Pocket Guide to the Empire, Second Edition — A Million Eyed Insect Dreaming: Morrowind

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Although this text was written as part of the 2nd edition Pocket Guide to the Empire, it was not published at the same time as the other chapters. It was made public by its author, Baruch, on the Imperial Library forums on August 4th, 2013.

In Niben, the winds limit themselves to commonplace tricks - harassing the unfaithful and confusing travelers - but eastward, beyond the mountains of Cheydenne, the winds begin to change. In this land, they take on new shapes, becoming great black titans and hellions, ravaging the landscape, and bringing constant horror crashing down upon the scarce settlements that barely cling to the damned canyons and mesas. Here the fell winds of morrow bellows out from the flamefrosted ravines of Balúr the red mountain, carrying with them eternal and memorious ashes which roil from within. Stirred from their slumber by the crackling bolt of Lorkhan, these ashes are saturated with the remains of those behemoths who resided here before the coming of the Dragons and the lighting of the Dawn. This strange hellscape is Véloth, the impenetrable valley of ash, which rages against the new lords of Mundus like a ruptured wound on the face of Tamriel.

Despite it all, this was the infernal valley to which the exodus of the Chimer led and where the nations of their descendants, the elusive Dark Elves, still endure against the ruder tyrannies. In the early days of the Elven schisms, their prophet Véloth (who gives his name to the awful country) heard Boethiah's sermon uttered by the duplicitously doubled orifice of the famous Liar-King of Alinor and was moved to heterodox exultations, becoming known in those lands as Vellos, Evangelist to Fools. For his heresy the petty tyrants of the jungle estranged his mouth from his face by cabalistic rituals of blood and laceration. After that the faithful moved east beyond the mountains, following the path that was once burnt across the sky along the arc by which the bloodied heart of the world had fallen. Véloth's followers are devout, and to this day they wander the ashlands, a nomadic people even into modernity.

The Dark Elves are contemplative and rarely speak. They are unfriendly and distrustful of foreigners. Their ancient laws are unbending and their hierarchy is rigid: even petty criminals are punished by exile or death. Few choose exile, and those who do are outsiders in their expatriate homes and never integrate. Though Véloth is a part of the Empire, its people do not seem aware that any such Empire exists or has dominion over them and their nations; certainly they do not recognize it formally, as they have never uttered one word regarding it. When emissaries of the Ruby Throne approach the wise women to treat with them, even as equals, they do not respond but continue with their business in silence, grinding the shalk, harvesting ash, or carving masks and shields out of the chitinous carapace of some monstrous insect. Even still, the Dark Elves are not a seditious folk and have never made rebellion against the Cyrodiils.

Like the dust of moths, Vélothi ash can induce visions when handled with appropriate care. Elven shamans apply a small blot of ash on one or both of their temples, which burns and blisters their scalp, but also grants them access to the numinous world of dreams and long-dead memories. The ash dreams can take many forms, sometimes creating kaleidoscopic apparitions before the waking eyes, sometimes plummeting the user into a hypnotic realm without right angles. The most intense users of the ash are the mabrigash, Elven women who have crafted an ashface, a mask which they wear as they dream (which is at all times), for the flesh has been seared from their skulls. The mabrigash are consulted regularly by the wise among the Elves, for the ashface speaks truths that no mortal could discern alone. Crucially, the ash has a mind of its own, and the shaman who uses it has no control over what will come to pass, which as often as not is the stuff of twisted nightmares.

Though the Dark Elves augment their visions with ritual scarification and the rhythmic beating of guarskin drums, the dreams are independent spirits from overturned kalpas - and they are not entirely friendly to their Mundane visitors. Ever present are the nix-beasts, which can travel between the waking and unwaking worlds and are the devourers of ghosts and spirits; these hideous, writhing vermin seethe with rage and insatiable hunger. For protection, a host of ancestral guides must escort the mabrigash and lesser shamans through the visions. Although their memories are as long as ash, death drains on their identity, and as they ebb into lost time they adopt the image of their living kin such that the cloud of spirits becomes a refraction of their immersant charge. The nix-hounds, which scavenge for food at the incorporeal edges of the Dark Elves' daylight camps, are ruthlessly slaughtered in defense of these ancestors, though nix-handlers have bred some into mighty mounts which they ride in battle and ritual along the twilight margins.

However, there are some among the Dark Elves that do not heed the ash dreams and have betrayed their ancestors. Insanely, they have chosen to forgo nomadism and abandon the Walking Paths in a province incapable of sustaining agriculture. This cultural shift is reflected in their linguistic preference for sedentary architecture: no longer do they organize themselves into 'nations,' but instead into 'houses.' Though the so-called House Elves have always been a small minority in Véloth, the present Empire chooses (unsurprisingly, in light of their shared decadence) to deal with them exclusively. With the sole exception of the Dagoth-Sharmat, they have fallen into the worship of the shapeshifter demon Almsivi. Once mortal, this hermaphroditous monster takes the form of three persons, each a caricature of one of the higher Daedra. The Almsivi first emerged as an dreamborn doppelganger of Sul-Alandro, the shieldbearer to the ancient hortator Nerevar.

In the middle of the first era, the demon chased that saintly pair, known throughout Tamriel for their tragedy, into the heart of Balúr, where the Doom-Drum was lost under a blazing inferno of ash and flame. The murder of Nerevar was quick and without warning (to this day the House Elves mock his memory with a false sainthood; he is depicted among them as a skeleton hung up by the feet). Alandro witnessed this crime, and at the gates of the pit where the greatest leviathan ghosts of the once-dawned reside, the son of clan Sul stood against his double, clad in chitin and ancestors' ash. His thoughts were blasted from his skull by Almsivi, and the things he had witnessed were forever splayed across his chain hood, the Wraithmail. Over time this hood was broken into links, and the links into ringlets, and the ringlets were crafted into piercings, so that now every ashkhan and mabrigash of even the most provincial gathering of netchleather yurts hears the holy whispers of Sul Alandro in their ears.

What occurred then needs no explication, as the geological consequences of the Red Moment are recorded in the annals of all Tamriel's lettered cultures. Traveling through dreamtime, the demon Almsivi kidnapped and enchained the ancient prophet Véloth. That unspeakable monster put false doubts in his mind and seduced him by stoking these doubts. The voice of Trinimac the Liar-King now instilled fear in him, for it spoke the words of Almsivi, not Boethiah. False apparitions appeared before his eyes, his life became a ceaseless tempest of agony and torment, and, in a moment beyond draconian time, Véloth's soul was shattered. The normally stoic and resolute prophet so convulsed with fury and anguish that he rent the flesh from his throat so that he could scream aloud. In this moment of weakness, Véloth was ensnared by the repulsive tendrils of Almsivi and taken to a dreamscape of malevolent demons that have not walked the earth in ages uncountable.

Where Véloth's jailers hid him was the inner chamber of Lie Rock, a heavy stone wreathed in madness which lies at the heart of Vivec, the greatest city of the House Elves. During the interregnum, the pious mabrigash Bar-Ziah Sul, whose name is Queen Cinders of the clans Sul and Hlathoom, made it her unyielding mission to free Véloth and restore him to his righteousness. For centuries she sought in vain, her sooted face babbling the names of unreal arteries for her betrothed and indentured ashkhans to explore. But there are no apertures in the mundial membrane which lies between our world and Lie Rock, the recondite keystone of deceit, for it is a chasm within chasms. However, in a moment of clarity, as the Cyrodiil armies gathered against broken borders, the wraithwhispers of her ancestor Alandro advised Bar-Ziah to wait at a particular crossing of phantasmal planes across a tangential series of moments.

The ashface of Bar-Ziah Sul has since spoken only of jumbled, distressing woes, so what then occurred would be lost were it not for the register of her nix companion, a million-eyed insect dreaming. Waiting for her at that transdimensional point, the hound records, was an apparition of the Emperor, who greeted her despite her obvious protestation. With the uneasy approval of her ancestors (and consequently all the nomadic nations of the nearer East), Bar-Ziah Sul gave over Véloth to save Véloth, sacrificing history and honor for the one the Dark Elves loved more dearly than them both. With this sorry betrayal Mundus moved in an unseemly manner, Lie Rock was opened to them, and Bar-Ziah and her host stepped into the prison of the prophet to free him at last. But once beyond the gateway they found only golden footprints, impossibly facing east in a world without orients, until at last they dissipated into images of chitin-clad nix-mongrels.

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