As I step out of Jorrvaskr the next morning, it’s hard to believe that the sun is up. The sky is heavy with dark clouds and the smell of rain is in the air. Great. Today Jenassa and I are supposed to travel to Mount Kilkreath near Solitude, but it doesn’t look like the weather is going to make it easy.
The wind is rising as I walk briskly to the Drunken Huntsman to meet Jenassa. The sky grows steadily darker and low rumbles of thunder roll down from the mountains. By the time I get to the tavern, it’s already starting to drizzle.
As we head out of the main gate, the rain has started in earnest. It’s obvious we won’t be able to ride to Mount Kilkreath in this weather — we’d be soaked to the skin in no time, and we’d likely freeze by the time we got there. After a short discussion, we come up with an alternate plan.
I remove the leather tent from my horse’s saddlebags and approach the cart that’s parked just outside the stables. Jenassa leads our horses to the cart and ties their halters to the back rail as I pay the driver. We climb in the back of the cart, huddle under the unrolled leather tent, and travel to Solitude in the pouring rain.
Naturally, the weather doesn’t let up at all. By the time we reach Solitude a few hours later, it’s still coming down. Even our horses are looking grumpy for dragging them out of their cozy stable and making them plod halfway across Skyrim in the rain.
Fortunately we don’t have much farther to go. We have a quick meal from our provisions and head up the path to the temple. I down a couple of bottles of mead to counteract the chill in the air as we ride higher into the hills.
At the top of the stony path, we finally reach the temple. It’s surmounted by a massive statue of Meridia, carved from a single block of granite. We find some shelter for the horses and climb the stone steps leading up to the statue. As we approach, the voice of the Daedra commands me to restore her beacon.
As I hold out the brilliant white gemstone to place it at the foot of the monument, it starts to glow. Suddenly it rises in the air on a beam of pure light, hovering between the statue’s hands.
A few seconds later, I realize I’m rising into the air as well. Sweet merciful Mara, this is way too high! And to add insult to injury, I’m still being rained on. The wind whips around me as I hang helplessly in thin air. Holy snowballs, it’s freaking cold up here!
I rise to a dizzying height, suspended far above the mountaintops, when Meridia appears as a shining white light that’s brighter than the sun. I’m sure I’d appreciate the scenery more if I weren’t completely terrified. But as the light draws closer, I suddenly recall what Jenassa said about Daedra not tolerating mortal cowardice. Remembering this, I take a breath of cold air deep into my lungs and steel myself, determined to face my first Daedric encounter head-on.
Meridia tells me that she intends to make me her champion. I’m to enter her temple, track down the necromancer defiling her shrine, and retrieve a holy artifact. She describes a ray of light that I’m to somehow guide through her temple, in order to reopen the doors that the necromancer forced shut. I find my voice and manage to agree (like I have a choice). The Daedra finally condescends — thank the Divines! — to lower me gently back to the ground.
After I’m back on my feet, I gasp like a landed fish for a few seconds, remembering how to breathe and waiting for my heart to stop racing. Jenassa, intelligently, says nothing. Or possibly she’s too freaked out to say anything. Either way, it works for me.
When I can move again, Jenassa and I ready our weapons and cautiously enter the abandoned temple. An inky mist hangs in the stale air, and ravaged corpses lie broken on the stone floor. As before, my companion is reluctant to disturb the dead, so I loot the bodies myself. Their clothing and gear is too decrepit to be worth taking, but they all seem to be carrying substantial amounts of gold. I line my pockets as we proceed through the temple.
As we advance further into the murky sanctum, one of the shadows seems to coalesce into a distinctly ghoulish figure. It glides over the floor soundlessly, gazing around the ruined temple with blazing red eyes.
I hear Jenassa gasp as we stare at the creature in alarm. Thankfully it hasn’t noticed us. I’ve never seen a creature like this, and judging by her pallor, I’m pretty sure my companion hasn’t either. Well, only one thing to do — see how badly we can hurt it.
There are several shades in the room and they all advance on us within seconds. Fortunately seem to rely on mundane weapons rather than magical powers. Two of them rush forward with swords, but we shoot them down before they can reach us. The third fires off a few arrows, but it doesn’t stand for long against Jenassa’s whirling blades.
Soon after they hit the floor, they dissolve into pools of slimy ichor. Nothing else remains but their weapons — which, since they’re old, battered, and covered in disgusting black ooze, I leave where they fall.
Soon we find the ray of light that Meridia sent into the temple. It slices through the gloom like a white-hot blade. After we’re satisfied that the room is empty, we approach the radiant beam. She said I was to guide it through her temple, but when I put my hand into the light, it burns. Ow!!!
I try to deflect it off my shield, and Jenassa tries bouncing it off her blade, but neither attempt works. Okay, so I’m clearly not expected to manipulate the light directly. I guess I’ll just make it up as I go along — like I do with pretty much everything else.
It’s not until we’re near one of the crystal-topped pedestals that it becomes clear. I touch the edge of the pedestal, and the gemstone rises a few inches by some hidden mechanism. The light is focused by the gem and beamed to another crystal mounted on the wall. Huh. Well, that’s kinda nifty.
Heavy iron doors swing open as we direct the light. We work our way slowly through the forgotten ruins, destroying shades and aligning the crystals. Occasionally the light is beamed to areas we can’t reach, such as corridors blocked by debris, but although we’re forced to find detours, we always manage to find the light again.
The alignment of the crystals also produces a piercing harmonic tone that allows us to hear, even when we can’t see the beam’s location. It’s as if the light itself has a voice.
We uncover various treasures from urns and the occasional chest. Jenassa still refuses to take anything, saying she doesn’t wish to risk the anger of the dead. Personally I think the dead in here are about as angry as they’re likely to get, but whatever. More for me.
Some of the chests are protected by traps, mostly in the form of deadly spikes that suddenly emerge and attempt to impale us. After narrowly avoiding a couple of these, I start looking for telltale holes in the walls and floor. Fortunately most of them are easy to spot.
The corridors get narrower as we proceed, and enemies seem to be hiding in every dark corner. We flush them out without too much trouble, but they seem to emerge from almost every shadow. It makes for an unsettling excursion.
Whoever this necromancer is, he’s certainly been busy. It seems as though he’s raised a corrupted spirit from every twisted corpse, and there are enough corpses to fill a boneyard. They’re piled in the corners, lying broken among the stones, even stuffed into stone offering bowls. They each carry a lot of gold though, so despite my companion’s sense of foreboding, I make sure to loot them all.
Jenassa’s not feeling too left out, however. Her swords are seeing plenty of use, and at one point she even admits that cutting down shades has an unexpected benefit — these foes don’t dull her blades’ edges, and all the ichor keeps her weapons well-oiled.
The pattern of light becomes more elaborate. Crystals are scattered around spacious rooms, each one needing to be aligned before we can proceed to the next. Fortunately we’re able to reach them all, but it requires navigating the tortuous pathways of dozens of stairs and narrow corridors — each one with the potential to hide even more angry shades. The difficulty of our task is not lost on either of us as we trace the light’s shining path through the temple ruins.
Eventually we reach a small room dominated by a stone altar. The twisted remains of multiple corpses litter the flagstones, and a couple of stone ledges hold chests, potions, and scattered coins. I climb the steps to the top of the altar and touch the pedestal.
The glowing crystal rises from the base, and the ray of light is guided to another crystal mounted on the wall above double iron doors. The doors swing open in silence.
Beyond is one of the narrowest corridors we’ve yet seen — almost a tunnel. Jenassa and I drop to a crouch and walk forward as quietly as possible. There’s an eerie stillness in the air, as if the temple itself is holding its breath. The hairs on the back of my neck rise, and even my companion seems nervous.
We reach a set of stone steps leading down into a large room. Through the doorway we can see several shades gliding back and forth, and in the midst of them is a tall figure dressed in dark robes. Clearly that’s the necromancer Meridia wants us to defeat.
I decide to send Mr. Wuffles to scout the room for us and perhaps give us an advantage. I summon my little spirit buddy and watch proudly as he dives straight for the necromancer — who slaughters him almost instantly. Yikes. Okay, so that didn’t go as planned.
This alerts all the shades, who rush up the stairs and charge at me in a block. I start shooting back, but the necromancer hits me with a frost spell, slowing me to a crawl. Well. Crap.
Jenassa dives into a shadowy corner just before the angry shades swarm me. I turn back to escape into the other room, but the iron doors have swung shut and locked themselves behind us. Not good!
Blades slash at my back as I’m hit by arrows and even more spells. Fresh wounds gape open until the stones are stained with my own blood. I sink to the floor, unable to fight back. Somewhere far away, I can hear the necromancer cackle with mad laughter. Bastard.
A few more blows and I don’t feel anything anymore. It’s almost a relief.
After minutes or years, I slowly return to consciousness. Someone is leaning over me, pouring a thin stream of liquid down my throat. I automatically try to swallow but some of it trickles out the side of my mouth. I hear a soft gasp as my eyelids flutter, but I can’t quite open them yet. I feel as if a great boulder has rolled over me, and I’m cold. So cold.
More liquid is slowly poured down my throat, and then my mouth is covered by someone else’s. Warm breath flows into my lungs. My heart flutters in my chest like a butterfly in a jar, but then it remembers how to beat again. I can feel my wounds knit together and the strength returns to my limbs. I open my eyes to see Jenassa leaning over me, a bottle of healing potion in her hand, and… are those tears in her eyes?!
I try to watch her face as she soundlessly puts the bottle down. When she turns back to me, she’s rubbing her eyes as if exhausted. There’s no trace of tears on her face. Must’ve been a trick of the light.
I’m about to speak, but Jenassa puts a finger to her lips. The fog clears from my head and I understand — we’re still in the same room, with the necromancer and his minions just beyond. How she managed to escape their notice, I have no idea.
She leans over, her lips almost touching my ear. “Welcome back,” she whispers.
I blink and look at her in disbelief. “You… just saved my life… didn’t you?” I stammer.
Jenassa turns her head slightly, and I can barely make out her words. “No, my patron,” she murmurs. “I saved my own.”