Tweaking – A short story
This one is set within the “Elder Scrolls” universe, and is loosely based off some experiences I’ve had playing Oblivion, as well as some that others have had.
For a while, I knew a guy who had these strange physical tics. The guy was a Redguard – he called himself “Bedouin”, nothing more, nothing less.
He was the type who would spontaneously seize up, as if he were about to have a seizure. The type who would spin about for no apparent reason. His face would convulse in strange ways when people talked to him, and he moved stiffly, as if some invisible puppetmaster were dragging him along rather ineptly on strings.
He was always traveling, seeking out various jobs and items. While I never got many words out of him on about his job, he did once mention that he worked for the Fighter’s Guild, and that his work required him to travel throughout Cyrodil.
“It’s not that I mind the distances – I certainly enjoy taking in new scenery. The only problem is that some of the places I go stimulate my… er…”
He looked around. Besides us, only a few goods in my store could possible bear witness to what he said.
“My health complications. I’ve been able to lead a relatively normal life, but there’s no way I can conceal the symptoms,” he muttered. Then he looked at me, and the fear that was rising in his voice was quashed by the rage on his face.
“Do you realize how much trouble I have merely moving? I have to force every step, and even then my joints are unbelievably stiff! Were it not for the months of training I underwent, I would have to lock myself in my house and hire a servant just to keep myself alive-”
His voice caught up with his face, and his arm smashed down on the table. Plates rumbled, goblets toppled, and a few pieces of silverware crashed to the floor.
“Calm down! I’m sure someone might be able to help you, but I’ve no idea what the cause of your affliction is. Maybe you should pray to the Nine and ask their assistance,” I said. Then I cowered. A few seconds later, I looked back up, and he seemingly had calmed down.
“Your advice is good, and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that.” He left the store, and failed to return for several weeks. My life continued rather normally – I sold furnishings to villagers and travelers, and slowly accumulated nicer possessions. When my friend came back, I had just bought a new bed – I was in the process of hauling it to my upstairs room when he barged into the door.
A quick look at him suggested that he was somewhat healthier, as his limbs moved more fluently, and his face didn’t seem to spasm to the degree it had a few weeks ago.
“You look better,” I told him.
“Thank you. I met a priest in the Imperial City who claimed to have suffered from a similar ailment,” he responded.
“What of it?”
“He was able to bring himself some respite through behavioral modifications. They’re very hard to explain…”
My friend then looked at a lamp in the corner of the store – the tics appeared on his face, and for a moment, it seemed that he was going to collapse in a fit, frothing at the mouth-
“Ah, good. Take a look at this plate,” he said, turning to pick up one made of wood.
“It’s just a plate,” I said. “It can be yours for 5 gold coins.”
“Always trying to sell things, aren’t you? I only need it for a demonstration.” He produced the 5 gold coins, handing them to me.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“I thought you might appreciate it, anyways. But look at the plate. Do you know how it was constructed?”
“Some artisan carved it out of processed wood?”
“I would assume so. But what you can’t see are the… how do I put this? Everything in this world has inner aspects that we can’t see, nor would we benefit from seeing… like… I can’t explain it. Nobody can.”
Now I was confused.
“The priest told me that I was able to see such things. ‘Foundations’ he called them. That was odd-”
“Look, are you sure that this priest knew what he was talking about?” I interrupted.
“Let me finish. Whenever I looked at a light, or a wall, or for that purpose much of anything, I would see things that no man or woman was intended to see. Things that might’ve even driven Daedric princes mad! The priest has been teaching me to unsee these things, and avoid seeing them…”
“Let me guess, they were driving you mad.”
“Now, some of them aren’t. I still have to spend considerable mental resources to prevent these, but it’s a small price to keep my sanity, right?”
When “Bedouin” looked at me, I swore for a moment that his eyes were gyrating wildly in his sockets. I can’t confirm it. Then, I thought I could see other things in those sockets – faces, alien text, landscapes… even, at one point, what appeared to be a paper with the word “Options” on it…
“Alright, calm down. Please.” I walked to the other side of the counter, almost as if attempting to distance myself from him.
“Your newfound fanaticism is frightening me. It’s good to see your condition improving, but do you have to ambush me with these theories of creation?”
His eyes seemed human again, and his disposition calmed.
“If you had went through what I went through by now, I believe you would be rushing to tell your friends.” He left the store.
I saw him every few weeks from then on. Sometimes, he moved like the grace of some sort of male supermodel. Other times, his tics and spasms seemingly had come back in full force. The main difference then was his lifted spirit – he was at the very least, able to cope with his lot in life, and for that I envied him.
At that point, you might’ve thought of him as one of my “eccentric” accquaintances – he was always a good customer, but more importantly, he was a friend. A few months later, though, he burst into the store, shouting about visions of other, alien worlds. I could barely catch a word of what he was saying.
“Money,” he muttered. Then he collapsed onto the floor. I felt his pulse – he hadn’t dropped dead. Yet. Maybe the priest he’d spoken of had revealed some cosmic secret too early…
Then I lurched back in pure terror, as his face seemed to melt and reform itself into that of someone else’s. Couldn’t recognize it. The skin was much paler than that of the Redguard on the floor. I suppose it was someone else, but how would you explain a magical transformation? I’m just a simple shopkeeper, and I know very little of magic or magic theory.
The face spoke.
“I finally earned enough money for a new computer,” it said.
“What are you talking about?” I responded.
Then, the body supporting the face stood up.
“It means that your friend no longer needs to suffer delusions about reality just to keep his head on straight. I’m not sure what that means myself.”
The face looked at the body, then at me.
“What you don’t know is that the Nine and other mythical figures were created by someone I don’t know for my own amusement.”
“…” I didn’t say.
“Well, now you might know. But I don’t think anyone here is going to accept that, even if I presented them with hard proof.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time shaping the mind of this man, and frankly, he’s a lot better off than he was beforehand.”
The stranger’s face detached itself from my friend’s body.
“I’d say that I’ve done enough with this world for my own entertainment. I might return to some other soul in the future and go about my tasks, but that’s another instance of Tamriel.”
“For my own entertainment, before I try out the new equipment, I’m going to make one drastic change to your personality. It won’t last very long, but it will last long enough to give you… problems.” The face disappeared.
I don’t remember what happened next. The guards who arrested me told me that I went on a rampage, breaking things and almost killing a poor beggar for seemingly nonexistent reasons. And now, I get to rot in jail, sitting around with incoherent babble about other worlds and other planes of existence, and the possibility that this world was creataed by something foreign for cheap thrills. It’s not like anyone’s going to believe a word I say. But my friend “Bedouin” has settled down and is living contentedly. He found another fellow to run my shop, and they’re both doing rather nicely. Why don’t you ask them about their lives?