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, December 28, 2005

Chapter 67: Looting

Setting off on a beaten dirt path from the Moonmoth Legion fort, just outside Balmora, I skirted around a rocky hill and climbed the gradual slope to the great Dwemer bridge nearby. The ancient metal construction spanned the breadth of the Foyada Mamaea. I had seen the marvel of a bridge once before, passing underneath it as I hiked north up the Foyada to the Ghostgate. Whatever else the history books said about the Dwemer people, there was no denying that they were exceptional engineers. Rusted and pitted as the entirely metal bridge may have been, it was still sturdy and perfectly straight; not warped at all.

As I crossed the bridge I could tell that not all was as it should be at the Arkngthand ruin. The entrance was just a short way up the path from the other end of the bridge, but the approach was being guarded by a man in an iron breastplate. I could tell that he was old, even from halfway across the bridge; his shock of white hair appeared to gleam in the dim, overcast light. He watched me approach, looking quite uncomfortable, as if unsure how to respond to my presence.

He made a decision in that regard as soon as I came within hailing distance, waving his arms and conjuring a walking skeleton on the bridge in front of him. I was well-armed and -experienced enough to have little fear of the average skeletal guardian, but the old man's offensive magic proved more of a threat. The first bolt of magical fire whistled past my ear, and I moved to keep the skeleton between myself and my attacker. The sword-wielding revenant click-clacked across the metal bridge to meet me, and I sprinted towards it, hoping to close most of the distance between myself and the old man while I still had the skeleton as (admittedly meagre) cover.

Before I could bring my sword to bear on the undead thing, the second bolt hit the skeleton in the back, blasting it into a hundred or more small pieces. I leapt through the cloud of fire and bone-shards as if through a smokescreen, finding myself face-to-face with the white-haired man. Before either of us really knew it, I had cut him down.

Nothing he carried gave any indication as to who he might have been, but the manner in which I found him, and the cobbled-together state of his equipment led me to think that he was keeping watch while some 'friends' looked through the ruin; and that those friends were not there on official Imperial business. There was a metal crank a little way up the path from where the old man had been standing, which, with some exertion, proved to open the strange, rotating hemispherical door to the ruins.

Inside Arkngthand was deafening. Virtually all of the ruin (if it can truly be called that - it was in remarkably good condition) was made of the same ancient Dwemer metal, and the weight of the soil and rocks above the subterranean passages caused all the metal to creak and groan horribly against itself. It felt as if the sound had nowhere to go: that it would bounce off the harsh metal surfaces again and again, echoing forever in those dark chambers. It might not have been as bad if it was a constant, level groaning noise, but it wasn't: it was unpredictable, ever-changing, and simply very, very loud:

"Creak groan GROOOAAAN shudder screech crakcrakcrakcrak BANG!" And so it went. (Difficult to describe in words, but something to that effect). It constantly made me jump in mild shock.

Strangely enough, considering the number of underground Daedric ruins I had visited, I had never actually been inside a Dwemer ruin before. I wondered if they were all like Arkngthand: deafening, dark, and home to a mass of twisting, maze-like metal passages. Initially I had avoided them on the advice of - well, basically anyone who had something to say about Dwemer ruins - but later on, when I became more confident of my abilities and came to own better equipment, I had simply not passed anywhere near a ruin.

I wished I had: it was fascinating. The passages were cast in a dim orange light by a multitude of strange glowing rings, each suspended in a glass tube. Mysterious machines of grinding gears and hissing steam rattled away continuously, as they had done for centuries upon centuries. There was metal everywhere - where could it all have come from? It was employed as if metal was not a precious resource. It was easy to get the impression that the Dwemer people had made everything out of metal: I even saw metal cups and plates during my time in Arkngthand. Of course, any Dwemer items made of materials other than metal would have long rotted away, so...

In any case, I had little idea where to begin looking for the 'puzzle box' Hasphat Antabolis had asked for, and my search was soon complicated when I found that I had been right about other people being inside the ruins: looters. They were everywhere, ranging throughout the upper passages of the ruin, evidently looking to take anything that could be carried in one's arms. This made navigating the twisting corridors particularly hazardous, as the racket put up by the groaning metal meant that I was constantly turning a corner to literally bump right into one of the looters; neither of us could hear the other approach!

I killed many of the hostile looters as I searched; like the white-haired man outside, they gave me little choice. There was no way I could sneak past them; the bare corridors offered nowhere to hide. Invisibility magic was no good either; it would have been constantly disrupted by my search through every ancient barrel and strongbox I found. I spent the whole time twisting my head about to look over my shoulder, paranoid that someone would turn the corner behind me, unheard.

And so it was with raw nerves and a bloodied blade that I came to the first locked door I had seen that day. Judging by the greasy handprints that marred its dusty surface, particularly around a dark slot between the two halves of the circular door, one of the looters had attempted to pick the lock; without success. I felt a surge of hope; I had been close to giving up and returning to Hasphat to see if I could possibly do something else for him instead. I just could not find the puzzle box. I'd thought that a looter must have already found the box and escaped with it - probably well before I even arrived.

However, if they had not passed beyond that door, perhaps I would be lucky. With a jolt of alteration magic to the lock and a violent kick to the stubborn door, I was through.

On the other side, I was immediately set upon by one of the mechanical 'constructs' I had heard tell of: a clockwork spider. The thing scuttled forward with purpose, and, in a surprising flash of speed, attempted to stab me through the thighs with its two pointed front legs. The adamantium plates on my greaves caught both blows, and I was able to quickly smash the complicated mass of gears in the automaton's many 'knees' with my heavy Daedric sword. The clockwork spider was left to shudder helplessly on the spot; though it appeared to still be trying to attack me.

I was left no time to study the intriguing device, as at that moment a massive metal 'man' lumbered into view at the far end of the corridor. It too moved to the attack, without hesitation - wisps of steam trailing behind it. The thing towered above me, and looked vaguely similar to the pieces of Dwemer armour I had in my collection. I was wary of the large spiked ball at the end of one of its arms, and thought I had jumped back far enough to avoid its swing... but I did not foresee that the automaton could extend the ball from its arm - on a metal pole.

I was caught full in the chest and thrown back through the air. I landed on my feet, but the force of the swing meant that I still stumbled backwards, tripping over the broken clockwork spider. I fell to the ground with the now familiar agony of several broken ribs. Dropping my sword for a moment, I touched my hand gently to my chest and sent healing magic through my body, mending the bones almost instantly. As I scrambled to my feet, I frantically looked for weak spots on the approaching metal man - as I mentioned, however, the thing was built like a suit of armour - and there weren't many. At least, not on its front... perhaps behind.

At that point, fortune smiled on me and the metal man, too, tripped over the clockwork spider. I dashed around behind it before it could properly regain its footing, and sure enough, the intricate gears that made up its knees were exposed there to facilitate movement. I jammed the point of my Daedric sword into the gears as hard as I could and held on. As the massive automaton attempted to bend its leg to turn around, there was a horrid -screech-, following by a piercing -crack- as something inside the thing broke. It collapsed to the floor, unable to move - like the clockwork spider.

Unlike the smaller automaton, though, the metal man was still quite dangerous, lashing out with its extensible spiked-mace of an arm if I got too close. I was certainly not going to get a chance to examine it.

I searched through the lower parts of the ruin, but found nothing besides near-unbearable heat (the place appeared to be built over the top of an exposed flow of molten rock), nerve-wracking hostile spirits that I couldn't see, but had to listen for to defeat (just as difficult as it sounds - even more so if you take the constant screeching, groaning racket of the metal ruins into account), several precious gemstones, and a few useless scraps of metal. I was about to finally give up right there and teleport home when I remembered seeing a number of doors in the entrance chamber - whereas I had only passed through one.

Cursing my own carelessness, I raced back up through the twisting passages and stairways to the Arkngthand entrance; and just in time, as it turned out. The first door I tried led to a single room, and in it was the biggest looter I had seen that day: a very fat yet powerful-looking Cyrodiilic man. He wasted no time in attempting to hammer me into the wall with an iron mallet, but his girth became the end of him when I darted between a pair of exposed pipes: he was too large to follow. From there, I pelted him with Poisonbloom and Frostball spells until he stopped moving.

I counted myself as very lucky for arriving when I did: on a shelf in plain sight was the puzzle box. There was no doubt in my mind: it fit Hasphat's description exactly. I snatched it up and teleported back home for a steadying drink. The ever-present blanket of deafening noise in Arkngthand - and the danger this presented when passing through a place full of people (and other things) who would have killed me if they could - had been wearing away at my nerves for the whole duration of my visit. The invisible spirits had been the end of it; I was now in a rotten mood.

That was the other reason for a drink - to calm myself before visiting Hasphat Antabolis. I was not happy with him at all.


Post a Comment

<< Home