The Prophet in person was much like his projection, but less transparent. Thankfully. His eyes were white, in keeping with the blindness attributed to him, but it was a slightly unsettling white. People who are born blind don’t usually focus their eyes on you when they talk — they have never had a reason to. People who go blind in later life generally focus on where they think you are, out of muscle habit. The Prophet’s irises weren’t even visible in that whiteness, so it was hard to tell if he was focusing anywhere or not. But you had the sense that he looking through you to things that you didn’t know existed, of which you were just the ice floes’ tip. And he did not seem pleased with what he saw — although I imagine anyone coming out of a Molag Bal custom-built cell would probably look grumpy. Nonetheless, I felt a bit as though my very existence was provisional, at best, and we would have to wait and see if he would sign off on its continuance.
If the Prophet was at all disoriented by being teleported from mid-air suspension in a glowy blue cage to solid ground, he didn’t show it. He turned to me, as comfortably as if he’d just stepped out of a carriage, and said, “Thank the Divines, you are safe! There is that, at least. Lyris sacrificed everything, that we might go free. Her sacrifice must not be in vain.” I could not argue with that, though a little voice in my head thought it a wonderfully convenient thing to be able to praise the sacrifice of others when it benefits yourself.
[Sorry, I’m a bit of a cynic. Didn’t mean to say that aloud.]
That’s all right, we agree on this one. Again, this was not my struggle, but it seemed only reasonable to ask, “Can we find a way to take her with us?” The Prophet shook his head. “I wish that were possible. But I promise you, once we escape Coldharbour we will find a way to rescue her together, Vestige.”
Oh, sure. ‘Cause people waltz into planes of Oblivion all the time, no problem. We’ll just come in with a tour group then, shall we, and slip away when they’re at lunch, find Lyris, and sneak her out in our luggage? They do that sort of thing all the time in pantomimes. Nip, tuck, 4 o’clock, and we’ll be out. I like it. (Harrumph.) Well, I didn’t think we could spring her, and there was no point in kidding ourselves about it. Best to turn the attention to something useful. “Vestige?” I asked.
“This is the name I have given you.” Oh, have you then? Ok, back to “Mad Rug Merchant” for you, if we’re doing the whole cute nicknames thing. Maybe a blind man can’t be expected to see my race or gender, and must address me as if I might be any one of millions of possible people who might be filling my role in this little drama. But it does seem like he could ask my name, once he met me. I suppose that I shouldn’t expect too much from a Mad Rug Merchant. But he went on: “You are but a trace of your former self. A soulless one. An empty vessel that longs to be filled.” Ok, this was getting creepy. Was he hitting on me? ‘Cause it sounded like he was hitting on me. Look, Rug Merchant, you’re not my type, what with being old, and human, and stark raving bonkers. (A little bonkers is healthy, but I was half certain that the dust of ‘a little bonkers’ passing had long ago settled, for this guy.) “It is as the Scrolls foretold, but not exactly as I imagined.”
What, the Scrolls are setting him up on blind dates, are they? Did they say I’d be taller? Putting “blind”, “Prophet”, and “Scrolls” together, I assumed he meant the Elder Scrolls, the fabled oracles read by the Moth priests, whose arcane study yielded both insights and physical blindness. But however powerful the Scrolls’ insights, I’d never heard them recommended for dating advice. Sorry to disappoint, old human. Best to distract him. Again. “Why does Lyris call you the Prophet?” (Since we were on the subject of names.)
“This is what I have come to be called. My true name is lost, even to me. Years of torment have taken their toll.” Fine, I’d cut him some slack: you can’t count on an old man who can’t remember his own name to be good at remembering yours. Let’s just stay away from the vessel-filling talk, though, shall we? “Quickly now, we must make haste to the Anchor!”
I asked, quite reasonably, what anchor? If I was going to make haste towards something, knowing what it was seemed like a useful thing. “The Anchors are Daedric machines of the darkest magic. Their chains bind our world and pull it towards Coldharbour. I can use one of these Anchors to return us to Tamriel, but you must lead me to it.” That did indeed sound like a useful thing to hasten towards. “All right. Stay close then,” I warned. I wasn’t sure that my current skills were up to defending a bystander, as well as myself, if we were attacked; but hopefully the blind man would have the sense to drop and cover if anything came at us.
As I’d roamed the hall during Lyris’s inspection, I’d seen an open archway up a set of stairs on the other side. I led us that way, and was pleasantly surprised by the Prophet’s ability to navigate, despite his blindness. His staff was clearly helpful — though I wasn’t sure why he’d been left with it in the cell. Contempt for its usefulness? Some enchantment on it that made it inseparable from him? A question for another time, perhaps. (You must be careful asking the aged questions: they always have a story, and this was not the place to pause for one.)
The tunnel ended in a door, which opened into another vast chamber, one filled with more machinery, surrounding a large pit, over which was suspended a series of huge rings, creating the sense of a vertical tunnel or archway along which something (light? weapons? people?) might travel. It was guarded by two skeletons, who rushed towards us the moment we entered. Before I could warn the Prophet to drop, he’d charged past me at them, emitting bolts of energy from his staff. The people who’d been describing him as blind had not been telling me the whole story, but I wasn’t going back to harangue them for it. We dispatched the skeletons quickly, to my relief.
But the moment the second of them went down, the space over the pit filled with a huge, crackling, translucent, daedric-looking form, and a voice boomed through the cavern, proclaiming angrily, “I am the face of pain! The souls of the damned are my weapons! You will know eons of suffering!” If I’d eaten more than rancid cheese that day, I might have soiled my makeshift armor, but thankfully cheese is binding. “Molag Bal,” I thought. These rabbits are caught, and that’s the end of it.
Instead, the figure faded, and a large-but-not-nearly-so-vast form heaved itself from the ground before us, a behemoth of discarded bones cobbled together into the shape of a great ogre and bound together by seething dark energy. As it lunged towards us, with more speed than I expected for something that looked so lumbery, the Prophet danced aside with equal deftness and cried to me, “Come, I will protect you!” This sounded like an invitation to run away, which I’d have happily accepted. However, the Prophet only moved so far, and I knew that what he meant to say was, “You get up in that thing’s face, and I’ll do something magical from a safe distance.” It is in the nature of the old to send their young into wars for them, and if we’d had the time I’d have taken him to task for it. But the beast before me was a more pressing matter.
This battle was not so short as the others, and I did not expect it to be. I spent most of my time dodging the behemoth’s blows; thankfully, as unexpectedly fast as it was, and as slow as I felt, the thing was still slower than I. Which was good, as even its glancing blows nearly knocked me off my feet. I kept circling, trying to stay behind it as much as possible, and gradually wore it down, aided after all by the Prophet, who sent a steady stream of healing energy to me from that staff of his. So, not quite the armchair commander I’d accused him of being in my thoughts. After what seemed like a eternity of dodging and hitting and trying not to get ribs broken, the thing went down, with an earth shaking thud and a clatter of now-unbound remains. No new phantom arose from the pit to swear to our destruction, so perhaps the previous one had not, in fact, been Molag Bal; perhaps it had merely been his shade, left to the defense of the Anchor and now defeated?
Good, for the shade had been quite enough. As I wheezed like an asthmatic, hunched over, my heart pounding fit to explode from my chest, the Prophet calmly said, “The Dark Anchor’s portal is high above us. I will prepare a spell to lift us to it. But first, you must re-attune yourself to Nirn in order to regain your physical form. To do this, you will need a Skyshard.”
If my pounding heart had, in fact, exploded out my chest and all over this damnable Prophet, would this have corrected this idea that I had no physical form? At this point, I was almost willing to accept that fate. “Dead”, “soulless”, “vestige”,… Khajiit are a generally phlegmatic race, but having just beaten a creature 3 times my size into the ground I was finding it hard to keep my temper in check in the face of what seemed a constant level of condescension. After a few moments of struggling on the knife’s edge, I finally caught a decent breath of air and started to unwind a little. “A Skyshard?” I growled, without nearly as much hostility as I had been feeling a moment before.
“A shard of Aetherial magicka,” he replied, unaware of my receding desire to continue rending something, “that carries the essence of Nirn. Some link them to Lorkhan, the missing god of creation. If you collect and absorb its power, it should restore your corporeal form. I will summon one of these shards for you to absorb.”
All right, I thought, let me see if I can parse this out a little better. Let’s say that my magicka soul has been cut out to power Molag Bal’s machines, which fits what I have experienced so far. Without the magicka soul to connect my higher soul and body, I should be dead — and yet, here in Coldharbour, an unnatural realm, I still live (despite Lyris and the Prophet’s views on the subject). So, perhaps I am attuned to this realm now, and the remnants of the magicka soul are enough to sustain me in such a place. But, in order to survive in my own world, in Nirn, I need something to replace the magicka I have lost, and to re-attune me to my own world instead of this one — to restore my form to a state in which it can survive there. He says that his Skyshard thing that he is going to summon is a big chunk of magicka that is connected to Nirn and will serve the purpose. That sounds plausible… if only because my standards for “plausible” have gotten very low since I woke up this morning.
Aunt Leaf always said that I lived in my head too much. While I was working through all of this, frustrated scholar that I am, the Prophet was off incanting something that I was barely aware of until a blinding glow distracted me in time to see a brilliant crystalline formation materializing in mid-air. A cluster of rock shards maybe three feet high and half that across, almost too bright to look at and humming with contained energies. The Prophet directed me to them, and as I reached out, their energies leapt across the gap between us and flooded through me. I was pulled up off of my feet into mid-air and enveloped, by a surge of warmth, and joy, and autumn days, and home cooked meals, and tender moments, and a voice breathing gently through my soul saying that all of this had a purpose and I should trust in the Divines to carry me through it.
The energy faded, and I nearly wept from its passing; thankfully, the Prophet was no longer looking as I regained my composure. But I could feel something had changed; those connections that I’d felt myself struggling to rebuild now felt… well, not restored, not yet. But no longer raw edged and painful, just sore, and perhaps healing in a way that they hadn’t been before. It felt good. Conversely, the space around me now felt not simply menacing to look at but wrong. I should not be here, this was not a place for beings like myself. I needed to be gone.
The Skyshards were fading, and the Prophet was already moving towards the central pit with the giant rings overhead. Facing up to a platform that extended out over the void, he cried, “Great Akatosh, Dragon God of Time! Your children are lost in the fog between worlds! They cry out for mercy! Hear my voice, Akatosh! I require your strength!” I moved up behind him, properly grateful to him for the first time since I’d seen him in the cell. “Let the way be opened! Let these wandering souls return home! Let the will of Molag Bal be denied!” As he spoke, a glowing column of light formed in the center of the space above the pit, rising up through the rings. When it reached its brightest, the Prophet yelled, “Hurry, we must go now!” He ran straight up the stairs and leapt from the platform into the light; empowered by desperation, fully expecting to fall to my true death in the pit below, I leapt after him. The light overwhelmed me as I fell not downwards but up, and I passed out as I fell.