Chapter 40: The Morning After
I'm not sure how long I lay there in the dimly-lit chamber, tossing and turning, drifting in and out of consciousness. At one point someone held a drink of some kind to my lips, and in my confused state I got the idea that they were trying to poison me. I struggled and swore, but they held me down firmly and forced me to swallow the foul-tasting liquid. I don't remember anything else after that.
When I came to, the first thing I saw was a Temple healer standing over me. I tried to sit up but she laid a hand on my chest to stop me. "No, sera. Don't try to get up. You have been very ill."
The room swam into focus, and I saw that it was filled with people – Archcanon Saryoni, Duke Dren, the Sarethis, all the Redoran councillors, Mehra Milo, Tuls Valen, and the Redoran priest Lloros Sarano. It was like a mass reunion of everyone I'd ever met. All I needed now were Caius Cosades and those naked Nord guys and I'd have the full set.
"Why are there so many people here?" I murmured, still a bit confused.
"They are here to keep vigil." That was Lloros Sarano. "For the past three days you have hung between life and death."
Ah yes. Things were slowly starting to come back to me – Dagoth Ur, the volcano, Azura…
"Sorry for vomiting all over your shrine," I mumbled to Tuls Valen.
He smiled a little thinly. "No matter."
My head itched. I put a hand up to rub it, and realised to my horror that half my hair was gone – singed off by Dagoth Ur's fireball spell, presumably – and the rest was a ragged mess. My poor, poor hair. I'd just have to go around in a big hat or something until it grew back.
"So," I said faintly. "Is it really over? I mean… the prophecies and everything?"
The Archcanon nodded. "It is over. The Sixth House has fallen, the Blight is gone… and Saint Nerevar walks among us."
Who? Oh yes… that's right. Me.
"I think I'd like to go back to sleep now," I said, and closed my eyes.
When I woke up again a few hours later, everyone was gone apart from Athyn and Varvur. I felt a lot less woozy this time – I must have been magically sedated to stop me moving around too much. That would explain that disgusting potion they'd made me drink.
As soon as Varvur saw I'd woken up he said something urgently in Dunmeris to his father, who turned to me with a smile. "Ah, you're awake. It's good to have you back with us, Councillor Ventura."
'Councillor'? I sat bolt upright. "My stronghold! Is it finished yet?"
"Yes, yes, sera," he said soothingly, patting my hand. "You have a wonderful stronghold."
At that moment the healer came back in carrying a bowl and a washcloth. I suddenly realised that I was wearing nothing but a loose robe, which left very little to the imagination. I would have been embarrassed, but I guessed the others had already seen all there was to see anyway. (Well, Varvur definitely had.)
I turned back to Athyn. "So… I'm a Councillor now?"
"Yes, indeed. In fact, there are matters we need to discuss – but that can wait until you are feeling better. For now, you need to rest."
The healer began to dab at my neck with the cloth, and I sighed. "So I've really been at death's door these last few days?"
Athyn nodded. "You lost a lot of blood. And I'm told that when you first arrived, you were covered in burns and other injuries. Poor Tuls almost mistook you for a corprus beast."
"You were having such strange dreams," Varvur broke in. "Raving about giant statues and people trying to poison you. And then, after they gave you the potion, you just lay there so white and still. We thought – we thought that – " His voice cracked slightly, and Athyn laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"I don't understand," I said feebly. "Couldn't… couldn't someone just cast a healing spell?"
The healer shook her head. "Whatever made those wounds, they could not be healed by magic. We managed to stop the bleeding, but they had to be stitched." She paused. "I'm afraid you will have scars, sera."
I glanced down at my chest, where Dagoth Ur had torn through my armour with his thumb. A long, jagged wound ran from the base of my neck to my left armpit, just above my heart. From the feel of it, there were more of them on my shoulder and the back of my neck. No more low-cut gowns for me.
"I'll live, I guess," I mumbled. I could see the pity and compassion in Varvur's face, and somehow that hurt more than anything else.
At that moment I heard a strange rumbling sound from somewhere outside the building. Tuls Valen came into the room, and he and the others had a quick conversation in their own language which I couldn't be bothered to try and follow. Eventually he detached himself from the group and turned towards me.
"The people of Vvardenfell are gathered outside, muthsera," he told me. "They want to see you in person, to see that you have survived. Do you feel strong enough to come outside, for a few minutes, and appear before them?
With Varvur's help, I clambered out of the bed – wincing at the pain in my shoulder – and took a few experimental steps. "I guess," I said at last. "As long as it's only a few minutes."
The healer found me a warm, clean robe and some shoes, cast a 'Fortify Fatigue' spell on me, and led me outside into the courtyard. When I saw the massive crowd waiting for me there, I nearly fainted. There were hundreds of people, thousands of people – so many that I could almost believe the entire island had turned out to greet me. Had they all been camping out there for the past three days?
As soon as I stepped through the archway leading out of the courtyard, a shout went up. "She is here! All hail Ada Ventura, the Incarnate! Nerevar reborn!"
The roar of cheers almost knocked me backwards. I cast a helpless glance round at the priests and soldiers standing around me, and saw that they were looking at me expectantly. Oh gods, were they expecting me to make a speech? Help!
I gave a little wave, and the cheers grew even louder. "I, ah – " I tried to call out, but my voice sounded hopelessly feeble against the roar of the crowd.
"SILENCE! She speaks!" The noise died down almost instantly, leaving an equally deafening silence. Oh no, this was even worse!
I cleared my throat. "Ladies and gentlemen," I began, not knowing how else to start. "Thank you all so much for coming here today. I – I just wanted to say how grateful I am to everyone who's helped me in my quest to defeat Dagoth Ur. I couldn't have done it without you."
Gah, I sounded like I was accepting a scholarship prize or something. I found myself wishing I had Dagoth Ur's gift for fine speeches.
"The threat of Red Mountain is gone," I continued. "But we must all work together to defeat the other evils that still threaten Morrowind. Go forth and… heal this land," I went on, stealing blatantly from Azura. "And go with my blessing."
Okay, let's face it: on a scale of 'inspiring speeches' from one to ten, that would be lucky to rate a three. Everyone applauded loudly, of course, but frankly I could probably have stood there reciting nursery rhymes and have got the same response. Suddenly I began to feel very tired again, and a little dizzy.
Athyn and Varvur stepped forward and caught me as my knees started to wobble. Together they helped me back into the Temple, where the healer cast some restoration spells and put me back to bed. I ate some broth – which was all I could manage for the moment – and settled down gratefully for another long sleep.
The next day, Athyn Sarethi came to see me alone. I wasn't really in the mood to talk politics, but I tried to look enthusiastic when he told me he had some important business to discuss.
"Ada." He sat down beside the bed. "As I told you yesterday, the Council has agreed to grant you the rank of Councillor. Is this acceptable to you?"
"I guess so." I wasn't sure what else to say. "Is there anything I should… say, or do?"
"Not for the moment. Your position will be formally confirmed at the next Council meeting." He paused. "But there is another matter that must be settled at the same time: that of choosing a new Archmaster."
Ah, so that was what this was about. "You have my vote, Athyn," I said, rather surprised that he felt the need to ask me.
"No, my friend. I've told you before that I don't wish to be Archmaster."
"Who else, then? Not Garisa Llethri," I begged, struck by a sudden horrible thought. "Please. It's not that I dislike him exactly, but – "
"No, I wasn't thinking of Garisa." He took a deep breath. "Ada, you are a Councillor, and you are our Hortator. The Council is in agreement that the title of Archmaster should go to you."
I'm not exaggerating when I say that I nearly fainted. I was still weak and exhausted from the battle with Dagoth Ur, and I really wasn't prepared for this. "Archmaster?" I wheezed. "Me?"
"Yes, you." He took my hand in his. "I'm quite serious, muthsera. Venim was a strong Archmaster, but in some ways I believe you would make a better one. You temper your strength with mercy."
"But… but…" I could hardly speak. "You can't be serious! I don't know how, and… oh, for crying out loud, Athyn – you know what I'm like. I'd never make a good politician. I'd probably start a war just by losing my temper with the wrong person!"
"You exaggerate, Ada," he said gently. "No one is perfect, but you have done more for House Redoran than you think. You've won us several important victories against the Hlaalu and Telvanni. People are starting to speak of our House with respect once more. And as for diplomacy, well… you could hardly be worse than Venim in that regard."
"I can't even make speeches! You saw that yesterday!"
He shrugged. "Neither could I at your age. That is something that can be taught."
"But …" I looked at him helplessly. "Athyn, you do know that I'm a Blade, right?"
Athyn sighed. "My friend, I am an Agent of House Redoran. Did you think I would agree to sponsor you without making enquiries into your background? I have known of your Imperial connections for quite some time now."
"Then – you mean you…" That was when it hit me. "You were the one who had me followed!"
"I did. I also made various other enquiries, which I doubt you have heard about." He shook his head. "I hope you will forgive me, but you understand that I must protect my House."
Suddenly I began to feel like an idiot. Athyn had been a Redoran politician for over 300 years – had I really imagined that he would be naive enough to take everything I said on trust? Yes, I'd done exactly that. What an arrogant little cow I was.
"So how much do you actually know?" I said at last.
"Enough. Not everything, perhaps – but I have learned enough to convince me that you are sincere, whatever your connections may be." He paused. "I haven't said anything to the other Councillors, however, and I suggest you don't either. As I said before, they may not be quite so… understanding."
I could hardly believe my ears. "And you still want me to be head of your House?"
"Indeed. I think you will make a good Archmaster, Ada – in time, of course. And I will always be here to advise you, should you need it."
I stared at him, suspicion slowly dawning on me. This had all worked out very conveniently for him, I thought – he'd wanted rid of Venim, but didn't want to be Archmaster himself. Could it – could it be that he'd planned this all along?
I was starting to realise just how much I'd underestimated Athyn. He might be gentle, mild-mannered and almost painfully honourable, but he certainly wasn't stupid. It honestly hadn't occurred to me till now that he might have had reasons of his own for promoting me through the Redoran ranks so quickly. More fool me, I guess.
"I'm not going to be a puppet, Athyn," I told him, looking him straight in the eye. "I'm happy to take advice from you, but if I'm going to be Archmaster, I'll make my own decisions – and you may not like them. Just so you know."
"Of course," he said gravely. "I would expect nothing less."
"Well. Okay then." There was a pause. "So… I'm Archmaster now? Just like that?
"As I said, you will be formally appointed at the next Council meeting."
"And am I still Hortator? Or is there no need for that any more?"
Just for a second, a shadow passed over Athyn's face. "You have done your duty as Hortator," he said slowly, "but… I fear there are still troubles ahead. For this reason, I believe you should keep your title."
He went away after that, leaving me to digest the fact that I was now head of House Redoran, the Imperial Legion, the Fighters' Guild and the Vvardenfell chapter of the Blades. Something was going to have to give, of course, but there'd be time to think about that later.
I wasn't thrilled at the thought of becoming a professional politician, but somehow the thought didn't horrify me nearly as much as it would have done a while back. I never thought I'd say this, but I was just getting so tired of having to fight people. Over the past few months I'd been responsible for countless deaths, and none of them really brought me any satisfaction – not even Dagoth Ur's. After all, in his own mind-bogglingly insane way, he'd believed he was doing the right thing for Morrowind – and from what I'd seen, heard and read of the Tribunal, I could well believe that they actually had murdered Nerevar and left him to take the rap.
Who knew? Perhaps I'd make a good Archmaster. I'd never have thought it, but then I'd never have thought I'd make a good 'legendary heroine of ancient prophecy' either. I could never know until I tried.
As soon as I was well enough – and had got my hair trimmed into a slightly more fashionable style – I went out to Bal Isra with the Sarethis to visit my stronghold. It wasn't finished yet, of course, but I must say that what they'd done so far was pretty impressive. The main building and the others still under construction had been surrounded with high chitin walls, making the place actually look like a stronghold rather than a house plonked down randomly in the middle of nowhere. There was even a lookout tower.
But it was the inside that really took my breath away. Fully furnished, decorated and populated, it was a Redoran manor to rival any of the ones under Skar. It might not be as big or grand as some of the others, but it was mine, and that made it a hundred times better.
"It's beautiful", I whispered, my voice choked. "Just… incredible. Thank you so much for this, Athyn."
He smiled. "In truth, my friend, I had very little to do with it. But it is only fitting that you should have such a reward after all you have done for our House."
"A beautiful home indeed." Domesea was admiring the master bedroom, which was furnished with a large double bed and stocked up with food, drink, potions and weaponry. "Perhaps someday soon you will find someone to share it with, sera."
Behind his parents' backs, Varvur and I grasped each other's hands, and shared a secret smile.
Some time later I went back to the Palace of Vivec to receive my congratulations from the God himself – not that he really was a god any more, of course. He'd lost his divine powers with the destruction of the Heart, just like Dagoth Ur. I wondered if he'd have changed in any way, but he was just floating quietly above his plinth, the same as ever.
"The blight is gone, and we have survived," was the first thing he said to me. "Now we must dedicate ourselves to rebuilding the Temple. And you must dedicate yourself to your responsibilities as Protector of Morrowind."
"What sort of responsibilities, Lord Vivec?"
"There is much to do," he said. "You still have Kagrenac's Tools, potent weapons, and – "
"Ah. About the tools." I coughed slightly. "I, er, kind of threw them into the crater of Red Mountain."
Vivec's brows shot up. "You… destroyed the tools?" He looked as if he could hardly believe it. "Why?"
"To stop anyone else using them, of course." I realised that I was being a bit rude. "Forgive me, my Lord, but… would you really want to take the chance of this happening all over again?"
"You must do as you judge best, of course." There was a long pause. Outwardly he looked as calm as ever, but I got the impression that I'd genuinely shocked him. It was then I realised that he would never have even thought of destroying the tools – any more than Dagoth Ur would.
"And the Temple?" I asked, before the silence got too uncomfortable. "What will you do now that… I mean…"
"We have lost our divine powers," he finished for me. "But not altogether. Some token of the people's faith remains, and we shall dedicate it to rebuilding the Temple. Now that Dagoth Ur is gone, we can turn our energies to the more humble needs of the people. It is good, honest work, and I believe there is redemption in it."
I itched to ask what exactly he wanted 'redemption' for, but there wasn't much point in telling him that I suspected him and Almalexia of killing Nerevar. I didn't have any proof – and besides, he probably knew anyway.
"As for you," he went on, "there are many blighted beasts and horrors that have survived, and must be hunted down and destroyed. There are lesser monsters and villains of all kinds who prey upon the people. There are unsolved mysteries, and legendary treasures undiscovered. I'm sure you will find much to occupy you."
A short while later I was walking back down the steps of the Palace, enjoying the wintry sunlight. It was the 31st of Evening Star. Tomorrow was the festival of New Life, the first day of the new year. It seemed appropriate somehow.
And me? After all that time I'd spent trying to escape Vvardenfell, now I had the chance – and I suddenly found that I didn't want to. Somehow, so slowly and gradually that I hadn't even noticed, I had got used to living in Morrowind. It was a part of me now. I had a home, a family, and… well, who knew?
I would still go back to Cyrodiil some day, of course, and track down my family. But not just yet.
Oh, and one other thing. Remember Wulf, the old Legionnaire whose 'lucky coin' saved my life? The story had spread, and a day or two ago I'd received an urgent message from Lalatia Varian – a priestess at the Imperial Chapels in Ebonheart – asking me to come and see her. She made me tell the whole story, as well as repeating the spell I'd cast on the mountain, and I could see her excitement growing with every moment.
"It's as I thought," she said, when I'd finished my story. "The words of that spell translate as 'Luck of the Emperor' in Daedric. I hesitate to suggest it, but I think you have been visited by an aspect of Tiber Septim. Surely this is a sign of a great doom laid upon you by the gods."
Talos himself? Could it be true? I'm not sure; all I know is that at this point, I've seen way too much to be a skeptic. So if you're ever hanging around Ghostgate and happen to run into an old Legion veteran named Wulf, buy him a drink, and say hi to him from me. You never know when it might bring you luck.
Vvardenfell's citizens react to the coming of the Nerevarine:
Nibani Maesa (Wise Woman of the Urshilaku)
"It is as my dreams have shown me. The Devil is dead, and the Blight is gone. This is a good time to have lived, and to have seen you with my own eyes."
Hasphat Antabolis (Fighters' Guild drillmaster, Balmora)
"Now you are a part of history, Ada. It is an honour to know you. And yet, there is still the mystery: does the hero shape the times, or do the times shape the hero? Perhaps you should write a history book, Ada…"
Sharn gra-Muzgob (Mages' Guild alchemist, Balmora)
"Very interesting. So you are this Nerevar hero, reborn? Do you remember anything from the life of this Nerevar? Can you think like him? Talk to him? Here, stick out your tongue: can you feel it when I do THIS? I must make a careful examination of you for my... mystical studies."
Hassour Zainsubani (Ashlander trader, Ald'ruhn)
"Very interesting. At least part of the Nerevarine Prophecies are true – you, Ada, and your deeds are living proof of this. But… are you also the Nerevarine who will drive the foreigners from the land and redeem the false promises of the Great House Dunmer? Very interesting."
Addhiranirr (Thieves' Guild operative, Vivec)
"Just like Addhiranirr said... silly superstition. Maybe you got lucky? Maybe this Dagoth, poor old fellow, and tired, so he falls down? All the stories Addhiranirr hears? Make you sound like some kind of hero or something."
Yes, it's finally finished! Many, many thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting on Ada's adventures - when you're battling the inevitable writer's block to finish a 40-chapter, 230,000-word fanfic, it really does make a difference to know that everyone's enjoying it so much. I'm aware that some loose ends have been (deliberately) left hanging, but rest assured that they'll be tied up in the sequel... THE NEVERAGAINE STRIKES BACK. And finally, of course, I have to thank Bethesda Softworks for creating such a marvellous game as Morrowind.
- Helena L