Speaker’s Journal, Entry 1-3: A Tall Tail

I had barely passed through the door when the rug merchant’s voice sounded in my head again:

{An enemy approaches. Strike it down.}

There, this is how it begins, I thought.  Vengeful ghosts spare you, but only so that you can do their bloody bidding, as you’re slowly driven mad yourself by their whispers and commands, until one day the Mane’s guards corner you in a tower raving and slavering over the remains of honest factors that in life had cheated you in every transaction and now in death you have shown them all!  How my family shall mourn their son’s insanity, and wonder how they went wrong, forgetting how they passed off his earliest complaints of a voice in his head as mere jokes, or weariness, and recommended he have another pint of moon sugar mead and a nap instead of calling for a cleric and an exorcism. How sad that such a promising young life as mine should, in its very prime,…. Oh, wait, is that heap of bones standing up?

Some 30 feet away, another fiendish spectre from myth rose before me, a monkey-person’s skeleton, brandishing a sword that looked every bit as bad as mine, and staggering towards me, picking up speed and some measure of coordination. (More than I normally expect in the deceased, at any rate.)  It didn’t look like much of a threat, except for the fact that I had no armor, just prison rags. And that I was still feeling unsteady and weak. And that he was the walking dead with no obvious weak points except, if I was lucky, osteoporosis. The moment he got within range, he swung, gracelessly but with some force, and I barely blocked him with my own sword. I hadn’t felt particularly clumsy up until now, merely weak, yet suddenly all of my fighting moves, honed in years of practice since I was a cub, deserted me. Or, not deserted, but disconnected, as if whatever bound my body’s instinctive responses to my will was gone, and I was left with the bare minimum needed to be upright and speak and feed myself, but little more.

Coldharbor SkeletonThe creature swung again and I stumbled back, taking a light cut along my side, and the pain washed away my growing panic in a instant, leaving a wonderful focus of mind. Concentrating as if I were once again walking a tightrope for the first time, I held my memory before me of one of my oldest practice drills, a step, parry, and broadside step-riposte  (the point of this sad excuse for a weapon would do little good again a thing with no fleshy parts).  And when the thing swung again — thankfully, with the rotting of brain tissue must come a deficit of creative variation — I followed the steps like I was tracing dancing marks on a ballroom floor. Step to the outside, beat down his weapon to his inside line, and then flip the sword up towards his neck as I stepped forward.  To my joy, I connected — somewhere vaguely around his clavicle and so badly balanced that we were both staggered by it.  I recovered slightly more quickly, and as he came at me again, with what seemed to be the only move he had, I tried again, this time connecting solidly with his neck.  He nearly went down that time, and as he struggled, bent over, to pull himself upright, I hacked at that thin web of bone and sinew again and again, like a peasant farmer at an aggressive tree root until, at the third blow, it snapped. The head came off its body and in that moment its entire structure fell apart as if I’d yanked the  central dagger in a game of Cut Me Not.

I paused, sides heaving, wondering where all of my moves had gone, and feeling that empty pain within me again. Perhaps some disease in this filthy cell was to blame for the disconnect? Either way, if I could escape, a cleric was clearly my first stop. Healing, exorcism, and beer, in that order.  (Ok, maybe the beer first.)  While I did that, I rifled through the healing mantras I’d learned, frustrated as each in turn failed to respond until I got to the very first, that I barely even recalled from my childhood. The one every peasant without a trace of magicka could learn, that one responded and the bleeding from that creature’s sword subsided and the cut closed and faded. I paused, waiting for my magicka to recover. Slowly. Soo slowly.  Right: soul stealing. I had no magicka reserves to summon to the task, and the links that enabled my will to direct my body were so enfeebled that I had the coordination of a kitten.  How much would I have to rebuild, and would I survive long enough to rebuild it?

{Do not slow, Vestige. With the passing of time, indecision becomes decision.}

Now, that sounded almost Khajiiti.  I wasn’t sure what name he’d just called me, but it was moot; I was out of breath and still healing and a mad ghost who needed to do neither would just have to wait for me.  When I was ready, I moved on. More dungeon, more rummaging looking for anything to augment my survival, more marginal tripe instead and still no better weapon than I’d found at first, and then another warning in my head from the rug merchant and another mobile skeleton.  I silently thanked the ghost for the warning and set myself for the attack, and that was almost the death of me, for it didn’t have a sword but a bow.  At the last moment I dodged, now cursing the ghost for the vagueness of prediction common to his kind, and caught the arrow in the fleshy part of my bicep of my off arm.  Painful, but hardly lethal.  I charged him as he drew again, dodged clumsily as I saw him hit full draw and was rewarded with a clean miss, and then I was on him. A bow is of little use at close range, and I beat him with my sword until he fell apart like his kinsman.  As he did, I felt a little surge of energy, as if the exertion had restored something, or rebuilt a damaged connection; I felt a little less weak, maybe strong enough to pull off one of my earliest power moves, if I could stay focused. One step at a time… “Screw these jailers, and their master!” I cried, or would have, if I could have caught my breath.

As I got my wind back, I focused on healing the arrow wound — thankfully, like most living archers, this creature formed his arrows from life force (or whatever moved his bones), and not from wood and iron, so I did not have to worry about the tip left in the wound. The bow had snapped when it got in the way of one of my blows and was useless to me. (As it had mostly been to him.)  But that was alright, I was never much good with a bow anyway, and probably even worse now.

As I agaLyris Titanbornin recovered, a truly towering Nord woman in what seemed to be the common prison garb ran up to me asking if I was all right.  She had a much better sword than I did… if she was so concerned, could she not have stepped in and helped?  Well, if she wasn’t close… and it had ended quickly. Perhaps I would forgive her this time. I said I was fine, and she laughed and replied, “You’ve got more meat on your bones than most of these poor bastards. And I see you’ve armed yourself. Good!  I hope you’ve still got some fight left in you. You’re going to need it.” It is comforting that in a world as mad as this, you can still count on some things; the ability of Nords to observe and loudly proclaim the obvious is renowned across the Empire. The woman was reassurance personified. Perhaps, when we escaped, I could get her a job with my Uncle Knows-His-Mark, proclaiming victory scores in the Alit races and awarding trophies to their riders.

As I straightened up, I realized that, as tall as she had seemed to be when I was bent over and gasping for air, she was even taller when I stood and could not blame perspective for her apparent height. I have seen Hist grown many years past seedling that were shorter than this woman.  Non-Khajiit would call me tall for one of my people, for they mostly know our Suthay-raht who are of human stature. They have no clue that the many folk that we “confusingly” all call Khajiit are, in truth, one people, born from the same parents. In one family, you may find “cat-men” of varying stature, from smaller than wood-elves to taller than Nord berserkers; people the furless would mistake for true cats, from house-cat sized to as large as mammoths; and many who look like the monkey-folk themselves, from wood elf to human sized, with or without tails. We are one people, our final shapes manifesting within weeks after birth in obedience to the ja’Kha’jay, the waxing and waning of the greater and lesser moons, Jode and Jone. Their gift to our people, that we should not forget that one must not become attached to the forms of this world; all things change, and it is the cat who knows when to leap that survives the landslide.

But I digress. I simply mean to say — as a Cathay, nearly among the tallest of my bipedal kin — that this woman was a mighty oak among her kind and clearly a warrior born. A foot taller than I, with a long blond mane, light skin, and a scar across her left eye (which seemed whole). I think her kind would find her attractive, though impossibly huge, but I am a poor judge of such things.  I honored her stature, and her Nord simplicity, with an obvious question: “Who are you?”

“A fellow prisoner.” She graced me with an obvious answer; perhaps she was more adept in social niceties than I had given her credit for. “The name’s Lyris.”  That was the name that the rug merchant had given me, and the Argonian.  “Lyris Titanborn? I was told to find you.”

“What? Who told you to find me?” She seemed slightly alarmed, which seemed rather sensible given the circumstances. I wanted to say, “A ghostly rug merchant,” but Nords sour quickly on you if they think you’re having them on, so I decided to keep it to the basics. “A strange figure appeared in my cell. An old man in rags.”

She seemed excited by this — naturally, for I made the story come alive. It is a gift. “The Prophet! He spoke to you? What did he say?” Aha! A little light shines upon this mystery! He is not the ghost of a mad rug merchant, he is the ghost of a mad prophet. I could feel myself relaxing a bit. It explained the foreknowledge, and prophets are commonly mad, it is nothing I needed to be worry about. My future as a blood crazed lunatic was not yet as certain as I’d feared. This had been a day of many changes, but perhaps I had been keeping up with them; surely Jode and Jone would be pleased with me.  “He said our fates are intertwined.”

“Ha! That sounds like the Prophet, all right. He’s a prisoner here, too. It was very dangerous for him to speak to you, even for a moment. He must think you can help him.” This Prophet must live for danger, then, for he won’t stay silent. “I can still hear his voice in my head. What does he want me to help you do.”  My gold was on break him out, for what else does a prisoner want? Plus, he had said so, which is often a clue to those who can read such things.

“Break him out, of course!”  Good, we chase the same prey.  Let us hope that it is a rabbit and not a daedroth.  She continued, “Believe me, I can use all the help I can get. That blind old man is the only person alive who can help us get back home. Tamriel’s a long way from here.”

Well, if I was looking for a guide to take me from the Coldharbor plane of Oblivion back to our own lands, who better than a blind man?  Of course.  As Aunt Leaf always said, “When gaming with insanity, good sense is not your ally.”  “I’ll help you,” I chimed in, as cheerfully as possible.  Lyris smiled and looked at me expectantly. Apparently, she needed a more positive affirmation than that.  Nord heroes, they always need the grand gesture.  This blade was too pathetic to swear on, and I would not dare risk ritual blood shedding in this place, so I merely started moving in the only direction that remained to me, and she dropped in with me.  We passed through the next door, and the sky opened up.

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