Elder Scrolls Lore Report - The Hist & the Floating City

Black Marsh is a dense swampland region of southeastern Tamriel, home to the reptilian humanoid race of Argonians. Though mer often refer to Black Marsh as Argonia, there is actually no word for Black Marsh in Jel, the native Argonian tongue, which actually traces roots (hue) back to the language of the trees, of the Hist. This is in part because the Argonians do not actually think of Black Marsh as a single nation, but rather a collection of various regions all tied together. The closest they get to calling it something in their language is the wide-swamp gesture alongside the word kronka-thatith which translates very loosely to “everything-egg”, but it was merely a description of the region more than an actual name for it.




Alongside the Argonians are many other species of creature and sapient peoples. Imperial settlers from Cyrodiil including the Horwalli, the Yespest, and the silver-skinned Kothringi. A man-like race known as the Orma, who are prone to blindness, also live in Black Marsh. Serpentine-humanoids known as Lamias, vulpine-humanoids known as Lilmothiit are the most common occurrences of the mingling of species on Black Marsh. Both the Kothringi and the Lilmothiit were wiped out by the Knahaten Flu.


And there is one other species of sentient creature living within Black Marsh. Giant spore trees that tower over almost everything else in Black Marsh, extending their branches and their roots far out across the swamps, dotting the swamp itself in various places, mostly spiritual in their existence, widely regarded and revered in Argonian culture. These trees are known as the Hist and, to some, are believed to have been the first living creatures in Tamriel.



(a Hist-Deek, Hist Sapling, as seen in the quest The Sapling in The Elder Srolls Online)


Hist roots stretch far beneath the ground, purportedly even as far as other lands, though the Hist are almost exclusively in Black Marsh. Argonian culture relegates that the Hist are integral to their people and are even known to drink of their sap during times of celebration or other great import. The Argonians even call themselves the peoples of the Root and their various names for the stages of a Hist – a sapling is called a Hist-Deek, mature Hist are Hist-Dooka, and elder Hist are Hist-Tsoko – even have their place in Argonian calendars. Argonians borne in the swamps can wield Hist-magic, which doesn’t seem to operate in the same manner as conventional magics, while Argonians borne outside of Black Marsh cannot hear the Hists at all.


Argonian belief attests that the Hist are the original incarnation of life on Tamriel and were bystanders during the war of the Ehlnofey, though much of their realm was destroyed as the war passed over it. The Hist concur with the ideal that Sithis is the original creator, though it is unclear in what capacity the Hist view Sithis – whether they revere the Dread Father or simply acknowledge him. There are instances of Hist existing outside of Black Marsh, such as the City Tree of Lilmoth, the Trees of Umbriel, and the Sleeping Tree in Skyrim.


Argonians claim that, no matter where they are in Tamriel, they can always feel the Hist pulling on them to return to Black Marsh and taste of their sap. In the Third Era, just before the Oblivion Crisis, the Hist did exactly that. Having foreseen the event, they used their influence on the Argonians to pull them from all over Tamriel back to Black Marsh to defend it from the hordes of Dremora that poured through the Oblivion Gates. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When the Gates opened, the Argonians charged through them in such ferocity that Mehrunes Dagon closed the Gates to prevent the Deadlands from being overrun. This inevitably led to the Empire’s collapse in Black Marsh as the Argonians turned to the An-Xileel to push the Imperials out of Black Marsh. The An-Xileel would go on to invade Morrowind, cripple House Telvanni and even claimed a chunk of southern Morrowind before they were stopped by House Redoran – and since then, the An-Xileel have shown no interest in doing anything else in Morrowind, though they still prevent the Empire from reclaiming their territory.



(a Hist-Speaker seen in The Elder Scrolls Legends)


The Hist are all connected, separated beings of the same singular entity – much the same as the relationship between dragons and Akatosh – but there are instances of some Hist being separate and individual, such as the Sleeping Tree in Skyrim, and, most famously, the City Tree Lilmoth in the province of the same name in Black Marsh. Sometime in the Third Era, the Hist in Lilmoth formed its own identity and separated itself from its brethren. Whatever else may have happened, the other Hist dealt with the rogue tree and it was killed. By 4E 8, a new tree, a new Hist, had begun growing from a single fragment of the rogue tree before it, more than 300 years later. This new tree pushed its roots deep through Lilmoth and eventually became separate and individual again. Usually, when speaking to Hist, what one says is what they all say, but this was not so for the rogue Hist of Lilmoth. By 4E 8, it had stopped speaking almost entirely, only speaking to the An-Xileel and Wild Ones. It became common for An-Xileel in Lilmoth to only listen to the rogue Hist. Late in 4E 8, this rogue Hist summoned the floating city of Umbriel to Nirn and maintained contact with the island.


Umbriel is a floating island, believed to have been ripped right from the realm where the Hist originated and existed simply in a bubble in Oblivion. Umbriel was to said to look like an upside-down cone. Within this cone was a valley filled with a water lake called the Sump, warrens cut in the valley slops for workers and lesser denizens, more splendid places for the lords, and at the very tops of the city were the homes of the higher lords. On the very peak of Umbriel was a thick forest of trees almost identical to Hist. The High Lord of Umbriel is Vuhon.





Umbriel’s denizens grew from small worms or larvae that existed within the Sump and closely resemble men and mer, or other lifeforms Umbriel may have encountered on its withered existence. Umbriel’s denizens are “born” full grown and matured and immediately start work as they are assigned to a place in life. Some become the Skraws, who gather food they grow in the Sump, others become kitchen workers to prepare the food, some become servants for other tasks, and a few become lords. The lords were said to have sparsely varied appetites, so much so that almost no two liked the same foods – some didn’t even eat conventional food, preferring to instead consume the life energy of their servants for sustenance, or that of captured souls. Being within a bubble of Oblivion, the farther away a resident of Umbriel got from the city, the more likely it was they would become permanently detached from it, confirming the theory that most, possibly all, denizens of Umbriel cannot leave, at least not willingly.


However, the island does occasionally launch larvae off the Sump down to the lands below it, which dissipate into a black mist before entering living humanoids and taking control of them before turning them into undead which Umbriel can then control as its own Undead Army to influence the world directly, something Umbriel cannot do itself. The victims’ souls are captured in gossamer-like fibers and, while some are sent to the kitchens, most are sent to the Ingenium which keeps the island aloft.


Umbriel was in part powered by – partly created by – an orc warrior known as Umbra. In 2E 582, a powerful sword known as Umbra was created by Naenra Waerr at the request of Clavicus Vile himself, who wanted to use the sword to spread foul mischief to send souls to his realm. However, Naenra was actually Sheogorath in disguise and tricked Vile, as part of Vile’s power used to create the sword was allowed to manifest itself directly as a being of the same name. Umbra took on a life of its own, hiding itself until found by a worthy adventurer, whom it would then slowly corrupt and take over until the two were as one. Umbra could choose to take any shape it desired, but it most often was the form of a bladed weapon, most commonly as a black and silver claymore, a jet-black longsword, and a black sword with red markings. In 3E 427, an orc warrior wielded the sword and became known as Umbra. His only desire, as any old orc, was to die a good death, at the hands of a more competent warrior. However, his skill was almost unmatched, and he bested every challenger until he met the Nerevarine who bested him in combat and claimed the sword Umbra. The sword was donated to Torasa Aram and put on display in a museum in Mournhold.




Sometime after this, the sword disappeared and was eventually found by a Bosmer named Lenwin. She inevitably was consumed by the sword and turned bloodthirsty and began calling herself Umbra. In 3E 433, Clavicus Vile sent a champion to take the sword back. Barbas actually advised this champion to not bring the sword back, that it would ruin Vile’s power. It is not clear if the champion heeded Barbas’s advice or if they returned the sword to receive the Masque, but in either case, the sword did make its way into the hands of Clavicus Vile. Once in Vile’s realm, the sword manifested, stole a chunk of Vile’s power, and assumed the shape of a dark being, man-shaped but all black with eyes like holes of nothing. Clavicus Vile understandably did not wish the sword to escape with his power, so he trapped Umbra by changing the walls of his realm, though Umbra was able to completely conceal itself. In the Fourth Era, Umbra became attracted to the first ingenium, the rift of souls that allowed Baar Dau to remain aloft above VIvec City. He learned this rift would soon be large enough to throw Umbra – the sword itself – through it. On the day the ingenium ruptured, the day Baar Dau fell, Umbra was cast back into Mundus while the two Dunmer responsible for the ingenium were sucked into Clavicus Vile’s realm – Sul and Vuhon. The Umbra-being captured them and, in return for his own life, Vuhon swore to build a new ingenium that the Umbra-being could use to escape Clavicus Vile’s realm. The two created Umbriel, a floating city powered by souls. Umbra fused itself with Vuhon, placing their joined soul into the ingenium. Now calling itself Umbriel, it became the ruler of the floating city.




Forty-nine years after the Oblivion Crisis, the rogue Hist of Lilmoth summoned Umbriel from Oblivion, which rested itself over the Southern Sea. The An-Xileel offered up the Assimilated as its first victims, who were quickly killed by the undead sea creatures already enslaved by Umbriel. Before long, the Hist of Lilmoth revealed its true colors as it deceived the An-Xileel itself into sacrificing themselves to Umbriel, feeding on the ever growing power of Umbriel. It is speculated the Hist of Lilmoth though itself part of Umbriel, which was dotted with trees very similar to the Hist.




Eventually, Umbriel grew so powerful that mind-controlled An-Xileel and Lukiul Argonians began attacking all other races indiscriminately, which became to be known as “the Slaughter at Lilmoth” and ultimately culminated in the city’s destruction even as Umbriel marched towards Morrowind and the Imperial City. Without making this a report on Umbriel, I will leave off here with that Umbriel was eventually stopped Prince Attrebus, only son of Titus Mede, who made a pact with Clavicus Vile – to allow them to use the sword Umbra to defeat Vuhon and Umbriel, in exchange for then returning Vile’s lost power. During the Siege of the Imperial City, Vuhon was defeated, the Ingenium destroyed, Umbriel’s soul desiccated, the zombie army rendered inanimate, and Umbriel the City floated adrift into the Realm of the Hist.


The Realm of the Hist is a rather mysterious bubble of Oblivion, said to be filled with sentient trees, not unlike the Hist of Tamriel. Other than the Hist-like trees, it is also home to Wisperills, which are little more than colorful, luminescent, sentient films performing slow dances.


The Dreaming Tree, also known as the Whispering Root, was once the Hist of the Root-Whisper Tribe. When the Ayleid’s invaded this tribe’s territory and harvested their souls, the Whispering Root sacrificed itself to created an artifact that could house the souls of the entire tribe until the Ayleid threat had passed, a piece of amber known as the Remnant of Argon. Though the Barsaebic Ayleid’s did what they could to stop its creation, they failed and the Hist went into a slumber, now known as the Dreaming Tree. Though their salvation at the Remnant of Argon was meant to be temporary, the Ayleid incursion lasted far longer than anticipated, and with the Root-Whisper tribe all but dead and its Hist cut off from the other Hist, there was no way to pass information of the Remnant along to revive them, which ultimately led to the Remnant passing into legend. The Dreaming Tree persists, and the story of the Root-Whisper tribe is spoken in Murkmire with great melancholy.



(the Remnant of Argon)


Some hundreds or even thousands of years later, a group of histories know as the Cyrodiilic Collections arrived in Murkmire on the behalf of an Argonian benefactor to collect and preserve Argonian artifacts. Kassandra, the benefactor, appeared to be altruistic in her search at first, but secretly she coveted an artifact that could connect her to the Hist, something she’d be in desire of since her birth in Dunmeri service – recall that Argonian’s borne outside the swamps are cut off from the Hist.  The Collections uncovered the legend of the Remnant of Argon and found the Rootmender’s Staff, which was said to be able to lead one to the Remnant of Argon itself. Kassandra betrayed the Collections, stole the staff, and went to searching for the Remnant of Argon, though not without the Vestige giving close chase. Kassandra did manage to retrieve the Remnant and claimed to at last be able to hear the Hist before being promptly devoured by a Miregaunt, though now with Hist magic at her side, she wrested control of it before being defeated by the Vestige. The Remnant was retrieved and brought back to the long abandoned Root-Whisper Village, where the Vestige transposed inside the Remnant and led the host of Argonian souls back into Mundus, reawakening the Dreaming Tree. With one of the Vestige’s companions electing to stay behind and offer their life to free the trapped Argonian’s, the Dreaming Tree awoken, the Root-Whisper Tribe was reborn, and the Remnant of Argon was destroyed.



(inside the Remnant of Argon) 


In ancient times, the Hist of Haj Uxith made a pact with Molag Bal to ensure the safety of its Argonians, taking them to Coldharbour. Though the tree withered away physically, it was kept alive by a crystal shard, thought to be one of the vampiric shards of Bal. The Prince of Domination claimed it was purely so he could continue to harvest the Hist sap. In time, the crystal poisoned the Hist, prolonging its suffering by not allowing it to die. Eventually, the tree became so weak it could no longer communicate with the Argonians it had worked so hard to save. Centuries later, in 2E 582, an argument broke out in the tribe, with one side desiring to end the tree’s suffering and the other refusing to allow it to be destroyed, lest the tribe fall as well. The Vestige was called on once again to settle the dispute when the Planemeld broke out. What has become of the tree is still unknown.



(Ruins of Mazzatun as seen in The Elder Scrolls Online) 


Tsono-Xuhil is one of the only known named trees due to an amber plasm that seeps into its bark and drips into the earth through it. This Hist of Mazzatun of the Xit-Xaht tribe was obsessed with returning Black Marsh to its pre-Duskfall way of life and advised its tree-mender, Na-Kesh, in her attempt to manipulate the sap to empower the Xit-Xaht. Ingesting or immersing oneself into the amber plasm had many devastating side effects, most notable of which was madness. Na-Kesh, under Tsono-Xuhil’s guidance, empowered the Xit-Xaht with the amber plasm and turned them into powerful albeit insane soldiers. Despising change and therefore despising Sithis, the Lord of Change, Tsono-Xuhil desired ordered in Mazzatun, and it sought a shining city of stone to house its children. To this end, it called its people to build a winding stone xanmeer – jel for temple – on the ruins of old Mazzatun. It then had them build a mighty Argonian Behemoth to subjugate the Saxhleel. The Hist’s madness seeped into its tribe and deep in the bowels of the earth beneath it so that, for ages to come, Argonians across Black Marsh knew to stay far away from Mazzatun, knowing that something was wrong with the city and its Hist. In 2E 582, the Undaunted finally put an end to the Xit-Xaht after they raided a Su-Zahleel tribe and enslaved them. The Undaunted managed to free at least one of the tribe’s elders and brought about the demise of Na-Kesh. The mad Hist was put into a deep slumber by the Su-Zahleel elders, who hoped that it would eventually awaken, free of its madness.



(hallucination of a Hist Avatar from Amber Plasma)


The Sleeping Tree in Whiterun Hold, though not technically a Hist, is rumored to have grown with a giant spore fell from a floating island and landed in what is now Whiterun Hold, forming a large crater. The possibility of it being a Hist or Hist-related is further supported by the fact its sap is harvested and considered an illegal drug, not unlike actual Hist sap. This purports that the Sleeping Tree is a descendant of, if not a remnant of, the Hist of Umbriel.



(the Sleeping Tree as seen in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)


Hist communicate with the Argonians it watches over through its sap. When an Argonian licks Hist sap, the Hist can communicate with the Argonian through visions. All Argonians borne in Black Marsh participate in a ritual called their Hatching Day, whereupon they lick the sap of the Hist of their tribe, becoming forever connected to it. The sap increases the Argonians combat prowess and is shown to even alter living organisms, which may explain how the Argonians have even come to exist in the first place. Ingesting large quantities of the sap is dangerous, even for Argonians. The Sap-Speakers of the Miredancer Tribes are well known for their partaking in consuming vast amounts of Hist sap and have suffered from sap poisoning, with symptoms like gold tongue, which is a permanent pigmentation mutation of the mouth, bark scale, which is a thickening of their scales, and vivid hallucinations. The Blackwood Company uprooted a Hist and smuggled it to their headquarters in in Leyawiin and harvested its Hist sap illegally, but it became proven that non-Argonians ingesting the sap experienced a brief surge in vitality before suffering horrible hallucinations – though it is possible it was due to the horrible treatment of the tree in question.


The Hist also secrete another substance known as amber plasm, which, despite its sap-like qualities, is not a sap and is actually a form of chaotic creation from Oblivion. Occasionally, a Hist-Tsoko embarks an individual on a quest, giving them wooden skin and veins that glow amber so the Sap-Speakers know to give them aid.



(the Hist of Blackwood as seen in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion)


The first edition of the Pocket Guide to the Empire describes the Hist as “…a relatively intelligent strain of Argonian; repulsive, but peaceful enough to be tolerated outside of Black Marsh…” The guide also makes a foul reference to their “cherished spore-trees”.


Regardless of whether they are the oldest creatures in Mundus or simply ancient trees given spiritual awareness, the Hist possess frightening powers of foresight and are uniquely gifted in being able to bring an otherwise unremarkable species into unity. Should we ever see a title game set in Black Marsh, I think the Hist could provide a very interesting path through legend itself.

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Fimvul is the current master of the Skyforge Library. Interested in the Elder Scrolls from a young age, he has been diving headfirst into the richer aspects of the lore of the series for over a decade. With years of experience and research under his belt, he hopes to enlighten his readers with the wondrous mystery that surrounds the Elder Scrolls universe.

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