Katja wasn’t good at sleeping while the sun shone. Down in the depths of a draugr-infested barrow, she would sleep when she was tired and wake when her internal clock told her it was time to do so. Here in the Suite, though there were no windows on the upper story, her internal clock kept telling her time was a’wasting. It didn’t matter that she had no particularly pressing items on her schedule. So, after coming back to consciousness two or three times she abandoned the effort and snuggled in a little closer to Anders, kissing his neck.
“It might be time to get up, love,” she murmured in his ear. He stirred, struggling for consciousness. As disrupted as his own internal clock had become from a fast-travelling round trip to Fort Dawnguard, he’d have happily slept another several hours. But he needed to get moving! So, with a supreme effort, he shook off the cobwebs and dragged his mind kicking and screaming back to full awareness of his surroundings. Oh, they included a naked Kat. How delightful. He turned on his side and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight for a kiss. Mmm.
Katja kissed him back, with enthusiasm but no agenda. It seemed to her that if he and the rest of his team were planning to leave on a walking tour of the lands to the east and north, they might want to get moving. Anders appeared to be ramping up for another round of lovemaking, but she reluctantly forestalled him. “Don’t you want to leave for this Dwemer ruin of yours?” she asked. He squeezed her tight and sighed.
“Yes,” he said. In another moment he added “Hold my place for me, okay?” She smiled.
Anders rolled out of the bed and began gathering up his gear. Katja got up and helped him into his armor, not that this magically abbreviated Elven stuff needed much help. In a minute or two, he was shouldering his pack and she was back in the dress she’d cast aside earlier. The whole wardrobe project could wait. Seemingly, she was about to be completely on her own for a few days and should have all the time she wanted to catch up on projects.
They walked through the eastern gallery and found Sorine sitting up and putting on her own gear. Good. Telling her they’d see her downstairs shortly, Anders and Katja continued to the stairs and went down into the common room. Wyll was sitting there at their usual table, fully armored and looking the tiniest bit impatient. “Are we all set?” Anders asked him, and he nodded with a smile. Outside the context of battle, it was hard to catch Wyll Jarskarvir without a ready smile. “Sorine’s on her way down,” Anders added. “Does anybody have the time?”
“According to Lane, it’s almost 2:30,” Wyll said.
At this juncture Sorine hurried down the stairs and joined them, looking slightly flustered. “Is there anything to eat?” she asked. Anders hadn’t considered that in his concern to get moving, but he realized it had been several genuine, real-time hours since they last ate and his stomach had a thing or two to say on the subject.
“I’m on it,” Wyll replied, pulling a couple of bundles out of his pack. He handed one to each of his traveling companions.
Peeling away the wrappers, which appeared to be a sort of paper impregnated with beeswax, Anders found a familiar-looking bread roll. But it had been cut down the middle, and slices of cooked beef and cheese laid between the halves. There was some kind of a savory sauce, as well, though Anders couldn’t put a finger on what it was. Sinking his teeth into an enormous bite, he chewed and declared “This is great, Wyll! Where’d you get this?”
“It’s an invention of Lane’s,” Wyll said. “He’s always got travelers wanting food for the road. Look,” he added, pulling out an additional waxed paper packet for each of them, “potato chips.”
Thus able to walk and eat, the three companions made their way toward the Suite’s front doors. In the road outside, Katja hugged and kissed her men and squeezed Sorine’s hands, wishing them luck in their quest. Then she stood and watched them stride down the road, two of them still munching. After no more than a hundred feet, they cut east off the road and headed across country. Her heart was in her throat as she watched them go. She was left behind. Was this what it would be like when she was heavy with child, or nursing little ones?
Anders took the lead as the three of them set off across the slightly rolling plain, aiming for the mountains piled up to their left – across the valley of the White from Throat of the World. They had some decent maps with them, but unfortunately these were of the non-magical sort. Still, they could get some idea of where they were and where they wanted to go. He spotted a likely looking trail leading up the slope and into what appeared to be a snowy mountain pass heading north.
They soon found themselves looking at snow-covered peaks dotted with enormous pines, but between the crags the terrain remained gentle enough for passage. Anders led his companions up over a snow-covered saddle, and on the far side they could see the land sloping down again. A little further along they found themselves gazing down a steep, rocky, slope at what was clearly a Dwemer tower.
“I think that’s it,” Sorine said, checking the paperwork about her person. Anders couldn’t believe it. He’d expected to be traveling on into the night, but from the angle of the sun it was still not much later than five in the afternoon.
“Are you sure?” he asked her. Skyrim was riddled with Dwemer ruins, after all. Perhaps they’d stumbled over one that wasn’t marked on their maps. “I’ll be able to tell for sure after we get down there,” she said, beckoning toward a series of walkways and staircases flanking the tower.
The three of them picked their way down the steep slope, hopping from boulder to boulder until they’d landed on one of the snow-covered walkways. After that, Sorine pulled out the book she’d been studying earlier and scanned it. “I’m almost certain this it is,” she said firmly. “Let’s find the entrance.” The place seemed to be deserted, and in a short while they came to the entrance to a Dwemer lift. It was locked from the inside, though. They began picking their way along the rooftops, looking for a way down.
Below them and to the right, Anders could see a skin tent. As he and his companions hopped down onto the plaza it was pitched on, a bandit sentry looked around puzzled. Clearly, he’d been on guard duty without any intruders for far too long. Before he could muster a response to the sudden appearance of enemies, Sorine had sunk a steel bolt into his breastbone and he fell limply to the stairs below.
They were now on the alert for additional sentries, but encountered only one more bandit as they approached the large, central doors leading into the ruin. He didn’t even get a shot off before they’d sent him to oblivion. Inside, the doors gave upon a broad, low-vaulted stone hall with heavy, carven stone pillars on either side. A large, circular Dwarven metal medallion in the courtyard at the bottom of the ramp suggested a trap of some sort, which they easily avoided.
Instead of walking through the central doors, Anders led them down a corridor to the left. There they found a sleeping area, and a heavily armored Orc taking a nap on a fur sleeping pad. Again, Sorine was quick with her crossbow. Anders was beginning to realize that perhaps he needn’t have worried about the Dwemer expert’s ability to take care of herself.
Turning a corner, the three stalked silently onward. A spitted skeever occupied one corner, and ahead of them their path ran through gleaming Dwarven metal gates and down another stone ramp. Near the bottom of it, they suddenly found themselves attacked on three sides by more members of the bandit gang. Neither Wyll nor Anders had much respect for bandits. Overall they tended to be dimwitted, deficient in battle skills, and poorly equipped. These were no exception, and it was scarcely moments before the three were no longer a threat.
“This is about what I expected,” Wyll said quietly. “I’d heard there was a band here.”
“Not a very competent one,” Anders remarked. The trio crept on around a couple more corners, and found a central chamber that looked like it was probably the bandits’ main campsite. A man garbed like a leader was sitting in a chair facing the fire while a subordinate talked to him from across the hearth and another stood to one side. Before Anders could even start hurling bolts of Destruction, Sorine drew a bead with her deadly crossbow and took the leader down with a single shot. Then as Wyll and Anders charged in, she picked off the guy on the far side of the fire.
Looks like I’m just here in an advisory capacity, Anders thought. It occurred to him that there might have been a time or two, while he and Wyll were accompanying Kat, where she’d had the same thought. No wonder she’d been so fierce before they set off for Castle Volkihar! Anders searched the bodies, checking for anything useful like maps or keys, and pocketed some gold. The bandits certainly weren’t going to be needing it.
As yet they’d found little in the way of the Dwemer artifacts they were seeking. Anders cast a glance to the left and saw slatted Dwarven metal gates ahead on the floor they were standing on, and a second set on a floor above. Enormous Dwarven metal pipes, more than the thickness of a man, ran across the ceiling. “I think we need to go in there,” Sorine gestured, “but it’s probably not necessary to open those gates ahead of us. Anders realized that the locked gates before them gave on a chamber that was easily accessible from another set of gates, already open, to the left.
They found a staircase leading up to the second floor, and Sorine was riveted by the sight of a pair of Dwemer weapons emplacements. These, all of Dwarven metal, looked like a pair of gigantic quadruple crossbows positioned on either side of the sort of lever one often saw operating Dwemer lifts. The weapons were pointed down toward the floor below, and Sorine ran to examine them. Then she pulled the lever, and watched enormous Dwarven bolts shoot out, eight at a time, to rake the unpopulated area they had recently left behind.
“It’s a good thing these weren’t manned against us,” she remarked half-aloud. A cache of the bolts was lying against the wall behind them, and she tucked one into her pack. Weapons like these would be hugely useful for defending a castle, such as Fort Dawnguard. A little further along, as if the guard had officially been handed over from the bandits, the three began to encounter Dwarven automatons. Most in this area seemed to be the large “Mech Spiders,” about the size of a really large Frostbite spider and similar in shape.
Sorine’s improved crossbow with its superior bolts proved to be deadly to the Dwemer mechs, Anders noted. Kat had had a lot trouble taking them down with her arrows, and her Shouts had been almost completely ineffective against them; but the crossbow was sending each one flying in a shower of sparks. He made a note to tell Kat about this. She had one or two of these crossbows herself, and could perhaps enchant one for extra damage. Much better than a regular bow, it seemed, where Dwemer automatons were concerned.
Sorine bent to examine the scattered remains, and stood triumphantly with an openwork metal globe in her hands. A red gem of some sort glowed in the center, and though the automaton that had housed it had ceased functioning, an inner cage was still spinning beneath the outer housing. “A Centurion Dynamo Core!” she told her companions triumphantly. “I hadn’t expected to find one in the remains of a spider. You usually have to destroy a centurion to obtain one. We could use three more of these, or as many as we can carry if there are more to be had. This is what makes the machines move.”
They continued through the maze of corridors and came to a stone ramp flanked by staircases, with a groove running the length of it down the center. As soon as they approached a shaft erupted from the groove and began spinning, unfurling two long blades that sliced through the air at about waist height as the device twirled its way from one end of the groove to the other and back again.
Anders had seen these in Dwemer ruins before, as had Sorine, and they waited their chance, climbing the stairs and pressing themselves against the walls while the whirling blades of death went past, then charging fast up to the top before they returned. Wyll, with his bulk, was not so fortunate. A blade clipped him, knocking him momentarily to his knees, and then got him again as he stood up. Cursing, he darted out of the way of it and then dashed to the top of the steps, limping.
He stood there at the top with them, panting and looking annoyed. “You’re supposed to duck, Wyll,” Anders explained.”
“Shut up and hand me a health potion,” his friend growled. He’d scarcely had time to down the potion, swiftly recovering from his slight injuries, when the three were attacked by a smallish Dwarven Centurion. Snarling, Wyll swung his axe high and nearly took its head off. The thin sheet metal of the automaton’s carapace was no match for the solid, heavy steel of that enormous weapon.
They took a moment to recover while Sorine searched the deactivated bot. It was nearly intact save for the smashed head, and she used some of the tools in her kit to dismantle it. This yielded another dynamo core and a grand soul gem, plus some useful cogs and levers. As she collected the pieces, she was already envisioning how they would fit together. They might need to fabricate some pieces, but she was becoming increasingly confident that they’d succeed in making the hot water system Anders wanted. Hell, they might set up a factory and put them into production. Every wealthy family in Skyrim would want one of these units in their home.
Ahead, the three had to negotiate another trap in which a gas jet stood on one side of a narrow passage while a piston on the opposite side would push the unwary traveler into the flames. This time, they all made it safely past. Wyll was learning fast. They passed through several more rooms, finding additional materials for the project: cogs, gears, levers, and Dwarven oil. The last had been pressed into use by modern men as an alchemical ingredient, mostly used for poisons; but it was a key component in the ability of Dwemer machinery to keep working millennia after its creators had vanished. It was probably the best lubricant the world had ever seen.
Eventually they reached a dead end with only one exit: a lift that stood before them, beckoning them who-knows-where. Anders looked around at his companions, particularly Sorine, seeking a consensus. She nodded at him, so he pulled the lever. They shortly found themselves confronting a dimly-lit corridor with double doors at the end of it, which opened onto another ramp like the one they’d climbed earlier. A rockfall had left it partially ruinous though, and the blade trap stood at a drunken angle above the groove, no longer a threat to anyone. They vaulted an enormous pipe lying in their path and climbed the ramp.
Now, for the first time since they’d entered this ruin, they began to encounter Falmer. Their yurts, fashioned from the chitin of chaurus, were scattered here and there throughout the cavernous rooms they traversed. The “Betrayed” themselves, apparently so lacking in social cooperation that they were most often to be found alone, posed little challenge to the three well-armed and well-organized humans. Anders, Sorine, and Wyll picked them off as they found them, searching the corpses in case they might have picked up anything useful down here.
They followed the corridors through various bends, looking around at the gigantic Dwemer structures that surrounded them. Only Sorine had any idea what these constructions had been used for, and she was less focused on them than on finding the precise components she needed for the project at hand. At one point, though, she spotted a section of pipe that looked to be the right diameter for their needs.
She’d already concluded that they were going to have to fabricate pipe for their purposes. From the descriptions Anders and Wyll had provided of the house’s water system, they would already be having a considerable length of copper pipe made to conduct water from the cistern atop its tower to the house, as well as terra cotta or possibly cast iron drain pipe leading to the sewer system. But for the hot pool, Sorine wanted pipe crafted from Dwarven metal, in the same diameters as she was looking at here. She needed a small section to take with them, so the fabricator would have something to copy.
“Anders,” she asked, “how hot is that destruction magic of yours?”
“Pretty hot,” he responded, puzzled. “If I dual-wield lightning and flames I can melt right through armor.”
Sorine smiled broadly at him. “Perfect,” she said. “Could you see if you can cut about a one-foot section of this pipe, please?” She’d put an ear to it and heard no sound of anything passing through it, nor had they seen any further gas jets after the one they’d passed all that time ago. Still, she encouraged Anders to stand well back when applying the magic to the pipe, while she and Wyll stood still further off.
Anders had never done anything like this before. He’d become a little more adept at focusing his destruction magic in the process of refining his drink-cooling abilities, but this was the first time he’d ever tried to make a narrow cut in something instead of just blowing it to smithereens. As he attempted it, though, he realized that the spell was obedient to him. Much as he could focus it on a particular target, picking a bandit off of a distant lookout post, he could direct the width of the blast; and by narrowing it, caused the intensity to rise exponentially.
After an initial false start that left the section of pipe with a large chunk missing (and confirmed, to everyone’s relief, that nothing was flowing through it), Anders concentrated his mind and began producing a bolt of mixed fire and lightning like a glowing bar no more than half an inch across, that cut through the Dwarven metal like a knife through… not butter. More like venison from a particularly tough old stag. But still… The brilliant light generated by this beam of destructive energy caused all of them to squint and turn their heads aside, even at this distance.
In his years of practicing Destruction magic Anders’ supply of Magicka had increased enormously. The armor and other items Kat had enchanted for him increased it even more, and sped the rate at which it replenished itself. He was pleased and somewhat astonished to find that, despite the high intensity of the flows he was producing, he was able to cut all the way through the diameter of the pipe without running out. The cut was a little ragged, due to his having been unable to really see what he was doing.
Sorine and Wyll were alternately turning away in pain at the brilliant light and peeking back to watch in awed fascination. When the cut went all the way through, they suddenly remembered to breathe and then grinned at Anders. “Holy crap, that was amazing!” Wyll boomed.
Anders grinned back. “It was, kind of, wasn’t it?” Though use of his Magicka did not take away from his stamina, he still felt like he needed to take a short break. In another minute he was ready to begin again, cutting the pipe a foot or so from the site of the first cut.
This time the process went faster, as Anders’ confidence grew. Molten Dwarven metal dripped in a glowing stream like candle wax to the stone floor, and in a minute or less the entire section of pipe separated and fell with a clang. Sorine reached for it, but Anders grabbed her wrist. “It’s hot!” he reminded her. “Wait a second.” He switched to a more broadly focused frost spell and in moments the pipe section was slightly below ambient temperature. Sorine tucked it into her pack with a smile and a word of thanks.
A little further along the trio came to an area where four short pillars, each surmounted by a glowing blue pushbutton, offered a minor challenge to passersby. Anders immediately wished Kat were here. Her facility with this sort of puzzle was nothing short of magical. He tried to guess which button to press and ended up getting toasted by flames, which he swiftly evaded by jumping out of the way.
Several more attempts eventually led to a gate across the corridor to their left being opened; whereupon Sorine insisted on going back to the pillars and spending several minutes dismantling two of them with her tool kit so she could steal the button modules. As the gate was now open, Anders supposed, the loss of the buttons wouldn’t hurt anything.
After Sorine had all she wanted from the area, they proceeded down the now-opened corridor. Ahead, another set of gates barred passage to an area screened off by a slatted fence of Dwarven metal. They proved to be unlocked, however. As they came in, a pair of the large mech spiders converged on them. Sorine shattered one with a bolt from her crossbow, while Anders halted the other with a bolt of lightning before Wyll knocked it skittering into the wall in pieces with a blow from his axe.
Sorine rifled the remains and came up with another dynamo core. Only one more to go, plus whatever else she needed. Anders was beginning to feel pretty tired, and he wondered how long they’d been down here. When you were questing in the sunless depths of dungeons or Dwemer ruins, on constant alert against attack, it was easy to lose all track of time until you were ready to drop.
In a pen off to the left side of the entryway a couple of enormous chaurus were chittering agitatedly. There were no Falmer in sight, however. Sorine seemed to find the creatures offensive, and leaned in through a low opening to shoot at them with her crossbow until both had ceased moving. After that Anders picked the lock on the gate to the pen and they went in to see if there was anything there worth taking. They found no Dwemer artifacts, but he carried off some chaurus chitin and eggs for Kat.
On the far side of the room a tall shimmering plate of Dwarven metal stood up against the wall, with a pool of water in front of it. Gears were making tortured thumping noises, jerking back and forth but not spinning. Sorine approached a short pillar standing at the top of a set of steps leading to the pool, and pressed the button set in its top. But nothing happened.
Looking around, she assessed the state of the machinery in the room. Then she spotted a long human leg bone caught in a set of gears near at hand. Reaching up, she grasped the bone and freed it. Now these gears were spinning; but the thumping continued. Anders and Wyll stood watching as she made a circuit of the room, closely examining each set of gears. As she did so, they realized there were Falmer yurts in the room’s far corners. They had to dispatch several of the creatures as Sorine continued searching for faults in the room’s mechanisms.
Letting the men handle the hostiles, Sorine focused her attention on the gears. Aha, these had a spine stuck in them. Another set had a skull. What in all the hells had caused these odd bones to become stuck thus? She could only imagine the gears had been intentionally jammed with whatever was to hand. Nothing else made sense. She had now freed three sets of gears, and had examined every set in the room but found no more obstructions. Yet the thumping continued. Wait…
Peering down through the crystalline waters of the pool, Sorine realized there were more gears down there, at the bottom of one of the structures that flanked the short staircase. “Wyll?” she asked. Why get all wet when there was a nice young warrior near to hand with nothing to occupy him?
“Yeah?” he responded in his rumbling bass.
“Think you could swim down there and see if anything is stuck in those gears?” she gestured.
He grinned at her. “Sure, no problem.” He peeled off his armor, causing Sorine to bite her lip as his magnificent physique and finely-formed, hefty manhood were fully revealed. Definitely, she thought, it might be time to start looking for some male companionship. Wyll dove into the pool with scarcely a splash despite his size, and in another moment surfaced with a broad smile, waving a hunk of Dwarven scrap metal. “Got it!” The thumping had ceased, and now all the gears seemed to be turning smoothly.
Wyll boosted himself back out of the pool in a shower of droplets and rummaged in his pack for a towel. After drying himself off he got back into his armor. Sorine stood, trying not to stare at him, until he was dressed again. Rrrowl. Then she tried the button again, and the sheet of Dwarven metal on the far wall, hinged at the bottom, dropped toward them to form a bridge across the pool.
This also revealed a passageway behind it, which was blocked by an enormous Dwarven Centurion. Oh, crap! The three sprang into action. Sorine’s crossbow bolts, so effective against the smaller mech spiders, were considerably less so against this much larger contraption with its correspondingly thicker carapace. She shot twice, then staggered back as Wyll charged in, axe swinging, and Anders shot a focused beam of combined fire and lightning to cut a swath inches deep across the thing’s head.
With a groan of tortured metal, the Centurion collapsed to the walkway. Leery of heat, Sorine approached it and began breaking into its interior compartments with her tool set. She was triumphant to find another dynamo core, the last one she needed. The three skirted the wreckage and continued down a corridor behind it, where a wall-mounted lever caused a set of bars to drop into the floor.
Beyond it was a medium-sized room with massive, carved stone pillars holding up the ceiling on either side of a smallish, waist-high roofed cage of Dwarven metal bars. A frisson of recognition passed though Anders as they approached it, and he realized it was exactly like the one that had granted him and Kat access to Blackreach, when they were hunting the elder scroll that had enabled her to learn the Dragonrend Shout.
The room was uninhabited, by either mechs or Falmer, and he decided this might be a good time to take a break. “Is anybody besides me tired and hungry?” he asked, and got murmurs of agreement from Sorine and Wyll. They tossed some bed rolls down on the stone floor and sat on them, and Wyll pulled more of the wrapped meat and cheese rolls from his pack. Their hours of travel had not improved them, but washed down with bottles of water they were edible; and hunger supplied savor enough.
After their meal, Anders and Sorine lay down while Wyll stood the first watch. In a couple of hours Sorine arose and let Wyll catch some sleep; then Anders took a watch. All remained quiet. When everyone had had enough rest they breakfasted on dried beef and apples, washed down with more water, before continuing on their way. Or attempting to.
Atop the cage was a stone cap, in the middle of which concentric circles of Dwarven metal contained a glowing blue crystal shaped like a pyramid. There was a low pillar built into the side of the cage with a button atop it, but pressing the button did nothing. “I’ve seen these before,” Sorine said. “It requires a resonator sphere to activate the mechanism.” To Anders she added, “I don’t suppose you have one with you?” Anders frowned, shaking his head. Kat still had hers, but it was in a trunk back at the Suite so far as he knew.
“Well,” Sorine mused, looking around. “Let’s see if we can find one.” The three of them began searching the room, then went back down the corridor to the large room and searched the corpses of the Falmer they’d killed earlier. Nothing. But in a yurt tucked into the dimmest recesses of the room, Sorine found a chest – and the sphere they needed! The Falmer had no doubt picked it up and stashed it with their other “treasures” because it was an attractive artifact.
They returned to the room they’d slept in and Sorine activated the sphere. Sound beyond the range of human hearing triggered the larger mechanism, and the cage fell away to reveal a spiral staircase of stone sinking down to a level below. At the bottom, double doors gave on another stone corridor. Sorine halted their progress at that juncture and spent a long time dismantling components of the mechanism that had opened the stairway. Anders and Wyll sat on the steps and watched her, talking idly as they waited for her to finish.