Tes3Mod:Tamriel Rebuilt/An Alchemist's Guide to Skooma
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Many alchemists will frown upon my profession. I am a skooma producer for the Mane's Court in Elsweyr. However, this unique position allows me to study two of the most interesting substances in Tamriel: moon sugar and its derivative, skooma.
Moon Sugar is a narcotic found in sugar canes native to the Tenmar Forest of southern Elsweyr. Despite being illegal in the Empire, it is the province's chief export. It is used in everyday life throughout Elsweyr, even as a seasoning for food. It is not exceptionally potent; however, it can be used to produce the significantly stronger narcotic skooma. Skooma is a crystalline solid produced from moon sugar. It is highly addictive and its users pass through bouts of euphoria followed by protracted lethargy. It is smoked in a special pipe; the crystals are placed in a small dish and heated. The gas produced is bubbled through water in the pipe to cool it as it is inhaled. An alchemist will recognize this as similar to the way an alembic functions, and indeed a skooma pipe can be used as such.
In Elsweyr skooma is made from moon sugar and a poisonous herb called nightshade. All parts of this plant are poisonous but some contain an essence which enhances the potency of moon sugar. If improperly prepared the skooma user will experience loss of voice, minor fits, and a wide-eyed death; it is for this reason that the Mane employs an alchemist to produce skooma. The root of the nightshade plant contains most of the essence but the berries and flowers produce a much more fragrant skooma. The lowest quality skooma is produced from the leaves. Leaf-skooma is cheap, but is very bitter to smoke and greatly shortens the lifespan of the consumer. The leaves are also used by thieves; a piece worn on the breast is said to amplify sneaking abilities.
The essence is easy for an alchemist to extract, but only freshly picked nightshade should be used. The nightshade must first be ground into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle then simmered in a retort with water. Note that a foul odor is given off when crushing the plant. The more it smells, the higher the amount of the essence present. The gas produced must be diverted to an alembic and condensed to a liquid. This liquid is then placed in a warm, dry location and left to stand until nothing but a white residue remains. The alchemist must be careful not to inhale the gas or residue or they will die. This powder must be kept in a sealed container until needed and is used sparingly due to its potency.
The final stage in the preparation of skooma requires that the alchemist dissolve some moon sugar in water and bring it to the boil. For one pint of water you should add one cup of moon sugar. Once it is boiling, add one thimble full of nightshade essence. A wise alchemist will collect any fumes given off in order not to waste any. Once all the water has boiled off and the cauldron has cooled the skooma is ready to be bottled.
Nightshade is only found in two places: Elsweyr and Solstheim, where it is known as belladonna. The frosts of Solstheim not only destroy the beneficial properties of the plant but also make setting up a production lab very difficult. In ages past all Khajiit lived in Elsweyr; today they are spread all across Tamriel, often far from moon sugar and nightshade. Moon sugar can be smuggled, but nightshade is more problematic, as the plant itself rots quickly destroying the essence. On the other hand it is difficult to import the powder, due to its highly toxic nature. Smugglers demand outlandish fees for smuggling Skooma, due to its illegality. For a solution to these difficulties the Mane has turned to me for advice.
During my time in Elsweyr I have attempted to make Skooma from many alternative plants, but these efforts have rarely been successful. I have found that the attempts which are successful tend to involve harmful plants, or at least those that sting the tongue when tasted. However, only a few of these acerbic plants seem to have the correct essence. A poppy from Hammerfell produces a slight tingling when tasted and can be used to make a form of skooma; however, an ash yam from Morrowind, if tasted raw is acrid, but cannot be used to produce skooma. It seems evident to me that there are at least two forms of corrosiveness.
I discovered recently how to test for these forms quite by accident. One day I was producing skooma from some red poppies, and I accidentally knocked over the retort and spilled boiled poppies over my work surface. I went to get a rag to mop up the mess when I noticed the water, turned red by the poppies, was changing color. Where I had been dicing a Morrowind ash yam I saw the red change to pink, while the spot on which I had been bottling skooma changed to orange. This was a revelation. Further tests showed that nightshade turned the dye yellow. I also found that I could make the test dye from a number of different plants; in fact any red, blue, or purple vegetation seemed to contain it. Purple plants produced the best results. When plants that could not be used to make skooma plants were added the purple dye turned red and when plants from which skooma could be manufactured were added it turned yellow or green. The best plants for the production of skooma were those that made this dye green.
The pertinent question at this point is in what way are these plants different? Is it something they are absorbing from the soil? With this thought, I traveled to the Tenmar Forest in order to conduct research on its soil. I found that the soil in which moon sugar plants grew did not change the color of any of my dyes, but areas where nightshade grew produced the same color as the plant itself produced upon exposure to my dyes. My natural curiosity was piqued by this. With the blessing of the Mane, I sent scouts to collect samples of soil from areas across Tamriel. I found that the soil from poppy fields of Hammerfell produced the expected result, while the Ashlands of Vvardenfell turned my dyes red. The salt marshes along the coasts of the Black Marsh also gave a positive result. Wherever a favorable soil was found, I ordered plants retrieved from that area. I also asked the scouts to give descriptions of the areas. It seems that the areas with the correct soil are either Salt Marshes, such as the Bitter Coast of Vvardenfell or areas near to white, brittle rock. When looking for ingredients simply find areas like this. Many of these plants can be used to produce forms of Skooma; of course these forms are not entirely identical to nightshade skooma. Poppy skooma gives the user a slight floating sensation and more aggravated mood swings, with more pronounced ecstasy and more appalling depression. When served with goat's milk, users actually levitate, which is amusing to many skooma consumers. Bitter Coast marshmerrow skooma has an exceptionally sweet taste and heightens perception, while Black Marsh dragon's-tongue Skooma rivals even nightshade in its potency, with the added bonus of seemingly endless endurance.
Some plants, despite having the right properties, were unsuitable for Skooma for other reasons. For example, one of my test subjects sampled skooma made from a fungus called Bungler's Bane. When he inhaled the brown smoke, he lost his ability and indeed compulsion to move. What is more, restorative magic could not help him. We had to wait for it to wear off. Remember to try it on a less important person before presenting it to customers or superiors. I found one variety to be so addictive that within one minute away from the pipe, the test subject needed more. Skooma is a deadly mistress, however I have always believed that it is not the effects which are to blame, and it is addiction which is the true enemy.
I hoped you have enjoyed this brief foray into the world of skooma. It is a misunderstood substance. Good luck in your experiments and remember: if you are caught by the Imperials, you never heard of me.