"The City of Inkseeds rose from the desert, shining and decadent. Somehow, it still stood. I crossed through the gate, and the beast knew exactly where to take me: the way worn by beggars and poets. The only place a man of my appetites can find satisfaction. I'm not proud, but then, nobody ever is..."
- THE HIDDEN TWILIGHT
On the night she finds her first Black Book, it's entirely by accident. The Dragonborn didn't know whether that meant it was fool's fortune, or the will of a Daedric Prince playing at Puppet Master. In the end, the reason really didn't matter. What mattered is that one moment Roselynn was standing in the back room of a Telvanni mushroom, carefully turning the page of a delicate tome, and the next she was lost amongst the twisted, labyrinthian corridors of Apocrypha.
Though her initial reaction had been panic (followed by denial, followed by violence, followed by hyperventilating under a reading table tucked into a side wall), eventually Roselynn found herself able to calm down, and gaze up at the glimmerless void that was Apocrypha’s murky sky. It didn’t take long to realize she was not quite as lost here as she thought. Strangely, the dim and ever-shifting passageways felt more comfortable to the young Breton than her own home, back in Whiterun.
It was for this reason that she returned.
She spent the better part of three nights wandering the aisles of Apocrypha, plucking volume after volume from their places on the shelves. Even the Seekers, though at first hostile, proved to be hospitable companions over time. The Lurkers were less so, but they were content to grant her passage so long as she kept clear of their blackened pools.
Roselynn couldn’t help but love this place.
While the Prince of Secrets' Realm lacked traditional beauty, it made up for it in ingenuousness; Apocrypha seemed to be held together in equal parts by mechanical creations impossible by the standards of Mundus, and magic so ancient that it was yet untapped by even the most powerful of mortal mages. And everywhere she turned her eyes, there seemed to be something more mysterious than the last. Whether it be the pale outline of a statuette made out from a distance, sunken to the bottom of a Lurker's pool, or the moving shadows of men and women not present in the aisles, the Plane of Hermaeus Mora never ceased to present new mysteries for its enchanted new visitor.
By the fourth night her search had evolved from whatever caught her eye, to the legends and histories of the dov. Dragons and Dragon Priests dominated the pages of each tome and scroll she brought to her eyes. She’d spent hours cross-legged on the floor, making notes on scraps of old vellum and pages torn from books half-burned, studying a language and culture she had been fascinated by long before she answered the call of the Greybeards.
It was on her seventh journey into the Black Book, as she transcribed the names of once-powerful dov and their corresponding burial grounds, that she felt she was being watched.
At first, the Dragonborn ignored the feeling. After all, no matter where one traveled in this place, the tangled, twisted tentacles of Hermaeus Mora were always overhead, his thousand eyes unblinking in their observation. However, as more time passed, she couldn't quite shake her unnerve, and her eyes suspiciously traced the outskirts of the room, but nothing was out of place. Not even a Seeker was within her line of sight.
She cast a quick Detect Life spell, and found nothing, which did nothing to put her mind at ease. Time to leave, she decided warily, and rose to her feet. It was as she fit the book she'd been studying back into its place that words grazed her ear, so close that she could do nothing to react but stand and resist the urge to shiver: "I know things that these crumbling texts will never teach you."
His voice was low, dark, strongly accented. She racked her brain trying to remember if she'd ever heard such a voice before, but the answer eluded her. He sounded so familiar , but she couldn’t place it. More disturbing was the proximity of the sound, so close that Roselynn knew without needing to reach out that he was standing right behind her. That she was at this stranger’s mercy.
She swallowed her instinct to Shout. After all, she still faced the bookcase, nose-to-nose with the very tome she'd only just replaced. What difference would Shouting make, with her back to her foe? Quietly, as an idea occurred to her, she asked: "Are you Miraak?"
His laugh was guttural, sending chills down her spine and leaving every muscle in her body as tense as a drawn bowstring. "You sound surprised. Of all the hours you've burned in this place of my imprisonment, did you not bother to seek your own enemy's name?"
She felt pressure on her lower back, but rather than painful, it was… almost soft. She realized he was drawing his finger down her spine, tracing a path between her shoulders. It was the realization that she enjoyed the feeling that jolted her into movement, more so than the act of being touched. She spun so her back was pressed against the shelves, and she faced-
There was no one standing near her, nothing strange in the room.
More laughter, dark and rough, chocolate and gravel. Too close to be real. Unless... Oh. Realization dawned on her too late, and his illusion shimmered as it dropped. She felt like an idiot, looking up at him.
Miraak was roughly six inches taller than she was, or she guessed he would be without the mask. Gods, that face. His mask was horrifying, like something carved from a madman's memory of a nightmare. Serpentine tendrils arching away from a carved face, the liquid gold expression suspended in eternal ire. She didn't look away from the mask for long enough to summarize the man who had her all but pinned to the bookcase, but she could tell he was broad, with wide shoulders, and heavy arms leaned against the shelf on either side of her head.
"And so the First Dragonborn meets the Last Dragonborn." he says, and the words burn with irony, though she can't place what about their situation is ironic. She shivers involuntarily at the sound, the way one might shiver at the sound of a howling wolf under a full moon.
"The Last?" she asked in a voice far softer than she had intended, her words revealing her fear without her permission.
His laugh this time felt like it was aimed to taunt, more than because he found her amusing. "As I am the First, you are the Last." he tells her. She can't take her eyes from his mask, wondering briefly if there was some kind of spell on it to keep her eyes glued there. She wanted to look away, she wanted to look... Anywhere else, actually. If she was to push forward for the exit, she’d need to look past his right. If she would return from where she came, she needed to look past his left.
To assess the likelihood of overpowering him in combat, she needed to look down at his body.
Ha, her mind mocked. This man is a mammoth. Bitterly, she knew her faithless thoughts rang true; she couldn't outbest this man, not without magic. Not without her bow. And without magicka potions or weapons of any kind, she doubted she could best him at all.
She hadn't thought she’d have to face battle here, since the Seekers had warmed to her... She'd naively thought herself to be safe. She knew her mistake too-late, and knew she was living the consequences.
Still, Roselynn forced her eyes to push downward. Green robes garnished with the same golden metal from which his mask was smithed. His robes clung in places, revealing taunt muscle, and the heavy, metal embellishments on his armored robes implied strength. The scraps of hope she had been clinging to, any chance she thought she might have of overpowering him, was abandoned in that moment.
Her eyes snagged on the blade he carried at his side, it's aura so strongly leaking of evil that it hurt to stare for any amount of time. Her eyes returned to his mask.
" Miraak. " she said, though what willed her to say his name with such courage she hadn't a single clue. Then: "Are you going to kill me?"
He didn't answer immediately, and with only a mask to judge his thoughts, she found herself torn between thinking he leaned toward both ends of the spectrum. The image of a child ripping petals off a mountain flower invaded her mind: kills me, kills me not, kills me...
Miraak slowly shook his head.
Kills me not.
"Not this time, Dragonborn." he told her, voice dark with... Temptation , her thoughts supply. But was it the temptation to kill her, or for something else? Her thoughts stall the moment he lifts his gloved knuckles to her face, tracing slowly across her jaw. He seems to catch himself, and sharply pulls his hand away. He doesn't make room for her to escape, however. She isn’t sure she wants to.
"Forgive me my indulgence. It has been a long time since I have seen one such as you."
Her mouth morphs into a frown of its own volition. "Such as me?" she asks, unsure. Her eyes never leave the black eyeholes of his mask.
"Alive." he answers absently, his voice distant with heavy thoughts. She blinks, surprised by his answer.
It occurs to her then that Miraak has been alone in Apocrypha for thousands of years, save for the Seekers and the Lurkers and the ever-watchful eyes of Herma-Mora himself. There were other followers of the God of Secrets who'd found themselves here, she was sure, seeking answers and questions both... but had any found Miraak?
Has he been alone all this time?
"Dragonborn." he said, interrupting her thoughts. The way he said her title was almost inquisitive, a question of what thoughts she had on her mind, without having to actually ask for them.
"It's Roselynn." she tells him. He doesn't repeat the name back to her.
Testing the boundaries of her 'capture', she edges to the side, dropping what she hopes is an unnoticeable amount, planning to duck under his arm… Instead of allowing her freedom, he dropped his hand to her waist, and steps even closer, their bodies inches apart. "You cannot flee me, Dragonborn."
"Roselynn." she repeats herself, again daring to meet the eyes of his mask. There was nothing but darkness behind it. She wondered, briefly, if the man behind the mask was as terrifying as the helm itself. "If you're not going to kill me, what are you planning?"
"Should that not be obvious, by now?" he asked. Now she knew he was mocking her, but she was far too distracted by his hand, fingers gently following the curve of her waist, leaving gooseflesh in its wake, even through the heavy layers of canvas and linen she wore to keep out the cold. She wondered if he even realized he was doing it.
"I wish to be the master of my own fate." he says, finally.
"I think the Prince of Fate has something else in mind for you." Roselynn said, turning away from him long enough to look up to where she knew she’d find the tentacled eyes of Hermaeus Mora.
A shocked breath escaped her lips.
There were no tentacles above them, no thousand eyes. Only the murky grey-green abyss shifted in the above. They were not being watched.
Without looking up, Miraak muttered the words, "Does he not always?" His hand had stilled in its tracks, and something about its stillness made her shift her weight in a nervous fidget, wanting it to continue to its trail across her skin. She cursed her mind for having such a treacherous thought, and glared up at Miraak's hidden face, which was turned to one side as he watched her. Even without seeing an expression, she could feel his interest in her.
"Do you like being in my power, Dragonborn?" he asked, his voice a low hum. She recognized his temptation for what it was, this time.
And damn her for feeling the same way.
"It's Roselynn." she bit back for the third time, narrowing her eyes further. This is not a man, she minded herself. This is a monster. This is a four thousand year old Dragon Priest. This is the First Dragonborn.
This man would be the only person she would ever know who understood what it meant to carry the burden of a dragon’s soul.
When he leaned his head down, pressing his cold metal mask against her the sensitive skin of her neck, she lost her breath. A small sigh, so small and light that had Apocrypha not been silent as death, he might not have heard it at all. But Apocrypha was always silent, and heard her he did.
"Do you not wish to escape me?" She felt the rumble of his voice against her shoulder, his mouth so close to her skin but held apart by the pointed tendrils of his mask, which dug uncomfortably into her shoulder. He sounded genuine in his curiosity, like he wanted her to want to be close with him.
Without warning he pulled away, stepping back out of her personal space, and leaving her much colder than she wanted to be. She crossed her arms at her chest.
“We will meet again soon.” Miraak said, the illusion of invisibility passing over him. Then, so quietly she almost didn’t catch it: “ Roselynn. ”
Heart beating in her ears, the Last Dragonborn bolts for the exit; taking stairs two at a time, ending hallways in half the time she’d taken to get here in the first place. When she finds the Black Book at the end of her journey, she doesn’t hesitate, simply plunges herself back to her own world.
Yet even after she falls to her knees in the Ashlands of Solthseim, clutching a black, leather-bound book to her chest, panting like she’d been holding her breath for years … She knew she wanted to go back again.
If for no other reason than to hear him say her name.