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The Strangeness of Dryskins

Kaal Dreenjee of the Naga-Kur, Tyrrya Len (translator)

By Kaal Dreenjee of the Naga-Kur
Translated by Tyrrya Len, The Wayrest Wanderer

I write the truth in these words. Dryskins come to Murkmire, their presence unwelcome and unbidden. Those who who enter into Dead-Water land will be slain. This is known to all of Murkmire.

But I bow my head. Sometimes we travel to tribes who welcome these outsiders. They ask us to honor their foolish choice. So we must learn more than how to kill the dryskin. I clench my fist. For these times, we must learn to make peace. I write truth words so that the Naga are prepared.

Dryskins have weak flesh, easily bruised and cut. Their skin blisters and breaks after touching many swamp plants. So too are their stomachs weak. A hatchling's meal may cause a dryskin to grow sick. Even without the aid of a spear, many outsiders will die from the simple nature of the swamp. I grin.

My eyes have not seen, but my ears have heard that the dryskins give birth to their young live. I shudder at such a thought. These infants (the dryskin word for their hatchlings) are completely vulnerable and weak. They cannot even walk. My eyes narrow in confusion. How can such creatures survive into adulthood?

And then there are their stone nests that take many hands and many stones to build. But if the ground begins to sink? If storms begin to ravage? Then they are left destitute and miserable. I shake my head at such foolishness. It is another way in which the dryskins wish to be unchanging.

A last truth to be written. These outsiders must never be tolerated. They have shown their vile natures time and time again. May the tribes of Black Marsh one day shun these dryskins and drive them out! Just as the Naga have always done.

Children of the Root

Solis Aduro

"[Note: Collected by researcher Solis Aduro from an oral tradition of the Adzi-Kostleel tribe and not otherwise attested.]

There was first only Atak, the Great Root. It knew of nothing but itself, so it decided to be everything. It grew and grew, trying to fill the nothing with itself. As it grew it formed new roots, and those roots took names, and they wanted space of their own to grow.

Then Atak learned that there were things other than itself. They were just like Atak, but went a different way from it. They saw and made strange new things that did not last except in how it changed them.

Atak continued to grow until something came back from the nothing. It was like a root but had scales and eyes and a mouth. It told Atak that it was called Kota, and it had been growing, too. Now that it had a mouth, it was hungry.

Atak named Kota for what it was: serpent! It put roots through the serpent's eyes. But Kota was old and strong like the root, and had grown fangs while it was away. It bit Atak. They coiled around each other. From their struggle, new things came to be. Atak learned things Kota had learned, including hunger, and so it bit Kota back. They ate and roiled for so long they became one and forgot their conflict.

They shed their skin and severed their roots and called themselves Atakota, who said "Maybe."

When Atakota said this, the skin it had shed knew itself. It ate the severed roots and even though it was dead, it followed Atakota like a shadow.

Atakota continued to roil, and each of its scales was a world that it devoured. But now Atakota was not in conflict, and things had time to begin and end. The shadow wished it could eat these things, but its belly was full of roots that were growing.

When the shadow could bear it no longer, it swam closer to Atakota and spat out the roots. Now that its belly was empty, the shadow almost ate them again and everything else it saw. But it had come to see the roots as its own after carrying them, so instead it told them secrets and went to sleep.

The roots found others and told them how they had survived in the belly of the shadow and how they were still able to grow there. When they shared this knowledge with the others it changed them, and they took on new forms with new names.

Some of these spirits wanted to keep the names and forms they had chosen, but they had learned them through the shadow, and it was now in all of them, making them temporary. They learned of hunger and conflict, and they learned to fear change and called it Death.

These spirits were angry and afraid, but the roots showed the spirits ways between places from when Atak had made paths out of nothing. They could use these riverways to hide from Death.

The spirits were content and set about to make things that looked like them and shared in their aspects and loved them. They kept growing until they were as big as Atakota, and they forgot it came before them, and that it had a shadow that was sleeping.

In time, the worlds were too big and there was no more room. Again the spirits went to the roots to ask for more. But the roots had gone to sleep content with what they had made, because it changed so often that it did not need to grow.

The spirits grew so desperate and hungry that they tore at Atakota's skin and drank of its blood. They ate until they broke Atakota, so that Atak remembered growing, and Kota remembered being nothing. There was conflict again, and from the spirits Atak and Kota learned about Death, so there was violence, blood, and sap.

In the chaos the spirits were lost and afraid, so they ate others and themselves. They drank of blood and sap, and they grew scales and fangs and wings. And these spirits forgot why they had made anything other than to eat it.

There were other spirits that still clung to what they were and what they had made. A forest spirit came and saw that the roots loved their children like she loved hers, so she taught them to walk and talk. They told her secrets with new words, and she sang the song back to them. The roots woke up when they heard this, and joined with the forest.

The roots saw that Kota's blood had made oceans, and Atak's sap had made stones, and each of these spirits had never known the shadow. The roots knew what this would mean, and asked the shadow to protect its children.

The shadow woke. It looked upon Kota and Atak and saw how different the nothing had become and how it was becoming the same as before. It remembered it was the skin of Atakota, and it was bigger than Kota or Atak alone, so it decided it would eat them both.

And it did. The shadow ate the snake and the root, and the sap and stone, and the oceans of blood, and all of the spirits. It had eaten everything before it remembered the roots that were its children, so it looked unto itself to find them. When the shadow saw this, it remembered that it was a skin of something that came before, and it had eaten what came after, and this would be an end that always was.

And so the shadow shed its skin, even though that was all it was, and it fell like a shroud over the roots, promising to keep them safe within its secrets.

Letter to Septimius

Junia Severa

Brother Septimius,

Since you took me as your pupil, I have learned many things. The most important lesson, for me, was finally having someone tell me to be reckless. Like you, I have a curious soul. I could not have lived a normal life. You told me to let my curiosity get me killed if I had to. You gave me a list of mysteries to solve and sent me into Black Marsh. You taught me not to fear Argonia. You kept me afloat, and I had not realized it until I received word of your failing health.

We have shared many discoveries through our correspondence over the years. I truly believe I will complete the list one day. Assuming, that is, I can ever return to Black Marsh. Yes, Brother Septimius, even though you bade me not to worry, I have set out for Cyrodiil. I will be at your side through this. Until then, I will put personal matters aside and give you something to read while you are abed.

You placed the most difficult mystery at the top of the list, no doubt hoping it would scare me off. What is the nature of the Hist?

I do not have the answer. I do not even have many statements to make about this subject I would consider fact. I only hope you will still enjoy my conjecture.

They are merely trees say some skeptical people. Trees grown by the lizard folk of Black Marsh so they can drink of the sap. They all remember Topal's description of a fetid and evil place, and they naturally draw wary conclusions. Legions came back speaking of venomous plants, poisonous bogs, and strange defenders that attack with fury one day and ignore invaders the next. And when even the more "civilized" lizard folk cannot seem to provide answers that assuage their fears, well, it is no surprise these so-called learned scholars have come to fear Argonians and their strange trees.

Those in our circle would add that these trees are sentient, and it may be that they are the ones that grew the lizard folk. I had hoped to prove or disprove this by careful study of the birth cycle of the Saxhleel. Unfortunately, as you know, every answer was another question. I can only say with certainty that every interview I have been able to conduct about this topic resulted in the conclusion that the Saxhleel cannot fathom the idea of one coming before the other. I will not digress into further discussion about the way this fascinating culture views linear events, as you have asked me not to do so every time I write.

But I can tell you this, old friend, the Hist are not simply trees, regardless of sentience. It is true that the trees are impressive and demand a certain respect when you stand beneath them, but I have always found the roots most fascinating. If only I could properly describe the things I have seen, Brother Septimius. Beneath the swamp the roots grow deep and spread so wide it is impossible to know which tree they originated from. In a way, I believe, the roots are the marsh. The roots hold it all together, and they determine when it changes.

I know we have spoken of this before, and you posited that the chaotic nature of the marsh is simply a result of a type of magic similar to what we have seen from the Elves of Valenwood. I cannot refute the claim and I see the logic in it, but I do not believe it to be true.

I have seen skilled trackers foiled by this land on a whim. I cannot say I have ever seen it move, but I have picked up a good enough sense of navigation in my time to know when I am being led in circles. And that is without going into more questionable theories of relative space. I believe like the Saxhleel change to accommodate their environment, the roots change Black Marsh in a way that it sees most fit.

I tell you, Brother Septimius, the province of Black Marsh has never once been close to conquered. The borders can barely even be considered Argonia. The maps cannot be correct. The roots grow too deep and too wide for us to know the true Argonia.

All of academia has been too focused on the sap. Is it not the Wood Elves I just wrote of who call themselves the Tree-Sap People?

The Saxhleel are the People of the Root, and that is where I will find the answer to your most challenging mystery.

It will have to wait until I return. I will see you soon and we will get you on the path to healing.

With love,
Junia Severa

A Grand Transformation

Tree-Minder Hleelieek

We cannot fear change, cannot turn our heads from it. This we know, and always must know deep within our heart-roots. Sometimes, the change comes from outside forces; the passing of a season, or the death of a loved one. Other times, this change comes from within ourselves. A need to shake away an old identity, and embrace a new one.

There are many ways to change oneself, of course. Some travel to far off land, taking in a new culture and lifestyle. Others choose to practice a new craft, woodworkers turned warriors, tailors turned egg-tenders. But others feel they need an even deeper change in their life, and so require the aid of the Hist. They are those who have chosen to change their gender.

Something deep within these individuals calls for them to undergo this change. I do not know if it is the Hist's will, or simply their own. But always I listen with open mind and open palms, ready to help them in this time of transformation. Together we commune with the Hist, and prepare to receive its aid.

The ceremony always leaves me breathless. Though the Hist watches over the tribe and guides us along our needed paths, rarely does it take direct action. But during this time, Hist and spirit combine, a loving embrace followed by a great change.

Afterwords, I reintroduce the newly transformed soul to the tribe. They are greeted by all, and a great celebration will follow; for someone beloved has left us, and someone beloved has arrived.

Egg-Tender's Journal


This year will be different. I've started chewing dragonthorn like we used to in the old times. If I keep that up along with my tinctures for the months to come. I should be ready for the bonding. It'll be me this year. I know it.

I'm so embarrassed. The dragonthorn is pungent. It's made my breath sour and the others have begun to notice. Even Mimme seems reluctant to talk to me. I complained of having bad salamander, but I'm going to have to be more discreet in chewing my herbs.

I feel like it's working. I think my scales and claws are looking shinier. That's a good sign, I think. My teeth are staining yellow though. I've started drinking brewed scaldroot to clean my mouth. It tastes like death, but I think it'll help my teeth.

Keenum accidentally took a sip of my scaldroot tea and nearly passed out. I had to work his watch at the uxith, so I couldn't get out to the dragonthorn patch until after dark. I was approached in the dark by a woman whose scales were so pale, especially under the moonlight. I almost screamed from fright, but she spoke warmly to me. She asked why I was picking dragonthorn in the dark of night and, I don't know why, but I told her the truth. I don't know why I would admit such a thing to a stranger. Maybe it's because she's a stranger. There's no one in the village I can speak to about it without a look of impotent pity. I spoke to the stranger long into the night. We agreed to meet again.

I've gotten so little sleep lately, but I can't help it. Ree-Nakal tells me she can only visit me in the night and I spend all day thinking about seeing her again. She understands my pain and it's such a relief to have someone who can listen. I don't feel the shame I do when the subject comes up at home. Ree-Nakal is one of the Veeskhleel, the Ghost People. I never expected her to be so nice. The Bright-Throats don't deal with them. Not many tribes do. They are treated like pariahs because they take eggs, but it can't be helped. They can't bear clutches themselves, so their Hist sends them to find others. It's so sad.

I talked to Ree-Nakal about the bonding. I suggested that maybe the Bright-Throats could make an arrangement with the Ghost People for bonding rights, so they wouldn't have to steal eggs anymore. She thanked me, but it was just out of politeness. I could see it in her eyes that she held little hope of our tribes becoming allies. She said our bond was a unique one and it will have to be enough. I didn't press the matter. I didn't want to become for her what my tribe has become for me. I won't pity her.

It's a sad day. It's always a sad day when we learn which eggs will return to the Hist. Why does the Hist choose some eggs over others? I understand the eggs that are clearly unwell, but we can't always predict which will go on to hatch and which will sink in to the roots. I've always accepted that there's nothing we can do for them, but Ree-Nakal tells me that's not true. They can still be hatched. She offered to help me save them, if I can get the eggs to her. My tribe wouldn't even miss them. They've already given up on those children, but I won't. I'll care for them. They'll be our children.

I was supposed to work with Keenam again tonight, but I spiked his drink with scaldroot extract. I should be able to slip away with a few eggs throughout the night. It's terrifying to think about, but those eggs need me. I won't give up because I'm scared.

I did it. My skin was dry as dead bark when the morning watch came to relieve me. I told them that a few of the eggs returned to the Hist in the night and they just nodded and accepted it. I got a lump in my throat at how little the news bothered them.

It took me hours to fall asleep. I thought that the Tree-Minder would come and accuse me, but as I woke for my next watch, everything was perfectly normal. Does the Hist know what I've done?

I've given Ree-Nakal nearly all the unfit eggs from our last clutch. There were so many when I think about it. Such a waste, but not now. She told me that the eggs I'd already brought to her are safely in nests under the watch of her tribe's folk and doing well. She doesn't think it wise for me to leave and see them just yet. Better to wait until after I've saved the last of the eggs. That shouldn't be much longer I think. I can barely keep my quill steady when I think about it.

My children are doing well, or so I'm told. I haven't been able to see my eggs yet. I'm reminded of their absence every day as I tend to the eggs in my village. I want to tend to my clutch. I'm their mother. Is this how the others feel when we are raising their eggs?

Ree-Nakal tells me the clutch is nearly hatched! I told her I want to be there for it, but she says it's not the time. The bonding ritual is coming again soon, and I would be missed. I don't care though. The tribe can do without me, but not those eggs. They need me!

I haven't seen Ree-Nakal since we fought. I'm afraid she won't come back. If she doesn't, I don't know what I'll do. I don't know where to find her. I don't know where my children are! All I wanted was to see them!

Scaly Steeds of Black Marsh


By Ukaspa, Lilmoth Stablemaste

I have noticed that many dryskins are emotionally attached to their hairy mounts, although they aren't actually related. (The exception may be our neighbors the Khajiiti, who tell us all cats are their relatives. It might even be true, but who can read a Khajiit's facial expression, all whiskers and twitching ears? No wonder nobody trusts them.) Anyway: dryskins ride their beloved furry mounts into Black Marsh and then their steeds disappear into sudden-sand, or catch sloughskin from the fleshflies, or eat a spotted toadstool, and sploosh! They're dead, and the dryskins leak water from their eyes.

Yes, a terrible situation for the sad beek-ojel, and one so easily avoided! For almost every stablemaster of the Marsh has fine, scaly lizard mounts available for purchase in various forms, all familiar to dryskins but specifically adapted to deep swamp conditions! So convenient, our lizard-steeds, so scaly and personable. Who would not want one? Or even several?

More than once I have been asked by inquisitive beek-ojel, "Ukaspa, why are your lizard-steeds shaped like mounts from other parts of Tamriel? Why are there horse-lizards, camel-lizards, and senche-lizards? Why aren't your so-very-handsome mounts shaped like, well, lizards?" These are good questions, and I, Ukaspa, will answer them, except for the parts that are a Big Mystery.

You know that we Saxhleel are different from you dryskins because we are the children of the Hist, right? But what, you wonder, does that mean, since the Hist are trees and we are clearly not saplings? Well, the Hist are much-more-than-trees, they are the wisdom with roots! They grow tall, wide, and very, very wise, but must stay where they grow, which is sometimes inconvenient. But the Hist see humans and Elves with their walking legs and clever hands, and wisely think, oh, good idea! Now, scurrying over their roots and everywhere in the Marsh are the kind of lizards we call "useful." And a happening happens where the Hist take the kind of lizards we call "useful" and make from them the kind of people you call Argonians.

You see where the current is taking us, do you not? The Hist have Argonians who are their children of the walking legs and clever hands, and they are the best people ever because they lack all the flaws of humans and Elves. But sometimes they want to travel a long way for a long time, and how do people-shaped-people do that? On mounts! And so useful lizards happen to become lizard-steeds of proven shapes, and then Argonians can ride, tall in the saddle and proud!

But I know you beek-ojel, you always want to know more, as if knowledge moistens the scales (it does not, by the way). Knowing that useful lizards happen to become children of the Hist and also lizard-steeds is not enough, you want to know all the details, especially if they are what dryskins call "sexy." However, that is where Ukaspa cannot help, because all of that is a Big Mystery. Oh, not from Argonians of the Hist, because how could it be a Big Mystery to us, who know All the Clues? But you have no clues, because you are not our egg-siblings. Sorry? Anyway, that's what I can tell you about lizard-steeds, so you can go now. Wallow with joy, stay moist, and don't wander around loose in the deep swamp like fools, all right?

Chestplate of Desiccation

Wuja-Nakal and Glenadir

Interview of Wuja-Nakal, Former Slave
Transcribed by Relicmaster Glenadir

Yes, our Telvanni jailers would often use this as a punishment. For one of my kind, there are few greater displeasures than the feeling of dryness. We are used to heat of course, but the humid heat of the Black Marsh swamps. Not this.

They had more mundane means to dry out a Saxhleel. They would lock us in cages, allow the summer's sun to do their work. But during the rainy days, or as the fog rolled across the islands, they would force us to wear this. Bind our hands so we couldn't remove it. Wait for the chestplate to take effect.

The feeling was slow, but after the first time. The dread was choking, knowing what was to come. It would begin as a slight discomfort, almost just an itch. The tips of your scales would feel it first, but slowly it would sink down to your center. Your tongue would feel shriveled in your mouth. You would close your eyes, but nothing could soothe them. Your hide would slowly tighten, inch by inch.

They always made sure you didn't die, no matter how much you craved it.

Interview with Three Argonians in Shadowfen


Journal of Arctus Eucebius, fellow of the New Publican Nibenean Geographic Society.

We live in a singular time. Never before (and soon, perhaps, never again) have the borders into Black Marsh been this open. It is thus my duty as a son of Tamriel and an heir to the spirit of Cyrodiil to document this land for my fellow man, and all men to come.

Day 1.
My research begins in the approved manner, with a formal interview with Vicecanon Heita-meen. After the necessary niceties, I was able to ask her the following questions.

If you don't mind, would you explain to me the political structure of Black Marsh, if there is one? Common knowledge dictates that the whole land is nothing but independent tribes and scattered fortresses, yet such cannot be true of a state hoping to be respected in Tamriel's political arena.

“You direct such questions to me because I appear to exert command over my fellow Saxhleel. But this a mere semblance for the convenience of diplomacy. Do not forget it—I never do.

“O curious child, very few of the people of Black Marsh ‘hope to be respected in Tamriel’s political arena,’ or even think of the Land Outside at all. Each Hist is a tribe, each tribe is a Hist, and it is enough to flow where the current of life takes one each day. The tribes of northern Black Marsh act in loose confederation in response to invasion and the predation of slavers, and on this basis have ‘joined’ the Ebonheart Pact in an alliance of mutual defense. The enslavement of Saxhleel, at least in our immediate territories, has been suppressed, and we feel that countering this great and historical evil justifies some cultural dilution and spiritual abrasion.

“Other confederations of various tribes have occurred in the ‘past,’ and in response to as-yet-unforeseen threats, will doubtless occur again in the ‘future.’ We have seen this in western Black Marsh, for example, in the region of Gideon, when the tribes there have come under pressure from inhabitants of Cyrodiil. I have heard as well that sometimes tribes of the south or east coasts band together to resist the incursions of raiders from Morrowind and Elsweyr. Sometimes, it is said, all Black Marsh may even cohere and raise a temporary monarch. It could be. When the need is upon us, the Saxhleel unite and are strong—but when no need compels such deformation of daily existence, why bother?”

So far only the region of Shadowfen has joined the Ebonheart Pact and opened itself up to civilization. What would you say to Murkmire or Lilmoth to persuade them to open their hearts and their borders?

“So far the Ebonheart Pact has only opened its hearts and borders to the civilization of Shadowfen. What would you say to the Telvanni, the Ghost Sea Raiders, or the Blackwooders to persuade them to regard Black Marsh as other than an unclaimed land of people and provender to be pillaged without remorse?”

You were born into slavery in Dunmeri lands, were you not? Your willingness to work alongside the people who enslaved you is admirable, if entirely beyond my comprehension. The so called god-queen Almalexia comes to mind as one who had the power to stop this barbaric practice at any point yet did not do so.

“I was born into slavery in Argonian lands oppressed by Dark Elves who followed a tradition of wickedness. Yet traditions can be changed by those who exert their will and strength to change them. To us, the religions of men and mer seem to exist mainly to enforce tradition and resist change. This is inexplicable, so we do not concern ourselves with it overmuch. The needs of daily existence are of sufficient concern already.”

My own people's history also begins with a slave uprising. Alessia's rebellion lead to a great Empire stretching over the heartlands and beyond. Do your people have similar aspirations?

“What a curious question. The aspiration of an entire people: what would such a thing be? And why? We Saxhleel do not have common ‘aspirations’—we have no need. We have the Hist.”

Day 8.
I have long left behind what little comfort and civility this land holds. I had hoped to find more pure accounts here, but was instead rewarded with sickness after sickness and a seemingly incurable foot fungus. My two guides (a one-eyed Argonian and a positively giant Dunmer who call each other brothers) laugh at my misery.

I did finally find one individual who both spoke Tamrielic and was willing to be interviewed. Heem-Jas' answers to my standard questions were brief and boring, at least until I managed to find a topic that got him talking.

Every Argonian I've talked to has told me that the Hist play a vital part in the life of an Argonian. Some books I've read even suggest that they are able to telepathically control you to form armies or act against your judgement. Is there any truth to this?

“I am glad that you asked this question, but I do not think I will be able to answer it clearly. I am, after all, just a doughty adventurer, not a sap-speaker. What would I know? I will try my best, though. There are many words that we use in Jel that do not have sisters in the dry tongue. Maybe an analogy would help.

“My egg-mother always said that the Hist are like a turtle shell. The shell protects the turtle from harm, but it also gives a turtle its shape. Without its shell, a turtle is just a lizard. That is why Lukiul Argonians act strangely and cannot read our spines.

“The thing to remember is that where the shell goes, the turtle goes. If a shell tumbles down a hill, so does the turtle. If a shell is wedged in a net, the turtle is wedged in a net too. So you see, when the Xit-Xaht’s Hist is trapped under a heavy rock called ‘crazy,’ the Xit-Xaht are trapped too. It is a sad thing to behold.”

Isn't monolithic stone the way of your ancestors? Why is mud and stick superior to something that has lasted generations?

“It is not always wise to follow an ancestor’s example. If I swam in the wake of my egg-fathers, I would be mending weir nets and fileting eels, not embarking on heroic quests. But my words wander. I will tell you what the elders told me.

“Father Sithis is the changer. Waters rise and fall. Storms come and go. Saxhleel live and die. Always in motion, you see? Nothing lasts forever. If this is true, why build stone houses? Stone is boring. A rock pulled out of the ground is just a rock. But leather? Leather springs from its egg alive and wriggling. It grows, and scars, and wrinkles. And wood? Wood starts as a tiny seed, but eventually grows leaves and bark and knobby-knees. Mud, wood, bone—they are always changing. Stone though? Stone fancies itself immortal. It is silly and vain.

“So a stone house may last a long time, but in the end it still crumbles. Your lands are littered with broken keeps and old ruins, are they not? Now they are just square caves where monsters live.

“No one and nothing can fight the river forever. Better to be brave and flow with it.”

Perhaps this Hist is attempting to return to a grander Argonian civilization?  Is that goal not admirable, however wrong the steps it uses to reach it?

“Ha. I hope you will forgive me for saying that your question is very dry. No Saxhleel would say such a thing. I should ask you a question in reply: what makes a thing grand?

“Do as I do. Think on your greatest heroes.  When you were a hatchling, did you listen to stories about heroes that sat quietly for centuries and then aged into obscurity? That would be a very boring story. I know this because I tell very exciting stories. Heroes are like a stiff wind through the reeds. They rattle the world with their greatness, and then fade away as quickly as they came. Heroes do not fear death. What is this ‘grander Argonian civilization’ if not fear of death? Fear of forgetting?

“I think that dry-skins would feel much better if they forgot things every so often. You are so focused on the ‘great’ and the ‘lasting,’ it binds you up. My egg-mother told me that memory is like digestion. The wasso fruit tastes very fine, but if you try to keep that fruit too long, it gives you a belly-ache.  Better to let it pass and find new fruit.

“The Hist know this better than anyone. Even the greatest empires are nothing but a flicker of time’s candle for them. The only constant is change, you see? Well … that and my thirst for adventure, of course.”

Day 12.
On the long road to Alten Corimont I ran into a most unusual individual - his Tamrielic was impeccable, especially by Black Marsh standards, and he claimed to be a Shadowscale in service to the Dark Brotherhood! This was an opportunity I simply could not pass up.

I've been told that Shadowscales are those Argonians who are born under the sign of the shadow, which is dominant in the month of Second Seed. Surely thousands of Argonians are born during that month, yet you are the first Shadowscale I've ever encountered!

“Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I gave away all our secrets, would I? Hmm. I can give you a few scraps to chew on. Most of the secrets are meaningless superstitions anyway.

“Yes, Argonians born under the Shadow are often (but not always) shipped off to assassin-camp to learn all the finer points of stealth and murder. There are some very dedicated tribes like the Kota-Vimleel that pour all their resources into breeding assassins, but I suspect most tribes choose one or two of their strongest hatchlings to send to Sithis while keeping the rest safe at home. That was certainly the case with me.

“Admission to a Shadowscale school is just the first step. Many would-be Shadowscales are sent back to the swamp within a few weeks of arriving due to insubordination, blasphemy, or lack of fitness. Then there’s the slow attrition of the training process itself: mistakes handling poison, sparring mishaps, wild-animal attacks, etc. All of these things take a toll.

“Finally, and most importantly, the Shadowscales are masters of deception. We can be anywhere. Anyone. You’ve probably met more Shadowscales than you think.”

I've also heard that your order responds directly to the king of Black Marsh, but, as far as I know, no such title exists in the present.

“Ha! Yes, I’ve heard that as well. Delightful.

“Here, I’ll give you some advice. In the future, just assume that half of everything you hear about Argonians is total nonsense. Then, assume that the other half is misinterpreted or rife with error.

“There may have been a time when a monarch reigned over Black Marsh, but those days are gone. Sucked down into the mud with the xanmeers and Duskfall secrets. The current (and most popular) interpretation is that the monarch’s role as commander of the Shadowscales was always overstated. The order’s first and only sovereign is Sithis itself. The king may have been seen as Sithis’ avatar, or his mud-anointed servant, but who knows now? The Scalded Throne’s been empty for centuries … if there was ever a Scalded Throne to begin with. I’d be shocked if a king ever sat on it again.”


[The rest of the journal has been lost to time.]



Dry-skins often ask me about the teeba-hatsei. They see the ball and the court and say all kinds of funny things. Today the Tall-Elf I travel with pointed to the court and asked, "This is a garden, yes?" I didn't know how to respond, so I just blinked at him. What kind of garden grows no food? Tall-Elves can be very stupid. Still, I think I should write down the rules so people ask me fewer questions.

Teeba-hatsei means something like "hip and tail ball" in the dry tongue. All of us play it—some better than others. I was never very good. My arms are too long and my tail is too thin. The best teeba-players are short and bulky, with broad tails like alligators and hips that swing like bags of cinnamon-grass.

The game is played on a broad field of dry mud and salt-meadow hay. On either end of the field is a wall of mud and eeto cane. The size of the field and the height of the wall vary from village to village. In Xiniss, for example, the wall is twenty hands tall. Two reed hoops are suspended over the field. One is about thirty hands high. The other is about fifty. Again, this varies. For example, the Tum-Taleel tend to set their hoops lower as they are fat and stupid and cannot jump very high.

Each team consists of five players. The game begins by tossing the ball (or teeba) skyward. Each team tries to hit the ball with their hips, elbows, or tails. This can hurt a bit since the teeba is very heavy and made of depasa gum. Some players wear pads of wood and dried wasso leaves to protect themselves, but most Saxhleel make fun of them for doing so.

The teeba is volleyed back and forth between the teams, with each player trying to strike the opposing wall with the ball. If they succeed, their team earns a point. Teamwork is very important. One player may tap the teeba upward so a second player can swat it with their tail. Tail-strikes tend to be much stronger. This continues until one of the teams has scored ten points.

Teams can earn three points by hitting the ball through the lower reed hoop. This is very difficult to do though, since the hole is so small. If a player is able to get the ball through the upper hoop, the game is over and whichever team has the highest score at that time is declared the winner.

There is, of course, much more to it. But this primer should at least keep the scaleless ones from trying to pitch their tents in the middle of the court.

On Playing the Frogs


Helga, you'll never believe what I saw the other day. I was walking through Tadulpa and came upon a small group of Argonian musicians. Most were playing clay flutes and lizard-hide drums, but one was playing the craziest instrument I've ever seen. He called it a "vossa-satl." Apparently, there are all kinds of vossa-satls—some as small as a jaw harp and some as big as a pipe organ! My new friend's vossa-satl was about the size of a game hen. Sounded a bit like a game hen, too.

The instrument looks kind of like a polished wooden clam shell with a series of valves along the top. Each segment of the shell is actually a small, hollow compartment with a mouth like a bugle (the one I saw had five). According to the musician, each chamber is a different size and produces a different tone.

Now here's the craziest part. They put live frogs inside! My friend was kind enough to open his vossa-satl to show me the five small frogs within, one in each chamber! He gushed over them like a new mother showing off her babies. He told me their names, what they did for fun, and what they liked to eat. The only thing he didn't tell me is where he found them. Apparently, the location of their spawning pond is a tightly guarded secret.

Before every performance, he squirts a few drops of frog-musk into each compartment. This drives the frogs wild and sets them chirping and croaking like mad. By pushing the valves, he's able to muffle certain chambers while leaving others open. This allows for some bizarre but harmonious notes! I could scarcely believe it! I offered to buy his instrument on the spot, but he refused. Just as well, I suppose. I doubt those frogs would survive a winter in Windhelm. I ended up buying you a flute instead. Not the most exciting instrument, but I'm sure it'll sound better than that old goat-horn bugle you love to play!