The Inner Sanctum
Katja felt much, much better after a hot meal or two and a night’s sleep. To complete her joy, the snow that had been falling since they arrived here had decided to hold off for a while and visibility was greatly improved in the early morning light. Oh, if only the map worked in this place! It held a marker showing the location of the Hidden Vale, but none of the wayshrines showed on it and she had no real idea where they were.
Nothing for it but to continue along the string of Falmer dwellings that ran up the canyon, interspersed with stone bridges and ramps made of chaurus chitin. They frequently encountered the chaurus pupae, and had to destroy them – which inevitably resulted in an attack by the newly-fledged flying chaurus adults. The walkways sometimes ran along the canyon floor, at other times climbed to the heights. They found a frost troll penned near one summit, which had killed several of the Falmer who had confined it. Falmer guards were infrequent, but had to be dealt with as they continued on their way.
They halted for another brief rest and a makeshift meal at around midday, judging from the position of the sun. Ahead, it looked as though the canyon they were traversing was coming to a dead end. Then Katja spotted a narrow opening, rimmed with icicles and dripping icy water, off to one side. A path led into it, so she stepped within. All her senses were on the alert, and she spotted some Falmer guarding the place before they had gone very far inside. Any guard she saw, who did not also see her, did not have long to live.
This didn’t seem like the usual cavern. The ceilings were high and there was a lot of light, with water running somewhere down near the bottom. Snowy ledges occasionally connected by chitin bridges were their pathways, and there were yurts scattered here and there. They worked their way down toward the bottom, the three of them a match for any Falmer attackers; and finally emerged into a narrow section of canyon. Proceeding down it the end, they found a tunnel that climbed upward – with a wayshrine visible in the near distance when they emerged from it.
This time, the ghostly Prelate welcomed the “Initiate” to the Wayshrine of Radiance. Katja was certainly feeling radiant with relief and triumph at the completion of their task. Carefully, she dipped the ewer for the fifth and last time. Then, exiting the wayshrine, she looked around. Snow was falling once again, but she could dimly see a tall, castle-like stone structure on the far side of a bridge ahead of them. “That… has to be the place,” Serana said. “I’ve never seen a building like that before.” The arches they’d found here and there during their tour of the wayshrines stood at either end of the bridge, and their shape was echoed in the building’s architecture.
Crossing the bridge, they climbed a broad flight of steps and entered a front courtyard, getting a look at the Inner Sanctum close up. A heroic-sized statue stood in a central position. “This is a statue of Auriel,” Serana informed them, “but it’s using the older signs of his power. This temple must be ancient.” The figure held a metal construction resembling an upside-down stirrup before it, the top crowned with the same sun symbol that appeared atop each of the wayshrines. On either side of the statue, stone staircases curved up to a balcony behind it, at what looked like the building’s main entrance. Gripping her ewer carefully, anxious not to spill its contents, Katja could only hope that nothing was going to attack them here.
“The bow has to be in here,” Serana continued. Katja sensed her urgency, and led them on their way. Taking the staircase to the right, she climbed up onto a balcony where a basin similar to those in the wayshrines stood. This one, however, was empty – and Katja assumed it was intended to receive the waters she had gathered on their trek. She poured them carefully into the basin, where they immediately ran out a hole in the bottom and into three channels incised in the stone pavement of the balcony.
The water ran down the channels, the central stream flowing into a sort of reservoir carved in the pavement in front of the massive front doors – in the shape of that same sunburst. The double doors themselves were enormously tall, and had a sunburst device mounted in the center. When the water had finished flowing through the channels a faint greenish glow arose, and the doors’ sunburst spun in place before separating into two halves. Tucking the now-empty ewer away, Katja gripped her bow in one hand and tried the door. It opened. The three of them stepped inside and stood dumbfounded – and shivering.
Outside, blizzard conditions reigned. In this cavernous entry hall, it was much colder. While still thankful there were no mirrors around, Katja was very glad as well that she was wearing her wooly underwear. All around the room figures stood like statues, caught in action poses and encased in ice. They included various classes of Falmer as well as chaurus. She knew these were no statues, though. “These Falmer are… they’re frozen in the ice,” Serana said. Just so they don’t suddenly thaw out, Katja thought.
Some of them held valuable items, and Katja was unable to resist relieving a few of them of these treasures they’d no longer be needing. She plucked a scroll from the frozen fingers of what looked to be a Falmer mage. It remained motionless. “I wonder how long they’ve been like this,” Serana mused. “And I thought the Soul Cairn was creepy.” So did I, Katja thought. But this definitely fits the definition.
Over against one wall of the large room Katja noticed a short pillar with a flat top, cast metal sun rays all around the top’s edges. Another sunburst motif was mounted like a boss on the wall behind it. It reminded her a lot of the basin outside, but her ewer was empty now. I wonder… she thought, and set the empty ewer atop the pillar. Immediately there was a grinding sound, and the stone wall slid upward to reveal an arched opening leading to a corridor on the far side.
Ooh, puzzles! Katja thought. Anders and Wyll might be in awe of her knack with them, but she only knew that solving them was a source of pleasure. She led her small crew around a bend and came to a sort of barred gate, similar in design to the building’s front doors but with openwork instead of solid panels between the curving ribs. She pushed this open, and they found themselves in a large, partially ruined chamber. The far side of it looked more like an ice cave than part of the building.
Before them, Katja saw an enormous humanoid figure standing motionless. It was not frozen like the others they’d so far encountered, however – just resting quietly. Pulling back, Katja whispered to Anders “any idea what that is?” He whispered back, “It looks like a Frost Giant. I’ve only ever seen one before. But there’s three of us. Go ahead and shoot!”
Her confidence bolstered after her conference with her beloved (and main source for Skyrim lore), Katja put an arrow into the creature from hiding. It did not immediately fall down and die, worse luck; but with Anders’ lightning bolts and the energy shooting from Serana’s staff, plus a couple more of Katja’s arrows, it was soon dead enough.
Though they’d defeated the presumed guardian, there turned out to be no exit from this chamber. A second wall with a pillar before it stood on one side. Katja had to pluck the ewer from the other pillar and then dash back before the door closed, before using the ewer on the second pillar. The wall behind it opened, not on a corridor as she’d hoped, but on a small storeroom containing various items of value and an unlocked chest.
She reclaimed the ewer afterward and used it on another pillar just inside the first door, to get it open again so they could continue their search for the Arch-Prelate and fulfill their quest for the Bow. Katja snatched the ewer once more before they got on their way, in case it might be needed again. Going through another gate similar to the one they had recently found, they entered a broad hall with more frozen Falmer, many of them accompanied by frozen chaurus as if the creatures were their pets.
Katja spotted one Falmer-sicle with a particularly valuable weapon, and took it off of him. Whereupon he thawed in a heartbeat and began attacking them. Oh, shit! Her skill at sneakiness was getting so good that he lunged right past her to attack Serana and Anders, though. So she just put a couple of arrows into his back and he burst into glimmering pieces as if he’d been carved from ice. That wasn’t so hard, Katja mused. Certainly not enough of a problem to keep her from gleaning any other valuables these once-and-possibly-future enemies might have on them.
In the next room a lone frozen Falmer stood in a circle with half a dozen frozen chaurus. Katja relieved him of a necklace worth nearly a thousand gold. At which not only he, but his enormous arthropod companions as well, all came to life at once! She hadn’t expected that, and soon found herself backed up against a pillar while three of the angry chaurus attacked her in concert. She hurled them back with Unrelenting Force, then put arrows into them before they could get close again. But by the time all their enemies lay in frozen chunks on the stone floor she was gasping for breath and in pain. A few moments of Healing put it right again.
Moving on from that room, the trio came to an opening that led into another ice cave. This one, more like a tunnel, soon took them through to an opening. Beyond it they could see another part of the building, hung with icicles more than the height of a man. Jumping down from a ledge, Katja found herself in a narrow corridor. It was blocked to her right, so she followed it down to the left. Anders and Serana were right behind her.