Lore: Origins of the Tribunal
When the Morrowind chapter was released, and I was hopping up and down and babbling about the TES3 storyline to anyone who would listen, several people told me they had either not played TES3, or hadn’t finished it. After my heart finished breaking, I asked if they knew the story from second-hand sources, and most of them either said no, or that they’d tried, but there’s so much material, and so much of it conflicts, that they hadn’t gotten to the end of it. This, therefore, is the story of how the Tribunal came to power. (But not the whole plot of TES3.)
Rather than me saying “this happened, then the other thing happened”, I’m presenting the story in character voice, as a vision. My character Umbra is a devotee of Azura, Azura’s pretty passionately involved in that story – and in the main story for ESO’s Morrowind chapter – and some of the information in the in-game lore books was originally written by Azurian priests.
To be clear, though Umbra and several of my characters hate the Tribunal, as a player I absolutely love them. I mean… I hate them, they’re the worst, but they’re also fabulous. Full of contradiction but consistently driven by the same motivations, regretful but also resolute, possessed of moments of true self-awareness in between their jaw-droppingly ridiculous delusions. The reason TES3 is so beloved is because the Tribunal has real resonance, and their story is amazing. After hundreds of hours playing TES3 and hearing rumors that Sotha Sil had disappeared, the moment when I finally found him in the game and saw why he was missing will stay with me as one of the most shocking moments from any video game, ever.
And on that note – should be clear by now, but this post is chock full of TES3 Spoilers, so the vision is behind the cut.
Last thing: As with all TES lore, the exact details of the Battle of Red Mountain and the apotheosis of the Tribunal are in dispute. Every source of information about the events is biased and accounts directly conflict. Everyone has an agenda, and their own story to promote. This is Azura’s version. More or less. I will post links to reference sources after the vision, because I am the kinda nerd who gives citations.
My name is Zelluna Velumbra, and I write this to preserve the memory of visions given to me by the Daedric Prince Azura. Should this document be found by the Tribunal or its lackeys it will be destroyed, but it is my hope – and I believe the hope of my beautiful and terrible Mistress – that the knowledge will remain in the world for others to find.
I was born in the ash wastes, to an Ashlander tribe that no longer claims me. They are a nomadic people, but they travelled the same paths each season, moving from one place they knew to another, always in the shadow of Red Mountain. I longed for new horizons, I was tired of Red Mountain’s looming presence, and I have always had an appreciation for fine luxuries – my people derided these inclinations as weaknesses. When I left the ash, I worried my mistress Azura would spurn me as my tribe had, but such was not the case – wherever I have travelled, I am always aware of Her presence.
After years away, I was approached by a priestess of Azura, who said the Twilight Lady’s prophets were under attack, and my help was needed to save them. While I had always known Azura watched over me, I had not heard Her voice since leaving Vvardenfell. It reminded me of my homeland, and I realized I missed ash yam pie, of all things. So I made the decision to return.
But the Daedric Princes are subtle in their orchestration. I had barely arrived on the island when Azura spoke to me again, urging me to meet with Vivec himself. I was hesitant to draw the attention of the false gods, but I have served Azura my entire life, and Her desire was clear, so I followed it, and that path did eventually lead me to stand in the presence of the “Warrior Poet”.
Vivec requested my help for an intriguing problem: his divine energy was being depleted, and he wished to know why, and stop it. And Azura, too, wished me to aid him, even though I did not understand why. The task took me all over the island, and the people of Vvardenfell called me Outlander – not even the Ashlanders recognized me as one of their own, though my skin is still marked with the scars of my initiation when I achieved adulthood.
While Azura asked me to aid Vivec, She was scathing in Her opinion of him, calling him a murderer. I asked Her why, and the Twilight Lady told me She would reveal the answers to me, if I truly wished them. For the next several nights I had dreams of the Tribunal, visions granted to me by the goddess. This is a record of those visions.
When the prophet Veloth brought his people to Vvardenfell during the Middle Merethic Era, back when the Ayleids ruled, three other groups were already vying for control of the island: the Orcs, Nords, and Dwemer. The Velothi People – I cannot call them Dunmeri, for reasons that will become clear – the Velothi fought the Dwemer for land, and the fight was bitter, and long.
The Dwemer were a heretical people and did not acknowledge the Aedra or Daedra as gods; they considered them merely beings of immense power, not worthy of worship or respect. In their search for power, their experiments and magicks pushed the limits of existence.
I must pause here, and go much further back in time, back to the very creation of Mundus itself.
We exist, all of Mundus, because Lorkhan convinced the other Et’Ada to help him create it. But as the creation neared completion, the Et’Ada realized they were becoming bound to this plane. Most fled, but a few – those referred to as the Aedra – remained to finish the work, even though it cost them much of their divine power to do so. They cannot now leave, for they are too weak. The Empire insists upon venerating them, but Azura and the other Princes are each more powerful than any of the Aedra, bound and depleted as they are.
Though the Aedra remained to complete Mundus, they were enraged with Lorkhan, for he had tricked them. They tore him limb from limb, and flung the pieces far and wide. Those pieces remain; Lorkhan is also eternally bound to Mundus for as long as it exists. In particular, in my vision I could see his heart, still beating, deep underground at the spot that is now known as Red Mountain.
Even as the Dwemer warred with the Velothi, they dug their cities and mined their ore, and in doing so, they came upon the Heart of Lorkhan. With no piety to bind them, they immediately sought to control the Heart and tap its power. They thought to create one of their metal men and use the heart to power it, as though the heart of a god could be tasked to use like a common soul gem. Essentially, they wished to create a god of their own, from an alchemy of blasphemy.
The engineer Kagrenac crafted tools to work the Heart, for it was too powerful to touch directly, and collectively they are referred to as Kagrenac’s Tools, though they have individual names: Keening, Sunder, and Wraithguard. Even amongst the ambitious Dwemer, there was contention about using the Heart in this way, and those who advised caution were heeded for some time.
However, word of the Heart and the grand machine it would power spread to the Velothi generals, and in an attempt to prevent such a thing, the Velothi armies engaged the Dwemer in the most vicious battle to date: the Battle of Red Mountain. Desperate, the Dwemer used their tools and tapped the Heart of Lorkhan.
And then they disappeared. All of them.
Azura did not reveal to me the precise reason for this, but I saw the Dwemer in my vision vanish without a trace, leaving behind their machines… and Kagrenac’s Tools. Deep under Red Mountain, in a space known as the Heart Chamber, two of the Velothi generals came upon the tools: Indoril Nerevar and Dagoth Ur.
Clearly, the tools were powerful, and clearly they were unsafe. Nerevar asked Dagoth Ur to guard the tools with his life, and then he went to consult with the other Chimer generals: Vivec, Sotha Sil, and Almalexia. The three, now known collectively as ALMSIVI, immediately coveted the power of the Heart for themselves.
They were battle-bound, the five generals – they had fought and bled together, pushed back the Dwemer to make the land safe for their people. They were friends. Nonetheless, they poisoned Nerevar at the council table, while they pretended to debate the wisest course of action. Their friend dead, the three traveled to Red Mountain where Dagoth Ur guarded the tools.
He fought, valiantly, to protect that which he had sworn to protect. He fought, and he died, brought down by those he had called friends and allies.
Their betrayal did not end there. House Dagoth is sometimes called the “lost” House, as though it were simply misplaced, like a hairbrush or a book. It was not “lost”; it was erased. Nearly everyone in the House was put to death, only the youngest babies were moved into other Houses to be raised as though they had been born there, forever cleaved from their true ancestors.
If you are reading this account and you are not of the Dunmeri peoples, I cannot fully express to you the horror of that last statement. Our ancestors are our strength, our wisdom. The Dunmeri venerate our ancestors; their blood is our blood, and our pain is their pain. For those who would call themselves gods to willingly sever the ties between child and parents, grandparents, great-grandparents… it is anathema beyond words. Unspeakable.
And thus was the Tribunal born: from betrayal, blood, heresy, and ambition. Sing the praises of ALMSIVI? I would sooner have the tongue cut from my mouth.
When they had first discovered Kagnerac’s fateful tools, Sotha Sil, Almalexia, and Vivec swore an oath – along with Dagoth Ur and Indoril Nerevar – to never use them. When they broke that promise and turned themselves into gods, it enraged Azura. She appeared before them and explained the severity of their transgression. She told them they had doomed the very people they wished to rule, and their only chance at redemption was to surrender the power they had stolen. They refused.
In Her great and terrible justice, Azura changed the Velothi people, so the Tribunal could never forget the nature of their sins or the costs to be paid for them. We were all Chimer before their apotheosis, but after that day our skin was as grey as the ash falling from Red Mountain, and our eyes as red as its lava. The Dunmeri people were born in the heart of the volcano as surely as was the Tribunal, and they see it when they look at our faces. I wonder if they secretly hate us for reminding them.
The Houses Redoran, Hlaalu, Telvanni, Dres, and Indoril all swore fealty to the newly-risen “gods”. In return, they gained political power, lands, and security. The rest of the Houses would not kowtow to blasphemy, so their lands were seized and they were driven from their homes to live in the ash wastes. Thus were the “Ashlanders” born. I was raised knowing this truth, but it was still shocking to see it in the vision.
Azura did not only show me the past in my visions, but also the future. During the final battle with Dagoth Ur under Red Mountain, the three false gods lost two of their tools and were cut off from the power of Lorkhan’s Heart. Their power wanes, even now, and will soon be too paltry to conceal the damage they have wrought. Dagoth Ur is not completely dead, but transformed.
The scattered children of his “lost” House will hear his voice in their dreams – he is their ancestor. He will call them, and they will come, transforming as they go, as he is transformed. They will be named monsters, these lost, lonely children, and they will spread disease, murder, and terror wherever they travel. As the disunited blood of House Ur asserts itself, sister will turn on brother, parents will kill their children, and people across Vvardenfell will whisper of the Sixth House, but have no understanding.
The horror does not end there. As their stolen power continues to wane and Dagoth Ur’s call reaches more and more of his childrens’ ears, the Tribunal will grow desperate. The one safe option – abandoning their ‘divinity’ – will not be the path they will choose. Instead….
Again, words fail me, and this next part is very hard to conceive, let alone record. I saw in my mind the Red Mountain, like an open and festering wound pouring its infection onto the land. In an effort to contain the corruption they caused, the Tribunal will build a huge fence around the base of the volcano. It will be not merely a physical fence, but a magickal one, similar to the ghostfences used sometimes in ancestral tombs, but on a huge scale, and designed to hold back the metaphysical corruption and the magickal power of Dagoth Ur’s influence. And yet, if such a fence were powered by the Tribunal itself, it would further drain their waning power reserves, and indeed, their power would not be useful for the task in any case, as it is comes from the same source they will be trying to contain.
So they will use our beloved dead for the job instead: thousands upon thousands of Dunmeri ancestors, ripped from Aetherius and their families and forced into a containment field to act as spiritual shields against the infection ALMSIVI caused.
I have never seen such a terrible thing in a vision, and I hope never to do so again. Generations of once-honored dead, trapped and screaming endlessly for release from their agony. And the Tribunal knowingly torturing the spirits, decade after decade, in order to maintain their grasp on power that never belonged to them in the first place.
They will tell their people not to practice “necromancy”; they will forbid the practice of calling the ancestors for advice or support. They will adhere not to tradition, but to the Empire’s edict against raising spirits. In doing so they will further weaken the people they are purporting to protect. They will do all this in order to keep the Dunmeri ancestors as slaves in their monstrous ghostfence.
I have been awake for several hours. I can still hear the screams of the dead when I close my eyes.
The false gods will, eventually, turn on each other. Betrayers betray; it is what they do. Almalexia will go mad – more so than she already is, as extraordinary as that statement may be – and will reach out to replenish her fading energy with the closest match: one of her fellow “gods”. As my visions came to an end, I could see Sotha Sil hanging in one of Almalexia’s machines so she could drain his life force and divine energy like a vampire drinks a victim’s blood. She was his friend, once, even his lover. It will take her decades to kill him. He will beg for his life at first, then he will beg for death. ‘Mother Morrowind’ will give him neither.
My name is Zelluna Velumbra, and this is my record of the visions given to me by Prince Azura. She has prophesized that one day the spirit of Indoril Nerevar himself shall be reborn to once again walk on Morrowind’s shores, drive the corruption from our land and hearts, and herald the end of the reign of the false gods. The Ashlanders look for his return while they hold to the true faith.
I am no longer an Ashlander, and left most of their customs behind, but these beliefs I still hold: all of Vvardenfell will pay for the sins of the false gods until the Nerevarine returns to bring them low. Until then, do not trust them, and do not believe their lies.
Morndas, 26th of Sun’s Dawn, Second Era
Progress of Truth – written by the Dissident Priests, a listing of their objections to Tribunal doctrine, including reasons why they don’t believe ALMSIVI’s account of the apotheosis.
Nerevar at Red Mountain – a collection of the oral teachings of the Ashlanders.
The Battle of Red Mountain – the Tribunal’s version of the story, as told by Vivec to one of the Dissident Priests and transcribed by him, after the priest confronted Vivec about the discrepancies between official accounts and the Ashlander’s lore.
The Five Songs of King Wulfharth – not specifically about the Tribunal, but Nord history; contains the Nordic version of events of Red Mountain.
All of those links are from the Imperial Library, a fantastic site that archives every written document in all Elder Scrolls games. This is their page on Dagoth Ur, which has a complete version of his story, with links.