Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 11

10042015

2.4

Tyranny of the Sun

Touching the Sky
Frostfall, 5th, 4E 201

“Well,” Serana said, “that wasn’t as unpleasant as I thought it would be. Kind of soothing, actually. I feel a little warmer, now.”

We’d not been in Darkfall Passage ten minutes and I already loathed the place with an unholy passion. It was dark as a pit and the lanterns were both a blessing and a serious drawback. I tucked my firebug away and let my vision adjust, finally getting a better look at the odd plants. The clusters had wide stems and opened up into “flowers” of purple and pink. When you got close enough they stopped glowing and the flowers retracted into the tubular stems.

There were also mushrooms, similar to the ones at Blackreach, and funny little glowing pinkish-blue flowers like upturned bells. I picked the ones I came across. We eventually made it past Falmer and chaurus to a door at the end of a corridor with two pull-chains nearby, and a skeleton with a note on it.

I made it farther than I thought, but I’m afraid I can’t go on. I choose not to.

I am content to die here, in this quiet little room, alone with my thoughts. The creatures won’t follow me here. No more danger. The silence is welcoming.

I guess that’s one way to go out. “I have no idea what this person meant by a room, though,” I commented as I handed the note to Serana. “Must have been dragged here after death?”

She read it quickly and shrugged. “Hm. Pull chains and traps,” Serana said. “Be careful here. Whatever’s on the other side of this, the Falmer wanted to keep there.”

I pulled the right chain and watched half a dozen traps go off in succession. Great. Oblivion only knew what was on the other side to warrant such defenses. The left chain opened the door.

There was a sabre cat on the other side, which was easy enough to deal with. The odd thing, though—its pelt had odd markings that glowed sort of green, as though it had some connection to the plants which glowed in the dark. The new area was a less cramped cave, and again had the mushrooms similar to Blackreach. I would think that odd even with the previous connection to the Falmer, because Blackreach was Dwemer, and these were snow elves. Had the Falmer here carried some with them?

A new plant presented itself. The petals?—leaves?—were like lace. Or, maybe, old leaves in Hearthfire or Frostfall, where the veins stay but the leaf material rots away. They rattled warningly when we got close. I was able to rip some of the centers away—kind of like seed pods, I suppose—but if you didn’t time it right a gas of some kind was released, like a poison. It made Serana and I cough something fierce when we were hit with it.

Pools of water had formed under waterfalls high above. There were deer with glowing spots on their hides, like that sabre cat. And finally, a wayshrine! Gelebor said there would be spectral Prelates, and there was one.

“This is the kind of thing I've been wanting to see,” Serana said in an almost awed voice. “Makes everything worth it. I think that’s another wayshrine up there. Here we go.”

Once we got close enough the Prelate said, “Welcome, Initiate. This is the Wayshrine of Illumination. Are you prepared to honor the mantras of Auri-El and fill your vessel with His enlightenment?”

“Yes.” True, I felt like a horrible liar, but it was the only way to go on. I had no idea what Auriel’s mantras even were.

“Then behold Auri-El’s gift, my child.” The Prelate cast the same spell Gelebor had and caused the wayshrine to rise. “May it light your path as you seek tranquility within the Inner Sanctum. May Auri-El’s brilliance illuminate your path.”

I stepped up and added water to the ewer from the basin, then hooked it back to my belt. I’d probably have spilled the thing already had I been a traditional Nord melee fighter. The image that flickered into being showed a brighter destination. I knew Serana was none too fond of daylight, but I happened to like it well enough and would really prefer to not be in dark caves any longer if possible.

We stepped through into another cave. It was much brighter, though. I followed the only path into a kind of well, almost, with sunlight coming down from above. I could also smell fresh air, so I moved along a bit more quickly. We took the path winding around the interior and emerged into a misty vale. It was outside and I was thrilled.

“This is incredible,” Serana said. “It’s like a whole other world. Come on, the bow has to be in this valley somewhere. I wonder where this goes.”

The animals in the vale had those same luminescent markings, but they looked more lavender. Well, the troll we bumped into didn’t, but. . . . It was a good thing I stored a decent supply of blood potions in the Luggage. I got the feeling we’d be there for some time. We picked a direction more or less at random and set to walking, and ended up going through a pass full of spiders, but on the other side it opened up considerably. Down the steps and to the right I could see a skeleton and moved toward it, but realized I could see more ruined structures up on the cliffs ahead of us. But one of them? It didn’t look at all ruined. It was like an overlook or even a balcony, jutting out from the cliff face.

The skeleton was laid out next to a chest and a book in a language I didn’t recognize. I tucked that away to show Urag later. To the left (south, perhaps, but the sun was high and it was hard to tell) was another wayshrine: the Shrine of Learning. After I used the ewer a portal appeared, which did not especially surprise me. It appeared to lead back to Darkfall Passage. I had to assume this would happen at each wayshrine, and which images appeared would depend on which wayshrines we had already visited.

That overlook was almost directly in line with the wayshrine, so to whatever extent that should assist with keeping track of where we were in this place. Continuing on brought us to a waterfall, so we crossed the river at a safe distance and started back on the other side. We had ignored that path leading up at one end of the river because we’d wanted to see as much as possible of the level we were on.

At the far end I practically rammed into a frost giant. The damn things blend in too well to the snow and the sounds of multiple waterfalls, well. . . . It had something on it. I had a hard time deciding what to even call it. It was part amethyst, cut into kind of an egg shape, but with pointed ends, and wrapped in a lacework of gold around the center circumference.

So, having seen what we could (and truly, what can be said about a massive valley with ice, snow, luminescent wildlife, and plenty of waterfalls?) we went up the path at that end, expecting (or more hoping) it would bring us to the same location as the path at the other end. But as I was part way up I happened to look to the side and saw a cave at the top of that waterfall with another frost giant.

That one had a sapphire thing. Across from his cave, across the river, was another ruin. A closer look revealed it had some manner of pedestal with a socket. The shape of the indentation was that of one of the gem things from the giants, so I pointed it out to Serana and asked what she thought.

“Might as well,” she said. “The worst that happens is nothing happens.”

I shrugged and brought out the sapphire one and inserted it end down. An image flickered into being within the broken arch to the left. Some kind of building interior with architecture which matched the other snow elf buildings and ruins. We stepped through and saw windows of a sort, but they looked out onto ice walls. They were of no use in getting an idea of where we’d been transported to. That did not stop me from looting three chests and an obscene amount of gems from the place before stepping back through the portal.

The amethyst “key” took us to an otherwise inaccessible spot back in Darkfall where we found the first wayshrine, with a few items of interest. It was otherwise pointless. Back in the vale we returned to the path and headed up. After we crested the top we saw a wayshrine, aside the river and up a short cliff, and in the distance I could see what looked to be an ice plain under that overlook. In the other direction, a gorge?

We headed toward the overlook first, mainly to see if the original path up came out over at that side. We would circle around back to get to the wayshrine we could already see.

“Does this ice seem a little thin to you?” Serana asked as we jogged along.

There were multiple cracks visible in it and I could hear it shifting every so often, but prayed it would remain whole. It wasn’t as though either of us weighed all that much and it was thick enough that it was opaque.

There was a word wall almost immediately past the waterfall’s origin: Lah—Magicka. With it was two ice wraiths (stupid things), a skeleton (which Serana pressed into service), and various items I tucked away. The overlook was much closer and that much easier to see, but there was no possible way to get up there. Was it a part of the Inner Sanctum?

We backtracked. The Shrine of Resolution had two portals: Darkfall Passage and the Shrine of Learning. That left the gorge. Night had long since fallen by then and we had two options: high or low. Down at the river or on the same level as the most recent wayshrine. We chose high and it didn’t end up mattering since the path went up and then back down to the river.

Another frost giant, another gem key. I had fun with it, recasting my summon each time it got clubbed into nothingness. But then it managed to club me and I very nearly died before I could get another summon in to steal its attention and then heal myself, not to mention nearly spilled the contents of the ewer. That fellow’s key was emerald, but it could most certainly wait.

Frostfall, 6th, 4E 201

By midnight we were back at the river, but a level up. Levels were relative in the place given how the ice and paths curved and dipped and rose. I hoped nothing of importance was down at the bottom of the waterfall. The gorge was wearying beyond belief. Stone spans over the gorge, back and forth, up and down, with constructed walkways and those strange Falmer huts. . . . You got this sense of never making any progress, like you just kept moving in a never-ending circuit of tedium.

The “start” of the river led into a crevice, inside which was a cave with a path leading upward. More Falmer were inside; there were always more Falmer. I loathed and detested the things even as I felt sympathy for what happened to them, for the betrayal they were subjected to. By the time we emerged back outside the sky was lightening up. With a sigh I slumped against the nearest wall.

“Yeah,” Serana said, then popped Luggage open and pulled out some blood potions, handing me one.

“Thank you,” I said. “I think we need to take a short break anyway. We’ve been at this a full day already with no rest and no end in sight. Even just an hour or two would help. We can do it properly at the next wayshrine, I hope.”

When I set a trio of huts on fire Serana asked, “What—are you doing?”

“I’m losing my mind,” I replied. “I hate this place, I hate the Falmer, and I just wanted to see it all burn.” But at least we were outside again, right? Yes, it was all still snow and ice, but it wasn’t pathways and ledges of ice that tilted, with not even barely adequate barriers to prevent a tiny mistake that would see you take a long plunge into the water far below. It was pretty awful when you felt safer on one of those horrid woven Falmer bridges than you did on the ground.

“Yeah, well, don’t melt so much you start a flash flood and wash us away to Cyrodiil,” she joked, making me laugh.

After that rest I climbed up a ways from the exit to try to see what was up ahead in that part of the gorge. More Falmer homes, of course, but in the distance and higher up I could see a bridge of old construction, like the wayshrines and many of the arches, so snow elf. It was misty, but still infinitely better than being in that cave.

The climb also involved another frost giant, who was kind enough to give us his diamond key. I wondered if there were any others, and if so, how many. And speaking of things to collect, I found another of those books written in an unknown language. To Urag it would go, eventually. And if I didn’t think I’d have my throat slit without warning because both of us fell asleep I’d have suggested we rest for real in the first hut. It even had a fire burning.

After a long slog we made it to the final wayshrine. Up ahead, over a bridge, was a simply massive structure in the snow elf style. I couldn’t think of anything it could possibly be except for the Inner Sanctum.

“That—that has to be the place,” Serana said. “I’ve never seen a building like that before. It looks like some kind of temple. Never saw anything like this back on the island.”

“You’ve found the Wayshrine of Radiance, Initiate,” said the Prelate once we got close enough. “Are you prepared to honor the mantras of Auri-El and fill your vessel with His enlightenment?”

“Yes,” I said wearily, and he opened the shrine so I could fill my ewer.

“May the blessings of Auri-El protect you as you climb the road to the Inner Sanctum and final enlightenment. May Auri-El’s radiance fill your heart with joy.”

There was only one tiny problem. We had missed one. I could have cried from the sheer frustration of it all. We repaired to the uppermost hut near the Wayshrine of Radiance and broke out more blood potions. “Go ahead and rest,” I said. “I’ll wake you when I simply can’t stay awake any longer.”

Frostfall, 7th, 4E 201

It was time to go find the one we missed.

“I feel like the worst kind of idiot,” I commented. After all that care in the icier parts of the vale we never had made the rounds of the initial side of the pass, where there was less snow. Looking back I realized we had simply picked a direction and went with it, completely forgetting to explore everything there.

After I filled the ewer for the last time (it had formed a skin of ice at the top, which was unsurprising once I thought about it) all the portals were open and we stepped through to the Shrine of Radiance. We immediately made for the bridge. The architecture of the building was just staggering, but sadly, there were places where conflict had damaged it. There were great gouges in parts of the stonework, as if massive boulders had hit and created gaping wounds.

On entering I saw a statue, which Serana commented on. “That is a statue of Auriel, but it’s using the older signs of his power. This temple must be ancient. The bow has to be in here.”

To either side were stairs, so we climbed up to find a basin, grooves in the floor leading from it to a concave depression in the shape of the symbol, and a massive set of doors with that same symbol where handles would normally be. I emptied the ewer into the basin and for several long moments nothing happened. I briefly thought about crying if all this had been for nothing.

But then the water drained and reappeared in the grooves, and slowly drained to the symbol. Once it had all made the journey a radiance grew and the symbol on the door spun, then parted, and the doors opened. Inside. . . .

Inside was a large more or less square room, perhaps a bit deeper than wide, filled with Falmer and chaurus encased in ice. They were arrayed around a central dais with the symbol of Auriel on it, where offerings had been left. Many of the frozen had things in their hands, but I was wary of taking any as I worried that doing so might “wake” them.

“These Falmer are—they’re frozen in the ice. I wonder how long they’ve been like this. And I thought the Soul Cairn was creepy.”

Well, Gelebor had said he’d stood guard for thousands of years. The pillars of the temple were damaged. Gouged, cracked, or missing sections entirely. There were piles of rubble from the destruction and one pillar was utterly destroyed. Skeletons were also present, presumably the massacred snow elves, some of them sticking out of the rubble itself.

At the back were doors, more like gates, but off to the side was a pedestal and a solid door. I headed for that and could think of no way to open the door—that is, until the ewer I had hooked to my belt again unthinkingly clanked up against the stone. I set it atop the pedestal and was pleased to see the door slide up and out of the way.

Through it was a similar pedestal, which confused me, and a skeleton up ahead. The passage turned right. Another frost giant was there, beyond a set of those gate-like doors. That meant at least one more key, assuming things went to pattern. Indeed, he had one. There were . . . a lot of skeletons in that room. One of them was plastered up against the “window” and I couldn’t help but see it all happen in my mind.

Even stranger, there was another pedestal in there. I ran back to get the ewer, shutting us in for the moment, and placed it on the new one. It opened to a little room with potions, arrows, and other things. Back in the main room we checked for other such opportunities, but found none, so I grabbed the ewer and we returned to the entrance.

Both sets of gate-doors led to the same place and there were so many skeletons. One was even under a table. Ice had built up heavily along one wall, leaving the exit through there looking more like a natural ice cavern than what it had originally been. We were forced to jump down from a ledge. The damage was bad enough to either have destroyed stairs or shifted levels entirely. It would be impossible to say without using more flames than I’d care to produce to melt the ice and see the truth hiding beneath.

Down a long hallway I could spy more of the frozen. A few slow, cautious steps and a slight shift to the side revealed someone sitting on a throne. Vyrthur, I presumed. “I think this is it,” I whispered, then proceeded down the hall.

“Did you really come here expecting to claim Auriel’s Bow?” Vyrthur said mockingly. “You’ve done exactly as I predicted and brought your fetching companion to me.”

“Wait, is he talking . . . about me?” Serana asked quietly.

“Which, I’m sorry to say, means your usefulness is at an end!” Vyrthur proclaimed, then woke some of the frozen. As soon as we had defeated them he said, “An impressive display, but a wasted effort. You delay nothing but your own deaths!”

“Watch out!” Serana cried. “He’s pulling down the ceiling!”

And indeed he was. I ducked behind one of the pillars until it stopped.

Vyrthur unfroze more of his minions and ordered, “Finish them!” We had defeated about half of them when he said, “This has gone on long enough. Child, my life ended long before you were born!”

We kept right on killing, until they were gone.

“No—I won’t let you ruin centuries of preparations. . . .”

“Surrender and give us the bow!” Serana shouted.

“Death first!” he shouted back, then raised his arms. The ceiling started to break up again, except this time the whole thing was coming down. I wedged myself into a corner and prayed.

A few minutes later it seemed to have stopped and Serana found me and gave me a hand up. “Are you all right? Come on, we can do this. I know we can. He’s up there, on the balcony. Come on!” She rushed off and got to him first. “Enough, Vyrthur. Give us the bow!”

I took position to the other side, so he was cornered at the point of the balcony.

“How dare you. I was the Arch-Curate of Auri-El, girl. I had the ears of a god!”

He sounded a little too smug about that, considering.

“Until the ‘Betrayed’ corrupted you. Yes, yes. We’ve heard this sad story.”

“Gelebor and his kind are easily manipulated fools. Look into my eyes, Serana. You tell me what I am.”

“You’re—you’re a vampire? But Auriel should have protected you. . . .”

“The moment I was infected by one of my own Initiates, Auri-El turned his back on me,” he said bitterly.

He didn’t have even a single Cure Disease potion handy? What kind of a temple had he been running? Had he been knocked on the head and asleep for three days to end up a vampire? Was Auriel supposed to have cured him straight away or something? Instead of helping himself he just blamed Auriel instead?

“I swore I’d have my revenge, no matter what the cost.”

“You want to take revenge . . . on a god?” Serana asked in patent disbelief.

“Auri-El himself may have been beyond my reach, but his influence on our world wasn’t. All I needed was the blood of a vampire and his own weapon, Auriel’s Bow.”

“The blood of a vampire. . . . Auriel’s Bow. . . . It—it was you? You created that prophecy?”

How could any mortal make Elder Scrolls bend to his will?

“A prophecy that lacked a single, final ingredient—the blood of a pure vampire. The blood of a Daughter of Coldharbour.”

Serana got incredibly angry at that point and hauled Vyrthur up by his neck. “You were waiting . . . all this time for someone with my blood to come along. Well, too bad for you. I intend on keeping it. Let’s see if your blood has any power over it!”

Vyrthur managed to wrench himself away, and Serana and I attacked along with our summons, and defeated him. With his last breath he said, “Farewell.”

To what, or whom? Life? Revenge? His brother? His god? As I pondered several things the wayshrine behind us on the level below activated. I jumped over the side of the railing and ran around to the front. Gelebor was there.

“So, the deed has been done. The restoration of this wayshrine means that Vyrthur must be dead and the Betrayed no longer have control over him.”

“Uh, not exactly,” I said. “The Betrayed weren’t to blame. He was a vampire. He controlled them.”

“A vampire? I see. That would explain much. Deep inside, it brings me joy that the Betrayed weren’t to blame for what happened here.”

I furrowed my brow in mild confusion. “Why?”

“Because that means there’s still hope that they might one day shed their hatred and learn to believe in Auri-El once again. It’s been a long time since I felt that way and it’s been long overdue. My thanks, to both of you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You risked everything to get Auri-El’s Bow, and as well, you’ve restored the Chantry. I can’t think of a more deserving champion to carry it than you. If you wish to learn more about the bow, or obtain Sunhallowed Arrows for it, I’d be more than happy to help. You’ve but to ask. Please, take the bow.”

I looked into the wayshrine and saw that the bow was hovering over the basin inside, radiating a gentle aura. I stepped inside to take it, grateful that it didn’t actually harm me just by holding it. “What will happen to you now?” I asked Gelebor.

“Even with Vyrthur gone and the Inner Sanctum destroyed, my duty as a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El remains. I’ve been sworn to protect this vale and everything it represents until I die. The wayshrines will remain open, for the time being. If remnants of our kind who escaped the betrayal at the hands of the Dwemer exist out there, perhaps they will find this place one day.”

I nodded. “What can you tell me about Auriel’s Bow?”

“Ah, the bow was said to be carried by Auri-El himself into battle against the forces of Lorkhan in ancient and mythic times. It draws its power from Aetherius itself, channeling it through the sun. Therefore, when an arrow is loosed from the bow, it produces a magical effect very similar to being burned by fire. And that’s only a fraction of its potential. With Sunhallowed Arrows, you would be able to produce a much more spectacular effect, causing bursts of sunlight to envelop your foes. The sunbursts would certainly hurt anything, but is especially devastating to the undead.”

I nodded again. It sounded like the perfect sort of weapon to use against Harkon. “Vyrthur said something about using blood?”

“Well, using an arrow with the bow that’s been dipped in blood may cause it to function differently, corrupting its purpose. That’s of course if you’re foolish enough to try it.”

“Not something I’m interested in,” I said. “But, Sunhallowed Arrows?”

“I can assist you in that regard. If you were to bring me some good quality elven arrows I could imbue them with the proper incantations and rituals.”

I checked Luggage and hauled out every elven arrow I had picked up along the way, which was more than I realized. “Is this too much?” I asked.

“I can only do them twenty at a time, so it will take a while,” he warned, but gestured for them.

While he was doing that I went back up to where we killed Vyrthur to talk to Serana.

Kindred Judgment
Frostfall, 7th, 4E 201

“It’s . . . not as shiny as I was expecting,” she said, nodding at the bow. “Still, it’s beautiful.”

“What do we do now?” I asked, even though I was fairly sure she hadn’t changed her mind.

“I think we both know . . . it’s time to face my father. If we don’t, he’ll keep chasing us for the rest of our lives.”

“Yeah. If we do, he’ll have to die,” I said bluntly, but not unkindly.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” she said. “It’s—it’s not easy. But I don’t think we have much of a choice. No. He has to die. We have no choice.”

I nodded, the corner of my mouth quirking almost into a smile of sorts. “Then let’s face him, together.”

“Thank you. Somehow I knew you’d understand.” She paused, looking worried. “But if we head back to the castle and kick the front door in, we’re going to be knee-deep in his friends. Is there anyone you know who can be trusted to help?”

“I think I know just the person,” I said slowly. “While Gelebor is making those Sunhallowed Arrows, do you want to go deal with the rest of these gem keys?”

Frostfall, 15th, 4E 201

Depressing as it seemed at the time, after all was said and done we went ahead and revisited the Soul Cairn, to let Valerica know that Harkon was dead and it was safe for her to return should she wish to do so. After that Serana and I went to Whiterun, to Elysium. I reminded her she was free to claim one of the beds, either in the loft, the second bedroom, or the guest house. She chose the loft for privacy.

Harkon had given us one final chance to hand over the bow. We refused. There wasn’t even any point in explaining to him how the prophecy had come about, he was that obsessed. So Serana and I attacked, and Auriel’s Bow with Sunhallowed Arrows were very helpful, especially whenever Harkon went behind a barrier at a fountain of blood at the back of the room. One arrow brought down the ward every time.

But we were at kind of a loss at that point. The threat of the Tyranny of the Sun was over—assuming no one managed to steal Auriel’s Bow from me and get some or all of Serana’s blood (or Valerica’s), and that assumed there was even anyone left amongst the remnants of the Volkihar who even knew of the prophecy and its components to go looking for those things.