Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 09

08042015

2.2

Tyranny of the Sun

Chasing Echoes
Heartfire, 27th, 4E 201

“Do you have a moment to talk?” Serana asked.

Had I been male I might have cringed away. Those are not usually words a person likes to hear. “Of course. What’s on your mind?”

“Dexion said we needed two other Elder Scrolls. I think I know where we can start looking.”

“All right, though I never expected that we’d need more than the one you already have. I guess you didn’t say anything earlier for the same reason.”

“That and there was no point in saying anything where my father could have overheard. He’s obsessed with the prophecy, and from what I can tell, a thousand extra years of obsession haven’t made him any better. We should have found him a hobby.”

I snorted in amusement. “Do you—do you think he even cares about you anymore?” I asked tentatively.

“You know, I’ve asked myself the same thing. I thought—I hoped that if he saw me, he might feel something again. But I guess I don’t really factor in at this point. I don’t think he even sees me as his daughter anymore. I’m just . . . a means to an end.”

I honestly wasn’t sure what I could say to that. I bit my lip, then changed the subject. “Well, where is this Elder Scroll?”

“We need to find my mother, Valerica. She’ll definitely know where it is, and if we’re lucky, she actually has it herself.”

“But you aren’t sure where she went,” I said slowly.

Serana shook her head. “The last time I saw her, she said that she’d go somewhere safe, somewhere that my father would never search. Other than that, she wouldn’t tell me anything. But the way she said it. . . . It was cryptic, yet she called attention to it.”

“It kind of sounds like she was being cautious. After all, I overheard some Vigilants talking about Dimhollow Crypt and poked my nose in, and found you. If I could do that, maybe anyone could. With you not knowing where she went, you certainly can’t tell anyone, or have it tricked out of you.”

“Maybe. What I can’t figure out is why she said it that way. Besides, I can’t imagine a single place my father would avoid looking. And he’s had all this time, too. Any ideas?”

“Uh, somewhere in the castle itself?” I offered with a shrug, grabbing a blood potion off the table and taking a swig.

Serana frowned and started to shake her head, then stopped. “Wait, that almost makes sense! There’s a courtyard in the castle. I used to help her tend a garden there. All the ingredients for our potions came from there. She used to say that my father couldn’t stand the place. Too . . . peaceful.”

“I imagine it’d be pretty risky, staying there somewhere, but. . . .”

“Oh, absolutely. But my mother’s not a coward. That is . . . I don’t think we’ll actually trip over her there, but it’s worth a look. There’s an unused inlet on the northern side of the island that was used by the previous owners to bring supplies to the castle. An old escape tunnel from the castle exits there. I think that’s our way in.”

“Sounds like a plan, then.”

Heartfire, 28th, 4E 201

We arrived at the castle’s excuse for a dock and Serana pointed off to the left. “We go that way, around the side.”

So we did, and eventually came around to a dock area with a way inside, though we did have to shatter a few skeletons first. Inside she said, “The old water cistern. On some days, the smell would just—be glad you weren’t here then. Take a left up ahead. This is one of those weird double-barred security measures that my father put in when he got more paranoid. If we follow that path around we can find the other switch.”

I headed left through the archway, fried a skeleton, and followed the way around and through the bottom of the cistern. It was watery and full of piles and piles of bones. Up some stairs and through another door was a room choked with cobwebs and a spider, which we killed. I flipped the switch and we backtracked to the entrance. Another switch, in tandem with the first, caused a bridge to fall down and let us continue.

“This leads out to the courtyard,” Serana said after a bit. “Just out this door.” Outside her expression fell. “Oh no. What happened to this place?” She darted forward, then stopped and looked around.

“Everything’s been torn down. The whole place looks, well, dead. It’s like we’re the first to set foot here in centuries.” She wandered off and I followed her, just listening. “This used to lead into the castle’s great hall. It looks like my father had it sealed up. I used to walk through here after evening meals. It was beautiful, once.

“This was my mother’s garden. It—do you know how beautiful something can be when it’s tended by a master for hundreds of years? She would have hated to see it like this. Wait—something’s wrong with the moondial here. Some of the crests are missing and the dial is askew. I didn’t even know the crests could be removed. Maybe my mother’s trying to tell us something?”

I began to wander around, looking for crests that might fit into place, and asked, “So what do you think happened here?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say the moment mother fled the castle, father went on a rampage. Knowing him, anything at all that reminded him of her was just destroyed.”

“Then he walled it off,” I said, bending down to pick up a crest similar to the ones on the moondial.

“It appears that way. I suppose he wanted to put the past behind him. Perhaps if he had spent more time with us, he would have recognized the beauty for himself.”

I found another crest and asked, “Is the moondial particularly special?”

“Well, as far as I’m aware it’s the only one in existence. The previous owners of the castle had a sundial in the courtyard, and obviously, that didn’t appeal to my mother. She persuaded an elven artisan to make some improvements. You can see the plates that show the phases of the moons, Masser and Secunda.”

“How many crests are missing? And does it function?”

“Three, I think,” she said. “And that’s the thing—what’s the point of a moondial? I always wondered why she didn’t just have the whole thing ripped out. But she loved it. I don’t know. I guess it’s like having a piece of art, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

“I think it’s lovely, but I can’t quite see how it would work, not with so many walls around it,” I replied. “Ah, I found a third one. Let’s see if we can make these fit.”

Serana knew more about how it should look than I so she took each crest and slipped them into place. As soon as all three were in place the dial rotated, causing us both to step back hurriedly, and a staircase was revealed.

“Very clever, mother. Very clever. I bet this leads to a way that runs right under the courtyard and into the tower ruins. Well, at least we’re getting closer. Let’s go.”

After a very confusing journey involving secret passageways, skeletons, and gargoyles, we finally reached a large room that looked to be in reasonable shape, though still abandoned.

“Look at this place,” Serana said. “This has to be it! I knew she was deep into necromancy. I mean, she taught me everything I know. But I had no idea she had a setup like this. Look at all this. She must have spent years collecting these components. And what’s this thing?”

I had been wondering that myself. There was a circular indentation as the most prominent thing in the room, taking up a fair amount of space, and it had a number of concentric circles.

“I’m not sure about this circle, but it’s obviously—something. Let’s take a look around. There has to be something here that tells us where she’s gone.”

Serana went one way and I went the other. Eventually I came across a journal on one of the bookcases and flipped through it. It seemed to be Valerica’s personal journal, so I brought it straight to Serana. “What about this?”

“You’ve found her journal! Let me take a look at it.”

“I only skimmed it, but what’s this ‘Soul Cairn’ thing she mentions?”

“I only know what she told me. She had a theory about soul gems. That the souls inside of them don’t just vanish when they’re used. They end up in the Soul Cairn.”

“That’s actually an interesting line of thought, now that I think about it. I’ve used plenty of soul gems, but I never stopped to think about what happens to the souls once they’re used. Huh. So the Soul Cairn would be like a type of afterlife?”

She looked up from the journal and said, “The Soul Cairn is home to very powerful beings. Necromancers send them souls, and receive powers of their own in return. My mother spent a lot of time trying to contact them directly, to travel to the Soul Cairn itself.”

“Well, if she made it there, we’ll find her,” I said, sounding a lot more confident than I felt.

“That circle in the center of the room is definitely some type of portal. If I’m reading this right, there’s a formula in here that should give us safe passage into the Soul Cairn.”

“All right. What does she say we need?”

“A handful of soul gem shards, some finely-ground bone meal, a good bit of purified void salts—oh, damn it.”

“What’s wrong?”

“We’re also going to need a sample of her blood. Which, if we could get that, we wouldn’t even be trying to do this in the first place.”

I shook my head. “We do have one. You’re her daughter. You share her blood.”

Serana smiled. “Hm. Not bad. We’d better hope that’s good enough. Mistakes with these kinds of portals can be . . . gruesome. Anyway, enough of that. Let’s get started.”

This time it was Serana who found two of the items we needed, while I found the other one. It was awfully tempting to tuck some of this stuff away, but that would be stealing from a woman who might well come back at some point. We headed up to the device overlooking the portal and Serana put everything in. “Then the rest is up to me. Are you ready to go? I’m not entirely sure what this thing is going to do when I add my blood.”

“May I ask something first?”

“Of course. What is it?”

“. . .What will you do if we find your mother?”

“I’ve been asking myself the same thing since we came back to the castle. She was so sure of what we did to my father, I couldn’t help but go along with her. I never thought of the cost.”

“I’d like to think she did it for your sake.”

“Possibly. I guess even a vampire mother is still a mother. She worried about me. About all of us. But she wanted to get me as far away from my father as possible before he really went over the edge.”

“Well, I guess we won’t know until we find her,” I said softly.

“Yes. Yes, you’re right. I just didn’t expect anyone to care how I felt about her. Thank you. Are we ready, then?”

“Let’s get that portal open.”

Serana bit into her hand to make it bleed and said, “All right. Here goes.” She started dripping blood into the mixture, and stopped when the portal began to open.

Beyond Death
Heartfire, 28th, 4E 201

The Soul Cairn was a place of bizarre beauty, but also desolate and full of despair. Lightning cracked overhead every so often. Plant life was negligible and the buildings were all of dark stone, smooth, and some doorways were barred off. Everything was in shades of blue or black or purple, except for some odd little circular pits that were a combination of colours. Great fissures existed here and there, leaking some kind of mist, and I could see spectral forms every so often.

The first building I saw had glowing circular panels to either side of a barred off doorway and, out of curiosity, I threw a spell at one of the panels. It dimmed and half the bars slid down. I hit the other one and opened the way to a chest. In front of it on the floor was a sheet of parchment, like an excerpt from some book. I didn’t have a problem looting in the Soul Cairn, so I took anything that looked interesting.

We looked everywhere, and in the process ended up with a whole lot of soul gems, found out that the fissures could be used to fill them, found places to transform regular soul gems into black soul gems, ten of those pages, and the skeletal skull of a horse. The horse’s owner was overjoyed (they had both been soul trapped at some point, obviously) and taught me how to summon his friend. We also found the owner of the pages. St Jiub, who had some time ago wiped out the cliff racers of Morrowind, and presented us with a bound copy of the first volume of his work.

We also found spell tomes for summoning some of the hostiles of the place. Those were strange. They crawled out of the ground when you got close enough, and turned into puddles of black goo when defeated; they also left behind soul gems. Truly, I found it odd that so many soul gems could be found. The souls themselves were mostly depressed or frightened, though some refused to talk at all.

But eventually, Serana and I came to the base of a large hill with a massive building atop it and a strange glow—stranger than the other glows visible, anyway. There were other buildings of interest, some of which had huge ovoid “gems” above them, but we decided to go up the hill. I could see once we got higher that only part of the building up ahead had that glow, like only part of it was behind a barrier. We approached and saw someone behind it.

“Mother!” Serana called.

I edged off to the side a bit, not wanting to intrude.

The woman, dressed much like Serana was, came to the barrier’s edge. “Maker . . . it can’t be. Serana!?”

“Is it really you? I can’t believe it! How do we get inside? We have to talk.”

“Serana? What are you doing here? Where’s your father?”

“He doesn’t know we’re here. I don’t have time to explain.”

“I must have failed,” Valerica said. “Harkon’s found a way to decipher the prophecy, hasn’t he.”

“No, you’ve got it all wrong. We’re here to complete the prophecy our way, not his,” Serana insisted.

“Wait a moment,” Valerica said, finally seeming to take in that Serana wasn’t alone. “You’ve brought a stranger here? Have you lost your mind?”

“No, you don’t—”

“You,” Valerica interrupted. “Come forward. I would speak with you.”

I frowned at her manner and stepped back over, and closer to the barrier and Valerica.

“So how has it come to pass that a vampire of mixed blood is in the company of my daughter?”

“I’ve been keeping her safe and helping her,” I said evenly, hoping that if I ever reached such an age I would not be so damn arrogant and paranoid.

“Safe? You call bringing her here safe? Has she explained nothing to you?”

Did this woman think I was leading Serana around as if she was a child in need of a keeper? “Anyone could have found her. I found Serana simply by overhearing a conversation by some people who would have killed her the moment they discovered her, or hauled her back to the castle. I got curious. Both the Vigilants of Stendarr and Harkon’s people were after her in that place. I killed the vampires, mainly because they attacked me, and got her out, then did as she requested and provided an escort.”

“Serana is in far more danger now than she was before,” Valerica insisted, again without saying why. “She has sacrificed everything to prevent Harkon from completing the prophecy. I would have expected her to explain that to you.”

“Yes, well, the Elder Scroll seems to be a problem.”

“You think I’d have the audacity to place my own daughter in that tomb for the protection of her Elder Scroll alone? The scrolls are merely a means to an end. The key to the Tyranny of the Sun is Serana herself.”

“I’m glad you finally decided to give us a reason instead of parroting the same thing over and over again,” I said snidely. “If it was just the damn scroll you could have dropped it in the Sea of Ghosts.”

Valerica looked a bit taken aback. “When I fled Castle Volkihar, I fled with two Elder Scrolls. The scroll I presume you found with Serana speaks of Auriel and his arcane weapon, Auriel’s Bow. The second scroll declares that ‘The Blood of Coldharbour’s Daughter will blind the eye of the Dragon’.”

“And earlier Serana mentioned the sun, and you just did, so the dragon is the sun,” I muttered. “Harkon wants the bow to corrupt it somehow. I’m going to reason that Serana is a Daughter of Coldharbour with you saying she’s the key.”

“Like myself, Serana was a human once. We were devout followers of Lord Molag Bal. Tradition dictates the females be offered to Molag Bal on his summoning day. Few survive the ordeal. Those that do emerge as a pure-blooded vampire. We call such confluences the ‘Daughters of Coldharbour’.”

“So the ‘Tyranny of the Sun’ requires Serana’s blood—or yours.”

“Now you’re beginning to see why I wanted to protect Serana, and why I’ve kept the other Elder Scroll as far from her as possible.”

“So you’re saying Harkon means to kill her.”

“If Harkon obtained Auriel’s Bow and Serana’s blood was used to taint the weapon, the Tyranny of the Sun would be complete. In his eyes, she’d be dying for the good of all vampires.”

“Then he’s a damn fool,” I said. “Blotting out or destroying the sun probably would kill off his food source. In addition to that, the people would probably start a new war, this time against vampires specifically. In any case, I wouldn’t allow that to happen if I could possibly prevent it.”

“And how exactly do you plan on completing the prophecy without death of my daughter?”

“The obvious answer is to kill Harkon,” I stated.

“If you believe you can do that, you’re a bigger fool that I originally suspected. Don’t you think I weighed that option before I enacted my plans?”

“Sure. And Serana’s opinion on all of this?”

“You care nothing for Serana or our plight. Whether or not you’ve become a vampire in order to survive the Soul Cairn, you’re still a stranger. You see the Tyranny of the Sun as your chance at deification.”

I laughed at her. “Lady, you are nuts. I’m on this little jaunt because I like Serana and she needed help. That’s it. I live a perfectly happy life as I am. I feed myself just fine. Apotheosis is not my goal and I seriously wonder at the interpretation going on here for anyone to think that’s even a possibility. I didn’t know a thing about this ‘Tyranny of the Sun’ until you mentioned it, so stop putting words in my mouth or assigning me motivations I don’t have.”

Serana decided to jump in at that point. “This ‘stranger’ has done more for me in the brief time I’ve known her than you’ve done in centuries!”

“How dare you! I gave up everything I cared about to protect you from that fanatic you call a father!”

Serana sighed. “Yes, he’s a fanatic. He’s changed. But he’s still my father. Why can’t you understand how that makes me feel?”

“Oh, Serana. If you’d only open your eyes. The moment your father discovers your role in the prophecy, that he needs your blood, you’d be in terrible danger.”

“So to protect me, you decided to shut me away from everything I cared about?” she said passionately. “You never asked me if hiding in that tomb was the best course of action, you just expected me to follow you blindly. Both of you were obsessed with your own paths. Your motivations might have been different, but in the end, I’m still just a pawn to you, too.

“I want us to be a family again. But I don’t know if we can ever have that. Maybe we don’t deserve that kind of happiness. Maybe it isn’t for us. But we have to stop him. Before he goes too far. And to do that, we need the Elder Scroll.”

“I’m sorry, Serana,” Valerica said dolefully. “I didn’t know—I didn’t see. I’ve allowed my hatred of your father to estrange us for too long. Forgive me. If you want the Elder Scroll, it’s yours.” To me she said, “Your intentions are still somewhat unclear to me. But for Serana’s sake, I’ll assist you in any way I can.”

I nodded and glanced at the barrier. “Are you . . . trapped in there?”

“Yes. Fortunately, you’re in a position to breach the barrier that surrounds these ruins. I’ve kept the Elder Scroll safely secured here ever since I was imprisoned.”

“What do we need to do to free you?”

“You need to locate the tallest of the rocky spires that surround these ruins. At their bases, the barrier’s energy is being drawn from unfortunate souls that have been exiled here. Destroy the Keepers that are tending them, and it should bring the barrier down.”

“All right. We’ll return soon.”

“One more word of warning,” Valerica said as I started to turn away. “There’s a dragon that calls itself Durnehviir roaming the Cairn. Be wary of him. The Ideal Masters have charged him with overseeing the Keepers, and will undoubtedly intervene if you’re perceived as a threat. Be careful, and keep my daughter safe.”

I nodded and we set off, looking for the Keepers. “I—I hope this doesn’t offend you, Serana, but I kind of get the feeling your family thinks of you as a small child at times. I mean, I get it, your mother only wants you to be safe, but. . . .”

“Yeah. But let’s go kill those . . . Keeper things and get back to the prison.”

So off we went. They weren’t too difficult to locate. One even had a bunch of souls at the base very obviously feeding energy to fuel the barrier. The Keepers were difficult, on the order of a powerful Deathlord or similar. One was atop its tower, reached either by a torturous staircase or a funny little teleportation pad.

In any case, we managed it, and hastened back to Valerica. “You managed to destroy all three Keepers? Very impressive. Now, please follow me. Keep watch for Durnehviir. With the prison’s barrier down, he’s almost certain to investigate.”

As we walked I asked, “How did you come to be imprisoned here?”

“When I entered the Soul Cairn, I had intended to strike a bargain with the Ideal Masters, the custodians of this place. I requested refuge in the Soul Cairn, and in the exchange, I would provide the Ideal Masters the souls they craved. If I had foreseen the value they placed on my own soul, I would never have come here.”

“They tricked you, then.”

“Yes. They unleashed their Keepers and sent them to destroy me. Fortunately, I was able to hold them at bay and retreat into these ruins. And, since the Keepers weren’t able to claim my soul, they had their minions construct a barrier that I’d never be able to breach.”

“Hm. Who are the Ideal Masters?” I asked as she opened a door and started through.

“I know very little about them. They’re mystic entities that lord over the Soul Cairn, controlling every aspect from its fabric to its appearance. Some necromancers believe they are the crystalline structures dotting the Soul Cairn. I think they transcend what we perceive as a physical form. Perhaps they were once corporeal beings, but they’ve obviously reached a point where they no longer require a tangible presence.”

I would have continued that line of discussion, but Serana said, “Wait—I hear something!” as we passed into a large courtyard.

“It’s Durnehviir—he’s here! Defend yourselves!”

Skeletons and such began rising from the bone piles as a dragon appeared overhead. I could swear the thing was decaying in front of my eyes. I summoned my lich and started targeting the dragon. After having taken down the skeletal one at Labyrinthian I wasn’t quite as scared of this one as perhaps I should have been. Truly, with three mages capable of conjuring assistance, it wasn’t all that hard to defeat the dragon. I didn’t know if I should be pleased or wary.

“Forgive my astonishment,” Valerica said afterward, “but I never thought I’d witness the death of that dragon.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Volumes written on Durnehviir allege that he can’t be slain by normal means. It appears they were mistaken. Unless. . . . The soul of a dragon is as resilient as its owner’s scaly hide. It’s possible your killing blow merely displaced Durnehviir’s physical form while he reconstitutes himself. It could take, oh, minutes? Hours? Years? I can’t even begin to guess. I suggest we don’t wait around to find out. Now, let’s get your Elder Scroll and you can be on your way.”

Clear across the courtyard, opposite where we entered, was an alcove with an ornate box inside. Valerica gestured toward it, so I stepped forward and retrieved the scroll.

“Remember,” Valerica said as we began the walk back. “Harkon is not to be trusted. No matter what he promises, he’ll deceive you in order to get what he wants. And promise me you’ll keep my daughter safe. She’s the only thing of value I have left. Farewell.”

As we were about to pass through the door again Serana said, “I’m glad we found the scroll, but I—I wish she could come with us.”

“We just have to resolve this. Then we can come back and let her know it’s safe to return.”

We hadn’t taken many steps past the door when I realized Durnehviir was perched on an outcropping right in front of the prison. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

“Stay your weapons. I would speak with you, Qahnaarin.”

“So you did reconstitute, as Valerica conjectured.”

“I am cursed, not dead. Doomed to exist in this form for all eternity. Trapped between laas and dinok, between life and death.

I nodded. “Why did you wish to speak?”

“I believe in civility among seasoned warriors, and I find your ear worthy of my words. My claws have rended flesh from innumerable foes, but I have never once been felled on the field of battle. I therefore honor-name you ‘Qahnaarin’, or Vanquisher in your tongue, for one who has bested a fellow dovah in battle.”

“I found you equally worthy,” I said politely. And indeed, he had not been a pushover, though not as difficult as one might expect.

“Your words do me great honor. My desire to speak with you was born from the result of our battle, Qahnaarin. I merely wish to respectfully ask a favor of you.”

I blinked. Well, if I could do them for people, why not a dragon? “What kind of favor?”

“For countless years I’ve roamed the Soul Cairn, in unintended service to the Ideal Masters. Before this, I roamed the skies above Tamriel. I desire to return there.”

I eyed the ongoing decay of his flesh, wrinkling my nose a little.

“I fear that my time here has taken its toll on me. I share a bond with this dreaded place. If I ventured far from the Soul Cairn, my strength would begin to wane until I was no more.”

“How would I be able to help, then?” I asked, shaking my head a little in confusion.

“I will place my name with you and grant you the right to call my name from Tamriel. Do me this simple honor and I will fight at your side as your grah-zeymahzin, your ally, and teach you my Thu’um.”

“Quick side track, here,” I said. “What does Bromjunaar mean?”

“Northern Kingdom, in your tongue.”

So all those words I had been finding were in the dragon tongue. “Just call your name in Tamriel? That’s it?”

“Trivial in your mind, perhaps. For me, it would mean a great deal. I don’t require an answer, Qahnaarin. Simply speak my name to the heavens when you feel the time is right.”

He did something then that reminded me of the word walls and I—I understood. Dur Neh Viir—Curse Never Dying. “You said, ‘for one who has bested a fellow dovah in battle’. I am not a dragon.”

“Forgive me, my instinct was to grant you this title. I am uncertain why. Perhaps one day it will become clear to both of us.”

“I expect it will,” I said uneasily. “How did you end up in the Soul Cairn?” I could see Serana getting a little impatient, but this was as important to me as her quest was to her.

“There was a time when I called Tamriel my home, but those days have long since passed. The dovah roamed the skies, vying for their small slices of territory that resulted in immense and ultimately fatal battles. But unlike some of my brethren, I sought solutions outside the norm in order to maintain my superiority. I began to explore what the dovah call ‘alok-dilon’, the ancient forbidden art that you call necromancy.”

“I think I see where this is going. You sought the Soul Cairn and the Ideal Masters for answers, and they tricked you somehow, trapping you here.”

“Yes. They assured me that my powers would be unmatched, that I could raise legions of the undead. In return, I was to serve them as a Keeper until the death of the one who calls herself Valerica.”

“And they neglected to mention she was immortal,” I said with a nod. “All right. I will give your request every consideration.”

We made it back to the portal with all haste, and I apologized along the way for spending so much time speaking with the dragon.

“Well, it is a one of a kind sort of opportunity,” she said. “Urag said we could find that Septimus person, right? That he should have an idea where the other one is?”

“Right. He’s in an ice cave north of the College. I actually found the place one day when I was out practicing and exploring, but I didn’t go in. I found out later from Urag what was in there. So, I know exactly where we need to go next.”