Elder Knowledge is the twelfth quest in Skyrim‘s main questline and one of the longest. Kicking off right after The Throat of the World ends, Elder Knowledge is packed-full of combat and loot. In other words, you’re in for a good time. Provided you’re prepared for it, that is.
You can tackle Elder Knowledge blind if you want, but it’ll go much better if you know what’s coming. That’s where I come in. Consider me the Alfred to your Batman Dragonborn. It’s time to go delving into one of Skyrim’s many Dwarven ruins in search of some Elder Knowledge.
Elder Knowledge begins midway through your conversation with Paarthurnax atop The Throat of the World on High Hrothgar. You’ll have made your way here more than once in the main quest already, but if you’ve somehow forgotten where it was, it’s reachable via a climb from Ivarstead.
Eventually, your search for Elder Knowledge will lead you into the depths of Blackreach. To get there, you’ll first need to delve into one of three Dwemer ruins:
- Alftand, which is southwest of Winterhold
- Mzinchaleft, which is southwest of Dawnstar
- Raldbthar, which is southwest of Windhelm
You can use any of the ruins you want, but Alftand is the traditional ruin to go to first and the one I’ll be using for this guide.
- Level 20+
- Green Thumb Alchemy perk (Requires level 70 Alchemy and Concentrated Poison perk)
- Fortify Carry Weight gear
- Companion/Pack Mule
- Fortify Lockpick gear & potions
- Bow and Fortify Marksman gear
- Elder Scroll
- Targe of the Blooded
- Crimson nirnroot
- Several hundred units worth of dwarven metal ingots (After you break down the Dwarven scrap metal)
- Leveled soul gems (Potentially if you mine the geode veins)
- 100+ Chaurus eggs (If you have the Green Thumb perk)
- Chaurus Hunter Antennae (If Dawnstar is active)
- Centurion Dynamo Cores
- Runed Lexicon (Required for Discerning the Transmundane)
Beginning Elder Knowledge
By continuing your conversation with Paarthurnax on how to stop Alduin, he’ll reveal to you how the original heroes (Known as Tongues) who first defeated Alduin pulled it off: a Shout called Dragonrend.
Dragonrend forces dragons to experience mortality and significantly weakens them in the process. Paarthurnax cannot teach you this Shout as solely mortals invented it, and dragons cannot comprehend it. He does have an idea of how you can learn it, though. To do so, you’ll need an Elder Scroll.
Paarthurnax picked The Throat of the World as his resting place for a reason. This very spot is where the original Tongues defeated Alduin. Dragonrend alone wasn’t enough for the Tongues to defeat Alduin. They utilized an Elder Scroll to banish him but instead sent Alduin to the future (Your present).
Their actions fractured time itself and created a Time Wound. Alduin will inevitably return to this spot for his battle with the Dragonborn, which is why Paarthurnax waits here to assist in the fight when the time comes.
If you were to retrieve an Elder Scroll and bring it to the Time Wound, you could use it to travel back to the time of Alduin’s first defeat and learn Dragonrend from the Tongues. But acquiring an Elder Scroll is easier said than done. Paarthurnax hasn’t a clue where you should look, but the Dragonborn raises the idea that Esbern or Arngeir might know.
Speak with either Esbern at Sky Haven Temple or Arngeir here at High Hrothgar to hear their thoughts on the situation. Arngeir and the rest of the Greybeards went to the Mortal Kombat Elder God School of Powerful Beings, who do diddly squat when the world is at risk of coming to an end.
They probably have a shrine dedicated to Owlman somewhere here. Esbern is a bit better. Either way, both men suggest you seek out the mages of the College of Winterhold.
The Truth about The Elder Scroll
Make your way to the College of Winterhold. If you’ve yet to join the College, do so by casting a spell of Faralda’s choice, using a Shout to prove you are Dragonborn or passing a level 100 Speech check to persuade her into letting you pass.
Once inside, head for the Arcanaeum and speak with the librarian, Urag gro-Shub. Ask him about the Elder Scroll, and he won’t be too forthcoming at first. Tell him you’re Dragonborn, and he’ll change his tune.
Urag tells you that the Elder Scrolls are mythical objects of untold power that exist in our realm of existence but also outside the concept of time. Most who study the Elder Scrolls extensively tend to go mad. Those who try reading the Elder Scrolls themselves often go blind.
Urag will collect two books from the bookshelf behind him and place them on the table for you to read. The important one is the Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls. Upon reading it (Or trying to), you’ll find it’s incoherent gibberish. Reading it will kickstart the Discerning the Transmundane quest if you haven’t started yet.
Speak with Urag about the ruminations, and he’ll tell you the author, Septimus Signus, is the foremost expert on the Elder Scrolls in the world. It’s been years since Urag last spoke to him, but Septimus told him he’d be studying a Dwemer artifact somewhere up north.
Perhaps he’s still there and can help you. If you have the Become Ethereal Shout, head up to the top of the College and go outside. Use the Become Ethereal Shout and jump off. You’ll be on the right track to find Septimus.
Be very wary of the waypoints from this point on. Elder Knowledge has some of the worst waypoints of any quest in Skyrim and leads you to the wrong places. At this stage in the quest, the waypoint may or may not direct you to the Skytemple Ruins. Keep going north past the Skytemple Ruins to discover Septimus Signus’ Outpost.
Head inside, and you’ll see Septimus pacing around at the bottom. Upon speaking with him, that whole people who study the Elder Scrolls go mad thing looks like it pans out. Old Septimus seems to have gone around the bend several times. As expected of a follower of Hermaeus Mora.
Ask Septimus about the Elder Scroll, and he’ll agree to help you if you give him something in return. He tells you that an Elder Scroll is in the Tower of Mzark, located in Blackreach. But to enter Blackreach, you need the key, which Septimus happens to have. He’ll give you the key, an Attunement Sphere, and a Blank Lexicon.
No Way Home taught us that math is better than magic, and the Dwarves teaches us that science is too. The Blank Lexicon is a tool the Dwemer invented to read the Elder Scrolls without the whole turning into Matt Murdock thing.
Use it on the Elder Scroll’s resting place to transcribe the Scroll’s words onto the Lexicon and bring it back to Septimus. Next comes the hard part. It’s time to find Blackreach and the Elder Scroll.
Journey into Blackreach
Grab your companion and make your way to Alftand. The easiest way is to approach from the south and ride up the western slope to the camp outside Alftand.
If you prefer taking the scenic route to Alftand, head there from the southeast instead. About halfway up the mountain is the Alftand Ruined Tower. Inside are a couple of Dwarven Animunculi and a decent amount of Dwarven scrap loot. Head up the tower and through the door at the top. Alftand is a short walk to the west.
From the looks of the camp outside Alftand, things didn’t go so well for the last group of people who came here. Head into the shack and pick up the Expedition Manifest of Sulla Trebatius to get a handle on who came here and why. When ready, cross the bridge, head down the stairs, and enter the Alftand Glacial Ruins.
Alftand Glacial Ruins
Watch out for some traps on the ground and follow the blood splatters to keep heading in the right direction. Eventually, you’ll hear J’darr arguing with his brother J’zhar about his stash of skooma. Ignore them for now and keep pushing deeper into the ruins.
Down the ramp, you’ll come across a stone table with some inactive dwarven spiders on them. Read the Research Notes to learn of Sulla’s findings about the Dwarven Spiders, then continue down the left path past the table. You’ll run into your first active dwarven spiders here, so stay on guard.
Head up the ramp and back into the icy part of the ruins, and you’ll run into J’darr and J’zhar again. It turns out J’zhar is actually dead, and his brother is a hallucinating skooma addict. Kill him, then move on back into the Dwarven ruins.
From this point on, you’re going to come across a lot of Dwarven scrap. To optimize your loot trips, it’s important that you prioritize your pickups. Just remember that you can melt down Dwarven scrap items with adjectives in their names but not regular Dwarven items.
You can melt down items like Solid Dwemer Metal and Bent Dwemer Scrap Metal, but not Dwemer Scrap Metal, Dwemer Cups, or Dwemer Bowls. Confusing, I know. Provided you have a companion and Fortify Carry Weight items, you can make about three loot trips before the amount of backtracking starts getting annoying.
In this part of the ruins, you’ll start running into Dwarven Spheres, which are a step up from Dwarven Spiders. Deal with them, head into the next room, and go through the door in the bottom left corner of the room. Up the stairs is a chest behind a pressure plate. Take a left from here, go to the end of the hall, then take another left. You’ll be in a large open chamber with some pistons.
Platform across the pistons and make your way to the other side of the room. Take a right when you reach the end, then go through the door leading into the Alftand Animonculory.
Head down the hall and through the door into the next chamber. Through the opening between those two metal gates, you’ll find an alcove with the body of Endrast, one of Sulla’s expedition members. Next to him is an Adept chest.
There are Dwarven Spiders and Spheres in this room to watch out for. If the Dwarven Spheres are giving you trouble, you can cheese them by drawing them to the opening between the gates and whittling them down from the alcove (They can’t fit through the opening).
Head up the stairs, then go up the ramp. You’ll come across some Charus egg sacs. And you know what that means; Falmer are nearby. If you have the Green Thumb perk, you can snag over 100 Charus eggs during this mission, so keep an eye out for those sacks.
Pull one of the levers at the end of the room to unlock the gate, then begin making your way down the winding path. You can start picking off Falmer and skeevers from up here if you have a bow or another ranged attack.
Make your way to the end of the winding path until you see an Apprentice-locked door. To continue forward, you actually need to jump down to where the body of Yag gra-Gortwog is. If you plan on making a looting trip, do so now. You can not get back up here once you jump down.
Keep walking down the winding path, dealing with Falmer as you go. At the end of the path, go around the flame pillar and through the door. Falmer infest these next three chambers, so deal with them as you see fit. There are oil slicks in most of these rooms that can do a lot of the work for you.
In the final chamber is a leveled boss Falmer and the body of expedition mage Valie. Next to her is a lift that will take you back to the Glacial Ruins, next to the stone table with the Dwarven Spiders. You’ve reached the halfway point of the halfway point. Feel free to resume your loot trips from here.
Go through the door in the upper left corner of this room, then continue deeper into Alftand. You’ll have some more Falmer to kill, but you should know the drill by now. At the bottom of this chamber, go through some more doors and make your way into the Alftand Cathedral.
Head down the stairs, killing a few Falmer as you go, then head through the door to the outside of the Cathedral. There will be some more Falmer here as well as some other random creatures like frost spiders and skeevers.
On both sides of the Cathedral gate are massive amounts of Charus egg sacs. Grab them all for a lifetime supply of Charus omelet ingredients, then head up the stairs behind the entrance to the Cathedral. There are two Dwarven chests up here for you to loot and a lever. Activate it to release the gate leading into the Cathedral.
Head on through, and up the stairs, you’ll fight your first Dwarven Centurion. Loot the deactivated Centurion and pick up the Alftand Lift Key.
Go through the gate at the top of the stairs, and you’ll overhear a conversation between Sulla and Umana, the expedition’s only survivors. Umana urges Sulla to abandon the quest and for them to leave, but Umana refuses. The former comrades then attack one another.
Leave them to duke it out. If they catch wind of your presence, they will both attack you instead. Finish off whoever wins, and be sure to loot Umana’s body. She’s holding a unique shield, the Targe of the Blooded.
Pick the Master locked gate in front of where Umana and Sulla were standing, or use the Alftand Lift Key. The lever inside will activate the lift that takes you back to the surface level of Alftand. Once topside, pull the lever to unlock the door to Alftand Gatehouse. There are numerous Gatehouses like this here, and you must first activate them from the inside before you can use them.
Head back down into Alftand Cathedral, then place the Attunement Sphere on the Dwarven Mechanism in the middle of the room. A secret stairwell will reveal itself. Take it down to get inside Blackreach.
Blackreach is big. Like, really big. I strongly suggest you stick to completing Elder Knowledge before thoroughly exploring Blackreach. It’s easy to get lost down here, and there’s way too much loot for a single trip.
There are plenty of enemies along the way, but you can easily avoid them if you’re careful. Immediately after stepping into Blackreach, activate the lever on your left to spring the crossbow trap to score an instant kill if you want.
The Tower of Mzark is where you want to be, so head to the southwest corner of Blackreach. Once there, activate the lever to get inside the Tower of Mzark.
Tower of Mzark
Head through the door leading to the Oculory and take the winding path of the left up. On the second floor, you’ll find the body of Drokt and his journal. He tried solving the puzzle inside this chamber, and it didn’t work out for him. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck. Head to the top floor of the chamber to find out.
Once on the top floor, you’ll see a strange contraption and four buttons. Set that Blank Lexicon Septimus gave you inside the Lexicon Receptacle to activate the device.
Two of the four buttons will spring to life. Push the button second to the right four times. The button second to the left will activate. Press this button twice, and the leftmost button will activate. Press this button once, and the Elder Scroll hidden inside will reveal itself.
You would expect a puzzle that’s the sole obstacle standing between you and one of the most powerful items in existence would be more difficult to solve, but hey ho. Who am I to judge deities?
Be sure to take the Runed Lexicon to continue the Discerning the Transmundane quest. Then jump down to the second floor and scoop up the Elder Scroll. You now have what you need to learn the Dragonrend Shout. But that’s another quest for another time. For now, the Elder Knowledge quest is complete!
Is Targe of the Blooded Any Good?
If you’re Nerbit or Mitten Squad looking to do a Skyrim challenge run, Targe of the Blooded is pretty solid. Or anyone who likes to do Skyrim 1-item challenge runs.
For everyone else? Yes and no.
It’s a Heavy Armor shield with a base Armor rating of 20. It has a unique effect that deals 3 points of bleeding damage for five seconds while bashing opponents. The best part is that this bleed effect stacks infinitely. If you have level 60 Smithing and the Arcane Blacksmith perk, you can improve it at a workbench with steel ingots. And I highly recommend you do so since it barely provides more protection than a basic iron shield.
Without level 100 Smithing and some Fortify Smithing tactics, you cannot improve the Targe of the Blooded beyond Flawless quality. What kind of kills the Targe of the Blooded’s viability is it is fairly difficult to get as a low-level Dragonborn. You can still have fun with it at a high level, but don’t expect to kill enemies with it quickly.
At a high level, the bleeding damage it deals over time won’t stack up to the instant damage you can do by whacking someone with a weapon.
Question: Do I Need to Return to Septimus to Continue the Main Quest after Elder Knowledge?
Answer: No. Discerning the Transmundane is a separate side quest entirely. To continue the main quest, go back to the Time Wound at The Throat of the World.
Question: Do I Need to Begin Elder Knowledge to Get Inside Blackreach?
Answer: No. The quests Discerning the Transmundane and the Dawnguard quest Seeking Disclosure also require you to go to the Tower of Mzark and retrieve the Elder Scroll.
Question: Is Alftand the Fastest Way to Get to Blackreach?
Answer: No. Raldbthar and Mzinchaleft are both faster. If you’re a member of the Dark Brotherhood, you may have already cleared these ruins out. But they both have less loot than Alftand, including the unique Targe of the Blooded.
Skyrim Elder Knowledge: Conclusion
With the completion of Elder Knowledge, you’re one quest away from entering Act 3 of Skyrim. As you would expect from the final act, the storyline really starts to heat up, and it’s pretty easy for you to stick with the main quest up to its’ conclusion.
Keep that in mind before you head back to the Time Wound. You may want to spend some more time side-questing to get ready for Alduin.
While I can’t say I’d award Bethesda anything for Skyrim’s writing, from a pure gameplay perspective, I’d say Skyrim’s main quest is pretty solid. It keeps you on your toes and is never really boring. Elder Knowledge is no exception.
The “worst” part is the constant looting trips, should you choose to make them. And if the worst part of a quest is the part where you bring home the stuff making you money, then I’d say that’s a pretty darn good quest.