Dawnguard,  Ysani Playthrough

In Which Ysani Quests into the Soul Cairn

This is a double session post, covering a tiny amount of play done on Sunday 3/20, and more on Monday 3/21. Overall action here is Ysani and Serana proceeding into Castle Volkihar, making it to Valerica’s lab, and proceeding into the Soul Cairn.


  • Play dates: 3/20-3/21/2022
  • Session numbers in this run: 55-56
  • Started running castle Volkihar with Serana
  • Had conversation with her just inside the door, got rudely interrupted by skeever trying to bite me
  • Made it to Valerica’s lab after working my way with Serana through the back passages
  • Killed the feral vampire, and several skeletons and gargoyles, mostly with sun fire + dremora, though I broke out the dragonbone dagger a couple of times
  • Had Serana partially soul trap me, because not prepared to be a vampire with this character
  • Made it into the Soul Cairn
  • Started gathering Jiub’s pages, while following the walkthrough and trying to get all the useful loot
  • Also taking the opportunity to get my soul gems filled
  • Made it as far as Morven Stroud before saving for the night

Serana commentary

Just past the entrance into Castle Volkihar’s back entrances, I paused to exchange a few lines with Serana, which led me through asking how she became a vampire, and her mentioning the ceremony for it being degrading. That leads to a question about whether she’d ever thought about being cured–and her pushing back on that, asking about why would she think about it that way?

Also, she insisted that she wouldn’t give her powers up, after what she’d done to acquire them.

But a new thought occurred to me here, particularly after finally learning how Harkon got Molag Bal to make him, Valerica, and Serana vampires: i.e., killing a thousand innocents.

And that question is: were Serana and her mother in on that killing?

Or, was this a matter of Harkon conducting all that murder and getting Molag Bal’s attention, and then there was a separate ceremony that actually made them vampires?

Real curious about that, given what Serana says to the player about how the first Daughter of Coldharbor was created: i.e., not a willing subject. The wiki outright says that Molag Bal raped that woman, so there’s the real disturbing question here of whether she and her mother had to submit to a Daedra’s… attentions.

Which is certainly what I’ve thought up until now when Serana says in her dialogue about the ceremony being “degrading”.

Up until now though, I hadn’t known about Harkon killing a thousand people. So I gotta go yikes at that, because Serana’s a real sympathetic character and I’d hate to have to go “holy crap woman, did you help your psychopathic father kill a thousand people? You might hate what vampirism did to your family, but hey how about those thousand people there?”

Serana clearly was willing to do this to some extent, she says as much to the player, but that’s the real critical question here: what exactly did she consent to.

‘Cause I mean, okay fine, this family are vampires. By definition, that means they are not nice people.

But the game makes it very clear that you’re supposed to sympathize with Serana, and to a lesser degree, Valerica–because they actually want to keep Harkon from destroying the sun. And you do have the option of convincing Serana to cure herself, which raises real interesting questions about whether she’s also repudiating Molag Bal himself. The game doesn’t outright say that–but since she’s ridding herself of his gift in that scenario, that sure feels like repudiating the Daedra himself by extension.

Looking at Harkon’s quoted dialogue on his wiki page, I see that his line is that he sacrificed a thousand people in Molag Bal’s name. He was also apparently a powerful king at the time, which suggests that he had the power to round up a thousand people to have them sacrificed.

So I’m going with a headcanon here, I think, that at most Serana might have been aware that her father ordered the rounding up of sacrificed. And that she was probably not thinking too much about whether or not those sacrifices were willing. Also a distinct possibility she hadn’t known about them at all before her father came to her and Valerica going, “Hey, family, guess what! We’re totally going to be vampires! Let’s go have a ritual!”

I also smell a distinct possibility that Serana may have gone along with it out of a desperate play for her father’s approval.

General commentary

Meanwhile, aside from all of the thoughts above (and I really do love that on my fourth playthrough, I can still find enough fodder for this kind of narrative speculation), nothing hugely new happened in these two sessions.

The main new aspect in play here was applying Ysani’s general combat strategy developed up till now: i.e., if there’s a threat, throw dremora at it until it’s no longer a threat. But I also threw the Sun Fire spell around a lot, as well as general Destruction fire spells. And partway through I realized, well shit, I have soul gems that need filling, howsabout I break out the dragonbone dagger with the Soul Trap enchantment?

I did find one other detail about the Volkihar Ruins section of the castle though that I don’t think I found on previous playthroughs: i.e., a ruined statue of Mara. The wikis cite this as evidence that there must have been a temple of Mara on site at one point.

Language commentary

Interesting terms observed:

  • Le Cairn de l’âme: The Soul Cairn (lit., “the Cairn of the soul”)
  • Les Maîtres Idéaux: The Ideal Masters

Next time

More Soul Cairn! Several more things to do before I finally find Valerica and Durnehviir, and get back out again!


Editing to add

  • 11/21/2023: Restored missing gallery, and added play date and session number markers.

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.