Frost in Morrowind

Edward Frost's time in Morrowind has come to an end; but his struggles are recorded here for any to read. A year in the making, and spanning one hundred and fifty chapters… Violence, suspicion, loss, betrayal, revenge, power with a price, a fight for survival, ages-old mysteries... all thrust in the way of Edward Frost, a man simply trying to rebuild his life.

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Chapter 11: Cloak and dagger

As it turned out, my visit to Caius Cosades' hut was quite short. With his package in hand (a roll of parchment I had tried and failed to read - it was in some sort of code), I rapped sharply on his door. A moment later a bleary-eyed, grey-haired Imperial man poked his head out and squinted at my face, before noticing the package I held. His eyes flicked across its (also coded) label, and he opened the door the whole way.

"Oh - you're Edward Frost. Come in, I'm Caius."

The man was bare-chested, and his dim, single-room hut was quite muggy. A pall of odd-smelling smoke swirled about the room, collecting on the ceiling and making my head swim. I couldn't see where it had come from. Caius sat on the edge of his bed, reading the coded parchment I suddenly realised I wasn't holding anymore. After a moment he dropped it on the bed and looked up at me.

"Apparently the Emperor wants me to give you a job in the Blades. Do you know what the Blades are?" I shook my head. "In the simplest terms, we are spies: in the service of the Emperor. There are Blades operatives everywhere: wherever you find the Imperial Legion, and many places besides, you won't find the Blades; but they will be there." The half-naked man seated before me didn't look like a spy to me, though of course that was the whole point, I quickly reasoned. He went on: "Many people know that the Blades exist, but no-one claiming to be - or accused of being - an operative has ever been successfully linked to the Imperial government. I have to say firstly that you will not change this. Nothing we say in here will be repeated elsewhere, alright?" His tone was friendly but firm, though it was obvious to me that like Sellus Gravius at the Census and Excise office, Caius seemed eager to make a vaguely intimidating impression on me. Truly though, all he needed to do to ensure my service was to offer me money - and to really impress me all he needed to do was to prove that his talk of spies was more than just talk. In any case I assured him that I could keep a secret.

"But first I should ask you if you are willing to take orders from me. Although since the Emperor has ordered me to employ you, and you to serve me, and it is treason to refuse the Emperor, we both have a problem if you are not willing. So... do you think you could take orders from me?"

As I've mentioned before, I wanted a paid job - and there was no more stable employer than the Empire. I said yes. Caius stood and shook my hand, holding it for a moment in a tight grip.

"Good. Now, I am the Spymaster in these parts: the ranking Blades member - as far as I know," he grinned, "so you will report all Blades business to me." He released my hand, and I saw him glance at my bony fingers and weak wrist. That I had been through rough times recently was as obvious as the way my armour loosely flopped and flapped about as I moved, or the shape of bones visible through my skin. It would be some time before I had my health and my strength back: and Caius could tell. "Look, Frost, I can't send you on missions the way you are now. You obviously need some time to recover from your prison stay, and I'd like you to have some more training and field experience too. I can give you the names of some Blades members that can give you some training. You'll need to pay them for it, though, so here's some money to get you started."

Caius handed me a pouch of around two hundred septims, and recited a list of names and addresses. Most of the trainers were in Balmora; some even in the same street as the Spymaster. Caius also advised me to make as many friends and connections as I could: "It's good that you've joined the local Imperial Cult and the Mages Guild here, but a few more would be better." I started: I hadn't told him about joining anyone. I guessed that was some evidence that he was in fact a spy.

He quickly described some of the other powers on Vvardenfell for me: the guilds, the factions, the great houses, the religions, the criminal organisations. He also briefly detailed the interactions of the various powers, though it was mostly limited to who likes and dislikes who. For this I was grateful: my head was filled to bursting with information as it was. I left Caius to himself soon afterwards, with an assurance that I would return when I was stronger and better established on the island.

I was glad to be out of the muggy house and breathing in the cool evening air - especially two hundred septims richer. Right then I felt over my head in Caius Cosades' very presence. I had asked him if he knew why I had been released from prison in Cyrodiil and sent to Morrowind, but all he would say was that his orders did not include that information. I wasn't sure whether to believe him or not - he was (or claimed to be) a spy after all.

It was dusk when I returned to the Mages Guild, and after delivering the mushroom samples to Ajira and joining the guild for dinner, I went to bed.

I seemed to be fated to a life of broken sleep, for it felt as if I had barely drifted off when I was woken by a shriek from upstairs, followed by a sharp crack; the sort of sound made when someone teleported away somewhere. Heart pounding I leapt out of bed and scooped up my helmet, glad that I had ignored the other guild members' jibes about sleeping in my armour. I made my way quietly but quickly across the darkened main room, slowly and silently drawing my saber. I had reached the base of the ramp leading up to the guild entrance when time seemed to slow: the black-clothed assassin from the smuggler's cave stepped into view at the top of the ramp, blood dripping from one of his short blades. He began to advance down the ramp, twirling the wakizashi blades in a menacing flurry in front of him as he came. The intimidating motion spattered blood on the walls, ceiling and floor, and left someone of my limited skill with no easy way to attack him.

Still, the sloped corridor was narrow, and I hope to use this to my advantage. As the assassin drew near, I threw my back to one of the wooden supports along the right wall and swung out at his legs. He was forced to stop whirling his blades to push my weapon aside. I ducked and rolled across to the other wall to avoid his slicing counterattack. I had hoped his blade would catch in the wooden support, but he seemed ready for such a simple ruse, stopping his swing just short of the wall. Before I could react he twisted the sword around in his hand and whipped it across my chest in a painful backhanded blow, sending me staggering back to the base of the ramp. Soon we were embroiled in a fight just like our last: the assassin ducking or sidestepping my every swing while simultaneously reaching out and causing me several grievous wounds in a very short time.

I decided to try the spell I had learned from the Cult healer at the fort in Pelagiad the previous day. It was called 'Righteousness', and I had learned it in response to the fights in which I hadn't had time to cast offensive spells because I was too busy healing myself. It was a health-transference spell, and the name "Righteousness" seems like it was chosen to try to justify in some way the awful nature of the spell. Health-transference spells reopen any number of wounds the target has suffered during their life as their very health and wellbeing is drained and transferred to the caster. The severity of these wounds can exceed that of the original wound, so a ressurected childhood graze could flay skin and flesh from the victim.

I found that I didn't even have to touch him for the spell to work: as soon as I brought my hand close enough to him, bright arcs of light jumped from his body to my outstretched fingertips like lightning, and I immediately felt my wounds begin to close. In contrast, the black-garbed assassin had paused, his blades raised defensively as he looked down at his body. I lunged forward, concentrating the spell into my hand again and this time physically shoving him backwards. He swung both blades downwards as I did so, opening parallel cuts down my chest - but these closed up again directly as the spell took effect. The assassin had fallen to his knees, and was reaching out for me. Blood was seeping through the fine black mesh of his armour - seemingly all over his body - and running in trails down the ramp.

I backed away and he fell forward, coming to rest on his stomach at the foot of the ramp: also at my feet. Blood poured through his chain mask as he tried to push himself off the floor, arms shaking. I placed my hand on the man's back and discharged the spell one last time. He was dead in an instant, collapsing into the large pool of blood spreading across the floor. With that last casting I was fairly sure I had been fully healed, but I began to check myself over with shaking hands to be sure: the amount of adrenaline in my body made it hard to tell.

At that moment I heard one of the upstairs doors to the guild open, and then Ranis, wearing an angry scowl and accompanied by a couple of large town guards, was walking down the ramp to the bloody scene of the fight. She was bleeding - one hand held over a nasty cut to her midriff. Apparently she had been upstairs, unable to sleep, and had seen the assassin coming in the front door. She had teleported outside to the nearby temple, but not in time to escape entirely unhurt. By this time everyone else had woken up and gathered around, and it was only a matter of seconds before Ranis was restored to health by Sharn gra-Muzgob, the orc healer.

As Sharn went to work, Ranis gave me a long look over the orc's shoulder.

"Well, Associate." She said. "I know who's going to be cleaning up all this blood."


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