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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chapter 25: Illusive

I woke to the creaking and groaning of the beached ship. It was morning, and as the temperature increased, the wood of the ship shifted in place, making all sorts of subtly unsettling noises; worst were the occasional, very loud, cracks. I was certainly not made for a life at sea: even a ship stranded on solid land made me uncomfortable.

Still, before leaving, I poked around the refuse inside the wreck. The Bitter Coast was still blanketed in fog, and the diffuse light barely illuminated the ship's interior, seeming to seep reluctantly through the gaps between the warped boards of the hull. The lower part of the ship was submerged in the salty water, and I could hear a faint susurrus from the inky pool as the tide went out; again seeping through the warped and broken hull.

I had recently learnt a spell, called 'Night-Eye', that allowed me to see in the dark; much to my delight. For most people, flaming torches are a necessary evil: they provide illumination of course, but at the same time they can be difficult to light - and keep lit - they can be dangerous in confined spaces, they leave you with only one free hand, they reveal your position to others... and the list goes on. People with mystic ability can overcome basically all of these obstacles by magically seeing in the dark. Some travelling mages still choose to carry a supply of torches in order to conserve their magicka. I personally had no need to worry about that: since magicka was constantly trickling into my body, a Night-Eye spell here and there was no trouble at all.

One particular failing of torches came to mind as I peered into the impenetrable blackness of the pool: they are obviously useless for seeing underwater. The nightvision spell came easily, and the world before my eyes took on a greenish, washed out hue. Sliding into the cool water, I took a deep breath - and promptly lost most of it in fright. At the very bottom of the wrecked ship was a skeleton, and at first glance it appeared to be struggling slowly at the broken wall of the hold. Shortly though I realised (or came to hope) that it was not the kind of skeleton that would attempt to kill me: rather it was someone's remains, caught up in the current passing through the ship.

A quick search of the few crates and barrels floating about in the ship's hold turned up some moon sugar (in water-proof packaging), and three diamonds. The precious stones were actually not as valuable as the 'ensouled' soul gems in my pack, but they were still nothing to sniff at. The moon sugar confirmed my suspicions: it was definitely the wreck of a smuggler or pirate ship: no-one had come to claim the body - or the valuables I found. It was my guess that no-one knew the wreck was there. The Bitter Coast was truly a remote place.

I made good time that morning, arriving in the small village of Hla Oad within two hours of leaving the shipwreck. Sugar-Lips Habasi had asked me to recover some dwemer items that had been stolen from the Thieves Guild by a khajiiti man called Raz'hid. He was apparently staying at 'Fatleg's Drop-off' in Hla Oad. I had been wary of having anything to do with dwemer artifacts: large, distinctive and heavy as they were, they were not the sort of contraband I was eager to carry around on my person. Since I was passing through Hla Oad anyway though, I decided to see if I could track them down. The remoteness of the Bitter Coast should help keep me from the prying eyes of the guardsmen, at any rate.

As I asked one of the villagers for directions to Fatleg's, I remembered that the spirit of Lleves Andan had told me that a man named Thynim Velos from Hla Oad owned the only known 'Amulet of Scrye' in the land; a magical item that allowed the wearer to speak with the dead. I'm not sure what made me do it, but I also asked the villager if she knew of anyone by the name of Velos. She said that there was a Velos ancestral tomb out of town to the northeast, but that was it. I wondered if it would be worthwhile investigating the tomb - something I would have never done even a few days previous. Perhaps carrying the captured souls of a ghost and a few undead monstrosities in my pack made me less wary of them.

In Fatleg's Drop-Off, a moderate-sized shack filled with a clutter of crates, barrels and sacks, my skill in Illusion magic was sorely tested. A khajiit who I took to be Raz'hid was seated at a small table, across from a redguard man wearing a robe. As I entered, Raz'hid stood up from the game of dice they had been playing to greet me - or, probably more likely - to size me up. The redguard barely spared me a glance, pulling a dagger from his sleeve and idly sharpening it while he waited for the game to resume. Raz'hid spoke bluntly:

"What you want?" He did not seem overly interested or concerned - his manner was in fact very much like that of a bored shopkeeper. I held out my hand and waited for him to take it. Reluctantly he reached out and clasped my hand briefly. As he did so, a green spectral light, visible only to me, leapt from my fingertips to his clawed hand. I was trying out my new 'Charm' spell, hoping to fuddle his mind into taking an artificial liking to me.

"You're Raz'hid, aren't you? I've heard that you may have some very old items ... ancient - as old as the dwemer, even." At the mention of the dwemer, the khajiit's tail flicked back and forth a couple of times tellingly.

"Raz'hid does not know what you are talking about." He smirked. "Dwemer things are very illegal - Raz'hid would never deal in such things."

I was very disappointed. I had expected my Charm spell to - well, work like a charm. Even a bribe of a hundred drakes failed to loosen his tongue, and before too long he had returned to playing dice with the redguard. I suspected that Raz'hid happened to have a very shrewd mind, and the only effect my spell had had on him was for him to loosen up enough to let his body language tell me that he was lying. Either that or I simply needed much more practice at the College of Illusion.

As it happened, I got some practice immediately. I pretended to leave, throwing the door wide and leaving it open behind me as if in a huff. I stepped out of sight and cast my invisibility spell, darting back into the building just before the robed redguard pulled the door closed with an exasperated sigh. I was completely invisible to others (at least until I touched something), but to me my body was indistinct and diffuse, as if seen through murky water. I spotted a heavy, locked chest and put a stack of crates between myself and the dice-playing pair so that they would hopefully not notice me when the invisibility spell was broken. Inserting the tip of my forefinger into the lock on the chest, I slowly and gently let alteration magic flow into it, loosening the mechanism inside until it popped open with a faint click.

Inside was exactly what I was looking for: the dwarven goblet, bowl and tube Raz'hid had stolen from the guild. Quickly I grabbed the metal items and pushed them into my pack, very conscious that my invisibility spell had definitely worn off by that time. It was just as I dropped the last object into my pack that Raz'hid stepped around the stack of crates on his damnably quiet khajiit feet and caught me red-handed. With a hiss that also brought his redguard associate running, the cat leapt to the attack, dealing me a painful swipe across the cheek with his claws.

I placed the palm of my hand on his stomach, pushing him away and at the same time discharging my 'Calming Touch' spell into his body. Another Illusion spell, it had the basic effect of making the subject temporarily forget that he or she wanted very much to kill someone. I had no time to see if that spell had worked on Raz'hid, as the redguard had thrown back his chair and was obviously preparing a devastating spell. I dashed diagonally across the room, trying to close the distance between myself and the robed reguard while keeping behind cover as best I could. Halfway there, part of a wooden support exploded at head-level, peppering my face with splinters.

Before he could get another spell off, I leapt over the small table and tackled the dark man into the wall, releasing the Calming Touch spell into him as I did so. I jumped back, hand on my katana in case the spell had failed to work. The redguard got up in a rather more unhurried fashion, straightening his chair as he did so. He sat back down again at the table, blinking rapidly, but apart from that, behaving as if nothing had happened. Raz'hid shuffled forward, growling:

"You... you stole from me, bad breton." He was in something of a daze, but was making no further move to attack me. "Raz'hid be telling the guards ... just as soon as - as Raz'hid..."

I was out of there with the dwemer artifacts before he could finish. Blood streaming down my face from multiple small wounds, I cast my invisibility spell so no-one would see me sprinting from the village. Just before passing behind some gnarled trees and losing sight of Fatleg's Drop-Off, I turned to see Raz'hid miming my description to a guardsman: black hair like this, armour, this tall, weapons... I could see it all through his gestures, without having to hear one word.

I doubted that the khajiit would be stupid enough to tell the guard that I had stolen dwemer artifacts from him: something that by rights he should not have had in his possession to begin with. Nevertheless, he was obviously reporting me for some crime, and the last time I had been reported to a guard, I had found myself spending a number of years in a small, cold cell.

Pushing down the feelings of panic that threatened to overwhelm me, I turned and disappeared into the marshes.


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