The Ancestor Grove
The distance was not great. But the terrain was steep and mountainous in this part of the Pine Forest, and getting there was harder than they’d anticipated. As they made their way down from the Tower to the road, eyes alert for a trail, they found themselves attacked by an elder vampire and two of her minions – while behind them, a spriggan matron emerged from the Tower to attack them from that side as well.
Katja was spinning in place, trying to get in a shot. After missing a few times, she managed to bring down the two vampire minions while Serana herself destroyed the elder and Anders single-handedly managed the spriggan. These creatures fascinated her, and she was sorry they had had to kill it. She knew little more about them now than she had when she met her first one months ago, during that first trip she and Anders took to the Reach. If only they weren’t so aggressive!
The brief battle over, the three resumed their search for a trail leading up the hill toward the spot on the map marked for the Ancestor Grove. Katja finally located one after picking her way up a steep hillside, and followed it along. She’d been expecting a grove of trees, some nice sylvan setting; so she was taken aback to discover the entrance to a cave instead.
Rats, Katja thought, as she led the way inside. While Serana might appreciate sunless cavern depths, she was a creature of the day and much preferred being in the out-of-doors with plenty of light to see by. Inside, they found the usual sort of dark tunnels. But the path was marked by a series of stone cairns, something more commonly seen marking trails above ground. Serana didn’t seem all that appreciative, either. “Hmph… not very impressive, is it?” she remarked as they made their way inside.
Despite the lack of sunlight, Katja detected a vigor to this cave system that was usually lacking in the dungeons she’d seen in the past. There were many plants growing here and there, and some trees reaching up toward an unseen source of energy above. Serana remarked, “If this ends up being a wasted trip, your friend Dexion and I are going to have some words when we get back.” She seemed remarkably prickly, which Katja found surprising considering she’d finally gotten laid and enjoyed a blood meal in the recent past. Perhaps she was resenting this trip, when she could have been back at the Suite fucking any remaining brains out of her Elf consort.
They followed the path deeper into the cave system and it abruptly opened out onto a remarkable vista. Tall pine trees grew here and there, and a wan daylight was falling on them from a roughly circular opening in the stone ceiling high above. The walls were all of stone, and a stream flowed down at the bottom of what Katja realized could best be described as a deep canyon.
Now Serana was impressed. “Look at this place,” she said in awed tones. “No one’s been here in centuries. I doubt there’s any place like it in Skyrim. It’s beautiful.” Abandoned as the Grove might be, there was considerable evidence of former human presence. Steps were carved into the stone here and there, and short plinths marked the pathways.
Katja followed one of these down toward the stream, her companions trailing her, and discovered a raised dais with a curious-looking stone sculpture resting on it. Seeming to hover in air, at the center of that sculpture, was the draw knife Dexion had told her to look for. She recognized it immediately. This particular one might be a sacred ritual implement, but draw knives in general were a common tool of carpenters and she’d seen them in use often during her childhood.
Plucking it from its resting place, Katja looked around. She needed to find a Canticle tree but had no idea what one looked like. The tree immediately to her right, with dark bark and covered in beautiful creamy blossoms with scarlet centers, seemed a pretty likely candidate. Gripping the draw knife’s handles, she gently scraped it down the tree’s trunk, removing thin shavings of bark that released a pungent, not-unpleasant scent into the air.
Serana, at least, was convinced that she’d chosen correctly. “I hope the moths like that bark as much as Dexion said they would,” she said.
“Me too,” Katja answered shortly. Despite an impressive record of past successes, every time she found herself playing it by ear it filled her with a sense of uneasiness. Holding the bark shreds in one hand as she kept a grip on her bow with the other, not trusting the seeming peace of this place, she spotted a small swarm of moths fluttering a few yards away and walked toward them.
Oh, they did like it! The moths were large, patterned in shades of cream, gray, and warm brown. In moments Katja found her vision dazzled, nearly obscured, as the excited insects began swirling around her. “They look like they’re glowing!” Serana exclaimed. Peering through the storm of lepidoptera, Katja spied another swarm ahead and had soon drawn them into her orbit. As each swarm joined the group fluttering madly around her, she looked around the canyon for another.
After seven of these swarms had been acquired the moths began glowing more intensely, and Serana said “I think that might have been what we were waiting for. Go back down and see if you can read the scroll!” Katja needed no further urging. At the bottom of the canyon a short distance from where she’d found the knife, a flat area of stone was illuminated by a beam of daylight so intense it looked like a miniature sun. She approached it, pulling out the Blood Scroll, and unrolled it from its ornate case.
Katja felt almost as if she had been struck by lightning. Complex patterns arose in her vision, glowing and sparking then disappearing to be replaced by other patterns that more closely resembled maps. In a process similar to absorbing a dragon Shout, she found knowledge embedding itself in her brain without the usual learning process being engaged. She stood there rapt for an endless moment, until her vision faded to white.
As details began to reappear and Katja once again became aware of her surroundings, she heard Serana saying “Are you okay? I almost thought I lost you there… you went white as the snow.” Anders, knowing her better, had not over-reacted. He’d been there when she read the Dragon Scroll, after all. “I could see it in your eyes,” Serana continued. You looked about a thousand leagues away.”
“That felt strange,” Katja replied. It had definitely been a different experience from her last reading of an elder scroll. Yet, somehow similar. She was just relieved, at this point, to be still in possession of her sight, her sanity, and her life.
“What about Auriel’s Bow?” Serana pressed her. “Do you know where we can find it?”
Accessing the knowledge she had recently acquired, Katja replied “It’s in a place called Darkfall Cave.”
“Then it’s almost over,” Serana declared with profound relief. “We can finally put an end to this ridiculous prophecy. Where is this ‘Darkfall Cave’?”
“The scroll gave me its exact location,” Katja told her.
“Then let’s get going,” Serana replied. “I want to get there before my father has a chance to track us down.”
Sighing, still feeling a little unbalanced after the experience of reading the scroll, Katja took one step toward the path out – and was brought up short as two gargoyles and a vampire-controlled creature of a type she’d never seen before suddenly charged out of the cave opening above and began attacking. Shit! She wasn’t quite ready for this, but asking your mortal enemies to hold off for a moment while you regain your composure did not appear to be an option.
Fortunately Serana and Anders were still in full possession of their faculties. In the moments that passed while Katja readied her bow and began bringing it to bear on their adversaries, one of the gargoyles had dissolved to ashes and the other two creatures were beginning to flag. Katja finished them off with a couple of arrows that burst into flames on contact.
Panting a bit, on high alert, Katja looked around and found no more attackers coming at them. After checking the remains, she began tentatively leading the party back out of the Grove. She was thankful for the extra caution when, a few seconds later, another group of three boiled out of the passageway ahead and began hurling bolts of magic at them.
The fight was furious, but Katja and her party had a slight advantage – augmented once the Master Vampire in the group had been killed by Anders’ Destruction magic and then reanimated by Serana’s Necromancy to fight at their sides. Long after the other two members of his assault team had fallen, he was still walking around saying “Aruagh…” mindlessly. Tiring of that, Katja put an arrow in his back and he dissolved into a pile of dust – from which she was able to retrieve the valuables he’d been carrying.