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.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Chapter 9: Golden Thread

I woke with a start: Ranis Athrys, the Balmora Mages Guild steward, was prodding me in the ribs with a long silver forefinger. "Quick; get up. Follow me." She was whispering, throwing glances at the other guild members, all asleep in their bunks. I struggled out of bed and staggered up the stairs behind her to the front door, where I had met her the night before. She pointed at a worn great-chest in the corridor.

"That's the supply chest. All members can take what they wish. The new shipment arrived this morning, and it contains some... controversial items." Ranis handed me a pair of small packages; waterproof parchment tied with twine. "Take these. The apprentices Ajira and Galbedir are always fighting over something, and it's only their somewhat limited magicka reserves that allows the rest of us some small measure of peace. On the days they decide to compete through spells, they at least burn themselves out quickly. With those," she motioned for me to open the packages, "they would be free to annoy all day and night, not to mention probably reducing the place to a pile of ashes in the process."

The packages each contained a small bundle of golden, shimmering threads. They each appeared to be wound into a short loop, and as closely as I searched, I could not find where each thread began or ended. I instead discovered that each was hugely elastic, and sprang perfectly back into their original shape. I had never seen their like before.

"No-one in the Empire knew these existed until some time after Morrowind was settled by the Imperials." Ranis said. "The Telvanni - the native Dunmer great house dedicated to the magic arts - apparently kept them a perfect secret until recently. I'm sure you know - or have been taught - that the only quick way to restore one's magicka is by drinking expensive potions. Items can be enchanted (at great expense of course) to constantly regenerate a person's body, removing all effects of wounds and fatigue; but nothing is to be done about magicka." I nodded, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes and wondering where her small lecture was going. Just then she said something that certainly woke me up:

"This is not actually true."

When I did nothing but stare at her, Ranis continued: "Those are 'magicka threads'. They forge a direct link - a 'thread', so to speak - between a mage and what is thought to be the plane of magicka. The mage in question receives a constant replenishing flow of magicka, but must make certain sacrifices for this to happen. The transfer to the mage's body is disrupted easily by heavy materials and by the use of certain types of weapons." I must have looked even more bewildered than I had been up until that point, because she elaborated: "This is conveniently simplified into a mage choosing to give up the use of heavy armour, for example, and receiving a small constant trickle of magicka in return; or choosing to give up all armour altogether, plus the use of blunt and even ranged weapons, and receiving a veritable torrent of magicka: all the time. For each martial discipline given up, one thread is required. This clear delineation between the different armour and weapon disciplines and the corresponding gain in magicka regeneration and threads required leads me to believe that it is actually a mage's mental focus and state of mind that maintains a link to the plane of magicka at the expense of being able to wear plate mail, rather than some physical quality of one heavy material or another that interferes..."

My attention strayed from Ranis' suddenly intricate spontaneous lecture. I thought about the possibilities of having a virtually unlimited font of magicka to draw from every day. Every battle or expedition strategy I had ever heard pass a wizard's lips in some way involved the conservation of magicka reserves, and how many magicka restoration potions could be carried. If these threads worked as the guild steward said, I thought to myself, they could lead to a very different life.

Ranis was bringing her explanation to a close: "... so if you put on a piece of heavy armour, you would only have a short time before your concentration was broken - and so was that particular magicka thread." She stopped, seemingly waiting for me to say something.

Finally finding my voice, I asked: "Why are you giving these to me? They sound extremely powerful - I would have thought that you, or..."

She interrupted me: "Not everyone is suited to their use: for many, they simply do not work. Being a Breton, your natural affinity with magic should afford you some advantage in that regard. Others feel too uneasy about the unknown forces at work to take them up. Some people think that threads alter a person's entire body and mind; that a 'threaded' person looks the same, but is different." I gently stretched one of the threads, and held it beneath my nose. It didn't smell of anything. Ranis went on: "None of this is known for sure: much still needs to be learnt about them. To that end, I am only offering those to you if you let me study their effects on you."

I nodded. They sounded like the dream of any magic-user to me. "Yes. I'll do it. What do I do?"

Ranis smiled, and directed me to stand amongst some barrels and sacks in a small space next to the steps leading down to the underground rooms. "Good. Now, you'll need to take your clothes off." She sat down on the stairs across from the storage area, and watched me expectantly.

I could see why she had made me stand in the storage space: it took on the appearance of a changing area, only open on one side. I was understandably a little taken aback: "Hold on. I..."

"They won't take hold otherwise." The steward was shaking her head. "And I need to study the process of a thread taking hold. These are powerful, like you said - and expensive. I do not need to give them to you, Associate."

'Associate' was the lowest rank in the Mages Guild. I guessed that meant that I was really part of the guild. The steward of the guild was giving me an amazing gift; amazing power - something that could keep me alive in situations that would be the death of others. What was a little lost vanity? Once my last piece of clothing was on the floor, I looked to Ranis for instructions.

Her forehead crinkled slightly at the sight of my pale, thin body. "It looks like you've had a hard time. I was right in giving you this power. Weave one of the threads between the fingers of one of your hands, and concentrate on the martial discipline you wish to give up. Think about how it feels to wear that armour, or wield that weapon." Eyes closed, I did as she said, imagining myself bore down by huge plates of heavy armour, barely able to move. A tingling in my hand made me open my eyes to see what had happened. The thread had gone, but my hand was golden and shimmering. The golden light spread quickly up my arm and across my chest, the tingling feeling shifting alarmingly into a burning, and then into the most intense sensation of pins and needles I have ever felt. It really felt as if I was being stabbed all over: the shimmering light had covered almost my whole body. It encased my head and feet at the same time, and I was both blinded by golden light and left without any sensation but the unbearable pins and needles enveloping my body.

When it subsided I was lying face down on the tiles at Ranis' feet. I didn't feel very different, except for a sort of nagging sensation at the back of my mind. My hands at least looked the same as ever, too.

"How do you feel?" Ranis hadn't moved from her seat on the stairs. Getting to my feet I told her I felt alright now that it was done, and took up the second thread to weave it between the fingers of my other hand. I wanted to have the business done and behind me before I had the opportunity to think too much about how the first thread had felt. I was also cold and wanted to put my clothes back on. This time I thought of all the occasions I had tried to use a shortbow growing up, and how I had never really been able to work out how to aim them effectively. Spells from the college of Destruction would take the place of ranged weapons for me, I decided.

This time the shimmering light didn't spread up my arm, but rather snaked around it in a web of golden rivulets before encircling my neck, then abruptly shooting up my nose. For a moment I thought I would sneeze; then I passed out.

I woke to find I had fallen backwards into the clutter of objects in the storage space, apparently making a lot of noise as I did so, as it seemed every member of the Balmora Mages Guild was suddenly there, watching me with no little amusement. And that was my introduction to the regulars of the Balmora guild: waking up naked amongst a mess (of my own making) of foodstuffs and magical reagents.

"Well," I said, "it's good to know the only price for power here is my dignity".

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