Found upon a well-tended Grave, the Inscription Worn Away by Time, Beside a Crop of Strangely Out-of-Place Nirnroot*
Transcribed by Cassius Mico
It is midday. I can feel the warm glow of sunshine sweep cleanly over my face, flooding through my system, soothing to the core. I can taste the cool wisp of a balmy breeze wafting softly through my hair, carrying sweet scents of lavender and wildflowers. I lift my arms above my head, splaying my fingers outward as far as they can reach, to feel the air rush through them, to feel the touch of life and nature so gentle and pure and blessedly magnificent. With a contented sigh I let the earth’s call take me. Relinquishing the vestiges and pretense of human control, I fall straight backward— towards the dewy soil. The soft bed of wild grasses rises eagerly to ease my fall, welcoming me to the world with its soft embrace. I breathe it in, and my heart sings. I rejoice.
Dauphine calls to me as she blithely whirls, fingers looping artlessly through the mess of her flaxen hair. She dances in the sun’s radiance, rising and falling with the grace of the tides. She shines with radiance all her own, spilling freely from the depths of her vestal, untarnished heart—the limitless touch of the untamed wilds, imbued in the glory of one newborn soul. Her eyes are like sea foam and waves, airy, rich, feral, and strong— riling with a force that bears no darkness of its own and harbors no evil within its shapeless form–intense and incomprehensible in its own right, but serving best to mask the endless wonder of the depths that churn below. Her laugh is like the nymphs’ but sweeter, like wind chimes in a mild breeze, like chirping sparrows and tinkling bells, untamed and unknowable and everything that is tender and serene (“If you ever meet a Nymph, speak to her,” for true knowledge is learnt not from books, but from life.1 It is not born in cities and studies; it is in the wilds, in the hearts of all that are wrought of innocence and joy). She is all that is good, and I wonder that we share blood at all. I see no likeness of myself there, stalking those depthless eyes. I see no mirror of my soul within the light that marks the glimmer of hers. No two beings have ever been less alike, or so unmatched— her purity sets her apart from me, as the lowly worm is distanced from the gods that shaped its kind. I hold my gaze askance— blinded by her strange yet familiar beauty – and her image shifts; she becomes a blossoming maiden clad in pure-white robes with sapphires for eyes and lilies for hair. This worries me deeply, so I look directly at her, or not at all.
She smiles at me— a smile I do not deserve –and dips her head, gesturing demurely towards the silken shawl she newly dons; an expression of thanks for the insignificant gift I gave this morn (all I could afford), that yet meant the world to her. Just then, a single moth flits daringly close and, after much fluttering pomp, alights gingerly upon her extended finger. Her eyes unblinking, she stares at the creature with unbroken intensity. This moth is larger than any I’ve seen, and admittedly quite beautiful. I am not one to admire insects, but this one, it seems, is special.
Moments pass, and her concentration— finally— breaks, followed by a deep frown that darkens her small, pale face.
“We’ve failed,” she mutters, gazing accusingly towards me, her frown twisting into a sneer. “I told you— I told you! Why didn’t you listen?! We’re dead now, brother. We’re dead.”
I gasp and draw back – one step at a time –as though struck by an incomprehensibly mighty force and suffering a mortal wound, until I am gazing fearfully at her tiny form from far across the beige blur of that massive, arable field. Hundreds of moths are by her now, cloaking her in a quivering, shimmering pall of dark brown shadows and yellow flourishes of light.
“Dauphine!” I scream, worlds apart, and at the boom of my voice the moths scatter, darting all directions from her pallid flesh in an explosion of light and dark, color and blackness. My vision turns hazy and dim. My head swims. Beneath my feet, the grasses wither. The soil turns rancid and black.
Bone Hawks circle the sky above and, with a crash, the sun is shadowed and bloodied. In an instant it collapses; folding over and over itself until all that remains is a massive, gaping hole, a sickly black expanse that scars the heavens— swallowing the world –all shadow where once was light. The earth made Void. Rays as dark and thick as blood rim the now-gone sun, running shafts of hungry, quavering tendrils to grasp ever-downward, toward the dying earth.
I hear her scream as the world twists and turns and— vanishes –smoke and fog and I-don’t-know-what, and then we, too, are gone.
“Brother?” I hear her rasp in my mind, all dazed, croaking whisper. It seems a life-age has passed.
I blink my eyes again and again, but the world I see makes me think they remain fully lidded. Shadow and creeping darkness is everywhere, ethereal, grasping, clawing, cruel. Empty buildings of the darkest stone, a sky filled with lightless grays and blacks and white-black-grays, and half-there souls wandering in agony.
“Save them,” she begs, her voice desperate and pained.
Just then, I see her. She, too, is half-there. My beloved Dauphine is whole no more. She glows still, but it’s different now— it is sickly, empty, wrong. Her eyes stare vacantly, pure-white and sightless— my sister is, suddenly, blind.
“What’s happened?” I scream—terrified , lost, and confused, “Save whom?” I look all around us with an urgent need, but nothing I discern brings any knowledge— no sense of comfort. No gift of hope.
“Ssh, shh,” she sighs, her face contorted into a pained mask of pity and loss entwined as one, “Just save them. That’s all. Nothing more.”
“And you?” I ask, afraid I’ll receive my answer, and regret the question outright.
“I made my choice. My fate is sealed. I love you, brother. Goodbye.”
I have no time to speak. The air is pressed from my lungs as though they were bellows, emptied at the smith’s behest. I gasp pitifully and reach for her, but we are, by now, miles apart. I am pulled towards that twisting sky— that sky that burns so darkly, just as the once-bright Magnus, if all its color were warped and bled, spinning hurricane-force pirouettes over a vain mockery of our world – faster and faster, and though I try, I cannot fight it. I cannot break free.
“Dauphine!” I scream, the last of my strength poured into one final plea. The world goes black as pitch, dark as Oblivion, and my vision fades.
I awake from my nightmare, clutching at my covering-furs, drenched in sweat, and calling out her name. The greater part of my “life” is spent in dreams. I would curse Vaermina for this cruelest profanity of broken memories and half-truths, but I bridle my hatred and restrain my tongue. I may well need her aid in the times to come.
Wandering far from my underground chambers, I perch upon a high cliff and stare solemnly up at the heavens. Masser and Secunda are half-black with clouds, glimmering in the cosmic distance like tiny beacons of unreachable hope. And those pinpoint stars— I cannot help but think of the Orphans –and it is not without delighted bitterness that I envision Meridia amongst them, scowling down at me from her shroud of impenetrable light, her whole existence bent upon the extinguishment of mine. I suppose it’s a miracle I exist at all, but my path, I am sure, is destined to be a long one.
The city streets are black with soot, the air thick with smoke and reeking of iron. Skeevers scurry busily through the diminutive underbelly, their squeals adding to the cacophony of discontent voices spilling openly into the night—a perfectly fitting tribute to this skeever-den of a town. In a half-rotten cellar somewhere beneath the myriad layers of dank, molding earth— far from prying eyes –a scorned lover glowers down at the debased simulacrum of her once-beloved, nightshade and dagger in hand, vengeance at heart. An old, half-forgotten aspect of myself— just and good –mingles blasphemously with the trappings of the wicked blood coursing thirstily through my parched veins. I want to taste her, this contemptible wench, to revel in the rage and desperation and darkness that clings to the air around her like aerosolized tar, like a living thing, an aura of seething venom. I long to laugh as the blackness of her soiled blood coats my face, spurts unceremoniously to the floor, spills down my aching throat. The evil in me lusts after its own. It yearns for the company of a host of lost, dying souls. It is never sated.
I imagine she tastes like death, however. Like lost loves, broken dreams, innocence buried, happiness forgotten. This notion, strangely, appeals to me. I want to take her death into myself, to feel the pain and sorrow of the thousand-score days— lived, almost lived, but lost instead. Lost to her— but found by me. All my days are stolen.
No matter how it’d sting, no matter how it’d kill me near as much as her, I do want it. To remove her vile, scrambling shadow from the world, to add it to the collection of agonized and lost that writhe horrifyingly within my own. I can’t, of course. The Sacrament is complete. She is not mine to claim, nor is the poor fool that wrought her wrath (so much so that she was willing to forfeit her dignity— her very soul –to see his torn from the world, to see him suffer eternally in the formless Void, forever forsaken at Sithis’s side). But my, is it tempting.
I continue on my way, shutting out the ear-splitting sounds of high-pitched, cackling laughter, even as it morphs into the baritone howl of heartbroken wailing. Would you believe I once loved this city, sister? Of course you would. You always saw the best in me, in the world. I want to say I hate that. I want to say I was blind and you but more so, that we believed in good merely because we had yet to perceive the true power of evil, and worst of all, to declare with a laugh: “Look where that got us.”
And that’s all true enough, of course, but what’s truer still: your beauty is the only thing worth living for, these days. If I don’t believe that, in some small, blessed way, you were right, dear sister… well, I’m sure I’d fade from existence altogether. Perhaps that’d be for the best, but what can I say? I live on but for you. If I melted away now, after everything, I would be putting you, and your suffering, to shame. No, I will live on.
Happy birthday, baby sister. I brought you bunches of Lavender and Nirnroot this time— I remember how you loved the scent of Lavender, and how you’d so often dreamt of hearing a Nirnroot for the first. Well, I found you one, my dearest. It may not hum and chime any longer— the voice of nature dims wheresoever I tread, does it not? –but it is the best I could do. Perhaps another time I will find a way to preserve the plant, so it will sing from atop your grave. I hope that would please you.
I cleared the Nightshade, too— it spreads so quickly, quick as death. I’m sorry I’m late, Dauphine. The sun kept me from my travels, as it so often does. Next year, I promise, I will come by midnight and return by dusk, and honor you properly to the fullest extent of my unholy abilities. It serves as a poor defense, I know, but the Vigilants were at me again; I will not be so careless next time.
It’s strange, isn’t it? When first I selected your gravesite, I specifically ensured it was well-lit, far from the grasping shadows. Now my concerns for your purity and safety from malevolent presence have served best to keep me from you when it counts most— so perhaps it serves its purpose well, after all. In either case, I am sorry. I will always be sorry.
In the wee hours of the eve prior, I was approached by a young Imperial woman. She had discovered the source of my deepest disgrace and, with such knowledge as she possessed, sought to mingle my accursed blood with her own. This perturbed me, to be sure, but it was not the nature of her dark request that was most disturbing. It was the manner in which she asked me— off-handed and brimming with entitlement –as one might expect from a collector, requisitioning an artist’s feeblest work for a fee far surpassing its meager worth. She expected my complacent acquiescence with every fiber of her addled mind, and, upon receiving my firmest dismissal, was baffled and enraged. I sent her away, her tongue still rattling with excuses, rationalizations, and other empty follies. Stupid girl. She returned to my den that morning, the Vigilants of Stendarr close behind. It was set ablaze, and I barely escaped with my life.
I’d like to think I did her some great, selfless favor by denying her the damnation she sought, but I’m unfortunately quite certain I have, in this manner, served only myself. As it must be, of course, but I doubt my rejection has achieved anything more than the postponement of her pursuit. She will doubtless run to arms far more welcoming than my own in the dark years to come.
It is strange, and oh-so-sad. The younger races pine and burn— like young ones often do –blind, dreaming toddler’s dreams and always wanting, wistfully seeking the gift of ever-extended life, as though freedom from death brings freedom from pain. But none know the sorrow of immortality, save those sad few whom in its hollows dwell; those lucifugous beings who shrink back from the light of dawn, who’ve gaped voiceless at giants of cities felled, who’ve— awestruck –stared on as all they knew and all they loved descended, quiet, into the yawning maw of night, unable to move, unable to change. Frozen in horror, we unchosen few, destined to observe. We’ve watched numbly as wondrous towers were raised— monuments and soaring keeps –we’ve gazed helplessly on as all of them vanished, too soon replaced by graves.
You think you know well the grasping reach of pain, of immeasurable torment? You know nothing, children, for you have not lived. Your lives are too short to truly understand the horrors of this world, to know the meaning of loss, the true vision of vulnerability, and the many faces of evil. You are deceived by your own skin, weakened by your yearning hearts, yet shielded from sight by your mercifully small minds. Be thankful. Your short-reach is a blessing. Your limited lifespan a gift.
You thirst for wisdom, for knowledge, for power, expecting peace and triumph in turn, but all the wisdom of Aurbis can teach you only of what you lack, and how very little you can know. Knowledge is more burden than blessing, and power… Power is the greatest lie of all. The strength it grants is weakness incarnate; the truth it bestows the most bestial and cruel. Power is the subjugation of self, the realm of the ancient Betmer— over which they have, more recently, prevailed. It is the domain of the darkest et’Ada. It is the dwelling place of Daedra and the broken souls of their once-proud servants. The strength of heart and soul are most dimmed by the pursuit of the blindingly physical, and so things of value are traded for fleeting baubles devoid of worth. It is not that the physical is inherently worthless, nor power in its own right to be abhorred, but its pursuit and worship are at the exclusion of far worthier ends. We have seen Empires crumble over less.
—if— you-have-but-mer-cy— please –
-grant-me—capa-city –for— ecstasy –
-if-not— then –please –let— suf-fer-ing –cease –
-if-not— then —please –render-me – numb —to—pain-to— glee –
-if-not- then —please –a-llow-me— these— the-gift-of-rest— of-ease-ful-peace—
-if-not— then –please –I-beg-of-thee— grant-me-a-swift— clean-death—
—if-not— then –please – strike-me—blind! –this-sight-is— kill-ing – me—
The underworld grows restless. Rumors circulate about my Clan with increasing rapidity. Whispers and hints— talk of weakness, of betrayal, of impending disaster. The Humans are poised to strike, and I have no doubt that the winds of change will follow in their wake. It is nearly time. Soon, you will be avenged, and I will have peace. My House will finally fall.
Of course, I refer to it as my House with satiric derision— never fear. They’ve taken to calling me “the bastard son,” in accordance with the details of my ‘birth’ and the illegitimacy of my claim to the blood. They seem to find this amusing. They heartily laugh— until I tear the offending tongues from their slack-jawed mouths. I’d sooner they omit “son” from the title altogether, if they dare reference me at all.
But I can envision it, Dauphine. I can see it clearly. The castle will topple, the gargoyles fall, the grounds will bathe in righteous, cleansing flame, the Hounds will choke on the smoke that wafts and floods the corridors from the charring flesh of their rancid masters, and the Cattle— the Cattle, my dear, they will all go free –alongside all the Thralls, as you ought to have, so many years ago. Yes, the time is nigh. Only a handful of lingering strings remain to be plucked by the devious claws of necessity— conducting unseen from the shadows –and then the unstoppable avalanche will begin.
The stone walls that surround me are ancient and cold. A blistering wind— so bitter it stings like fire –whips through the narrow, labyrinthine corridors, hoisting centuries of dust and decay in its whistling wake. This place reeks of death; of primeval wars and illicit rites, horror long-buried beneath the steady stream of Time. But here, Time Himself has no place; would even His Firstborn dare herein to tread, in this vestibule of ugliness, this portal to death and deceit? Here come only foolish souls with unquenchable lust, in search of their idolized: power. This is the deathbed of Necromancy’s advance, swindled by necrotic forces it could never hope to comprehend, let alone command.
In my mind, I recite the offer again and again, terrified of its consequence: A contract, binding at once, if you will deign to accept it. I offer you, Masters, a hundred Black souls of proud and noble lineage, in exchange for but one within your grasp. A child of my choosing— a single soul –as nothing before your might; of no consequence, and very little worth. Say the word and it will be done.
It is far more likely that I will never return from here—so few ever do. But for your sake, Dauphine, I’ve no choice but this. I must try. And if I do, indeed, fail; we will be reunited— forevermore. And if I succeed, you will be granted the peace you long ago deserved, and the world will be rid of those filthy dogs that think themselves gods of men; your murderers, your defilers. I hope you are still yourself. I hope you have kept strong.
I rush through the decrepit halls at a quickening pace, faster and faster as I near my end. I can feel it, wriggling and burning inside my gut like a poison, like a funeral pyre. My pace slows to a stop. Before me lies an immense, ill-lit chamber; elegant, decadent, but mostly empty— save for the one monstrous coffin set squarely at its center. Hesitating, I inspect the minutiae of the room’s construct and realize it is, in fact, an ossuary; there is a single, long-dim chandelier dangling precariously above the coffin, its hangings formed of various bones, and the candelabra of human skulls. Remains in diverse stages of decay are strewn across the filthy floor, cobwebs hang from the high, vaulted ceiling; the chamber lies in a state of age-old rot and disrepair. The coffin rests upon a dark stone bier, ornamented with strangely delicate embellishment of magic-tinged bone. The time for hesitance is over; gathering my courage, I inch forward. With bated breath I clutch at the tomb’s sides, and the gem within emanates— explosively –a savage shade of blood-red luminance, sweeping over me in nauseating pulses of thermal energy that exponentially intensify with each strobe.
These were located within numerous midsized planters set within a large, shallow pot that seemed to serve to collect rainwater, such that the hydrophilic Nirnroot did not dehydrate. Ringing the gravesite, however, were many strange varieties the likes of which I have never before seen, seemingly planted more recently— Nirnroot of unusual size and surprising height, as well as those of a normal size-range that were a deep shade of red, rather than the typical green. None of these (and, in fact, several of the usual Nirnroot, as well) were in planters.
Curious, I took a number of samples. Upon consultation with a Telvanni Wizard and his mycologist (no easy feat these days), it was revealed to me that these samples had developed a mutualistic relationship with certain mycorrhizal fungi, allowing them to survive in significantly drier environs than they otherwise could. I will be looking into this matter further; it is known that Nirnroot is on the decline, and a discovery of this nature could work wonders for the conservation of this rare and magical species.
1 Barres, Vondham. A Scholar’s Guide to Nymphs. Imperial City: Imperial University.