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 05, 2005

Chapter 5: The Shadow

I retired early that evening, bedding down near the campfire where I had disturbed that crazed woman earlier in the day. The battles I had fought that day had left me almost completely drained of magicka; I judged I would need the extra sleep. I often wondered why it was that one's magicka was only naturally restored through sleep. As a child I had believed that it was dreams that did it, since spells took such mental focus to cast. I believed that the intense experiences and memories gained through dreams - through being in effect false experiences - acted as a kind of buffer for one's real memories: one's real mind. I thought that this buffer enabled one to concentrate well enough to cast spells without eroding the mind itself. The theory was linked with the concept of how much one needed to concentrate to remember a dream. My theory always fell to pieces when I tried to put it into words; as you can see.

As an adult I didn't know what to believe: no-one had been able to disprove my dream theory, but no-one I had known growing up had ever really taken it seriously, either. All I knew is that on days that I had drained my magicka reserves, I always had vivid dreams. That evening I dreamt of the night it had all gone wrong for me: the night I was caught in a noble's house, stealing. It was a cat that had given me away: by hissing at me. In my dream the grey cat hissed and spat again and again, backing away as I frantically tried to calm it. I realised that again, my dream was merging with the waking world, and I forced my way up from sleep. The campfire had gone out long before, and I cast my gaze about the dark cavern trying to work out what had woken me.

A chorus of loud - and very real - hissing came from deeper in the caves: in the direction of the slave pen. I scrambled to my feet, searching around for my helmet. Soon I was creeping towards the disturbance, slowly drawing my iron saber so as to not make any noise. As I came within sight of the slave pen, the interior still mostly lost in gloom, the hissing stopped. I came to a halt also, hunched over, straining my eyes to see into the pen. All I could make out were the reflective eyes of the khajiiti ex-slaves, glinting in the distant light of a torch somewhere behind me. They looked as if they were all backed against the walls of the cave, their eyes wide with fear, staring into the centre of the pen. All except one: as my eyes adjusted to the darkness a little more I thought I could see one of the khajiit people crouched down low in the centre of the pen, in what seemed a fairly awkward manner. In fact, he - or she - looked to be being held down.

"Hey -" I began, "what's..." I didn't get any further than that, as the crouching khajiit suddenly fell forward and a dark shadow of a figure that had been hidden behind him (or her) leapt forward, closing the distance between us in an instant.

I felt my chainmail cuirass being drawn to the side, and then the feeling of a cool breeze in a place I had never felt before. It took me a second to realise that my chest had been sliced open and I was feeling the passage of air through the wound! Doing my best to ignore the pain that came a second later, I swung out clumsily at waist level, in a wide arc, and felt the saber connect with something. I still couldn't see anything more than a dark shadow in front of me, so I took that opportunity to dart back the way I had came, to a place with a little more light. I felt a glancing blow to the top of my helmet as I vaulted over the top of a set of steep wooden steps, twisting in mid-air as I fell, to land facing the way I had come.

There were a couple of torches in this cavern, and I had turned just in time to see a figure dressed all in black leap from the top of the stairs, a wicked-looking single-edged short sword - an Akavirian wakizashi - raised above his head. I focused the energies of my Frostbite spell into my left hand and managed to catch his wrist with it before his blow could land. He howled with pain, but too late I realised that he was holding another wakizashi in his left hand: he broke my grip by giving me a painful cut in my midriff. Now bleeding heavily I rolled with the force of his blow and tried to scramble away, concentrating my healing spell into my hand and then swiping it across both wounds in one movement.

The dark figure was too fast for me: I couldn't escape him. Heart pounding, I stood my ground and did my best to fend off his attacks. After a few moments of whirling and flashing blades, I was becoming desperate. I had managed to land a couple of blows, but my attacker hardly seemed to feel them. In contrast I had expended most of my magicka in healing myself. I estimated that I had enough left to either heal myself or use my Frostbite spell one more time. I was bleeding from multiple wounds again and was about to cast my healing spell when luck smiled on me and I managed to push both of the black-garbed man's blades aside, putting him off balance for a moment. Again focusing the Frostbite spell into my left hand, I grabbed ahold of his throat and squeezed. The aching cold of the spell sunk through the fine black chainmail he wore and into his neck.

Gasping desperately, he threw his arms up to break my grip and throw me off. I could tell he couldn't breathe: he clutched at his throat, leaving himself open to attack. I stepped forward, swinging from the waist up, dealing him a great slicing blow from his stomach up and across his chest to his shoulder. During the struggle we had found ourselves by the deep pool of water I had washed myself in earlier. The great blow I dealt him knocked him from his feet and into the water, where he disappeared from sight.

I could barely stand I was bleeding so badly. I lurched towards the exit, hoping to get away and run for the Seyda Neen guards. As I left the cavern I glanced over my shoulder and saw the dark figure on hands and knees half-submerged near the edge of the pool, heaving and coughing through his black mask, trying to get his breath back. Seeing me looking, he muttered a curse and threw himself backwards, disappearing again into the inky blackness of the water. I kept running.

At the entrance to the caves I slammed the door behind me and slumped to the ground in the doorway, within view of a clump of glowing mushrooms. I could go no further. I bandaged my wounds as best I could with my shredded clothes: I had no magicka left to heal myself. I stretched out on my back, my head on the dirt. I inhaled the thick, humid air of the swamp at night, and gazed up at the sky. The winking, twinkling stars seemed to go out one by one as I lost consciousness.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Chapter 4: Manacles

My search of the smuggler's cave did not take long, as the recently departed occupants had not kept much in the way of valuables; at least, not much of value to me. I took all I could carry that seemed like it could be some value to Arille at the tradehouse: a few weapons, some alchemical reagents, and what appeared to be a couple of potions or liqeurs secreted away with some small pouches of ... sugar. It held the appearance of sugar, at any rate, but thinking of the deranged woman I had killed earlier and the sugary crystals caked around her mouth, I suspected that it was not the sort of sugar one used in the baking of cakes. I placed a couple of granules of the sugar on my tongue and let them dissolve. It had a sweet but tart flavour, and at first I didn't notice anything other than that: a pleasant taste. Gradually I realised, though, that I was feeling less and less guilt about having killed three people that day. I reasoned that their deaths should have been weighing heavily on my conscience; and up until that point they had been.

The sugar was a drug. My upbringing had taught me two things about drugs: the first was that they generally made you a witless fool; and the life I led meant I needed my wits about me at all times. The second was that they were always valuable. I dropped the pouches of sugar into my sack; if I could find someone who would buy such a thing, I could certainly use the money. One sniff of the heady contents of the two flasks found with the sugar told me that they were not simple liqueurs, either. I stoppered them carefully and took them with me also.

My guilt over having caused the deaths of the smugglers was somewhat alleviated when I discovered something that accounted for the relatively few valuable items I had found among their things. On my way out of the caves, I encountered a rough wooden gate set into a narrow opening in one of the cave walls. The gate was haphazardly constructed, with generous gaps between the wooden slats nailed vertically across it. There was obviously some space or passage behind it, but it was too dark to see more than that. Slowly drawing my saber I crept towards it, squinting into the dark space there. With a crash, someone slammed into the gate from the other side and pressed their face into one of the gaps between the wooden slats. The furry muzzle and glinting eyes revealed it to be a khajiiti male: one of the cat-people from Elsweyr.

"Breton!" He shook the gate violently. "You killed the criminals, yes?" I looked behind me and realised that this khajiit would have been able to see my fight with the robed wizard from his vantage point behind the gate. "Free us, please!" Pushing a powerfully muscled arm through a gap in the gate, he indicated the lock holding the gate shut with a clawed hand. I noticed a heavy-looking bracer on his wrist as he did so. It glowed dully in the gloom of the cavern, and had an iron ring hanging from it: it was a manacle more than a bracer. I realised the khajiit was a slave. I had found a key in one of the smugglers pockets, and I quickly found that it fit the lock on the gate perfectly. As I turned the key I noticed several more sets of glinting, luminescent eyes staring at me from the gloom of the slave pen. There were more people in there: several khajiiti and a couple of argonians, or "lizard-people".

The slave's bracers were cleverly constructed so as to require two hands to unlock them: one to turn the key, and one to squeeze the opening mechanism in just the right way at the same time. Locked and immovable as they were, this meant that even if a slave somehow managed to get ahold of the key to their bracers, they would not be able to remove them on their own. This of course would not hinder a group of like-minded slaves, as I witnessed directly. The khajiiti male at the gate snatched the key from the lock (and my hand) as soon as I unbolted it, and set about freeing the rest of the khajiit and argonian people from their bracers before finally being freed himself. The next I knew I was being smothered in a suffocating bear hug from the muscular khajiit, whose name I learned was Baadargo. Several other furry and scaly (respectively) bodies soon joined him.

I talked with the ex-slaves briefly, and what they told me of their treatment at the hands of the smugglers served to ease my mind of the burden I felt for having killed them. Although... I don't think I'll ever forget how the first woman began to cry when she realised she was going to die. In any case, the khajiiti and argonian people I had freed were effusive in their thanks. Some people... a lot of people - consider the so-called "beast races" to be little different to their domesticated cats and the small skinks that dart from rock to rock in their gardens, due to how similar they look. They treat them as animals. It's something I've never understood: you can talk to them like anyone else. These particular ex-slaves told me that they would remain in the caves for a time to regain their strength: something that the bracers they had been wearing made necessary.

I could tell that the bracers were magical from the way they glowed, and I picked one up to examine it more closely. I felt a tug at my magicka when I gingerly touched the inside of one of the bracers with a finger; similar to the feeling I get when I cast a spell. The slave bracers were obviously designed to remove any possibility of a slave using magic to escape. They were awful objects, and I left them all in the dirt where they lay to visit Arille and sell him things I thought were worth something.

Arille took all the weapons and alchemical ingredients I had found, but refused to even touch the unusual liqueurs and pouches of sugar. He told me that the "liqueur" was called "skooma", and was refined from "moon sugar" like that in the small pouches I held. He also told me that they were indeed both potent drugs and worth quite a bit. I would have felt concerned over Arille calling the town guards for my posession of the drugs, but I saw him eyeing the broken links of my chainmail and the rips and tears in my clothes - I'm sure he had a good idea where the drugs had come from. So far, from the people I had spoken to since I arrived, it seemed that contraventions of some laws tended to be overlooked if they somehow involved known criminals coming out the worse for it.

I was left with a comfortable number of gold septims and the need for somewhere to stay the night. No power in the empire could have made me set foot in the "abandoned" necromancer's shack again, so the smuggler's caves seemed the ideal choice. Besides, I had new friends there.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Chapter 3: Death in the caves

After the harrowing night I had endured, I took great comfort in becoming involved in a conversation over breakfast in Arille's Tradehose with a tall, golden skinned Altmer woman named Eldafire. She told me a little about the area surrounding Seyda Neen, a place called "The Bitter Coast". One piece of information that particularly stayed with me was the prevalence of smuggling all up and down the coast here. She told me that there was actually a smuggler's cave just outside Seyda Neen.

I'm not sure why I felt such a need to dash off and investigate this cave. Perhaps it was the lure of more "salvage". After talking to a few of Seyda Neen's denizens, the attitude of local society towards criminals became quite clear. Stealing from bandits, smugglers and the like - alive or dead - would not be viewed as theft at all. With this in mind I went downstairs and traded in the things I had managed to bring away from the necromancer's shack for a large pouch of septims and an offensive spell. It was called "Frostbite" and seemed appropriate considering my own name.

The smuggler's cave Eldafire had told me about was very near to Seyda Neen indeed; almost in view of the silt strider stop-off point on the edge of the village. The silt strider is without a doubt the largest creature I had ever seen: tall as a two-storey building, a rough, bug-like carapace perched atop six spindly legs. This one stood in the shallow salt water surrounding the village, swaying slowly back and forth, occasionally sending out a low, piercing moan. I had been hearing that sound all through the previous day and had been wondering what it was: evidently the creature's cry travels a good long way. I was amazed to learn that the dark elves (or "dunmer" to use their proper name) native to Morrowind had long tamed the silt striders and used them as local transport. They were apparently much more at ease striding up and down the riverbeds of Vvardenfell, their feet in the silt: hence their name.

As fascinating as the creature was, I turned my attention back to the smuggler's cave. The local guards cannot be the most enthusiastic bunch around: first the necromancer's shack, and now this; the cave was not hidden in any way - it had an actual door set in the side of a rocky hill. Both within earshot of the village proper. I pressed my ear against the door, but not being able to hear anything, drew a deep breath and slipped in quickly, my saber drawn. Once my eyes adjusted I noticed light coming from behind some rocks: a small campfire. I tried to get a better look without revealing myself, but a woman by the fire had been alerted by the cave door opening, and spotted me immediately. With a shout she sprang to her feet and ran at me, grasping a dagger. I called out to her to stop, but as she came closer I observed an unnatural, disturbing smile on her lips and a faraway look in her staring eyes. She was obviously not in her right mind.

She had a dagger made of chiton; looking like it had been broken off a particularly large and predatory insect. Weak and brittle as chiton is, I discovered that it is still razor sharp. She attempted to plunge the dagger into my chest; the chainmail cuirass I wore caught it before it went too deep, but she still gouged out a painful wound. With a cry of pain, anger and fright, I shoved her away and swung my saber over my head and down into her shoulder, again and again. I found it difficult to force myself to strike her as hard as I could. I had never killed or even wounded someone before that day, and the thought of it bothered me. More than that, actually: it terrified me. On my final swing, the saber cut into her neck. She gasped, fell back against the cave wall and sunk to the ground. For the first time, she seemed to actually see me. Her unnatural smile melted and she began to cry, slumped and bleeding against the cave wall. I looked away, down at my own body. The woman had stabbed me numerous times as I had been raising the saber above my head, leaving my body unprotected. My legs, especially, were bleeding heavily - I had not been able to buy any armour to cover them. My own blood was collecting in my boots.

My legs shaking, I tried to sit down, but they buckled beneath me and I, too, collapsed to the cold ground. I rolled painfully onto my side and vomited onto the cave floor, the shaking spreading through my whole body. Sensing that at the rate I was bleeding I did not have long left, I forced myself to concentrate on my healing spell, a blue glow forming around my hands. I pressed my palms against my chest and the blue glow seeped through the chainmail and into my skin. Almost instantly I felt better: physically better, at least. The healing magic closed all my wounds and made my body reproduce blood quickly to compensate for that lost; all in a matter of seconds. The woman who had attacked me was dead. I got back to my feet, unable to take my eyes off her. Now that she was still I could see something sparkling around her mouth and on her chin. Blood and tears had run across most of her face and dissolved most of it, but there were crystalline specks collected around her mouth, as if she had been eating sugar out of her hands like a small child.

I didn't want to look at her anymore, and I certainly didn't want to face anyone in the village right then, so I continued deeper into the caves. There were more smugglers in the caves: a robed wizard and a fast-moving woman in leather armour. They both attacked without hesitation as soon as they saw me. I don't know whether they were simply that suspicious of strangers in their "hideout" that they would do such a thing, or whether they simply noticed that I was covered in blood and put two and two together. I count myself as extremely lucky that I encountered the two remaining smugglers separately: with the wizard attacking me on his own, I was able to sidestep his spells. He repeatedly cast the same spell, definitely a quite destructive one judging by the red glow and red heat it gave off as it streaked towards me. Eventually the wizard either became too frustrated or expended his reserves of magicka - as I had hoped he would - and he drew a dagger and charged at me, snarling. He fell relatively easily to a couple of slashes across his chest: he was not wearing any armour under his robes.

The female smuggler in the leather armour fell upon me just as I struck the killing blow to the wizard. She stood at the top of some steep, jury-rigged wooden steps, and I at the bottom. She was holding something small in her hand, and flicked it at me as I turned to face her. It struck me in the shoulder, catching in my chainmail. I pulled it out: a flat, spiked throwing star - a cheap one made of chiton. Thinking about how the wizard could probably have easily killed me had he immediately rushed me with his spells, I shoved my saber into its scabbard and charged up the stairs, keeping as low as I could. The woman backed away from the head of the stairs, no doubt hoping to catch me unawares as I reached the top. I focused the energies of my new Frostbite spell into my hands and found as I leapt over the top of the steps that she had done exactly as I had hoped: backed herself into a wall. I grasped her by each shoulder, hooking my thumbs under her arms, and pinned her against the cave wall. She screamed out as the aching cold of the spell passed straight through her armour and into her body, cracking and burning her skin, and almost freezing her blood. The next thing I knew the woman had effectively thrown me off by violently thrusting a knee into my groin, and I again found myself extremely sorry that - excepting some cheap chiton boots - I had not been able to find any armour for my lower body.

The remainder of the fight saw me alternating between swinging the saber with my right hand and trying to plant either my Frostbite spell on her body or my healing spell on my own with my left hand. It was a desperate fight, and the thought that this woman could have easily killed me several times over had it not been for my healing spell was a sobering one. I had eventually won by planting a Frostbite spell directly on the centre of her chest, stopping her heart. At least, I assumed that's what happened. I do not care to relate the particulars of her death; it was just too horrible.

I washed the blood from myself and my clothes in a deep pool of water I found at a low point in the caves, then set about searching the place for valuables.