Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 03

06042015-07042015

1.3

CollegeOfWinterhold

Hitting the Books
Last Seed, 24th, 4E 201

The day dawned bright and sunny and I was happy that doing my further shopping would be unhindered by rain. A Khajiit caravan had arrived during the night and set up shop near the stables so I stopped to talk and see what was available for sale. Ri’saad was a personable fellow, but unfortunately the things he had I wanted to buy would have made a dangerous dent in my funds. I frowned unhappily. “I am sorry, my friend,” I said. “I’m just not flush enough to afford what I really want, but I am definitely keeping you in mind for when I have more. What circuit do you run?”

“Ah, this one goes between here and Markarth.”

“All right. I’ll be on the look out. Warm sands,” I said and started to turn away. That was when I noticed a non-Khajiit in the encampment and went up to him. Turned out he sold spell tomes so I happily rifled through his collection. They weren’t cheap. They were, however, a lot easier on the purse than the enchanted jewelry that Ri’saad had, so I bought a few and tucked them away.

In town I went straight to Dragonsreach. “I heard,” I said to one of the guards posted outside, “that there’s a court wizard here who has spell tomes for sale?”

“Aye,” he said, “Farengar Secret-Fire.”

Nords had the strangest names. “And I can just go on in?”

He nodded and opened the door for me, a courtesy I had not expected. I thanked him and entered, then asked the first person I saw, a servant, where to find him. I was shortly in his little office inquiring about tomes. Farengar was a bit of a skeever himself. Every word out of his mouth implied that those around him were mentally deficient, overly muscular, and good only for fighting, feasting, and . . . wenching.

He also seemed convinced that everyone wanted to speak with him about the ongoing war. After I had picked a few books out and paid for them I asked him a question about the war just to see his expression, then laughed lightly and took my leave.

There was a priest standing in front of the Talos statue proselytising, exhorting the people of Whiterun to move against the Imperials who enforced the will of the Thalmor, and the Thalmor themselves. Something told me he wasn’t going to get much when he screamed out things like, “Talos the mighty! Talos the unerring! Talos the unassailable! To you we give praise! We are but maggots, writhing in the filth of our own corruption! While you have ascended from the dung of mortality, and now walk among the stars!”

Still, I was curious to see what he had to say so I approached and asked him what he could tell me about Talos.

“In mortal life, Talos was a Nord possessed of unmatched tactical skill, limitless wisdom, and the power to see into men’s hearts. Talos mastered the power of the Voice, and with it he united the lands of men into a great Empire. In southern lands, he was known by the name Tiber Septim. Here in Skyrim, we honor him by his proper Nord name. So great was his reign in life, when he ascended to the heavens he was made lord of the Divines. If you want to know more, I'm sure you can find any number of tomes on the subject.”

I was sure I could, especially if when I got back Ancano was no longer looking to interrogate me. Heimskr made it sound as though Talos had taken over for Akatosh, though. Rather than comment directly I asked if he had ever been arrested for his open worship.

“Oh yes, many times. But mighty Talos was my keeper, my shield against the heresy of the south! If not for Talos, and a few modest bribes paid to the right jailors, why, I would not be standing before you today, resplendent in my faith!”

Okay then. I thanked him for answering my questions and wandered off a little faster than I had approached. Yeah, Talos helped those who helped themselves? I walked so fast I almost walked right into a Redguard couple having an argument. Long story short she was angry with him for wanting to go after some sword bandits had stolen and threatened to take their child and leave if he did. I adjusted course and kept right on walking. You do not get in the middle of an argument like that.

Having done what I came for I exited the city and decided I might as well make the circuit on my way back to Winterhold. Horse joined me as I passed the stables and walked with me as I picked flowers along the way. I did learn something important, though. When stopped by a group of drunken revelers who offer to share some Honningbrew mead with you, do not counter-offer with Black-Briar mead unless you want to be accused of trying to poison people and have said people march off in a huff.

Later on I witnessed two Redguard men harassing a Redguard woman, who was very unhappy with them trying to haul her off somewhere. But then one of the men said she didn’t have the “scar”, whatever that meant. I didn’t stop to inquire, actually.

I arrived at Rorikstead some time later; it was a typical enough village. There was a farm a bit beyond that and then the road curved down a steep hill. I wasn’t yet part way down when I heard a bandit making promises he had no right to make. What is it about bandits and warning their prey? The guy was dead before he realized what had happened and his “friends” were almost as easy. Idiocy of that sort annoyed me and only proved they were little better than food. To that I end I drained their blood, mixed it with a few ingredients I always kept on hand, and stored it in bottles for later.

Long past that point I ran into another bandit encampment. They had a rickety wooden bridge over a gap between two outcroppings of rock and even from where I stood I could see the bins holding rocks ready to be released on an unwary passerby. I scowled and looked around, then mounted Horse and cut across to the side and plowed through a shallow section of the nearby stream. I felt annoyed enough that I stayed mounted and made it to Dragon Bridge before full dark. While I didn’t need to worry about being half blind at night I did try to mostly fit in amongst the usual sorts.

I stopped at the inn for the night and bespoke a room. I had intended to stay out in the common room for a bit reading, but one of men there was extremely unfriendly. Some of the people there were very uncomfortable around strangers, it seemed. I ended up in my room instead, learning new spells, and feeling irritation that there were no damn doors. At least the room I had was within easy sight of the proprietor so there was someone keeping an eye on things.

Last Seed, 25th, 4E 201

I was up even before dawn was really established and ready to be on the road again. Outside a guard eyed me up and down and said snidely, “Let me guess—someone stole your sweet roll.”

I blinked at the comment and then again as tongues of pink lightning reached down from the sky and transformed the guard into that very thing. A look around showed that nobody seemed to have noticed, so I picked up the sweet roll and tucked it away carefully—didn’t want it to get squished. Perhaps Sheogorath was touchy about comments like that?

Solitude seemed like the place to visit next, and I was trying to be good about sticking to the roads, but I heard a dog barking and saw something in the woods, so I diverted and found a shack. Inside was a man’s corpse. On a nearby table was a journal I read out of curiosity. The poor bastard. The dog, Meeko, had been his, and a faithful beast at that. It wasn’t having any of my attempts at friendship, though, so I continued on, got distracted again, and ended up fighting some spiders and mudcrabs.

The next thing I knew I was almost to Morthal, somehow having come at it from the north. I breezed through, not interested in stopping, and found the road again heading east. Along the way some stupid Redguard called me a milk drinker. When I told him to back off he attacked. I admit he was tasty. There was no one around to witness me draining him, so at least he served some use. And he wouldn’t be needing any of those things he was wearing or carrying.

Another distraction had me haring off course and I ended up staring down at a Dwemer ruin infested with bandits. I walked lightly along the roofs and spied on the people there; they had no idea. I could have picked them off all easily. Instead I left and found the road again, and this time ran into an Orsimer who wanted a “good death”. I was starting to think the people in Skyrim were just plain crazy.

The Orc was old, you see, and he rambled on about his reasons, but I wasn’t much interested until several yards away when I remembered one of the spells I had just recently learned: Doppelganger. I backtracked and agreed to help him out. He sounded almost desperate as it was and the sheer number of dead wildlife around him added to the effect. The doppelganger was a sort of ghostly copy of him and fought as well as he did. I thought it was all very poetic when the Orc died.

Eventually I made it to Dawnstar and stopped at the inn. It was getting close to sunset, and while I wasn’t especially tired it was as good a place as any to take a break. That may have been a mistake. I walked in on a bunch of townsfolk speaking with a priest—Erandur they called him—who was pleading with them. “Everyone, please. I’m doing what I can to end these nightmares. In the meantime, all I ask is you remain strong and put your trust in Lady Mara.”

I sighed. Nightmares had taken hold of the town. Either I needed to see if I could help or I needed to leave and push on to the College. Sleeping in Dawnstar sounded like a very uncomfortable prospect. The townsfolk dispersed so I approached and asked, “What’s going on?”

He seemed slightly shocked that an outsider was asking, but readily enough said, “The entire town is being plagued by horrible nightmares. They’re in serious danger, but I’m afraid there’s little I can do about it.”

That sounded like a plea for assistance to me.

“These dreams are manifestations created by the Daedric Lord Vaermina,” he continued. “She has an awful hunger for our memories. In return, she leaves behind nightmares, not unlike a cough marks a serious illness. I must end her terrible influence over these people before the damage becomes permanent.”

“Why would she want memories?” I asked.

“Who can say? Perhaps she collects them for display like works of art in a nonsensical art gallery. Whatever the case may be, her intentions are far from benevolent.”

“And you expect to solve the problem, how? I mean, you just said there was little you can do about it.”

“I need to return to the source of the problem, to Nightcaller Temple. Perhaps you’d be willing to assist me in that regard?”

Say what now? I pressed him on that, saying, “Return? What exactly have you been doing up there, then?”

He looked uneasy at the question. “I’ve already said too much. If anyone overhears what we’re saying, it could start a panic. I would simply ask that you trust me and help me end Dawnstar’s nightmares.”

I just knew there was something he wasn’t telling me. His breathing, his heartbeat, his scent—all of it told a story he wasn’t even aware of. Still, he seemed sincere, so I agreed to help.

“Mara be praised! Nightcaller Temple is only a short walk from Dawnstar,” he said. “Come, we must hurry.”

Indeed it was not far, though the going was steep. Along the way he said, “The tower on that hill is our destination. People around here call it the Tower of the Dawn. I’m not familiar with the tower’s history, but it was deserted for quite a long time before Nightcaller Temple was established inside. When the temple was active the priests would rarely be seen in Dawnstar; they preferred to live a solitary existence. The temple’s been abandoned for decades now. Ironic isn’t it . . . a ruin within a ruin? There’s a small shrine to Mara I established inside the tower’s entry hall. I was hoping to seek spiritual guidance from her. Perhaps my prayers were answered and your reason for stumbling across Dawnstar is more than a mere coincidence. Follow me, it’s this way. It feels good to finally have a chance to help these people. Helplessly watching them suffer’s been difficult.”

There were some trolls waiting near the entrance, easily killed, but before we went inside he said, “Years ago, this temple was raided by an Orc war party seeking revenge. They were being plagued by nightmares just like the people of Dawnstar.”

“And do you know if they succeeded?” I asked, curious to see just how much he actually did know and what he would actually say.

“No,” he replied, his body language becoming shifty again. “Knowing they could never defeat the Orcs, the priests of Vaermina released what they call ‘The Miasma’, putting everyone to sleep.”

Right. Amazing how he would know that. Call me cynical, if you will. “What is this Miasma?”

“The Miasma was created by the priests of Vaermina for their rituals. It’s a gas that places the affected in a deep sleep. Because the rituals would lasts for months or even years, the Miasma was designed to slow down the aging process.”

I sighed quietly, trying not to show my reaction overtly. “You make it sound like it’s dangerous.”

“I’m concerned that when this place is unsealed, the Miasma will dissipate and they’ll awaken; both Orcs and priests alike.”

I frowned. “Sounds to me like they’d be ripe for the picking if they’re waking up from a long sleep. But still, that doesn’t explain the danger I keep hearing in your voice. Is the gas itself dangerous?”

“Sadly, yes,” he replied. “The longer an individual is exposed to the Miasma, the more the mind can become damaged. Those who’ve been under the effect of it for extended periods of time have been known to lose their minds entirely. In some cases, a few never awoke at all.”

My lower lip found a place between my teeth as I worried it in thought. The more I heard the more I was convinced this priest of Mara had once been a priest of Vaermina, one from this very temple. I had a hard time believing that there was a book somewhere easily available that spoke all about the rituals and rites of Vaermina’s priests. Erandur was a Dunmer, which meant he could easily be old enough for that to be true. It was also possible that he was neglecting to be entirely honest with me for fear that I would turn around and leave. “All right, let’s go.”

There was no obvious exit from the room aside from the “front” door. A shrine was off to one side, various other minor amenities, but no doors or halls. Erandur went straight to the back and cast at the far wall, saying, “Give me just a moment, and I’ll have this open.”

Ah, some kind of illusionary ward. It was done a few seconds later, leaving behind a ghostly purple version of the wall that had been there.

“Now I can show you the source of the nightmares,” Erandur said. “Over here.”

We walked in and I could see that the hall curved to match the shape of the exterior walls, around an open central column. That center had both solid walls and grating. Erandur stopped at the first grate and pointed down. I went up on my toes and leaned in so I could see to the bottom. Down there was a staff of some kind in a ward bubble.

“Behold the Skull of Corruption,” he said, “the source of Dawnstar’s woes. We must reach the inner sanctum and destroy it. Come, there’s no time to lose.”

We circled down the stairway until we came upon a ward barrier. Erandur looked unhappy. “Damn it. The priests must have activated this barrier when the Miasma was released.”

I sighed again. He was a horrible liar. “And I suppose it’s going to be difficult to breach this?”

“Impossible actually,” he said. “Hmm, I wonder. . . . There may be a way to bypass the barrier, but I must check their library and confirm it can be done.”

“Erandur,” I said slowly, “I would really appreciate it if you’d stop lying—and you’re horrible at it, by the way—about how you know all of this and just tell me the truth. You’re asking for my help, after all, and this dancing around is getting tedious.”

He turned to face me with a drawn-out sigh. “I suppose there’s no point in concealing the truth any longer. My knowledge of this temple comes from personal experience. I was a priest of Vaermina.”

I nodded. “Yes, I’d figured that part out already. Do give me some credit.”

Erandur glanced away, then continued, “And what would you have me say? Sorry for following the misguided teachings of a mad Divine? Sorry for stealing memories from children? Do you realize when the Orcs attacked, I was only concerned with myself? I fled . . . and left my brothers and sisters behind to die. I’ve spent the last few decades living in regret and seeking redemption from Mara. And by her benevolence, I will right my wrongs.”

“I must have missed the part where I passed judgment on your previous religious beliefs,” I said dryly.

He looked at me then, a bit confused.

“The past is the past,” I said. “What you do now is more important. You obviously care about the damage being done to the innocent people of Dawnstar and you obviously feel regret for abandoning those you called kin. That means something. So, about this library?”

He straightened up and nodded. “I still have my key. Let’s go.”

He led the way back up the stairs and to a door we had bypassed. He unlocked the door and opened it, revealing what had been a library. Now it was the remnants of a battle. Books everywhere were burned or otherwise ruined; it broke my heart a little. But sorrow for them would have to wait, as bodies on the floor were starting to rise. Flames came to one hand and a summon to the other. Erandur and I killed them all, even the priests. They had been so long under the effects of the Miasma they attacked anyone not dressed as they were.

I fed on one of them right in front of Erandur, eyeing him challengingly. He just shook his head and said, “Barring any more interruptions, perhaps we can locate the information I need. We’re looking for a book of alchemical recipes called ‘The Dreamstride’. The tome bears the likeness of Vaermina on the cover. It should be here somewhere.”

I nodded and started checking the upper level as he headed down. I had to pick my way over or across fallen pillars—I assumed some of the Orcs had bashed them down. I heard Erandur’s voice drift up while I was poking around. “This library used to be filled with arcane volumes. Now look at it; almost everything’s been burned. I hope the tome we need is still intact.”

I was beginning to get the idea that he was depressed, morose, mopey, pessimistic. . . . A circuit around the upper level finally revealed an undamaged book of the description he had given. I skimmed through it before lightly dropping down to the lower level of the room. “Found it.”

“Let me take a look. . . .” Erandur flipped rapidly through the book and stopped on a certain page, taking in the contents more keenly. “Mara be praised! There is a way past the barrier to the inner sanctum. It involves a recipe for a liquid known as Vaermina’s Torpor.”

“So, a potion of some kind?”

“Yes. The Torpor grants an ability the priests of Vaermina called ‘The Dreamstride’; using dreams to travel distances in the real world. It’s quite amazing. Alchemy and the blessings of a Divine distilled down into an ingestible liquid.”

That was the second time he’d called Vaermina a Divine and I must say I had to disagree on that point, but it wasn’t worth quibbling over. “Travel in the real world, in dreams?” I said skeptically.

“I assure you, the Dreamstride is well known in Vaerminian Lore. Sadly, I have yet to see it function in person.”

Oh gods, I knew where this was going. Again, call me a cynic, but I just knew. I would be the one using the Dreamstride if we found it.

“As a sworn priest of Mara, the elixir won’t work for me,” he added.

Of course not.

“The Torpor will only work for Priests of Vaermina, or the unaffiliated.”

And I was no priest. “And what would it feel like?” I asked slowly.

“You’ll be viewing the memory of another through your own eyes and with your own body. Those around you will perceive you as normal and you will find the words you utter may not be your own. Thanks to all of these odd principles, there is a quite a lot of debate as to whether this is really a dream or just the machinations of Vaermina. I believe there is a laboratory in the east wing. If we proceed there, we should be able to locate a sample.”

East wing? In a circular tower? I shrugged and headed for the only exit on the level. There were more priests and Orcs awakening, and all of them were fried in one way or another. I pocketed various items along the way that I recognized. Even if I didn’t use any of them I could sell them later on.

“Now that they’ve been dealt with, we need to find the Torpor. It should be in a small bottle, very similar to a potion. I’ll begin searching up here.”

It didn’t take long before I happened upon something that looked like a potion bottle that was filled with something I’d never quite seen the colour of before. I assumed that had to be it and brought it to Erandur.

“I’m relieved you discovered a bottle intact; this place looks as though it was ransacked by the Orcs.”

Really, you don’t say. We ended up back at the ward barrier through a door right at the same level.

“So, you will need to guide us the rest of the way. Drink,” he urged. “Dawnstar’s fate rests in that tiny bottle. The longer we wait, the more damage Vaermina could be doing to those poor people. I understand your hesitation, but I promise you that it works. Once you get to the other side of the barrier you can remove the gem powering it.”

Sure, and he had said nothing about a vampire using it, so I had to assume it wasn’t an issue. I took a deep breath and uncorked the bottle, then downed it, trusting that he would watch over whatever of me was left behind. He had said my own eyes and body, but. . . . I found myself standing down where the staff was, with two men dressed in those purple robes.

“The Orcs have breached the inner sanctum, Brother Veren,” one said.

“We must hold,” Veren replied. “We can’t allow the Skull to fall into their hands.”

“But . . . no more than a handful of us remain, brother.”

“Then we have no choice. The Miasma must be released.”

“The Miasma? But, brother. . . .”

“We have no alternative. It’s the will of Vaermina. And what about you, Brother Casimir? Are you prepared to serve the will of Vaermina?” Veren asked.

As I was wondering exactly how he knew this was the will of Vaermina I realized I was speaking. “I’ve made my peace. I’m ready.”

“Then it’s decided. Brother Casimir, you must activate the barrier and release the Miasma. Let nothing stop you. Brother Thorek, we must remain here and guard this Skull with our lives if necessary.”

Was Erandur this Casimir? How else would he know the events so well?

“Agreed,” Thorek replied. “To the death.”

“Then let it be done. Farewell, my brothers!”

With that I found myself racing away, up through the tower, past priests and Orcs fighting each other, fire and blades, until I reached that gem. In the dream my hand pulled a chain there on the wall, releasing the Miasma. And suddenly I was back to myself, staring at the barrier, and through it, Erandur. I shook my head to clear it and looked to the side, then plucked the gem from it’s socket. The barrier flickered and vanished.

“It . . . it worked. Mara be praised!” Erandur cried. “You vanished after drinking the Torpor and materialized on the other side. I have never seen anything like it.”

“You know,” I said conversationally, “statements like that don’t do much for my confidence in you. But yes, it worked. I experienced things as Brother Casimir.” I neglected for the moment to voice my suspicion. Veren and Thorek were likely still down there and I would have my answer soon enough.

“How I envy you. I can only imagine the excitement of seeing history through the eyes of another! Sadly, I am resigned to just reading of its wonders through my research of the Skull. But, let us go. There is more to be done.”

We continued back the way I had come during the Dreamstride, taking care of the awakening fallen, until at last we reached the lowest level. I lagged back as we approached the Skull and soon enough two men appeared.

“Wait,” Erandur said. “Veren, Thorek, you’re alive!”

“No thanks to you, Casimir,” Veren said.

Thank you. Verification complete.

“I no longer use that name. I’m Erandur, Priest of Mara.”

“You’re a traitor. You left us to die and then ran before the Miasma took you.”

Now that was a bit unfair. Veren told him to go release the Miasma and set up the barrier. The part about running, though. . . . Did they know because Vaermina told them?

“No,” Erandur said. “I . . . I was scared. I wasn’t ready to sleep.”

“Enough of your lies!” Veren shot back. “I can’t allow you to destroy the Skull, Priest of Mara.”

“Then you leave me no choice!”

I had quietly prepared spells and was ready. A summon was out a second later and I edged to the side so I could throw flames without hurting Erandur. Every time my summon was dispelled I simply brought it back. I hated to sound all callous, but our two opponents died.

Erandur looked a bit broken up over things. “I . . . knew Veren and Thorek. They were my friends. Is this punishment for my past? Is it Mara’s will to torment me so?”

Gods above. “Erandur, they gave us little choice. They were trying to kill us. There is no shame in defending your life. You know, I could have just kept casting Calm at them the entire time while you attempted to deal with the Skull, and then we could have fled before the spell wore off. Would that have been better? Should that option have been offered to all the other priests here that we’ve defended ourselves from? The Orsimer who attacked as payback for their suffering at the hands of the Skull and these priests?”

He heaved a sigh. “I—you’re right. It’s time. The Skull must be destroyed. If you’ll stand back, I’ll perform the ritual granted to me by Lady Mara.”

I did as he asked and let him get to work.

“I call upon you, Lady Mara! The Skull hungers. It yearns for memories and leaves nightmares in its wake. Grant me the power to break through this barrier and to send the Skull to the depths of Oblivion!”

As he did so a voice insinuated itself in to my mind, trying to persuade me that Erandur was tricking me, that he would take the Skull for himself, that I should kill him now and claim it in his stead. I stoically ignored it. The Skull would likely end up somewhere back on Nirn later on down the road, temporarily lessening Vaermina’s influence in the world.

I was pleased to see him succeed. I was not opposed to all Daedric Lords. Some of them seem—well, not harmless, but certainly less evil than the Vigilants of Stendarr would have one believe.

“Forgive me if I don’t appear relieved,” he said when it was done. “This temple has taken its toll on me.”

That I could believe, having to face up to his actions of the past. “And now?”

“I’d constructed a meager shrine to Mara in the antechamber where we entered. My intention was to spend the rest of my years here, burying the past and praying for forgiveness. But instead, I wish to offer my services to you. If you ever wish to journey with me, I’ll be here.”

He obviously didn’t have a problem with me being a vampire, so I nodded and said, “I wouldn’t mind the company for now. But, Erandur, look. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but do you really think staying here and praying is going to do much of anything? You’ve already made a start to atonement for anything you might have done back then. Staying here is stagnating. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get out there and actively do things in Mara’s name, things she might appreciate?”

He didn’t really have anything to say to that aside from agreeing to come along.

Last Seed, 26th, 4E 201

We had been in there for a lot longer than I realized. It was morning when we emerged and the sun was blinding at that angle. The walk down was quiet but for the crunch of our footsteps on the snow. The Jarl, Skald the Elder, thanked me for dealing with the nightmares (and not a word for Erandur, strangely), then essentially told me to piss off and not speak to him again unless it was important.

Outside I squinted against the glare and said, “Well, that’s that. I think we could both use some sleep, so. . . .”