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 09, 2005

Chapter 20: Pilgrimage

I felt as though I may have made a reckless purchase. With the earnings from my recent 'explorations' of the Balmora nobles' manor houses combined with the money from the sale of the second set of Dark Brotherhood armour, I had in excess of seven thousand septims! In a small yet lavish shop in Caldera I met a Mister Beile, who had for sale a variety of time-keeping devices: clocks. The item that caught my eye was a 'pocketwatch', a gold disc a little smaller than my palm, with a white dial on one face that indicated the time of day.

It was ingenious, really: it didn't work through magic, but rather told the exact time through a mechanical process. The device was powered by once a day twisting a small disc protruding from one end, which compressed a 'spring' inside the watch. This spring would then slowly expand, pushing a mess of tiny cogs and gears that in turn rotated a 'hand' on the dial-face of the watch at an exact rate: the hand pointing to the current hour of day.

I was very taken with my new purchase: Mister Beile's timepieces were imported all the way from Cyrodiil, adding to their already hefty price tag. They were truly items for nobles: the pocketwatch cost two and a half thousand gold. That, and the feeling that I could probably survive well enough without the pocketwatch, is why I felt a little reckless handing the money over. Walking to the Caldera Mages Guild to be teleported to Vivec, I attempted to rationalise my purchase through the old adage: "money is good for buying or losing: little else". It also occurred to me then that knowing the time while out on my nocturnal excursions - when there was no sun to gauge the hour of day from - could be useful.

I had visited the Mages guild in Vivec via guild guide before, to meet other members and learn magic, but had never stepped outside the building. When I did so that morning I was surprised to find that I was actually still inside: the guild was a smaller building within a huge dome. There was a square of sorts in the centre of the dome, filled with a bustle of people; who were mostly visiting the various other stores and buildings surrounding the square.

I stopped someone passing by and asked for directions to the Saint Olms Temple, soon learning that the layout of the holy city of Vivec was quite complicated. Each city district was actually a single massive building rising out of the sea just off the southern coast of Vvardenfell. These buildings were called 'cantons' and were comprised of multiple levels: the 'underworks' or sewers at their base, the lower and upper 'waistworks' at their centre, and a domed plaza at the top - such as the one housing the Mages Guild. The guild was in Vivec's northenmost canton, the 'Foreign Quarter'; so named because until very shortly before that time, it was the only part of the holy city that outlanders such as myself were allowed to visit.

Upon exiting the Foreign Quarter plaza and standing on a balcony running the whole perimeter of the canton, I realised I had seen the canton-style architecture before: the outpost of Molag Mar was a canton without a domed ceiling. However, while the single canton of Molag Mar had appeared to squat in a depression among barren hills, beneath the ashen sky of the Molag Amur region, all seven cantons of Vivec seemed to stretch up into the rich blue morning sky of the Ascadian Isles.

The holy city was so big, and the entirety of it so different from anything I had seen before, it made me conscious again of being in a place almost completely alien to me. Weighing the expensive pocketwatch in my hand, I thought of how quickly my life had changed in the past week or so since I had arrived in Morrowind. I had moved from one day to the next acting on instinct and whim: just like I had done growing up. That path had led to an Imperial prison. I had been given a second chance, for whatever reason. I should consider my long term plans, or risk following the exact same path as I had before.

Besides a small part of Vvardenfell, all I had seen of Tamriel was the Imperial capital I had grown up in. To me, there in Morrowind was as new and exciting as anywhere else. I already had a place to stay, plenty of food, a job apparently given to me by the Emperor himself, places to study and improve myself, and a growing number of contacts - perhaps even friends. The more I thought about it; the more it seemed that maybe my instincts had steered me right, and I was on the right path already. In the end I decided that for the time-being, discovering why I had been set free - without warning - on the remote frontier that was Morrowind would serve as a long term goal.

The sun-baked stone and mud surfaces of the cantons radiated withering waves of heat; I found myself sweating within moments of leaving the Foreign Quarter Plaza. Fortunately it did not take long to reach the cool confines of the Saint Olms canton. Once I had been directed to the Temple there, it took even less time to retrieve the Marandus propylon index for Folms Mirel.

The temple seemed almost abandoned: no-one challenged me as I walked in, located and searched a basement storeroom for the index, found it on the floor among some packing crates, and left. My visit would have been entirely uneventful, were it not for a couple of huge rats - searching among the crates for something edible - taking issue with my apparent wish to steal food from them. The scrawny things both tore a chunk from my hand as I reached for the index. I must have tasted good to them, as they were not content to leave it at that, either. Not wanting to blunt my blade by swinging at the stone floor, I broke their backs with my tower shield. Feeling particularly un-heroic again, I caught up the propylon index and left the temple.

On my next stop on my pilgrimage to some of the holy city's religious sites, I encountered what was probably the most amazing thing I had ever seen. 'The Pilgrim's Path' told a story of the Daedra god Sheogorath pulling the moon Baar Dau from "its appointed path through Oblivion" and throwing it at the new city of Vivec. The god Vivec apparently stopped the moon in place with a single gesture. The stuff of fairytales; or so I had thought until I approached the High Fane - the main Tribunal Temple on the island - and saw the moon floating there, just above the temple. It was another very convincing sign that not only did the Tribunal exist, they were also most certainly divine. I stared at the moon Baar Dau for a long time, but still couldn't quite convince myself of what I was seeing. The great floating rock was as big as the High Fane itself, and even had scaffolding and doors hanging from its flanks. I could see people walking about up there.

I eventually tore my eyes from Baar Dau and made my way over to the Shrine of Daring - which I had also heard referred to as the 'Shrine To Stop the Moon'. The triolithic shrine was actually in the shade of the moon, and I had to shield my eyes from the reflected glare of the surrounding buildings and sea to be able to read the inscription. As 'The Pilgrim's Path' had instructed, I unstoppered the potion of Rising Force I had brought with me and poured it over the shrine, reading aloud the Grace of Daring inscribed on it.

The blessing I received from the Shrine of Daring was very noticeable: I began to float up off the pavings as soon as I read the Grace. I wasn't just levitating slowly about like the mages, either: I could fly! I could soar through the air like a bird, and stop - suspended in place - like a bird could not. It did not feel as if I was weightless; rather it felt like my weight simply did not matter. I rose up to the floating moon for a closer look, the delighted expression on my face eliciting a muttered "s'wit!" from an Ordinator patrolling the moon's scaffolding. (As an aside, the Ordinators were the holy warriors and guardsmen of the Tribunal Temple, and regarded by many as some of the most fearsome soldiers in Morrowind.)

I soon returned to float along closer to the ground. Despite the name of the shrine that had bestowed the blessing of flight upon me, I dared not fly too high for too long when I had no reliable way to save myself should the blessing suddenly fade away. And I knew that the blessings of the Temple shrines did fade in time. In the meantime, flying about the sun-drenched city was much more agreeable than walking on such a hot day.

Conveniently, the next two shrines on the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces were only a short distance away: one was outside Vivec's Palace, the other below it in the Puzzle Canal. The Shrine of Generosity was at the top of a long flight of steps leading to the entrance to the palace of the living god. The door was held shut by the largest and most intricate lock I had ever seen. I briefly wondered whether my 'Skeleton Key' spell would be powerful enough to unlock the door. Briefly, because my common sense soon intervened to tell me that breaking into the living quarters of a god that obviously did not wish to be disturbed would be an incredibly silly idea. Still, it felt strange to stand just on the other side of a door from a god.

Of course, for all I knew Vivec was not in his palace; or even really corporeal at all. I shrugged the thought off and turned my attention to the shrine. Such things were beyond my power to know. The donation traditionally given at the Shrine of Generosity was simple: one hundred coins. After reading the Grace inscribed on the triolith and placing the small sack of coins at its base, there was a short-lived humming sensation in my hands; but after it subsided I couldn't actually tell what blessing I had received from the shrine, if any.

The last 'Seven Graces' shrine in Vivec was apparently located at the centre of the Puzzle Canal underneath Vivec's Palace. The palace was ringed by canals, arrayed in multiple tiers down its sides; making a rough pyramid shape. Water fed into each canal from a number of openings leading into the dark passages making up the labyrinth beneath the palace. The damp, cool confines of the Puzzle Canal were a marked relief after the roasting sun outside; and it did not take long to find the centre of the maze: a larger room with a platform rising out of the deep water that was omnipresent throughout the complex.

High up on one of the walls was an opening, obscured by a shimmering wall of light. Its height posed no problem: I flew up to it. However try as I might, I could not pass through the humming wall, or even see through it clearly. There was a triolith on the raised platform, but I soon discovered that it was not the actual Shrine of Courtesy: rather it held instructions on how to find it. Its inscription read:

"Breathe the Waters of his Glory and the Way is Made Clear."

When it dawned on me what the riddle must mean, I was dumbstruck. Surely the Tribunal would not ask young men and women wishing to offer their aid to the Temple to do such a thing! It was barbaric.

It was asking too much.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Chapter 19: Desperation

I had a big day planned, and rose early. My main goal was to learn more about the Dark Brotherhood, since last night's attack had made it apparent that they were not going to give up their attempts to kill me just yet. The Hlaalu guards that had removed the body of the first assassin had told me that I should look for a man named Apelles Matius in Ebonheart: that he would probably know more about them. According to my map, Ebonheart was at Vvardenfell island's southernmost point, just south of the holy city of Vivec. Ranis told me that the fastest way to reach Ebonheart from Balmora would be to ask the guild guide, Masalinie, to teleport me to the Vivec Mages Guild. Once there I should cast 'Divine Intervention', which would teleport me to the nearest Imperial Cult shrine; in this case the Mission in Ebonheart. Upon learning that I didn't know the 'Divine Intervention' spell, she huffed impatiently and said:

"Then teleport to Vivec and walk, swim or take a boat to Ebonheart. Or fly - if you know the spell." She said pointedly. "Then go to the Cult Mission and LEARN Divine Intervention! Believe me, whatever you may do from this day forth, you will need that spell." I was about to tell her that I did at least know a levitation spell, but reconsidered and held my silence, reasoning that she would be less than impressed to hear that although I knew 'Levitate', I could not actually cast it reliably.

In any case, I wanted to see Vivec: by all accounts the city was spectacular. There were also a few things I wanted to do in Vivec, so it would make more sense to explore the city on foot and then find my way to Ebonheart. The next propylon index that Folms Mirel had sent me after was in the St. Olms Temple in Vivec, and three of the 'Seven Graces' pilgrimages were close to the big Tribunal Temple at the south end of the city.

The St. Olms Temple, the Vivec Temple and its nearby shrines, and then finally the Imperial Cult Mission. It would be a big day of visiting religious sites. The 'Pilgrim's Path' had indicated that the offerings traditionally given at the 'Seven Graces shrines' in Vivec were (respectively): one hundred coins, a potion of Rising Force (levitation), and a silver longsword. I conveniently had in my possession an extra silver longsword - from one of the Balmora noble's manors - and Ajira had a few Rising Force potions in stock, so in very short order I was ready to depart.

Masalinie gave me a knowing smile as I hoisted the sack of Dark Brotherhood armour over my shoulder and asked her to send me to Caldera - instead of Vivec. She knew that with a new set of the high quality black chain, I would be going straight to Creeper to sell it.

I arrived in Caldera during the dawn hour, but it was a lot darker outside than I had expected. Squinting into the dim sky I could see heavy rainclouds knitting together above my head. I hurried to the run-down manor where Creeper lived, not anxious to have my already heavy load burdened any further by getting my equipment soaked through. When I reached the manor I decided to try using my new 'Tinur's Hoptoad' spell to reach the second-floor balcony. It was an Alteration spell, and simply caused the caster to be able to jump much higher than he or she normally could. It did not provide any means of softening a fall, however, so caution was advised in its use.

Upon casting the spell a faint purple glow ran from my hands down to my legs, then vanished, leaving me feeling no different than usual. Until, that is, I tensed my legs for the jump: suddenly I felt much lighter than usual; though not light enough, as it turned out. In retrospect I should have suspected that in my physical condition, wearing a full suit of bonemold armour, carrying three long swords, my usual supplies, and the Dark Brotherhood armour in a sack may have been too much weight to allow me jump onto a second-floor balcony, magic spell notwithstanding. I scrabbled at the wooden rungs on the balcony but lost my grip and my footing, and came crashing down to the stone street in a heap, the black chain armour breaking the sack and spilling out everywhere.

I jumped to my feet with a curse and looked up the street, embarrassed, to see if anyone had seen my abortive attempt at acrobatics. I almost bit my tongue in fright when an arrow skimmed off my shoulder-guard with a crack. I span around to face the other way, spotting in the gloom a lone figure with a bow down the street: it looked like a khajiit. He and I were alone: not a guard to be seen. Weighted down as I was I couldn't run from my attacker, and I was not about to cast a teleportation spell and abandon the valuable Dark Brotherhood armour. Leaving the black chain where it had spilled onto the stones, I dashed to the left to get a building between myself and the bowman. I had my helmet tied to the top of my pack, within easy reach. Once behind cover I reached back and flipped it onto my head, before unslinging the tower shield from my back and drawing my katana.

The khajiit with the bow had run up the street to expose my cover, but with the huge bonemold towershield held in front of me I was able to charge him without taking injury. As I approached I could see that the khajiit was bare-chested, dirty, and quite gaunt, and that there was something wrong with his eyes: they glowed with a pale, unnatural light. Once within striking distance I knocked his bow aside with my katana, slicing it in two. My swing also cut across my assailant's bare chest, opening a long bloody furrow in his fur. I felt a momentary surge of confidence, which was immediately quelled as the wound quickly closed of its own accord. The khajiit snarled, revealing a set of very long fangs, and with a sinking feeling I began to suspect that what I was fighting was not mortal: it was a vampire.

The thing launched itself at me, claws extended, and with its legs wrapped around my waist, began violently tearing and pulling at the joints of my armour, trying to pry them open. Its claws found my skin through the joints, and tore into my flesh. Before it - or he - could bring its fangs too close to my throat, I headbutted the vampire khajiit in its sensitive nose. The hard bonemold of my helmet did the trick, and the thing released me, stumbling back and clutching at its face. I let my katana fall to the ground, and drew one of the silver longswords I had brought with me. While not as sharp, strong, or well-balanced as my steel katana, I had been taught that silver was deadly to supernatural creatures that might otherwise shrug off weapons of iron and steel.

I thrust the sword at the vampire's heart, and the thing actually tried to catch the blade with its hands! It quickly let go of the blade and cried out, holding up hands dirtied with wounds that were definitely not instantly healing over. Still, it had deflected my sword, which buried itself in the bony khajiit's stomach instead of its heart. In one fluid motion the infernal cat pushed me away (my sword coming with me), gave me a stunning kick to the head, then span around, whipping the filthy tip of its tail across the eye-slit in my helmet. My vision blurred from the dust and dirt in my eyes, I did not see the attack that threw me backwards to the ground. Even with my helmet, my head was struck a jarring blow. Blinking as rapidly as I could to clear my eyes, I swung out from my prone position at the blurry figure as it moved to pounce on me, the blade catching it in the side. The thing growled and spat in pain and frustration, stumbling back.

My vision was clear enough to stab the vampire a couple of times as he tried to dart in and latch onto me while I rose to my feet. The khajiit howled, and through its dead white eyes I thought I could see a mounting desperation. It kept glancing at the lightening sky, and thus distracted I was able to open a few deep gashes in its chest. The gaunt vampire could now hardly stand, its matted fur becoming soaked with its own blood. Dropping the cumbersome tower shield, I gripped my silver sword in both hands and swung as hard as I could at the vampire's neck, taking his head off.

The body wobbled for a moment, still on its feet. Then - I blinked - and the next thing I knew the body had the appearance of a crumbling, black statue. The gathering clouds broke, and rain started to patter down onto the stone street. A few drops hit the dead vampire, and it crumbled under its own weight, collecting in a pile of drifting ashes on the ground. I picked up my tower shield and placed it over the ashes to protect them from the rain and wind while I looked for something to collect them in. The ashes of a vampire - 'Vampire Dust' as it is commonly called - are quite valuable to alchemists. Shortly I found a chipped bottle and a cork in an alleyway, and scraped as much of the dust as I could into the makeshift container.

As I did so it dawned on me: I had fought a vampire, one of the more deeply feared creatures of the night. More than that, I had defeated it! Still, the wretched thing had looked malnourished, weak and filthy. And what force could have made a vampire hunt a person in the middle of a (supposedly) guarded town - at dawn? It must have been starving - truly desperate.

Somehow I felt little sense of triumph at my victory over the creature.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Chapter 18: When to hold a sword

After selling my 'loot' from the night before to Creeper, I used the proceeds to pay for some instruction in the fine art of holding a longsword by the proper end. The Redguard woman Rithleen was my instructor: one of the Blades trainers recommended by Caius. Her sessions usually last two hours, but I paid her enough to spend the entire day training me: I knew I was hopeless with a sword. We talked a little during the sparring sessions, my questions and comments usually spat out between ragged breaths; Rithleen would not let me use my 'Rest of St Merris' spell to keep myself from running out of breath, saying I had to learn to fight properly first. I was mostly curious about Caius, but she didn't have much to say about him, other than to assure me that he was genuine.

I felt more confident with my long bladed weapons by the end of the day, but I knew I would have to return for more instruction as soon as I had the money and the opportunity.

After dinner at the Mages Guild, I again packed my armour into the cabinet and donned my Pilgrim's Robe. It was dusk as I made my way over to Nalcarya's Apothecary. Habasi Sugar-Lips - who had turned out to be the head of the Thieves Guild in Balmora - had asked me to steal a diamond for her. 'Nalcarya of White Haven' as she was known, apparently had some.

My plan was to do just a few jobs for the Thieves Guild: enough to gain me the right (in their eyes) to do my own thing in their territory. I also wanted to do enough for them to grant me access to the services Habasi had spoken of. Should someone ever see me steal something, being rid of the bounty on my head that could result from such a thing - without involving the guards - would be very useful.

The theft of the diamonds was easy. At dusk, the gathering darkness granted me cover as I entered through the upstairs door; and since it was not yet late, Nalcarya was still downstairs in her store. Luck had a particularly dazzling smile for me that evening: in a small box on a high shelf I found three diamonds. Before visiting Habasi I sold two of the diamonds to Ajira. She actually gave me a good price for them: as it turned out, with my help she had won her bet with Galbedir and beaten the bosmer to the rank of Journeyman.

I was somewhat disappointed in my payment for delivering Habasi's diamond: an invisibility potion. While spells and potions of invisibility may sound good, they sputter out the instant you touch something: making them less than useful for thievery. The khajiit assured me that her next job for me would only take a small time to complete, and would pay much better than the first.

In short, she wanted the upstairs door key to Nerano manor: her suggestion being to get it from a servant who worked at the manor but spent his free hours at the Council Club: Sovor Trandel. Again, the job was easy. Sovor Trandel was deep in his cups when I walked into the Club, and even deeper in them after I paid him two hundred drakes for the key. I was glad to be out of the Council Club quickly: I had heard bad things about the place, and I certainly felt unwelcome there.

After the weak payment Habasi had given for my first job, I decided to have a look around the Nerano manor myself before handing the key over. I found a number of pieces of fine clothing in the manor bedrooms: some of it was more exquisite than anything I had ever even touched before. Clothes were all I came away with in the end. Back at the Mages Guild I sold most to Galbedir: enchanters made good use of fine clothes, as they could hold better enchantments than a simple peasant smock.

The most beautiful set of clothes I kept for myself: a robe, belt, pants and a shirt. I hid the robe away in the cabinet across from my bunk. There was no way I could wear something like that without raising suspicion: I would have to wait until I could justify owning something that expensive. The other items though I would wear under my armour or a common robe. The fine pants and shirt especially were so well-made, soft and durable that they would serve well as comfortable padding under my armour. Perhaps one day I could even get them enchanted.

Habasi paid me five hundred septims for the key: somewhat more in line with what I had been expecting. The next task she set for me would take more than an hour or two: a khajiit named Ra'Zhid had been expelled for stealing Dwemer artifacts from the guild. He was hiding out at 'Fatleg's Drop Off' in the Bitter Coast village of Hla Oad. Habasi wanted me to retrieve the dwarven goblet, bowl and tube he had stolen.

Everyone knew about the Dwemer: their huge, metallic ruins dotted the landscape over the entire Empire. No-one, however, knew what had happened to the dwemer race: the way history told it they somehow vanished all at once, thousands of years ago. There was a huge demand by collectors for the items found in the dwemer (or 'dwarven') ruins, and this was down to three things: (relative) rarity, craftsmanship and durability, and the danger involved in retrieving them from the ruins. The creaking metal monstrosities were apparently still patrolled by automated thinking machines. The Empire had laid claim to the trade of dwemer artifacts, prohibiting their sale by anyone else. This of course only increased their value on the black market. I was not overly keen to become involved in the smuggling of such bulky, distinctive items. I would leave it unless I found myself somewhere near Hla Oad.

By the time I went to bed I was exhausted, but as fate would have it I was in for another night of disturbed sleep. I'm not sure what it was that woke me: at first I thought I was dreaming of the Dark Brotherhood assassin again - that his eyepieces were there, glinting in the half-light of the guild at night. He rose from the shadows beside the cabinet, drawing his wakizashi blades. As that metallic ring reached my ears my heart lurched painfully and I realised that I was certainly not dreaming.

With a strangled shout I rolled out of bed, aiming for his legs, trying to trip him with my body. The assassin simply hopped over me and twisted to strike at my prone form. It was not luck that I had slept in my armour this time: I had left it on for just such an occasion as this. I managed to catch his blades on my bonemold bracers and push them away before scrambling to my feet. I didn't have my weapons - they were under my bunk, and the assassin must have seen them: he was keeping me away. I continued to block his attacks with my bracers as best I could, but it took the biting pain from a couple of deep cuts to wake me up enough to use my Righteousness spell.

From then on, with every swing he made, arcs of light jumped from his hands to mine, healing my wounds. He couldn't attack me without coming in range of the spell, and soon he was coughing and shaking, blood collecting at his feet. I was still without my weapons however, and just before I managed to land the spell that killed him, the assassin thrust one of his blades deep into my side; leaving it there as he crumpled to the floor.

The Dark Brotherhood assassin dead in an expanding pool of blood behind me, I staggered across to lean on a table, trying to hold myself up. The rest of the guild was awake by now of course, and most of them were trying to persuade Sharn gra-Muzgob to get up again and come over to heal me. I wasn't about to let myself bleed to death while I waited for a stubborn Orc, so with a howl of pain I yanked the blade out and pressed both hands on the wound, focusing my healing spell into them.

A moment later I collapsed into a chair, shaken but fully healed. I didn't know what I would do if it wasn't for the College of Restoration. A moment after that I rose again and angrily kicked the offending wakizashi blade into a skittering path across the floor, causing a couple of the guild members to take a couple of steps back.

"I'm going to Ebonheart. I must see what's to be done about this Dark Brotherhood."