Another Day in Balmora
“There’s not a single Fredas that goes by without some form of mischief or another in Balmora. A night without a drunken brawl in the clubs was unheard of. After all, it’s in our kin’s nature to be as harsh and raw as the lands that have shaped us. Some say it’s not the place itself that defines, but the people. Well, it’s not so far from the truth, you have to be of strong stock to get by in Vvardenfell.“
“While you will find most lands in Tamriel unforgiving, Vvardenfell is rooted in deceit since its foundation.
The third era, as my mother recalled it to me when I was but a young mer, was a sight of unholy taint.“
“Are you listening Nilas…?” Armin asked in a dazed tone. My uncle had told me stories of the third era and of our ancestor’s lands a few times too many, so whenever he told these stories my mind would drift away with ease.
To show respect, I would let him believe I was paying careful attention to every word as I knew this was Armin’s way of coping with the trauma of his mother dying from the corprus disease of the third era. It’s not that I didn’t share his pain of loss. I too had lost my parents in the Red Year, and it’s mere coincidence that I didn’t die with them. My mother and father had me visit my uncle in Cyrodiil only weeks before the catastrophe of Red Mountain.
Upon hearing of my mother and father’s fate, I was too shocked to mourn. It took me two years before the realization dawned on me. And to add salt to the open wound those damned scaled fetchers jumped at the chance and invaded Morrowind. Though it was likely their revenge for all the years of enslavement and harm to their kind, I cannot forgive them for slaughtering my kin.
It seems nowhere is safe these days, and the chaos of the third era doesn’t seem so far off, keeping in mind what has been happening as of late…
Just as a hero arises to give hope of better days, destruction lies in the aftermath, and alas another calamity looms on the horizon, leaving no time for the land or those who inhabit it to recover...
“Nilas…? Are you alright?” Armin asked with a look of concern. Nilas snapped out of his trance-like state and focused on his uncle.
“Yes… I think I am… it just seems there’s no end of discontent wherever one goes.”
Nila’s uncle sat back in his chair by the fire and looked to it calmly.
“Indeed it appears there are no peaceful waters… all is consumed by the fires of betrayal….”
Nilas begins to pour brandy for the two of them as he listens to his uncle.
“By the Divines Nilas... what can I say… I can’t see a quick and painless death to it all… just as Lorkhan was torn asunder, so too will be the fate of Tamriel.”
“With nothing but talk of death and hope wavering I feel like leather tanned too thin…” Nilas said with a sigh of defeat as he passed a cup to his uncle.
“Aye…” said Armin, his voice gradually fading to nothing.
He tapped his cup with Nilas’, drank and began to doze off, laced with a pleasant smile.
Tales by the Fire
Following the events of the Red Year, Nilas had been living with his uncle on a decently sized plot of land in the Nibenay Valley just north of Blackwood for the past five years. While Blackwood was a place best avoided, with reports of brigands and other strange sightings spoken of in wayward inns, the few good friends that Nilas had met on his travels to the city of Leyawiin often invited him out monthly, near the week’s end to camp across the inner Niben, near the outskirts of Blackwood. His closest friend, Veline, an Imperial who he now saw as a sister after all the time they spent together, said it provided a mysterious backdrop for telling tales by the fire.
Veline was a quiet but highly intelligent lady. She didn’t have many friends, aside from me and the group we went camping with. But after knowing her for five years, it seems it was all a matter of choice rather than her having an unappealing nature.
As a young girl, she would often make herself at home within her mind and drift off to a world of her own fancy rather than play with others of her age. It seemed the world within her was so alive that it supplied sufficient company. And that same mind lives on still, vibrantly radiating around her whenever she tells a story, even in such grim times.
Now you may be astonished by the folly of camping outside the city, but to our band of friends the Heartland was home, and one cannot let fear be the ruler of one’s life. Besides, most of us knew the land well and would have no problem with defending ourselves from a handful of common cutpurses if need be.
When Loredas came around, our group at camp was smaller than usual. News of the Potentate having been assassinated that week and rumours of the Thalmor being involved had many in Cyrodiil become afraid of what fate might befall the Ruby Throne.
Nevertheless, Veline and two of Nilas' other friends, Rela and Leo, themselves a Bosmer and a Breton respectively, were also present. Leo owned a tavern in the city and it was no secret he harboured certain feelings of fondness towards Rela. We all sat around the fire, drinking a smooth, albeit strong, brew, carefully selected from Leo’s own stock from within his cellar for this special occasion. After countless hours talking and a few draughts of that stuff, we all grew silent, mesmerized by the stirring and satisfying crackle of the fire.
One by one we all tucked into our cosy bedrolls, and Nilas was the last one awake, looking up to the sea of stars, admiring the twin moons. He was well on his way to dozing off to the lullaby of country winds and river flow gently caressing him to sleep…
. . .
For what seemed like just a few moments, Nilas awoke to the sound of drums. Goblins? Marauders with the sinister intent to terrorize country folk perhaps? Albeit logical guesses, none of these possibilities matched the raw energy of the strange rhythm. And of all places, the fervent beating emanated from the thickets of Blackwood. He turned to his friends with growing anxiety. However, none had stirred. When Nilas tried to nudge them awake, all appeared to be transfixed in place as though they were somewhere else, far out of his reach.
Nilas’ eyes darted back and forth, surveying the woods. The lack of visible torches or the smoke such light sources typically give off suggested vacancy. 'How odd', he thought to himself, 'this doesn't fit an ambush of any capacity nor does it appear to be tailored to intentionally frighten or threaten us.' Indeed, this rhythmic drumming had a more ritualistic quality. And yet Nilas felt moved by the sound, like the feeling of a long-awaited meeting with an old friend.
Divines knew what reasoning there was behind it, but he just had to see why it felt so familiar… so alluring...
It was a powerful emotion that hit deep within his structure like nothing had done in years.
And just as Nilas was thinking about all of this, he was already striding towards the dark, swampy woods like one possessed, bent to an unknown will.
“This is surely a dream”, he tried to reassure himself. “Only a dream could alter my perception of time in such a queer way”. Indeed Nilas felt as if time had stopped for the world, prompting a sense of incredible speed.
Before he knew it, the glow of the campfire had faded and Nilas had already progressed far into the depths of Blackwood. As the beat of the drums grew louder, the luminous, blue outlines of twelve robed figures came into view. He crouched low and peeked cautiously from behind a tree tangled in vines. The twelve took thoughtful steps as though a cortege was taking place. That’s when it dawned upon him, they were all Dunmer, and two of the twelve’s faces were horribly familiar to him, for under the obscuring cowls revealed themselves the likeness of his parents.
Nilas jumped out from behind the tree and dashed towards them without a second thought. It had been so long since he last saw them and without considering the situation, yearning replaced any form of reason.
After all, he was sure this was all just a dream, what harm could come of it?
While the party continued their motion to a journey unknown, his mother stopped and turned towards Nilas with a peculiar expression of bewilderment.
She glared deeply into his eyes, and what joy Nilas felt mere moments ago quickly turned to confusion, then malformed terror, as he realized now that this wasn’t an elaborate mirage from the lands of slumber. The spectacle before him was indeed a reality, lost souls believing they had survived the eruption of Red Mountain and are now seeking safety and refuge.
A great sadness filled Nilas as he grasped the true purpose of this procession. What he witnessed were spirits whose memories had faded along with their physical vessels, leaving them wandering for eternity without knowledge of their fate. An undeniable sense of conscious awareness pervaded the air as the incorporeal eyes he peered into were filled with an unmistakable cognizance of a lost reminiscence. The memory of a beloved son.
Nilas awoke to a sweet aroma, foreign to his senses.
“This smells strangely of earthenware baking, who in Oblivion would be baking in Blackwood?”, He thought in puzzlement. The smell was like nothing he had ever experienced, a mixture between baked apples doused in brown sugar and some other unknown ingredient that pricked up his nostrils and heightened his senses. What’s more, the weather felt oddly warm for a midwinter’s morning. That’s when it hit him: he was no longer in Blackwood.
Before his eyes revealed itself a place unwitnessed. Nilas appeared to be in a room that had seemingly been constructed from a kind of foreign clay. Crystal salt lamps glowing with hues of turquoise and emerald filled the space with a warm haze. As he was lying down on a bed of some kind Nilas examined his body, making sure he was all intact. A blanket covered him up to his chest, a thick sheet of fungus embroidered with a fine mail, strikingly similar to the surrounding, dim light sources, coating it.
Lost in thought by what the night bred, Nilas paused and pondered about the apparition he suspected to be the ghost of his mother for a moment, wondering if this was all somehow connected.
It was all a fragmented mess, why was he in Blackwood? How did he get here? None of it made sense.
His life before the meeting with his mother was absent yet ever present like a beautiful dream quickly forgotten with nothing but the feelings left to know that it happened or... the void. And like the void, wherever light goes you will find darkness there waiting to greet it. Void isn’t simply ‘nothingness’ as many believe. It is everything, hiding behind the scenes of our own vision of reality.
So too were the memories of Nilas, ever present yet ever distant in a place his mind would not reveal to him. But why?
After Nilas' senses reclaimed their usual sharpness, his ears picked up on what he fancied were footsteps, drawing closer to his position. In his frightened ambiguity, he kept still, waiting for whatever it was that slowly approached the room he lay in.
At that moment an Argonian in exquisite scarlet robes entered the room. Nilas tried to jump out of bed at the sight of him, but as soon as he moved, the bed softly, but firmly, clamped onto his torso. The argonian cackled warmly, not unlike a well-meaning old man who just lectured a youngster for his misdeeds. It was strangely consoling in that it reminded Nilas of the way that his uncle would laugh from time to time whenever he told his stories.
Nilas sat there with an expression of disbelief, his mouth ajar. “This was no common lizard,'' he thought, “No Argonian laughs like that of a man”. Shock soon turned to relief at the genuinely benign nature of the lizard’s laugh. It was a comfort in comparison to what Nilas had heretofore been submitted to.
The Argonian, seeming to have read Nilas’ mind, smiled.
“So… what brings a strange creature like you to Caldwin Cove?”