They once called Matasten the Sapphire City. That was before it glistened ruby red. I don’t know that such a place can truly be saved. The Daedric Prince is real. Rumors be damned; the Daedric Prince is real.
The spires and towers of Matasten are incredible, soaring so high they can be seen well above the trees that surround the city. They are again different than any structure I have ever seen, with columns and colonnades running their entire height and jutting out at odd angles as if to leap from their own heights. From a distance it is impossible to gain a full sense of scale, but I have never seen anything so tall in my life. I think they may even be taller than the Crystal Spires.
Nodora got us safely to a hilltop overlooking the bridge to the island upon which Matasten sits. It was there that we saw him in full parade.
There is a small village on the near side of the river and the far side is covered in low buildings that disappear into the trees, but the sheer volume of people that came to watch the procession was enough to guess they had come from Matasten.
The side streets and roofs lining the banks of the river were choked with people. At first we thought there must be a market on, but Nodora told us it was a river ritual. Usually, she said, the rituals were carried out at the foot of the palace walls. Today the Prince wanted to bless the river. Today he wanted Matasten surrounded by his power.
I could never have imagined the scale of it. The drums. The drums lined the main thoroughfare from deep within the far jungle, down to the bridge, and across. The depth of their resonance carried in my bones as they rumbled in time. Then the people began to chant. All of them, in unison, as if they had done this a thousand times. They knew the songs. The songs of the Daedra. Songs I had only heard in passing whisper; tunes I could only recall upon hearing them. Everything in me wanted to run.
Dozens of carts were wheeled down towards the river from Matasten. Dozens. Three prisoners stood in each cart, tied with their backs to three posts. Expressionists and their families. Around them danced Daedric Priests. Over a hundred Daedric Priests.
Each was dressed in the Nantese version of the ritual garb. Long cords and strings tied and dangling over tall horns and broad shoulders, obscuring the size and shape of the priest beneath. Arms up and out, flailing, their dance carried one unified motion. Each was outlined in bright red feathers, and on their wrists were fastened long blades that ran two feet from their fists.
The carts drew closer, pulling onto the bridge and stopping until the entire surface was covered in two long columns of writhing prisoners. Behind them came the Prince.
The Daedra danced. Their chanting grew louder, then the Priests began to shriek with the tempo of the song. And he was there. Carried on a platform of his own, the Prince emerged from the distant trees wearing the mightiest set of armor I have ever seen. It took fifty men to carry him. As he drew near, the crowd’s chanting grew to a fervor that shook the boughs of the forest.
The bearers lowered the platform ten yards from the bridge and he danced down the steps and out over the river along the bridge. He moved as though the metal he wore weighed no more than the feathers of his priests, and in it he must have been at least nine feet tall. He danced between the carts, his deep booming voice clear even among the shrieks and the chants.
Then he was on another platform, one at the center of the bridge I hadn’t noticed before. He raised his arms, and though he spoke in Nantese I needed no translator to know the words: “Children of the Night, in this hour these lives are forfeit. I come for your souls.”
And there were children. Dressed in feathers and bright red bands of cloth, they rushed from the village and far shore carrying large wooden bowls. I’ve heard that call to sacrifice a dozen times. I never imagined they would really use children in the ceremony.
The amassed priests danced even harder; their arms rotated out, dipping to the ground and back to the sky as they spun and howled. Then the drums pulsed, the crowds shrieked in time, and the Priests plunged their blades into the prisoners to punctuate the rhythm. Again and again, the Preists drove the blades deep into their standing victims until the blood was flowing.
Each cart was designed to catch and direct it into gutters that poured over the sides. The children caught the blood in bowls, and as each bowl filled they ran with it to the central platform.
Four priests there took the bowls and, in a constant rotation, dumped the contents over the head of the Prince as he danced on the platform. I heard him laugh; I heard him roar. The blood flowed into gutters along the platform’s edge, then out from the corners and over the edge of the bridge. The river turned red within minutes.
Then the Prince turned and pointed at the carts closest to us. Instantly they burst into flames. He continued dancing, pointing at carts seemingly at random, and each time they burst into flames. The execution ground became a funeral pyre.
The priests fled the bridge just in time, but the Prince remained in the center as the inferno grew around him. The flames looked to consume him, burning up the platform upon which he stood, but minutes later he emerged from the smoke and fire untouched.
We could no longer hear him over the roar of the flames, but I knew he would preach for some time. We moved lower down the hill until the heat and noise were blocked from us. None of us said a word. I didn’t realize until that moment just how badly I was shaking. From fear. Anger. The sheer horror of what we had witnessed.
Finally Nodora told us she needed to go. She had family in the village on the near side of the river. They would care for her until the bridge was passable again. She reminded us of the path we took and where to find the tunnel east; Hembila told her we would have no trouble finding our way. We said some small goodbyes and watched her leave. How can she walk towards such a hell with such calm? Things like that should not be considered normal.
We moved away from the burning river in silence. We didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves but, more than that, we didn’t have any words left to us. If any of my companions held any doubts over the threat of the Daedra, they are lost to them now. We face the single greatest evil of our time and we have yet to unify the forces necessary to do so.
Let us pray that the Nantese can be brought to reason, and quickly, or all is lost.