Confessions of a Morag Tong Assassin
By Gilyan Sedas
My trade is not one you choose; it is one that is chosen for you. In my youth and adolescence, I was a student in preparation to become a priest at the Temple. I believed it to be my vocation—my calling—to become a pious son of the Temple and to extend the blessings of the Three to those in need. I studied and prayed and lived my life as best I could in accordance with the teachings of ALMSIVI and the lectures of the Masters. I did become a priest, and felt fully realized; I had achieved a level of self-actualization that I had only glimpsed at as a boy and as an adolescent. I was complete in ways I never thought possible. But just as the sun must rise, so too must it set.
My faith was not shaken during most of my duties. Many of which were mundane or were meant to spread the teachings of ALMSIVI and those were my favorite duties, because I felt as though I was an executor of the Will of the Tribunal. I felt like I was standing in for Vivec, because he himself has entrusted me to be his hand in the world. Metaphysical transubstantiation and the like.
But there came a point when I was asked to do something that I thought I could handle, but it was not. I was a young man in great health and in great shape at the time. I would frequently exercise with the Redorans when I was not doing my duties and more than once was I invited to combat training with them. Many even affectionately asked me when I was going to join their House given I spent almost as much time with them as I did at the Temple. I was asked to delve into a cave and rescue a pilgrim who had been abducted by a small cult of the Sixth House. I was justifiably afraid, but I knew that so long as I held my faith true, then not even the Sharmat himself could bring harm to me. I was mistaken.
The journey to that cave was wet. It was cold. It was a long, muddy trek through the Bitter Coast until I reached a small cave nestled into the foothills and I figured that I had a good mace (courtesy of the Redorans) and a good cuirass (again with courtesy to them), I would be fine. There are many things that we are never ready for. Our first kiss. Our first love. Our first child. Many firsts. And that first—my first time being exposed to the Sixth House—was the worst of all firsts that I was not ready for.
I remember my first steps into that cave when I heard the pained moans of what I would discover was a Stage III Corprus Beast. I remember looking at him with more pity than anything and trying to find it in myself to pick up that mace and strike him, but there are some things that are not so simple. Looking into those eyes, even as rabid with pain and misery as they were, and telling myself that I would kill him—that was the most difficult of my firsts. And it was that difficulty that nearly cost me my life when it jumped at me and started attempting to pulverize my chest (that cuirass saved my life that day) and while I did eventually push him off and I did hear the crunch of bone breaking as the mace cracked his skull and the squish of his brain being scrambled by the sharp metal edges—there was but a brief sense of relief and then a crashing sense of horror.
I had just killed a man.
I had just brought my mace down upon his head and crushed his skull.
I vomited. Multiple times. And I wept as I went through that foul place, motivated only by a single-minded devotion to finding this pilgrim and rescuing him. I had to. I told myself that if nothing else, I had to get him out of here safely. But what I found was that he too had been infected with the Divine Disease and he too was at Stage III. I looked around at that moment to see the bodies that had piled up to save this man who was already gone and I threw down my mace in despair. I threw it down and said no more as I watched him inch closer; I had taken the lives of how many sick men and for what—so that I could do the same to another?
I screamed at the beast to do it. Kill me. I screamed profanity at it to try to get it to, but it did not, almost as if it didn’t even acknowledge me. That frustrated me. I grabbed him by his shoulders and screamed into his face: “Do it! Kill me! DO IT!” But its only movements were to jerk away and shamble from me and in my anger, I grabbed that mace and repeated the act I had already done a dozen times over now and I heard that crunch once more.
I relied on a scroll to return to the Temple and my Master was pleased to see me, although not so much to smell me. She asked me how it went and the only words I was able to utter to her as I dropped the mace on my way to my quarters were: “He’s dead.”
The weeks following that, I did not do my duties. I did not pray. I did not sleep more than a few hours every few days. I had physically returned from that cave, but I was still there in every other sense. I could still hear the crunch-squish of bone and brain matter. I could still see the twisted looks of agony on their faces and I could still hear those goddamned moans. Ahhhhhhhhhh, they would go. Ahhhhhhhh. I remember Councilor Arobar taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to me, because he noticed that I had not been around Under-Skar as frequently as I had been before, but his words did not alleviate the pain I felt that day. He understood what I had gone through and he knew that there was nothing he could’ve done to fix it.
It was after a few months that I was released from my duties at the Temple and actually stricken from my status as a priest, not that it mattered much to me anymore. I hadn’t performed my duties in months and I hadn’t even uttered a prayer in an equal amount of time. The man I was had died in that cave and the one who came out was little more than a husk. Not exactly the type of person who should be delivering sermons to Redorans about to go on journeys to do the same kinds of things I had just done.
I wandered around without any real purpose after that. The Redorans were sad to see me go and many lamented that it was like hearing a brother wasn’t coming back from a mission. Those words fell on deaf ears though, as they did not move me in the slightest.
I journeyed across Vvardenfell with no real direction and no real goals. I was just moving about because I didn’t know much else what to do with my life anymore. There came a time when I landed a job as a street sweeper in Balmora. I had a simple home, a decent life, but I still felt empty. Before I knew it, I met a Khajiit named Habasi and we were snorting rails of moon-sugar together every night. Ended up getting so bad I lost my job, but I always found a way to get a little more coin for a little more sugar. We eventually ended up starting our own little crew out here where we’d burgle a little of this, burgle a little of that, and fence it through a local trader, Ra’virr. He didn’t ask questions, he just handed over the money (and when he had it, the sugar).
Things were going good for a while with Habasi and I’s crew. We were starting to get ahead; we had a pretty solid operation going on, but like I said, just as the sun must rise, it too must go down. I met this human from Cyrodiil, said his name was Caius, and before long we were smoking up every night. They always warn you about Skooma. Always tell you it’ll ruin your life. It’ll make you a waste of space. You’ll just hit that dope to hit that dope and I’ll be honest—they’re not wrong.
Habasi and I’s crew had grown into an impressive little bunch and people even started to call it the Thieves’ Guild. If I hadn’t been flying high with that Cyrodiil, I’d probably have been a little proud, but so long as Habasi hooking me up with my cut from the Guild’s operations, I didn’t much care. The boys over at the Council Club were always happy to keep my pipe full and I loved them for it, but Habasi wasn’t exactly happy to keep funding my drug habit and eventually cut me off unless I started getting back to work. And I did. I did a job here and a job there, but never anything really taxing—it was always about getting my pipe filled back up. That is until I got busted.
It was kind of funny when I got hauled out of that house with a pack full of stolen wares. I didn’t even realize where I was at the time, because I had taken a rail of sugar to keep good for the jobs. I always needed at least a little sugar or I’d start getting the shakes; it was a real bad thing. Real bad. But that’s the great thing about being thrown in jail without a drake to your name; I didn’t have a choice but to clean up. Habasi came and visited me once or twice, but she never pulled any strings to pull me out. Never expected her to, but I hoped she would at the time. Looking back, I’m glad she didn’t.
After I got out of jail a few months later, I didn’t go back to Balmora. I was past the withdrawals, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want another bump of sugar or another hit off the pipe and I knew the first thing I’d do if I went back to Balmora was head to Caius’ place to smoke with him. So I didn’t go back. I didn’t really go anywhere after that. I just got lost in my own nowhere. I mean, the scenery changed and so did the seasons, but I wasn’t really going ‘anywhere’—I was just moving to different parts of my own nowhere if that makes sense.
Eventually I found myself in Vivec as one of the gondoliers. Exactly how, I’m not sure, but it was a job and it kept my belly fully. Didn’t do much beyond that, but I at least ate every day and I could afford my cramped apartment in the St. Olms canton. I remember thinking that it was almost kind of funny how much had changed since that day; it had been almost two years since and I just thought about who I used to be. I used to be happy. I used to smile. I used to be a lot of things, but most of all, I used to be naïve. It was a bittersweet thought that day.
The life of a Gondolier in Vivec is not all it seems though. I remember one day, somebody dressed in all black armor leapt from the top of the Arena Canton into my boat and said, “Foreign quarter! Now! Go, go, go!” And I started going and I watched as the Ordinators in the Arena Canton were swarming where we just had been and how they were sprinting towards the Foreign Quarter. He ended up leaving before we got there—ended up casting a spell like one of those Telvanni and flew right up to the Foreign Quarter plaza. Never saw him again, but he left a left more in a tip than I usually made in a week. If I had to guess who he was, I’d say it was probably that Nerevarine fellow that everyone was talking about at the time. I’m not sure though; I never saw him again.
About a year after that, I had a similar incident of someone running for their life and hopping the boat and just screaming for me to go anywhere but there. So I did. People like him usually left a decent tip, because if I wasn’t there right when they needed me, they’d not have anything (money or otherwise). But that day, I was not fast enough to get away from his attacker. His attacker jumped off the canton, into the water, and swam to my boat to grab him. When I grabbed the oar and smashed it into the attacker’s skull, I watched them sink. If the blow itself hadn’t killed them, drowning would. The man gave me a knapsack just bulging with goods, hugged me tight, and even kissed me telling me how I saved his life. He wasn’t going to die today after all!
The next time someone jumped into my boat though, they were not running. It was a Dunmer in oiled black leather with a pair of ebony daggers at his side and he shoved me down into the boat with a look of hatred in his eyes. “You know who that was that you killed the other day?” he asked me. I didn’t. I had no idea who it was, so I just shook my head.
“That was an assassin, a Morag Tong assassin with a writ for the honorable execution of the man whose life you saved,” he said, his fingers pursing the daggers. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t kill you.”
I was Hlaalu by birth. I had been raised with a certain level of knowledge about House Wars and when and if we put out for a writ as opposed to just sending a retainer, so I knew the basics of how the Morag Tong worked. “Because you don’t have a writ for me.”
He stepped back and his fingers loosened from the blades. “How do you know?”
“Because if you did, you wouldn’t have told me to give you a reason; you’d have just done it by now.”
He uttered “Arena Canton” and dropped a stack of gold in the boat for me. It was a quiet trip and when we arrived, he pulled me out of the boat by my arm. He told me not to bother tying it and that I would be compensated for it if it was gone. For the first time since that day, I felt alive again. I felt alive, because I knew that only a few minutes ago, I could’ve very well died.
The leather-clad Dunmer dragged me through a series of rooms and brought me down before an old Dunmer dressed in robes. His eyes were cold like the hearts of Telvanni, but they bore a wisdom in them that I had not seen before. He did not speak to me initially, only looking me up and down and examining me with those penetrating eyes of his. He kept his silence until I spoke. “Who are you?”
“Who I am is not what you should be asking, Killer of Assassins,” he said. “The question you should be asking is who are you?”
I was confused by this until I realized he meant who am I. I could give no answer, so I just listened as he spoke. He was a man of carefully selected words and every aspect of the sentence from the word choice to their placement was important. “You are many things. Hlaalu. Priest. Thief. Convict. Gondolier. And now Killer of Assassins. I only wish to know which of these is truly the man before me.”
This man knew me. He knew me very well and that scared me, so I did not dare speak out of turn but I said, “What if I am none of these things?”
“How can you be none of these things when you have at once been each and every one of these things?”
Again, I did not know. I wanted to take the obvious route of saying that I was perhaps all of these things instead then, but I figured he would find a way to spin that against me as well. So I looked at him and took a deep breath as I took the greatest gamble of my life. “I am an assassin.”
“Are you now? Do you study the Lost Art of Killing? Do you know the tools of the trade and the tricks that go with it?”
“No. But I know what it is to take a life; I know that the act of killing is the most painful of all acts, because it is not just they on the end of the blade who dies when you thrust it between their ribs, but you as well.”
“Then why would you want to be an assassin?”
“Because I have already taken a life.”
“And you wish to take another?”
“I wish never to take another.”
“Then why would you want this life?”
“Because it is what I am.”
His face took a slightly more pensive appearance and he paused for a moment before averting his eyes from me to the one who had escorted me here. “This one took the life of yours?” the robed Dunmer asked.
“Then he is yours pending he swears his oath.”
The one who escorted me side stepped into my line of sight and watched as the old Dunmer who I now knew was the Grandmaster of the Morag Tong had me recite an oath of allegiance to the Morag Tong. He then had me cut my hand and write my name into a book with the blood. With that signature, everything I used to be was washed away and in the purified state there was room for only one thing: the Morag Tong.
I have set out with this text to confess my sins and I have done just that. You may very well expect me to bemoan the lives I have taken in service to my organization and while I do not enjoy the act of killing, I have come to accept that I am but a humble servant. I am but one of the many hands of the Webspinner and her will be done. May the Webspinner overlook you, reader, and may your name never be written across my writ.
“Morag Tong” (concept art) | Illustration by Michael Kirkbride