You are not alone.
The thought creeps sluggishly out of the pits of my slumbering mind before squatting, unwanted, in the heart of that usually comforting void.
Here in the dark embrace of sleep, solitude is mine by right. It is my peace, and my salvation.
Not so tonight.
I grope groggily in the darkness, my thoughts blundering into the black, searching for the source of that unbidden, alien presence that so disturbs my dreamless sleep. Dimly, I wonder what this is, if not a dream. Perhaps my mind has awoken, while my body is yet gripped by sleep’s stupor. I feel nothing, can move nothing physical. Only my consciousness exists – mine, and the other.
Who’s there? I ask the blackness.
It isn’t a voice. Nothing so mundane. Just pure, unbridled will made manifest.
But who are you? I ask again.
You already know.
And it laughs.
Another night, another dream. This time, I know I am dreaming, for Mother sits at the table with me.
“Eat your soup, Tobias,” she implores me, frowning. I nod mutely, and take another spoonful, paying little heed to the fact that the woman opposite me has been dead for nearly fifteen years.
This is a memory, I suppose, or born of one. I was fourteen, and we still lived in our house in Falkreath, long before I met Jena and moved south. Just me and Mother. I never knew my father. It is my strong suspicion that neither did Mother. I’m less than confident she was even sure which one he was.
I lift the spoon, and the world narrows to a point as it hovers in front of my lips. It’s chicken. Colours swirl on the otherwise yellow-brown surface, colours that have no right to be there. Flashes of crimson, bolts of silver, arcs of glittering rose-gold. The world stretches yet further, and the colours throb before my eyes.
Everything snaps back into focus, and I take a sip of the soup. It’s stone cold.
The rain runs down my neck as I watch them lower her coffin into the sodden earth. Runil, the priest of Arkay, is still speaking, but he’s not saying the words I remember.
He’s talking to me.
“It’s all right to cry,” he says quietly, and the words carry easily to my ears in spite of the downpour.
“Death is a sad thing. You have lost the centre of your world. The rock you cling to in the currents of life. Your tears are an expression of this, and you should embrace them.”
He isn’t speaking like Runil used to. The voice is the same, but the phrasing, the inflection, it’s all wrong.
“Death is a part of life, Tobias,” Runil continues. “It is a cycle. Birth, life, love and death, an eternal cycle of change. That’s all it is, really. Just change. It might seem scary and sad now, but in years to come you will look upon this as a turning point. The day you stopped being your mother’s son, and started being Tobias Denariius, who controls his own destiny.”
Runil smiles sadly, and the rain drowns the world.
Blackness again. The day was long and hard, and all I crave is sweet nothingness – yet once again, I am deprived.
What do you want from me? I shout silently into the dark. Why do you show me these visions?
I am here to help, the void responds. I am your friend, and your teacher, and I am here to help.
Help me do what?
Learn. Who you are, who you can be… how you can change.
But I don’t want to change! I cry. I’m happy with who I am?
Happy? Is this happiness? This empty, unfulfilled existence? You can do so much more, Tobias.
But… I have Jena… Marcus… They’re all I need. They make me happy. I live for them.
Is that what they want? For you to live for them? No one should live their life through someone else, Tobias. Find something that feels right to you. Be true to yourself.
“Marcus!” I shout into the forest, my voice echoing surreally through the trees. I can hear him up ahead, laughing merrily. “Come back! It’s not safe!”
My boy ignores me, so I run on, following the sound of his voice as dusk settles over the woods, promising to soon enshroud in cold night. “Marcus!”
A distant howl sounds in the gloom, and my fears are concentrated, made suddenly imminent and real. Wolves.
I have to get him back. I’ll never forgive myself if they take him from me. Jena won’t forgive me either. He giggles again, and I push through the burning in my legs, driven on by determination and panic.
Then, to my horror, I hear him scream.
I burst out of the trees into a clearing, only to see the sleeve of his jacket disappear into a gaping hole in the earth. It’s lined with roughly-hewn stone, a rectangular arch that opens onto a set of steps leading down into pitch blackness. My son is down there, so I don’t hesitate – I run on, straight down the steps to wherever they may lead.
Time stretches languidly as I hurry down, with no reference point in the shadow to mark its passage. I have to slow my pace for fear of falling, feeling my way from one step to another. “Marcus!” I shout, and I think I can hear his voice, oh so faintly, far ahead. “Oh my boy,” I whisper. “Please come back to me.”
I go deeper, and deeper, down and down into the skin of Nirn, until at last a dim orange light flickers ahead. I make for it, and the steps finally end and lead out onto some sort of chapel.
Stone pews run down either side of the hall, and a stone altar sits on a raised dais at the far end. The room is lit by torches mounted to the walls with iron brackets, burning brightly, though no one is around to tend to them. No doors or windows lead off from the chapel – my son must be here.
“Marcus!” I call, and my voice bounces back at me, more distorted and deep with every echo. Marcus… Marcus… Maarcusss…
I peer down each pew as I make my way to the front, expecting to see him crouching there, hidden by the seating. Nothing. I reach the end of the aisle, and so the only hiding place remaining is behind the altar.
There! I hear him giggle again, and approach the altar, noticing for the first time a simple wooden lectern resting upon it, a book lying open upon it. I pay it no heed, as from behind the altar pops a familiar face.
It’s my boy.
“Da!” he cries, and runs into my arms, burying his face in my chest. I clutch him tightly.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” I whisper.
He pulls away from my embrace and takes my hand, looking at me with a curious expression. “Look,” he says, and stands with me by the book. I look, and see that though the pages of the book are full of scrawlings, they are not like any language I have ever seen. More like symbols, I suppose. My eye hovers on a large circle, crisscrossed by geometric lines which form sections, each section containing what looks like a letter in an alphabet far beyond my knowledge. In the centre of the circle sits a larger symbol – asymmetrical and suddenly faintly familiar, though my sleep-clouded mind seems unable to place where I have seen it before.
I stare at the book, and somehow, understanding dawns upon my mind.
I can read it.
Individually, the letters make no sense, but somehow the whole pattern seems to hold meaning – an intention which my brain unconsciously carries to my lips as a sentence.
“When I walk the earth again, the faithful among you shall receive your reward…”
There’s more, but I close the book, staring at its cover – plain, with that same single letter etched in its centre. Despite the lack of writing, another word springs to mind. It’s alien, strange to me, and yet it feels somehow right.
I stand on a snowy mountain-top, looking down at a land that I know to be Skyrim, where I grew up, before love and family took me south.
This land is beautiful. I nod, agreeing with all my heart. This has and always will be my true home.
You can make it even more so.
This surprises me.
How? I ask.
In answer, a beam of shimmering white light appears above my head, shooting across the snowscape and settling on a shape, far in the distance. It’s hard to make it out from here – dark and irregular, yet somehow enthralling to the eye.
What is it?
I will show you.
The world shifts and I am briefly gripped by the sensation of sudden motion, before settling on another, lower snowfield. The beam of light descends from above and falls upon the head of the great monument now standing before me
It is a mighty figure – powerful, in control. A statue as tall as a building, four arms resting on a throne carved out of the mountainside. Its face is twisted into a grimace of determination. It is… somehow… beautiful.
Nestled beneath its throne is a door, set into the mountain side. I walk across the snow, past a squat rectangular altar that sits before it, and lay my hand upon the door. It is locked, but it pulses beneath my fingers, warm to the touch.
I know it now. This is to be my home. A place where I can truly find myself and be happy. Where I can have purpose.
Jena and Marcus will understand. They love me as I love them, and if I can make them understand that this is what I want, I know they will support me. That is what family’s for, isn’t it?
Who are you? I ask the presence that has been guiding me.
I am change, it replies. But the men and Mer of your world have other names for me. The chiefest of these is Mehrunes Dagon.
Dagon. That name, whispered by so many, remembered from all those years ago. The Oblivion Crisis. When the world almost ended.
You remember the stories of me. I nod.
You caused great pain.
And for that I am truly sorry, Dagon replies. But after the time we have shared, here in your dreams, I hope you will allow me to explain.
What I tried to do was for the good of all things. History remembers me as an invader, but that is simply untrue. I was a liberator. I came to free you all from the tyranny of your gods. Pain, despair – these things are allowed, and yet the gods have the power to stop it. They allow you to suffer and die. They would allow Marcus to die. I came with the intention of freeing you from that – to bring change, meaningful change, and with it, freedom. I would bring that again, but I cannot do so alone. I need someone to be my voice on Mundus, to aid me in ushering in the new Mythic Dawn.
I understand. It’s strange, but I do. The world is cold and harsh and cruel. The priests would tell us to look to the gods and pray for our lives to be better, but when have the gods ever responded? I have often wondered if they even exist. And yet here is someone else – someone with the power to make a difference, asking for my help. This is the chance I have always wanted. The chance to help save the world.
Will you help me, Tobias? Dagon asks, and I know my answer.
To be continued in Sulfur and Fire - Trial of Mehrunes Dagon, a free downloadable mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.