Ah, the Stones of Barenziah! In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim they’re called unusual gems until Vex in Riften’s Ragged Flagon gives players the quest in earnest. Conceptually No Stone Unturned is quite brilliant. Finding all twenty-four floating pink jewels takes heroes across the length and breadth of Skyrim. They can be found in eight of the holds including headquarters for The Companions, Dark Brotherhood and College of Winterhold. Although no related items are found in the Thieves Guild itself (as far as I know) this quest cannot be completed unless the player joins that faction.
What’s so special about them?
According to Elder Scrolls lore, a thief pried the gems from Queen Barenziah’s crown. She was a Dark Elf royal whose fascinating life is chronicled in The Biography of Barenziah books which are found in multiple locations. In another book, The Nightingales Vol. 2, it’s revealed she had an illegitimate child with master thief, Drayven Indoril also known as Nightingale. Their daughter, Dralsi, followed in her father’s footsteps, eventually passing those skills onto her own daughter, Karliah, an integral character in the Thieves Guild Nightingales story. The history behind this quest is another testimony of how much love and care goes went into this game.
So where the heck are they?
Tracking them down is an adventure in itself. The stones all start out as someone else’s property except the one in Proudspire Manor’s master bedroom which players can buy. Or pickpocket the key from the Jarl’s Steward and break into the house. Although if you’re planning on taking that route, you should make sure your character’s Pickpocket skill is high enough and having an invisibility power or potion(s) on tap wouldn’t hurt either.
The Archmage’s Quarters can be freely accessed once College of Winterhold leadership is bestowed at the quest line’s end. By the way, his ancient penthouse suite is amazing. The stone can also be stolen during the early Under Saarthal mission but sneaking past the Archmage can be a bit tricky so be patient and remember don’t get caught or feel the wrath of Skyrim’s Dumbledore! Whether you’re dealing with a lone frost troll, Forsworn horde, city guards, bandits, mages or whatever – the stones are usually guarded.
The Stones of Barenziah must be acquired and put back into the crown, which must also be obtained, and not from a house the player owns but the Falmer-infested Tolvald’s Cave. (Eww, Falmer! Eww!) Once that’s been done, the restored crown will be displayed among other larceny targets the player’s acquired (or none) in the Thieves Guild. The reward is a permanent effect called Prowler’s Profit, which allows the player to loot precious gems from all searched containers and sometimes vanquished foes. This will make your character very wealthy, very quickly; which should make up for how incredibly frustrating I find this quest to be. Spoiler alert! Here’s a complete play-through by Orcidea:
Next Stop: Frustration Station
Honestly I haven’t finished the quest yet. It was frustrating to the point where I ignored it in favour of more compelling storylines. Before I get into the details of my tribulations, here’s the thing: No Stone Unturned isn’t a mere favour quest like collecting ice wraith teeth for the lady who sells food in Riften. It’s time consuming and requires a lot of travel, which is great in an open world game like this. However like a favour quest, there’s no guidance as to where the gems are located. Well there is now because the game’s been out since 2011 and there are excellent online guides, as well as a printed book.
Unless you make a researched location list, finding the gems will be purely through gameplay. You’ll come across them during radiant quests, searches for Word Walls and sometimes through dumb luck. It’s not a high priority quest and could take a long time, and then there’s the nagging inability to drop or store quest items, which has me lugging them all over the place. Normally I’m grateful for this rule because my first character is carrying stuff for quests she hasn’t started yet and I don’t want to accidentally sell something important like I did with Hjalti’s Sword. (I didn’t know what it was for, okay?) Hopefully I’ll come across it again but I digress.
When I’m on a mission and suddenly too encumbered to run or fight well, those undroppable, unstorable gems become a sudden pain in my booty and costing me booty loot I have to leave behind. Carry weight may not be a big deal at level 50 but early in the game – it’s everything; and then there’s the nightmarish Thalmor Embassy quest called Diplomatic Immunity. This is what made my Dragonborn train stop at Frustration Station.
You might recall how tough this quest was for Chaconia. What you don’t know is that after my Dragonborn girl ran for her life from the Thalmor Embassy, my Skyrim sensei, Nick casually asked, “Did you get the stone?” Flabbergasted I responded, “What stone? Oh no, there was a Stone of Barenziah in there!?!” I didn’t look around the embassy because I was struggling to keep her alive and mostly failing at it. I certainly didn’t think of looting the place and surely not Elenwen’s Solar which is where it was supposed to be. That mission was tough and even more so because I didn’t have the right equipment to do well. Spoiler alert! If you haven’t done it yet, please choose your best and baddest gear. Oh and there’s no such thing as too many arrows, or restorative potions. You’re going to need everything. Everything.
Anyway the panic that No Stone Unturned would go completed and she’d be stuck dragging these gems all over Skyrim truly set in when I read that getting back into the embassy was nearly impossible. So I shifted focus to other activities as aforementioned; but on a whim decided to start gathering the stones again and investigated how to break back into the embassy. My girl is a master thief by now and surely this would be a piece of cake. She broke into the embassy’s front gates and sent the guards to meet their Maker. Unfortunately the place I needed to access was blocked by a locked door that cannot be picked. I was stuck again until Nick encouraged me to search for another possible way into that part of the embassy and indeed there are two!
The first option is to buy a horse and jump into the courtyard. Yeah right! Money was tight and I wasn’t spending 1,000 gold coins on a horse for Chaconia’s High Elf cousins to kill so no. The other option is to exploit a glitch whereby one can access the embassy by basically going back through the escape route, as demonstrated in the NerdTV video below. Before you ask, no, it isn’t nearly as easy as the guy makes it look. After over an hour of trying, Nick besotted with the cold, deftly got Chaconia back into the embassy and searched for a stone that wasn’t there.
The Thalmor Embassy was exactly as I left it at the end of her Diplomatic Immunity run, but there was no Stone of Barenziah and I’ll tell you why. I already had it. You see when I got into the Reeking Cave, the gem was there for the taking because I didn’t grab it in the embassy. A patch issued on February 9, 2012 put this in so that people like me wouldn’t freak out over missing the stone, which I did anyway. The worst part is that I ignored this helpful information while looking for a solution. Up to now I couldn’t tell you why.
Now Leaving Frustration Station
At this point, I finally know where they all are. Researching felt a bit like cheating but thankfully I’ve already nabbed stones from some of the more challenging locations. This quest will be wrapped up soon and I couldn’t be happier, but actually I need your help with something. The only way into the Dark Brotherhood’s headquarters is to start the quest line which presents the player with two choices: join the assassins or take them down. Either way I’ll get the Stone of Barenziah in there but which should I choose: become a career killer or kill the killers? Let me know in the comments!