NOTE: This chapter follows the Waking Nightmare quest in Skyrim and contains spoilers.
Amelia made it to Dawnstar just after dinnertime, and as soon as she neared town, she sensed him. Vallanil felt distant, as if he were far away, but she could feel him inside her head again, which meant he was alive.
“Vallanil?” was her telepathic call. There was no answer but a flood of panic, as if he were having a nightmare. The thought didn’t bother her; everyone had nightmares from time to time. He would feel her when he woke and call to her.
Bouyant, she stopped in at the inn to wait until late at night before going to kill Beitild. She had a glass of wine and listened to the chatter in the inn, something about the townsfolk all experiencing nightmares. Listening to the conversation, it didn’t take much of a leap for Amelia to suspect a Daedric Prince was to blame—especially since one of them was the Prince of Nightmares to start with—and to suspect that Vallanil was one of the victims. She called to him again with no response, only the continual panic.
The townspeople were challenging the local priest of Mara about the nightmares, asking him why nothing had been done and demanding satisfaction. The priest, a Dunmer, tried his best to keep order, but he was clearly in over his head.
Amelia went to the bar for another glass of wine. “How long have the nightmares been going on?” she asked the innkeeper.
“More than a fortnight. No one has gotten a good night’s sleep since.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have seen an Altmer recently, would you? One who hadn’t been here before?”
“I haven’t, but Beitild mentioned seeing a strange Altmer down on the beach just about the time all the nightmares started. No one has seen him since, but of course he is suspect.”
Amelia smirked. “Beitild, eh? Where can I find her?”
“Her house is just down the hill, last one in the row. She usually comes in here for a drink, but I haven’t seen her in a while.”
She blinked. “A while? How long?”
“I don’t know, a few days. She probably just went to Solitude for shopping. She does that once in a while.”
She finished her wine and left the inn, heading for the house the innkeeper had indicated. She smelled stale blood before she reached the house. There were front and back doors, and she went around to the back and picked the lock, letting herself in. There was indeed blood, but not that much, just enough to produce a scent; but there were other, visceral odors. Beitild was in the kitchen, hanging upside down from the rafters, as dead as if Amelia had already been there. Someone had cut her throat and drained her of blood. She immediately thought of Vallanil, but a grisly murder like this wasn’t his style. He wasn’t often a typical snooty High Elf, but he hated making a mess, even when feeding. Amelia looked around the house for clues, but there were none except a broken lock on the front door. She swiped some gold and a couple of trinkets, including a jeweled hairbrush that she fell in love with. She left the way she came in.
She headed up the beach toward the Dawnstar Sanctuary. It was located in a deep indentation in the rock, with a skull glowing red on the black door. When she approached, it spoke.
“What is life’s greatest illusion?”
“Innocence, my brother,” she replied.
She went through the door and down a series of passageways that led to the main floor. The layout was more intricate than the Falkreath and Anvil sanctuaries, but Amelia had little trouble navigating the halls. She explored silently until she came to the dormitory, where she found him.
Her husband lay on one of the bunks, in a deep sleep.
“Oh, my sweet Vallanil!” she whispered as she went and knelt by the bed. She kissed his cheek and laid her head on his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut so as not to cry.
He looked deader now than she had ever seen him, but there was still activity in his brain. He was in the throes of a nightmare.
“Vallanil? Wake up, love.” She shook him hard, but he merely whimpered and squeezed his eyes shut tight.
“Dibella, help him,” she pleaded, but if Dibella heard, She didn’t answer. “Sithis?” Again, no answer. Not that she expected one from Sithis, but Dibella had been known to talk to her before.
Amelia sat with Vallanil a long time, long enough for hunger to set in. She drank a blood potion and forced one in his mouth, and while he swallowed reflexively, he didn’t wake. She slowly began to realize that sitting here doing nothing was not going to help him.
She explored more of the Sanctuary and found a journal. She opened and read the final entry.
Who would have thought? A giant Altmer vampire just waltzes right into my Sanctuary! He’s injured too. Says his name is Vallanil and he’s from the Anvil Sanctuary, which was destroyed. Both Anvil and Bravil? What is going on, Mother? I found some lunch for him and fed him, nursing him back to health. But now he’s asleep and I can’t wake him up. How can he sleep with all this going on? Ah, but it’s an unnatural sleep, isn’t it? Dare I leave him alone in the Sanctuary? But I have somewhere I have to be, don’t I? Maybe after I take Mother to Falkreath, I can come back and nurse him back to health again. Until then, Sithis will provide. Or he won’t. You can never tell with Sithis. I would ask Mother, but she doesn’t answer. She never answers poor Cicero.
Cicero! Was meeting him on the road just a lucky coincidence, or had someone put them together? Amelia had seen too much in her short life to believe in coincidence, so she had faith that they were set on the path to each other. He had taken care of Vallanil, but then he had left him. What could have been so important—
And then she realized. Holy Sithis, he had been transporting the Night Mother in that carriage!
She would have to leave Vallanil too, if only for a short time. She would go into town and find that priest of Mara, and hopefully together they could solve this nightmare problem.
She found him in the Windpeak Inn, just as he had been before, but instead of being surrounded by townsfolk, he sat alone at the bar, drinking ale. Amelia approached him. “Excuse me,” she said.
He looked up and smiled thinly. “What can I do for you, my child?”
“What can you tell me about the nightmares?”
“Only that they will pass in time.”
“Yes, you see, I don’t believe that. The people in town can’t sleep because of the nightmares, but my husband can’t wake from them. Something needs to be done.”
The priest sighed. “What is your name, child?”
“I am Erandur. Yes, the townspeople are plagued by nightmares and are in great danger, but I fear there is little I can do about it.”
She looked him in the eye. “I can tell when people are lying, priest, and you’re lying. You’re lying because you’re afraid. Tell me what can be done, and perhaps I can help you.”
“Persistent, aren’t you? Well, yes, there is something I can do, but it is dangerous and difficult, and I cannot do it alone. Perhaps you can help if you have the courage. The dreams are the machinations of the Daedric Lord Vaermina.”
Amelia nodded. “Yes, I figured. Don’t worry about my courage. I’m generally not afraid of Daedric Princes.”
“You know of Vaermina?”
“I’ve seen her handiwork.”
“Then you probably know she has a hunger for memories. She feeds on them like a vampire feeds on blood, and she leaves behind nightmares, almost as a cough is left behind after a serious illness. My fear is that the damage will become permanent.”
“So what do we need to do?”
“We must return to the source of the problem.”
“Yes, I have been there before,” he confessed.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s called Nightcaller Temple, and it’s a short walk from town.”
“Are you ready to leave now?”
He looked longingly at his ale, then back up at her. “Yes, I’m ready. Follow me.”
He led her through town, then beyond the houses and away from the light, although Amelia had no trouble seeing in the dark. “It’s not far, just up this hill. It’s good to have a chance to help these people. Watching them suffer has been terrible. I prayed so hard for help from Lady Mara, and perhaps she answered my prayers by sending you. You say your husband has fallen to the nightmares?”
“Where is he?”
“Nearby,” she answered cryptically. “Hey, why didn’t the nightmares affect you?”
“Oh, but they have, child. Everyone in town was affected.”
He pointed to a tower at the top of the hill. “That is our destination, the Tower of Dawn, also called Nightcaller Temple. I don’t know much about the tower’s history, only that a cult of Vaermina resided there for some time. It has been mostly unoccupied for thirty years, although I have set up a small shrine to Mara in the sanctuary.”
They made their way up the hill, but Erandur stopped on the doorstep. “Before we go in, there is something I must tell you.”
Amelia rolled her eyes. “I knew you weren’t telling me the whole truth.”
He looked at her sheepishly. “I wish that weren’t true, but alas, it is. About thirty years ago, an Orcish war party raided the tower because they were experiencing nightmares much like Dawnstar is now. The cult realized they could not defeat the Orcs, so they released something called ‘The Miasma,’ which put everyone to sleep.”
“And you’re worried that it might put us to sleep?”
“Not at all. I worry that when we unseal the tower, the Miasma will dissipate and everyone will wake up.”
“And they’ll be fighting again.”
“Likely attacking us as well.”
“Where did this Miasma come from?”
“It is made with several alchemical reagents, but instead of a potion, it makes a mist. It was used in the cult’s rituals to put the affected person into a deep sleep. It has the added effect of slowing the aging process.”
“This Miasma can’t be healthy.”
“It’s not,” the priest confessed. “The longer one is exposed to the Miasma, the more dangerous it is for the mind. Some have awakened with madness; others haven’t awakened at all.”
“What about us?”
Erandur shook his head. “We won’t be exposed long enough for that.”
Even so, Amelia was glad she didn’t need to breathe.
He turned and opened the door, leading her through a foyer to a small sanctuary with some pews, a dais in front with a podium and a large relief of Vaermina behind it, and a small shrine to Mara on a side table. There was a sound almost like a lightning spell pulsing continually in the distance. Erandur cast a spell on the relief, and it dematerialized. What appeared now was a purplish film that Erandur walked right through. Amelia followed.
When she walked through the curtain, she found herself standing in a rounded hallway just like those in most other towers she had seen. The hallway and stairs wound around the central structure, which often had an atrium leading down to the bottom floor. Erandur was standing next to a window that overlooked the lower floor. Two Orcs lay sleeping in the corridor.
“Here is the source of the nightmares,” he said, pointing down to a staff with a monstrous skull for a head, which was floating in place beneath a pinkish ward. “That is the Skull of Corruption, one of Vaermina’s favored artifacts and the source of Dawnstar’s woes. Lore holds that the Skull has a constant hunger for the memories of its victims. The nightmares are a side effect. Since it has been out of touch so long, I believe it has learned to reach out and feed on the memories of the people of Dawnstar. And your husband. Why his experience is different from the others, I cannot say.”
“Maybe it’s different because he has more memories. He is three hundred years old.”
‘’Three hundred years! That’s ancient even for an elf. Is he supernatural somehow?”
Amelia didn’t answer, just looked back at him.
“I will take that as a yes. That may very well be the cause.”
“Let’s get down there and destroy it.”
Erandur pointed down the nearby staircase, and she looked down and saw another purplish curtain. “I take it that one isn’t so easy to walk through.”
“Impossible, unfortunately. There is a soul gem on the other side which powers it.”
“And there’s no way through it?”
“There’s not. However, I may know a way around it. There should be a book in the library—”
“Yes, my child?”
“You know an awful lot about this place. What aren’t you telling me?”
He sighed heavily, almost seeming to shrink a bit. “I used to be a part of the cult. It was my task to release the Miasma, but I fled before sleep could overtake me. I have spent the last few decades devoting my life to Mara, trying to make up for the harm I caused here.”
“You should have told me in the first place.”
“I . . . I was afraid. I’m sorry.”
“Just don’t lie to me again. Where’s the library?”
“Just over here.”
Before they made it to the library, the Orcs awoke, and Amelia had to put them to sleep, permanently. When they finally made it to the library, it was cultists they had to fight. The library itself was all but destroyed. Bookshelves were toppled, as was some of the stonework, and most of the books had been burned.
“I just hope the book we need survived,” said Erandur. “I’ll look downstairs; you look up here on the balcony. It’s called The Dreamstride, and it’s a collection of alchemical recipes and spells used in Vaermina worship.”
There wasn’t much to look at, really. Most of the books had been destroyed. However, across a toppled column, she found the book they were looking for. The thick book, bound in pale blue leather with a likeness of Vaermina on the cover, was sitting on a high podium in the corner, untouched by the conflagration, possibly because of some ward or spell. However, she had no trouble retrieving it from the podium. She carried it downstairs to Erandur. “I found it.”
“Excellent! Let me just look here . . .” He thumbed through the book for a few minutes, mumbling as he looked at the pages, until his face lit up. “Ah, here it is. Vaermina’s Torpor. It’s a potion used to allow one to use dreams to travel distances in the real world.”
“How is that possible?”
“Daedric magic,” he said simply, as if it explained everything. “Come with me. The lab is nearby.”
In the lab, which was in as bad shape as the library, they had to fight more Orcs and cultists before they could begin looking for the potion. When their adversaries were all dead, Amelia gave Erandur a sympathetic look. “Are you all right?”
“Why wouldn’t I be all right?” he asked.
“You knew these people. They were your brothers and sisters. Doesn’t killing them bother you?”
Erandur shook his head. “It has been so long that I have even forgotten most of their names. Besides, it has to be done. We cannot leave threats in our wake.”
Amelia nodded and went down the steps to the lower level. There were a lot of alchemy reagents and several different potion bottles still intact. “What does this potion look like?” she called to Erandur, who was searching upstairs.
“It’s a tall bottle with dark liquid.”
“I think I’ve got it.” She carried it upstairs and handed it to him. He handed it back.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to do this,” he said. “As a priest of Mara, I cannot; the mixture won’t work for me. It will only work for followers of Vaermina or the unaffiliated.”
“But I am affiliated. I’m a follower of Dibella and Sithis, and I’m also in some manner beholden to Molag Bal.”
Erandur’s eyes widened, and he stared at her for a long moment. He even went so far as to lean in and smell her. He finally said, “You and your husband are vampires?”
“We are. But I promise you, Erandur, you are in no danger from either of us unless you reveal our nature to others.”
He sighed, visibly relieved. “I understand discretion, Amelia. I will not tell anyone. Well, with such a diverse pantheon, perhaps you’ll still be able to use the Torpor’s magic. Or perhaps because you’re undead.”
“What will happen to me?”
“You’ll drop into a dream state and walk through the dreams and memories of someone who was here on that day. Make your way through the tower and remove the soul gem powering the barrier.”
“How will I know when to wake up?”
“I am uncertain what will end your Dreamstride. Perhaps when Vaermina’s hunger has been sated. But I will stay close by and wake you if something goes wrong.”
“All right, then. Here goes.”
Amelia drank the potion, and the room before her turned fuzzy. When it cleared again, she was in the inner sanctum with a Bosmer and a Nord. The Bosmer was speaking.
“We must hold. We can’t allow the Skull to fall into their hands.”
The other replied, “But no more than a handful of us remain, brother.”
“Then we have no choice. The Miasma must be released. It is the will of Vaermina.”
The Bosmer looked at Amelia and said, “And what of you, Brother Casimir? Are you prepared to serve the will of Vaermina?”
“I’ve made my peace. I’m ready,” Amelia replied.
But she wasn’t ready! What was she supposed to do? She didn’t even know where to start.
“Brother Casimir, you must activate the barrier and release the Miasma. Let nothing stop you. Brother Thorek and I will remain here and guard the Skull, with our lives if necessary.”
“Agreed,” said the Nord. “To the death.”
Amelia left the priests in the inner sanctum and navigated the halls and stairs of the tower, bypassing some two dozen combatants. She finally reached the barrier she had seen from the other side. A large ring hung from a heavy wall chain, and she pulled it. In the dream, a pinkish mist began pouring out from the ceiling.
And that was when she woke up.
She was still where she had been standing in the dream, but the Miasma was no more. The only thing left was the soul gem, which was making the lightning sound she had heard before as it channeled magicka into the barrier. She removed the soul gem from the sconce, and the barrier disappeared. Erandur was on the other side, waiting for her.
“It worked,” he said. “Mara be praised! You disappeared when you drank the potion. I rushed up here in the hope I would find you safe beyond the barrier. I have never seen anything like it.”
“It was as if I were walking in someone else’s body.”
He grinned like a child. “Oh, if only I could . . . but alas, I can only read about it.”
“Time to destroy that skull.”
“I apologize. I should not have let my reverence for Vaermina’s machinations distract me from our mission. Come.”
Although she knew the way now, she let Erandur lead her through the tower and down to the inner sanctum. They had to fight awakening cultists and Orcs along the way, and Amelia could see how hard it was for Erandur to destroy those he had once called “brother” and “sister,” regardless of what he had said to her.
When they reached the inner sanctum, the Bosmer and Nord she had seen in the dream were just waking up.
“Veren! Thorek! You’re alive!” Erandur cried.
The two priests drew their weapons, a staff for Veren and a sword for Thorek, and menaced Erandur. “No thanks to you, Casimir. You coward! You fled rather than go to sleep.”
“I was afraid; I wasn’t ready to sleep. I have no excuse. But I don’t go by that name anymore. I am Erandur. Priest of Mara.”
With that, the Wood Elf laughed. “Mara! You really are a coward! And waking us up was your last mistake.”
With that, he unleashed a spell at Erandur, who flinched and retaliated. The Nord came at Amelia with a sword, and she drew her own weapons, swiping his blade out of the way with one sword and stabbing him in the heart with the other. He groaned and fell dead before her, just as the Bosmer died at Erandur’s hands.
“Come!” he said. “The Skull is just up these steps.”
As she had seen from above, the Skull was surrounded by a filmy barrier, which Erandur had no trouble bringing down. Then he began praying to Mara to help him destroy the staff.
As for Amelia, a light, feminine voice began speaking in her head. “He is deceiving you. When the ritual is complete, the Skull will be free and Erandur will turn on you. Kill him now. Kill him and claim the Skull for yourself. Vaermina commands you!”
Amelia rolled her eyes. She knew all about the lies of Daedric princes, so she just ignored the voice. Besides, she had told Erandur she trusted him, and she would continue to do so until he did anything to betray that trust. She certainly wasn’t worried about him attacking her.
Vaermina kept on, chanting, “Kill him! Kill him!” and Amelia just continued to ignore her.
The room exploded in red light, swirling around Erandur and the Skull, finally coalescing around the staff until it shattered into a million pieces.
Erandur turned back to Amelia. He looked exhausted. “It is done.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m just . . . tired. This temple has taken its toll on me.”
“Will you be all right?”
“In time, I believe I will. I will spend the rest of my life in the worship of Mara and atoning for my sins.”
“Then this is where I leave you, Erandur. Thank you for your help.”
“Nonsense. Thank you for your help. I could not have done this without you. Take care, my child, and I hope your husband shows no lasting effects from his nightmares. If for some reason he needs healing, bring him to me.”
Amelia left Erandur in the temple and ran to the Sanctuary with vampiric speed. She let herself in and started calling for Vallanil the moment she hit the door and as she ran toward the dormitory. He didn’t answer at first, but finally came his call. “Amelia? Is that you?”
She found him sitting on the side of the bed, looking confused and starved. His eyes, blue even when he was hungry, were blood red, and his skin was white, with dozens of spidery veins running through it. She reached for him and threw her arms around him, hugging his head to her breast. “Oh, thank Sithis, you’re all right!”
“I had a terrible nightmare. I don’t remember most of it now, but it seemed to go on forever, and even when I tried to wake myself up, it was impossible.”
“I’ll tell you all about it when you’re better. But first, you need to feed.”
He looked up at her with a furrowed brow. “I’m starving. How long has it been? Is Cicero still here?”
“No, Cicero is gone, and you’ve been asleep at least a fortnight.”
“I thought I’d lost you.”
“No, the Matron made sure I got out. She said you were in Skyrim and to come find you, but I was injured and confused, and I went to the wrong Sanctuary. Fortunately, a strange little Imperial was here to help me.”
“I’ve met Cicero; it’s also a long story. But come. Let’s get you fed.”
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