Ancient Blood Ch 16

  • Ancient Blood Chapter 16

    Lost Alftand



       Around mid morning, Sebastian is awakened by a shadowy figure creeping into his room at the Nightingale Inn. The intruder seems more interested in rifling through the drawers than the occupants of the room. Sebastian remains still until the thief finds his way to the warded Chest. Vexed by how to get around the rune without setting it off, the thief does not notice Sebastian ease out of bed and approach from behind. Sebastian grabs the thief’s head and yanks back hard driving it into the stone floor. The thief loses consciousness when his head strikes the cold stone, but his body continues to twitch. Sebastian looms over the thief preparing to feed on him when Jenassa moans, “Hmm… M-Master…?” Sebastian looks up, “Just a Skeever, my dear… Go back to sleep.” Still weak from the feeding, she drifts off to sleep again. Sebastian uses a life detection spell to see if the thief has any accomplices, but does not sense any. Infact, the Inn seems to be empty. He grabs the unconscious thief by the throat and drags him out into the main hall.

     

       The Barman is nowhere to be found, but in the light Sebastian recognizes the thief as the Inn’s other guest, Flutheim. The old man is a long time resident of the Inn. Looking at his belt, Sebastian notices an Akaviri long sword. “So... “ Sebastian says, “Another Blade agent hiding from the Thalmor. This is a meal I will have to savor.” Hearing voices outside, he looks out a window and sees the Barman speaking with an oddly well dressed Orc by the lake. Sebastian looks around and sees a staircase leading down to a basement. He locks the front door, grabs old Fultheim off the ground, and carries him downstairs. The Basemnet is dimly lit, but his vapiric eyes can pierce the darkness and he sees several vats and barrels. There is no sign of movement, but the scent of old wines and spirits permeates the space. There is a small draft coming from a hatch in the ceiling on the far side of the room. Sebastian locks the hatch then returns to his prey.

     

       Fultheim begins to stir. He holds the back of his head with one arm while trying to crawl away with the other. The dark silhouette of a half naked man with glowing eyes approaches slowly through the darkened basement, “A mighty Blade, brought down to a common thief… You picked the wrong target, my friend.” “Damn you…” Fultheim says with a withered voice, “The Thalmor sent you, didn’t they… ADMIT IT!.. ACK... I’m not afraid  you.” He reaches for his sword only to find it missing. Sebastian laughs, “Is that why you were in my room? To see if I was an assassin?.... You are more of a fool than I thought… You claim not to fear me, well… let’s get that heart racing a bet faster... What do you fear, Blade?” A red glow appears in Sebastian’s hand as he casts a fear spell on the old man. Fultheim scurries faster as visions of Thalmor Agents shackling him fill his mind. Sebastian sniffs the air as the scent of pure terror fills the room. “Capture, is it?” Sebastian says as he leaps on to Fultheim, pinning him to the dirt floor, “Ahhh Just smell that… the adrenaline coursing through you... intoxicating isn’t it?” He hears Fultheim’s heart race faster and faster, “Let the fear fill you.” With that, Sebastian bites down into Fultheim’s throat. The old Blade squirms under him making gurgling noises trying to scream. Sebastian drinks deeply, without reservation, draining his prey till the Blade’s heart stops.

     

       Sebastian stands satiated, “Mmmm… years of heavy drinking have sweetened your blood, my friend.” He runs Fultheim’s sword through the bite marks in his throat then drags the body over to a large empty mead barrel and stuffs the corpse inside. After sealing the barrel off, he pushes it to the back of the basement, and uses a mop to wipe up the traces of blood from the stairs and floors. Looking in a small side room, Sebastian discovers another bedroom. “From the smell...” he says, “I guess, this is the Orc’s room… Who are you hiding from?” Sebastian stashes Old Fultheim’s Akaviri blood stained sword behind a shelf, but leaves the distinctive grip slightly exposed. Sebastian smiles, “That should be enough for the average guard to blame Fultheim on the Orc.” Utilizing his detection spell again, he locates the Barman and Orc before unlocking the entrances to the Inn then slipping back into his room returning to bed.

     

       At midday, Sebastian is again awakened. This time by Jenassa with a wash basin and a rag cleaning his mouth, “You still have blood on your lips, Master. I didn’t think you took that much from me, but your color has returned.” Sebastian lets her clean his mouth, “Am I still ‘Ice cold’?” She feels of his arms and chest, “No… Dare I say, you are almost warm.” Sebastian runs his hand on her inner thigh, “Is that so? And you?… How are you feeling?” She smiles and holds up her fist, “Strong… I am ready for whatever awaits us in Black Reach.” Sebastian smirks, “There’s that confidence, again.” Jenassa stops smiling, “I can do anything for you, Master.” After a silent moment, she leans in towards Sebastian and is stopped by a knock at the door followed by a  male Nord’s voice, “Uh… Hello? I hate to disturb you folks, but I need to ask you something.” Jenassa’s gaze goes from one of yearning to one of anger. She pulls her dagger from under her pillow and stomps towards the door. Sebastian casts a life detection spell once more, “It’s just the Barman. That Orc is out by the lake. I sense no one else. Try not to kill him, my dear. There’s not another Inn for miles.”

     

       Jenassa wraps herself in Sebastian’s cape and gives her hair a toss, “Why… why do Nords keep… ruining my moments...Grrr!” Holding the blade behind her back, she takes a deep breath, cracks open the door, and addresses the Barman in as innocent a voice as she can muster, “What is it, Sirrah?” “Oh! Forgive me, miss. Sorry to wake you, but have either of you seen the elderly gentleman across the way? Fultheim is his name. Can’t seem to find the old goat. Not like him to leave without saying something.” She shakes her head, “No. We haven’t been out of the room all day.” The Barman frowns, “I see. Well.. Sorry to disturb you.” She closes the door and turns to see Sebastian who is kneeling over the Chest dispelling the fire rune, “Time to go, my dear.” She taps her dagger on her palm, “A skeever, you said.” Sebastian looks back, “...He was a big a skeever...” She throws his cape over his head.

     

       The Sun stubbornly hangs low in the sky when they arrive at a wrecked campsite near the entrance to Alftand. As they pick around the frozen remains, Jenassa calls out over the howling mountain winds, “What do you think, Master?! Treasure hunters?” Sebastian exits a broken down shack, “Indeed! The official kind.” He waves a leather bound journal above him. “Found this manifest inside, not that there is much of an inside left. Doesn’t mention the Jarl granting permission for a dig out here nor any patrons… It does list one of the crew as a ‘bodyguard’... The leader was probably a rich brat using family money to fund his search for adventure.” The mountain winds roar signalling another approaching snowstorm. “Master,” Jenassa says clinging to her cloak, “Those clouds look unfriendly… Should we set up a camp out here?” Sebastian holds his arms up, “You do see what happened to the last people that tried to ride the weather out up here… Lead the horses down that ramp into the entrance to the Dwemer ruins. Find a place to tie them off and stock the supply pack. I’m going to see what I can salvage from that shack. Think I saw some torches and potions that don’t look too damaged.” Jenassa nods and stomps through the knee deep snow toward the horses.

     

       Jenassa follows a tunnel dug through the ice, assumedly dug by the expedition team, along the outer wall of Alftand. A camp is set up just inside, but it too is in shambles. Jenassa realizes no wind or storm did this. This was done with hands. “Someone is still in here…” she mutters, looking around cautiously. She ties the horses to a secure support beam and looks down the tunnel for movement, but sees only shadows. She hears footsteps behind her as Sebastian approaches. “Hmmm… Seems that no place is safe to camp around here.” He says looking on the mess of a campsite at their feet. “I don’t believe we are alone, Master.” Jenassa says. “In a Dwemer ruin?” Sebastisn notes, “You are never alone. There is always something watching you. This is no exception… I smell blood… not far.” Jenassa notices a lantern on the ground, “This isn’t much, but a couple of these and a small campfire should keep the horses from freezing.” After tending to their mounts, they proceed into the tunnel.

     

       Sebastian’s nose is proven true as they quickly find bedrolls and camping equipment covered in blood. Pressing on, they stop when they hear a Khajiit’s voice arguing with someone, but only one voice is heard. “NO! There has got to be more Skooma! Shut up! Shut up! You are keeping it for yourself!” the manic voice says. “Wonderful…” Jenassa says, “An addict in withdrawal. Do you think he killed the others?” Sebastian slightly shakes his head, “... And what do you suppose he would have done with all the bodies?” Jenassa looks back and it only then dawns on her that while there has been a lot of blood, there have been no bodies. Sebastian nods ahead, “He’s the last survivor. Careful.” They continue on down the tunnel.

     

       The Ice gives way to stone as they cross into Alftand proper where they find a makeshift checkpoint set up. “This must be where they cataloged their ‘findings’.” Sebastian says flipping through a research notebook, “Looks like an amature academic  was trying to figure out how the automatons functioned.” Jenassa investigates a barred doorway with a trail of blood leading to it, “Something was dragged through here.” Sebastian flips through the notebook a few pages, “Not something… someone… An Altmer by the smell of it… hmmm Seems the researcher chose this spot because she thought she saw a humanoid figure behind those bars for a moment… Bad idea.” Just then a Dwemer spider drone jumps out of a nearby steampipe hatch. Sebastian quickly grabs Jenassa and ducks behind a stone column, “Shhh… watch this…” Jenassa is confused but tries to pay attention. The little machine begins picking at debris on the floor and clearing it from the path. “What’s it doing?” She asks softly. Sebastian has a slight grin on his face, “Its job… These passages would have collapsed long ago if not for those little things. They maintain the tunnels. There are limits to what they can do... The Dwemer were a cruel race, but brilliant nonetheless.” The machine continues until it comes to a chunk of masonry too heavy for it to lift and then jumps back into the pipe it came from. “Well... it didn’t finish…” Jenassa says. “Come on…” Sebastian replies, “It’s going to get more of it’s kind to move that stone. I’d rather not be here when a swarm of those things come out.”

     

       They don’t go far before they find the source of the voice they heard earlier. A delirious Khajiit standing over one of his kin shouting obscenities demanding Skooma from a corpse. Jenassa pulls her malachite bow then looks to Sebastian. He leans on the wall behind her and shrugs. She draws an arrow back, but the slight hum of the frost enchantment draws the attention of the Skooma addict. He pulls a woodsman’s axe from his waist, “WHO IS THIS BROTHER?!?! More of the smooth skins looking for food?? This one wasn’t trapped with us.. No… NO!…. You must be the one that took my skoo…” Through pity or annoyance, Jenassa fires an arrow through the Khajiit’s skull. Jenessa looks back at Sebastian and says, “Don’t tell Shepherd about this. You know how she is about the cat folk.” Stepping over several empty skooma bottles, Sebastian says, “I believe she would agree with your action… this one was clearly beyond even her abilities to save.”

     

       Finding several of the expedition's Journals scattered through the tunnels, they learn some of what happened to them. “Poor sods.” Jenassa says, “Running out of food and being picked off one by one by the Falmer and Dwemer machines? That spider seemed so harmless.” Sebastian examines a series of gears and carvings protruding from the stone walls, “They are anything but harmless, Jen. They were never ordered to stand down from the Aetherium Wars.” Jenassa looks at him curiously, “Aetherium Wars?” Sebastian turns, “I told you the Falmer were enslaved… Well, eventually they revolted against the Dwemer. At the time, the Dwemer were fighting two different wars. One with the growing Nord presence above and a civil war over who should control their most powerful constructs which were made of a material they called Aetherium… When the Falmer sensed the Dwemer’s weakness, they attacked. They took Black Reach and have held it ever since. The Dwemer vanished before the conflicts were resolved, one way or the other. The automatons are still fighting those wars, five thousand years later, because they were never told to stand down by their creators.” Jenassa looks down at a broken Dwemer Spider against the wall, “That’s… sad…” Sebastian begins walking, “Perhaps... but this place is where most of the automatons are built.” Jenassa perks up, “Are built? You mean ‘were’ built...right?” then follows Sebastian.

     

       Sebastian suddenly stops, “Ho… Back up…” Jenassa steps back slowly drawing her bow, “What is it, Master?” “Can’t you smell it?... Gas leak…” He flings a firebolt down the tunnel and it erupts into a giant fireball that engulfs the hall for several yards. As the flames die, Jenassa waves her hand in front of her face, “The spiders clearly missed a spot.” Sebastian nods, “Like I said, their abilities are limited. They can’t detect gas until something blows up. Which means….” Two large spheres shoot out of the walls and transform into six foot tall metal men with a blade on one arm and a crossbow on the other. “Those don’t look so cute!” Jenassa says as she fires her bow. Sebastian summons a Frost Atronach and it charges at the machines. The atronach does it’s job in absorbing the Sphere’s attacks allowing Jenassa to pick the machines apart with her arrows. Afterwards she looks at her arrows for any that could be reused, “All these arrow heads are busted… What are these things made of?” She looks back and sees Sebastian pry a small round orb from one of the sphere’s. “What’s that, Master?” Sebastian tosses the orb to her, “You asked what a Tonal Key was… That… We will need it to open the gate to Black Reach.” She looks it over, seeing nothing resembling a key, but shoves it in her pack.

     

       Passing through several passages and dealing with a few more automatons, Jenassa sees something that doesn’t belong among these works of metal and stone, “Master… Look…” Sebastian eyes a strange item crafted from the exoskeleton of a Chaurus insect, “Falmer… Stay low… stay quiet.” They creep further down the tunnels  until a trail of blood leads them to the body of a Bosmer. Sebastian picks up the remains of a journal off the ragged body, “This Wood Elf must be Endrast. One of the workers from the expedition… Seems he didn’t make it.” Jenassa pulls an odd arrow from Endrast’s back, “Even I can smell the poison on here… He died alone and in a lot of pain.” The clanking of metal is heard approaching. They leave the body and Jenassa peeks around a corner. “A spider…” she whispers and takes aim with her bow, but Sebastian grabs her shoulder and shakes his head. She puts the bow away and they step softly around the spider and proceed deeper into the ruins.

     

       Confused, Jenassa asks, “Master… should we not deal with the machines we find? So they can’t overwhelm us, later?” “No,” Sebastian says, “If we make too much of a nuisance of ourselves, they will attack in force. We deal with the ones we have to and leave the rest. I would rather they focus their numbers on the Falmer. One of the reasons the Falmer don’t threaten the surface more than they do, is because these machines are constantly fighting them back. Besides… if we destroy them all, who will rebuild these cities? They were grand back in their day. I would like to see them restored and these machines are the only force capable of doing that any more.”

     

      They traverse several tunnels, ramps, and staircases before Jenassa sees her first Falmer. She ducks behind a pillar, “Master… Get down…” Sebastian stands motionless as the savage pale creature approaches. She draws her bow, but Sebastian shakes his head and she slowly lowers it and watches the creature shuffle it’s way past them. It stops only to sniff the air a moment before continuing on it’s way. After it is out of sight, Jenassa scratches her head, “I don’t understand… How did it not…” “I  told you.” Sebastian says, “They’re blind. They do, however, have exceptional hearing…” He nods further down the tunnel, “... and they know the difference between machine noises and a death cry from their kin. They know these tunnels well enough to get around unhindered without sight. If you see them, stay quiet and stay out of their way. If they hear you, kill them quickly and silently… there is no end to them down here.”

     

       Deeper and deeper still they march. “How deep does this place go?” Jenassa asks. “Straight down through the mountain.” Sebastian says, “Black Reach is below even that… Shhh… Falmer ahead.” They sneak up to an area with a lift and a dead Altmer shackled to a stone slab. Three Falmer mill about the area. Seeing no way around them without detection, Sebastian inscribes a fire rune behind them and signals Jenassa to target the largest of the Falmer wearing Heavy Chaurus armor, an armor type unique to the Falmer crafted from exoskeletons of their giant pet bugs. Sebastian gets to an elevated position and fires two powerful frenzy spells down upon the Falmer. As he suspected, only two of the creatures succumb to the enraging effect of the magic. The large one fends off it’s kin while Jenassa fires arrow after arrow into the creature. The large Falmer kills the other two and limps towards Jenassa. “Damn you, Monster!... DIE!!” She shouts. Sebastian raises the two fallen Falmer from the dead and they begin attacking  the brute anew, but they are again crushed under the larger Falmer’s waraxe. Slowly it draws closer to Jenassa. She falls back, careful to avoid Sebastian’s rune. The beast snarls and howls as it crosses the Rune and a burst of intense flames shoot up from the stones. Finally the last Falmer falls and Jenassa runs up stabbing it with her dagger. Sebastian grabs her arm and calmly says, “I think it’s dead, my dear.” Jenassa says nothing, just breathes heavily trying to calm herself.

     

       They search the area for anything worth taking before checking the lift. “This leads back up to where we came in. That barred doorway, I believe.” Sebastian says. “How can you tell?” Jenassa asks. He points to his nose, “I can smell the horses. Come on.” As they exit the chamber, Jenassa stops as she spots something out of the corner of her eye, “Master… Look.” Sebastian turns, “Another Falmer? And?” Jenassa pulls arrows out the Falmer’s chest, “These aren’t my arrows… or theirs… We’re not alone down here.” Sebastian tilts his head, “Huh… Could be a good thing… Something else for the Falmer and Dwemer machines to hunt after besides us.”

     

       They proceed cautiously through the ruin past traps, Falmer, and Dwemer machines of all kinds of alien designs until reaching the bottom of the facility. Jenassa stands atop a massive Dwemer Centurion, “This monster must be fifteen or sixteen feet tall… using your illusions to draw the falmer to it was…” She stops when Sebastian holds up his hand. “What is it, Master?” She asks. Sebastian walks up a staircase leading up to an elevated platform, “Voices… humans…” They creep up the stairs and find an imperial officer and a Redguard woman arguing with weapons drawn. Jenassa waits to fire her bow, but Sebastian seems relaxed. He whispers, “Just wait…” then she hears the clank of steel on steel as the two armored warriors, once allies, attack each other. Sebastian puts a Septim on the stone steps, “My money’s on the Redguard.” Jenassa looks the two fighters over, “... alright… the imperial has an enchanted blade and military training…” she whispers and puts down a Septim of her own. After several exchanges, the Redguard bests the Imperial. Sebastian collects the gold and smiles, “Hammerfell… Land of the sword singers. Never bet against them.”

     

      Hearing his voice, the Redguard Woman turns in time to see an orb of green light hit her. She takes several steps back swinging wildly, “WHAT?? What foul magic…” she slows and drops to her knees, “What… what…did you...” Sebastian steps forward, “You look a bit roughed up, my dear. Let me help you.” She looks up at him, “You… you did something…” Sebastian just smiles as he heals her wounds, “Indeed, I did. Look. I helped you.“ She looks down, “You helped me?” He points to a lift near the back of the chamber, “And I shall help you again… See that? It goes back to the surface. Don’t you want to get out of this terrible place?” The Redguard pauses a moment then slowly rises to her feet and stumbles towards the lift. As the lift rises, Jenassa looks at the woman’s shield and sword that she dropped on the ground when she fell. Jenassa asks, “Why did you let her go, Master?” Sebastian walks up to a strange pedestal in the center of the platform,“Can’t bet on someone then kill them. That’s just… rude. Still have that Tonal key I gave you?” Jenassa drops the Redguards sword, but holds onto the rather unique looking shield and digs out the orb Sebastian pulled from the Sphere above. She hands him the orb. “How is that a key?” she asks. Sebastian places the orb into a device atop the pedestal and steps back, “Step away from the platform.” She steps back as a high pitched squeal rings out and the floor begins to fall away forming steps leading even further down. “That’s a Tonal Lock… Without the right frequency or… tone, the gate will not open.” He says. Jenassa wiggles one of her fingers in her left ear, “That’s… impressive… Annoying, but impressive.” She pulls the key from it’s notch as Sebastian searches the imperial for anything of use. He tells Jenassa, “Stand guard here. Make sure nothing comes up from there. I’m going back to that other lift and getting our horses.” Confused, Jenassa says, “We won’t be able to sneak around tunnels with a pair of horses in tow.” Sebastian laughs. “Why is that funny?” She asks. He looks back at her, “Black Reach is... rather large, my dear… You’ll see soon enough.”

     

     

     

    The Story So Far:

    Ancient Blood Ch 1   Ancient Blood Ch 2   Ancient Blood Ch 3   Ancient Blood Ch 4   Ancient Blood Ch 5   Ancient Blood Ch 6   Ancient Blood Ch 7 Ancient Blood Ch 8   Ancient Blood Ch 9   Ancient Blood Ch 10   Ancient Blood Ch 11   Ancient Blood Ch 12   Ancient Blood Ch 13   Ancient Blood Ch 14   Ancient Blood Ch 15