my resistance to the Nerevarine prophecies may seem incomprehensible to some, but they should try to remember my background. First, I had never been terribly religious. The gods were these vague figures of power that priests and crazy people talked to. The best hope for someone like me was to avoid their notice. Then, too, it always seemed to me that whenever someone started talking about what the "great god or goddess" wanted, it was just coincidentally something the speaker wanted, as well. So, obviously, I had my doubts about religion and prophecy in general. And then there was me. The circumstances of my conception and birth, I have already described- there was nothing auspicious or special about it. Throughout the years of my childhood, until the night I left High Rock, my worth was defined only by how much work my "guardians" could get out of me. Every drink I took, every scrap of food I ate, the very space in which I slept- all was given grudgingly and, like as not, with a blow and a curse. Therefore, to be told that I was "important to the Empire" and possibly the reincarnation of some long-dead Dunmer hero, struck me as a particularly weak joke. Heroes were born in manor houses and castles, trained in philosophy and the arts, raised as an integral part of society. The only philosophy I had ever known was "don't get caught." And my place in society was in a stable at the end of a shovel. So ever since Caius had revealed the contents the package I had delivered, I had done my best to ridicule, deny, and ignore the implications. Added to my incredulity that anyone could mistake me for a dead dark elf was my innate resistance to anything that the Empire wanted. Finally, I despised feeling as though I was being manipulated- whether by guilds, governments, or gods. What I desired most strongly was to be my own man, not owned by or owing anyone. At the moment, that goal seemed as attainable as one of the moons.
As for the prophecies, it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the events that seemed to swirl around me like the sparks from a fire. Too much had happened that could not be easily explained away. First, whatever I might wish, I could not really believe that the Emperor was simply delusional. His reasons might be incomprehensible to me, but he certainly believed in this strongly enough to devote considerable effort to it. Then there was the voice that had spoken to me in my fever-dream on the ship and again in Tel Fyr. And the dreams of the gold-masked figure who seemed to be trying to persuade me and yet filled me with dread. And what of Caius? Skooma addict he might be, but he wouldn't spend so much time on cobwebs and moonbeams, even if the Emperor told him to. Caius believed, and that was a very disturbing thought. He was perhaps the smartest man I had ever met. Not in the same way that Divayth Fyr or the other Telvanni wizards were smart, with their encyclopedic knowledge of magic and other arcana. Caius' intelligence was of a sort that I understood and respected even more- the intelligence of a man who had spent many years surviving on his wits, his courage, and his ability to separate fact from nonsense. When you live by your wits, almost every test is a final exam and the price of failure is death. That Caius was still alive was all the proof I needed of his intellect. But it still might be possible for me to reason with him, to find some way to convince him that everyone was mistaken. With that in mind, I read over the material I had gathered regarding the Nerevarine prophecies. As much as I was seeking greater understanding I was also seeking a flaw, a way out, an exception that would set me free.
What I found was that my notes on the prophecies were as murky as ever. It seemed to me that anyone could use the words to prove or disprove just about anything. And that was the problem with prophecy. My only option now was to go back to Caius and give him the happy news that I wasn't dead yet. No doubt he would have some new plan for me to go and stick my head in a dragon's mouth. Well, I had always wanted to see a dragon, anyway, so it wouldn't be a total loss. As I approached Caius' small house in Balmora, I believed that I was completely prepared for whatever insanely dangerous task he would set before me. I was sure that nothing he said could surprise me. Which goes to show just how little I knew. When I knocked and entered, I found the house in even greater disarray than usual. Chests and drawers had been flung open, and clothing was piled even more deeply on the floor and bed than before. In the midst of the chaos stood the spymaster, and, for the first time in my experience, he looked shaken. Attempting to lighten the mood, I asked him if a whirlwind had been through his place. With a shrug he explained that he had been packing and then looked closely at me. When he saw that there was no trace of disease to be found, he smiled a weary smile and said,
"Trey, I'm very happy you've been cured. Unfortunately, I've had a bit of bad news. I've been recalled to the Imperial City. You'll be promoted to Operative and will head the Blades here in Vvardenfell until I return. I only waited to give you your final orders before I go."
My usual ready wit failed me- Caius gone? Recalled to the Imperial City? And what was this about me being the head of the Blades in Vvardenfell? So many questions clamored for answers at once that none of them could get out. I just stood silently and looked at the man who had seen me through so much. My mind could not encompass the idea that he wouldn't be there to give me directions, even if they usually were accompanied by a verbal kick in the rear. As I gaped like a fish out of water, he continued to sort through his possessions and to talk as if I was capable of understanding,
"...you'll have some expenses. Here's some gold. And you can use the house until I return. And I won't be needing these blacks or the ring in the Imperial City."
He punctuated this commentary by handing me 750 drakes, a set of enchanted clothing, and an enchanted ring. Somehow, his actions struck me as being those of a man making the final disposition of his estate. Whatever he might say, Caius did not believe that he was coming back.
Trying to get to the truth without just blurting it out, I asked about the recall order. The spymaster confirmed the rumors that the Emperor was dying and that the succession was in a mess. Various factions were struggling for power and he was too important a resource to be left out of reach. He tried to shrug it off as "internal politics... a result of my sugar problem," but even he knew it didn't ring true. Finally, he admitted that he had considered ignoring the order, but couldn't because "they" had members of his family in the capital. For me, to whom a family had until recently been just a distant dream, that was the hardest blow of all. To use a man's family as a lever- that showed me once again that my hatred of the Empire was not misplaced, at all. Caius remained thoroughly professional though, and asked me if I was ready to receive my orders. When I nodded, he told me to continue to pursue the prophecies. The next step would be to enlist the aid of Mehra Milo in Vivec and find the lost prophecies. Once I had those, I needed to go back to the Urshilaku wise woman and follow her guidance. His final advice was that I should "forget the Imperial City," and concentrate on the local issues of the Great House wars and Dagoth Ur. He clasped my hand, looked hard into my eyes, and was gone.
It had been a very long time since I had cried. During my childhood, tears had been one more luxury I couldn't afford. And besides, I wouldn't give my tormentors the satisfaction. As I sat there on Caius' bed, staring at the empty room, I realized he had taught me one final lesson- people who hate you can make you bleed, can even kill you- but it takes someone who loves you to make you cry. I thought of the way I had resented and avoided Caius after I was cured of corprus and how he had waited to see me before he responded to the recall order. Guiltily, I wondered if my self-absorption had made things harder for him. I clutched the shirt he had given me and I sat on his bed and I howled like an infant. I raged against the unfairness of the Empire that would use someone they way they had used Caius, and against the unfairness of a world that had made me an orphan twice over. I cried for Caius and for his family, held hostage back in the Imperial City. I cried for myself and I cried for my poor mother who I never knew. And then, it was done. Caius had waited for me, not just to make sure I was safe, but also to give me one last order: Finish the mission. The Emperor might die and the Empire might crumble into dust, but my job, my destiny, was here in Vvardenfell. If I gave up now, it would make all of Caius' work and sacrifice meaningless. I didn't know what Caius thought he saw in me, but I vowed that I would not let him down.
He had told me to locate Mehra Milo in the Vivec Library, where she should have more information on the lost prophecies. It wouldn't do to just rush in without thought- even during my first visit; she had felt that the Ordinators were watching her. She had known too many of the Dissident Priests and the Temple tended to deal harshly with dissent. Better to walk carefully and watch my back- I couldn't do anyone any good from a prison cell. And I had a feeling that no one was going to rescue me if I got myself locked up. The first thing I did was convert some of the odds and ends I had accumulated into cash. After that, I went to the Balmora Mages Guild and worked with the spellmaker to construct the best Chameleon spell I could reliably cast. I had a feeling that this next mission was going to require every bit of stealth I could muster. Although a part of me wanted to push forward, I knew that the shock of Caius' departure had taken a toll on me. With that in mind, I took the time to sleep for a few hours in my old bunk in the Mages Guild. When I awoke, I had the guild guide send me to Vivec.
Once I got to the Hall of Wisdom, I was careful not to inquire about Mehra Milo. If she were in the library, all would be well. If not, the last thing I needed was to draw too much attention to myself. When I reached the library, she was not in her accustomed place. The next step was to look in her quarters, just down the hall from the library. The door was secured with a simple lock, which proved to be no barrier to my entry. She was not there, either; however, I did find a note on the dresser, addressed to "Amaya." That was the code-word she planned to use if she felt that she was in danger of arrest. So it appeared that the worst had happened. The note was filled with enough references to let me know what had happened and to provide some guidance. She mentioned running an errand for the Inquisitor in the Ministry of Truth- that had to be where she was being held. The note also asked me to bring along the Divine Intervention scrolls I had "borrowed"- clearly the means she planned to use to escape. Finally, she mentioned the name of a guard- Alvela Saram- who would let me in. There was only one way to proceed now. Caius was gone and I was on my own. Without the lost prophecies, Nibani Maesa could not help me; without Mehra, I could not find the Dissident Priests, who had the lost prophecies. I was going to have to break her out of the Ministry of Truth- a great chunk of rock magically suspended over the Temple of Vivec and filled with Ordinators and Inquisitors. I was glad I had gotten a good night's sleep.
My adventures had begun when I broke out of jail- now I was proposing to break into a prison. Even with the assistance of Mehra's friend, this would not be easy. I would have to be careful once I was inside the Ministry of Truth- if any of the Ordinators saw me, there would be no talking my way out of it. In spite of the serious nature of my task, I have to admit that the thrill of the challenge was intoxicating. As I floated toward the Ministry, my blood sang with the joy of doing the impossible. It was for this that I was born, for this that I had become a thief. The loot had just been a way of keeping score- it was the game that mattered. Alvela was posted outside one of the doors- she started to turn me away, but then asked if I had come to visit someone. When I mentioned Mehra, the guard not only gave me her key, but advice on how best to proceed. She also noted that some of the Ordinators sympathized with the dissident priests, but that only went so far. If I killed an Ordinator- they would not hesitate to try to cut me down. Somehow, I didn't think a bloodbath in the Ministry of Truth would serve anyone's purposes, least of all mine. Following Alvela's advice, I made my way to the upper entrance, unlocked the door, and slipped inside. Before leaving Balmora, I had donned the black clothing Caius had given me. Not only would the enchantments be useful, it simply felt right.
The interior of the Ministry was a maze of rough-hewn tunnels, curving around and diving up and down inclines with no apparent pattern. I spent several of the tensest minutes of my life dodging Ordinators and seeking the entrance to the Prison Keep. Finally, at the end of a corridor, I found the right door. I could hear an Ordinator approaching down one of the cross-passages, but I didn't know what I would find on the other side of the door. Finally, I cast my Chameleon spell, picked the lock, and ducked through the door. I found myself on a sort of balcony looking out over a large cavern with a high ceiling. Other balconies were scattered about and the place was full of Ordinators and Temple functionaries. On the opposite side from where I crouched, I spotted three cell doors. Mehra was supposed to be in the one on the far right. Praying that my information was accurate, I recast the Chameleon spell and downed a Levitation potion. Then I pushed off from the wall and silently floated over the heads of the Ordinators to the cells.
It may seem odd to some that I chose such a strange method of crossing that chamber, but I had my reasons. First, it has been my experience that very few people look up, particularly when they are indoors. Second, my Chameleon spell was not 100 percent and had a short duration. If I had to make my way down the various balconies and stairs, it would take some time and I would have to pass close by a great many people. Finally, by levitating, I avoided the chance of a wrongly placed foot or the clink of my gear giving me away. Overhead, I was silent, nearly invisible, and able to cross the chamber much faster. Hoping that my memory and Alvela's information were correct, I landed in the shadows near the right-hand cell. It was the work of a few seconds to pick the lock, after which I waited for a chance to open the door just enough for me to slip inside. All was well, for I was greeted by the sight of Mehra Milo pacing back and forth in agitation. Although she seemed somewhat disheveled, she had not yet been subjected to questioning by the Inquisitors. As soon as she saw who I was, Mehra rushed up and embraced me, then said,
"I have a plan for getting you the lost prophecies, but we have to get out of here first. Did you bring a Divine Intervention scroll?"
When I admitted that I had several, she explained that the easiest way to escape was by Divine Intervention, which would bring us to the Imperial Cult shrine in Ebonheart. She suggested that we travel separately to lower the risk of being recognized and instructed me on how to find her once I had reached Ebonheart. I was to go to the east docks and seek out a ship's captain named Blatta Hateria and tell her that I wanted to "go fishing," at which point she would transport me to the dissident priests' hidden monastery at Holamayan. The entrance to the monastery itself was magically hidden- a monk on the island would give me instructions on how to get inside. The place was apparently dedicated to the goddess Azura and the door only opened at dawn and dusk- the times of day most sacred to her. Having hurriedly passed on those instructions, Mehra read one of the Intervention scrolls and disappeared.
Even though she had protested that she "wasn't a spy," Mehra seemed to know a great deal about the dissident priests. And the way she talked about Azura made me wonder if the supposed Temple scholar wasn't actually a worshipper of the Daedra goddess. Still, I wasn't likely to find answers to any of those questions inside a prison cell, and since I didn't think my heart could stand the excitement of another trip through the Ministry of Truth, I opted to use Divine Intervention to get away. Once I was in Ebonheart, it was a simple matter to make my way to the docks and Blatta. Things seemed to be moving rapidly, and I had the uneasy feeling that I was being manipulated. Still, all of this was necessary to carry out Caius' final orders, and I was determined to do so. It seemed ironic to me that the most effective lever others could use against me was my sense of loyalty. A year ago, I would have assumed that my greed or pride would have been the most likely sources of trouble. If nothing else, it was nice that my greatest weakness could be viewed as a virtue instead of a vice. As I mulled these thoughts over, I reached Blatta Hateria and her ship.
The captain was something of a surprise- I had expected a Dunmer and instead found an Imperial woman unlike any I had encountered before. She was roughly dressed and explained that she was a pauper who made her way as best she could. Currently, she was in the business of providing transportation via boat to various coastal destinations. Somehow, I had always thought that all Imperials were wealthy, arrogant aristocrats. The idea that an Imperial might actually work for a living was not something I had expected. On further reflection, I realized that was simply a rather silly prejudice on my part, based on the very small number of wealthy merchants and travelers who had stopped at the inn where I worked. When I approached her, Blatta asked me if I was interested in going fishing, the agreed-upon code phrase. I said, yes and that I was ready to leave immediately. If I had been paying closer attention, I would have realized that the location of Holamayn, in the Azura's Coast region, was the far side of the island of Vvardenfell and that I was in for a long voyage. Of course, it wasn't as if I had anything better to do, but once you've seen one wave, you've seen them all.
At Holamayan, I met a monk named Vevrana Aryon, who told me how to find the entrance to the underground monastery and also repeated the explanation that the way was only open at dawn and dusk. She told me that Mehra was already inside and could be found in the library with someone called Master Barelo. Finally, she noted that she could arrange to transport me back to Ebonheart whenever I was ready. Following her directions, I soon reached the sealed entrance to Holamayan, which appeared to be a massive spherical boulder. A glance at the sun told me that it was near mid-day, so I had a long wait in front of me. Unable to sit still, I spent some time wandering over the mountainous island, which was largely devoid of anything of interest. As I considered that, I realized that it made sense to keep the exterior as nondescript as possible- after all, it wouldn't do to make one's secret hideout the sort of place that attracted casual visitors. The exploration didn't take long, and the only excitement was an opportunity to practice my marksmanship on a few cliff-racers. Normally, I have a "live-and-let-live" attitude toward wildlife, but cliff-racers are an exception. I would cheerfully exterminate every one of the flying pests if I had the time. In fact, as far as I was concerned, the real savior of Vvardenfell would be the person who invented an effective cliff-racer repellent. Soon enough, I found myself once again outside the sealed entry. My wandering had served to tire me out a bit, so I was able to sit down and meditate. Although I had failed to bring any of my alchemy apparatus, I occupied my mind by thinking through the steps of creating potions. That mental exercise had the same calming effect as if I were actually engaged in making potions, and the time passed quickly. At last, as the sun dipped below the horizon, there was a grinding noise and the great hemisphere of stone, which turned out to be hollow, rolled back into the mountainside. It might have been my imagination, but it seemed that I felt something shift inside of me at the same moment and that a feminine voice whispered, "Welcome."
The simple wooden door opened onto a vast chamber carved out of the interior of the mountain. This entry room seemed to contain shrines to every one of the Dunmer "saints," including Saint Nerevar. Stairways led downward from the east and west sides of the room. As befit my optimistic nature, I chose the east side to begin my explorations. The stairs took me into the library, where Mehra Milo was waiting, as promised. She again thanked me for rescuing her and revealed that she had, in fact, been working for the dissident priests for some time. Now that her role had been revealed, she planned to remain in Holamayan, acting as the librarian for the secret order. She then introduced me to Master Gilvas Barelo, the head of the dissident priests. The Dunmer monk provided me with a great deal of information regarding the differences which had divided the Temple and caused the persecution and exile of the dissidents. As this information is now widely known, I will refrain from repeating it here. A great outpouring of scholarly dispute has been unleashed in the years since the events I record here, and I have no desire to add my observations on Temple politics. In any event, my concerns were more immediate and more personal- I wanted to know how and why I had become caught up in this and what I must do to extricate myself, if possible. In response to a question regarding Nerevar, Master Barelo gave me three different accounts of that almost mythic figure- The Real Nerevar, Nerevar Moon-and-Star, and Saint Nerevar. He noted that each book provided a different view of Nerevar and that the cumulative result would be more enlightening than any single account. Spoken like a true scholar- there was no such thing as a simple answer, and everything was open to interpretation and debate. Still, I was pleased to add these rare volumes to my collection.
At last, I came to the true purpose of my visit, the so-called lost prophecies. Master Barelo told me that the order had searched through the Apographa or "hidden writings," and discovered two passages in particular that seemed to be of significance. One was actually called "The Lost Prophecy," and the other was entitled "The Seven Curses." Because their style and language resembled those of the known Ashlander prophecies "The Stranger" and "The Seven Trials," it seemed likely that these might be the lost prophecies which Nibani Maesa sought. In addition, because of my possible role in the struggle against Dagoth Ur, the priests had prepared a document called "Kagrenac's Tools," which he claimed showed that the origin of the Tribunal's power was corrupt- was, in fact, the same source as the power of Dagoth Ur. Kagrenac was the name mentioned by Yagrum, the last Dwemer, who dwelt in Tel Fyr. He was supposed to have been the greatest of the Dwemer magecrafters, and I wondered what his art had to do with Dagoth Ur or with me. Finally, Master Barelo insisted that the rise of the Sixth House showed that a great battle against Dagoth Ur was coming and that the divisions within the Temple and amongst the Dunmer could only be repaired by the leadership of the Incarnate. His final words chilled me to the bone,
"If you are the Nerevarine, you must lead us against Dagoth Ur."
Along with the prophecies, Master Barelo had added some notes of interpretation, although he warned me that much remained unclear. Perhaps the Urshilaku wise woman would be able to provide further guidance. There seemed to be nothing left to say and I had a great deal of reading and thinking to do. Having no desire to appear at a Temple while carrying so many forbidden writings, I used Divine Intervention to carry me to Wolverine Hall in Sadrith Mora. From there, I used the Mages Guild guide to teleport me to Ald'ruhn. I knew that I needed to deliver this material to Nibani Maesa soon, but I wanted to have a chance to think for myself. Again, I had the feeling that I was being dragged along with the current of someone else's desires, being pushed, being manipulated. And I did not like that feeling. It also seemed to me that some people were working awfully hard to convince me (and themselves) that I MUST be the subject of the prophecies. One example was the section of the "Lost Prophecy" that referred to the "Outlander Incarnate." Barelo felt certain that it meant that the Nerevarine would be a foreigner, an outlander- like me. Fair enough, I thought, but what of the third line, which said, "Dragon-born?" The Dragon was the symbol of Cyrodiil, of the Imperials- and I was NOT an Imperial. Before I could get too happy about that, I remembered two bits of information- one general, the other particular. Scholarship on the races of Tamriel had demonstrated that children of "mixed marriages" largely resembled the mother. In my case, my mother had been a Breton, as was I. However, with a sinking heart, I recalled that my "guardian" had once referred to my father as, "That canting Imperial bastard." Every time I thought I had discovered a way out of my fate, it was a false trail. Much as I hated to admit it, the evidence was becoming difficult to ignore. I did not yet believe, but I did wonder.
In an attempt to gain a clearer understanding of the distant past, and how it affected me, I settled down to read the material on the original Nerevar. The sources agreed on a few basics, but not much more: Nerevar was the leader of the House and Ashland Dunmer; he possessed a magical ring of some unknown, but great, power; there was a massive battle at Red Mountain, during which Nerevar's forces prevailed; Nerevar died; the Tribunal, consisting of Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and Vivec, achieved divine powers. The discussion of Kagrenac's Tools was more coherent and more interesting- it stated that the Dwemer magecrafter had devised a gauntlet, sword, and hammer which allowed him to shape and use the power of a god's heart.
The heart, supposedly that of Lorkhan, was said to be contained in the depths of Red Mountain. The dissidents further claimed that this same heart was the source of Dagoth Ur's power and the apparent "divinity" of the Tribunal. It was easy to see why the Temple didn't want this theory noised about. Basically, it said that the Tribunal had betrayed Nerevar's trust, grasped at a source of tremendous power, and been corrupted by the taint of that power. Further, the Tribunal were not divine at all, but simply mortals who had artificially enhanced themselves. I couldn't judge which, if any, of these theories and histories were true. And, for the moment, it didn't matter. My task was to take the lost prophecies to Nibani Maesa.
My return to the Urshilaku camp was rather like a home-coming- the Ashlanders greeted me with warmth and friendly banter- despite my pale skin and hair, I was one of them. I responded to their greetings and made my way to the tent of the wise woman, who was also pleased to see me again. When I told her that I had found the lost prophecies, she instructed me to repeat them to her until she had memorized every word. I was also to tell her everything the priests had said. When this was done and she had the material letter-perfect, I was to allow her time to meditate and seek the guidance of the ancestors. She said,
"...when the moons have come and gone, return, and I will give you my judgment."
That measure of time confused me- did she mean one night or one month? When I asked her, she looked at me as if I was addled.
"It means what it means," was all she would say.
I decided that I would just have to take my chances and see her after one night had passed; after all, the worst she could do was chase me off, at which point I would know what she had meant. After she had absorbed the material I had brought from Holamayan, she asked me to leave so that she could "walk in her dreams" and decide what this new information meant. Following her advice, I sought a place to rest elsewhere in the camp. A gift of some trama root secured me the use of a spare bedroll in one of the tents and I slept a deep and blessedly dreamless sleep.
When I entered Nibani's tent the next day, she announced that she was ready to give her judgment. I wasn't sure anymore what words I wished to hear- I only wanted to know something definite; to be able to get on with my life. My heart hammered wildly as she sat staring into the fire and spoke. The words sounded to my ears like the end of the world.
"The ancestors and stars have given me clear signs. The lost prophecies leave no doubt- the Incarnate shall be an Outlander. You, blessed by Azura, must lift the Seven Curses of Dagoth Ur. Prophecy has shown the seven steps of the Nerevarine's path, and I have been chosen as your guide for each step on that path. I will read the signs, and show you the way. It is time for you to walk the path of the Seven Visions, and pass the Seven Trials of the Seven Visions."
I fell to my knees under the weight of her words. I wanted to argue, to protest, to tell her that I was nothing but a stable-boy and thief. These visions, this path, this fate- could not be for me. And yet, I knew that her words were true. Others might try to manipulate me for political or other motives, but Nibani Maesa would not. Relentlessly, she continued,
"You are born on a certain day to uncertain parents. So you have passed the first trial. My dreams show me that you also fulfill the second trial, that 'neither blight nor age can harm him/The Curse-of-Flesh before him flies.' I have read the signs, but I cannot understand. Can you explain this to me?"
With lips that seemed unable to work correctly, I described how I had been infected with, and then cured of, corprus. My words amazed her- she was surprised to hear that I had overcome the dread disease, but even more so that the infection itself had rendered me immune to all other illness. She concluded that this was proof that I had passed the second trial. However, the secret of the third trial was not hers to reveal. She instructed me to seek the khan, Sul-Matuul, and ask him about the third trial. After what seemed like ages, but was only a few seconds, I regained my feet and left the tent to seek the Urshilaku Ashkhan. There was no longer any doubt- the prophecies were true, and even worse, they were about me. I could no longer struggle against it or pretend to be doing "research." With their sublime sense of humor, the gods had made me the vehicle for their practical joke on the world. Or rather, one god- Azura, goddess of dusk and dawn. It had been she who had whispered to me as I was brought to Vvardenfell, she who had claimed me as her own while Divayth Fyr's potion worked in my veins, she who had taken control of my life. There was no longer any point in wondering- "Why me? Why not some great hulking Nord?" It had been decided. Trey of High Rock was to be the sacrifice on this altar of fate and folly. The best I could manage now would be to die well.
The ashkhan was friendly, but stern. Although he was not convinced that I was the Nerevarine, he agreed to tell me about the third trial. First, though, he would set me a test, to prove my worthiness. He pointed out that the Nerevarine's path was difficult and that all before me had failed the "warrior's test." Sul-Matuul said,
"You must have strength, courage, and cunning. These things I would test."
He then described an ancient Dunmer stronghold, called Kogoruhn, which had been the seat of House Dagoth. It was now an evil place, home to dangerous and powerful creatures. The ashkhan himself had led an expedition there, and survived to come home. Even so, he admitted that he had been afraid, both for himself and for the men he led. Before he would tell me the secret of the third trial, he would have me go to Kogoruhn and bring back three items to show that I had been there. The items were: corprus weepings from a corprus beast, which would prove my immunity to the dread disease; a House Dagoth cup, which would show that I had explored Kogoruhn; and the Shadow Shield, from the tomb of Dagoth Morin, deep under the dark stronghold. At my request, he provided me directions to find the ill-omened place.
Kogoruhn! Even now, after so many years, the very name is like a black cloud over the face of the sun. It was ancient, as were all the abandoned strongholds of Vvardenfell; a fortified place used by the dark elves during the long war with the Dwemer and the Nords. Of course, they had not been dark elves in those days- that was one of the many consequences of that war and its aftermath. But Kogoruhn had been the stronghold of House Dagoth, the Sixth House, the House that was no more. The place was a tomb, and anyone who has followed my story thus far knows how I feel about tombs. I hated creeping about any tomb- it is no place for the living. But Kogoruhn was no simple family tomb- it was the mausoleum of an entire Great House, one that had gone to its damnation in an explosion of betrayal, blood, and violence. Even the great khan of the Urshilaku admitted to being afraid of the place. Worse yet, he had been there with a hunting party- I would be alone. It appeared that the gods resembled cats in more than their inscrutability- they also liked to toy with their prey before killing it. Well, perhaps that was the plan of the gods, but this mouse intended to show them that it had sharp teeth.
Following Sul-Matuul's directions, I made my way southeast into the Ashlands. A fierce ash storm blew the choking gray dust into my face the whole way, but the madness of desperation was upon me, and I cared nothing for discomfort. Eventually, the oblong, flat-topped structure of a stronghold loomed out of the swirling ash, and I thought that my journey was at an end. However, when I climbed the steps, I saw inscriptions that showed me this was Falasmaryon, rather than Kogoruhn. It seemed that I would have to go a little further before I met my doom.
I continued southeast and soon found the ancient stronghold of House Dagoth. It was nearly drifted over with blown ash, as if the very hand of nature sought to erase every sign of the disgraced House. When I was attacked by a dreamer, I knew that I had come to the appointed place. As I circled the structure, swatting cliff racers, I came upon a curious sight- a dead Ordinator, dressed in full Indoril armor, lay in the ash. I dispatched the rat that had been paying its respects and looked at the body. Anything that could kill an Ordinator must be a powerful foe, indeed. And I wondered what brought this fellow here to die all alone. Knowing the Temple, it had probably been some insane quest to single-handedly root out the great evil that inhabited lost Kogoruhn. Rather like the folly that had brought me hence. No doubt the Ordinator had been filled with righteous faith and certainty that his cause was just. I, on the other hand, only had anger, desperation, and a burning desire to live long enough to tell Azura just what I thought of her and her plans.
Among the many lessons I learned all those years ago was this- don't poke your nose into dangerous places when you are angry. Particularly not when you are angry with a god. Being scared in a dangerous place is good- it can keep you alive. Being angry is a distraction and can get you killed. I discovered the truth of that when I slammed through the door to the Dome of Urso atop Kogoruhn. Although Sul-Matuul had warned me that the former House Dagoth stronghold was a dangerous place, I had assumed that the danger would lurk deep inside. Assumptions, like anger, can get you killed. The only reason I was checking the upper domes was because I dislike leaving unexplored doors behind me. I have a fear of the things that might be hiding behind those closed doors- and that was the one intelligent thought I had that day. In my defense, the ...thing... that confronted me inside the Dome was stunning in and of itself. As I pushed through the door, I sensed a movement in the dancing shadows to my right. As my eyes adjusted, the movement resolved itself into a rounded, hulking figure out of a nightmare. The creature stood more or less upright, like a man or mer, and the robe concealed all of the terribly distorted body except for the head. Black eye sockets showed above a multi-tentacled snout and a gaping hole where the mouth should have been. The "face" was a dead gray color- identical to the ash that blew from Red Mountain. For long moments, I simply stared, wondering what this monstrosity could be.
Unfortunately, the creature was neither surprised nor stunned by my sudden entrance and it gestured rapidly with flipper-like hands and cast spell after spell at me. The waves of flame, frost, poison, and electrical damage shook me out of my near fatal stupor and I raced to close with the beast. Though I say it myself, running toward that creature instead of away may have been the bravest act of my short life. But I had already suffered tremendous damage and feared to turn my back on the monster long enough to attempt an escape. As was so often the case, the only way I knew to go was forward. It was not all desperation, though, for I made use of a couple of my homemade Restore Health potions as well as a couple of Resist potions that I had been saving "just in case." My reasoning was simple- they would do me no good when my enemies took them from my dead body, so best to use them now. Even with the Restoratives I believe I was perilously close to death. Besides its seemingly inexhaustible supply of spells, the creature was physically strong and difficult to hurt. Though it made no defense against my sword thrusts, they seemed to have little effect on the tough hide that was concealed by those robes. At last, a wild swing, fueled by fear as much as by skill, clove through where a normal being's neck would have been. And then, I was treated to another surprise, for the creature vanished in a cloud of foul vapor, leaving behind only a misshapen skull and an amulet.
The amulet was of great interest- it carried the symbol of the Sixth House- a stylized shalk or beetle. In addition, this amulet was inscribed with the name "Dagoth Reler." Apparently, this was a more completely devolved creature of Dagoth Ur. I had thought Dagoth Gares was fearsome, but this Dagoth Reler had been many times worse. Perhaps this form was the ultimate outcome of corprus disease. After recovering from my wounds with the aid of a couple of potions, I searched the chamber. It had been "decorated" as a Sixth House shrine, and there were also strange words and symbols drawn on the floor, including the phrase, "The Sleeper is awake." With a great deal more care and caution, I proceeded to the entrance of the next structure, the door of which proclaimed it to be the Dome of Pollock's Eye. My stealth was well-rewarded, inside this chamber was one of the "lesser Dagoths," one that resembled the unlamented Dagoth Gares. In this case, the creature was more human or elven in shape, although the face had begun to show the deformation and growth of a tentacle in place of the nose. When the beast became aware of me, it began casting spells in an attempt to drain my health. I used the more mundane and ultimately more effective edge of my blade to end the miserable being's life. Again, I found a Sixth House amulet, this one naming the bearer as "Dagoth Girer." Normally, I do not collect trophies from those I am forced to kill, but I made an exception with these Sixth House creatures. Although the amulets carried a taint of foul magicka, I nevertheless resolved to keep them as reminders of my quest to rid Vvardenfell of this evil.
Again, I searched the chamber, seeking any clue as to what these creatures were plotting. Again, I found half-literate scrawls and drawings including a parchment with a bit of "poetry" that could only have been conceived by a mind riddled with disease and madness. Of more importance, I found a cup bearing the mark of House Dagoth. This was progress, indeed- my quest was one third complete and I had only been almost killed once. That was a wonderful record of success. Considering the power and ferocity of the creatures that laired in these domes on the surface of Kogoruhn, I was greatly concerned about what I might find in the depths. Still worse, I knew that I had no choice but to find out.
Before venturing any further, I had a long talk with myself. Although there was a bit less name-calling than was usual during one of those talks, it was still a rather stern lecture. First, I needed to remember my own rule about not doing things out of anger or for revenge. Even though I was feeling persecuted and ill-used, my survival was up to me. I had managed so far by relying on my wits and my stealth- not my ability to hack and slash my way to a solution. Although my sword-work was far better than it had been when I arrived on Vvardenfell, it was not my greatest asset. And just because I was now immune to disease did not mean that I was immortal. Magicka, or steel, or even a falling boulder could still render me quite dead. Crashing around Kogoruhn like a spoiled child had been foolish, and it was only good fortune and quick reflexes that had saved me from the punishment I deserved. Ilunibi had frightened me- with good reason. But Kogoruhn was worse. The former location had been an outlying base, a staging area, with relatively weak Sixth House minions. Kogoruhn was much closer to Red Mountain and was also a far older base of House Dagoth strength. I had no way of knowing how much more deadly this foul lair might be- it was enough to know that it was deadly and to act accordingly. Normally, that would mean running away as fast as my slender legs would carry me. Unfortunately, that option was not available- I had given my word to Sul-Matuul that I would bring back the three items he had requested. And that, I realized, was the point- I was here to collect those items, not to scour this place from top to bottom and rid it of all Dagoth Ur's creatures. Besides, as soon as I left, more of the obscene beasts would move in. Still, I needed to treat this just like any other thieving job- get in, get the stuff, get out. Don't kill anyone you don't have to, run from fights if possible, and stay stealthy. Suddenly, I felt much better. I knew that this place would kill me if it could; I could feel the hatred oozing out of the very stones. My job was to keep that from happening.
Two doors remained unexplored- The Hall of Phisto and The Temple of Fey. Neither one sounded terribly appealing, but it had been a long time since anyone had bothered to ask me how I felt about anything. The various "Dagoths" I had encountered so far seemed to think of themselves as priests of Dagoth Ur, so the "Temple" seemed like the sort of place they might hang out. Therefore, I would avoid it. The doorway to the Hall of Phisto opened onto a narrow, stone-walled corridor with wooden supports. Keeping in mind that I wanted to be stealthy, I summoned a bound longbow and crept south. Soon enough, I came upon a set of steps leading down to a doorway. For the moment, I ignored them- I wanted to search this entire floor before venturing deeper. As I rounded a corner, my stealth paid off. An ash zombie was shuffling along with its back to me. Quick as a thought, I nocked and loosed two arrows, and the creature was dead before it ever knew anyone was about. That was how I needed to operate- from the shadows, from a distance, never even letting them know I was there. Further along the corridor, I could see an opening into some sort of chamber on the right. Again, I summoned the bow and cat-footed to the opening. Inside was a Sixth House shrine, attended by one of the lesser "Dagoths." Several arrows later, he was a Dagoth pincushion, and I was unhurt. The usual amulet showed that this one had been known as "Dagoth Delnus." There was nothing else in the room, so I moved on. And thus it continued for what seemed like hours- slipping in and out of the shadows, striking swiftly, and gliding away. At some point in the process, one of the creatures gave up the corprus weepings I sought, and I was one step closer to my goal. Although this method was safer, it was hard on my nerves. Add to that the foul atmosphere of that dark place, and I am surprised my blonde hair didn't turn white. All too quickly, I realized that the last piece, the Shadow Shield, was going to be deep inside the stronghold. And I had to find it or all the rest would have been wasted effort.
With faltering steps, I made my way to the door inscribed "The Hall of Maki." Within that foul hole, I found the ending of a sad story. Off to one side were three locked doors, and behind each door was a dead adventurer. They were an odd assortment- an Altmer, a Khajiit, and an Imperial. How they had been held or how they had died, I could not tell. Each one seemed to be fully equipped and showed no marks of violence. However, each room contained a wood and rope construct that exuded evil. The devices seemed almost to have been made to capture the souls of the adventurers as they breathed their last. But the greatest mystery of all was the Imperial. The first thing I noticed was that he was outfitted with a shield and cuirass of volcanic glass- a material that was almost mythical in its rarity. The scarcity of such armor was the result of several factors- first, there were few deposits that had not been exhausted. Second, the material was notoriously hard to work and shape into useful armor and weapons. A full set would bring a king's ransom- even a piecemeal outfit such as this was more valuable than anything I had ever seen. And even more significant, at least to me, was the fact that glass was light armor- the type with which I was most proficient. Needless to say, I overcame any squeamishness quite readily and relieved the poor fellow of the armor. With a silent prayer for his soul, I rolled him over to undo the lacing of the cuirass and discovered an even greater mystery. Underneath him was a great two-handed blade, which glowed with magicka both malevolent and powerful. Careful not to lay a hand on the weapon, I was able to decipher the markings on the blade and determine that this was the legendary claymore known as "Fury." It was said that the wielder of this sword would find himself able to strike powerful blows, but could also be blinded and find his ability to defend himself severely weakened. It was a weapon for someone who courted death on the battlefield and it was a unique artifact. Carefully wrapping the enchanted blade in several layers of cloth, I stowed it amongst my goods. Even with the sword thus muffled, I seemed to hear it whispering to me, urging me to grasp its hilt and rush headlong into glorious battle. Considering the Ordinator outside and these three inside, Kogoruhn was a veritable magnet for those who sought glory. It also seemed that it was a trap for those would-be heroes. It was fortunate, then, that I was not interested in being a hero. My goal was to survive. Whispers or no, Fury would stay where it was until I could find a suitable place for it.
I will not detail all the twists and turns and back-tracking that I endured as I went ever further into Kogoruhn. The journey itself was wearisome- to recount it here would be moreso. Finally, I entered a canal system called the Nabith Waterway. A half-blocked passage from the canals led into a series of caverns named Charma's Breath. I do not know who or what Charma was, but the name was not complimentary. A stink of brimstone hung in the air, and other foul vapors told me that this was, indeed, a tomb. It was here that I encountered one of the strangest creatures I had ever seen. I had defeated a "lesser Dagoth," and was searching the passage, when a bizarre humanoid advanced upon me. The creature appeared to have once been a Dunmer, but was now horribly altered. The head and face were elongated, and the chin sported a beard- something I had never seen on a dark elf. A strange, bony headpiece made the head seem even more misshapen, and the fingers ended in fearsome claws. Even with my improved ability with long blades, he was nearly impossible to hit, and took little damage when I was successful. The glass armor I had "inherited" may have been all that saved me. I was eventually forced to swallow a Levitation potion and float out over a lava pool, from whence I cast fireballs at the beast to weaken him. As I had used all my arrows earlier, I ultimately had no choice but to close with the bizarre being and finish the fight blade against claw. A Sixth House amulet proved that this was yet another form of "Dagoth," in this case, Dagoth Uthol. He also wore a magical belt called the Belt of Heartfire, which I happily appropriated as a partial reward for ridding the world of this menace. Still, I was beginning to wonder if Dagoth Morin's tomb and the Shadow Shield even existed. Almost in despair, I turned to a door inscribed "The Bleeding Heart." After fighting my way past several atronachs, I confronted Dagoth Elam and defeated him. He had been guarding the Shadow Shield. Without even taking the time to divine the enchantments on that ancient artifact, I scooped it up and Recalled to the Urshilaku camp. Even though I would again know fear in my life, it would never again be as daunting, for I had faced Kogoruhn and prevailed. I had passed the Warrior's Test.
Ever a master of understatement, Sul-Matuul greeted me by saying,
"You appear to have seen difficult times. If you have brought me the three tokens of the Warriors Test, I will tell you of the Third Trial."
I grimly displayed the House Dagoth cup, the Shadow Shield, and the corprus weepings. I could not be angry with the Urshilaku ashkhan, for I knew that he had been to Kogoruhn before me. Still more, I knew that the lives of the Ashlanders were harsh and therefore they were forced to take hard measures. There was no room in their lives for weakness, and that was particularly true of the khans. When Sul-Matuul saw the evidence of my achievement, his eyes widened, and he almost smiled. He admitted that he was impressed by my feat and added that I could keep the items as proof of my triumph over the evil of Kogoruhn. Then he quoted the Third Vision:
"In caverns dark, Azura's eye sees/And makes to shine the moon and star."
He told me that my path now would take me to a hidden place called the Cavern of the Incarnate, a place that was sacred to Azura. The location of the Cavern was given in the form of a riddle:
"The eye of the needle lies in the teeth of the wind. The mouth of the cave lies in the skin of the pearl. The dream is the door and the star is the key."
"This riddle is Wisdom's Test. Take counsel of the wisdom of the tribes and you shall find the way. Seek the Cavern of the Incarnate. Gain the moon and star and bring it to Nibani Maesa. Take with you my blessing and the blessing of our tribe, Malipu-Ataman's Belt."
The belt was an ancient piece of apparel, clearly of deep significance to the Urshilaku. The enchantment was one that provided healing and improved the ability to avoid being struck in combat. However, the significance of the belt was more in its symbolism- this was definitive proof that the bearer had passed the Warrior's Test. After thanking the ashkhan, I took my leave of him and pondered his words.
"The wisdom of the tribe" could mean several things- first, the wise women obviously preserved the traditions and lore of the Ashlanders; second, every adult in the tribe might possess some specific bit of knowledge, gained from their nomadic travels. Therefore, I sought Nibani Maesa and whatever light she might shed upon these riddles. She did not know where the Cavern of the Incarnate might be found, nor could she interpret all of the riddle. Some lines though, she could explain: "the star is the key" and "the dream is the door." Each was a reference to Azura- the "star" meant Azura's Star, which was only visible at dusk and dawn. Therefore, the door could only be opened at those times that were sacred to the goddess. Similarly, the "dream" referred to the hours of dreaming. Wherever the Cavern lay, it could only be entered at dawn or dusk, similar to Holamayan. I would have to seek further answers from the members of Urshilaku. That task was made considerably easier by my possession of the Belt of Milapu-Ataman, which indicated to the Ashlanders that they could speak to me of these things. The sum of the information I received was this: There was a valley which ran toward Red Mountain, known as the Valley of the Wind. The entrance to the valley was marked by two rock spires, known as Airan's Teeth. They were named for a seer who was blessed by Azura. At the head of the valley was a single rock spire, known as The Needle. The tip of this spire, while not white, was of a lighter-colored stone- a color that might be considered akin to that of a pearl. Finally, a tribesman gave me directions on how to reach the entrance to the Valley of the Wind. I knew that my steps must soon turn in that direction, but not yet. I needed time to recover from the ordeal of Kogoruhn and to prepare for the trials which were yet to come.
One of the things I wanted to do was see how the work on my stronghold was proceeding. After all that I had been through, I felt more than ever the need for a place to call home. Weary beyond measure, I made my way to Ald'ruhn, where I spoke to Galsa Gindu. She informed me that a foreman had been hired and materials acquired and delivered to begin construction. She then asked me to go to Bal Isra, where the building site was located, and check with the foreman, Bugdul gro-Kharbush. Bal Isra was a ridge along the Mar Gaan road, and a rather desolate place in the midst of ash-covered and barren hills. Of course, that was one purpose of the stronghold, to reclaim some of the lands which had been lost to the ash-storms. As I crested the ridge, I saw for the first time the place that was to be my home. Major progress had been made on the main structure, which was of the typical Redoran "crab-shell" style. It was not yet habitable, but Bugdul assured me that the construction was going well. He promised to send word through Galsa when the stronghold was ready or if there were any problems. As I could do nothing to help speed the work, I made my way back to Ald'ruhn. I spent some time repairing my equipment and preparing potions to replace those which I had used so liberally. My instincts told me that my path would only grow more difficult as I approached the end. Dagoth Ur had had generations to prepare for the coming of the Nerevarine and he had been acknowledged as a warrior and strategist of great prowess during his life. It no longer mattered whether or not I believed- others, far more powerful than I, had decided- I would walk the path of prophecy. It was a very long time before I was able to fall into a deep and blessedly dreamless sleep.
(c)2005 TreydogOn to the next chapter