Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 10

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2.3

Tyranny of the Sun

Elder Knowledge
Frostfall, 1st, 4E 201

Getting to the cave again was no fun whatsoever and I celebrated that I had such a high resistance to the cold, even more so than a Nord. We went inside and carefully made our way down to the bottom along a curving pathway carved from the ice. Septimus was there, babbling to himself, along with a huge cube. His speech was so bizarre that all I got out of it was that I needed to get to the Tower Mzark via Alftand. He handed over what he called an attunement sphere, which we would need to open the way, and a cube he called a lexicon, which would record the information in the Elder Scroll there for his use while we kept the actual scroll.

Serana and I left as quickly as possible and returned to the mainland. Alftand was roughly southwest of Saarthal, so at least it wasn’t far. It was necessary to enter the ruin from a series of wooden bridges and through the ice itself. There was an expedition manifest at the camp outside, so I knew there might be people inside.

I heard a voice almost immediately. It sounded like a Khajiit, which was unfortunate only because it was clear whoever it was was in the throes of skooma withdrawal. They weren’t doing any favors there toward breaking stereotypes. The place had plenty of light because of the expedition, but most of them were dead, as we found out along the way. There wasn’t much to be said about Alftand. It wasn’t terribly different from Mzulft, really, in terms of dangers. Well, and someone in skooma withdrawal who unwisely attacked us.

Septimus hadn’t described what we were looking for to use the attunement sphere on, but I had the idea we were close when we came upon two people arguing. The female wanted to leave; there had already been too much death, she said. The male was incensed at the plea and attacked her. He won, and we were forced to kill him when he came after us next.

The lift nearby led up to the surface and I made sure to unlock the gates for it before heading back down. The only thing left was an odd structure that had rings and small blue-green spheres on the top. There was a depression that would fit the attunement sphere so I dropped it in temporarily. Similar to how the moondial at Castle Volkihar worked, things moved and parts of the surrounding floor dropped down to form a staircase leading to a door. The entrance to Blackreach I had to assume.

I had no words once we went through the door, I simply exhaled in wonder. Serana was in a similar state. We entered into a massive cavern, large enough to house an entire city from what I could see. And, given that we reached it via a Dwemer ruin, I would not be surprised if there was one down here. I couldn’t tell how high the ceiling was, but there were gleaming blue spots studded around up there. Massive mushrooms trailing long fronds dotted the rough landscape, and a gentle chiming sound kept ringing. Cobblestone roads were also evident and the dust in the air reminded me of snowflakes.

The first thing I noticed once the wonder abated a bit was a small Dwemer-style building off to my left. I was about to jump over the railing instead of taking the stairs, but Serana touched my arm and pointed. Falmer, in the distance. We sneaked over—the light available meant little when the Falmer were blind and had even better hearing then we did—and eased open the building’s door.

A skeleton greeted us, and a journal. Sinderion, a mage and researcher from Cyrodiil, had made the place into his field laboratory, and died in it. There were a multitude of arrows sticking out of his remains, so I knew the Falmer had a hand in it. His journal spoke of his research into a hitherto unknown to him species of nirnroot: crimson nirnroot. His journal made mention of his base here in Skyrim, so I supposed if I could find enough of the things I could go there later on.

He also left behind quite the oddity. He somehow cobbled together a large chest and one of the spider automatons. It was friendly enough and seemed happy to skitter around behind me and carry my things. Sort of like Horse, but without the attitude, and I got the feeling if I asked it to it would also fight. Somehow. Maybe by repeatedly ramming into things?

In addition to the Falmer were their pets, the chaurus, and automatons such as spheres and centurions. I wouldn’t doubt there was more to stumble over, but we found all that within a spare distance from the lab. There were glowing veins which when mined produced soul gems. I admit that I had always wondered where the things came from, but I rather doubted that all Tamriel got their supply from Blackreach.

We set out from the lab rather aimlessly. We simply picked a road and followed it, on the lookout for anything that might be a way to the tower we sought. One of those roads led to a kind of underground tower and a lift. I think we went north with respect to our point of entry into Blackreach, but it was hard to say for sure with how the roads dipped and rose and curved, and how easy it was to get disoriented after a Falmer attack.

The lift itself led to a room with a cooking pot over a fire, bedrolls, parchment and tools for writing, and even books. Perhaps Sinderion had been there also? Or some other exploring party? I collected what held value and we went through the only door into a room that was instantly recognizable.

“This is a lot like the place in Mzulft,” I told Serana, veering left, expecting and finding a ramp leading upward. “I expect there’s going to be some confusing controls of some kind up there.”

The structure looked almost identical in some ways, but what was immediately obvious in opposition were the tables and chairs surrounding the central device. But, if there was an Elder Scroll present that would kind of make sense? People there, seated, waiting for some kind of enlightenment? There was also a skeleton, clutching a journal in its bony fingers. A quick read gave rise to partial understanding of the mechanism. Behind the skeleton, where the map was in Mzulft, was a door, hopefully leading to an exit to the surface. Blackreach was fascinating, but we had a lot to do and backtracking to the Alftand lift would be a waste of time.

Above, up the ramps, was a similar area to Mzulft, but this one had a handful of chairs and a receptacle for the lexicon Septimus gave me. Even with what the journal had to say it was a guessing game. Instead of rotating bands and spells on a focusing crystal, this device required using the buttons to the right to spin the giant sphere, while the left buttons manipulated the pieces descending from the ceiling.

“Here goes nothing,” I muttered and started mashing buttons. Eventually, through blind luck, something clicked and the descenders shifted and lowered to reveal an Elder Scroll. Serana grabbed the scroll as I grabbed the lexicon and dropped down, and we headed for the door. There was a lift back there, which we took. I unlocked the gate and stepped out into a small deserted campsite. I had no idea where we were, so it was another round of randomly choosing a direction and hoping to see something familiar.

I chose down, along what might be a path. It was hard to say because it was snowing fairly heavily again, but I could see a fort in the distance after a while. It was infested with bandits, of course, but they provided a bit of exercise and a meal. While they were not a surprise, the signpost right in front of the fort was. Whiterun and Windhelm to the left, Solitude to the right. We were probably facing south. Left it was, then.

“For the love of Mara,” I muttered as another assassin scurried on up, weapons out, warning us of his approach. It was yet another Khajiit. “This must be highly embarrassing for the Dark Brotherhood,” I said to Serana as I drained its blood for potions.

Unfortunately, the storm intensified to blizzard proportions and seeing anything much beyond the reach of a staff was next to impossible. When I saw the feeble glow of the lights of Nightgate Inn I pointed it out to Serana. “We’re just going to get lost in this,” I said.

She hesitated for a moment, then sighed and nodded. We’d just have to stay there until daylight or the storm blew out, whichever was sooner.

Seeking Disclosure
Frostfall, 3rd, 4E 201

We were ambushed outside Winterhold by Volkihar vampires, but made it to the College where we found that Dexion had gone blind.

“I trust your journey was successful?” he said.

“Yes. We’ve brought the Elder Scrolls. You’re wearing a blindfold. What happened?”

“It is my fault,” he said. “In my haste to read the first scroll, I neglected the careful preparation required. I thought I’d be able to allay the aftereffects, but I was wrong. Now I’m paying for it.”

“Is it permanent? Can anything be done to help you?” I asked. Who else was capable of reading the damn scrolls?

“No. It’ll have to run its course, and there’s always the chance I may never recover.”

“Damn it,” Serana muttered.

“There’s another way,” Dexion said. “The question is, how much are you will to risk to find Auriel’s Bow?”

“What’s this way you’re referring to?” I asked uneasily, dreading the answer. There had been too many things already that only I could handle.

“I can’t guarantee you’ll be free from harm. Becoming blind could be the least of your worries.”

I sighed and said, “Just tell me.”

“Scattered across Tamriel are secluded locations known only as Ancestor Glades. There’s one in Skyrim, in the Pine Forest. Performing the Ritual of the Ancestor Moth within the glade should provide the answers you seek. It involves carefully removing the bark from the Canticle Tree which will in turn attract Ancestor Moths to you. Once enough of the moths are following, they’ll provide you with the second sight needed to decipher the scrolls.”

“Carefully gather the bark, how?”

“In keeping with tradition, you must use a specific tool in the Ancestor Glade, an implement known as a Draw Knife. Every Moth Priest is taught this ritual, but few ever get the chance to perform it. You should consider yourself fortunate if it works for you.”

‘Thank you so much for shooting holes in whatever confidence I may have found,’ I thought. “Do I need to read the scrolls in any particular order?”

“From what I saw in the vision, the Elder Scroll which foreshadows the defiance of the gods with the blood of mortals is the key to the prophecy.”

A part of me wanted to say that information was useless! If Harkon was to be believed, vampire lords were immortal. But I knew Dexion was saying to read the Blood Scroll first. “All right. How do the moths help?”

“Well, as I am sure you’ve figured out by now, it’s no mere coincidence we are named ‘Moth Priests’. The voice of the Ancestor Moth has always been an integral part of reading the Elder Scrolls. They maintain a connection to ancient magic that allows the Moth Priest to decipher them. If you listen closely when you find the glade, you should be able to hear their song . . . a soft, harmonious trilling.

“It’s through this ancestral chorus that the moths tap into a form of primal augur and become a conduit for deciphering the scrolls. Now, by having the Ancestor Moths close to the Moth Priest, they can utilize the conduit and share the moth’s augury. Only the most resilient of priests can do it this way. It takes years of practice to interpret the harmony.”

I sighed again and rubbed my face in frustration. “Then how do I even stand a chance?”

“You’ve come this far, and you’ve found several Elder Scrolls. Whether you believe it or not, the scrolls have a mind of their own. If they didn’t want you to find them, they wouldn’t allow it. Because of this, I strongly believe you were meant to hear the ancestral chorus. Only one way to find out.”

That didn’t explain how there used to be innumerable scrolls at the White Gold Tower before they were scattered. “You didn’t have the help of the moths. Is that what went wrong for you, or was it something else?”

“Deciphering one of the Elder Scrolls is nothing like reading a simple book. There is quite a bit of ritual and concentration required. It can take months or even years to complete a single scroll and even then, months to recover. In my case I simply was not preparing myself properly. Blindness is the inevitable fate we agree to pursue when reading Elder Scrolls, but it generally does not occur until a Moth Priest is in his latter years.”

Or go crazy like Septimus, perhaps. Dexion’s words did make me feel a bit better, though. One reading should not permanently harm me, especially not with the Ancestor Moths to ease things. I headed to the Arcanaeum to speak with Urag and he pointed us in the right direction. The glade Dexion spoke of was near Falkreath.

Unseen Visions
Frostfall, 4th, 4E 201

We found the glade and entered. At first it looked like any other garden-variety cave.

“This must be the place,” Serana said. “Hmph. Not very impressive, is it? If this ends up being a wasted trip, your friend Dexion and I are going to have some words when we get back.”

As we moved deeper and across a fallen log it opened up into a much larger area with a beam of light reaching down from the heavens at the center. It was like a combination of a glade and those hot springs over near Windhelm. The ceiling above had a hole in it to let in light. Even though it was before dawn there was light, so either a Divine had something to do with it or the moon was positioned just so, or maybe a combination of things. It sort of made me want to return when neither moon was out just to see what happened at midnight.

“Wow, look at this place,” Serana said. “No one’s been here in centuries. I doubt there’s any other place like it in Skyrim. It’s beautiful.”

I wasn’t sure how she figured on the lack of visitors, but I agreed that the place was beautiful. There was a stone—well, some kind of monument, almost shrine-like? Two layers of curving stone, as though someone had fashioned a torus and chopped it in half, then added a complete one atop that. In the center of the open space hovered what I had to assume was the draw knife Dexion had mentioned. I plucked it from its position a bit warily.

“Well, we got the knife. Now all we need to do is track down one of those Canticle Trees.”

I looked around and saw one tree that stood out, even amongst all the plant life in the glade. I carefully scraped the knife down the side of the tree, shaving off thin curls of bark, enough to fit in the palm of my hand. I put the knife back and gazed around looking for moths.

“Hope those moths like that bark as much as Dexion said they would,” Serana commented. “Dexion didn’t really give us a lot to go on, did he?”

“I think it has to do with him not having any personal experience with any of this,” I replied, spotting a cluster of moths and moving toward them. “More like what he’s heard. I don’t think the monks at the White Gold Tower actually used the moths, but I could be mistaken. He did say it was rare that a monk actually got to do this.” I reached the moths and watched as they fluttered around me.

“Look at them. They’ve definitely taken a liking to you. And unless I’m seeing things, you’re starting to . . . glimmer.”

Huh. She was right. There was a faint aura forming around me. I set off to find more of the moths, trusting that I would know when I’d found enough. More and more moths joined my fluttering entourage until Serana said, “Whoa! I think that might have been what we were waiting for. Let’s head back and see if we can read the scrolls.”

It was getting difficult for me to see through the almost-blinding aura surrounding me. We headed back to the area with the tree and I stood in the spot the light from above concentrated on.

“Nervous?” Serana asked.

“Well, yes,” I replied. “I could go blind, insane. . . .”

“I think you’d have to spend a lot longer at this kind of thing before you ended up like Septimus,” she said.

“One can hope.” Though really. Was insanity such an odd thought when people kept getting transmuted into sweet rolls around me? I brought up the Blood Scroll and opened it. I could see star patterns. Each scroll I read made my vision swim and falter, but at the same time a definite image was emerging. If I hadn’t been so focused and almost not even in control of my actions I’d have laughed at how my vision for mundane things was so distorted that Serana’s face kept bulging in peculiar ways.

Then my sight whited out completely, and it was over. I had seen multiple symbols, for Markarth and Morthal, for mountains, and a symbol I had never previously seen, but instantly recognized nevertheless as the location we needed. And along with it, a name: Darkfall Cave.

“Hey, are you okay?” I heard. “Almost thought I lost you there. You went as white as snow.”

My vision wasn’t doing so well, but it was slowly coming back, and the feeling of otherworldliness and disorientation was fading away.

“That felt strange, but don’t worry. I seem to be fine.”

“I could see it in your eyes. You looked about a thousand leagues away,” she said, then scowled. “I never trusted those damn scrolls. Who knows what those things could have done to you. Just look at Dexion. Well, did you see where we could find Auriel’s Bow?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “It’s in a place called Darkfall Cave. The scrolls gave me its exact location.”

“Then it’s almost over. Let’s get going. I want to get there before my father has a chance to track us down.”

I nodded and prepared to leave, but heard something . . . wrong, out of place. “Something or someone is waiting for us,” I said quietly, preparing spells.

We were attacked by a team of vampires and thralls, but we managed well enough and left the glade intact.

Touching the Sky
Frostfall, 5th, 4E 201

Northeast of Markarth, west and slightly north from Morthal, almost directly west of Dragon Bridge. It would be dawn in a few hours and there was a blizzard raging. We were getting close to the place etched in my mind when we were attacked again. I had no choice but to believe we were being trailed. We needed to ensure that we weren’t seen once we got much closer, to get inside the cave without anyone knowing where in Oblivion we were.

On a side note it seemed my, uh, luggage was a very good defensive measure. Animals and people alike attacked the thing, probably because it was part spider, and it just sat there, making that clicking sound, soaking up attacks while Serana and I flung spells from behind it or from flanking positions.

Took a wrong turn, stumbled over a word wall: Grah—Battle. I almost didn’t catch the meaning because a damn hagraven was trying to claw me to death. On another side note, I bloody well hate the Reach. Every time you turn around there’s another bunch of Forsworn trying to eviscerate you. It’s difficult trying to be subtle when you’re forced to leave behind a trail of dead bodies, you know.

Not far from Darkfall Cave was an Orsimer settlement, but I had no plans to go anywhere near it. Orcs were unfond of strangers, and especially non-Orsimer strangers. “Well, do you want to just risk it and go in now, or wait until we’re sure we’re not being followed?”

“My father’s people are tenacious. We may as well go now.”

It was dark as a pit inside. There was a more open area a bit inside lit by a hole in the ceiling, which was fine, but it completely messed up my night vision. Farther in we downed a spider and I checked behind the webbing to see an obvious door with no way of opening it. That pretty much told me there was a lever or something on the other side, and that it was probably a shortcut of some kind.

The only other option was a wood-slat bridge across a gorge filled with swiftly-moving water. The other side held only a few ore veins and some tools. Of course, as we walked back across the bridge it choose that moment to collapse, dumping us into the water. As we swept along at high speed we were crowded by spiders dropping down from above. I hated to think of how many people voluntarily jumped into the river such that spiders lay in wait for just the right moment for their next meal.

We were tossed down several waterfalls along the way, to finally land in a pool. Up an incline after that very wild ride was a body of a Breton girl.

“These people were—why would anyone want to set up camp here?” Serana mused. “I wonder what happened to them.”

There was a note with the girl.

Sister,

I know that you’ll come find me, but it will be too late. If you find this letter, get out of this forsaken cave as soon as possible. We were fools to think we could live so close to such creatures and live peacefully. I should’ve headed back to camp with you after we placed the torches down here.

I thought these trolls would be different, that they would somehow understand that we didn’t want to hurt them. I am now cornered and it’s only a matter of time before one of the trolls decides to finish me off. I hope it is a quick death.

Farewell, my dear sister.

Crazy. Just crazy. Trolls cared about food, not friends. I was all for live and let live, but most creatures of the wild, barring rabbits and foxes and goats, seem to think if you so much as step a toe into the wilderness you’re fair game. Giants are the only ones who don’t, usually, and even they will start swinging if you stay too close for too long.

But, to satisfy my curiosity, I did a little investigating and found a way upward. It led to one of those “concealed” doors. I pulled the chain nearby and found myself staring out at the door from before. Satisfied, I closed it again and headed back down. More poking around revealed another chain, and this one opened another secret door. And I thought, if it was a secret, it might be the better path to take, or at least lead to something interesting before taking the only path remaining.

We had barely gone ten steps when I saw a cave, decently lit, and a structure within.

“What’s that?” Serana said. “I can feel some kind of power from it.”

A few steps more in and I heard a male voice. “Come forward,” he said. “You have nothing to fear here.” He turned out to be some type of mer I had never before encountered—very pale, white hair, and mostly typical elven features. “I am Knight-Paladin Gelebor. Welcome to the Great Chantry of Auri-El.”

I raised a brow as I looked around quickly. “This cave is a temple to Auriel?”

“Auriel, Auri-El, Alkosh, Akatosh—so many different names for the sovereign of the snow elves.”

“Snow elves?” Serana said. “You’re a Falmer?”

“I prefer snow elf,” he replied. “The name ‘Falmer’ usually holds a negative meaning to most travelers. Those twisted creatures you call Falmer, I call the Betrayed.”

“I imagine you know why we’re here,” I said.

“Of course. You’re here for Auriel’s Bow. Why else would you be here? I can help you get it, but first I must have your assistance.”

Ah, a favor for a favor. “Just out of curiosity, how did you know?”

“For the thousands of years I’ve served as the Chantry’s sentinel, there hasn’t been a single visitor here for any other reason. They request Auriel’s Bow, and I request their assistance. It’s been repeated so many times, I can’t imagine it any other way.”

They obviously didn’t have a good enough reason to have come, then. “What favor?”

“I need you to kill Arch-Curate Vyrthur—my brother.”

“I’m going to assume there’s a damn good reason for this particular request.”

Gelebor nodded. “The kinship between us is gone. I don’t understand what he’s become, but he’s no longer the brother I once knew. It was the Betrayed—they did something to him, I just don’t know why Auri-El would allow this to happen.”

No talk of converting him back, then. I had to assume Gelebor had already tried, probably many times. Or maybe I was a fool. “What exactly did the Betrayed do?”

“They swept into the Chantry without warning and began killing everyone without pause.”

“Would I be wrong in thinking you attempted to fight back?”

“The Chantry was a place of peaceful worship. I led a small group of paladins, but we were no match for the Betrayed’s sheer numbers. They slaughtered everyone and stormed the Inner Sanctum where I believe they corrupted Vyrthur.”

So this happened after the Falmer were driven to their Dwemer cousins and betrayed, but there were still plenty of snow elves here, who were then killed off by their own kin. Out of jealousy? Spite? “Do you even know that he’s alive?”

“He’s alive. I’ve seen him. But something’s wrong. He never looks as though he’s in pain or under duress. He just . . . stands there and watches, as though waiting.”

“Have you tried getting into the Inner Sanctum, then?”

“Leaving the wayshrines unguarded would be violating my sacred duty as a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El.”

Everyone else but him was killed. He alone managed to survive—well, and Vyrthur. I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow the thoughts through to their conclusion.

“And an assault on the Betrayed guarding the Inner Sanctum would only end with my death.”

Was I supposed to believe that Auriel saved this one snow elf to guard this place and wait for assistance? I had little real choice if we wanted that bow. “Wayshrine?” That funny little dome thing with the pillar and decorative symbol atop it?

“Yes, let me show you.” Gelebor walked over to that odd dome and cast some spell. A moment later the symbol shone with light and the entire thing rose up to reveal a six-sided structure with a pedestal basin inside.

“So, this is snow elf magic,” Serana said. “Incredible.”

I honestly couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not.

“This structure is known as a wayshrine. They were used for meditation and for transport when the Chantry was a place of enlightenment. Prelates of these shrines were charged with teaching the mantras of Auri-El to our Initiates.”

Serana walked up closer and up a few of the low steps. “What’s the basin in the center signify?”

“One the initiate completed his mantras, he’d dip a ceremonial ewer in the basin of the wayshrine’s center and proceed to the next wayshrine.”

“So these Initiates had to lug around a heavy pitcher of water. Marvelous. How long would they have to do that?”

I had to try very hard not to snicker. That was the Serana I’d come to know. If it upset Gelebor you’d never know it. But then, he really did need help, so even if it did I expect he’d do his best to hide his reaction.

“Well, once the Initiate’s enlightenment was complete, he’d bring the ewer to the Chantry’s Inner Sanctum. Pouring the contents of the ewer into the sacred basin of the Sanctum would allow him to enter for an audience with the Arch-Curate himself.”

“All that just to end up dumping it out? Makes no sense to me.”

“It’s symbolic,” he said. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

“So let’s get this straight,” she said. “We need to do all that nonsense to get into the temple, so we can kill your brother and claim Auriel’s Bow?”

The look on Gelebor’s face hinted at his desire to sigh or roll his eyes at Serana, but he said, “I know how it all sounds, but if there was another way I’d have done it long ago. The only way to get to my brother is by following in the Initiate’s footsteps and traveling from wayshrine to wayshrine just as they did. The first lay at the end of Darkfall passage, a cavern that represents the absence of enlightenment.”

“How many wayshrines are there?” I asked.

“There are five in total, spread far across the Chantry.”

I frowned. “These caves must be massive.”

“Caves? Oh, no. The Chantry encompasses far more than a few caves, as you’ll soon discover. But before I send you on your way, you’ll need the Initiate’s Ewer.” He went away for a bit and returned with the ewer.

As I took it I clarified, “So I need to fill this at each wayshrine?”

“Once you’ve located a wayshrine, there will be a spectral Prelate tending to it. They will allow you to draw the waters from the shrine’s basin as if you’ve been enlightened. This may be the last time we’re able to converse. If you have any questions before you leave, I suggest you ask them. Otherwise, all I can do now is grant you my hopes for a safe journey.”

Any questions I had could wait. Assuming we all survived this I could ask then. I stepped up into the wayshrine and dipped the ewer, starting slightly when an image formed on one of the bare walls. I hung the ewer from my belt and stepped into the image.