"My first daughter ran from the Dagonite road. Her name was Ruma and I ate her with no bread, and made another, which learned, and I loved that one and blackbirds formed her twin behind all time." - Mankar Camoran, Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes, Volume Three
Ruma remembers being eaten alive.
It's a vague thing, one that nips at her mind sometimes when she sees the newer recruits fervent with passion, their eyes shining with Dawn, with the sweetness of utter certainty.
She was uncertain once, and was consumed. The story is immortalized in the Commentaries. Everyone who enters into the Master's service knows. Most think it's symbolic, a lesson disguised as a riddle wrapped in a poem.
It was very, very real.
That had been before, though, when she was just the one person, before her father had brought her back and split her in half and made of the broken remains of the Ruma-that-was the twins-that-are, the Ruma of Dawn and the Raven, born of blackbirds and half of a dead woman.
In one skin she had resisted, but divided against herself she hasn't the will or strength, and in any case she can't afford to doubt again.
There are hints of it, always, in the awful gentleness her father shows sometimes to those just beginning, those who come forward nodding and eager. They have no idea that in the eyes of the Master they are all impure, all in need of the refiner's fire and the terrible discipline that only seems to come once their souls have been handed over.
There is no other place for her but the one she'd been created to fill, standing at her father's shoulder like a hunting-hound, quick and terrible and eager to tear apart the weak, the innocent, the misguided. She is a blackbird among sparrows, a torch among candles. She is the Master's daughter and she works steadily at the task she'd been created to achieve, and every day victory draws nearer, the reign of the Septims and Old Tamriel growing weaker. She is not uncertain and will not be consumed again, not by her father, not by Paradise, not by Dagon himself.
There is a look about those who first come into the Mythic Dawn, a little uncertain, a little hopeful. It's a look Ruma knows well, though she can't remember wearing it herself. It means vulnerability, it means a soft newborn seeking, a soul not yet tempered or twisted into usefulness.
The weather-beaten Dunmer who walks into the shrine doesn't have that look.
She should have known, then.
Instead, she watches her father as he addresses his faithful, as he basks in the glory of Dagon and the adoration of his followers, and if there's a grimace of frustration on the Dunmer's face when the Master steps through the portal and disappears, it's fleeting and easily ignored. At Harrow's introduction she bids the Dunmer forward like a princess on a bloody throne, extending secondhand favor to another servant of her father's cause.
Take up the dagger, she urges. Make the sacrifice, for glory, for Dagon.
His hand emerges from his sleeve to wrap around the silver hilt, and she only barely has time to recognize the sword-calluses on his fingers, the roughened proof of a warrior's life, before fear snakes down her throat and the dagger's blade thrusts up through her ribs and they meet in the middle somewhere around her heart. She can't look away from him as she sinks to the ground though he's already a whirlwind of action, calling a battleaxe to his hands with his hood thrown back, black hair flying around his face like the dark stretch of wings.
Through a haze of anguish and growing blackness she sees him step over her nearly-dead body and take the Mysterium Xarxes, hears the crack and crumble of the great Dagon statue as it falls and knows only a last, agonizing pain before she is crushed and flung into Paradise.
"He's waiting," Raven says the moment she arrives, battered and sick with fear. She struggles to rise, weighed down by failure and the desire not to stand in front of her father and explain that failure. "The Dunmer?" Raven asks, a hand at her elbow as he helps her rise.
Raven's shoulders slump. "He's coming. For the Amulet. For Father." His canny eyes glance at her sidelong. "Do you think he'll be able to…?"
"No." She stops him, adamant and angry. He doesn't know what it's like to be uncertain, to falter and fall and run away. To be caught. Punished. Eaten alive and remade in pieces.
"No," she says again, as much to herself as to Raven. "He won't." She is certain, she's absolutely certain, and she picks up what's left of her dignity and makes her way on to Carac Agaialor to face her father's judgment.
Against all odds, against all reason, he does, and it's near blasphemy to think it but the Dunmer is standing in her father's stronghold, unbowed by the weight of the Master's words in his mind, untouched by the fires of the Forbidden Grotto, unscathed by the daedra of the Savage Garden.
Her father sits, cool and dismissive of the barbarian warrior, and orders his children forward.
It's a fatal mistake.
They've fallen to the Dunmer before, both of them—she to the silver dagger and Raven to the sweep of his axe—and neither of them know that they can defeat him and so neither of them are certain, and in the moment they glance at each other and hesitate the Dunmer sprints forward and swings, cleaving Father's head from his shoulders and snatching the Amulet into a gray fist, not even bothering to fight Camoran's children as Paradise unravels. Raven is crushed by a falling pillar, his scream of terror cut short, his secondhand life extinguished, forever. Ruma doesn't fight as the world comes apart because there is no reason left to fight, certainly not for this fading pocket of light in the midst of darkness, haven only of illusion and dead hope.
There is a terrible howl as the Deadlands begin to take back Paradise, consuming their own in a cannibalistic frenzy. As the Dunmer is thrown back to Tamriel Ruma watches in silence as Paradise dies, ragged scraps of darkness flying apart like so many blackbirds.