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Honorable Writs of Execution

Author: 
Enar Dren

Councilor Eris Redoran,

As you requested, I prepared this primer due to recent events involving the ancient guild of assassins known as the Morag Tong. You wanted to know everything available about the guild and its members in order to make informed decisions concerning how to respond to current activities aimed at our Great House. The guild personifies the darker aspects of Dunmer life, celebrating murder in the name of Mephala. Surprisingly, the group was created to curb violence and prevent the always contentious House politics of Morrowind from escalating into full-scale war. Since such a war has yet to erupt, I suppose you could say that the Morag Tong has thus far been a successful experiment.

The Morrowind government sanctioned the Morag Tong long ago during the First Era, and to this day they continue to perform tacitly legal assassinations, utilizing a system of contracts known as "honorable writs of execution." Under the established laws, no member of the Morag Tong can perform an execution without a writ detailing the exact target and purpose for the sanctioned murder. Maintaining an air of impartiality in regards to house politics, the Morag Tong carries itself with all the weight of a cherished and ancient institution. Members never act on their own accord and cannot take on missions of their own choosing. Instead, petitions for services are sent to the guild's Grandmaster for examination and consideration. If the petition is accepted, an honorable writ of execution is prepared and awarded to a Morag Tong member. From that point on, the contract's target is dead and just doesn't know it - before long the assassin makes contact and completes the deadly transaction.

Unlike other killers or even those crazed fanatics that belong to the Dark Brotherhood, the Morag Tong assassins admit to their acts and proudly brandish their honorable writs of execution after each kill. These writs pardon a Tong member of any legal entanglements that may occur in the administration of the associated contract. Indeed, by law, a Tong executioner must step forward and proclaim that a kill was performed legally and to the letter of the contract, thus absolving him- or herself and averting any subsequent ramifications related to the act. The Tong claims to provide no safe harbor for criminals, so any member that does not comply comes under investigation and internal punishment.

The origins of the Morag Tong remain shrouded in legend and conjecture. All I have been able to ascertain for sure is that the group emerged during the bloody House conflicts of early Morrowind, establishing the writ system and rising to prominence by the end of the First Era. The guild reached the height of its power about two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, operating openly across Tamriel and attaining a reputation as unparalleled, reasonable, and honorable killers. The group became too sure of itself, too confident of its position. After a number of high-profile assassinations of monarchs and great lords that frightened the Tamriel nobility, the Tong retreated back to its holdings in Morrowind and vanished from the public eye for more than a century. Today, the group maintains a subdued presence in Dark Elf lands, taking select contracts as they work to reestablish their name and reputation with the Great Houses.

The organization of the Morag Tong hasn't changed much over the years. A Grandmaster leads the guild, who then grants power to each guild hall's master to accept and assign writs. Note that individual members cannot accept a contract without approval, however, and the guild masters have proven over the years that they take great care when deciding to accept a contract. One possible avenue to explore should the conflict between House Redoran and the Morag Tong escalate is the group's affiliation with Mephala, the Daedric Prince of lies, deception, and murder. While the organization is sanctioned and their heretical ways mostly overlooked by the Tribunal, Ordinators and Buoyant Armigers will deal with these heretics swiftly and brutally if they catch them in the act of committing murder. I leave that for you to decide.

Enar Dren, House Redoran Master of Records

The Night Mother's Truth

Author: 
Gaston Bellefort

Although various works have been written on the subjects of both Morrowind's Morag Tong, and Tamriel's more widespread Dark Brotherhood, there remains confusion as to precisely when and how these two feared assassins guilds formed. Or, more specifically, when and how the Dark Brotherhood split from the Morag Tong, as the former is widely accepted to have sprung from the latter.

The largest point of contention seems to be the figure of the Night Mother, a woman who figures prominently in both organizations. Through extensive research and interviews, and not inconsiderable risk to my own life (for the Dark Brotherhood holds this information sacred), I have finally solved this ages-old mystery. I have finally uncovered the Night Mother's Truth.

Although her name has been lost to time, the Night Mother was once a mere mortal, a Dark Elf woman who lived in a small village once located where the city of Bravil stands now, in the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil. She was a respected member of the Morag Tong and, like her fellow members, this woman made her trade as an assassin in service to the Daedric Prince Mephala. In fact, the woman held the title of Night Mother, reserved for the highest ranking female member of the organization. To be Night Mother of a particular sect was to be that group's matron—the favored of Mephala, both respected and feared.

However, it was not Mephala who facilitated the transformation from woman to spectre, but another, some would say far deeper form of evil—Sithis, the Dread Lord, embodiment of the unending Void.

Following the Potentate's assassination in 2E 324, strife descended upon the Morag Tong, and the guild was all but eradicated in Cyrodiil and much of the Empire. It was shortly after these events that the Dunmer woman claimed to hear the voice of Sithis himself. The Dread Lord, she claimed, was displeased. He was unhappy with the Morag Tong's lack of success. The Void, he told her, was hungry for souls—and it was her destiny to set things right.

And so, according to Dark Brotherhood legend, Sithis visited the Night Mother in her bed chamber, and begat her five children. Two years passed, before the unthinkable happened. The Dark Elf woman followed through with the Dread Lord's ultimate plan—one night, she murdered her children, and sent their souls straight to the Void. Straight to their father.

When they learned of this affront to decency, the people of the village rallied against the woman. For such an act was considered incomprehensible, even for a Night Mother of the Morag Tong. In one night of vengeance, they descended upon the woman, killing her, and burning down the house in which the atrocity took place. And that was the end of the story. Or so everyone thought.

A little more than thirty years later, an unnamed man heard a strange, comforting voice inside his very head, just as the Dunmer woman claimed to hear the voice of Sithis inside hers. The voice identified herself as the Night Mother, and named the man "Listener"—the first of many.

And so the Unholy Matron set her servant on his path—he would found a new organization, a guild of assassins known as the Dark Brotherhood, in service not to Mephala, but to the Dread Lord Sithis. The Morag Tong, now surviving only in Morrowind, was an artifact of a forgotten age. The Dark Brotherhood would marry business with death. The organization would grow in wealth and power, and the Void would swell with fresh souls. It was, the Night Mother told her Listener, the perfect arrangement.

In the early days of the Dark Brotherhood, the bodies of the Night Mother and her children were recovered from their original burial site, and interred in a crypt beneath the site of her house. And there they remain, even today.

So if, in your travels, you find yourself in the city of Bravil, and make a wish at the statue of the Lucky Old Lady (as is the local custom), know that you stand on sacred, if evil, ground. For you stand above the Night Mother, the Unholy Matron herself, and your luck has just run out.

With Regards to the Ebony Blade

Author: 
Anonymous

The following is an intercepted Morag Tong memorandum in full, noted here for conjecture on the Daedric artifact Ebony Blade:

Before I begin, let me preface by stating: the Daedric Prince Mephala and her worshippers value arcanum above all else—you will learn this, in time. To Hermaeus Mora, knowledge is power, but Mephala concerns herself with only the choicest morsels: knowledge secluded, undisclosed.

The various Daedric artifacts associated with Mephala share this disposition, chief among them, the Ebony Blade, of which little is known. The records of the Tong themselves disagree on the properties locked within the Blade's metal. But I'll share what I know about it, and in return, you will complete your first assignment for the guild. I hope you'll find the Flowers of Gold a suitable base of operations. Your room is a favorite of mine. Warm and dry.

First: the Blade initially passed into the Morag Tong's notice (this decade, at least) when our brother Orndras obtained it, taking it from Rivis, another brother. Rivis had the Blade kept in a safehouse for years, hidden from his fellow Morag Tong. How did Orndras find Rivis out? He'll take that secret to his grave, but his handlers whispered that the Web Spinner herself had told him. Even the Tong is unsure how the Blade is connected to Mephala, whether it is an extension of her physical form, or if her essence is bound to it, but it's important to her. And that makes it important to us.

Second: Rivis was an ambitious mage, one of the Tong's most powerful. And he was not about to allow Orndras to leave his safehouse with the Ebony Blade in tow. There was a duel between them, and when Orndras drew first blood with the Blade—and failed to kill—he was surprised Rivis did not engulf him in a fiery spell. It's possible the Blade can silence a mage, stymie the flow of magicka, or simply absorb it.

Third: Rivis was keen with an edge, and better skilled than Orndras. But Orndras wielded the Ebony Blade, and the wounds he suffered stitched themselves together as the battle continued—as Orndras dealt his less-precise cuts. Perhaps a restorative property of the Blade.

Fourth: Rivis' last words were, "The Vampire will be the end of us all." Orndras believed he was referring to the Blade, that Rivis had hidden it out of legitimate fear. I believe that even the most venerable of the Morag Tong will say anything when backed into a corner. I have.

Fifth: Orndras retrieved the Blade, made a detailed report to his handlers—and then attempted to slaughter them. He murdered all but one. His actions had no discernible rhyme or reason or motive, and he was last seen on the third floor of the Flowers of Gold.

Return the Ebony Blade to us, whether Orndras comes with it or not. Look for a Dunmer with a scar under his left eye.

Sanctioned Murder

Author: 
From the Journal of Mjahlar Virian

For as long as I can remember, my life has been devoted to one thing: taking the lives of others. These were not random killings. Only those who fell afoul of the law, who wronged the Houses of Morrowind, or who desecrated the sacred teachings of the Tribunal were fair game.

Their lives were mine to take. Given to me, you might say, because they deserved to die. And I was very good at killing.

My victims were mostly unaware that I was coming for them. Some knew they had wronged others: murdered an innocent, stole from the Houses, even bedded another's lover. But they would always claim they had done nothing wrong. That I was mistaken. That I had the wrong man or woman. With a blade at a throat, however, it's amazing how honestly and completely one makes a confession.

One after another, I ended them. A swift slice across the throat. The shallow flesh parted, the thin veins severed cleanly. They would try to scream, but they would only choke on the crimson gore that filled their lungs.
I delighted in death. It filled me with a pleasure I could find in no other activity. This was my life. This was who I was.

People feared me. Loved me. And my brothers and sisters. Pushed us away, and then embraced us as the need arose.

Some days we were hailed as heroes. Others, as murderers. Those in power fell to our secret blades. And then those who gave us the orders followed.

But there was a mistake. A flaw in our process. We had grown too perfect. We had extracted justice from innocent blood.

Such is the way, even with the most clear-cut contract. There is always a chance that the law is wrong. That it made a mistake. The contract never lies, but it isn't always correct, either. Even the smallest of actions, harmless as they may seem, can cause a tidal wave of destruction for those following behind.

A fool's pride veils his judgment. In a moment of passion, blood scrawled upon the wall says it all. "Morag Tong." Those words scream out, loud and insistent. They echo throughout the world, labeling us as ruthless killers that follow no rules, that have no laws.

The Tong, always hidden, working in secret, suddenly fell under scrutiny. They wanted to drag us out of the shadows and into the light. We withdrew, deeper into the shadows. Our contracts became fewer, our jobs turned into small tasks. We ran errands for bored House nobles. We endured.

And we obeyed. We remained loyal. We swore on our lives to uphold the cause, and we would not turn our backs on it now, no matter the level of difficulty facing us. Even if the world had turned its backs on us, we would stay the course.

Our leaders whisper to us. They tell us to practice patience. They assure us that the day shall come when our hand of justice once again reaches out to grasp the world. A coming darkness will soon sweep the land.
And the Morag Tong will once more be needed. Will once again become relevant.

But I am old and my days wind down. I prepare for my trip to Vounoura, and I must pass this mantle to someone younger now. Someone less experienced, less wise. My son and my daughter will soon take up the dagger, but they have not seen our greatness. They must forge a new path for the Morag Tong.

The darkness of war comes, and no one shall be spared from its wrath.
The Morag Tong must put aside the wrongs it has endured. We must be ready.

The Brothers of Darkness

Author: 
Pellarne Assi

As their name suggests, the Dark Brotherhood has a history shrouded in obfuscation. Their ways are secret to those who are not themselves Brothers of the Order ("Brother" is a generic term; some of their deadliest assassins are female, but they are often called Brothers as well). How they continue to exist in shadow, but be easily found by those desperate enough to pay for their services, is not the least of the mysteries surrounding them.

The Dark Brotherhood sprang from a religious order, the Morag Tong, during the Second Era. The Morag Tong were worshippers of the Daedra spirit Mephala, who encouraged them to commit ritual murders. In their early years, they were as disorganized as only obscure cultists could be-there was no one to lead the band, and as a group they dared not murder anybody of any importance. This changed with the rise of the Night Mother.

All leaders of the Morag Tong, and then afterward the Dark Brotherhood, have been called the Night Mother. Whether the same woman (if it is even a woman) has commanded the Dark Brotherhood since the Second Era is unknown. What is believed is that the original Night Mother developed an important doctrine of the Morag Tong-the belief that, while Mephala does grow stronger with every murder committed in her name, certain murders were better than others. Murders that came from hate pleased Mephala more than murders committed because of greed. Murders of great men and women pleased Mephala more than murders of relative unknowns.

We can approximate the time this belief was adopted with the first known murder committed by the Morag Tong. In the year 324 of the Second Era, the Potentate Versidue-Shaie was murdered in his palace in what is today the Elsweyr kingdom of Senchal. In a brash move, the Night Mother announced the identity of the murderers by painting "MORAG TONG" on the walls in the Potentate's own blood.

Previous to that, the Morag Tong existed in relative peace, more or less like a witches' coven-occasionally persecuted but usually ignored. In remarkable synchronicity at a time when Tamriel the Arena was a fractured land, the Morag Tong was outlawed throughout the continent. Every sovereign gave the cult's elimination his highest priority. Nothing more was officially heard of them for a hundred years.

It is more difficult to date the Era when the Morag Tong re-emerged as the Dark Brotherhood, especially as other guilds of assassins have sporadically appeared throughout the history of Tamriel. The first mention of the Dark Brotherhood that I have found is from the journals of the Blood Queen Arlimahera of Hegathe. She spoke of slaying her enemies by her own hand, or if necessary "with the help of the Night Mother and her Dark Brotherhood, the secret arsenal my family has employed since my grandfather's time." Arlimahera wrote this in 2E412, so one can surmise that the Dark Brotherhood had been in existence since at least 360 if her grandfather had truly made use of them.

The important distinction between the Dark Brotherhood and the Morag Tong was that the Brotherhood was a business as much as it was a cult. Rulers and wealthy merchants used the order as an assassin's guild. The Brotherhood gained the obvious rewards of a profitable enterprise, as well as the secondary benefit that rulers could no longer actively persecute them: They were needed. They were purveyors of an essential commodity. Even an extremely virtuous leader would be unwise to mistreat the Brotherhood.

Not long after Alimahera's journal entry came perhaps the most famous series of executions in the history of the Dark Brotherhood. The Colovian Emperor-Potentate Savirien-Chorak and every one of his heirs were murdered on one bloody night in Sun's Dawn in 430. Within a fortnight, the Colovian Dynasty crumbled, to the delight of its enemies. For over four hundred years, until the advent of the Warrior Emperor Tiber Septim, chaos reigned over Tamriel. Though no comparably impressive executions have been recorded, the Brotherhood must have grown fat with gold during that interregnum.

The Night Mother's Truth

Author: 
Gaston Bellefort

 

Although various works have been written on the subjects of both Morrowind's Morag Tong, and Tamriel's more widespread Dark Brotherhood, there remains confusion as to precisely when and how these two feared assassins guilds formed. Or, more specifically, when and how the Dark Brotherhood split from the Morag Tong, as the former is widely accepted to have sprung from the latter.

The largest point of contention seems to be the figure of the Night Mother, a woman who figures prominently in both organizations. Through extensive research and interviews, and not inconsiderable risk to my own life (for the Dark Brotherhood holds this information sacred), I have finally solved this ages-old mystery. I have finally uncovered the Night Mother's Truth.

Although her name has been lost to time, the Night Mother was once a mere mortal, a Dark Elf woman who lived in a small village once located where the city of Bravil stands now, in the Imperial Province of Cyrodiil. She was a respected member of the Morag Tong and, like her fellow members, this woman made her trade as an assassin in service to the Daedric Prince Mephala. In fact, the woman held the title of Night Mother, reserved for the highest ranking female member of the organization. To be Night Mother of a particular sect was to be that group's matron - the favored of Mephala, both respected and feared.

However, it was not Mephala who facilitated the transformation from woman to spectre, but another, some would say far deeper form of evil - Sithis, the Dread Lord, embodiment of the unending Void.

Following the Potentate's assassination in 2E 324, strife descended upon the Morag Tong, and the guild was all but eradicated in Cyrodiil and much of the Empire. It was shortly after these events that the Dunmer woman claimed to hear the voice of Sithis himself. The Dread Lord, she claimed, was displeased. He was unhappy with the Morag Tong's lack of success. The Void, he told her, was hungry for souls - and it was her destiny to set things right.

And so, according to Dark Brotherhood legend, Sithis visited the Night Mother in her bed chamber, and begat her five children. Two years passed, before the unthinkable happened. The Dark Elf woman followed through with the Dread Lord's ultimate plan - one night, she murdered her children, and sent their souls straight to the Void. Straight to their father.

When they learned of this affront to decency, the people of the village rallied against the woman. For such an act was considered incomprehensible, even for a Night Mother of the Morag Tong. In one night of vengeance, they descended upon the woman, killing her, and burning down the house in which the atrocity took place. And that was the end of the story. Or so everyone thought.

A little more than thirty years later, an unnamed man heard a strange, comforting voice inside his very head, just as the Dunmer woman claimed to hear the voice of Sithis inside hers. The voice identified herself as the Night Mother, and named the man "Listener" - the first of many.

And so the Unholy Matron set her servant on his path - he would found a new organization, a guild of assassins known as the Dark Brotherhood, in service not to Mephala, but to the Dread Lord Sithis. The Morag Tong, now surviving only in Morrowind, was an artifact of a forgotten age. The Dark Brotherhood would marry business with death. The organization would grow in wealth and power, and the Void would swell with fresh souls. It was, the Night Mother told her Listener, the perfect arrangement.

In the early days of the Dark Brotherhood, the bodies of the Night Mother and her children were recovered from their original burial site, and interred in a crypt beneath the site of her house. And there they remain, even today.

So if, in your travels, you find yourself in the city of Bravil, and make a wish at the statue of the Lucky Old Lady (as is the local custom), know that you stand on sacred, if evil, ground. For you stand above the Night Mother, the Unholy Matron herself, and your luck has just run out.

Fire and Darkness

Author: 
Ynir Gorming

 

"Brother, I still call you brother for we share our bonds of blood, tested but unbroken by hatred.  Even if I am murdered, which seems inevitable now, know that, brother.  You and I are not innocents, so our benedictions of mutual enmity is not tragedy, but horror.  This state of silent, shadowed war, of secret poisons and sleeping men strangled in their beds, of the sudden arrow and the artful dagger, has no end that I can see.  No possibility for peace.  I see the shadows in the room move though the flame of my candle is steady.  I know the signs that I... "

This note was found where it had fallen beneath the floorboards of an abandoned house in the Nordic village of Jallenheim in the 358th year of the second era.  It was said that a quiet cobbler lived in the house, whispered by some to be a member of the dread Morag Tong, the assassin's guild outlawed throughout Tamriel thirty-four years previously.  The house itself was perfectly in order, as if the cobbler had simply vanished.  There was a single drop of blood on the note.

The Dark Brotherhood had paid a call.

This note and others like it are rare.  Both the Morag Tong and its hated child, the Dark Brotherhood, are scrupulous about leaving no evidence behind - their members know that to divulge secrets of their orders is a lethal infraction.  This obviously makes the job of the historian seeking to trace their histories very difficult.

The Morag Tong, according to most scholars, had been a facet of the culture of Morrowind almost since its beginning.  After all, the history of Resdayn, the ancient name of Morrowind, is rife with assassination, blood sacrifice, and religious zealotry, hallmarks of the order.  It is commonly said that the Morag Tong then as now murdered for the glory of the Daedra Prince Mephala, but common assumptions are rarely completely accurate.  It is my contention that the earliest form of the Tong additionally worshipped an even older and more malevolent deity than Mephala.  As terrifying as that Prince of Oblivion is, they had and have reverence for a far greater evil.

Writs of assassination from the first era offer rare glimpses into the Morag Tong's earliest philosophy.  They are as matter of fact as current day writs, but many contain snatches of poetry which have perplexed our scholars for hundreds of years.  "Lisping sibilant hisses,' 'Ether's sweet sway,' 'Rancid kiss of passing sin,' and other strange, almost insane insertions into the writs were codes for the name of the person to be assassinated, his or her location, and the time at which death was to come.  They were also direct references to the divine spirit called Sithis.

Evidence of the Morag Tong's expertise in assassination seems scarcely necessary.  The few instances of someone escaping a murder attempt by them are always remarkable and rare, proving that they were and are patient, capable murderers who use their tools well.  A fragment of a letter found among the effects of a well-known armorer has been sealed in our vaults for some time.  It was likely penned by an unknown Tong assassin ordering weapons for his order, and offers some illumination into what they looked for in their blades, as well the mention of Vounoura, the island where the Tong sent its agents in retirement --

'I congratulate you on your artistry, and the balance and heft of your daggers.  The knife blade is whisper thin, elegantly wrought, but inpractical.  It must have a bolder edge, for arteries, when cut, have a tendencies to self seal, preventing adequate blood loss.  I will be leaving Vounoura in two weeks time to inspect your new tools, hoping they will be more satisfactory.'

The Morag Tong spread quietly throughout Tamriel in the early years of the second era, worshipping Mephala and Sithis with blood, as they had always done. 

When the Morag Tong assassinated the Emperor Reman in the year 2920 of the first era, and his successor, Potentate Versidae-Shae in the 324th year of the second era, the assassins so long in the shadows were suddenly thrust into the light.  They had become brazen, drunk with murder, literally painting the words 'MORAG TONG' on the wall in the Potentate's blood.

The Morag Tong was instantly and unanimously outlawed in all corners of Tamriel, with the exception of its home province of Morrowind.  There they continued to operate with the blessings of the Houses, apparently cutting off all contact with their satellite brothers to the west.  There they continue their quasi-legal existence, accepting black writs and murdering with impunity.

Most scholars believe that the birth of the Dark Brotherhood, the secular, murder-for- profit order of assassins, was as a result of a religious schism in the Morag Tong.  Given the secrecy of both cults, it is difficult to divine the exact nature of it, but certain logical assumptions can be made.

In order to exist, the Morag Tong must have appealed to the highest power in Morrowind, which at that time, the Second Era, could only have been the Tribunal of Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and Vivec.  Mephala, whom the Tong worshipped with Sithis, was said to have been the Anticipation of Vivec.  Is it not logical to assume that in exchange for toleration of their continued existence, the Tong would have ceased their worship of Mephala in exchange for the worship of Vivec?

The Morag Tong continues, as we know, to worship Sithis.  The Dark Brotherhood is not considered a religious order by most, merely a secular organization, offering murder for gold.  I have seen, however, proof positive in the form of writs to the Brotherhood that Sithis is still revered above all.

So where, the reader, asks, is the cause for the schism?  How could a silent war have begun, when both groups are so close?  Both assassin's guilds, after all, worship Sithis.  And yet, a figure emerges from history who should give those with this assumption pause.

The Night Mother.

Who the Night Mother is, where she came from, what her functions are, no one knows.  Carlovac Townway in his generally well-researched historical fiction 2920: The Last Year of the First Era tries to make her the leader of the Morag Tong.  But she is never historically associated with the Tong, only the Dark Brotherhood.

The Night Mother, my dear friend, is Mephala.  The Dark Brotherhood of the west, unfettered by the orders of the Tribunal, continue to worship Mephala.  They may not call her by her name, but the daedra of murder, sex, and secrets is their leader still.  And they did not, and still do not, to this day, forgive their brethren for casting her aside.

The cobbler who met his end in the second era, who saw no end in the war between the Brotherhood and the Tong, was correct.  In the shadows of the Empire, the Brothers of Death remain locked in combat, and they will likely remain that way forever.

Sacred Witness

Author: 
Enric Milnes

Sacred Witness: 

A True History of the Night Mother

 

I have met countesses and courtesans, empresses and witches, ladies of war and slatterns of peace, but I have never met a woman like The Night Mother. And I never will again.

I am a writer, a poet of some small renown. If I told you my name, you may have heard of me, but very likely, not. For decades until very recently, I had adopted the city of Sentinel on the coast of Hammerfell as my home, and kept the company of other artists, painters, tapestrists, and writers. No one I knew would have known an assassin by sight, least of all the queen of them, the Blood Flower, the Lady Death, the Night Mother.

Not that I had not heard of her.

Some years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Pelarne Assi, a respected scholar, who had come to Hammerfell to do research for a book about the Order of Diagna. His essay, 'The Brothers of Darkness' together with Ynir Gorming's 'Fire and Darkness: The Brotherhoods of Death' are considered to be the canon tomes on the subject of Tamriel's orders of assassins. By luck, Gorming himself was also in Sentinel, and I was priveleged to sit with the two in a dark skooma den in the musty slums of the city, as we smoked and talked about the Dark Brotherhood, the Morag Tong, and the Night Mother.

While not disputing the possibility that the Night Mother may be immortal or at least very long-lived, Assi thought it most likely that several women - and perhaps some men - throughout the ages had assumed the honorary title. It was no more logical to say there was only one Night Mother, he asserted, than to say there was only one King of Sentinel.

Gorming argued that there never was a Night Mother, at least no human one. The Night Mother was Mephala herself, whom the Brotherhood revered second only to Sithis.

'I don't suppose there's any way of knowing for certain,' I said, in a note of diplomacy.

'Certainly there is,' whispered Gorming with a grin. 'You could talk to that cloaked fellow in the corner.'

I had not noticed the man before, who sat by himself, eyes hidden by his cloak, seemingly as much a part of the dingy place as the rough stone and unswept floor. Turning back to Ynir, I asked him why that man would know about the Night Mother.

'He's a Dark Brother,' hissed Pellarne Assi. 'That's as plain as the moons. Don't even joke about speaking with him about Her.'

We moved on to other arguments about the Morag Tong and the Brotherhood, but I never forgot the image of the lone man, looking at nothing and everything, in the corner of the dirty room, with fumes of skooma smoke floating around him like ghosts. When I saw him weeks later on the streets of Sentinel, I followed him.

Yes, I followed him. The reader may reasonably ask 'why' and 'how.' I don't blame you for that.

'How' was simply a question of knowing my city as well as I do. I'm not a thief, not particularly sure-footed and quiet, but I know the alleys and streets of Sentinel intimately from decades worth of ambling. I know which bridges creak, which buildings cast long irregular shadows, the intervals at which the native birds begin the ululations of their evening songs. With relative ease, I kept pace with the Dark Brother and out of his sight and hearing.

The answer to 'Why' is even simpler. I have the natural curiosity of the born writer. When I see a strange new animal, I must observe. It is the writer's curse.

I trailed the cloaked man deeper into the city, down an alleyway so narrow it was scarcely a crack between two tenements, past a crooked fence, and suddenly, miraculously, I was in a place I had never seen before. A little courtyard cemetery, with a dozen old half-rotted wooden tombstones. None of the surrounding buildings had windows that faced it, so no one knew this miniature necropolis existed.

No one, except the six men and one woman standing in it. And me.

The woman saw me immediately, and gestured for me to come closer. I could have run, but - no, I couldn't have. I had pierced a mystery right in my adopted Sentinel, and I could not leave it.

She knew my name, and she said it with a sweet smile. The Night Mother was a little old lady with fluffy white hair, cheeks like wrinkled apples that still carried the flush of youth, friendly eyes, blue as the Iliac Bay. She softly took my arm as we sat down amidst the graves and discussed murder.

She was not always in Hammerfell, not always available for direct assignment, but it seemed she enjoyed actually talking to her clientele.

'I did not come here to hire the Brotherhood,' I said respectfully.

'Then why are you here?' the Night Mother asked, her eyes never leaving mine.

I told her I wanted to know about her. I did not expect an answer to that, but she told me.

'I do not mind the stories you writers dream up about me,' she chuckled. 'Some of them are very amusing, and some of them are good for business. I like the sexy dark woman lounging on the divan in Carlovac Townway's fiction particularly. The truth is that my history would not make a very dramatic tale. I was a thief, long, long ago, back when the Thieves Guild was only beginning. It's such a bother to sneak around a house when performing a burglary, and many of us found it most efficacious to strangle the occupant of the house. Just for convenience. I suggested to the Guild that a segment of our order be dedicated to the arts and sciences of murder.

'It did not seem like such a controversial idea to me,' the Night Mother shrugged. 'We had specialists in catburglary, pick-pocketing, lock-picking, fencing, all the other essential parts of the job. But the Guild thought that encouraging murder would be bad for business. Too much, too much, they argued.

'They might have been right,' the old woman continued. 'But I discovered there is a profit to be made, just the same, from sudden death. Not only can one rob the deceased, but, if your victim has enemies, which rich people often do, you can be paid for it even more. I began to murder people differently when I discovered that. After I strangled them, I would put two stones in their eyes, one black and one white.'

'Why?' I asked.

'It was a sort of calling card of mine. You're a writer - don't you want your name on your books? I couldn't use my name, but I wanted potential clients to know me and my work. I don't do it anymore, no need to, but at the time, it was my signature. Word spread, and I soon had quite a successful business.'

'And that became the Morag Tong?' I asked.

'Oh, dear me, no,' the Night Mother smiled. 'The Morag Tong was around long before my time. I know I'm old, but I'm not that old. I merely hired on some of their assassins when they began to fall apart after the murder of the last Potentate. They did not want to be members of the Tong anymore, and since I was the only other murder syndicate of any note, they just joined on.'

I phrased my next question carefully. 'Will you kill me now that you've told me all this?'

She nodded sadly, letting out a little grandmotherly sigh. 'You are such a nice, polite young man, I hate to end our acquaintanceship. I don't suppose you would agree to a concession or two in exchange for your life, would you?'

To my everlasting shame, I did agree. I said I would say nothing about our meeting, which, as the reader can see, was a promise I eventually, years later, chose not to keep. Why have I endangered my life thus?

Because of the promises I did keep.

I helped the Night Mother and the Dark Brotherhood in acts too despicable, too bloody for me to set to paper. My hand quivers as I think about the people I betrayed, beginning with that night. I tried to write my poetry, but ink seemed to turn to blood. Finally, I fled, changing my name, going to a land where no one would know me.

And I wrote this. The true history of the Night Mother, from the interview she gave me on the night we met. It will be the last thing I ever write, this I know. And every word is true.

Pray for me.

 

Editor's Note: Though originally published anonymously, the identity of the author has never been in serious doubt. Any layman familiar with the work of the poet Enric Milnes will recognize Sacred Witness's familiar cadence and style in such books of his as 'The Alik'r.' Shortly after publication, Milnes was murdered, and his killer was never found. He had been strangled, and two stones, a black one and a white one, crushed into his eyesockets. Very brutally.

The Black Glove

Author: 
Anonymous

Swift and agile are the Morag Tong. Silent and unseen they move. Illusions they supply to misdirect their prey. Close and sure they strike with shortblade, or distant and secure they strike from afar with accurate missile fire. Light armor protects them from harm, and the acrobatic discipline finds for them the unseen and unlooked-for path. Have you these virtues? Then, perhaps, your oath and service may please the Morag Tong.

Do you have your friends and your finery, but no place to go? Do you laugh and cry, but no longer feel? Do you wear these masks? Then, perhaps, your oath and service may please the Black Glove.

The blood of the hunter and the blood of the hunted. The joy of the hidden and the joy of the seeker. The blood of the eye and the blood of the gate. The joy of the living and the joy of the dead. Are you one with these things? Then, perhaps, your oath and service may please Mephala.

To make your oath and enter our service, the worthy must seek the Grandmaster, who by tradition lives in the unseen and unlooked-for corners of Vivec City between the blood of battle and the waters of life.

The Axe Man

Author: 
Anonymous

Of all the members of the Morag Tong I've spoken with, none disturbed me as much as Minas Torik. A quiet and reserved man who never drank, never visited a brothel or even uttered a curse, he was famous for his ability to make people disappear. Once a person was targeted by the Brotherhood and Torik was sent to them, they would simply cease to be. I asked him once what his weapon of choice was, and was equally startled by his answer.

“I only likes to use axes,” he said in his typical, quiet voice.

The image of this silent, dour fellow attacking anyone with a weapon as inherently bloody and violent as an axe so frightened and intrigued me that I questioned him about it further. This is an inherently dangerous activity, for assassins are not typically keen to give out their stories. Torik did not mind the questions, though it took some time to get the full story out of him, as naturally shy and reserved as he was.

It seemed that Torik had been orphaned as a very young age and sent to live with his uncle, a saltrice plantation owner in Sheogorad in northern Vvardenfell. The man promised to show his nephew the business and eventually make him a partner when he was old enough. In the meantime, the boy was put to work as his uncle's house servant.

It was a grueling life as the old man was very particular about how things should be done. The boy was first required to give all the floors in the house a thorough scouring, from the attic to the cellar. Whenever the floor was not cleaned to the uncle's satisfaction, which was frequent, Torik was thrashed and forced to begin again.

The boy's second duty was to ring the bell that would bring the laborers into the house. This was done at least four times a day, once for each meal, but if his uncle had any news or additional instructions for the laborers -- which he frequently did -- the bell might need to be sounded a dozen times or more. It was a huge iron bell in the tower and the boy quickly discovered that he had to throw his entire body into the motion of pulling the chain in order to have it sound loud enough to bring everyone in from the field. If he was tired and did not pull the backbreaking chain hard enough, his uncle was soon at his side to beat him until he rang the bell loud and clear.

Torik's third task was dusting all the shelves in his uncle's vast library. As deep and old as the shelves were, he was required to work with a long, heavy duster on a rod. The only way that he could reach to the back of the shelves was to hold the duster at his shoulder and then swing it out in a sweeping motion. Again, if the uncle saw any dust left over or felt that the boy was not working as hard as he ought to, the punishment was swift and severe.

After several years, Minas Torik grew into a young man, but his job responsibilities were not increased. His uncle promised to teach him the business, once Torik had demonstrated his mastery of his servile assignments. Divorced from any knowledge of any work other than his own, Torik never knew how badly in debt his uncle was and how poorly the farm's yield was.

In his eighteenth year, Torik was called into the cellar by his uncle. He thought that he had not done a good enough job scouring the floor down there, and was frightened of the beating to come. What he found, however, was his uncle packing his goods into crates.

“I'm leaving Morrowind,” he explained. “The business has gone sour, so I thought I'd try my luck running a caravan in Skyrim. I understand there's good money to be made, trading fake Dwemer artifacts to the Nords and Cyrodiils. I wish I could take you with me, my lad, but there won't be much need for scouring, bell pulling, and dusting where I'm going.”

“But uncle,” said Torik. “I can't read, I knows nothing of the business you promised to teach me. What wills I dos on my own?”

“I'm certain you can find a job in some domestic capacity,” shrugged the uncle. “I've done my best with you.”

Torik had never stood up to his uncle before, and felt no anger only a sort of coldness that gripped his heart. Among his uncle's possessions being packed away was an old heavy iron axe, allegedly of Dwemer manufacture. He picked it up in his hands and was surprised to find that it was not much heavier than his dusting rod. In fact, it felt very comfortable as he pulled it over his shoulder and swung it out as he had done so many times before. In this instance, however, he swung it into his uncle's right arm.

The old man screamed with pain and rage, but for some reason, Torik didn't feel frightened anymore. He propped the axe against his other shoulder, and swung it out again. It cut a swath across the old man's chest and he fell to the floor.

Torik hesitated before lifting the axe above his head. It was another natural position for him, like he was ringing a bell. Over and over again, he swung down as if he was calling the laborers in from the field. Except that this time, there was no sound except for a wet thump, and no laborers came in from the field. Of course, his uncle had sent them away hours before.

After a time, there was nothing left of his uncle that couldn't be washed down the cellar drain. The process of cleaning up came easily to Torik as well. Blood scrubbed up much quicker than the usual grime and saltrice flour that littered the cellar floor.

It was well known that Torik's uncle was planning to leave Morrowind, so his disappearance provoked no suspicion. The house and all the belongings were sold to the debt collectors, but Torik took the axe. It seemed that his uncle had given him some worthwhile business skills after all.