The Bow of Auri-El
At the far end of the corridor they found themselves in another cavernous chamber, this one still stranger than any they had previously seen. Enormous knives of ice (or stone?) jutted up at angles from the floor like spears placed to halt a cavalry charge – if the horses were 20 feet tall. The room was thronged with more of the frozen Falmer and chaurus, and snow seemed to have drifted to turn the floor at the far end of the room into a slope.
Leerily, Katja led her companions further into the room. They found a staircase rising, blocked at the top by more of those spikes. And beyond those, a pale snow elf sat in a posture of wilting boredom on an ornately carved stone throne. This could be none but Arch-Curate Vyrthur, the man they had been sent to kill. He didn’t seem to be very worried about it.
“Did you really come here expecting to claim Auriel’s Bow?” he asked, in a voice that was grating and dripping with scorn. “You’ve done exactly as I predicted and brought your fetching companion to me,” he continued. How does he know anything about us? Katja wondered. Did he possess some occult power of scrying?
“Wait,” Serana said, “is he talking about me?” I’m afraid so, Katja thought. The Arch-Curate was not finished gloating over having led them into his trap, however. “Which,” he went on, “I’m sorry to say, means your usefulness is at an end!” With that, he somehow commanded a group of the frozen Falmer to spring into life and begin attacking them. Katja immediately darted up the snowbank near the back of the room, hidden in the shadows. From there, using stealth, she was able to pick off her targets as they engaged with her companions. In short order their revived foes were nothing but a collection of scattered ice chunks.
Vyrthur was apparently not dismayed by their fast work in dispatching his minions. “An impressive display,” he grated, “but a wasted effort. You delay nothing but your own deaths!” He gestured again, and another half dozen of the gelid guardians came alive. Katja and her companions redoubled their efforts. Anders conjured a Flame Atronach, whose fireballs were particularly effective against their icy foes. The number of them remaining was dwindling.
A tinge of desperation creeping into his voice, Vyrthur said “This has gone on long enough.” He hurled the last of his frozen forces against them – and one by one the creatures were shot, flamed, crushed, and scattered. Didn’t know who you were up against, eh Vyrthur? Katja thought with cold satisfaction. Now they just needed to figure out how to get at him. She had tried shooting at him, but an invisible barrier protected him from her arrows.
“No!” he cried angrily. “I won’t let you ruin centuries of preparations… Death first!” Vyrthur used some magical power, and Katja realized that the roof of the chamber, all too close above her head, was now rumbling and falling down around her ears. Shortly thereafter, she realized nothing at all. When she regained consciousness she found Anders bending over her, feeling her brow. “I’m all right,” she murmured, struggling to sit up.
Serana was standing close by, and above her Katja could see that the room they’d been in was now open to the sky. How had they all managed to survive that? Vyrthur had evidently fled his throne, and Serana was urging her to rejoin the battle. Shaking her head to clear it and gulping down a health potion, Katja tried to focus on her words. “He’s up there, on the balcony,” Serana was saying. “Come on!”
Serana was already on the move, and Katja followed her. They crossed a rubble-strewn courtyard and she noticed there seemed to be an unopened wayshrine in the middle of it, flanked by two staircases leading up to a curving stone balcony. Katja climbed the staircase on the left to join Serana where she was confronting the deranged Arch-Curate.
“Enough, Vyrthur!” Serana demanded. “Give us the bow!” The man stood crouched slightly, evidently injured; but still convinced of his superiority.
“How dare you,” he ranted. “I was the Arch-Curate of Auri-El, girl. I had the ears of a god!”
“Until the ‘Betrayed’ corrupted you,” Serana replied dismissively. “Yes, yes. We’ve heard this sad story.”
Vyrthur regarded this pronouncement with scorn. “Gelebor and his kind are easily manipulated fools,” he said. “Look into my eyes, Serana. You tell me what I am.”
Serana took a step backward, astonishment on her face. “You’re a vampire! But… Auriel should have protected you…”
The snow elf spoke bitterly: “The moment I was infected by one of my own Initiates, Auri-El turned his back on me. I swore I’d have my revenge, no matter what the cost.” Katja was staggered. This Arch-Curate had destroyed his entire religion, maybe even his entire race, all because his god had deserted him?
Serana, too, could hardly believe what she was hearing. “You want to take revenge… on a god?” she asked.
Vyrthur replied, “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…” Serana was starting to put it together. “It… it was you? You created that prophecy?” she asked in disbelief.
The Arch-Curate, now standing upright, gave an evil smile and said triumphantly, “A prophecy that lacked a single, final ingredient… the blood of a pure vampire. The blood of a Daughter of Coldharbour.” Rage blazed in Serana’s orange-glowing eyes, and she closed with Vyrthur to lift him off the ground. Whoa, Katja thought. The slender woman, no larger than she was, had picked up the burly-looking snow elf by the upper part of his armor as if he were a small child.
“You were waiting…” she said, controlled fury in her voice, “all this time for someone with my blood to come along.” Lifting him higher she went on, “Well, too bad for you… I intend on keeping it. Let’s see if your blood has any power to it!” With that she hurled Vyrthur back against the stone balustrade, and readied a magical attack as he did the same.
Katja drew her bow and Anders began shooting lightning bolts after calling his Flame Atronach. Things got chaotic as Vyrthur summoned a gigantic Frost Atronach, and Katja was very busy for a few moments sending it back where it came from. By the time her attention was free, Serana was struggling with the Arch-Curate further along the balcony, and she had to move to the left to get a clear shot. As Anders hurled ice spikes into him, she got in one good shot and the snow elf fell to the stones, dead. Better late than never, Katja thought a bit ruefully. She made sure Anders was all right, then turned to discover that the wayshrine beside the balcony had now risen out of the stones of the courtyard.
Katja headed down the stairs and found Knight-Paladin Gelebor standing in the wayshrine’s open doorway. His hands were on his hips and he looked angry. Not what she’d expected, considering all they’d gone through on his behalf. The man’s late brother had been a homicidal lunatic and an asshole to boot, and she had no regrets about killing him. But perhaps Gelebor harbored some about having ordered it done?
“So, the deed has been done,” he said. “The restoration of this wayshrine means that Vyrthur must be dead and the Betrayed no longer have control over him.”
“The Betrayed weren’t to blame,” Katja told him. Her words shocked him.
“What?” he demanded. “What are you talking about?”
“He was a vampire,” she explained. “He controlled them.”
“A vampire?” Gelebor asked, half-disbelieving.
He stood considering for a moment, then said “I see. That would explain much. Deep inside, it brings me joy that the Betrayed weren’t to blame for what happened here.”
“Why is that?” Katja asked.
“Because,” Gelebor explained, “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.” Katja assumed he meant her and Serana. Evidently Anders was just “the help.”
“You’re welcome,” she told him.
He continued, now seeming a lot more friendly, “You risked everything to get Auri-El’s bow, and in turn, you’ve restored the Chantry. I can’t think of any more deserving champion to carry it than you.” He gestured toward the interior of the wayshrine, where in place of a basin of water a pillar stood, with a gleaming and elaborately curved Elven bow floating in mid-air above it, rotating slowly. Interesting.
Katja strode forward and plucked the bow from its “stand.” Immediately the portals around the sides of the wayshrine winked into life, each showing a view of a previously visited shrine. “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.” The ancient member of a nearly extinct race was waxing positively effusive.
“Please,” Katja asked him.
Gelebor handed her some arrows. “Shoot these toward the sun with Auri-El’s bow,” he explained, “and it will shoot out rays of light at your enemies. Obviously, it’s most effective against vampires.”
“Good to know,” Katja responded. Then thanking him, she gathered her companions. Serana appraised the bow. “It’s… not as shiny as I was expecting,” she said. “Still, it’s beautiful.” Katja felt relieved that her vampire friend showed no desire to get her hands on the bow. She’d been afraid that Serana’s eagerness to obtain the bow meant she secretly wanted to fulfill the prophecy, rather than stopping it.
“What do we do now?” Katja asked.
Serana replied, “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.”
“If we do, he’ll have to die,” Katja pointed out.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” came the response. “It’s… it’s not easy. But I don’t think we have much of a choice.” After thinking a little more, Serana added “No. This has to end here and now.”
“Then let’s face him together,” Katja said.
“If we head back to the castle and kick the front door in,” Serana pointed out, “we’re going to be knee-deep in his friends. Let’s go back to Isran and let him see what we’ve got first. I’m betting he’ll lend us a sword or two.”
“You’re right,” Katja told her. “But first we need to take a little break and pick up some more help. We’re going home.”