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, November 23, 2005

Chapter 52: Life and Death

Following the Ghostfence around to the north was heavy going. The terrain was very rough, the direction I needed to travel necessitating a path that cut across a never-ending series of steep ridges and deep valleys. I made good use of my link to the plane of magicka, as I had to cast my Tinur's Hoptoad and Levitation spells almost constantly; in order to leap up what cliffs I could, and float slowly over what I couldn't. My 'Infallible' belt was invaluable for the times when I misjudged the distance of a jump, and was faced with a dizzying fall down to the bottom of a deep gully. The belt's enchantment meant that I had nothing to fear from such falls, but my stomach still lurched uncomfortably every time.

My plan was to hike along the Ghostfence, from Ghostgate to Maar Gan, a small village containing a Tribunal Temple shrine. This particular shrine was not part of the pilgrimage of the Seven Graces; that was not what I was going there for. Folms Mirel had told me that he had 'sensed' that the Falasmaryon propylon index was in the shrine: that it had been left there as an offering. Folms had basically asked me to steal from the Tribunal Temple, but since a propylon index was just a simple rock - unless you knew what to do with it - I didn't feel bad about doing as he asked.

I had to get to Maar Gan first, in any case. Looking back, I'm not sure why I didn't simply give up partway there, teleport to Ald'ruhn, and opt to take a silt strider instead. Perhaps the idea of reclining in the hollowed-out guts of a giant insect as it made its unsteady way through such rough territory put me off. So I made my way on foot, and it took much the rest of the day to reach Maar Gan.

Along the way I encountered what I at first took to be a bonewalker - a zombie - albeit one in much better condition than most of the wrecks of jutting bone and rotting flesh I had seen up to that point. It was possible to tell conclusively that it had once been a man, for example - and I could even see the tattered remnants of a pair of pants, fused to the flesh of his legs. I was certain he was undead: his skin had torn off in great patches, and both it and the swollen flesh underneath was a horrid grey colour. Everything about him was, in fact: he was caked with ash from head to foot; even his eyes had a grey film over them.

He... it - attacked me, flailing at me ineffectually with its arms; and I was forced to kill it. It was then that I found that the poor man had actually been alive - after a fashion: his blood was warm. It was then that I thought of the stomach-churning tales I had heard about the men that caught some disease travelling out near Red Mountain, and been driven insane by the sickness. 'Corprus' disease... incurable, apparently. These men would wander the inland wastes of the island, oblivious to everything around them; even the extensive swelling and disfigurement of their own flesh.

Looking at the deformed body laying before me, I knew that that was what had happened to the poor man. I wondered how long he had been wandering alone through the wastes - and if anything had still been going on in his mind through that time. I was glad that I had rinsed my mouth of the foul ash as soon as I had come back through the Ghostgate from the Blight-ridden Red Mountain region. I could scarcely imagine a worse fate than the one of the 'Corprus man' I had killed.

It was near five o'clock by my pocketwatch when I came over a rise and sighted the village through the flying dust of a moderate ash-storm. While not as peculiar as the giant, hollowed-out fungus dwellings of the Telvanni settlements, the architectural style of the buildings in Maar Gan was still quite alien. I had read somewhere that the style of native dwelling popular in the north-west Ashland region was inspired by the natural curves of the windswept landscape there, and by the giant native insects - the shells of silt striders, for example. I could see immediately why such a design was popular there; the organic curves let the strong winds of the Ashlands blow over the structures with little resistance, and left no place for flying ash and dust to collect.

A local directed me to the shrine, housed in one of the largest buildings in Maar Gan. The main chamber of the shrine was, oddly enough, dominated by a large boulder with an engraved plaque mounted on it. I guessed that it had some religious significance, but I was in a hurry, so I did not stop to examine it. Standing a little way from the boulder, and prompting me to instinctively start in shock, was an almost perfectly motionless Dremora. I would have mistaken it for an empty suit of Daedric armour, were it not for the light behind the eye-holes in the helmet, and the fact that it had turned its head to look at me when I entered.

A Dunmer priest stepped up to address me:

"Can I help you, sera?"

"Sera." I said in greetings, making a small bow. As my head was dipped, I took the opportunity to examine the cluster of offerings on the floor in front of the boulder. Sure enough, on a silver plate next to a pile of drakes was the propylon index. I just needed a way to get it... "Uh... yes," I said, straightening up, "I'm on the pilgrimage of the Seven Graces; I thought I'd stop here before pressing on to the shrine in Gnisis."

This was all true. Gnisis was some way west of Maar Gan, and was home to the Shrine of Justice; my next stop on the pilgrimage. The priest smiled.

"Certainly. If you'll walk this way," he indicated a side doorway leading off the main chamber, "you'll find prayer rooms downstairs."

I thanked him and headed down the stairs. Once out of sight, I cast my invisibility spell and crept back up to the doorway to survey the main room again. I had considered attempting a sleight of hand to steal the index; pocketing it as I left an offering of coins on the silver plate - but the Dremora (who I assumed had been summoned into service much like Krazzt, in the Puzzle Canal, had) was observing all that went on in the room too closely.

Instead, backing down the steps so that my eyes were level with the offerings in front of the boulder, I used my Telekinesis spell to pull the small stone index through the air to me. It happened so quickly, flashing across the room to my raised hand, that only someone actively looking for a tiny object zipping about of its own accord could have seen it.

To avoid raising suspicion by walking right out the front door again, when I obviously had not stopped to pray (as I had said I would), I found one of the prayer rooms and closed the door behind me. I spent a short while in there having an early evening meal before continuing on to Gnisis.

It was a mark of my own naivete, I think, that I assumed I could reach Gnisis before too late in the evening. By my map, most of the terrain between Maar Gan and Gnisis was in the 'West Gash' region, which was supposed to be mostly open grassland. I thought I could make good time and get there at some point before midnight.

Instead I found myself trudging across a seemingly endless expanse of springy, brown-green grass, well into the early hours of the morning. 'Grasslands' was right: there was almost nothing else there in the West Gash: grass, scattered boulders, and the occasional stand of dead, skeletal trees. The landscape itself was relaxing (in a way); especially after the barren Ashlands... but it was just that it seemed like it would never end!

I had obviously grossly misjudged the distance between the two towns - and yet I trudged on, for hours on end. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me, much to my own embarrassment, that I could simply have left a magical Mark somewhere along the way, and used the magic of the Wolfen ring to teleport home for the night - before casting Recall the next morning and continuing on from exactly where I left off. I was too used to having to preserve my Marked location at the Balmora Mages Guild so I could return home in an emergency (or when my business abroad was finished). Also, I was tired from the long day, and my mind was muddled.

So muddled, in fact, that when I spotted three man or mer-like shapes in the gloom near a copse of dead trees, I assumed that they were men or mer - rather than vampires. I was about to call out to them when they noticed my presence, and all turned at once to stare at me. It was then that I saw the other-worldly glow in their eyes and realised what they were. Suspecting that violence was about to ensue, I cast my Night-eye spell; and before my eyes the world was suddenly cast in a greenish, washed out light.

It was just in time, too: the vampire closest to me had a shortbow, and let off an arrow just as the Night-eye spell came into effect. Fortunately he was far enough away that I could simply step to the side and avoid his attack. I responded with my new 'Poisonbloom' spell; a thin green beam of light that leapt out from my forefinger and burst in a splash of acidic poison over the vampire. Some of the acid must have gone in the thing's eyes, as it began screaming and frantically rubbing at them - leaving me to safely close the distance between us.

Those three, like all the vampires I had seen up to that point, were weak, scrawny, and near-naked. I was beginning to wonder if any vampires at all were actually as forbidding and deadly as in the stories about them. The three vampires showed little sign of working together to overcome me; I suspected that once I, their (supposed) prey was in sight, they viewed each other more as rivals than anything else. They all looked to be starving.

I was rid of them easily, slicing at them with my glass katana until they could no longer stand, then cutting their heads off where they lay. I had come a long way in the art of war - and my newfound, apparently supernatural strength certainly helped.

Before moving on, I gathered up some of the highly prized 'vampire dust' they left behind into glass phials. I would sell it to an alchemist later on. It had been an odd sort of day: I had fought that 'Corprus man', who appeared dead but was alive; and a group of vampires - who appeared alive but were dead on the inside.


Anonymous Ravenholme CP42 said...

Good as always, Joseph.
I usually do (Roleplaying here) the sleight of hand trick put money on the plate and as I pull the ahnd back grab the propolyn, it suffices.

Anyways, Excellent story adn keep up the good work

Thursday, November 24, 2005 3:06:00 am  

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