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We find an alchemical laboratory belonging to Serana's mother, but she is elsewhere. The only exit, as far as I can tell, is a design etched into the ground that can be nothing but a portal. A search of the laboratory turns up a journal, and confirmation that the gate leads to something called a Soul Cairn. Serana is taken aback at the news, and whispers that it is a fell place. She tells me that her mother was privy to necromantic secrets beyond anything I have learned, and that she had searched for this place throughout her unlife.
The journal tells us how to open the gate, and Serana does so. I try to enter, but the way is not open to me. My companion explains that the living cannot enter, and offers two choices: I can accept her gift of vampirism, or consent to have my soul partially trapped. I choose the latter. If nothing else, it sounds as though I might learn something.
Where are we?
The Soul Cairn spreads out endlessly. Spirits flit across a violet plain, ever under the watchful eye of spires crackling with magic.
I do learn something. I wish I hadn't.
The spirits, Serana tells me, are those of sapient beings trapped within black soul gems. Gods. Quintus. What have I done to you? He assures me that it is of no moment, a minor price happily paid for the ability to fight by my side, but the other locals are less positive.
One tells me that his horse has disappeared, and asks me to recover its skull. Perhaps that's not unwise. This place is enormous. We might travel here for days, and I feel weak, heavy with burden. Some of that is the ritual that trapped my soul. Most of it ...
"Gods, Quintus. Are you certain?"
"I hope you're right."
The Soul Cairn is not only home to spirits. The dead walk here.
We find Arvak's skull, and with it a means to move more swiftly over this hellish land.
On his back, I ride for days, Serana following on her summoned beast. In time, we across what appears to be a palace.
Valerica, Serana's mother, is within. I demand the Elder Scroll, but she is not inclined to pass it over until Serana convinces her of the need. Volkan's prophecy requires a sacrifice. That sacrifice: Serana herself. Her mother cannot bear the thought. It ... it seems a strange thing to hear from a vampire's bloodied lips.
It will not prove quite so simple, however. Valerica may be willing to help, but she is trapped behind a magical barrier. To bring it down, I must climb the spires of this place and kill the Keepers, great warriors built from smoke and dragonbone.
They're tough customers, not just because of high damage output. It doesn't quite come across in this screenshot, but the Keepers are probably at least a Bassus and a half tall. This means that the two melee Keepers (not pictured here) have absolutely absurd range.
With the Keepers dispatched, the barrier evaporates. We are not alone in noticing this ...
But I am Dragonborn. The beast falls, and begs me for a favour: he wants to taste the air of Skyrim one last time, and teaches me his name, the word that will call him into battle.
This dragon is kind of neat, in that he spawns a number of skeletal buddies pretty much every time he flies around. As a result, there are quite a few bodies to keep track of. He's certainly more dangerous than the green dragon we fought earlier, but even so, it's not an especially difficult fight. I don't have enough souls banked to call him just yet, but it should prove fun eventually.
Valerica hands over the scroll, and we make ready to leave. But first:
I reclaim the piece of my soul that Serana sealed away, and leave this blighted place with more questions than answers.
Bassus is now level 27ish, IIRC, and a few things have changed.
The first is that my stat gain per level has tapered off considerably. Where early points in stats would give as much as 15-20 skill points, I'm now getting less than 10. I don't know if this is SkyRe or CCO at work, but either way, it looks like we're working with diminishing returns of one kind or another. (But never fear: if at any point we fall behind, enchanting will be around to pick up the slack).
The second is that I got two perks at level 24 rather than 25, and only one at 25. The working hypothesis here is that after level 20, the perk scale changes from one bonus point per five to one bonus point per four. We'll see for sure once I hit my next level.
Generally speaking, I feel like I'm at the difficulty tipping point for this particular sort of character. I no longer feel like everything's a potentially deadly threat, but every now and again I run into something rather more brutal than expected. (Extra-giant spiders, for instance, have been known to one-shot Bassus with their leap attack despite a full suit of well upgraded heavy armour).
I think its a good thing you went ahead and played a character who wears heavy armor, I tried a magic character that wore only robes, and found that its entirely impractical in skyrim redone. The point was made very clear when I walked up to a bandit camp and got 1-shoted by a arrow. I have come to the conclusion that to be effective in skyrim redone atleast at lower levels you "NEED" to wear armor, stuff is instantly deadly otherwise.
It's actually not much different with armour, believe it or not. Arrows are just that deadly early on, and the less said about crossbow bolts, the better. That said, every robe wearer needs to beeline towards a summon spell to draw attention, an Alteration armour, heavy early investment in health, or all three. I find mages are quite viable, but those first few levels are definitely more painful than anything a thumpier sort needs to deal with.
Generally speaking, actually, Bassus is probably my least powerful SkyRe character to this point (though he has far more room to grow). The biggest powerhouse so far is a purely martial light armour / two-handed / marksman sort, and various flavours of pure mage or spellsword clog up the middle. Make of that what you will.
I'll do a full character sheet next time, but for now, I just want to note that I did indeed get two perk points at level 28, which does indeed mean that the scale has changed from one bonus per five to one bonus per four. I've started putting perks into Enchanting when I don't have someplace more pressing to sink them.
The Elder Scroll that Serana has taken to calling the Blood Scroll is in our hands. The Dragon Scroll awaits. Urag, Winterhold's book-orc, needs to be reminded who I am--I suppose I've not been the most conscientious of students--but in the end it only takes a few sharp words and a reminder that we are blood-kin to shake loose the truth: Urag has no idea where the Scroll might be.
He offers us, instead, a book of garbled nonsense about Elder Scrolls and the news that the crackpot who wrote it has set up shop on the floes "Somewhere to the north".
We go "north", into the jaws of a blizzard, searching for any sign of human life. In the end, we find a boat, and near it a cave.
Seems Dawnguard takes a moment to loop back into the main quest line. I was expecting new content for the purpose of this Dragon Scroll thingy, but instead, I'm getting a head start on Dragonrend. When the time comes, we'll be ready.
Within is a nut.
He points us to a place he calls Blackreach, in return for a promise to--as far as I can make it out--put a Bronze Cube inside a Bronze Thing and Do Stuff Until it Works.
This is not what I would call reliable information. Still, we've got nothing else to go on.
The way down into this Blackreach is to be found in a dwemer ruin by the name of Alftand. We are not the first to find it. Shacks have been erected on the slopes, and I come across a journal describing some ill-conceived plan to plunder the ruins.
Bandits. Always bandits. Skeletons litter the ruin. Of the living, there is no sign but a withdrawal-maddened Khajiit who decides that I look like I might have stolen his skooma. I am forced to kill him, and direct him towards worthier pursuits.
Blackreach sucks for necromancy. Neither Falmer nor (obviously) machines can be raised, which means my only valid targets are a handful of adventurers and, eventually, the weak slaves.
We descend into the depths, past the strange machines of the long-lost Dwemer, and into a number of surprisingly well-lit caverns. The blind things skittering in the dark have no need of so much light, which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that Dwemer technology is a far finer thing than our primitive 'torch'.
Shamelessly pilfered from that most iconic tool of Man, Fuck Your Wizard: the humble iron golem.
We find what remains of the expedition, and learn that they have turned on each other. They forge a fragile peace just in time to attempt to drive us off, but Serana and I prove to have better teamwork.
A strange mechanism leads deeper still, into a cavern of a size that must be seen to be comprehended. Luminescent mushrooms, castle-tall, cast an eerie pall over what must once have been a jewel of Dwemer architecture, but has now fallen into the hands of the twisted Falmer.
Yet the true brightness comes not from the mushrooms, but from no less than a mechanical sun.
We fight through a horde of Falmer and, I am unsettled to note, a number of human slaves, their minds broken. They hurl broken bodies into the fray with no goal other than the protection of their horrid masters, fighting with clubs, fists, teeth. We put an end to their misery, and allow a few their posthumous vengeance.
In the end, we come across a tower, inside which a strange mechanism rests.
I did indeed shout at the sun, but the dragon was not even close to killable. I'll try again once I'm able to enchant up some serious fire resistance.
Another minor tidbit: one of the random Blackreach chests offered up a suit of Daedric armour. Bassus won't wear it now (or perhaps ever, depending on the magnitude of Ebony's special perk--the text on the tree indicates some sort of magic resistance, which we desperately need), because it looks silly with orcish kit and breaks the set bonus. That said, if I do decide to wear Daedric, that's the most expensive piece sorted.
It's worth noting that because of the changes to scaling, one-offs like this are a bit more common. I shouldn't be finding Daedric gear at this level, but presumably Blackreach is tagged as a high-level area (I certainly ran into a few beefy Falmer lords), so anything goes. The earliest Daedric kit I've found in SkyRe was during a mage playthrough, at perhaps level 15 or so--a vamp randomly dropped a daedric katana that was completely wasted on me.
DA5: The Canticle Tree Wherein our hero stares into the sun.
The irony of it is that there was a time when I would have killed--and a darker time when I did--for such a poisonous opportunity. Perhaps Arkay sees fit to send me a reminder of the days before his service. Perhaps I'm cursed. I suppose there's no choice but to find out.
When Quintus and I returned from Blackreach, Elder Scroll in hand, a not-so-welcome surprise greeted us.
And these are the putative experts that spend lifetimes studying the scrolls? Well done, jackass.
I should have left it there. Such a shame, all quite terrible, I'm sure you agree. Well, nothing to be done but to hide these scrolls in a place where even ...
Oh. Or one of us could read them.
If only the fool could see my face when he came up with that suggestion. Words, once spoken, cannot be unsaid. Serana and the Dawnguard make some noise about which risks are acceptable and which aren't, but it's clear that this plan is better than simply hiding the scrolls away from a vampire lord with eternity to seek them out.
Once again, I am saved by my 'condition'. All the tap-tapping sticks and the hand on Serana's guiding arm have convinced my Dawnguard brethren that I'm simply an uncommonly old hand at dealing with blindness, but of course not a man or woman in the fort believes that I can read a scroll. Isran volunteers his own eyes--the fool--but I suggest Serana in his place. If I'm fated, I'm fated. I've survived the Scrolls once. I can do it again.
Isran is not happy with the idea, but Isran hasn't been blundering into depths metaphorical and otherwise to salvage this mess. I have. I insist, and the most he can do is glower.
Dexion tells us that there is an Ancestor Glade hidden somewhere down below, in the pine forest.
His directions are vague--I'm getting the sense that this man is not the toast of the Moth Priesthood--but they bring us, in the end, to a cave. Serana makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she does not intend to read the scroll. She knows I am fully sighted, of course--we've traveled together too long for me to pretend otherwise--and seems satisfied when I explain the obvious: it's my burden to bear.
The cave does not look like much at first, and Serana grumbles:
If this ends up a wasted trip, I won't be entirely unrelieved.
Soon, though, we find a path over stone and rubble. At its end is beauty, verdant, untouched.
The glade is more or less as Dexion described such places when he explained the rituals to me. My destination, the Canticle Tree, stands in the centre of a ring of menhirs.
I strip a square of its bark with the ritual knife left atop an altar, and ... really? Wander around to attract moths?
I feel stupid, but Serana seems to believe something's happening.
And then, breath trapped securely behind my ribs, I step as Dexion bade into the light, the moths my armour. It feels ... it feels like that first time. I unroll the scroll, and see incandescence. Terror begins to well up, memories of blood and knives in backs, of months groping about in darkness: all the years that I try to forget and sometimes do. What better reminder could there be than this, the Scroll, kin to the one that teased at the secrets of life and unlife before it blinded Bassus?
But this time, the light dims after it flares. I can see. I look down at the scroll, and the words blur and twist into meaning.
The one thing I really like about the Elder Scrolls series is that they do such a lovely job of detailing a rich game world and THEN they give you all the big, important things they talk about to play with!
I love the Scrolls, the Heart of Lorkhan, all of that kind of stuff!