The Soul Cairn is a location in The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard. It is a plane of Oblivion inhabited by souls and undead. It can be accessed via a portal in Castle Volkihar during, and after, the quest "Chasing Echoes."
When a soul is trapped in a Black Soul Gem and its energy used to power an enchantment, the remnant—the soul itself—is sent to the Soul Cairn. It is a place devoid of (faunal) life—the only beings that exist there are souls, undead and the rulers of the realm, the Ideal Masters.
The Ideal Masters are enigmatic entities that lord over the Soul Cairn, controlling every aspect of its being. It is believed that the Soul Cairn exists so that the Ideal Masters can collect souls and feed on them; some hypotheses even suggest they use the souls as a form of currency to an even higher power.
The Soul Cairn is also home to powerful undead beings, which are highly sought after by necromancers. Souls are sent to the Soul Cairn by necromancers who wish to summon these undead, but in order to do so they must travel to the realm in person to finalize the deal with the Ideal Masters. They are often tricked, and many become trapped as harvested souls.
The landscape of the Soul Cairn is barren and dry, with only dead trees and bushes scattered throughout the realm, as well as plant-like growths known as Soul Husks.
The sky is perpetually bleak and cloudy, and lightning strikes constantly throughout the realm. There is no sun in the sky, but instead a single moon and a huge black circular void.
Numerous buildings and altars can be found throughout the land, alongside mysterious upright stones and circular crystalline structures. The crystal circles will replenish the health of any being that stands in them, although they will quickly dim and become inert after use. In the tallest towers, the uppermost sections are composed of blocks suspended in midair, rotating around the tower and emitting a purple light.
The realm is partitioned by an enormous fortified wall that divides the landscape, though it is unknown why. Magical barriers also block off certain areas.
Scattered across the Cairn are a number of floating purple crystals that resemble giant soul gems. Approaching these will drain the health of any living being that gets too close. Eating a Soul Husk or Soul Husk Extract, however, will counter the drain for a short time.
There are four Lightning Attractors located in the Soul Cairn. Activate these by using Grand Soul Gems or Greater Soul Gems. Lightning will strike the rod, and Mistmen, Bonemen, and Wrathmen will appear. Also, the soul gem will be replaced by a Black Soul Gem. After being struck, the rod will slide into the orifice and the Lightning Attractor cannot be activated a second time.
- One is located by one of the Keepers, to the right of where the Portal is.
- Another is located near Arvak's Skull by the glowing castle.
- A third is close to the Reaper's Lair
- A fourth is located near Morven Stroud & page 10 of Saint Jiub's Opus. From the main path (Portal-Boneyard path), there is a platform just past Morven which has stairs leading in all four directions. The Lightning Attractor is located on top of the building just beyond the "pool" of mist to the east.
There are rooms scattered about the Soul Cairn that have metal poles blocking their entrances. These can be unlocked by shooting both of the glowing blue orbs in the obelisks nearby with spells or arrows.
While inside the Soul Cairn, if the Dragonborn turns right after going through the stone wall and follows the barrier, the Reaper's Lair will be found just past one of the large towers with floating blocks and swirling energies at the top (It is not the structure where there is a lantern on the ground in the alcove; rather the next building to the east of this one).
Inside lies the Reaper Shard Receptacle, which is activated by placing three Reaper Gem Fragments in the receptacle. These fragments are located in chests beneath three of the giant floating soul gems which drain health. Lightning frequently strikes the center of the room. Putting three shards in the receptacle summons The Reaper, who attacks. If one goes into no-clip while inside the lair, they may notice three paddleboats side-by-side floating over nothing.
Note: If one of the alternate methods to spawn the Reaper is used, it will not show if the three Reaper Gem Fragments are used (confirmed on PS3).
The Boneyard is accessible after killing the three Keepers. Valerica is trapped here along with one of the three Elder Scrolls. Shortly after the Dragonborn enters the Boneyard, Durnehviir will attack.
Serana's mother, Valerica, is found here. She offers an Elder Scroll to the Dragonborn if the Keepers located at the tallest spires in the Soul Cairn are defeated. She warns that a fearsome Dragon named Durnehviir may take notice of the Keepers' demise. Once all of the Keepers have been killed, the wall that blocks access to the castle disappears. After entering the Boneyard, Durnehviir will appear and attempt to kill the Dragonborn. Defeat him and speak with Valerica, who will lead the player to the Elder Scroll. After acquiring the Elder Scroll and exiting the Boneyard, Durnehviir will be found waiting on a broken structure. After conversing with him, he teaches the Dragonborn a shout to call him from the Soul Cairn.
The Dragonborn can interact with the soul of Jiub in the northeast section of the Soul Cairn. Jiub explains that he wants to write the second volume of his opus, but he has lost the pages to his first volume and requires them to continue writing. There are ten pages in total, scattered across the barren landscape of the Soul Cairn.
The Dragonborn can also complete a side quest to free an undead skeletal horse named Arvak. This mount can then be summoned at will in either Nirn or the Soul Cairn. Arvak's Skull can be found under a glowing pavilion near the big castle. Returning the Skull to its owner will reward the Dragonborn with the Summon Arvak spell.
Soul Husk HuntEdit
There is a soul, named Morven Stroud, in the northern section, directly east of the dividing wall. Speak to him and he will ask for twenty-five soul husks in return for the opportunity to "see his wares". For every twenty-five soul husks the Dragonborn brings to him, they receive the opportunity to trade for a random sword, battleaxe, light armor, heavy armor, or spell tome. This quest is repeatable as soul husks respawn. All of the items he has to offer are enchanted.
A glowing pit portal to the right of Morven Stroud will teleport the Dragonborn to the top of a building. Look to the building with the obelisks with glowing orbs, there is a spot to jump down to get a hidden chest.
- Certain souls will speak lines of dialogue revealing and describing how they ended up in the Soul Cairn.
- Some Souls will quote a line from Ghostbusters 2: "Death is but a door, Time is but a window, I'll be back". This is what Vigo the Carpathian's head said before it died.
- Souls will reference older The Elder Scrolls games such as Battlespire and Oblivion.
- Aside from the human-shaped souls one can encounter almost everywhere, there is another type of entity that roams the Soul Cairn. These look and behave like recolored Wisps but are completely docile and can't be interacted with in any way. However, should the Dragonborn awaken hostile creatures like Bonemen or Mistmen, and then evade detection, the hostile undead may go after the wisp-like entities instead. This can prove a useful distraction since the entities are invulnerable, which the undead don't seem to realize.
- One cannot enter the Soul Cairn without being a vampire or being partially soul trapped. Being soul trapped causes the Weakened Soul ability to activate, which decreases Magicka, health, and stamina while in the Soul Cairn. This can be negated after completing "Chasing Echoes" and talking to Valerica, who will instruct the Dragonborn to find the Soul Essence Gem. Upon doing so, all stats will return to normal. Additionally, finding the gem before meeting Valerica will also restore the reduced stats.
- Jiub is the only character located in the Soul Cairn who has appeared in a previous Elder Scrolls game.
- The rods on the Lightning Attractors will reemerge in time, but they cannot be activated to create another black soul gem.
- Followers, with the exception of Serana, cannot enter the Soul Cairn, even if they have been turned into a vampire during "The Gift". Those raised using the "Ritual Stone" power will follow the Dragonborn into the Soul Cairn. This can be useful as none of the creatures that inhabit the Soul Cairn can be resurrected.
- Using the Storm Call shout in the Soul Cairn will cause the sky to change to a stormy setting and back to normal again every few minutes.
- Several Daedra Hearts can be found in Soul Cairn's chests, making it an alternative way to acquire some without having to pay.
- There is a curious lack of animal and creature souls present in the Soul Cairn, despite it being the place spent souls go to after being used in soul gems. This could prove Serana's theory that only souls used in black soul gems end up in the Soul Cairn. There are, however, two cow souls in a pseudo farm setting and Arvak the horse roaming the location. Their presence is not explained.
- There is a skeleton east of the Reaper's Lair that sits next to a note against some rocks. The contents of the note suggests that Valerica is not the first physical being to enter the Soul Cairn.
- There is a half-buried word wall in the Soul Cairn.
- Every enemy in the Soul Cairn except for Durnehviir drop soul gems upon death, making this a good place to gather supplies for Enchanting.
- If one cannot find the exit portal into Tamriel, activate one of Skyrims quests (not Dragonborns) and the marker will point towards the exit. Use Clairvoyance if needed.
This section contains bugs related to Soul Cairn (Dawnguard). Before adding a bug to this list, consider the following:
- If access to the Soul Cairn is gained by becoming a Vampire Lord, and the condition is cured immediately after leaving, reentering will not be possible. Get Serana to turn the Dragonborn back into a Vampire Lord before returning to Valerica's Study for the first time (otherwise save outside the study, exit the game completely, start the game and load this save and have Serana turn you into a vampire lord and then renter the study) and it should be possible to enter the Cairn. (Using
tclconsole command to go over the portal might fix this.)
- One or more of the pages to Jiub's opus may be missing.
- Sometimes, the portal will glitch, and the player will be unable to enter the Soul Cairn indefinitely. Either reloading the save before attempted entering or choosing the option other than what they chose will fix it, not sure which actually fixes it, so try both simultaneously. (Using
tclconsole command to go over the portal might fix this).
- While running around and using a crossbow, occasionally, it will get stuck and not fire. When this happens the player cannot run, jump, or shoot the crossbow. This can be fixed by either:
- Pressing the sheath/ready button (X for Xbox, Square for PS3, and R for default controls on PC).
- Opening up the character menu (B for Xbox, Circle for PS3, and Tab for default controls on PC).
- Sometimes when entering the Soul Cairn a second time, the game will glitch as you try to enter the second half.
- Sometimes after encountering an Ideal Master gem, the player may gain a permanent "Soul Ribbon" as if their health is being drained, even though it is not. To fix this, simply move close to a gem without using a soul husk until the player's health is drained, then move away and the ribbon should be gone.
- Sometimes, upon entering the Soul Cairn, health drain effects will glitch and deplete health point. The player may need to reload a previous save.
- mannequins may spawn at random areas in Soul Cairn such as on the stairs, floating next to giant soul gems, blocking doors, etc. Saving and reloading the game or moving the camera away from them will make them disappear. Sometimes,
- The soul drain effect of the crystalline structures may turn the screen completely black, making effective navigation and combat nearly impossible until a fair distance is put between the Dragonborn and the crystal.