Like every person who’s just a bit too old to know what the hell Fortnite is, I once played “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.” And while I had my issues with the game, one thing I always enjoyed immensely about it was its living gods: Almalexia, Sotha Sil and Vivec. Not only because I can certainly empathise with any glorious being who rules over their domain with mercy, wisdom and justice despite being faced with great adversity but also because of the lengths the writers went to to really flesh them out. One of the ways they did this, I believe, is through their appearance, the superficial bastards. But how did they do this? Well sit down, pull out some candles, put on the Morrowind theme and get out your potion of stamina because Analyze, the warrior-poet of Analytical Madness, is about to enlighten the shit out of you.
Wanna Know How I Got These Skin Colours?
First a quick refresher for anyone who doesn’t still play Morrowind every day (like you damn well should), feel free to skip to A Clockwork Grey if you know the story:
Back in the bad old days of the Dwemer-Dunmer war (also, somewhat less commonly, known as the D&D wars) the Dunmer, back then the Chimer, invaded Dwemer lands and made their way to the centre of Red Mountain, the volcano at the heart of Vvardenfell which so inconsiderably errupted in the 4th era. It is here that High Craftlord of the Dwemer Kagrenac used the tools, coincidentally named the tools of Kagrenac, on the heart of Lorkhan. The Dwemer poofed off to wherever they poofed off to and Nerevar, leader of the Chimer, and his advisors were left standing there with their dicks in their hands and the tools of Kagrenac laying there ever-so-seductively.
Nerevar and his trusted advisors, his loving wife Almalexia, his bestest of friends Sotha Sil and Vivec, discussed what to do with them while they left the eminently trustworthy Dagoth Ur alone with them because nothing could possible go wrong with tha- oh look he used the tools to steal divine power from the heart. They all battled him and won but Nerevar was wounded in the battle and, as mortals are wont to do, croaked. Fortunately, after all the war, after all the sacrifice, now the tools of Kagrenac were finally in the hands of those who would keep them safe but never, ever use the- and then they used them to become gods. But oh look, it’s Azura being none too pleased with this breaking of oaths. And so, being a bit of a racist bint, decided to curse them by turning the skin of all the Dunmer from gold to grey.
Since they were gods now, however, Almalexia, Sotha Sil and Vivec were able to resist this curse leading to all three looking rather different. Which brings us to…
A Clockwork Grey
Sotha Sil, Seht, Wizard-Mystic God of the Dunmer, the Si in Almsivi, the Father of Mysteries and the snappiest dressed in all of Morrowind. When Azura cursed the Dunmer with ashen skin it was Sotha Sil who choose to, not evade it, but accept his new coat of paint. The main reason given for this is that he wanted to show compassion towards his people, but I suspect it goes beyond that. Although I’m going to have to get into the type of person Sil is to explain why.
You may not have noticed it, especially because in Morrowind he has no fucking lines, but Sotha Sil has some pretty strong opinions about the world. When you talk to him in “The Elder Scrolls Online” he says that “All of this (referring to Clockwork City, himself and the player) exists because it must exist. I stand here, in this place, in this moment, not because I wish to, but because I have to.” and “The truth is that my actions, both good and evil, are inevitable. Locked in time. Determined by chains of action and consequence.” He also talks about being a prisoner and seeing the “determinative walls” but not seeing beyond them. In other words, he’s a determinist. But it goes further still. Further Sotha still. Eh? Eh?
Sotha Sil specifically mentions here that “…we are, all of us, bound by our nature. Almalexia does what she does because she cannot do otherwise. It will not end well. But then, even the best endings rarely bring joy.” Probably the understatement of the century. In the end, after all, Almalexia murders Sotha Sil. So why is this line important, other than it being more of the same determinism talk? The importance lies in what the quote means. Maybe he simply means that he knew that Almalexia would destroy herself. He simply predicted, based on what he knew of her, that this would happen and no more.
But I propose a different interpretation: This is Sotha Sil saying that he knew all along that Almalexia would kill him. This is interpretation is supported by Aios’ dialogue in the ESO mission “Where Shadows Lie” where he, when assessing threats to Sotha Sil, specifically mentions “Prospect Almalexia: negative.” Suggesting perhaps that Sil knew Almalexia would be coming for him eventually. There’s also one last little hint. It’s vague and hard to interpret but in The Elder Scrolls card game Legends during “The Last Stand” Sotha Sil says “This day has appeared in all my simulations. The end. My dear friend Almalexia has come to kill me.” Suggesting just the slightest bit that he foresaw it. But not only that he foresaw it, but crucially that he accepted it.
Sotha Sil is not only a determinist, believing in a predetermined world. But he is also a fatalist. He believes that he is powerless to fight back and resigned to accepting his fate however terrible that fate may be.
So why does Sotha Sil have ashen skin? Because when Azura curses the Chimer with ashen skin, he could fight back against the curse, but instead of doing so he simply accepts this fate. And so his ashen skin is symbolic of of the his fatalism. Of the fact that Sotha Sil simply undergoes his fate because he believes that is all he can do.
All Shall Love Her And Despair
So what about the beautiful golden queen Almalexia? Does her golden skin represent how she’s a precious light to everyone, the protector of the poor and the weak, a shining example of how to behave? No, quite the opposite.
Sotha Sil says that to Almalexia and Vivec “Godhood brings them joy and purpose.” and we can see exactly what Almalexia does when that godhood is threatened in Tribunal. She murders Sotha Sil and attempts to kill the Nerevarine. She does her best to stop Azura’s prophecy from being completed. She struggles against the loss of her divinity and desperately seeks to cling to her power. She tries her very best to avoid her fate, a horrible fate, that has been laid out for her.
Similarly she’s the one to retain the, very expensive looking, golden skin of the Chimer. When Azura curses Almalexia to an undesireable fate marking her shame, Almalexia chooses to struggle against it with all her might. To cling to her old identity as a Chimer and avoid her just desserts.
The golden skin not only tells a story of her avoidance of consequences but also of her avoidance of reality. Sotha Sil says of her “She believes her tales implicitly. As does everyone else. Her capacity for deception appears limitless.” Above all, I would say, her ability for self-deception. Just as she manages to convince herself that Azura’s prophecy must be avoidable, just as she tries to promote an image of her as the compassionate mother while plotting the murder of Sotha Sil, she retains her golden skin as if nothing ever happened. As if she had not broken her oath to Nerevar to use the tools, and potentially even as if she had never helped kill him (depending on who’s version of events you believe).
She is someone who cannot let go of the good things in her life, she cannot ever accept the bad about herself or the world and will hopelessly and desperately struggle against it. She cannot make peace with her past or her fate. In this she is also the opposite of Sotha Sil and so it is fitting that she is the glimmering gold to his dull grey. Her golden skin, above all, represents not only this duality but her unhealthy inability to let go and accept (harsh truths).
What About Dunchimer?
Then we have Vivec, my personal favourite. His skin colour is a blend of the two, half the golden skin of the Chimer and half the ashen skin of the Dunmer. Immediately making clear to us one of the most important things about him: his duality.
Every one of the Almsivi has an anticipation, a Daedric lord who announced their coming and who’s place they took in the Dunmer pantheon. Vivec’s anticipation is said to have been Mephala. A Daedric lord described in the in-game book “Vivec and Mephala” as being one of integrating contradictory themes of courtship and orgy, tact and poetic truths.
Similarly Vivec is seen as the benevolent protector of the Dunmer, but the murderer of Nerevar. Vivec loved his children so much that he stopped Baar Dau in the sky, but so cold he left it above the city as an ever-looming threat. He is both male and female, having been born a hermaphrodite. He is described as a warrior-poet. A blend of the brutal bruiser and the sensitive artist and he appreciates both the “beautiful and the bloody.” In other words, he’s a stark raving schizophrenic… Or, if you want to be PG about it, he has a dual nature.
This nature is further illucidated by Sotha Sil in “Elder Scrolls Online” where he says that: “Vivec craves radical freedom–the death of all limits and restrictions. He wishes to be all things at all times. Every race, every gender, every hero, both divine and finite… but in the end, he can only be Vivec.” Aside from further showing what Vivec’s dual nature actually entails, this also alludes to the state of CHIM that Vivec has achieved. I won’t explain the full concept here, if you want to know the details this link provides a video which does, but to boil it down: It means both being aware that all of existence is a dream and yet persisting in believing you exist as an individual. Something which, at least on the surface, seems contradictory and yet carries immense power. And Vivec is one of only two known people, the other beingTiber Septim, to have been known to achieve it.
His dualism extends even beyond this, however. Much like with Sotha Sil and Almalexia his skin colour is also related to choice. While Sotha Sil accepted his skin colour with grim fatalism and Almalexia struggled desperately against it, Vivec managed to integrate both. He is both a fatalist, accepting the coming of the Nerevarine and helping him along his way knowing it would mean his destruction, and yet is far from a passive character, even going on to trick Azura as vengeance.
So this dual nature which is key to understanding Vivec on every level, from his marrying of the bloody and the beautiful, to his melding of fact and fiction, to his achievement of CHIM and his position on choice, is represented in his skin colour. Which is half the grim grey of the Dunmer and half the theatrical gold of the Chimer of days gone by. Both pretending that nothing ever changed and acknowledging that he was cursed forever. The living contradiction that is Lord Vivec.
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Copyright: The images used are screenshots of “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind,” “The Elder Scrolls Online” and related promotional materials or websites created and owned by Bethesda Softworks. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Elder Scrolls series belongs to Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax media. Image of Vivec by SnowSkadi who’s gallery can be found at here.