This post has the following content warnings:
Aug 13, 2020 4:52 AM
the dark brotherhood gets a contract on the last dragonborn
+ Show First Post
Total: 430
Posts Per Page:
Permalink

Maeghin immediately says, "I will lead the expedition, if it's alright with you, my lady."

Permalink

She nods, and then there's a few other murmurs of people accepting or - more often - declining. Aithne turns to Lianda, then. "I know you're not one of ours, and have no obligation to our people, but you have skills we don't. I would ask you: will you accompany my people into the ruins?"

Permalink

Lianda raises a hand, to give herself a moment to think.

Permalink

"I'll help," she says, after deliberating. It's barely even a choice, though. This situation has the opportunity to threaten the entire city, and her business can wait a few days for her to dungeon-delve.

Permalink

Aithne inclines her head. "You have my gratitude. Now, for the plan itself…"

Permalink

They hash out contact protocols, and rules like 'don't go anywhere alone', and chain of command - Lianda is treated as an ally. She's under Maeghin's command, and that of Maeghin's second, but has no inherent right to command their people, and if the officers die or are disabled she'll be left to her own cognizance rather than required to follow the orders of the less experienced of Aithne's forces.

The total group being sent into the ruins is twelve people: Maeghin, Lianda, two officers other than Maeghin, and eight guards with experience navigating in tight conditions. Of those, Maeghin, Lianda, and two guards have ever been in a Dwemeri ruin - the two guards are therefore noted as the next in command if the officers all fall. They'll have a mixture of skills, ranging from direct combat, to sniping, to magic, to the undoing of locks and traps. (Lianda is almost entirely in the 'direct combat' category.)

Permalink

The path into Nchuand-Zel itself is clear of enemies, though Lianda hears skittering in the shadows. Still, Maeghin orders them to leave it alone for now - another expedition can clear out the last of the spiders still hiding.

The entry hall they have access to is mostly blocked by rubble; only a single pathway has been cleared, and even then not completely, though there's signs of excavation having begun on the other pathways. The footing is treacherous, and not something Lianda wants to fight on. The tunnels beyond wind and twist, and it takes nearly an hour of cautious advance and backtracking to get to where Calcemo's map indicates the entrance to a cleared section of the city is. It is, of course, covered in tough spider webs, which Maeghin burns.

Permalink

The cleared spiderwebs reveal a skeleton in Imperial armor in one corner, that's been picked clean. Maeghin gestures for one of the Markarth-local guards to approach it. "Not from the last expedition," she identifies. "He was one of the guards for an earlier expedition, that was taken against Calcemo's advice. They all died."

There's some shifting. "How many vanished expeditions have there been," one Forsworn guard mutters. "And don't you Nords know when to leave well enough alone?"

One of the Markarth guards glares at him, but Maeghin raises a hand and says, "Enough," cutting off the building argument. "If you want to squabble, save it for a match afterwards. For now, we have a mission."

The guards settle a bit, and follow Maeghin deeper into the ruins. One of the officers, apparently a skilled sniper, slips on ahead when they reach a large set of double doors, still intact. She returns just as quietly as she left, and once the door's eased shut behind her, says, "The automatons are still active, so it's not like someone else turned them off and the Falmer spooked the spiders. They're patrolling the walkways, but - there's a Centurion among them."

"That wasn't in the reports," the guard who identified the dead Imperial says. "The group that reactivated those defenses managed a pretty thorough identification of everything present."

"And Centurions don't patrol hallways," Maeghin says, voice soft. "Something's changed the automaton's patterns."

Permalink

"Is it possible the automatons have been doing their own excavation?" Lianda asks. "The accessible city section looked like a pretty small part of the whole, from the map."

Permalink

A few of the guards exchange uneasy glances, but Maeghin hums. "I'm more of a busy-body than an expert, but - that's probably not out of their potential behavior range. I've seen them working to clear rubble before."

Permalink

Lianda frowns. "That'll make things difficult, if the map's shifted, or if there's more than we were expecting…"

Permalink

"The prior map was nearly linear in terms of accessibility of major areas, if there's been more excavation we might have to pick between risking leaving unknown enemies at our backs, or risking splitting up," the female officer points out.

"A good point - but perhaps something better decided once we know the situation," Maeghin says. "For now - we'll try to slip past the automatons as best we can. The prior reports details a side access for the control room, which is the most likely area for initial reconnaissance."

The others nod, and then prop the door open - so it won't block any retreat - and slip through. There is indeed a ledge near the opening, apparently a broken piece of a walkway that used to arc over the main path. The ranged fighters keep an eye on the automatons while the others help the lightest and most nimble of their party up to the top of the ledge to anchor and drop a rope down. They're able to get eleven of the twelve up, but the last person - one of the archers - knocks a bit of rubble loose. It bounces, echoes, and falls into the water far below the walkway.

It seems at first that the automatons might not have heard it over their own noise, but one of the mechanical spiders quickly comes to investigate. The archer scrambles up, while the female officer nocks her bow, aims silently, and looses her arrow - causing the spider to collapse. There's a minor amount of noise, and a stirring in the other automatons, and Maeghin quickly ushers them along and into the control room.

The room - or, more properly, series of rooms - itself is the same as on the map. There's gears spinning, multiple levers, and one of the officers has to pull out a schematic to make sense of the massive, complex room. Maeghin glances over, and considers.

"One possibility is to turn off the local defenses," he says lowly, to Lianda. "That'll make it safer for us to explore, and is what the prior expeditions were apparently doing during their own explorations. But we don't know if that'll change things - the automatons are a known threat, and it's entirely possible messing with them was what caused the latest problem. We're essentially flailing in the dark, since we haven't really found the user's manual."

Permalink

She hums. "Dwemer automatons can usually be handled by a single powerful fighter - I've explored ruins on my own - but we don't know how coordinated these are if they're worked up. I wouldn't want to take on centurions and spheres at the same time, even with a group. But your point about breaking things unpredictably is very valid…"

Permalink

He nods, and seems to be thinking.

Permalink

Maeghin shakes his head after a few moments. "I think it's best to leave as it is. The automatons are a known factor. We don't know what'll happen if we do shut things down." He runs a hand through his hair. "Still - here's where I would've expected the last expedition to base themselves, since there's defensible areas nearby, the automatons don't come in here, and it's easy to maintain, but I don't see any obvious signs of them."

Permalink

"They might've never gotten a chance," Lianda points out. "Especially if they were waylaid. But… They should've come in the same way we did, and there weren't any signs of a struggle, either."

Permalink

Maeghin sighs. "Automatons might've cleaned anything up, too." He looks around. "We'll search this room, but only briefly - we need to keep moving."

Permalink

Lianda nods, and goes to help with the search. They find where prior camps have been, but no recent signs of anyone who'd camped and hadn't had time to clean up after themselves. No squirreled away objects, or mysterious but helpful notes. No blood. No bodies.

Permalink

Maeghin eventually calls a halt, and orders them to move on.

Permalink

They are, somewhat surprisingly, able to completely avoid the automatons, even Lianda ghosting silently past them. The known rooms are all more cleared than the map indicates them having been, and once they reach ground level Lianda notes that the current water line is far, far below where stains indicate it used to be - they could stand in it, and not have the water over their heads, now, where previously it would've been thrice their height at its deepest.

There's a sound of running water distantly, and the lowered flooding reveals several corridors not marked on the map - many of them showing signs of recent excavation. Lianda's guess seems to have been right.

It's harder to slip past the automatons in those corridors, and Maeghin mostly has them exploring the less occupied ones. Eventually, if Lianda's sense of direction is correct, they double back, cross under the entrance hall, and then turn to go deeper into the mountain. The overwhelming humidity and heat in the air slowly fades, until it's almost cool and dry -

And there's a faint breeze.

Permalink

Maeghin raises his head, then gestures for them to be still. The female officer slips forwards, scouting again, and returns after several tense moments. They follow her -

And the corridor opens onto a balcony, overlooking a massive cavern. No, a room - the walls and ceiling are regular, if damaged, supported by colossal pillars of metal and stone, as well as towers that span the entire height, forming what can only be called a city. Lianda can't see the far wall, though that's not surprising given the sheer density of towers. Bridges arc between them, and the Dwemer's usual ramps curl around them. Some of the supports are destroyed, but Lianda can see a few automatons intently working on repairing them.

Other than the sound of metal on stone, the drip of water, and a faint thrum-thrum-thrum of some distant machine, the city is utterly, eerily silent.

The city is better lit than the rest of the ruins, still-glowing lamps outside every door and most windows and along the walkway and a warm glow filtering between buildings from opposite them. Maeghin kneels near the edge, keen eyes scouting a likely path, and then leads them around the perimeter - they'll have to camp for tonight, but fortunately they're able to find a cluster of rooms out of the way of the working automatons.

Maeghin uses that to reorient them, send out scouts, and plan out their approach the next day. The city's too complicated to fully explore in the time they have, but they should be able to circle around the edge - unfortunately, it looks like there's numerous passageways leaving the room, even if most are blocked off.

They work their way slowly towards the far wall over the next day, and when it's getting almost time to camp again they get clear of a cluster of towards - and finally see what awaits them.

Permalink

The wall itself is the source of the glow, lamp panels installed between metal designs. It looks decorative, but Lianda's certain it served a purpose as well, given the large space in front of it that appears to have been a marketplace once. There's a towering entryway in the center, soaring higher than any building she's seen in Skyrim, complex geometric designs framing it. The gate's closed.

Permalink

"Well, that looks important," Maeghin says, quietly. "Possibly our best bet to finding whatever's at the core, since we haven't seen anything that could spook the spiders just yet - unless the centurions count. But I'm not sure opening that gate's safe - it'll make noise, and be obvious as out of place to any automatons."

Permalink

"Investigating side passages instead could take valuable time, though," Lianda points out.

Permalink

Maeghin nods, and thinks.

Total: 430
Posts Per Page: