The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

An Illusionist in Skyrim, part 15: the battle of Whiterun

Tom Francis at

This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly. The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.

The whole concept for my character is that I never directly attack any living thing, so it's rather awkward that I now find myself getting all the credit for slaying a dragon. I didn't. I didn't even help. I was going to lead some angry giants over to beat it up for me, but the guards killed the dragon before I got there, so I just ended up setting some angry giants on the real heroes and then stealing all the glory.

So as the Jarl of Whiterun is singing my praises, naming me his Thane, giving me a personal servant, and entrusting me with his own battleaxe, I'm wishing he'd shut up. I need him to read the letter my general ordered me to deliver.

At last, he does. "Take my axe to Ulfric Stormcloak in Windhelm," he replies. "He'll know my meaning."

Jarl, I think I speak for my superiors in the Imperial Legion when I suggest you start researching communication. Posting someone an axe is a really inefficient way to talk.

I mutter most of the long, uneventful ride to Windhelm, halfway across Skyrim. When I arrive, I slip off Sarah the Implausible Horse and barge into Ulfric's great hall, expressing my feelings about their culture by trampling all over the banquet table on my way to his throne.

"You are quite brave to carry such a message," Ulfric says. Do you mean bored? I'm quite bored to carry such a message. Tired, maybe? It's pretty heavy. Capacious? It's not really clear where I was stowing it.

"Return his axe, and tell him to expect visitors. There will be a great deal of excitement in Whiterun soon."

Oh you are kidding me. This whole conversation is not only going to consist entirely of me taking axes back and forth, it's going to be the same axe? Your conversation is literally just:

"Thing."
"Same thing."

Didn't you kill a guy with a shout once? Talk with shouts! Kill with axes! You people need to take a long hard look at either your traditions or your dictionary.

No, it's fine, I'm going.

A predictable response

Another long trek. Another ride to the city gates. Another walk to another throne room. Another rebellious stomp across another dining table, goblets and grilled salmon flying everywhere.

The Jarl: "I knew this would be his response." Oh, cool. Kind of a massive stupid insane waste of my goddamn time then, wasn't it?

A messenger runs in to inform us that the Stormcloaks are at the gate. Huh. Must have somehow missed their whole army being right behind me all the way from Windhelm.

"This is it," shouts the Jarl, "to the battlements!"

We all rush out, but a guard stops me.

"Wait, I know you!" Oh god, not this again. "You're a wanted woman!"

My bounty is 2 gold - I still don't know what for, but I don't have time to go to be arrested right now. I explain to him that the Jarl has just made me Thane, and ask if whatever those two words mean translates to me being somehow above the law?

It does! Excellent.

As we head on, another guard chimes in: "Looking to do some hunting? Avoid Brittleshin Pass." OK. We're... we're off to the war now.

The battle for Whiterun

It's early evening, and smoke - possibly fog of war - is thick in the streets. Fiery projectiles come raining in over the battlements and slam into the ground. And, as with every other time I leave Whiterun, I take the wrong route to the gate and end up in a cow pen.

When we finally get out of the front gates, I hop on Sarah the Implausible Horse and gallop out towards the oncoming troops. Arrows whiz by, Imperials and Whiterun guards charge out behind us, and for a moment it looks like I know what the hell I'm doing.

When I actually reach the enemy, of course, I can't really do anything, so I bank round and canter back behind the guys who are going to actually fight.

I park Sarah somewhere safe-ish and dismount to start flinging spells. At first I try to Fury the enemies, to make them attack each other. I encounter a few problems with this, not least of which is that Fury doesn't really do that. Furied enemies just attack the nearest thing, which is typically me by the time I hit them with it.

The other problem is that Whiterun guards look similar to the enemy Stormcloaks in the evening gloom, so often the person I've just tricked into attacking me is one of our own troops. I'm used to not being the most useful person in a given fight, but this is about as actively unhelpful as I've been since the incident with the giants.

All around me, everyone's doing their job: Legate Rikke is shouting at the troops, the troops are twirling and impaling enemies in gruesome kill moves, and the enemies are dying excellently. I, on the other hand, am nearly dead and low on health potions, so I decide to stick to Couraging our troops. At least if I hit the wrong people with that spell, it's basically useless anyway.

The General

The tide starts to turn against us: an objective popup informs me we've lost the drawbridge and should protect the battlements, then immediately adds that we've also lost the battlements. And oddly, my companion Belrand is nowhere to be seen. He must have lagged behind on our way out of the city, and now the gates are locked until the attack is over.

I'm beating a strategic retreat when I bump into a half-naked woman wearing most of a bear. I instinctively cast Calm on her, then realise she's the Stormcloak commander. Deeply chillaxed, she puts her bow away and wanders through the carnage. Two Imperial Legion soldiers run up to her and slaughter her in cold blood. Hurray, I helped!

I start Calming more of the enemies - I've had enough Illusion practise now that the mana cost is trivial, and at this stage in the battle I'm able to pacify almost the entire Stormcloak force before I run dry. It's a bizarre scene, an invasion force suddenly ambling around the battlefield, acting like they never wanted our stupid city anyway.

Our last few soldiers are less relaxed. They keep hacking at the idle Stormcloaks, and killing all but three by the time the spells wear off. I check my inventory to drink another health potion, and when I flick back to the game, a massive skeletal monster plunges down out of the sky in front of me.

Close to the bone

After a moment of total bafflement, I realise it's a dragon. The reason I didn't recognise it is that it's crashed skull-first into the ground, its massive pelvic bone wiggling weirdly in the air. It's not a skeletal dragon, it's a dragon skeleton. In fact, it's almost certainly the skeleton of the dragon the guards killed for me out at the guard tower. What the hell it's doing here, and why it plummeted out of the sky, I will never know.

Backing slowly away, I see there are only two Stormcloaks left now, so I Fury one of them into killing the other. When the spell wears off, he looks round at me, the Imperial soldiers behind me, and the massive dragon skeleton on the ground between us, and he runs off into the night. Whiterun is ours.

I head back to the city gates, stopping briefly to check my journal and make sure that's where I'm meant to be going. When I put it away, a titanic mess of bone crashes down on my head. Jesus goddamn Christ! Get it off me!

The gibbering dragon skeleton wobbles awkwardly between me and the city gate, then slumps down to the ground. It's the same one, it just jumps on top of me every time I bring up my inventory. Is this glitch meant to remind me how bad I should feel for setting angry giants on the guards who killed this dragon for me? The symbolism is a bit heavy handed, even for a videogame. I feel bad! You don't need to literally hit me over the head with it!

Mercifully, the dragon corpse symbolism attacks stop once I get back into Whiterun. Belrand's there waiting for me, being the useless one for once, and so is the Jarl. He prattles on again about how amazing I am, gives me yet another axe, and says as a sign of his appreciation, I'd be welcome to buy a house in Whiterun. Er, buy a house? My reward for saving the city is the ability to acquire a house in exchange for the cost of a house? I didn't realise I was ever actually banned from engaging in basic commerce.

Slightly offended, I find Sarah the Implausible Horse and ride on through the night, Belrand jogging behind. We should reach Solitude by dawn.

Dead drop

We reach Labyrinthine by dawn. Labyrinthine is a snow-covered ruin I usually try to avoid on my way to Solitude because of all th- oh God Frost Trolls! I steer Sarah the Implausible Horse around one and onto a bridge, which immediately turns out to be a precipice.

I look down. It's quite far. I look back. The troll's quite close. There's no way around him, and there isn't room for me to get off to cast Illusion spells. Belrand is nowhere to be seen. We ride off the edge.

Sarah the Implausible Horse and I both collapse when we hit the ground. I get back up. I stand there for a while, looking at my limp horse, hoping she'll move. She doesn't.

Belrand finally catches up, runs over to the body, stops, and looks up at me wordlessly.

Eventually the Frost Troll scampers down some stone steps towards us, and bizarrely, he stops too. The Troll looks at Belrand. Belrand looks at me. I look at Sarah. It feels weirdly like a moment of silence for this stupid, senseless loss.

Once I feel we've paid our respects, I walk off. Belrand follows. The Troll follows. Suddenly, they seem to remember they're enemies, and start to fight. I Calm the Troll and carry sadly on to Solitude by foot.

The Pale

Back in town, I stop by the local trader to sell some dragon bones, which are probably not haunted or anything, and spend the money on new spells: Fear, Rally, and Frenzy (see For my next tricks).I'll be honest: that's about your lot for Illusion, until you get Invisibility at level 75. I've levelled up a lot in my travels, but I'm still a long way off that. I'm not even sure I'd have enough mana to cast it, since I'm not allowed to wear enchanted gear.

At HQ, General Tullius announces that I'd be "wasted as a regular soldier." If you mean useless, I agree! He sends me out to help Legate Rikke in the Pale, which I deduce is some kind of region.

Before I leave Solitude, I wonder if I should buy a new horse. No, it's too soon. For me to afford it.

I find Rikke up in the mountains, at a remote Imperial camp in the middle of a blizzard. Soldiers huddle around a campfire, and the wounded groan in the medical tent. Also in the medical tent, oddly, is a table with two strong health potions on it. Are we just leaving these guys to die three feet from some health potions? Are they aware that health potions magically fix everything?

Oh well. I'll take them if you're not using them. And this money I found in the drawer. The 'pick up' icon wasn't red, so morally it's fine.

The way we're going to take The Pale, Legate Rikke informs me, is by creating fake orders to trick the enemy into doing what we want. My orders are to steal some orders so we can fake some orders. Honestly, I could save them the trouble: these people seem to communicate entirely in axes. Let's just take them an axe and say it's from Ulfric Stormcloak, they'll all kill each other.

I am instructed to leave this freezing, windswept camp and go directly to a pub, where I should hang out until a Stormcloak messenger comes by. Yessir.

Suckers

I'm trudging through the mountain blizzard, still sadly horseless, when I see people fighting up ahead. I run over to see whether some or all of them need to be Calmed down. It turns out to be Imperial Legion soldiers fighting a group of dark elves in dark clothes, and the dark elves win before I can intervene. They turn to me. I hit them with Frenzy, but nothing happens. A note at the top of the screen explains that "Vampire resisted Frenzy".

Vampires! My Illusions won't work on them because they're undead, and they can even do the one Illusion I can't: invisibility. Right now, though, they're giving me a thorough demonstration of their Lightning and Life Drain spells, and I have to drink my entire stock of health potions to stay alive. The two I stole from the dying soldiers actually save my life.

Finally I manage to scramble up onto an icy ridge the vampires can't climb, and I'm safe. Then something occurs to me. I edge back down towards them, and let the nearest one stab and Drain me as much as I can risk, until the message pops up:

You have contracted Sanguinare Vampiris.

Eeeexcellent.

Next: The Final Entry.

We used to put the diary online in shorter, weekly posts, but a lot of readers felt they were too short. Which is the best complaint, but in some cases I agreed. They were written as 2,000 word entries for the magazine and then split afterwards, so not every 500 word chunk had the right structure to work in isolation. We've switched to putting the full magazine version up all at once, which means changing to a monthly schedule to stay in sync. Let us know in the comments whether you prefer it this way - we plan to do more diaries after this one finishes.