If you have any questions or comments, please email me at celestina.skymark@gmail.com

Saturday, March 19, 2011

XXI - The Cavern of the Incarnate

Together, they pushed against the heavy stone doors. The doors opened this time, grating back to reveal darkness. As Fen and Julan stepped into the dim tunnel, the doors swung shut behind them and light flooded into the back of the room, leaving their part of the tunnel in gloom. Fen saw, at the end of a short passage, a large stone statue of a woman, sitting cross-legged with her head bent and her large, algae-covered hands cupped before her. Luminous mushrooms grew out of the walls around her, bathing her in a greenish light that felt warm and safe to Fen. They also lit up several dark, mummified bodies that were huddled along the walls around the statue, their features elven. Fen walked forward as if in a trance, overwhelmed by a sudden desire to see what the woman held out in front of her. Fen placed her hands on the forefingers of the statue, leaning close to see the small white object that was spinning slowly in midair there.
The object turned to face the front and stopped, and Fen felt her breath catch in her throat. It was a ring, a beautiful ring with a base of white gold and topped with a large golden five-point star over a white crescent moon. Moon-and-Star. The ring of Lord Nerevar. The ring that he had made for him to give him great speaking powers, the ring that would kill any person other than himself who tried to wear it…the ring that only the Nerevarine would be able to touch. Fen remembered the mummies around the room. They must have been failed incarnates…she would either join them and die here, or take the ring and become the Nerevarine. Could it be…?
She closed her eyes, thinking of that day half a year ago when she had been condemned to Vvardenfell, never to return to Mournhold again. And that had led to this, her standing over the ring of Lord Nerevar in the Cavern of the Incarnate. Slowly, almost without thinking, Fen reached out and cupped her hands below the floating ring. It fell into her palms, and, instantly, everything went suddenly and terribly dark. Fen felt an odd floating sensation. I’ve died, she thought. She had failed. But then, out of the darkness, a familiar voice spoke to her.

Nerevar Reborn, Incarnate,
Your first three trials are finished.
Now, two new trials lie before you.
Seek the Ashlander Ashkhans and the Great House Councils
Four tribes must name you Nerevarine
Three Houses must call you Hortator.
My servant Nibani Maesa will be your guide.
And when you are Nerevarine and Hortator,
When you have stood before the False God
And freed the Heart from its prison,
Heal my people and restore Morrowind.
Do this for me, and with my blessing.

Fen’s eyes slowly opened and she found she was staring into Azura’s palms again, but they were empty. She knelt down and frantically felt the rocky ground for the ring, but then she saw her hand it realized it rested on her finger, glowing brightly in the dimness. She stood up slowly, examining the ring. It looked…right. Somehow. Like it belonged there.
Suddenly remembering Julan, Fen turned around to speak to him, only to see that his eyes were wide and he looked panicked. Had he seen the same vision she had?
“I – I can’t stay here,” he said suddenly, and there was a flash of light and he was gone. Fen was about to contact him with the telepathy ring, but then she realized that six ghostly figures had appeared around the cavern, one before each mummy, all of them Dunmer that carried mingled expressions of hopefulness and great sorrow in their faces.
Conoon Chodala, an Ashlander chief that had traveled deep into the strongholds of Red Mountain to seek fame.
Hort Ledd, who had died nearly four hundred years ago, who claimed he was a thinker, not a doer.
Idrenie Nerothan, who helped defeat the Akaviri and was adopted into the Ashlanders, dying as she tried to loot Kogoruhn.
Erur-Dan, who watched Morrowind fall to the Empire and suffered the humiliation of his generation, spending the final years of his life fighting the Blight on Red Mountain.
Ane Teria, a priestess that helped write much of the Apographa that was later banned and suppressed.
And Peakstar. Peakstar, the Dunmer woman who had been raised by Ashlanders and persecuted by the Temple. Fen had heard about her from various people, and it was, for some reason, unsurprising that her spirit was here, resting with Azura.
“Welcome, Incarnate, Moon-and-Star Reborn, Hortator, Nerevarine, Mourner of the Tribe Unmourned, Redeemer of the False Gods,” she said as Fen moved to stand before her. “I am Peakstar. I was not the one. But I wait and hope. Ask, and I shall answer, if wisdom guides me.”
“Not the one?”
“I am a failed Incarnate. So are all these who remain here with me in the Cavern of the Incarnate. I survived the Blight, but I fell in battle with an Ash Vampire. I could not master the arts of war. Nor could I learn the ways of the Great Houses. They would not have accepted me as Hortator.
“The visions of Azura are often obscure, for two reasons. One, because the future cannot be known, and choices may always be made. Two, because truth is not clear or simple. Azura’s riddles warn us to think long and hard. They force us to search carefully for truth and meaning, and not to rely only on impulse and force.” Peakstar indicated Fen’s right hand, and she held it up, letting the ring on her finger glow in the light emanating from the mushrooms. “You bear the Moon-and-Star, the ring of Nerevar. None may deny; you are Nerevar Reborn, the prophesied Incarnate. The Temple will know you as an enemy. Ordinators will mark you for death, and the Tribunal Faithful of the Great Houses will hate and fear you. The doubters of the Tribes will test your strength and doubt your honor. You will be known. You must prepare, and be ready.
“You must go before the Councilors of the Great Houses and satisfy them, for only the Councils of the Great Houses can name you Hortator. I do not know the settled people of the Great Houses, and can offer you no counsel. You must also go before the ashkhans of the Wastes People and satisfy them, for only the ashkhans of the Four Tribes can name you Nerevarine. Speak first with Sul-Matuul of the Urshilaku, and with Wise Woman Nibani Maesa, for of all the Ashlanders, they are wisest in the lore of the Incarnate, and you have already shown Sul-Matuul proof of your worth.” Peakstar offered Fen a sad smile. “Pity Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House. All they do, all they are is foul and evil, but they began in brightness and honor, and the cause of their fall was their loyal service to you, Lord Nerevar. You told Lord Dagoth to guard the profane tools beneath Red Mountain, and thus he was tempted. He did your bidding when he tried to keep these tools from the Tribunal, and so he hates you, who betrayed him, and the Tribunal, who mocked his honor, attacked him, and stole the profane tools for their own use. Now go, for we have told you all that we may.”
Fen studied Peakstar’s face, worn and tired, but alive with new hope. She glanced around the cavern and saw the other failed Incarnates were all watching her with the same expression. The Cavern felt more peaceful than it had when they had entered, as if the very air was permeated by relief. The light around Azura was beginning to dim now – the Cavern was no longer the keeper of Moon-and-Star, and would grow forgotten. Fen made her way back down the tunnel as the bluish-green light faded, glancing back just in time to see Azura’s stony face disappear into shadow.
Once outside, the dreamy feeling of the Cavern of the Incarnate dropped, and Fen realized she had no idea where Julan was. Deciding to save the contemplating of her being the Nerevarine for later, Fen activated the telepathy ring. Julan didn’t answer though, and Fen found that all she could hear were the sounds of…scribs? But they were oddly muffled, as if underwater. Fen lowered the ring, worried now. Julan had looked terrified when he teleported out of the Cavern, and now it seemed like he had cast off his ring in a pool somewhere. Fen used the ring to teleport to the three yurts on the beach where Julan’s mother lived, but as she lifted the tent flap, she found that crates and urns had been pushed up against the doorway, blocking the entrance, and she could hear the muffled sounds of sobbing behind it. Fen let the tent flap drop, thinking…
Perhaps Shani knew where Julan was. Fen made the short journey to the Ahemmusa camp and entered the Healer’s yurt, where she found Shani was apparently just preparing to leave.
“Shani,” Fen said quickly, taking her arm and leading her outside. “Julan’s vanished. I have no idea where he is. We were in the Cavern of the Incarnate and I took the Moon-and-Star ring and then –”
“What? Julan’s gone?” she interrupted, then noticed the ring on Fen’s finger. “And YOU’RE the Nerevarine?! This...this is insane!” Shani rubbed her eyes. “Okay…okay…what to do, what to do...Right,” she said finally, looking up. “You need some answers, I think. I just hope it’s not too late. But we can’t talk here. Let’s go to Vos, to the Tradehouse. I need some fresh air anyway.” They made the short, five-minute walk to the Varo Tradehouse, and Shani led the way upstairs to a small storage room crowded with crates. “Right. Okay. We can talk here.” She smiled mischievously. “This is where Julan and I used to come to…oh, nevermind.” Shani cleared her throat and sat down on a crate. “I told you I’d give you answers. Mashti…made up all of that nonsense about finding Julan under a rock. She’s his real mother, and our Ashkahn, Han-Sashael, was his father. When Ahmabi found out, she was so angry that she exiled Mashti from the Ahemmusa.”
“And did…did Han-Sashael know?”
“Of course he knew. But he was married to Ahmabi, and it’s scary to just be in the same room as her, so of course he didn’t let on. Everyone in the camp knew, really. I think Julan might have known too, but he didn’t want to believe it. He just wanted to…I dunno, hold onto his pride. He didn’t want to just spend his life herding guar.” Shani’s face darkened. “I don’t know where he could be, but Mashti knows, I’m sure. Try asking her.”
“I went to her yurt, but the door was blocked.”
“Mashti adores Julan,” Shani said dismissively. “She’ll let you in if you can do anything to help him. I’ll wait here. Come and get me when you find out where he is.” Fen agreed and used her ring to teleport back to Mashti’s yurt. The mess in front of the door had been cleared, and she went straight inside, finding Mashti sitting before the fire, her eyes red from weeping. She looked up at Fen wearily, but without malice.
“I knew you would come, Outlander. I suppose you want to know where Julan is.”
“Yes, I would,” Fen said coldly. She was angry at Mashti – not only for lying to Julan, but lying to him about something that nearly got him killed.
“The answer is, I don’t know. He came here, he...I told him everything. He allowed me no choice in the matter. You know too, I can tell by your face. So. What would you have me tell you? I am sick of secrets now.” She rubbed her eyes wearily.
“Why did you do it?” Fen asked, softened by the sight of Mashti’s pain. “Why did you make him think he was Nerevar?”
“Why? We were outcasts. His father would not, or could not acknowledge him. I could never return to my people. What kind of life could I offer my child, reviled and rejected? When I left the Urshilaku I took little with me except my knowledge of the prophecies. So I gave him a dream, a purpose...it was all I could give him. I had nothing else.”
“But it wasn’t true.”
“Not true?” she repeated sharply. “You know nothing about truth, Outlander. No, you speak of facts, and what are facts? Facts mean nothing to me. Julan could have become the Nerevarine, no matter what the prophecies say. There is always another prophecy, and if there is not, then you can make your own. He could have done anything – anything! – that he put his mind to, if he only believed in himself. The fault is mine, for not making him believe enough.”
“But he could have been killed!” Fen exclaimed.
“No! I was sure...sure that the gods would protect him. And they did! They sent you – but now I think perhaps that the gods have been laughing at me all along. I know you are the one to bear the Moon-and-Star. Perhaps my son and I have been mere tools to guide you towards your destiny. Or perhaps you will fall, like so many others have done.
“I no longer care about the prophecies. Whether I used them, or they used me, it is all over now. It is finished. I have lost the final thing that it was possible for me to lose. I have lost my son.”
“You must know where he might have gone,” Fen said hopefully.
“It matters little where he went. He will never return to me, I know that much. I have lost him forever. He never even raised his voice. His face as he left...He looked so much like his father, like Han-Sashael...I know he will not be coming back.”
“Han-Sashael,” Fen repeated quietly, sitting down beside Mashti. The woman looked into Fen’s eyes, and Fen saw the pain there.
“I danced for him, when he came with his men to make trade agreements with my father. All the girls, we performed a sacred dance, before the evening meal. We only called it sacred in order to justify its place as traditional, but we were right. It was sensual and beautiful, and what could be more sacred than that? He came to my yurt that very night. He was charming, and handsome. Perhaps I was a fool, but I believed him when he said he would marry me.
“We left at dawn. By the time we arrived in the Grazelands, I was deeply in love, and stunned by the beauty of my new home. I was happy...too happy. I soon discovered the truth. My new love was already married. He wept, and begged my forgiveness. He had been captivated by my beauty, he had lost his wits, he would make things right, his wife did not understand him, he loved me. Male talk. But I was very young, and I loved him. And I could never return home. So I accepted everything he said.
“He told the tribe that I had come to train as a wise-woman. Ahmabi was suspicious, but she had no proof. I saw him in secret, whenever he could get away. I knew people were talking, but I cared little for their opinion. I was happy. But of course it could not last. I became pregnant, and we could no longer conceal the truth from his wife. You know the rest. He never said a word in my defense when she wove her lies to cast me out. Not one word.” Mashti closed her eyes and was silent for a time. When she opened them, she didn’t look at Fen, but stared straight into the fire.
“Look at this.” She stood up suddenly, going to a chest and rummaging inside until she came out with a beautiful guar hide gown, sewn with intricate embroidery that moved all around the gown in a fantastic flow of motion. “Once, it was going to be my wedding dress. My sisters and I sewed it, when I was betrothed to my father’s gulakahn, and I took it with me when I left with Sashael. Of course, I never used it. Here, you take the thing,” she thrust the gown at Fen, suddenly. “Perhaps you know a girl who might like it. I have kept it too long already, and it has nothing but sad memories. It’s only a dress, someone else should wear it, and make new memories for it. Or throw it away, I care not.”
“Thank you,” Fen said slowly, carefully folding the dress. “I’m sorry to be blunt, but I really need to know where –”
“Where Julan is,” Mashti finished for her. “The last time he left me, when I told him to abandon that girl from the camp, he later told me that he had been living in a cave to the south-west of here. I think he said it was west of the cave known as Dun-Ahhe, in the mountains near an outcast camp. Perhaps he is there, perhaps not. But before you go...” Mashti slowly took a folded scrap of torn parchment from her dress. “He asked me to give you this. I don’t know what it says, I never learned to read. Take it. And leave me.” Mashti closed her eyes again, and Fen quietly left the yurt, the grubby bit of parchment clutched in her hand. It had begun to rain, so Fen hurried across the sand to Julan’s yurt. She pulled aside the tent flap and ducked inside.
Julan’s tent was a complete mess. There were stray boots strewn about, books stacked messily on the table, a shirt draped over the stool near the cold firepit, an old pewter plate crusted with old food and a fork. The room felt strongly of Julan, and for a moment, she just stood there, staring around at everything. Firmly reminding herself that he was probably fine, just moping in a cave somewhere, Fen unfolded the note and began to read.


Sorry for running off like that. I needed some ansers and well now I have them. I just need to figure out what to do with them.
Dont worry or anything like that Im fine I just want to think. And dont think Im angry about you being nerevarine in a way I think I knew it all along. Or maybe I just always knew I wasnt. Doesnt matter much now I suppose.
Anyway looks like I wont be needing a trainer any more and you never did need me and least of all now. I know youll make a good Nerevar better than me anyway but thats not hard.
Keep an eye on Sha for me wont you. And mother too I suppose funny how just when I find out she really is my mother I dont want to call her that any more.

Good luck but you dont need it.


Fen stared at the words until her eyes blurred. It didn’t matter that the penmanship was sloppy and childlike or that every other word was wrong. It could have been written in Daedric, and the meaning would have been the same. The note was completely and utterly final.

No comments:

Post a Comment