might be a pressure plate of some kind. Let's make sure to avoid it and be on the lookout for more." Brelyna nodded as she followed Revan around the plate.
Continuing once again, they eventually came across another dead Synod. Several arrows were sticking out of his back, identical to the ones they had come across earlier. "Falmer definitely killed the two Synod we've found so far. I wonder how many more Synod were down here," Brelyna said.
Revan nodded. "That, and how many Falmer are down here with us?" A sudden chittering interrupted further conversation. Looking up, Revan saw what looked like a large spider made out of bronze. The spider froze when it came into view, and while it had no eyes, Revan was sure it was looking right at them. The spider must have decided the mages were a threat, because it suddenly rushed towards them. Backing away quickly, Revan channeled magicka into his left hand, building up a charge.
When it got close, the spider suddenly leapt into the air, its legs flailing as if trying to grab onto Revan. Before it reached him, Revan released the built up magicka in his palm. Lightning arced from his fingers, hitting the spider and sending it flying backwards, where it landed in a heap of twitching legs. Revan was about to hit it again when a fireball shot over his shoulder and hit the metal creature, melting most of its body. Revan turned to see Brelyna holding out her hand, palm still smoking. "I think we got it. Thanks for the assistance." He said, suppressing the charge in his hand.
Brelyna lowered her hand, but still kept a wary eye on the spider. "Let's hope we don't run into more of those things. I hate spiders." She said, blushing slightly.
Revan laughed. "That makes two of us, although I have to say, I think I'd take that over a frostbite spider any day." He said, causing Brelyna to smile. Leaving the still smoldering metallic spider, Revan and Brelyna continued on, coming out into a large room with more pipes and cogs churning and venting steam. They crossed the room quickly and opened the far door, leading to another hallway.
"The Dwemer certainly liked having lots of hallways, didn't they?" Brelyna said as they walked.
Revan nodded. "Certainly appears that way. Maybe whoever designed this place just liked having them." He said as they reached another door. Revan slowly opened it, revealing a similar room to the one they had just left. Where that one had been empty though, this one was occupied by two more of the bronze spiders. They hadn't noticed the door opening, so Revan quickly backed out, motioning Brelyna close. "Two more inside. We each take one, hit it with a couple firebolts. That should take care of them." Brelyna nodded, conjuring a fireball in her hand.
Revan counted to three silently, then threw open the door. The spiders turned when they heard the noise, and both were immediately struck by a pair of fireballs, melting their bodies. With nothing else of interest in the room, the mages crossed over to the door. Revan noticed a different set of symbols covered this door, but didn't think anything of it. He pushed the door open, and immediately leapt back as several metal spears dropped out of the top of the door frame. "It appears the rumors about Dwemer traps was accurate. That was certainly a bit closer than I would have liked." Revan said as the spears receded back into the ceiling. Shaking his head, he led the way deeper in.
Another long hallway, this one leading to a natural cave. "Wonder why the Dwemer never constructed anything here?" Revan asked.
"Maybe they used areas like this for growing food." Brelyna suggested as they passed a dying tree. "All we can do is guess at this point, since no one's seen a Dwemer in hundreds of years."
Revan was about to respond when he heard more chittering further ahead. Revan brought up his hands, crackling with lightning, just in time for a large black beetle-like creature came around the corner. As soon as it saw the mages, it let out a hiss and spat a wad of poison at them. Dodging to the side, Revan fired twin streams of lightning into the creature. The lightning struck home, sending the creature flying back down the corridor. A couple of firebolts finished it off, and the mages were able to continue. "What in Oblivion was that thing?" Revan asked as they continued walking.
"I think it was a chaurus. I don't know all that much about them, but I know the Falmer practically worship those things." Brelyna said. Gesturing back, she continued, "Those arrows we found earlier? They were almost certainly made out of the shell of a chaurus."
Revan shook his head a couple times. "I don't know about you, but I think I'll be perfectly happy never setting foot in another Dwemer ruin." He said, causing Brelyna to laugh.
"Don't worry, if we ever come across another ruin, I'll be sure to protect you." She said, making Revan chuckle. "Personally, I would love to come back here some day and just wander around. The Dwemer really are fascinating; it's just a shame their cities are so full of traps and various other things that want to kill you."
As Brelyna finished speaking, the mages came around a corner and found themselves in an open cavern. Along two of the walls were large wooden scaffolds, the wood rotten almost to collapse due to age. As they came closer, Revan could see two more dead Synod researchers at the base of one of the scaffolds, one covered in acid burns, the other with numerous bite marks all over his body. The ground around them was scorched black, indicating they probably went down fighting. Revan looked towards the other scaffold and saw what looked like a small campsite. He walked over to the fire-pit and put his hand inside the ring of stones. "Cold; no one's been here for at least a couple days." He said, straightening up.
Some leftover firewood was still stacked nearby, along with two large knapsacks and some overturned stools. "Looks like they were sitting around the fire when they were attacked; probably knocked these over in their scramble to get away." Revan said, opening one of the knapsacks. At least a week's worth of food was inside, but no more clues as to what the Synod were looking for. "Nothing here to tell us why they are so interested in Mzulft. Guess we'll have to keep going." Revan said, looking over at Brelyna.
She opened her mouth to respond, but stopped when the now familiar chittering sound came from deeper in the cave. "We've got company," She said as she charged up a pair of firebolts. As she said this, a chaurus appeared at the end of the next corridor. It saw the mages and began charging towards them. It was about halfway down the corridor, however, when there was a loud rumbling. Before the chaurus knew what was happening, several large boulders dropped from the ceiling and buried it.
"Well that was a stroke of luck," Revan said, walking towards the pile of boulders, sword in his hand. Except for a single still twitching leg, the entire chaurus had been completely buried. "Maybe there was a tripwire or something?" Revan wondered out loud.
"Whatever it was, I'm glad that chaurus was in the way and not us." Brelyna replied. Carefully climbing over the boulders, they continued down the cave passage. Further down, the cave ended, replaced by more Dwemer ruins. "The Dwemer certainly had an interesting way of designing their cities." Brelyna commented as they stepped out of the cave and back into Mzulft.
Further along, they came to a large room lined with shelves and containers of all sizes. In the corners of the room were bronze cages, behind which were more containers. "Looks like a storage room. Good thing J'Zargo isn't here, otherwise we'd be spending the next three hours in here." Revan said, causing Brelyna to laugh. She stopped, however, when there was a loud clang and the sound of rolling wheels coming towards them.
"That doesn't sound like those spider things, or a chaurus." Brelyna said, charging her firebolts.
"The Dwemer probably saved some of their more advanced security measures for areas like this." Revan said, gripping his sword tightly. Further conversation was cut short as the source of the noise came around the corner. The thing before them was roughly human shaped, but instead of legs it had two large wheels. Like the spiders they had already fought, the entire thing was made of the same bronze colored metal. One hand held a sword, the other a small crossbow. When it saw the two mages, the automaton let out a jet of steam and began rolling quickly towards them.
"They certainly didn't make this easy." Revan said, firing a stream of sparks at the advancing automaton. The sparks connected and arced over its body, but still it came on. Standing next to Revan, Brelyna launched her firebolts at the construct. Both hit home, sending the automaton flying backwards, its sword arm half-melted. "Keep your guard up, I don't think it's finished yet." Revan warned.
As he said this, the Dwemer guardian raised its crossbow and fired at the mages. Luckily, either due to poor aim or its position on the floor, the bolt flew high over their heads, to which Brelyna responded with another pair of firebolts. These hit the torso, blowing a large hole in the automaton. With one last burst of steam, the guardian finally collapsed, its body almost torn in half.
"Well, that was certainly something." Revan said as he sheathed his sword. "Let's hope there aren't too many more of those ahead."
Brelyna nodded, and the mages continued down the adjacent hallway. At the top of another ramp, Revan saw a small pale corpse lying face down near the far wall. "I'm guessing that's a Falmer?" he asked as they got closer.
"I think so." Brelyna said as they reached the corpse. "Certainly fits the description." She continued as she knelt to examine it closer. A short sword, made of an unknown black material, was lay not far from one of its hands. Revan looked further down the passage and saw a shield that looked to be made from the same material a short distance away.
"Any idea what killed it?" Revan asked as he picked up the sword.
Brelyna turned the dead Falmer over and pointed to a burnt hole in its chest. "It would seem the Synod do actually know some practical magic." She said, causing Revan to chuckle. "May I see that?" she asked, gesturing to the sword.
Revan handed her the sword, then stood up and retrieved the shield. Bringing it back, he set it down next to Brelyna. "Also had this with him. Definitely expected a fight of some kind."
Brelyna nodded. "They may be blind, but their other senses are much more acute to make up for it. Some even theorize that they can see, just not in the traditional way with their eyes." She held up the sword. "And this sword? Almost certainly made from a chaurus shell. That shield too, probably. It's too bad the Falmer aren't very friendly; we could learn so much from them, not just about the Snow Elves, but maybe even about the Dwemer." She set the sword down and stood up. "I would love to come back here someday and really look around, but we need to keep moving."
Revan nodded. "I was just about to say that. Come on, hopefully we're getting close." Leaving the dead Falmer behind, the mages continued on, passing one of the now-familiar bronze steam pipes. The hallway opened up into another room, with another Falmer corpse lying in front of the door leading deeper in. Except for the bow still clutched in its hand, it appeared to be identical to the one they had already passed.
Ignoring the corpse, they reached the large doors leading to the next part of the ruin. It was similar to all the ones they had passed through already, except for the large plaque on the wall next to it. "Wonder what it says?" Revan asked as he traced his finger over the symbols etched into the metal.
"Maybe one day, we'll be able to translate it." Brelyna said.
Revan nodded, then grabbed one of the handles. "Ready?" he asked. Brelyna grabbed the other handle and nodded. Together, they pulled the doors open and passed into the next area of Mzulft.