I arrive at The Chasm, another seemingly bottomless cavern in this Vault of Madness filled with hundreds of inexplicably floating platforms. But unlike the earlier chamber where I was able to leap the platforms to cross the void, here it is impossible if one has no wings. So the only way forward is down, and not for the first time in this accursed realm I need to make a literal leap of faith.
I am relieved to land in a deep pool of thick azure plasm, and from here ascend to the capricious chancel of this macabre cathedral, where I finally come face to face with the Lich known as the Mad Architect.
In life he was a brilliant architect, but jealous rivals ruined him and in his death he made bitter pacts with agents of these twilight realms, his genius in return for vengeance. I have no personnel score to settle with this undead necromancer, if anything the lament of one of the three spirits still weighs heavily upon me, ‘Haven’t we done enough to him?’ Yet he is now the only bar to my escape, and necessity outweighs empathy.
Never have I met with this type of magic, whether of not he was a genius in life, in undeath his necromantic flair is unparalleled. Capable of summoning scores of undead minions to his aid, whilst at the same time blasting at me with bolts of magical energy shaped like smirking skulls. The Lich summoned spirits from the ground around him in a spectacular yet pernicious flourish that one could do little but seek shelter from. Constant magical explosions rocked the chancel, one particularly forceful blast obliterated the windows into a thousand shards that would have cut to ribbons any caught in the barbed storm. It proved to be my most arduous battle.
However the Lich is overcome and I am finally able to make my escape from these Vaults of Madness, but not the three spirits. Despite the Lich’s destruction they remain trapped in the Architect’s prison, and whilst they begin to reason that they could perhaps master these vaults as the Mad Architect once did, they seem not to realize that in this accursed realm vengeance is immortal and he will inevitably rise again.
Rather fittingly for the realm of Coldharbour where everything seems either counterfeit or stolen, the Mad Architects proudest creation appears to be but a corrupted imitation. Charmond claims that it is a twisted reproduction of ‘the Great Cathedral in Tamriel’. Every Cyrodillic will tell you that the Grand Cathedral of Akatosh in Kvatch is the most august cathedral in all Tamriel. Whether or not this was Charmond’s reference I did not ask, for I feel it was meant only as another bitter barb from the spirit to his jailer.
As I climb the stairs I am challenged by many servants of the Architect, from dremora to xivkyn, from shadowy spirits to feral soul-shriven, and even a huge daedric Watcher known as The Ancient One, of whom it is said that the gaze of it’s eyes has created more skulls to fill the columns of the Vaults of Madness then any other.
Yet they are all but fodder for my blade compared to what awaits me at the top of the stairs, Iskra the Omen, a daedric titan. These giant winged creatures are believed to be Molag Bal’s boorish imitations of dragons. Some have even suggested that he actually improved upon the dragon, given that his titans have four limbs in addition to their wings. However, as I have never seen a dragon, and hopefully never shall for they are thought long ago extinct upon Tamriel, I cannot critique his creation.
Certainly this Titan matches the bards songs of the dragons malice. It’s scales are as hard as any shield, it’s teeth are like swords, it’s claws like daggers, it’s tail like a barbed whip, and when it beats it’s wings it is like a hurricane blows. Oh, and did I not mention that the monster also breaths scorching azure flames.
As I journey ever deeper into the madness of these vaults and fight my way through the Mad Architect’s daedric minions, I discover more about its creator and the spirits he built this iniquitous edifice to imprison. It proves to be a sombre tale of jealousy, vindictiveness, and vengeance that has me questioning just whether anyone here is innocent, or if indeed innocence is just another form of insanity.
The Vault of Despair is filled with many trapped spirits under the perdurable watch of a very large Bone Colossus rather fittingly called Death’s Head. The giant bone warrior stuck at me violently with fist and foot. Such was the tremendous force of its blows I fear I may need to replace my splintering shield. The monster also displayed some necromantic skill by summoning skeletons from the ground to aid its assault. I wonder if I had managed to hack off one of its mighty limbs, whether it could just summon another from the ground to replace it?
The strangeness of this place just seemed to deepen the further I travelled as I next came upon a seemingly bottomless cavern filled with broken platforms somehow self- suspended in mid air. As I jumped from dais to dais I spied Grothdarr, a huge Flesh Atronach waiting for me on the final floating podium. Assembled from meat, bone and sinew bound together by stitch and necrotic spell, the daedric monster struck repeatedly at me with its giant clubbed arm. Yet it was the scorching flames from it’s torch that proved the real danger, as it’s fire brand threatened to set the whole platform ablaze in unnaturally yellow flames.
Next I was to encounter Achaeraizur the Daedroth in a cavern of rock and azure plasm. So fierce is this beast that it is requires two mage handlers. The monster attacks with no fear like a rabid animal, and just when I’d thought I’d evaded it’s dagger-like claws and deadly crocodile-like jaws filled with rows of razor sharp teeth, the monster opens it’s maw wide and drenched me in flames.
Across the bridge in the Vault of Pain awaits Ulguna Soul-Reaver, a huge daedric harvester. To return the soul of Gasteau Charmond who may be my only hope of escape from this macabre prison, I shall need to overcome this soul thief.
Despite its size the harvester seems to rely solely upon its destructive magical capabilities to fight. Shooting azureus orbs and waves of ice from its long fingers, it is a difficult adversary for me to get within skirmish range for my blade to bite. But when I finally do the creature proves it is at its most dangerous when it is hurt. For the Harvester cast a vampiric like spell that ripped my very essence from my body into orbs which it slowly drew unto itself. When the spell hits it is agony and leaves me winded on every occasion.
For the warrior most fights are about hitting your enemy harder then they hit you, but sometimes a battle cannot be won through strength of arm, but through strength of will. It is about having the fortitude and grit to outlast your foe. It is the mortals capacity to endure that separates us from the daedra. No pain that we suffer in life is wasted, every trial that we endure, that we experience, builds up our characters, and our hearts.
Unlike my cell within the Wailing Prison, this iron gate is unbarred and upon opening I charge into a small group of skeletons and dremora torturing what appears to be a soul-shriven. Once I have banished its tormentors the soul-shriven pitifully begs me to end its existence. With the kind of mercy one feels only when its darkest, I thrust my sword deep into its heart and whisper not for the first time, ‘there but by the grace of the Eight go I.’
I was a little surprised when the spirit of this stricken soul-shriven immediately materialized before me. He tells me his name in life was Gasteau Chamrond, but he can remember little of what this place is beyond that these Vaults of Madness were constructed by one he calls the Mad Architect. Its an eternal prison from which he cannot escape until he is reunited with his soul which has been taken by a daedric Harvester.
I promise my help for this spirit may be my best hope for my own escape. But to reach the thieving Harvester I must first overcome the Cursed One. A dread Wraith whose frost magic freezes the bones of its victim whilst it drains lifes energy from the body.