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Saturday, March 12, 2011

XX - Kogoruhn

“The ancestors and stars have given me clear signs,” Nibani Maesa sagely, inviting Fen and Julan to sit before her fire. “The lost prophecies leave no doubt – the Incarnate shall be an outlander.” Julan snorted slightly and Fen elbowed him sharply. Nibani Maesa either didn’t notice or ignored this, and went on. “You, blessed by Azura, must lift the seven curses of Dagoth Ur. Prophecy has shown the seven steps of the Nerevarine’s path, and I have been chosen as your guide for each step on that path. I will read the signs, and show you the way. It is time for you to walk the path of the Seven Visions, and pass the Seven Trials of the Seven Visions.” She folded her hands in her lap and studied Fen intently.
“You are born on a certain day to uncertain parents. So you have passed the first trial. My dreams show me that you also fulfill the second trial, that ‘neither blight nor age can harm him/The Curse-of-Flesh before him flies’. I have read the signs, but I cannot understand. Can you explain this to me?” Fen explained how she had been cursed with corprus and then cured, and Nibani nodded in an almost approving fashion.
“That you have overcome the Curse-of-Flesh is strange enough, but that it should protect you from blight and age is past belief,” she said when Fen had finished. “Yet the signs of my dreams are clear. You have passed the second trial. But the third trial is unfulfilled. The mystery of the third trial is not my secret to share. Go to Sul-Matuul, the guardian of our cult, and he shall tell you of the third trial. When you have fulfilled the third trial, return to me for guidance on your next steps on the path of the Nerevarine.” Ignoring Julan’s grumbling, Fen crossed the camp to the Ashkahn’s yurt and bowed herself inside.
“You have entered the path of the Nerevarine,” Sul-Matuul said when they sat down. “This is a hard thing to believe. But Nibani Maesa has spoken to me at length of this, and I have had time to consider. Therefore I shall keep my own counsel, and set before you my own test. I do not dispute with the wise women, but their ways are not the ways of the warrior. Many before have tried the path of the Nerevarine, but all have failed the warrior’s test. You must have strength, courage, and cunning. These things I would test.
“Nearby lies Kogoruhn, the ancient halls of the forgotten house, House Dagoth. In recent time, creatures of the blight have come to dwell there. I myself went there, with some brave hunters, and came back again, but it was a bad place, and I am not ashamed to say I was afraid, for myself and my men. If you would have from me the secret of the Third Trial, the ‘caverns dark’ where Azura’s eye sees, you will first bring to me three tokens from dark Kogoruhn.” He held up one finger.
“The first token is corprus weepings from a corprus beast, to show that you are proof against the disease’s corruption.” A second finger. “The second token is a cup with the mark of House Dagoth, for I have myself seen such cups there, and will know you have seen with your eyes what I have seen with mine.” A third. “The third token is the Shadow Shield, which lies on the Tomb of Dagoth Morin, in the lava tunnels deep beneath ruined Kogoruhn. Bring these things to me, and then I will tell you the secret of the Third Test.” He gave her instructions to the ruin, then gestured that they leave. “Go by day, Clanfriend, or you may find yourself lost,” he added before they left.
“This is a waste of time,” Julan muttered.
“Let’s just get through the Kogoruhn place and see about the cavern,” Fen said imploringly as they set off under an unusually blue sky. “Then it’ll be obvious I’m not the Nerevarine, and we can carry on with your training.” This plan seemed to satisfy Julan, and he looked noticeably more cheerful as they walked.
About an hour later, they came over the crest of a hill and found themselves overlooking Kogoruhn. It was much larger than any of the other Dunmer strongholds Fen had been in, though it looked like it was in a much worse state. Ash covered nearly half of the terrace and the buildings built on top of it seemed to be crumbling before her eyes.
They levitated over the gully that surrounded the stronghold and landed on the terrace, where they were immediately accosted by a naked Dreamer.
“What a fetcher,” Julan said, chuckling, as the Dreamer fell dead. “You’d think Dagoth Ur would care enough about his cultists to give them some pants.” Fen did not respond, but glanced around warily. The barren emptiness of the landscape around them unsettled her.
They entered one of the smaller domes, with a door labeled POLLUCK’S EYE, and were met by an Ash Ghoul, a robed priest of Dagoth Ur that had a single tentacle sprouting from its face, reminding Fen unpleasantly of Dagoth Gares. He ran forward, raising his fists to strike, and Fen summoned an atronach to help them before standing out of the way to throw fire spells at the Ghoul while Julan peppered it with arrows. When the Ghoul collapsed, Fen stepped forward to examine its body. It had nothing of value save for a strange amulet around its neck that was made of some sort of dark red crystal and crafted in the shape of the House Dagoth symbol. She left the amulet on the Ghoul’s body and went to examine the rest of the dome.
“Hey, Fen,” Julan said, and she turned and saw he was staring at the floor.
“What is it?” Julan pointed. She glanced down at the metal floor here and saw a message that had been scrawled in scuffed white chalk. THE DREAMER IS AWAKE. She looked up and saw the message was all over the walls and floor here, some of them written in such a frantic hand that they were nearly illegible.
“That’s….odd.” She felt a chill go down her spine and turned away from the messages, walking over to a table that had a chair and a stool stacked on top of it. Perched on top of the stool, there was something that resembled a goblet, but she couldn’t quite reach. Fen used a telekinesis spell and the goblet floated down to her. She caught it and studied it closely in the dim light. It was made of polished black metal on the outside and dark crimson in the inside, emblazoned with the House Dagoth insignia.
“Are these the corprus weepings you need?” Julan asked from across the room, and Fen joined him and saw he was kneeling down to look at a hardened, yellowish crust of something that had formed on the ground.
“Let’s hope that finding the shadow shield is this easy,” Fen said, putting away the goblet and taking out a knife to scrape up the weepings with. The shadow shield, however, was not in the second dome they entered, nor was it in the third or fourth. Fen realized this meant that they would have to enter the main base of Kogoruhn, a task she had been hoping to avoid.
They entered into a dark, empty corridor. Fen went first, walking slowly with a fire spell on her fingertips. They came across an Ash Slave around one bend, but it quickly dispatched. Still, there was a sickly, strange air about the place, and Fen could tell Julan felt just as uncomfortable as she did. There was only one room off the long hallway, and this was empty save for a few stacks of chairs and tables. One makeshift tower even had a weaver’s loom perched on top of it.
“What the hell…?” Julan said faintly as they entered the room. “Why do they…do this?”
“I have no idea,” Fen answered, glancing at a sheet of parchment filled with nonsensical ramblings that sat on one of the tables. “But I don’t see the shadow shield. Let’s go.”
They found a set of stairs leading down at the end of the hall, and they went through a door here to a small chamber with four doors. Three of them were locked, and Fen cast Ondusi’s Open Door on each one. They found three locked doors off one hallway – behind two of them, half-rotted human bodies were concealed. The third was empty, but THE DREAMER IS AWAKE was chalked on all the walls. They closed the doors, leaving the rooms as they were. They went through the fourth door and down into a high-ceilinged room, where there were several Ash creatures. Fen had Julan stand back and cast a spell of God’s Fire, which eliminated all of them instantly with an explosion that filled the room.
“That’s a new spell,” Julan said as Fen uncorked a Restore Magicka potion and drained it.
“I just bought it the other day,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to test it out. But it’s a bit more taxing than I’d like.” She did away with the empty bottle and they continued through the dark, red-lit hallways, meeting a few Ash Creatures and Daedra but nothing that couldn’t be handled. They eventually came to a door that put them in a tiny, sloped hallway leading down, and when they came out they found themselves in a large, white-walled sewer.
“Why is this here?” Julan said blankly, his voice echoing as they moved along the walkways surrounding the water. “This place hasn’t got toilets.”
“There seem to be a lot of things about House Dagoth that can’t be explained,” Fen muttered in reply. They made their way through the sewer and soon came across a large circular hole carved out of the white rock with a cavern door set into it. Fen pushed it open and they found themselves in a low, rocky hallway that was dimly lit with red candles. The followed the hallway, meeting atronachs and Ash creatures along the way, moving methodically along the twists and turns until they reached a long room with shrines set up, similar to the shrine area in Ilunibi. There was a low altar set up at one end, but it was guarded by another Ash Ghoul with a Sixth House amulet around his neck.
“If you will not submit, you must be destroyed.” The Ash Ghoul did not attack, but a harsh voice issued from its mouth, sharp and chilling.
“Who are you?” Fen asked loudly, standing her ground.
“I am Dagoth Elam, priest of this place as Dagoth Gares was priest of Ilunibi. And, for our fallen brother, we claim our revenge. For the soul of Dagoth Gares is among us. You have broken his body, but his spirit is with us in his waking dreams. And you must submit, or be destroyed.”
“Submit?” Fen repeated, stepping backward as Dagoth Elam advanced.
“You have chosen war with Dagoth Ur. We grieve for your loss, but we will not spare you. You refused the sweetness of Lord Dagoth’s friendship. Now know the bitterness of his fury.” With that, the Ash Ghoul attacked, running forward to paralyze Fen with a spell. Surprised, Fen stumbled back and hit the ground, hard, while Julan quickly drew the Bonebiter bow. Fen muttered a dispel and stood up, moving forward to join Julan in taking out the Ash Ghoul. It made a sudden sweep with its long-clawed hand, striking Julan across the face and sending him sprawling backwards. Fen took the momentary distraction as an opportunity – she pressed her fingers to Dagoth Elam’s head and finished him with a spell, then quickly went to make sure Julan was all right.
“What a lunatic,” he said, wincing at the scratches on his face and taking the healing potion she handed him. Fen didn’t reply, but merely glanced at the altar he had been guarding. Her spirits lifted.
“This is it!” she exclaimed, picking up the enchanted Dwemer shield that lay there. SHADOW SHIELD was engraved into the metal. “Great,” she said, tucking the shield under her arm. “Let’s recall back to the Urshilaku camp. I don’t want to walk back through that place.” They disappeared and rematerialized in the center of the Urshilaku camp, leaving the low rumbling of lava floes and the odd whispers of the Sixth House shrine behind. Night had fallen, and only a few Ashlanders were still out. Those that were nodded to Fen and Julan, showing their respect as the two of them walked to Sul-Matuul’s yurt.
I am impressed,” Sul-Matuul said, examining the shield, the cup, and the weepings that Fen had laid out on the floor before him. “These three tokens you have brought me. You may keep them. You have passed the Warrior’s Test. And I will give you the secret of the Third Trial.” He smiled. “‘In caverns dark Azura’s eye sees/and makes to shine the moon and star.’ This is the Third Vision. And you must go to the Cavern of the Incarnate, a place sacred to Azura, and look for the moon and star. The secret of the Cavern of the Incarnate is set in a riddle:

“the eye of the needle lies in the teeth of the wind
the mouth of the cave lies in the skin of the pearl
the dream is the door and the star is the key.

“This riddle is Wisdom’s Test. Take counsel of the wisdom of the tribes, and you shall find the way. Seek the Cavern of the Incarnate. Gain the moon and star, and bring it to Nibani Maesa. Take with you my blessing, and the blessing of our tribe, Malipu-Ataman’s Belt.” And he unfastened the strip of guar hide from around his waist and held it out to her. Fen took the belt and saw that it was enchanted with a Fortify Agility spell.
“Thank you,” Fen said, inclining her head to him. “It is an honor.” They left Sul-Matuul’s yurt, Fen tucking the belt into her bag, and decided to pitch the tent and wait until morning to pursue the Cavern of the Incarnate, for they were both physically and mentally drained from the cleansing of Kogoruhn.
Those rose early the next morning, Julan rolling up the tent while Fen went to speak with Shabinbael, an Urshilaku woman who had been quick to welcome her to the camp.
“Welcome, Hearthfriend Fen,” Shabinbael said, looking up from the trama root whose thorns she was cutting off. “You honor us.” Fen took her alchemy knife from her belt and knelt down beside her, joining her in sawing off the thick red thorns.
“Do you know what might be meant by ‘the eye of the needle’?” she asked. “It is from a riddle.”
“Let me think,” she said thoughtfully, sitting back on her heels. “Perhaps you mean the Needle? It is a tall rock column in the Valley of the Wind. I have slept beneath it once or twice. The Valley of the Wind is a valley on the northeast slopes of Red Mountain. The entrance to the valley is marked by Airan’s Teeth, two tall rock spires.”
“What of the ‘teeth of the wind’?” Fen asked, dropping a trama thorn into Shabinbael’s basket.
“That would refer to Airan’s teeth. The tall stones that mark the entrance to the Valley of Wind.”
“And what is the Valley of Wind?”
There are two valleys, side by side, on the northeast slopes of Red Mountain,” Shabinbael explained, setting down her knife and holding up her hands to mime the two valleys. “The westmost valley is called Dry Camp Valley; the camps have no water, but they are sheltered from the wind. Dun-Ahhe Caverns are also there. The Valley of the Wind is the eastmost valley; it runs long and straight south between Airan’s Teeth, and climbs toward Red Mountain. The mouths of these valleys are to the east along the coast. You would pass Bthuand, a Dwemer ruin, and just past Zergonipal, a Daedric ruin, then turn south.”
Fen went back to Julan and relayed this information to him, and they left the camp, walking east as Shabinbael had advised. The way to Bthuand was riddled with Blighted creatures that posed little threat to them.
“Fen,” Julan said suddenly, when they had been walking for about two hours. “What was your life in Mournhold like?” She glanced sideways at him, puzzled. Julan had never seemed very interested in her past, save for the time she had accidentally revealed it. Now, however, he looked genuinely curious.
“Well…it was…different from this.” She looked up at the ashy sky, the gray dunes that stretched out around them for miles. “Mournhold is beautiful,” she said finally. “I would do anything to go back. The Temple itself was nearly the size of Balmora. On days when I didn’t have to work with my tutor, I would sit in the library with my grandmother…” Once she started, Fen found it was hard for her to stop. She told Julan everything she could remember about her life as Princess Fenara – her occasional rebellious ventures into the city with a scarf over her face, watching plays at the outdoor theatre in the Bazaar, standing on the balcony that overlooked the outside of the city on marketday and watching the traders and farmers bringing their carts through the gates, the frequent trips to her grandmother’s apartments, discussing books for hours on end.
At some point, reality trickled back into her mind, and Fen realized that they had stopped outside the opening to a long valley that stretched into the distance and disappeared. Two tall rock spires flanked the mouth of the valley.
“This must be it,” she said, hoping she hadn’t embarrassed Julan by speaking too much. But he didn’t look irritated at all – on the contrary, he wore an expression similar to her’s, like he wished there was more time to continue the retelling. They were mostly quiet as they walked down through the valley, then up a path that followed the ridge to a small clearing among the stones. Built into the large wall of stone that the path ran into, a large, arched door stood majestically, carved with enormous stars and moons that were surrounded by perfect circles.
“That’s it,” Fen said, feeling her heart skip a beat. “That has to be it.” She glanced at Julan and saw he looked just as anxious as she did. They approached the door and Fen, breathing hard, pressed her hand against it and tried to push.
The door is locked, and will not open,  an oddly familiar, yet inhuman voice said, echoing around the clearing. The star is the key.
“Did you hear that?” Fen said, but Julan shook his head. “It was…a voice. I swear I’ve heard it before. She said the door is locked, and the star is the key…” Fen leaned against the door, thinking…
“Like Holamayan?”
“What?” she said, looking up.
“Holamayan. Remember? The shell only opened at dawn and at dusk. Maybe this works the same way.”
“I suppose there’s only one way to find out,” Fen said, and she took off her cloak, folded it up, and sat down on it, leaning her back against a tall stone. Julan joined her. “Let’s see,” Fen said, glancing at her pocketwatch. “It’s about four thirty. So we have an hour and a half to wait.” She pulled a small bottle of flin out of her bag and a loaf of bread, and they talked and joked aimlessly for a while, grateful that the ashstorms had held off today. When the sky started to turn dusty pink and a few bright stars appeared in the gathering twilight, they stood up, shouldering their cloaks.
“Ready?” Julan asked her, and Fen saw apprehension on his face. She felt the same way – unsure of what to expect within the cavern.

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