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Saturday, February 12, 2011

XVII - Holamayan

Frostfall was only just beginning to rear its head as Fen and Julan stepped into Blatta Hateria’s long, blue-sailed sloop. It was dusk, and there was a heavy chill hanging in the air and atop the water. They settled themselves on the bench in the centre of the sloop, Fen hugging her arms to her sides for warmth, as Blatta untied the rope, coiled it up, and dropped it to the sloop’s floor. “It’s a long ride,” she said, sitting down and taking the tiller as they pushed away from Ebonheart. The sky overhead had quickly grown dark, and the water was peppered with the reflections of stars. “It’ll be nearly morning by the time we get there. Might as well take a bit of a kip.” The night darkened quickly and the air was sharp and cold away from the insulation of the city. Taking Blatta Hateria’s advice, Fen wrapped herself up in her cloak and laid down between two of the benches, lulled into sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat.
When she awoke, they sky was a very faint pink and the air was crisp and chill.
“Are we there?” she asked, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. Julan was snoring loudly in the space between the benches behind her. Blatta chuckled.
“Nearly. You see those big cliffs up ahead? That’s where we’re headed.” Fen sat down on the bench behind Blatta.
“Are you a Dissident Priest?” she asked.
“My daughter is,” she answered. “I’m too old to care much about what the Temple does. But they needed a way for people to get to their monastery, so Selvia signed me up.” She chuckled. “I don’t mind, though. That Gilvas Barelo, the one who’s in charge of them, he’s a nice fellow. And it gives me something to do, me being as old as I am. Here we are.” A small dock had just come into view, a wooden platform built out over the water with a second boat docked beside it, though this one had a mast that bore a white and blue striped sail. Blatta waved to someone who stood beside the boat, and the figure waved back. “That’s Vevrana. She’ll take you back when you’re ready.” Blatta checked her pocketwatch. “The tides were on our side last night. We got here early.” She navigated the rowboat in next to the dock and the figure, who Fen saw was a robed Dunmer woman, took the rope Blatta tossed to her and tied the boat to the dock.
“Welcome to Holamayan,” she said, offering a hand to Fen. Fen stepped out of the boat and onto the dock. “The monastery is here, on this island. Take the stone pathway north from the docks and the path uphill. The entrance is hidden by a magical shield. Wait or rest at the head of the path, and the portal will open at dusk and dawn only, the magical twilight hours sacred to Azura. Mehra Milo has told us of your coming. You can find her in the library with Master Barelo. Later, I can arrange for your return to Vivec whenever you are ready.” She paused, glancing past Fen. “Is that your friend, Blatta?” Fen turned and realized Julan was still asleep in the boat.
“Julan!” she said, quickly going over and nudging him awake. He opened his eyes blearily.
“We there?”
“Yes,” Fen said, offering him her hand. Julan climbed onto the dock, muttering. “Thank you,” she added to Blatta, who grinned and started untying her boat in reply.
“You’d best hurry up to the monastery,” Vevrana told her. “It’s nearly seven. The entrance will close soon, and you’ll have to wait outside all day.”
“Thank you,” Fen told her, and she hurried the half-asleep Julan up the path of round stones to a small clearing in the large rocks, where a large tower-like structure rose into the sky. There was a small door set into it, and they moved forward under the structure. Just as Fen was about to open the door, there was a loud grating and a huge shell closed over the entrance.
“Just in time,” she muttered, and they entered Holamayan. There was strange air about the monastery. Fen felt warm and immediately relieved, as if all the weight of her duties had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. They had entered into a large antechamber with several shrines set up around the room. A Dunmer man in a green robe was praying before one of them, his lips moving soundlessly and his eyes closed.
“Welcome, Fen.” A young Imperial woman wearing a simple brown dress had been standing just inside the door. “I’m Selvia Hateria. My mother brought you here.”
“Thank you,” Fen said, shaking Selvia’s hand. Their voices echoed within the tall ceiling.
“Mehra Milo told us of your coming,” Selvia went on. “She is in the library with Master Barelo.” She gestured to a small doorway leading off to one side. “You are welcome to rest in our beds and use our services while you are here.” Fen thanked her and she and Julan went through the doorway and down a short flight of stairs into the library, a low-ceilinged room lined with books. A lectern holding an open book stood against one wall, and several large square cushions were stacked by a low table against another. As they came into the room, Mehra Milo entered from the other side with a tall Dunmer man in a red robe, the man holding a stack of papers and Mehra clutching three books in her arms.
“Fen?” the man asked. She nodded and he set the papers down on the table and extended his hand. “I'm Master Gilvas Barelo, the abbot of Holamayan Monastery. Thank you for helping Mehra Milo.” He gestured to her, and she put down the books, then pulled four cushions from the stack, laying two on each side.
“I told Master Barelo that you are interested in the lost prophecies.” Gilvas Barelo sat down with Mehra on one side of the table, while Fen and Julan sat at the other.
“And I believe we can help you with that,” Barelo said, straightening up on the cushion. “I have reviewed the Apographa, and have found two passages of particular interest. We’ve made copies of these passages to give you.” He pulled three sheets of parchment from the stack and slid them across the table to her. Fen looked down at the topmost parchment, written in a smooth, curling hand. “Many are familiar with the two Nerevarine prophecies current among the Ashlanders called ‘The Stranger’ and ‘The Seven Visions.’ We have two other prophecies, ‘The Lost Prophecy’ and ‘The Seven Curses’, that may offer additional insights into the riddles surrounding the coming of the Incarnate. Perhaps these are the Lost Prophecies that your friend Nibani Maesa told you about.
“We have also prepared a document for you called ‘Kagrenac’s Tools.’”
“Kagrenac,” Fen repeated. “That was the Dwemer magecrafter that was in Lord Dumac’s service, wasn’t it?” Barelo looked impressed.
“You are a scholar of the Dwemer people, then?” Fen shook her head.
“I wouldn’t call myself a scholar. Just interested.”
“Well, then. This document will explain to you, and to others, the terrible secret that the Temple conceals about the true history of the Tribunal and the corrupt nature of their divine powers. It is to conceal this secret that the Temple persecutes the Nerevarine and the Dissident Priests.” Barelo sighed. “This persecution must stop. We must be united against the true enemy, Dagoth Ur. And if you are the Nerevarine, you must lead us against him.
“Now,” he continued, picking up a quill and reaching forward to point out a few places in the topmost parchment. “I’ve annotated your copy of ‘The Lost Prophecy’ with our best efforts at interpretation. But a rough summary might be: ‘An outlander – foreign-born, but welcomed as a guest – confronts seven curses beneath Red Mountain. His hand, blessed by Azura, uses a cursed blade to bring justice to House Dagoth, or House Dwemer, or both.’” Barelo gave Fen a grim smile. “The Nerevarine? An outlander? That wouldn’t please many Ashlanders, and may explain how the prophecy got lost.” Fen felt Julan tense beside her. “Your copy of ‘The Seven Curses’ bears our guesses at interpreting the verses. In short form: Seven curses come from House Dagoth, or House Dwemer, or both. Fire and ash come from Red Mountain. Flesh is corprus. Ghosts, Seed, and Despair are unclear, but Curse-of-Dreams seems to refer to recent cases of soul sickness and Sleeper attacks in the towns.”
“Can you tell me about the Apographa?” Fen asked. “I read Progress of Truth, but it was a while ago.”
The Heirographa are the collected priestly writings of the Temple. The Apographa are the ‘hidden writings’ – secrets known only at the highest levels of priesthood and inquisition. Defying the Temple, we have gathered as much of the Apographa as we can here in Holamayan. One of the chief disputes between the Temple and the Dissident priests is that the Temple hides the truth from its followers.” He sat back on his heels and sighed. “A significant part of the Temple hierarchy might be more inclined to accept and tolerate differences of opinion in dogma. But other parts of the Temple, in particular, the Ordinators under Berel Sala, claim that the threat from Red Mountain and Dagoth Ur can only be resisted with a unified, resolute faith. The people are afraid, so they support the hard line. But if we can show ourselves able to confront Dagoth Ur more effectively than the Ordinators, the Temple and the people will support us.
“Our interest in the Nerevarine used to be a matter of principle, a willingness to consider the validity of mystical insights rejected by Temple doctrine. Now, Dagoth Ur grows stronger while the Tribunal grows weaker, and the return of Saint Nerevar, even if only reborn in spirit, may be our best prospect of salvation.
“Oh, and we pulled these books from our library.” Mehra Milo pushed the three books she had been holding across to them. Saint Nerevar. Nerevar Moon-and-Star. The Real Nerevar. “We thought they may be useful to you. Do you have any other questions?”
“No,” Fen said, closing the papers inside the cover of Saint Nerevar. “Thank you for your help though. Immensely.”
“Think nothing of it,” Master Barelo said, standing. “It is our duty to the people. Now, if you will excuse me.” He bowed his head politely and left the room.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you properly,” Mehra said, rising and smiling at Fen, her coppery eyes shimmering. “But I am eternally grateful. Azura knows what they would have done to me if I hadn’t gotten out.”
“Will you stay here?”
“Yes. I’ll help Master Barelo with the library. And I’m very glad to have been a help to you.”
“We’ll put things right,” Fen assured Mehra, and Julan let out a loud, exaggerated sigh and walked away, looking aimlessly around the library. Fen ignored him. “You don’t deserve to be in hiding for the rest of your life.”
“I should certainly think so,” Mehra told her with a smile.
“Fen?” Julan said loudly from the other side of the room. “Can we go now?”
“Thank you again,” Fen said quickly to Mehra, and she went to meet Julan. “Quiet, will you?” she hissed. “This is a temple.
“Quite a good one, too, if they’re giving you rubbish like that.” Fen seized Julan’s hand and they recalled to Balmora. Fen held tight to his hand, pulling him away from the thick of the morning crowd.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it looks like the lost prophecies were a waste of time,” Julan told her simply. “Ouch, let go, Fen,” he added, wrenching his hand from her grasp and starting towards the Eight Plates.
“What’s that supposed to mean, ‘the lost prophecies were a waste of time’?”
“I was hoping I might get something useful from them, but it looks like they were lost for a reason. Just more stupid poetry that makes no sense.”
“Are you saying this because they say the Nerevarine will be an outlander?” Fen asked, stopping in the road to stare at him.
“Oh, who knows what they claim,” he said uneasily. “They’re prophecies, it’s their job to be vague about everything.”
“It seemed pretty clear to me.”
“Well, that’s why it’s stupid nonsense, isn’t it?” he said angrily. “Of course the Incarnate isn’t going to be an outlander. And you shouldn't forget what we’re doing here – you’re only pretending to be the Nerevarine to help me – we agreed that! I’m sure all this attention is very flattering for you, but just keep in mind what’s important, okay?”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Fen said coolly.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about this anymore, all right?” He stormed past the Eight Plates and around a corner, presumably on his way to the South Wall. Fen, only slightly irritated, bypassed the Eight Plates as well and went into the Mages’ Guildhall, where she found a small office was empty. She sat down at the desk, spreading the papers and books she had been given around her. She started with the annotated copy of Kagrenac’s Tools.

Beneath Red Mountain, Dwemer miners discovered a great magical stone. By diverse methods, Lord Kagrenac, High Priest and Magecrafter of the ancient Dwemer, determined that this magical stone was the heart of the god Lorkhan, cast here in the Dawn Era as a punishment for his mischief in creating the mortal world. Determined to use its divine powers to create a new god for the exclusive benefit of the Dwemer, Kagrenac forged three great enchanted artifacts, which are called "Kagrenac's Tools." Wraithguard is an enchanted gauntlet to protect its wearer from destruction when tapping the heart's power. Sunder is a enchanted hammer to strike the heart and produce the exact volume and quality of power desired. Keening is an enchanted blade that is used to flay and focus the power that rises from the heart.
When Kagrenac used these tools on the heart in the Battle of Red Mountain, no one knows what happened, but the Dwemer race disappeared entirely from the mortal world. Lord Nerevar and Lord Dagoth retrieved these tools, and didn't know what to do with them. Nerevar asked Dagoth to guard the tools while he went to consult with his counselors, Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil. He left and spoke with his three counselors, and they decided to return together to Red Mountain to decide what to do.
But while Nerevar was gone, Dagoth was tempted and confused by the powers of the tools. When Nerevar and the counselors arrived, he refused to give up the tools, claiming he had sworn to Nerevar to protect them. Then Dagoth fought with Nerevar and the counselors, and was mortally wounded and driven off, and the tools were recovered.
Then Nerevar and his counselors decided to take the tools for safekeeping. They all swore a great oath never to use the tools, but after Nerevar's death, Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil yielded to temptation. They took these tools themselves and went to Lorkhan's heart buried beneath Red Mountain, and gave themselves divine powers.
But Dagoth had not died. We don't know what happened, but this is what we believe. His experiments with Kagrenac's Tools had joined him to the heart's divine nature in some way, so that he learned to draw power directly from the heart.
We conjecture that Dagoth Ur, driven by anger and greed, used the heart without caution and restraint, and, as a result, he has become terribly powerful, and terribly mad. But the Tribunal showed great care and restraint in their use of the tools, and so they were not driven mad, and they did many good things. Nonetheless, the Tribunal, too, appear to heave been corrupted by the heart's power, though more subtly.
Kagrenac's Tools are cursed. Stealing power from the heart of a god is a terrible folly, and fated to disaster. The Tribunal is losing its battle to control the power of the heart. They are sustained by the same tainted power that drives Dagoth Ur mad. They grow weak, and cannot protect us from Dagoth Ur. But even if they could, would we be wise to worship gods such as these? They conceal the truth from us out of shame. They persecute the Nerevarine and the Dissident priests out of shame, when they should be welcoming them and enlisting their aid against Dagoth Ur.
The Tribunal have done much good for Morrowind and the Dunmer. But they succumbed to the temptation of Kagrenac's Tools, and though these tools once may have seemed the instruments of salvation, now they must be seen as instruments of doom.
Fen set the parchment down and rubbed her eyes. Dagoth Ur and Nerevar had been friends. And the Tribunal, whom she had worshipped dutifully all her life…were fake. They were corrupt and power-seeking, stealing their divinity from this Heart of Lorkhan. She thought of all the times she had heard Almalexia praised while living in Mournhold. The goddess’ good deeds were preached all across the city, and it was considered to be ruled by her and her Temple as well as Fen’s father. The idea that she was a fake defied everything Fen had grown up with. Sighing, she turned to The Seven Curses.

through the doors of the unmourned house
where scoffers scoff and schemers scheme
from the halls of the oath-breaking house
rings seven curses of gods blasphemed
first curse, Curse-of-Fire
second curse, Curse-of-Ash
third curse, Curse-of-Flesh
fourth curse, Curse-of-Ghosts
fifth curse, Curse-of-Seed
sixth curse, Curse-of-Despair
seventh curse, Curse-of-Dreams
Lines 1-3: Ambiguous. May refer to the impiety of the god-mocking House Dwemer, or the treacherous diplomacy of the subtle House Dagoth, or both. House Dagoth, however, was reviled as oath-breakers for their treachery at Red Mountain. It may, however, refer to unspecified broken oaths of peace between Lord Nerevar and Lord Dumac, founders of the Grand Council. Nerevar and Dumac were loyal friends until the disagreements between the Dwemer and the other Great Houses broke out in open conflict.
Line 4: The Dwemer were the mockers and profaners of the divine.
Lines 5-6: The curses of fire and ash would come from Red Mountain where Dagoth Ur rules. These were the earliest reported threats from Red Mountain.
Line 7: Curse of flesh suggest blight diseases, especially corprus. The fire and ash storms preceded the threats of blight and corprus.
Line 8-10: Obscure. May refer to as-yet-unrecognized threats from Dagoth Ur.
Line 11: Recent reports of soul sickness and disturbed dreams come from townsfolk and Ashlanders alike. That the seventh and final curse has begun suggests the threat presented is about to reach a crisis.
So the Dwemer had been evil as well. This came as a shock to Fen, who had always felt so at home in the Dwemer ruins. But…she scanned the document again. Perhaps they had not been altogether to blame. It seemed as if Kagrenac had been the one responsible for their disappearance, and that was after he had tapped into the power of the Heart. So perhaps it was this Heart of Lorkhan that corrupted people. Fen set The Seven Curses aside and slid The Lost Prophecy over to her. This was the one that she had been waiting to read.

From seventh sign of eleventh generation,
Neither Hound nor Guar, nor Seed nor Harrow, 
But Dragon-born and far-star-marked,
Outlander Incarnate beneath Red Mountain,
Blessed Guest counters seven curses,
Star-blessed hand wields thrice-cursed blade,
To reap the harvest of the unmourned house.
Lines 1-3: 'Of ancient family, but not of the four great Ashlander clans. Born under foreign stars and the sign of the Dragon -- the Imperial sign.'
Line 4-5: 'Outlander Incarnate' appears as a formal epithet, stressing the linkage between the words. The Outlander Incarnate is a 'blessed guest', one not born of the tribes but accepted as a guest with rights of hearth and hospitality. Under Red Mountain he will confront and balance against seven curses. See the 'Seven Curses' prophecy; also, Dagoth Ur is served by his seven kin, once great wizard-lords, called 'ash vampires' by the Ashlanders.
Line 6-7: 'Star-blessed' suggests Azura, the Daedra Lord and patron of magic, fate, and prophecy. 'Thrice-cursed blade' may refer to a weapon called Keening, associated in certain legends with the Battle of Red Mountain and Dwemer craftlord Kagrenac. 'Reap the harvest' is a reference to the proverb, "You harvest from the seeds you plant," which means you get what your labors deserve, in both a positive sense of reward and negative sense of punishment. The 'unmourned house' could be either or both of the lost Great Houses of the Dunmer – House Dwemer and House Dagoth.
Fen closed her eyes for a moment. It was plain as day. The Nerevarine was an Outlander. But surely that meant that she couldn’t be the Nerevarine, being from Mournhold…but as she thought about it, Fen realized that Vvardenfell was the only place she had ever heard the term. It was exclusive to the island, she realized, and this labeled her an Outlander, Morrowind-born or not. Not sure of what to think, Fen set The Lost Prophecy aside and opened The Real Nerevar.

When the Dunmer followed Veloth to Morrowind, they were many warring clans, with no law or leader in common. One Dunmer warlord, Nerevar, had the ambition to rule all the Dunmer.
In that time, House Dwemer were great enchanters, so Nerevar went in secret to a Dwemer smith and asked for an enchanted ring that would help him. The ring gave its wearer great powers of persuasion; for safety, it was enchanted to instantly kill anyone who wore it except Nerevar. The ring was called Moon-and-Star, and it helped Nerevar unite the various clans into the First Council.
Later, however, disputes over religion divided the Council, with House Dwemer and House Dagoth on one side and all the other Houses on the other. Dwemer and Dagoth invited Orc and Nord clans as allies, and held northwest Morrowind, while Nerevar mustered the other Houses and nomad tribes and marched to meet the Dwemer-Dagoth-Westerner forces.
The armies met at Red Mountain, a Dwemer stronghold. The Dwemer were defeated, with great slaughter, and terrible sorceries were used, resulting in the utter extermination of House Dwemer, House Dagoth, and their allies. Nerevar was killed in the battle, and his ring lost, but Nerevar's alliance survives in Morrowind's ruling political institution, the Grand Council.
Nibani Maesa had mentioned Nerevar’s ring and his family’s symbol, the moon-and-star. She found a quill and an inkwell and sketched a quick crescent moon encircling a six-pointed star, so quickly and naturally it was as if she was drawing from memory. The symbol looked oddly familiar, like she had come across it long ago and had nearly forgotten. Fen studied the spiky sketch a few moments more, then set it aside and reached for Nerevar Moon-and-Star.

[This is a selection from a series of monographs by various Imperial scholars on Ashlander legends.]
In ancient days, the Deep Elves and a great host of outlanders from the West came to steal the land of the Dunmer. In that time, Nerevar was the great khan and warleader of the House People, but he honored the Ancient Spirits and the Tribal law, and became as one of us.
So, when Nerevar pledged upon his great Ring of the Ancestors, One-Clan-Under-Moon-and-Star, to honor the ways of the Spirits and rights of the Land, all the Tribes joined the House People to fight a great battle at Red Mountain.
Though many Dunmer, Tribesman and Houseman, died at Red Mountain, the Dwemer were defeated and their evil magicks destroyed, and the outlanders driven from the land. But after this great victory, the power-hungry khans of the Great Houses slew Nerevar in secret, and, setting themselves up as gods, neglected Nerevar's promises to the Tribes.
But it is said that Nerevar will come again with his ring, and cast down the false gods, and by the power of his ring will make good his promises to the Tribes, to honor the Spirits and drive the outsiders from the land.

This just seemed to be reaffirming the belief that Nerevar would be reborn, though the writing had a distinct Ashlander flair. Fen could easily picture Julan saying something like that. She picked up the last document, Saint Nerevar.
[From a short Temple pamphlet for Western readers.]

Ages ago, Nerevar was the greatest Dunmer general, First Councilor, and companion of Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil, who, with the power of the great Ring of the Ancestors, One-Clan-Under-Moon-and-Star, united the Dunmer Houses to confront the evil Dwemer, the treacherous House Dagoth, and their Western allies at Red Mountain.

By Providence, the faithless Dwemer were utterly destroyed, and their allies defeated, but Nerevar, mortally wounded in combat with the traitor Dagoth Ur, was driven from Red Mountain. Nerevar died not long after of his wounds, but he lived to see the birth of the Temple, and to bless the unity of the Dunmer into the safekeeping of Almsivi, the Temple, and all its communion of saints.

So this had to be from the Heirographa, the papers that the Temple showed to the public. She tossed it aside dismissively and picked up Kagrenac’s Tools again. This document, in particular, had been troubling to her. She skimmed through it, rereading the parts that claimed the friendship of Nerevar and Dagoth Ur.
In her dreams, the golden-masked man had called her friend and Nerevar. Dagoth Gares had given her a message from Dagoth Ur, calling her to rejoin him as a friend. Could it be…?
Staring at the words on the page, Fen suddenly remembered something – three books she had found ages and ages ago, that she hadn’t been able to make any sense of. Cursing herself for her own stupidity, Fen shoved the loose papers into her bag and took the guild guide to Sadrith Mora, where she had stowed all of her books in a spare chest. Fen unlocked the chest and dug through it, finally pulling out Divine Metaphysics, The Egg of Time, and Hanging Gardens. She opened The Egg of Time. Fen crouched down on the floor beside the chest, spilling with books, and flipped feverishly through the pages. There were endless sheets filled back and front with strange, spiky Dwemer text, dotted with the occasional complicated diagram. Then, finally, at the back – a full two-page drawing in dark, fading ink. On the first page, a Dwemer man, standing with his face in shadow, his arms straight out on either side and his legs set apart, his entire figure enclosed in a perfectly round circle. Fen turned her gaze to the next page.
The same figure, though now his entire body was in shadow, the bottom half blurred by dark, curving lines representing flame, his very essence being completely destroyed. Below his circle, a human heart was drawn, complete in its intricacy with tubes and deep crevices upon its surface. To one side, a highly detailed dagger with a crescent moon on the end of its hilt pierced into the heart. To the other, a star-tipped hammer crushed it. Fen let out an amazed breath, running her fingers over the page, realization dawning.
The hammer and the dagger.
Sunder and Keening.

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