The feather-light footfalls were almost soundless as the young girl snuck through the large underground city, avoiding the eyes of everyone that walked by. She tiptoed passed large glowing mushrooms and the chiming crimson plants that dotted the landscape, passed the large lake the wisps liked to play, and towards the large tower she wasn’t allowed near.
The bridge to the tower was covered with mer in either councillor robes or Protector armour, the blind slaves following the councillors and doing their every whim. The girl hid among a patch of grass and leaves, the click-clacks of her pet mechanical spider muffled against the dirt.
She looked down at the spider. “How do you suggest we get in there?”
It whirred, the soul gem that gave it life spinning once. It clicked its mandibles together, showing that it didn’t know.
She huffed, looking back at the tower. She didn’t understand what all the fuss was about in that tower. Ever since the leaders had found a significant artefact—they refused to tell her what it was—she and the others of lower station were forbidden from even stepping foot on the bridge. Which sucked for her, because the Oculory was her favourite place in the city.
She hummed and pushed her way out of the plants, the spider following her. She made a wide arch around the bridge, to the water’s edge where a slave was collecting water. She paid him no mind as she pulled her shoes off, setting them on the shore and wading into the river, letting her spider climb onto her shoulders to avoid getting wet. She swam across and padded onto the opposite shore dripping wet.
Her spider jumped off her shoulders and whirred as she started squeezing the water from her clothes, wishing she’d taken them off as well. When she was significantly moist, she made her way towards the tower. She pressed herself against the side of it as she watched several councillors start moving towards the towers and enter, leaving their slaves outside with the Protectors. And when they had their backs turned, she tiptoed around the side and started pushing the bronze doors open to enter.
A hand grasped her wrist and pulled her away from the door, her pet spider whirring in anger and looking ready to pounce. She was jerked backwards as she motioned for the machine to not attack, then looked over her shoulder at the person that caught her sneaking in to see a Protector.
“Let go of me!” she yelled at him, clawing at his hand when she was sure her spider wasn’t going to attack him.
He yelled for assistance, and two more Protectors came and grabbed her arms, and started dragging her to the centre of the city, her spider following, wanting to attack, but following its master’s orders and staying alert. She was dragged through the city, to the Debate Hall where the Councillors and High Priests and Kings performed their duties when they visited. People stared as they passed, the slaves turning their heads away in fear of being punished.
She was dragged into the Debate Hall, where there were several councillors talking about the artefact they had discovered, the High Priest turning to look at them as they held the girl between them.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked. “Can’t you see we’re in the middle of something?”
“High Priest Dzrevnorz, we found this girl trying to sneak into the Tower of Mzark,” one of the Protectors said, a fist to his chest in respect.
He sighed deeply. “Let her go.”
The Protectors on either side of her let her go, and she took a step forward, her spider clinging to her feet.
“What were you doing at the Tower of Mzark, Nhedrys?”
“I wanted to see the artefact, Father.”
The Protector to the right of her let out a squeak as she realised she had just tried to arrest the High Priest’s daughter.
“You know you’re not allowed to go there anymore. For your disobedience I’m putting you on soul gathering duty with Mlinvrin and her lot from Raldbthar.”
“You are dismissed. Protectors, make sure she gets to Raldbthar.”
Nhedrys deflated. She hated soul gathering duty. It was tiring and something the slaves could do, if her grandfathers hadn’t decided to blind them all. She grumbled as she turned on her heel and walked out of the Debate Hall, her spider scuttling behind her. She ignored the Protectors as she made her way to the Raldbthar entrance into Fal’Zhardum Din, kicking rocks as she passed them, some of them hitting some of the Falmer slaves.
At least her father hadn’t taken her attunement sphere from her, and she could get back into Fal’Zhardum Din once Mlinvrin decided she’d served her punishment. At least he didn’t send her to Ralebrec, he always sent her to hunt mammoths.
She entered Raldbthar, not noticing the two Protectors that were following her stepping away as she entered. She ignored the people inside as she ascended the stairs to get her into the city proper, and she was officially outside of her home city.
The mer in charge of the entrance into Fal’Zhardum Din waved her passed as he lazed on the control dias, tinkering with a small contraption. She made her way through the city, all the way to the entrance, where the hunting parties and soul gatherers and farmers and traders lived and worked for convenience to the surface, a place Nhedrys wasn’t particularly fond of. It was always too bright, too cold. Klalec was always telling stories of the time he was sent to the southern parts of the continent, where it was apparently very warm. She didn’t believe him.
She got to where the soul gatherers’ workstations were, and entered. There were three people inside, doing various things. One mer was cleaning his sword with a rag, while another was loading crossbow bolts into a quiver and strapping it to his side, making sure his crossbow was in working order. Mlinvrin was loading a heap of empty soul gems into bags, sorting them into their different sizes and into three bigger bags, one for each of them. They were obviously about to leave.
“Hey, Mlinvrin,” Nhedrys said, standing just inside the doorway.
She turned, curly bronze hair bouncing as she did, and grinned. “Nhedrys! What’re you doing here? We’re about to head out, the diggers in Irkngthand unearthed a bunch more soul gems and Ralebrec wants us to fill them.”
“Father’s making me come with you until you’re satisfied I’ve done enough,” Nhedrys said.
“What did you do this time?”
“What makes you think I’ve done anything?” she asked incredulously.
Mlinvrin gave her a look.
“Okay, fine. I tried to sneak into the Oculory. A Protector saw me and dragged me to the High Priest, wanting to arrest me.”
She snorted. “That’s why you don’t break the rules, dear sister. Well, if you’re coming with us, you’ll need this,” she said, and handed Nhedrys a sack full of soul gems. “There’s a bow over on that table there with some arrows, it’s enchanted with Soul Trap so you don’t need to use your magic. These are Inguharn and Yhnamuard, they’re coming with us today.”
Nhedrys nodded at them in greeting as she grabbed the bow from the table, the metal shimmering purple slightly. She pulled on the quiver full of arrows, secured the bag full of soul gems on her belt, and sat counting how many arrows and soul gems she had while she waited for the others.
When they were ready, Mlinvrin led the way out of the room and up the ramp that lead to the surface. They passed several Dwemer who had just been out on the farms, slaves carrying baskets full of food, and a couple animunculi that roamed the halls looking for intruders.
They left Raldbthar, stepping into the cold air of the surface, and Nhedrys shivered at how cold it was, pulling her cloak tighter around her. The sun was high in the sky, the light bouncing off the freshly fallen snow, making it brighter and cleaner. As they stood on the stone platform that was built above the ground, Mlinvrin turned to them.
“Okay, we’re looking for mainly lesser and petty souls today, but we have bigger ones for if we see any mammoths or bears or the like. We don’t think there’s many nearby so we only have a handful of any higher than common. We’ll also be accompanied by some hunters to bring the carcasses back, we could use the extra food.”
She motioned to the two Dwemer who were standing nearby, the Nolzarf twins, Dhamgar and Jaredrys, talking to each other under their breaths. They mainly stayed to themselves, but they were amazing trackers, and spent most of their time on the surface because of it. Nhedrys joked to Klalec that they were afraid of being deep underground, and chose to be hunters so they had no reason to go deeper than the first level of the cities that connected to Fal’Zhardum Din.
The six of them descended the stairs and stepped onto the snow, the twins’ eyes immediately scanning the surrounding to look for tracks they could follow. They started heading in one direction, and the four soul gatherers followed, eager to keep moving to stay warm.
They found a herd of goats, and Yhnamuard raised his crossbow as Nhedrys and Mlinvrin nocked arrows, pulling back on the string, and Inguharn readied his sword in preparation for the scattered herd to run towards them.
Together, the three of them loosed their arrows, flying into the herd. The white and purple tendrils of a trapped soul sprouted out of three of the goats as they scattered, rushing towards Nhedrys, Mlinvrin, and Yhnamuard’s bags, filling soul gems. They fired on the scattered herd as Inguharn cut down the few goats stupid enough to run towards them, souls flying towards their soul gems as they killed more and more goats.
When they were all dead they helped the twins drag them towards Raldbthar, leaving the corpses just inside the door for other mer and womer to skin and preserve the them.
The day continued like that, them killing animals, taking their souls, and dragging them back to either Raldbthar or Irkngthand, whichever was closest, as the two cities were so close. In some places the two cities even connected.
As the sun set and they dragged a snow bear carcass to Raldbthar, all six of them tired from a full day of hunting, Nhedrys collapsed on her sister’s bed, the bow and bag of gems still on her, her face pressed against Mlinvrin’s pillow. She was pulling her quiver off her back and resting it on her dresser, a smile on her face.
“That was a productive day,” she said, unstrapping her bracers.
“I’m sore,” Nhedrys moaned, her voice muffled by the pillow.
She laughed. “What do you even do for the city? I know you can’t get in trouble all day every day, that’s not a real job.”
Nhedrys turned her head, looked offended, as her spider climbed onto her back and rolled onto its back. “What do you mean, ‘what do I do?’ I’m a mechanic, I help build some of the spiders and spheres, and even some of the centurions.”
“Hm. I was just never told what you did. I don’t really venture deep into the cities.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“Will you be able to take those soul gems to Mzinchaleft?” she asked. “I was going to take them in the morning but you’re going to Fal’Zhardum Din, aren’t you? Maybe you could visit our brother while there.”
Nhedrys groaned and sat up, her spider falling off her back. “Do I have to?”
“I’ll let you keep the bow,” Mlinvrin said, a hopeful smile on her face. “Chedryna enchanted it, so you know it’s good.”
She thought for a moment, before sighing deeply and saying, “Fine. But you owe me.”
Mlinvrin clapped happily and hugged her sister.
“Yeah, yeah, get off,” she said, and stood up. “Well, I’ll see you around.”
They said their goodbyes, and Nhedrys left her sister’s chambers. She went deeper and deeper into the city, until she got to the entrance to Fal’Zhardum Din, and the same mer was still tinkering with a small device as he sat cross-legged on top of the control. The entrance was currently closed, as it was night time at that point, but he opened it for her, giving her a grin as he held the device up proudly. It looked like a rat. He hopped off the control and placed it on the ground, and it started zooming around the floor, and Nhedrys congratulated him, knowing he’d been working on it for a couple weeks, and entered her home.
She started across the large chamber towards Mzinchaleft, but something to the left caught her eye. She looked over, and saw the Tower of Mzark, completely abandoned by everyone night set and everyone headed for bed. Something at the back of her mind told her that now was her chance to see what was inside, and that there wouldn’t be another chance like this again.
She took a step towards Mzark, and her spider whirred and stepped in front of her, trying to stop her. She just stepped over him as she was drawn to the tower, looking around her to make sure no one was looking. The soul gems clanked together in her bag, and her bow sparked purple.
She reached Mzark unimpeded. She looked around once more before entering the tower, which was unlocked. Strange. Usually when there was no one inside it was locked. Maybe they forgot.
She quickly closed the door behind her, making sure her spider was inside. She passed through the entrance of the tower and into the oculory, where the massive sphere they used to control everything sat. She started up the ramp that spiralled around it to the top, where she knew the artefact was lying, waiting for her.
She reached the top, and gazed up at the massive mechanism the astronomers used to move sunlight. There was a beam of light shining down from the roof, collecting in a pool in the middle of the large sphere, the artefact held high in a cocoon near the roof.
She made her way up to the control pillars, where a lexicon sat in its pillar, buttons on the others. She pressed in the combination she knew by heart from the years she had played there as a child, trying to figure out the combination.
The disks span and the cocoon lowered, light now being projected at the right disks in the roof for it to lower. Nhedrys ran down the ramp and towards the cocoon as it opened up, revealing the prize.
She was very confused.
Inside was a scroll with a latch made out of an amethyst. But despite her confusion, Nhedrys could feel the power radiating from it, and she knew this was the artefact her father had been talking about for the passed month in the Debate Hall with the other city leaders, refusing to let her know, too.
She reached in and took it, her fingers humming as they clasped around it, holding it in her hands as she turned it over and looked at it. She unclasped the latch and pulled it open, and she could immediately feel power surge through her veins as she stared at the parchment.
The parchment moved, strange letters and symbols showing and flashing before disappearing, in a continuous haze, dots and lines constantly moving in the background, and she recognised a couple constellations as they moved against the page.
What in Oblivion was this?
“Hey! What’re you doing?”
She looked over to see Astronomer Kagrehld standing on the edge of the glass platform, wide-eyed and panicking.
“Put that down!”
She looked back at the scroll, meaning to do as he said, but she was transfixed on the mesmerising patterns the letters and symbols made, despite not being able to read them.
And then, as Astronomer Kagrehld ran towards her, she felt herself get pulled into the scroll. It started as a small tugging sensation in her chest, pulling her forward into it, and her spider grabbed her ankle, somehow sensing it, too. And then the ground disappeared beneath her, the scroll disappearing from her grasp.
And she was falling.