Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Skyrim Day 085 - Onwards We March

14 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Dragon Bridge

It appears that my previous journal entry was too optimistic, for we have settled in for the night at Dragon Bridge, still quite a distance from Castle Volkihar.

As usual we left just as the sun was beginning to rise, confident that we would be masters of Castle Volkihar before night. We were careful to stay on the road and were delayed only by a Bosmer Skooma dealer who foolishly assaulted us and an assassin of the Dark Brotherhood, only slightly less foolish.
The day had started grey and remained grey, making for a rather morose trip, even given our anticipation of being done with the entire Dawnguard-Volkihar feud. A little while after the assassin it even began to rain, which Serana remarked as having not happened since the two of us met. Skyrim seems only to provide, in my opinion, days separated by having snow and day which do not, so I will have to take her word on this.

We arrived at Dragon Bridge before night and could have possibly made it to Castle Volkihar before midnight, but Serana reminded me that the night is not a good time to engage vampires, especially a castle full of them.

I expected Isran would have left a message somewhere along the way for me, but it appears his party traveled the north road, Serana and I the south, so if there were any I have missed them entirely. I may briefly stop at Solitude tomorrow just in case, that is the last settled stop between Fort Dawnguard and Castle Volkihar.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Skyrim Day 084 - The Dawnguard Rise

13 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

I barely slept last night despite the considerable comfort of the Grandmaster's quarters, too excited to finally march with the Dawnguard against the deadly, but misguided, vampires of Castle Volkihar. My excitement, however, is less to do with the Dawnguard's cause and more for being done with them entirely. Serana, too, was eager to leave early, no doubt for the same reason.

The only saving grace of the taking the eastern path from Winterhold to Windhelm is that no one else is masochistic enough to want to. The trip has the resilient traveler buffeted between winds screaming at her from the mountains at her right and a constant barrage of icy slush from the sea on her left. This continues even as the road does not halfway to the city, leaving you searching for a few Septims to pay for a local fisherman to ferry you from your side of the city's river over to the civilized side containing a road. It is an uneventful, miserable path.
A few Septims poorer, Serana and I set foot on the opposite shore and continued along the mountainside. Taking the road to Riften is easier, but slower and I feel both of us are in agreement that the quicker this is over with, the better.
We came upon an Orsimer fortress and I made to pass it by, but Serana wanted to stop to barter for some furs, her family's raiment being ill-suited for the cold. Inside we found few furs for the fortress protected a mine dug into the side of the mountain, providing the Orsimer with all the wealth they needed.

But the Chief gave me a tale of woe no wealth could alieve him of: every wife he has taken dies soon after, none of them providing him a son. He asked that I inquire about an 'Uglarz', a childhood friend of his whom he, for some reason, thought would make a good wife. Why he thinks Uglarz is still in Skyrim and also why she would consent to marry him (if she is not married already!) is certainly unwarranted optimism. At least the conversation gave Serana enough time to buy her pelts.

A Dragon roared over top our heads as we were leaving and we rushed back into the fort to prepare to battle alongside the Orsimer. But after roaring a bit more the Dragon flew back over the mountain to wherever it was calling home. They have been less aggressive as of late, though no less advertising.

We arrived at the entrance to Dayspring Canyon by mid-afternoon and did not experience the ambush we were anticipating.

Isran was more awed by seeing Auriel's Bow than I thought the dour man was capable of. He questioned whether Serana could be trusted in the battle ahead and I assured him she was just as eager to see Harkon de-throned as any one of us...possibly even more. He nodded once and turned to the assembling soldiers of the Dawnguard to address them.
The speech was the typical "This is our hour!" sort of thing, but the soldiers seemed to have appreciated it. I thought Serana and I would be traveling with them, but as the Dawnguard began to file out Isran turned and told us to meet them all at Castle Volkihar. Apparently we were to travel on our own.

So on our own we were, once again. We trailed behind the Dawnguard until Riften, where they turned north and we proceeded west, the more direct route. Isran is probably counting on stopping at Windhelm, Whiterun, or Solitude for supplies along the way.

While navigating the now-dark and icy pass between Ivarstead and Helgen we were accosted by a traveler in the escort of several mercenaries. The traveler introduced himself as 'Taron Dreth', an eminent scholar on the subject of Aetherium, or so he claimed. Recognizing my circlet as being of that metal drove him into an unexpected rage, attacking us along with his rather docile guards.
I will never understand why people are so eager to chance their lives over such petty things.
The ambush we had been expecting at the entrance to the valley came nearly seven hours late and half a province to the west: a Vampiress and a gargoyle jumped out of the woodland as we approached the gate of Falkreath. The gargoyle was a surprise, though not an overly dangerous one.

We shall be at Castle Volkihar tomorrow and, for good or ill, this business of the Dawnguard will be concluded.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Skyrim Day 083 - A Long, Boring Walk

12 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

Spending a night at my Solitude estate is a rare blessing, even if it is much too large for one person, or even two, as the case was yesterday.
I woke with Serana patiently waiting in my bedroom, which was a bit disconcerting. She must have guessed as much for she assured me that she spent most of the night in the basement, working on enchantments and alchemy.

Ahead of us was the task to travel to Fort Dawnguard, rally the Dawnguard, and assault her family's castle. The worst part of that, I am sure, is all the walking. I have almost certainly seen more of Skyrim than many of her residents, even if most of it is either forest or barren snow.

As if on cue we were attacked, in full daylight, by a trio of vampires just out of sight of Solitude's ramparts. They nullified what little advantage greater numbers gave them by beginning their attack while nearly fifty yards away. Between Serana's spells and my crossbow two were eliminated before they entered melee range and the other crumpled quickly.
Serana and I continued east without interruption, passing Dawnstar before noon. Just after the town we encountered a rider on the road who, much to our surprise, shouted that she was on urgent business with the Dawnguard and needed us to step aside. She sounded too young to be on any sort of business, but we were both surprised to see any evidence that things were happening without us.

And that was pretty much the day. We both agreed that stopping in Winterhold was preferable to trudging into Fort Dawnguard after midnight, so Serana is back again at the alchemy table and I am again preparing to rest in comfort, this time in the quarters of the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold.

Tomorrow we shall be speaking with Isran and readying the Dawnguard for the assault...meaning another trip across the province for the two of us. For all the preparation Isran has been busying himself with why could he not have purchased some carriages?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Skyrim Day 082 - The Curse of Immortality

11 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

Serana and I left Falkreath later than we had planned, leaving what passes for a gatehouse after the townspeople had started their day. Fortunately for Serana the weather was overcast and we made good time to the fields of Whiterun, at which point the clouds abruptly cleared, much to her dismay.

The plain has the advantage of being relatively flat, robbing animals and bandits of the advantage of surprise. The downside is that it is relatively flat, robbing us of the advantage of our own surprise. With Whiterun just in the distance we suddenly heard a roaring from the sky. Another Dragon, though we have not been seeing many as of late, Soul Cairn aside.
The Dragon flew directly over us, but despite being stuck on the plain it failed to see us, or was uninterested. It roared some more before flapping its way behind the hills to wherever it had settled down. I was not eager to waste time tracking it and Serana simply wanted to find some shade, so we continued on.

We passed through Dragon Bridge and backtracked along the river until we reached where I guessed the Elder Scroll had been marking. After some searching we uncovered a cave (of course!) entrance overgrown with vegetation. A few moments with my dagger saw a serviceable entrance made of it and in we went.

The cavern was wet and mossy, but seemingly empty until we came upon the remains of a Breton and his small camp. The damp had done nothing advantageous to his body, but his rucksack had protected a piece of parchment he had scribbled a warning to his sister on.
Why the man thought trolls could be good neighbors is a mystery, but I appreciated his warning of what lay ahead. Situated inside of a large cavern with several pools of water, the family of trolls numbered almost a dozen, but my crossbow made silent work of most of them.

Once that business was concluded Serana expressed her doubts that this was the correct location. I agreed, nothing of the place suggested it was hiding a powerful artifact, but I pointed out that would make this an ideal place to hide such a thing. She laughed, a rarity, and agreed to continue inwards a bit more.
A good thing we did, for ahead we found a man tending to an underground shrine. He had not seen us yet and we did not know who he was, so we crept behind a small rise in the cavern floor and observed him. Serana whispered that she was fairly sure the shrine he was fussing over was to Auri-El, the first indication we had that we were in the right cave.

Assuming she was correct I rose and greeted the man, startling him greatly. He invited us closer though and it was not until we drew closer than I realized there was something off about the man's appearance. I had taken him for an Altmer, but he introduced himself as 'Knight-Paladin Gelebor', the last of the Snow Elves.

I confess to not knowing much of the Snow Elves other than that they were somehow corrupted into the Falmer. The Knight-Paladin was not one for stories however, assuming (correctly) that we were there seeking Auriel's Bow, for as he acidly put it: why would we be there otherwise?

He and a few others had escaped the corruption by virtue of being away when it happened, but the relationship soured over the many years. Before Gelebor would assist us with finding the Bow we had to agree to kill his brother, the self-styled Arch-Curate Vyrthur, who lay under the sway of the Falmer...somehow.

I admit to confusion on this part. The Falmer are barely above animals and posses no language I have ever heard of. How could they be responsible for the corruption of an un-corrupted Snow Elf? I felt there was more to the story and in this I proved to be quite correct.

Killing Vyrthur would require Serana and I to travel through each of the 'Wayshrines' of Auri-El, the first of which Gelebor was guarding and refused to leave. Once we agreed (given no choice), he cast a spell on the stone effigy of Auri-El, revealing a small gatehouse beneath it. Serana was impressed, but the Dwemer left devices that do the very same thing all over the place.
Initiates to Auri-El had to travel to each wayshrine with an empty jug, collecting water from the basins of each wayshrine as they went. Once they had completed their visitations the jug would be filled and brought to the temple nearby. Simple, but they had no Falmer to contend with. We filled our jug with water from Gelebor's wayshrine and stepped through the shimmering portal that appeared along its brickwork.

In a flash we were in front of a different wayshrine in a very damp, warm cave. The plants were all luminescent, some retracting fearfully as we passed by. Evidence of the Falmer was easy to find, but no Falmer themselves.
After quite a bit of walking we found the second wayshrine, retracted as the first had been. A spectral apparition was faithfully waiting next to it and greeted the two of us as initiates.

We spoke to it, affirming our faith and it opened the wayshrine much as Gelebor had done. Inside was another basin of water and a second portal shimmering along the walls.

This wayshrine deposited us in a wet vale with fog that limited our vision to maybe a dozen paces.
A type of Sabre Cat I have not seen before prowled the valley, seeming to take pleasure in springing out of the fog from above us. They were nothing we could not handle, of course, and the Falmer had yet to be encountered.

The vale's wayshrine sent us to a frozen canyon, complete with a massive nearly-frozen waterfall cascading over the ice. I was dismayed by the sudden change of climate, but Serana was enamored by the sight, claiming it made all the difficulties up until now worth it. I disagreed, but kept silent.

Onward we went, finding the fourth wayshrine (of Learning) along the bank. This one sent us back underground to the realm of the glowing plants, but the path was different. It was here that we came upon the only indication that we were not the first to suffer this strange path, though Gelebor had not mentioned others before us.
The skeleton nearly crumbled to dust as I retrieved its rotten journal from underneath it and I could only make out the last entry the adventurer wrote, noting that there were traps ahead and that he planned to use them to his advantage...against what, he did not say, nor could I determine how he had died.

There were no Falmer ahead of the skeleton and soon the cavern exited outside the valley, on a path opposite where we had originally entered it. The path wound up the side of the valley wall, the final wayshrine (of Resolution) being along it as it continued upwards towards the main temple.
We stopped, filled the water pitcher, and continued on.

And that is when we finally found the Falmer.

Accustomed to the villages the creatures build in caves and Dwemer ruins, I was unprepared for the large Falmer city (if such a thing can be said to exist) that filled up the valley between us and the temple. Where the paths were too narrow to erect a hut they threw a bridge across to the other side. If a hut could be built atop another, it was. The effect was a very crowded mass of chitinous buildings and bridges, with Falmer above, below, in front, and behind.
I had brought a full sheaf of crossbow bolts into the valley, but exhausted them halfway through their icy metropolis. Serana's spells proved the deciding factor, as I am sure I would not have been able to fight off multiple Falmer from different directions and elevations all by myself, especially hand-to-hand!

At the end of the valley lay the final wayshrine, this one of Radiance.
Its portal sent us to our final destination: the Snow Elves' temple to Auri-El.
It was quiet, with no evidence of Falmer having made the place their home. Serana noted that the statue in the courtyard was of Auriel, but using symbols ancient to us. Given that she had been trapped underground so long this would mark the place as very ancient indeed.

Pouring the water we had laboriously collected into an empty basin at the entrance unlocked the door somehow and we cautiously stepped through to an eerily chilling sight.
Falmer and Chaurus stood frozen, encased in ice, around a shrine to their Auri-El. Several of the Falmer were wearing robes and holding staves above their head, suggesting an intelligence that is not quite present today. Perhaps they were seeking a cure for the horrid transformation? I will never know.

The remainder of the temple was more Dwemer in construction, large stone furniture geometrically shaped and littered with bones and skeletons.

And at the rear of the Temple waited the Arch-Curate Vyrthur, seated on a throne and surrounded by more frozen Falmer and Chaurus.
Watching us approach, he languidly congratulated me, saying that I had done exactly as he had hoped, bringing my "fetching companion" to me. Serana gasped and whispered if he was asking about her, which of course he was, for there was no one else with me.

With that the frozen "corpses" of the Falmer and Chaurus burst free and attacked us. Being encased in ice for however long left them weak and the two of us dispatched two dozen of them in only a few minutes. Once the last of his hapless pawns had fallen Vyrthur screamed and unleashed magicka into the ceiling of the temple, shattering it.
We ran for cover as he laughed and disappeared, but we fortunately escaped harm and continued after him.

Serana, probably spooked by discovering she was the center of Vyrthur's attention, ran ahead of me and caught up with the mad Snow Elf on a balcony overlooking the valley. As I caught up with them I heard him demand that she look into his eyes and tell him what she saw.

The Arch-Curate of Auri-El was a vampire.

Infected by one of his initiates, Vyrthur was (or felt) abandoned by his God and grew embittered. Cursed with immortality he had more than enough time to plan his revenge. So he created the prophecy Serana's father is so enamored with for the sole purpose of drawing a pure-blooded vampiress, a Daughter of Coldharbour, to harvest the blood he required.

The entire prophecy is a sham. The long sleep Serana took out of safety, unnecessary, save for the insanity of her father. With a snarl Serana hurled him from the balcony and the fight was on.

It lasted longer than I thought it would. The ancient armor Vyrthur and Gelebor wore provided some protection against Serana's spells, but my blade was another matter. Chasing the crazed man down was a different issue altogether, but eventually we cornered him and pummeled him with spell and blade until he was dead. So ends the prophecy, so far as the truth of it is concerned.

A few moments later a hidden wayshrine rose up in the courtyard and Gelebor stepped out, any help he could have provided no long being required. I walked over to him as Serana started to angrily strip the his brother's corpse, but Gelebor seemed not to mind.
The man's heart was colder than the surroundings. He expressed joy only in that the Falmer were not to blame for Vyrthur's madness, stating that there was still hope that they could be turned back to the guiding light of Auri-El. Sadness for his brother, previously half of Cyrodiil's Snow Elf population, was conspicuously missing.

He proclaimed Serana and I the rightful inheritors of Auriel's bow, despite neither of us being able to shoot it very well, if at all in Serana's case.
I was ready to take on Lord Harkon immediately, but Serana demurred. She felt that we would be overwhelmed by her father's loyal minions and advised a return to Isran on the entire opposite side of the province. 

This is maddening. And frustrating. I want this business over almost as much as Serana does, if only to save me from walking so much!

We used the temple's wayshrine to teleport back to the first one and backtracked through the cavern into the welcome light of the morning.
Serana and I were both surprised to discover it had only taken a day to travel to the cavern, fight to the first wayshrine, blunder about underground, fight through a Falmer city, open the ancient Temple, confront half of the remaining Snow Elves, kill him, claim Auriel's Bow, and return outside.

It was only when we arrived at Solitude for a much-deserved rest that we discovered it is now 11 Sun's Dusk, three days after we set off from Falkreath.

I should have stuck to chopping wood and escorting merchants. I may be immortal, in a way, but there are days like this when I simply feel very old.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Skyrim Day 081 - Eyes of the Gods

8 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

Serana and I left Fort Dawnguard very early in the morning, both of us desiring to reach the Glade before the afternoon and planning on leaving it at dusk.

Predictably another group of vampires assaulted us once we left Fort Dawnguard's canyon, but an ambush only works when your foe is not expecting it for the fourth time. I do wonder where these vampires are coming from and how many of them there are. Serana did not know, her suspicion was that the vampires we have been fighting are from outside the province, having been promised wealth and honors by her father in exchange for my, and presumably Serana's, death.

Facing a nearly limitless enemy is not a pleasant thought. But if Serana is correct vanquishing Lord Harkon will put an end to this business. I tactfully broached the subject of her father's death, but she laughed, stating that she has been assuming for some time now that we would be killing him. She has grown to accept this task, the constant attempts on her life by him no doubt helping in this. However, should it be possible I would prefer to kill him myself, if only to make it a bit easier on her, for she has grown on me.

The quickest way to the Ancestor Glade was via the southern road, past Riften, through the pass, then around or through what remains of Helgen. The walk was long, but mostly quiet. We were ambushed by a single vampire hiding within the mountain pass, but she was alone and no trouble. I would have had allies hiding behind us to close off a possible escape, but she was more confident and less wise than I.
Helgen was, once again, occupied by bandits. There were only three, two dying singly to my blade across their throat or in their back, the remaining to Serana's magicka. There will be more, I am certain.

As if to underscore that point three more bandits, perhaps a mile or so from Helgen, were camping along the road. They loosed arrows at us as we approached, but their bows were, for some reason, self-made and I could just about catch the arrows and toss them back with as much force. Serana, perhaps frustrated by her relative lack of involvement at Helgen, fought and killed the three of them with her magicka.
The hares they were cooking were the only things of value at the camp.

According to the Priest's directions we would have to ascend the mountains south-east of Falkreath to find the Glade. The path was supposed to be marked by a pile of stones and still was, or at least we hoped it was as we climbed the only path we found along the road with a pile of stones next to it.

The path climbed up the side of the mountain as the air, as always, grew colder, despite only being fifty feet or so higher than we were on the road. Soon we were slipping across frozen mud and blinking snowflakes out of our eyes. The view was quite nice though and the path unmolested by bandits or animals.
The Glade was set inside a cavern as just about every place in Skyrim is. Serana grumbled about the place not being particularly impressive and, as I snagged my foot on my third tree root, I was forced to agree. The Glade's entrance was overgrown with roots and weeds and generally appeared to not have been visited by anyone for quite some time.
A hole in the ceiling provided illumination for the draw knife nestled within a hollowed-out rock. I was anticipating a search, so this was a nice surprise. The tree whose bark I need to scrape off was right next to the knife. So far everything had been easy.

Then the moths gathered.
What Dexion had not explained was that the moths, once they were flying around me, would generate a yellow shimmering globe that would make it almost impossible to see. I was forced to rely on Serana to avoid plummeting off of ledges and tripping up stairs. Together we brushed past several groups of moths until I was nearly blinded, which Serana took as a sign that I was ready.

Bracing myself against the possibility of being struck sightless I opened the 'Dragon' Elder Scroll.

Opening the scroll produced a flash of light that persisted, briefly, after I closed it. Repeated openings of the scroll coalesced the light into a vaguely identifiable map of north-west Skyrim. I could see Solitude on the shore and what must have been Markarth at the end of a golden road. In-between the two was an orange rune I did not recognize, but there was nothing else of note, so by the process of elimination I figured that was where the Bow would be found.

We have been walking the entire breadth of Skyrim to thwart Lord Harkon only to discover that the artifact critical to his plan has been nearly at this door the entire time! How he failed to discover the location of the Bow before now is perplexing given the time he has had.

We were talking over our plan, trying to decide between staying overnight at Falkreath against pushing on to the cave without sleep when shouting and the sound of very heavy footsteps issued from the mouth of the cavern. Lord Harkon's people had found us once again.

They brought reinforcements in the way of two gargoyles, not trying to affect any sort of subtlety to their assault. Unfortunately for them the only way to us was via the staircase that wound down from the entrance and no more than two vampires or one gargoyle could stand before us while on it.

It is a bit bewildering that the vampires always find us after we accomplish something in conflict with their goal, but are utterly unable to get a step ahead of us despite having what seems to be limitless manpower and the collective knowledge of thousands of years. Serana expects most of whom we have been fighting are fresh "recruits" to Harkon's cause, folk who were seduced by the promise of long-life and great power instead of the farmstead or shop they were managing. Whatever the case, none of them are great warriors.

As if to underscore that point we were attacked by three more vampires while on the road to Falkreath, all with cheap iron swords they did not bother to use. This is getting tiresome.

Serana insisted on staying awake throughout the night while I stay at Dead Man's Drink in Falkreath. Tomorrow we will strike out for Darkfall cave and be one day closer to being through with this nonsense.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Skyrim Day 080 - Can No One Do Anything?

7 Sun's Dusk, 4E201
Fort Dawnguard

I am growing increasingly frustrated with the Dawnguard. Isran can talk a strong stand, but he and his entourage seem unable to make one. More and more of what the Dawnguard should be doing is being left to me.

Serana and I spent our time in Solitude recovering from our time in the Soul Cairn, then it was once again time to walk across the entire province to Fort Dawnguard. We were accosted by an over-ambitious Dunmer bandit who wisely took my hint to walk away and an old Orsimer who, seeking death, did not. Between Serana and I he met his death mercifully quickly.

As we approached the crossroad between Solitude and Markarth we were attacked by another Dark Brotherhood assassin. Is the Order summoning their people from all across Tamriel? How many can they possibly have left in Skyrim by now? This is getting to be less of a threat and more of a farce. If I knew how to solve this baffling riddle once and for all, I would.

We continued south through the crossroads, electing to save time by passing through the ruin of Helgen. To my surprise the place was empty, no fresh-faced group of bandits had yet occupied it since the last had been exterminated, though I suspect it will not remain so for very long.

It was with this in mind that I started thinking about the depleted Imperial Legion. Perhaps if they were more effective or more numerous Skyrim would not be so plagued by lawlessness. Not for the first time I considered traveling (back!) to Solitude to see about joining. I am sure the few hundred years since my last enlistment will not count against me.

But that was not to occur today. In fact, not much occurred today. The walk from Helgen to Fort Dawnguard, as long as it always has been, was completely without incident.
The vigilant Dawnguard were patrolling the Fort's grounds, doing no good for anyone else in Skyrim. They even know where the vampire clan lives, yet are content to stay at their mostly-vacant castle and let me do everything for them.

Dexion Evicus was even less helpful than the other Dawnguard members. The little reading he had done for us previously had blinded him while Serana and I were trapped inside the Soul Cairn trying to retrieve the last Scroll. Now that we had it, he could not read it. A lesser Khajiit might have stabbed him.

Of course there was a work-around and only I, an unhappily immortal Khajiit, was able to do it. The blind priest told me of places of ancient magic scattered across Tamriel known to his order as 'Ancestor Glades'. Performing the 'Ritual of the Ancestor Moth' should provide me the temporary ability to read from a Scroll.

I had never heard of such a ritual before, nor of such places. The ritual itself is bizarre: I must use a special knife to cut a piece of bark from a tree in the 'Ancestor Glade', which will attract Ancestor Moths around me. Once enough are gathered around me, I will somehow gain the temporary sight to safely read an Elder Scroll.

After he explained the ritual, Dexion Evicus pointed out that there was a possibility none of it would work for me. The only way to find out, of course, was to travel to the Glade, find the special knife buried somewhere about the area, cut the bark, attract the moths, then unroll the Scroll to see if I would be struck irreparably blind. 

I had some issues with this plan.

Dexion Evicus went on to theorize that the Scrolls have a will of their own and that they wanted to be found by unsettling thought. But if that is true, I expect they will want to be read by me as well. I can only hope. An infinite life, blind, is not a pleasant one to live, though I suppose I would grow used to it eventually.

Skyrim's Ancestor Glade was somewhat south-east of Falkreath, not the worst journey the priest could have asked for. But it is already too late to set out again to my comfort, so Serana and I will spend the night in Fort Dawnguard and proceed with this strange request tomorrow.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Skyrim Day 079 - A Timeless Prison of Souls (Part 2)

7 Sun's Dusk, 4E201

Relaxed all day and did nothing of note...two things which I cannot recall the previous utterance of, at least together.

Hidden behind the fireplace was a large laboratory with a raised section against one side overlooking a terraced circular depression in the floor. Candles had been placed around it and they were, again, lit.
Serana entered behind me and just about squealed with joy. She starting babbling about how her mother was deeply into necromancy (as I thought all vampires were) and that this hidden chamber had to be her laboratory.

I could not disagree with the last part. There was not a single section of wall unoccupied by a table or bookshelf and ingredients lay scattered all over the place. Serana felt that there would be notes or a journal describing her mother's work hidden for her eyes only, so we started searching the room from the entranceway, she to the balcony to the left and I to the right.

She shouted the names of ingredients as she searched the tables, enthusing about how clever Valerica had been. I found this odd, the two of them had not seen one another in, if Serana is to believed, over a thousand years. If I manage to live one-thousand years I imagine I will not retain much attachment to anyone alive today. Already I cannot recall the nature of my own upbringing, my time in Cyrodiil prior to the Oblivion Crisis, nor any clear memories of Morrowind, though I occasionally have uncertain flashbacks.

I found Valerica's journal while her daughter was busy enthusing over the laboratory. I read it quickly, then called Serana over. The journal opened on 27th Last Seed, year unmentioned. Valerica lamented that had been reduced to a mere annoyance in the eyes of Harkon. In response she dedicated her time to her studies, the next day's journal entry announcing a breakthrough in her research.

She had found a way to attune a portal to a place she called the 'Soul Cairn', but only for a few seconds. Help had been provided, for she mentioned a group she called the 'Ideal Masters', but the help was largely in riddles and she had been left on her own to discover how to sustain the portal longer than a few seconds.

More time had passed, the next entry was 3 Hearthfire. Valerica was able to keep the portal open via a mixture of bone meal, void salts, soul gem shards, and her own blood. Having secured her way out, the journal concludes with her rushing off to Dimhollow Crypt with Serana, her evidently not mentioning the inter-planar portal to her daughter on the way.

Her daughter gamely ignored being left out and explained that her mother had theorized that trapping souls with black soul gems sent them to the 'Soul Cairn', where the 'Ideal Masters' rewarded the necromancer responsible with powerful enchantments and spells. Where animal souls, the only I have ever experimented with, go, was neither a concern of Serana nor Valerica.

But it was into this Cairn we had to go if we were to retrieve the final Elder Scroll. Crushed bone meal, void salts, and shards of soul gems were easy to find in the laboratory, but a sample of Valerica's blood was out of our reach. I suggested we try Serana's and she doubt realizing we had no other choice.
Serana followed her mother's instructions and, with her own blood, successfully opened the portal once again. When I attempted to descend the stairs however I found myself quickly growing weaker with each step. Shaken, I retreated back to the balcony, instantly feeling far better.

Serana explained that the Soul Cairn was attempting to force a toll on me: my life. Naturally, those within the Cairn are devoid of it and whatever method the Cairn was using to extract mine went beyond what Dagoth Ur had blessed me with so long ago.

There were two solutions to this problem, neither of which I liked. The first was to be "turned" into a vampire by a bite from Serana. The thought is amusing afterwards, a Nord Vampire trying to bite through a mouthful of fur, but I emphatically denied it as a possibility, perhaps a bit much, for Serana seemed insulted.

The second was little better: Serana would use a soul gem shard to partially (I have never heard of such a thing before!) capture my soul, enough hopefully to pay the portal's toll. This was only slightly more appealing than vampirism, but there seemed no other way to gain I agreed.

She cast her spell, pointed the shard at me and...not much happened. Save for a slight feeling of emptiness and feeling like a bad case of 'Bone Break' fever I felt fine. Serana suspected something in the Cairn would reverse the effect, but that was just a guess. Having done whatever had been done, I descended the staircase once again and into a world of darkness.

It was not worse than what I remember of the plane of Oblivion. The Soul Cairn was a black place, poorly lit by a purple sky shot through with lightning and what may have been souls or magicka energy.

Above us was the underside of our portal: a circle of Nothing surrounded by swirling energy. Helpfully, our portal deposited us at the top of a floating staircase. While descending I noticed that there was something missing: air. That is not to say there was no wind, no breeze. There was simply no air at all. I found I was not breathing, nor was Serana, and that we did not need to, not in the Cairn. Our voices still carried, somehow, but the sound arrived poorly, as if we were thousands of feet away instead of a dozen. It made the rest of our time at the Cairn an even more miserable experience.

Ethereal forms wandered the blighted landscape, some appeared to be resigned, but lucid, others unaware of where they were or what had happened. One soul we passed still had her bow strapped to her back, but could only ask us where her ship had sailed to. Another soul was lounging against a ruined wall, advised us not to spend too much time in the Cairn. It is hard to say which of the two were worse off.

The place felt wrong. It was not that the Cairn was a place of death, it was not. It was a place of nothing, neither life nor death. Serana must have felt it too, for she muttered that she just wanted to find her mother and be gone as quickly as possible as we left another confused soul behind us.
The Cairn was separated into two halves by a large, crumbling wall, us on one side, a large, ruined castle forever collapsing upwards into the sky on the other. Serana and I agreed that her mother would likely be found there or nearby.

While on our way Serana stopped to investigate a throne that had four beams of light shining from it. A decrepit skeleton in battered armor was slumped upon it, but as we approached it roused from its slumber and grabbed a two-handed axe from behind its throne. I suppose we should not have been surprised by now, but we were.

Our foe was no more difficult than a powerful Draugr. Serana and I employed our usual strategy of me distracting the enemy while she fired magicka into its back. Simple, but effective.
We passed a partially-buried skeleton of a Dragon along the path to the castle, making me wonder if it had been possible to trap the soul of a Dragon normally, instead of...whatever I seem to do when one dies.

A morose soul sitting along the path warned us of a Dragon he named 'Durnehviir', but Dragons are usually noisy, proud creatures and there was no evidence of a Dragon living in the Cairn. I assumed the soul was stuck in his past life and moved on.
The castle was still impressive as it crumbled forever into the clouds. A chest at the foot of the front balcony contained rare Ebony plate armor, but I chose to leave it due to the weight, over Serana's objections.

A shimmering barrier surrounded the castle just inside the balcony where Valerica waited, trapped.
She was less happy to see her daughter than I expected her to be. She instead seemed more concerned about my intentions and despite my protests refused to believe I had anything but the extermination of all vampires in my heart. After pointless back-and-forth with the frustrated woman Serana jumped in, pointing out that I had done more to help her in the past week than her own mother had done within the past one thousand years. Harsh, but true.

What followed was an angry exchange of domestic concerns spoken across an impassable barrier of magicka, a greater concern, I thought, than their family history. Tempers soothed after several minutes and discussion turned to the present. Valerica suspected the barrier was maintained by three guardians she called the 'Keepers'. Dispatching all three would bring down the barrier, allowing Valerica her freedom and us access to the Elder Scroll she secreted away.

She also warned us of the Dragon 'Durnehviir', a guardian of the Cairn. The trapped soul from earlier had been speaking the truth. However, after defeating a dozen or so Dragons in Skyrim it was difficult to feel concerned about another one, even in the Cairn.

Tracking down the Keepers was easier than I thought it would be: each occupied a throne roofed by the beams of light that caught Serana's attention earlier and neither of the two remaining Keepers were any more difficult than the first. The castle's barrier disappeared upon the banishment of the third Keeper and we hurried back to Valerica.

Durnehviir was already waiting for us at the courtyard. Serana and I spread out as usual and, much to my surprise, Valerica did as well. Against two vampires and a Khajiit the Dragon had little chance.
Durnehviir's remains burst into purple flames upon his death, but no soul came streaming out of the blaze...which makes sense, considering we were in the place souls go anyway. With the castle's guardian temporarily banished (same as the Keepers, I suppose) Valerica's cache was free to us.
Other than the Elder Scroll there was not much: a few potions and some books. I gave Serana the Scroll and we prepared to leave, assuming Valerica would be following.

But she declined. Returning to Tamriel would mean Lord Harkon would have two sources of the blood he required for his ritual, a risk Valerica was not willing to take. Her harsh demeanor had softened and she only asked that I keep her daughter, the only thing she values any longer, safe from her father. I agreed and we parted ways. Serana stayed behind to speak privately with her mother, I was to wait at our portal for her.

And so I left the courtyard and came face-to-face with the increasingly-physical form of Durnehviir perched over the balcony.

But it was not vengeance the beast sought, only conversation. He named me 'Qahnaarin', Vanquisher in Common. Durnehviir had never been defeated during his long time in the Cairn, though I wonder if having the experience of Dragon-fighting in Tamriel is what made the difference. 

Our conversation was brief. He had reformed in my path to ask a favor of me: freedom, albeit temporary. Through the utterance of his name, combined with my desire to see it done, I would be able to summon Durnehviir to Tamriel for a short time as, I was promised, a valuable ally in battle. Alas for him, the summoning would soon send him back to the Cairn, but I would be able to call upon him after some rest.

I agreed, for I cannot see how any creature or any one person deserved an eternity in the Cairn. 

I was also given the tale of how he had come to the Cairn. Long ago, before the Dragon Wars, Dragons fought each other over tiny scraps of territory. So many Dragons, so little land. While the others were tearing each other apart with tooth and claw Durnehviir sought power via what we know today as necromancy. 

A deal was struck with the mysterious 'Ideal Masters': accept unmatched power from Beyond, but in exchange, serve the Masters in death until the one that will be known as 'Valerica' dies. It was a harsh deal, Valerica was probably not even alive in Durnehviir's time and he had no way of knowing she was essentially immortal. He agreed to the deal only to find himself trapped in the Cairn guarding a woman whose life would never naturally end.
He wished me a long life, unknowingly playing a second joke on himself, and flew off. Valerica still remained in the Cairn and he still had to guard her...from what, I do not know. Leaving, I suppose.

Serana had not come out yet, so I continued to the portal and waited for her there. She said nothing as she caught up and nothing as we arrived back on Tamriel.
It was late in the afternoon by the time we were back on the shore of Skyrim and well into the night when we stumbled into Solitude. An inquiry to the gate's guard revealed it to be 6 Sun's Dusk, a full two days since leaving Winterhold. We spent 7 Sun's Dusk recuperating and planning our trip back east, as well as my writing all this down.

There is a great deal more at stake here than a simple revival of a vampire family, but Serana has been quiet since speaking with her mother. I feel I can trust her enough not to pry into her personal affairs, but she will have to start talking again eventually.