Lord of Souls Lore Notes: Umbriel

This page contains lore-relevant quotes and summaries from Lord of Souls, by Greg Keys. Some quotes have been truncated to improve clarity.


Brennus, a Nibenese sorcer under Mede’s employ, describes Umbriel as "like [an Oblivion] gate, but wrapped around itself"

The zombie-moth-soldiers ("wormies") know how to march and organize themselves. Their eyes are particularly disconcerting, and are described as having a "glitter of malicious intelligence, a dark joy in the harm they promised." They are able to journey away from Umbriel.

"Blood wasn’t an unusual smell in these waters [the Sump]; bodies were dumped here every day, many still feebly struggling against death. But this blood was not only fresh, it had a certain rotten scent he’d come to know all too well."

"He took her [Joacin] into the skraw caves along the shoreline anyway, and laid her out on the little bier his coworkers had made from woven cane and grass for the dead to rest on. In the sunlight she’d looked old, worn, with black bags beneath her eyes and hair like lank kelp, but here in the phosphorescence from the cave walls she appeared younger, more like the ten or fifteen years she probably actually was. On Umbriel, people were born as adults, and those born to be skraws, to tend and harvest the sump, had nothing that resembled a childhood."

Oluth, one of the scaws, is "young, probably no more than three years old; his skin had only the barest hint of the jaundice that plagued the older skraws."

Durain is smelly.

Kohnu, one of the chefs in Toel’s kitchen, "was funny, always telling little self-effacing jokes and clowning about with the produce."

"Annaïg stared out at the shimmering green sump and delicate, insectile buildings that climbed and depended from the stone walls of the conical valley at Umbriel’s heart. Above, shining through the glittering strands of what resembled a giant spiderweb or some vast sea invertebrate, shone the sun of Tamriel. The sun she had been born under. It made her feel tight, claustrophobic, to know the light of that sun could illume the flying city, touch her, warm her—but that she could not go up through that sky, be in the wider world that orb washed with its radiance."

A banquet is being held for Umbriel, with the kitchens of Toel, Phmer, Luuniel, and Ashdre competing for the favor of catering. The winner will be whoever manages to cook the best meal for Umbriel’s steward. Toel considers Phmer his chief competitions because she has found a 9th flavor sensation, which is as of yet unknown to other chefs.

Annaig knows of "four or five essential flavors," which are tasted on different parts of the tongue. Mortals cannot taste the three spiritual flavors (quick, dead, ephemerate), though the lords of Umbriel can absorb them through any part of the body.

"The flying island of Umbriel was a rough cone, with the apex pointed down. The sump was a basin in that cone, and most of the population of the city lived in warrens in the stone. The lords lived on the upper edge in their delicate habitations of metal and crystal. But another world sprouted from the verge of the rim, enormous trees whose roots sank deep into the rock where vesicles from the sump fed and watered them, and whose boughs and branches flowed far out from the island like a sort of lacy collar, bending in a rightwise whorl. It was a world of strange birds and weird gardens growing from intentionally rotted places in the wood, of fruits and nuts and warbling monkeylike things."

"If [Glim] looked to the horizons, he saw plains and forest, softened and made beautiful by distance. If he looked down, however, that was another story. Any open ground revealed the thousands of corpses walking, animated by Umbriel’s larvae.

"The ground was very open now. Umbriel had changed direction, taking them east over vast mountains, and below them was heath and snow, and few trees to hide the undying. They seemed numberless, and—perhaps worst of all—organized, marching in a rough semblance of ranks."

"With her charcoal complexion and red eyes, Fhena might have been a Dunmer woman of about twenty years. But she was no more Dunmer than Wert was human, and since Umbrielians were born adult, he’d reckoned from their earlier conversations she was probably no more than five or six years old. She wore her usual blouse and knee-shorts; today the former was green and the latter yellow."

The Um-Hist of Umbriel can produce all materials as long as they are "told" how. Specifically mentioned are nuts, fruits, grains, salt, sugar, acid, wine, vinigar, sulfur, iron, and glass.

The trees of Umbriel’s gyre are very similar to the Hist. According to Fhena, "They dream, they experience, they communicate needs." Fhena cannot imagine them planing something like a largescale assault as the Hist can.

The sap of the Um-Hist can alter things, as long as they are told to do so.

Fhena’s memory of the time before they came to Tamriel: "We were in the void. Nothing around. And then the trees began to sing a strange song, one I had never heard before. They sang and sang. It was beautiful. No one could remember such a thing happening before. And then we were here. They still sing it, but quietly now.

When Fhena presses Glim’s hand to a tree, he can hear the same song she does. It sounds like " faint, rising and falling tone, along with a thousand harmonics, as if each seed and leaf had its own note to add. And he knew that melody, had known it since before his birth. The Hist sang it. … But the Fringe version was a little different—simpler. Still, it drew him, pulling him out of language and thought, and for a long, long time he knelt there with Fhena’s hand on his, feeling newborn, empty, at one."

The spirits that animate the zombies are capable of inhabiting bodies that died of natural causes.

"Wert says that sometimes the sump will go for years without producing a particular thing, then start again, while something else vanishes for a time."

Glim believes that the trees of Umbriel (Um-Hist) are "cousins" of the Hist. They are capable of comunication, though "in different tones" than the Hist. Glim does not believe them to be as inteligent as their Black Marsh brethren.

According to Glim, "some of my people believe that the Hist came to Tamriel from Oblivion. Umbriel is from Oblivion, too, so it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me that they [the Hist and the Um-Hist] could be cousins." Glim thinks that " the city tree [of Lilmoth] somehow called Umbriel, or the Fringe Gyre trees may have called to the Hist—but I think there was some sort of collusion."

Glim does not think the Um-Hist malevolent. He believes that they are "vaguer than the Hist. Not as intelligent maybe, or maybe just in a different way. Simpler. But like the Hist, they can form their sap into different things, the way you do with your equipment. And they can shape life, change its form."

One of the tasks of the kitchen staff is to "take raw ingredients from the sump and transform them into nutrients for the trees, but part of that process involves getting the roots themselves to release substances."

Glim thinks that "iit’s the trees who remember all the forms of life on Umbriel. ...they produce the protoforms—the little worms Umbrielians start as. Then the ingenium gives them a soul, and they grow according to some sort of plan the trees remember."

Although it is fairly simple to sneak into the pantry area of a kitchen, the kitchens proper are rigged with alarms and protections. "Some are in the walls, living things that see and smell the uninvited. Others, as I understand it, are sorcerous in nature."

At least 20 people have tried to break into Phmer’s kitchen to steal her secret flavor. All were caught or killed. Almost as many people have tried to break into Toel’s kitchen since Annaig started working there.

Annaig owns one gown that is gold and black, and one that is plain black.

"Intovar was a spindly fellow with dirty yellow hair and an air of the rodent about him. Yeum was a thick woman with an appealing, heart-shaped face and dusky skin. Neither had ever spoken to her except to give her orders." Both are the underchefs of Toel.

Phmer is an " impressively tall, narrow woman with close-cropped hair and large emerald eyes. She was accompanied by two men, one brick red with horns and the other a merish-looking person who looked perpetually surprised. … Her voice was silk, coiled thick and made into a noose." Her two assistants are Jolha and Egren.

Phmer brings a box with a creature that looks like a spider but "its legs weren’t rigid; nor were they as supple as those of a squid, but something in between. And—[Annaig] realized as it unfolded them—it had wings, rather like those of a mosquito, and in fact now it somewhat resembled one, albeit one that could fit into the palm of her hand. ...The wings blurred into motion, and the little creature lifted into the air; three stalks or antennae began probing about as it approached her. ...The tentacles tickled across her face and down her dress, lingering on her left hand, but then the creature darted over to Slyr and began to make an annoying high-pitched sound." This creature is apparently used to smell out the scents specific to Phmer’s kitchen.

"The tubes that bring processed waste from the midden to the sump are living things. There is a series of sphincters that pass the waste along or hold it back, as needed. I need something that will paralyze the sphincters and an antidote for that. I need concoctions to taint foods, to make them unpleasant or inedible without rendering them poisonous. I [Glim] need weapons of sabotage for the skraws to wage their rebellion with. I won’t need large amounts of them—just enough. You [Annaig] know how to make these things."

"His claws gripped about the tendril-thin branch tips, and the wind, the spin of Umbriel, and the long rippling undulation of the trees did the rest. It was merely exciting, at first, but after a few moments he began to feel the trees, their own joy in their existence, in the process of merely being, and he felt himself gently tugged into a state of pure thought, where no words existed to constrain his feelings, where no logic tried to make sense and order of the world, and there was only color, smell, touch, feeling, motion. When Fhena finally cajoled him back to thicker branches, he went only reluctantly, and he felt more refreshed—and more himself—than he had in a long time."

Toel wears a shirt and breeches made of sharkskin or similar material to go to the Sump.

"Mere-Glim drifted nearly still amid twenty-foot-long strands of slackweed, watching the party approaching the maw where the midden was supposed to empty into the sump. They weren’t skraws, and swam even more clumsily. They were armed with long, wicked-looking spears, and there were six of them."

The armed party from Toel’s kitchen "stopped to examine the tertiary sphincter, already closed, and then swam to the side, toward the maintenance tunnels. These were narrow, flattened tubes that worked around the big valve into the last of the seven chambers that waste from the middens passed through. It was dark with sludge, but not nearly as thick as it should have been. They produced some sort of underwater lanterns, and the beams stabbed through the murk, revealing a wide-eyed Wert holding a nutrient injector."

Irrel, and likely the other lords of Umbriel, "was somewhat translucent. When he turned his head, flashes of skull showed through his fine, long features. His large eyes glowed with a soft purple light that shone through his lids when he closed them. He stood a head taller than anyone else in the room." He wears a robe which "seemed to be made of black smoke within which winked thousands of tiny sparks. The form-fitting garment beneath might have been made of liquid iron."

Lord Rhel prefers simpler, more "essential" dishes, while Irrel prefers "up to a hundred distinct dishes at a meal."

Annaig only prepairs three dishes for Rhel’s dinner:" first came the quintessences of sulfur and sugar, congealed into a glutinous web that held suspended drops of human blood and denatured snapadder venom, which glittered pleasingly—like tiny rubies and emeralds. The web stretched over the cavity of a halved and hollowed durian fruit, whose sweet, garlicky scent she had enhanced with metagastronomics and infused with the lust of a monkeylike creature from the Fringe Gyre, killed just as it was about to mate.

"Next came the thin, translucent slices of raw bear loin, collected like the durian from the world below. She had turned the fat of the bear into a room-temperature vapor that clung to the tiny bits of meat, which were pillowed on a nest of glassy yellow noodles that, when bitten, would erase the taste of everything else within a few seconds, but leave deep longing to remember what had been lost.

"An hour passed after the second course went up, and Annaïg began to feel nervous. The third course—a complex preparation based on the smoke of clove, cardamom, cumin, mustard, pepper, hornet, black widow, and rage—would begin to mellow and lose its edge if it wasn’t served soon.

"The servers finally came a half hour later, a few minutes too late for the smoke to be at its best, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it."

"The first dish made Lord Ix vomit, which [Rhel] much enjoyed, and it made Ghol laugh, which is extremely pleasant. Each dish was for me perfect, but affected my companions in ways that I very much appreciated"

The harpoon weapons used by Toel’s hunting party look like crossbows."

The sign of the Vapors inhaled by the scaws are four wriggling lines in a spray pattern.

To escape the men hunting him, Glim, " took a twisting course, past where a cluster of middens emptied into the sump... then swam toward the capillaries that drew water up to the Fringe Gyre. It took him a few minutes, but he found the one with the lines crudely etched into the stone above—the sign of the vapors. They had smashed the filter, so the capillary was pulling up debris that in time would choke the feed.

"It was nearly too tight for him; he had to writhe up the thing for the first hundred feet or so, but finally it met a larger tube and he let himself drift for a moment before continuing on.

"He’d never been in these passages before for the simple reason that none of the filters were ever broken. Older skraws who had made repairs said they formed a webwork that brought water to the roots of the Fringe Gyre. … he passed dozens of branching tubes, many far too small to admit him..."

"Umbriel used to be a city in Oblivion, in the realm of Clavicus Vile. Vuhon—the lord of Umbriel—was trying to escape that realm with his companion, Umbra, but Vile essentially hardened the walls of his domain so no one could leave it. Vuhon found a way to sort of turn space around the city, though, and then break that free, like twisting a sausage casing and then tearing it."

Annaig is escorted to Lord Umbriel’s quarters by a man and a woman wearing "simple robes of gray and white." They grip her beneath the arms adn levitate up, " through the glittering, shifting web of glasslike strands … to a fragile-looking spire, the tallest in the city. Umbriel was a massive inkiness below, and above, the stars were glorious. Masser was a gargantuan opal dome on the horizon. … It was more a gazebo than a room, with a floor of polished mica and a dome of nearly black jade supported by silvery filaments pulsing with souls. A single figure [Vuhon/Umbriel] welcomed her, a Dunmer with a long white braid, dressed in a robe similar to the ones her escorts had worn."

Vuhon/Umbriel speaks to Annaig in "perfect Tamrielic" rather than the "strange Merish dialect of Umbriel."

After Glim passes out from exhaustion, he starts hearing "the voices, the gentle murmur of the trees, drawing him into the dream of thought, where past and future were irrelevant illusions and his mind was unhampered by reference to anything at all. And so he remained for a time, until finally the ache of hunger and the pain of his wounds brought him nearer to the world. The voices were still there, leading him through the twisting roots, finally into the light, amidst the great boughs of the Fringe Gyre."

The "wooden cave" in which Fhena hides Glim "curved a bit, and he saw the hole above where the light was coming through, and a sort of slope going up." The opening is "overed with a filmlike substance, possibly a large leaf of some kind."

"Most of the undead army marched together, but they were constantly sending out hunting parties in search of more bodies to steal."

The ‘ballroom’ of Rhel palace has a rose-colore crystal floor that "gently rose and fell like the frozen swells of an ocean. It met the walls in gradual curves and then lifted into a vast, lucid canopy veined with softly shifting hints of color. Men and women danced on the uncertain floor, stepping, sometimes gliding, often leaving the surface altogether for a time, as weight was less present here than it was elsewhere in Umbriel. Filmy gowns of viridian, azure, hazel, and lemon spun out impossibly wide as they turned, and each garment chimed musical notes that subtly harmonized or clashed with those around them." The dancers are various high-ranking members of Umriel, including eight high-standing Chefs, Annaig among them. There are also other sorts of artists. One, Luel, helped to create the ballroom. Ten days ago it was a dark jungle, an homage to the first land we saw on coming here—your homeland, as I understand it. It was wonderful, of course, but a few days and everything becomes boring. There is no worse taste than stasis, and I [Rhel] won’t be accused of it."

According to Rhel, high lords "do not move through cycles as you [mortals] do. We have always been and we remain. We were here at the beginning, and if there is an end we will be there, too."

When Fhena comes to see Annaig she wears "peach-colored knee britches and a brown top." Annaig describes her as "young and pretty."

The drug that Annaig released into the water to kill Glim makes his body grow "crystal, a matrix containing his soul, his thoughts, memories—him. It’s similar to what we call a soul gem—and also …[to the] Iingenium." She uses that soul to "quicken" a protoform and make a new body for Glim.

The incubation period of Glim’s new body was only a few days, and all his memories were preserved. However, the Um-Hist were somehow able to tap into them and control what he experienced while dead, and, once reborn, Glim was able to communicate with the Um-Hist more than anyone in Umbriel.

"Then [Attrebus] understood where he was—on top of the glass forest.

"It was the best name he had for it; it was where Sul and he had arrived on their last visit here. Far below, a great web of flexible, glasslike cables anchored to various buildings along the rim formed a large web suspended over the valley and sump below. From the web, hundreds of smaller tubes grew skyward, branching, and those branches dividing until they at last became a virtual cloud of translucent twigs no bigger around than a little finger—and it was this upper layer they had fallen on.

"Sul struck at Vuhon again, but glass coils sprouted up below the lord of Umbriel and raised him above the reach of the weapon. The crystalline forest suddenly pulsed with blue-white light, and Vuhon’s eyes shone with the same radiance. Attrebus felt tendrils grip at his feet, pulling him down, and Sul as well.

"Sul’s only answer was an incoherent screech and a slash at the tubules supporting Vuhon. They shattered, much to Attrebus’s surprise.

"It appeared to surprise Vuhon, too, as those supporting him collapsed in shards. Attrebus felt a strange hum—it seemed, almost, to be in his teeth—and then most of the cables suddenly darkened. Only those that plucked Vuhon away from Sul’s next attack—and those that held Sul—still shone with unabated light.

"Vuhon shouted something, and a darkness smote Sul, sending him tumbling back and Umbra flying from his hands. More of the tubules went dark or shone with a sickly violet color."

Once he is reborn, Glim hears the Um-Hist constantly and louder than before. They are "as strong in his mind as the Hist had ever been, except they weren’t telling him what to do; they were singing, a deep and melancholy song." According to Fhena, they changed their tune when Glim died.

The poison Annaig concocts hurts the trees, making them "become unfocused, distilled to need and demand, and it was all he could do to keep his mind singular enough to be Glim, and not just a part of the hurt and panic."

Glim wonder’s about how to best give them the antidote: "he could simply empty the contents where the roots would find it, or use one of the nutrient injectors the fringe workers used."

"The sump felt sick and oily, and [Glim] nearly retched when he pulled in his first breath. He surprised a school of bladefish, but they hardly reacted, and instead continued along, unsteadily, as if they had lost half of their senses.

"He found shattered crystal tubes in the shallows and followed them to their greatest concentration, and then began searching the caves." In the third cave he finds three guards, one of who is an imperial and another who is a Dunmer. Glim is forced to kill them.

"Glim took several deep breaths, looking at the skraws. His skraws, and in an instant he felt not just the trees anymore, but all of it, everyone, and he knew what to do." He drinks the antidote himself, and then administers it directly to the trees through physical contact.

Lord Umbriel says that "the trees are fighting hard. They’ve shunted the poison through the ingenium, poisoning the rest of the city while they try to synthesize an antidote. It will cycle back around to them in time, but by then most of the damage will be done. I don’t know if you meant it to work that way, but it was brilliant; it’s attacking the head first—which means me. I had to absorb Rhel and three other lords just to keep going on in this body, to find the venom’s mother [Annaig]."

After drinking the antidote, Glim puts his face against the bark of an Um-Hist tree. He "could feel the poison dissipating; the trees could hear him again. He felt his self soften and flow around the edges as everything that was Umbriel opened itself to him. He heard the call of return, and with an easy bending of his mind gave it greater voice."

Before he manages to command the trees to return, Umbriel interrupts him. "a spear of pain seemed to drive through him, an absolute command that he acquiesce and fling himself, to break on the lower boughs before falling and vanishing from this world and every other. He rose and took the first step before pushing back against the command, and for an instant he thought he could beat it, push through. But it was ancient, and the trees bent to it from long habit."

To get from the Sump up to the top of Umbriel, Attrebus, Glim, and SUl "sprinted up the bough to where its roots grappled with the stone of the rim, and after a short climb, stood on the edge, in a gap between two strange, delicate buildings of glass and wire. A long cable went from the base of one all the way across the valley; several small buildings hung suspended from it, like lanterns at a festival. From the first of those a second cable ran down to the water’s edge. … The cable was five feet in diameter, but the footing was still pretty tricky. They were a few yards short of the hanging building when Sul shouted and pointed. Vuhon and several other figures were flying toward them."

Glim swims "toward the little star [the ingenium] he’d always been told to avoid. Now he felt it, the pulsing heart and mind of Umbriel, the core that was the true lord of souls. All other light diminished until at last they reached it."

Attrebus "drew Umbra from the sheath on the Dunmer’s back and stabbed it into the light. Even as he did so, he felt a rush of absolute rage. He became the blade, the edge, as Umbra drank him utterly in. He was steel and something more than steel, infinitely worse than steel. The thing waving it around and screaming was no longer Attrebus, and soon he wouldn’t be either.

"The light seemed to explode about them...The light cleared, and he was lying on the floor, shuddering. They had fallen into a vast nest of polished stone and shining crystal. The air was filled with delicate tones and fleeting incomprehensible whispers, as if motes of dust were excited to speech when light struck them. In the center of the great cavity a translucent pylon rose and met the gently rippling water above and kissed it with light pulsing up from a platform ten feet below, where a thousand glowing strands tied themselves into a coruscating sphere."

"When Attrebus plunged Umbra into the ingenium, Sul heard the Universe scream. The tortured cry rang from every surface, from the air itself, from Vuhon’s gaping mouth. A tongue of white blaze licked out from the ingenium and struck his old enemy, and his body twisted, deformed, grew blacker, hunched, feral."

The "wormies" deactivated when Umbriel left Tamriel.

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