Merawen Playthrough

In Which Merawen Saves the Mage College and Dooms Mercer Frey

Very eventful session, which saw the conclusion of the main College of Winterhold plot, and significant motion forward on the Thieves Guild plot! With a bonus side helping of killing an extra dragon priest and a double dragon attack at the Western Watchtower!


  • Session number in this run: 18
  • Picked up right at the entrance to Labyrinthian, and on the way in, unsurprisingly, Jenassa and I had to fight a couple of frost trolls
  • We did not have to fight a dragon, even though I saw one flying in the distance, and heard the echo of it roaring
  • Labyrinthian played out pretty much the same way it had for Alarrah, only faster this time, because I had Jenassa to help me kill draugr, as well as the enthralled mages and Morokei himself
  • Also, I ran this dungeon at level 40, which also helped make it significantly easier
  • Got the word for the Slow Time Shout from the Word Wall in there
  • Got Morokei’s mask as well as the Staff of Magnus, and dealt with taking out Estormo on the way out
  • Also had another frost troll show up when we came out of the shortcut entrance, and I had to jump down and kill it before I could fast travel
  • Fast traveled back to Winterhold, to proceed with the conclusion of the mage college quest; used the Staff of Magnus to break through the barrier around the college, and lead the other mages in to fight with Ancano
  • Zapped the Eye of Magnus with the staff, and this time through it took much less time just because I knew what I was doing; cue taking out Ancano in my first direct melee fight with him
  • Also cue the Psijic Order declaring me Arch-Mage, and taking off with the Eye to remove it from the world
  • Cue Tolfdir also declaring me Arch-Mage, and giving me access to the Arch-Mage quarters as well as the robes
  • Boinged back to Whiterun for a loot drop-off, and also to dismiss Jenassa so I could go deal with Thieves Guild stuff
  • Popped into the Bee and Barb to give Talen-Jei the flawless amethysts, which made him slightly less cranky at me, but only slightly
  • Then headed into the Ratway to meet up with Karliah at the Ragged Flagon; had to go in the long way because the graveyard entrance to the Cistern was locked
  • Brynjolf, Delvin, and Vex all confronted us when we entered the Cistern, with knives drawn, and only stood down when Karliah begged them to listen to her evidence and handed over the translated journal to Brynjolf
  • Brynjolf and Delvin opened up the vault to test the truth of Karliah’s claims, and oh shit, yep, Mercer sure did clear out the vault of everything in it
  • Karliah offered mysterious commentary about how Mercer wouldn’t have needed both keys to get into the vault, but did not explain why
  • Brynjolf tasked me with breaking into Mercer’s place, Riftweald Manor, and looking for any additional evidence; pointed me at Mercer’s watchdog Vald as a possible means of getting in, and Vex as a source of possible info about Vald
  • Vex told me Vald was in debt to Maven Black-Briar and that it might be possible to buy him off, but he’d probably ask for a lot of money
  • So I bopped off to Solitude to pull the pending Sweep Job I had there at Jala’s house, and then came back to Riften to drop off the goods for that as well as the two pending other special items for Delvin; got enough gold for that that I was equipped to buy off Vald if necessary
  • Went to go talk to Maven Black-Briar at her home, and was told that if I could get the Quill of Gemination for her, she’d consider Vald off the hook; I agreed to do this
  • Problem was, the Quill was at the bottom of the lake near Riften, and I had no means of waterbreathing; even went trolling through Riften, Whiterun, and Solitude to look for additional potions or circlets or necklaces that would allow for waterbreathing, to no avail
  • I did find the sunken boat with the strongbox where the Quill was hidden, but it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to unlock that strongbox if I had no waterbreathing ability
  • So I boinged back to Whiterun, and actually recruited Lydia again as a follower, partly just because I wanted to see her in ebony armor; gave her my ebony sword with the Fiery Soul Trap enchantment, also an ebony shield and boots
  • Boinged up to Lost Echo Cave as the nearest landmark to Volskygge, and walked from there; Volskygge was very near by, so I didn’t have to walk far
  • Ran the Volskygge dungeon with Lydia, killed the bandits and draugr therein, and the Dragon Priest Volsung as well
  • Got the last word for the Whirlwind Sprint Shout while I was in there
  • Boinged back to the Western Watchtower and had TWO DRAGONS attack at the same time, holy crap
  • That meant a lot of dragon bits, so I had to tromp very slowly back into Whiterun to drop off all the loot and save for the night

Finishing the Mage College plot

So yeah, this worked pretty much the same way it did for Alarrah, only faster. Having Jenassa as my follower while running Labyrinthian certainly made that easier, as did the simple fact that I was running this dungeon at level 40.

I don’t think I quite got every last scrap of loot available in Labyrinthian, but I did get a fair bit of it. I’ve been finding though that on this second playthrough, I’m a little less interested in grabbing all the loot. Partly because the less valuable stuff is not really worth carting all the way back to a vendor so I can sell it! But partly also because I still have only a few places to actually stash things:

  1. My bed at the Thieves Guild, and the chest next to it
  2. Breezehome and the two chests I have there
  3. The Arch-Mage’s quarters and the long chest there; there may be at least one more chest there, I don’t know? I need to doublecheck
  4. Once I move the Dawnguard plot along some more, I’ll have a bed and a chest there too, I think

And of these, only the Thieves Guild chest and Whiterun are places to stash stuff close enough to vendors (or fences!) that I could then easily sell it.

So I’ve been limiting myself to the better armor and weapons, because if I’m going to carry weighty things around, they’re going to be the more expensive ones that will net me better profits, particularly after I take the time to improve them.

Which meant that I got out of Labyrinthian without being overburdened, and was able to head straight back to the college to continue with the plot there. With a side helping of smacking Estormo when he confronted me to try to take the Staff, as well as a frost troll I had to take out before I could actually fast travel away.

(Side note: I amused myself nabbing Estormo’s gear off of him. Because if there’s anybody I am totally willing to strip naked of loot after they make the mistake of coming at me in a fight, it’s the fucking Thalmor. Note also that Estormo had a Hooded Thalmor Robe and I might be able to actually take advantage of that when I run the embassy!)

Since I actually knew what to do with the Staff of Magnus this time, matters proceeded much more quickly. I was able to get the barrier down and get the other mages to follow me in to take on Ancano, and I went straight to zapping the Eye of Magnus with the Staff to cut off the flow of power to him.

And I was able to take out Ancano in one fight after I did that. (I totally looted Ancano of his gear, too, so I have two different sets of Thalmor stuff. Ha!) Which led quickly to the plot resolution: the Psyjic monks showing up to take the Eye away, and me being declared Arch-Mage.

I think Merawen’s probably as bemused by that particular development as Alarrah was, though Merawen at least is a bit more competent in her various magics than Alarrah was when she finished this plot. 😆

So yeah, now I’m the Arch-Mage, go me! Which gave me the Arch-Mage’s quarters, and at least as far as Merawen’s thievery progress is concerned, another Stone of Barenziah. This is however my first confirmed access to an arcane enchanter of my own, and that will also be important.

I spent a little time nabbing all the alchemy ingredients off the shelves in the place, and doing work at the alchemy lab. Most notably, I nabbed the void salts, because I knew I was going to need those for important armor tempering purposes, as I get a little farther along with the Thieves Guild!

Which leads me to…

The Pursuit quest

… the next stage of the Thieves Guild plot.

I boinged back to Whiterun to do a loot drop-off, but also to have Jenassa stand down so that I could deal with Thieves Guild stuff without a follower peeking over my shoulder.

Once I was ready, I boinged back to Riften to take care of business. As a preliminary, I popped into the Bee and Barb to give Talen-Jei the flawless amethysts I’d gathered for him. Which pleased him, but still didn’t cancel out having had to intimidate Keerava earlier in the Guild plot. Talen-Jei I think is going to remain ambivalent at me for the rest of the game, and Keerava’s just going to stay hostile.

Then I headed down into the Ratway, going the long way into the Ragged Flagon. I noted that the corpses of the thugs I’d killed on my initial foray into the place were still there! So I dragged them around a little to put them in different places and see whether the game cleanup script would eventually clear them.

Karliah was waiting for me at the entrance to the Flagon, a trifle nervously, as she was worried that others in the place were figuring out who she was. Once I showed up, though, we headed together into the Cistern.

And there, we were confronted by Brynjolf, Vex, and Delvin, who had knives out and who were not pleased to see Karliah setting foot in the place. She hastily talked them down, leading with a plea for them to hear her evidence, and presenting the translated journal to Brynjolf to inspect.

The mood changed quickly at that point—no less urgency or anger, but with a distinct shift of the anger’s target. Brynjolf ordered everyone to the Guild vault so they could open it up to test the veracity of Karliah’s story. On the way, as Delvin and Brynjolf had dialogue about both their keys being needed to get into the vault, Karliah made a cryptic remark about Mercer not needing their keys to get in.

And it soon became clear that yep, Mercer had completely wiped out the vault. Every chest in it was open and empty.

This was enough to make people less cranky at Karliah, though they weren’t exactly welcoming her with open arms yet—and a helluva lot more angry at Mercer. Brynjolf tasked me with a followup job: breaking into Mercer’s place in Riften, Riftweald Manor, to see if I could find any additional evidence of his shenanigans.

Notably, Brynjolf also gave me explicit permission to kill anybody required who got in my way, once I broke in.

He also pointed me at Vex for further potential info about Vald, a hired thug Mercer had watching the place. Vex tipped me off that Vald was in debt to Maven Black-Briar, and that if I could buy him off, that might give me an in into the place. She was also quite explicit about how I should help myself to anything I wanted while I was breaking in.

I decided that buying off Vald sounded like a good idea. But I also realized I was mostly out of gold, so I hastily scampered off to Solitude to do the pending Sweep Job there—no trouble, as I made it into Jala’s house without getting caught, and nabbed the three items there without waking up either of the sleeping inhabitants.

Then I boinged back to Riften, to turn in those items to Vex as well as the two pending special items to Delvin (the model ship out of Snow Veil Sanctum, and the Dwemer puzzle cube from the museum in Markarth). That built up my gold again and put me in a good position for buying off Vald if required.

Thing is, money wasn’t what I needed to do that. I went to talk to Maven Black-Briar (which gave me a look at the inside of her house, I hadn’t been in there before), and learned from her that Vald was in debt to her because of failing a job to get a thing called the Quill of Gemination for her. This is an enchanted quill that would allow Maven to duplicate any handwriting she was looking at, with obvious implications re: aiding forgery, lol.

Vald fucked up getting it to her, though, and the Quill’s last known location was the bottom of the lake near Riften. So Maven told me, if I could get it back for her, she’d consider Vald off the hook. I agreed to do this.

There was however this whole “at the bottom of the lake” problem, given that I had no means of waterbreathing to speak of. I had exactly one waterbreathing potion on me, and that was not enough to let me do the task. I was able to locate the sunken boat that was the location of the strongbox that held the quill. But I was not able to stay underwater long enough to actually break into that strongbox.

I did another run through Whiterun and Solitude and Riften, just to see if I could find more waterbreathing potions or any enchanted item that would let me have the ability. No dice. So I had to fall back to a new plan: going to run the Volskygge crypt, so I could kill the Dragon Priest Volsung and get that mask, the only one I regularly used while playing Alarrah, because of its carry weight bonus and waterbreathing enchantment.

Therefore: unexpected road trip to Volskygge!

Before I bopped off to there, though, I actually re-engaged Lydia as a follower. I felt a little guilty about leaving her bored at Breezehome, and, I never did get to see Lydia in ebony armor while playing Alarrah. I still haven’t acquired a full set of ebony armor as Merawen, but I did have a shield and some boots, and I gave those to her. Also gave her the ebony sword enchanted with Fiery Soul Trap, now that I have the Nightingale Blade.

I figure this was Merawen’s way of trying to get back into her housecarl’s good graces!


Fortunately, getting to and through Volskygge was not difficult, since again, known quantity to me at this point. And, running it at level 40; I leveled up to 41, in fact, while I was in this dungeon.

And all props to Lydia, girl kicked some serious ass with the enchanted ebony sword! It was amusing seeing her set draugr on fire.

Me, I tried dual wielding the Nightingale Blade and Dawnbreaker, just because of the day/night dichotomy involved, but also to see if I liked dual wielding at all. I found it kind of awkward, actually. I may need to practice it more!

Plus, having a blade in each hand was a problem when a draugr hive is as dark as it is on the Switch. I think I definitely prefer having that left hand free for torches and spells.

(Dual wielding might work better in an open-air environment, though, where the light is better? Worth exploring at some point, just to get in the practice of alternating strikes with the left and right triggers.)

Got the final word of the Whirlwind Sprint Shout at Volskygge, the other reason I wanted to come to this dungeon, before I killed the Dragon Priest. Volsung was no more of a problem than Morokei had been—which also tells me I should in theory be able to swing back to Shearpoint and take out Krosis, too.

I am however, not sure I want to. ran all the Dragon Priest dungeons as Alarrah just to see what that was like, but there’s no particular useful quest to solve by doing that, and it’s mostly a thing you can do if you want to be a completist. For Merawen’s purposes I think I’ll only run the further Dragon Priest dungeons I might encounter in the context of doing other things.

Regardless, at Volskygge, I got that mask and was able to bop back to Whiterun with it—where I had the surprise finale of the evening.

Double dragon surprise

Y’all may recall that while playing Alarrah, I made it my standard practice to use the Western Watchtower as my fast travel point when coming back to Whiterun—to minimize the chance of a dragon from a random encounter actually landing directly on Whiterun and imperiling the townsfolk.

I’m doing the same with Merawen when possible. And this time, that actually got me two dragons at once attacking the watchtower, a regular Dragon and an Elder Dragon.

I really should have gotten a screencap of that action! But it happened so fast and I was in “holy shit, there’s two of them?” mode and trying to respond to that, so I didn’t think to grab a proper screencap.

Fortunately though, this is the other reason why I use the watchtower as my fast travel point—because there are guards there, and they will help you fight any dragon that shows up. This time was no exception. Plus, I had Lydia with me. So even though two dragons at once was a great big flaming pile of OH SHIT, I at least didn’t have to fight them alone.

Mind you, this is not the first time I’ve had to deal with multiple dragons in the same battle. Dawnguard throws that at you in the Forgotten Vale, with a pair of named dragons underneath an icy lake. And there are multiple dragons involved in the finale of the Dragonborn plot.

This, however, was purely a random encounter deal where I just happened to have a particularly crunchy “fuck you, Dragonborn” roll of the dice!

Taking out two dragons in one fight meant of course that I had two different souls, which was good because I had two different Shouts I needed to spend them on.

And it meant I had a lot of dragon bits to haul back into Whiterun. Enough that even though I’d made it back to the watchtower without being overburdened, I had to tromp very slowly back into Whiterun proper so I could get to Breezehome and stash all the bones and scales.

I stopped at the forge on the way in—and also bought Lydia an ebony helmet to go with the boots and shield I’d already given her. Now I just need to get her the armor and gauntlets!

Then I dismissed Lydia from active follower mode, and saved for the night.

Side thoughts on the Thieves Guild plot

A couple of things didn’t make much narrative sense to me, but this is entirely because of my writer brain being nitpicky. I think if I’d been involved with the creation of this game, I’d have tightened this plot points up a bit:

  1. Nobody in the Thieves Guild seemed surprised that I was still alive? Mercer had clearly left me for dead, but apparently he hadn’t bothered to tell anybody “oh dear, Karliah must have murdered poor Merawen”.
  2. I’m kind of surprised nobody figured out before now that Mercer had cleaned out the vault. Karliah tells the player that it’d be 20+ years since Mercer had killed Gallus, and nobody’s been looking in that vault since then? I mean, Brynjolf and Delvin both have keys, they say so in the player’s hearing, but neither of them have ever recently actually looked in the vault? It took my bringing Karliah in with the evidence to make somebody do that? One supposes that Mercer had ordered them to leave it be, but that does seem like a pretty big plot hole. I should think that the Thieves Guild would keep more active tabs on what they’ve got stored in their own secret vault.
  3. I also find it kind of hilarious that with all the NPCs in the Thieves Guild, none of them ever actually seem to leave the Ragged Flagon or the Cistern, aside from Brynjolf’s initial appearance up in the Riften market square. After that, Brynjolf and Mercer only leave Guild HQ for plot-related purposes. I should think that some of these folks would make a bigger point of actually going out and stealing stuff every so often!
  4. Also, the NPCs all pivot from “why the fuck is Karliah here” to “fucking Mercer, if he sets a foot back in this place I’ll cut it off” very fast! But I notice none of them actually offer to help me go actually rob the guy’s place.

On the other hand, there are questions here of game mechanics vs. what makes sense narratively speaking.

Dara points out to me quite correctly that having NPCs move around is a thing that the game has to spend a lot of cycles keeping track of—not only for processing the decision trees for their actions, but also processing rendering of the world, and tracking objects they impact, and such. So it does make sense from that perspective that they wouldn’t spend the game cycles to try to track Thieves Guild named NPCs going out into the world when they don’t need to.

Still though I should think some of my quibbles could have been addressed by tweaking some of the voice lines to clarify things a little! Hell, you might even just have Brynjolf’s opening challenge to Karliah show up reworded slightly to address the player: “Mercer told us you were dead. You better have a damn good explanation for why he was mistaken—and why you’re bringing Karliah here.”

And maybe once the big “oh shit the vault is empty” reveal happens, the player could ask Brynjolf and Delvin WTF:

Player: “Why didn’t you all check the vault before now?”

Delvin: “We did—but Mercer must have played us. Last time he had me open the vault with him, there was still stuff in the chests.”

Brynjolf: “He must have left just enough to fool us all these years, and then come back to clear it out now. None of us have seen him since you went to Snow Veil Sanctum. How he did it… how he cleared the vault with none of us knowing… we’ll have to work that out later. We need to find out more about what he was doing first.”

Let me emphasize though that these are just nitpicky quibbles, and by and large, I’m enjoying this plot immensely. 😀

Next time

Now that I have the Volsung mask, I can pick up where I left off with the Thieves Guild plot—and go diving in the lake to get that Quill of Gemination for Maven Black-Briar. Who, by the way, had also advised me that the thing was enchanted only to work with a specific ink, and she was the only one who knew how to make the ink, so I shouldn’t get any brilliant ideas about keeping the Quill for myself.

And once I get that, I can get Vald’s debt clear, and use him as my in to get into Mercer Frey’s place and rob the hell out of it.

Because I’m adding Frey to the list of people I will rob the fuck out of with impunity, he’s on the list now right after the fucking Thalmor!

Probable plan over the next several sessions will be:

  • Get the Thieves Guild plot far enough along that I can be made a Nightingale
  • Return to the main plot and run the Thalmor Embassy, finding Esbern in the Ratway, and doing Throat of the World—so that I can get the Clear Skies Shout, meet Paarthurnax, and get the quest to go find the Dragon Elder Scroll
  • Once I have that Scroll, I should be able to return to the Dawnguard plot—it’ll be interesting to see what impact having Serana as an active follower has on main plot stuff?
  • I think I may wind up cycling between running Thieves Guild side jobs, main plot, and Dawnguard stuff for a bit

For the immediate next session, though, my goal is going to be hitting Frey’s place!


Editing to add

  • 11/15/2023: Fixed missing gallery, added a session number, and corrected headings from H3 to H2 to better match styles on later posts.

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.