Darkness Returns is a quest available in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.



To complete this quest, the Dragonborn must take the Pilgrim's Path to the Twilight Sepulcher in order to put the Skeleton Key back where it belongs. As the Sepulcher is entered, the ghost of Gallus Desidenius, the Nightingale murdered by Mercer Frey, is encountered. He warns the Dragonborn that, because the Key is missing, the other ghosts have been corrupted and are now hostile. When asked about the obstacles to reaching the Ebonmere Lock, he advises to look for a journal that belonged to another adventurer, Nystrom. His skeleton is to the east of Gallus.

Nystrom's journal holds some clues to the trials:

"Shadows of their former selves, sentinels of the dark. They wander ever more and deal swift death to defilers."

"Above all they stand, vigilance everlasting. Beholden the murk yet contentious of the glow."

"Offer what She desires most, but reject the material. For her greatest want is that which cannot be seen, felt or carried."

"Direct and yet indirect. The path to salvation a route of cunning with fortune betraying the foolish."

"The journey is complete, the Empress's embrace awaits the fallen. Hesitate not if you wish to gift her your eternal devotion."

Nystrom also says that the man who gave him the clues mumbled nonsensical phrases like "night is the new day" and how he was the "ghost of the sun."

First Trial - SentinelsEdit

"Shadows of their former selves, sentinels of the dark. They wander ever more and deal swift death to defilers."

The first trial is facing the shadows of their former selves, sentinels of the dark - Nightingale ghosts, hostile and powerful. Either sneak past or kill them. If they are killed, there is valuable loot on both sides of this area.

When entering the first trials room, it is relatively easy to sneak attack the Nightingale Sentinel with a bow as they are directly in front of the Dragonborn when they enter. Then they can continue on to the next trial or, in the chance of receiving more loot, kill the other sentinels.

In the room on the left, with the alchemy lab, there is a desk. A button behind this desk opens a secret door in the same room revealing moderate loot.

Second Trial - Light versus DarkEdit

Second trial

The Second Trial - Walk in the shadow

"Above all they stand, vigilance everlasting. Beholden the murk yet contentious of the glow."

For the second trial, night is the new day: avoid the light and stay on the darkest path. One can enter sneak and go through the mist. Standing or moving through the lit areas will cause large amounts of damage, which not even Become Ethereal can avert, since the damage is scripted to be taken without any magic effect. Watch for trip wires when going up the staircases. During this trial there are no enemies. Candlelight and Magelight spells can also help if having trouble finding the way around, as their own lights aren't harmful in this area.

Third Trial - Hidden DoorEdit

Third trial

The Third Trial

"Offer what She desires most, but reject the material. For her greatest want is that which cannot be seen, felt or carried."

For the third trial, in the room with the statue and a dead bandit lying in front of it, there are two large sconces to either side of the statue. To the left of the left hand sconce there is a chain, and at the right hand side of the right sconce there is a second chain. Pull the two chains to put out the lights of the sconces, so giving her (Nocturnal) what she desires most (darkness). The door behind the statue will then open.

Fourth Trial - Sentinels vs. TrapsEdit

"Direct and yet indirect. The path to salvation a route of cunning with fortune betraying the foolish."

For the fourth trial, there are some options:

  • The hallway traps can be avoided altogether; there is a Master locked iron door to the left before the first hallway (with the swinging axes) that can be used to avoid the traps (open it with the Skeleton Key). If you do this, skip the next two steps.
  • If you go straight ahead through the traps, step carefully, using Whirlwind Sprint or Become Ethereal. The swinging axes can transmit diseases, even to a werewolf or vampire.
  • Open the next door from the side; it hides a swinging battering ram. Don't go through the door to the west just yet; it leads to the next area. Turn south and continue.
  • In the next room, kill the sentinels and loot the pit. Among other things it contains two skill books: Proper Lock Design (on the southern table) and Sacred Witness.

After looting the entire area, proceed north to Twilight Sepulcher - Inner Sanctum. Very soon, there is a point of no return; be sure you have looted everything you want before proceeding.

Fifth Trial - Inner SanctumEdit

Nocturnal Appears

Nocturnal appears to the Dragonborn.

"The journey is complete, the Empress's embrace awaits the fallen. Hesitate not if you wish to gift her your eternal devotion."

As you proceed through the Twilight Sepulcher - Inner Sanctum, you will come to a steep pit. This is the point of no return; when you are done here, the first part of the Twilight Sepulcher will be sealed. Fall into the pit and search Anders' skeleton; read the message. Wait a few seconds until the Skeleton Key reacts. The ground will disappear and you will fall. When you land, place the Skeleton Key into the Ebonmere Lock. That will summon Nocturnal, who will bid the Dragonborn to drink from the Ebonmere, "for this is where the Agent of Nocturnal is born."

"My, my. What do we have here? It's been a number of years since I've set foot on your world. Or perhaps it's been moments. One tends to lose track. So... once again the Key has been stolen and a "champion" returns it to the Sepulcher. Now that Ebonmere has been restored, you stand before me awaiting your accolades; a pat on your head... a kiss on your cheek. What you fail to realize is your actions were expected and represent nothing more than the fulfillment of your agreement. Don't mistake my tone for displeasure, after all, you've obediently performed your duties to the letter. But we both know this has little to do with honor and oaths and loyalty. It's about the reward; the prize. Fear not. You'll have your trinkets, your desire for power, your hunger for wealth. I bid you to drink deeply from the Ebonmere, mortal. For this is where the Agent of Nocturnal is born. The Oath has been struck, the die has been cast and your fate awaits you in the Evergloam. Farewell, Nightingale. See to it the Key stays this time, won't you?"

TESV Gallus Karliah

Then speak to Karliah, and she explains the choice that must be made between the Agent of Strife, Subterfuge and Stealth. To pick one, step on the corresponding moon. They give greater Powers, usable once a day only. The Dragonborn can later choose to change the chosen power after a day so there is little pressure in choosing the best ability. Next, talk to Karliah. After Karliah is spoken to, Gallus' ghost will appear and they will speak shortly before he goes to Evergloam. Karliah then goes back to Nightingale Hall. The Dragonborn can then leave through the southern portal.


Nightingale of Shadows

Semi moon

Agent of Stealth

  • The crescent moon represents this power, which makes the Dragonborn the master of remaining unseen. Once a day they can become invisible while crouching for 120 seconds, much like The Shadow Stone.

Nightingale Subterfuge

Half moon

Agent of Subterfuge

  • The half moon represents this power, which allows the use of shadow to cloud the judgment of those around them. Once a day, it can be activated for 30 seconds in order to make people and creatures in the spell's area of effect attack anyone nearby.

Nightingale Strife

Full moon

Agent of Strife

  • The full moon represents this power, which, when used, instantly absorbs 100 Health points from the target. This power can also be used once a day. Will go through the target and hit others.


Darkness Returns – TG09
IDJournal Entry

With the Skeleton Key of Nocturnal safely in my possession, I'm bound for the Twilight Sepulcher to return it to its resting place.

  • Objective 10: Enter the Twilight Sepulcher
  • Objective 20: Speak to the Nightingale Sentinel

Within the Twilight Sepulcher, I happened upon the spirit of Gallus, the Nightingale murdered by Mercer Frey. He warned me that removing the key from its resting place has corrupted the other resident Nightingale Guardian Spirits, distorting their morality and making them incredibly hostile.

  • Objective 30: Follow the Pilgrim's Path
  • Objective 25: (Optional) Retrieve Nystrom's Journal
  • Objective 40: Return the Skeleton Key to the Ebonmere
  • Objective 50: Listen to Nocturnal
  • Objective 60: Speak to Karliah
  • Objective 70: Choose Nightingale Role

I've returned the Skeleton Key to its proper resting place within the Twilight Sepulcher and encountered Nocturnal herself. As a reward for my actions, she allowed me to become a true Nightingale Agent and imbued me with the appropriate ability befitting my station.

  • Quest completed


  • The Pilgrim's Path contains plentiful loot, including skill books, potions, and soul gems. It becomes inaccessible once the key is used to open Ebonmere.
  • It is recommended to not return the Skeleton Key until either reaching the Unbreakable lockpick perk, or are able to become the Thieves Guild Guildmaster, as the Skeleton Key must be returned to do that.
  • During the first test there is a secret door in the room with the Nightingale sitting down. It can be opened by pressing the button on the floor to the left of the seat under the table.
  • After the completion of this quest, a shrine to Nocturnal will appear in the Thieves Guild Cistern. It gives the Blessing of Nocturnal, which makes the Dragonborn 10% harder to detect for seven hours.
  • In the second trial, only the light from the sconces can damage the Dragonborn, so torches, Magelight, or Candlelight can still be used.


This section contains bugs related to Darkness Returns. Before adding a bug to this list, consider the following:

  1. Please reload an old save to confirm if the bug is still happening.
  2. If the bug is still occurring, please post the bug report with the appropriate system template  360  / XB1  ,  PS3  / PS4  ,  PC  / MAC  ,  NX  , depending on which platform(s) the bug has been encountered on.
  3. Be descriptive when listing the bug and fixes, but avoid having conversations in the description and/or using first-person anecdotes: such discussions belong on the appropriate forum board.
  • After Nocturnal is done speaking, the quest marker will follow her into the Ebonmere instead of moving to Karliah, so that she cannot be spoken to. Re-loading from before returning the Key to the Ebonmere can fix this.
  • This quest may be removed from the quest menu. Enter the Twilight Sepulcher to continue the quest.
  • When using the portal to the entrance, the Dragonborn may fall through the floor of the game to nothingness and die on the spot.
  • Sometimes Karliah, when spoken to, will only respond with "yes, fellow Nightingale?" And you will be unable to complete the quest. Reload last save to continue.
  •  360   When returning to the Twilight Sepulcher, the Ebonmere will be shut and the moon symbols will have vanished. It is still possible to change blessings of Nocturnal, but one will be unable to tell where they are.


Darkness Returns (Achievement)
Darkness Returns
Complete "Darkness Returns"
Points 10 Gamer points
Bronze trophy

Start a Discussion Discussions about Darkness Returns

  • Can't talk to Nightingale Sentinel

    11 messages
    • Even tried closing and opening the game. Still no good.
    • wrote:Even tried closing and opening the game. Still no good. tried to searching around the field first, if u reading the bo...
  • The Skeleton key

    3 messages
    • Nope, sadly.
    • You can't get the skeleton key and complete the quest at the same time unfortunately. But, there is a perk in the lockpicking skill tree t...