When I first dived back into Skyrim, I didn't expect to play the entire game again just to revisit my favorite quest. Courtesy of the Anniversary Edition, I was drawn back to try out the Elder Scrolls 5’s answer to fishing, a mini-game available by way of an update. But, seeing as I was back to fill the shoes of the Dragonborn anyway, I figured I might as well check out some of its new, free Creation Club add-ons. The Anniversary Edition introduced a chain of quests and items that were entirely new to me - how could I possibly resist the prospect of a new experience in a world I've come to know so well?
After learning one of the questlines is directly tied to the Shivering Isles - which sets the scene for the fantastic DLC in Skyrim's predecessor, Oblivion - there's no turning back for me. I'm all in. Before long, I'm pouring over books and diaries, battling against Saints and Seducers, and, eventually, taking on a threat lurking down below the surface of one of Tamriel's biggest cities. Along the way, the burning desire to return to a classic quest that just won’t leave my mind after all these years continues to grow.
Balance of Power
My adventures begin when I speak to Ri'saad, a Khajiit traveling merchant who tells me about some outlaws that are causing trouble for him on the road. "They wield strange golden weapons and wear gleaming armor. Ri'saad has read of such things only in stories", the Khajiit says in a letter. The letter also tells of another group known as the Seducers, who wear menacing dark armor.
I know of the Saints and Seducers from Oblivion's Shivering Isles expansion - rival groups that both serve Sheogorath, the Prince of Madness, who rules over the Isles as the creator of the realm. What makes this realm so interesting is the way the areas of the Isles actually reflect different sides of Sheogorath's personality. Handily, if you're not familiar with the DLC, you can find a copy of a book in Skyrim that tells you more about these two groups, along with other writings on Sheogorath.
The questline itself is pretty straightforward. You battle against bandit camp leaders to gather clues dotted around Skyrim. Eventually, you'll go up against a powerful mage whose seemingly trying to form a bridge to get to the Shivering Isles. But as I go about fighting the Saints and Seducers and come across all of the many references to the fabled realm of Madness and Sheogorath, I keep coming back to the same conclusion: It's high time I go back and once again experience one of the most memorable quests that also happens to involve the Daedric Prince of Madness.
If you've tucked into Skyrim and made your way to Solitude, chances are you've come across this quest yourself. Word reaches you that a man outside of the Blue Palace is calling for help. Here, you'll meet a fellow by the name of Dervenin, who asks you to talk to his master in the Pelagius Wing of the Palace to convince him to return from "vacation". This is when the quest The Mind of Madness begins. I still remember the first time I came across this quest, and how it took me on one unexpected detour that I continue to think about now. It's the kind of side quest I wish I could somehow erase from my memory just so I could experience it anew one more time. But even after I've played through it several times before, it still makes a huge impression.
Once inside the Pelagius Wing, I venture through cobwebbed rooms with an eerie mist enveloping rundown tables and vases lying in disarray - it's clear no one has entered this place in a long, long time. When I reach a hallway, I'm suddenly transported in front of a table that seats the prince of Madness himself, Sheogorath, and Pelagius, a long-dead former Emperor who used to be known as Pelagius Septim III. After trying to convince Sheogorath to return to the Shivering Isles, it's first revealed that you're actually inside Pelagius's mind, and the only way to escape is by using the Wabberjack against different aspects of the former emperors innermost-self.
With three paths to walk down, one will see you take on Pelagius night terrors while another challenges you to help with his paranoia. Equipped with the Wabberjack staff, which can transform or change beings, it's up to you to work out how to use it to face each problem on his mind. It's a quest that definitely befits the presence of the Prince of Madness, who guides you through each path by narrating the troubles plaguing Pelagius.
The one path that has always stayed with me, though, is the one that shows you the anger Pelagius bears. As Sheograth says, it's a sad path that highlights the emperor's own intense hatred towards himself. The way this is shown really struck a chord. Pelagius is battling with himself - a tiny form representing his confidence is being beaten down by an opposing fighter that reflects his anger. Using the Wabberjack, you need to change the size of the confidence to help him find balance, but figures taking the form of his self-doubt also join the fray, so you have to be quick about it. Back when I first experienced this quest, I saw myself in that very battle and wished I had a Wabberjack to hand to make my own confidence grow.
After all this time, I still connect to this one particular moment in the quest. Confidence is something I struggle with to this day, which is undoubtedly why Palagius' battle continues to speak to me - no matter how many times I experience it. If nothing else, the Anniversary Edition serves as a reminder of just how fantastic Skyrim's quests can be, even after ten years. In a world full of surprises and hidden gems that will catch you off-guard time and again, it's no wonder so many players just like me find themselves sucked right back into being the Dragonborn - regardless of how many times you've taken on the role before.
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