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 23, 2005

Chapter 26: On the run

After my theft of the dwemer artifacts from Raz'hid had devolved into a mad dash out of Hla Oad before I was reported to the guards, I was sure that I now had a price on my head. Bounties for theft were usually roughly equal to the value of the property stolen. The way I saw it, I had two options if I wanted to avoid a life of hiding my face in public: the first of which was to turn myself in to a guard and pay the bounty. I wanted to avoid this, as guardsmen were known to shake down people that did this for any stolen items - or simply for anything they took a liking to. I did not fancy having my hard-won equipment confiscated, so the second option looked like the course to take: I would see if the Thieves Guild would hold up their end of the bargain and help me out of this trouble.

Besides, any bounty on my head was as a result of a job Habasi had sent me on - and I had the pieces she wanted, so I anticipated having little trouble persuading them to help me. I felt calmer once I had worked out what to do, and before I knew it I had arrived at Velos Ancestral Tomb, the time-worn stone entrance jutting from a hillside. I think it was my curiosity again making me stick my nose where I shouldn't - that and the possibility of great power. I imagined finding the Amulet of Scrye and being able to solve age-old mysteries simply by talking to the spirits of those alive at the time. I think I also had some vague plan to ask the spirits for sanctuary from their attacks. I seemed to find undead wherever I went.

I was very naive.

I went into the tomb ready for a fight, but all I found was a book and the Amulet of Scrye, sitting on a stone plinth, caked with dust. I could only tell that I had found the amulet because it had 'Amulet of Scrye' inscribed on it in tiny characters: any enchantment on it escaped my ability to sense such things. Using my Night-Eye spell, I skimmed through the book until I found part that taught me how to cast a spell that would allow me to see into the spirit world and speak with any ghosts that may be 'nearby'. The book explained that wearing the amulet would allow me to hear whispers of the dead; thereby letting me know when spirits were nearby.

I put the amulet around my neck, the metal icy against my skin. Instantly I could hear harsh whispering; someone pleading me to listen, and to look at them. I tentatively cast the spell I had learnt from the book, jumping back with a yelp as the glowing face of a spirit appeared so close to me that our noses were almost touching. It was a man - a dunmer - and he had the ... biggest ears I had ever seen. He was not happy to see me.

"Another one." He clenched and unclenched his ghostly fists. "Did you know that every time some amateur necromancer runs off with that amulet, holding it aloft as if they have the answer to their existence in their hand, they eventually come back gibbering about death and infinity or somesuch? They come back and they beg me to take the amulet and whatever it is they've seen back - as if I could do such a thing. Do you still want the shiny thing, you silly little boy?"

"I'm not a necromancer!" I was indignant. "I actually killed one who was looking for this." I fingered the amulet.

"Necromancers kill each other all the time." The spirit, which I took to be that of Thynim Velos, fixed me with a stare. "Though I suppose that supports your claim that you're not a necromancer. If you were, you'd..." Velos trailed off, his eye narrowing. "You're going to keep it, aren't you? Stupid, stupid mortal! Alright look; there may be a way for you to keep that amulet and whatever fluff blew into your head that you took to calling your mind."

The spirit waved a hand at the back wall of the tomb. A ghostly door materialised slowly, opening onto a dark cavernous passage.

"I have four tasks for you. Complete them and you might not go stark raving mad after all. And before you ask, no, I don't have anything better to do with my time. I have an awful lot of time at hand, being dead, and all. Take that skull." Velos pointed at my hands and I realised I was holding a brittle, pockmarked skull, though I could not remember picking it up. "Place it in the chest at the end of the hall." He ushered me through the ghostly door, calling out to me just before it slammed shut: "One more thing. Honour the dead."

This then, was what I got for following every whim that passed through my mind. I hurried down the wide, echoing passage. It was dark in there, even with my Night-Eye spell, but I could make out skeletal guardians with rusted weapons in various alcoves and small rooms off the hall, following my progress with their empty eye sockets. Partway down the hall, the skeletons began to move, first one or two, then the rest, striding purposefully towards me. I increased my pace, then broke into a run, tucking the skull under my arm in case things came to a shoving match.

The undead followed suit, and soon I was tearing down the huge passage, a mass of skeletons right behind me. With the skull tucked under my arm like a recreational ball, it rather felt like a macabre version of a game I used to play with the other orphans; only this time I wanted to be caught even less than back then. I guessed that by "honour the dead", Velos had meant for me to avoid attacking the undead in the hall; though even if I was so inclined, I would not be foolish enough to turn and face such an overwhelming force.

By the time I reached the chest at the end of the hall, the ungainly skeletons had fallen behind somewhat, and I had time to toss the brittle skull into the chest and slam the lid shut. I was momentarily distracted by an awful shriek from within the chest, and then the mob of skeletal guardians were almost upon me. Trying to skirt around the group while at the same time keeping a wary eye on them should they fan out, I tripped and found myself backed into a corner, a forest of bones blocking my escape.

To my surprise, the skeletons merely stopped and stared at my prone form, making no further move towards me. Wasting no opportunity to escape, I slowly got to my feet and carefully picked my way through the crowd of undead, trying to avoid somehow provoking them. Every skull in the room swivelled in place to watch my retreat, but I was not challenged on my way out. A few short moments later I pushed through the ghostly door to where I had spoken with Velos, the door fading away behind me.

The spirit was nowhere to be seen, but the Amulet of Scrye was whispering menacingly to me again, so I cast the seance spell. When Thynim became visible he was wearing a grim smile.

"Good. That was actually quite good. Now, the second task is to kneel at that prayer stool over there, and pray. I don't much care what you pray for, though given that you seem adamant on keeping my amulet, you may wish to pray for your sanity."

I realised that Velos was right. I did want the amulet, even after originally wanting to avoid anything to do with necromancers and their art. Perhaps it was some effect of the amulet itself, attracting me to it. I couldn't imagine anyone intentionally imbuing an item with unwanted effects during the enchanting process, but then maybe some aspect of the habit of obsession that is said to infest necromancers had made its way into the amulet. In any case I followed the spirit's instructions and knelt at the prayer stool.

Without thinking, I found myself praying for something that I had wished for many times before; of course without expectation that it would ever be granted. I prayed that I would never die.

"That will do." Velos broke my reverie. "Your next task will be more difficult. There is a vampire I wish killed, in the Reloth Ancestral Tomb. The tomb is south-east of Khuul, where the mountains end." The spirit began to fade. "One thing I must insist upon is that you leave the amulet here for now. Trust me." He grinned unpleasantly. "It's safer that way."

With that, he vanished, and the Amulet of Scrye was gone from around my neck too. With the amulet gone I felt as if I was thinking clearly once more. A vampire! While it was true that I had killed a vampire before, the thing had been already half-dead (in a manner of speaking) from starvation. I was not about to go looking for a fight with a vampire.

I hurried from the tomb, resuming my trek north through the muggy swamps of the Bitter Coast. I did not see any evidence of civilisation until dusk, when I came across a wooden door leading into a natural cave system. Inside I was momentarily alarmed by a strange dog-like creature with thrashing black antennae where its eyes should rightly have been. The thing waddled up and regarded me with brief curiosity, before turning and casually wandering off into the caves.

I was exhausted: I had put a great distance between myself and the guards of Hla Oad that day. I made camp right there, at the mouth of the cave. Laying back in my bedroll I felt somewhat uneasy about sleeping there with those strange animals wandering about: that is until I saw how my ioun stone was behaving. It would float up to any of the creatures that approached while I was lying down, and give them a sharp rap on what appeared to be their nose. The creature would then quickly retreat.

Feeling for the first time that day that I could relax, I drifted off to sleep.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chapter 25: Illusive

I woke to the creaking and groaning of the beached ship. It was morning, and as the temperature increased, the wood of the ship shifted in place, making all sorts of subtly unsettling noises; worst were the occasional, very loud, cracks. I was certainly not made for a life at sea: even a ship stranded on solid land made me uncomfortable.

Still, before leaving, I poked around the refuse inside the wreck. The Bitter Coast was still blanketed in fog, and the diffuse light barely illuminated the ship's interior, seeming to seep reluctantly through the gaps between the warped boards of the hull. The lower part of the ship was submerged in the salty water, and I could hear a faint susurrus from the inky pool as the tide went out; again seeping through the warped and broken hull.

I had recently learnt a spell, called 'Night-Eye', that allowed me to see in the dark; much to my delight. For most people, flaming torches are a necessary evil: they provide illumination of course, but at the same time they can be difficult to light - and keep lit - they can be dangerous in confined spaces, they leave you with only one free hand, they reveal your position to others... and the list goes on. People with mystic ability can overcome basically all of these obstacles by magically seeing in the dark. Some travelling mages still choose to carry a supply of torches in order to conserve their magicka. I personally had no need to worry about that: since magicka was constantly trickling into my body, a Night-Eye spell here and there was no trouble at all.

One particular failing of torches came to mind as I peered into the impenetrable blackness of the pool: they are obviously useless for seeing underwater. The nightvision spell came easily, and the world before my eyes took on a greenish, washed out hue. Sliding into the cool water, I took a deep breath - and promptly lost most of it in fright. At the very bottom of the wrecked ship was a skeleton, and at first glance it appeared to be struggling slowly at the broken wall of the hold. Shortly though I realised (or came to hope) that it was not the kind of skeleton that would attempt to kill me: rather it was someone's remains, caught up in the current passing through the ship.

A quick search of the few crates and barrels floating about in the ship's hold turned up some moon sugar (in water-proof packaging), and three diamonds. The precious stones were actually not as valuable as the 'ensouled' soul gems in my pack, but they were still nothing to sniff at. The moon sugar confirmed my suspicions: it was definitely the wreck of a smuggler or pirate ship: no-one had come to claim the body - or the valuables I found. It was my guess that no-one knew the wreck was there. The Bitter Coast was truly a remote place.

I made good time that morning, arriving in the small village of Hla Oad within two hours of leaving the shipwreck. Sugar-Lips Habasi had asked me to recover some dwemer items that had been stolen from the Thieves Guild by a khajiiti man called Raz'hid. He was apparently staying at 'Fatleg's Drop-off' in Hla Oad. I had been wary of having anything to do with dwemer artifacts: large, distinctive and heavy as they were, they were not the sort of contraband I was eager to carry around on my person. Since I was passing through Hla Oad anyway though, I decided to see if I could track them down. The remoteness of the Bitter Coast should help keep me from the prying eyes of the guardsmen, at any rate.

As I asked one of the villagers for directions to Fatleg's, I remembered that the spirit of Lleves Andan had told me that a man named Thynim Velos from Hla Oad owned the only known 'Amulet of Scrye' in the land; a magical item that allowed the wearer to speak with the dead. I'm not sure what made me do it, but I also asked the villager if she knew of anyone by the name of Velos. She said that there was a Velos ancestral tomb out of town to the northeast, but that was it. I wondered if it would be worthwhile investigating the tomb - something I would have never done even a few days previous. Perhaps carrying the captured souls of a ghost and a few undead monstrosities in my pack made me less wary of them.

In Fatleg's Drop-Off, a moderate-sized shack filled with a clutter of crates, barrels and sacks, my skill in Illusion magic was sorely tested. A khajiit who I took to be Raz'hid was seated at a small table, across from a redguard man wearing a robe. As I entered, Raz'hid stood up from the game of dice they had been playing to greet me - or, probably more likely - to size me up. The redguard barely spared me a glance, pulling a dagger from his sleeve and idly sharpening it while he waited for the game to resume. Raz'hid spoke bluntly:

"What you want?" He did not seem overly interested or concerned - his manner was in fact very much like that of a bored shopkeeper. I held out my hand and waited for him to take it. Reluctantly he reached out and clasped my hand briefly. As he did so, a green spectral light, visible only to me, leapt from my fingertips to his clawed hand. I was trying out my new 'Charm' spell, hoping to fuddle his mind into taking an artificial liking to me.

"You're Raz'hid, aren't you? I've heard that you may have some very old items ... ancient - as old as the dwemer, even." At the mention of the dwemer, the khajiit's tail flicked back and forth a couple of times tellingly.

"Raz'hid does not know what you are talking about." He smirked. "Dwemer things are very illegal - Raz'hid would never deal in such things."

I was very disappointed. I had expected my Charm spell to - well, work like a charm. Even a bribe of a hundred drakes failed to loosen his tongue, and before too long he had returned to playing dice with the redguard. I suspected that Raz'hid happened to have a very shrewd mind, and the only effect my spell had had on him was for him to loosen up enough to let his body language tell me that he was lying. Either that or I simply needed much more practice at the College of Illusion.

As it happened, I got some practice immediately. I pretended to leave, throwing the door wide and leaving it open behind me as if in a huff. I stepped out of sight and cast my invisibility spell, darting back into the building just before the robed redguard pulled the door closed with an exasperated sigh. I was completely invisible to others (at least until I touched something), but to me my body was indistinct and diffuse, as if seen through murky water. I spotted a heavy, locked chest and put a stack of crates between myself and the dice-playing pair so that they would hopefully not notice me when the invisibility spell was broken. Inserting the tip of my forefinger into the lock on the chest, I slowly and gently let alteration magic flow into it, loosening the mechanism inside until it popped open with a faint click.

Inside was exactly what I was looking for: the dwarven goblet, bowl and tube Raz'hid had stolen from the guild. Quickly I grabbed the metal items and pushed them into my pack, very conscious that my invisibility spell had definitely worn off by that time. It was just as I dropped the last object into my pack that Raz'hid stepped around the stack of crates on his damnably quiet khajiit feet and caught me red-handed. With a hiss that also brought his redguard associate running, the cat leapt to the attack, dealing me a painful swipe across the cheek with his claws.

I placed the palm of my hand on his stomach, pushing him away and at the same time discharging my 'Calming Touch' spell into his body. Another Illusion spell, it had the basic effect of making the subject temporarily forget that he or she wanted very much to kill someone. I had no time to see if that spell had worked on Raz'hid, as the redguard had thrown back his chair and was obviously preparing a devastating spell. I dashed diagonally across the room, trying to close the distance between myself and the robed reguard while keeping behind cover as best I could. Halfway there, part of a wooden support exploded at head-level, peppering my face with splinters.

Before he could get another spell off, I leapt over the small table and tackled the dark man into the wall, releasing the Calming Touch spell into him as I did so. I jumped back, hand on my katana in case the spell had failed to work. The redguard got up in a rather more unhurried fashion, straightening his chair as he did so. He sat back down again at the table, blinking rapidly, but apart from that, behaving as if nothing had happened. Raz'hid shuffled forward, growling:

"You... you stole from me, bad breton." He was in something of a daze, but was making no further move to attack me. "Raz'hid be telling the guards ... just as soon as - as Raz'hid..."

I was out of there with the dwemer artifacts before he could finish. Blood streaming down my face from multiple small wounds, I cast my invisibility spell so no-one would see me sprinting from the village. Just before passing behind some gnarled trees and losing sight of Fatleg's Drop-Off, I turned to see Raz'hid miming my description to a guardsman: black hair like this, armour, this tall, weapons... I could see it all through his gestures, without having to hear one word.

I doubted that the khajiit would be stupid enough to tell the guard that I had stolen dwemer artifacts from him: something that by rights he should not have had in his possession to begin with. Nevertheless, he was obviously reporting me for some crime, and the last time I had been reported to a guard, I had found myself spending a number of years in a small, cold cell.

Pushing down the feelings of panic that threatened to overwhelm me, I turned and disappeared into the marshes.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Chapter 24: Lost and forgotten things

Once the skeletal guardian crumbled into a pile of bone shards, the tomb was eerily quiet. I could hear the grating, chirupping call of the swamp insects filtering in from outside. Venturing further underground, into the next chamber, I found a pit of ashes like the one in the Andan tomb. And, just like in the Andan tomb, a ghastly spectre burst from the ashes with an awful, unnatural scream. While the spirit of Lleves Andan had proved to be harmless, this ghost had one goal in mind: for me to join it in death.

The thing swooped in with alarming speed, swirling about my head and raking me with its spectral, bony hands. Though I could see right through them, its fingers felt sharp as talons, opening numerous small wounds in my back and arms before I could react. When I did make my move, I was glad no-one was there to see me: I was waving and whirling my silver blade about as if trying to swat flies from the air - I felt somewhat foolish. I managed to connect, though - in a manner of speaking - as my sword passed through the ghost's midriff with little resistance, leaving a trail of blazing silver light in its wake.

The spectre actually paused for a moment to stare at me, its pale, skeletal face impassive. I took that opportunity to cast Soul Trap; a white, ethereal loop bursting from my hands and encircling the spectre. At that, it became enraged, giving an almost unbearably loud screech and flying to the attack again. I had cast hooks into the ghost's very soul, and it knew it: it was about all the thing had left to lose.

And lose it the ghost did. I scored a few lucky hits, finally destroying the spectre with a slice right down its middle. The thing boiled away like thin clouds before the sun, and I felt a now-identifiable lurch in my pack. Looking inside, I found that one of the higher quality soul gems was now home to the apparition's soul. I couldn't help but smile: Galbedir had told me that the captured soul of an ancestor ghost could fetch a few thousand drakes when sold. Quite the fortune as far as I was concerned.

With the angry spectre out of the way, I was able to give the room a thorough search for valuables. I tried to assuage my guilt and dispel the notion that what I was doing was basically grave-robbing, by telling myself that the tomb was obviously long forgotten. It almost worked.

In any case, I was glad I looked, because in a small, rotting chest I found a deep blue gem. It actually looked very similar to some of the soul gems I was carrying in my pack - but as soon as I picked it up I could tell that the stone itself was enchanted in some way. When I brought it close to my face to have a closer look at it, the gem twitched, then slipped from my fingers and floated into the air, brushing past my forehead as it did so. When it touched my forehead I instantly knew what the stone did: it would actively and constantly work to clear my mind and improve my concentration, while also occasionally intercepting hostile spells before they could harm me. In fact, any spells caught in this manner would be absorbed, feeding into my magicka reserves. It was a magnificent find - but having the knowledge of what the stone did pushed into my mind through contact with it was unnerving. It was something like remembering the answer to a riddle you had heard before, a very long time ago.

I observed the curious floating gem as I went to leave the room: it zoomed down from the ceiling to bob along behind my head as I walked. Whenever I stopped it would orbit my head, or sometimes float over to apparently inspect some nearby object. Later I learned that this behaviour was common to all ioun stones (for that was what it was). They were unusually anthropomorphic in nature for enchanted rocks.

There was little else of interest in the Thelas Ancestral Tomb, so I continued my expedition up the Bitter Coast. For hours I trudged through the inland swamps and muddy sand of the shoreline, without seeing a single sign of civilisation; past or present. It was hardly surprising: fetid swamps made for a poor place for anyone to settle. At some point in the afternoon I found another tomb, this one encrusted with layers of salt, as it opened directly onto the sandy shore of the coast. After leaving the Thelas tomb with such valuable items, I only hesitated for a short moment before approaching the coastal tomb for a closer look.

The arched alcove was marked as the 'Sarys Ancestral Tomb', and from outside it actually made for a picturesque scene, glittering with crystallised salt as it was. Inside, though, I underwent the heaviest fighting I had yet seen.

The Sarys tomb was the largest I had explored, and was crawling with undead monstrosities. Just inside the first chamber, a huge, wheezing bonewalker lurched out of the shadows, bearing me to the ground with its draining attacks, just like the one in the Andan tomb. I defeated this one in much the same way as the first, focusing my Frostbite spell through one hand, and the Righteousness spell through the other - until the thing collapsed on top of me, well and truly dead. Unfortunately, this revenant had not been temporarily summoned by a necromancer, and it did not vanish when killed. I was unable to push the revolting, stinking thing off until I had magically restored my strength. Keeping my lunch down under such circumstances was quite a feat.

Next I encountered two more of the zombies - one at a time, though - luckily. The first one was much weedier than the other bonewalkers I had faced, and its swollen lips were frozen in a wide, rotting grin. I thought at first that the thing must have had some difficulty telling how far away I was, because it lashed out at me from across the room. Hoping to take full advantage of the creature's apparent handicap, I rushed straight at it, sword raised. I soon realised my mistake, since as it lashed out, it projected a dull reddish field from its hands, catching me full in the chest. I stumbled, suddenly feeling weak and clumsy: it was another draining attack!

The skinny bonewalker then proved that it knew perfectly well where I was, running up and battering me with the hardened flesh of its arms. I was again forced to use 'Righteousness' to survive its attacks and bring it down. This time, I didn't just feel sick from transferring the 'life' force from an undead creature to my own body: I felt weak and exhausted, even after magically reversing the effects of the revenant's draining attacks. I had caught some horrible, fast-acting disease from the creature - and I suspected that it had happened because of the Righteousness spell. Fortunately, I knew a spell to cure most common diseases, and I was soon feeling perfectly healthy again.

Thanking whatever gods may exist that I had been born with some magical ability, I carried on into the tomb and soon crossed paths with another of the skinny bonewalkers. This time, however, I managed to surprise and corner the beast, raining blows upon it with my silver sword until enough of its bones were broken to render it incapable of movement.

I had managed to capture the souls of all three bonewalkers, and warm thoughts of all the money I would soon receive for the sale of their soul gems spurred me onwards, still deeper into the tomb. I think it made me careless. In my eagerness to cast Soul Trap on the skeletal guardian in the deepest chamber of the tomb, I underestimated the strength in its arms, and almost paid for that mistake with my life. (In my defence, one cannot judge the relative strength of a skeleton in the same way as one might pick a fight in a bar based on how burly their opponent is: skeletons have no muscles!)

This particular guardian carried a huge battle axe, and swung it into my side with a lightning blow that swept me from my feet and slammed me into the wall. Winded, I collapsed into a heap at the base of the wall, gasping for air. Blood ran from my gaping mouth in a thin trickle onto the floor. I could tell the axe had passed straight through my armour and cut deeply into my side, probably into one of my lungs. I couldn't get up, and as the shadow of the skeleton passed over my face, I knew that I had to do something quickly or I would die right there on the dusty floor. I snatched a couple of healing potions from a pouch on my belt and forced myself to choke them both down, even though I still couldn't breathe.

A wonderful feeling of warmth spread from my stomach outwards, the near-fatal wound in my side closing in an instant. I had just managed to get to my hands and knees when the skeletal guardian caught up with me and dealt another devastating blow to my midriff, sending me skittering across the floor. Thankfully, the healing energies of the potions were still running their course, and not only did I survive the attack, I rose to my feet fully healed, the Righteousness spell ready in my hands.

Somehow I managed to dodge enough of the skeleton's blows for long enough to completely drain the force driving it - into my own body. Eventually the thing just stopped, axe raised as if for another swing, before slowly toppling over and lying motionless.

Shaking with adrenaline and breathing hard after the desperate fight, I approached a stone plinth at the far end of the chamber. Resting upon it was an urn for holding ashes - just like the others lining the chambers of the tomb. This particular one, however, caught my interest as it was the only one in that whole room. Leaning in close to inspect it, I could hear something coming from within: it sounded something like a wild, roaring beach heard from a distance. Suspecting that the urn may be trapped, I backed away and popped the stopper off from a distance with my new Telekinesis spell. The distinctive red glow of destruction magic shot from the urn to dissipate harmlessly across the ceiling.

Inside the urn I found something that made battling the many undead creatures worthwhile: a beautiful ring - one that I could immediately sense was very powerful. I detected that the enchantment upon it was such that it fortified a person's mental capacity, not occasionally and temporarily like most enchanted items - but constantly. It was a lot like the ioun stone I had found earlier in the day, only much more potent. In short, it would aid my magical abilities no end. Slipping it on, I left the tomb and continued up the coast.

I found no further signs of civilisation until just on dark, when I rounded a stand of gnarled swamp-trees and saw a beached, wrecked ship, at the mouth of the Odai River (according to my map). The captain's cabin on deck was still intact, and the door still worked. Although the floor was at a crazy angle, it made for an excellent place for me to spend the night, safe from wandering creatures.

Laying in my bedroll, I gazed at the magical ring I had found before drifting off to sleep. It occurred to me that perhaps with such a ring I might be intelligent enough to avoid places like the Sarys Ancestral Tomb in future.