Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Skyrim Day 082 - The Curse of Immortality

11 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

Serana and I left Falkreath later than we had planned, leaving what passes for a gatehouse after the townspeople had started their day. Fortunately for Serana the weather was overcast and we made good time to the fields of Whiterun, at which point the clouds abruptly cleared, much to her dismay.

The plain has the advantage of being relatively flat, robbing animals and bandits of the advantage of surprise. The downside is that it is relatively flat, robbing us of the advantage of our own surprise. With Whiterun just in the distance we suddenly heard a roaring from the sky. Another Dragon, though we have not been seeing many as of late, Soul Cairn aside.
The Dragon flew directly over us, but despite being stuck on the plain it failed to see us, or was uninterested. It roared some more before flapping its way behind the hills to wherever it had settled down. I was not eager to waste time tracking it and Serana simply wanted to find some shade, so we continued on.

We passed through Dragon Bridge and backtracked along the river until we reached where I guessed the Elder Scroll had been marking. After some searching we uncovered a cave (of course!) entrance overgrown with vegetation. A few moments with my dagger saw a serviceable entrance made of it and in we went.

The cavern was wet and mossy, but seemingly empty until we came upon the remains of a Breton and his small camp. The damp had done nothing advantageous to his body, but his rucksack had protected a piece of parchment he had scribbled a warning to his sister on.
Why the man thought trolls could be good neighbors is a mystery, but I appreciated his warning of what lay ahead. Situated inside of a large cavern with several pools of water, the family of trolls numbered almost a dozen, but my crossbow made silent work of most of them.

Once that business was concluded Serana expressed her doubts that this was the correct location. I agreed, nothing of the place suggested it was hiding a powerful artifact, but I pointed out that would make this an ideal place to hide such a thing. She laughed, a rarity, and agreed to continue inwards a bit more.
A good thing we did, for ahead we found a man tending to an underground shrine. He had not seen us yet and we did not know who he was, so we crept behind a small rise in the cavern floor and observed him. Serana whispered that she was fairly sure the shrine he was fussing over was to Auri-El, the first indication we had that we were in the right cave.

Assuming she was correct I rose and greeted the man, startling him greatly. He invited us closer though and it was not until we drew closer than I realized there was something off about the man's appearance. I had taken him for an Altmer, but he introduced himself as 'Knight-Paladin Gelebor', the last of the Snow Elves.

I confess to not knowing much of the Snow Elves other than that they were somehow corrupted into the Falmer. The Knight-Paladin was not one for stories however, assuming (correctly) that we were there seeking Auriel's Bow, for as he acidly put it: why would we be there otherwise?

He and a few others had escaped the corruption by virtue of being away when it happened, but the relationship soured over the many years. Before Gelebor would assist us with finding the Bow we had to agree to kill his brother, the self-styled Arch-Curate Vyrthur, who lay under the sway of the Falmer...somehow.

I admit to confusion on this part. The Falmer are barely above animals and posses no language I have ever heard of. How could they be responsible for the corruption of an un-corrupted Snow Elf? I felt there was more to the story and in this I proved to be quite correct.

Killing Vyrthur would require Serana and I to travel through each of the 'Wayshrines' of Auri-El, the first of which Gelebor was guarding and refused to leave. Once we agreed (given no choice), he cast a spell on the stone effigy of Auri-El, revealing a small gatehouse beneath it. Serana was impressed, but the Dwemer left devices that do the very same thing all over the place.
Initiates to Auri-El had to travel to each wayshrine with an empty jug, collecting water from the basins of each wayshrine as they went. Once they had completed their visitations the jug would be filled and brought to the temple nearby. Simple, but they had no Falmer to contend with. We filled our jug with water from Gelebor's wayshrine and stepped through the shimmering portal that appeared along its brickwork.

In a flash we were in front of a different wayshrine in a very damp, warm cave. The plants were all luminescent, some retracting fearfully as we passed by. Evidence of the Falmer was easy to find, but no Falmer themselves.
After quite a bit of walking we found the second wayshrine, retracted as the first had been. A spectral apparition was faithfully waiting next to it and greeted the two of us as initiates.

We spoke to it, affirming our faith and it opened the wayshrine much as Gelebor had done. Inside was another basin of water and a second portal shimmering along the walls.

This wayshrine deposited us in a wet vale with fog that limited our vision to maybe a dozen paces.
A type of Sabre Cat I have not seen before prowled the valley, seeming to take pleasure in springing out of the fog from above us. They were nothing we could not handle, of course, and the Falmer had yet to be encountered.

The vale's wayshrine sent us to a frozen canyon, complete with a massive nearly-frozen waterfall cascading over the ice. I was dismayed by the sudden change of climate, but Serana was enamored by the sight, claiming it made all the difficulties up until now worth it. I disagreed, but kept silent.

Onward we went, finding the fourth wayshrine (of Learning) along the bank. This one sent us back underground to the realm of the glowing plants, but the path was different. It was here that we came upon the only indication that we were not the first to suffer this strange path, though Gelebor had not mentioned others before us.
The skeleton nearly crumbled to dust as I retrieved its rotten journal from underneath it and I could only make out the last entry the adventurer wrote, noting that there were traps ahead and that he planned to use them to his advantage...against what, he did not say, nor could I determine how he had died.

There were no Falmer ahead of the skeleton and soon the cavern exited outside the valley, on a path opposite where we had originally entered it. The path wound up the side of the valley wall, the final wayshrine (of Resolution) being along it as it continued upwards towards the main temple.
We stopped, filled the water pitcher, and continued on.

And that is when we finally found the Falmer.

Accustomed to the villages the creatures build in caves and Dwemer ruins, I was unprepared for the large Falmer city (if such a thing can be said to exist) that filled up the valley between us and the temple. Where the paths were too narrow to erect a hut they threw a bridge across to the other side. If a hut could be built atop another, it was. The effect was a very crowded mass of chitinous buildings and bridges, with Falmer above, below, in front, and behind.
I had brought a full sheaf of crossbow bolts into the valley, but exhausted them halfway through their icy metropolis. Serana's spells proved the deciding factor, as I am sure I would not have been able to fight off multiple Falmer from different directions and elevations all by myself, especially hand-to-hand!

At the end of the valley lay the final wayshrine, this one of Radiance.
Its portal sent us to our final destination: the Snow Elves' temple to Auri-El.
It was quiet, with no evidence of Falmer having made the place their home. Serana noted that the statue in the courtyard was of Auriel, but using symbols ancient to us. Given that she had been trapped underground so long this would mark the place as very ancient indeed.

Pouring the water we had laboriously collected into an empty basin at the entrance unlocked the door somehow and we cautiously stepped through to an eerily chilling sight.
Falmer and Chaurus stood frozen, encased in ice, around a shrine to their Auri-El. Several of the Falmer were wearing robes and holding staves above their head, suggesting an intelligence that is not quite present today. Perhaps they were seeking a cure for the horrid transformation? I will never know.

The remainder of the temple was more Dwemer in construction, large stone furniture geometrically shaped and littered with bones and skeletons.

And at the rear of the Temple waited the Arch-Curate Vyrthur, seated on a throne and surrounded by more frozen Falmer and Chaurus.
Watching us approach, he languidly congratulated me, saying that I had done exactly as he had hoped, bringing my "fetching companion" to me. Serana gasped and whispered if he was asking about her, which of course he was, for there was no one else with me.

With that the frozen "corpses" of the Falmer and Chaurus burst free and attacked us. Being encased in ice for however long left them weak and the two of us dispatched two dozen of them in only a few minutes. Once the last of his hapless pawns had fallen Vyrthur screamed and unleashed magicka into the ceiling of the temple, shattering it.
We ran for cover as he laughed and disappeared, but we fortunately escaped harm and continued after him.

Serana, probably spooked by discovering she was the center of Vyrthur's attention, ran ahead of me and caught up with the mad Snow Elf on a balcony overlooking the valley. As I caught up with them I heard him demand that she look into his eyes and tell him what she saw.

The Arch-Curate of Auri-El was a vampire.

Infected by one of his initiates, Vyrthur was (or felt) abandoned by his God and grew embittered. Cursed with immortality he had more than enough time to plan his revenge. So he created the prophecy Serana's father is so enamored with for the sole purpose of drawing a pure-blooded vampiress, a Daughter of Coldharbour, to harvest the blood he required.

The entire prophecy is a sham. The long sleep Serana took out of safety, unnecessary, save for the insanity of her father. With a snarl Serana hurled him from the balcony and the fight was on.

It lasted longer than I thought it would. The ancient armor Vyrthur and Gelebor wore provided some protection against Serana's spells, but my blade was another matter. Chasing the crazed man down was a different issue altogether, but eventually we cornered him and pummeled him with spell and blade until he was dead. So ends the prophecy, so far as the truth of it is concerned.

A few moments later a hidden wayshrine rose up in the courtyard and Gelebor stepped out, any help he could have provided no long being required. I walked over to him as Serana started to angrily strip the his brother's corpse, but Gelebor seemed not to mind.
The man's heart was colder than the surroundings. He expressed joy only in that the Falmer were not to blame for Vyrthur's madness, stating that there was still hope that they could be turned back to the guiding light of Auri-El. Sadness for his brother, previously half of Cyrodiil's Snow Elf population, was conspicuously missing.

He proclaimed Serana and I the rightful inheritors of Auriel's bow, despite neither of us being able to shoot it very well, if at all in Serana's case.
I was ready to take on Lord Harkon immediately, but Serana demurred. She felt that we would be overwhelmed by her father's loyal minions and advised a return to Isran on the entire opposite side of the province. 

This is maddening. And frustrating. I want this business over almost as much as Serana does, if only to save me from walking so much!

We used the temple's wayshrine to teleport back to the first one and backtracked through the cavern into the welcome light of the morning.
Serana and I were both surprised to discover it had only taken a day to travel to the cavern, fight to the first wayshrine, blunder about underground, fight through a Falmer city, open the ancient Temple, confront half of the remaining Snow Elves, kill him, claim Auriel's Bow, and return outside.

It was only when we arrived at Solitude for a much-deserved rest that we discovered it is now 11 Sun's Dusk, three days after we set off from Falkreath.

I should have stuck to chopping wood and escorting merchants. I may be immortal, in a way, but there are days like this when I simply feel very old.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Skyrim Day 081 - Eyes of the Gods

8 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

Serana and I left Fort Dawnguard very early in the morning, both of us desiring to reach the Glade before the afternoon and planning on leaving it at dusk.

Predictably another group of vampires assaulted us once we left Fort Dawnguard's canyon, but an ambush only works when your foe is not expecting it for the fourth time. I do wonder where these vampires are coming from and how many of them there are. Serana did not know, her suspicion was that the vampires we have been fighting are from outside the province, having been promised wealth and honors by her father in exchange for my, and presumably Serana's, death.

Facing a nearly limitless enemy is not a pleasant thought. But if Serana is correct vanquishing Lord Harkon will put an end to this business. I tactfully broached the subject of her father's death, but she laughed, stating that she has been assuming for some time now that we would be killing him. She has grown to accept this task, the constant attempts on her life by him no doubt helping in this. However, should it be possible I would prefer to kill him myself, if only to make it a bit easier on her, for she has grown on me.

The quickest way to the Ancestor Glade was via the southern road, past Riften, through the pass, then around or through what remains of Helgen. The walk was long, but mostly quiet. We were ambushed by a single vampire hiding within the mountain pass, but she was alone and no trouble. I would have had allies hiding behind us to close off a possible escape, but she was more confident and less wise than I.
Helgen was, once again, occupied by bandits. There were only three, two dying singly to my blade across their throat or in their back, the remaining to Serana's magicka. There will be more, I am certain.

As if to underscore that point three more bandits, perhaps a mile or so from Helgen, were camping along the road. They loosed arrows at us as we approached, but their bows were, for some reason, self-made and I could just about catch the arrows and toss them back with as much force. Serana, perhaps frustrated by her relative lack of involvement at Helgen, fought and killed the three of them with her magicka.
The hares they were cooking were the only things of value at the camp.

According to the Priest's directions we would have to ascend the mountains south-east of Falkreath to find the Glade. The path was supposed to be marked by a pile of stones and still was, or at least we hoped it was as we climbed the only path we found along the road with a pile of stones next to it.

The path climbed up the side of the mountain as the air, as always, grew colder, despite only being fifty feet or so higher than we were on the road. Soon we were slipping across frozen mud and blinking snowflakes out of our eyes. The view was quite nice though and the path unmolested by bandits or animals.
The Glade was set inside a cavern as just about every place in Skyrim is. Serana grumbled about the place not being particularly impressive and, as I snagged my foot on my third tree root, I was forced to agree. The Glade's entrance was overgrown with roots and weeds and generally appeared to not have been visited by anyone for quite some time.
A hole in the ceiling provided illumination for the draw knife nestled within a hollowed-out rock. I was anticipating a search, so this was a nice surprise. The tree whose bark I need to scrape off was right next to the knife. So far everything had been easy.

Then the moths gathered.
What Dexion had not explained was that the moths, once they were flying around me, would generate a yellow shimmering globe that would make it almost impossible to see. I was forced to rely on Serana to avoid plummeting off of ledges and tripping up stairs. Together we brushed past several groups of moths until I was nearly blinded, which Serana took as a sign that I was ready.

Bracing myself against the possibility of being struck sightless I opened the 'Dragon' Elder Scroll.

Opening the scroll produced a flash of light that persisted, briefly, after I closed it. Repeated openings of the scroll coalesced the light into a vaguely identifiable map of north-west Skyrim. I could see Solitude on the shore and what must have been Markarth at the end of a golden road. In-between the two was an orange rune I did not recognize, but there was nothing else of note, so by the process of elimination I figured that was where the Bow would be found.

We have been walking the entire breadth of Skyrim to thwart Lord Harkon only to discover that the artifact critical to his plan has been nearly at this door the entire time! How he failed to discover the location of the Bow before now is perplexing given the time he has had.

We were talking over our plan, trying to decide between staying overnight at Falkreath against pushing on to the cave without sleep when shouting and the sound of very heavy footsteps issued from the mouth of the cavern. Lord Harkon's people had found us once again.

They brought reinforcements in the way of two gargoyles, not trying to affect any sort of subtlety to their assault. Unfortunately for them the only way to us was via the staircase that wound down from the entrance and no more than two vampires or one gargoyle could stand before us while on it.

It is a bit bewildering that the vampires always find us after we accomplish something in conflict with their goal, but are utterly unable to get a step ahead of us despite having what seems to be limitless manpower and the collective knowledge of thousands of years. Serana expects most of whom we have been fighting are fresh "recruits" to Harkon's cause, folk who were seduced by the promise of long-life and great power instead of the farmstead or shop they were managing. Whatever the case, none of them are great warriors.

As if to underscore that point we were attacked by three more vampires while on the road to Falkreath, all with cheap iron swords they did not bother to use. This is getting tiresome.

Serana insisted on staying awake throughout the night while I stay at Dead Man's Drink in Falkreath. Tomorrow we will strike out for Darkfall cave and be one day closer to being through with this nonsense.