Katja and her companions went closer still, and the figure spoke to them: “Come forward. You have nothing to fear here.” He appeared to be Elven, though somewhat sturdier of build, with extremely pale skin and white hair. His unlined face suggested that his hair color was the result of heritage rather than age.
When they stood before him, he said “I am Knight-Paladin Gelebor. Welcome to the Great Chantry of Auri-El.” Katja’s heart beat faster as she realized that, despite being hopelessly lost, they had somehow stumbled to exactly the place they needed to go.
“This cave is a temple to Auriel?” she asked him.
“Auriel, Auri-El, Alkosh, Akatosh…” he replied. “So many names for the sovereign of the snow elves.”
Katja exchanged a brief glance with Anders. His eyes were alive with excitement. The snow elves were supposed to have been extinct for millennia, the Falmer their degenerate descendants. “Snow elves?” she asked him. “You’re a Falmer?”
“I prefer snow elf,” he said. “The name ‘Falmer’ usually holds a negative meaning to most travelers.” She could certainly understand that. This tall and well-built man had two good eyes and bore little more resemblance to the Falmer she had met than she did herself.
He went on, “Those twisted creatures you call Falmer, I call the Betrayed.” Digesting that, Katja moved on to more pressing matters.
“I imagine you know why we’re here,” she told Gelebor. “Of course,” he replied. “You’re here for Auriel’s Bow. Why else would you be here?” After a brief pause he continued, “I can help you get it – but I must have your assistance.”
“What type of assistance do you need?” Katja asked.
“I need you to kill Arch-Curate Vyrthur… my brother,” Gelebor replied. People were always trying to get her to do things she didn’t want to do, she mused. Shake down shopkeepers for the Thieves’ Guild, join the Stormcloaks, and now kill this guy’s brother?
“Why?” she said.
“The kinship between us is gone,” he replied. “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.”
“What exactly did the Betrayed do?” Katja inquired. “They swept into the Chantry without warning and began killing everyone without pause,” he responded.
“Didn’t you fight back?” she asked.
“The Chantry was a place of peaceful worship,” the Knight-Paladin explained. “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.”
“You don’t even know if he’s alive, then,” Katja said.
The snow elf shook his head. “He’s alive. I’ve seen him. But something’s wrong. He never looks as if he’s in pain or under duress. He just… stands and there and watches, as though waiting.” Katja pondered this information for a moment, then asked
“Have you tried getting into the Inner Sanctum?” Arms crossed and face grim, Gelebor replied “Leaving the wayshrines unguarded would be violating my sacred duty as a Knight-Paladin of Auriel. And an assault on the Betrayed guarding the Inner Sanctum would only end with my death.”
What was that he had said? Wayshrines? Katja had never heard of such a thing, and when she asked him Gelebor said, “Yes. Let me show you.” Behind him was a curious-looking building like a low stone pyramid some 20 feet on a side. The upper part of it almost looked like a cupola, four sides curving slightly to a point on which was mounted a smaller replica of the sunburst-topped pillar at which they had first seen the Knight-Paladin.
Gelebor approached the building and gestured at it, performing some kind of magic apparently. There was a grinding noise, and the cupola rose out of the ground to be revealed as the roof of a straight-sided building taller than it was wide, an arched doorway showing on the side where the Knight-Paladin stood. “So this is snow elf magic,” Serana said in hushed tones. “Incredible.”
He now explained, “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 those shrines were charged with teaching the mantras of Auri-El to our Initiates.”
“What’s that basin in the center signify?” asked Serana. Like Anders and Katja, she had an inquiring mind and was eager for new knowledge.
“Once the initiate completed his mantras,” the holy warrior explained, “he’d dip a ceremonial ewer in the basin at the wayshrine’s center and proceed to the next wayshrine.”
On the other hand, Serana could be a little… undiplomatic. Even a political klutz like Katja could notice that, as she said sarcastically “So these Initiates had to lug around a heavy pitcher of water. Marvelous. How long would they have to do that?”
Gelebor replied defensively, “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,” Serana replied.
Bridling, Gelebor said stiffly “It’s symbolic. I don’t expect you to understand.”
Serana wasn’t about to cut the guy any slack. “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 Knight-Paladin seemed a bit shamed as he replied “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 Initiates’ footsteps and traveling from wayshrine to wayshrine just as they did.”
He sounded more confident as he began to get down to details. “The first lay at the end of Darkfall Passage, a cavern that represents the absence of enlightenment.”
“How many more wayshrines are there?” Katja asked.
“There are five in total, spread far apart across the Chantry,” Gelebor replied. The thought of wandering for days in these caverns filled her with dread and she remarked, “These caves must be massive.”
“Caves?” Gelebor responded. “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 handed her a medium sized, silvery metal ewer.
Seeking clarification, Katja asked “So I need to fill this at each wayshrine?” He nodded.
“Once you have located a wayshrine,” he explained, “there will be a spectral Prelate tending to it. They will allow you to draw the waters from each shrine’s basin as if you’d been enlightened.”
Katja thought that over. It sounded like cheating, somehow. But on the other hand, were not Gelebor and his brother possibly the only living members of their race? If the rituals of the snow elves’ religion were now conducted by ghosts, perhaps they’d welcome someone only pretending to be participating in it. As he was the one instructing her to do this, she could only assume it was all right.
“I’ll be off then,” she told him. He nodded again.
“This may be the last time we’ll be able to converse,” Gelebor told her. “If you have any questions before you leave, I suggest you ask them. Otherwise, all I can do is grant you my hopes for a safe journey.” Oh, Katja thought. In that case, did anyone pack a lunch? We’ll be here until Nirn’s rotation grinds to a halt, if not later. Especially if I encourage Anders to participate.
Aloud, she asked “Who were your people?”
“We were once a wealthy and prosperous society that occupied a portion of Skyrim,” he replied. “Unfortunately, we were constantly at war with the Nords who claimed the land as their ancestral home.”
“It appears the Nords won,” Katja replied.
“In a manner of speaking,” he said. “We had always maintained an uneasy alliance with the underground-dwelling Dwarves, and when faced with extinction we turned to them for help. Surprisingly,” he went on, “they agreed to help but demanded a terrible price… the blinding of our race.” Katja was stunned, scarcely believing what she’d heard. Why on Nirn would the Dwarves demand such a thing of “allies” – and considering that the Falmer if eyeless were anything but blind, what was the point?
“Everyone couldn’t possibly have agreed to that,” she pointed out.
“There were splinter groups that resisted the agreement, and even some that sought alternate alliances,” Gelebor admitted. “But when all was said and done, those Elves were either slaughtered, vanished, or gave up and took the Dwarves’ bargain.”
“What turned your people into the Betrayed?” Katja asked next. There was no way the Falmer were simply snow elves minus eyes.
“I’ve often asked myself the very same question,” the Knight-Paladin replied. “The blinding of my race was supposedly accomplished with a toxin. Certainly not enough to devolve them into the sad and twisted beings they’ve become.” So, he was as ignorant of the details of Falmer existence as anyone Katja had yet met.
It seemed likely that Anders was right, when he’d told her all those months ago that she might end up becoming the world authority on the subject of the Falmer and their lifestyle. Clearly they were sentient beings, but so savage – their culture completely unknown to the rest of the world. Until someone from outside their race could learn to speak with them and be admitted to their circles, she doubted any more would be learned. And that was not a task she hankered for, just at the moment.
The conference with Gelebor was over, it seemed. Katja knew Anders would have liked to stay there indefinitely pumping him for any scraps of information he could furnish – she half would, herself. But there’s a time for scholarly pursuits and a time for chasing down magic bows, and this was one of the latter. Thanking the Elf for his aid and bidding him farewell, Katja dipped water from the basin within the wayshrine and then opened the portal to Darkfall Passage.