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   Chapter 15 No.15

An Enchanting Tale By AaronDennis Characters: 21348

Updated: 2018-01-10 12:02

"Markarth was built upon the dwemer city of Nchuand-Zel, " Brelyna stated.

"I am unfamiliar with a great deal of Skyrim, including Markarth, " S'maash admitted.

"It has a very colorful history. From the Forsworn attacks to the Silver-Bloods taking over after Ulfric's uprising, this city seems to be under perpetual change. Yet, inside the walls of stone, the people remain unchanged. A most perplexing place…." she commented.

"With Cidhna mine, to boot, " Zolara added.

"The mine, " S'maash asked.

"It's where they send prisoners to mine silver. They mine to serve out their sentence, " Brelyna answered.

"It is hard to imagine the nords built a long standing society over dwemer ruins, " S'maash mused.

"The nords are a surprisingly resilient people, " Brelyna countered.

"They have to be to survive these frozen lands, " Zolara remarked.

The dark elves detected a negative connotation, but held their tongues as they looked upon Zolara. He shrugged in reply.

"So, how do we get into Nchuand-Zel, " the wizard asked.

"Follow me, " Brelyna said and took the lead.

As they entered the city, S'maash was awestruck by the stonework. All the buildings were clearly of dwemer of design. He assumed the city itself was Nchuand-Zel. For a second, he stood, lost in amazement.

Brelyna walked around the Silver-Blood Inn to the backside of Markarth. S'maash followed her, but kept gaping at the phenomenal design. Then, he noticed the beautiful cascade of water; the city was built around a waterfall, which poured from the mountains.

The sound of smithing prevailed. Steel smashing steel rang against the stone city, tying into the chatter of citizens. While Brelyna proceeded up the steps, towards Understone Keep, the young elf strained to listen to merchants, patrons, and warriors.

Since the sun was setting, casting an orange radiance overhead, the light reflected off the dwemer doors adorning all the buildings. The scintillating luminescence was mesmerizing. Seeing so many people milling about a dwemer city was an odd sight to behold, and for a moment, S'maash felt as though transported back to a time when the dwarves yet lived.

Then, Brelyna approached a guard standing watch. He wore the same fur-lined, quilted armor as most of Skyrim's guard, his face masked by the full helmet. Their conversation drew him back to reality.

"I used to be an adventurer like you. Then, I took an arrow in the knee, " the guard said.

"Sorry to hear that…we're just seeking entry to Understone Keep, " Brelyna said.

"Sure, sure, go right in, but be mindful in front of the Jarl."

The three travelers entered the ancient bastion. A familiar sound pulsated, dwemer, steam machinery. S'maash gazed at the statues of dwarven spheres, recalling his trip through Damlzthur. There was another automaton, too, something enormous with sword and hammer, which he did not recognize.

Brelyna had moved off to the left of the keep, towards some rubble. He followed behind her, still in a daze. She stopped inside a large chamber where a mer was conducting some experiments with dwemer automatons.

"Greetings, Aicantar, " Brelyna said.

The mer turned with a smile, revealing he was an altmer in purple robes. "Ah Brelyna, you've brought guests, " he asked, wiping his hands.

"So to speak…we need access to Nchuand-Zel."

Aicantar furrowed his brow as he looked over S'maash and Zolara. "You're researching the dwemer, too?"

"No. We're here for the Heart of Lorkhan, " S'maash interjected.

Aicantar laughed as though it was the funniest joke he'd heard in years. Slowly, his laughter gave way. S'maash maintained an inquisitive gaze.

"You're serious, aren't you? Well that's preposterous. Lorkhan's Heart isn't here. It, it, it isn't anywhere, " the altmer replied in disbelief.

"Hermaeus Mora sent us, " Brelyna said, gravely.

"Truly?" the altmer was astonished.

"He said something about it being beyond a hall, " S'maash added.

"Hmm. I don't know what that means. You're certain he said it was in Nchuand-Zel?"

"Hard to confuse that name with any other, don't you think?" Zolara snipped.

"Well…look, it's dangerous in there. Automatons still roam the halls. Then, there's those blasted falmer. I can't figure out where they're coming from, " Aicantar said as he paced.

He had obviously forgotten he was in the company of others, a feature his uncle also possessed before his passing. "Aicantar, " S'maash called.

"What? Oh yes."

"If you don't know where the falmer are coming from, you have not explored every area of Nchuand-Zel, so it is logical the Heart of Lorkhan is in there, somewhere, " S'maash surmised.

"I suppose that's a valid point, " Aicantar said, making eye contact with everyone. "Listen, if you get hurt in there, it'll be on my head."

"Aicantar, " Brelyna pleaded.

"Fine, here's the key to enter, but please, be extra careful."

"Of course. Thank you, " she answered, touching his elbow.

"Oh, before I forget, the Dragonborn came through here many years ago. He helped my uncle reactivate the automated defenses so…just be cautious, " Aicantar added.

"Understood. Thank you, " S'maash replied.

They proceeded through Aicantar's chamber to what looked like a fresh excavation site, except for the cobwebs. It was obvious that once the entrance had been located, no one cared enough to clean up after themselves. The brown, rocky tunnel led into a well preserved dwemer ruin, Nchuand-Zel.

"Alright, " S'maash said, taking the key from Brelyna.

He unlocked the doors, revealing more excavation and more, spiders' webs.

"Hmm, I hear something in the distance, " Zolara commented.

"Frostbite spiders, " Brelyna answered.

S'maash shuddered at the thought. He heard it as well; the scurrying sound of hairy legs crawling about. After moving through some narrow tunnels, they came across egg sacs and their guardians. The three travelers easily dispatched a handful of spiders with various destruction spells. A few gleaming swirls of frost storm, purple flashes of chain lightning, and the orange blazes of fire bolts were sufficient.

Zolara stood over one, charred carcass. "Maybe I'll summon a little help."

The dark elves eyed him as he conjured a flame atronach. Once summoned, the fiery demon skated about the group. They continued to walk down some shoddy, wo

sword and get behind it. Brelyna and I will do our best to keep it slowed with frostbite. Worse comes to worse, we can all keep a healing spell equipped. Let's go!"

Zolara looked to Brelyna and shrugged. They followed their orders. It was difficult at first, seeing as the automaton was so large, but since the atronach kept it busy, the argonian capitalized by sliding beneath the machine's legs. Once he was safely on its backside, the dark elves stood on opposite sides of the atronach—palms outwards—expelling frozen magick upon the machine's front.

It took mere seconds for the centurion's gears to freeze over. That alone was enough to keep it slowed, but it released an immense burst of steam. The surprise attack caught Zolara in mid swing, killed the second atronach, and broke the concentration of the others.

"It's too powerful!" Zolara complained.

"Just hold strong!" S'maash commanded.

They readopted the three-pronged attack. Again, the centurion broke their strategy by knocking S'maash against the wall with its sword arm and Brelyna against the other wall with its hammer arm. Zolara witnessed both elves flying like rag dolls and considered running, but he summoned another atronach, ran a few steps back, summoned a bound bow, and fired purple arrows at the mechanical menace.

"This ends now, " Zolara yelled.

The brutish automaton exhibited difficulty maneuvering in the tight hallway, but it did manage to slowly turn and face the conjurer. As it approached, the machine beat its weaponized arms against the walls. Zolara faltered for a moment. In that time, the elves had healed. With dual dual ice spikes, both dunmer froze it over once more.

In response, the centurion ground some gears, let off some steam, and charged with swinging arms at the atronach. With it destroyed, only Zolara stood before it.

"Help?" he peeped.

He had backpeddled as far as the area allowed. His tail was at the double doors.

"Just open the doors, " Brelyna yelled.

As the elves maintained their cold fury, the argonian did open the doors. On the other side were two, dwarven spheres, crossbows and swords at the ready.

"Oh! Yes! Open the doooooors, " Zolara yelled.

He no longer cared about the situation and took off to areas unseen. The centurion, slow and relentless, let off more steam as it turned to face the elves. A monotonous drone echoed when it swung sideways at Brelyna, who ducked in the knick of time. S'maash switched to a bound sword in his right hand while switching to icy spear with the other. He fired one spear into the automaton's hip gears then ran in low to slide beneath it. There, he jammed the bound sword into the area just under the machine's back. As it flailed its arms, Brelyna held firm with her ice spikes. Seconds later, the gears sparked and jammed, causing the centurion to wobble.

It smashed against the wall then started to slide towards S'maash He backpeddled, leaving the bound sword—which vanished—in an effort to keep from being pinned by the tilting menace. To end the fight, he readied snow storm. Three blasts of icy tornadoes was sufficient.

"Where did he go, " she asked.

S'maash just shook his head. Where ever Zolara had gone, the spheres had followed, so the elves entered the control room, a place even more riddled with gears and levers. Before taking full stock of the room, they heard Zolara scream. He ran across a hallway further in, and he was on fire. It was the evident result of a trap, not an automaton attack. Though, directly behind him, spheres gave chase.

S'maash and Brelyna ran to the hall, took their right, and followed the automatons. A couple of snow storms, sparks, and a flame atronach made short work of the enemies. Zolara stood before the wreckage. He kicked a large, dwemer plate then hopped about as he had hurt his own foot.

"I can't believe you just left us, " Brelyna yelled, incredulous.

"I didn't, I didn't just leave you…I…uh, led the enemy away, so we wouldn't be overwhelmed, " he countered. "You're welcome."

"I don't believe you, " she replied.

"Well, just be glad that, thanks to me, you're alive enough to be able to not believe me, " he retorted.

"Maybe, we should just take a break, " S'maash huffed.

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