Elessir Playthrough,  Skyrim

In Which Elessir Explores the Soul Cairn

While I’m waiting for the RaceMenu mod to update itself again following the latest Skyrim update, I’m taking the time to get caught up on the backlog of posts. So here’s another Skyrim catchup post from mid-December, this time in Elessir’s playthrough. This is moving the Dawnguard questline along, and in particular, the Soul Cairn!

Play by play

  • Play dates: 12/13-12/14/2023
  • Session numbers in this run: 39-40

Wednesday the 13th

  • Picked up again just outside Fort Dawnguard
  • Boinged to Stony Creek Cave to get the schematic for Sorine; it was in the treasure chest in the side chamber, so didn’t have to run the whole place again, just that part
  • On the way out found the aftermath of a Vigilants vs. dremora encounter; stopped to loot the fallen dremora
  • From there, rode down to Shor’s Watchtower to get within range of Ruunvald
  • Discovered new location: Bitterblade Hollow; did not however see anything terribly interesting about the immediate area
  • Did however find another Vigilants vs. dremora encounter and sicced Team Dragonborn on the dremora (and LOL, Serana raised one of the dremora, as she does)
  • So got yet more loot out of that
  • Finally tried to find a way up to Ruunvald, which took a while, because of course I was overloaded (spent most of this session overloaded, in fact)
  • Found the exit from Ruunvald before I made it up to the actual entrance, as I’ve done before
  • Got into a fight with a trio of Volkihar vampires on the way up to the entrance
  • Then started running Ruunvald itself
  • Serana did not actually come in there with me and Lucien, but I had no trouble running without her
  • Took out assorted Charmed Vigilants
  • Got a bunch of weapons and armor loot
  • Got all four of the journals (including journal number four which is always fucked in an unmodded run), and the extra Minorne book as well
  • Took out Minorne and Moric Sidrey
  • Freed Florentius and got him to agree to go to Fort Dawnguard
  • Looted boss chest loot on the way out
  • Rode over to Shor’s Stone afterwards, sold a bunch of things to Filnjar the smith, and invested in his forge
  • Serana caught up with me there, and then we returned to Fort Dawnguard
  • Returned to Fort Dawnguard
  • Came in pretty late and Dexion was at the door, but didn’t actually say anything to me; this was however a bit weird, see below
  • Turned in quest with Sorine and sold her a bunch of stuff
  • Leveled up to 60 while selling stuff and improving gear; took Health bump and another Sneak perk, Elessir isn’t sneaky enough
  • Slept the night in a cot
  • Talked to Sorine in the morning and got a new schematic quest from her, this time for Serpent’s Trail–which turns out to be an access point to Bruma :O
  • Sold Gunmar a bunch more of my stuff
  • Also talked to Florentius and bought his two spells, and sold him a bunch of stuff
  • Then went back out again, and boinged to Windstad for a supplies check
  • At which point I saw that my unicorn had not come with me, and neither had Serana or her summonable horse
  • Built out more things at Windstad though
  • From there, boinged to Icewater Jetty; that let Serana catch up, but still no sign of the unicorn
  • Headed over to Castle Volkihar
  • Lucien helped with the battle with the skeletons outside, but he did not go into the castle with Serana and me
  • Took a side turn I hadn’t turned before and found the path down to the spikes underneath the bridge, yow
  • But once I made it to the courtyard with the moon dial, Lucien vanished on me and remained vanished until I got out of the Soul Cairn
  • So ran the ruins with just Serana, and got less lost this time, as I remembered tips to self from prior playthroughs
  • Serana raised one of the gargoyles we fought, LOL
  • Made it into Valerica’s laboratory and then into the Soul Cairn
  • Of course, the Soul Cairn wound up being pretty fucking slow as I was overloaded, and had no way of being un-overloaded, without ditching loot I didn’t actually want to ditch
  • Followed the usual UESP walkthrough and started collecting Jiub’s pages
  • Hit the Reaper’s lair and called him out with a fire rune
  • Did get turned around a lot after initially finding Jiub’s camp, so I think I did miss a couple of spots mentioned in the playthrough, but nothing critical
  • Took out the first two Keepers, but Serana and summoned Staada did the heavy lifting for Keeper number two
  • Started summoning the Daedric horse to get around faster
  • But did eventually also get Arvak’s skull, and talked to his owner to get the spell to call Arvak too
  • Played through to the point of trying to find the third spellbook, Conjure Boneman
  • But ran into problems, the damn spell tome was just not there
  • So saved there until next time

Thursday the 14th

  • Short session, immediate epilogue to previous one
  • Picked up at the plinth where the Conjure Boneman spellbook was supposed to be, but could not find it anywhere
  • Finally said “fuck it” and decided to come back later to see if the spellbook appears when the Soul Cairn respawns
  • Moved on to confronting the third Keeper; this took a few tries
  • He kept beating my summoned dremora very quickly, and he one-shotted me any time I got close enough to him
  • What finally worked: summoning the daedroth instead, who was more of a match for him
  • Hit one of the nearby teleport wells for more loot
  • Finally made it to the chest with my soul gem in it, and got the ninth of Jiub’s pages
  • Then headed at last over to the building with Valerica in it, and got the tenth page from the chest near the defunct word wall
  • HI VALERICA I brought your daughter. Yes, I’m a vampire hunter. No, I’m not actually here to kill you or her. Because your daughter is totally hot wait did i say that out loud? Er uh, I mean, it is important to me to protect her. Yeah, that’s it
  • Convinced Valerica to help, and got her warning about Durnehviir
  • Went with her to the scroll, and HI DURNEHVIIR
  • Took out the dragon with crossbow bolts
  • Got the scroll from Valerica and told her we’d come back for her
  • Then talked to reconstituted Durnehviir on the way out, got his personal name Shout, and the favor quest to summon him in Tamriel
  • Called up Arvak and returned to Jiub to give him his pages; got his book and the locket
  • Called up Arvak again and rode over to Morven Stroud
  • Gave him 50 soul husks (I’d gotten a lot of them, particularly while reading, since Convenient Horses kicked in with its harvesting mechanic)
  • Got two spellbooks, and returned to the stairs back out to Castle Volkihar
  • Went out on the balcony, and Lucien showed up again there, OH THERE YOU ARE
  • Called Arvak one more time and boinged to Heljarchen
  • Picked up a bunch of things I’d left there, including my dragonscale armor and mage clothes
  • Saved in Heljarchen’s cellar until next time

Bitterblade Hollow

While the bulk of these two sessions was familiar stuff to me at this point, one new thing stood out to me: discovering Bitterblade Hollow on my way to Ruunvald. This location in the Rift is apparently added in by the USSEP, and from what I saw doing searches on it, it seems to be a fix for the problem of the USSEP also shifting Redbelly Mine from an ebony mine to an iron mine.

Also, this fix is not well received, from what I saw.

I don’t particularly care one way or another, but at least in terms of what I experienced as a player, I didn’t see too terribly much that was interesting about the immediate area. If there were ebony veins outside, I didn’t see them. And if there was some kind of entrance to explore, I didn’t see that either.

But, well, this is what I get for traveling at night because there’s a vampire in my party!

I wasn’t particularly interested in investigating further, since my goal was to get to Ruunvald. I should however swing back to check the place out later, either in Elessir’s playthrough or in Kendeshel’s, whoever gets there first.

Plot hole with Dexion

Upon returning to Fort Dawnguard after the run in Ruunvald, I happened to encounter Dexion by the door when I came in. He didn’t have anything of note to say to me at this point, which made some narrative sense; he doesn’t really have anything plot-relevant to say until I come back with all the Elder Scrolls.

But there is a bit of a plot hole here. Because normally, the next time Dexion has plot-relevant action, he’s gone blind from reading the first Elder Scroll. And that makes less sense if I actually see him between the first reading and coming back with the other scrolls later–and he’s apparently not blind yet!

Inconsistently present party members

I’ve seen issues before in playthroughs with Serana vanishing on me at odd times, but it seems like in this playthrough, the issue’s a little more pronounced. But I’m not sure if this is just because I’m paying more attention to Serana’s behavior since I’m running a mod this time that impacts her–or if that mod is in fact making her presence at my side more erratic.

At the same time, I also saw inconsistency in the presence of Lucien. He followed Serana and me over to the beach in front of Castle Volkihar–but he did not go into the castle with us while I talked to Lord Harkon. Likewise, he came around with us to the back side in the attempt to get in and run the ruins. He was in on the fight with the initial skeletons, I saw that in my screenshots. He’s in one just after we came in the door, and I was asking Serana about her history as a child.

But he vanished by the time I got to the moon dial in Valerica’s garden.

I doublechecked on Lucien’s official site, and nope, he’s not listed as being “aware” of Dawnguard. I suppose this kinda makes sense. Usually by the Castle Volkihar point of the plot, Serana has forced the player to dismiss any active follower, because she doesn’t trust anybody but the Dragonborn. So I think Lucien just may not be able to follow the player into Castle Volkihar at all?

Narrative-wise, I’m going to assume Lucien just balked big time at the notion of setting foot in a vampire lair. He probably was trying to goad himself into it. But I think Elessir was savvy enough to realize that while Lucien has come a long way as his companion in their travels, bringing a still fairly innocent scholar into a vampire lair is really not a good idea.

So I’ll say that Elessir point-blank ordered him to not set foot in the castle, and to stay outside with the unicorn. Preferably back across the water at a safer camp, not on the shore in front of the big fucking vampire castle, where he’d still be at risk of being seen.

Mod changes to Serena’s disposition

While running the Castle Volkihar ruins and the Soul Cairn, I started noticing messages up in the top left corner of the screen, showing Serena’s reactions to various dialogue lines I took. This indicated that the Dialogue Edit mod was making adjustments to Serana’s disposition with me, based on those dialogue choices. In particular, I got several “Serena likes this”, “Serana loves this”, and “Serena will remember this” types of messages.

I like this as an idea. You see the same type of thing in ESO, with the various Companion characters who can be your followers there. You can raise or lower your Rapport with those characters, based on your actions around them.

That said, I did find the messages slightly distracting, for a couple of reasons. One, they didn’t really follow a similar punctuation or capitalization pattern as the rest of the game’s messages. And that stood out to my writer’s eye. And two, I know that all the rest of the NPCs in the game have a Disposition stat that can raise or lower depending on your interactions with them. But no other NPC actually throws messages like that up on the screen for you to see. You don’t get “Lydia loves this” or “Jarl Balgruuf will remember this”, or what have you. I feel like it’s a little weird to have just one NPC doing this.

Fighting Keeper number two in the Soul Cairn

I’d seen this happen in previous playthroughs, where Serana makes it to the second Keeper before I can, and the Keeper winds up falling off the edge of that platform before I can get to the fight. It happened again this time. I couldn’t find the Keeper’s remains at all by the time I caught up with Serana.

But I decided not to care, because I was already carrying a dragonbone bow in my inventory, and didn’t have to worry about finding the one the Keeper was carrying.

It still counted as a kill for purposes of freeing Valerica, so that was the important part.

Conjure Boneman spell tome going AWOL

I had not previously seen any issues with the Conjure Boneman spell just being frigging missing. But I sure did see that problem this time!

I showed up at the correct location, confirmed by the relevant pages on the wikis. (And I did check both UESP and Elder Scrolls.) But the book just was not frigging there.

There was no sign of it anywhere around the altar, in any direction. I’d thought maybe the boneman shooting at me with fire arrows might have triggered it being thrown somewhere off to the side with the explosions, but no. I even turned off collision via my console, to see if the damned thing had clipped underneath the altar or the ground somehow. But that didn’t help either.

Eventually I just bailed and moved on. I’ll have to swing back later, when getting Valerica out of the Soul Cairn, to see if the book respawns. And if not, I can live without acquiring that spell in this playthrough.

Next time

Elessir’s next post will feature my very first interaction with any Beyond Skyrim: Bruma content, namely, Serpent’s Trail! And also, grabbing a bunch of schematics for Sorine, and then heading down into Alftand after the Elder Scroll down there.


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.