The Skeleton Key is one of the Daedric Prince Nocturnal’s artifacts. It is imbued with her power and can open any lock without breaking. Because of this, it is highly valued by thieves and most commonly shows up in their hands throughout the franchise.
As with any role-playing game, the Elder Scrolls series encourages the player to go out and explore the vast lands surrounding them and cradle the main questline. Throughout this exploration, the developers will have seeded several leveled enemies that the main character must fight.
Depending on which area of the map the player first heads to, they might find an enemy too strong for them at their current level, skill, or equipment rating.
This is why so many players in games such as Skyrim and Oblivion will dedicate a lot of their time searching for or obtaining enough gold to acquire the best possible loot/equipment. Games such as World of Warcraft and Destiny do this incredibly well.
However, titles such as these can become heavily laborious to their player bases, creating an atmosphere where the game becomes more of a chore than something to enjoy. This may be why the developers for TES franchise decided to seed in multiple rare and unique items as one-time quest rewards instead of some random loot box-style reward system.
The best quests to obtain such things are definitely the Daedric side-quests. Almost without fail, the developers place the player in some kind of difficult situation, forcing them to help out an objectively evil entity such as a Daedric Prince.
In the Elder Scrolls franchise, one such Daedric artifact, which is often given to the player as a reward for a job well done, is probably the most sought after and coveted possession in all of Tamriel, the Skeleton Key.
Interestingly enough, this artifact is no great weapon or armor with unbelievable stats, turning the owner into some sort of God. Instead, this artifact simply opens any and all locks in the game without worrying about them breaking.
So, with all this being said, why don’t we learn more about this sacred key and what makes it so unique? Let’s go!
To fully understand the Skeleton Key, how it came into being, and the purpose it would ultimately serve, we must first understand the Daedric Prince who owns it. Nocturnal is the Daedric Prince responsible for Oblivion’s realm, which concerns anything to do with night and or darkness. Therefore, Nocturnal has become the patron deity of the Thieves Guild throughout Tamriel, earning her the names Night Mistress and Lady Luck.
Nocturnal is known for two artifacts, the Skeleton key, which we will focus on in this guide, and the Cowl of Nocturnal. This Cowl perfectly manifests the powers of Nocturnal by harnessing the power of darkness and shadow to hide the identity of the mask’s wearer permanently.
This is the Cowl that the Gray Fox wore throughout the events preceding and during the Oblivion crisis and was, therefore, how he remained anonymous for so long.
With both the Cowl and the Skeleton Key in hand, one can quickly see how the perfect thief could be born. A person with the ability to both keep their identity a secret and gain access to any locked door/chest in all of the world would undoubtedly become the greatest thief ever to live.
- Nocturnal is the Daedric Prince of darkness and shadows, and she is the patron saint of thieves.
- Nocturnal has a special band of warriors, which she selects from the ranks of the Thieves Guild. These agents are called the Nightingales.
- The Skeleton Key, the Cowl of Nocturnal, and the Eye of Nocturnal are all artifacts of the Daedric Prince, which the player can come into contact with throughout their travels across the franchise.
History of the Key and Its Holders
In TES1: Arena, the player may stumble across mentions of the Skeleton Key from time to time. During these encounters, the player may hear about a thief named Arrovan. This thief is the first known holder of the key; however, we are never made aware of the actual date on which the key was held in his possession or even which era he was born in.
With this being said, however, we do know that when he passed away, he had already hidden the key at one of several hidden locations throughout Tamriel, locations that, even with a map drawn by Arrovan, kept the key hidden for many years to come.
Sotha Sil (Elder Scrolls Online)
After this somewhat murky subsection of the key’s history, we begin to hear more and more rumors about this Daedric artifact, leading to the discovery of the key’s second known holder in the middle of the Second Era. This holder was not any ordinary man.
However, as we learn throughout the events of TES Morrowind, he is, in fact, a living God, consumed with the desire of recreating the wonders and majesty of the world of Nirn in his own realm of creation known as the Clockwork City.
This God, who went by the name of Sotha Sil, kept the Skeleton Key in his world for many years until Nocturnal decided that she not only wanted the key back but also wanted to take control of the Sotha’s creation at the same time.
To do this, the Daedric Prince sent a shadow into the realm of Clockwork City, a shadow that perfectly resembled Sotha, in the hopes of replacing him as ruler of the realm. Nocturnal did indeed accomplish this goal via capturing the Skeleton Key first and using the powers of this object to somehow eject the real Sotha Sil from the seat of power within Clockwork City within the control center.
With Sotha now defeated, Nocturnal may have thought that Clockwork City was theirs. However, all were not defeated within this magical realm. Heroes of the city, such as Proctor Luciana Pullo and Divayth Fyr, decided that they could not step aside for Nocturnal and therefore intervened amid her power grab.
An epic battle then took place, with both Luciana and The Vestige using their magical powers to restrain and fight back the shadows of Nocturnal, giving Fyr just enough time to bring Sotha back into the realm of the living, allowing him to unite with his shadow and restore himself to full power once again.
Eventually, Nocturnal would be defeated, and Sotha would entrust the Skeleton Key to Fyr, tasking him with keeping it out of the clutches of Nocturnal for as long as possible.
- Sotha Sil is a Godlike creature who uses his power to create an alternate dimension he calls Clockwork City.
- Nocturnal is eventually defeated by Sotha Sil, The Vestige, and Proctor Luciana Pullo.
- Sotha Sil gives The Vestige a replica of the Skeleton Key as thanks for helping save his life and defeating Nocturnal. However, he trusts the real key to Divayth Fyr.
The Eternal Champion (TES1: Arena)
Once again, we return to TES1: Arena, wherein the player character becomes the next known holder of the Skeleton Key after the events of Clockwork City and Nocturnal’s defeat. It would seem that Fyr successfully managed to hide the key for a great deal of time as it remained hidden for many years until the Eternal Champion managed to get their hands on it during the events of Arena.
The player will find the key in either Valenwood or the Summerset Isles after rumors of the key’s whereabouts circled Tamriel in the years proceeding TES1.
The Spire Thieves of The Broken Wing (TES Travels: Shadowkey)
After the key somehow left the hands of the player character from the first Elder Scrolls title, it came into the possession of the Spire Thieves of the Broken Wing.
However, while we now know the Spire Thieves held the key, this was not common knowledge at the time. It was only after the band of thieves was defeated during the war of Bend’r-mahk that the victors, full of surprise, I’m sure, stumbled upon the key while looting their storage chests.
The Agent (TES2: Daggerfall)
During the events of the second official release of TES franchise, the player is tasked by the Daedric Prince Nocturnal to go and kill a mage in order to obtain the Skeleton Key from them. The developers, however, did not allow this to be just another fetch quest, though.
Instead, when the player finally comes face to face with the mage in question, they will be greeted by a very difficult choice. The player can then kill the mage and obtain the key for Nocturnal, or they can make a deal with the mage in order to obtain a different Daedric artifact.
What the player doesn’t know at this point is that these offered artifacts are actually fake and will only work for a couple of days before they begin to fade away into nothingness. However, in reference to the key, the lore obviously cannot state where the key ended up at the end of Daggerfall.
Gentleman Jim Stacey (TES3: Morrowind)
Once again, the Skeleton Key somehow finds its way into the hands of a thief, this time by the name of Jim Stacey. In TES3: Morrowind, this man holds the position of leader of the Thieves Guild throughout Vvardenfell, up until his death. This death most likely comes as a result of a Fighters Guild plot.
The location of the key at the time of Stacey’s death is unknown, and we simply do not know whether it was looted from his corpse or if he had time to pass the key on to someone within the Guild before the plot eventually took his life. However, we do know that the key would somehow end up back in the Shrine of Nocturnal by the time of the Oblivion crisis.
The Champion of Cyrodiil (TES4: Oblivion)
When playing TES4: Oblivion, the player will be sent on many Daedric quests and rewarded with many items. However, I would say that this quest reward may be the best of them all.
After speaking with Nocturnal at her shrine, the Champion will be tasked with eliminating an Argonian thief couple who now reside in Leyawiin. If the Champion does this and retrieves the Eye of Nocturnal for the Daedra, she will reward the player with the Skeleton Key.
Mercer Frey (TES5: Skyrim)
The key’s last known holder or holders was revealed to players during the Thieves Guild questline in Skyrim. We will delve deeper into this questline in the latter stages of this guide. However, to keep things brief, the key was stolen by the former head of the Thieves Guild in Skyrim, Mercer Frey. He then used this key to steal from the Guild until the Dragonborn caught him.
The Dragonborn, along with their Nightingale colleagues, must track down Mercer Frey and kill him to return the key to Nocturnal and restore order within the Guild. However, the player can choose to keep the key should they so desire. However, if they do this, Nocturnal will not open the Ebonmere for the Nightingales, and the Guild will not fully flourish again.
- The Skeleton Key is often used as a reward for the player’s efforts, much like other Daedric artifacts such as the Wabbajack.
- Mercer Frey used the Skeleton Key to not only steal from the Guild but also to loot precious items from sacred locations throughout Skyrim.
- The theft of the Guild’s coin was not known until the Dragonborn forced the other members of the Guild to open their vault.
The Skeleton Key in Skyrim
As already mentioned, the Skelton Key once again rears its head during the events of Skyrim’s Thieves Guild questline.
However, in order for this to be a proper guide, we should really take a deeper look into how this questline runs and how the player can get their sneaky little Argonian or Nord hands on the Daedric artifact in question. So, with that being said, let’s get right into it!
Joining the Thieves Guild
As you may have already guessed, in order to go down the Thieves Guild questline, you’re going to need to actually join the Guild in the first place. To do this, simply head on over to the city of Riften and walk into the central market square. Here, a rather dashing individual named Brynjolf approaches the player and offers them a little quest.
This shady individual will ask the player to steal a ring from one of the other vendors in the square in order to plant it on a third party. You are not given much explanation as to why this man wants you to commit grand larceny; however, if you are like me, you’ll do it nonetheless.
Once the player either completes the quests or fails it horribly and gets caught, Brynjolf will allow them to join the Guild. Apparently, he’s not too fussed about you actually being able to steal or pickpocket.
As with any Guild questline in Skyrim, the majority of the quests immediately proceeding the initial joining ceremony will be complete filler. Quests that subsequently don’t actually mean anything about the main Guild storyline but build up your skills in the meantime.
This filler content continues for some time until Karliah appears. Until this point, the exposition drip-fed into the player will have led you to believe that Karliah is an evil traitor who killed another Guild member years ago. However, all is not as it seems.
Finally, the good stuff starts. After meeting with Karliah, the pieces begin to fall into place, and the devious deeds of Mercer Frey are revealed to not only the Dragonborn but also Brynjolf. At first, he simply will not believe that it was Mercer who murdered his friend Gallus; however, once the player completes the ‘Hard Answers’ quest and retrieves Gallus’ journal, he will see Mercer for who he really is.
At this point, the player and the rest of the Guild will not only find that the vault has been completely emptied by Frey but also that he has fled from Riften altogether and that he most likely will leave the Isle sooner rather than later.
After the player and Brynjolf find out the extent of Mercer’s treachery, Karliah will inform the pair that Mercer has been able to steal everything out from under their noses via the help of the Skeleton Key, which he has stolen from the shrine of Nocturnal.
This theft from Nocturnal is the ultimate betrayal in the eyes of the Guild as he abused his position as a Nightingale and stole from the one place which he swore to protect from any and all threats.
At this point, the player, Karliah, and Brynjolf all must become Nightingales to gain help from Nocturnal to defeat Mercer Frey and the Skeleton Key, which he now holds.
Defeating Mercer Frey and Obtaining the Key
Once the player finally manages to track down Frey in the Dwemer ruin of Irkngthand during the quest ‘Blindsighted,’ they will have to kill the former Guild leader in order to retrieve the Skeleton Key and bring justice back into the Guild.
Attempting to kill Frey will be harder than you think; even with your two Nightingale companions by your side, the old man will put up quite a fight. However, with the power of the Dragonborn and quick saves at your back, he will eventually fall, leaving the player to loot the key off of his corpse.
Once the evil Mercer Frey has been taken care of, the Dragonborn will have to return the key to the shrine of Nocturnal, located deep within the Twilight Sepulcher.
This quest will see the Dragonborn venture through the Sepulcher in order to return the key to the Daedra. Doing so will see the Daedra reward the player with a Nightingale role or power, which will boost certain stats that the player holds for the rest of the game. Doing this will also allow the player to complete the quest and continue on with restoring the Thieves Guild to its former glory as the new Guild Master.
Should the player decide to keep the key a little longer, the quest will remain incomplete, and the Guild will stagnate, growing no further until it is finally returned. However, you will have the best lockpick in the game, which may outweigh the negatives for some.
In my experience, the best thing to do in this case is to hold onto the lockpick until your lockpicking skill reaches 100. Doing this will allow the player to pick the Unbreakable perk, which effectively turns every pick into the Skeleton Key, making it impossible to break even normal picks in the most difficult of locks. Once this perk is acquired, you can then return the Skeleton Key like nothing ever happened.
Not only will this allow the player to access any chest they want in the game, but it will also ensure the player can complete the Thieves Guild quest properly. The best of both worlds.
- To join the Thieves Guild, go to Riften and seek out Brynjolf between 8 am and 8 pm.
- Whether you pass or fail the first quest, you will still be allowed to join the Guild.
- Mercer killed Gallus after he found out about Mercer’s betrayal of the Nightingale code.
So, there you have it, a complete and comprehensive guide to the Skeleton Key. Both throughout the Elder Scrolls franchise and, in more detail, the most recent official entry into the series, Skyrim.
I have to say; that the Skeleton Key is one of the few artifacts within the world of Elder Scrolls that I hold close to my heart. It has been a reoccurring item throughout the franchise, but it was also one of the first few really cool pieces of loot I acquired as a young kid playing through Oblivion for the first time.
I remember that I never really worked out how to be good at the lockpicking mini-game in that title, probably something to do with me being ten years old at the time, and I also remember how Skeleton Key made my character seem so powerful. It boosted my enjoyment of the game a great deal, and I will always hold a great deal of nostalgia for the item.
Anyway, with all this being said, I truly hope you gained a deeper understanding of the path the Skeleton Key has taken to end up in the hands of so many player characters throughout the TES franchise and just how unique an item it truly is. I suppose all that’s left for me to say is good luck and happy thieving!
Skyrim Skeleton Key Guide: FAQs
Question: What happens if I don’t return the Skeleton Key in Skyrim?
Answer: If the payer decides to keep the Skeleton Key at the end of the Thieves Guild questline, they will be left with an uncomplete quest which simply waits until the key is ultimately returned. In other words, the decision to keep the key makes no difference to the game, and it simply waits for you to give it back to Nocturnal eventually. Therefore, you will never actually fail this quest or face any repercussions. Instead, the Thieves Guild quests will not proceed as usual.
Question: How do I get the Skeleton Key in Elder Scrolls Online?
Answer: The actual Skeleton Key is not present in The Elder Scrolls Online game. Instead, you can buy a replica from Razoufa in the Brass Fortress for 7’500 gold. This replica is most likely referring to the replica Sotha Sil made for The Vestige at the end of the Clockwork City incident. The real key is, therefore, in the hands of Fyr.
Question: Who created the Skeleton Key?
Answer: While we do not know for certain whether or not it was actually Nocturnal who created the key, we know that she is now the artifact’s owner and has imbued it with some of her power. This, therefore, means that while she may or may not have created it, it is now one of her few artifacts and will always somehow return to her possession.
Question: Is Nocturnal evil in the Elder Scrolls franchise?
Answer: While Nocturnal is never actually presented as evil throughout the main entries into the series, she is shown to be rather sly and untrustworthy. After all, she is the patron deity of thieves. However, she is cast as the main antagonist in Elder Scrolls Online during the Clockwork City DLC. During this DLC, it is also hinted that this previously neutral character is working with the outwardly evil Clavicus Vile and Mephala.