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Sunday, March 27, 2011

XXII - Explanations

Fen departed early the next morning, making sure to keep herself busy as she alternated between climbing and levitating up the rocky slopes of the Ashlands. She focused all her thoughts on getting to the next precipice, stepping on a rock that would hold her weight, conserving her magicka so she could levitate over a particularly rough section of rock. She didn’t want her mind to stray to Julan, for she felt that if they did, she wouldn’t be able to continue. The fear of finding him dead was too great.
Before long, Fen located the door Mashti had been referring to, set into the cliff face high above the trail. The afternoon was warm and stale, but there were no clouds and no threat of an ashstorm. Fen examined the door – it had been overgrown with a thick patch of vines, but they looked like they had been cut away and stamped flat fairly recently.
Fen stepped over the vines and pushed open the door, finding herself in a dim, yellowish cavern with a low, rocky ceiling. Round, pulsating sacs that glowed orange were attached to the walls, ceiling and floor and a strong scent of kwama cuttle in the air. An eggmine, she thought, glancing around. She heard the scuttling of scribs down a short hallway and, remembering what she had heard through the telepathy ring, went to investigate. There were five or six scribs, kwama larvae, moving around a small pool of water. They let off a high pitched shrieking noise when they saw Fen and scuttled up the walls, their round green eyes staring.
Fen cast a detect enchantment spell, and a shower of white sparks suddenly burst forth from the water. Fen stripped off her robe and waded into the water, dunking her head under the filmy surface and grabbing the ring that the sparks had appeared out of. Stepping out of the water and drying herself off, Fen examined the ring and saw it was identical to her’s, aside from the fact that the stone was blue rather than green. Julan’s telepath ring. Fen glanced up. He had to be here somewhere, if he had cast off his ring into this pool.
She soon came to a very dark cavern filled with water at the bottom. A door stood on a ledge above the water, and it was guarded by a robed ancestral ghost, floating eerily before it. Fen climbed up onto the ledge and moved towards the ghost, a spell ready, but it did not seem to want to fight her.
No, it hissed in a strange, harsh voice as she approached. It’s bony jaw did not move. You shall not enter this place. Leave now.
“Do you have Julan Kaushibael?” Fen said firmly, unfazed. She had faced worst than a ghost in a dark eggmine.
He is ours now. Fen’s heart sank
“You mean…he’s dead?”
He still walks the earth, but he is ours now. He will hear our words. He will do our bidding.
“Who are you?” Fen demanded, her voice rising slightly. “What have you done to him?”
We are the ancestors of the Ahemmusa. For too long, he has ignored our cries for vengeance. For blood. But now his mind is cleared of the lies of his mother, and at last he can hear us. We have waited too long. But now he is ours. He will do our bidding.
“And what is your bidding?” Fen asked, not sure she wanted to know the answer.
Blood. We demand blood.
“Just…just let me talk to him,” she said imploringly, her firm stance slipping slightly.
No. He is ours now. He has no more need for lies and trickery.
“I’m his friend. Maybe I can help him do your…bidding.” The ghost paused, as if listening to voices that Fen could not hear.
Yes. Perhaps you can help him, if you are a friend to him. But bring me some token of his that proves you are truly joined in friendship. Then I will let you pass. For a moment, Fen felt hopelessness overwhelm her, but then she remembered Julan’s telepathy ring and quickly pulled it out of her bag. The blue stone glinted weakly in the darkness.
“This is his telepathy ring.” She slipped her’s off her finger. “And this is mine. We can communicate to one another with them if we’re apart.” The ghost seemed to study them thoughtfully.
That ring... you say it is his, and that you have another... and these allow you to communicate with each other? Fen nodded. Yes...I can sense his spiritual impression upon it. Very well. You are his friend, and you may pass. But remember – he is ours now. With that, the ghost vanished, and the door it had been guarding swung open. Relieved, Fen put away Julan’s ring and slid her’s back on her finger, then entered the cavern.
These tunnels were much darker than the eggmine, purplish in lighting and lined with strange, pulsating crystals. Fen followed the twists and turns, occasionally passing an ancestral ghost. They did not speak, but their many-layered voices whispered as she passed them.
...It helps, at times, to suffer into truth...
...Revenge will hunt the godless day and night – the destined end awaits...
...The madness haunts the midnight watch, the empty terror shakes you...
...The dead take root beneath the soil, they grow with hate...
She hurried past them, trying to ignore their whispers. After following the tunnels for what felt like hours, she came to a round hole overlooking a low pit. There was a bedroll and a fire in the corner of the pit, but what Fen noticed the most was a young dark-haired man, sprinting from place to place in the pit and shouting nonsense while a solid wall of ghosts swarmed around him, their inhuman voices carrying up to her.
“Julan!” Fen shouted, jumping down into the pit. She ran over to him, grabbed his arm, but he pushed her away, his eyes wild, and sprinted to a different part of the pit, the ghosts following him and immediately converging on him. Blood. “Stop it!” she shouted at them. “Please! Stop it!”
Earthwalker, one of the ghosts hissed, turning away from its fellows to speak to her while the others pursued Julan. Why are you addressing us? This is clan business, family business. You have no place in this.
“Please stop it,” Fen begged. “You’re hurting him!”
Yes, we are hurting him. Because he will not listen. So we make him listen. Until he agrees to carry out vengeance for our kin.
“It’s not helping!” she shouted. “You’re going to break his mind!”
His mind matters little. What matters is blood – shared blood and spilled. We called to him in his dreams, but the lies of his mother made him unable to listen. Now he can hear us – but still he resists!
“Whose blood is it you want?”
We demand blood in payment for that of our fallen brother, Han-Sashael. He lies unburied in the Daedra caves, cruelly slain through a woman's evil and jealous love. She must pay, and his bones must be returned to the tribe for burial.
“Yes, well, I’ll make sure he knows that,” Fen said quickly. “Just get out of his head!”
He must do our bidding. We are his ancestors. His father was murdered. His duty of vengeance is clear.
“Yes, but you aren’t making much progress with that, are you?” The ghost paused, its empty eye sockets gazing critically at her. “Let me talk to him.”
Very well, it hissed finally. But know this – if he resists, we will return. And he will find no rest until he obeys us. With that, all the ghosts in the room vanished, their harsh voices gone and leaving the cavern mercifully silent. Julan squatted on the ground, his head bent and his hands pulling at his hair, shaking. Fen went over and placed a hand gently on his shoulder, kneeling beside him.
“Julan?” He looked up at her slowly, his eyes terrified, then glanced around the pit. He seemed to relax, but only slightly.
“Looks like you’ve saved me again,” he said with a shaky laugh. “Thank you. A lot. It’s just…”
“Issues with relatives?” Fen said with a smile, and Julan grinned weakly.
“I went to my mother. She told me everything.” He shook his head and sat back, leaning against the wall of the pit. “I can’t believe it. I have to confront her.”
“To kill her?” Fen asked warily. Julan sighed.
“I don’t know. I just…we’ll have to see. Can we get out of here first? Before my crazy ancestors come back?” Fen led the way back out of the maze of tunnels, then through the eggmine and back outside. It had grown dark in the time since Fen had entered the mine.
“So, what now?” Julan said as he firmly shut the door on the eggmine. “Do you think I should go home and face my mother? I don’t feel ready for this, but then, I’m not sure I ever will.”
“You should,” she replied. “And I’ll be there. Just promise me you’ll talk to her before you try to kill her.”
“Of course I will…she is my mother, after all…” He drifted off, gazing out over the dark, purplish mountains of the Ashlands. In the distance, a lone silt strider navigated the foyadas, its grim moan echoing across the hills.
“Let’s teleport there now, all right?” She handed him his ring.
“Right,” Julan said, and they activated their rings. In an instant, they stood in the sand before Mashti’s yurt. The tide had gone out, and the sand before the yurts was littered with small creatures and broken shells.
“Are you ready?” Fen asked him, and he nodded, his jaw set, and led the way into the yurt.
“Julan!” Mashti cried when they entered, leaping up from where she had been crouched. Her eyes were wild. “My child, you must –”
“Be silent!” he shouted, drawing his sword and directing it at her throat. “I ‘must’ nothing. I’m here for answers from you, and nothing more. I know you murdered my father. But I want to hear it from you. Why you did it. And why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.” There was a long silence. Fen had never seen this side of Julan before, and she remained quiet, watching Mashti readily. Fen was not prepared to forgive Julan’s mother either. Not yet.
“So. That is why you have come. You ask me why I murdered Han-Sashael? I shall tell you anything you wish.”
“You did do it,” Julan snarled. “You admit it.”
“But you know everything, do you not?” Mashti said bitterly. “If you know that I killed him, then surely you know the rest? Please, tell all the sins of your wicked mother, since you know them so well.”
“I know what the scout said happened. I never believed it could be true, until now.”
“But now you believe it. And you no longer believe your mother.”
“You speak nothing but lies. Lies to hide your shame and your failure. Everything they said about you was true, yet I defended you. But you...you are despicable. You lured him to his death in some cave.”
“Some cave...?” she muttered incredulously. “The cave is known as Sanit. It lies south of here. Its tunnels run deep, even running beneath Red Mountain. It is the source of the Daedra and corprus beasts invading these lands. Sashael... he was so bold, so reckless. Drunk with the thrill of the chase, perhaps he thought that he could drive back the beasts beneath the mountain, and finally make his people safe...”
“He was lured there by you!” Julan shouted. “I know you can summon Hungers, and make them obey you! You were seen approaching the cave!”
“Yes, I was watching. I scarcely believed that he could be so foolish...”
“Shut up! You KILLED the guard! Then you entered the cave to finish the job!”
“You really killed the guard?” Fen asked quietly, and they both looked at her.
“I did,” Mashti said bluntly. “He refused to let me come near him. His fear made him rash...and I was forced to defend myself. I had to follow Sashael, to stop him. I had seen the things that dwelt deep in that cave. There was far worse than mere Hungers in there.”
“Oh, so you went in to save him?” Julan snarled. “Ha! Funny how they all ended up dead, then, isn’t it? And you came out without a scratch!”
“I... I was too late,” Mashti whispered, tears pooling in her eyes, her hands shaking. “His men were dead, and he...he had gone deeper in, lost in a haze of slaughter. Killing all in his path, unaware he was the only one still standing. I ran and ran through caves full of corpses, but deep beneath the mountain the tunnels were dark and maze-like, and I could not find him. I heard him, dying, but I could not...I never even found his body.” Julan said nothing, but his face had lost some of its hardness.
“I shut myself in my yurt for a week. I said that I was praying to Azura, so that my son might not know of my grief.”
“I…I remember that,” Julan muttered, lowering his sword slowly. Fen placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Maybe she’s telling the truth,” she said gently.
“Believe me, or do not believe me,” Mashti said wearily. “It is the truth. I am sick of lies, and now it matters not. He is lost to me, and now you too are lost to me. Nothing matters to me now.”
“Perhaps I might believe you,” Julan said finally. “But...why did you never tell me, while he lived? He was my father, and I never knew him. How could you deny me that chance?”
“Deny? What have I denied you? The chance to be rejected and reviled, as I have been! If you would tell me of my sins, then tell of his as well. He denied you, not I, he refused you as his son. I merely spared you the pain of knowing it. I loved you too much to make you endure what I suffered. And now you truly know all I have to tell you. You may kill me now, if that is your wish. I have no reason to live longer.”
“Let’s go outside, Fen,” Julan muttered, sheathing his sword and ducking out of the yurt. Fen cast a glance at Mashti, keeled over before the fire, her face hidden, and followed as Julan walked up to the water and gazed out at the cold, hard gray surface of the sea.
“Are you all right?” she asked quietly.
“I know what I have to do now,” Julan said after a moment. “I have to recover my father’s bones.” Fen looked up at him. “My father’s body lies deep in the tunnels beneath Red Mountain. His spirit cannot rejoin the tribal ancestors, and so he cannot protect the tribe. I have to return his bones, so they can be properly buried. Only then can the Ahemmusa regain their strength, with the support of his powerful spirit!”
“But what about vengeance for his death? I thought the ancestors told you that Mashti had to die.”
“I’m still not sure about that. Perhaps if I find where my father died, there will be evidence of what happened, and some way of proving if Mother's story is true.”
“What if she did kill him?” Fen asked quietly.
“Then...I’ll do whatever I have to. It’s my duty. You see, I realized...I’m not the Nerevarine, and I never was. But one thing was true all along – I have a sacred mission to save my people. And now I know how. But I think it’s time we talked about you. And what you will do, now that you are the Nerevarine.”
“Oh,” Fen said, glancing down at the ring on her finger. “I nearly forgot.” Julan chuckled.
“It’s really okay, you know,” Julan went on. “I meant what I said in my letter. You did get that, didn’t you? Everything just seems to make more sense now.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Fen said, staring at the ring. “This is insane. I can’t be the Nerevarine.” She shook her head. “It still hasn’t hit me yet.”
“I understand how you feel. Believe me, I thought the same thing many times. But I always knew there was something special about you.” He smiled. “You’re going to be a great hero. I don’t think you’re going to need my help. Still, I’m going to offer it to you anyway. You were ready to follow me up Red Mountain once, and may Sheogorath take me if I won’t do the same for you.”
“I thought you didn’t want to travel with me anymore,” Fen said wryly. “You threw your telepathy ring away, remember?”
“That was before I knew what I had to do,” he said simply. “And I never said I didn’t want to help you, I just didn’t think you would want my help. I’m still not sure why you came looking for me. You have your own destiny now, and you won’t need me to fulfill it.”
“You don’t need me either,” Fen replied. “You were right that you don’t need a trainer anymore. But I think both of us could use a friend.” Julan’s face broke into a grin.
“You’re right. As usual!” He grinned. “Come on, let’s get going. I have to save my tribe, and you have to save the whole of Morrowind! Gods, you’d better not let your ego get the better of you, or you’ll be worse than Shani!”
“Shani!” Fen said suddenly, remembering. “I told Shani I’d let her know as soon as I found you. Is it all right if we stop by the Varo Tradehouse?” Julan complied, and they started off across the long, dark grasses slick with dew towards the flickering lights of Tel Vos.

Julan, this quest, and the majority of his dialogue are from the Julan Ashlander Companion mod.

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