Fredas, 16th Morning Star, 4E 202 & Loredas, 17th Morning Star, 4E 202
We came on deck well before Sunrise.
There was no sign of rain which meant the walk to Castle Volkihar would be more pleasant.
We made it to the boat ramp without incident. We had killed anything hostile on our last of walk to Castle Volkihar.
I asked Serana, “I didn’t notice any thralls but a few slaves. Would Harkon use mortal sentries?”
“No. Anybody of the clan who has thralls would need to keep them far away from my father and the castle. And you saw what it was like inside. Even the most desperate mercenary would not work for monsters like those you witnessed.”
“He doesn’t like mortals much, does he?”
“He loves them three times a day. Breaking his fast, midnight meal and supper.”
We rowed over then stood staring at Castle Volkihar once more.
I said, “Let us keep moving before I kick the front door in.”
As we approached the small inlet, a Skeletal Warrior came out of the water and attacked.
As it turned out, a few Skeletal Warriors were gathered outside the castle.
After eliminating the skeletons, I said, “This private jetty has potential and is not overly damaged.”
Serana replied, “I think my mother would be quite happy to let me do what I want with the place as long as she can use her garden.”
“Jumping ahead a bit, aren’t we?”
“There is nothing wrong with a bit of confidence.”
We entered what Serana calls the ‘undercroft’.
- Wulf: We are not going to get lost down here, are we?
- Inigo: It could be awkward if we open the wrong door and catch Harkon on the privy.
- Ghorbash: Do vampires have to take a dump?
- Serana: Yes, Ghorbash, vampires have to pass waste like a mortal. The solids are pitch black from the blood, and our pee is bright red. Anything else you want to know about vampire bodily functions?
- Ghorbash: Does it glow in the dark?
- Aranea: Terrific, this is the type of conversation I came down from Azura’s Shrine to hear!
- Derkeethus: Aranea, your sarcasm has improved tremendously! Lydia has taught you well.
- Serana: I spent a lot of time exploring this island and the castle. I have mentioned my parents only used a small portion of it. The original owners used every square inch. They were wealthy merchants and devout followers of The Eight, as it was then.
- Wulf: Did your father purchase it, or did the previous owners vanish one day?
- Serana: My parents did not want to attract attention and were new to their vampire powers. Father was well known in some parts of Skyrim, and after his small kingdom got swallowed up by a bigger one, people expected him to retire gracefully and count his money. So, it was a legitimate purchase, and the original owners made a good profit out of it.
- Wulf: What happened to Harkon’s kingdom?
- Serana: The borders in Skyrim were changing as quickly as those in High Rock. When a large army came to your gates, you could fight and get a lot of your citizens killed as well as yourself shortened by a head, or you could negotiate your way out of the impasse. Skyrim nobles were less prone to suicide by combat than their High Rock neighbours. Citizens don’t care who their lords and ladies are as long as they are treated well. My father cared for his people and was satisfied they would be looked after, so he took the money and ended up here. Anyway, from the histories I have read, holding any property in The Reach was difficult at that time.
- Wulf: It still is. Most of it should be an independent country, in my opinion. But that would take an Emperor who is not afraid of offending both High Rock and Skyrim.
- Serana: From the histories you gave me, it seems that almost happened, and then Ulfric stuffed it up.
- Wulf: Yes, The Markarth Incident was one of his many crimes.
- Serana: Anyway, as I was saying before, I liked to explore. My parents rarely let me off the island, and then it was always with several guards and chaperones. So, yeah, I poked around here a lot!
- Aranea: I should think that the castle was always busy?
- Serana: Yes, it was, and this place was quiet. I could be alone with my thoughts.
- Wulf: You were isolated and lonely.
- Serana: I was, but I got used to it.
- Inigo: But now you have new friends!
- Serana: Yes, I do.
Serana commented, “This is the old water cistern. On some days, this would smell just… be glad you weren’t here then!”
I warned everybody, “A vampire is approaching in mist form.”
I was wrong! The mist wasn’t the vampire but some sort of barely visible Atronach she had conjured with Blood Magic. Ghorbash and Inigo found themselves half-frozen as they combated it. Another one was rapidly approaching to join the melee. The vampire was running to get closer to her opponents.
The vampire went to use one stairway, changed her mind and switched to another. As soon as she came in range, my Lightning spell killed her instantly.
The summoned creatures vanished.
I commented, “She had few new tricks I haven’t seen before.”
Serana replied, “The bald head and eye tattoos make me think she is from one of the Reachmen tribes. Not the Forsworn of Skyrim but the ones across the border in High Rock. She has some Mer blood by the looks of her ears.”
“A bit of Reach Magic mixed in with Blood Magic?”
“Some of their tribal shamans and witches are enough to scare a vampire!”
I examined the vampire and found a page that had been torn out of a bound journal. I read it aloud,
“Not good enough to live in their stupid keep, am I? Stupid sods don’t realise I’ve moved into the undercroft and started taking control of their Death Hounds. I’ll get my revenge!”
I laughed and said, “It seems others may have had a similar idea to Valerica. Maybe we will find a hidden city full of pissed off vampires?”
Serana said, “That would be useful. We can send them to take the castle while we sit back and watch.”
I stood close to one of the gargoyles and asked Serana, “I doubt the previous owners kept gargoyles. Do you think Valerica placed them here?”
“I never saw her have anything to do with them. However, she did have a thing for magical constructs.”
“No… not what you’re thinking! She just found them fascinating.”
“Well, they take a bit of an effort to create, so I think it is safe to assume your mother placed them as guardians.”
“Yes, I agree with that.”
We needed a bridge lowered, which a handy lever let us do!
Inigo said, “I hear a squeaky skeleton!” and a second later, it attacked.
The feral vampire’s Death Hounds were not very welcoming!
Blood dripped from a trapdoor above us.
Serana said, “I think my father installed a series of trapdoors leading from the ‘cattle pen’.
“You mean a dungeon where he keeps mortals?”
“Yes, I saw them. The clan keep mortals to feed the lesser vampires. I doubt my father has bitten somebody for sustenance in centuries. You might have noticed the bottles of blood on the dining tables during your brief visit.”
“What about the mortals being used as waiters?”
“It is taboo to kill cattle by overfeeding. A few days without being dinner would make the poor people fit enough to serve at dinner. However, they are not kept in the most sanitary conditions, and blood loss weakens their ability to fight disease. Plus, and I only caught a glimpse, my father has a room full of torture devices. It is hard to reconcile the monster he is with the father I once loved or still do. It is hard for me to decide.”
“I tell people all the time that Daedric Princes are ignorant of good and evil. They are what nature made them. However, a mortal or a mortal made immortal has free will. They choose to be good or evil. You have chosen good, and Harkon has chosen evil. I have no doubt he would blame Molag Bal.”
“That is why vampires form clans. They aren’t just for security but also comfort. It is simpler to ease a guilty conscience if all those around you are committing the same sins.”
“And that is why I worry about institutions such as The Dawnguard and Vigilants of Stendarr. Both of them use stereotypes to attract a certain type of person. Both of them expect their members to comply without question. Some won’t and leave. What is left behind is many people with one set of morals.”
I warned, “Huge spider ahead!”
Inigo said, “Goody!”
I disappointed my blue friend by blasting it with Lightning.
We completed the bridge we needed to use by pulling the second lever that the spider guarded.
The bridge provided further access to more of the undercroft.
Room after room, we killed Skeletal Warriors. Eventually, we entered the courtyard, and its state saddened Serana.
- Serana: What has happened to this place?
- Wulf: It has been neglected.
- Serana: Everything has been torn down. The whole place looks… well, dead. It’s like we’re the first to set foot here in centuries.
- Aranea: I’m sorry, Serana. It must be a shock to see somewhere special ruined like this.
- Serana: That door that opens onto the balcony used to lead to the castle’s great hall. It looks like my father had it sealed. I used to walk through here after evening meals. It was beautiful, once.
- Wulf: It would probably need a few more bloodstains and piles of bones to appeal to your father now.
- Serana: That row of dead plants and weeds was my mother’s garden. Do you know how beautiful something can be when tended by a master for hundreds of years?
- Inigo: I wish I could have seen it!
- Serana: My mother would hate to see it like this. Wait…
Serana turned to me.
- Serana: There is something wrong with the moondial! Some of the crests are missing, and the dial is askew.
- Ghorbash: There is a lot of damage around here. Perhaps they were dislodged when the place was vandalised?
- Serana: I think it would take quite a bit of effort to remove the crests. No, I believe my mother is trying to tell us something.
- Derkeethus: Why a moondial and not a Sundial?
- Serana: As far as I’m aware, it’s the only one in existence. The previous owners of the castle had installed a Sundial in this courtyard, and after becoming a vampire, that didn’t appeal to my mother. She persuaded an elven artisan to make some improvements. You can see the plates that show the phases of the moons, Masser and Secunda.
- Derkeethus: I fail to see what use a moondial is to a vampire. A werewolf might find it helpful.
- Serana: That’s the thing… what’s the point of a moondial? I always wondered why she didn’t just have the whole thing ripped out.
- Inigo: Moondials are very useful to Khajiit, and there are many all over Elsweyr. However, this might be the only one in Skyrim.
- Wulf: For religious and other reasons, such as predicting the Furstock of an imminent birth, moondials are extensively used by Khajiit. But that still leaves a valid question. Why did Valerica pay good money for something of little practical use to a vampire?
- Serana: Well, I do think she loved the aesthetics. She viewed it as a great piece of art.
- Wulf: You say the dial is askew and that there are missing crests. If we replace the crests and push the dial to the correct position, we can view the moondial as your mother did. Perhaps then we might be able to deduce a clue if there is one?
- Serana: I am unsure as to the number of crests missing.
- Inigo: Three. A full, a half and a quarter.
- Aranea: I am at a loss. Lydia didn’t tell me what to do if Inigo was ever helpful!
- Inigo: How about every time Inigo is useful, Aranea stops picking on him forever?
- Wulf: While you two negotiate a peace treaty, I will search for the crests.
Despite their age, the use of polished moonstone in their construction ensured the crests remained highly reflective. That meant they were pretty easy to spot when moving around as the Sun would shine off them.
The half-moon was in a small pond.
The full moon was in the weed bed, previously known as Valerica’s garden.
The crescent moon was on the balcony Serana mentioned earlier.
I returned to the moondial, where Inigo instructed me about the placement of each crest and at what angle.
Inigo said we had to turn the dial one crest in the clockwise direction. However, after I placed the third crest, the dial moved by itself, and a hidden spiral staircase was revealed.
- Serana: Very clever, mother. Very clever.
- Inigo: And the handsome blue Khajiit saves the day once more!
- Aranea: You have earned it, so we shall leave an extra saucer of milk out for you tonight.
- Inigo: You know Wulf is Azura’s champion, so if I ask him to ask her, I am sure we can arrange an extra bolt of Lightning for you as a reward for being a Lydia!
- Aranea: I expect no reward for performing my sacred duty.
- Wulf: Serana, the staircase spirals down and ends in a door. Do you have an idea where it leads?
- Serana: I’ve never been in those tunnels before. As an educated guess, I think they run under this courtyard and into the lower ruins. Much of the damage to those was caused by several earthquakes.
- Wulf: That seems to be a common problem throughout Skyrim.
- Serana: Well, at least it’s progress. Let’s go!
We travelled down the staircase and through the door. Instead of some grand cavern or hall, we found ourselves in a tiny room with a pull-chain.
I said, “Sentinels, I have no idea why we have to pull an obvious chain to lower an obvious sliding wall. But the new, calm and reflective Wulf will simply pull the pull-chain then smile and forget this stupidity ever existed.”
I pulled the chain then Inigo exclaimed, “Look, Wulf, a sliding wall!”
I answered, “Wow, I was not expecting that! I thought a butler would respond to a bell when I pulled that chain!”
We came to a door, and Serana warned, “I’ve never even seen this part of the castle before. Be careful! I don’t know what might be around.”
Inigo replied, “There will be lots of nasty things that want to kill us. Why? They are jealous you all get to travel with me.”
We entered a dining hall, and I said, “We have interrupted a bunch of skeletons.”
Ingo replied, “I think the correct collective noun is clack. We have interrupted a clack of skeletons.”
Aranea countered, “You are wrong, as usual. It is a rattle of skeletons.”
Serana laughed and said, “It is scare or drudge. Everybody knows that!”
We blasted and smashed the skeletons.
I said, “Now they are a pile of bones!”
Serana shook her head and corrected me, “There are several piles of bones. You used the singular.”
“We have reduced a number of skeletons to a number of bone piles.”
The occasional gargoyle would spring to life, but nobody was caught by surprise anymore.
Room after room, we eliminated gargoyles and skeletons. The castle was huge!
We came upon one gargoyle guarding a pull-chain. We needed to raise a portcullis, so somebody had to pull it.
I pulled the chain, the gargoyle attacked, and one swipe of my sword later, it was no more.
Standing atop some stairs were more of the undead to eliminate. This was starting to get tedious.
A portcullis blocked access to a Temple of Mara.
As soon as it was raised, many Skeletal Warriors attacked us.
None of them got close.
I stood in front of the shrine.
- Wulf: I can feel Lady Mara’s presence.
- Serana: She is so beautiful! My father’s shrine to Molag Bal is one of the ugliest things imaginable. It, too, has a font but many times larger and full of blood.
- Wulf: Molag Bal raped Lamae to insult Dibella with a mockery of intimacy. He placed the drop of blood on Lamae’s forehead to corrupt her soul and thereby insulted Arkay. He ensured his progeny could only breed by infecting others with a disease and claimed Lamae was his wife, thereby insulting Lady Mara.
- Aranea: Yet, you cannot hate him, can you?
- Wulf: No, if anything, I pity the Dark Lord. He is like a rabid dog who can’t help what he does and will never know the pleasure of laying in front of a fire getting scratches behind the ear, and tummy rubs.
- Serana: My father is an intestinal worm, and Molag Bal is a rabid dog. Are your analogies always so amusing?
- Wulf: Lady Mara’s temples are full of light and love. Look around you. If I don’t exercise my sense of humour, I will cry instead. Let us move on.
- Serana: When we rid this castle of the vermin that infests it, we can bring this temple back to its former glory.
- Inigo: The Mother Cat will wait patiently for that time. I am not overly religious, but all people love Mara. I can understand Wulf’s feelings about this desecration.
We came to a room with many gargoyles distributed throughout.
I said, “Let’s just walk around and activate these things. Then smash them to pieces and examine this room in peace!”
After the last gargoyle was destroyed, we wandered around the room looking for hidden doors. We had not left any passageway unexplored yet had found no evidence of Valerica. She would not go through the trouble of the secret stairway unless it led to somewhere of significance.
I stopped in front of a fireplace and laughed.
- Inigo: My friend, I look at the same fireplace as you and fail to see anything amusing.
- Wulf: What is one of the things I complain about the most?
- Inigo: It is a long list, so let me think. Let’s see, there are dull Nord ruins and even more boring Dwemer ruins. Stupid totem puzzles and idiotic Dwemer Puzzle doors. Then there is…
- Wulf: Okay, there are a few things. But what is one of the most gobblygook things we encounter in places nobody but the undead have visited in centuries?
- Inigo: Lighted candles, lamps and braziers.
- Wulf: So?
- Ghorbash: So?
- Dekeethus: Yeah, so?
- Aranea: I know! Why are the candles on the left the only unlit ones in this room?
- Wulf: Although not as popular as hidden panels inside cupboards or swinging bookshelves, fake fireplaces are often used.
I turned the candle holder clockwise about 45 degrees before a click was heard.
The back of the fireplace slowly lifted.
Serana laughed then said, “Leave it to my mother… always smarter than I give her credit for.”
We travelled up several short flights of steps till we came to a door.
The door led to Valerica’s laboratory and a mysterious set of concentric circles.
- Serana: Look at this place. It has to be it! I knew she was deep into necromancy. I mean, she taught me everything I know. But I had no idea she had a setup like this.
- Wulf: Valerica went to a lot of effort to hide this room. There has to be something more than just necromancy and alchemy paraphernalia here.
- Serana: Look at all this. She must have spent years collecting these components.
- Wulf: She must have done the collecting before she hid from your father. It would be too dangerous to travel to and from here or even have deliveries left at the dock.
- Serana: I’m not sure about this circle, but it’s obviously… something.
- Inigo: Maybe it is an amphitheatre for tiny people?
- Ghorbash: My blue friend, that is what I was thinking!
- Aranea: Ghorbash, does it hurt thinking down to Inigo’s level?
- Wulf: Maybe there is a clue around here to help narrow down the something to something.
- Serana: My mother was meticulous about her research. If we can find her notes, there might be some hints in there.
- Wulf: Okay, I will look for Valerica’s notes and journals. I will start with the bookshelves.
The bookshelves held a mixture of mouldy, destroyed books and expensive, rare tomes. Upon a bookshelf shared with a pristine 1st Edition of The Lusty Argonian Maid was one of Valerica’s journals.
It was extensive but mostly irrelevant until a few entries near the end. I read the relevant sections aloud,
“27th Last Seed, 2E 251
Harkon’s short-sightedness is becoming a severe problem. I’ve warned him time and time again that his foolish prophecy would cast far too much light on our people, and yet he refuses to so much as listen to a word I say. I’ve become less a wife and more of an annoyance in his eyes. Devoting attention to my work is the only solace I can find while enduring his ridiculous crusade.
28th Last Seed, 2E 251
I’ve had a breakthrough today. I was able to attune the portal vessel to the Soul Cairn properly using a small sample of ingredients.
Although the portal opened only for a few seconds, I’m confident that it can be sustained indefinitely with the proper formula. I feel like I’m missing a key ingredient, something of sufficient potency that can resist the forces trying to prevent my intrusion. Communing with the Ideal Masters has proved worthless. They speak in riddles and offer no assistance whether I ensure them a steady supply of souls or not. If I’m to escape Harkon’s clutches, I need to keep the portal open long enough to carry me away from here… forever if need be.
3rd Hearthfire, 2E 251
I’ve done it! After wasting thousands of gold coins on components, I’ve discovered how to sustain the portal. I’m listing the ingredients below without the proper amounts for my protection. As a secondary precaution, I have combined my blood into the formula, which should prevent anyone from duplicating it and following me into the Soul Cairn.
The formula consists of:
- Finely Ground Bone Meal
- Purified Void Salt
- Soul gem shards
Using the proper measurements, place in the silver-lined Portal Vessel and add my blood as a reactive agent.
I will make my way into the Soul Cairn tomorrow after gathering my things and preparing for a potentially lengthy exile. More importantly, I must enact my plans with Serana and get her to Dimhollow Crypt as soon as possible.”
- Wulf: Mentioning Dimhollow Crypt was a mistake. If Harkon found this journal, he would know where to look for Serana.
- Derkeethus: But then she was paranoid about her alchemical formula!
- Serana: My mother has accomplished something truly amazing, yet that is all you have to say?
- Wulf: Valerica has opened a portal to Oblivion, and that is a fantastic accomplishment. But what I have read of the Soul Cairn, I believe it was a foolish thing to do! Naming Dimhollow Crypt was equally silly.
- Serana: I agree on both counts. I can see the appeal of the Soul Carin to a necromancer. However, negotiating with the Ideal Masters hardly ever turns out well for the petitioner.
- Inigo: Souls Cairn? Ideal Masters? Can you tell the rest of us what these things are?
- Wulf: Black Gems are used to trap mortal souls.
- Aranea: Azura made her Star so it would never trap a mortal soul. Wulf had to enter the Star and battle a necromancer who had made it do so. Azura’s Star is restored to its previous capabilities.
- Serana: You entered a Soul Gem?
- Wulf: A special one, but yes.
- Inigo: Ahem! Black Soul Gems, etcetera?
- Wulf: I will not use Black Soul gems. The reason being is that you use the life force of the trapped soul to improve enchantments placed on apparel or weapon. The consciousness of the soul is transferred to a realm of Oblivion called the Soul Cairn. Beings called Ideal Masters created the Soul Cairn as, according to them, a place of refuge. They stop mortals from returning to Nirn or enjoying an afterlife. Instead, the souls remain in the Soul Cairn for eternity. That means the mortals also stay in the Soul Cairn for eternity and in an undead state. Because their life force was used for enchanting, the trapped mortals eventually forget who and what they were. They become empty husks animated as different forms of undead.
- Serana: What my mother told me about the Soul Cairn were all theories and conjecture. It seems newer knowledge has been obtained.
- Wulf: Jagar Tharn worked with Mehrunes Dagon to achieve his objective of replacing Emperor Uriel Septim VII. The Dark Lord locked the emperor in a pocket plane of Oblivion while Jagar Tharn impersonated him for ten years. The Eternal Champion was the hero responsible for removing Jagar Tharn from power in 3E 399. For reasons I can’t yet fathom, what is not documented was how two unnamed apprentice mages defeated Mehrunes Dagon and his minions inside Battlespire and within Oblivion.
- Serana: I have never heard of Battlespire.
- Wulf: It is one of those strange quirks where something significant existed, but few remember it. Similar to how teleportation and portal knowledge was suddenly lost. Battlespire was a training dungeon for Imperial Battlemages. It existed within a pocket plane of Aetherius. Each year the two best apprentice mages would enter Battlespire, and if they survived, they could join the ranks of Imperial Battlemages. If they excelled in that role, they could then become one of the Emperor’s Personal Guards. That was an elite force of the best martial and magical soldiers within The Empire.
- Aranea: A bit like previous Arch-Mages had to survive the Labyrinthian Maze.
- Wulf: Yes, and thank goodness we have gotten rid of stupid tests that killed many capable people!
- Aranea: I agree.
- Wulf: Battlespire was not protected by the barriers of The Dragonfires as it was not in the mortal plane. Instead, its defences relied on it being in Aetherius and magical barriers. Five of the best Imperial Battlemages ran the facility. Jagar Tharn considered them a threat to his schemes, so he made a deal with Mehrunes Dagon. Jagar would provide information allowing a breach of the protective barriers around Battlespire as long as the Dark Lord guaranteed the five senior Battlemages were to be killed. The deal was struck. When the two best apprentices arrived for their trial, they discovered Battlespire infested with Mehrunes’ minions. Mehrunes Dagon used a facility within Battlespire that enabled his minions to enter and conquer the Soul Cairn. Several Daedric Princes intended to use the Soul Cairn as a staging area for their conquests. When an Ideal Master learned of this plan by the Daedra, he helped one of the apprentice mages enter Shade Perilous, a pocket plane of Evergloam, Nocturnal’s realm of Oblivion.
- Serana: I assume this apprentice mage survived and told what he learned of the Soul Cairn and the Ideal Masters.
- Wulf: Both of them survived. One of them even claimed to have fought and defeated Mehrunes Dagon in combat. But yes, the accounts I have read are from one of the mages.
- Inigo: You said the Ideal Masters regard the Soul Cairn as a place of refuge.
- Wulf: They are warped in their thinking. Let me quote an inscription that the young mage found in the Soul Cairn.
“Once they struggled, hammered, cried
Fought for justice, honour, pride.
Now from time and tide released
They guard and serve in silent peace.”
- Wulf: The souls guard and serve in silent peace because they are mindless with no memories of their mortal life. Even Draugr have more cognition. The Ideal Masters regard this as an improvement over any other afterlife option. But what is worse is they will take unused Black Gems and do the same to the souls within. They deny souls that still have their life force any option. The mage didn’t say, but I assume it can take a very long time for those souls to lose their identity. If that is not torture, I don’t know what is! The Ideal Masters are not beyond using souls for purposes guaranteed not to provide silent peace! The Ideal Masters will trade for special souls, such as my soul, that of a dragon. My capture would be something they would want very badly. They then corrupt those souls so that they also have intelligent slaves to help protect their domain.
- Ghorbash: Can the Ideal Masters be harmed?
- Wulf: I don’t think so. They reside within large Soul Gems, and I don’t believe Mehrunes’ minions figured out how to move them or hurt them. But they cannot harm you unless you get very close to them. That is why they need a combination of mindless and intelligent guards.
- Derkeethus: Where did you find this information about the Soul Cairn and the Ideal Masters?
- Wulf: Arch-Mage Savos had many obscure texts within his collection. He would gather those relating to the same subject and hand them to Urag for inclusion in the College’s archives. Master Urag likes to add to the library but not via the same means Savos was willing to pursue. I believe the texts relating to the two apprentice mages were obtained from a Synod member through violence. Some members of the College regard the Synod as thieves. They believe the Synod stole then hid most of the resources of the Mages Guild when it divided. There is likely much about these two apprentices hidden in Synod storage, never to be given to Imperial scholars for inclusion in our histories.
- Serana: I assume the actions of those apprentices helped bring down Jagar Tharn?
- Wulf: Mehrunes Dagon was weakened, Jagar Tharn’s treachery was exposed, and the emperor was returned from Oblivion. Yes, it was a triumph, but three decades later, Mehrunes Dagon initiated the Oblivion Crises.
- Inigo: You can use the dragon souls you store to create the unique metal of your armour. If the Ideal Masters captured you, would they get dozens of dragon souls and not just one?
- Wulf: I think they would, but that is getting into the metaphysical, and I could be wrong in my assumption.
- Aranea: Serana, your mother maintained an impressive laboratory.
- Serana: I had no idea that this laboratory even existed. She had an alchemy setup in her drawing-room, but nothing that even comes close to what’s here.
- Aranea: It is apparent Valerica was studying necromancy but to what end?
- Serana: Well, certainly not to become an immortal undead. Many vampires are drawn to necromancy simply to pursue knowledge. Maybe my mother thought that necromancy was a weapon she could use against my father? I don’t know. Perhaps I will get a chance to ask her?
- Wulf: We have to assume Valerica is somewhere within the Soul Cairn and that the Elder Scroll is also there.
- Aranea: We have the ingredients to open the portal but not their ratios.
- Serana: We’re also going to need a sample of her blood. Which… if we could get that, we wouldn’t even be trying to open the portal in the first place.
- Wulf: Not necessarily. The Hero of Kvatch opened the portal to Paradise using dried blood from inside Tiber Septim’s armour. So, we can look for a sample of Valerica’s blood or try something else first. Serana, you share your mother’s blood.
- Serana: Hmmm. Not bad. We’d better hope that’s good enough. Mistakes with this kind of portal can be… gruesome.
- Aranea: What if Valerica placed a trap that is triggered if Harkon’s blood is detected? Serana’s also contains his.
- Serana: It is a risk I am willing to take. After all, Wulf would risk far more by entering the Soul Cairn. The Ideal Masters might detect what he is and try and keep him there.
- Wulf: Let us agree we will all be taking risks, but this is superfluous if we can’t find the reagents. Serana, read the rest of your mother’s journal and see if you can find something I may have missed. Aranea, help me search for the reagents. The rest of you stand around looking important and refrain from picking your noses.
- Ghorbash: Can I discretely scratch my arse?
- Inigo: Do it slowly against a piece of furniture. Nobody ever notices.
- Ghorbash: Sound advice, my blue friend.
While searching for the reagents, I came across a painting of a stunningly beautiful vampire.
“Serana, is this your mother?”
“No, but there are several paintings of the same vampire in the castle. I think she may be my parent’s host. In other words, the vampire that turned them. I have never asked. Turning a willing subject is one of the most intimate things a vampire can do. The act is not sexual, but the sensual sensations are reportedly orgasmic. I say reportedly because I have never turned somebody, so I can’t speak from experience.”
Numerous bowls and jars of reagents were spread throughout the laboratory, so it took some time to find the ones required. I found the first, a bowl of finely ground bone meal. I emptied the entire bowl into one of my reagent bottles.
A few minutes later, Aranea found the soul gem shards, which she placed into a small carry bag.
Purified Void Salt was difficult as it is a reagent none of us had seen or used before. We narrowed it down to a fine black powder by process of elimination, which I subsequently poured into one of my reagent bottles.
- Wulf: Okay, we have the reagents.
- Aranea: But we don’t have the amounts to use or their ratio.
- Wulf: I assume that Valerica would want to open the portal and escape through it in a hurry if necessary. Logically she has left the reagents ready to use in the correct ratio so she wouldn’t have to waste time measuring them out.
- Serana: Is Wulf always this logical?
- Inigo: Annoyingly so. We try to keep up but always trust he knows what he is doing.
- Wulf: Also, the amount of reagent used is not as significant as the ratio. We may have gathered enough reagents for hundreds of portal openings, but that is irrelevant right now. We use them all and hope this is the only time we need to open the portal.
- Serana: If my mother entered the Soul Cairn, it is apparent the portal closed while she is there. Either she closed it, or it does so automatically. There may be a different set of reagents needed to open it from the other side.
- Wulf: Having considered that, I must risk it. I need to stop your father!
- Inigo: If you dare suggest any of us not take the same risk, I will bite you!
- Wulf: None of you, apart from Serana, have entered Oblivion before. If you accompany me, don’t expect things to make sense. The Divines imposed their natural laws upon the mortal plane. Similarly, the creators of the individual planes of Oblivion set their natural laws. The realms of Oblivion do not have to mimic the natural laws imposed on Mundus and Nirn!
- Inigo: That sound like fun! Let us go, my friend.
- Derkeethus: Are we sure our fluffy blue friend is no longer using Skooma?
- Serana: Wulf, please add the ingredients to the Portal Vessel before we die of speculation!
I placed the reagents into the vessel.
- Serana: Alright, it is now up to me. Are you ready to go? I’m not entirely sure what this thing is going to do when I add my blood.
- Wulf: We don’t want to die of speculation!
- Inigo: Serana, where is your sense of adventure?
- Serana: You are all insane!
- Wulf: Until you meet Uncle Sheo, you have no idea what absolute insanity is.
- Aranea: I think Wulf is looking forward to this tiny bit of revenge.
- Serana: And what revenge would that be?
- Aranea: He had to open a blood seal to free you. He cried like a baby!
- Wulf: I did not, and that wasn’t Serana’s fault!
- Ghorbash: It might not have been Serana’s fault, but it was a true milk drinker’s reaction to a tiny spike through the hand.
- Wulf: That spike was huge!
- Serana: Well, here goes…
Serana bit into her wrist then let her blood drip into the Portal Vessel.
The portal to the Soul Cairn slowly opened.
- Serana: She actually did it! Mother created a portal to the Soul Cairn. Incredible!
- Wulf: Yes, it is an impressive feat indeed.
- Aranea: Can I ask you a question, Serana?
- Serana: Of course. What is it?
- Aranea: What will you do if we find your mother?
- Serana: I’ve been asking myself the same thing since we came back to the castle. She was so sure of what we did to my father that I couldn’t help but go along with her. I never thought of the cost.
- Aranea: I think she did all of this for your sake.
- Serana: Possibly. I guess even a vampire mother is still a mother, and she worried about me. She worried about all of us. But she wanted to get me as far away from my father as possible before he irrevocably went over the edge.
- Aranea: I suppose we won’t know till we find her.
- Serana: I didn’t expect anyone to care how I felt about her. Thank you.
- Wulf: Serana, we all care.
- Serana: Oh, well… um… are we ready then?”
- Wulf: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I headed down the stairs, but there was a flash as I entered deeper into the portal. My life force was being drained rapidly, so I made a hasty retreat.
- Serana: Are you alright? That looked painful!
- Wulf: No pain, but my life force was being sucked out of me.
- Serana: Now that I think about it… I should have expected that. Sorry. It’s hard to describe. The Soul Cairn is… well, hungry, for lack of a better word. It’s trying to take your life essence, what you call life force, as payment.
- Wulf: Can we use a dweomer to protect against it?
- Serana: Not a dweomer, but I don’t think you’re going to like my solution. Vampires aren’t counted among the living. I could probably go through there without a problem.
- Wulf: No offence, but I will not allow my soul to be tainted by Molag Bal. Not unless The Divines themselves instruct me to allow such a thing.
- Inigo: We will not allow Wulf to travel the Soul Cairn without us. Therefore, you would have to turn us all. There needs to be a better solution than that.
- Serana: Maybe. We could just ‘pay the toll’ another way. It wants a soul, so we give it a soul.
- Inigo: Oh, a sacrifice. I volunteer, let me think, I know, Aranea!
- Aranea: INIGO!
- Inigo: I know Serana is not suggesting a sacrifice. I just wanted to hear you call out my name as if we were in the throes of passion!
- Derkeethus: That round goes to Inigo, but he still trails Aranea by a large margin.
- Wulf: Serana, I will not hand an occupied Black Soul Gem to those monsters!
- Serana: I would not suggest you do. My mother taught me a trick or two. I could partially soul trap all of you into a single Soul Gem. I would then offer the Soul Gem to the Ideal Masters. It might be enough to satisfy them.
- Wulf: What dangers does that present?
- Serana: It would make you all a bit weaker when we travel through the Soul Cairn, but we might be able to fix that once we’re inside. Maybe.
- Wulf: I am willing to give it a try. If it works on me, The Sentinels can choose to risk it or not. It is up to the individual.
- Serana: I know this is difficult for you. I hope you trust me. I’d never do anything that could hurt you.
- Wulf: It is one of the easier decisions I have had to make regarding a Divine Task.
- Aranea: We all trust you implicitly, Serana.
- Serana: Thank you, Aranea. Let’s not waste any more time then.
- Wulf: What do I need to do?
- Serana: Hold still. I promise to make this as painless as possible.
- Inigo: Really? That is disappointing.
- Ghorbash: What have Ashni and Anahbi done to you?
- Inigo: It is easier to explain if I draw diagrams.
I watched and listened closely as Serana murmured the incantation and cast the spell. It was not Blood Magic but necromancy, so the spell worked as expected.
Inigo asked, “My friend, how do you feel?”
“The Soul Gem has not yet been handed to the Ideal Masters. Until that is done, I will not know the extent of my weakness.”
“Well, you didn’t explode or anything else outwardly disturbing, so we will all submit to Serana’s spell.”
“That warms my heart to hear.”
“I helped you kick Alduin in the gonads. What could be more dangerous than that?”
I watched as The Sentinels submitted to Serana’s incantation. As they did so, I spoke to Rigmor.
“Can my lady talk?”
“Yes, I am travelling by coach to the Imperial City with my mum. We are going shopping.”
‘How many peasants will starve after you raise taxes to pay for your shopping?”
“Haha! Now, you usually use a bit of humour before hitting me with something unpleasant. What is it?”
‘I have to enter Oblivion.”
“Again? You might as well set up headquarters there. Is it Coldharbour this time?”
“No. It is a realm not controlled by a Dark Lord. It is called the Soul Cairn, and we think Serana’s mother is hiding there. We also think she may possess another Elder Scroll that we require.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“The beings that created and now control the realm are called Ideal Masters. They have a warped sense of what is good for mortal souls and also tend to entrap powerful souls.”
“Like your soul, my Dragonborn?”
“Possibly, but I have to stop Serana’s father, so I must take the risk.”
“Contact me the minute you exit!”
“I don’t like to worry you about every dangerous thing I do.”
“I know. But with the rings, I would worry more if I suddenly lost our connection.”
“Please don’t let it ruin your shopping trip.”
“Huh! Do you think worrying about you could possibly disturb my shopping?”
“Of course not. I humbly apologise for overestimating your affection.”
“Good boy, Dragonborn! If you were here, I would give you a scratch behind the ear.”
“I love you, my Countess.”
“And I love you, my Guardian.”
Serana finished partially soul trapping the last Sentinel. She then approached the portal and tossed in the Soul Gem.
Inigo said to me, “We shall follow closely behind you.”
“This could be rather exciting!”
“Or painful and not very pleasant.”
I entered the portal and, in a blink, found myself in the Soul Cairn.
The place was dark and dreary, so I used night vision.
I could see wandering souls in different forms. Some looked like spirits encountered on Nirn, while others resembled Will’ O Wisps. What I couldn’t see were the three types of weaker undead reported by the apprentice mage. He called them Bonemen, Mistmen, and Wrathmen. There was also a potent type of undead he called Boneyard Keepers, and the most powerful undead of them all is called Reaper. The apprentice was not sure if that being survived the Daedric invasion.
I watched as Inigo and the other Sentinels slowly descended with their heads pivoting as they looked around. Serana was not immune to the curiosity and almost tripped.
- Inigo: This is a very bleak place, my friend.
- Wulf: Windhelm would not look out of place.
- Aranea: Does anything live here?
- Serana: Look at this place. Do you think anything would want to live here? The only things that can survive here are the Ideal Masters, the undead and the souls themselves.
- Aranea: Well, I would not call any of that ‘living’.
- Wulf: How is everyone? Do you feel weakened?
- Inigo: I feel like I have had little sleep for days. In other words, like I always feel when travelling with you.
- Ghorbash: The same here. However, I am sure if any fighting is involved, I will overcome the fatigue easy enough.
- Aranea: It is just minor fatigue on my part.
- Derkeethus: And the same for me as well.
- Serana: How about you, Wulf?
- Wulf: My Magicka and strength are weakened but not by much. Surprisingly, I don’t think the power of my Thu’um is reduced.
- Ghorbash: Do you think we will meet the Ideal Masters?
- Wulf: As far as I know, they are dotted around the Soul Cairn. Look for what appears to be large floating Soul Gems. Do not try and communicate with them. They are as slippery as Dark Lords with their words. Plus, I doubt they can detect much about you unless you are close enough to commune verbally.
- Serana: Yes, that was what my mother hinted. It is when necromancers come here and talk to them directly that the danger is at its highest. Otherwise, you can just wander around as long as you survive the undead guardians.
- Inigo: This place is making my skin crawl. Mr. Dragonfly assures me I have no fleas to cause that.
- Aranea: My Dragonfly needs to understand that even white lies are immoral.
- Derkeethus: Why would a necromancer want to visit this place or deal with the Ideal Masters?
- Serana: Look around you. There is some extremely powerful undead here. Even a necromancer as seasoned as my mother would be willing to spend years trying to gain access to them.
- Wulf: Valerica could have deposited the Elder Scroll here then returned to Nirn. Why would she remain here when she could hide somewhere on Nirn?
- Serana: Maybe that was her plan, but she became stuck here. We won’t know until we find her.
- Wulf: Yes, I am speculating again. Let’s enter a bit further and decide where to look for your mother.
I looked up and said, “There is a portal to the underlying structure of Oblivion above us.”
Inigo replied, “That is similar to what we saw in Sovngarde.”
“Yes, that allowed access to something equivalent for Aetherius.”
As we walked past what appeared to be a mausoleum, I said, “Can you see the columns with the green glowing circles. They are locks. Watch.”
I struck both green circles with Lightning. A portcullis lowered, allowing access to a sarcophagus.
I explained, “This is the resting place of an Ideal Master. One is not present, but still, I would not dare open the sarcophagus.”
There were several items near the sarcophagus. More than likely, they were offerings made to the powerful being. A sheet of paper caught my attention. I picked it up and read its contents to the group.
“… remember. In the end, seventy-six cliff racers were slaughtered. I was knee-deep in their corpses and my body on the verge of collapse. But I had survived. I smiled to the heavens, and all went black.
When I awoke, all I felt was my back on a cold stone floor. Every muscle in my body was on fire, and my vision was blurred. Slowly, I tried to climb to my feet. It took several agonising….”
I remarked, “This is part of a much larger work. Somebody or something placed enough value on this page to offer it as an offering to an Ideal Master. I will take it with me in case we get a chance to figure out what book to which it belongs. It may be a text not currently in any library or rare enough to take back with us.”
Most spirit-like souls lamented the cause of their death. Many didn’t realise they were dead. All of them were souls ripped from a Black Soul Gem and not ones already used for enchanting. Those souls were the ones that would slowly deteriorate until they became undead guardians.
I said to the group, “Up ahead are two vertical beams of light. We shall head for those. It is as good a place as any to search for Valerica.”
Not much further on, we encountered our first undead guardians.
They proved to be highly vulnerable to Lightning spells.
The souls ignored us unless we spoke to them first. That was until we encountered one who stood in our way.
He said, “You must help me find Arvak. He doesn’t deserve to be in a place like this!”
“I have met very few beings who would deserve this fate. How can we help Arvak?”
“Arvak is my horse. We came to this horrible place together. Monsters attacked us, so I told him to run.”
“But he wouldn’t leave you, would he? This nightmare is certainly no fitting place for such a loyal animal.”
“Yes, he is such a loyal creature, and he’s been running for so long. You have to save him! A place like this will change you.”
“Where can we find Arvak, and how can we help him?”
“Arvak! Arvak, where are you? Arvak, please come back! Come back!”
Serana said, “This poor man has been driven insane. All we can do is keep an eye out for Arvak.”
“I agree, but we can’t spend too long here. What I am could be discovered by the Ideal Masters.”
We continued towards the two beams of light.
A blue skeletal horse emanating blue flame came running past us.
I said, “I think that is Arvak.”
Inigo commented, “What a pretty colour!”
“Pretty he may be, but we are not going to spend time trying to catch him.”
As we continued, we watched where Arvak went. He ran past what looked like a trading caravan. My curiosity was peaked, but I did not want to spend time investigating it.
Undead continually harassed us but proved to be weak and no significant threat.
We saw many piles of bones, but one, in particular, caught my attention. In amongst the bones of mortals were the wing bones of a dragon.
We were close to the twin beams of light when Inigo yelled, “Mages!”
I turned and found we were under attack from what I decided to call ‘Corrupted Souls’. I am sure they are the Battlemages from Battlespire slaughtered by the Daedra. They did not wear the robes of the College. They have been pressed into service by the Ideal Masters.
We took care of the mages then proceeded towards the twin beams.
After climbing a set of stairs, we were confronted by a magical barrier unlike any I had seen before. Behind the barrier was a vampire. Immediately I knew it was Valerica.
Serana came dashing past me to the barrier and yelled, “Mother, it is Serana!”
I decided to stand back and see how the conversation developed.
Valerica walked to the barrier and exclaimed, “Maker… it can’t be. Serana?!”
“Is it really you? I can’t believe it! How do we get inside? We have to talk.”
“Serana, what are you doing here? Where is your father?”
“He doesn’t know we are here. I don’t have time to explain.”
“I must have failed. Harkon’s found a way to decipher the prophecy, hasn’t he?”
“No, you have got it all wrong. We’re here to stop my father and make everything right.”
“Wait a moment… you’ve brought strangers here? Have you lost your mind? Whoever the leader of the rabble is, come forward. I would speak with you.”
I stood before Valerica, and as I had expected, she made sweeping judgments based upon zero knowledge. She asked, “So how has it come to pass that vampire hunters are in the company of my daughter?”
“I expected more manners from supposed nobility. But in answer to your question, we are not hunters of vampires. I am Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of the Divines. I find it interesting you invoked the name of the All Maker.”
“It pains me to think you would travel with Serana under the guise of her protector just to hunt me down.”
“The Divines send me to deal with real threats, not minor annoyances like Harkon and yourself. If you shut up and listen instead of making baseless accusations, you might learn what is going on and why we are here.”
“Coming from one who murders vampires as a trade, I find it hard to believe your intentions are noble.”
“For the last time, I do not hunt vampires unless they break the laws of The Empire. An Empire of which you know nothing. The same way you are ignorant of our intentions.”
“Serana has sacrificed everything to prevent Harkon from completing the prophecy. I would have expected her to explain that to you.”
“Serana had explained in great detail the events leading up to this pleasant conversation. I don’t care if you continue to exist or not. We have two of the Elder Scrolls that tell us parts of the prophecy that Harkon pursues. Serana wanted to find you, and I am pleased we could assist her in that endeavour. Now we need the third Elder Scroll so that we can know how to thwart Harkon’s ambitions.”
“Do you think I’d have the audacity to place my daughter in that tomb for the protection of her Elder Scroll alone?”
“You offered your chaste daughter to Molag Bal and watched without mercy as she was raped. All so you could increase your vampiric powers.”
I was angry, and wise or not, I used my Thu’um to demonstrate that anger.
“DON’T YOU DARE PRETEND TO BE A MOTHER OF ANY WORTH!”
The building behind Valerica shook. My voice did not echo as there was nothing for it to bounce off. But the effect was the same. I announced to all within miles that a Tongue was in the vicinity. It was foolish, but I could feel my Dovah desperately wanting to do the same, and for once, I agreed with him.
To her credit, Valerica did not try and defend herself. Instead, she explained what was at stake. She said, “The scrolls are merely a means to an end. The key to the prophecy called, ‘Tyranny of the Sun’ is Serana herself.”
“Are you insinuating that it requires the blood or sacrifice of a Daughter of Coldharbour?”
“You are a powerful Tongue with a brain. Perhaps I underestimated you.”
“You judged us without knowing a thing about who we are and what we stand for. That is worse than pathetic when you are ignorant of the world outside and what we have accomplished. Now, if you have finished throwing baseless accusations, perhaps you can help us, which in turn, helps Serana.”
“Very well. When I fled Castle Volkihar, I fled with two Elder Scrolls.”
“Yes, the one that was interred with Serana mentions Auriel’s Bow. I possess another which tells the secrets of the Dov. We believe the one you have will let us know how Auriel’s Bow can be used to mask the Sun.”
“My scroll declares that, ‘The Blood of Coldharbour’s Daughter will blind the eye of the Dragon.’”
“Eye of the Dragon refers to the Sun. Without getting into the metaphysical reasons why Auri-El is depicted holding the Sun, we know he is the same entity as Akatosh, Alkosh etc. So that is the basic connection between Auri-El and the dragon of the prophecy. How would Serana’s blood enable Auriel’s Bow to mask the Sun?”
“You made it abundantly clear that you are aware of how Serana became a Daughter of Coldharbour; therefore, I need not explain that process.”
“Serana was quite detailed when describing what she suffered for your ambition. Why didn’t you ask her if she would willingly undergo such a ritual?”
“It was expected of her, just as it was expected of me. Being selected as an offering to Molag Bal is an honour. Serana wouldn’t have dared turn her back on that.”
“Yet you weren’t sure about that, were you? Instead of risking the scenario of dragging an unwilling daughter to the ceremony, you opted not to tell her. But we digress once more. How does Serana’s blood mask the Sun?”
“I don’t know. Logically it can be used to taint the weapon. But if Harkon read the Elder Scroll that I possess, Serana would have been in great danger. I genuinely wanted to protect Serana, and that is why I have kept my Elder Scroll away from her and Harkon.”
“Something does not add up. Harkon knew of a prophecy that said the Sun could be masked, but he had no idea how. He never heard the actual prophecy in full?”
“Harkon discovered part of the prophecy as transcribed by a Moth Priest. It repeated what is contained in Serana’s Elder Scroll.”
I quoted, “Among the night’s children, a dread lord will rise. In an age of strife, when dragons return to the realm of men, darkness will mingle with light, and the night and day will be as one.”
Valerica replied, “Along with the outline of the prophecy, the Moth Priest told of three scrolls being needed and their subject matter. He never obtained all three Elder Scrolls and died before completing a full transcription.”
“How do you know what your Elder Scroll says?”
“I found it and had it transcribed by a Moth Priest who was disillusioned with his Order. He decided that being a devotee of Molag Bal was more satisfying. I have no idea where he is now.”
“I fail to see the danger. Where does it say Serana has to die to fulfil the prophecy? A single drop of your or Serana’s blood might be all that is required to corrupt Auriel’s Bow.”
“I see you know I am also a Daughter of Coldharbour. The danger is in the vagueness of prophecy. Unless it is explicitly stated otherwise, Harkon may assume Serana’s entire volume of blood is required.”
“I suppose it is not much of a leap from sacrificing your daughter’s chastity to sacrificing her life.”
“Yes, in his eyes, she would be dying for the good of all vampires.”
“Yet you offered her to Molag Bal, not knowing if she would be one of the few to survive. That was only for the good of two vampires. It seems the murder of Serana would be an admirable increase in benevolence from your husband.”
I didn’t know if my baiting of Valerica impeded my Divine Task. Frankly, I did not care.
I added, “Harkon and his entire clan cannot reach Serana while we protect her.”
“And how exactly do you plan on stopping him?”
“The three scrolls will be placed where no vampire can enter and their contents sealed. If need be, I will kill him.”
“If you believe you can accomplish that, then you’re a bigger fool than I originally suspected. Don’t you think I weighed that option before I enacted my plans?”
“Once again, you have no idea of who we are or what we have accomplished. Molag Bal’s gifts to you and Harkon pale in power and quantity compared to mine. Even if your Blood Magic worked against me, which it doesn’t, Harkon is pathetic compared to many other foes I have defeated.”
“You are immune to Blood Magic? How can that be?”
“You are demonstrably intelligent, so figure it out. I told you who and what I am. But for now, why don’t you ask Serana what she thinks about all of this?”
“You care nothing for Serana or our plight.”
“And you dared call me a fool! Are you afraid of hearing the truth from Serana?”
I nodded to Serana, who approached her mother once more. Again, I silently observed their interaction.
Valerica said, “Serana, these strangers align themselves with those that would hunt you down and slay you like an animal, yet I should entrust you to them?”
“These strangers are not aligned with vampire hunters! They have done more for me in the brief time I have known them than you have done in centuries!”
“How dare you! I gave up everything I cared about to protect you from that fanatic you call a father!”
“Yes, he’s a fanatic and has changed. But he is still my father. Why can’t you understand how that makes me feel?”
“Oh, Serana, if you would only open your eyes. The moment your father discovers your role in the prophecy, that he needs your blood, you will be in terrible danger.”
“So, to protect me, you decided to shut me away from everything I cared about. I have returned to a world foreign to me.”
“No, mother, you will listen! You never asked me if hiding me in that tomb was the best course of action. You just expected me to follow you blindly. You didn’t tell me your plan about Molag Bal as you were afraid that I would object. Both of you have always been obsessed with your individual paths. Concerning Molag Bal, your motivations were the same as my father’s. With the prophecy, your motivations may have been different than my father’s, but that is irrelevant. I have always been nothing but a pawn to you both!”
Valerica was visibly shocked by Serana’s words. Perhaps she realised their validity.
Serana continued, “I want us to be a family again, but I don’t know if we can ever have that. Maybe we don’t deserve that kind of happiness. Maybe it isn’t for us. But we have to stop my father before he goes too far. And to do that, we need your Elder Scroll.”
Valerica quietly responded, “I’m sorry, Serana. I didn’t know nor did I see, and I have allowed my hatred of your father to estrange us for too long. Please, forgive me, and if you want the Elder Scroll, it is yours.”
Serana stepped back, and I stood before Valerica once more.
She said, “Your intentions are still somewhat unclear to me.”
“Then I will state them for you. I am Champion of The Divines and do what is needed to protect the mortals of Nirn. But that does not mean I hunt down vampires. No being deserves to be persecuted for what they are rather than what they have done. What I witnessed in Castle Volkihar has made Harkon and any who side with him, my enemy. Serana has proven herself to be no danger to law-abiding mortals and similar in attitude to other vampires I know and have not ‘hunted down’. You, I have yet to judge. Unlike yourself, I like to observe the actions of others before passing judgement. Has that clarified my intentions enough for you?”
“Very clear. For Serana’s sake, I’ll assist you in any way that I can.”
“Where is the Elder Scroll?”
“I have kept it safely secured here ever since I was imprisoned. Fortunately, you’re in a position to breach the barrier that surrounds these ruins.”
“What needs to be done?”
“You need to locate the tallest of the rocky spires that surround these ruins. At their bases, the barrier’s energy is being drawn from unfortunate souls that have been exiled here. Destroy the Keepers that are tending them, and the barrier should come down.”
“That sound easy enough. Anything else we should be aware of?”
“Yes, there is a dragon that calls itself Durnehviir roaming the Cairn. Be wary of him. The Ideal Masters have charged him with overseeing the Keepers, and it will undoubtedly intervene if you and your accomplices are perceived as a threat.”
“Durnehviir is not an ‘it’. He is a Son of Akatosh! I doubt Durnehviir is his original name. ‘Dur Neh Viir’ literally means ‘Curse Never Dying’ or translated as “Cursed with undeath”. If he knows anything of recent events on Nirn, he will be wary of me.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I defeated his Overlord, Alduin, and have killed nearly one hundred other dragons in battle.”
“I see the answer to your immunity to Blood Magic. You are not just a Tongue. You are Dragonborn.”
“As I told you at the very start. Now, how did you end up imprisoned?”
“When I entered the Soul Cairn, I had intended to strike a bargain with the Ideal Masters. I requested refuge in the Soul Cairn, and in exchange, I would provide the Ideal Masters with the souls they craved. If I had foreseen the value that they placed on my soul, I would never have come here.”
“And now you realise the danger I risk by entering the Soul Cairn. What would they do to possess the soul of a Dragonborn?”
“The same as they did to me. The Ideal Masters sent their Keepers to destroy me. Fortunately, I was able to hold them at bay and retreat into these ruins.”
“Then they raised the barrier.”
“Unfortunately, yes. Since the Ideal Masters weren’t able to claim my soul, they had their minions construct a barrier that I’d never be able to breach.
“Did you witness Mehrunes Dagon’s invasion?”
“Nearly every minion was one of his. A few belonged to other Dark Lords, but I never saw one of Molag’s.”
“No, I doubt your master would work well with the other’s. What have you learnt of the Ideal Masters?”
“I know very little about them. Some necromancers believe they are the crystalline structures dotting the Soul Cairn.”
“They are correct. A mortal mage made a deal with an Ideal Master that enabled him to defeat Mehrunes Dagon. He wrote a report on what the Ideal Master told him. They believe they are doing good for the deceased. By turning them into mindless undead, they relieve them of all worldly worries and concerns. A warped vision realised by beings with the power to do so. However, the Daedric invasion showed how they couldn’t possibly defend their domain without the aid of powerful undead.”
“I think the mage was wrong. I believe the Ideal Masters transcend what we perceive as a physical form. Perhaps they were once corporeal beings, but they’ve reached a point where they no longer require a tangible presence.”
“So, the crystalline structures, the giant floating Soul Gems, are conduits for communication and not the entity itself?”
“That is what I believe. The Ideal masters can also feed on their victims via them.”
“I have many questions, but they will have to wait. We shall go visit the Keepers and see what can be done about your prison.”
“Be careful, and keep my daughter safe.”
“Any of my companions will willingly risk death to defend her. Think on that while we are away.”
Valerica moved back to the wall where I first saw her. That enabled Serana to speak freely.
- Wulf: Serana, how are you feeling after confronting your mother?
- Serana: Relieved… I think. All those things had been building for a while. You have no idea how long I wanted to say that to her.
- Inigo: Why did you agree to Valerica’s plan?
- Serana: Look, I loved my father, but when he found that prophecy… that became his life. Everything else, even me and my mother… we just became clutter. I was close with my mother, but she kept feeding me her opinions of him, and eventually, I started believing them.
- Inigo: She doesn’t seem too fond of Harkon.
- Serana: After my mother and I endured and survived the ceremony with Molag Bal, things got icy between them. I told you Molag Bal also raped my mother. The Dark Lord also raped my father, but he never had the courage to tell me. Mother did when on one of her tirades against him. They were both drunk with power and pulling in different directions. Then he found that prophecy, and… that was it.
- Inigo: Did you dislike your father before then?
- Serana: I told you I loved both parents even after the betrayal with Molag Bal. But we were never very close. Not a lot of father-daughter bonding, if you know what I mean. Once he threw his lot in with Molag Bal… well, people like that don’t think about their families anymore. ‘Power takes precedence,’ he always said.
- Inigo: And you were caught in the middle of their power struggle.
- Serana: I was. Honestly, it took me until now to figure out that my mother was just as bad as he was. He was obsessed with power. She was obsessed with seeing him fail. It was just so… toxic. Maybe I could have seen this coming. We could all be better off now.
- Aranea: Serana, do not blame yourself for the failings of your parents.
- Serana: I know that in my head. But I can’t help feeling partially responsible for the way things are. I know you’re trying to help, so thanks.
- Aranea: There is no need to thanks any of us. We can see how difficult this whole matter is for you.
- Serana: Wulf, I have now seen you in anger. I have never seen somebody shout at my mother like that. It was terrifying.
- Inigo: Oh, that was not the furious Wulf. His dragon did not speak those words.
- Serana: Ah, I did see that when he confronted my father. The potential for violence was palpable.
- Wulf: Let us head for the nearest Keeper. The quicker we are out of here, the better!
I looked around and could immediately see two of the towers Valerica mentioned. I picked one at random, and we made a beeline for it.
Derkeethus asked, “Is that an Ideal Master?”
“Yes, according to the apprentice mage, but Valerica thinks they are only conduits to allow Ideal Masters to speak to their slaves.”
When we approached the first tower, we could see life force being drained from trapped souls. It was similar in concept to Savos’ barrier that held a Dragon Priest imprisoned.
The Keeper was a large Skeletal Warrior.
A single cast of Lightning was all it took to reduce the Keeper to a puddle of ectoplasm goo.
We were constantly having to spend time dealing with weak undead.
We walked past the soul of a farmer and his cows.
A circle of Corrupted Souls was too large a temptation, and we decided to eliminate them. They seemed to be worshipping something as we attacked.
During the fight, we encountered undead not mentioned by the apprentice. They were hovering skulls that were hard to eliminate with their dodging and weaving. They were weak in both attack and defence, proving to be a nuisance more than anything else.
After we defeated the undead, we found the Corrupted Souls had been worshipping the skull of Arvak. That was weird for two reasons. Number one, we have seen Arvak plenty of times, and he has his skull firmly attached. Secondly, who worships a horse god?”
I picked up Arvak’s skull, second skull, whatever, and we continued onward towards the second tower.
We hadn’t gone far when Arvak’s owner popped out of the ether in front of us.
He exclaimed, “Arvak… You saved him! His soul is free. I can feel it!”
“We were glad to help.”
“He’s such a loyal beast. Here, take this spellbook. From it, you can learn how to summon him to you.”
From somewhere, the spirit manifested a solid spellbook which he handed to me.
He then said, “He’ll help you get around this wretched place, but I’m sure he’d be much happier someplace sunnier.”
The soul then started to fade away. His last words were, “Goodbye, heroes! Take good care of Arvak for me! Such a good horse….”
Inigo asked, “Where did he go?”
“Arvak was the last link to his mortal life. He has no more memories. The next undead you destroy in this place may very well be him.”
“That is… more than a little sad, my friend.”
“Arvak is a trained warhorse, so I don’t know if he will be suitable. But we have a large stable at Dragons Keep for teaching the children horsemanship. Some of them want to be farriers, others groomsmen and so on. If his temperament is good, we will integrate him into that herd. The children will accept him as he is.”
“His owner would have liked that.”
“Even if I told him, it would now have been forgotten.”
“I can see this place is wearing you down. Let us hurry and do what is needed so we can leave.”
“Sage advice, my blue friend. It must have come from Mr. Dragonfly.”
After battling more undead and Corrupted Souls, we finally arrived at the next tower. We knew the Keeper and the souls powering the barrier were atop the tower but could see no visible steps or doorways. While standing next to a sort of well, I detected a dweomer. It was not Daedric and seemed familiar, but I could not place it. Serana came over and said, “It is a portal.”
I replied, “Oh, good!” then stepped into it.
I was instantly transported to the top of the tower, where I could see souls being drained.
Inigo found another portal, but a skeletal mage hit him with Ice Spear as soon as he appeared.
Unrelenting Force turned the skeletal mage to dust and blew the Keeper many feet away from the tower.
I rushed to the edge and witnessed the Keeper’s fall and its landing. It turned into ectoplasm. Two Keepers down.
I healed Inigo then followed him through the portal.
As we headed toward the third tower, we came upon even more dragon bones.
The most dangerous foes we faced were the Corrupted Souls. They were powerful Battlemages in life and had not lost any of their abilities in death.
The Thu’um was as effective against them as flesh and bone mages. It was a bonus if the black skeletons got in my way.
The third Keeper was sitting amongst a pile of bones. It stood when it detected our presence.
Once again, a single Lightning spell from me disintegrated the Keeper. The power of my spells has increased thanks to my new armour. The dweomer I placed on it to increase spell damage and duration is far superior to any previous armour. The Herald told me this would happen.
Many undead came too late to the defence of the Keeper. It did not take us long to destroy them all.
I then said, “Let’s hurry back to Valerica. I have a great desire to leave this place and never return.”
Valerica’s barrier was gone. She stood waiting for our return in front of two large doors.
I said, “As you can tell, we were successful.”
“You managed to destroy all three Keepers? Very impressive.”
“Can you lead us to the Elder Scroll? This place is not to our liking.”
“Yes. Please, follow me.”
I was not surprised by Valerica’s sudden civility. Both herself and Harkon are obsessed with power. Serana’s mother admires the strength she senses in me. It is not respect for who I am.
As we entered what seemed to be castle courtyard, Valerica warned, “Keep watch for Durnehviir. With the prison’s barrier down, he’s almost certain to investigate.”
Durnehviir soon made an appearance. I tried to talk to him as he landed.