In Which the Dragonborn Begins the Hunt for Miraak

This session saw me finishing up the hunt for the Dragon Priest masks—and commencing the hunt for the other Dragonborn, Miraak, on the island of Solstheim.

It also saw the death of my horse, slain by a snowy sabre cat on my way to the Forelhost ruin. RIP, Alarrah’s Horse! You were a very good horse. Too bad you were only level four. 😢

Highlights

  • Visited Lakeview to redistribute some of my built up cache of loot, which required me to work some on building out the Storehouse wing of Lakeview
  • Headed down to Riften next to see about finding the Forelhost ruin and getting the final Dragon Priest mask; sadly, my horse got killed on the way!
  • Made it on foot to Forelhost, met the so-called “Captain Valmir”, and agreed to help him find the Dragon Priest’s staff; found same, after running the dungeon and killing all the cultist ghosts and draugr; also got the mask
  • Came out of the dungeon to find “Captain Valmir” making the exact same pitch to a Stormcloak NPC; he attacked me when I caught him, so I dispatched him; the Stormcloak NPC ran off
  • Went back to Whiterun to pick up the rest of the masks, including the wooden one
  • Went to Labyrinthian again to trigger the wooden mask, visit the original version of the sanctuary, and place all the masks on the pedestal to get the fancy golden one as well
  • Took all the masks to Windstad to stash them there
  • Returned to Whiterun to get ready to go to Solstheim; realized I really missed Lydia, so decided she was coming with me
  • Fast traveled to Solstheim and that plunked me down on the same ship that’d taken me there before, in the Raven Rock dock
  • Started asking NPCs if they knew anybody named Miraak and kept getting answers along the lines of “why does that name sound familiar?”
  • Spoke with an NPC in the Retching Netch who told me she was the wife of the same councilor NPC who first greeted me when I came to Solstheim before; she also lamented to me that her husband was in danger, and that meanwhile, she’d lost a valuable first edition book that was supposed to be delivered to her; I agreed to look for the book
  • Booked a room at the Netch and settled in to sleep…
  • … only to be teleported to a creepy location where clearly enthralled people were working on building a shrine, yikes
  • Fortunately Lydia had been moved with me, and we found another NPC, Frea, who was desperately trying to rouse the enthralled people; we teemed up with her to penetrate into the structure and reach the Temple of Miraak
  • Killed several cultists and draugr as well, but with both Lydia and Frea backing me up, met nothing we couldn’t handle
  • One cultist had a line about us not escaping “the Dragonborn’s justice”, which must surely have caught Alarrah’s ear
  • This was a big dungeon with a lot of areas, and hidden levers and handles that needed pulling to open up secret passages
  • Frea was one of the nobler follower NPCs I’ve had so far in the game, with a lot of regretful commentary to every cultist or draugr we dispatched; lots of commentary about the dungeon in general, as well
  • Finally made it down to the very bottom of the dungeon and found the first of the Black Books; when I read it, got transported to Oblivion for my first encounter with Miraak, yikes
  • When that was done and I told her what happened, Frea urged me to go speak with her father in the Skaal village, which still had a few people in it not yet nabbed by the power at the shrine
  • Upon learning that I’m also Dragonborn, Frea’s father surmised that I might be able to save them or I might bring about their destruction; he recommended I learn the same Words of Power that Miraak had used to corrupt the standing stones near the shrine, and that I should cleanse those stones to free the enthralled Skaal

Redistribution of resources and loot

My first agenda item for this session was to get the last of the original set of Dragon Priest masks—I say “original”, because I know there will be more on Solstheim. But before I took that on, I decided to move a few things around between my homes.

Since Breezehome in Whiterun remains my player’s main house, this means my main storage chest is the one by my bed in Breezehome. But I’d started running into a problem interacting with that chest, either putting things into it or taking them out, wherein I’d get a lag of 2-3 seconds before the item would finally shift over. This seemed to be a matter of how many things were in the chest.

So I decided I should move the stuff I knew I wouldn’t need out to one of my other homes. Since I’d already dropped a bunch of armor into the armory I built at Heljarchen, I decided to take this drop of stuff down to Lakeview.

All the stuff out of my chest took my carry weight inventory over 1,000. My current carry weight as of this writing, assuming that I’m not wearing something that fortifies that stat, is 495. So I was carrying a lot of extra gear.

This therefore required me to fetch my horse. I decided to get the actual living horse this time, as opposed to summoning Arvak, partly because I feel like Alarrah would try not to summon a spectral ghost horse within sight of Whiterun. Just to avoid making anybody too nervous!

And, conveniently, I’d actually started building a Storeroom wing at Lakeview anyway. So taking a loot drop there made good sense. I spent a little time building out more of that Storeroom wing, just so I’d have a bunch of additional containers to store things in. In particular, I distributed various jewelry items into various strongboxes. And I stuffed a bunch of staves into the long chest on a table.

Once I got all that taken care of, I was ready to actually go to Forelhost.

RIP Alarrah’s Horse

I really, really should have returned my horse to the Whiterun stables. But I didn’t really consider it, and my poor horse paid for that decision.

Unlike the previous session, where I got pointers to where I needed to go from Arngeir, I decided just to wander around a bit and see if I could find the target location myself. I knew from the wiki that Forelhost was southeast of Riften. So I fast traveled to Nightingale Hall, just south of Riften and previously discovered—and it didn’t take long for something to kill my horse as I tried to ride around in search of Forelhost.

I successfully killed the bear and the wolf that came at me while on horseback. I was not, however, fast enough to kill the snowy sabre cat who came charging at me once I got close enough to my destination. The cat took one swipe at the horse, and it was down.

For a few moments I had to pause and think about what I wanted to do. This was not the first time something had killed the horse out from under me; in fact, every single time I’d tried to ride the horse between point A and point B, it had gotten killed. I’d been rolling back to previous auto-saves to recover the poor thing. But this time, I was just kind of tired of doing that.

So, regretfully, I bid Alarrah’s poor horse farewell and had to leave it there next to the cat I’d killed. RIP, horse. You were a good horse. Too bad you were only level four.

And that’s the thing—horses don’t level up like the player does. Nor is there any way to armor a horse. So they’re very fragile, and there’s no way to easily protect them from being attacked just by random beasts when you’re out riding. So while I really like having a horse to move around when I have too much carry weight, I don’t like how a sabre cat taking one swipe at the horse can kill it.

Right now, I’m thinking I probably won’t get another horse. If I get encumbered after running a dungeon, I can use the Summon Arvak spell to call up the undead ghost horse to get home. And I’m taking steps to double-enchant the hell out of my gear, now that I know a Fortify Carry Weight enchantment.

Still, though, RIP horse. I hope you have a lovely field of clover to gallop through in Sovngarde.

Forelhost and the so-called “Captain Valmir”

Forelhost turned out to not be too far of a jaunt from Riften (which made it all the more sad that the horse got killed that fast). And I was only a few short strides away from it when I lost the horse.

So I went the rest of the way and found that the access point was a tower with a bridge that arched over to the actual entrance to the ruin. Once I crossed the bridge, I came within range of a campsite. Someone the game tagged as “Captain Valmir” hailed me, and he identified himself as an Imperial officer on a mission to recover a valuable artifact from this ruin, which apparently had a history as a last-ditch hideout of the Dragon Cult.

My dialogue prompts clearly indicated something was a little fishy, because one of the things I could mention to him was “General Tullius never mentioned you”. Nevertheless, I agreed to help him, since I was going in there anyway, and what I really wanted was the Word Wall and the mask. Anything else, sure, he could have.

This dungeon did turn out to be interesting. Not only were there draugr, there were also ghosts of Dragon Cultists, and a lot of evidence around indicating that these people had all poisoned themselves rather than be defeated in battle by the Nord forces of Skorm Snow-Strider. And unlike most draugr ruins I’ve explored to date, this place had a lot more areas that looked like actual living quarters—bedrooms, a refectory, a garden. And there were scraps of notes left around by various NPCs, including the actual Dragon Priest himself, Rahgot, as well as an alchemist who was not on board with this whole “let’s all poison ourselves” plan. The alchemist’s note even mentioned children, a detail that gave the place’s backstory additional heft.

The cultist ghosts were generally outfitted in Ancient Nord equipment. So I grabbed one set of the armor items off the first ghost I dispatched, to take home later as souvenirs.

Rahgot, this dungeon’s Dragon Priest, was a pretty challenging fight just because he was wielding serious fire. Fortunately, I have a Necklace of the Firewalker which gives me 70% fire resistance, so I made damn sure I was wearing that thing and then kept pelting him with ebony arrows. Turned out that his literal firepower was from a staff that specifically generates walls of flame. Yowza.

Once I got the dragon priest loot, I headed back outside again—only to find “Captain Valmir” now wearing Stormcloak gear and making his exact same pitch to a Stormcloak NPC. As soon as I came within range and he realized he was totally busted, “Valmir” shakily went “I can explain”. But that must have sounded weak even to him, because he went straight from that to just outright attacking me.

And Alarrah, who was in no mood for bullshit at this point—because fuck you, asshole, I just lost my horse—took him out. The Stormcloak NPC, meanwhile, wisely decided that fleeing was in his best interests.

The final mask

The deal with the Dragon Priests masks is, you get all eight of them, plus one wooden mask you find in Labyrinthian. There’s a ruined pedestal in Labyrinthian, right near the entrance into Shalidor’s Maze, where you can use the wooden mask to trigger going back in time and seeing the pedestal before it was ruined.

You place all eight dragon masks on the pedestal, and this unlocks a ninth one, made of gold. I got a screencap of the pedestal, like so:

Dragon Priest Masks
Dragon Priest Masks

There’s not much to it aside from that. And the gold one is heavy armor, so I’m not likely to use it anyway. I’m just enough of a completist that I wanted the whole set!

Once I got the gold one, I took all the masks to Windstad and dropped them off there. Partly on the grounds that distributing all the shiny things amongst the houses is best policy! Don’t want all the shiny things at just one house, in case a giant comes along and stomps all over it or something.

Prepping for Solstheim

Then it was back to Whiterun, to take on the next big goal: beginning the plotline for Dragonborn. Which requires me to go to Solstheim, and while I can fast travel back and forth, it makes more narrative sense to assume I’ll be there for a while in game-time.

I also realized I really missed having Lydia around! And she does a lot of circuits around Breezehome, wearing her default armor and carrying the big fuckoff ebony weapon I gave her, and I could only thing “oh honey you are totally bored, aren’t you.”

Plus, I felt a little guilty having Serana as my follower during Dawnguard. So I wanted Lydia at my back for this.

The one narrative problem I see with this: this means Lydia and I have to leave Lucia alone for a while. The game does not account for this. And as a player, I’m not entirely comfortable with both of Lucia’s adoptive mothers leaving her alone for a while! Particularly given that she’d already lost one set of parents!

So I have to assume head-canon-wise that Alarrah took Lucia aside for a very earnest talk. Which probably went something like this:

Alarrah: Sweetheart, I have some news for you. This is important, and probably scary. But Lydia and I believe you can be brave. Can you be brave while I tell you this news?

Lydia: Okay, mama…? What’s wrong?

Alarrah: I need to go away for a while, all the way to a place called Solstheim. Someone has been trying to kill me. He sends his people after me and they keep attacking me when I’m on the road. I need to find out why.

Lucia: Like the Dark Brotherhood? You made the Dark Brotherhood go away!

Alarrah: I did. And it’s kind of like that, yes. I don’t know who these other people are, though. But they were sent after me by someone called Miraak, and he’s on Solstheim. I’ll need to take a ship to get there and find him, and find out why he wants to kill me.

Lucia: And make him go away like the Dark Brotherhood?

Alarrah: Maybe. But I won’t know till I get there. And here’s the scary part: I need to take Mama Lydia with me, too.

Lucia: Wait… you both have to go? But… I’ll be alone again…

Alarrah: Oh sweetheart, I don’t want to leave you. And I don’t want to make Lydia leave you either. But out of all the housecarls I have, Lydia is the one I trust the most to guard my back. She’s the one best able to make sure I come back. And if Lydia is with me, then the two of us together will be better able to come back to you.

Lydia: I swore to carry her burdens, Lucia. Even before I was her wife, I was her sword and shield. Now that I am her wife, it’s all the more important to me that I make sure she can come home again.

Lucia: I-I don’t want either of you to go!

Alarrah: I know, love. I know. This is hard, and it’s scary. But I need to do this. This Miraak, whoever he is, might eventually find me here if I don’t find him first. And I will not let him threaten Whiterun. Or you. I didn’t go all the way to Sovngarde and fight Alduin just to let this Miraak keep trying to kill me.

Lydia: And she did fight Alduin. She saved us all. And she came back from that.

Lucia: You… did come back from that. And Alduin was really scary. You’re going to come back this time too?

Alarrah: I swear it. On all the Divines. We will both return to you. Can you be brave and guard Breezehome for us while we’re gone? Can you make us proud, little warrior?

Lucia (standing straighter, though her lip is quivering): Y-yes. I can be brave. What should I do?

Alarrah: I will leave you money so you can buy all the food you need in the market, for you and your fox. And anything else you need. If you need help, go next door to the forge and ask Adrianne. Or go to the apothecary and ask Arcadia. Tell them I sent you. And I’ll also tell the guards before I go to keep an eye on this house and to watch out for you as well, so they can help you if there’s any trouble. They keep telling me they’ll do anything I need—well, now I’m going to hold them to that promise.

Lydia: You know Adrianne and Arcadia, honey. You know they’ll help you, right?

Lucia: Uh-huh. Adrianne makes really pretty swords… maybe… maybe I could help her? While you’re gone?

Alarrah: You sure could, if you want. Or if you want to learn about potions, Arcadia could teach you that. Do you think you’ll be okay staying here in the house by yourself? I can send for someone to come and stay with you, if you want. I could get Gregor or Oriella to come from Heljarchen, that’s closest. Or you could go and stay with them in my house there if you want to.

Lucia (her voice small): I want to stay here.

Alarrah: Then here is where you’ll stay. But I will leave word at Heljarchen as well that Gregor or Oriella should come and visit you while I’m gone, so you can get to know them. They’re good people and they will watch over you. Gregor is my housecarl just like Mama Lydia, and Oriella is a bard. She can teach you about music if you want.

Lucia: Okay, mama. How long will you be gone?

Alarrah: I don’t know yet. When Lydia and I take the ship to Raven Rock, I’ll send a courier to you to let you know we got there safely. And any other couriers I can to let you know where we are, and when we’ll be home. Do you have any other—

Lucia (abruptly hugging Alarrah): I love you, mama. Make the bad man go away. Come home fast.

Alarrah (hugging Lucia back, since Lucia clearly has no questions): We will. I promise.

Lydia (also getting in on this hugging action): Brave little warrior. And I will come home and teach you all about fighting. Keep practicing with your dagger. I’ll teach you how to shoot a bow when we come home.

Lucia: I will! I love you, Mama Lydia. I love you, Mama Alarrah.

Solstheim

With Lydia properly outfitted in her Nordic armor, I then fast traveled over to Solstheim. There’s a marker for this on my map now, pointing northeast.

And when I landed at Raven Rock, I was standing on the deck of the same ship that had taken me there before—so clearly the fast travel is a shortcut for stopping in Windhelm and engaging the ship again. I didn’t think to check whether this dinged me for the price of passage! I’ll have to doublecheck my gold tally when I come back.

Once in Solstheim, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do next. So I started talking to various NPCs, and since the game kept giving me dialogue prompts to ask if anyone knew the name Miraak, I did those. And kept getting answers along the lines of “why do I know that name, that sounds familiar, but I can’t place it, how strange…”

Gosh, this isn’t the slightest bit suspicious or anything, oh my no.

And I went to the Retching Netch to see if the place was in fact an inn as well as a tavern. Answer: yes.

In the Netch, I had a rather lengthy chat with a Dunmer woman who told me she was the wife of a local second councilor—as it happened, the same Dunmer NPC who’d greeted me at the dock the first time I’d come to Raven Rock, and given me the speech about how “this is Morrowind, not Skyrim, and you need to obey Morrowind’s laws here”. She told me her husband was in danger, and how she’d just as soon go home to Morrowind, except for her husband’s dedication to his job.

She also lamented to me that she’d recently sent away for a valuable book that never made it to her, because the ship bringing it had wrecked off the coast of Solstheim. I promised to find that book for her.

But as it happened, I didn’t get the chance. I rented a room and went to sleep for the night…

The Temple of Miraak

… only to wake up somewhere else.

I found myself at this creepy shrine being built by clearly enthralled people. Who, when I got close to them, kept uttering various phrases in monotone voices and oh my no this also wasn’t the slightest bit creepy and suspicious.

Alarrah is likely not hard to flip out at this point, but even this had to give her significant pause. Particularly the question of whether she, too, was mysteriously working on this structure along with the enthralled people, before she snapped out of it.

She probably would also have flipped out about this more if she hadn’t quickly discovered that Lydia was nearby. (Though it is unclear whether Lydia came with me just because I had an active follower, or what? I choose to believe Miraak’s power just happened to nab us both!)

So we started investigating WTF, and shortly thereafter found an NPC not enthralled, who was desperately trying to rouse the others. Her name was Frea, and she was wearing the same Nordic-style armor Lydia has. Frea begged us for help, and we agreed to search the place and see if we could find a way to break the others out of their enthralled state.

From Frea, I learned that this place was apparently a temple to Miraak, and that the people on site were her fellow villagers, the Skaal. Not entirely unlike Forelhost, this place was clearly also intended as living quarters, as we found several dining-room and bedroom-type areas.

We also found live cultists, at least one of whom yelled about us not being able to escape “the Dragonborn’s justice”. This must surely have caught Alarrah’s ear—because she would remember that cultists in this garb have already attacked her, yelling about her being the “false Dragonborn”.

There were also plenty of draugr. But with not one but two heavily armed and armored followers backing me up, there was nothing in this dungeon we couldn’t handle. And it was a large and interesting dungeon, with one or two tricky bits to navigate through that I missed without a proper light source and a quick consult of the wiki.

Also, Frea impressed me as one of the nobler NPC followers I’ve had to date. She kept making regretful commentary at hostiles she killed, such as “I’m sorry, but you gave me no choice” and “there was no other way it could end”. So clearly not a Nord who took pleasure in vanquishing her enemies, but also not one who backed down from a fight. I quite liked her.

I found a Word Wall fairly far into the dungeon, with a word on it for the Dragon Aspect Shout. This one was one I got to see briefly in action, I think—see below. And, looking it up on the wiki, it looks like a very badass Shout to use.

The most important find in this dungeon, though, was the first of the Black Books I know to be present all over Solstheim, and vital to the overall plot. I read this when I found it—and got transported again, this time straight into Oblivion, where I had my first run-in with Miraak himself.

He looked very intimidating. So did the creepy tentacle-y creatures with him; I looked those up, and the wiki identified them as Seekers.

Miraak and the Seekers
Miraak and the Seekers

Miraak identified me immediately as Dragonborn, and even knew I’d killed Alduin. He also tossed off dismissive commentary about how he could have killed Alduin, except he chose a different path.

(Side note: I found this intro to Miraak to be slightly weird, narrative-wise. I’d thought that the cultists were coming after me specifically because Miraak ordered them to—and dialogue prompts I’ve gotten certainly suggest that in-character, Alarrah thinks exactly that. But I double-checked what the orders actually said, and the note was clearly not written by Miraak himself. Which would perhaps explain why Miraak didn’t know who I was as soon as he saw me, only that I was Dragonborn. So there’s an interesting question here of who did order the cultists to come after me.)

He also invoked what I’m pretty sure was the Dragon Aspect Shout, because he was enveloped in a dragon-like cloak of light around him as he told his minions that I could wait for his return along with the rest of Tamriel. At which point they threw me back out of the realm.

I snapped back to where I was before, reading the book, and finding Frea asking me what had just happened. I told her what I’d seen, and she immediately recommended we flee the place and go find and speak with her father.

She led Lydia and me through a nearby shortcut passage to get out, and from there, we traversed a little ways farther before we finally reached her people’s village. There, we found her father, Storn Crag-Strider, and Frea introduced me to him. Upon learning that I was Dragonborn, the old man surmised that I could possibly be their salvation—or maybe their destruction. He urged me to learn the same Words of Power that Miraak did, so that I could cleanse the All-Maker Stones that had become corrupted and were enslaving their people.

And he also gave me a bit more backstory on Miraak, confirming him as Dragonborn, and mentioning the attempted retribution against him by the dragons.

I agreed to help with cleansing the Wind Stone, the one Storn asked me to cleanse first, and with that saved for the night.

Next time

Picking up where I left off in the Skaal village, and seeing about cleansing that Wind Stone!

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