Yes, I remember sitting in that oversized Naugahyde recliner with my two older sisters and watching the original Star Trek. We loved to clutch each other and scream every time the Enterprise zoomed across the screen during the opening credits. I'm surprised our vulpine friend didn't pick up on your three-way comment. I certainly did!
And as for the scene with Sai and that old bone, it practically wrote itself. He's one of those
characters, indeed. @Kazaera:
Sai certainly agrees with you! Being dead for hundreds of years is no excuse for brittle bones!@Acadian:
Yes, Julian and Sai still have a ways to go in that ruin. This Dogcatcher is the best kind indeed!
Thanks for the nit!@Grits:
I really wanted to bring attention to just what those goblins mean to Julian. They are indeed her achilles' heel, the source of her addiction and her fall from grace (so to speak). Encountering them again just brings back memories and feelings she would rather not confront again. Sai is being unusually quiet for a Skyrim Husky here, but he knows the difference between camp and a goblin- and undead-infested ruin. @Destri:
Sai is smart enough to know he can trust the human who healed his leg and took his pain away. Yes, Julian definitely has a friend for life. And I'm glad that everyone has noticed the scene with Sai and the brittle bone. I've witnessed that same look all too often on dogs' faces when their 'treats' don't turn out quite the way they expected. Thanks for the nit - that sentence kept bothering me. I finally figured out how to rewrite it so it flows better. The story so far:
Julian and Sai have progressed deep into the first level of Miscarcand. It only gets better. . . ********************
Chapter 28.5 A New Kind of Stone
Sai stiffened at my side as the door, marked with a winter tree limned in meteoric iron, slid shut behind us with a soft groan. Before us, stairs dropped down to the lower level of Miscarcand. He shadowed me closely as we made our way cautiously down the damp steps.
Through the archway ahead of us, I spotted a tall plinth in the center of a large room. A dome-like structure, draped in a rotting cloth, topped the column. A faint glow seeped beneath the lower edges of the covering, casting argent light over the floor. Around it stood eight stone slabs, radiating out like the rays of a star. Shadows hid the edges of the room and obscured the arched ceiling above.
Silence greeted my ears as my eyes attempted vainly to penetrate the shadows. The room was too large for the limited range of my detect life spell. Still, I was tempted to use it, but restrained myself since my position in the archway was too exposed. Casting the spell would give away our presence to any nearby enemies.
I moved to enter the large space, but Sai blocked me with his body. I reached down to move him aside, but stopped when my fingers felt his raised hackles. His ears were tipped into the room, and his head was below the level of his shoulders. I recognized the stalking posture and looked back into the room.
A shadow flitted past the archway, so close I could smell the fishy odor and the dirty leather of another goblin. Chittering in rage, he disappeared into the darkness to my right. I bit back the involuntary scream and dropped to a crouch against the left side of the archway.
Two more lanky figures darted across the center of the room, the soft glow from the column briefly highlighting the shimmer of leather armor and the glitter of iron weapons. The twanging of a bowstring warned me of an archer somewhere off to my right. My heart began hammering in my chest when a bolt of lightning crackled out of the darkness from the opposite side. Shaman! If she sees me -
I ducked behind the archway just as my knees gave way. Huddled against the wall, I listened with growing panic to the chittering and snarling as the goblins continued fighting their as yet unseen foes. Sai stood between me and the archway, his ears tipped forward as his eyes tracked the battle.
I could still see a sliver of the right side of the chamber through the archway. Something gleamed in the shadows, then the glow from the plinth picked out the round dome of a grinning skull. The rest of the undead bones appeared, a drawn bow in its hands. The silver arrow head flashed briefly as it released the string.
A scream from the left side of the room echoed around the chamber, and the lightning bolts flickered wildly about the room before stopping altogether. The skeleton archer then turned toward the battle still ongoing behind it.
A few twangs of the bowstring later, silence returned to the cavernous chamber. The skeleton lowered its bow and relaxed its stance, gently rocking its weight from one foot to the other.
I couldn't still the shaking in my body or the hammering of my pulse. Sai turned to me and nosed my shoulder gently. When I didn't respond to him, he pawed at my knee. After a moment, he sat down before me and tipped his head to one side. What is happening to me? That shaman who tortured me is dead - has been for years. Florian made certain of it when he rescued me.
But I still couldn't shake the afterimages of the shock spell from my vision, the tingling coursing through my bones, the silver fire that traced along my nerves and weakened my muscles. Breath came short and fast through clenched teeth. Touch
clattered softly against the stone floor next to my hip as my shaking hand released the hilt. This is too much like that dungeon in Skyrim. I'm going to come face to face with a shaman, and I will lose. I can't go through another round of magical torture.
I closed my eyes and held my hands to my face. I can't go any further in this place. It's full of zombies and undead bones and goblins everywhere. I'll have to go back to Cloud Ruler Temple and tell Emperor Martin that this can only be done with a contingent of Blades or Legion soldiers.
But there are not enough Blades. The Dragonguard was decimated when the old Emperor was assassinated. Only Baurus remains of it. The garrison at Cloud Ruler can't be divided any further - every man and woman is needed there to guard the Emperor. And I can't go to the Legion - they can't spare the men for Bruma's defense, how can they spare a contingent for an Ayleid ruin?
No, I have only two choices. Do this alone, or go back to Martin and let him down.
I forced myself to take deep breaths. If you go back without the Great Welkynd stone, are you worthy of being Casnar’s Blade Sister? Valdemar? Alain and Rielus?
I rubbed the perspiration from my skin. No, it's going to get better, Julian. You know there's only one shaman in each goblin tribe. And the only one here in Miscarcand is already dead, thanks to these skeletons. And you know how to fight skeletons. Use the back of your blade to batter their bones and let
Touch's magic do the rest for you.
As my heart slowed down and my shaking eased, Sai turned his head from me and gazed out through the archway. His ears pointed to the right side of the room, which suggested to me that all of the surviving foes were clustered there. How many skeletons? Are there any other fighters? Zombies? What else will I find here in this Aedra-forsaken place?
Slowly I regained my feet, silently recovering Touch
from the floor. I moved to the opposite side of the archway and peered through. Movement in the shadows revealed five skeletons. Ducking back behind cover, I cast the detect life spell. Three glows shimmered into visibility, indicating their closeness to my hiding place.
This time Sai let me pass him as I glided through the archway into the deep shadows to the right. I could feel his presence at my left side as we approached the pink-limned glows. One stood off by itself, apart from its companions. I could see movement betraying the remaining two skeletons at the far side of the room.
As I crept toward the single skeleton, Sai made the first move. Without a sound, he darted toward another of the undead, swift and silent on padded feet. The spell faded in time for me to see the white of his tail and feet as he attacked. I paused, my heart in my mouth, but apparently Sai knew what he was doing. Before I could realize his actions, he seized hold of the skeleton's left shinbone and raced away with it, bringing the collection of undead bones crashing to the floor.
The skeleton in front of me spun around, as did the others. I seized the opportunity and struck, using the back of Touch's
blade to smash several of the skeleton's ribs and detach its right arm from the rest of it. That silver axe flailed toward my head, but I had already ghosted back into the shadows against the wall, scanning the darkness for my next victim. The other three left their collapsed comrade and ran to join the one I had disarmed.
I spotted the archer, standing back from the others, sweeping the area for a foe it could not see. Have to take that one out first. An arrow at the wrong time can really put a damper in things.
As I silently worked toward the sniper, a swift form detached itself from the shadows and leaped for the skeleton, snatching away a humerus bone, effectively disrupting any shot that creature may have had at me. As Sai faded again into the blackness, I turned toward the nearest skeleton and darted Touch
at its knee. Another one bites the dust,
I thought as the collection of bones dropped to the floor in a cloud of white fragments.
The remaining skeletons, two disarmed ones and two intact melee fighters, looked around in confusion. I ducked behind a nearby column and called on Old Bones to help even the odds a bit more. He materialized in a cloud of violet vapor beside me and ran flat footed toward one of the intact fighters. As they began trading blows, bone dust flying around them, I searched the shadows for Sai.
Once again the dog proved his value as a fighting companion, attacking the other skeleton. This one was more resilient to Sai's flying attacks. Though the dog snatched at the bone's shin, the joints did not disintegrate. The skeleton spun with the impact of Sai's onslaught, but kept its balance. The heavy axe rose high in the gloom.
Trusting in Old Bones's ability to keep the others at bay, I ran toward Sai and his foe. I threw myself forward, Touch
reaching toward that weapon. "Sai, down!" The dog dropped to his belly as the axe struck my blade. Overextended, I couldn't stop the momentum of the bones's axe, but Touch
deflected it. Sparks flew as the heavy weapon struck the floor a hair's breadth away from Sai's side. Lightning exploded between us, sending Sai rolling away with startled yips and flinging the skeleton back.
I tripped over something solid before I could regain my feet. Ignoring the object on the floor, I glanced back for the skeleton that had tried to kill Sai. Nothing remained of it but a scatter of white pieces. Old Bones tangled with one of the one-armed foes, while the other stumbled toward me, its skeletal hand clenched into a fist.
From pure reflex I ducked its killing blow and backhanded Touch
into its spine. The impact and enchantment combined to scatter its bones in a broad arc among those of its fallen comrades. The whoosh of the dissipating spell warned me of Old Bones’s departure. I glanced around for his foe, but found nothing but skeletal fragments and dark forms.
At my feet the contorted grimace of a goblin berserker greeted my glance. Reflexively I jumped back, barely stifling a gasp. Easy Julian, he’s dead. They’re all dead here. Sai!
I gazed into the shadows with some desperation. I couldn’t tell which of the dark forms scattered about the floor was goblin and which was dog. “Sai?” I whispered into the darkness.
One of the forms stirred, and blue eyes reflected the soft glow from the plinth in the center of the room. I made my way cautiously toward those eyes and knelt beside Sai. He whimpered and licked my fingers as I reached my left hand toward him. I could feel the muscles twitching beneath his bristling coat. “Can you stand, boy?” I murmured to him, running my hand over his body. I could only feel the remaining energy from Touch
coursing through him, occasionally sparking beneath my hand. He struggled to his feet and stood wavering.
I recalled how Paint had been so shaky after the will-o-wisp attack and closed my eyes, keeping my hand over Sai’s ribs. Beneath my palm, I could sense his heartbeat, sputtering erratically. That’s what the shock enchantment does to you, boy. It prevents your magicka from flowing smoothly. Let’s see if I -
my thoughts trailed off as my soul’s hand caressed that irregular pulse, soothing away the sparks and restoring a regular rhythm that soon matched mine.
Sai took a deep breath and let it out with a loud sigh that broke my concentration. I opened my eyes in time to feel his wet tongue swipe across my cheek. I chuckled in relief, let go of all the fear and panic of the last few moments and buried my face in the ruff of his neck. The dog’s muscles no longer twitched, and I could feel his strength returning by the moment.
After a few moments I sat back, breathing deeply of the clammy air. My gaze was drawn to the central plinth. What is beneath that cage-like structure? Is it a Welkynd Stone? But the light is different - whiter, not so bluish
. At the far side of the room, buried deep in the shadows, I did
see a bluish glimmer. Another crystal set into the wall? It’s barely visible at this distance.
I rose to my feet, Sai falling in beside me. Together we crossed the room toward the bluish glimmer. Sai soon lost interest, but I regarded the small crystal. It was set into a larger stone block that jutted out from the wall. That’s funny
, I touched the block’s rough surface, so unlike the ground smoothness of the rest of the wall. It’s not sticking out because of age or deterioration, it’s meant to stick out.
I peered closer at the crystal. Not big enough to provide a light source. So what is its purpose?
My fingertips brushed the rounded surface of the crystal. I jumped back as a low grumbling emanated from the wall before me as the block sank into the wall. Behind me Sai yipped softly at the clanking sound. Carved detailing emerged from the smooth surface before me, and I realized that the ambient light level had increased. Now my own shadow became clearly visible on the wall, which turned a paler shade.
Sai returned to my side and leaned against my leg as I turned around. Argent light, brighter than any spell, gleamed freely from the top of the plinth. I raised my hand to block the glare from my eyes. Now I noticed the cage swinging gently above the plinth, its now-visible ancient bronze chain creaking softly. I inhaled sharply. Is that the Great Welkynd Stone? But where is its guardian?
I searched the diminished shadows for more enemies.
Once again Sai’s actions told me we were still alone in the chamber. I could see two passageways emanating off of the chamber to each side of me where I stood next to the depressed block. One was obstructed by the same kind of wrought iron grating we had encountered before, and the other disappeared into darkness. I looked around for another floor switch much like the one we had found upstairs on the first level, but none were visible.
Slowly I walked toward the plinth. Can it really be so easy to find the Great Stone? But it doesn’t make sense. If that is the Great Welkynd Stone, it would have been looted a long time ago, like the others. And the light is different. Wouldn’t the Great Welkynd stone have the same glow that the others do?
The light coalesced into a long, narrow crystal mounted in a filigreed black metal frame that embraced its waist. The stone tapered to slender points at both ends. I stopped beside the plinth, regarding the crystal thoughtfully. It’s some kind of stone. Wonder what it is.
I held up my left hand to it, but couldn’t quite reach the mounting. Even with my height, the tips of my fingers barely brushed the top edge of the plinth as I stood on tiptoe.
After a moment’s study, I sheathed Touch
and extended the enchanted katana towards the stone, holding it near the tip of its scabbarded blade. The leather-wrapped hilt easily knocked the stone and its mounting off the top of the plinth toward my waiting left hand. I caught it easily, but nearly fumbled it as the cold metal slipped through my fingers. Only by cupping it against my mailed breast did I keep it from dropping to the floor.
The stone, in spite of its argent glow, was cold to my touch. The blood in my palm tingled as it came into contact with the crystal and reminded me of the trapped souls in the sigil stones. Shadows flickered around us when I closed my fingers around it. Almost as long as my forearm, it felt solid yet light, and I wondered how best to carry it. Don’t want it coming in contact with my weapons until I understand what that tingling does.
Kneeling beside the plinth, I laid Touch down and unshouldered my pack. Inside, the Welkynd stone gleamed through its wrapping - one of my shirts. Would it be safe to put these two stones together? Would they interact with each other? Would it be dangerous?
I decided to treat the new crystal as another sigil stone, and found another shirt to wrap it in. I’m running out of civilian clothes. Better save one for the Great Welkynd stone. I have no idea how large that will be.
With the pack returned to its place alongside Glance
, I rose to my feet and looked down at Sai. The chamber was now dark with the open passage only a slightly lighter shadow in the blackness. I waited for a few more moments to let my vision adjust to the low light level. When I could see Sai’s blue eyes gleaming softly beside me, I brushed my fingers over his prick ears. “Well, Sai, let’s see what else is in this dump.”