A/N: My first ever Elder Scrolls story! After playing Morrowind for the first time a couple of months ago (several years after Oblivion, believe it or not), I was inspired to write my own version of the Nerevarine's tale. How long it'll take to finish, I have no idea... but I'll try to keep updates as regular as possible, at least. So, here you have it: the adventures of Ada, Imperial outcast and very, very reluctant Nerevarine.
Chapter 1: I Don't Want To Go To Morrowind
It was a weird dream, I tell you that. I mean, I've had some strange dreams before, but this one was truly bizarre. Images flashed across my mind in a never-ending reel: fire, storms, a barren landscape, water droplets splashing into a pond... and scrolls covered in Daedric writing, which I don't even understand. I must have eaten some really bad food the night before.
A woman's voice was speaking. "They have taken you from the Imperial City's prison, first by carriage, and now by boat. To the East, to Morrowind."
"Morrowind?" I squeaked. "I don't want to go to Morrowind!"
"Fear not," she reassured me. "For I am watchful. You have been chosen."
"Chosen for what?" I asked plaintively. "And does it really have to be Morrowind? I mean, how about Valenwood? I always wanted to go to Valenwood."
I have no idea why I thought I could reason with the mysterious dream-lady, but I guess you don't tend to think all that rationally when you're dreaming. It didn't matter in any case, because at that very moment I was woken up by someone roughly shaking my shoulder.
"Wake up!" It was a hoarse, throaty voice, suggestive of a bad cold. "Wake up! We're here."
I opened my eyes to see a male figure, naked from the waist up, staring down at me. He had grey-green skin, red eyes, and huge, sharply-pointed ears – each studded with several earrings – not to mention a vicious-looking scar running down one side of his face. A Dunmer, I thought. Well, that explained the scratchy voice.
He looked concerned. "Why are you shaking? Are you okay?"
"I… guess," I said weakly, trying to sit up. The back of my head hurt; I must have banged it against a packing crate. "Er… bad dreams."
He nodded. "Yes, you were dreaming. What's your name?"
"Um… Ada. Ada Ventura." I was still half-asleep, my head full of sandstorms and creepy disembodied voices, but I vaguely remembered my companion telling one of the guards that his name was Jiub.
"Even last night's storm couldn't wake you." He leaned a little closer as I swung my legs off the makeshift bunk, rubbing my eyes. "I heard them say we've reached Morrowind. I'm sure they'll let us go."
My head jerked up. "Morrowind? I don't want to go to Morrowind!"
"I know," he said, his eyes narrowing slightly. "You were saying."
It was all right for him, I thought resentfully. He was a Dark Elf; Morrowind was his home. For me, it was different.
It's not that I have a problem with Dark Elves in general. I'd got on fine with the more cosmopolitan Dunmer I'd met in Cyrodiil, but if there was one thing they'd all made clear to me, it was that Morrowind really didn't welcome foreign visitors. Or, as one particularly gloomy fellow summed it up: "We don't like outlanders." 'Outlanders' it transpired, meant anyone born and raised outside of Morrowind – even other Dunmer. In fact, especially other Dunmer.
Why was I being sent to Morrowind, of all places? It wasn't Imperial policy to deport convicts to the provinces, as far as I knew. Maybe the jails were getting too full?
Footsteps creaked on the ramp leading to the middle deck, and Jiub hastily drew back. "Quiet! Here comes the guard."
I heard the jangle of keys as the guard, a fellow Imperial, strolled towards us. He gave me a curt nod as he approached, ignoring Jiub completely. "This is where you get off. Come with me."
I hauled myself to my feet and obediently followed, wishing my legs didn't ache so much. Several days cooped up a creaky old carriage, followed by the hold of a prison ship, had left me with a rather severe cramp. I couldn't wait to get out of here and stretch my legs properly for the first time in days.
They hadn't actually treated me that badly in the prison. I'd had adequate food and exercise, and I hadn't been beaten or ill-treated (though the third time I tried to escape, the long-suffering guard captain told me that if it ever happened again, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions). They'd even given me paper and a quill when I begged hard enough, probably hoping that it would keep me out of trouble. I'd used it to start a journal, which was pretty much the only thing that had kept me sane during my long stay in that tiny, windowless cell.
I clutched it against me as we entered the middle deck, praying that it wouldn't be taken away. Okay, so it contained absolutely nothing of interest (I'd been in prison, for crying out loud), but it was almost the only possession I had, apart from the ratty old clothes I stood up in and a few small trinkets. Luckily, the guard didn't even seem to notice.
Over by the next set of steps, he turned to me and fixed me with his best "you're a disgrace to my people" glare. I scowled back at him. "I'm innocent, you know."
"They all are," he said with a sigh. "Now, get yourself up on deck, and let's keep this as civil as possible."
I couldn't wait to get up on deck. I practically ran at the trapdoor, shoved it open, and drank in huge gulps of fresh, salty air, blinking in the early morning sunlight. Hauling myself up on to the deck, I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared to look on my new home of Morrowind for the first time ever.
I drew another deep, heady breath, and opened my eyes. And stared.
From the descriptions my Dunmer friends had given me, I had somehow envisioned Morrowind as an endless wasteland of rocks, lava valleys, and ash storms. But the landscape that stretched out before me was lush and green, with gentle waves lapping against a grassy shore. A village of quaint little huts surrounded the docks, and off in the distance I could see some kind of tower – a lighthouse, probably – surrounded by tall plane trees. It was, to my amazement, quite beautiful.
The soldier standing beside me, a Redguard, grinned at the look on my face. "This is where they want you. Head down to the dock and they'll show you to the Census Office." He sounded a lot more friendly than the other guards on the ship.
I stumbled down the gangplank to be met by another guard, this one in full Imperial uniform. "You finally arrived!" he exclaimed, as if he'd been waiting all his life for this moment. "But our records don't show from where."
I gathered my thoughts. "Er, Ada Ventura, of Imperial City. Temple District," I added, in case it was important. Though in actual fact, I'd barely set foot in the Temple District in several years.
"Great! I'm sure you'll fit right in." Wow, this guy was almost scarily friendly. "Follow me up to the office, and they'll finish your release."
I entered the census office, where I was met by an elderly-looking man who I presumed to be a clerk. "Ah yes," he said briskly, "we've been expecting you. You'll have to be officially recorded before you're released. Now, just a few formalities…" He took up a sheaf of papers from his desk. "Your class, please?"
"My… class?" I repeated, slightly confused. "You mean my trade? Well… I don't really have one as such." The truth was, I'd never really studied for a trade. I'd just travelled around, learning whatever I thought was useful.
He sighed, and shoved the papers into my hands. "Here. Fill in the forms yourself."
I sat down at the desk and began to note down everything I could think of that I was any good at. It was a bit of a mixed bag; while most of my skills were combat-related (blades, light and heavy armour, armour repair), I'd also learned to pick locks and disarm traps (useful in a tight spot) and to bargain for a good deal with merchants. Magic was a different matter; to be honest, I'd never really had much of a talent for it. The only discipline I'd studied in any detail was Restoration, and even then, all I could remember after five years was a single healing spell which I couldn't even cast properly half the time.
"Here," I said at last, handing him back the forms. I couldn't really think of a good name for my lack-of-profession, so in the end I'd just put 'mercenary', which was pretty much accurate.
"Very good. Now, the letter which preceded you mentioned that you were born under a certain sign… which would be?"
Was this really necessary? I suppressed a sigh. "The Lady. Twenty-first of Heartfire, 3E 404."
"Interesting," he murmured. "Now, just make sure this information is correct before I stamp the papers…"
I checked through the information, noting the date on the papers as I did so: 16th of Last Seed. I'd been in prison for over a year.
Once I'd finished, the clerk stamped the papers with the Imperial seal, and it seemed that I was good to go. "Show your papers to the Captain when you go to get your release fee," he said with a smile.
I walked out into a small hallway, which contained a bookcase and a table with a half-finished meal on it. My stomach rumbled at the sight of the bread and meat – they'd only given us one meal a day on board the ship – but I didn't want to take anything in case someone caught me. The last thing I needed was to be thrown back in jail for stealing on my first day of freedom.
The door at the end of the hallway led me out through an enclosed courtyard and into another office, where a man in a gleaming suit of Imperial Templar armour was sitting at a desk. This, I presumed, was the Captain I was supposed to report to.
"Er… Captain?" I said, holding out the papers. "I'm Ada, the prisoner who was just released. I was told to give these to you."
"Ah, yes. Word of your arrival only reached me yesterday." He looked slightly harassed. "Still, no matter. I'm Sellus Gravius, and I'm here to welcome you to Morrowind."
"Pleased to meet you." I wasn't sure what else to say.
"I don't know why you're here," he continued. "Or why you were released from prison and shipped here. But your authorization comes directly from Emperor Uriel Septim VII himself."
I stared at him, wondering if I'd heard correctly. "What?"
"From the Emperor," he repeated.
"Yes, the Emperor. Uriel Septim is still Emperor." He gave me a rather strange look. "You do remember that, don't you?"
Well, naturally I did. Uriel Septim had been Emperor several decades longer than I'd been alive. "Of course I do," I snapped, then realised that it probably wasn't a good idea to piss off the guy in charge of my release. "But… why?"
"Damned if I know," he said bluntly. "But that's the way the Empire works. Silence. Secrecy. Let not the left hand know what the right hand is doing."
I nodded slowly, still unable to take in what I'd just heard. Why the heck would the Emperor be personally ordering my release? He didn't concern himself with people like me. Maybe there'd been a mistake, and the guy who was really supposed to be released had been dragged off to a salt mine somewhere.
"Anyway," Gravius continued, "this package came with news of your arrival." He handed me a small package. "You are to take it to Caius Cosades, in the town of Balmora. I also have a letter for you, and a disbursal to your name."
He handed over an official-looking document and an oilskin pouch containing a handful of gold coins – just under a hundred septims' worth, in my estimation. Suddenly I felt a lot more kindly disposed towards him. I was still thoroughly confused, but I certainly wasn't about to turn down some desperately-needed cash.
"Right," I said, pulling myself together. "Just let me write this down… where can I find this Cosades guy, by the way?"
"Take the silt strider to Balmora, then go to the South Wall Cornerclub and ask for Caius Cosades. They'll know where to find him." He fixed me with a stern glare. "Serve him as you would serve the Emperor himself."
I nodded and scribbled down the instructions in my journal, wondering what exactly a 'silt strider' could be. "Okay, thanks. I'll do my best."
"Goodbye," he said with a faint smile, "and good luck."
I hesitated for a moment before the door leading out into the village, then pushed it open. Bright sunlight streamed into the room, and I felt a sudden giddy rush of joy. Freedom! OK, so I was alone, friendless and nearly penniless in a foreign country with nowhere to stay and no possessions, but still… freedom! Freeeeeedom!
I looked around me, still struggling to adjust to the bright light after all those months in a dingy cell. Rather to my surprise, the first person I saw was not a Dunmer but a Bosmer – a Wood Elf, as we call them back West. Wood Elves aren't my favourite people in general, but right now I was so happy to be free that I could almost have hugged him. I settled for a nod and a cheery "Good morning!"
"Greetings, Cyrodiil!" he said, in that high, squeaky voice that grates on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. "Welcome to Sedya Neen! Are you the one the boat dropped off? Hope the Imperials treated you okay. I swear they took my ring."
"Your ring?" I said, confused.
"I swear one of the Guards has it. I had it last week before their weekly 'Let's shake down Fargoth' ritual." Fargoth, I gathered, was his name. "An engraved healing ring, family heirloom of mine. You haven't seen it, have you?"
"No," I said. His face fell. "But I could look for it if you like," I added, yielding to a generous impulse.
"Oh, thank you!" he exclaimed, brightening up. "Of course, you're an Imperial, they won't suspect you."
I wasn't quite so sure about that, but I turned around and headed back into the office I'd just left. The Captain, still writing at his desk, seemed more than a little surprised to see me back so soon. "Can I help you, citizen?" he asked, with a slight frown.
"Hi there," I said, trying to sound casual. "I seem to have dropped my, er… comb… somewhere in here. I don't suppose you've seen it, have you?"
He gave me another of those slightly bemused looks. "No, I haven't seen it."
"Okay, never mind. I'll just have a quick look for it, then," I said, and slipped through the other door before he could ask any more questions.
I returned to the census office where the clerk had taken my details, and had a quick hunt around for Fargoth's ring. No one interrupted me to ask what I was doing, but it made no difference, as the ring was nowhere to be found. I even checked the cellar downstairs, but all I found were a few barrels of provisions, none of which looked particularly appetising.
Heading back into the courtyard, I was on the point of giving up when I noticed an ordinary-looking barrel standing close to the door. On impulse, I lifted the lid and peered at the contents. It appeared to function as a refuse bin, and was full of rotten food and broken crockery, but I could see something glinting near the bottom.
I reached into the barrel and pulled out… an engraved ring, enchanted with a minor healing spell. Success!
Damn, and it was a nice ring, as well. I could have done with a ring like that, especially in my current situation. I have to admit, I was sorely tempted to keep it for myself and tell Fargoth that I couldn't find it.
I went back into the office, where the Captain was waiting. "Found it!" I said cheerfully, holding up my comb (which of course I'd had all along). "I'd just dropped it out there in the yard. Anyway, best be going."
Fargoth greeted me excitedly as I left the office. "Have you looked for my ring, outlander? Did you find it?"
I looked into his eager little face, and I just couldn't bring myself to lie to him. Besides, whatever else I might have done, I wasn't a thief. "Yes, I found it," I said, suppressing a sigh. "Here it is."
"Oh, thank you!" he gasped, and before I could react he had flung his arms around me. "Thank you, thank you! You are now my favourite friend!"
"Er, no problem," I said, a little overwhelmed by this display of gratitude. "I'm Ada, by the way."
"Ada," he repeated. "I'll remember that. I'll be sure to tell everyone, especially my friend Arrille who runs the tradehouse here. Go see him, he'll be happy to see you now!"
He scampered off, leaving me feeling slightly stunned. Oh well, if he put in a good word for me with the local trader, that couldn't hurt.
Right, I thought, time to get some food. And before I went anywhere at all, I needed a weapon and some proper armour. Caius Cosades and his packages could wait.
I took the opportunity to observe Sedya Neen more closely as I walked up to the tradehouse. It was a tiny settlement, more a hamlet than a village, set in what appeared to be the middle of a swamp. Apart from the census office, the tradehouse, and another warehouse of some kind, there didn't appear to be any buildings of interest.
The population was a mixed bag, which I suppose is unsurprising for a port settlement. Besides the Dunmer and Imperial guards, there were several other humans around the place, and I even spotted a High Elf woman emerging from one of the houses. Several Dark Elf citizens nodded to me as I passed, showing none of the hostility that the Morrowind Dunmer were supposedly famous for. "Good day to you, Cyrodiil."
I was a little surprised to be so quickly recognised as Imperial, as I don't really look like a typical Cyrodiil. Women of my race tend towards the short, dark and curvy, whereas I'm above average height, with a build that can only be described as 'wiry'. My skin is pale, with a tendency to burn when I stay out in the sun too long, and my hair a colour that I like to call 'bright copper' and everyone else describes as 'ginger'. Fellow Imperials often ask if I have Nord blood in me – but I guess that to the Dunmer, our distinguishing features must be as obvious as their ash-grey skin and red eyes are to us.
The trader Arrille, another High Elf, looked me over critically as I entered the inn. I felt the back of my neck itch slightly. I've always had a slight inferiority complex around Altmer – deliberately or not, they somehow invariably manage to give the impression that they're looking down on you. (It doesn't help that they literally are, as most of them stand six inches taller than your average human.)
"Ah, you must be Fargoth's friend!" he exclaimed, as I approached. "Welcome to Arrille's Tradehouse. I'm Arille, publican and proprietor. Would you like to hear about our most popular potions, or our most popular scrolls?"
I leaned over the counter. "Do you have any… weapons?"
I bought an iron longsword and shield at a cost of around seventy drakes (the local term for what we call 'septims', apparently), regretfully passing over a rather snazzy green robe. Yes, I admit it: I love fine clothes. I wear armour most of the time, but if it didn't get in the way of fighting, I'd quite happily run around dressed in silks and satins as the mages do. (No need for practical clothing when you can just blast enemies with a fireball spell from twenty feet.)
After that, I bought a map and a cheap meal and headed upstairs to the bar to eat. By this time I was so hungry that I could quite happily have wolfed down three breakfasts at once, but unfortunately I was already getting low on money. I'd have to make some more somehow or I'd end up being stuck in this place for ever.
The dark-skinned woman behind the bar gave me a friendly smile, which I returned. I rather like Redguards; they're skilled fighters and they know how to have a good time, with none of the snottiness of elves or Bretons. (So do Nords, come to that – just make sure you never try to outdrink one.)
"Hello there," she said, as I sat down at the bar with my plate of food. "You're new here, aren't you? I'm Elone the Scout. If you need any directions, just ask."
"Thanks." We shook hands. "I'm Ada Ventura, of Imperial City. Maybe you could tell me how to get to Balmora?"
She wrote down some directions and marked various places of interest on my map, while I settled down to my meal of bread and crab meat. Sedya Neen was on the south-west coast of Vvardenfell, the large island that made up the bulk of northern Morrowind. Balmora was a medium-sized town to the north, though apparently quite a long walk away. "You'd be better off taking the silt strider," she advised me.
"This may sound like a stupid question," I said, "but… what exactly is a silt strider?"
She grinned. "Silt striders are giant insects. A compartment for passengers and cargo is hollowed from the shell, and the driver directs it by manipulating exposed organs and tissues. Pretty clever, don't you think?"
Wow. Back in Cyrodiil, we just use horses.
"So what brings you to Morrowind, Ada?" she asked eventually. "We don't see a lot of Imperial tourists here."
"I'm not a tourist."
"Business, then?" She looked surprised; it was clear from my outfit that I wasn't wealthy.
"No." I lowered my voice. "As a matter of fact, I… was just released from prison."
Elone's eyes widened. "Really? What did – " She checked herself quickly. "Sorry, it's none of my business."
"No, that's OK." I felt a sudden urge to confide in someone, anyone. "You see, it was like this…"
If I had only listened to my parents, none of this would ever have happened. Not my real parents, of course – I never knew my birth family, as they were kind enough to dump me in a basket outside the Temple of the One on the day I was born. To this day I have no idea who they were, or why they abandoned me. Supposedly I'd been wrapped in good linen, which suggested that they were well-off, but other than that there was nothing I could use to identify them.
I was taken in by a kindly local couple, Marcus and Sybilla Ventura, who raised me as their own child for eighteen years (though I called them 'Aunt' and 'Uncle'). I won't pretend they weren't good to me; they brought me up well, bought me fine clothes and jewellery to wear, and pretended for as long as they could that I was going to turn out a beauty. The only thing they asked for in return was a dutiful daughter – which I unfortunately wasn't.
It wasn't that they were blinkered enough to deny me a trade, but their idea of a suitable trade didn't exactly mesh with mine. They'd have preferred me to marry some rich merchant and settle down to the normal Imperial pursuits, namely: making money, making more money, hoarding it all up into a nice little pile, and then using it to make even more money. But I had other ideas: from the day I first visited the Arena, at the tender age of eight, I had known that I wanted to be a fighter. It was to lead to many, many bitter arguments between me and my family.
"I wouldn't have minded the Legion," Aunt Sybilla had sniffled, after one of these fights. "At least that's a respectable profession. But what kind of trade is 'wandering adventurer'? Messing around in horrible dirty caves and brawling in low taverns."
I'd laughed at the time, but it was one of those 'low taverns' that had done for me in the end. I'd only stopped there for the night on my way to a job in Cheydinhal, near the border with Morrowind. The mead there was cheap, but powerful – the kind that doubles your strength at the expense of shutting down half your brain cells – and, fatally, I'd ended up drinking a few glasses too many.
It was all his fault, really. He shouldn't have tried to cop a feel, and he certainly shouldn't have called me that name when I shoved him away and told him to get lost. Besides, he was twice my size; how could I have guessed that my first punch would knock him out, or that he'd smash his head against the stone fireplace as he fell? I really, really didn't mean to kill him.
There were plenty of witnesses to testify that it had been an accident – I'd even drunkenly tried to use a healing potion on him as he died – and I might have got away with a lighter sentence, had it not been for the guy's family. He turned out to be the son of a noble family, one of those spoiled brats who like to show how 'hard' they are by visiting rough taverns and slumming it with the locals. His parents were hell-bent on charging me with murder, and they'd demanded blood money of five thousand septims – far more than I could possibly afford. I was far too ashamed to ask my adoptive family for help, and in any case, I'd hardly spoken to them since I left home nearly four years earlier.
So I went to prison, just under a month before my twenty-second birthday, with no clear prospect of release and my career (such as it was) in ruins. I'd been there ever since, rotting in a cell, only half a mile away from the fashionable district where I'd grown up.
I didn't give Elone the whole sob story, of course. I just told her that I'd been imprisoned for murder after accidentally killing a guy in a fight. She seemed sympathetic.
"Well, time to make a fresh start, huh?" she suggested. "Wipe the slate clean. Make a new life for yourself here in Morrowind."
"Hmph." I wasn't too sure about that.
I finished off my meal, while Elone filled me in on the latest gossip. Apparently the local tax collector, Processus Vitellius, had gone missing. "Can't say I'm surprised," she said with a wink. "He wasn't very popular around here."
I wondered if there had ever been a tax collector in the entire history of the world who was actually popular with the locals. If so, he had to be some kind of saint.
As I left the bar, I was accosted by an off-duty Legionnaire at the top of the stairs. He was a typical Nord, big and beefy, with braided flaxen hair and a heavy beard. "Ho there, outlander!" His voice was slightly slurred, and I could smell alcohol on his breath – not a good sign at this time in the morning.
"Yes?" I said warily, keeping my hand on the hilt of my sword.
He leaned towards me. "You look like you could use a friend. Perhaps I could be your friend… if you help me recover some gold."
"You see, I've had a run of bad luck," he confessed. "Lost a bit of money playing Nine-holes. Normally, I'd be fine, what with the money the locals pay us for… protection, but –"
"Protection," I said drily. "Right."
"But I know some of them are holding out on me," he went on. "That little fetcher Fargoth, for example. He's come up light the last few times I've shaken him down. And I've been through his whole house, so I know it's not there."
I couldn't help feeling sorry for Fargoth. The Bosmer are basically the racial equivalent of those scrawny kids who keep getting beaten up for their lunch money.
"So what do you want me to do?" I asked.
He motioned for me to come closer, and spoke in a low voice. "Find out where he's stashing his gold. If you do it for me, I'll give you a share of the wealth. You up for it?"
I was about to tell him to go and do his own dirty work, when I suddenly remembered how very short of money I was. I had only around fifteen septims left, which would barely be enough to pay for the silt strider, let alone any more meals (and food was pretty high on my list of priorities right now). Maybe this was not the best time to be a stickler for high moral principles.
"Maybe," I mumbled. "So how would we share this wealth, exactly?"
He sighed. "I'll give you a third of the gold, and you can keep any other loot you find. Deal?"
"All right," I said reluctantly. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just wait until nightfall and then watch where he goes. The top of the lighthouse is a good vantage point – gives you a nice view of all Sedya Neen. Figure out where he goes and then bring the loot back to me, okay?"
It wasn't really stealing, I told myself as I left the tradehouse. This was a Legion soldier, after all. No doubt he was collecting that money for entirely legitimate purposes of… protection. Absolutely.
Anyway, once I had some more money, it would be time to start figuring out a way to get home. Okay, so Morrowind might not be quite as bad as I had expected – but whatever Elone said, there was no way I would consider actually living here for any length of time. I was a Cyrodiil born and bred, and I belonged there.
I knew that my Uncle Marcus, a silk merchant, traded goods through the East Empire Company in the port of Ebonheart. Maybe I could find a ship there that would take me to the mainland? It would be expensive, no doubt, but perhaps I could find someone who knew my uncle – or perhaps even stow away on board a ship. There had to be some way out of this place.
I definitely did not plan to stay in Morrowind.