The Undercroft was a windy maze of damp cavern tunnels, with glowing fungus, pools of water, and, as promised, Ferals and spiky traps. Map Guy?
It also had so many crates and pots that I began to wonder if Molag Bal was a hoarder. Monsters often are, and surely Daedric Princes are the ultimate monsters. It’s that insecurity that comes with being all scaly and evil; you’re sure nobody loves you, so you try to fill the void with acquisition: gold, maidens, knick-knacks, parallel worlds, souls, etc. I’m not a big fan of hoarding, myself. I sympathize with the thrill of “getting” as much as the next Khajiit, but the “keeping”? Largely useless and simply more madness. But madness that at least provided me with some replacement armor; the condition of the bits I’d found had not been helped by the fights we’d been in.
The tunnels had the virtue of being out of the valley’s wind, and the flaw of being out of the valley’s wind, and hence richly overfilled with the smell of dank decay and rust. And maybe sulfur. At this point, my normally sensitive nose was entirely overwhelmed, and if anyone snuck up on us I would not smell them coming — a paranoia-inducing condition for a Khajiit to be in. It made me even slower and more sneaky, and we took out all of the Ferals we encountered before they even knew we were there. So, perhaps the paranoia was helpful. (I am certain that this is the conclusion of all paranoids.) The spiky traps were about as obvious as they were dangerous — they call Molag Bal the God of Brutality and Domination, not the God of Subtlety, but I was starting to wonder if he’d delegated this realm (or this part of it) to a particularly blunt and simplistic underling. Perhaps delegating to simpletons, and then abusing and torturing them when they inevitably failed, was part of MB’s thing. You go with what you know. At any rate, the traps were easy to spot, and generally easy to walk around or jump over or disarm, and eventually we found the ladder that Cadwell had promised and nipped up it into a vast and noisy space.
My father always said that you could tell the important prisoners in any civilized jail because they had the suites, and the Prophet was clearly the most important person that we’d seen so far. And yet I could not bring myself to envy him his status. In the center of a vast hall filled with as much clanking machinery as any Dwemer ruin was a giant floating cage, spinning slowly, with a small floating person inside of it who was suspended in a blue glow. I’ll confess that my first thought was that this must be really good for his back — prison beds are really terrible if you have any back problems at all. But there were probably downsides also, and few prison cells are worth their fringe benefits.
However the giant floaty thing worked, it was unlikely to open to a simple key, and Lyris ran forward and began searching for controls. I did my usual thing, searching through containers for useful things. Areas of expertise and all. Plus who knew, the key could be in one of these pots. You would hate to fail the world because you did not exercise due diligence, and my due diligence has always been well exercised, lithe and muscular.
I got back to Lyris at about the same time she’d reached some conclusions. “All right. The good news is, we made it here in one piece and the Prophet looks unharmed.” I braced myself for the other half of that statement; if Lyris was about to call something bad news, it must be truly terrible. “Now, the bad news. It’s going to be up to you to keep him safe and get him back to Tamriel. I’m not going with you.” I tried to conceal my relief; I liked Lyris, but when you’re expecting terrible news, and all you get is, “Hey, good to meet you, we’ve had a great couple of hours killing things, but I’m going to have to be on my way now,” the urge to do the happy dance is difficult to resist. Out of politeness, I asked her where she was going. (As one does in such situations.)
“I probably should have mentioned this before, but it never seemed like the right time. There’s a trick to opening the cell. The only way for a prisoner to leave is for another living soul to take their place. I need to swap places with the Prophet.” Ah, well then the “bad news” part makes sense; for her, this would be quite unpleasant. Particularly when the exchange was discovered. A part of me thought, “Do what you must,” because these people were not my people; they were all strangers and they’ve swept me along in their affairs and I have no inclination to say yay or nay to any peril that they wish to bring upon themselves. But I did not dislike Lyris, and, again, out of courtesy if nothing more, I asked if there was not another way.
“Believe me, I wish there was. But… I don’t see anyone else here with a beating heart, do you?” I did, for mine had nearly leapt out of my chest several times since I awoke in my cell. But this was clearly not the time to expound upon the nature of souls and death — and I certainly wasn’t volunteering to go in her stead, even if my stolen magicka soul wouldn’t disqualify me. “If Molag Bal isn’t stopped he’ll destroy everyone and everything we’ve ever loved. The Prophet chose you for a reason.” (Gullability, I was starting to suspect.) “Get him to safety. I’ll be fine.”
She would not be fine, but I respected the lie and left it at that, as she clearly preferred. I promised to keep the Prophet safe (returning a lie for a lie, since my ability to do that was more in S’Rendarr’s hands than mine, and my tally of gods to thank if I made it out of here was growing long), and Lyris then pointed to two glowing obelisks on opposite sides of the cage, with beams of blue light shooting at it. “There are magical locking devices on either side of cage. You need to deactivate both of them so I can begin the transfer. Once it’s done, get moving. The Prophet will know where to go, but he’ll need your eyes and your protection.”
I nodded and wished her luck. I feared that the locks would be as inscrutable as a Dark Brotherhood assassin, but in fact they were as simple as an Imperial baker, and a twist to their housing yielded a satisfying thunk and the beam shut off. I turned off both in this manner, and by the time I returned to Lyris she was floating in mid-air intoning something that I couldn’t make out (though I caught the words “Prophet” and “free”, so it cannot have been too arcane). A blue glow enveloped her, extended up and over to the cage, and she and the Prophet both blinked out in the glare and reappeared in each others’ places. “Baan Dar protect her,” I thought. (What’s one more god to thank, at this point?)