A Side of Iron and Scale - Chapter 39 - KA777 (2024)

Chapter Text

“Bloody ice,” Roskva swore, hopping over to another plate. “Bloody Elder Scroll.” She almost slipped into the water and Vilkas pulled her back up, taking her hand. Her outbursts were comical, especially considering this had been her idea, but she needed to be calm if they hoped to escape freezing to death.

“Here, love,” he said, pulling her close to him. “Just stick by me.” He nodded and led the way, carefully stepping over crevices in the ice.

They had been at this for an hour, only wandering further and further from the shore. Vilkas was unsure if they would find this Septimus, but Roskva had demanded that they try. Vilkas spotted an iceberg, with a black speck moving back and forth. He squinted his eyes, using his inner wolf to focus on the form. It was a man.

“Roskva,” he said, pointing to the figure. “There’s someone over there.”

Roskva squinted too, following his stare, but said, “I don’t see anyone.”

“Let’s get closer,” Vilkas said. He gently pushed her behind him, shielding her from the stranger as they moved towards the glacier. It could very well be a vampire or witch, but he doubted anything other than a madman would be this far from land.

As they crept forward, Roskva gasped. “I think that’s him,” she whispered to Vilkas, coming around from his side.

The man was pacing back and forth, muttering nonsense. Vilkas could not make out any of his words. They both were standing within arm’s reach of him, yet he didn’t acknowledge their presence. Vilkas tensed, almost reaching for his sword.

Roskva noticed, and put her hand on his, shaking her head. He glared at her, feeling completely uncomfortable with the situation. Roskva didn’t seem worried as she approached the cloaked man. “Septimus?” she asked gently.

The man continued to pace, still spewing incomprehensible sentences faster than lightning. Roskva walked closer and placed her hand on his shoulder. The man jumped back, startled, his wild eyes darting between Roskva and Vilkas. “We mean you no harm,” Roskva assured him, walking closer once again. “What are you doing out here?” she asked.

The man began mumbling. “The ice entombs the heart,” he said nonsensically. “The bane of Kagrenac and Dagoth Ur. To harness it is to know. The fundaments. The Dwemer lockbox hides it from me. The Elder Scroll gives insight deeper than the deep ones though, to bring about the opening.”

“The Elder Scroll?” Roskva asked quietly, glancing at Vilkas. She turned back to the old man. “Where is the Scroll, Septimus?”

“Here,” Septimus held his arms out. “Well, here in this plane. Mundus. Tamriel. Nearby, relatively speaking. On the cosmological scale, it’s all nearby.”

Vilkas let out a loud sigh, growing impatient. Roskva shot him a pointed glare then turned back to Septimus. “Try to think, Septimus,” she cooed. “Where is the Scroll?”

The old man looked to her with blank eyes, then he began to mumble again. “The Empire,” he said. “They absconded with them. Or so they think.” He began pacing. “The ones they saw. The ones they thought they saw. I know of one. Forgotten. Sequestered. But I cannot go to it, not poor Septimus, for I… I have arisen beyond its grasp.”

Vilkas pinched the bridge of his nose. He wished the old fool would get on with it. Roskva was being far more patient with the man than she usually was with others. He watched as she continued her probing. “We must find it,” Roskva whispered urgently.

Septimus walked up to her, nodding enthusiastically. “One block lifts the other,” he said cryptically. “Septimus will give you what you want, but you must bring him something in return.”

Roskva nodded kindly.

“Come,” Septimus said, motioning for her to follow. Vilkas bowed his head at her and smirked, acknowledging her masterful skills in persuasion. He walked behind her as they entered the glacier.

The three walked down a pathway inside the iceberg to a small home. Septimus had made the place… cozy. There was a warmth in the air, yet the ice didn’t melt. Vilkas assumed it was some kind of magic.

Septimus dug through a pile of metal objects on a table and returned with some sort of curious cube. He held it up and said, “You see this masterwork of the Dwemer? Deep inside their greatest knowings. Septimus is clever among men, but he is but an idiot child compared to the dullest of the Dwemer.” He brought the cube down to his chest. “Lucky then they left behind their own way of reading the Elder Scrolls. In the depths of Blackreach, one yet lies.”

“Blackreach?” Roskva asked. “Where is Blackreach?”

Septimus busted out in maniacal laughter, causing Roskva to jump a little and grab Vilkas’s arm. Septimus suddenly snapped out of his hysteria and equipped a serious look on his face. “Under deep. Below the dark,” he drew out. “The hidden keep. Tower Mzark. Alftand. The point of puncture, of first entry of the tapping. Delve to its limits, and Blackreach lies just beyond.” He walked away, still talking. “But not all can enter there. Only Septimus knows the hidden key to loose the lock to jump beneath the deathly rock.”

Roskva glanced up at Vilkas, wide-eyed and slightly shaking her head. She was finally beginning to question the man’s sanity. Vilkas had questioned it all along. He squeezed her hand that was still grasping his arm.

Septimus walked back towards the pair, holding the cube in one hand and another strange object in the other, some sort of sphere. He held up both hands. “Two things I have for you,” he stated. “The round one, for tuning,” he held out the sphere. “Dwemer music is soft and subtle, and needed to open their cleverest gates.” He dropped his arm to his side, now holding out the cube. “The edged lexicon, for inscribing,” he explained. “To us, a hunk of metal. To the Dwemer, a full library of knowings. But… empty. Find Mzark and its sky-dome. The machinations there will read the Scroll and lay the lore upon the cube. Trust Septimus,” he said, handing both objects to Roskva. “He knows you can know.”

Roskva took the cube and sphere and placed them in her satchel. “Thank you,” she said. “But Septimus, why must we inscribe the Scroll onto the cube?”

Septimus smiled, pleased with her curiosity. “To glimpse the world inside an Elder Scroll can damage the eyes,” he said. He frowned a little. “Or the mind, as it has to Septimus,” he muttered. “The Dwemer found a loophole, as they always do. To focus the knowledge away and inside without harm. Place the lexicon into their contraption and focus the knowings into it. When it brims with glow, bring it back to Septimus to read once more.”

Roskva nodded and glanced at Vilkas. They both hurried from the outpost, dancing across the ice until they made it back to shore.

“Poor old man,” Roskva said, rubbing her face. “He spent so much time studying the scrolls that he’s lost his wits. Well,” she said grinning a little. “Not all of them, I suppose.”

Vilkas nodded. “It is a shame,” he agreed.

Roskva stopped walking and looked around the landscape. “How in Oblivion are we going to find Blackreach?” she asked. “I’ve never heard of Tower Mzark or Alftand.”

Vilkas chuckled. His reading had proved a valuable hobby once again. “I know where Alftand is,” he said. “At least the general area. It’s southwest of Winterhold, not far from here.”

Roskva smiled broadly at him and leaned up to kiss his cheek. “I guess we should get going, then,” she said.

They set off heading south back towards Winterhold. As they walked, Vilkas pondered the Elder Scroll. If the Dwemer had used the lexicon to read it, should Roskva do the same? “I was just thinking,” Vilkas said, eyeing Roskva. “Would the lexicon serve the same purpose as the scroll once it’s inscribed?”

Roskva co*cked her head. “I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But at this point, I think it’s wise to just take the Scroll to the Throat of the World. I would assume that the lexicon only records the writings inside, it may not hold the same power to travel back in time as the original Scroll.”

Vilkas nodded. “Aye,” he said. “But I fear for you to read it.” He pursed his lips and looked away. Everything about Roskva’s destiny was perilous. Not only would she be travelling back to the day Alduin was banished, the method of doing so was just as hazardous. How could she fight if her eyes failed? How could she return if her mind was destroyed?

“Vilkas,” Roskva said, stopping and grabbing his hands. “I will be fine,” she promised him. “If this is the only way, it’s what must be done. The gods will keep me safe.”

Vilkas lifted their clasped hands and kissed the top of her knuckles. “You’re far braver than I,” he said.

Roskva’s eyes filled with love and sadness. “In another life,” she said, “Perhaps our love would have been easier.”

Vilkas laughed. “Love is never easy,” he said, taking his hand and stroking her cheek. “I wouldn’t change anything.” Roskva closed her eyes, still smiling. When she opened them again, he said, “Let’s hurry.”

************

Vilkas and Roskva had trekked through Alftand for hours. Every turn they took, they were met with more Dwarven machines attacking them. Vilkas couldn’t believe the things still worked, but they pulled their power from soul gems, he discovered. In a way, they were killing someone else, someone they’d never met, when they destroyed each sphere or spider.

Roskva was irritated. This was the first time either of them had been inside a Dwarven ruin, and while the architecture was magnificently intelligent, it was deadly. They encountered various traps along the way, always having to remain on their toes. Vilkas had noticed the huffing and cursing coming from under Roskva’s breath. He couldn’t blame her. He himself was ready for a day or two with no adventuring, but that would have to wait for a while, he supposed.

“Curse me the day I ever decide to crawl into one of these death traps again,” Roskva hissed at Vilkas, drawing a small chuckle from him.

“This isn’t exactly my idea of fun either,” he said, grinning at her. They had stopped to catch their breath, their backs resting against a cold metal wall.

“Do you think we’re close?” Roskva asked hopefully.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “The old man told us we had to find Tower Mzark. My guess is that Blackreach connects Alftand to it.”

Roskva sighed. “I guess we better keep on then, eh?” she said, pulling herself back straight on her feet.

The two kept inching further into Alftand, finally coming to a large lift. Roskva looked at Vilkas questioningly. She was nervous to set off a trap.

Vilkas eyed the lever. There was nothing protruding from the ceiling around it, nor anything on the floor in front. He crept over and pushed it forward, waiting to make sure it was safe. After a moment, the great lift lowered, bringing them to a door. Roskva glanced at him again and pushed the door open, both of them gasping together.

They had reached Blackreach. The cavern was endless it seemed, no other structures in sight, save for giant glowing mushrooms reaching to the top of the cave from the floor. They were spectacular.

The air had a strange smell to it. Vilkas detected life, but it wasn’t human nor manmade. He could see nothing moving, other than the large waterfalls throughout. He kept his ears sharp as he snuck through the deep.

Roskva was moving slow, taking her time with each step to watch for signs of an attack. She had long abandoned her bow, for it took multiple arrows to bring down the machines. Wuuthrad gleamed in her hands as she crept ahead in a crouch. Vilkas kept his eyes forward, knowing she would watch their sides.

“Stop,” Vilkas said, holding his arm in front of Roskva. “Look there,” he whispered, pointing to a strange creature across the path from them. He stood still for a moment, then quickly held up his sword as the creature approached them. That’s strange, he thought. The figure either didn’t see them, or didn’t perceive them as a threat, yet it was armed with some sort of rudimentary bow.

Vilkas took a small step, and the creature snarled, alerted to the sound. It ran forward, seeking them out. “They’re blind,” he realized, whispering to Roskva. “Ready yourself,” he said. He raised his sword and swung with a single grunt, killing the creature before it found them.

Roskva walked up to the corpse, studying it. “What is that?” she asked, eyebrows scrunched in confusion.

Vilkas walked next to her, crouching down, and looking over the being’s features. Up close, he noticed it had ears of an elf, but it wasn’t completely resemblant of one. He stood up, realizing what the creature was.

“Falmer,” he said, turning to Roskva with a grave look on his face. “They were once snow elves but were driven underground into hiding. I’ve read that over many years, their eyes adjusted to the darkness, rendering them almost blind, but they have an astounding sense of hearing. And a complete mistrust of anyone.”

Roskva looked a little sad but nodded her head. “Hopefully that’s the last one we have to kill,” she said somberly. Vilkas hoped she was correct, but he doubted it.

They continued walking through Blackreach until the entrance to Alftand disappeared from sight. It would be extremely easy to get lost down here, Vilkas realized. He turned to Roskva and said, “I think our best objective is to continue straight, no turns, no detours.”

Roskva nodded in agreement. “What if we’re attacked?” she asked. “We may get thrown off course.”

Vilkas sighed, knowing she was right. He looked around the cavern for any way to keep track of their whereabouts. He spotted a large glowing orb from the ceiling and pointed to it. “There,” he said. “It’s to the front and right of us. Keep your eyes on it, and we’ll know our direction.”

Roskva nodded, proceeding down the path. They saw many more Falmer, but inched away as quietly as they could from the elves. After a long while of walking, Roskva grabbed Vilkas’s arm and pointed to a large tower down and to the left of them. “That must be it,” she said, eyes shining with anticipation.

Vilkas grinned at her, hoping she was correct. They found a flight of stairs leading up to the structure and once they reached the top, Roskva stilled as her eyes landed on another door. She looked back once, then crept forward, opening the passage.

Vilkas followed her inside, his breath stopping at the sight of a large mechanism. It must have been what Septimus had described to them. Roskva ran forward, inspecting all the buttons and levers. Nothing was budging. “The lexicon,” Vilkas said, nodding to her satchel.

Roskva pulled the cube from her bag and looked for a place to insert it. There was a pedestal in the middle, so she gingerly placed it inside the metal arms. “Now what?” she asked when nothing happened.

Vilkas eyed the buttons she’d been previously tinkering with. “Now we try to find the right order to push those,” he said.

Roskva approached the buttons then looked to Vilkas. “You’re better at puzzles than me,” she said.

Vilkas chuckled and pushed one. Arms on the mechanism moved, creating a beam of light shining into the air. I wonder, Vilkas thought. He kept pushing buttons, watching what each one did. After a while, he figured out how to order them to where the light beam reflected from the orbs at the end of each arm. He pushed one final button and watched as the arms moved again, this time causing the lexicon to open. He pulled Roskva back with him as they watched the lights inscribe runes on the cube.

Vilkas pointed to the mechanism, not having previously observed the Elder Scroll that was now visible as its knowledge flowed into the lexicon. Roskva eyed it greedily but stayed back until the cube stopped glowing. After a few more moments, she inched up to the large golden scroll, holding it with wide eyes. “We found it,” she exclaimed, a broad smile coming to her mouth.

Vilkas chuckled and walked up to her, also inspecting the Elder Scroll. “I can’t believe it,” he whispered, putting his arm around Roskva, and kissing the top of her head.

Roskva placed the scroll in her bag then went back to the runed lexicon and picked it up, also shoving it in her satchel. “Septimus will have to wait for this,” she said determinedly. “I’ll return his lexicon once I’m finished with the dragons.”

Vilkas nodded. That was the most prudent choice. The old man’s request was far less pressing than Roskva defeating Alduin. “So, I guess it’s High Hrothgar next?” he asked, dreading the long walk back out of Blackreach and then to Ivarstead.

Roskva sighed. “Aye,” she whispered, her excitement now turning into apprehension. She was obviously scared of the next step, as Vilkas was.

************

The pair had made it to Ivarstead early the next morning. Vilkas had demanded they stay at the inn so they could both rest. He had cautioned Roskva that she should be at her peak before opening the scroll at the Throat of the World. She didn’t argue, and the two had slept until the next morning, almost a full day.

Their ascension of the mountain was done in silence, both knowing full well what the consequences could be of reading the scroll. Vilkas had elected to wait with the Greybeards, who didn’t seem too eager to see them again.

Roskva gave him a final kiss as she turned and walked from the main room to the courtyard. “I love you,” Vilkas whispered, praying she’d come back whole and with her ever-present smarts.

A Side of Iron and Scale - Chapter 39 - KA777 (2024)

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