Morndas, 17th Sun’s Dusk, 4E 201
to Turdas, 20th Sun’s Dusk, 4E 201
We came out of the ether and then crouched down.
- Wulf: The front gate is lowered, and there are no sentries.
- Serana: Father has every spare clan member looking for Dexion and the Elder Scroll.
- Rigmor: He must be getting worried.
- Serana: He knows Volkihar Clan has survived on secrecy and discretion. Both have been abandoned, so the clan is finished unless he beats us to Auriel’s Bow.
- Lydia: We don’t need The Dawnguard to help us, Wulf. Why do you persist with them?
- Wulf: Because what is there is the beginning of something worthwhile. Specialist warriors who can take on the undead would be a valuable asset to Skyrim. Legionnaires are the most highly trained and professional troops on Nirn, but they need to concentrate on the mortal enemies of The Empire. I see the Vigilants as the religious arm and The Dawnguard as the Knights of Stendarr. Many of The Nine had such a division of devotees in the past. If a Vigilant believes they have the required martial skills, let them join The Dawnguard.
- Inigo: Can we get moving? I feel like beady vampire eyes are staring at us from the few tiny windows.
- Rigmor: Relax, Inigo. It is almost midnight and the ideal time to sneak into a vampire’s home!
- Inigo: That is not very reassuring.
- Wulf: There is nothing to fear, Inigo. Any one of The Dragonguard would be capable of eliminating Lord Harkon. Any lesser vampires are more of a nuisance than a threat.
- Serana: That makes me feel redundant.
- Wulf: You are now equipped with the protective and offensive dweomer of The Dragonguard. You are far from redundant. You could cut down any of the clan vampires with impunity.
- Rigmor: Are we going to sit here and wait to be discovered or get moving?
- Wulf: You are getting bossy in your old age!
- Felix: Old? She is the youngest Count or Countess by at least twenty years!
- Rigmor: Guess what, Felix?
- Felix: I did it again, didn’t I?
- Rigmor: Yes, Felix.
- Felix: Okay, removing foot from the mouth and ready to proceed.
- Serana: Your accent places your origin as Bruma. So, Rigmor, Countess of Bruma, I am intrigued. Why are you traipsing through dingy caves and so on with The Dragonborn?
- Wulf: Let’s get moving whilst ignoring Serana’s question.
I used Night Vision as we headed for the rear of the castle.
Ancient planks of wood indicated there was once a wooden walkway where we travelled.
A Skeletal Warrior emerged from the water.
I quickly eliminated it.
The castle’s appearance foreshadowed the evil within.
A few Skeletal Warriors were surrounding the jetty. We quickly eliminated them.
We entered what Serana calls The Undercroft.
- Inigo: I can smell and hear Death Hounds!
- Wulf: They won’t attack us, Inigo. They are affected by Kyne’s Peace.
- Rigmor: Wolf-Kin also affects them. That is why they didn’t attack Sorella when the vampires captured her.
- Wulf: Normal wolves not eating Sorella annoyed the vampires. When their Death Hounds also refused, they were livid.
- Rigmor: Serana, Sorella was a child captured by that child-eating clan that Wulf mentioned.
- Serana: Were they Volkihar vampires?
- Wulf: They were a combination of various types. I believe their clan exists across various provinces.
- Lydia: We will not get lost down here, will we?
- Inigo: It could be awkward if we open the wrong door and catch Harkon on the privy.
- Felix: Do vampires have to take a dump?
- Serana: Yes, Felix, vampires must 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?
- Felix: Does your pee glow in the dark?
- Rigmor: Felix!
- Felix: Sorry Count….ahh…mila…ahh…Rigmor.
- 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.
- Wulf: What happened to Harkon’s kingdom?
- Serana: The borders of kingdoms in The Reach were changing quickly in Skyrim and High Rock. At that time, holding any property in The Reach was difficult. When a large army came to your gates, you could fight and get many of your citizens killed, shorten yourself by a head, or negotiate your way out of the impasse. 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.
- Wulf: The Reach is still a place of turmoil. Most of it should be an independent country, in my opinion. But that would take an Emperor who is not afraid of offending High Rock and Skyrim.
- Serana: I liked to explore. My parents rarely let me off the island, and it was always with several guards and chaperones. So, yeah, I poked around here a lot!
- Rigmor: 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.
I did not believe that story about Lord Harkon being a benevolent ruler. However, it was not the time to challenge any misconceptions Serana had.
We entered an area with shallow water covering the floor. As I told Inigo they would, a Death Hound ignored us.
Serana commented, “This is the old water cistern. On some days, this would smell, ahh, be glad you weren’t here then!”
More Death Hounds ignored us, and then a vampire attacked.
The vampire tried Blood Magic on me and seemed confused when it didn’t work. She ordered the Death Hounds to attack, and they looked at her quizzically. I casually drew my bow and killed her.
I searched the body and found a torn page from a journal. I read it to the group.
“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!”
Serana examined the corpse and said, “The bald head and eye tattoos make me think she is from one of the Reachmen tribes. She has some Mer blood by the looks of her ears.”
“I have read how they combine Reach Magic mixed with Blood Magic.
“Some of their tribal shamans and witches are enough to scare a vampire! But…her Blood Magic didn’t harm you.”
“Your father failed to teleport me using Blood Magic.”
“Is it because you are Dragonborn?”
“Yes, I have the soul and blood of a dragon.”
“Father’s best offensive attacks using Blood Magic would do you no harm!”
“He would have to use that sword he carries or his claws. Either way, I have nothing to fear from him.”
“Can you be turned into a vampire?”
“Molag Bal could turn me, but that would be a manipulation of the soul, not a disease. I don’t think you or your father could turn me. I believe my soul would react quicker than the change you tried to inflict. But that is speculation, and I don’t want to experiment to prove the theory.”
“No wonder Father was so agitated by you.”
“Lord Harkon is used to being powerful compared to an average mortal. It would be disturbing to find the roles reversed, for I am a mortal who is far more powerful than he.”
“We need to lower some bridge sections. There are two levers. The first is over here.”
We followed Serana to the first lever. I pulled it, and a section of the bridge fell into place.
Inigo warned, “There is at least one squeaky skeleton ahead!”
I eliminated the sole Skeletal Warrior, and we continued.
We entered an area where trapdoors above deposited the remains of vampire meals. Blood dripped from one trapdoor.
Serana said, “My father installed a series of trapdoors in the ‘cattle pen’.
“You mean a dungeon where he keeps mortals?”
“Yes, I saw them. You might have noticed the bottles of blood on the dining tables during your brief visit. I doubt my father has bitten somebody for sustenance in centuries. The mortals are bled with spigots in their necks like some tribes of mortals bleed their cows, bulls and horses. However, a few clan members prefer to drink directly from the source.”
“What about the mortals being used as waiters?”
“It is taboo to kill cattle by overfeeding or over bleeding. A few days without somebody syphoning blood allows the poor people to recover enough to be servants. 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 always tell people 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.”
“The children you saw were a mixture of mortal and vampire. I talked to a couple of the older mortal children, and they will hide and protect the younger ones if the castle is attacked. I did not speak to the vampire children as they may be loyal to the clan. I don’t know how old they are.”
“Why keep mortal children?”
“They aren’t fed on but ensure their parents don’t offend Father or other clan members. The servants were not thralls.”
“If we storm the castle, we shall have to be cautious and not use area-of-effect spells or Shouts. Oh, and I won’t be using my Thu’um down here. The noise might attract the attention of a clan member.”
Serana led us to a second lever. We had to walk past a huge but unaggressive spider to reach it, and Inigo was most upset he couldn’t squish it.
Both sections of the bridge were now lowered. That gave us access to a corridor which led to the castle’s courtyard.
We entered the courtyard, and Selena forlornly exclaimed, “What has happened to this place?”
Before we could discuss it further, a gargoyle came towards us.
I Blinked to the gargoyle and almost cut it in half with a single blow.
I walked over to Serana, who looked distraught.
- 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.
- Rigmor: I’m sorry, Serana. It must be a shock to see somewhere with special memories 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?
- Rigmor: I wish I could have seen it!
- Serana: My mother would hate to see it like this.
- Inigo: Your Moondial is broken!
- Serana: Yes, some crests are missing, and the dial is askew.
- Felix: There is a lot of damage around here. Perhaps they were dislodged when the place was vandalised?
- Serana: I think removing the crests would take much effort. No, I believe my mother is trying to tell us something.
- Celestine: 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. That did not appeal to my vampire mother. She persuaded an elven artisan to turn it into a Moondial. You can see the plates that show the phases of the moons Masser and Secunda.
- Celestine: 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.
- Wulf: Okay, my blue flea palace, what is so amusing?
- Inigo: This is not the only Moondial in existence. They are handy to Khajiiti, and there are many all over Elsweyr. However, this might be the only one in Skyrim. They are used for religious and other reasons, such as predicting the Furstocks of imminent births.
- Rigmor: Yes, I remember seeing them all over Elsweyr. A certain Khajiiti emissary had one.
- Celestine: 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 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 could deduce a clue if there is one?
- Serana: There seem to be six crests missing.
- Wulf: Let’s search the courtyard and find as many as possible. Perhaps only replacing a couple of them will provide the clue we seek.
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 moonshine would reflect off them.
A full-moon crest was in the weed bed, previously known as Valerica’s garden.
A crescent-moon crest was on the balcony that once led to the great hall.
A half-moon crest was in a small pond.
We searched for another ten minutes, but no other crest was found.
We decided to install our three crests, and Inigo told me where to place them. They had to be in the correct place and at a particular angle. Each time I placed a crest correctly, it locked in place with an audible click.
Inigo advised us to turn the dial one crest in the clockwise direction. However, the dial moved by itself when the third crest was placed, revealing a hidden spiral staircase.
- Serana: Very clever, Mother! Very clever!
- Inigo: And the handsome blue Khajiiti saves the day once more!
- Lydia: You have earned it, so we shall leave an extra saucer of milk out for you tonight.
- Inigo: Can’t you vanish? That would be a better reward.
- 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 a door. Instead of some grand cavern or hall, we found ourselves in a tiny room with a pull-chain.
I sighed, then said, “I have no idea why we must pull an obvious chain to lower an obvious sliding wall. But the new, calm and reflective Wulf will pull the pull-chain, then smile and forget this stupidity ever existed.”
I pulled the chain, and one of the walls slid down, accompanied by loud scraping sounds and dust.
Inigo exclaimed, “My friend, look, there is a totally unexpected sliding wall!”
“Wow, what a surprise! I thought pulling the chain would summon a servant.”
Serana asked, “Was Inigo dropped on his head as well?”
Lydia replied, “No, he is naturally stupid.”
The castle had once been a grand home of a very wealthy family. However, when we entered a dining hall, the damage from earthquakes and the ravages of time had taken their toll. It was also full of Skeletal Warriors.
We soon disposed of the skeletons and were then confronted by a gargoyle.
Once again, a single slice across its midsection almost divided the gargoyle in half.
- Serana: All of you have superb sword skills, especially you, Countess, but I have never seen anybody slice and dice like Wulf.
- Felix: Please, Serana, don’t remind everybody of my mistake!
- Wulf: I doubt the previous owners kept gargoyles. Do you think Valerica placed them here, Serana?
- Serana: I never saw her have anything to do with them. However, she did have a thing for magical constructs.
- Rigmor: Wow!
- Inigo: Whatever floats your boat is okay by me.
- Serana: No… not what you’re thinking! She just found them fascinating.
- Wulf: Well, they take some effort to create, so I think it is safe to assume your mother placed them as guardians.
- Serana: Yes, I agree with that.
We travelled swiftly, and many Skeletal Warriors and gargoyles were quickly eradicated.
We came to a lowered portcullis, and I could see a Shrine of Mara askew at the far end.
I raised the portcullis via a pull chain. We then quickly disposed of the resident skeletons.
I approached the leaning 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 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 a drop of blood on Lamae’s forehead to corrupt her soul, deny death and thereby insult Arkay. He ensured his progeny could only breed by infecting others with diseases and claimed Lamae was his wife, thereby insulting Lady Mara.
- Lydia: 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: Oh my, Father would have a fit hearing you compare Molag Bal to a rabid dog! Are your analogies always so amusing?
- Wulf: Lady Mara’s temples are full of light and love. Look around you. I will cry instead if I don’t exercise my sense of humour.
- Rigmor: Come on then, Wulf. There is little you can do about the chapel right now.
- Wulf: There is a small thing. It will make me feel better, so it is worth the time.
I enveloped the shrine in Magicka, and then using my will, I placed it upright.
Lady Mara’s beautiful voice rang through the destroyed chapel.
“Thank you, Dragonchild. It has been centuries since a mortal has prayed in this chapel. Perhaps this is the first step to its reconstruction?”
“I don’t know if we shall get the chance to repair it, Lady Mara, but be assured, I will do so if I can.”
“We are relieved you have recovered, Dragonchild. Take care and keep those who love you close.”
As I started to walk away, I said, “Don’t ask, Serana. I will not explain why a god called me Dragonchild or from what I recovered. Patience will answer all the accumulated questions.”
“Then may I say Lady Mara’s voice filled me with joy. I could feel the love she had for me.”
“Lady Mara’s empathy and love are infinite, even for those whose souls have been tainted by Molag Bal. She is the only et-Ada worshipped across every pantheon except that of the Argonian people. She proves that love is the most powerful force in this Aurbis or any other. Love is also the most valuable of things which is something Lord Harkon forgot in his lust for power.”
We moved rapidly after the chapel as no gargoyles or skeletons opposed us for many rooms.
Then we entered a room full of gargoyles. Interestingly, there were three coffins in a corner, suggesting Valerica was not the only one who used the room.
I said, “The gargoyles will wait till I am halfway into the room, then awaken. It is very predictable.”
As predicted, that happened, but we rapidly cut them down.
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.
After some time, 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: Can’t you feel the breeze? The fireplace is a hidden door not wholly sealed.
- Rigmor: So, how do we open it?
- Wulf: What is one of the things I complain about the most?
- Rigmor: 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 gobblygookiest things we encounter in places nobody but the undead have visited in centuries?
- Inigo: Lighted candles, lamps and braziers.
- Serana: Rigmor explained gobblygook but still, I have to ask, so?
- Felix: So?
- Rigmor: Yeah, so?
- Celestine: I know! Why are the candles on the left of the fireplace the only unlit ones in this room?
- Wulf: I will look silly if this doesn’t work!
I twisted the candle holder clockwise. There was an audible click, and the fireplace receded into the floor, revealing a passageway.
Serana exclaimed, “Leave it to Mother. She always proves smarter than I give her credit for.”
We travelled up several short flights of steps until we reached a door.
The door led to Valerica’s laboratory, and in its centre were stepped concentric circles.
As the others wandered around the room, I studied the concentric circles.
- Serana: Look at this place. It has to be it! I knew Mother was deep into necromancy. I mean, she taught me everything I know. But I had no idea she had a setup like this.
- Celestine: Valerica worked hard 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.
- Celestine: She must have done the collecting before she hid from your father. She couldn’t have deliveries left at the dock. Travelling to and from here would be too dangerous.
- Serana: I’m not sure about this circle, but it’s obviously… something.
- Inigo: Maybe it is an arena for tiny people?
- Felix: My blue friend, that is what I was thinking!
- Lydia: Felix, does it hurt thinking down to Inigo’s level?
- Wulf: It is a portal to Oblivion. What realm of Oblivion, I don’t know. It is not a realm I have visited.
- Serana: How do you know it’s a portal?
- Wulf: Portals always leave a residual trace, even when inactive. If I have previously visited a plane, I will know that it is the portal’s destination. This one does not lead to Aetherius, Ethereal Plane or The Void, as I know their signatures. This portal leads to Oblivion, but I don’t know which realm, for it is not one I have visited.
- Rigmor: Maybe there is a clue around here to help figure out what Valerica was doing and how to open the portal if it is relevant.
- Serana: Mother was meticulous about her research. If we can find her notes, they might contain some hints.
- Wulf: Okay, I will use a spell taught by the Psijic Order. It will enable me to look for Valerica’s notes and journals and highlight them if found. In what language did she write?
- Serana: Ahh, Tamrielic. Why is that important?
- Wulf: I will search for any books with your mother’s name on the cover or written inside. If that fails, I will search for the word portal.
- Serana: You can do that?
- Rigmor: Wulf can do many things even his closest friends don’t know.
- Wulf: That is true. I have come to rely on The Voice so much that I hardly use any of the magic I know.
I walked over to some bookshelves and cast my spell. A journal lit up. I opened it and saw it was Valerica’s journal. I quickly read it, but only a small part was relevant to us.
I announced, “I have found Valerica’s journal. Gather around, and I shall read the relevant section aloud.”
When everybody was in place, I read the last few entries,
“27th Last Seed, 2E 572
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 of 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 572
I’ve had a breakthrough today. I could 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 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 or not I ensure them a steady supply of souls. 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 272
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, preventing anyone from duplicating it and following me into the Soul Cairn.
The formula consists of the following:
- 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.
- Serana: My mother has accomplished something amazing, yet that is all you have to say?
- Wulf: Valerica has opened a portal to Oblivion, which is a fantastic accomplishment. But what I have read of the Soul Cairn, I believe it was foolish to enter that realm! And yes, needlessly naming Dimhollow Crypt was silly.
- Serana: I agree on both counts. I can see the appeal of the Soul Cairn to a necromancer. However, negotiating with the Ideal Masters hardly ever turns out well for the petitioner.
- Inigo: Soul Cairn? Ideal Masters? Can you tell the rest of us what these things are?
- Wulf: Black Soul Gems are used to entrap mortal souls. Grand Soul Gems can trap souls of equal power but not those of mortals.
- Inigo: For what purposes are the entrapped souls used?
- Wulf: A soul has two parts which are Lifeforce and consciousness. The most common use of Soul Gems is to use the Lifeforce of the entrapped soul to apply a dweomer to armour or weapons. The power of the dweomer is directly proportional to the power of the soul. With animal souls, the consciousness of the entrapped animal is returned to the Aurbis, where it is reused. Some say an animal’s consciousness can be used in a sentient being, but I won’t enter that into that philosophical debate.
- Inigo: Okay, I am keeping up without my brain exploding.
- Lydia: We wouldn’t notice if it did because the explosion would be so tiny!
- Wulf: Black Soul Gems contain the Lifeforce and consciousness of sentient beings who, when they die, expect to go to an afterlife. Sometimes, their soul belongs to one of the Dark Lords, who claim it upon death. Some are destined to roam The Void for eternity. That is not a nice place, I can assure you. When a soul entrapped in a Black Soul Gem is used, its consciousness 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, enjoying an afterlife, or being claimed by a Dark Lord. Instead, the mortal consciousness remains in the Soul Cairn for eternity. The mortals trapped in the Soul Cairn eventually forget who and what they are. They become empty husks animated as different forms of undead minions.
- Serana: What my mother told me about the Soul Cairn were all theories and conjectures. 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. 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. The Eternal Champion was the hero responsible for removing Jagar Tharn from power in 3E 399.
- 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 become one of the Emperor’s Personal Guards. That was an elite force of the best martial and magical soldiers within The Empire.
- Celestine: A bit like previous Arch-Mages had to survive the Labyrinthian Maze.
- Wulf: Yes, and thank goodness we have eliminated stupid tests that killed many capable people!
- Celestine: 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 Daedric plan, he helped one of the apprentice mages enter Shade Perilous, a pocket plane of Evergloam, Nocturnal’s realm of Oblivion. From there, the apprentice learnt all he could of the plan and entered the Soul Cairn.
- 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 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. Once, they fought for justice, honour and pride. Now from time and tide released. They guard and serve in silent peace.’
- Rigmor: They become mindless automatons, like a Dwemer machine!
- Wulf: Yes, Rigmor, the mortals 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 worse, they will take unused Black Gems and do the same to the souls within. They deny souls that still have their Lifeforce any option. The mage didn’t say, but I assume it can take a very long time for the souls in the Soul Cairn 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 unique souls, such as my soul. My entrapped soul would be something they would want very badly. They then corrupt those souls, so they also have intelligent enslaved people to help protect their domain.
- Felix: 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.
- Serana: Where did you find this information about the Soul Cairn and the Ideal Masters?
- Wulf: I have access to many libraries on Nirn and elsewhere.
- 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 Mehrunes Dagon initiated the Oblivion Crises three decades later.
- Inigo: If the Ideal Masters captured you, would they get dozens of dragon souls, not just one?
- Wulf: I think they would, but that is getting into the metaphysical, and I could be wrong in my assumption. But what I am would make my soul one of the strongest they could ever hope to obtain.
- Celestine: Serana, much of that brief history would mean little to you.
- Serana: That’s okay. The important part was where the information on the Soul Cairn came derived. The rest I will understand as I learn the history.
- Celestine: 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 it was not even close to this place.
- Celestine: It is apparent Valerica was studying necromancy but to what end?
- Serana: Well, Mother was not seeking knowledge on becoming an immortal undead. Many vampires are drawn to necromancy in pursuit of knowledge. Maybe my mother thought necromancy was a weapon she could use against 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.
- Celestine: 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 scrapped from the 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.
- Celestine: What if Valerica placed a trap 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. Celestine, help me search for the reagents. The rest of you look important, and refrain from picking your noses.
- Felix: Can I discretely scratch my arse?
- Inigo: Do it slowly against a piece of furniture. Nobody ever notices.
- Felix: Sound advice, my blue friend.
- Lydia: Yuck! I will watch closely which dining chairs you stand near at Silverpeak!
- Inigo: Bedposts are the best, and there are nearly two hundred in Silverpeak Lodge.
- Lydia: I will ask Meeko to sniff out the contaminated ones.
- Inigo: Who says he doesn’t scratch his butt on the furniture?
- Lydia: Aaarghh! I am not listening anymore!
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, Celestine found the soul gem shards, which she placed into a small carry bag.
Purified Void Salt was difficult as it is a reagent neither of us had seen or used before. We narrowed it down to a fine black powder by the process of elimination. I subsequently poured it into one of my reagent bottles.
I said aloud, “We have the reagents. Everybody, please gather around for a talk.”
Everybody moved within easy hearing range, and we discussed what was next.
- Celestine: We have the reagents but don’t know the amounts to use or their ratio.
- Wulf: I assume 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?
- Rigmor: 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. We use them all and hope this is the only time we need to open the portal.
- Serana: If Mother entered the Soul Cairn, the portal might have closed while she was in there. Either Mother closed it, or it does so automatically. Different reagents may be needed to open it from the other side.
- Wulf: Having considered that, I must risk it. I need to stop your father!
- Rigmor: Don’t you dare suggest that we aren’t to accompany you!
- Wulf: Nobody follows me into Oblivion, Rigmor. That is a rule I won’t compromise. Serana is the exception because it is her mother we seek.
- Rigmor: But…
- Wulf: First, we shall see if the portal opens, and then we shall discuss it further.
Serana and I walked over to the vessel, and I placed the reagents inside.
- Serana: Alright, it is now up to me. I’m not entirely sure what this thing will do when I add my blood. Are you ready to go?
- 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.
- Celestine: I think Wulf is looking forward to this tiny bit of revenge.
- Serana: And what revenge would that be?
- Celestine: 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!
- Lydia: It might not have been Serana’s fault, but Froa said 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 and let her blood drip into the vessel.
Cold-Fire consumed the reagents, and the portal slowly opened.
- Serana: She did it! Incredible! Mother created a portal to the Soul Cairn!
- Wulf: Yes, it is an impressive feat indeed.
- Rigmor: Can I ask you a question, Serana?
- Serana: Yes, of course. What is it?
- Rigmor: What will you do if you find your mother?
- Serana: I’ve been asking myself the same question since we returned 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.
- Rigmor: 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 Father as possible before he irrevocably went over the edge.
- Rigmor: I suppose you won’t know till you 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: Yes, but first, I must talk with Rigmor. Please give us some privacy.
Rigmor and I walked to the far corner of the room. She did not look happy.
“Rigmor, I cannot take others into unknown danger. Entering a portal to Oblivion is not like entering a cave or enemy stronghold.”
“I know your reasons, and I can’t argue against them. It will be like when you used those Black Books. You are going away, and I won’t be able to feel you through our amulets, and I don’t know if and when you will return.”
“This will probably be the pattern for the rest of our lives together. I have to take these risks, and you, my dear Rigmor, will have to have faith that I will return.”
“We have discussed this many times, but it makes it no easier.”
I grabbed my beloved and shocked her with the intensity of my kiss. I heard Serana go, “Oh!” and Felix say, “I got told off for minor mistakes!”
We separated, and I made my way to the portal.
I walked down the steps, but it resisted me when I tried to enter the portal.
I returned to Serana.
- Serana: Are you alright? That looked painful!
- Wulf: No pain, but my Lifeforce 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 Lifeforce, as payment.
- Wulf: Can we use a dweomer to protect against it?
- Serana: Not a dweomer, but I don’t think you will like my solution. Vampires aren’t counted among the living. I could probably go through there without a problem.
- Wulf: And you might be able to turn me into a Vampire Lord without the dull three-day wait.
- Serana: Yes.
- Wulf: As I said earlier, I doubt you could turn me, but that is irrelevant. I would not allow my soul to be tainted by Molag Bal unless The Divines instructed me to allow such a thing, and then they better have a good reason.
- Serana: Perhaps we could pay the toll another way. It wants a soul, so we give it a soul.
- Inigo: Oh, a sacrifice. I volunteer, now let me think… I know, Lydia!
- Lydia: 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!
- Felix: That round goes to Inigo, but he still trails Lydia 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 you and offer the Soul Gem to the Ideal Masters. It might be enough to satisfy them.
- Wulf: It would be more than sufficient. They would take one look at my soul and desire it above all others. I hope to traverse the Soul Cairn without the Ideal Masters realising who the trespasser is.
- Serana: Then how do you propose to bypass the barrier?
- Wulf: By hiding my soul.
- Serana: You can do that?
- Wulf: I believe so. I am Ningheim, and soul manipulation is second nature to me. I haven’t practised it, but the method is straightforward.
- Serana: I have heard of Ningheim. They are mortals gifted many blessings by The Divines. So you have those blessings plus those Lord Akatosh gifted you.
- Wulf: I was asked if I would accept them and agreed. They are to aid me in my task as Champion of The Divines. However, as you saw with Isran’s lesson, they can be frightening.
- Rigmor: And the Ideal Masters have probably never had a Dragonborn soul to manipulate. What would they do to get their hands on a Dragonborn who is also Ningheim? I don’t think you should risk it, Wulf.
- Wulf: Please, Rigmor, you know I must. I will accomplish what we can as quickly as we can. Even if the Soul Cairn is full of wonders, I will not dawdle.
Celestine and Lydia held and comforted the crying Rigmor as I steeled myself and tried to enter the Soul Cairn again.
I stood on the threshold and calmly examined the barrier as it slowly absorbed my Lifeforce. An ordinary mortal would last seconds and die, but I could sustain the rate of decay for a few minutes.
I hid my soul, and the barrier no longer resisted me. I stepped forward and was teleported to the Soul Cairn. I could not hide my soul for long, so I was relieved I only had to do it for a few heartbeats.
Serana soon joined me.
The Soul Cairn was a dreadful place. Dead buildings, dead trees and shrubs and wandering dead people. The bright souls we could see had not yet forgotten who they were.
Serana said, “I’d heard stories about the Soul Cairn, but I never thought I’d see it myself. So far, it’s about what I imagined.”
“It looks more boring than a Dwemer ruin, and I never thought I would ever be able to say that. Time is running faster here. I told Rigmor I would be as quick as possible. That need to hurry is now more important. I don’t want her worrying for a minute longer than needed. Therefore, I will summon some help that will remain with you as I forge ahead.”
“Oh, what kind of help?”
“Two Dremora Valkynaz. They are more potent than most mortal Destruction Mages.”
“It is impressive you have enough control over them.”
“I try not to use the higher rank Dremora too often. There is always the chance they might rebel.”
I summoned the Valkynaz and was not impressed they wore Dragonbone armour.
I said, “Since we don’t know where Valerica is, I will trust my intuition. Let’s head for those twin towers emitting light. Even if Valerica is not there, they must be of significance.”
“Okay. Lead the way, and ahh, don’t get too far ahead.”
I looked up, and a portal to other parts of Oblivion swirled above us.
Spirits that looked like Will O Wisp seemed curious and would fly close to us and then away.
Most ghostly souls lamented the cause of their death. Many didn’t realise they were dead. Every one of them would slowly deteriorate until they became undead guardians.
The first attack came from strange-looking Skeletal Warriors. They were weak opponents.
The souls ignored us unless we spoke to them first. The first couple of conversations were depressing, so I resisted the temptation from then on.
To our surprise, one soul spoke to us first.
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 I won’t go searching for him. Also, I doubt Arvak was a horse. He must be a sentient being resembling a horse. Otherwise, his soul would not be here. I have a dog like that.”
“That huge white thing that you could saddle and ride?”
“Yes, his name is Meeko. He speaks to me telepathically. So do my unicorns.”
“Is this more of the head damage problem?”
“I was never dropped on my head, and I will introduce you to them. Then you will feel guilty and apologise for doubting me.”
Serana laughed at the notion, and we continued toward the two towers.
Arvak came running past us. He was skeletal, with blue flames surrounding him.
I said, “Nope, he is not a horse.”
The Destruction firepower unleashed by me, Serana and the two Valkynaz was devastating. No foe lasted long. Among the various undead were more intelligent minions who maintained their mortal forms although transparent like the other spirits.
When we were close to the two towers, I could see an energy field between them. As I was pondering that, a large number of minions attacked. We soon disposed of them.
After an intense but one-way battle, we cleared the enemies and could approach the barrier. Valerica came from behind a column and walked towards us when we did.
Serana yelled, “Mother, it is me, Serana!”
Valerica stopped close to the barrier and exclaimed, “Maker… it can’t be. Serana?!”
I decided to step back and watch the conversation while pondering, could Valerica have been a Skaal? Why else would she invoke the name of the All-Maker?
“I can’t believe we have found you! 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 Father and make everything right.”
“Wait a moment… you’ve brought a stranger here? Have you lost your mind? You, come forward! I would speak with you.”
Valerica was used to ordering peasants around. Her tone of voice immediately irritated me beyond measure.
I walked close to the barrier and was only a couple of feet away from Valerica. As I had expected, she made sweeping judgments based on zero knowledge. She asked, “So how has it come to pass that a vampire hunter is in the company of my daughter?”
“I expected more manners from supposed nobility. But in answer to your question, I am not a vampire hunter. What makes you assume I am? I wear the armour of The Dragonguard, and I am Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of the Divines. I have warned the leader of some vampire hunters that if he tries to harm Serana, I will kill him. Therefore, I am the opposite of your ignorant accusation!”
“It pains me to think you would travel with Serana under the guise of her protector just to hunt me down.”
“Serana wanted to find her mother, so I helped her. I would not risk myself to hunt you down, for you are not important enough. Now, 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.”
“My trade is protecting the mortals of Nirn. I do not hunt vampires unless they break the laws of The Empire. An Empire of which you know nothing. You will learn of our intentions if you shut up and listen.”
“Serana has sacrificed everything to prevent Harkon from completing the prophecy. I would have expected her to explain that to you.”
“Serana has explained in great detail the events leading up to this pleasant conversation. Sorry to dent your ego, but I don’t care if you continue to exist. Serana wanted to find you, and I am pleased I could assist her in that endeavour. We have two Elder Scrolls that tell us parts of the prophecy Harkon pursues. Now we need the third Elder Scroll to know how to thwart Harkon’s ambitions.”
“Do you think I’d have the audacity to place my daughter in that tomb to protect her Elder Scroll alone?”
“You offered your chaste daughter to Molag Bal and watched without compassion as she was raped. You hoped she would be one of the few to survive but didn’t care out of love. All you wanted was to increase your vampiric powers. If Serana had died, you might have cried over a missed opportunity, not the demise of your daughter.”
I was angry. 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 buildings behind Valerica shook. My voice did not echo, as there was nothing 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 did not want to waste time dealing with stupidity.
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, or more precisely, her blood.”
“A few drops of Serana’s blood would not threaten her. Therefore, you are insinuating that the prophecy requires the sacrifice of a Daughter of Coldharbour.”
“You are a powerful Tongue with a brain. Perhaps I underestimated you.”
“You judged me without knowing a thing about who I am and what I stand for. That is worse than pathetic, as you are ignorant of the world outside. You have no idea what my companions and I have accomplished. Now, if you have finished throwing baseless accusations, perhaps you can help me, which helps Serana.”
“Very well. When I fled Castle Volkihar, I fled with two Elder Scrolls.”
“Yes, the one interred with Serana mentions Auriel’s Bow. I possess another which tells the secrets of the Dov. We believe the one you have or had 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. They are shards of AKA. 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 know how Serana became a Daughter of Coldharbour; therefore, I need not explain that process.”
“Serana has not described in detail what she suffered for your ambition. Hundreds of years later, the memory still haunts her. 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 I possess, Serana would have been in great danger. I genuinely wanted to protect Serana, so 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. Has he ever heard the 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 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 the only requirement 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 explicitly stated otherwise, Harkon may assume Serana’s entire volume of blood is required.”
“I guessed you were a Daughter of Coldharbour. To Lord Harkon, it is not much of a leap from offering his daughter’s virtue and risking her life to sacrificing her.”
“Yes, in Lord Harkon’s eyes, she would die for the good of all vampires.”
“You chose to offer Serana 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 would impede our task. Frankly, I did not care.
I added, “Harkon and his entire clan cannot reach Serana while The Dragonguard and I protect her.”
“And how exactly do you plan on stopping Lord Harkon?”
“I will kill him.”
“If you believe you can accomplish that, 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 who I am or the powers I wield. I have thwarted Malacath and Hermaeus Mora within their realms of Oblivion. I have defeated Alduin and vanquished thousands in combat. Molag Bal’s gifts to you and Harkon pale in power and quantity compared to the blessings of The Divines bestowed on me. 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?”
“I told you who and what I am, and you are demonstrably intelligent, so figure it out. When you do, you will realise how much I have risked coming here. But why don’t you ask Serana what she thinks about all of this?”
“You care nothing for Serana or our plight.”
“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, this stranger aligns himself with those that would hunt you down and slay you like an animal, yet I should entrust you to him?”
“Why do you think Wulf, who is not a stranger to me, is aligned with vampire hunters? He has protected me from them! The Dragonguard 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. You probably hear bits and pieces of the last thousand years of history. I know nothing yet was expected to survive within a world foreign to me. Why have you waited so long, Mother?”
“No, Mother, you will shut up and listen! You never asked me if hiding in that tomb was the best action. You just expected me to follow you blindly. You didn’t tell me your plan about Molag Bal as you feared I would object. Both of you have always been obsessed with power and compete for it to my detriment. Concerning Molag Bal, your motivations were the same as Father’s. With the prophecy, your motivations may have been different than 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 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 realise, and I have allowed my hatred of your father to estrange us for too long. Please forgive me. The Elder Scroll is yours to take.”
Valerica turned to me, but I did not bother approaching her.
She said, “Your intentions are still somewhat unclear to me.”
“Then I will state them for you. I am the 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 you, I like to observe the actions of others before passing judgement. I have allowed a chance of redemption to beings who have committed atrocities far beyond what Lord Harkon has done. That is who I am. Has that clarified my intentions enough for you?”
“Very clear. For Serana’s sake, I’ll assist you in any way I can.”
“Where is the Elder Scroll?”
“I have kept it safely secured here ever since I was imprisoned. Fortunately, you’re able to breach the barrier surrounding these ruins.”
“What needs to be done?”
“You need to locate the tallest rocky spires surrounding these ruins. At their bases, this barrier’s energy is being drawn from unfortunate souls exiled here. Destroy the Keepers tending them, and the barrier should come down.”
“That sound easy enough. Anything else we should be aware of?”
“Yes, a dragon calling itself Durnehviir roams the Cairn. Be wary of him. The Ideal Masters have charged him with overseeing the Keepers, and it will undoubtedly intervene if you 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?”
“I told you I defeated Alduin, The World Eater and his Overlord.”
“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. It seems you tend to ignore what is said. 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 my soul?”
“The same as they did to me. The Ideal Masters sent their Keepers to destroy me. Fortunately, I could hold them at bay and retreat into these ruins.”
“Then they raised the barrier.”
“Unfortunately, yes. Since the Ideal Masters couldn’t 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?”
“Yes, and nearly every invading minion was one of his. A few belonged to other Dark Lords, but I never saw one of Molag’s.”
“That is not surprising, as I doubt your master would cooperate with the other Dark Lords. 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 who could still think.”
“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 visit the Keepers and see what can be done about your prison.”
“Be careful, and keep my daughter safe.”
“My companions and I have risked our lives to defend Serana. But I did not allow The Dragonguard to accompany me here. Think about that while we are away. In the meantime, a demonstration of my power.”
I had been studying the barrier and could see what Valerica said was true and that souls empowered it. However, it was not constant, and there were regular fractions of a second when ethereal travel could bypass it. The vulnerability was not long enough for teleportation but was sufficient for me to Blink. I did so and appeared on the shocked Valerica’s side of the barrier.
I said, “Unfortunately, I can’t take you out of here as the barrier prevents teleportation. I will be regarded as a threat by The Ideal Masters, so I must hurry. However, I want the truth from you. Why did Molag Bal agree to make you and Lord Harkon Vampire Lords?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because Serana deserves the truth, and here is your chance to provide it!”
“Did you cross the barrier to threaten me?”
“I am not threatening you. I am asking that you respect Serana enough to tell her the truth. I believe that Serana has been living a lie. She thinks Lord Harkon wasn’t too bad a person until he discovered the prophecy. She is unsure if she still loves her father and is also ambiguous about you. I want Serana to be fully informed about who her parents are. So tell us, Valerica, how did you earn Molag Bal’s favour?”
“The truth may hurt Serana.”
I looked at Serana and asked, “Do you want to know the truth, Serana?”
Serana nodded, and Valerica sighed in resignation.
“We were king and queen of a very wealthy kingdom in The Reach. I left the governing to Lord Harkon, and he was a tyrant. He was obsessed with wealth and power, and our citizens were oppressed.
When we were gifted with Serana’s birth, we became doting parents who enjoyed watching her grow from babe to woman. Serana ageing before us reminded Lord Harkon that our time on Nirn was limited. His fear became mine. That fear of mortality drove us to find a solution.
Molag Bal offered us the powers of Vampire Lords as long as we did two things. We promised to offer Serana and me to Molag Bal and become if we survived, Daughters of Coldharbour. We weren’t given a year by which we had to attend the ceremony. The immediate proof of our devotion to Lord Bal was the sacrifice of one thousand innocents. A rival kingdom had declared war and destroyed some villages and towns. It was easy for us to disguise one thousand sacrifices as a senseless slaughter by our enemy. The loyal soldiers who killed the innocents for us found they added to the one thousand once we received our gifts from Lord Bal.
We no longer wanted to govern our kingdom and agreed to a truce with our rivals. We handed over our titles and purchased Castle Volkihar. Serana knew we were vampires, but it was abstract to her. We hid our true nature from her until we fulfilled our promise to Lord Bal.”
“What has this lust for vampiric power given you, Valerica? You had the most precious of things already, the love of your daughter. Nothing else is equal in value. That was enough for you once. If you had allowed the natural cycle decided upon by the creators of Nirn and mortals to run its course, Serana could have joined you in Aetherius one day. Instead, you have condemned yourself to Coldharbour, and I doubt you will find love of any sort there.”
I Blinked back through the barrier, then walked to a shocked Serana. Valerica moved away from the barrier, which allowed Serana to speak freely.
I asked, “How are you feeling after that heated discussion with Valerica?”
“Relieved. I have wanted to say those things to Mother for quite some time but was afraid of the truth.”
“Your parents hid their nature from you. I recently accused my father of the same thing. Fortunately for me, I was wrong.”
“Mother and Father respect power. When you used The Voice, I could see a slight shift in Mother’s perception of you. Then you bypassed a barrier that has kept her prisoner for a thousand years. She didn’t know what to say, and that look on her face was priceless.”
“Valerica must have worked hard to convince you that her plan was necessary. She should have told you how Lord Harkon might want to sacrifice you.”
“Perhaps Mother thought I would then know too much about the prophecy.”
“Have you ever wondered why Molag Bal made Lord Harkon and Valerica Vampire Lords? The Daedric Prince would not gift such a thing to law-abiding mortals who cared for their citizens.”
“My parents were Vampire Lords for many years before offering me to Molag Bal. I did not want to face the fact they might not be what I thought they were. Therefore, I did not question why they were gifted such power. Those concerns became superfluous after Father discovered the prophecy or that small part of it. Pursuing the prophecy became his life. Everything else, even Mother and me, became nothing more than clutter. I was close with Mother, and she kept feeding me her opinions of Father, and eventually, I started believing them.”
“Valerica is not too fond of Lord Harkon. That much is obvious.”
“After I survived Molag Bal’s rape, I noticed Mother had joined the queue. She voluntarily allowed the rape. Father would sacrifice her as she is also a Daughter of Coldharbour.”
“If we remove the barrier, Valerica needs to remain here till we remove the threat of Lord Harkon.”
“They won’t catch Mother unaware again.”
“Were you ever close to Lord Harkon?”
“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. Mother at least recognised the value of love and was apologetic for what was done to me. But still, she let me believe the lies about how they became pets of Molag Bal.”
“You were caught in the middle of their power struggle.”
“Yes, and it took me until now to figure out that Mother was just as bad as Father. He was obsessed with power. She was obsessed with seeing him fail. It was just so… toxic. Maybe we would all be better off now if I saw this coming.”
“Serana, you are not responsible for the failings of your parents. Both of them have strong personalities and are used to others obeying their commands.”
“I know that in my head. However, I can’t help feeling partially responsible for how things are. I know you’re trying to help, so thanks.”
“Believe me, Serana, I know the struggle between what is logic and what is pure emotion. And you do not need to thank The Dragonguard or me. Helping people is what we do. Seeing them survive and flourish is our reward.”
“Wulf, I have now seen you in anger twice. I have never seen somebody shout at Mother like that. It was terrifying.”
“You have not seen my real anger, Serana. I was restrained with your Mother and Father. My true wrath is terrible to behold, and I try to keep it under control. I am a dragon in everything but my body. I have the temper of one which I dare not unleash.”
“When you confronted Father. The potential for violence was palpable.”
“I will head as fast as I can for the Keepers. I will give you different escorts this time.”
I summoned two Dragon Priests
Serana asked, “Who or what are they?”
“They are Dragon Priests. Their Destruction magic is as powerful as the Valkynaz, but their Conjuration is at Master level. They will summon Dremora Lords if need be.”
I quickly made my way to the first Keeper, destroying enemies without pause.
The Keeper wore Dragonbone Armor and was at least ten feet tall. He was surrounded by four souls who powered the barrier imprisoning Valerica. The Keeper saw me and approached, a Dragonbone mace in his hand.
Unrelenting Force reduced the Keeper to a puddle of ectoplasm. Some of the undead I had faced to reach him were more formidable opponents.
Serena arrived a minute later, and we headed to the next Keeper.
We came upon a circle of undead seemingly worshipping something. I used Unrelenting Force to get their attention. To my surprise, the undead transformed into another type of translucent skeleton.
Serana and I disposed of them and then investigated what they worshipped. It was unmistakably the skull of Arvak.
I picked it up, and Serana asked, “What are you going to do with that?”
“Carry it to the soul who has appeared nearby.”
We approached the soul, who 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.”
The skull I carried vanished, and the soul handed me a spellbook.”
He 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….”