Speaker’s Journal, Entry 1-2: To Take Arms

I emerged into another cave, much larger, with multiple doors and a tunnel or hallway leading out, through which the pale Argonian was disappearing.  More bones and garbage strewn about, burning braziers, skeletons in cages hanging by chains from the ceiling. I’d been invited to a party in a place like this once, just after college, and that had not turned out well.  I had no higher hopes for this one.

Wailing Prison

{Quickly. Follow the disease.}

The ghost’s voice in my head again, had I not left him behind?  Well, in fairness, I was still 3 steps from his cell, so it is not as though he even needed to yell.  “Follow the disease?”  What does that even mean, I wanted to ask, but also I didn’t want to encourage him.  Did he mean the Argonian?  I hope that wasn’t some racist tripe… though maybe he’d said “diseased”. The fellow did look very pale and a bit withered, now that I thought about it.

I started down the tunnel, as quickly as I dared.  Sometimes others who looked like prisoners also ran past me, perhaps leaving those other cells later than I did. They didn’t stop to talk, and I did not take it as a snub; this was not the place for casual pleasantries. “Greetings, Speaker, how delightful to see you!” “Good to see you, Flavius. How is your day?” “Oh, you know, the usual. Imprisonment, impending horrible death, haunted by mad rug merchant’s ghost. The usual. You?” “The same. Never changes, does it?” “No, never does. Though the tunnels smell unusually putrid today.” “So they do, so they do. Well, best be getting on. Later, then?” “Later.”

The tunnel opened into another room with more hanging cages and piles of bones now, and large fires, and rusted weapons.  There was little usable, just bits of food, bits of what seemed like ectoplasm (if I remembered my alchemy lessons correctly), bits of people, worms and crawlers (inevitable, given all the bits).  I dutifully checked everything, salvaging anything that might remotely seem useful. My uncle Sheep Chaser taught me that a Khajiit must embrace all that the divines present him, lest they become insulted by his refusal and give him no more blessings. (And sometimes, when a Khajiit sees another failing to properly embrace their blessings, they must liberate those blessings from such unappreciative masters, so that the gifts may have a happier home that truly honors the divines. Khajiit have many such duties, and we take them seriously.)

Daedra BodiesThere were bodies in the tunnel; some were clearly prisoners like me, dressed in rags and many pale and wasted like the Argonian had been.  But others were… wrong. Not any of the races of Tamriel, they looked like the monkey people, more like mer than humans, but they were colored grey and black and red, and had pronounced horns. A name was starting to come to me, things out of tales to frighten cubs: daedra.  Not petty daedra, such as any sorcerer might summon to his needs, but higher daedra, strong willed and deadly and corrupting. They were armored, but I was afraid to try to take it; who knows what touching them might do, much less wearing them?  I thought the bones were disturbing, this was far worse. Were they guards, and this some daedric prison?  Had the escaping prisoners had killed them; if so, with what, and could I have some?

{There are weapons in the forge beyond these cells. Arm yourself!}

Well, now there’s a useful madman. Arms were sounding really good all of a sudden. Arms, and very fast legs. Good, if the ghost is going to insist on following me about, at least he can start earning his keep in my psychic space. Sure enough, the tunnel opened up into another room, decorated in the usual horror decor.  Hanging the skeleton cages over roiling steam jets was a nice addition.  (Just how big was this place, anyway? Had someone found a network of caves and turned them into a haphazard cells? I applauded their efficiency, if not their taste.)  At the other end, next to the doors, was the pale Argonian, calling out, “Don’t stop, now. Keep moving! More guards are on the way!”  More of those things? Consider me persuaded, I’m moving… as soon as I search the room. Ah ha! Tables with weapons… terribly weak, pathetic weapons, and I could make better myself given a forge and a few hours, but they were a step up from my claws. Other prisoners were running in behind me — I must have missed a passageway, there were not so many many cells in the route I’d traveled — and the Argonian called out to take a weapon and leave the rest for others.  I preferred two swords, or sword and dagger, or even two maces, but I couldn’t deny the fairness of that, so I took a sword and hoped to pick up another later.

Er-JaseenAs I reached the door, the Argonian called out again to hurry, and on contrarian impulse I paused and asked, if more guards were coming, what was he doing standing there? “Like you, I am escaping. But, since I have been here for some time, the Tall One asked me to help the newer prisoners find the way. Those who are captured will be flayed. Sadly, that will not end their torment. The Soul Shriven cannot die.”

For some reason, that term sent a shiver down my tail. Though that might have been caused by the bit about the flaying. “Soul shriven?” I asked? He waved at more prisoners and called out again, then replied to me, “We are the vestiges of people whose souls were stolen by… The God of Schemes. I dare not utter his true name in this place.”

Molag Bal. There are several Daedric Princes whose attention you do not wish to attract, and the lord of domination and enslavement is high on that list.  If Molag Bal was, in fact, involved in my predicament, things had just gotten very dire very quickly. But it explained the torture decor and the daedra bodies, and… soul stealing?

That sense I had of something missing, cut away, suddenly fit perfectly, and yet the Argonian betrayed his misunderstanding of what souls even were. Not his fault; many both common and learned make the same mistake, encouraged by men and mer who think of souls merely as a power source for magic, enchantments, and “soul gems”.  Saying that Molag Bal had stolen my soul, as if a soul were a thing that could be stolen. Was I not here, and thinking, and aware? Was not he? Were we not conversing? Thanks to the advantage of educated parents, I am not entirely unenlightened in such matters.  Where there is cognition, there is soul, therefore ours were not gone.  But a body born has many pieces of subtle energy, that are all confused together and called the soul.  There is a body’s life force, nourished by food, and weakened by disease and injury. There is the mind, filled with thought and memory and turbulent emotion. There’s the energy that we call psychic force, that can speak and cause effects at distances, and can imprint in a space to create a ghost. There is magicka, which bridges the higher cognitive spirit and the body, which can be harvested at death as that bond breaks, and stored in soul gems to power enchantments. There is the cognitive agent itself, the “I”, the seat of awareness in that lifetime, and then there is the great motivator behind all lifetimes’ “I”s, a thing upon which space and time have no hold.

[That sounds like the Egyptian concept of the soul.]

What fresh hell is this!  Yet another voice in my head?  How many of you rug merchants are there?

[Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.  I’m not another — ‘rug merchant’, did you call him? Heh, that’s great!  No, you’re focusing on your different aspects, and in your newly disjointed state, you’re more aware of them, so you’re hearing me.  I’m just a part of you.  Perhaps that “great motivator” part you were thinking about; bleeding through into your awareness a bit.  Just ignore me; see, Er-Jaseen’s looking at you….]

Jone and Jode, this is maddening!  Perhaps literally — I would not be the first Khajiit driven mad by moon sugar.  Though I hardly touched it last night.  When I escape from this place, I should start a journal and report these delusions; nothing is more amusing to read than the journal of a sapient mind descending into madness. It would be my gift to the literary world, a repayment for all of the books of others that I have read, and will console my parents in my inevitable demise. “Yes, poor Speaker went mad; but, at least, he was published!”

Well, whatever…  Perhaps this Daedric Prince has taken my magicka soul to power his devices, and I’m barely held together by its residue; that would explain the feeling that something is missing.  The Argonian was staring at me, and I realized that my mind had wandered. I frantically replayed his last words in my mind, “The Soul Shriven are doomed to slavery in Coldharbor for eternity, or at least until we are no longer useful.”  Casting about for a response to cover my lapse, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind, “Do they all look like you?”

My face burned beneath my fur. What an impolite question, my mother would box my ears!  But he took no offense and answered, “The longer we remain here, the less… whole we remain.  Our bodies waste away, our skin shrivels, and eventually our minds twist and lose any notion of reality. The oldest of the Soul Shriven are completely insane. We call them Ferals.”

That explained his looks: not disease, but time served. It seemed prudent to ask if these ferals were dangerous.  “Oh, yes. The lesser daedra actually fear them. Ferals have no fear of pain or death, because that is all they know. That, and eternal hunger.  They will attack and eat anything they can get their claws on, even each other.” My stomach chose that moment to growl at me, a reminder of that gnawing hunger I still felt. An effect of the absent magicka soul, if he was right, and the fate he described made mere escape sound inadequate.  Unless I could solve my condition, madness was assured.

I instinctively reached for a distraction: “You said the Tall One asked you to help?” “The half-giant, Lyris Titanborn. She leads this uprising. I do not know how or why she is here, but to the Soul Shriven, she is a gift from the Divines.”  I knew that name: the rug merchant had mentioned it. I was going to ask more, but the Argonian was starting to look impatient; he broke off again to call to the laggards to grab a weapon and move on, and he looked me full in the eyes this time as he said it.  I do not mistake the wolf’s howl for a prayer to Jone and Jode, so I thanked him for his help and wished him luck, which he returned in kind. Pathetic sword in hand, I followed the others through the door.

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