The Forsworn had taken up residence inside Karthspire as well, but as they battled them back, Ulfric diving into battle more vigorously than anyone else—as if he felt he had something to prove—it seemed the majority of their clan had been outside. They met with only seven of them as they wove through the wooden structure and into a tunnel that led up a ramp on the right, arriving at a landing with three glyphed stones.
“This looks promising,” Delphine muttered, a hint of excitement in her voice.
“Yes,” Esbern agreed. “Definitely early Akaviri stonework here.”
“That looks like a bridge,” Farkas gestured across the gap between landings. “But I don’t see a lever anywhere.”
“Maybe these pillars have something to do with it,” Delphine reasoned.
“Yes, these are Akaviri symbols. That one there is the symbol for King and that one the Warrior, and ah yes… That one there is the symbol for Dragonborn. You see it there? It’s the one that has the arrow shape pointing downward near the bottom. Yes, that’s it. The symbol there, on the left. Let’s try to align them all and see what happens.”
He stepped aside and gestured for Luthien to try it, and one by one she aligned the pillars until the Dragonborn symbol read across all three. There was a great rumbling, old stone and dust trembling from the ceiling as the bridge began to lower, creating a path to the opposite landing.
“Whatever you did, it worked,” Delphine said. “Let’s see what else those old Blades left in our path.”
The five of them moved cautiously across the bridge, with Luthien at the front. Farkas stood to her right, looking upward at the old stonework as they walked, and on her left Ulfric’s brow furrowed with intrigue as Delphine’s torch lit the way from behind. When they reached the landing, the doorway to the stairs was thickly blocked with hundreds of years of cobweb, and beside her Farkas shuddered.
“You go first,” he nodded toward it.
“Chicken,” she chuckled, sweeping her arm through the web until the walkway was clear. She ducked up the stairs, Ulfric following, but stopped short when Delphine’s torchlight spread across a floor of pressure plate traps and Ulfric’s arm shot out to hold her back. “There’s a pull chain over there,” she gestured across the plates with her head.
“Who wants to burn to death to get over there?” he asked her.
“I have a way,” she grinned, summoning her Thu’um as she moved his arm out of her path. “Don’t move.” Exhaling all of her tension, she let the way of the voice flow through her. “WULD NAH KEST!” It always felt like time sped up and the world around her slowed down when she summoned Whirlwind Sprint, but no matter how many times she’d done it, she’d never quite gotten the hang of stopping gracefully. She hit the wall with the chain, stumbling back and activating the pressure plate beneath her foot. Spurts of slame shot up, but she quickly claimed her balance as she shook off the after affects and reached for the chain. The fire stopped, and she breathed relief before turning back around to let them all know it was safe.
“You could have just walked across the Dragonborn plates, show off,” Farkas teased, gesturing to the plates that hadn’t changed when she’d yanked the chain.
“Either way, it’s safe now. Let’s move.” Delphine and Esbern raced across the stone plates, Esbern calling over his shoulder, “Yes! I think we’re getting closer to the entrance.”
The three of them walked more slowly up the carved stone ramp, taking in everything around them. Luthien had been in a lot of caves and dungeons in her lifetime, but none of them were quite like Karthspire. The old stonework was mesmerizing, historical on a completely different level than anything she’d ever known. She felt like it was a place that had been made especially for her, and as she made her way up the final few steps toward the entrance, she realized it had been made for her, for the Dragonborn who would one day have no choice but to face Alduin.
They’d lost Esbern and Delphine completely in the quagmire of winding stairs, but she could hear them up ahead, Esbern’s gleeful joy, which she soon discovered had been the result of his finding Sky Haven Temple.
“Wonderful,” he was saying from the top of the last set of stairs. “And Remarkably well-preserved too.”
When she arrived at the top of the stairs, looking across the temple entrance took her breath away. The entrance along the far wall was a long, white face of stone blocking them from going further into the temple.
“That’s… That’s just… Wow…” Farkas almost lost his footing on the stairs he was so taken aback by the scene unfolding before them.
Esbern was waving them to join him in front of a spiraling circle just beneath the gate. “Here’s the blood seal, another lost ancient Akaviri art. No doubt triggered by… well… blood.”
“Who’s blood?” Ulfric stepped forward. “I’m already covered in it.”
Ignoring him as if he hadn’t even spoken, Esbern brought his eyes up to meet hers. “Your blood, Dragonborn.”
She walked toward the blood seal, lingering at the edge. It felt strange and sacred, like the worship of the gods, but so different. Few gods accepted blood sacrifice anymore, save for the Daedric Princes, and as she teetered there staring down at the seal, she wondered which of them she could expect to make an appearance once she made an offering.
“Look here! See how the ancient Blades revered Reman Cyrodiil?” Esbern was muttering, but no one else seemed to be listening. “This whole place seems to be a shrine to Reman. He ended the Akaviri invasion under mysterious circumstances, if you recall.”
“What’s he talking about?” she heard Farkas mutter to Ulfric.
“Shor’s bones if I know.”
She stepped into the center of the blood seal and knelt down, drawing her dagger from her sheath and staring at the floor under her boots. She had no idea what was going to happen once her blood dropped onto that seal, but there was only one way to find out. It stung as soon as it sliced across the sensitive flesh of her palm, droplets quickly rising to the surface of her skin until her hand was full and dripping with her own blood.
White light began to writhe up around her, the stones turning beneath her feet and making her feel almost dizzy as the great face in the wall yawned open and slid upward, revealing the passageway into the temple. Rising from where she knelt, she called upon her restoration powers again, quickly healing the cut on her hand as she stalked forward without even looking back to see how was going to follow her.
“That’s done it,” Esbern cried out. “It’s coming to life. Wait for us!”
“The Dragonborn should have the honor of being the first to set foot in Sky Haven Temple in centuries, let her go, Esbern.”
Luthien was already disappearing through the door at the top of the stairs when she heard Delphine say that, drawing upon alteration to cast several orb-like mage lights into the darkness to show her the way. Delphine was the first through the door at her back, her torch quickly devouring the dark in the stairwell, but Luthien was following the soft blue glow of the sky shining through the long, open ceiling.
Of all the story walls she’d seen in her travels, she had never seen anything quite like the long wall of carvings that spanned across the entire right hand side of the chamber. The details seemed to come to life as the others came in, all four of them carrying torches now, shedding light on a story none had told for long centuries past.
Esbern was lighting the sconces and censers as he walked, filling the room with a soft golden glow that shed further light on the wall… Alduin’s Wall. The story with the power to save them all.
“This is it,” Ulfric appeared at her shoulder.
She only swallowed and nodded, glancing back at him with wide eyes before returning her attention to the wall.
“I’ve never seen a finer example of Second Era Akaviri sculptural relief.”
“Esbern, we need information, not an art history lesson.”
“You know, craftsmanship isn’t what it used to be,” Farkas muttered. “People just don’t carve anymore.”
Esbern seemed almost as lost and enthralled as she was, lighting the censer beside the wall and stepping back, murmuring, “Yes, yes. Let’s see what we have here. Look here,” he pointed to the dragon. “Here is Alduin! This panel goes back to the beginning of time, when Alduin and the Dragon Cult ruled over Skyrim. Here, the humans rebel against their dragon overlords—the legendary Dragon War. Alduin’s defeat is the centerpiece on the wall.”
“It couldn’t really be counted as a defeat if he is back,” Ulfric said.
“Shh!” Esbern hushed them. “Ah, here he is falling from the sky. The Nord Tongues, Masters of the Voice, are arrayed here against him.”
“So, does it show how they defeated him? That is why we’re here, isn’t it?” Delphine loomed in close over his shoulder, inspecting the imagery.
“Patience, my dear. The Akaviri were not a straight-forward people. Everything here is couched in allegory and mythic symbolism. You see, yes, yes, this here, coming from the mouths of the Nord heroes. It is the Akaviri symbol for shout, but there’s no way to know what shout is meant.”
“You mean they used a shout to defeat Alduin?” Delphine balked, leaning back to look at Luthien with hope gleaming in her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Hmm? Oh yes. Something rather specific to dragons, or even Alduin himself. Remember, this is where they recorded all they knew of Alduin and his return.”
“So we’re looking for a shout then?” Delphine scrunched up her face. “Damn it.” She turned back to Luthien. “Have you ever heard of anything like this? A shout that could knock a dragon from the sky?”
“No,” she still couldn’t take her eyes off that wall. The spiraling fall of Alduin from the sky. It was beautiful. “I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
Ulfric spoke up, “The Greybeards might know.”
She sighed. “You’re probably right. I was hoping to avoid involving them in this, but it seems we have no choice.”
“What have you got against the Greybeards?” Luthien finally drew her attention from the wall, narrowing her focus now on the small woman that stood in front of her.
“If they had their way, you’d do nothing but sit up on their mountain with them and do nothing but talk to the sky, or whatever it is they do.”
“They meditate,” Ulfric explained. “On the Way of the Voice. It has always been so with those at High Hrothgar, save for the Dragonborn.”
“The Greybeards are so afraid of power, they won’t even use it.”
“Because there has been no need to use it.” His voice quickly revealed an almost protective edge as he lifted it to defend his former masters.
“Isn’t that why you’re no longer there with them, Ulfric? Because you yourself couldn’t sit idly by and do nothing when called to take action?”
“That is beside the point. The Greybeards are not warriors. They are monks, advocates of peace.”
“Peace? While the world below suffers the wrath of dragons. They’ve done nothing about Alduin since he’s returned. It’s like they want him to destroy the world. They’re afraid of you and your power, Dragonborn. Trust me, there is no need to be afraid. Do you think Tiber Septim was afraid of his power? He would have never founded the Empire if he’d listened to the Greybeards.”
“The Greybeards may have a point. Power can be dangerous,” Luthien interjected, lifting a steady gaze to Ulfric to silently ask him to curb his temper. The words she’d spoken had angered Luthien, so she could only imagine what they were doing to Ulfric.
“Power is only dangerous if you don’t know how to use it. All the great heroes have had to learn to use their power. And those that shrank away from their destiny… well, you’ve never heard of them, have you? And there are the villains, those that misused their power. There’s always a choice, and there’s always a risk. But if you live in fear of what might go wrong, you’ll end up doing nothing and you’ll wind up like the Greybeards up on their mountain.”
“I don’t live in fear,” she assured her. “I will go and speak with the Greybeards.”
“Right, good thing they’ve already let you into their little cult. It’s not like they’d do a damn thing to help me or Esbern if we came calling.”
“Yeah.” The knot of tension clenching in her gut was difficult to ignore. She already had doubts about Delphine, but the things she’d said to her just then had only served to strengthen her growing distrust. She wanted to see Alduin gone just as much as everyone else, but it wasn’t some power trip. And no matter what she said about the Greybeards, the things they’d held back from her, they’d done to protect her. She was the only one of her kind, the only Dragonborn, and they wanted her to live. “Good thing.”
Delphine and Esbern decided to stay there at the temple to see what else the old Blades had left behind. It was a better hideout than they ever could have asked for, and given enough time and resources, maybe they could even begin to rebuild their once proud faction, but as Luthien made her way down the steps with Ulfric and Farkas at her back, she already knew in her heart that she would never help them rebuild the Blades. Not as long as Delphine was in charge. Everything with them seemed to be black or white, love or hate, death or life… no in betweens.
Once they were outside again, walking slowly down the stairs into the canyon, Ulfric glanced down at her, his eyes sad with lament. “You know I cannot walk the seven thousand steps to High Hrothgar with you.”
“I know.” She looked down at her feet as she walked. She hadn’t forgotten their agreement with Master Arngeir when she’d agreed to go and speak with the Greybeards, but a part of her had silently hoped he would disregard that rule much the way he seemed to disregard everything he didn’t like. His respect for the Greybeards ran too deep for that; she should have known better. “Will you wait for me in Ivarstead?”
“I will travel east with you, but I think it would be best if we part in Ivarstead for a time. I will make my way home to take care of any business that has been neglected in my absence. I have long been away, and I am sure there is plenty for me to do.” He turned his attention over Luthien’s opposite shoulder. “Farkas, brother, will you travel with my queen to High Hrothgar in my stead?”
She glanced up at Farkas; he didn’t seem to know what to say at first. After a long silence, during which he stroked at the knot of his beard as if he really needed to think about it, he nodded. “I would be honored to, my king.”