Chapter 12: An Unbounded Problem
The dragon had paused, so Edward interjected, "Mother and I have been discussing the nature of the gods recently, Akatosh, and she thinks that poetry would be a godly activity. What do you think about that notion?"
"I am not so certain that one can attribute anything to the gods, Edward. They are another example of an unbounded problem, of course, but also, their characteristics are just not very well known to us."
"But surely one can determine things about any being that is a god?"
Akatosh replied, "I do not think that we can, at present; they are not like the Daedra, who have a nature that is with them at their birth. That is, the Daedra capabilities are inherent in them, and not are the result of any changes that have occurred to them."
Willow interrupted: "Akatosh, we can determine that the gods have a few basic characteristics, can't we?"
Edward added "Of course, Akatosh - they are powerful beings who can perform acts that are incomprehensible to us. That in itself must signify their difference."
Akatosh nodded and replied "I understand your point of view, but to a farming community on Tamriel in our southern lands, that could also describe how they would perceive me. Perhaps this is attributable to the fact that they seldom see a dragon nowadays, but it also does not mean that I am a god ... neither does it mean that I am not a god."
Willow giggled, and said "Of course you're not a god, Akatosh" and Edward, smiling, nodded agreement.
Akatosh replied "How do you know, Willow? I can understand that you would guess that I am not a god, particularly since I am a dragon." He grinned, and then continued "But how can you know that I am not a god?"
Edward scoffingly replied "Well, I know that I'm not a god anyway. And I've certainly never seen you perform any godly acts, Akatosh - you also don't seem to have any worshippers about either."
The Companions were smiling and generally agreeing with this, but Akatosh responded "But that does not mean that I have no worshippers, nor does it mean that I cannot perform any godly acts - it just means that you have not seen either of these. I am not yet certain that gods and goddesses require worshippers to maintain their existence. And as I said, I can perform magic that would look like 'godly acts' to many Tamrielians."
"But the gods must have worshippers, Akatosh" said Aliera, "That's how they get their ... sustenance, or whatever it is that allows them to continue ... to be godly. Husband, you must know more about this subject. After all, you made a god of your brother S'ephen."
"I did no such thing!" Moraelyn responded, with a touch of indignation. "His godhood is between him and his worshippers, among whom I am numbered. I did establish a temple cult in his memory. Anyone with the worldly means could do as much for anyone, living or dead. That alone is not enough. Maybe it helps -- facilitate matters, but I think it's not really necessary. I know no more of it, but if you want my opinion--" he paused politely for confirmation that it was indeed still solicited, as elven etiquette demanded if one were giving opinion at length.
He continued. "There must be something, well, godly, in the person's soul or essence or whatever part it is that does not die with the body. I know not whether that capacity is innate in the person, from birth or conception, or quickening ... whene'er it is that soul and body are wedded for a life span, or whether great deeds and great generosity might breed it, enlarging the soul and transmuting it, so to speak. We all change and grow with each passing day, with every breath, some more than others. What else is life about?"
He went on without pausing for an answer to his rhetorical question, probably for fear that he might get one. "In other cases, gods seem to arise from a locality, a mountain, or a spring, or wood, or a collection of localities, such as Tamriel itself. Places, like persons have souls, some greater than others. This place might produce a god or a daedra -- or maybe it already has one or more. As it changes, so do its gods and daedra, I think. Maybe they can choose to resist the change or aid it, if propitiated."
He looked at Akatosh inquiringly. The dragon had stopped fighting the new gods, he said, but would he go so far as to worship them? "That speaks to the question of whence gods arise, but source is not nature: of that I know as little as the rest of you, maybe less, since the question does not truly interest me. The gods are; my worship of them benefits me and mine. It is sufficient."
Akatosh did not respond immediately and Aliera refused to be distracted, "But suppose such a cult were established and worshippers provided for one of small and mean spirit. Would that spirit not become a god?"
"I suppose it might be done, if one were determined enough and had a sufficiency of means to pay worshippers to perform rituals without -- spirit -- behind them. Maybe that's where small, mean gods come from, wife. Or maybe daedra? Maybe I'll raise a cult to thee and see what happens."
"Are you calling my spirit small and mean?" Ali glared at him.
"Only by comparison -- you don't fancy yourself a goddess, do you? You might make a daedra, though. The experiment might be a bit too chancy. Could I just mourn you for a century or two instead?"
"Mm. I'll think on it. What about you? You've deeds enough already to qualify for godhood, surely ... although if you plan on many more such you may not outlive me."
"I'm doomed to be R'Aathim, living and dead. It's godhood of a sort, but what a sort! Don't begrudge me my long life span. Think of me doomed to eternity in the gloomy Ebonheart council chamber listening to the eternal wrangles ... small wonder the dead R'Aathim pulled the place down on the live ones twenty years ago, thus causing my brother and my mother to join their number. The dead R'Aathim must have welcomed the century and a half of respite while the Nords held Ebonheart."
"But your brother S'ephen was killed too, as well as your brother King Cruethys, and S'ephen wasn't R'Aathim, being your mother's son and not your father's, if I have the story straight -- that's why he got his own temple," Edward said. "So why did they kill him, too? The story sounds very daedric to me."
"You'd have me justify the ways of the gods to you, would you? I think they act for ends we cannot see, and slay the just and the unjust together -- not that I'd label any of my Kin as either -- not altogether. We see only the means -- how can we judge? Gods too face choices; I do not think their power supreme. They can overrule nature on occasion, as can any Mage, yet they, like Mages, are in the end bound by it -- and their overrule must answer other rules still -- and in those rules, whate'er they be, I think lies the answer to your questions. I think it's not something men and women may know while living."
Akatosh smiled and replied "It is not so easy to describe the gods, is it? This is true even though, myself included, each of us thinks that we have a mental picture of what godliness means. On the other hand, the gods and goddesses certainly do exist - and I also believe that there is a connection of some sort between them and the Daedra, and another connection between these entities and the power associated with performing magic."
"The priests of Julianos have been calling this power 'Magicka'" said a stranger who had joined the group.
Akatosh replied "Greetings bard. Please allow me to introduce ... Geoffrey, a ... wandering poet who has been visiting our village for these last few days." The Companions greeted the wood elf newcomer, some rising to their feet to do so according to their individual customs, and then all resumed sitting (actually sprawling about) and conversing.
"A number of priests are theorizing that the gods and goddesses live on another plane, as do the Daedra - there is some debate amongst these priests as to whether they share the same plane of existence, or whether each has their own. And some of the Alessian priests are claiming that we can visit these alternate planes in our nightly dreams" added Beech.
Edward asked "Why doesn't someone just ask a goddess or a Daedra about this?"
Geoffrey chuckled and replied "Most of us are not able to be so thoughtful when confronted by one of these beings, Edward. Also, there is a common belief that the gods and Daedra are as reluctant to discuss their own natures as dragons are to reveal anyone's True Name."
Edward looked quizzically at Akatosh, but Beech stated to Geoffrey "Well said, Bard" ... and that pair shared the slightest of smiles.
Beech then said, "Do you know what the Resolutions of Zenithar has been saying about the gods and magic? This magic power, or Magicka, is just the power generated by the existence of, well, existance itself. When it becomes focused by living beings through natural processes, then it becomes accessible to the gods and goddesses as worship power, which is the next level of Magicka. After receiving some from their worshippers, the gods can then concentrate it up to god-level power - the true Magicka. The gods themselves can't generate the mid-level Magicka, since they are dependent on it for their own existence, but they can 'convert it' to Magicka, which can then be used by mortals to cast spells. This Magicka is usually dispersed widely across the planes but there are areas of greater and lesser concentration due to interferences with the dispersion process."
"When a goddess loses worshippers, her inflow of mid-level Magicka is decreased, so she in turn produces less god-level Magicka. With less Magicka under her control (for providing to worshippers, or dispersion), her influence is decreased in the mortal planes - of course the converse is also true. In the extreme, she receives nothing, and is relegated to a state of Stasis, barely existing from the ordinary Magicka generated by her few remaining Consecrated lands, zones of influence, and so on."
Beech continued, "On the other hand, Daedra receive very specific, or 'modified' mid-level Magicka from a few mortals with specific areas of interest, and these Daedra are normally tied to very specific circumstances. Because of their nature, they gain much more power from their small worship base, but the gods, with their much broader base, generally have greater overall power, even though the amount of concentrated worship that they receive from any one source is much less than a Daedra's. Most of the Magicka that the gods 'process' is dispersed into and throughout the universe, no longer under their control, thereby making it available for everyone. It's not really something they do consciously, but as a natural process that happens automatically - in other words ... just because they are divine."
Aliera said, "I would think that Magicka is simply available to sentient beings, although the gods and Daedra could facilitate its usage. I would think that the gods and Daedra have other influences on us as well, because not everyone has spellcasting ability! Maybe in those 'alternate planes' it's actually existance, and not sentient entities, that radiates Magicka, just as the stars give off light in our dimension. I just assume that Magicka is 'out there' in the ether, or maybe sentient consciousnesses automatically tap into an alternate plane as they sleep. I think that everyone has some supply of Magicka, but most don't know how to use it very well, or else they adopt a way of life that inhibits or forbids its use. Maybe certain gods and Daedra serve as facilitators for the entire process; that is, both obtaining and using Magicka? But how do priests heal and cure and bless? Is Magicka involved at all or do they invoke their goddesses directly?"
Ssa'ass said, "I am not ssssure that Magicka isss usssed; perhapss there isss yet another capability involved here. Thisss capability would be unknown at thisss time, and maybe even unsssenssssed... but I feel fairly certain that sssomehow it is a godly 'force' that they are employing."
Then Geoffrey responded: "Ssa'ass, I believe that Magicka fills the universe of planes. All things are infused with Magicka to one extent or another. In this regard Magicka is attracted to some people and things over others, and some people with talent or training can control and even release Magicka in new forms. There may be other sources of Magicka available by tapping into alternate and otherworldly planes. There is also the possibility of alternate planes that are entirely void of Magicka. Regardless, certain beings of great power, such as the gods and Daedra, can not only control Magicka, but can see, absorb, and transfuse Magicka to and from objects and people. By employing this ability, worshippers of these beings are sometimes capable of greater acts of Magic than they could accomplish otherwise. Also in this way, some items sacred to powerful beings can be said to be holy, with additional amounts of directed Magicka provided by gods or goddesses."
"Magic items fall into two main categories by definition. Items that draw on the surrounding Magicka to create spell-like effects, and items that hold Magicka in reserve for their own internal effects. Normally magic items which absorb Magicka, giving increased abilities to their wielders, only affect themselves and are considered to use internal Magicka. In some areas where great amounts of Magicka have been used, the surroundings may be completely devoid of it. This of course negates the ability of beings to produce magic effects in these areas, although gods and Daedra carry their own supplies of Magicka, as do magic items that do not depend on the use of surrounding Magicka."
Aliera said, "We've been investigating some rumors and stories concerning something that might be called anti-Magicka. I think the presence of a powerful Daedra with whom you weren't in 'tune' could cause interference with spellcasting - maybe even cancel out existing spells. Perhaps particular Daedra simply favor thief or warrior types. Or some goddesses, and their priests, might frown on 'competing' magic in certain areas, for example in locations dedicated to them. So then unauthorized spells could interfere with their rituals."
Willow asked, "Can Daedra supply Magicka? And how about both a god and a Daedra being nearby? - wouldn't they sort of nullify each other's powers? This might be the cause of the anti-Magicka effect."
"I've experienced an anti-Magicka zone myself" inserted Mith. "It felt a lot like the effect of casting a spell like Dispel Magicka. At the time, I thought that a truly powerful spellcaster could still effectively cast spells, but their resulting power would have been much reduced. I didn't get a chance to test this out though" added Mith with a smile.
"We can also assume that certain powerful spells, creatures and even magic items might actually drain the surrounding area of Magicka," replied Geoffrey. "This could be extended to places where great amounts of magic energy were once gathered and expended, for example in ancient temples where great spells were cast, or battlefields where powerful mages contested. Perhaps certain metals or stones could act as absorbers of Magicka, allowing for whole structures of anti-Magicka zones. If so, you might be able to wear a amulet made out of anti-Magicka material and gain a good advantage against spellcasters. Perhaps the purity of the material used would allow for better and better magic resistance".
Akatosh spoke: "Dragons have long been interested in the anti-Magicka effect, naturally enough. We have found some amulets that appear to act as Magicka absorbers. They might contain something like Negative Magicka, in which case they would attract any 'stray' Magicka floating free in the local area. They are made of a stone, or mineral, resembling marble - it is very rare, but could be extracted, and shaped by skilled craftsmen. For example, I'm sure that the dwarves could have worked with this material. They might have made these amulets - or even that statue that I once saw ... it was taller than any of you humanoids. Regardless, in these mountains we have found deposits scattered throughout the halls and tunnels at random, sometimes deep within the walls. Consequently, one appears to go in and out of these anti-Magicka zones of varying intensities, with little or no warning. I have been imagining that this material works almost automatically; it seems to 'reflexively' absorb Magicka if given a chance to. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that they have been magically charged somehow - perhaps this happened long ago, but the charge has somehow remained."
Moraelyn asked, "Would the amulet affect its wearer, or would he be immune?"
"Maybe a blocking spell could be developed, and then cast, to shield the wearer from the effects of the substance."
Moraelyn then asked, "But Akatosh, getting back to our earlier discussions - what do you think of the speculations concerning the connections between the gods and goddesses, Daedra and Magicka?"
Akatosh replied, "I think that there are many truths that we do not know, and perhaps there are some truths that we are not meant to know."
Moraelyn asked with a smile, "All right then, I've always wanted to know this - considering the shape of your mouth and teeth, how do dragons manage to speak the humanoid languages so clearly?"
Akatosh paused, and then carefully responded, "Why, in much the same way that we can fly, even though our wings are not naturally strong enough to support such heavy torsos."
"Speaking of dragon flight and sunsets..." Mith said, rising to his feet and squinting into the red-gold eastern sky, "We have a vistor, Dragon Lord. That's not a bird."
Akatosh's head came up and he too scanned the sky. Tension grew in him, and one by one the Companions rose, watching as the distant dot grew nearer and resolved itself into the largest dragon they'd seen yet.
"Ma-Tylda!" Akatosh exclaimed, "She deigns to bestow her presence on us!" His wings lifted and unfurled, and the Companions broke and ran for cover as he took flight. The two dragons wheeled through the sky, spouting great gouts of flame against the purpling sky.
"They're fighting," Edward cried, "what does it mean. Who is Ma-Tylda?"
"I don't know who she is, son," Moraelyn replied, "but they do not fight. You behold a dragon greeting ceremony." The pair alit beyond a rock outcropping out of sight.
"Should we go greet the stranger, too?" Edward asked.
"Nay," Mith said. "They'll let us know if our presence is wanted -- look, even the other dragons stay away." It was true. Dragon heads had poked from the caverns to witness the event, but none of them had taken wing, and now they were retreating to their hoards within.
The Companions ambled back into the meadow together and built a fire as a chill wind had sprung up. The elves sang an evening hymn to the stars, deftly weaving the dark elf version with the wood elf form. Aliera added her voice to theirs, but Mats and Edward and Silk and Ssa'ass sat listening silently. They couldn't manage elven music of this kind. Geoffrey had a particularly clear sweet voice, Edward thought.
Akatosh returned presently, smiling in satisfaction. "Ma-Tylda's going to join us here, at least for awhile," he said. He was actually glowing in the dusk, each scale giving off a golden radiance.
"Is she your queen?" Edward asked, feeling very small and human.
"She -- just is. Maybe she'll want to meet you all some day. I hope so. Until then, well, I don't talk about other dragons, you know."
To which Edward blinked in surprise and then surmise, and the discussion dissolved into jokes and songs for the remainder of that clear and beautiful evening.