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 26, 2005

Chapter 14: Power through money

I knew exactly what to spend my newfound fortune on. Better armour and weapons, of course, for one thing: anything to better protect myself from the wild animals apparently rife outside the towns, and from my enemies. The Dark Brotherhood sprang to mind: if the Hlaalu guards of Balmora were to be believed, I should expect more attempts on my life. Also though, apart from the obvious armaments, I wanted more spells. I knew only a few basic ones; there were many that would make my life much easier and safer if I could master them. Mages Guild members taught spells to anyone who could pay them for the service - even other members had to pay, albeit at a discount depending on their rank.

As soon as I arrived back in the Balmora guild via the Caldera guild guide, I went from one guild member to the next, learning as many useful-sounding spells as I could reasonably afford. Each mage there appeared to specialise in a different school of magic: the dunmer Marayn Dren being an exception, teaching spells from the Alteration, Destruction and Conjuration schools. He also had a vaguely disturbing selection of Illusion spells. The school of Illusion contained spells of mind control and invisibility. Mastery over the school of Illusion would enable one to manipulate others to such an extent that one could get almost anything he wanted. As such, Illusion spells were a magically-inclined thief's best friend. There was a reason why stories of the exploits of masters of the Illusion school were rare: those masters wanted it that way; and more importantly had the ability to ensure that that was the case.

As much as I wished it were otherwise, the school of Illusion was (for the most part) too difficult and expensive for me at that point. I did pay Marayn to teach me some Alteration spells, though: a water-breathing spell so I need never fear drowning again, and a spell to open locked objects. Marayn explained to me that the spell would open many things, but more intricate locks would prove too complicated for it. I solved this shortcoming in short order, with Estirdalin's help.

Estirdalin was an intimidating person. She had a subtly aggressive manner for one thing, and being a high elf (or 'altmer') meant that she towered over everyone else in the local guild. More unnerving though was her devotion to the Destruction school, and her natural power as a mage. She was powerful enough to be able to create custom spells for people: so with her help I adapted Marayn's opening spell into a new spell of such power that it could open virtually any lock in the land. I called it my 'Skeleton Key'. I would have to study the Alteration school extensively to be able to cast the spell reliably, and it would drain a large amount of magicka with each casting, but it would be worth it to have no lock stand in my way.

The orc healer Sharn gra-Muzgob unsurprisingly specialised in the college of Restoration. She dispelled any notion I had that healers were always caring people, looking at me as though she would have rather fed me poison than teach me magic. Restorative spells were far too important for me to be turned aside by the rough edges of a grumpy orc, though, and I came away with a spell called Balyna's Antidote. Sharn assured me (or rather, yelled at me) that it was potent enough to cure any poison I was likely to be inflicted with: magical or otherwise. Magical poisons from the school of Destruction could be very fast-acting, killing in seconds; so I was gladdened to discover that I could cast the spell with little difficulty.

My studies took all morning. Finally I approached the guild steward, Ranis, to see what spells she was able to teach me.

"None, I'm afraid. The guild does have a few rules, and one of them is that guild stewards are not permitted to teach spells to members below a particular rank." I must have looked disappointed, because she went on to say: "Do not worry; I have the feeling that the day that I can teach you spells will come before too long. Look, if you're still wanting to spread some of that money around in the name of studying magecraft, I'll tell you where to go." She led me outside, and pointed north, up the street outside the guild. "The Balmora Tribunal Temple is up that hill there." I had to take the dunmer's word for it: Balmora, like Caldera, was under a heavy fog that morning. "They have a good selection of defensive-minded spells. Ask them about their teleportation spells: when in trouble, the best defense is simply to not be there anymore."

I was still keenly interested in protecting myself, so I walked up the hill and climbed the steps to the Balmora Temple. On a stretch of flat ground above the steps was a children's playground. Children were running in and out of the temple to the playground. I knew instantly what I was looking at: it was like a memory from my childhood come back to life. They were orphans in the care of the Temple - just as I had been an orphan (inasmuch as I never knew my parents) in the care of the Imperial Cult. The only thing I knew about the Tribunal Temple was that it was the dominant native religion of Morrowind and the dunmer. I guess at that moment I also came to know that they did good works. I decided to ask inside if there was anything I could do to help the Temple: preferably the orphans.

All the priests and priestesses inside were dunmer, and I drew some curious stares when I asked who I should talk to if I wished to learn more about the Temple, and possibly even join their ranks. Apparently not many 'outlanders' wanted to join the Temple. I was directed to the Master of the Balmora Temple, Feldrelo Sadri, who was polite but not overly friendly. Before making me an Initiate of the Temple, she explained the basics of the Temple to me: the Tribunal was a trio of heroes who were once mortal but ascended to godhood an age ago. Their names were Almalexia, Sotha Sil and Vivec, and the Temple revolved around worshipping them and performing works in their name. Feldrelo told me that I was not permitted to perform any duties for the Temple until I had proven my devotion to them by undertaking the 'Pilgrimages of the Seven Graces': a pilgrimage to seven shrines scattered across the island. She gave me a book engraved with the title 'The Pilgrim's Path' that explained the pilgrimage, saying that it contained all the information I needed. It seemed like a strange way to induct and encourage someone who had asked to join so that they could aid the Temple. Perhaps it was because I was a Breton - an 'outlander' as I was often called by the natives.

After having me lay my hands on a three-sided, monolithic altar and saying a few words that I failed to catch, Feldrelo dismissed me, saying she was very busy. I was left to study magic with the other priests and priestesses, and in that regard I was very satisfied with what they had to offer. The first spell I learned was called 'The Rest of Saint Merris'. It would enable me to regain my breath and energy twice as fast as usual. I later found that with my magicka regenerating constantly, in favourable conditions I could run all day: I just had to cast Rest of Saint Merris every minute or so and I never lost my breath or became tired.

One of the priests told me that certain destructive spells attack a person's bodily attributes, making one too weak to move, or perhaps too stupid to dodge incoming blows. Conveniently enough she had a few spells from the college of Restoration she could teach me that could restore damaged bodily attributes. I obliged her and paid for tuition in the spells: the scenarios she described sounded worrisome to me.

Last of all I learnt the teleportation spells I had wanted from the start. Between them the priestesses were able to teach three teleportation spells: 'Mark', 'Recall' and 'Almsivi Intervention'. I realised that use of the latter one must have been how Ranis Athrys had escaped the attack by the Dark Brotherhood: Almsivi Intervention teleports the caster to the nearest Tribunal Temple.

By that time the day was drawing to a close, but I had one more stop to make before returning to the Mages Guild for the evening. At Meldor's Armoury I sold all my old armour and bought a full suit of Bonemold armour, handing over most of my remaining money. Once I strapped the armour on though, I could tell that it had been worth it. The muddy brown molded armour felt subtly spongy, but also very tough: a good balance between protection and flexibility.

Feeling safer and more at ease than I had since arriving on Vvardenfell, I made my way back to the Mages Guild.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Chapter 13: He's creeping!

I was relieved to wake up the next morning: it had taken me a while to get back to sleep after the attack during the night; I had worried about being slain in my sleep. The guild guide Masalinie's dogged refusal to tell me the name or location of the person she had mentioned the night before made me curious. That and the possibility of earning more money for the sale of the 'Dark Brotherhood' black chain armour made me accept her offer to teleport me to the nearby town of Caldera. I would see if I couldn't find this mysterious contact of hers.

I had never teleported anywhere before. I decided that it felt rather like passing out and then quickly waking up again: only I was in a new place when I opened my eyes. I had appeared in a flash of light in the a corner of the Caldera Mages Guild, facing a couple of tables. The place had simpler furnishings than the Balmora guild building: it looked much newer and less well-established. Seated at one of the tables, reading a book, was a dunmer man in a deep green robe. He looked up as I materialised in the room.

"Ah - hello. Who might you be?"

"Edward Frost." I replied. "I just joined the guild the -"

"Ah, yes: the naked breton." A smile crept across his lined face, and he pointed at his chest. "Folms Mirel. Now, I don't mean to keep you, but I know that while new guild members may not lack for tasks to perform, they usually end up doing menial jobs that benefit the 'teacher' rather more than they do the 'student'. I have a job for you, if you're interested, that should provide you - and me, I won't lie - with a great benefit once completed."

The man had piqued my interest, so I accepted the offer of a seat at his table as he went on: "For some time now I have been studying ancient devices called 'propylons'. These are found in 'propylon chambers' in certain very old strongholds the dunmer built in remote locations a long time ago, all over Vvardenfell. The marvellous thing about them is," Folms lent forward - this was obviously a favourite topic for him, "these propylons - two to a chamber, one chamber per stronghold - each link to another propylon chamber somewhere else on the island. A person can teleport from one to another; between them all they provide instantaneous transport to ten locations on the island. The catch is that each stronghold's propylon chamber requires a corresponding 'propylon index': a black stone about the size of your thumb. If a person is standing in front of a propylon that links to, say, the Marandus stronghold, and is holding the Marandus propylon index, then they can teleport to Marandus."

I struggled a little to keep up with what Folms was saying: it sounded complicated.

"I've ... divined that there's only one complete set of propylon indices on Vvardenfell - at least as far as I know - and it's scattered far and wide." Finally I thought I saw where the elf was going with his job offer, but I remained quiet and let him finish. "I believe I know a way to construct 'master' indices - as I would call them - using the complete set of propylon indices. I would be able to teleport someone holding a master index to any one of the propylon chambers on the island. The master index would also allow that person to return here from any propylon device. If you're willing, I need you to retrieve the whole set of indices for me. I do have some idea where each is - some more precisely than others." The dunmer raised a hand. "Before you answer, the benefit I mentioned is that I will pay you five hundred drakes for each propylon index, and give you one of the master indices once I'm able to make them. I will also teleport you to any of the chambers, whenever and however often you wish - free of charge."

"Free of charge?" I asked, my eyes narrowing. I had always thought those words had an ominous sound to them.

Folms cleared his throat. "Yes - this is where the benefit to me comes in. You see, Caldera is a quiet town: not much business here. I think that by charging for the sale or rental of master indices, and for the service of teleporting people to the propylon chambers, I could turn Caldera into a transport hub. I would also turn quite a profit for myself and the guild. So, what do you say?"

Five hundred septims apiece for found stones sounded like an excellent deal. Later on when I found where the strongholds were located on my map I realised that instant transport to and from such remotes locations could be very convenient; assuming I had a reason to go out that far into the wilds. According to my map, most of the strongholds were far from any settlements. In any case I accepted Folms' offer, and he informed me that one of the indices - the Hlormaren index - was right here in Caldera, at 'Irgola's pawnshop'.

Outside, Caldera was shrouded in heavy fog. I could barely see from one side of the street to the other. Irgola's shop was nearby and not too difficult to find, but he wanted five hundred drakes for the propylon index! I suspected that was why Folms Mirel had decided on the sum of five hundred for each index I delivered to him. I didn't have anywhere near that kind of money; I would have considered trying to steal it, but Irgola knew I wanted it now, and had been keeping it where he could see it, in any case.

I ventured back into the fog empty-handed, deciding to look for this contact of Masalinie's. I made my way through the misty shroud from shop to shop, carrying the Dark Brotherhood armour in a sack. I had part of the distinctive chain hood poking strategically from the sack for the various shopkeepers to see: in case Masalinie had been hinting that she knew someone who would recognise it and pay handsomely for it. Every shopkeeper didn't notice, pretended not to notice, or asked me to get the armour out of their shop.

Eventually, mistaking it in the fog for another shop, I stumbled into what appeared to be a run-down manor house. The place was a mess, with refuse everywhere: discarded bones from past meals on the floor, half-charred books in the fireplace, broken furniture strewn all over, and a film of grime coating everything. I had seen many civilised orcs in my time; but the half-naked orcs I interrupted in that manor were somewhat less than the Empire's finest. They were, at least, not dangerous. Or, I should say, they were not hostile towards me. These orcs even became friendly when they spotted the Dark Brotherhood armour in my sack. One of them, wide-eyed, pointed and said:

"You want Creeper!" With a painfully strong grip on my wrist, he half-dragged me upstairs and deposited me in front of a short, gangly, light-brown creature with a tail, which I later learned was a 'scamp' - a lesser Daedra (one of the beings from the alternate plane of existence, Oblivion). The thing, which I assumed was 'Creeper', had large, elongated pointy ears, and big, bloodshot eyes. He (I was only guessing, but it looked like a he) regarded me with a wide grin, revealing a mouthful of long pointy teeth. He too noticed the Dark Brotherhood armour I carried, and snatched the sack from my hands, before burying his head in it. Shortly he pulled his head out and said with a grin even wider than before:

"Blood." It seemed to make him happy. He shook the sack gently, making the chain armour jingle softly. "You want money for these?" I managed a strangled affirmative - I was a little put off by the small creature. Creeper leapt atop a nearby crate, and, straddling it, somehow managed to lift the hinged top up far enough to toss the sack of armour inside. As he stretched his bony arm down into the crate, I noticed a faint glow coming from within the crate, accompanied by what sounded like distant screams. Before I could investigate more closely, Creeper found what he was looking for - a smaller sack - and slammed the crate shut. He jumped down again, throwing the small sack at my chest. The sack contained more money than I'd ever seen before. Back at the Balmora Mages Guild, Galbedir had given me an estimate on what I could expect to receive from the average merchant in exchange for the armour. Creeper had given me far in excess of that estimate; and when I added the vials of skooma I had found to the sale, the total was somewhere in the vicinity of four thousand septims.

I was in a daze - I couldn't believe my luck. I was left without doubt that Creeper was Masalinie's mysterious contact. Before leaving I thanked Creeper, but the scamp seemed to have lost interest in me and didn't respond: instead becoming busily involved in chasing his own tail.

On my way back to the Mages Guild I stopped in at Irgola's pawnshop to buy the Hlormaren propylon index, which felt warm and heavy in my palm. I got my five hundred septims back from Folms Mirel in exchange for the index, and he directed me to the next one: the Marandus index. Folms told me he had divined that it had been "packed and delivered" to the Saint Olms temple in the holy city of Vivec, and that I should look for it in some kind of storeroom there.

I would follow it up later. Right then I was headed back to Balmora: I had a lot of shopping to do.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Chapter 12: Unmasked

As Ranis vouched for my innocence, explaining that the guild had been the subject of an attack by the black-clothed assassin, I watched the reactions of the guards. Their eyes were fixed on the body at my feet, their faces masks of suppressed fear. Their expressions didn't change when they looked at me, putting my iron saber away. I suppose they could see that my armour had been sliced open in several places and dirtied with my own blood; and my apparent lack of injury perturbed them. Still, the sight of two muscular dunmer guards in full bonemold armour actually afraid of a man that had been seriously dedicated to the task of killing me did little to reassure my own fears. These were men who could have easily held me down with one hand. What they told me sent a chill to my heart:

"This was a Dark Brotherhood assassin. They do sometimes die - as you can see - but they never stop coming once they've marked someone. You can have the armour, and anything else on him: you won't find any of us laying a finger on him! And if you ask our superiors you'll find that we're ordered to avoid all contact with the Dark Brotherhood."

At my insistence, the guards, who I had learned were employed by the Great House Hlaalu (one of the governing bodies of Vvardenfell Caius had mentioned), told me everything they knew about the Dark Brotherhood. It wasn't much. They told me that the assassins were thought to be based somewhere in Mournhold, Morrowind's capital city - which was located on the mainland. One of the guards had heard that Apelles Matius, a high-ranking member of the Imperial Legion, had recently arrived in Ebonheart after being transferred from his position in Mournhold. His high rank in the guard, and his prior posting, would make him an ideal person to ask about the Dark Brotherhood.

"Also," he said, "if you're crazy enough to want to find them, you should be able to take a ship from Ebonheart to the mainland." I closed my eyes for a moment. It did sound crazy; certainly an absurd thought given my current physical condition. Still, I needed to know more about them if they were as relentless as these guards said.

All in all there was a lot of fear in the room, all one way or the other directed at the dead assassin. The mask - or hood, more accurately - he wore completely concealed the wearer's identity: even the eyepieces were made of some kind of dark glass that appeared opaque unless held up to one's eyes. Grimacing, I knelt beside the body and peeled the black chain hood, sticky with blood, from his face. My assailant turned out to be a dark elf - a dunmer just like the guards watching reluctantly on. He had no distinctive marks I could see - none, that is, but the criss-crossing cuts, gouges and bruises covering every part of his skin: the results of my 'Righteousness' spell. I continued the grisly work of removing his armour, discovering that his whole body was a mess of wounds. The armour, a very fine and flexible chain mesh dyed an indelible black, was also sticky with blood; but even I could see it was of a very high quality. Yet it felt too flimsy to me, somehow. I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing it. I decided to sell it, and the two steel wakizashi blades that made up his entire outfit (they were too short for my tastes). He carried nothing else: no clues as to who wanted me dead that badly; or why.

Meanwhile, Ranis had succeeded in browbeating the guards into leaving with the assassins body: "Your job is to protect the people of this town. Since tonight you failed miserably in that regard, the least you can do is remove this body." Frowning but remaining silent, the guards donned their helmets and between the two of them, carried the bloody corpse off into the night.

The rest of the guild was still watching, and once the guards had left, they gathered around to hear the whole story. Figuring there was probably no point in pretending that the assassin had attacked the guild in general and not me specifically, I told them of the attack in the caves near Seyda Neen, and of my escape. They all seemed very impressed, gasping at just the right moments in my tale. Masalinie Merian's eyes in particular were shining particularly brightly. Just then Ranis, who had been standing behind me, placed a hand on my shoulder, making me jump.

"Edward, I think if you're going to continue sleeping here, we'll need to change the sleeping arrangements a little so there's no-one between you and the front door." She gave a slight smile. "Nevertheless that was an impressive use of magic, all told. I think the rank of Apprentice would be more suitable for you than Associate. Congratulations. Complete another task or two for Ajira and I'll be able to promote you to Journeyman, too. I don't think anyone here would begrudge me that, considering that if you hadn't dispatched the assassin they would have likely been attacked next. So, yes: congratulations." Everyone clapped. I blinked: beyond a few stammered words of thanks, I didn't really know what to say to a midnight promotion. A few minutes later almost everyone was going back to bed. Ranis remained a moment later to freeze the large pool of blood solid with a spell, and to instruct me to break it into pieces and then dispose of it all outside.

Masalinie Merian followed me outside as I did what Ranis said, then went to wash the blood from my body and from the black armour before it completely dried and caked on. Masalinie was the Balmora 'guild guide': a mage that specialised in teleportation magic and used it to provide instantaneous transport from one Mages Guild building to another. I wasn't sure at first why she was following me, but it became obvious she was interested in the black armour.

"You're going to sell that, aren't you? I mean, they are already trying to kill you, but wearing the armour of one of their assassins surely wouldn't impress the Dark Brotherhood." I couldn't read her expression in the dark.

"Yes." I said, gritting my teeth as the cold water from a public pump hit my skin. "I don't think I'm suited to light armour anyway; and this black chain looks quite valuable." I set the bloody sack containing the armour under the running water, and straightened up to face her. "Why do you ask?"

She looked about us before answering. "Because it is quite valuable. You're not likely to find anyone in Balmora who can give you a fair price for it. I know someone in Caldera you should speak to." When I pressed her for more details, she would only say: "I'm afraid I've promised not to tell anyone more than that. I'll teleport you to Caldera tomorrow, and you can look for ... this person. I can tell you that if you're unsure whether you've found who I'm talking about or not, then you haven't found this person."

With that, Masalinie turned and headed back to the guild. I followed a little while later, glad to see the guards posted at the door, and gladder still to be able to go back to bed.