In Which the Dragonborn Acquires Auriel’s Bow

This post actually covers two sessions, because boy howdy is the dungeon for finding the Bow enormous.

As always, highlights and details behind the fold!

Highlights

  • Picked up right where I left off a couple sessions ago, going through the portal in the shrine structure Gelebor had opened
  • That put me into a cavern system, Darkfall Passage, which was just as dark as the cavern I’d left but which had a kind of lighting from bioluminescent fungi and flowers
  • Also lots of Falmer and several traps
  • Took a while to get through, had to consult the wiki to make sure I was going in the right direction
  • The latter bit of Darkfall Passage actually looked like Blackreach, with the floating mushrooms; I wonder if the game designers just borrowed the look of Blackreach for this part, or if they specifically intended this bit of Darkfall Passage to be an isolated segment of Blackreach?
  • Found the first wayshrine in this bit, the Wayshrine of Illumination, which sent me and Serana into Forgotten Vale
  • Forgotten Vale was also huge and full of Falmer and trolls, as well as vale sabre cats, vale deer, and frost giants unique to this location
  • An astounding number of ore veins all over the place, and lots of loot in general, including some unknown books that triggered a quest to take them back to Urag at the college
  • Also, the frost giants were carrying special items called “paragons” that get you to unique bits of the dungeon, so I have to apparently down all the frost giants if I want to get those!
  • Found a total of three wayshrines in Forgotten Vale but also a long windy area of Falmer tents and I’m absolutely sure I missed stuff
  • Fought two named dragons who popped out of the ice and got a lot more dragon bits off of them
  • Found a Word Wall with a word for the Drain Vitality Shout
  • Found a huge complicated network of bridges and platforms with Falmer tents, and got a whole lot of loot out of them, enough that I got overburdened pretty quickly
  • So I started the second session in Forgotten Vale by fast traveling over to Solitude (closest source of stores and one of my houses) and selling a bunch of stuff, and dropping off the rest
  • Serana had what sounded like a couple of reaction lines to Solitude but I didn’t hear them correctly!
  • Fast traveled back to Forgotten Vale after dropping off stuff in Solitude, and landed right by the Wayshrine of Sight
  • Resumed searching the vale from there, this time following the wiki more closely, to make sure I don’t miss anything
  • Did not one but two side trips to Solitude to drop off loot
  • Did a whole lot of mining
  • And a whole lot of looking for the paragons
  • And a whole lot of double-checking the wiki to make sure I didn’t miss anything important
  • Finally found the last of the Wayshrines and got it triggered
  • And a little further after that, got to the Chantry of Auri-El
  • The frozen Falmer and frozen Chaurus Hunters in there were duly creepy
  • Vyrthur was a decent beta villain for this plot and Serana and I took him out
  • Got the final meeting with Gelebor, got the Bow, and got him to bless all my arrows as well as giving me the full Falmer backstory
  • Consulted with Serana and we agreed to return to Fort Dawnguard to check in
  • Returned to Solitude for a final loot drop before that
  • Then went to Whiterun so I could pick up Dawnbreaker; fought a bunch of vampires at the Watchtower
  • Had to disappoint my kid by not bringing her a present
  • Bought her presents from the Khajiit for later!
  • Then saved for the night once we reached Fort Dawnguard

Darkfall Passage

The Forgotten Vale is one of the more interesting spots in the game I’ve found, I think—right up there with Blackreach. I really like the look of the place, not only with its own unique little ecosystem, but also for the bits of what look like ruins of Altmer-type architecture all over the place. As you would expect, with the vale containing Wayshrines to Auri-El.

But boy howdy is there a lot of it. You have to go through Darkfall Cave and Darkfall Passage to get in there to begin with, and those two bits combined are already pretty long.

One note I’d like to make about Darkfall Passage though is that its second section, the part that actually connects to Forgotten Vale, looks a lot like Blackreach. It had examples of the same kinds of mushrooms I saw in Blackreach, both the giant floating ones and the smaller black ones scattered all over the place on the ground. But it also had its own unique flora and fauna—the vale sabre cats and vale deer, and also the gleamblossoms and poison blooms.

Clearly the game designers borrowed some of the elements for Blackreach to design this bit of the dungeon. But what I don’t know is, if they did that just because Blackreach looked neat (it does!), or because this part of the cavern was supposed to be considered actually part of Blackreach? Hard to say, given that this bit of cavern didn’t seem to be connected to Blackreach proper.

But even if it’s not actually part of Blackreach, it raises interesting questions about subterranean caverns all over Skyrim, and whether Blackreach-like areas could be found elsewhere!

Forgotten Vale, round one

Once you actually reach the vale itself, there’s a whole lot of territory to cover as well. The Wayshrines are all fairly far apart, so you have to tromp over a great deal of ground to find them all.

And as you’re doing that, there are a whole hell of a lot of Falmer to fight with, as well as trolls, vale sabre cats, and the frost giants that are carrying the special items called paragons that you need to access even more hidden bits of the vale.

And there’s a set of “unknown books” to acquire that trigger a side quest to take them to Urag at the College of Winterhold. And there’s a bunch of general loot, enchanted weapons, high level armor, and the like.

Also, there was a surprising number of ore veins of various types all over the place, including multiple ones for gold. So in general this place is a treasure trove for loot, and for smithing materials to build stuff later.

I found a total of three other Wayshrines in the vale, but I was also pretty sure I missed several things just by wandering around. The sheer size of the place, combined with how many hard to reach bits there are (even aside from the bits you have to use the paragons for), means it’s very easy to miss stuff.

As for the Wayshrines themselves, they’re pretty neat. It’s a little sad that the only other “surviving” Snow Elves are the ghosts of these priests who watch over the shrines. And that these ghosts are ones with limited awareness; they only react to you as if you’re an initiate of their religion, as opposed to your actual purpose being on hand.

Once I got three of the Wayshrines dealt with, I wound up in a snowier section of the valley. The first main interesting bit of that was a partially iced over lake—which erupted with not one but two named dragons, Naaslaarum and Voslaarum, who attacked Serana and me. It’s unclear to me whether Alduin is supposed to have resurrected these two dragons as well, or whether they’d just been hiding out in the icy lake all this time?

Either way, they put up a good fight. And once Serana and I got them fought, I was able to proceed to a nearby Word Wall that had another word for the Drain Vitality Shout. (The actual one, not the buggy one I picked up in the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary.)

After the dragons, I wound up in a huge complex network of bridges and platforms where Falmer had built their tents.

(Side note: this is Falmer living above ground, interestingly. I had only seen a few signs prior to this that Falmer can and do in fact live above ground. But this was the first sizable surface Falmer settlement I found. Which raises all sorts of interesting questions about the Falmer working on coming to the surface. The wiki drops a bunch of hints that the Falmer are redeveloping their intellect—so it’s intriguing to speculate about whether they will also redevelop eyesight, if they’re trying to retake the surface. Or whether they remain nocturnal and sleep during the day?

And what will happen when a Falmer child is born with working eyes again? That promises to be a huge mindfuck for the entire Falmer race.

This is one of the things I love about this game, that it can have me raise all these questions on the side. So much excellent worldbuilding! ❤️

But I digress.)

The Falmer settlement got me lots and lots of loot. Between that and and the ore veins, I got quickly overburdened! I dropped heavier items in multiple places, and eventually decided that I’d have to take a detour of the vale to see if I could fast travel somewhere and drop stuff off, and/or sell it.

Meanwhile, leveled up to 55 while fighting all the Falmer, and dropped a perk point back onto Sneak to start moving up the tree again.

Solitude detours

So I started my second session in the vale by fast traveling out of it, and popping over to Solitude. This was the nearest place I could get to that had stores as well as one of my houses. I was able to sell a bunch of things to both Bits and Pieces as well as the forge, and what I couldn’t sell, I dropped off in the chest in my bedroom at Proudspire Manor.

When I landed at Solitude Serana sounded like she had a line or two reacting to the place—but the volume was down on my Switch so I didn’t catch what she said properly. I’ll have to see if I can get her to do those lines again! I’m not seeing any sign on the wiki of her having Solitude-specific dialogue.

I’m a little sad that the hides you can get off the vale creatures can’t be used to make something unusual! And since I am so totally not lacking for smithing materials at this point, I went ahead and sold all the pelts at Bits and Pieces. Somebody can make furniture or something out of them and start a new fashion trend in Solitude. 😁

Coming back to the vale after the Solitude detour, I determined I had two of the Unknown Books, and two of the paragons. And one more shrine to find before I could finally reach the inner sanctum. So for round two, I decided I’d have to re-do the trek from the Wayshrine of Sight, and follow the wiki a lot more closely so that I could find the things I’d missed.

I don’t need any of the extra items, particularly not for wealth-building purposes. I’m walking around with over 70,000 gold at this point, and finding it very easy to acquire more. Nah, I am just that kind of completist nerd gamer. You give me a giant area chock fulla loot and potential interesting side items, I’m going to want to find them all!

And I’ll go ahead and note that I found so many more things that I had to do two fast travels out to Solitude. Most of that weight was weaponry, and most of the weapons were enchanted in various ways. But there were also plenty of alchemy ingredients to be had, enough that that took up a considerable amount of weight in my inventory as well.

(I may have been mistaken on the first Solitude detour about Serana’s reaction lines? She may have just been commenting upon the brightness—she has a lot of lines she throws around in response to just being outside. It’s kind of hilarious how she snarks on sunlight and on weather in general.)

I can’t really come up with an IC justification for why I blipped back to Solitude not once but twice. I feel like that more realistically, Alarrah would have stashed a bunch of things in a safe side place and come back for them when the area was secure. But as I’ve said, the network of areas of Darkfall Cave, Darkfall Passage, Forgotten Vale, and Glacial Crevice is just so huge and complicated that it’d be a jaunt just to get back to whatever caching place I chose.

Still though I reserve the right to imagine Serana reacting to Proudspire.

Serana: Nice place. This is yours?

Alarrah: Yeah. I actually live in Whiterun, but this is the place I stay at when I come to Solitude. I travel here a lot.

Serana: You have two houses?

Alarrah: Six, actually.

Serana: You have six houses? Damn, woman!

Alarrah: Oh yeah, and I have the quarters at the College of Winterhold, too. Did I mention I’m the Arch-Mage? And thane of seven holds. And the Dragonborn.

Serana: Bullshit. What, and you’re not also the Emperor?

Alarrah: Well, I figure I need to leave some of the jobs for other people.

Serana: 🤨

Weird bug with Aura Whisper

When I started my second jaunt through Forgotten Vale, one of the first things I did was to try to find a couple of chests guarded by icewraiths. I was having trouble finding one of them, so I thought, well hey, I have this Aura Whisper Shout that’s supposed to let me detect the life energy of creatures. Maybe I could use it to find the location for this chest!

In theory this should have worked. I did find the chest location and the icewraith. But when I attacked the icewraith, the game crashed!

And it crashed again when I tried to reload from a previous auto-save. So this was a hard crash and I wound up having to revert to my last actual save, picking up from when I’d finished the first loot drop off in Solitude. Fortunately I didn’t lose too much progress doing that.

This bug interested me from a QA perspective, though. Dara remembered using the Shout successfully on her prior playthroughs, but there were several aspects to my bug that may have caused an edge case, and it’s anybody’s guess whether this was a matter of one of these, or maybe multiple things in combination:

  1. I was throwing the Shout outside; Dara’s prior use of it had been in cave dungeons
  2. I was trying to find a location that was scripted to be defended by a creature—which may not have been considered “alive” until I found and confronted it? Which may have confused the Shout?
  3. I was using it to find an icewraith
  4. I was using it while accompanied by Serana, a vampire, i.e., undead

Needless to say, I did not try to throw Aura Whisper to find that chest the next time through.

What I did and did not do on the second time through

This time through, I did find all the frost giants. I also found the submerged chests under the lake where the dragons attacked me before, which was a bit of an adventure. And which made me glad I’d elected to keep the dragon mask Volsung on—because it gives me the ability to breathe underwater, in addition to the carry bonus! I definitely recommend bringing along a means to breathe underwater to this vale, if you want to hit the underwater bits. Volsung is an excellent way to do this, but any other wearable means of invoking waterbreathing would work.

(As would potions. But a single wearable item would be better, given the sheer abundance of loot in this place. You should minimize what waterbreathing means you bring with you if you can!)

And I found the third of the four “Unknown” books, and all of the ore veins, I think, too. So much mining.

I did not find the fourth of the “Unknown” books—that requires using one of the paragons, and while I did find all the paragons as well as the place to use them, I elected to not spend time tracking back to it with all the paragons to try them out. Later, after the Dawnguard playthrough is done, I can come back and check out those extra nooks and crannies via the paragon portals.

I also elected to skip Sharpslope Cave. The wiki advised that that was another dark area, and its main point of interest apparently was that it was a source of rare shellbugs, whose chitin can be used to make a shellbug helmet. And, well, no. They’re not pretty. While they apparently are one of the higher ranking helmets on the Heavy Armor tables on the wiki, they’re also Heavy Armor, which I don’t wear. And I’m not sticking a thing that looks like a bug head on my housecarls!

Plus, from what I see on the wiki, shellbugs can’t even attack you, and you don’t attack them with your usual weapons, you mine them with a pickaxe. Now mind you, deer don’t attack you either—but I’m okay with hunting them with my bows, partly because my expectation is that I’d be eating the venison or sharing it with my households. Not only because of it being appropriate expected diet for Nords, but also because I’m a Bosmer, and Bosmer are supposed to be meat-eaters. Also, their antlers and hides are useful. So killing a deer or an elk doesn’t seem wasteful.

But deer are the only things in the game I will hunt that won’t otherwise attack me. I haven’t been attacking foxes because foxes don’t come after me first, and likewise, I do not bother the goats or the bunnies! I only take pelts and meat from them if other creatures kill them first.

For the shellbugs, I have found no data that suggests that they’re good eating. And their chitin seems useful only for making helmets I’d never wear and would never give to my followers. So I see no reason whatsoever to go after them.

There were some areas of Glacial Crevice I decided to skip, too. More underwater areas, which according to the wiki didn’t have anything I particularly cared to track down. And some side detours, both in Glacial Crevice and back out in Forgotten Vale once I re-emerged, that only led to various additional Falmer tents. After a point, there’s only so much “clear out a Falmer tent and kill all the Falmer around it” that I’m comfortable with doing.

Particularly now that I have the Falmer backstory from Gelebor.

Likewise, I feel a little guilty having had to kill the five frost giants who were carrying the paragons, given that these were the only frost giants I’ve seen in the game. The dialogue I got with Gelebor showed that the idea of contributing to a race’s extinction clearly crosses my character’s mind—so I think it’d be reasonable for her to also be reluctant to wipe out all of any other creatures, not just Snow Elves. I think that if I play Dawnguard again on subsequent playthroughs, I might have to see if I can actually sneak up on the frost giants and pickpocket the paragons off of them.

And eventually, I just started skipping various bits of loot that the wiki advised me to look for, out of sheer volume of loot and just wanting to get to the end of the quest already. This was an even longer dungeon than the one for the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. Unlike that one, this one definitely pays you for putting in the time. But it’s still a lot. And I recommend pacing yourself and planning for how much loot you actually want to bother with, tackling this quest!

Reaching the Chantry of Auri-El

Once I finally made it through all of the Forgotten Vale and Glacial Crevice nooks and crannies, and triggered all five Wayshrines, I finally got to the Chantry of Auri-El, the main temple I was aiming for.

(Side note: I am amused that the name of this god is Auri-El in dialogue, but the game also calls him Auriel. Which is way easier to type and say. Every time Gelebor and Vyrthur called the god Auri-El in their dialogue, I kept wanting to ask why the Snow Elves were worshipping a Kryptonian. 😆)

The temple was gorgeous in an ancient and ruined kind of way, as I’d expect for ancient and ruined elven architecture. And I really liked the giant statue of Auri-El at the entrance, which marked where I needed to pour out the water I had gathered at all the Wayshrines. (Which, I note, I had been lugging around in the ewer all this time, along with all the loot I’d been gathering!) See the gallery at the bottom of this post for a shot of the statue.

Pouring out the water in the appropriate receptacle opened up the place so we could get in. Inside was a fairly creepy tableau of frozen Falmer and frozen Chaurus Hunters. Many of the frozen Falmer were holding assorted loot items, but the only one of those I really paid attention to was the one with the spell tome for the Rout spell, which I didn’t have yet. Because the thing about the frozen Falmer was, there was a strong risk of them coming to life if you tried to take their loot away from them.

There were a couple of side rooms you could only get into by using the ewer to trigger hidden entrances. I tried this a couple of times, only to find that this only led to more loot and not to where I needed to get for the final confrontation with Vyrthur. (This side jaunt was primarily useful as the means to find the final frost giant and get the ruby paragon.)

Once we made it to Vyrthur, finally, it was game on.

He started in on proper villain monologuing, telling me how I’d done exactly what he predicted and brought my “fetching companion” straight to him. To which Serana was all “is he talking about me?”

And he started animating his frozen Falmer and frozen Chaurus Hunters to come after us. Which made for some genuinely tricky fighting, because Serana and I were swarmed. But I was never in any real trouble; I’m level 55 at this point, well armored, and carrying dragonbone weaponry for both ranged and melee fighting. The frozen Falmer and Chaurus Hunters were numerous—but not all that powerful against me.

(That said, I’m also sure this would have been a more challenging combat situation for a lower-level character. It would be real interesting to see how well a character who hadn’t defeated Alduin yet could handle this plot!)

After a couple of rounds of this, Vyrthur finally got tired of throwing his minions at us, and decided to just collapse the ceiling on us instead. At this point, the game jumped ahead to a scripted bit that involved Serana pulling me out from under ceiling rubble, double-checking that I was all right, and then warning me that Vyrthur had escaped to a nearby balcony.

We chased him up there for the final confrontation scene, and a scripted exchange between him and Serana that revealed his actual backstory: that he was a vampire, that he wanted revenge on his god for rejecting him because of his being turned, and that he was in fact the author of the entirely bullshit prophecy that had been obsessing Serana’s father all this time.

Serana was understandably less than thrilled to learn all this, and had a nifty moment where she actually grabbed Vyrthur and hoisted him up off his feet. Thereby demonstrating her vampire strength! Girl can lift a fully armored Snow Elf, she’s clearly a lot stronger than she looks. This is also in the gallery below!

Once their scripted confrontation was done, that freed me to join the fray. Vyrthur was not actually a difficult fight, and we took him down after a few clashes of weaponry. And given that he’s not the actual Big Bad of this plotline, I don’t feel like it’s particularly a problem that he wasn’t more of a challenge to kill.

When we took him out, another Wayshrine activated nearby—and Gelebor stepped through it, correctly surmising that since that Wayshrine had activated, his brother had to have been taken care of. I clued him in that the Betrayed had not corrupted Vyrthur—he’d become a vampire. This actually went over better with Gelebor than you might normally expect, because it meant that he could persist in the hope that the Betrayed might eventually regain knowledge of their past history and return to the worship of Auri-El.

Gelebor gave me his blessing to take the Bow out of the Wayshrine behind him, and further, also offered to bless any elven arrows I wanted to use to make them “Sunhallowed Elven Arrows”, to take full advantage of the Bow’s power. Naturally I took him up on this, though it took a while—because he could only do twenty arrows at a time, and I had over 300 of them!

(And I did in fact protest to Dara, “Whose idea on the dev team was it to let this guy bless only twenty arrows at a time?!”)

And I got a little more Falmer commentary out of him, including his observation that over the last couple of centuries, he had observed a rise in their apparent intellect. Given everything I saw on the way through this quest, and particularly given signs of more elaborate tents above ground, use of alchemy, and use of a broader range of foodstuffs and weaponry and traps, it seemed apparent to me that Gelebor’s theories have merit. And I’ll be real interested to see if any further Elder Scrolls games in the future follow up on the development of the Falmer!

Finishing Up

As soon as we finished taking out Vyrthur, the Touching the Sky quest concluded, and the final one of the plotline, Kindred Judgment, began. The first action item on that quest was to talk with Serana—and discuss with her what to do next, including confirming that her father was going to have to die.

She wasn’t happy about this, but she also allowed that she’d been wrestling with the idea this whole time. And she proposed that we should return to Isran first to check in with him and get the Dawnguard’s help, because storming the front entrance of her family castle by ourselves was just likely to get us both killed.

(Isran damn well better be appreciative of her thinking of him this way. Just sayin’!)

I agreed to this. But before we went to Fort Dawnguard, I returned to Solitude one more time to drop off additional stuff. And, honestly, I briefly thought about picking up Jordis as a follower to bring her along on the final fight. But I decided I didn’t want to take the time to get her activated and coming along.

I did however also return to Whiterun. Because it occurred to me that despite this plot involving fighting vampires, I was not carrying Dawnbreaker. Which seemed like an oversight it was high time to correct.

So after stopping at Solitude, I fast traveled to the Watchtower. Got the expected dragon roaring overhead—though this one never landed, so I didn’t have to fight it.

More alarming though was how Serana suddenly threw her “where did you come from?” line and charged over closer to the tower, where she leapt into combat. I went “oh shit is she going to fight the guards?”—only to realize then that there was a pack of vampires over there.

So I leapt into the fray with her and the guards, and between us all, we took out the vampires. At least one guard got taken out, though. Sniff. Poor guard.

I took all the loot off the vampires, just on the grounds of “fuck every single one of you, attacking me here is too damn close to my wife and kid, and this will not stand.” Then once everything settled down (and I confirmed nobody was going to attack Serana, and that I hadn’t accidentally hit any guards in combat myself), we headed into Whiterun.

Saw the Khajiit coming in to set up camp! Hi, Khajiit!

But I had to disappoint Lucia when the kid found out I hadn’t brought her anything. Sorry, honey! I’ll do better next time!

Then I popped upstairs to get Dawnbreaker. And found Lydia in the bedroom, sitting on my chair like she does. Serana came in after me, which actually was a little hilarious as she tried to sit down on that same chair. Though she never touched Lydia directly, her character cell bumped Lydia’s a bit, pushing Lydia out of the way. Lol. You trying to tell me something, game?

I got two screenshots of the two of them in the room, just because I was amused to actually have them in the room together. And because Alarrah apparently has a type, and that type is dark-haired Nord women. Also documented in the gallery below. 😆

On the way out again, I found that the Khajiit had finished setting up their camp. So I stopped to buy a doll and two girl’s dresses from them, to give to Lucia later. Paul asked me as well if I’d given the kid a wooden sword and a dagger yet, and laughed and said “What kind of Nord mom are you?” when I admitted I hadn’t.

You can in fact give your adopted kids daggers. Heh. But if the kid’s going to get a dagger from me, I’m not giving her some shitty old iron dagger. I’ll make her a dragonbone dagger! The Dragonborn’s daughter should not have anything less!

And after buying things from the Khajiit, I fast traveled back to Fort Dawnguard. And there, finally, saved for the night.

Next time

The final stage of the Dawnguard plotline: confronting Lord Harkon and putting an end to his plot once and for all!

Screenshots

I took a bunch of screenshots in Forgotten Vale and after. Here’s an entire gallery of them! I have captions to describe them on each one of them.

For the benefit of those who can’t read the captions on the gallery, I’ll also reproduce them here.

  1. A shot of Serana, with her hood on to protect herself from the sunlight.
  2. A cluster of gleamblossoms in the Forgotten Vale, next to other unidentified purple flowers.
  3. Knight-Paladin Gelebor, guardian of the Chantry of Auri-El, and possibly the last surviving Snow Elf.
  4. Serana reanimated a Falmer we killed in a fight. It wanted to help me mine quicksilver.
  5. An elaborate Falmer tent, the most elaborate one I’ve seen, which I wanted to note because it had two stories! And an unusual level of decoration.
  6. The front entrance of the Chantry of Auri-El, with a magnificent statue of the god.
  7. Arch-Curate Vyrthur, Gelebor’s brother—and vampire.
  8. Serana having exactly none of Vyrthur’s bullshit. And demonstrating her strength by actually lifting him off his feet!
  9. Serana and Lydia in my bedroom of Breezehome in Whiterun.
  10. Serana and Lydia side by side in my bedroom at Breezehome. Because apparently Alarrah has a type, and that type is dark-haired Nord women!

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