Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
If there are any Skyrim players on here, beware of a place called Husfortap Manor. It exists just outside of the playable area in the southwestern most end of the map, directly south of Markarth. You’l see it on the edge of a mountain as what appears to be a clearing with a rectangular white structure at one end. I found it one day while playing around with the console commands on the game. See, I was bored and decided to explore beyond the playable boundary of the game, as developers tend to leave some interesting Easter Eggs or unfinished concepts in the “Great Beyond”. So I used a command allowing myself to clip through the invisible wall that prevents you from leaving the map and explored around a bit.
For the first hour or so, I didn’t really see much besides empty forests and mountain ranges. I did come across the model for what looked like an early concept for the Falmer, and one of the developers apparently carved his initials into the side of a mountain, but that was really about it. Finally, while approaching the southwest mountain range, I thought I saw what looked like a structure on the other side. My curiosity sparked, I clambered up the mountain with surprising ease and landed in a large grassy yard in front of an enormous white mansion. In front of the mansion was a simple wooden sign that read “Husfortap Manor”.
The mansion itself was surprisingly low-res for a game this recent and lacked a lot of graphical detail aside from two large rectangular windows on either side of the door, and four featureless columns lining the porch. The lawn was also very rudimentary, lacking any sort of decoration or graphical texture and existing instead as little more than a wide sea of green. This must have been a planned location that was abandoned early on in development.
I entered the mansion, which turned out to be nothing more than a bare frame on the inside. No furniture, lamps, or trophy heads were present to decorate the wood walls; the only decoration this place had was a small podium on the very back wall with a featureless black book resting on it. I approached the book and pressed the prompt to read it (which oddly didn’t give the title, it just said “Read”), though disappointingly the page was completely blank except for a number 1 in the upper left corner. Placing the book down, I turned to leave and was unexpectedly greeted by an NPC I hadn’t seen on the way in.
It was a young woman, apparently a Nord, with jet-black hair and wearing a long blue gown. She sort of looked like Lydia but thinner and with longer hair. The woman stood in the center of the mansion, just staring at me and turning her head to follow me as I walked around her. As I came to about even with her, she said bluntly: “Wealth is temporary, what is here today will be gone tomorrow.” I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant, maybe some unrealized quest involving retrieving this woman’s stolen gold?
I determined there was no more to see here and left the mansion. This was certainly an interesting find: an entire location and character forgotten in the code of the game, and I had just uncovered them! And speaking of the character, I intended at some point to find that woman’s code so I could bring her to the main game and make her marryable: she was kinda hot!
Unfortunately, this high point would be overwritten by a horrible next day. On the way home from work, someone came up behind me, knocked me over, grabbed the wallet out of my pocket and ran off. I didn’t see their face, only that they were wearing jeans and a black hoodie. That wasn’t really a tremendous help to the police, who said they’d try to find the suspect but without an actual physical description, it’d be difficult. This definitely sucked: even though I can call and cancel my credit card, I had about eighty bucks in that wallet, and I’m damn near broke as it is! For some reason, I couldn’t help but recall what that woman in Skyrim said: “Wealth is temporary, what is here today will be gone tomorrow.” I knew it sounded silly, but I couldn’t shake that phrase from my mind. Maybe there was a connection?
I ultimately dismissed this thought as ridiculous. After all, whoever heard of a “magic fortune-telling video game”? However, I did need some cheering up after this. I fired up Skyrim and decided to return to Husfortap Manor, as last time I neglected to find out the mysterious woman’s name, which would be helpful if I’m going to hack her code and marry her! After journeying back to that end of the map (and killing a very persistent dragon along the way), I climbed back over the mountain and reached the mansion. Something was different about it though, the bright white that had cloaked the mansion yesterday had now faded into an almost “dirty white”, and the windows were coated in a thin layer of dust, making the view inside slightly translucent.
I approached anyway and stepped inside; to my surprise, the woman had seemingly undergone a change as well. She was a few inches taller, her hair was also a lighter shade than before, and she had more noticeable frown lines. It was almost as if she had aged to some degree. Not drastically, but she definitely wasn’t the hot young twenty-something I ran into yesterday. The woman’s deep blue gown also looked a bit faded, as though it too had aged. As I approached, I noticed that the prompt to talk to her never appeared, making it impossible to know the woman’s name. When I looked to face her, she offered me a faint smile coupled with a slight sigh, almost like she was faking being happy to see me.
“A man works hard for his coin,” she said suddenly. “But when he ceases to be useful, he is cast away to starve.”
Great, another cryptic message from an unmarryable NPC of unknown name in a bare house with nothing but a useless book. Disappointed, I left Husfortap Manor for what I intended to be the last time: it was a neat find, but there wasn’t anything of real value there.
The next day, I was hit with another whammy. As I came into work at the corner gas station, my boss pulled me into his office and told me that the place had gone over budget and he had to let a few of us go, and sadly a certain someone was among these few. I tried to explain my financial state, as well as the little incident yesterday with my wallet, but my boss merely apologized and said that there was nothing he could do, that he “simply didn’t have enough money to pay me.” Whatever, that was a crap job anyway.
As I walked home, a thought came to me, besides my hatred for my boss, that is. This was twice that the woman in blue had predicted my fate. The other day, she said something about the “loss of wealth” right before I get mugged, then just now she mentions workers being cast away, and here I am unemployed the next day. I know I just dismissed this thought as silly, but what if the mysterious woman was predicting my future?
That night, I decided to show the Easter Egg to one of my friends, who’d also been trying to explore the outer fringes of Skyrim with no luck. I had explained to him all the weird things that had happened including being mugged, losing my job, and the cryptic messages that predicted both.
“Dude, that’s so weird.” My friend said when I told him what happened, though I wasn’t sure if he fully believed me.
“I know,” I replied. “I’m kind of afraid to go back, but you know, maybe I can use this as a heads-up from now on.”
I started up the game and returned to the mansion, which was now in even worse shape than yesterday. It looked like the white paint was actually starting to peel off, revealing a stony gray undercoat. Tiny cracks were also beginning to form here and there, if nothing else giving the mansion some texture and personality, albeit an unpleasant one. When I entered, I saw that the woman had aged again as well. This time, her hair was beginning to gray and she had noticeable wrinkles on her face; she looked like she was about in her fifties this time around. Her dress was also beginning to tatter and lose its color.
“I thought you said she was a young woman?” my friend said.
“She was last time, she ages every time you visit the house.” I replied. My friend was confused by this, and with good reason seeing as how NPCs in this game don’t age. As I approached, the woman exhaled and her face almost looked sad.
“Your home is your sanctuary, and you do all you can to preserve it.” she spoke. “But what happens when others aren’t as responsible?” Her tone sounded very melancholy.
“Did you hear that?” I asked my friend in an alarmed tone.
“I didn’t hear her say anything, dude.” he said. “When she opened her mouth, all I heard was static.”
I packed up my computer in a hurry, ran out the door as fast as I could and tore down the street towards my apartment. Maybe I could get home in time to stop whatever was going to happen. Just because the game predicted it doesn’t mean it’s happened yet, right? There still might be time, I thought to myself. There might still be time.
I didn’t need to get close to see the flames. What used to be my apartment building was not a glowing orange inferno; firemen were already at the scene attempting to quell the fire, but it wouldn’t be enough to salvage my burning home. Speechless, I could do nothing but look on in despair at my room, crumbling and falling to pieces before my eyes.
“I’m gonna have to ask you to stand back, sir!” one of the firemen ordered me.
“What the hell happened!?” I cried.
“One of the residents left their stove on and gas spread into the air. We think that they went to light a cigarette and the entire room went up in flames.” The fireman explained. “Did you live here?”
I nodded, and the fireman apologized and offered his condolences. I didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I was glad I wasn’t inside the apartment, thanks to my discovery of this Easter Egg. However I had just lost everything I owned in that fire, all except for my laptop, and this copy of Skyrim.
Luckily, my friend let me stay at his place for a while, so at least I had a roof over my head. For the next week or so, I focused on trying to find another job so I could rent a new apartment room, yet I was having no luck whatsoever. I told my girlfriend, Susan, the whole situation, from the mugging, to me getting fired, to my apartment burning down. However I did leave out the part about the Skyrim fortuneteller as she is neither a gamer nor superstitious. Susan was overcome with sympathy towards my situation and offered to talk to her boss to see if I could get a job where she works. She really is one-of-a-kind, I thought to myself.
Of course, I still put out what must have been eight job applications that day, just to be safe. Afterwards, I was mentally exhausted and ready to get lost in my video game once again. I decided not to visit Husfortap this time though; I just needed a normal session of escapist fantasy to relax my mind. All was going well for a bit: I took on a few random quests, raided a bandit camp, and brought down a few bears. Then, mysteriously, a courier approached me in the forest.
He did his usual bit about having a letter “for my hands only” and then handed me a note called “SkyrimNote367.esp”. This was made especially bizarre by the fact that I was in the wilderness when this happened, and typically couriers only hand you messages in cities. Regardless, I decided to read the odd note. I pulled up my inventory, opened the note, and saw that it only had one sentence: “Do NOT come back.”
This had to have come from the woman in blue, and I understood why: each visit causes her to age, and we both knew that, eventually, she would be aged to death. Be that as it may, this woman had a gift that could mean the difference between life and death for me. If her predictions could help me prevent possible disaster, I needed to know them regardless of the consequences to her. The needs of a flesh-and-blood human being are above those of an artificial intelligence, sentient or not. I was definitely going back to the manor.
I decided to immediately head for Husfortap after all. Reaching the edge of the map, I entered the console command and scaled the out-of-bounds mountain until I reached the mansion, which was now almost completely dilapidated. One of the support columns had fallen over, littering the front porch with rubble. The windows had all now been busted out, revealing an interior that was dusty and riddled with cracks. The exterior of the house was also checkered with spider webs, their inhabitants eyeing me cautiously.
The woman inside had, as usual, aged along with the house, but a bit more drastically this time: her hair had turned completely white, her face was heavily wrinkled, and she was beginning to hunch over. She looked like she was in her late sixties or early seventies. Her blue gown had now faded into more of a bluish gray, and was littered with rips and tears.
As soon as she saw me, the woman outstretched her hands in protest and shook her head, her face conveying a look of both fear and desperation. However, she did not back away or run, as though she was fixed to that one spot in the middle of the room. I approached the woman in defiance of her protests, causing her to lower her arms and hang her head in defeat.
“Love is a powerful feeling.” The woman choked out, her eyes glassy, as though she was about to cry. “But it is so fragile in this chaotic world, which shows no mercy to even the closest of lovers.”
My heart dropped. The person I loved more than anyone in the world was Susan. We’d been going out for three years and were practically perfect for each other. If anything had happened to her, it would destroy me. I slammed my laptop shut, grabbed the keys to my friend’s car (who luckily was asleep), and floored it to Susan’s house. During my drive, I could only pray that I would get to her in time. I had waited several days to return to Husfortap, what if I already found out too late? Arriving at my girlfriend’s house, I could see through the window that her kitchen light was on. Good, I thought, at least she was home. I approached the door and pounded on it several times. No answer.
“Susan, are you there?” I called, my voice shaky from sheer terror. After a few seconds, I knocked again, my strikes louder and more frantic this time.
“Susan, please open the door!” I called again, pounding furiously, to which there was no response. I was mortified now.
Unable to waste another second, I rammed the door as hard as I could with my shoulder. Once, and then a second time. Finally, I charged full force at the door causing it to give way. I hurried to the kitchen only to find that my worst fear had come true: I was too late. The love of my life lay motionless on the kitchen floor, her mouth dripping foam and her head lying in a puddle of blood. I knew Susan was an epileptic; she clearly had an episode and hit her head on the kitchen table.
I literally felt my soul shatter into a million pieces. Not able to remove my gaze from the dead body of my girlfriend, I staggered forward and fell to my knees. If I had been here just a few minutes earlier, she may still be alive. I lifted Susan’s head out of the puddle of blood and held her to my chest, sobbing uncontrollably. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than for her to reach out and hug me back. In a way, I died that night as well.
Nearly a week had passed since my girlfriend’s death, yet that horrible night still burned fresh in my mind. Why wasn’t I quick enough? Why hadn’t I gone to receive the woman’s prediction earlier? I just couldn’t bear this guilt any longer; no matter which way you look at it, Susan’s death was my fault.
Or was it? That fortuneteller had to have known for some time that this would happen, yet she waste all that valuable time with far more trivial predictions. I could have live without the eighty bucks stolen from me, or that crap job of mine. Hell, even my apartment could have been replaced! But Susan was my love, my soulmate. I had plans to marry her one day. Yet this woman, she chose to tell me the least important fortunes first, knowing what would eventually happen. Had she revealed Susan’s fate from the get-go, or even informe me in her note (that she hacked the game to send me, no less), I could have saved my girlfriend. This was all her fault!
Hastily booting up my laptop, I could see nothing but red. I was gonna kill her, I was gonna bust down that mansion door and break her old body with the strongest weapon my character had. When the game loaded, I was at the very far end of the map as far away from Husfortap as I could be. Plant me wherever you want on the map bitch, it won’t save you!
I barreled through the land faster than I thought my character could, mowing down any unlucky AI enemy that crossed my path; nothing was going to get in my way. My mind was fixated, I could think of nothing more than avenging my girlfriend’s death. The forests and holds of Skyrim flew past my vision in a blur of color; I literally stopped for nothing. At last I reached the mansion, which had completely collapsed into a pile of unrecognizable rubble now, and equipped my warhammer. I was just itching to bash the old woman’s brains in.
I ducked under the fallen beams and clambered over the piles of collapsed marble to find the woman in her usual position in the center of where the building would be. This time, she was older than I’d ever seen a human being. She was hunched and trembling, looking like she was hardly able to stand up. Her arms looked more like skin stretched over bones, her hair was nothing more than thin wisps of white, and her gown existed simply as ragged strips draped over her crippled form. To be honest, the woman looked barely alive at all. In this moment, my rage and hatred gave way to almost pity; her advanced age was clearly putting her in a great deal of pain. I put away my hammer and just stood there, at a loss for what to do.
“You came back.” The old woman breathed in what was little more than a loud whisper. “Why did you come back? Why couldn’t you just stay away?” I could tell she was sad, but simply too exhausted to convey it. At this time, a moment of clarity came over me. I fully understood for the first time that this woman was not a simple mindless AI acting out programming, but rather a living and thinking being who existed within the game. I didn’t know where she came from or who put her there, but there she was nevertheless.
“What are you talking about?” I caught myself asking out loud. The woman, almost as if she had heard me, raised a trembling arm to point to the book at the back end of the mansion. I was confused: the last time I looked at that book, it was blank except for a single number, what would be different now?
Still, I found myself overcome by curiosity and opened the odd book once more. To my surprise, the contents of the book had completely changed. Rather than one simple number, there were now the numbers 1 through 5 running down the page, each with a different symbol by it. The first symbol was that of Skyrim‘s Thieves’ Guild, the second was a silhouette of a beggar, the third of a burning house, the fourth of a broken heart, and the fifth entry…blank.
Wait, if this place knew my future, why was the final entry blank? Then a horrifying realization hit me: what if the woman in blue wasn’t predicting my future after all? What if my visits here were actually causing all those things to happen? They did seem to happen very shortly after speaking to the woman in blue. Yes, it all made sense now: the woman wasn’t at fault, she was simply the messenger of whatever was responsible for the atrocities plaguing me, yet I had to hear her message for them to take effect. That’s why she never wanted me to return here! She knew that my visits would eventually lead to Susan’s death and tried to stop me, but I just wouldn’t listen. Now, my girlfriend was dead and my life was in shambles because of my arrogance and stupidity. Shaken, I closed the book and turned to leave, only to see a horrifying sight.
The woman was dead, and her body was completely decayed. She honestly looked like a draugr with the now-gray rags thrown over it. Clutched in her skeletal hand was a small note, which I dared not read, for I knew what it would say. This manor had taken everything from me, and now there was only one thing left it could take. Terrified and still furious, I switched the computer off, ripped out the game disc, and tossed it in the trash, ensuring the manor’s final curse went undelivered.
Nearly a month has passed since I threw the game away. I am completely broke now and still without a job. My friend’s sense of charity is gone and he kicked me out, and I have no family who can take me in, so now I am completely alone. The only possessions I have now are the clothes on my back and my laptop, which I intend to sell after I type this so that I can finally get some fresh food for once.
I still have no explanation for what happened to me, or where Husfortap Manor came from in the first place. All I know is that there are forces in this world we can’t even begin to understand and, when tampered with, they will destroy us. I had to learn this lesson the hard way and I hope that none of you make the same mistakes I did. If you happen across that mansion in your game, do NOT enter it and do NOT speak to the woman in blue!
As for me, though I will always revile that place for what it did to me, every night when I go to sleep, I toy with the idea of going to the landfill and finding that copy of Skyrim, so that I can return to Husfortap Manor and receive its last message. After everything Husfortap has taken from me, maybe now it could finally give me something: peace.
Skyrim’s Secret Credit To – Sean Blevins