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 14, 2005

Chapter 35: Burning away

On a peninsula a little way north of the Mabu-Ilu caves, facing onto a small cove on the south-east coast of Vvardenfell, I found the jumbled stonework of a Daedric ruin. I approached from a nearby hill, so I could see down into the ruins. They appeared abandoned, so I slid down the steep, slick slope to have a closer look.

This was despite my earlier misgivings about Daedric ruins, of course; all the stories about them agree on one thing: they are often as not crawling with Daedra summoned from Oblivion, and as such are very dangerous. Some even say that the people that frequent the ancient ruins and shrines, to worship the Daedra gods, were even worse. So what was I doing there? Perhaps, fresh from my victory over the Dremora and its summoner in the caves, I was feeling overconfident. Perhaps my affliction bred a fatalistic and self-destructive streak in me that I had not known before. And maybe the search for something to prolong my clipped lifespan was leading me to desperation.

It was probably all these things. In any case, when I found a door to an underground Daedric shrine, I decided to investigate. Those Daedric doors were a mystery to me, and I never could discover how they worked. This one, like all others I saw, was oval-shaped, and appeared to be made up of flat stone triangles, with their points meeting at the centre of the oval. A little below the centre was a stretched, hemisperical stone, somewhat resembling the carapace of a beetle. Attached to each of the lower 'corners' of the hemisphere were roughly horseshoe-shaped stones, ending in dull tips that pointed away from the hemispherical stone.

None of this appeared to account for anything, though: as when I tentatively reached out to touch the door, there was a loud crack - which made me blink - and then I was facing a darkened flight of stairs leading down into the ground. The door had opened seemingly of its own accord - and too quickly for me to observe how it had done so.

Not wanting to tempt fate more than I already was, I quickly jumped through the door, which promptly sealed me in with a booming crash. Inside was sparsely lit at best; a couple of guttering torches here and there. The dark purple stone of which the place was constructed caught very little light - my Night-Eye spell was a necessity.

At the bottom of the stairs, I was almost blinded (thanks to my amplified vision) by a bright flare of light from the hands of a dunmer woman, pressed into one of the many alcoves lining the passage. The spell streaked by under my arm - I had sidestepped it as I did most offensive spells - though only barely. Unfortunately I was quite close to a wall, and with a low, concussive boom, roaring flames leapt out and engulfed me.

It's strange: I remember my first thought at that moment was about my hair. It was all gone in an instant, and I could feel it - it was a weird sensation. Then came the pain - and I won't attempt to describe it: the agony was just... too much. Every part of me was on fire, my skin burning away. I think I was writhing around in a wretched heap on the floor when my healing spell instinctively came to me, spreading throughout my body. When my mind came back to me, I was on my knees, staring down at my arms, legs and midriff. The blue glow of healing magics was floating outside my body now, all over, the flames feeding off them instead of me. My flesh was regenerating beneath the dancing light, my nose and ears growing back, my skin re-forming - even my hair sprouted again, to hang down in lank strands in front of my eyes. It was horrific: I was glad, in a way, that I had been too out of my mind with pain to really witness everything being burnt away to begin with.

All this must have only taken a few seconds, because as the magics surrounding me faded away, I lifted my head to see the dunmer mage preparing another spell. I threw myself onto my side as the dull red, destructive spell lashed out, sailing down the long passage to detonate against the steps some distance behind me. I breathed in sharply: my skin was still burnt and raw, and the movement of clothes and armour against it was quite painful. I cast my healing spell again and rose to meet my attacker, katana in hand.

Casting the deadly flame spell twice in quick succession had evidently drained the woman's magicka reserves, as she gave a colourful curse and closed the distance between us, dagger in hand.

I was furious. My first blow sent the mage's dagger spinning away into the gloom, and my second cut her completely in half, through the abdomen. The next thing I knew I was vomiting in one of the dark alcoves off the passage - something I had not done in the aftermath of a fight since my very first time; in the caves near Seyda Neen. It was likely a combination of the headache I had carried almost constantly since the moon emblem buried itself in my body, the revolting, horrifiying and agonising experience of being burnt almost to death, and the grisly sight of my handiwork - lying in two pieces behind me.

"There she is! She's ... she's dead!" The shout came from down the passage, along with the sound of several pairs of feet quickly approaching.

Taking a deep breath, I tucked my katana under my shield-arm and stepped out of the alcove, sending my Frostball spell hurtling from my now-free hand, towards the small group of (I assumed) Daedra worshippers. There were three of them: two roguish men with glittering, obviously enchanted short swords, and a massive dunmer woman in a full suit of heavy steel plate armour, wielding a large two-handed sword; a claymore. My spell caught all of them in its icy blast, but both the lithe, quick-limbed men had spun around and ducked into a ball, escaping most of its effects. The heavily armed woman strode forward as if nothing had happened, ice coating her steel armour.

Soon I was embroiled in a desperate, chaotic brawl, hemmed in on three sides. One of the rogues had an enchanted poison blade, the other, a flame-blade. The woman simply relied on an incredible strength to propel her scything cuts with the claymore. I whirled, slashed, shoved, scrambled, kicked and cut, half-blinded by the acid, fire, smoke and blood in my eyes. I fought like a wild animal, frantic to keep them off me, until there was only me left standing; among the remains of my attackers, cut into more pieces than I felt comfortable counting.

I knew then, without a doubt, that something incredible was happening to my body. I was stronger, faster and tougher than ever before. Was this, then, the unexpected effect of my internal magicka leak Synnolian Tunifus had been wondering about? An artificial boost to my every physical attribute?

Could I expect to become ever stronger until I was overtaken by premature old age? Or would even that fail to stop me?

Perhaps I would grow faster, stronger and tougher day by day until my body could no longer contain the magicka, and I would simply fall down dead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chapter 34: Frozen

The shattered islands of Azura's Coast turned out to hold many places inhabited by outlaws bent on killing anyone that intruded in their domain. On an island just across a shallow stretch of water from Mawia, only ten paces wide, was a wooden door set in the side of a low hill. Scratched in the doorframe was the name 'Mabu-Ilu'. The door led to a natural cave system, though it was different to any I had yet seen. At the end of a short passage was a cavern encrusted with crystalline formations; some longer than an Altmer is tall, and others I recognised as unworked diamond deposits!

Staring deep into one of the large crystals, as if mesmerised, was a Dunmer woman in long robes. My presence seemed to take her completely by surprise, as she actually screamed when she saw me. It didn't take her long to recover, however, and she was soon waving her hands in a pattern in front of her, magical energies building between her fingers. Fortunately she was a weak combatant, and I was able to incapacitate her without taking serious injury.

The green-robed Altmer summoner in the adjoining cavern, in contrast, turned out to be very dangerous indeed. As soon as we saw each other, she rose her arms to the ceiling, her hands trailing golden light. An explosive geyser of fiery sparks shot from the cave floor, and from it stepped a creature the spitting image of Krazzt, the guardian of the Shrine of Courtesy: a Dremora. However where one of the terms of service Krazzt had been bound into was obviously to not attack mortals unprovoked, this Dremora had been bound into service with one explicit command: to kill me.

Wispy smoke seeped from the gaps in the Dremora's Daedric armour, trailing behind it as it advanced towards me. The Altmer woman followed just behind it smugly, drawing a short, glinting dagger. Cursing myself for not taking the time to find a better weapon than my silver sword in the shops, I ducked the Dremora's first blow and swung into its side; a jarring blow that felt as if shook every bone in my arm. The Dremora caught me in the chestplate with a backhanded swing, its heavy, dull yellow mace lifting me from my feet and throwing me halfway across the cavern.

Wheezing and gasping from the impact, I staggered back and readied a spell I had learnt a few days previous, but not yet had the chance to actually attempt: 'Greater Frostball'. I had studied the spell with the intention of using it in place of my Frostbite spell. Though it had saved my life on numerous occasions, 'Frostbite' had two key drawbacks: I had to be virtually close enough to touch the target for it to take hold, and when it did it had a very small area of effect. The Frostball spell had neither of these limitations, but it was more difficult for someone like me: a novice at the School of Destruction magic.

Luckily the spell worked on my first try, and a bright blue light shot from my hand and caught the Dremora under the arm. In an instant, a blanket of aching cold bloomed out and covered both the Daedra and the summoner in a thin, numbing sheet of ice. The woman screamed and backed away, trying to pry the ice from her body without taking any skin with it. The Dremora continued its inexorable advance, but I was grateful to see that the joints of its heavy armour were sticking with the extreme cold, and slowing the already somewhat ponderous thing down. I cast the spell again, this time only hitting the Dremora; the Altmer summoner had backed into the shadows, whimpering.

The glow behind the eye-holes in the Daedric helmet of the creature looked to be dimmer than they had been, so I darted in close and gave the helmet an almighty bash with my sword. I was rewarded with another solid blow from the thing's great mace, but I could see that a few cracks had appeared in the side of the thing's neck, as if my attack had bent the Daedric armour over slightly! How could I have done that? There was no way I was that strong... I put it down to the strong freezing magics of the Frostball spell making its armour brittle. More wispy smoke was streaming out of the cracks in its neck, and the red light inside the helmet was no brighter than a candle, so I dealt the Dremora another blow to the side of the head, this time dropping my shield and using both hands.

This time the helmet snapped completely off, and the Daedra disappeared in a bright flash and shower of sparks. I felt a great surge of confidence; a Dremora - I had defeated a Dremora!

My joy was short lived however, as the next thing I knew, I couldn't move. A misty green residue of Illusion magic drifted up from my abdomen; the Altmer woman had crept up on me and slashed at me with her dagger. I don't think she even cut all the way through the more vulnerable Netch leather part of the armour she had targeted, but the magical effect embedded in her enchanted blade certainly penetrated. That is what makes enchanted weapons so dangerous: they need only to connect with an opponent for their magics to take effect.

For me, it was a paralysation effect. Now I had the opportunity to feel what it was like to be on the receiving end of the potentially brutal spell. It was not nice. With a frighteningly joyful grin, the slender Altmer woman stepped out in front of me and lifted my helmet from my head. She raised the wicked-looking dagger to put to my throat... and just then my blue ioun stone settled on top of my head, and with a sudden jolt through my body I could move again! I jerked away from her blade and with firm grip on her shoulder, pushed her from me. She was taken completely by surprise; she obviously hadn't expected the spell to wear off so soon. I didn't let the summoner go, holding her at arms length as I ran her through with my silver sword.

I was shaking with adrenaline and shock afterwards, and almost cut myself cleaning my blade on her long green robes. That had been entirely too close. I never wanted to be paralysed ever again. I took her short dagger with me - such a dangerous enchantment would no doubt make the thing quite valuable, cruel though the weapon may be. I was sporting several large and tender bruises from the Dremora's crushing attacks, but they were quickly cured by my healing spell.

A Dremora, though! By all accounts they were supposed to be inordinately dangerous beings from Oblivion. How could I of all people, a sickly Breton just released from a debilitating stay in prison, defeat such a creature? I had never even touched a real sword prior to my arrival on Vvardenfell several weeks ago!

"The 'Greater Frostball' spell must be even more potent than I thought," was my initial conclusion. It wasn't until that coming evening that I realised what was actually happening to me.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Chapter 33: Fever

I spent the night before I left for Azura's Coast unsure whether I was asleep or awake, wracked with nonsensical visions - and pain: neverending pain. Periodically I would escape from the mire for long enough to send healing magic into my head, buying myself a brief reprieve from the torment.

Eventually, just before dawn, I fought my way up from the visions and staggered outside to the nearby public pump to douse myself with cold water and wash the detritus of the useless night away. I felt as if I hadn't slept at all; so even though it was not yet light, there was nothing to keep me in Balmora for any longer that day.

I had prepared everything the night before: cooking and packing food for an extended journey, filling my water skins, having my armour and weapons repaired. I had spent the night in my armour, as usual: all I had to do was gather up my pack, shield and helmet, and I was ready to go. Masalinie was kind enough to teleport me to the Vivec guild hall without grumbling too much at being woken so early. From there I cast Divine Intervention and was drawn through space to the Imperial Chapel in Ebonheart. I planned to charter a boat from the Ebonheart docks to as close to the Shrine of Azura as they could take me.

There was a cargo vessel leaving at dawn, bound east for Tel Branora and Sadrith Mora. The ship's captain, a weathered-looking dunmer man, told me that he would indeed be passing through the Azura's Coast region, but that he would not be going anywhere near the Shrine:

"Apologies, sera, but the sea in the whole area - and I mean the whole Azura's Coast - is full of monolithic rocks, sticking up out of the water. It's impossible to bring a ship anywhere near the Shrine - there are only a few safe channels through the region: and none of them even come within sight of that statue, big though it may be." He elaborated when I asked about the statue: "You'll have no trouble finding the Shrine: there's a huge statue on top - a robed woman with her arms stretched out from her sides. I saw it once years ago; back when I was a scout."

I frowned and rubbed my temples. The captain seemed to take it as a sign of irritation, but in reality the sun was starting to come up, and it hurt my eyes and set off that headache yet again.

"Listen, sera, I wasn't going to stop in Tel Branora today; but that's as close as I can take you to the Shrine, so if you say the word, I'll drop you off there."

I agreed and climbed aboard, after giving him thirty drakes or so for his trouble and a place on his boat. Despite my restless night, I found that I couldn't bear sitting still during the voyage. I was constantly beset by pins-and-needles and muscle cramps, in addition to a headache that only intensified as the glare of the sun on the water became ever brighter. I paced up and down the ship's deck for most of the trip, only stopping occasionally to jump up and down in place. It was no good though: nothing I did had the slightest effect on my muscle cramps. The captain would from time to time glance at me curiously from his position at the ship's rudder. I'm not sure what he thought of my strange behaviour: perhaps he simply assumed I was ill at ease travelling by boat. He would not have been wrong: on top of everything else, I soon felt queasy from the rocking motion of the vessel.

The pain in my head grew stronger as the trip wore on: eventually I could not wait any longer, and quickly sent my healing spell into my temples when the captain and crew were not looking. My restless behaviour must have made them think I was eccentric already; seeing me cast a healing spell upon myself, when I had obviously come to no harm, might have made them think I was mad: making things a little socially awkward on a cramped vessel out to sea. I felt better afterwards, though: the pain lessened, and the jumble of visions that had been pushing in again on my mind retreated.

We arrived in Tel Branora around midday. At first I thought that I had gone quite mad - that the visions had taken over - for near the docks was a monstrous tangle of fungi that towered far above the people milling about below. More than that, the bulbous parts of the fungi - joined to one another by massive, trunk-like shoots - had doors and windows carved into the side, and people apparently living in them! I had seen the 'Emperor Parasols' in the Ascadian Isles: mushrooms the size of trees - but this was something else. I was able to satisfy myself that I wasn't dreaming on my feet by asking a local to explain to me what I was looking at.

She told me that the Telvanni - one of the Great Houses of Morrowind - have always grown their towns and villages, rather than built them, using a gigantic species of fungus native to Vvardenfell. The process of growing a Telvanni building from spores apparently only takes a few weeks, which, given the tendency for the 'normal' fungi I was familiar with to spring up from nothing overnight, is perhaps not overly surprising.

I had been told that the Telvanni had a great propensity to magic, and I was not disappointed when I entered a general store in one of the bulbous 'buildings'. Inside the creaking and groaning single-room building, the proprietor had exactly what I needed: a generous supply of soul gems. I bought a number of every grade of soul gem she had: from 'petty' to 'greater' - though I was crestfallen to learn that she had no grand soul gems, and had no idea where to get them. For a moment I had thought that my journey out to the remote Shrine of Azura might have been rendered unnecessary.

Still, that shop had been the only place I had found with any soul gems available for sale (discounting a few street peddlers with a couple of filthy, brittle petty soul gems), and after visiting it I was ready to harvest the souls of any hostile creatures I met. It may sound more than a little mercenary, but I desperately needed the money.

Azura's Coast was much as the ship's captain had described: it was as if the land there had been shattered into thousands of pieces. There were scores of tiny islands as far as I could see, some so small they would not be able to hold more than thirty or so people on their barren backs. And, like the captain said, interspersed with the islands was a forest of monolithic stones, reaching out of the glassy water like fingers.

I spent the afternoon picking my way from one island to the next, bound north for the main body of Vvardenfell. From there I would strike out east along the coast, and hopefully catch sight of the giant statue of Azura as I went. In many places, the islands were so close to one another that I could leap from one to the next with the aid of my 'Tinur's Hoptoad' spell. I bridged the gap between those that were farther apart by magically walking on water.

Some of the larger islands were inhabited, and I poked my nose into every remote dwelling and natural cave I found, even though I was obviously not welcome in any of them. I had decided that the frontier land of Vvardenfell was as close to a good place as I was likely to get for finding some kind of cure for my condition; but if I was to have any chance of locating such a thing, I would have to almost literally scour the wilds for it. A previously unknown cure for a previously unknown ailment: that was my hope - and the wilds of Vvardenfell were mostly unknown to the Empire; and by extension, an outlander like me.

So I cut my way through smugglers and undead, finding nothing, but realising that those petty criminals and shambling dead things weren't as much of a threat to me as they had been. At first I put it down to my new (and very expensive) Netch Adamantium armour, and then I came to believe that I had made some kind of semi-conscious breakthrough in the art of combat: that I had simply become more adept at wielding a sword. There was actually more to it than that - but of course I didn't know that at the time.

First though, sometime in the mid-afternoon, I encountered a large stone dome rising out of the ground of one of the larger islands. It resembled the domes atop the cantons in Vivec, only smaller. Inside was a marked contrast to the sun-drenched islands I was picking my way through: the clammy, windowless passages lit only by the occasional torch, spitting and fizzling in the gloom. The place looked like the Ancestral Tombs I had seen, but there were no urns or ash pits to be seen. I knew immediately that something was not entirely right with the place, though: I think it was the faint, sickly sweet smell of rotting, dead things that gave it away.

Sure enough, the haphazard jumble of rooms and passages were crawling with reanimated skeletons and hideous bonewalkers. Some of the skeletons had apparently retained some vestige of magical power they had once commanded in life, their every bone glowing and rattling unnervingly with each scorching spell they sent my way. They gave the disturbing impression of someone with the uncontrollable shivers.

Also wandering the dark spaces under the dome was a mystifying creature: a skeletal guardian with some tattered pants and ancient gauntlets rusted in place around an iron warhammer. That in itself wasn't that strange - what was strange was that the thing had no ribcage, backbone or hips; in fact its whole torso was replaced by a blinding nimbus of cold light, its extremities floating around the outside. Needless to say, perhaps, the strange creature was quite difficult to hit - my blade passing right through the space where its torso should have been, and its arms and legs sliding effortlessly out of the way of my every swing. Eventually I managed to slice the floating, grinning skull in two, and the blinding light vanished abruptly. In the sudden dark, it was a moment before my eyes adjusted and I saw that the bones of the creature had also disappeared, leaving the decaying pants, gauntlets and warhammer in a pile on the floor. Next to them was a soul gem - a 'greater' soul gem in fact - which I gladly pocketed.

Climbing the long flight of stairs to the upper reaches of the dome, I tripped over a skull in the dim light. I cursed lightly at my own clumsiness, and then heavily when the skull leapt up off the floor and attempted to take a bite out of my face! Luckily I jerked back just in time to avoid having my nose bitten off, and swatted the brittle skull into the wall with my sword, shattering it into crumbling pieces.

"What is it with me and the undead?" I muttered to myself. "Everywhere I go..."

A moment later I discovered the reason for the somewhat unusual undead menagerie I had disturbed: a necromancer had taken up residence; his study and living quarters were in the large room beneath the dome's ceiling. He was a dunmer, and proved to be just as personable as the last necromancer I had met, summoning a massive bonewalker and pointing it in my direction. I was somewhat staggered by its draining attacks - as always with those revolting things - but I managed to fracture enough of the revenant's bones quickly enough that the forces binding it to this world melted away before it could bring me to the ground.

The dunmer's silver skin paled somewhat as the bonewalker vanished in a flash of light, its spirit sucked into a soul gem in my pack. He yanked a black shortsword from his robes and leapt to the attack regardless, obviously hoping that I was weakened enough by the bonewalker to make an easy target. He proved to be the easy target instead, even the glimmering enchanted blade he carried failing to save him from my sword.

For the blade was quite the find. It was an ebony shortsword: heavier, more durable and sharper than a steel or silver weapon. This one had the word 'Shimsil' engraved on the blade, and was enchanted to, on command, give the bearer the temporary ability to blend in with his surroundings. It was a thieves' weapon, and an excellent one, but I felt uncomfortable wielding a blade that short. I would sell it: it ought to be quite valuable.

I was finding a lot of things on my journey, but none of them were things that I really needed.