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Saturday, November 20, 2010

VI - The Nerevarine Cult

“Good work, Fen,” Caius said, taking the notes from her and glancing them over. “Now, these cover the Sixth House admirably, but don’t touch much on the Nerevarine cult.” He folded up the notes and tripped over a boot on his way to store them in his lockbox. “I want you to go talk to this Sharn gra-Muzgob Hasphat mentions. She’s in your guild, you might know her. Get some information about the Nerevarine cult, then come back here. She’ll probably have you do some ridiculous task as well, but just do it.” He dismissed her promptly, and Fen detoured into the Eight Plates for a brief dinner, then over the Mages’ Guild to talk to Sharn gra-Muzgob, as it was only just evening. She had never actually spoken to Sharn, a heavyset Orcish woman with a sullen face and a head of dark braids that looked like snakes, for she always either looked very angry or very busy. Now Fen approached her cautiously where the woman was examining a shelf of potions, looking irritated.
“Sharn gra-Muzgob?” The Orc swore, seized one of the bottles, and threw it violently down onto the flagstone, where it shattered. Fen took a step back, instantly terrified.
“I ask for one day, one damn day, to do my research in peace, and I get more interruptions!
“Goodness, Sharn, calm down,” said a tall Altmer woman named Erstadalin who was coming over with a tray of potions. She gestured simply at the broken glass on the ground and it repaired itself instantly. “The rest of us are studying as well.” Erstadalin moved past Sharn, who was now positively fuming, and started cataloging the potions from her tray onto the shelf.
“What do you want?” Sharn asked Fen sharply, snatching up the now-fixed bottle and plunking it down angrily on the table beside them.
“Caius – Caius Cosades sent me –”
“Oh,” Sharn said, her demeanor changing at once. “Well if you’re with Caius it’s a different matter. I owe him a bit of a…um…favor. Caius and I have a very satisfactory arrangement, and I'm sure we can come to some sort of agreement, if you will complete a little errand for me.” Behind her, Erstadalin rolled her eyes.
“What kind of errand?” Fen asked warily.
It’s very simple. I need the skull of Llevule Andrano. You’ll find it in Andrano Ancestral Tomb. But take care not to upset the natives. The Dunmer have some peculiar primitive prejudices against necromancy, and take grave objection to unauthorized tomb visits.” For a moment, Fen wasn’t sure how to respond. There was a crypt below the palace where all of the members of the Royal Family were buried. Fen had only been there once, for a private burial of a distant cousin, but she still greatly understood the importance of the protection of tombs, and Sharn’s request mortified her. The Orc seemed to sense this, and went on. “He was no one special. A journeyman enchanter. There may be many skulls in Andrano Tomb, but you’ll have no problem recognizing Llevule’s skull from the ritual markings.
“Now, ah, the tomb is south of Pelagiad, just off the road, just before you reach the fork where the road goes southwest towards Seyda Neen and southeast to Vivec. You shouldn’t have much trouble locating it. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she said, and she quickly shoved past Fen and ducked into a smaller antechamber off the hall. Erstadalin rolled her eyes again, picked up her empty tray, patted Fen on the shoulder as she passed.
“Good luck dealing with her, Magician.”
Fen took the guild guide back to Ald’ruhn and took out the book Caius had given her, A Short History of Morrowind. She began to read, but as she got farther into the book she started to realize that she had studied all of this monotonously during those endless afternoons in her tutor’s apartments. The words of the history she could already recite backwards began to blur together, and soon she was asleep.
Fen was standing in darkness. The heavy silence pressed against her, but as she took a step, stones appeared beneath her feet and blossomed from there, stretching out in a line that disappeared far in the distance. The stones began to flow upward as well, creating long benches, lining the aisle in between. The rest of the space remained dark. As she watched, figures appeared on the benches, figures that were hunched and slumped over onto one another. She found this odd, but could not move another step. Then she felt a long-fingered hand on her shoulder, and turned to see a tall man in a golden mask standing there, offering her his other hand. She took it, and he moved past her and began to lead her down the aisle, as if it were a wedding ceremony. As the passed the first two benches, the man turned and spoke to them, laughing at a joke, and Fen turned as well, only to see that they were corpses, their skin rotted and their limbs mangled and caked with blood. Flies gathered in their empty eye sockets and their shredded clothes hung limply around them. As the man spoke, thousands of voices began to echo around the darkness, calling out in a cacophony of sound, but she could not make out any one voice. The continued down the aisle, the man talking with each corpse they passed as the voices grew louder and louder. Her chest felt tight, and she suddenly found that she could not breathe. Fear grasped her, and she tried to scream, but could make no sound –
Fen sat bolt upright, drenched in a cold sweat. The room was dark, and the sheets were tangled around her legs like vines. She struggled, tore them away, threw them violently down on the floor. She tried to light a candle, but her hands were shaking so badly that she nearly set the table alight, so she clutched the wick and cast a weak fire spell to light it. As light flared up in her small, quiet room in Ald’ruhn, Fen collapsed on the ground, hugging her knees to her chest, her breath rapid and shaky. Most of the dream had faded from her mind, but the vision of the masked man talking to a rotting corpse filled her mind…
She buried her face in her hands, trying to calm herself. She had had disturbing dreams before. Why had this one affected her so badly? She slowly got to her feet, afraid to sleep again. Like a child, she though scornfully, as she sat at her desk in her dressing gown reading A Short History of Morrowind, trying fruitlessly to rid the dream from her mind.
When morning dawned, she gratefully dressed and used a spell of Recall to teleport straight from her room to the Halfway Tavern in Pelagiad. She had set one of her Marks there, seeing as there was no easy way to reach the small Imperial settlement. Fen left town and followed the road south, where Sharn had said to look for the tomb. She found it right where the Orc had told her it would be – right before a fork in the road.
Fen had come across ancestral tombs before, but had never entered them out of respect. She was tempted to return to Balmora there and tell Sharn that she would have to find a different way to get the skull, but that would bring up problems with Cosades, which she was keen to avoid.
I just won’t touch anything, she promised herself as she pushed open the door to the tomb. With a nasty thought, she realized that the royal catacombs under the palace had been guarded by the ghosts of her ancestors that would attack anyone that was not part of her family that dared to enter the crypt. Hoping desperately that this was a feature unique to the Mournhold tomb, she entered into a dark stairwell that led straight down to a hallway that turned sharply out of sight.
Fen went down the stairs and turned into a small antechamber, where she jumped slightly at the sight of a body sprawled on the ground. It was a Dunmer man, wearing rusty armor that had great patches of it torn out. A short distance away, a rusty sword was twisted into a knot. Trying to ignore the stench from the body that reminded her all too much of her dream, Fen stepped over the Dunmer and continued down the hall, passing by the altars that held tall urns and offerings. She came to a long, curving ramp downwards and was halfway down when she was saw an ancestral ghost from behind.
Hoping it wouldn’t notice her, she started to move towards a door set into the wall and almost made it when the ghost suddenly shrieked and turned around, gliding quickly towards her with its bony hands outstretched. Panicking, Fen shot a fire spell at it, and the ghost screeched and evaporated into a lump of gravedust on the ground. Her heart thrumming loudly, she opened the door and was met face to face with a bonewalker, a fleshy monstrosity that had sharp-tipped bones portruding from its body in random places. Fen disposed of this, too, with a fire spell, and passed the bonewalker’s body into the room it had been guarding. At the head of this room was an low, round pit of ash, circular to represent the life cycle and strewn with the ashes of the heads of family. A low stool stood at the base of the pit, holding an enchanted dagger and a skull carved with runes and symbols.
As she stepped up to the ash pit, she heard a faint whispering of many voices, but when she looked around, she was alone in the room. Chills raced up her arms, and she quickly picked up the skull and hurried back out the way she came, feeling enormously guilty. She locked the door of the ancestral tomb firmly when she was back outside, hoping to prevent any more graverobbers from entering. Tucking the skull into her bag, she walked back to Balmora to try and enjoy the rare sunny day, though the skull’s presence felt like it was burning a hole in her bag.
Sharn gra-Muzgob was enormously pleased with the skull. She snatched it greedily out of Fen’s hands and locked it quickly in a trunk nearby.
“Now,” Sharn said, turning back to Fen with an unpleasant smile on her face. “About that favor for Caius. What did he send you for, again?”
“The Nerevarine cult. Hasphat Antabolis suggested he talk to you about it.”
“Ah yes. The Nerevarine cult.” Sharn gestured for Fen to sit down at a nearby table while she unlocked the chest and rummaged in it for a moment, then came out with a few folded sheets of parchment. “This Ashlander cult believes the long-dead hero Nerevar will be reborn to honor ancient promises to the tribes. According to legend, the prophesied Nerevarine will cast down the false gods of the Tribunal Temple, restore the traditional ancestor worship practiced by the Ashlanders, and drive all outlanders from Morrowind. Both Temple and Empire outlaw the cult, but it persists among the Ashlanders, who care little for Imperial or Temple law. Take this copy of my notes on the topic for Caius.She pushed the parchment across the table to Fen.
“What is the Nerevarine prophecy?” she asked, putting the notes away. The phrase seemed familiar, but she couldn’t remember where she had heard it.
“Ashlander culture honors dream visions and prophecy, unlike the Temple and the Western cults, which regard visions and prophecy as primitive superstition. Wise women interpret dreams and visions, and pass them on to succeeding generations. The most common version of the Nerevarine Prophecy is The Stranger. Did you know that Nerevar was known to possess a magical ring named ‘One-Clan-Under-Moon-and-Star’? Nerevar swore his promise to honor ancient Ashlander traditions and land rights on this magical ring.”
“Nerevar is a First Age hero of the Dunmer people. He was a great general and leader. He helped form the First Council, and united the Dunmer Houses against foreign invaders aided by the traitors of House Dagoth. He triumphed over Morrowind's enemies at Red Mountain, but died in the battle.
“Now, the Temple refers to any demented impostor who claims to be the Nerevarine as ‘the False Incarnate’. The Temple treats such persons as insane, and Ordinators pursue and imprison them ‘for their own protection.’ The Temple has reported that the most recent False Incarnate, a girl child named Peakstar, has died, but they’ve produced no body, and skeptics are suspicious of Temple claims. That may be true, but I haven’t heard that the Temple has offered any convincing proof that she is dead.
“Those notes should cover any other questions Caius has,” Sharn said, standing up. “I’ve also written down the verses of The Stranger that I know. Thank you again for the skull,” she added dismissively. Fen thanked her and stood up. She took out the notes as she left the guild and started to walk with them, reading carefully.

The Nerevarine Cult
This Ashlander religious cult follows prophecies of a Nerevar reborn to honor ancient promises to the tribes, to reestablish the traditions of the Prophet Veloth, to cast down the false gods of the Tribunal Temple, and to drive all outlanders from Morrowind. Both Temple and Empire outlaw the cult, but it persists among the Ashlanders, despite Imperial and Temple repression. Because it is persecuted, it remains a secret cult, and it is hard to judge how widespread it is among the Ashlanders, or whether it has any following outside the Ashlander tribes.
The Nerevarine
The Ashlanders firmly believe that Nerevar will return to restore the glories of ancient Resdayn. [Morrowind was called 'Resdayn' before the Imperial Occupation.] The Ashlanders say the Great Houses and the Temple have abandoned the pure teachings of the Prophet Veloth, forsaking ancestor worship for the false gods of the Tribunal, and embracing the comforts of civilization that corrupted the High Elves. The Temple, on the other hand, venerates Saint Nerevar, but rejects the disgusting notion that the False Incarnate will walk the earth like a ghoul.
The Temple honors Saint Nerevar as the greatest Dunmer general, First Councilor, and companion of Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil, who united the Dunmer Houses to destroy the evil Dwemer, the treacherous House Dagoth, and their Western allies at Red Mountain. But the Ashlanders say Nerevar promised to honor the Ancient Spirits and the Tribal law, and that he will come again to honor that promise. To the Ashlanders, this means destroying the false Temple and driving the Imperial invaders from the land.
Nerevarine Prophecies
Dream visions and prophecies are a respected tradition in Ashlander culture. Their wise women and shamans take careful note of dreams and visions, and pass on the tribe's legacies of vision and prophecy to their successors. By contrast, the Temple and the Western faiths are suspicious of mysticism, and they regard interpretation of dreams and visions as primitive superstition.
The most common version of the Nerevarine Prophecy is The Stranger. The verses are obscure, as are most prophecies. But two observations are in order.
First, many less-well-informed scholars assume that the phrase ‘journeyed far ‘neath moon and star’ is just a cliché to suggest a very long journey, but the Nerevar of legend was known to possess a magical ring

“I am a Sleeper, one among thousands.” Fen suddenly felt a tight grip on her upper arm, and she stopped, dropping the notes in a puddle. She angrily turned to the man who had stopped her and saw it was a tall Dunmer in a faded robe. His eyes looked oddly blank, and he did not release her arm. “I bring you a message. Dagoth Ur calls you, Princess Fenara, and you cannot deny your Lord. The Sixth House is risen, and Dagoth is its glory.” Fen felt her heart skip a beat.
“How do you know who I am?” she hissed, trying to tug her arm out of his grip, but he held fast.
“Dagoth Ur is the Lord, and Father of the Mountain. He sleeps, but when he wakes, we shall rise from our dreams, shall sweep our land clean of the n’wah. Why have you denied him? As Lord Dagoth has said. ‘All shall greet him as flesh, or as dust.’”
“Let go of me, or I’ll call the guards,” Fen snarled, but he spoke over her again.
“The Sixth House, the Sleeping House, House Dagoth, the House of Lord Dagoth! The true house, the one house to welcome all true Dunmer, and drive the n'wah from our land. Rejoice, and join us. Come to Red Mountain, and prepare the way for his coming!” Then, quite suddenly, he let go of her arm and turned, striding away as if nothing had happened. Fen stared after her for a moment, rubbing her arm confusedly. He had clearly been raving mad. But he had known she was a princess…and he knew her real name. The thought unnerved her, and she glanced around, wondering how many other people in Balmora knew of her identity.
She bent over to pick up the notes and shook the water off them, hoping the ink hadn’t smeared too badly. She stood up again and looked back to where the robed man had disappeared, a thought striking her. Could it have been a coincidence, this madman stopping her in the street and shouting about the Sixth House?
Trying to shake off the disturbing feeling that lingered, she continued towards Caius’ house, looking back down at the now-damp notes.

  a magical ring named “One-Clan-Under-Moon-and-Star,” upon which Nerevar is supposed to have sworn his promise to honor ancient Ashlander traditions and land rights.
Second, the reference to “seven curses” must certainly refer to the lost prophetic verses known to the Ashlanders as The Seven Curses.
The Stranger
When earth is sundered, and skies choked black
And sleepers serve the Seven Curses,
To the hearth there comes a stranger
Journeyed far ‘neath moon and star.
Though stark-born to sire uncertain
His aspects mark his certain fate,
Wicked stalk him, righteous curse him,
Prophets speak, but all deny.
Many trials make manifest
The stranger’s fate, the curse’s bane
Many touchstones try the stranger,
Many fall, but one remains.
Lost Prophecies
Ashlander elders complain of prophecies which have been lost to tribal memory due to the carelessness or ineptitude of earlier generations of wise women and ashkhans. Suspicious scholars wonder whether these prophecies might have been deliberately forgotten or suppressed. Three Nerevarine prophecies in particular are said to have been lost: 1. The Lost Prophecies; 2. The Seven Curses; and 3. Seven Visions of Seven Trials of the Incarnate. Perhaps these lost prophecies will someday be found, either in forgotten accounts written by literate travelers, or in the memories of isolated Ashlanders, or in the secret traditions of the wise women and shamans.

Fen looked up and realized she had stopped right in front of the door to Caius’ house. She read the last few lines of the notes again, then looked back up at The Stranger. The verses felt oddly familiar, and she stared at them until a little Dunmer girl asked her what she was looking at.
Caius was pleased, albeit somewhat irritated, with the still dripping notes from Sharn.
“This is good,” he said, flipping through the notes. “I’m promoting you to Blades Apprentice, Fen. Now, I need some time to go over these notes and send a report to the Emperor, so I don’t have anything for you now. Go do some conditioning, or something, then report back in a few weeks.”

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