After I agreed to help the town, they did indeed remove my amulet - never have I felt so liberated! But I promised to aid them in return for my freedom, and so I shall. They returned all my belongings too - even got my journal back! But that old travel coat won't be much good down there, so they had the smith knock up a set of plate armour for me too. Not sure how I feel about trudging around awkwardly in this heavy steel, but at least it provides better protection than those damned rags! Besides, it's not the heaviest set of gear I've ever seen and is actually cut quite favorably for one with my build...
I said I would return to the ruins at nightfall - following a decent meal and a chance to search through Shanath's notes for anything on what we may face. By the Nine it feels good to eat a proper meal again! Sadly, Shanath's notes were not much use - mostly incomprehensible drivel about knowledge and aetherium. But as I was returning to the house from the council chamber, I was waylaid by a Dunmer who I had - surprisingly - not met here yet. Introducing himself as 'Yen-You' (odd name for a Dunmer, but no amount of oddity can surprise after a few weeks down here!), we walked and talked. Yen explained that he was once apprentice to Shanath before stepping out on his own to study the Dwemer away from Shanath's insane ramblings. He was clearly equally obsessive, though far more composed than Shanath ever was. Yen said that he would accompany me back into the ruins with hopes to provide aid through his substantial knowledge of the Dwemer - an offer I was all to happy to welcome; not least as I was now without both my enchanted armour from the Vampire manor /and/ my faithful companion. I hope she's alright wherever she is...
Well we finally made it! That place was CRAZY - I don't know how Shanath managed to enrage the automaton watchers down there, but by Shor were they enraged! Yen and I fought tirelessly down through the ancient ruins before becoming separated. Never have I felt more fearful than when I had naught but the echoing sound of my own footsteps against the cold stone for company. Nor have I ever felt so alive! My body tingled with every small sensation; senses heightened by the survival instinct and attuned to every sight, sound and smell in the ruins. It was... exhilarating!
The further I descended into the ruins - and the closer to the heart of the ancient city i drew - the more extravagant and mind-boggling the sights became. Clearly even less disturbed than the ruins further above; this area looked like it could almost still be functioning with whatever forsaken technology the Dwemer installed here. I saw what I can only liken to giant forests of metal; towering far overhead like the ancient pines of the Reach, but emanating with a cold... precision. Eventually though, I came to the precipice as I entered what appeared to be a form of control room. The entire place vibrated and hummed with the aetherium instilled machinery; it was unholy! (No wonder the Aedra turned their backs on these Dwemer!)
With a quick prayer to Dibella; I trusted in her guidance once more as I approached the console. There was one very obvious control in the centre - like a big glowing button! I hit the button and it stopped glowing, moments later the... feel - yes let's go with that - the feel of the place shifted; like everything went down a tone and the vibration became gentler. This felt like success! I turned to leave wearing a triumphant smile, though was soon distracted by a now familiar sound; the scurrying clank of rapid moving metal legs against the stone floor - one of those cute little spider automatons! I stood prone - hand hovering over the hilt of my blade - as I watched it come around the corner. The spider paused at my feet and seemed to... 'look' up at me; the gyro that formed the centre of it's body spinning rapidly as little jets of steam shot out from either side. Then the most curious thing; it settled! I looked it over and it seemed content to simply watch me, and so I tentatively continued on my way with this little spider contraption following, and briefly I felt a whim of reminiscence to when I first met Mischa.
The relaxed feeling was shortlived however as my journey was abruptly interrupted by yet another unholy sound. I looked up to the source high above the walkway ahead and saw nothing but more of the pipework that seemed to groan and strain all around this ancient ruin, and drew my sword and shield as I sensed great danger. Then it appeared... the giant golden pipes on the wall began to move! Steam poured out in all different direction as they peeled away from the very stone to which they were attached and formed into a kind of atronach! It feed itself from the stone and almost fell forwards under it's immense weight - the entire ground shaking as it's huge feet smashed into the stone floor with each step. I was unprepared for such force and it even staggered me! Another unholy sound - creaking, groaning and screeching all in one - rang out deafeningly from the atronach as one if it's hands began to glow bright with a buildup of fire within. I thought this was it - this was the end for me, there was no way I could best such a creature with my simple blade. But then as I stood preparing to react, a bolt of lightning crackled overhead and struck the creature. Then another, and another - each more powerful than the last! I turned to see Yen walking towards me; both hands outstretched as he focused on casting the most powerful lightning he could muster. "The aetherium furnace!" He yelled at me - of course I had NO idea what he meant. "The tank in it's belly!" he affirmed in terms I could comprehend. Turning back to the atronach I saw what he meant - it's torso was a large cylindrical tank which I could now see glowing with the same fire as it's hand. The creature was stunned by Yen's attack and unable to move, though I doubted it would hold indefinitely and so I leaped forward; discarding my shield in favour of agility, and bound up onto the atronach's knee to spring up higher still from there and take a grip on the vent panel that formed the side of it's arm. I twisted my blade to a reversed grip in my hand and swung it back into the creatures side with all my might!
Sure enough, my blade pierced the weak glass port on the side of this 'aetherium furnace' and the atronach immediately stumbled. I hopped back as quick as I could while it began to fall; landing just short of it's feet as the atronach hit the ground behind me with an almighty crash! I fought to catch me breath as I looked up to Yen; he too was exhausted but seemed panic stricken as he looked back to me. He was shouting something but I couldn't hear as my ears were still ringing from the crash of the atronach. Then it happened...
I still don't know exactly what it was, but the pierced furnace of the atronach exploded and a wave of energy struck me from behind. It burned bright behind me, but I felt warm and soothed as I was bathed in the mystical energy while sparks of both technology and magicka rained down around me. For a moment, I could swear like I felt the power of the atronach flow through my veins; but I knew that was impossible. These were automatons after all - sure they were created with soul gems and a lost art of magicka, but still just automatons... right?
Yen helped me to my feet as I turned to see what had struck me. All the way back to Sadrith Kegran he talked obsessively about what had transpired at the end there. He begged me to return to his laboratory with him so he could poke and prod at me like some experiment! I however had other plans of course; I had honoured my commitment to aid the settlement and we succeeded in quelling the threat from beneath. I had earned my freedom with blood, and I intended to enjoy it!
Back at the settlement I stood proud before Marisa and Dalos. Of course, Yen had already rushed straight to tell them all that had transpired while I went to clean up! For the first time since my unwarranted arrival here, they talked to me like a civilized person - like one of their own. I was no longer another nameless N'Wah bought and paid for and conveniently disregarded as to any past identity. Now I was family, no... more than that... I was their hero!
Marisa smiled down at me from her rustic throne and thanked me for all that had been done, whilst also apologizing for my treatment at the hands of Shanath. She affirmed that I was a welcome asset to the settlement and invited me to remain - to take up residence in Shanath's former abode. But I had other ideas - grateful as I was for the recognition; I had a life outside their little world and was eager to return to it!
And so with that, I bid them farewell. I did not know if I would ever return to this place again, but made clear that I would should the opportunity arise. I packed up my things - which largely consisted of the armour I wore and my journal! - and headed up the long path to the secluded entrance. It was not long after emerging on the surface that I was greeted with fresh clean air once more. I ran so hard up the path that my legs could barely carry me - I had to take it in! I felt a tear in my eye as I looked out over the landscape; the sun was setting as Masser and Secunda rose to greet me. I felt a familiar tingle across my flesh and smiled, I was finally home.