18 - Dawnstar

I'm not sure if fate, or Mehrunes Dagon himself, solved that problem for me. Probably the former, as he undoubtedly wouldn't have any influence with Vaermina, who also played a part.

A courier handed me a flyer advertising a new museum opening up in Dawnstar, and I had no significant quests to complete that would stop me going there. I still had half the fire salts to find for Balimund, but they could be anywhere. I'd picked up almost all I had in the one conjurer den, the one where I almost lost my housecarl. Was that a reason not to look for more?

Anyway, we did head for Dawnstar, and the museum turned out to be one of relics of the Mythic Dawn. Silus Versuius was apparently the descendent of a member of that faction. His knowlege of the history was bit lacking, and coloured by his nostalgia, but he had managed to assemble a decent amount of items to tell his story.

I was amused to hear it all from the perspective of a mortal. Mankar Camoran had been Dagon's puppet, but Silus seemed to believe he'd instigated the entire plot. He revered the "Commentaries" more than the original Mysterium Xarxes, too. I was surprised to find that he had a piece of that. I'd have expected that Lord Dagon would have taken it all back, but perhaps it was serving a new purpose here.

Silus was eager to recruit my help in adding to his collection. He knew the locations of the remnants of Mehrunes' Razor, an artifact of Lord Dagon that had last been seen at the end of the thrird Era. It had been broken up, and the parts scattered around Skyrim, but Silus had tracked them down.

Of course, they were guarded, which is why he needed help. He gave me a book about the keepers of the parts, and asked me to return when I had anything.

I also discovered that Dawnstar had another problem. Everyone was getting persistent nightmares, and only one person, a priest of Mara, had any idea what to do. He was convinced that the source of the problem was a temple on the hill overlooking the town. Vaermina was the instigator of the nightmares, and it was her temple. He seemed to know a lot about the place that he wasn't telling me, but I trusted him enough to agree to help. He was at least trying to assist the people of Dawnstar, and I couldn't see any treacherous angle in what he proposed.

I was agreeing for the two of us, of course, but a glance in her direction had been met with a nod. That was about all I ever got, so I took it as enthusiasm.

When we reached the temple, it was guarded by sabre-cats. The snowy variety that are stronger than the tundra ones, and harder to see against the snow. Fortunately, the three of us had the right combination of offense to handle that issue. Erandur, the priest, told me that he'd had to fight spiders the last time he came here. I'm sure someone I know would prefer sabre-cats.

"Your companion will have to remain outside, I'm afraid," Erandur told me. "I have placed warding spells to protect myself, and my shrine to Mara, that would harm her."

"Won't they harm me, too?" I asked.

"Perhaps a little, but I can prevent that. I don't have enough magical skill for both of you, however."

We entered the first chamber, and I could see the shrine he'd mentioned. There was also a large statue, or wall-relief, of Vaermina. What I couldn't see was any other exit from the room. How would we enter the rest of the temple from here?

"Give me just a momemt, and I'll have this open," Erandur said, playing a spell over the statue. It looked like a regular flames spell, but I'm sure it wasn't. Whatever it was, the statue faded and revealed a doorway. We stepped through the now insubstantial statue and entered the temple proper.

We walked around the curved corridor until we reached a point where we could look down into the central shaft of the tower. "There is the source of the nightmares," Erandur told me. "Behold the Skull of Corruption. We must get down there to the inner sanctum, and destroy it."

Naturally, it was easier said than done. Not only did we find two Orcs recovering from the effects of what Eraundur called "the Miasma", a gas the priests had used to put everyone to sleep, but the way was blocked by a magical barrier we had no way to remove.

Erandur knew another route. He had a key to the library. When I asked him about it, he admitted having been one of the Priests of Vaerimina himself. He'd switched his allegiance to Mara after fleeing the Orc attack on the temple.

"Be careful once we enter here. There are undoubtedly more of the Orcs awakening inside, and probably the priests as well. Neither will be making us welcome."

We did have to fight both, but at least they weren't cooperating against us. We could let them fight each other for a while before finishing off the survivors. Once we had the library to ourselves, Erandur asked me to try and find a volume called "The Dreamstride". It would have the likeness of the Vaermina statue on the cover. Whether this was a true representation of the Daedric Prince wasn't known, of course, but I'd know the book when I saw it.

It was back up a level, and hidden in a corner, but I found it at last. Erandur read through it, evidently looking for a particular part. "Mara be praised, there is a way past the barrier. It involves a liquid known as Vaermina's Torpor."

"A potion, I presume."

"Yes, and there's a good chance we''l find a sample in the alchemy laboratory just up ahead. It will be in a tall red bottle, and should be clearly labelled."

The laboratory turned out to be full of recovering Orcs and Priests, and we had more fighting to do, before we could start our hunt for the Torpor. Erandur looked upstairs, where the lab benches were, while I searched the lower level, among the ingredient shelves. I found several more fire salts for Balimund, and to my horror, two Daedra hearts. How they'd been obtained, I didn't want to know, but if I'd had any sympathy for the priests before, it had just disappeared.

The bottle I needed was on the bottom shelf of the last rack, next to some ice wraith teeth, and more fire salts.

Erandur now wanted me to drink it. "As a sworn priest of Mara, it will no longer work for me," he claimed.

I wanted to know what would happen if I did so. He told me I'd dream, and in that dream I'd travel to the other side of the barrier. He couldn't tell me much more, but asked me again to trust him.

I drank the potion, and found myself looking through the blurred vision of someone else. A priest of Vaermina, it appeared, as I was in conversation with two other priests, deciding to release the miasma, as a last resort to stop the Orcs. I was addressed as "Brother Casimir" and told that it was my job to go to the sanctum and release it.

I set off through the battle. None of the fighting orcs and priests payed me any attention, as they were too busy, and I reached the chain, and pulled it. The blur receded, and I found myself staring at a soul gem that appeared to be sustaning the barrier. I took it from its holder, and the barrier disappeared.

Erandur was waiting on the other side. He told me that I'd just disappeared when I drank the Torpor, and he'd come here hoping that I'd found a way to disable the barrier, and he could come and assist.

We battled our way through a lot more of the orcs and priests on our way to the inner sanctum where the Skull stood. Erandur unlocked the door, and we went inside, to find two priests waiting for us. They were the same two I'd seen in my dream, vision, whatever it was when I drank the Torpor. And they addressed Erandur as "Casimir".

He acknowleged that name, but told them he was Erandur now. Veren and Thorek denounced him as a cowardly traitor, and he admitted fear at the time that he'd fled during the Orcs' invasion. But he had Mara's guidance now, and he was here to finish things.

Veren and Thorek attacked, with maces, and with magic. Each was the equal of Erandur, but my different skills turned the tide in our favour, and soon Erandur was able to start the ritual to deal with the Skull of Corruption.

Vaermina tried to intervene, speaking to me, and trying to persuade me to kill Erandur, and take the Skull for myself. While it was a Daedric artifact, and therefore obviously valuable, I didn't see it having any direct usefulness to me, so I did nothing. I had a suspicion that the nightmares would have continued if I'd taken the staff, and the people of Dawnstar might be grateful if they ended.

I'd found enough in the chests in the temple to reward me for the work I'd done, and the fire salts and Daedra hearts were more important than the rest. The former would be going to Balimund, and the latter meant that I didn't have to gather them myself, to make my armour.