Book Two, Chapter Sixteen: That cat’s something I can’t explain

Whatever irritation Trygve felt at having to run errands for the college abated when Urag showed him the resources available on Dwemer ruins in the Arcanaeum.

“There are maps!  I mean, some are incomplete and not well sketched, but still….” Trygve was enthusiastic.  “Iona and I used to have to go into these blind.  I wish I had access to these back when we were exploring Irkngthand.”

“Indeed,” agreed Elspeth.  “If only one of you had known some magic and could have come to the College as a mage.”

“Quiet,” he said, grinning and touching her shoulder lightly as he passed by on the way back to the archive.  After they’d mapped out their route within Mzulft, Trygve continued to pore over the collection while Elspeth read through several books she hoped would give her some more information on the Eye and Staff of Magnus.

After several hours, Lydia returned and plopped herself down in the chair next to Elspeth.  She looked weary, Elspeth thought, and also a little distressed but she made no mention of anything that would indicate why.  Elspeth filled her in on the mission to Mzulft and Lydia nodded along, although it was clear she wasn’t paying much attention.  Her focus was on Trygve and the way he scurried happily about the archive.  Finally, she shook her head and turned to Elspeth.

“How is he…are you doing?”

Elspeth’s head fell back and she let out a deep breath.  “We’ve been bickering, but he’s also been rather nice to me, affectionate even.  I don’t care for it.  It just makes me think about how I killed his brother.  I miss the quiet, stoic Trygve.  The one who sat around uncomfortably in Breezehome while the rest of us ate.”

In other circumstances, Lydia might have burst out laughing but she simply looked at Elspeth.  She was worried, but she had no idea what to do.  She wasn’t comfortable admonishing Elsepth to simply push her feelings of guilt away.

Trygve joined them and smirked at Lydia when he sat down, laying a pile of Dwemer schematics and other papers in front of him.  “Amabassador!” he said, a sight mocking tone in his voice.  “How is Jarl Korir?”

She scowled slightly.  “He’s very much the same as he always is.  Despite his otherwise pleaasnt interaction with Elspeth before, he was not exactly pleased to hear that the Dragonborn is a Breton and a mage.  But, he offered his paltry resources to the Dragonborn’s cause.”

“Well that’s something,” said Trygve sardonically.

“The Jarl doesn’t need anything?” asked Elspeth.

Lydia shook her head.  “No,” she said quietly.  “The Jarl does not need anything.”  Her face darkened as she stopped speaking.

“What is it?”  Elspeth asked.

“Well Dagur’s been worried about Ranmir and asked if we could help him out, maybe see if we could come upon any information when we’re out.”  Elspeth nodded and then looked at Trygve who was starting to shake his head.  She frowned at him and gestured for Lydia to continue.

“I heard from Haran that Ranmir’s beloved, a woman named Isabelle Rolaine went missing.  Ranmir’s convinced that she left him for another man.  Haran knows that’s not true, however.  She told me where I could find more information….” Lydia’s voice trailed off and she looked at Trygve, who was shaking his head more vigorously and glaring at her.

“No,” he said sharply.  “We don’t have time for favors.”

“Trygve, we don’t have to make it a priority but if we happen across something that will help, then I don’t see the problem.”  Elspeth sensed that something was bothering Lydia and that it was somehow related to this favor.   “Where is this information?  Maybe we’re going there anyway.”

“That’s just it,” said Lydia sadly.  “The person who last saw Isabelle was likely Vex.”

“From the Thieves Guild?  Are you insane?” asked Trygve.

It was becoming clear to Elspeth that Lydia, for whatever reason, really wanted to help this man.  “Why don’t you take J’zargo to Riften and send him to talk to Vex.  Trygve and I can handle this ruin by ourselves.”

“I can’t believe either of you are entertaining this,” said Trygve incredulously.  “Are you trying to become Korir’s thane?  Are you feeling left out Lydia?”  He was teasing, though his point was serious.

“Trygve, I—”  Lydia began but Trygve interrupted.

“You have a sworn duty as a housecarl.”

“You’re right,” she said.  “Of course.”

Elspeth frowned.  She didn’t know why it was important to Lydia, but she supposed it didn’t matter.  “Trygve, shush,” she said.  “Lydia, take J’zargo to the Rift.  We’ll bring someone else to Mzulft.  There are plenty of people we can take with us here.  And as it’s a college mission, it makes sense to take an apprentice.”

Trygve glared but appeared to relent a bit.  “All right, but at least check for any dragon sightings on the way, especially the villages.  Also, if we’re going to take an apprentice, it should be Nirya,” he said.

“So, she’s the one you like?”  Elspeth asked, furrowing her brow a bit.

“No,” he replied, smirking a bit.  “Why would I bring someone I like on a dangerous mission?”

“All right!” Lydia shook her head.  As she listened to their banter, which was friendly and almost playful, Lydia began to fear what Elspeth might eventually say to Trygve on a long journey alone.  “Now that we’re all in agreement, let me take care of everything.”  Her tone was a bit insistent and as she stood and left the room, Elspeth and Trygve looked after her, a little bewildered though they went back to their books and papers without a word.

Lydia hurried up and out of the Hall of the Elements and when she threw the door of the Hall of Attainment open, she crashed into Onmund who dropped everything he was carrying.

“Onmund!” she exclaimed, “I am so sorry.”  She bent down and started picking up the scrolls and books that had scattered everywhere.  “But I was looking for you.”

He chuckled lightly at the mess as she handed things back to him.  “Sure, what do you need?
Lydia hesitated for a moment, not sure if she was overstepping any boundaries.  “Has Elspeth said anything to you about Trygve’s brother?” she asked finally.

He nodded slowly.  “Yes,” he said quietly.  “She’s really upset about that.  I didn’t know what to tell her.”

“Onmund,” Lydia began, with a hint of desperation in her voice.  “It is really important that Trygve doesn’t find out.   I need to leave Winterhold for a bit.  Can you accompany them and make sure she doesn’t say anything…I need someone I can trust.”

“Of course,” said Onmund.

“Thank you,” she said, feeling immensely relieved at this.  “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to convince J’zargo to consult with the Thieves Guild for me.  That should be fun.”

“The consulting or the convincing?  Because J’zargo?  He doesn’t need to be convinced to do anything for you.”  Onmund gave Lydia an awkward smirk as he gripped his books and walked back up the steps to his room.

*****

The following morning, Trygve made no attempt to hide his displeasure at Lydia’s choice for their travel companion.  Onmund carried only a dagger for a weapon and, like many mages, wore robes instead of armor—something Trygve thought was unwise.  After muttering something about not wanting to babysit ill-equipped mages and triggering Elspeth’s most intense glare, they left for the ruin.

The journey to Mzulft was rather dull.  Trygve, again, warned the others not ruin perfectly good furs so they stepped back while he took care of a snowy sabre cat and a couple of ice-wolves.  They stopped in Kynesgrove and stayed at the Braidwood Inn where Iddra, still grateful that Elspeth and her companions had killed the dragon, gave them their first round of mead for free.

“When you kill all the dragons, we’ll drink for free all over Skyrim,” Onmund chuckled.  Trygve frowned at the thought of Onmund joining them on Dragonborn missions though he felt it best to hold his tongue for now.

It was still dark when they left the inn the following morning and the sun was just rising over the immense ruin.  Elspeth gasped and looked on in awe as they approached.   They’d passed ruins in their travels, but this was the first she’d seen up close.  Almost as soon as they entered, Elspeth nearly tripped over a man—a mage or priest of some sort—lying sprawled out in the entrance.  He was in pain, gasping for air and straining to speak.

“Crystal… gone…. Find…Paratus…in Oculary…”

Trygve pushed past her and sat down, but before he could even determine the extent of his injuries, the man slumped over dead.  He let out a frustrated sigh and stood up again.

“This must be one of the Synod mages,” said Onmund.

Elspeth nodded and began to root around the mage’s satchel, where she found a key and a journal with extensive notes.

“What crystal?” asked Trygve, a touch of irritation in his voice.  “Do we need that?”

“Maybe there is something in here,” she replied, ignoring his tone as she paged through the notes.  The journal was filled with tiny meticulous notes and detailed esoteric diagrams, charts, and what looked to be mathematical calculations.

“You two stay here and figure that journal out while I scout ahead,” said Trygve.

Elspeth liked this idea and began to nod, but Onmund protested.  “No,” he said.  “It makes no sense to leave two of us to read a single journal.”  He had made up his mind that if Trygve didn’t want him there then he wasn’t going to take directives from him.

“Fine,” said Trygve.  “Just stay out of my way.”  He took the key Elspeth had found on the dead mage and opened the adjacent door.

Onmund smirked at Elspeth before following him and leaving her to decipher the journal.  Trygve strode a head through the ruin, moving swiftly and quietly along steam-filled paths and in the shadows of the massive pipes, while Onmund tottered behind.  Sneaking was never his strong suit, but he kept silent and moved along.   At the far end of the first room, a couple of Dwemer spiders fell out of the wall.  Trygve drew his bow, but before he could nock an arrow Onmund shot two perfectly aimed shock spells at the creatures, shattering them to bits.

Trygve’s eyes widened.  “Not bad,” he said.

“The spheres won’t fall quite so easily,” said Onmund.  “And the centurions are impervious to most magic.”  His voice wavered as tried to speak with some authority, but it was difficult to muster.  He wanted Trygve to think he’d seen ruins before, but really all he did was transcribe Arniel’s notes at one time.

It was awkward for a moment until Elspeth caught up with them.  She walked past and went to inspect the shattered Dwemer creature—as that was the sound that brought her from the entrance.

“Why is it,” she began as she sorted through the spider bits that were scattered along the wall, “that Dwemer scholars are all mages and historians?  Why aren’t there Nord inventors down here just for this technology?  And this.”  She strode across the room and pointed at the light source built into the wall.  “I want one of these in Breezehome.”

Onmund chuckled.  “Even your most intellectually curious Nord can’t separate the magic from the mechanics,” he explained as he followed her around.  He picked up a cog that seemed undamaged and put it in his satchel along with the journal she handed him.

“Indeed,” agreed Trygve.  “Nords don’t want anything to do with the elves that exist now, much less the ones that aren’t around anymore.”  With a quick jerk of his head, he gestured for them to move on.

They continued to walk quickly through the ruin, though Elspeth would stop occasionally to inspect the giant gears and pipes.  After passing through many rooms, and dealing with more spiders and spheres, they found a door leading to what looked like an abandoned mine.  Elspeth’s detect life spell found two creatures but before they saw anything, they heard a chattering that caused Trygve to pale a little.

“Chaurus,” he whispered but before Elspeth could respond, he was nudging her forward.  “Get that one,” he said gesturing to a shadow toward the shadow to the left.  “Watch for poison.  We’ll get the other one.”

Elspeth charged ahead, using a ward to stave of the poison.  As it stood poised to strike, she drove her sword into the creature’s thorax.  Its shell cracked and crunched and a foul smelling, sticky black substance squirted out and coated her arm.  She grimaced but before she could clean up, she heard a strangled cry of pain from behind her and Trygve shouting.

“Onmund, hang on!”  Trygve was finishing his chaurus off with his axe while Onmund curled up into a ball and writhed on the floor.   Elspeth ran to his side but before she could do anything, Trygve knocked her out of the way.  He took a potion from his satchel and yanked Onmund’s head back, forcing the potion into his mouth.  His eyes were swollen shut and poison burns streaked his face and neck.  These were easily healed with a spell, but the poison coursing through his body was another matter entirely.   “Come on!” whispered Trygve through clenched teeth as he shoved another potion into his mouth.

“Onmund!” Elspeth scrambled to his other side and placed a hand on his brow.  “He’s hot and drenched in sweat.”

“That’s good,” said Trygve.  “That means he’s getting better.”

Within moments, Onmund began to stir and he groaned as he sat upright.  “Come on,” said Trygve as he handed him a stamina potion.  “That’ll bring the rest of your strength back.  We’re going to need it because where there are chaurus, there are Falmer.”

Indeed, the bodies of Synod researchers, chaurus, and Falmer littered the massive ruin.  They checked the corpses for clues to the crystal of which the dying mage spoke but found nothing.  As they continued on, the enemies they confronted were all Dwemer: spiders and spheres.  Onmund, his strength returned, fought aggressively with Trygve at range, while Elspeth moved closer for melee attacks—glancing back occasionally to check on Onmund.  Trygve noticed her lack of focus but he ignored it.

They turned down several rooms and into a long, but narrow room where there were no less than four Falmer, at least one of which was a nightprowler, one of the most aggressive and powerful of the ancient, now strange and decrepit, elves.  They crouched and snuck around until they were more-or-less strategically placed where Elspeth could confront the nightprowler and Trygve and Onmund could take on the smaller, less armored and outfitted creatures.

Elspeth struck first, practically pouncing on the nightprowler and hitting him with fire before slashing at him with her sword. With its back hunched and arms and legs bent and curled, the creature wasn’t much larger than she was but he was stronger and almost as fast. He swung and caught her shoulder and then fell back as a spray of fire hit him in the face.  She screamed and lunged forward, knocking him to the ground.

Just as she raised her weapon to finish him, she mistook a cry of frustration from Onmund as pain and she quickly looked back.  It was merely a glance, but it was just enough time for the nightprowler to lurch forward, knock Elspeth to the ground, and grab his weapon.  She kicked back him back but she wasn’t able to stand fast enough and in one lunge, he jammed his blade into the back of her knee.

In all his years of healing, Trygve had never heard a cry of agony quite like the one Elspeth let out as the nightprowler twisted his blade around and then pulled it out again.  But before he could strike again, the men charged forward.   Onmund destroyed him with a spray of well-aimed lightning as Trygve scrambled to Elspeth’s side.  By now she was gagging and hyperventilating.  When Trygve tried to set her torn muscles she vomited and passed out, which actually relieved him as it made it easier to work.  Onmund sat on the other side, but Trygve shook his head.  “Check the bodies for whatever it was you were looking for and mind the doors for more of these fuckers.”

By now Onmund was far more willing to take directions and after a passing worried glance at Elspeth, he left.  Trygve worked carefully and then waited, offering a silent prayer of thanks that the knife missed the tendon in the back of her knee.  “Hold still,” he said as she started to come to.  “Now, see if you can bend the knee and bear any weight on your leg.  Do it slowly.”  He gripped her shoulders and helped ease her on to her feet.

“What happened?” she groaned as she stood.  Her leg bent with little difficulty, but her calf felt foreign to her.   “Where’s Onmund?”

“He’s checking for more Falmer and other things,” he replied as he helped her to stand.  “Elspeth, you keep getting distracted.  You’ve got to focus.”  His tone was firm, almost angry.  “Your life is the only one you need to be concerned with.”

She turned to protest but stopped when Onmund returned.  He smiled when he saw her standing and held up a focusing crystal.  “It was on the body of one of the Falmer,” he explained.   He pointed to a door on the west side of the room.  “I really hope that’s where we need to go because beyond that other doorway is a centurion.”

“Oh fuck me,” said Trygve.

They proceeded west and then through a narrower hallway, up some stairs until they came to a locked door, which they tried and failed to pick.  They looked around at each other, no one wanting to suggest they walk back around and face the centurion—though it was clear they had little choice.  Just as Elspeth was about to speak, however, a nervous voice came from the other side of the door.

“G…Gavros, is that you?  I’d almost given up hope.  Let me get the door.”

The door was opened by another mage who gasped in terror when he saw the group.  He looked around quickly and focused his attention on Onmund who, in his robes, looked a bit more genial than the others.

“Who are you?” he exclaimed, his voice shaking.  “Where is Garvos?”

“Your friend is dead,” said Elspeth.  “I have his journal here.”  She pulled the journal out of Onmund’s satchel and handed it over.   “Are you Paratus?” Elspeth lingered on the last syllable, not sure if she’d gotten the man’s name correct.

“I am,” he said as he cautiously accepted the journal.  “It was the Falmer, wasn’t it?  They’ve ruined everything.”  As he spoke, his voice grew louder, his anxiety giving way to anger.  “If Gavros is gone, there is no hope.  He was supposed to return with the crystal…without that, all of our efforts are ruined.”

“This crystal?” Onmund produced it from his pocket and held it up.

Paratus’s eyes widened and he gasped.  “Yes, yes that’s it!”

He reached forward to take it, but Onmund held it back and shook his head.  “Tell us what it’s for.”

Elspeth snickered and even Trygve grinned watching Onmund assert himself to the other mage.  The mage glowered, but relented after a moment.  “Oh very well, it was a brilliant idea, mostly mind though Garvos took most of the credit,” he explained.  “I was the one who thought of using this, the Oculary.  I’m not sure what the Dwemer called it…something unpronounceable I am sure.”

Behind her, Elspeth could hear Trygve groaning irritably in anticipation of the mage’s lecture.  “We’re looking for the Staff of Magnus,” she interjected.

“Are you now?”  Paratus’s curiosity was piqued.  He turned and gestured for them to follow as he continued his lecture about the Dwemer and the Oculary they built, likely to discern the nature of the divine by using the machine to collect starlight and then split it.

As he spoke, Trygve muttered something to Elspeth about how he couldn’t imagine why that hadn’t turned out well, but when they made their way up the ramp, he gasped loudly when he saw the Oculary.  It was magnificent—an enormous domed room constructed of iridescent stone, separated by huge moveable metal rings and adorned with green glass disks.  The floor was a metal sphere with an arch that held a cluster of smaller glass disks.  It was striking—the epitome of Dwemer aesthetics and technology.

Trygve and Elspeth stayed back as Onmund placed the crystal in the apparatus and followed Paratrus to the control panel.  Elspeth smiled as she watched Onmund work—alternating between activating the control panels with casting elemental destruction spells—he took everything very seriously.

As the segments of the ceiling moved around, the focusing crystal directed bright streams of light along the ceiling, landing on the large green disks on the domed ceiling.  When the process was complete a large map of Tamriel appeared on the wall just below the platform where Onmund was working.  Elspeth and Trygve hurried over.

“Look at this,” Elspeth whispered as she ran a hand over the stone, smirking a little at the sight of the Jerall mountains on the back of her hand.

“There are two marked locations,” said Trygve, shaking his head at her.   “The college and this.”  He ran his finger across the map.  “Labyrinthian.”

“We go there now?”

“Oh no,” he replied.  “That ruin is inaccessible as far as I know and likely very well guarded.  We need to be better prepared.  We’ll go back to the college first.”

Elspeth nodded and turned to Paratus and Onmund who were bickering.  When she heard Paratrus angrily mentioned the orb and how the College of Winterhold appeared to be interfering with Synod interests, she became concerned.  However, when he insisted that he would be preparing a full report to submit to the Synod council in Imperial City, it was all she could do not to laugh at such a threat.  “Come on,” she said to Onmund who now looked relieved to be done with the other mage.

They rushed through the ruin toward the exit but before they made it, the air shook and once again turned as time stopped and someone from the Psijic Order appeared.  It was the one who approached her in Sarthaal.  This time he introduced himself as Nerien.

“Elspeth,” he said.  “I had hoped it was you who unlocked the oculary.  I commend your initiative in uncovering this information on your own.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have been able to, had the Order not sent Quaranir to direct me.”

Nerien’s face darkened upon hearing this.  “Quaranir sent you?”

“He did…is there a problem?”

Nerien opened his mouth to reply, but then thought better of it.  He was clearly not pleased about something, however.  “Elspeth did Quaranir tell you anything else?”

“Not really,” she said.  “I thought he would be able to tell me if the Psijic Order knew that I was Dragonborn when they were looking for me.”

As Elspeth spoke, Nerien furrowed his brow as a sudden realization overtook him and he began to draw connections between Elspeth and a certain journal he’d recovered from the Thalmor, as well as the dissident elves and Evangeline Sigeweald.  He also understood why Quaranir had stepped in and it infuriated him to think that his fellow Psijic hadn’t trusted him.

Nerien looked at Elspeth intently.  He wanted to tell her everything he knew but realized that this would be a terrible idea.  She had things that needed to be dealt with immediately.  The orb.  And the dragons.  In the meantime, he decided, he would consult with the other Psijics and the Oracle.

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that Elspeth,” he replied.  “You must return to your college at once.  You will be called to take swift action.”

“But….”  Elspeth was irritated.  She knew he was holding back something, but she was exhausted and short of throwing tantrum begging him to say something, she didn’t know what to do.

“Elspeth.” His voice had lowered a bit and grown even more somber as he continued. “ You are on the right path and you will prevail.”  His words were meant to encourage and though he meant them, they sounded forced.   And Elspeth, tired and frustrated, simply nodded.

As he faded, she didn’t stop or look around.  There was no information to relay; they just needed to get back to the college.  And so with Onmund and Trygve at her heels, she hurried out of the ruin.

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22 thoughts on “Book Two, Chapter Sixteen: That cat’s something I can’t explain

      1. When I was in the 8th grade I had a track spike go from mid thigh the down the back of my right leg to the top of my calf, slicing everything in between

  1. Really nice chapter, though I find myself more intrigued by what J’zargo and Lydia are going to be up to but the interactions between Onmund, Trygve and Elspeth are all really well done.

    1. I am so excited to write Lydia and J’zargo shenanigans, you have no idea. And I’m glad you liked the main interactions. I’m going for a “thing” here and I’m not sure it’s working. We’ll see.

  2. I can only imagine the shenanigans J’zargo will get up to in Riften… with Lydia… Oh dear. Try not to step on the Guild’s toes too much, eh? Pwease?

    1. Is there an average one? I don’t even know. I think I had to lower the setting with Skyrim because I have such a limited amount of time to play and I spent so much time dying it wasn’t much fun. I don’t like taking more than a day to get out of a dungeon.

  3. Great chapter, really liked the fight with the Falmer. Tyrgve and Onmund are going to be best friends. I can feel it in my tusks! Though they have been know to mislead me on occasion… Really want to know what Lydia and J’Zargo are getting into now though… and now I am imagnining J’Zargo trying to seduce Lydia while bragging in the Bee and Barb… Oh shit… J’Zargo needs to get in an argument with Maramal! Ok sleep deprivation post is over.

  4. “Because J’zargo? He doesn’t need to be convinced to do anything for you.” Hehe, this sentence provoked some rather disturbing thoughts I won’t lie.

    “He looked around quickly and focused his attention on Onmund who, in his robes, looked a bit more genial than the others.” Haha, Such a sharp image of Els and Tryg covered in blood stood next to an unblemished Onmund, Elspeth in full breadwinner mode at this point.

    Solid post, damn those Psjics and their vagaraties however, I feel Elspeth’s frustration all too clearly.

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