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, October 07, 2005

Chapter 32: Stalling for time

The mere sight of the moons caused me pain after that day. To be more accurate, my head throbbed and my vision swam with dreamlike... visions - whenever I was in the moons' sight; when I went outside, in other words. Lalatia, the Oracle at the Imperial Chapel, seemed to be correct: the celestial bodies had something to do with the moon emblem unravelling and burrowing under my skin. Magic, if nothing else, was a curious thing... Why would someone make an item that would do such a thing? Malice? Or was it a mistake - a botched attempt at creating a magical item?

Not that it mattered, anyway. I was dying, and while Master Healer Synnolian maintained that there was hope I might find something that would cure me, it was mere speculation on his part. He had no idea what I should look for, or where to begin searching. For all we knew, there was nothing to be done: the magicka bleeding into my body would gradually edge out my life force, and I would age many times faster than I rightly should.

There was one thing that could be done: I could follow Synnolian's suggestion and attempt to somehow obtain for myself an item enchanted to constantly heal my wounds - visible and otherwise. As with the unknown and likely mythical cure for my affliction, stumbling across an item already enchanted with the effect of regeneration would probably be near impossible. Such things would be kept a closely guarded secret by their owners. I would need to pay to have one enchanted (I certainly did not have the skill to do it myself). This is was not something to be undertaken lightly: I have already mentioned in passing the incredible expense involved in having something enchanted, but there is more to it than that. I will explain:

Enchanting something to constantly radiate a particular magical effect requires four things (five if one includes the obscene amount of money charged by the enchanter): First, an item of clothing, jewellery, armour or weaponry - whatever it is has to of exceptional quality to be able to hold the enchantment. Second, a very rare 'grand' soul gem - third, a 'Soul Trap' spell, and finally, a creature of such might that its soul can stand the strain of constantly powering a magical field - essentially forever. I had a Soul Trap spell (and no trouble casting it reliably), and I had a selection of fine clothes stolen from a noble's house, but that was all.

I had nowhere near enough money, though I soon reasoned that I could probably scrape together enough by trapping souls into gems and selling the results to Creeper. The frequency with which I found undead (or undead found me) would probably mean I could raise the funds in a relatively short time. Grand soul gems were rare and highly coveted; Galbedir had described them to me, but I had never even laid eyes on one. I would have to find at least one somewhere though: no other soul gem would be strong enough. This brought me to the final obstacle: and the one I expected would give me the most trouble: I needed the soul of a fearsome, powerful creature. Not only would I have to find such a creature, I would have to somehow kill it (no other way to take posession of its soul, I'm afraid), while at the same time landing a soul trap spell upon it. I sincerely doubted that anyone would be willing to help me in such a fight, either. Even if most (non-magically inclined) people did not look down on the practice of trapping souls, no contingent of Imperial Legion soldiers was about to accompany me on a hunt for some deadly creature. No matter how much my lot may have improved since arriving on Vvardenfell, I was still a recently released convict.

As I saw things, I had little choice in the matter: I would have to do it myself. Only five years of life was bad enough; but as far as I was concerned, I didn't so much have five years of life left, as I had five years left until I died. I would be an artificial old man long before then, if Synnolian Tunifus was to be believed. If there was anything I could do to even merely delay such an eventuality, I would do it.

Before I could put my plan into action, there was much I needed to learn. I did not even know what manner of creature I should be hunting. There had to be someone in the Mages Guild who could help me. I teleported back to the Balmora guild in search of information.

"Edward, I am sorry for your condition, but I am not the one to blame for this." I couldn't help myself: I was scared, and angry, and I had lashed out at someone: Ranis Athrys. She had been the one who had introduced me to this array of mystical items and their extraordinary powers: she was the one who had gifted me with the magicka threads, and egged me on to chase down as many magic trinkets as I could. Ranis did not agree:

"I'm sure you recall as well as I do that I have never - in any way - forced you to submit yourself to the effects of any magical item; and certainly not one whose function is not well understood." The guild steward did not seem angry - she rarely did, to tell the truth - and right then she actually looked sympathetic and concerned. At the same time, her manner left little room for argument.

And she was right, of course. I had no-one but myself to blame. I had appeared in the guild and made a beeline for Ranis, shouting abuse as soon as I saw her. She had responded calmly once my story was out, and then... then I was too far gone in despair and self-pity, I think, to be embarrassed by my behaviour; but I became quiet again, at least. Once the dark elf learned of my plans, Ranis did what she could to help:

"Folms Mirel at the Caldera branch tells me that you and he are working together on that propylon scheme of his. It's good that you've met him already: he is the most knowledgeable enchanter I know. He can help you with what you'll need for such a powerful enchantment. I was at the Caldera guild just a few moments ago, speaking with Folms. He should still be there; you should go talk to him now."

The whole guild hall had heard every word of our conversation, of course: there are few secrets in a guild where most members can magically augment their hearing. To their credit, they made no attempt to hide their eavesdropping this time, and on my way to the guild guide platform I received condolences and wishes of luck from everyone in the hall - except Sharn gra-Muzgob of course (she was instead reading a book and pretending not to notice what was happening). Ajira seemed especially upset at my news, engulfing me in a big, furry hug. With her large shining eyes brimming with tears, she pushed me onto the platform set aside for teleportation, croaking:

"Go get better, Frosty!"

A moment later, Masalinie had teleported me to the Caldera guild, and a few moments after that, the dunmer Folms had heard my story and was wearing a serious expression.

"I can help you - not with the price involved in such an enchantment, unfortunately: the amount of coin needed is outside my control. I can't tell you why: master enchanter's secret." Folms gave a slight, and very brief, smile. "I can help you on the matter of soul gems and what kind of soul you'll need. Have you heard of a golden saint? No? Well, they're a great deal nastier than their name might lead you to believe: they are in fact the only beings on Vvardenfell nasty enough to power a constant enchantment - at least that I know of. One of the 'lesser' Daedra - summoned from Oblivion like all of their kind: one usually only finds them around Daedric ruins. You know about them, of course? Dangerous places - full of things that can kill you as soon as look at you if you're not prepared?"

I nodded, my heart sinking again. Daedric ruins... the stories I'd heard of those places...

"Fortunately, I happen to have a steady supply of spell-scrolls that summon golden saints: I use them in my own projects. One advantage in summoning creatures with the intent of trapping their souls is that they're on your side: to begin with, at least. You can hopefully get in a couple of swings before they realise what you're up to." At that I felt more hopeful: at least I would not have to venture into those Daedric deathtraps in search of one of these creatures. Folms went on: "That should make things a little easier for you: golden saints are still, as I said, fearsome foes, especially for a mage: most spells only make them stronger, or bounce right off them, back at the caster. In other words you need a strong sword arm; and a strong sword: silver will hurt them, but you really need a glass or ebony weapon. A Daedric blade would be best, of course, but they're probably outside your means to procure. And I mean no offense by that: they're outside the means of most mere mortals."

Again that slight smile.

"Finally, and I hope you appreciate what it means for me to reveal this, but I know of a possible solution to the scarcity of grand soul gems - because you were right: nothing else will do. Except for Azura's Star."

I looked at him blankly. The dunmer seemed a little surprised that I had not heard of this 'Star', and went on to explain:

"Azura's Star is a near-mythic soul gem that does not crumble after use; like a normal soul gem. Not only that, it is supposed to be stronger than a grand sould gem! Now as you know, I am a diviner as well as an enchanter; I have been tracking what I'm sure is Azura's Star for the past several years. I sensed that it was all the way across the continent, in Summurset Isle: far too far away to retrieve it, obviously. Just recently, though, the Star passed beyond my sight. Now the records and tales of Azura's Star say that the Daedric goddess Azura periodically gifts the Star to a mortal for a time: usually until this mortal dies or does something ghastly - you know how those old stories can be."

As I had noticed on other occasions, Folms was a ... talkative man. It was usually worth listening to him though.

"My point, Edward, is that I believe that Azura may have taken back the Star, to keep until another mortal comes along and performs some service for her. I can think of no better way to get her attention than to travel to her shrine, and ... see what is to be found there. It's quite remote - if you have a map of Vvardenfell there, I can show you." I pulled out my worn map of the island, and Folms made a small mark on a peninsula at the far south-east edge, commenting: "This is mere speculation, of course, but if you could somehow get ahold of that Star... it would be half the answer to your problem."

The mage became somewhat rueful:

"I had originally planned on hiring someone - possibly you, actually - to try to retrieve the Star for me - for my own use. Your need is greater than my own, of course: if that healer is right, then you'll likely need to have all sorts of bodily aspects constantly fortified before too long. And if you do find Azura's Star," at this, Folms actually laughed, "then you will lend it to me sometimes, won't you?"

I left Folms Mirel after talking with him a little while longer, teleporting back to the Balmora guild. I planned to leave for Azura's Coast and the Shrine of Azura the very next morning, and I wanted to organise my equipment before I went to bed. I paid special attention to putting my magical items where I could easily reach them.

Even after the awful results of meddling with the moon emblem, I could not put the other magical trinkets aside. I simply could not afford to: I would need every advantage I could get if I was to gather the resources required to prolong my drastically shortened life.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Chapter 31: A leak, a bruise

I had a dream just before I came back to the world. I dreamt of all that had happened since I arrived on Vvardenfell, the visions, smells and feelings flashing past with great speed. I knew I was dreaming because all the fighting, all the wounds I received didn't hurt. Conversely, I knew that the dreams had shifted back to reality when the aching, throbbing pain in my head returned.

I opened my eyes and my vision was filled with the broad, ruddy face of Synnolian Tunifus, the master healer of the Imperial Cult Mission in Ebonheart. All things considered, I had probably chosen the best possible place in all of Vvardenfell to collapse; Synnolian was regarded as an excellent healer. However, the look on his face dispelled any relief I may have felt.

"Can you hear me, Frost? Young Kaye and that trooper carried you in off the street." I didn't reply - instead bringing a hand up to my aching head. The pain was too intense for me to speak. Synnolian went on: "Do you know where you are? Can you tell us what happened?"

When I still remained silent, clenching my teeth and squeezing my eyes shut against the pain, Kaye spoke up, from somewhere off to the side:

"Can't you give him something?"

"I can, but I'm not sure what's wrong with him - there's something very strange..."

"I think you may have to: it looks like he's really hurting."

Synnolian sighed and pursed his lips, before moving out of sight. A moment later, someone propped me up and slowly poured a pungent liquid down my throat. A familiar warm glow spread from my stomach: it was a healing potion. The pain lessened somewhat; not melting away completely, but still enough for me to be able to focus on my surroundings.

I was sitting on a bunk bed somewhere in the Imperial Chapel, with Kaye, Synnolian and Lalatia Varian, the Oracle, all gathered around. The master healer was holding an empty vial, and asked me again if I could explain why I had collapsed. For a moment I still didn't answer - I was distracted by a new sensation. Through my atrocious headache I could feel magicka rushing into my body, faster than ever before. It seemed to burn as it came, like the midday sun on a roasting hot day.

Since the moon emblem had dived into my skin, the magicka was flooding into my body. And... there was something else. I don't know how else to describe it but to say that there was a leak, somewhere inside me: my magicka reserves slowly seeping out, but to where, I couldn't tell. The new flood of magicka was much faster than the mysterious leak, at any rate.

I explained all this to Kaye, Synnolian, and Lalatia (finally breaking my silence); I told them of the magical items I had found and been given, and how most of them fortified my ability to perform magic and store magicka. They were dumbfounded when they heard of the threads I had woven into the plane of magicka, and of the enchanted items that acted to accelerate this flow of magicka into my body. I finished by describing how the moon emblem had unravelled and burrowed under my skin as soon as I teleported outside.

"Are you saying that this 'emblem', in the shape of a moon, only came alive when you stepped outside?" Lalatia Varian, the Oracle of the Ebonheart Mission, spoke for the first time. I had met her only briefly before.

I nodded, suddenly remembering how I had seen the moons of Nirn, full and clearly visible, just before I had passed out. I thought I knew what Lalatia was about to say - and I was right:

"The moons are in a position of influence over the lands at the moment. It could be that coming within their sight triggered and brought out the properties of the emblem." The Oracle bent in close to examine my skin at the place where I had indicated the wormlike threads had been. "A patch of your skin is raised and looks irritated here." She pointed at my upper chest, then at my face. "Also here. They are both vaguely in the shape of a crescent moon, too."

Synnolian joined her examination, and asked:

"Lalatia, can you help me determine what's happened to our young Adept?" He rested a hand on my shoulder, and held out the other for the Oracle to take. Once they were holding hands, Lalatia placed her hand on my other shoulder, and the pair closed their eyes. I could see out of the corner of my eyes a gently pulsing blue glow, spreading out from their hands and disappearing into my body. They remained like this for a time, all the while their frowns deepening.

I noticed Lalatia's hand shaking, and then she pulled away, moving off without a word to sit down heavily across the room. Synnolian remained as he was for a moment before withdrawing his hand. He glanced across at the Oracle, who merely nodded, staring into the middle-distance. The healer pulled up a chair and sat down next to my bed, facing me. Finally he spoke:

"It is not really understood how the body stores magicka, and I must say that I've never seen anything like this before, but think of it this way: Blood is kept in your body, and yet certain injuries can cause a person to bleed inside their body, even to death - without any loss of blood from their body as a whole. That is what seems to be happening to your magicka reserves: they are bleeding out, into your body - like a bruise. Magicka will slowly seep into every fibre of your being. I have no idea what this will do to you in the meantime, but... one thing is absolutely certain." Synnolian held my gaze for a moment, then looked away.

"Mister Frost, I'm afraid you're dying."

My reaction to this news was... well, it's not something I can easily relate in words. I didn't say or do anything for a long while: I just sat there. Inside, I was in turmoil; a mess of anger, despair, and fear... mostly fear.

"It's as if your life force is being gradually edged out of your body. It will be like aging more quickly. If the process remains as it is now, you should have a good five years or so." I buried my face in my hands. I could feel helpless, burning tears welling up. Synnolian kept talking: "Perhaps more if... How are you at the College of Restoration?"

I looked up at his ruddy face, blinking the tears from my eyes. I could tell from his expression that he was not joking with any of this, and he had no reason to lie to me. Still, it was hard to believe - I was actually dying... Though I suppose after my extremely good fortune since arriving on the island, I was due to fall foul of some intensely bad luck. It was my own fault for messing with an unidentified magical device.

I remembered that Synnolian had asked me a question:

"What? Oh ... passable. I have healing spell I use - a lot." It's funny how in tragic and uncomfortable situations, one's unconscious mind sometimes forces the corners of your mouth upwards in a nervous twitch. I'm sure in my upset state it resembled a grimace more than a smile, however.

"Good, good." Synnolian stood up and began pacing back and forth slowly. "Because it looks like healing magic should help to slow the progress of this... affliction. If you can cast your healing spell every so often, you should live somewhat longer. If that headache stays with you, or returns again, healing magic should help with that too. Although..." He paused, tapping his chin with a forefinger. "This leak - this contamination - is constant, and you can't very well go on casting the same spell every few minutes, or drinking down one restorative potion after another. You have to sleep sometime."

I was sick of just sitting there and trying to maintain my composure, so as he spoke, I touched my fingers to my forehead and let the soothing waves of my healing spell wash away the throbbing headache. It seemed that Synnolian was right about that helping, at least. The healer was still talking - he appeared to be half thinking out loud:

"I'm afraid what you really need - what will really slow this thing down - is not easy to come by at all. You need a constant, permanent healing enchantment to combat the constant leak into your body. The enchantment would need to be placed on something you can keep in contact with your skin at all times: a shirt might be best."

I had felt a little hopeful again at the mention of something that could delay my apparently inevitable early death, but my heart sank when Synnolian started talking about constant effect enchantments. I had learnt enough about the process of enchanting objects to constantly radiate a magical effect was extraordinarily difficult, as was gathering the resources necessary to perform such an enchantment. Because of this, enchanters charged exorbitant fees for the service. Synnolian was talking about a magical item that would effectively cause the bearer's body to continuously regenerate, healing any injuries over a short time. Such a powerful enchantment would be hideously expensive, even by enchanters' standards.

My train of thought must have been apparent by my expression, because Synnolian said:

"Don't give up hope. There may be something out there that can help you: I mean really help - not just hold off the... Not just slow things down. Lalatia here is forever telling me of all these mystical items she senses all over the land. Some of them with power to make your head spin. And learning, only today, of the existence of such things as 'magicka threads' makes me believe all the more strongly that you may find something out there that can cure you... Now, Adept Frost: in the meantime you should feel little different, but be sure to come and see me regularly so I can monitor your condition..."

His voice seemed to fade away - I was lost in my own head, thinking of all I had lost - all I would lose.

Despite my prayers, I was dying.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Chapter 30: Mistake

My decision to investigate Mannammu caves was made easier upon learning that the bandits that made it their home were, without a doubt, thoroughly evil. A couple of Pelagiad residents described the last visit the bandits had made to the village: apparently a young woman had been raped and badly beaten. This had happened a week ago, and so far the Imperial Legion had done nothing to bring justice to the felons.

It was strange that a group of bandits would choose a place like Mannammu caves as a base; Pelagiad with its Legion fort being within earshot of the cave entrance and all. It was difficult not to suspect the Legion of corruption - especially after encountering a similar scenario in Seyda Neen; another Imperial settlement.

The bandits reacted to my presence in their caves as every other bandit I'd met: they wasted no time on words and leapt to the attack. Cythus had sported the Netch Adamantium armour as if it made one impervious. I soon found that this was obviously not the case, but my new armour was certainly a marked improvement over the old bonemold. I received a few wounds as I cut my way through the bandits, but the fighting was nothing near as desperate (at least on my part) as my last encounter with a cave-full of felons. Luckily I had caught them unawares; they were spread throughout the clutch of small caverns, and even though each one took up a cry for help that echoed through the caves, I was able to incapacitate each opponent quickly enough that they had no chance to face me as a combined force.

I felt the same remorse as I had after every time I had killed someone, but the ache was less intense this time, and did not last as long. Most people would say I had done unequivocal good by ridding the world of such men (and women - surprisingly, considering the tales surrounding this bunch) as had inhabited Mannammu caves. In fact there were people who travelled the land as Crusaders, making a living from dealing the kind of death I had wrought that afternoon. They were considered heroes - on par with noble knights and selfless healers.

So perhaps I needn't have felt guilty at all - but still I could not quiet the voice in the back of my mind that accused me of killing those bandits for their valuables, and nothing else. A small part of the blame could possibly be levelled at Habasi Sugar-Lips, the head of the Thieves Guild in Balmora. A couple of nights previous, at the South Wall Cornerclub, I had made the drunken mistake of falling into conversation with the khajiiti woman about the magical items I had recovered from the lairs of smugglers up the Bitter Coast. She told me that there was currently an influx of magical trinkets into Vvardenfell - there was a reason behind this, but parts of our conversation eluded my memory due to my addled state.

In any case, most of these magical items were in the hands of smugglers - due to the Empire's quarantine of the island, and the trade embargo that came with it. Habasi explained that since the majority of the smuggling trade on Vvardenfell was controlled by the Camonna Tong, the local criminal organisation that was only a hair's breadth away from being openly hostile towards foreigners, these potentially powerful trinkets were not likely to see use outside of the Tong. That is, unless someone pried them away from the smugglers first.

Like me.

Habasi's information turned out to be reliable, as always: wrapped in a piece of cloth in a packing crate, I found several magical items. My recent studies on enchanted objects enabled me to identify them. One was an emblem in the shape of a crescent moon. I had learnt that these emblems were pinned to one's shirt, whereupon they would bestow some kind of effect on the wearer - but only if a circumstance particular to that emblem was met. Unfortunately, there was usually no way (outside of blind luck or extensive experimentation) to determine what that effect was, or how it was triggered. The design of an emblem was said to offer some clue as to its properties, but the simple golden yellow crescent emblem I held in my palm failed to set off any spark of inspiration in my mind. I decided to take it back to the Mages Guild and see if someone could help me identify its properties.

Stored along with the emblem was an enchanted ring I was able to identify immediately, as it had caught my attention (and my avarice) when I read about it the day before. It was a 'Magery' ring, and like my Elementward ring, it relied on inset gems for most of its power. If the records about such rings were correct, finding eight appropriate tourmaline stones and re-setting them in the ring would provide an object of incredible power and utility for a mage. Imagine my joy, then, when I realised that three of the tiny stones that had been secreted away with the ring were actually tourmalines!

Even better, I already had another three of the stones wrapped up with my things back at the Mages Guild. When I had determined that there was nothing else of real value to be had in the caves, I Recalled back to the guild hall to immediately set the six tourmalines into my new Magery ring. On its own, the ring provided a modest boost to my mental faculties, but with three-quarters of its tourmaline gems restored, it actually became more powerful than the Mentor's Ring, an item regarded by scholars as a minor artifact. On top of the improved clarity and focus 'Magery' bestowed, slipping the partially restored ring onto my middle-finger revealed a few more powers.

I could feel the magicka flowing into my body faster than ever before. Shortly I realised that the reason I could feel this was that the ring now not only tapped into the plane of magicka (like my magicka threads), it also provided an artificial reservoir of sorts, enabling my body to store more magicka. After donning the ring, the reservoir was quickly being filled.

Feeling every bit as excited as a small child with a new toy, I left Magery on my finger, and decided to study the moon emblem next. No-one in the guild hall could offer any insight as to what it might do - not Ranis, the guild Steward, or Galbedir, the enchantress, or even Estirdalin, with her knowledge of weaving new spells. I eventually lost patience and simply pinned the emblem to my shirt, above the right breast pocket, to see if anything would happen.

This turned out to be a serious mistake.

Nothing happened at first; the thing behaving exactly like any mundane emblem would. The books I had read that mentioned magical emblems suggested that this was to be expected, so I put it out of my mind for the moment.

I had been keeping the loose tourmaline gems in the limeware bowl I had recovered from Caryarel, and fishing the gems out had reminded me that I still needed to return it to Kaye at the Imperial Chapel in Ebonheart. So, I gathered it up and asked Masalinie to teleport me to the guild hall in Vivec. From there, I cast Divine Intervention and was drawn through space to the doorstep of the Imperial Chapel. As soon as my vision cleared, I noticed what felt like some oversized lizard or insect crawling up my shirt... right where I had pinned the moon emblem.

Craning my neck to see, my breath caught in my throat: the emblem was unravelling of its own accord, and the threads - the golden threads - were pushing themselves through the weave of my shirt. I grunted at the sensation of numerous pin-sized objects stabbing into my chest. Pulling my shirt open, I just caught sight of the tail end of a multitude of threads disappearing into my skin. I could feel them all moving just under my skin, worming their way up my chest towards my neck. They passed out of my sight then, but I could still feel them, moving from my neck to my face.

The whole time I was clutching at my skin in horror, unable to stop the progress of the wormlike threads. This was not at all like what had happened with the magicka threads Ranis had given me. A passing Legion soldier stared at me, agape, before venturing:

"Sir, are you ... are you quite alright?"

I was unable to speak, and simply stared back at the soldier with wide, terrified eyes. The threads had settled under the skin of my face, and were writhing about like a bag of snakes thrown on a bonfire. There was a sharp, digging pain in my head, and then I could no longer feel the wormlike things - or anything else. As I slowly (or so it seemed) keeled over backwards, the sunlight became unbearably bright, and the colours of all I could see bled into one another.

The last things I saw before my head hit the cobblestones and I blacked out were the moons of Nirn, visible even in the light of day.