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Saturday, December 18, 2010

X - Mashti Kaushibael

“Do you need anything, sera?” Fen shook her head, keeping her eyes on the floor in front of her. She felt a hand rub her shoulder consolingly. “He’ll be all right, dear. He’s inhaled a lot of ash, but he should be fine once he wakes up.” The Healer walked away to another part of the infirmary and Fen lifted her eyes to the bed in front of her where Julan lay, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling gently. She couldn’t shake the image of him wild-eyed on Red Mountain, shoving her away from him.
“Poor woman,” she heard the Healer say softly to someone on the other side of the screen that sectioned Julan’s bed off from the rest of the ward. “If that Buoyant Armiger hadn’t been nearby, I don’t know if her friend there would have made it.” Fen buried her face in her hands, exhausted and shaken. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Julan, madness in his eyes, throwing her away, sending her sprawling onto the ground while he ripped at his hair, his tormented screaming mingling with the howling ash storm.
“Fen?” She looked up, startled, and saw that Julan had weakly opened his eyes, blinking quickly.
“Julan?” she said quickly, dropping her hands. He turned and saw her, then seemed to realize where he was. He sat bolt upright, and looked around, his face panicked, and for a moment Fen thought he hadn’t recovered from the madness that had overtaken him on Red Mountain.
“What’s going on?” he said, and Fen was relieved to hear that his voice sounded normal, no longer strained and panicked.
“You’re in Ghostgate,” she said quietly. Julan fell back on the pillows, rubbing his head.
“Ghostgate? How…? Oh, gods, my head. My brain feels like it's full of dust and ashes... my memories are all mixed up. I think I was dreaming that we were climbing Red Mountain...” He looked at Fen questioningly and she nodded once.
“We did climb the mountain?! What...Oh...yes. I remember now. But it was so like my dreams! Except that I could hear what the voices were saying this time!”
“What were they saying?” she asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer. Julan rubbed his head again.
“Well, there were some I couldn't recognize, but one...it was Dagoth Ur.” Fen felt her stomach drop.
“Dagoth Ur?”
“I don’t know how, but I just know. He was...mocking me. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at something like this happening,” he murmured. “But...what do you remember next?” Julan, his eyes crazed and angry, roaring in fury, throwing her away from him….
“You shouted a lot, then fainted.”
“I fainted?! But that's not what I...ah. That part was a dream, then. Oh, it’s all so mixed up in my head!” Julan leaned over, clutching his head. “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I tried to do that.”
“What do you remember?”
“Oh...I don’t know,” he replied quickly. “Not much. It’s not important. What matters is, I failed again at my mission. I’m still not ready. Maybe I’ll never be ready.” He put his face in his hands, then looked up, rubbing his eyes. “Ai…maybe I should just go home and herd guar. Seems like that’s all I’m fit for.”
“It takes time,” Fen said, sitting up in her chair. “You can’t become a warrior overnight.”
“At least someone thinks so,” Julan said, making a weak attempt at a smile. “I just….don’t have any other options now.”
“We could go see your mother.” Fen heard herself speaking the words and wasn’t sure where they came from. She had completely forgotten about his mother, the outcast of the Ahemmusa Ashlanders. Julan, however, didn’t look surprised at all.
“I’ve been avoiding that option, but I think you’re right.”
“I am?” Fen said, surprised.
“It looks like I have no other choice. Our home is west of the Ahemmusa camp, all we have to do from there is follow the coast to the foot of the mountains. You’ll recognize the camp by the skulls hanging outside.” Fen raised one eyebrow. “Uh... Don’t worry about those, it’s Mother’s idea of a joke. I think.” He threw the covers off suddenly and swung his feet off the bed. “Shall we go?”
“First, Julan,” Fen said quickly, remembering what he had said before he fainted. “I have a question.”
“When we were on the mountain, and you were yelling at the voices…” Julan looked nervous.
“You said that you were ‘Indoril Nerevar Reborn.’” Julan’s face drained of color.
“Oh...um…did I really?”
“…oh.” There was a long silence.
“Care to explain?” Fen finally asked pointedly.
“Not…Not really, no. But I don’t expect you’ll let me get away with that, will you?”
“I don’t think you’re in much of a position to keep secrets from me anymore, are you?” Fen said with a faint smile.
“Look, I’ll tell you, but not right now. I’m tired of all this talking, and my head hurts. Ask me again later, all right?” Deciding this was fair, Fen nodded and Julan stood up and picked up the bag at his feet. “What did they do with my armour?”
“Here,” Fen said, opening a chest near the foot of the bed. Julan collected his armour and they left the infirmary, heading up the long spiral ramp and outside into the Ashlands. The ashstorm had subsided, and the skies were now gray and dim as night began to fall.
“Look, let’s head to Vos first,” Julan said as they started to walk back to Ald’ruhn. “It’s the quickest way, and I want to stop by the Tradehouse. I was thinking we could pick up some kind of gift for Mother to sweeten her temper a bit. She’s not going to like what I’ve been doing.” He rubbed his neck. “At all.”
“What, your sacred mission?” Julan grimaced.
“No….traveling with you.”
“How pleasant,” Fen murmured.
They stayed the night in the Mages’ Guild in Ald’ruhn, then took the silt strider back to Balmora (as the guild guide in Ald’ruhn had still not returned). From there they took the guild guide again to Sadrith Mora, then spent the rest of the day on a boat to Tel Mora, the closest town to Vos. Fen slept the entire boat trip, but still felt like she had lost hours and hours of sleep when she woke up in the dark hours of the morning. They water-walked over the short stretch of sea from Tel Mora to Vos, where Julan directed her to the Varo Tradehouse. The Tradehouse was cramped and dim inside, as it was built, in the tradition of Telvanni housing, inside a hollowed-out mushroom.
“There’s a merchant in here somewhere,” Julan muttered, leading the way up a short flight of stairs to a smoke-filled room on the second story. “My mother does a lot of business with him. Ah. There he is.” Julan went over to a purple-robed Dunmer man standing in a shadowy corner and started talking while Fen sat down at one of the tables and laid her head down, exhausted. “Ah, Fen?” She looked up to see both Julan and the man looking expectantly at her. “Could I…um…borrow a thousand septims?”
“What?” Fen asked, rubbing her eyes.
“For the present for my mother,” he said quickly. “I’ll pay you back. Eventually.”
“Fine,” she said, and she counted out the money and passed it to him. Julan went back to the man and then returned to Fen holding an intricate-looking white amulet.
“Right. Well, this should really help me get back on her good side.” He sat down across from her. “I think it’s time I told you the whole story about myself and my mission, if you still want to know.” Fen sat up, paying attention now.
“I’d be delighted,” she said, leaning her head on her hand. Julan sighed.
“The first thing you should know is that my mother is not actually my mother by birth. No one has any idea who my real parents are. Azura sent Mother a dream, in which she told her to follow a black kagouti into the Grazelands, and when she did she found me as a baby, in the shadow of some rocks. Azura told her that it was her task to raise me to be a great warrior, and that I had an important destiny.”
“And is this where you being Indoril Nerevar comes in?”
“Ah. Yes. That. Look, you know who Indoril Nerevar was, don’t you? The great Dunmer war-chief from long ago, who united our people against the Nords and the Dwemer?”
“I…I know a bit, yes.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you know who he was or not,” Julan said quickly. “Go and read a book, if you care. What matters, is that he was murdered by Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil, and Azura foretold that his spirit would one day be reborn to avenge himself and set things to rights in Morrowind by destroying Dagoth Ur and whatever profane sorcery the Tribunal used to steal their false god-hood. In the prophecies, this reincarnated Nerevar is known as the ‘Nerevarine.’”
“And you think this is you?” Fen’s head was starting to hurt.
“I... I know it sounds unbelievable. I find it hard to believe myself, sometimes. But...it's true. Azura has revealed her will, and explained what must be done. I know I have a responsibility to fulfill, and however impossible it might seem, I have to try. Who could oppose Azura? I trust her to know what my destiny holds, and what I am capable of.
“Look, I know I’ve been very secretive about all this, but I do have good reasons. If they knew about me, the Tribunal and their Temple followers would hunt me down and destroy me. So would the Emperor, come to that, since the Nerevarine is also prophesied to free Morrowind from the foreign invaders. So I must ask you to keep my secret.” Fen studied his face. He didn’t seem like a person who would become a great prophet and save all of Morrowind. But, she supposed, I probably don’t seem much like a princess either.
“Of course, Julan. And for what it’s worth, I believe you.” Julan smiled.
“Good to know someone’s on my side,” he muttered, then stood up. “Shall we get going, then?”
“Now?” Fen asked, stifling a yawn.
“You slept on the ship, didn’t you?”
“I spent most of that time vomiting, truthfully,” Fen said wryly, grudgingly getting to her feet. “It’s almost as bad as a silt strider.”
The sun had risen by the time they walked outside, and they moved along the coast in silence, Julan occasionally checking to make sure that they were headed in the right direction. Near noon, they came over the crest of a hill and saw an enormous Daedric ruin spread out below them across the shallow water, all odd angles and slanted doors.
“Oh, wow,” Fen said, taking in a sharp breath.
“My mother’s yurt is just past this,” Julan said, seeming utterly unimpressed. “Come on, we can go down and skirt around the edge of the ruins, then keep going along the coast.” They went down the hill and had just started to walk around the ruins when there was a loud, inhuman screech and a Winged Twilight, a Daedra that resembled a stooped woman with wings for arms, came barreling out of the ruins, straight at Julan. He turned, ready to fight it, but Fen could easily see that the Twilight would have to trouble dispatching the pair of them.
“Run!” she shouted, grabbing Julan’s wrist and pulling him around the ruin’s walls. She heard the Twilight shriek behind them, and she released Julan. “Levitate!” she shouted, casting the spell. “They can’t fly!” Julan did so, and they drifted up into the air and away from the Twilight, who ran in circles screeching below them.
“Gods,” Julan said as they landed a little ways away on the sand. “What the hell was that?”
“A Daedra,” Fen said darkly as they started to walk again. “Something that we ought to try and avoid for a while.” They had only went a few more minutes when three yurts around a campfire came into view.
“That’s it,” he said, his face set. “She won’t be happy. Just know that.” As they came closer, Fen realized there were, indeed, bound skulls dangling outside the closest yurt, the one which, to her dismay, Julan headed straight into.
Mashti Kaushibael’s yurt was small and cluttered, and she sat by live fire in the center reading by the light. She looked up as they entered and her face twisted in sudden rage as she laid eyes on Fen.
“Who are you!?” she snarled, standing up. “What are you doing here with my son?! I warn you, if you dare –”
“Calm down, mother, and let me explain!” Julan said hastily. He turned to Fen and spoke in a low voice. “Why don’t you go and light the fire in the... um... guest hut, and make yourself comfortable. You’ll be sleeping in there tonight. It’s the middle one.” With that, he quickly turned her around and gave her a small push out the yurt’s flap. Relieved, Fen entered the middle yurt as Julan had told her and found it was dark, stacked with crates and baskets with a bedroll on one side and a cold firepit in the middle.
Fen knelt before the fire and lit it with a spell as she heard thunder boom outside. The room brightened and she sat back on her heels, listening as the thunder mingled with angry shouting from the yurt beside her. She laid back on the bedroll, exhausted, and listened as the shouting gradually died down top be replaced by rain that began to patter on the roof of the yurt. When she could no longer hear any traces of an argument, Fen warily went back outside and through the rain to Mashti’s yurt.
“Oh! Fen, I was just coming to get you,” Julan said as Fen entered. Mashti was sitting on the other side of the fire, her face pink and her eyes angry. “Ah…let’s go outside.” They stepped outside the yurt and Julan gave a sigh of relief. “Okay. Mother has calmed down a bit. She’s going to perform a spell that will give her a dream-vision from Azura tonight, and Azura will tell her where to go from here. I have to stay and help her prepare for the spell, but you should get some rest.”
“I’m sorry,” Fen said. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”
“It’s fine,” Julan answered, biting his lip. “I prefer it this way. And besides –”
“JULAN!” came a shout from inside the yurt, and Julan jumped.
“I should go,” he said quickly, slipping back inside the tent. Fen pushed her hair out of her face and went back into the storage tent, where she pulled off her shoes and fell asleep almost instantly.

A tall figure, much taller than Fen, stood before her in a dark, black void. His face was concealed by a golden mask, and he spoke to her in a tongue that she could not decipher. His words were soothing, pleasant, his voice deep and calm. He reached out one long-fingered hand to touch her, and suddenly she was afraid. She struggled, but found she could not move, and he let his hand hang there, tormenting her. She tried to cry out, but her voice was broken and dead. The man started to speak again, and hot fear washed over her –

“Fen?” Her eyes snapped open and she found she was lying in the darkness. Fen struggled to sit up, and she quickly lit a candle beside the bedroll and saw Julan was sitting beside it, his armor gone, replaced with traditional Ashlander garb. “Are you awake?” She narrowed her eyes at him, and he reddened. “Ah…stupid question.”
“It’s the middle of the night, Julan,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Do you want something?”
“No, I just…um…oh, gods…” He leaned back, and Fen saw that he had dark circles under his eyes.
“Are you all right?” she asked. “You look terrible.”
“I...no. Not really. I...I think I’m going mad, Fen.” She had a sudden vision of him on Red Mountain, throwing her away from him as easily as a rag doll…
“What do you mean, you think you’re going mad?”
“I- I mean...I had another of those weird dreams. It was...horrible. Worse than any I’ve had before. I wasn't on the mountain this time, I was in a cavern. And there were those Ash Priest things there, watching me, standing all around me. And they started whispering things...horrible things. And as they spoke, my skin started rotting and my flesh was becoming monstrous...and not just my body, my mind too!
“It felt like they were trying to crawl into my head, and change who I am, and everything I believe in into something horrible and depraved. To eat away at my identity, until I have nothing left except what they want me to have...And  then...even after I woke up, I kept seeing them...just in flashes, out of the corner of my eye...the Ash Priest things, and others...worse...but when I looked again, there was nothing. I...I thought I was losing it. I had to get out of there!”
“What are you going to do?” Fen asked.
“I can't talk to Mother. She has enough to worry about. And maybe it’s nothing. Although it didn’t feel like nothing...but I...I just felt so...alone, I suppose. I had to talk to someone. I hate to admit it, but I’m scared. Because I don’t know how to fight it. How do you fight something like that?”
“You can,” Fen said quietly. “I know you can.”
“I hope you’re right. I...I don’t want to go mad. And if Dagoth Ur wants me to just give up my mind to him, then I won't come quietly. But what if I’m not strong enough?”
“You will be,” she said firmly, then smiled. “And I’ll be here to keep an eye on you.”
“Thanks,” he said quietly, and Fen wordlessly opened her arms. He hugged her gratefully for a moment, then pulled back.
“I just…um…I’ll go now.” His face red, Julan quickly pushed out of the yurt. Fen watched the flap flutter shut, then laid back on the bedroll, exhausted but still painfully unable to sleep.
She left the yurt early the next morning. The sky was eggshell pale and the air was crisp, the sea whispering quietly a ways out. Julan stood silhouetted against the sunlight, facing the sea. Preparing herself with a sigh, Fen walked quietly up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Julan?” He looked down at her and bit his lip, clearly flustered.
“I’m sorry, Fen, I –”
“It’s fine,” she said, smiling. “It was only a hug.” She studied his firm profile earnestly. “Julan, listen. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had…well, you’re probably the only friend I’ve ever had. But that doesn’t matter. I feel more like myself with you than I could with anyone else.” He looked at his feet. “I think of you as my brother, Julan. My incredibly naive brother that my mother’s made me chase around so he doesn’t get mauled by clannfears.” Julan gave her a small attempt at a smile.
“You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“I’m sorry, Fen,” Julan said again, ruffling his hair. “I just…I don’t know, I’m just so confused lately.”
“It’s fine,” she said, and she hugged him again, though this embrace was more friendly, more familiar. “Besides, Helseth would be as furious that I’m friends with an Ashlander as your mother is that you’re friends with me.”
“But I thought…” Julan gave her a sideway look, clearly confused. Fen’s eyes widened as she suddenly realized her fatal mistake. She backed away, shocked at her own stupidity, her hands over her mouth.
“I…I didn’t mean to say…” But the damage was done. Julan was staring at her incredulously, his mouth open slightly. For a moment they just stood there, staring at one another, Fen horrified at the words she had let slip.
“Your family didn’t own an ebony mine, did they?” Julan finally said. His voice was hard. Fen squeezed her eyes shut. No, no, no, no, no. “Fen?”
“They didn’t,” she said finally, forcing her eyes open. “No.” What do I tell him? she thought quickly, panicking. She couldn’t possibly tell him…?
“Then who are you really?” Julan asked. A long silence stretched between them, broken only by the distant crashing of waves on rocks. “Who are you, Fen?”
“My name is really Fenara,” she said, her voice sounding distant and distorted. “And I came here because I was exiled from Mournhold.” The truth was spilling out of her, and she could do nothing to stem the flow of it. “I was exiled from Mournhold because I stole from my father. And my father…my father is King Helseth.” Julan’s face was blank.
“Helseth doesn’t have a daughter.”
“He does. I was illegitimate. No one knew about me except the ones who worked in the palace. My mother was a minstrel’s daughter.”
“You’re…a princess?” The word had been gone from Fen’s ears for so long, and memories came crashing over her, servants and chambermaids and cooks and courtiers, all bowing to her, all calling her princess.
“Yes,” she said, and the voice caught in her throat and came out sounding strangled and odd. Another long silence.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh, Julan, I couldn’t,” Fen said, finally dropping her hands. “If anyone finds out about who I am, I could put my whole family in danger. I didn’t tell anyone, Julan. I didn’t single you out.”
“But you didn’t trust me.”
“It was like your sacred mission! I couldn’t tell anyone about it! I had to keep it a secret for my family’s safety!” Julan just stared at her, his eyes hard. “Please, Julan,” Fen said earnestly. “I –”
“Were you planning on telling me?”
“I don’t know. Eventually.” He looked at her for a long moment and the word hung in the chilly air between them, uncertain and harsh. Eventually. Eventually. Eventually.
“Julan!” Mashti’s voice called out sharply from her yurt, and they both jumped. She beckoned with one long finger and Julan gave Fen a fleeting glance, then went inside. Mashti looked expectantly at her, and she reluctantly followed.
“I have received Azura's guidance, Outlander, and I would speak with you now,” Mashti said, letting the tent flap fall closed behind them. “I have spoken with the Daedra Prince who guides me in all matters concerning my son. She has informed me that you may be trusted, and that you may yet be important to the fulfillment of the prophecies. My son has chosen to disclose the secrets of his mission to you.  As an outlander, you cannot hope to truly comprehend its importance to this land, but I hope you will be able to try, for your own sake. The gods deal harshly with those who would stand in the way of destiny.
“I understand you have been training my son. In faith, I myself can see improvements in his skills. Perhaps you have truly been sent to aid him on this difficult journey. If this is so, then I give you a choice. You can continue to support him as he carries out the work of his destiny, in which case you shall be rewarded with all the gifts the gods can bestow.”
“Or…?” Fen said nervously.
“Or betray him, and I shall call down the curses of a thousand vengeful ancestors upon you, and we shall hound you, waking and sleeping, to the end of your brief, miserable life.”
“I…I see.”
“Good. I am glad we understand one another,” Mashti said simply. “For the present, continue to train. Quest together as travelling adventurers. My son needs experience of the world, and you can offer him this. I will contact you when the time is right. Take this ring.” She thrust a small copper ring with a green stone set into it into Fen’s hand. “I have given another to Julan. It will allow him to communicate with you via a spiritual link, and travel to your location, should you become separated, or the red mists of combat cloud your minds. Now, go.” She pointed at the tent flap, and both she and Julan wordlessly went back outside. The flap fell closed behind them, and Julan spared a sideways look at her.
“So you’re the princess of Mournhold.”
“Not anymore,” Fen said quietly, turning the telepathy ring over in her fingers and determinately not looking at Julan. “My father….Helseth…he’s never liked me much. He was rather looking for an excuse to get rid of me. When I tried to touch a cursed Golden Kanet in the palace library so I could study it, he had me arrested for stealing and exiled me.”
“What a s’wit,” Julan said suddenly, and Fen was surprised to hear the anger in his voice. She turned her head towards him, sharply.
“You’re…you’re not mad?”
“Of course not,” he said simply. “I’m just glad you told me.” He winced slightly. “Er…you don’t expect me to call you ‘princess’ now, do you?”
“No!” Fen said quickly. “No, please don’t. In fact, don’t let anyone know. No one can know.”
“Not a word,” Julan said with a smile, and Fen felt relief wash over her. Julan wasn’t angry, and she felt as if a huge load had been lifted from her shoulders. Keeping a secret had drained all her energy, and now that she shared it, the weight of her identity was split.
“So Azura thinks you’re okay, does she?” Julan said. “Heh...she should know, I suppose! And now we get to go adventuring together! So, what should we do? You must have something you should be doing that I’ve been keeping you from.” With a sinking feeling, Fen remembered Caius. How long ago had he told her to see him? Three days? Four?
“I have to go talk to Cosades,” she said quickly. “Gods, he’ll be angry.”
“What does he want you to do?” Julan asked skeptically. “I don’t like him.”
“He’s just…having me research some things. He’s a bit eccentric. Probably writing a book or something.” Fen didn’t think it would be good to jeopardize their friendship with another secret, so she quickly changed the subject. “I can teleport to Balmora from here. If I give you some gold, can you go to Ald’ruhn then take the silt strider and meet me outside his house? You remember where it is, don’t you?”
“Sure,” he said, although he still looked troubled. “I’ll meet you there in an hour.” With that, he cast a recall spell and was gone, leaving Fen standing alone on the beach by Mashti’s yurt, a curious mingle of emotion inside her chest.


  1. Genuinely enjoying your writing! (Nice to see I'm not the only one who gives Julan the Bone-Biter Bow of Dead Ashlander Guy... :))

  2. Oh, thank you! Haha, I have rarely play combat-based characters and I always thought it would be rude to just sell it somewhere. I like to think Julan makes good use of it :)