Spoiler alert: From here on out, this story contains numerous references to ESO story quests. You’ll learn who’s who, their outcomes, and much about the main story quest, alliance story quests, and province story quests. Be forewarned!
Contributing Author: Michael/@Shishwik
My experience of time isn’t chronological.
I heard the Golden Knight cry “Stand behind my shield” before I met Darien in Camlorn. Valserrin led me through the Dreaming Cave before Varen sent me to Cold Harbour. I performed favors in exchange for an introduction to the proxy queen before I fought beside her cousin, my own Queen Ayrenn.
And I knew Meridia’s golden love before I drew my first breath.
Oriandra warned me this would happen, when she learned the task Loremaster Celarus had set me on.
“He won’t tell you, and neither will Josajeh, but sealing time rifts has consequences. You won’t be the same, my friend. Neither will reality be the same for you. You won’t know what has come before, and what comes after. With each rift you seal, the Now embeds itself in you, and that destroys all sense of the passage of time.”
But I am getting ahead of myself.
After Twig was taken, I wandered the docks of Vulkhel Guard, looking for signals, talking to anyone who might know something. Some said the Argonian trading vessel had set sail for Black Marsh, others for Elsweyr, still others for Hammerfell. But one merchant told me, “She has been all those places, that ship, the Chub Loon. No, she sails now a short ways–to Summerset, to the port of Shimmerene.”
He told me they had few weapons on board, which they’d need to fight off the maormer if they were heading to a more distant port. They lacked the supplies, too, for a lengthier sail. “No, they are skipping across the small sea, to Shimmerene!”
For the next few days, I listened and watched until I uncovered the next ship set for Shimmerene, and then, at dusk, while the sailors turned to their cups, I stole on board and hid inside a crate packed with ginger, saltrice, and rose-of-archon, with just enough space left over for a small wood elf girl like me. And there I stayed through to the next evening, when the movement of the ship settled into the slow rock of a boat at port, and the songs of the sailors faded to a distant chant.
The air in Shimmerene, even down at the docks above the odor of marsh and seaweed, carried the perfume of the pink cherry blossoms of Summerset.
I stepped out into the night, with stars dancing around the twin moons. Even here, even in an island far from our home of Haven, Jone and Jode stood witness to all that happened below.
“Which one am I? The little one?”
“No. You’re the one in front because I am always following you.”
I ran up and down the docks, looking for the Chub Loon, asking every merchant if they had seen the ship–had they seen a girl like me, only younger?
“It left five days ago.”
“No, it was never here.”
“Isn’t that it? No, wait. That’s some other Argonian vessel. Can’t tell them apart, these trade ships, nor the stinking ones aboard them. Cannibals. Reptiles. Cats. Better to have sea elves ravaging our shores than the likes of you!”
I spent my first night in Summerset wrapped in burlap bags in an unused corner of a warehouse near the docks. I had fear aplenty, and I felt the rough edges of being unwanted there on that land the Altmer had claimed, but an ember of hope burned, too. I would ask the dockmaster; I’d look at the logs.
The dockmaster was Bosmer, like me. I didn’t tell him why I needed know if the Chub Loon had come, nor did I ask if he’d seen my sister. But we know: we can feel the family pull, the old connections, when we are with each other.
“Looking for kin, are you?” he said. “Then, quick. Look through these. No one will bother you, while you do, that’ll I’ll ensure.”
I didn’t have to look far in the dock logs, only back two pages. Two days ago, the Chub Loon had unloaded merchandise and taken aboard more, heading south around the island to the Port of Alinor.
I didn’t know if my sister had stayed on the ship or snuck off, with the crates of moon sugar and ancestor silk. But I would look. It was the only thing I could do.
I spent my days running, through Shimmerine, through the countryside, along the roads, the paths, in valleys and mountains.
One day, I came upon a gryphon’s nest, larger than a Bosmer home, made of rough branches–logs, to me–lined with the hide of deer and welwa. I hid behind a spruce bush, to watch. I had never seen a gryphon but in my mind’s eye, listening to the stories my father told me.
I heard something chirp, a chatter and a warble. Beneath the nest, a solitary chick, larger than a senche cub and with four legs, each ending in an eagle’s foot with yellow talons, cocked its head at me, then cried.
“What? All alone?” I asked. “Where is your mother? Your father? They will want to eat me! Where are your clutch-sisters?”
A single arrow lay on the ground beside the chick. I made my way cautiously to the young gryphon. He chuckled and cocked his head again. He let me run my hands over his feathers and fur–no wounds.
Another arrow lay a few meters from the nest. I followed a trail of arrows until I found the adult gryphon, slayed.
We would not leave prey to rot in the sun. We would use every part. We were not Altmer–even those, like me, who had broken with the Green Pact, had ancestral ties that would not allow us to kill for sport.
As I headed into the valley, leaving the scene of slaughter, I heard the chirp and chuckle. The gryphon chick followed. I led him to a stream, where he drank and bathed. He caught a fish with his talons, and we both ate.
Gryphons live for centuries. The chick’s parent would have been hundreds of years old, and the chick would stay a chick for decades. He wouldn’t make it long in these hills and valleys, thick with wolves, welwa, lions, and sport-hunting Altmer. I let him stay with me. I would protect him and feed him, and, in exchange, I would not be alone.
He’s with me still, though he’s larger now–an adolescent gryphon! More fledgling than chick! And we will see which comes first, my time to leave this form to rest or his to fly to mountains to nest.
Deep in the mountains of Summerset, near Eldbur Ruins, with my gryphon hopping behind me, I came upon a tall and quiet Imperial woman with dark hair and grey eyes. She stood in the shadows of a pine, stepping out as I approached.
“You are looking for something, for someone, and your journey has brought you here.”
She led me to her camp in a hollow behind the ruins. She fed me stew and gave me meat for the gryphon chick. We drank sweet water from the creek. She spread blankets beside the fire, and she let me sleep.
When I woke the next morning, she motioned for me to stay. I had already raised myself to one knee, wanting to get an early start.
“Who are you looking for? Where are you going?”
I told her all, about the maormer’s slaughter of our parents, about stowing away to Vulkhel Guard, about Twig’s abduction, and about my journey now to follow her.
As I spoke, she listened with a quality which I had not yet encountered, but which I’ve since come to know as the Psijic’s way, for it has become my own patterned habit of listening. She listened within–within me, within the energy behind my words, within the intention and the feeling, and she reached understanding.
“Your journey has value,” she said. “I want you to understand this, at its core. Will you come with me? I will take you to a place where few are invited, and those few who are all possess what you have.”
“What is that?” I asked confused.
“It can’t be easily put into words,” she said, looking past me. “But, for now, let’s simply call it earnestness.”
I went, because I didn’t know where else to go, because I felt that, following her, I might be led to someplace that could bring answers, or, at the least, could help me to find them myself. I went because mystery touched me, through her eyes, and something–something deep within me–responded to that, realizing that it would be only in following mystery, wherever it might lead, that I would have the chance of finding Twig again.
She led to me to a ruined fortress in a hillside guarded by imps.
“Don’t get within fifteen meters of them,” she cautioned. “Stay down low.” So we crept behind the boulders and gneiss outcroppings, up the crumbling marble steps and down into a cellar of the keep where a golden shimmer hovered in the air.
One’s first time through a portal is disorienting. It wasn’t until I’d traveled through them fifteen times or more that I grew accustomed to the squeeze and following dissolution of form, then the instant rejoining of every cell and molecule into the shape that is me, now on the other side.
Artaeum stretched like a Summerset of Aetherius, shimmering in light, buzzing with the high frequency of energy, life, thought, love, and magic.
“Where are we?”
“This is the Psijic’s island, Artaeum.” She took me to the tower and introduced me to Loremaster Celarus. They walked a few paces and spoke in hushed tones, turning often to look back at me.
His eyes were like hers: quiet, still, shining.
“As long as you’re sojourning through Tamriel,” he said when he approached, “you might as well put your peregrinations to good use. Close the rifts you find.”
“But I’m looking for my sister,” I protested. “That’s my purpose. Will I find her?”
“You will search,” he replied, “and that is what matters. Along the way, you will be part of great things. You will meet great folk. You will be part of the story. And you will help us.”
Some have told me that Loremaster Celarus and the Psijics used me to perform their tasks, but what is our life for, if not to be of use? Who knows what pattern was cut from the broadcloth of my life when our parents were killed, when we stowed away, when Twig was taken, when I began my search? What is our life for, if not to be changed by the pattern cut in the fabric through which our paths are stitched?
And it was their eyes: that stillness, that calm, that light. It was their eyes that convinced me.
So I left the island with a satchel full of seals to place on rifts in time, and my search for my sister became intertwined with the search for breaks in time, and that search became interwoven with the stories of those I met along the way, with Darien, Valserrin, Varen, and Ayrenn. With Razum-dar. With the Mane, the Silvenar, the Green Lady. And with Prev, Talanie, Darkpaw, and Aliasandrya. My search for one sister led me to many kin.
At times when I felt most unsettled, adrift in a story without a beginning, middle, and end, I would confess to Ally, “I don’t know how I fit. I can’t find where the fabric starts and where it ends.”
And she would reply, “‘Tis temporary. We have a goal. Remember it. If you cannot, take my hand and I will anchor you.” She spoke with complete conviction, an absolute certainty paid for by the love and blood of her adoptive parents.
Sometimes I feel, in this great Nirn, that we are all orphans, and that it is only the hand of another, in ours, that keeps us here, with two feet on the ground.
Author’s note: Elements of this story are collaborations with friends who play ESO. Michael/@Shishwik, whose Aliasandrya (Ally) is a key character, is a co-writer and collaborator, providing Ally’s backstory and main plot, her character and motivations, and writing most (and possibly all) of her lines of dialogue. I’ll do my best in these chapters to note the contributors, writers, and co-writers. Of course, if you play, we’ll love to have you join us! And if you play with us, we’ll love to have you contribute to and become part of this story! 🙂