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Saturday, December 4, 2010

VIII - Vivec

I apologise for the lateness of this week's chapter. Also please be aware that much of Julan's dialogue was written by Kateri for Julan's mod.

Edwinna reluctantly let Julan sleep in one of the empty rooms in the guildhall that night. He was still asleep the next morning, so Fen went to the Ald Skar Inn alone for breakfast. She had just sat down with her book when she heard a familiar voice.
“Fen! Hi!” She looked up and saw Gildan, the Bosmer Blades Trainer that she had met during her first week in Vvardenfell.
“Hi, Gildan,” she said as the Bosmer sat down. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing much,” she said with a grin. “But it looks like you are! Gods, you look great. When I first met you, you had this terrified look on your face like you just wanted to disappear!”
“Thanks, Gildan,” Fen said wryly, and the elf continued.
“Anyway, Caius just sent me a message. He wants to see you as soon as possible.” Out of the corner of her eye, Fen saw Julan enter the bar, looking exhausted. He came over to her table and sat down wordlessly, his sleepy eyes downcast. Gildan glanced from him to Fen, looking puzzled.
“Ah, Gildan, this is Julan. Julan, Gildan. Julan is…training with me for a while.”
“Nice to meet you,” Gildan said awkwardly. Julan didn’t acknowledge this, but let his head fall down on the table with a solid plunk. “Well, ah, Fen, anyway, Caius needs you. And he sounded urgent.”
“Alright. Thank you, Gildan.” The Bosmer nodded and shot Julan one last inquisitive look, then stood up and went back to the bar.
“Do you always get up this early?” Julan muttered, his voice muffled due to his still being pressed up against the table.
“No one told you to come and meet me.”
“Well what was I supposed to do?” he said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes furiously. “Just potter around the Mages’ Guild making friends with all those crazy spellcasters? One of them would have turned me into a scrib or something!” Fen just rolled her eyes.
“I’ve got to go to Balmora today. I have a meeting with…someone. You’re welcome to come.” Fen had a strong feeling that she shouldn’t tell Julan about being a member of the Blades, especially if he was an Ashlander. She had gathered that he seemed to oppose all forms of organized government.
“Fine. When are we leaving?”
“As soon as I’m finished here. You can go back to the guildhall if you want, Julan.”
“No, no, I’ll stay.” He glanced over at the bar, where Gildan was sitting with a few pretty Dunmer girls. “Hey, can I borrow a few drakes, Fen? For a drink?”
“It’s eight in the morning,” Fen said, confused.
“Fine,” she said with a sigh, counting out four coins and handing them to him. “Here.” Julan thanked her briefly and swaggered over to the bar with a sudden confident air. He sat down boldly in the middle of Gildan and her group of friends and ordered a drink, then turned to talk to one of them, a young Dunmer woman that was blushing profusely. When Fen was finished, she managed to drag Julan away from the bar and they went back to the guildhall. The guild guide, however, wasn’t in her usual place by the platform.
“Good, I hate teleporting,” Julan said as he followed Fen downstairs. “I feel like you’re being pushed through a tube, or something.”
“Edwinna,” Fen said, finding the Breton woman downstairs talking to Anaranen. “Do you know where Erranil is? She’s not by the platform.”
“Oh, yes, Erranil ran off yesterday to get married without telling any of us, naturally. So now I’ve got to find a new guild guide at the drop of a hat…” She shook her head, irritated. “I’m afraid you’ll have to take the silt strider to wherever you’re going, Magician.”
“Excellent!” Julan said excitedly. “I’ve never ridden one of those, I’ve always wanted to.”
“They aren’t that great,” Fen assured him as they left the guildhall and climbed the silt strider platform. She already felt nauseous.
“You look a bit green,” Julan said as they sat down in the hollowed-out shell of the silt strider. “You all right?”
“I’m not good with silt striders,” Fen said, clutching at the wall as the giant insect started to walk with a mighty lurch. She felt bile rising in her throat and pressed her hand to her mouth. “I think I’ll sit a bit nearer to the opening,” she said, scooting up slightly.
They reached Balmora in a few hours (after Fen had vomited twice during the trip). Fen, who had always found the town to be rather dumpy and unremarkable, started down the platform immediately, but Julan remained where he was, staring at all the flat-roofed buildings and the low bridges over the river canal.
“Fen,” he said, coming down the stairs to meet her. “Do I seem like a complete savage to you?”
“What?” Fen said, taken aback by the question. “No, of course not!”
“I know how people view Ashlanders – violent, uncivilized barbarian tribes, living in filth and squalor, obsessed with ancient superstitions.” Fen said nothing, as she had grown up in Mournhold around exactly that kind of talk. “You settled types with your luxurious lifestyles, you can’t understand why we might choose to live as we do, so you think we must be ignorant savages,” Julan continued earnestly. “But we are proud of our culture. We have things more valuable than the tasteless displays of wealth you get in cities like this.”
“Well…living simply can certainly make you appreciate life, I suppose.” Fen inwardly laughed at the absurdity of the statement. She would have given anything to be back in Mournhold at that moment.
“Exactly! You’re more open-minded than many people – perhaps because you’re an outlander. How strange that you seem to understand me better than most native Dunmer! But your view is rare, my people are viewed with suspicion in the cities. And although I’m proud of my heritage, my mission must be kept secret, and I worry that I look too conspicuous. What do you think?”
“I honestly don’t care what you wear, Julan. But…” Fen’s eyes lingered over the one dented pauldron on his shoulder, the mud-covered boots, the rusty sword at his hip. “You could do with some decent equipment.”
“Hmm.... Perhaps that would be a good idea. Also, tell me – is it normal practice to remove armor in cities? Look, I have no idea about these things, so I’ll just let you decide what would be best. But if you make me look ridiculous, I’ll never forgive you!”
“Fine,” she said with a smile. “We can go up by the Fighter’s Guild and get you some armor. I trust them more than Meldor, anyway, the last sword I bought there lasted me about a day.”
“And…um, Fen? Is this armor going to be like…a gift?”
“You haven’t got any money, have you?” Fen asked dryly.
“I’ll pay you back!” Julan said quickly. “I swear!”
“It’s fine,” Fen replied, leading the way into the Fighter’s Guild. When they left, Julan was more appropriately outfitted in well-made steel armor with a Dwemer jinkblade. “I’ll see if I can’t find a better bow anywhere,” she said as they crossed the river.
“Great,” Julan said, examining his new blade. A passing guard shot him a dirty look. “What’s his problem?” he whispered to Fen.
“The trade of Dwemer artifacts is technically illegal,” she answered. “But they can’t persecute you if you bought it off someone else.” They stopped outside Caius’ door. “Julan, the business I have to do here is something that I’m not sure other people should know about –”
“Well we won’t know until we go in!” he said brightly, and he boldly pushed open the door and strode inside. Fen quickly followed him. Caius Cosades was sitting at his table smoking skooma and looking dazed. When they entered, he tossed away the pipe and stood up, scowling.
“Fen,” he said sharply, glaring at Julan. “I’m not giving you orders if you have your friends following you about. Leave him outside, and we’ll talk.” Fen turned to Julan, who was glowering at Caius.
“So you can’t deal with your sneaky business with me around, eh?” Julan snapped before Fen could speak. “Fine, but don’t expect me to wait on the curb like a dog. I’ll be in the Cornerclub down there. You can come get me when you’re done with your ‘secret mission’ or whatever.” He opened the door and left, slamming it a little louder than necessary.
“Now then,” Caius said immediately, and Fen reluctantly turned back to him. “I've thought it over, and I want you to interview three informants in Vivec City concerning the Nerevarine and the Sixth House. First, I want you to speak with Addhiranirr, a Khajiit Thieves Guild operative. Second, I want you to speak with Huleeya, an Argonian in the Morag Tong. Finally, I want you to speak with Mehra Milo, a Temple priestess. Here. I've written the details down, so you won’t forget. And here are 200 drakes. For bribes and other expenses.” He handed her four fifty-drake pieces and a sheet of parchment. “Now, Addhiranirr is a Khajiit, and a Thieves Guild operative. You'll find her in St. Olms Canton in Vivec. Be careful what you say, and use common sense. People in the cantons are suspicious of outsiders; you may have to win... or purchase... their confidence.
“Huleeya is an Argonian and a Morag Tong assassin. You’l find him in Vivec, at the Black Shalk Cornerclub in the Lower Waistworks of the Foreign Quarter. In addition to his other skills, Huleeya is also known around Vivec City as a student of history and a lover of books and old things.
“And Mehra Milo…” a dreamy look came over Caius’ eyes, one that had nothing to do with the skooma. “Mehra Milo is a Temple priestess who works in the libraries at the Hall of Wisdom and Justice. She's a friend, so be careful, and don't get her in trouble. The Temple is suspicious of outlanders, and wouldn’t be happy to find Mehra talking with you about religious matter. She’ll be easy to spot. Look for the priestess with the copper hair and copper eyes.” With that, Caius waved her out of his house, and she went down the street to find Julan. The South Wall Cornerclub was just as unpleasant as it had been upon her arrival, and Fen found Julan fairly easily, for he was the one making the most noise in the bar.
“Oh, hi Fen!” he shouted loudly when she entered. “E’rybody, this is my friend –” he hiccupped “– Fen. Fen’s a mage. Tha’s….tha’s neat, innit?” He scrambled over to her and put one arm around her, then stood, swaying slightly on the spot. “Oh!” he said suddenly. “I’m – hic – mad at you! I forgot! Because – because your druggy friend wouldn’t let me stay in his house! But I’ve got my eye on your druggy friend, Fen – hic – I’m washing him – watching I mean…ha, ha…”
“Okay, Julan,” Fen said firmly, taking hold of his arm and supporting him as she left the bar and went outside and thinking it was rather remarkable that he had managed to get drunk so quickly. She planted him firmly down on a crate just outside the Cornerclub, where he sat giggling uncontrollably. She had a feeling it was a bad idea to take him on a silt strider, so she managed to get two rooms at the Eight Plates for the night.
Fen woke before the sun had risen again the next morning and managed to get Julan up. He complained under his breath of a headache the whole way the Mages’ Guild, and Fen pointedly ignored his mutterings.
“What are we doing again?” Julan said, rubbing his eyes as they went down to the atrium of the guildhall.
“We’re going to Vivec,” Fen answered. “Caius has some people he wants me to interview.”
“About what?” Julan asked skeptically. Fen hoped she might avert this question, since they had just stepped onto the guild guide platform, but once they were teleported to Vivec he posed it again. “What are you interviewing these people about?” Fen figured it was best not to lie, and answered him, resigned.
“The Sixth House cult and the Nerevarine prophecies.” Julan’s face unexpectedly drained of color.
“Why – why does he want you to interview people about that?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Fen said, sparing him a curious glance before leading the way out of the guildhall and into the Foreign Quarter Plaza. “He needs the information for something, I suspect.” She took the folded sheet of parchment Caius had given her out of her bag and flipped it open. “Right,” she said, scanning it quickly. “We might as well find Huleeya first. He’ll be in this canton.”
“Who’s Huleeya?” Julan asked, looking rather sick.
“An Argonian who – Julan, are you all right?”
“Fine,” he said, clearing his throat and straightening up. “Who is he again? An Argonian?”
“He’s a Morag Tong assassin,” Fen said curiously as they started towards the large doors that led out onto the outdoor balustrades of the canton. “A scholar. He should know about the Nerevarine prophecies.”
“An Argonian in the Morag Tong?” Julan said, looking bemused. “Your pal Caius has interesting friends.”
“Yes, well, we’re going to the Black Shalk Cornerclub to look for him.” Julan’s face lit up.
“A Cornerclub?”
“We’re not staying.”
They found the Cornerclub down a short hallway and let themselves in. It was rather dim inside, and there were few people about, since it was just now seven thirty in the morning. The barkeep was wiping bottles with a dirty rag and yawning, while three muscular Dunmer men were clustered in a corner. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around.
“I don’t see him,” Julan said, glancing around the bar. Fen approached the yawning barkeep.
“Excuse me,” she said, and he looked up at her with bleary eyes. “Was there an Argonian man in here recently?”
“Looking for Huleeya?” he said in a low voice. Fen nodded, and the man gestured vaguely to the three Dunmer men. “I’d come back another time. I don’t think they’ll let him leave for a while.”
“What do you – ?” Fen started, but she broke off as she heard the characteristic reptilian voice of an Argonian from behind the Dunmer.
“Leave me be, serjo. I’ve cost you no harm.”
“Running around with those filthy lizard feet all over our city? That’s harmful, n’wah,” one of the Dunmer said, and the other two laughed. Fen and Julan exchanged a glance.
“E – excuse me,” Fen said, approaching the Dunmer despite Julan’s frantic head shaking. They turned around almost simultaneously, and Fen saw, to her discomfort, that they all looked very hardened and powerful.
“Can I help you, sera?” one with a full beard and a scar across his cheek said, dropping the harsh tone he had been using with Huleeya and adopting an equally unpleasant oily one that hinted at sarcastic respect.
“Drop the act, Favel,” one of them said, pushing the one who had spoken aside. “You won’t want to talk to him, darling, I’m far more charming.”
“Hey!” Julan said suddenly from behind her, pushing Fen aside. “Shut your mouth, or I’ll shut it for you!”
“Who are you, her boyfriend?” one of the men sneered as Fen seized Julan’s arm to keep him from leaping at the man.
“You could do better than that, sera,” another one said, and they all laughed.
“I’d like a word with Huleeya, please,” Fen said coldly. “So if you’ll move.”
“Oh, you want to talk to the filthy lizard?” said the tallest man, who had unpleasantly greasy hair and a broken nose. “That’s too bad. If you want to talk to him, you’ll have to go past us. And we don’t like fighting ladies, but if you want to talk to the filthy lizard, then maybe we’ll have to.”
“Don’t fight, please,” Huleeya said firmly from behind them.
“Shut up, lizard!” snapped the one with the scar, who turned around and promptly kneed Huleeya in the stomach. The Argonian doubled over and the men chuckled.
“Leave him be,” Fen said angrily. “He’s done nothing to you.”
“Filthy lizards don’t deserve to walk free, miss,” the one with the broken nose said, crossing his arms. “You’re from Morrowind, aren’t you? You ought to know that.” Suddenly frustrated, Fen reached out and snatched the neck of the broken-nosed Dunmer’s armor. She pulled it down, level with her own face, and held her fingers inches away from his forehead, a frost spell visibly dancing on their tips.
“Leave him be,” she snarled again. “I haven’t got time to deal with you, but I will if I have to.” For one tense moment, they glared into each other’s eyes, Julan and the other two men looking nervously around. Then the broken-nosed Dunmer screwed up his face irritably.
“Fine! We’ll let the filthy lizard go!” Fen thrust his face away from her and the Dunmer backed away, glowering at her.
“Huleeya,” Fen said, gesturing for him to follow, and he straightened up and went with Julan and Fen out of the Cornerclub. “Are you all right?” Fen asked him once they were outside in the busy lower Waistworks and the door had slammed behind them.
“Yes,” Huleeya said, offering her a small smile. “Thank you for being rid of those troublesome fools. You said you wanted a word with me, I believe?”
“I work with Caius Cosades,” Fen said. She was quickly learning that these words could get people to answer her when they were more reluctant to. “I have some questions about the Nerevarine cult.”
“Ah,” Huleeya said simply. “Let us go to my friend’s bookstore on the opposite side of the Waistworks, where we may speak freely.” He led them down another corridor lined with shops and down the end of the hall, to a door with a banner emblazoned with an open book on it. “We should be free of distraction here,” Huleeya said, entering the bookstore and going into a small front room lined with shelves that were crowded with books. “Now, you wish to know about the Nerevarine cult?” Fen nodded. “To understand the Nerevarine cult, you must understand the history of the Ashlanders.
“Nerevar means something very different to the Ashlanders from what he means to Dunmer of the Great Houses. You should also know about the persecution of the Nerevarine, and the legacy of the False Incarnate, for the Nerevarine cult is at the heart of the ancient conflict between the nomadic Ashlanders and the settled Great House Dunmer.” He reached into the pocket of his pants and found a small folded bit of parchment. “Here is a summary for Caius, but ask your questions, and I'll answer in detail.”
“Can you tell me about the Nerevarine?” Fen asked. Julan flinched beside her. She gave him a quizzical glance, then looked back at Huleeya.
“When the Ashlanders joined Nerevar in the Battle of Red Mountain, he swore on his great Ring, One-Clan-Under-Moon-and-Star, to honor the ways of the Spirits and rights of the Land. But after the victory, Ashlanders say the power-hungry Tribunal slew Nerevar in secret. Then, setting themselves up as gods, the Tribunal and the Great Houses forgot Nerevar’s promises to the Tribes. Ashlanders say Nerevar will come again with his ring, cast down the false gods, and make good his promises to the Tribes.”
“And what about the Ashlanders? You said I should understand their history.”
“Yes. Everyone should be familiar with a culture before they pass judgment. In the First Era, the nomadic Ashlanders and the settled Dunmer clans were much alike, but after the First Council and the formation of the Great Houses, Ashlanders have been steadily forced into the poorest and most hostile lands. Now the nomadic tribes look to the prophesied return of Nerevar for a restoration of their ancient rights and religious traditions.”
“And what of the persecution of the Nerevarine?”
“The Temple treats the Nerevarine prophecies as heresy, and the Temple imprisons and executes heretics, unless prevented by Imperial law. But, since the Nerevarine cult is hostile to the Empire, the Empire does not interfere when Temple persecutes the cult. Ashlanders hate the Temple, and particularly the Ordinators, for their ruthless treatment of Nerevarine cultists.”
“And do you know anything about the – the Sixth House cult?” Huleeya gave her a quizzical look.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing. House Dagoth was the Sixth House, but in the War of the First Council, they betrayed the other Great Houses, and were destroyed for their treason. But I’ve never heard of anyone worshipping them. Dagoth Ur, the ancient head of House Dagoth, is the Devil of the Tribunal faith, but I’ve never heard of anyone worshipping him, either.
“Did you have any more questions?”
“No,” Fen said. “But thank you for your help.”
“And the same to you, sera,” Huleeya said, and he offered her a short bow before wandering down to the lower part of the bookstore.
“Gods, Fen,” Julan said as they left the bookstore and walked back through the Waistworks. “I didn’t know you could threaten people like that.”
“It was kind of an instinctive thing, I suppose,” Fen muttered, embarrassed.
“It was fantastic!” Julan said enthusiastically. “I would have just punched the fetcher in the face, then probably gotten arrested or beaten up. But they were scared of you!”
“Right,” Fen answered. Somehow she didn’t feel like this was a compliment. “We need to go to the St. Olms canton now. It’ll be ‘round the other side of the city by the temple canton.”
“The temple,” Julan scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I still can’t believe they built a whole city in honor of a false god.” A passing Ordinator shot Julan a nasty look. Fen glanced sideways at him.
“The Tribunal aren’t false gods.” Julan actually stopped in the middle of the hall to stare at her, openmouthed.
“Fen!” he said incredulously, jogging to catch up to her, for she had continued walking. “Please don’t tell me the Temple’s brainwashed you too!”
“I’ve lived in Mournhold all my life,” she said firmly. “Almalexia, at least, is not a false god.” Julan could only stare, dumbfounded, as they went down to the lowest level of the canton and took a gondola to the Temple canton. They walked from there to St. Olms, which was a working-class district that was mostly comprised of foul-smelling slums built into the walls.
“I can’t believe people call Ashlanders savages when they live in this muck,” Julan said scornfully, quickly sidestepping to avoid a clump of rats fighting over a rotted piece of rat meat on the ground. Fen hastily found the right door into the Waistworks of the St. Olms canton, which consisted of a dark set of corridors crowded with people that wore dress in all ranges of shabbiness. Fen thought (uncomfortably so) that she and Julan might be the people that stood out the most, and her thoughts were confirmed as they moved through the thicket of people. Many of them, mostly Dunmer, would turn to stare as they moved past.
“In here,” Fen said, grabbing Julan’s arm and pulling him into an empty hallway. “We’re never going to find her in this mess.”
“So ask somebody,” Julan suggested.
“I have a feeling none of these people will want to tell us,” Fen muttered as an exhausted-looking Dunmer woman pushed past them with a basket of rags.
“Do you have a hundred drakes, Fen?”
“Yes,” Fen said, startled by this question. “Why – ?”
“Can I borrow it?” Fen gave him a confused look, then took two fifty-drake pieces from her purse and handed them to Julan.
“Right,” he said confidently. “Leave this to me.” And with that, he sauntered back into the moving throng of people. Fen had leaned against the wall, hoping he wasn’t planning on doing something illegal, when she felt a hand clutch her shoulder. Fen turned sharply and saw an Dunmer woman there, so old that she looked as if a single gust of wind could turn her to dust, though this did not seem to affect her bright orange hair, which was tied away from her face in a sloppy bun.
“Beneath Red Mountain, Lord Dagoth sleeps,” she said in a harsh, raspy voice. “But when he wakes, we all shall rise, and the dust will blow away. Serve your Lord, Dagoth Ur. The Sixth House is risen, and Dagoth is its glory.”
“Who are you?” Fen demanded, stepping away from her. The old woman’s hand dropped feebly from Fen’s shoulder.
“The Sixth House, the Sleeping House, House Dagoth, the House of Lord Dagoth!” she shouted, starting to back away from Fen and pointing a quivering finger at her as she did. Her glassy eyes were wide and blank. “Do not defy him, Princess, for all shall greet him as flesh, or as dust!” Fen’s stomach dropped and the woman turned and walked away with surprising speed. Another person rambling to her about the Sixth House, another person who knew that she was a princess.

“Got it!” Fen jumped at the sound of Julan’s voice behind her, and she turned to see him grinning triumphantly. “Addhiranirr’s in the canalworks, but she won’t come out until we get rid of a tax agent up there that’s looking for her.”

“What’ve you done with my gold?” Fen asked, but Julan pointedly ignored this question and led the way back into the main room of the Waistworks. They located the Census and Excise agent, a troubled-looking Imperial man wearing a full silk skirt with a netch leather cuirass. Fen elbowed Julan sharply to silence his fits of laughter at the agent’s attire and approached him.
“Excuse me,” she said, and he looked around at her. “Are you looking for someone?”
“Ah, yes,” he said, relaxing slightly, not realizing that Fen clearly didn’t belong in the St. Olms canton and, in actuality, would probably have no idea on how he would find someone there. “A Khajiit, actually. Friend of mine. Do you know Addhiranirr?”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” Fen said, hoping she sounded regretful. “You’ve only just missed her. She took a boat to the mainland.”
“I see,” the agent said, his expression turning irritated. “I was just heading there myself. Thank you for your help, madam.” He turned and went toward the exit, shaking his head, his silk skirt rippling as he walked.
“What a fetcher,” Julan said, still chuckling. They found their way down to the canalworks, which were, Fen was displeased to discover, simply a more sophisticated name for a sewer.
“It smells worse than outside,” Julan said, hopping down from the ladder that led down to the long, dark room. Fen stepped off the last rung and glanced around. There were narrow stone walkways on either side of a long pool of greenish-brown water, bridged by occasional stone paths. Julan was right about the smell – a combination of sour-smelling urine and rotted meat hung in the air.
“Well, I can’t imagine there’d be too many people down here,” Fen said, casting a light spell on herself to brighten the dimness of the sewer. “Can you see all right?” Julan nodded and they set off, circling the long pool of foul-smelling water until they were back where they started.
“Let’s try down this way,” Julan suggested, peering down an enormous circular tunnel that carried water to a different chamber.
“There’s no walkway,” Fen said, glancing into the tunnel. “Where are we supposed to walk? I’m not splashing through this muck.”
“Aren’t you a mage?” Julan asked dryly, and Fen shot him a glare and cast a water walking spell, her feet stepping on the slimy surface of the water rather than in it. The tunnel curved around once and let out in a chamber identical to the last one, only there was a young Khajiit woman lounging against the wall here, picking at her claws.
“Addhiranirr?” Fen said as they approached her. The Khajiit tensed, reaching instinctively for a dagger on her belt. “I’m working with Caius Cosades,” Fen said quickly, and Addhiranirr relaxed. “He sent me to ask you a few questions about the Sixth House cult.” The Khajiit smiled slightly, amused.
Indeed, Addhiranirr is very glad to see you, and very happy to tell a friend of my good friend Caius all about the Sixth House cult. And Addhiranirr knows nothing about the Nerevarine, but Addhiranirr is happy to tell you that, too, if it makes Caius happy.”
“What about the Nerevarine, then?” Addhiranirr chuckled.
“Addhiranirr knows nothing about this Nerevarine cult, because it is just silly superstition. So you tell Caius this. Nobody in her right mind pays any attention to this nonsense. Prophecies and ancient heroes reborn and other silliness. Fuzzy tales for little kitties.” She rolled her eyes dramatically. “But Addhiranirr can tell you much about the Sixth House cult, because it is about smuggling. Some smart smugglers are suddenly too busy for their old clients, because they have a new employer, the Sixth House, who pays very well. But what do they smuggle now? Addhiranirr doesn't know, because they are very secret. And this is odd, because these smugglers are always loud and bragging, and now they hush up like fat-bellied kitties full of sweet-meats.”
“Is that all?” Fen asked, disappointed. She had been hoping for more historic information about the Sixth House from the Khajiit.
“What more does this one want?” Addhiranirr demanded. “You come, say ‘Tell me about the Sixth House,’ and Addhiranirr tells. What else can she do?”
“Alright,” Fen said quickly, seeing the Khajiit was agitated. “Thank you for your help. We’ll be going.”
“Well that was a waste of time,” Julan whispered as they went back they way they’d come. “What did she tell us that was useful?”
“Cosades will be able to make something of it, I’m sure,” Fen muttered. They reached the ladder and climbed out of the sewers, then pushed out of the Waistworks and finally managed to get outside.
“Gods,” Julan muttered, rubbing his hands on his pants. “I’m going to smell like shit for weeks.”
“Yes,” Fen muttered distractedly, pulling out Caius’ notes again and reading over the last paragraph. “Mehra Milo. She’s right over here, in the Temple canton. A priestess.”
“We’re looking for a Temple priestess for information about the Nerevarine cult? Ha! I’m sure she can tell us lots about how they torture and kill anyone who so much as mentions it!”
“Will you calm yourself down long enough for me to talk to her?” Fen asked sharply. “Just let me speak, if you would.”
“Right, because I’m an uneducated Ashlander. I forgot.”
“I just don’t want her getting offended by your ranting and suddenly have her not want to talk to me!” Fen said hotly, and they quieted suddenly as they came to the door to the Hall of Wisdom, where the Library of Vivec was located and where an Ordinator stood watch, glaring at them from inside his helmet. He stood aside for them to enter, and they found themselves in a cool, dimly-lit corridor.
“I think it’s this way,” Fen said in a hushed tone. The corridor was the same Velothi-style architecture as the rest of Vivec, but it somehow elicited a kind of proud sophistication that demanded respect. They climbed a short flight of stairs and found themselves at a simple door with LIBRARY OF VIVEC carved into the wood. Fen pushed the door open and they stood in a simple, low-ceilinged room lined with shelves that showed endless spines of old books. There were a few dark wooden tables set up in a clear area, where scholars sat examining the great dusty volumes.
“Is that her?” Julan whispered, gesturing to a tall Dunmer woman in a rich purple robe that was standing by one of the unoccupied tables, carefully applying binding glue to a book that seemed to have fallen apart. Fen approached her warily.
“Pardon me,” she said, and the woman looked up. She was much younger than Fen had been expecting, her coppery-red hair bound up on her head in an elegant twist.
“Caius sent you?” the woman said at once, and Fen nodded, surprised. Mehra Milo glanced over her shoulder, where an Ordinator stood a few paces away, watching her carefully. “Follow me to the back of the library,” she whispered, on the pretense of examining the book she was mending. “We can’t talk here.” Mehra straightened up and walked promptly down a short corridor to another book-filled room, saying loudly, “Oh, yes, the birth certificates are right over here.” Mehra opened a door at the back of the library and let them into what looked like a small office that had a desk and a few tables heaped with damaged books.
“Go ahead,” Mehra said, shutting the door behind them. “I’m afraid I don’t know about any Sixth House cult, but I can tell you about the Nerevarine cult.”
“How did you know – ?” Fen started, and she smiled.
“Caius sent me a messenger to tell me you were coming. You have to be careful in Vivec these days, especially if you are a priest, and he wanted me to be on the look out.” Mehra lit a lamp on the desk and the dark room flared into life.
“What can you tell me about the Nerevarine cult, then?” Fen asked.
“The Temple worships Nerevar as a saint and hero, but prophecies of his reincarnation are punished as wicked heresy. The Nerevarine cult claims the Tribunal are false gods, hence the Temple’s persecution of the Nerevarine cult. A group called the Dissident Priests disputes Temple doctrine on the Nerevarine prophecies. The proscribed book Progress of Truth describes their beliefs. Get a copy of Progress of Truth for Caius Cosades. That will tell him things he needs to know about the Nerevarine cult.
“The Dissident priests dispute Temple doctrine, and are outlawed and persecuted by the Temple. Ordinators arrest and imprison heretics, and the Empire cannot interfere. In brief, they challenge the purity and divinity of the Tribunal, suggesting their powers are sorcerous, not divine, and perhaps akin to the powers of Dagoth Ur. They also condemn the arbitrary power of the Ordinators, and accuse the Temple hierarchy of self-interest and corruption.”
“Is that why the Temple persecutes them?”
“The Temple persecutes the Dissident Priests because attacks on the Temple weaken the faith, and leave the people defenseless against the influence of Dagoth Ur. Faith is what strengthens the will of the believer against Dagoth Ur’s lies. Faith is the source of the divine power that sustains the Tribunal in their battle with Dagoth Ur. Since the Empire, some Dunmer have turned away from the Temple; that's why Dagoth Ur grows stronger, why blight storms and monsters threaten the land.”
“And what about the persecution of the Nerevarine?”
“It's an Ashlander cult – primitive superstition, says the Temple. Nerevarines say the Tribunal are false gods.” Julan coughed loudly, and Mehra glanced at him briefly, then went on. “I've never understood why the Temple wastes so much energy on them. The faithful cannot be shaken by such attacks, and the Ashlanders are just ignorant savages. But since the submission of the Temple to the Empire, and the erosion of faith among the Dunmer, the militant wing of the Temple is increasingly fierce in its attacks on heretics and heathens.”
“Thank you,” Fen started to say, but Mehra quickly placed a hand on the door, stopping them.
“I do not care for Temple politics. But I have read Progress of Truth, and it troubles me. I have friends, former priests, who have gone into hiding, so I am bound to come to the attention of the Ordinators. I am careful, but I'm afraid. I'm no secret agent, like you or Caius.” Her face was drawn, tired-looking. “Sooner or later I, too, must go into hiding. If it is not too late. When you return to Caius, tell him I am worried, and that if something goes wrong, I will leave a message under the agreed code word amaya.” Fen nodded grimly, and Mehra pulled open the door, flooding the small office with the light that burned in the candles in the library.
“Thank you,” Fen said again, and Mehra waved her away, looking tired. “See, Julan?” Fen said as they left the Hall of Wisdom and came outside. The sky was growing dark overhead. “Mehra wasn’t a complete idiot, was she?”
“She’s a Temple priestess, yet she’s opened her eyes to what’s happening, and is trying to find the truth!” Julan said, and he looked oddly excited by this. “I really respect her for that. Those Ordinators better leave her alone! We should get a copy of that Progress of Truth book she recommended.”
“Yes,” Fen said, glancing up at the sky, where stars were appearing. “We can stop by the bookstore where we left Huleeya and pick it up, then take the guild guide back to Balmora.” She found the book Mehra had described, a thin volume with a faded cloth cover, and read it as she and Julan walked back up to the Foreign Quarter Plaza.

1. The Divinity of the Tribunal

Temple doctrine claims their apotheosis was miraculously achieved through questing, virtue, knowledge, testing, and battling with Evil; Temple doctrine claims their divine powers and immortality are ultimately conferred as a communal judgment by the Dunmer ancestors [including, among others, the Good Daedra, the prophet Veloth, and Saint Nerevar]. Dissident Priests ask whether Dagoth Ur's powers and the Tribunal powers might ultimately derive from the same source -- Red Mountain. Sources in the Apographa suggest that the Tribunal relied on profanely enchanted tools to achieve godhead, and that those unholy devices were the ones originally created by the ungodly Dwemer sorcerer Kagrenac to create the False Construct Numidium.

2. The Purity of the Tribunal

The Dissident Priests say that the Temple has always maintained a public face [represented by the Heirographa -- the "priestly writings"] and a hidden face [represented by the Apographa -- the "hidden writings"]. The public account portrays the actions of the Tribunal in a heroic light, while the hidden writings reveal secrets, untruths, inconsistencies, conflicting accounts and varying interpretations which hint at darker and less heroic motives and actions of the Tribunes. In particular, conflicting accounts of the battle at Red Mountain raise questions about the Tribunal's conduct, and about the source of their subsequent apotheosis. Also, there is good evidence that the Tribunal have been concealing the true nature of the threat posed by Dagoth Ur at Red Mountain, misleading the people about the Tribunal's ability to protect Morrowind from Dagoth Ur, and concealing a recent dramatic diminishing of the Tribunal's magical powers.

3. Temple Accounts of the Battle of Red Mountain

Ashlander tradition does not place the Tribunal at Red Mountain, and holds that the Dwemer destroyed themselves, rather than that Nerevar destroyed them. Ashlander tradition further holds that Nerevar left Dagoth Ur guarding the profane secrets of Red Mountain while Nerevar went to confer with the Grand Council [i.e., the Tribunal], that Nerevar died at the conference [not of his wounds, according to the Ashlanders, but from treachery], and that subsequently the Tribunal confronted a defiant Dagoth Ur within Red Mountain, then drove Dagoth Ur beneath Red Mountain when he would not yield to their will.

“You’re going to trip if you keep reading that,” Julan said suddenly, jerking her out of her reverie. She had nearly run into an old man hobbling past, she had been so focused on the book before her. But, disregarding Julan, she hastily continued to read.

4. Veneration of the Daedra, Saints, and Ancestors

While challenging the divinity of the Tribunal, the Dissidents do not challenge the sainthood or heroism of the Tribunal. In fact, the Dissident Priests advocate restoring many of the elements of Fundamentalist Ancestor Worship as practiced by the Ashlanders and by Saint Veloth. Exactly how this would work is debated inconclusively within the Dissident Priests.

5. Denial of the Prophecies of the Incarnate, Persecution of the Nerevarine

Though no consensus exists among the Dissidents about whether the Nerevarine prophecies are genuine, all agree that the persecution of the Nerevarines is unjust and politically motivated. The Dissident Priests do not reject mysticism, revelation, or prophecy as part of the religious experience. The Dissidents have not resolved the issue of true or false insights. They have studied the mysticism of the Ashlander Ancestor Cults, in particular the rites of the Ashlander seers and wise women, and the prophecies of the Incarnate. Many among the Dissident Priests have come to believe that the Nerevarine prophecies are genuine, and have made a systematic study of prophecies recorded in Temple archives.

6. Authority of the Archcanon and the Ordinators

The Dissident Priests reject the authority of the Archcanon and the Ordinators. The temple hierarchy has been corrupted by self-interest and politics, and no longer acts in the best interests of the Temple or its worshippers. The Dissident Priests believe the Archcanon and Ordinators speak for themselves, not for the Tribunal.

7. The Inquisition and the Use of Terror by the Ordinators

Within the Temple hierarchy it is an open secret that the Ordinators rely on abduction, terror, torture, and secret imprisonment to discourage heresy and dissent. The Dissident Priests feel the Ordinators are either out of control, or tools used to maintain a corrupt priesthood in power.

8. Fundamentals of the Temple Doctrine – Charity for the Poor, Education for the Ignorant, Protection for the Weak

Though the Dissident Priests acknowledge that most rank-and-file priests honor the best traditions of the Temple, they believe that many priests in higher ranks are interested more in love of authority and luxury than in the welfare of the poor, weak, and ignorant.

“Fen!” She looked up, suddenly aware that they were standing on the teleportation platform by the guild guide in Vivec. She closed the book on the final statement and paid for passage to Balmora. “Well?” Julan asked as they made their way out of the guildhall. “What’s in that book that’s so troubling to Mehra Milo?”
“The last few just talk about the Temple being corrupt,” Fen said, turning the book over in her hands as Julan made a noise of approval. “But the other ones…they agree with you, Julan. These ‘Dissident Priests.’ They say the Tribunal are false gods.”
“Because it’s true,” Julan said simply, and Fen decided not to argue with him. Progress of Truth was certainly in agreement with Julan, but how true was it? Thinking back, Fen realized that all the things she had found out about the Nerevarine and the Sixth House fit together with Progress of Truth – they all gave the same message.
What do you care? she thought to herself suddenly. Working for Cosades was only a job to pass the time after she was banished. It wasn’t something that should be taken too deeply. It has nothing to do with me, she told herself firmly. Nothing at all.

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