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, September 02, 2005

Chapter 17: Underhanded

I was not happy with Ajira. It felt like she was wasting my time. Since Ranis - as the Mages Guild Steward - had ordered me to report to Ajira for assignments, I had to do as the khajiit said if I wanted to advance in guild; even though I was an Apprentice, just like Ajira. Upon delivering the wildflower samples I had collected for her, she was at an obvious loss for what to do with me. After a moment of silence in which she placed each flower sample in a line on her desk, one after the other, Ajira scooped up the pieces of a mixing bowl which had somehow broken in half, and dropped it in my hands.

"Ajira needs a new ceramic mixing bowl. Can the naked breton go and buy one for us?" As my hands were full, she slipped a few coins into my pocket. I must have pulled a face, because the khajiit's ears twitched irritably and she drew me close to hiss in my ear: "Frost is an ungrateful one! He should be happy Ajira gives him such easy tasks! Ahh - but he doesn't understand..." She relaxed, apparently realising that I was in the dark about something. She went on to explain that in the guild it was the number of tasks performed, not their complexity, that lead to official promotions. The difference as a person advanced in the guild was that members of higher rank had to be given more difficult tasks for them to count towards promotion. No-one really cared what Associates, Apprentices and even Journeymen did.

It seemed that she did actually have my best interests in mind. I apologised to Ajira, and left the guild for the general store across the street, disposing of the broken bowl along the way. Upon return with the new bowl, it became apparent that something had happened to greatly upset Ajira. She was padding back and forth near her desk, looking under and behind things, her tail flicking dangerously about. She thanked me briefly for the bowl, dropping it roughly on the desk, and took me by the arm into the main hall. Her claws were well and truly hooked into the tough, fibrous bonemold armour.

"It's that BOSMER!" the khajiit spat. "She's stolen Ajira's reports! All our careful words on mushrooms and flowers... Help us find them, Frosty, and we'll send you back to Ranis for jobs." Her claws were scoring small curls of bonemold from my armour. "Frosty wants that, yes? To have less easy jobs? They're in here somewhere - Galbedir hasn't left all day long." She gave me a push and went back to rummage through her desk. I began my search, glad I had been wearing my armour. Irritated khajiit were careless with their claws.

The search didn't take long (I did grow up a thief, after all), and the reports were soon back in the hands of the grateful cat. True to her word she told me she didn't have any more tasks for me, and directed me back to Ranis. Or, she said, I could ask Edwinna at the Mages Guild in Ald'ruhn for jobs.

"Edwinna's nicer than Ranis. She's breton like you! Not so naked though." She gave me a toothy grin.

I had not been happy with Ajira - that was true; but Ranis was a good deal more unsettling to be around, especially with the first task she set for me. She did, at least, promote me.

"I'm surprised you didn't pull her whiskers out." The dunmer looked mildly disappointed. "Even if it was just for that, I think you deserve to be a Journeyman now. I do have a couple of jobs ready for a young Journeyman mage, too: conveniently. There is a guild member named Manwe doing research in Punabi caves who hasn't payed her guild dues in months. She must owe nearly... hmm - two thousand septims now, I would say. I need you to go to Punabi and persuade her to give them up. If she refuses, you'll have to resort to ... stricter measures."

I blinked. Surely she wasn't asking me to -

"Near Punabi, in a place called Sulipund, is a Telvanni wizard: Tharer Rotheloth. You must convince him to join the Mages Guild. If he won't, I have to ask you to kill him. I must assume that located where he is, he is actually hostile towards us. Joining would be a gesture of goodwill." She wouldn't go into any more detail than that, other than to say the Punabi and Sulipund were located near the north shore of Lake Nabia, in the Ashlands east of Balmora.

I was shocked. Playing debt collector and hitman was far from how I had imagined my duties at the guild to be. As with my earlier frustration at Ajira, it must have shown on my face. Ranis was not impressed:

"Edward, those magicka threads that I gave you are very powerful. If you keep that in mind and take some time to prepare beforehand, I'm sure that you'll find some way to complete these tasks that will make both of us happy." I couldn't shake the feeling that Ranis was holding her admittedly generous gift over me to ensure I did her dirty work.

In a way it was a lot like working for Ajira.

In any case, I would leave it until I felt better prepared, as Ranis had suggested. With that in mind I prepared to head out into town for the evening. I had spent most of my money paying people to teach me spells; and now that I had a couple of teleportation spells that enabled me to escape virtually any trouble I might find myself in, I felt ready to return to my old survival methods. The dark streets were calling to me, and with my new unlocking spells I expected it to be easy to replenish my funds. I wasn't dressed for stealthy work, though. I removed the bulky bonemold armour and stored it in the cabinet across from my bunk, along with my silver sword. I only kept my katana and a few restorative potions, just in case.

I spent the rest of the afternoon searching through the stores of Balmora. It was dark by the time I had found what I was looking for: a pair of soft shoes and what some called a 'Pilgrim's Robe': a generous robe with a multitude of hidden pockets. I imagine the design had been intended to help travelling pilgrims conceal items of value in case they were stopped on the road by highwaymen, but it worked just as well for thieves. Of course, thieves were concerned over hiding things from town guards, but the principle was the same.

Once dressed in my Pilgrim's Robe and soft shoes I was ready. I spent a number of hours going from house to house in the noble's district, mostly slinking into the shadows of upstairs entryways, opening any locks I encountered with a jolt of alteration magic. Most people were out for the evening, and those that were not did not see me before I made a hasty exit.

Having spent a goodly time in an Imperial prison for theft, getting back into the habit was not as smooth as I had anticipated. I got away all right - I even came away with a decent haul - but knowledge of what I could expect if I was caught was making me too nervous: I wasn't as good as I had been. I decided to end the night with a late drink at the South Wall cornerclub to soothe my raw nerves. The club was nearly empty at that point, but absorbed with my drink I failed to notice the khajiit until she was lightly running a hand down my side.

"Does the lumpy one have a buyer for these things?" I started and looked up. It was the khajiit I had noticed watching me the other night. She had obviously spotted the ill-gotten items I had secreted in my pockets. I turned to face her, trying to see if she was armed.

"Yes." I said evenly. I was in fact intending to sell the things I had stolen to Creeper. Wherever the items he tossed into his mysterious screaming crate went, I felt fairly certain that they would not resurface anywhere that would serve to link them to me. I was not about to tell this to a strange khajiit in a club after midnight, of course, so I left my answer at that and waited for her to explain herself.

"Habasi is our name - though others in the Thieves Guild call us Sugar-Lips. What is yours?" With her talk of 'buyers' I was not surprised to hear her admit to being a thief - but still, the cat seemed oddly direct about revealing a guild of thieves. She took a seat next to me at the bar. I sighed. She probably knew who I was anyway: people had been talking about how I had killed a Dark Brotherhood assassin right there in town.

"I'm Edward Frost. Listen, I didn't mean any offence if this is your territory: I didn't know -" Habasi nodded and smiled at my name, but then as if I hadn't said anything more, she extended a claw and began to trace the outline of a silver sword I had found in one of the Balmora manors and shoved under my robes, into my belt.

"Mister Frost has a lot of things here. You're lucky no-one saw you take them, or you'd have quite the bounty on your head. We can help you with things like that, of course. Mister Phane Rielle here does that." She indicated the old man cleaning glasses behind the bar - he smiled and made a bow. "He can make those nasty bounties go away - for less than paying off a guard, too. You must join the guild for quality services like these, though." Habasi grinned, showing her sharp teeth. There was no doubt: she wanted me to join the Thieves Guild.

I sensed that there would likely be trouble if I refused; I probably had infringed on their territory. The khajiit went on a little longer, saying among other things how they knew where the valuable things were, and the best ways to get them. I eventually accepted her invitation.

I just hoped it would not lead to more trouble than it was worth.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Chapter 16: Measure of faith

I was still weak from the revenant's draining attack as I prepared to look around the Andan Tomb. My stomach lurched uncomfortably as I eased my pack from my shoulders. I decided to try not to use health-transference spells on undead creatures if I could help it. All in all, I felt a little like I had a fever: weak and sick. I left my katana where it lay on the floor, and removed a few of the heavier items from my pack to leave with it. While I was still impressed with my new bonemold armour, there was no denying that it was heavy: at least for me. And in my weakened state, I simply couldn't carry everything I had entered the tomb with.

Just before venturing further into the tomb, I realised I could hear a constant whispering; and I couldn't work out where it was coming from. I wasn't sure that I would be strong enough to use it, but I still had my silver longsword: I drew it before continuing on.

The room in which I had fought the necromancer and his pet had a couple of guttering torches, but the corridor beyond it did not. I edged forward little by little, straining my eyes to see into the dim recess at the end of the corridor. The low whispering was all around me now. It was soft, but it seemed to pain my ears to hear it. I couldn't hear anything else: not my own footsteps, or my quickened breathing.

With a crack, something glanced off my armoured forearm: but I couldn't see anything. It was quickly followed by a piece of pottery, shattering against my leg. I spun around frantically, looking all about me for my attacker. A piece of bone lodged itself in the narrow visibility slit of my helmet, giving me a start: its sharp point had almost reached my eye. Pulling it out, I ran for it; straight down the corridor to the dark recess at the end. I was pelted by pieces of refuse the whole way, the whispers rising to a horrid moaning. The dark recess held a small round pit of ashes, the grey and brown contents long ago fused into a solid mass.

A glowing apparition burst from the ash pit: a skeletal ghost in ragged robes. Its legs missing, the thing pulled itself along the tomb floor with its fleshless hands, before launching into the air, shouting at itself as it flew around and around the pit:

"Everywhere everywhere! Stop! Stop - just... stop - talking - to me. STOP IT!" The spirit appeared to notice me, and shrank back against the wall with a shriek, levelling a quivering skeletal finger at me. "You're the one who wants the amulet! You mustn't - it will destroy you! But - no... I destroyed IT! Thynim though, he will destroy... be destroyed."

The spirit babbled and bellowed to itself - and to me. At first I stayed out of pure shock and fright: the whole situation was reminiscent of my terrifying stay in the necromancer's house on my first night on the island. After a little while I realised that the ghost was not going to attack me, and I began to actually listen to what it was saying. I eventually gathered from its ramblings that it was the spirit of a dunmer named Lleves Andan, and that he had created an 'Amulet of Scrye' that allowed the wearer to speak with the dead. Lleves had destroyed his creation, but not before it drove him mad. He also spoke of a replica of the amulet: in the hands of someone named Thynim Velos, who lived in the swamps of 'Hla Oad'.

As interesting as talking with the dead may have been (though I wasn't sure that Lleves' spirit and I had had what could really be called a conversation), I had had quite enough of necromancers. I made a note to myself to be wary of anyone named 'Velos' should I ever find myself in Hla Oad, and left the insane spirit to its own torment.

After braving the poltergeist in the corridor again, I gathered up the belongings I had left on the floor and cast Almsivi Intervention with the intention of seeking healing at the Temple in Suran. Expecting to be dropped onto the sun-dappled pavings in the green garden outside Suran temple, I was quite surprised when I instead found myself in a bleak grey courtyard beneath a dim, lowering sky. Dirty clouds scudded across the sky, and stone and moulded mud walls were everywhere I looked. Wherever I was, it seemed a grim place.

As it turned out, I was standing outside a Tribunal Temple: but it was the Temple on the roof of a massive building housing the 'village' of Molag Mar. I was only a little way out of Suran when I cast the teleportation spell. According to my map Molag Mar was quite far to the east of Suran. I found it intriguing: it seemed the spell drew me there, to the better 'staffed' temple of Molag Mar, rather than the closer, smaller temple at Suran with its one priestess.

For the Molag Mar temple was well staffed: I was able to learn spells there to restore a number of different aspects of the body: including one's strength. I spent most of the rest of my money doing it, but by that evening I was confident that I would never be stranded in the wilds after suffering some kind of magical draining attack or other.

By the time I left the company of the priests at the Temple it was getting dark, so I decided to have a look around Molag Mar and then stay the night; before setting off for Suran and the shores of Lake Amaya in the morning. Molag Mar was more a fortress than a village - and according to one of the priests was the only settlement in the whole Molag Amur region: a barren wasteland of rocky crags and lava pits. It was certainly a Temple settlement: established for pilgrims travelling to the hazardous Mt. Kand sites. I didn't even have to pay for a bed at the hostel: the owner turned my money down, telling me to use it to make a donation at the Tribunal shrine downstairs instead. I did so, kneeling in front of the triolithic stone. Afterwards I felt a rush of wellbeing, completely washing away the taint of the bonewalker. (The priest that taught me the 'Restore Strength' spell had told me the local name for the revenant I had fought; one of his main selling points for the spell had actually been its use in combating bonewalkers.)

I spent the night in a dormitory with a collection of drunken, snoring pilgrims and warriors. Early in the morning I took a silt strider to Suran, with the intention of making my way to Lake Amaya's north shore - without distraction that time. I was glad I did: the sun boiled away the low clouds during the strider journey, and the lake and surrounding area was bathed in a warm light. It really was a beautiful part of the Ascadian Isles: shady trees and fields of wildflowers as far as I could see. It took very little time to locate and collect the flower samples Ajira wanted, and before I knew it I had stumbled across the Shrine of Humility, poking out of a bed of wildflowers.

The shrine sat upon the location where the god Vivec had apparently made a stop during an epic, heroic quest to work for a farmer who had lost his beast of burden. He had worked in place of this beast (a 'guar') until the farmer's crop was harvested: so that the farmer and his family would not starve. That is the gist of what I remembered from 'The Pilgrim's Path', at any rate; I had left it back at the Mages Guild to lighten my pack. I certainly remembered what I was supposed to donate at the shrine: a 'portion of muck', in the book's own words. When I read that, seated at one of the tables at the Mages Guild, I had thought for a brief moment that I was expected to carry some kind of animal waste to the shrine and leave it there. I did not want to imagine what such a shrine would look - or smell - like. Ranis had happened to pass at that moment, and told me that 'muck' was actually collected from a local giant fungus called a 'muckspunge'.

There was a stand of muckspunges on a tiny island in the lake; very near the shrine itself. The short swim to the piece of land was quite welcome: in my full suit of bonemold armour the sun had grown hot indeed. The muckspunges held the appearance of huge vases, with the 'muck' found inside them. I quickly came to the realisation that it was not an accident that the stuff had been given a name that made it so easy to confuse it with animal waste. Scooping out the slimy, pungent brown muck certainly seemed an appropriate lesson in humility. Involuntarily swallowing a few mouthfuls of lake water as I attempted to swim to shore without getting my handful of muck wet reinforced that lesson.

Still, after dropping the muck at the base of the shrine and reciting the prayer I had copied from 'The Pilgrim's Path', I suddenly felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders: literally, actually. I checked my pack to see if there was a hole in it - if I had lost something in the water. I hadn't though, and after a moment I became conscious of what felt like a spell humming through my body: either making me stronger, or just making me feel as if I was carrying less. In any case I was feeling good; and - for the first time since before going to prison - almost happy, in fact.

After washing my hands in the lake I felt even better.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Chapter 15: Gems, gods and the dead

I rose early the next morning and cast my new Mark spell on the Balmora guide platform. From then on I only had to cast 'Recall' and I would be teleported instantly back to the Balmora Mages Guild. I chose the guide platform because it was a space already set aside and kept clear for teleportation, and because on arrival I could ask the guild guide Masalinie to send me somewhere else immediately if I was in a hurry. Just as I finished casting, Ajira came up behind me and slipped something into my pocket. She whispered in my ear, her whiskers tickling my neck:

"This is your next task, Frosty." Ajira delighted in thinking up new nicknames for me. "Put that fake soulgem in Galbedir's desk. Let no-one see you. Here she comes now! Go!" The khajiit pushed me into the main hall. The bosmer (or 'wood elf') Galbedir was just coming down the ramp where I had killed the Dark Brotherhood assassin; I gave her a small smile as I passed, on my way to the guild's 'back' door. That was where Galbedir had her desk; at the highest point in the guild. She was an apprentice enchanter - or 'enchantress', I suppose. The only thing I knew about enchanting items at that stage was that magical 'soulgems' were involved somehow. Ajira and Galbedir were locked in a bet as to which of them would reach Journeyman rank first, and I guessed the small blue gem Ajira gave me would provide some setback for Galbedir. There was an identical-looking gem in the bosmer's desk that I swapped for the fake one.

I kept the real soulgem and surreptitiously showed it to Ajira once Galbedir had gone back to her desk. The khajiit was happy and gave me another task: this time it was to collect samples of four different flowers for another paper she had to write. She gave me a scrawled list and told me they could be found on the north shore of Lake Amaya, between Balmora and Suran. Menial as the task was, it turned out to be a useful coincidence. Before retiring to bed the night before I had read 'The Pilgrim's Path' - and I had noted that the closest shrine that forms part of the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces was on the north shore of Lake Amaya. It was the shrine of Humility, and making a donation at a shrine with a name like that while performing such a menial errand seemed quite appropriate to me.

With that in mind I formed a plan for the day: I would take a silt strider to Suran and walk back to Balmora along the north shore of Lake Amaya, collecting Ajira's flower samples and stopping to pray at the shrine of Humility along the way.

Before leaving I stopped in at the unfortunately named 'Razor Hole' weapons store to exchange my iron saber (and a fair number of coins) for a high-quality steel katana and a silver longsword. I hadn't originally intended to buy two swords, but the owner told me that certain otherworldly adversaries (demons, ghosts and the like) could only be hurt by silver or magical weapons. I suspected he sold a lot of silver weapons that way - but still, I believed in being prepared.

The steps up to the silt strider platform were wet with the fog that still blanketed the town. I had to watch my footing carefully as I climbed aboard the giant insect.

During the trip I gazed at the clouds drifting by (the fog had lifted before too long) and thought about what I had learned of the Tribunal Temple - the fact that their gods were once mortal and were actually proven to exist was fascinating. The god Vivec even resided still in the southern Vvardenfell city named after him: if one was lucky he or she might even be admitted to speak with Vivec. It would seem that one who says he only believes what he can see with his own eyes has no excuse not to believe in the Tribunal's existence. I couldn't believe I had never heard of the Tribunal before: though growing up in an Imperial Cult orphanage may have had something to do with it. The priests likely did not want the added struggle of preaching belief in their invisible gods, when the competing Tribunal religion boasted three perfectly visible gods that could be spoken to as if they were mortal.

I wanted to know more: I decided right then that I would perform the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces and serve the Temple. I hadn't forgotten the Imperial Cult and the debt I owed them: I would pay the Ebonheart Mission a visit and ask for work if I found myself in the vicinity. At that moment though I found the Temple and their once-mortal gods more compelling.

Towards the end of the trip the caravan driver told me that Suran was a place of "somewhat relaxed morals", and that it was often a fairly wild place. Recently though the only mildly interesting rumours coming from the place were of a nearby ancestral tomb being visited at strange hours of the night. I had found before that day that curiosity sometimes led me to dangerous places: it breeds an impulsiveness in me that I've never been able to curb.

So, shortly after stepping down from the silt strider I found myself making my way through the sun-baked town of Suran, bound for the Andan tomb south of the settlement. I learned that the one the townspeople thought was invading the tomb at night was a strange dunmer man in a robe. He had been looking for a particular magical item - a powerful one apparently.

I visited many shops and houses along the way, stealing what money and items of value I could. My shopping spree of the day before had left me with little money again. The most notable things I found were a couple of high quality 'Restore Strength' potions, which I put in a side pocket on my pack where I could easily reach them. I was yet to find someone who could teach me a Restore Strength spell, so I felt that they might become useful.

Most of Suran looked like many parts of the green and verdant Ascadian Isles, but just beyond its southern wall was an ashen wasteland of dead trees and shallow, steaming pits. I found the door to the Andan ancestral tomb just beyond a turn in the southern path from Suran - just as a violent dust-storm found me. Blinding ash and grit blowing in my face, I pushed the door open and dashed inside.

Almost immediately I wished I had made a more stealthy entrance. My opening the door to the whistling wind outside, and then slamming it shut again must have been audible through the whole tomb. Ash and grit from the storm rattled down the slope just inside the door before settling in the airless space. I crouched down low, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. The silence and the dark inside the tomb was oppressive; I got the feeling that something in there was watching and listening for me.

Muttering a curse to myself I drew my new katana and crept down the slope to the door at its base. I tried to slip through quietly but there was someone watching for me on the other side: a dunmer man in a robe. I didn't know how it was that I had managed to run afoul of a necromancer again within the first week of my time on Morrowind, but that's what the man was. I'll admit I was taken by surprise: before I could act, he waved his hands in the air and said something I didn't understand. With a bang and a flash all the dust in the small room flew outwards from the centre, catching me in the eyes.

When I managed to clear and open my eyes again, I almost wished that I hadn't: lumbering towards me was a huge creature - a mockery of a person. It was as if a powerfully muscled man had been killed in a horrible accident that left half his bones broken and protruding from his body. The snorting and wheezing thing was covered in gaping wounds that dripped coagulated blood. Lidless eyes fixed on my face, it reached out for me as it came. I tried to knock the thing's hand aside with my katana, but the blade caught in its arm as if it was wood. The horrible bloody man's hand closed about my wrist, and I began to feel weaker and weaker. I couldn't pry the thing's fingers from my wrist, and as I tried, I felt a touch on my shoulder and turned my head to see the necromancer darting away into the shadows. A second later an agonising poison coursed through my body, spreading outwards from my shoulder.

I screamed out - it felt like I was on fire. Somehow I managed to concentrate enough to focus the Balyna's Antidote spell into my free hand, which I touched to the affected shoulder. The poison was negated, but I felt close to death: as if my very blood had been boiled beneath my skin. I dropped the katana I had still been uselessly holding onto, and gripped the dead thing's wrist instead, sending my 'Righteousness' spell into its body. It may have still been draining my strength, but I was draining its very life away. It served to heal me - replacing my burnt blood - but absorbing whatever force was giving that wretched thing some semblance of life left me feeling sick to my stomach.

By that stage I was too weak to stand, and I fell onto my back; with the creature still gripping my wrist. It raised its other arm to deal me a crushing blow, but I sent my Frostbite spell into its arm with my free hand, freezing its joints in place. Before the thing could recover I discharged the spell again and again into the hand that held my wrist. The revenant's grip weakened, and I tore my arm away from it - causing its completely frozen hand to shatter into pieces. I realised the thing was dead - truly dead. Already looking dead twice over as it did, I could only tell this because it was toppling forward, about to fall onto my prone form. Unable to move, I shielded my face with my hands, but all that fell on me was a fine, misty layer of frost: the creature had vanished.

I was extremely glad that I had not resisted the urge to steal those Restore Strength potions. Forcing my leaden hand to the side pocket on my pack and then up to my mouth, I drank both the potions at the same time. My strength came rushing back and I was able to get shakily to my feet - and just in time. The necromancer, cursing in frustration, ran up and tackled me into the wall, pummelling me with his bare fists. He couldn't hope to do much against my bonemold armour, but I couldn't shake him off, and one too many blows to my head and I could be knocked out: I knew that much.

I still felt too weak to swing a sword effectively, so instead of drawing my silver blade, I caught his fists in my hands and sent the aching cold of my Frostbite spell into them, before pulling him in close and catching his throat in a freezing grip. His expression changed from rage to one of horror, and suddenly he was pushing ineffectually against my chest, trying to escape my grasp. Repeatedly discharging my Frostbite spell into his body, I held onto his throat until he stopped moving. Once he was no longer supporting his own weight I had to let go, and he crumpled to the dusty tomb floor.

I felt sick afterwards, and not just for the part I played in the necromancer's awful death. I had found that health transference spells do work on the undead, but that they left one with a very unsavoury, empty feeling.

I had also found that I had been right to take up the magicka threads: they had kept me alive through that fight.