A highlight of Skyrim, for me, is the collection of Deadric Artifact quests. My favorite period of time during my first playthrough was when I was going through Skyrim collecting them all, moral and ethical consequences be damned.
There’s just something about having a trophy room full of Tamriel’s most sought-after items that feels satisfying. Granted, I’m the type of player that has containers full of gems in my house rather than selling them, so you could say I prefer the aesthetic over the practical.
That’s why I’m going to recommend you don’t use the Daedric reward for Discerning the Transmundane upfront. You lose it when you use it, and its effect isn’t powerful enough to justify not being able to display it. At least, it’s not in my opinion.
You do you, though. My Discerning the Transmundane guide is only here to help walk you through the quest, not tell you what to do with your ill-gotten gains.
Quest Details Up Front
- Quest Location: Blackreach.
- Quest Giver: Septimus Signus.
- Requirements: Level 15 (second half).
- Length of Quest: Very long.
- Difficulty: Moderate.
Septimus Signus, a brilliant but mad scholar living in Winterhold’s ice fields sends the Dragonborn to a Dwemer observatory. The observatory holds an Elder Scroll, but Septimus’ interest in it lies elsewhere. He wants a set of instructions housed within the observatory. He believes these instructions will tell him how to open a Dwarven lockbox he believes contains the heart of a god.
Speak with Septimus Signus
If you follow Skyrim’s main questline, you’ll be sent to Septimus as a part of the Elder Knowledge quest. This quest runs alongside the first half of Discerning the Transmundane, so I would recommend waiting until you can do both at the same time.
Either follow Elder Knowledge or find Septimus in an ice cave north of Winterhold and speak with him. He’ll tell you about a Dwemer lockbox that he’s trying to open and will give you the task of inscribing a lexicon with instructions on the lockbox. To get the instructions, you need to access the Dwarven Tower of Mzark.
After speaking with him, head out of your cave and begin following your quest marker towards the Ruins of Aftland.
Explore the Tower of Mzark
Getting to the Tower of Mzark isn’t as easy as just walking to it. You’ll need to access Blackreach through a separate set of ruins, then go through Blackreach to Mzark.
The ruins in question are those of Aftland. Fight through the ruins, dealing with Falmer, Dwemer mechanisms, and a strung-out Khajiit to reach the Alftand Cathedral. Here, you’ll have a boss fight as well as a run-in with two hostile NPCs.
Kill them, activate the device in the center of the ruin, and head on downwards into Blackreach. You can choose to explore Blackreach at this point if you want to. Otherwise, move towards your objective marker and you’ll end up in the Tower of Mzark.
Walk up the tower and you’ll eventually end up at a big Dwarven mechanism. There will be four buttons on a balcony overlooking the mechanism. Place the Lexicon that Septimus gave you back in the cave into the receptacle next to the button.
At this point, the third and fourth buttons will light up. Press the third button a few times until the second button lights up. Then press that button until the first button lights up. Upon pressing the first button, you can pick back up the Lexicon, as well as the Elder Scroll that was housed in the center of the mechanism.
Return to Septimus
With the Lexicon and scroll in hand, exit the Dwemer ruins and return to Septimus in his ice cave. He’ll then tell you that he needs time to study the Lexicon and sends you on your way. This locks you out of Transcerning the Mundane until you’re level 15.
If you’re below this level, do a few other quests and Septimus will eventually send a courier to fetch you. If you’re already level 15, just leave the cave and come back.
Septimus will then tell you that he needs Dwemer blood to open the lockbox. Given that there are no Dwemer, he suggests trying to make a copy of their blood by mixing the blood from Skyrim’s various elven races. He then sends you to collect a blood sample from each one.
When you try to leave the cave this time, Hermaeus Mora will appear and spout some Daedric melodramatic nonsense. Your response here doesn’t matter, although he will remember you if you’ve already done Dragonborn, or will remember you in Dragonborn from this encounter.
You now need to collect blood samples from the following races:
- Dark Elves
- High Elves
- Wood Elves
Unfortunately, you’re not able to take a sample from a living specimen, so you’ll need to find enemies from these races. This makes this section of the quest quite challenging. There is no single location to collect all blood samples in one go, so you’ll need to run through a few different camps and dungeons to get everything you need.
Once you have a sample from all five races, return to Septimus.
Open the Lockbox
Upon returning to Septimus, he’ll open the lockbox he’s spent so much time studying before quickly being turned into a pile of ashes. You’ll have another chat with Herma Mora, and the quest will complete. You’re now free to pick up the Oghma Infinium, although I recommend you keep it as a trophy rather than actually reading it, because the book is destroyed if you do and it isn’t that powerful.
Speak with Septimus Signus
To start Discerning the Transmundane, you’ll need to speak with Septimus Signus. You’ll be sent to find him as a part of the Elder Knowledge main quest. Alternatively, you can go and find him yourself independently. He’s housed in an ice cave north of Winterhold, it’s not too hard to find.
Discerning the Transmundane and Elder Knlowdge run side by side for the first half of the quest. Both see you go into the same dungeon, so I recommend waiting until you can do both of them at the same time.
Upon meeting with Septimus, he’ll tell you about a Dwemer lockbox located in this cave that he’s trying to open. He believes the lockbox contains the Heart of Lorkhan, the Aedric heart credited with the disappearance of the Dwemer race. Granted, Septimus only knows it as a “heart of a god” and not that of Lorkhan specifically.
He’ll tell you that the instructions to open the lockbox are located in a Dwarven ruin called the Tower of Mzark and that he needs you to get them. He’ll then give you Attunement Sphere needed to access the ruins, as well as a blank Lexicon upon which you’ll need to transcribe the instructions.
Once you’ve finished up your chat about the lockbox and your business in Elder Knowledge, your quest marker will point you to a set of Dwemer ruins Southwest of Winterhold. These are the ruins of Aftland. The Tower of Mzark is inaccessible from the surface, so you’ll need to travel through Aftland to reach Blackreach, before moving up into the Tower.
Fight Through Aftland
Aftland is fairly typical for a Dwemer ruin, granted it does feel a bit long. You’ll start by exploring an icy cave that leads into the ruins themselves. You’ll find a short story here about a failed expedition into the ruins, as well as a survivor of said expedition that is strung out on Skooma and who will attack you.
Kill the survivor, a few Dwarven Spiders, and make your way down the cave and into the Alftand Animonculory.
The Animonculory serves as the main part of the dungeon and is exclusively Dwemer ruins. It’s inhabited by Falmer, and again tells the story of the expeditionary crew, many of whom can be found dead, seemingly tortured by the Falmer.
Fight through the ruins here and you’ll eventually reach the end of the dungeon, the Aftland Cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral, you’ll find a few traps and Falmer. Defeat them, and continue on past a few more patrolling enemies. Eventually, you’ll reach a room with two Centurions. One of them is already dead, but the second one will awaken and attack when you approach it. This Centurion has a key on its body that you need to proceed, so you can’t skip this boss fight.
After dealing with the Centurion, continue through past the next gate and you’ll bump into a Redguard and Imperial arguing. After their argument, the two will fight, with the survivor of the duel then turning hostile upon you. If you make yourself known before they fight each other, they will both turn on you.
The Redguard woman, Umana, has a unique shield on her called Targe of the Blooded. This shield looks unique, in that it has a bunch of spikes on it, and it deals bleeding damage whenever you use it to bash. It makes a good wall decoration if nothing else. The Imperial doesn’t have anything of note on him.
In the center of the room, you should see a Dwemer mechanism. This is for the Attunement Sphere that Septimus gave you. Put the sphere into the mechanism and a path to Blackreach will open up.
If you’ve never been to Blackreach before, you’re in for a treat. It’s one of the most beautiful locations in all of Skyrim and well worth an explore if you’ve never been here before.
There’s a quest to collect Crimson Nirnroot that you can get from the Dwemer shack that’s just in front of you as you enter, as well as a secret dragon boss fight you can activate by shouting at the giant lamp in the sky. There are also a bunch of Falmer around here, so make sure you’re staying careful. Once you’re done exploring, follow your quest marker objective towards the Tower of Mzark.
Solve the Lexicon
Once you’re inside the tower, you’re more or less done with the hard part of the first half of Discerning the Transmundane.
Walk up the tower and you’ll come to a massive Dwemer mechanism, as well as a viewing platform with four buttons. Put the Lexicon that Septimus gave you into the slot next to the buttons and the third and fourth ones will light up.
Press the third button a few times until the second button from the left lights up, then do the same for that one until the first button lights up. Once you press the first button, the puzzle will be complete. Take the Lexicon back, as well as the Elder Scroll that will now be sitting on top of the big mechanism.
Return to Septimus
Exit the Tower of Mzark and return to Septimus in his Winterhold ice cave. He’ll tell you that he needs time to study the now inscribed Lexicon and that you should come back later. You’re then locked out of the quest until level 15.
The point of this is to have the player continue with Elder Knowledge and the main quest, but you don’t have to do that by any means. If you’re already level 15, you can just leave and re-enter the cave. Otherwise, he’ll send a courier to fetch you once you hit the level requirement.
When you try to leave the cave, Hermaeous Mora will appear to you. This is the same Daedric Prince that you deal with in the Dragonborn DLC. He will remember you from Dragonborn if you’ve already completed it, or will remember you later in Dragonborn for completing Discerning the Transmundane. You can be friendly or hostile towards him, it doesn’t matter and doesn’t impact anything significant.
After leaving Septimus and returning at level 15, he’ll inform you that the Lexicon revealed the method by which he can open up the lockbox. According to the instructions, he needs Dwemer’s blood to open it. All of the Dwemer have disappeared so this presents a bit of a problem.
However, Septimus believes he can make a fake replica by mixing the bloods of Skyrim’s elven races, so that’s what he sends you to collect with his special Essence Extractor.
Harvest Blood From Skyrim’s Elves
If you had to level up to 15 between this step of Discerning the Transmundane and giving Septimus the Lexicon, this request is a bit of a kick in the teeth. It’s likely you already encountered all the necessary enemies in the time in between, making this more of a chore than anything else.
This is especially true as you can only collect samples from dead hosts, so you can’t just ask your followers to donate for you. Well, you can, but it’s not really a donation so much as it is terrible betrayal and murder.
You need to collect the blood of five different races:
- High Elves (Altmer)
- Dark Elves (Dunmer)
- Wood Elves (Bosmer)
- Snow Elves (Falmer)
- Orcs (Orsimer)
There is no one location in the entire game with all of the required races for this quest, but Liar’s Retreat in the Reach does have all but Altmer enemies, so that’s about as close as you’re going to get.
Otherwise, just do some exploring, clear some camps, and finish some side quests. You’ll end up fighting one of each race eventually. Once you do and collect the required blood samples, you’re more or less done. Just return to Septimus one last time.
Open the Dwemer Lockbox
After completing the boss fight version of a fetch quest, you’ll find yourself back in Septimus’ cave, finally ready to open the lockbox and unveil the Heart of Lorkhan. Septimus will open the box, but there’s no heart inside. As you might have guessed from your run-in with Herma Mora earlier, this was all a ruse. The box is, in fact, home to the Prince’s artifact: the Oghma Infinium.
Septimus will be turned into a pile of ashes, and Hermaeous (you’re on a first-name basis now,) will declare you as his champion. You can tell him to sod off or accept the title happily, it doesn’t matter either way.
Take the Infinium and Discerning the Transmundane will complete. However, don’t read it. While its effect is all right (gives +5 to all skills in either the Warrior, Thief, or Mage tree), it disappears after you use it. If you’re a collector like me, you’ll want to display it in your house. Personally, I would much rather have the completed set of Daedric Artifacts than a bunch of points in skills that I don’t use.
The Oghma Infinium is the artifact belonging to Daedric Prince Hermaeous Mora. It was written by Xarxes. Xarxes is the elven equivalent to Arkay and was a scribe to Auri-El, the elven version of Akatosh. It’s unclear how, or why, the book is in possession of Hermaeous Mora, or why the prince uses it as his chief artifact rather than one of his own making.
In terms of its ability, the book grants plus five points to all skills in one of the three main categories (Warrior, Thief, or mage). It can only be used once, and disappears after use, returning to Herma Mora in Apocrypha. Therefore, I would recommend you hold onto it rather than use it so that you can display it in your home/trophy room. If you do use it, though, the game still registers it towards the Oblivion Walker achievement.
Targe of the Blooded
Targe of the Blooded isn’t exactly a reward for completing Discerning the Transmundane, but it is a unique item that is obtained throughout the course of the quest.
After the Centurion in the Aftland Cathedral, you’ll find a Redguard and Imperial fighting. The Redguard has this shield. It’s got a unique look in that the front of it is adorned with spikes. When you shield bash with it, it inflicts bleeding damage on whatever you hit. It looks cool, and its effect is better than a regular shield bash, so this is absolutely worth picking up regardless of whether or not you’re going to be using it.
Discerning the Transmundane Guide: Conclusion
That’s it for my Discerning the Transmundane guide. It’s a long and annoying quest, as well as a massive tease for the Heart of Lorkhan which doesn’t actually appear in Skyrim at all. Although, given what happens to it during Morrowind, that isn’t much of a surprise.
Still, it’s an interesting quest in that it ties into Dragonborn, with Hermaeous Mora remembering you, and your actions, between the two quests. It’s also, more or less, a part of the main questline given that you need the Elder Scroll from the Tower of Mzark. You’ll have to do at least half of it, so I hope this guide makes this process as quick and painless as possible.