When they returned to Raven Rock the next afternoon, the town was all but deserted. One lonely guard patrolled the town square, and he didn’t have much to say; he didn’t know what was going on, but he was determined not to let it keep him from his duty. Selene and Brynjolf went into the Retching Netch, but it was also empty. They made themselves at home anyway, settling into the room with the big bed and grabbing drinks—wine for Brynjolf, tea for Selene—from the bar. They relaxed for a couple of hours, making a point not to sleep, at least until they had visited the shrine of Kynareth, and had some cheese and dried meat (and a very large sweetroll for Selene) before heading out again. Sure enough, they found pretty much the entire town at the Earth Stone, working on the temple.
“Here at his shrine,” Glover Mallory chanted with the others.
Brynjolf shook his friend’s shoulder gently, not really expecting any sort of response, and he didn’t get one.
“We shouldn’t have left,” Selene lamented.
“We’ve only been gone two days. How could we have known things would get this bad so fast?”
“Let’s just get up to the shrine and get moving.”
They visited the shrine of Kynareth and received her blessing, then set out, heading south and going up through the middle of the island again. They traveled through the night and stopped to rest for a few hours at Kagrumez before setting out at midday and giving the Temple of Miraak a wide berth. They came upon a sacrificial altar with a dead Nord woman on it, but no one was around and there weren’t even any scents leading up to it. This woman had been murdered days ago and then left alone to rot on the altar. Selene was tempted to build a pyre and send her off to Aetherium properly, but time was passing and Miraak was getting stronger by the minute, so she reluctantly left the woman on the altar.
At the top of the next mountain, they encountered Moesring Pass, which was a hollow in the hillside built up with guard towers and catwalks made of driftwood and boar’s hide. There were a few small huts, and lots of barrels were stored about, but there seemed to be no one there—at least until the barrels started bursting open.
Four little blue men popped out of the barrels, wielding spears that were no bigger than Selene’s arrows and speaking in a guttural language.
“Rieklings,” Brynjolf guessed.
Selene chuckled. “Aren’t they cute?”
They didn’t seem so cute anymore when a spear sailed up from behind and pierced her shoulder. “Damn it! Brynjolf.”
She turned to the side, and Brynjolf had just enough time to yank the spear out of the shallow wound before the four Rieklings from the barrels set upon them. Brynjolf turned and engaged the swarming little savages, and Selene pulled an arrow from her quiver and nocked it while looking for the one who had shot her. He was well hidden among the driftwood, and Selene didn’t see him. She could smell him, but she wasn’t about to start tracking him until she had a better idea of his location. Not when he had spears trained on her.
“How are you doing?” she asked Brynjolf over her shoulder.
“Doing fine,” he told her as he dodged spears and swung at the Rieklings. “You worry about the one who’s—ow!”
Selene turned to see a spear sticking out of his side. She used the arrow she had nocked on the Riekling who had thrown the spear as Brynjolf pulled it out. As she was drawing another arrow, the hiding Riekling gave his position away by throwing another spear. She dodged the missile and fired one of her own, and the little man ducked behind a hide screen. But she knew where he was now, so she charged, nocking another arrow on the way. She found him crouched, spear in hand, jabbering at her in his strange language. He thrust the spear at her, and she resisted the urge to yank it from his hand and stab him with it. Instead, she stepped back, aimed and shot him. He fell to the ground with an exaggerated whimper and moaned for a few seconds before he died. She turned to see Brynjolf just finishing off the last of the Rieklings who had come out of the barrels and then yanking another spear out of his shoulder. She rushed back over to him, ready to take on more. No more came out, though, and after a few moments they relaxed.
“Are you hurt?” she asked, taking a quick look at his shoulder and side. His armor was barely even damaged.
“Nah, I’m fine. The spears are dull and they don’t go in far. You?”
She rubbed her shoulder and shrugged. “I’ll live. Let’s sit down and rest for a few minutes, though.”
Selene rested while Brynjolf looted the Rieklings and their camp. Someone had mentioned they had a fondness for household goods, and it was true. They had in their possession at least fifty goblets and dozens of plates and bowls. Brynjolf found one barrel stuffed to the brim with ladles. They also had lots of books and even a couple of statues of Dibella. He found about a hundred gold pieces and six flawless gems, which he dropped in Selene’s hands.
“Ooh, shiny!” she squealed.
“I have a feeling that’s just what they were thinking. Are ready to move on?”
He reached a hand out to her, and she took it and pulled herself up. “Aye, let’s go.”
They wound their way through the pass and down the mountain until they reached the bottom near the shoreline, where the trail started back up the other side. The sun had set, and though the air was frigid, the sky was crystal clear, with millions of stars twinkling above.
They passed a ruin near the top that was home to two trolls. The creatures didn’t see Selene and Brynjolf, and they were far enough away for Selene to take them out with a few swiftly fired arrows before they got close enough to fight. They didn’t detect a third one, though, until it was almost upon them, and Brynjolf had a hairy battle taking that one down. Selene stood back with an arrow trained on it in case it started to get the better of her husband, cursing herself the whole time for not smelling the it before it attacked.
According to the map, this ruin was Benkongerike, and Saering’s Watch was right next door. In fact, they were practically touching, and it was only a five-minute walk down the trail. They found the path to the top of the ruin, where Selene could already hear the chants of the Word Wall, but they were stopped on the way by a dragon, a blue, slimy one like Miraak had ridden in Apocrypha. They stopped and readied their weapons, but it didn’t attack at first. It just sat there and stared at them.
“That is the strangest dragon I’ve ever seen,” Brynjolf whispered. “And why isn’t it attacking?”
“I don’t know, but I’m not going to let the opportunity go to waste. Joor…zah frul!”
The dragon shrieked and briefly took to the sky, only to crash to the ground a few yards away. Selene lobbed arrows at it and Brynjolf moved in with his sword, and the dragon sent a painful frost blast at them. Brynjolf took a swipe at the dragon, who snapped at him half-heartedly before backing away. It actually averted its eyes. For a brief moment, Selene questioned whether or not she should even kill it, but then it snapped at Brynjolf and the decision was made. She Shouted again, then sent a final arrow into its head, and it collapsed.
Brynjolf shook his head as if to clear it. “I’ve never been in the path of your Dragonrend Shout before. It was…jolting.”
Flames rose up around the dragon, and Selene was relieved when Miraak didn’t appear and take the soul from her. This dragon was a male named Stiildusbiigein, Quiet Blue One, and Selene got the idea that blue didn’t describe the color of his flesh as much as his mood. Stiildusbiigein hadn’t been resurrected by Alduin but had survived in peace and solitude for centuries, much like Paarthurnax, but he was lonely.
She sighed sadly. “We shouldn’t have killed this one. He was peaceful.”
“The frostbite on my fingers would suggest otherwise,” Brynjolf grumbled.
They took a bone and scale from Stiildusbiigein’s remains and found a hidden staircase that took perhaps a mile off the winding path leading up to the Word Wall. At the top, they found a skeleton on an altar holding two crossed swords, both iron and not very valuable, but there was a chest that Brynjolf looted while Selene went to the Wall. Before she could absorb the Word of Power, however, a draugr deathlord erupted from its coffin. She quickly drew an arrow and shot it, and Brynjolf charged in to finish it off, taking a hefty gash in his side in the process.
“Gods damn it!” he cried. “In the same place as that Riekling got me. I need to get a bow and start fighting from a distance like you.”
Selene pulled the leather back and had a look at his side. “It’s going to need stitches. Give me a minute.”
Brynjolf took his cuirass off while Selene absorbed her Word of Power. It was Gol, Earth. She reached inside for Stiildusbiigein, and he gave her his understanding of the Word.
“What does that one do?” Brynjolf asked as she dug in her pack for first aid supplies.
“It’s hard to explain, but I can basically bend the earth to my will.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“When I Shout at the standing stones, I can cleanse them of the curse.”
“But how is that bending the earth to your will?”
Selene shrugged. “As I said, it’s hard to explain. This Shout is a lot less straightforward than most of the others I use.”
After Selene patched Brynjolf up, they set out again, heading east toward the Skaal Village. They passed the Wind Stone just as the sun was coming up, and Selene tried the Shout. Brynjolf stayed back, and she stood just under one of the arches.
With that, the arches crumbled and fell away, the green glow of the stone faded, and the people came out of their stupor and began ducking for cover.
“Lurker!” one of them cried as the giant fishman emerged from the water and began spitting inky tentacles out in all directions.
“Sweet mother of Akatosh,” whispered Brynjolf.
“So that’s what they’re called,” Selene mused.
While several of the workers ran away, two of them stayed to fight the monster, and Brynjolf joined them. Selene stepped back and shot. One of the workers got caught in the Lurker’s tentacles, but the other swung his blade furiously, as did Brynjolf. After a few minutes, the tentacles holding the first worker fell away, and he rejoined the battle. Just like the Lurkers in Apocrypha, this one was hard to kill. Brynjolf was stunned when the creature swiped him out of the way with its great, clawed hand, and he ended up pulling his stitches in the fight. Selene screamed in pain when she was sprayed in the face with the acidic substance the Lurker spat, which has missed her eyes by only an inch. The workers took several minor injuries, including one broken foot when the creature stomped on it. But they persisted, and after what must have been half an hour, they prevailed. Selene pulled seventeen arrows out of the Lurker’s hide.
“Ugh!” Brynjolf groaned. “I hope I never see another one of those!”
“Somehow, I think you will, whether you want to or not.” She pressed gingerly on her cheeks, which stung from the acid burns.
One of the workers, a woman who had stood out of the way and watched, came over to them. “What…what sorcery is this? The whole village is here.”
“Miraak placed a curse on the stone and had you under his spell,” Selene told the woman.
“Were we…building a temple?”
“I pray to the All-Maker that whatever it was doesn’t happen again,” remarked one of the men who fought with them as he took off his shredded leather coat and examined a wound in his chest.
“I think she has cleansed the stone,” said Brynjolf. “It shouldn’t happen again, gods willing.”
They started up the hill toward the Skaal Village, Brynjolf and the other worker helping the man with the broken foot, and the woman introduced herself to Selene. “I am Fanari Strong-Voice, the leader of the Skaal.”
“I’m Selene Stormblade, and this is my husband, Brynjolf of Riften. Storn sent us to cleanse the stone; I need to speak with him and tend to our wounds.”
They found Storn and Frea sitting on a bench outside his home, drinking mead and munching on dried horker meat. Selene’s stomach wrenched at the smell of not only the cooked horker but the one that still hung in the shack across the village, but she swallowed hard and managed not to heave.
“The air is different,” said Storn in greeting. “My people are returning, and you have returned.”
“I knew you wouldn’t abandon us,” Frea sighed.
“I’m sorry we left,” Selene told her with a squeeze of her hand. “But your people are free now.”
“You have proven yourselves allies to the Skaal,” Storn announced, “and so the Skaal will be allies to you.”
“There’s more good news,” said Brynjolf.
“Oh?” Frea turned her head curiously.
Selene nodded. “We’ve learned that I’m still pregnant.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“The reason there was so little bleeding was because I was bearing twins and only one of them died. There was a second child, and according to the healer in Windhelm, she’s perfectly healthy.”
With that, Frea stood and wrapped her arms around Selene. “Oh, my friend, I’m so happy for you! Come inside, and let’s have a look at your wounds.”
They followed her inside, and Storn went in with them and sat down at the kitchen table. While Frea stitched Brynjolf’s side and applied healing magic, Selene retrieved the burn ointment from her knapsack and dabbed it on her stinging cheeks, then swallowed part of a healing potion. “All right,” she said to Storn, “what do we do now?”
“You have learned the Shout, then?”
“If it worked on the Wind Stone, it will work on the others as well. All must be cleansed.”
“Except the Tree Stone,” Frea warned. “Until Miraak is defeated, I fear the Tree Stone is lost.”
“Cleansing the stones won’t stop Miraak,” Storn told them, “but it will slow his progress.”
Selene shook her head. “Then it’s not enough. I have to stop him altogether.”
“I’m afraid I cannot help you with that. None here can. You will need the knowledge Miraak himself has learned. Do you still have the Black Book you had before?”
Selene took the book out of Brynjolf’s pack and handed it to Storn, who held it as though it were covered in slime. “So this is it, eh? It does not look like something of the Dragon Cult. It is dark, unnatural. I’ll have nothing to do with it.” He handed it back to Selene, and she put it back in the knapsack.
“Then we’ve already lost,” she groaned.
“Perhaps not. The Dark Elf wizard Neloth may be able to help. He came to us some time ago, speaking about Black Books. I believe he may have a great deal of knowledge about them. You can find him in the south, at Tel Mithryn. But be cautious, Dragonborn. There is something else at work here; I know not what.”
“We should take care of the stones first, don’t you think?” Brynjolf asked his wife from where he lay on the same bed Selene had convalesced in.
“Aye. Slow Miraak’s progress and release the hold he has on the people of Solstheim. If one of you can show me where they are on the map, we’ll make a plan.”
“Of course, but stay the day and night before you start again on your journey,” Frea urged them. “Brynjolf is hurt, you both look exhausted, and you must take care of that child.”
“We thank you,” said Selene, “but we’ve taken up your beds too much already.”
“There are extra beds in the Greathall. I’ll take you to Fanari Strong-Voice, and she will get you settled. I’m all finished with you, Brynjolf.” She patted him on the arm, stood up, and took Selene’s hand while Brynjolf put his cuirass back on. “You’ve been good friends to us all.”
“I’m just happy we were able to repay your kindness, Frea.”
“And you have, a thousand times over. Come. Let us go to the Greathall.”