Into the Depths
When they started moving again, through the doors, Anders had a brief hope that they would find more of the building complex (and whatever other components Sorine sought) ahead. No such luck. As they opened the next set of doors, they beheld a sight that was familiar to Anders if not to the other two: Blackreach. Wyll and Sorine stared, transfixed, as Anders sighed. He hadn’t much liked this place during his previous visit and had hoped never to come back. Sorine turned to him, looking thrilled, and said “This is Blackreach, isn’t it?” He nodded regretfully. “This is wonderful!” she exclaimed, looking around her with awe. “I didn’t think I would ever actually see it.”
Anders eyed her with the air of someone humoring an enthusiast. “You should have asked me or Kat,” he told her. “We came down here months ago looking for an elder scroll. There are several elevators up to the surface, and at least a couple of them are open from the top. If I’d known we were coming down here we could have saved ourselves some trouble.”
“We still needed those dynamo cores and the other pieces I collected,” Sorine pointed out. “I just need a few special light globes and we should be able to go home.”
Anders smiled at her, then. “Any idea where we might find those?” he asked, gesturing around at the sprawling underground complex dimly lit by glowing minerals and the gigantic mushrooms that grew like trees here and there.
“Most likely, they would be in an area where water is being handled. Like a pumphouse, perhaps. So if we look for water going into a building, that will probably be the spot.”
“All right then,” he replied. “Lead the way. And keep a sharp eye out for Falmer and chaurus. There are a lot of them down here. Some mechs and Centurions, too.” Sorine made a beeline for the river that ran through the area. The entrance they had come through was much closer to the water than the one at the bottom of Alftand had been. They walked along the shore, passing the building with the enormous golden globe atop it that Anders remembered all too vividly from his previous visit. The place had been crawling with human servants of the Falmer.
Sorine walked in the dim light with her eyes glued to the opposite shore, relying on her two companions to alert her – or defend her – if any hostiles showed up. Shortly she spotted exactly what she was looking for – an inlet of the river that ran into the bowels of a massive building on the far shore. Stripping down with enemies lurking in the dark seemed like a bad idea, so they waded in fully armored. The water wasn’t deep enough for swimming.
The men’s glistening Elven armor actually fared much better for the dip than Sorine’s leathers did. The Dawnguard armor was water-resistant and supple, and could even be washed; but for the moment it clung clammily to her legs like the embrace of an undead lover. Shudder. Inside the tunnel, Sorine saw just what she was looking for, and it drove thoughts of discomfort from her mind. A double row of green-glowing lights ran down the center of the tunnel, perhaps 3-4 feet above their heads.
If only I hadn’t left my ladder in my other pack, Sorine thought with dismay. Hmm, Wyll was pretty darn tall and his arms were long. “Wyll, can you reach those lights?” He stood on tiptoe and stretched upward, but his fingertips were inches short of brushing them.
“Nope. But I could lift you up to them,” he replied with a grin.
“Good idea!” she said, pulling out her tool kit and gathering a couple of implements she thought she would need.
Wyll crouched on the floor and Sorine stepped over his broad back, draping her legs over his shoulders and leaning forward over his head as he gathered his legs under him and stepped, crouching at first, back into the water. There the tubular tunnel was taller and he could stand up. Sorine now had to duck a little in order to keep from cracking her head on the ceiling, and her damp crotch was pressed up against the back of his neck while her thighs gripped the sides of his head. Wyll found himself stiffening a little at this, though he had no real desire for Sorine. It reminded him, though, of some times when Kat’s thighs had gripped him – from the other direction.
For her part Sorine was so excited by her Dwemer tech find and so absorbed in claiming these treasures, that she scarcely gave a thought to her intimate juxtaposition with Wyll. Now maybe if she’d been facing the other way around… She soon found she was able to pry the bezel apart – removing a protective glass lens that served to concentrate the light and extracting an object shaped roughly like a chicken’s egg that was twice the size, cool to the touch, and glowing green. Like the dynamo cores, it seemed to tap energy from some other plane of existence. After holding one in her hand for a minute her skin began to smart, and her eyes were also burning from looking into it.
“Anders, catch!” she said, carefully handing the light globe down to him. “Better wrap it in a towel,” Sorine warned him. “The rays are harmful up close.” She tucked the bezel and its glass lens into her pack. Then she asked Wyll to take a step forward, so she could get another. She thought that for a house system the size of the one Anders had talked about they would only need two, but here were two dozen. She didn’t think they could take them all, but she certainly intended to take as many as they could reasonably carry.
In the end it was Sorine’s neck rather than Wyll’s shoulders that gave out, and she stopped and asked to be let down after collecting eight of the globes. As near as she could tell, these were identical to the ones in the system at the Suite – and their harmful effects at close range seemed to be a sign that they could be used for the same purpose.
After getting back onto the ground and rolling her head around to ease the crick that had formed while she’d worked scrunched against the ceiling, Sorine smiled at Wyll and stepped close to give him a slight embrace, reaching up to apply a peck to his cheek. “Thank you, mighty steed!” she said jauntily. Now that the work was done, she felt elated at their success. Wyll grinned down at her and gave a slight bow. Anders, who’d had nothing to do but catch and stash the globes as they came down, seemed anxious to leave.
Despite her feeling of triumph, Sorine realized her eyes were burning and tearing and her hands felt as if they’d been held too close to the fire for too long a time. “Do you have another of those healing potions, Anders?” she asked. He smiled and produced one of the more potent variety.
“Your eyes look like you’ve been drinking Colovian Brandy for a few hours,” he said with some concern. She nodded and gulped the potion down, soon feeling its powers erase her hurts – including the residual aching in her neck and shoulders.
“Thanks,” she said sincerely. “Did you say there are some lifts up to the surface around here? We’re ready to go.”
Anders beamed at her. “I’m a little lost,” he admitted. “It’s been months since we were down here and it wasn’t the kind of experience you want to revisit in your mind a lot. But I should be able to find one of those lifts without too much trouble. Be on the lookout for a fairly small, square building that reaches up to the ceiling and has a big one of those Dwemer bearded faces on the front.”
The three waded back across the river, leaving the plundered pumphouse behind, and continued on down the banks of the stream for a while. Before long Anders spotted what he was looking for, and beckoned his companions to follow him. He was feeling vastly relieved that they had been wandering around in Blackreach for what seemed to be the better part of two hours and had not been attacked by anything whatsoever. Almost miraculous.
Anders realized as they approached the lift that he had not seen this particular one before. He and Kat had taken one not far from the Alftand entrance, just to see where it went; and had emerged from another one atop the tower where they’d found the elder scroll. He wished he had a map of Blackreach with the surface features marked on it. The place seemed to underlie an enormous stretch of Skyrim. He supposed he’d have to try to figure out from landmarks where they were when they arrived at the surface.
When the lift came to a stop they found themselves dazzled by late afternoon sunshine glinting off a snowy hilltop, seen through the golden bars of the cage surrounding the lift’s upper entrance. A lever in a corner soon unlatched the gate, through which one could now return down the lift to Blackreach in the future – should it suddenly begin to seem appealing as a vacation spot, say.
The hilltop didn’t offer a lot of features, not even a path. But to the south, which Anders identified with his inborn sense of direction (along with the fact that the sun seemed to be setting to their right as they faced it) they could see what was unmistakably the peak of Throat of the World, gleaming golden in the late sunlight. For all he knew, the entrance to Raldbthar where they’d come in might be a few miles beyond the slope ahead of them.
Best not to linger. It would be OK to camp for a night before they made their way back to the Suite, but it would be preferable not to do so in six feet of snow. So, once again assuming the role of Mighty Leader, Anders led his team off up the snowy slope to the south. The terrain, unfortunately, was not cooperative. The mountainous regions of Skyrim seldom were. You’d be moving right along on a path that was almost ready to graduate to trail status, and the next thing you knew you were standing at the top of a hundred-foot cliff.
Thus there were many detours, and meanwhile the sun sank steadily toward the western horizon. If Raldbthar were near they managed to miss it completely, instead coming out of the mountains near Uttering Hills Cave, an infamous bandit lair to the southwest of Windhelm. By now it was full dark, and their breakfast seemed to have been eons ago. Three sorry bandits were standing watch in an encampment outside the entrance to the cave, so they killed them (one apiece; share and share alike) and then appropriated their campsite for the night.
There was even a haunch of goat roasting on a spit, and some potatoes that they baked in a cast iron pot thrust into the coals. After their last couple of meals of trail food, this was a feast; and Sorine stoked the celebratory atmosphere by producing a bottle of red wine from her pack. She and Wyll were so happy to be out of Blackreach and near the road that led to the Suite that they failed to take the opportunity to rag Anders for his inept Native Guide act. It appeared that the walk that had taken them three or four hours coming might be a day and a half going back – but they had hot food in their bellies, a wealth of Dwemer artifacts in their packs, and a reasonable amount of shelter for the night.
After eating they rehashed their adventure, and Sorine tried to explain how the components she had gathered were going to fit together to form the hot water systems for the house Anders, Wyll, and Katja would be living in as a married triple. Wyll enjoyed making things with his hands, but technical explanations went past him. And Anders’ scholarly bent ran more to history and lore than mechanical engineering. So, she soon realized her audience was not following her and gave it up. They all curled up in their bedrolls, reasonably sure that the bandits would have no reason to reinforce their outside crew in the night.
They woke in the morning and had cold sliced goat with some hot tea to wash it down with, and more apples from their packs. A couple of hours’ walk took them to the road beside the river that gave Windhelm its seaport status, and they crossed it near Mixwater Mill. Now they had a fairly direct road (but one that led past Valtheim Towers, once more infested with bandits after Anders and Katja had cleaned them out months before) to take them almost all the way back to the Suite. They would have to cross the river once again before reaching it, though.
Having stopped for lunch, they found themselves approaching Valtheim near sunset – and decided to go ahead and deal with the bandits. Anders and Wyll were such deadly fighters that the average bandit gang had no hope against them – and added to that Sorine’s lethal crossbow, the motley crew manning the fortresses on either side of the White River didn’t stand a chance. After kicking the bodies aside and looting the corpses, the three made themselves a tidy supper from the bandits’ stores and drew lots for the available beds. Wyll lucked into the double bed where Anders and Kat had spent a hot night early in their relationship.
The next morning they breakfasted on stale bread toasted over an open fire and slathered with butter that was a bit past its peak. They washed it down with hot tea before getting onto the road, eager to return to the Suite. Not far from home the trio encountered another group of bandits of a sort, a small troop of Imperial soldiers who’d apparently taken to waylaying travelers on the road below White River Watch (another bandit stronghold) and demanding gold in exchange for passage.
Anders, who had spent some time in the company of General Tullius, could imagine what that stern Imperial officer would do with these scum if he knew of them; and he decided to take that task on himself since Tullius wasn’t here. With the able assistance of Wyll and Sorine the soldiers-turned-robbers were soon dispatched, and the trio found the bodies of several travelers nearby. The bastards had been murderers as well as thieves, and good riddance.
The Suite beckoned to them across the water as mid-afternoon approached. But by mutual agreement they decided to add some minutes to their journey by taking the road down to the bridges and coming in by land. None of them wanted to arrive in soaking-wet armor. It was with a sigh of relief that Anders at last led his footsore band to the Suite’s front doors and headed inside.