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 21, 2005

Chapter 38: Chorus

Ranis Athrys, as Steward of the Balmora Mages Guild hall, wrote me a signed note affirming my identity to anyone with doubts. This basically included anyone I had ever met, since I now looked completely different after my mysterious transformation. My face bore the most noticeable change, but the rest of my body was different too. Proportionally I was much the same, but for any part of my body that had been badly burnt in that destructive spell, it was as if I had wholly new skin. Scars, moles and blemishes I had carried my whole life were simply gone, without a trace. My chest and back had escaped being seriously burnt, protected by my snugly-strapped-on Netch Adamantium breastplate, and I could tell by a few identifying childhood scars that they, for the most part, had remained the same.

I hadn't asked Ranis for the note; she just gave it to me as I prepared to leave that morning, saying it would at least make any dealings with other Mages Guild members easier. I suppose that it was her job to plan things and think about the future, and what may be required. It prompted me to think about how I would deal with other people I shared associations with on the island. The Imperial Cult would pose little trouble: Master Healer Synnolian and the Oracle, Lalatia, had been able to detect my unique condition by laying their hands on me: I could ask them to do it again to prove myself. In addition, the Mages Guild was also an Imperial organisation, so the Cult would likely trust (or at least be swayed by) any report from them; Ranis' note, for example.

I didn't really know what I would do about the members of the Tribunal Temple; if, indeed, anything needed to be done at all. I had only had one brief encounter with them regarding Temple business, and that had been to start me on the pilgrimage to grant me entry into their ranks. I had yet to complete my pilgrimage, and by the time I did, enough time would likely have passed for me to be able to report to a priest and have them check for my name on a list - nothing more.

The Thieves Guild, I thought, should I ever actually have cause to associate with them again, would no doubt be delighted to learn that I effectively had a whole new identity.

All that, plus a visit to Synnolian to get his opinion on my tranformation, would have to wait, in any case. The Daedra goddess Azura had tasked me with killing a small island full of Lesser Daedra, in order to preserve the natural course of a bet she had apparently made with another god. So, that morning I was off to Sheogorad to attempt battle with a horde of the Daedra god Sheogorath's minions (the similarity between the name of the god and the name of the region was not lost on me). I had fought and defeated a Dremora before - but only one - and they were written to differ wildly in strength and ability; just like men and mer. Most other Daedra encountered on our plane were said to be more dangerous than Dremora. I had no idea how I would fare against a group of Daedra I had never even seen before.

Still, Azura had hinted that she would grant me her 'Star' if I could do as she asked - and Azura's Star was the main obstacle between me and the opportunity to lengthen my hobbled life through enchantments.

All this hinged, of course, on my not being insane. Said out loud, my tale of Azura's voice speaking through me in her shrine sounded fanciful at best; and given the visions that had plagued me since my 'magical accident', I doubted the tale myself. Folms believed me, however, and marked on my map of Vvardenfell the tiny, remote island he thought Azura meant. It was at the very northen edge of Vvardenfell province, some way north-west of Dagon Fel. I showed it to Masalinie, the best person in the hall to talk to regarding travel plans, given her duties as the guild guide.

A few minutes later, I was striding quickly through Sadrith Mora - a Telvanni settlement like Tel Branora, only much bigger. The massive, snaking, hollowed-out fungi that made up the city were intricate and fascinating, but I hurried past them all on the way to the docks, hoping that there was a ship leaving soon. This was the course Masalinie had laid out for me as being the fastest, but she said a boat trip up the east coast of Vvardenfell would still take most of the day.

As it happened, I was in luck, and there was a morning ship scheduled to leave ten minutes or so after my arrival. The voyage was no better than my last time spent in a boat, and after a very long day, we pulled into Dagon Fel a little after dark. I stayed the night at the 'End of the World' Inn, and got my first proper look at the rustic fishing village at dawn the next morning.

The place was quite picturesque, and I climbed a nearby hill to get a good view of the sun rising over the small cove and the collection of old shacks sheltered in the valley. It was soothing; something I needed given what I planned to do that day.

The Sheogorad region was much the same as Azura's Coast: shattered islands, monolithic stones rising out of the sea, and giant mushrooms in place of trees. Before too long into the morning, I found the island Azura had spoken of, and found, too, that I had been right to be apprehensive. I heard the Daedric horde long before I saw them, a great, bellowing, cacophonous chorus of alien voices.

Slowly and painstakingly climbing the slick, stony ridge that ran around the south-eastern edge of the tiny island, I had to steel myself against the temptation to teleport home right then and there. The sheer volume of the Daedra chorus was painful in itself. When I reached the top of the ridge, I cast an invisibility spell and craned my neck to get a look at what I would face, while exposing as little of myself as possible. I wasn't sure if invisibility spells even had an effect on those demons.

Down in a broad, gravel-strewn gully, I saw ten or so Daedra, all types I had never laid eyes on outside of illustrated books. Some glowed, crackled, and spat elemental energy; others had the appearance of reptiles: bipedal creatures with crocodilian heads; pale, clammy and gangly monsters; and large frill-necked lizards with powerful-looking beaks. Every one of them was directing its bellowing, shrieking 'song' at a small cottage at the back of the gully. That, I surmised, was the home of Azura's meditating priestess. I could see immediately what they were doing: the creatures were trying to drive the priestess mad with the endless noise (and perhaps with fear), thereby ending the bet in Sheogorath's favour.

There was no possible way I could face that many opponents at once, especially demons of unknown power. Sinking back down behind cover, I shook my head. How had my life come to such a point, after such nondescript beginnings? How could a Cult-raised orphan and thief fight a small horde of Daedra?

I decided I would face the creatures in the same manner I had reached that point in my life: one step at a time. I crept along the perimeter of the island, just below the crest of the ridge, looking for a way around to the entrance of the wide gully that harboured the demons. I needed a sheltered approach, so I could attempt to surreptitiously draw them out one by one and face each monster individually.

'Surreptitious' turned out to not be the best word to describe my approach. I found a way down to a small, pebbly beach; only with my invisibility spell in place, I could not clearly see my own feet, and I managed to trip on the way down.

Coming to rest on my stomach in a skittering, grinding shower of pebbles and small, flat stones, I threw a glance up the gully, and gritted my teeth as I saw a huge Daedra thundering towards me. Invisibility magic cast upon a person is dispelled when that person interacts with something. I had made quite a forceful interaction with the ground, and now the spell was gone - and the Ogrim most definitely knew I was there.

Ogrims resemble, more than anything else, massively obese men with green scales, treestumps for legs, tiny red eyes, and horns. They are also very large, and very strong. I scrambled to my feet, but not in time to dodge the creature's attack, nor bring my shield up (though I suspect doing the latter would have gained me nothing more than a broken arm). As it was, the creature's backhanded swing lifted me from my feet and sent me flying in an ungainly arc into the lightly breaking waves just off the shore. There had been a painful -crack- from within my chest when the Ogrim's meaty fist connected, and now digging pains bloomed out from my rib cage with every breath.

Trying to breathe as shallowly as possible (which was difficult considering I and all my heavy equipment had just been dumped in the sea), I rose from the knee-deep water and sent the Frostball spell streaking out for the Ogrim, catching it full in its giant pot-belly. The thing continued to waddle towards me, but was now staring down at its frozen belly, clumsily scraping at the ice with stubby fingers. A thin layer of ice had formed around my outstretched, gauntleted hand, since it had still been covered in water when I cast the spell. I clenched my hand into a fist, shattering the ice, and drew my glass katana.

The Ogrim was still distracted by the ice on its body, and I was able to give it a vicious swipe across its tiny eyes, putting them both out. The great beast bellowed in pain, throwing its head back - and presenting what neck it had as a clear target. I almost felt sorry for it, but with the racket it was making, every other Daedra on the island would likely hear it, even over their own dissonant chorus. I slashed it across the throat with my razor-sharp blade, again and again - the creature unable to ward off blows it could not see. In a short moment it was staggering about the shallows, its thrashing turning the water to a stinking, red, frothy mess.

I hastily stepped out of the bloody water, and gingerly sent my healing spell into my chest, giving a deep sigh of relief once the bones had knitted together once more. Looking again up the gully, I found that I needn't have worried about being heard: I had been seen. A colossal Storm Atronach, an elemental Daedra, had apparently seen me dealing the mortal blow to the Ogrim. I could swear that its features of porous stone betrayed an expression of intense anger beneath the waves of electrical energy licking across its body.

In its apparent rage, the atronach swelled with incandescent light, like a thundercloud in a violent lightning storm. It lumbered towards me, arcs of electricity leaping out to nearby mushroom-trees, causing each to explode with a deafening crack.

I was soaked through with salt water, wearing exposed metal plates, and facing an enemy that could channel electrical energy as easily as man or mer can exhale spent air. I was in trouble.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Chapter 37: My mind is glowing

Folms Mirel and I appeared on the guide platform at the Balmora guild at the same time. I had been somewhat anxious about being teleported simultaneously with the dark elf; I had never seen it done before. Upon finding that I was still very much alive, I breathed a sigh of relief and followed Folms as he went in search of Ranis.

Ajira was at her desk near the platform, and saw us arrive. She stared at me as I passed, the nostrils on her cat-like muzzle twitching and flaring sporadically. I gave her a quick smile, but she didn't seem to notice. Like everyone else, I don't think she recognised me.

And this was hardly surprising: as soon as I saw my reflection at the Caldera Mages Guild hall, the mystery as to why everyone had been giving me such strange looks was solved, even though a new mystery presented itself. Somehow, since the last time my friends and acquaintances had seen me, my face had changed. It was not the change seen in someone who has gained or lost a lot of weight, nor was it a change due to care-lines and wrinkles: I looked like a completely different person.

I had had no inkling that this had happened before speaking with Folms, and no idea of exactly when it may have happened. I had spent the last few days travelling through the wilderness, and the only personal interaction during that time had been conducted at the end of a blade.

At that moment, however, a more pressing issue was apparent: Folms did not believe I was who I said I was, and I couldn't think of a way to convince him - or anyone else. I was having a hard enough time convincing myself that it was all really happening.

We found Ranis in the main hall, reading through a sheaf of papers at one of the tables. Folms sat down across from her, and gestured that I should join them. Ranis looked up - first at me, then at Folms. She opened her mouth to speak, but then stopped, turning back to me to study my distinctive Netch Adamantium armour. I could tell what she was thinking. The last time anyone had seen me at the Balmora guild, I was wearing that armour; and they had never seen anyone with armour like that before - they told me as much when I first bought it.

The guild steward put her papers down and half-rose out of her chair, leaning forward to gaze directly into my eyes. Again, just as when we first met, the Dunmer's brilliant red eyes flared and glowed vibrantly, and I felt as if I could not look away. Finally, she spoke:

"What in the world did you do to your face, Frost?"

Folms and I stared at her for a moment. The enchanter blinked, then cleared his throat:

"You can tell that it's him?" Folms looked just as confused as I felt. "That's ... quite a useful skill you have there, Steward."

Ranis sat back in her chair.

"Not as much as you might think;" she said, her gaze slowly moving across my features. She then pointedly added: "After all, it's not terribly often that I see someone who's face has totally changed over the course of a few days."

Relief flooded through me, and I found my voice:

"You recognise me then? Well, maybe not recognise me as such, but you know that it's - GAH!"

I started in suprise; I could feel something tickling the back of my neck. I twisted around in my chair, and found myself looking into Ajira's big eyes. She had come up softly behind me, and begun intently sniffing at my neck. Her whiskers tickled.

"Frosty?" She ventured, looking very puzzled. "What happened to your face, Frosty?"

Folms began to laugh softly.

"Well, that settles it, then," he said, "there isn't much that can fool the nose of a Khajiit." Ajira grinned broadly. Folms continued: "Apologies if I was somewhat rude back there... but you must admit, something quite unusual has happened here. I can see that you were unaware of this ... transformation until just now, but do you have any idea what may have happened?"

"I've had an unusual few days," I said, shaking my head slowly, "I do know that my hair has been acting strangely since ... since that fireball spell!"

I quickly explained about my fight with the Daedra worshippers, and how I had been almost consumed with flames, before instinctively casting a healing spell and regenerating my flesh and skin.

"At least - I think I cast a healing spell." I finished, experimentally touching my new features. "I was a little ... distracted by the flames. And then afterwards, I noticed my hair kept falling in my eyes."

I swept my hair back out of my face with my fingers, and at that moment, two things happened: First, my head began aching explosively, and Folms and Ranis sat forward in astonishment, pointing at my face.

"What?" I grunted, in pain. "My head didn't really just explode, did it?"

"Edward," Folms said, leaning in ever closer, "there's a large glowing mark on your skin, across your left eye."

Ranis picked up a shiny silver plate from the table, and held it up for me to see my reflection. Folms was right - the mark was glowing brilliantly, and seemed to pulse in time with the throbbing in my temple. What's more, it was shaped exactly like the irritated patch of skin the Oracle, Lalatia Varian, had described back at the Imperial Chapel: a crescent moon. It was even blotchy and uneven, like a rash or a wide scar. I took the plate from Ranis and studied my new face. With no small feeling of alarm, I peered into my own eyes and realised that they too were actually glowing: a pale blue iridescence in the dim light of the guild hall.

What was happening to me?

"Ranis," Folms said, "you don't think... could his face have grown back differently from the healing spell? Tainted magicka due to his condition? Could something like that happen?"

Ranis nodded slowly, but sighed, and then shook her head noncommittally.

"Frost, you mentioned a healer at the Imperial Chapel." She said. "Perhaps you should go see him. He sounds as if he has a greater understanding of what's happening to you than we do."

I stood, dropping the plate on the table.

"I will. But not before I have everything I need to get that enchantment from you, Folms." As I spoke I sent my healing spell into my forehead, easing the ache behind my eyes. "First though, I'm famished, and I'm tired. It's been a long day; and tomorrow morning I'm off to Sheogorad."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Chapter 36: Facing change

Dusk had just passed when I emerged from the Daedric shrine. After such intense, agonising fighting, I was more than a little disappointed that there was very little of value to be found down there. At the deepest point in the underground shrine was a massive room, housing an equally large statue of an old man with a cane - a Daedra god, I had guessed. At the statue's feet, the daedra-worshippers had left a few offerings; but nothing more than several dusty, half-evaporated potions. I left them alone.

Outside, I made my way back through the gloom to the Mabu-Ilu caves, thinking about the epiphany I had had in the Daedric shrine. Well, perhaps it was more a simple realisation - a suspicion, even. Down in the shrine I had cut straight through a solid steel breastplate, with a single stroke; and that seemed suspicious to me. I had also just been burned almost to death, all over, and there I was walking about a short while later, as if nothing had happened. Granted, of course, I had used healing magic liberally to recover - but still...

Even my hair, scorched completely off my head, had all grown back; though I could not keep it out of my eyes! It was infuriating: usually I simply pushed it up and back with my fingers, and there it would stay. Ever since its 'magical regrowth', however, it hung straight down in limp, useless strands. Curious... but then I had never heard in great detail what happened to other people that had been as extensively burned as I, and had then restored themselves with magic. Perhaps things like that were not uncommon.

Then I remembered the severe pins-and-needles and muscle cramps that had plagued me on the boat to Tel Branora, when I had had no chance to move around adequately. It had felt like something in my body was not right - alien - as if it was changing to something that it had not been before, and my mind couldn't keep up. I was stronger than ever before; could that have happened only since that magicka leak sprung up inside me?

In any case, I decided I would have to visit Master Healer Synnolian again to gain his opinion on my body's strange behaviour. Right at that moment, though, I was completely focused on my 'quest' to find the Shrine of Azura - and hopefully - Azura's Star. If Synnolian was right about my shortened lifespan, I was not about to waste any time in searching for something that could lead to counteracting my affliction.

Nevertheless, with my recent lack of sleep, I was exhausted. I needed to set up camp for the night - and the Mabu-Ilu caves that I had 'cleared' earlier in the day were well-suited.

Most of the next day passed uneventfully, as I travelled east along the rocky southern shore of Vvardenfell. I noticed that the moons had begun to wane - and with them, my pain. The ache in my head lessened as the day wore on, and I could sense that the rush of magicka into my body was slowing, too. Perhaps the prominence of the moons over Nirn somehow increased the rate at which magicka entered my body; so much so, in fact, that it caused me physical pain - and was too much for my body to take. If that was the case, then at least I could expect to experience less pain for part of the month; a small mercy.

It was that afternoon that I climbed the crest of a hill and first caught sight of the massive statue of Azura that marked the location of the shrine. The statue depicted a robed woman, holding her arms out to either side, with what appeared to be a stylised sun in one hand, and a crescent moon in the other. Just as it had been described to me.

Both the entrance to the shrine and its interior reminded me forcibly that Azura was a Daedra goddess: they were exactly like the Daedric shrine I had visited the day before. I had read that Azura was supposed to be one of the 'good' Daedra; but I wasn't really sure what that meant. I proceeded with caution. The shrine was dimly lit by huge, smoking braziers, suspended from the ceiling. The fragrant smoke made my head swim.

There was another statue of Azura at the rear of a wide hall, similar in size and placement to the statue of the old man I had seen in the other Daedric shrine. Pinpricks and spots of light began to dance before my eyes as I approached the statue of the goddess, and at first I dismissed its blue, glowing eyes as being a similar mirage.

I then realised, with something of a shock, that a female voice was coming from my mouth, and I couldn't seem to stop it! The voice said:

"Mortal, I can tell that you... wait, stop. Leave your mouth alone; just be patient, and you will be fine once I've finished." There was a pause, and I gulped, forcing my hands to my sides. The sensation of being another entity's mouthpiece was unpleasant: it didn't feel like my voicebox was well suited to producing a female voice. "Good, now I can tell that you came here because you want something from me. It happens that I have something that you can do to be of service to me. I made a wager with Sheogorath that solitude leads to enlightenment, not madness, as he maintains."

I assumed that the mysterious voice was Azura: that or some kind of hallucination. There was definitely something strange in the smoke that filled the room. The voice continued:

"A priestess of mine has been living in solitary meditation on a small island north of Dagon Fel for nearly a hundred years now, and still she holds fast. If she makes it to the hundredth year, then Sheogorath will be proved wrong - as per the terms of our wager." I squeezed my eyes shut. My throat was becoming noticeably sore by then. "Sheogorath, even now, moves to sway the bet in his favour by sending his minions to the island to disturb my priestess. My request is that you go there and kill the Daedra that Sheogorath sent. If you return here with proof of Sheogorath's treachery, I will reward you well. Perhaps even with what you seek."

With that the voice ceased, and I could speak again - albeit hoarsely:

"Azura! Are you speaking of 'Azura's Star'? That is what I came here for... but - you're a goddess. I'm ... dying. Could you - would you - be able to help me, if I do this for you?"

There was no reply. I waited for a long while, trying to think clearly in the numbing smoke from the braziers. Eventually I gave up, and managed to focus enough to cast 'Mark', so I could return there quickly should my visitation from Azura turn out to be more than my mind playing tricks on me. The shrine was quite remote and had taken several days for me to hike there, so being able to teleport back there would be a blessing.

That, of course, erased the mystical mark I had left in the Balmora Mages Guild, so I needed to find another way back. I was able to cover part of the distance instantly by casting Almsivi Intervention; landing me outside the Tribunal Temple in Molag Mar. From there I was able to take passage aboard a silt strider, bound for Vivec, where I intended to ask the guild guide at the Mages Guild to teleport me to Balmora. I would be in my usual bunk before too late that night.

It was just on dusk when the strider arrived in Vivec, and on an impulse I decided to look for an armourer that was still open. I needed a better blade: my steel katana, while razor-sharp, was completely incapable of harming magical creatures; such as the Daedra Azura had asked me to kill. My silver sword was capable of killing magical beings, but simply could not hold a sharp enough edge to be truly effective. I remembered that in addition to the Vivec branch of the Mages Guild, the Foreign Quarter canton held two blacksmiths, plus the Fighters Guild, which no doubt had weapons for trade too. In fact all these organisations were in the domed plaza at the top of the canton, so it was little trouble for me to stop in at Alusaron's smithy before heading across to the Mages Guild.

As luck would have it, the redguard, Alusaron, had the perfect weapon for me: a katana forged of the sturdy green volcanic glass found on Vvardenfell. I had become accustomed to my steel katana, so a similar weapon was good. Even better, Alusaron assured me that it was capable of harming magical creatures, and invited me to test its sharpness on a bundled-up roll of hay he had in the corner. In this fashion I compared the glass katana to my steel one, and found that the glass indeed made it a far superior blade. Unfortunately he was asking around eleven thousand septims for the superb weapon.

To lessen the sting somewhat, I traded in all my weapons (except for the silver longsword, which I kept as a backup), and was pleasantly surprised when Alusaron identified the paralysing dagger I had recovered to be a 'Steel Jinkblade of the Aegis' - a valuable weapon. It alone was mostly responsible for bringing the price down to around six and a half thousand septims.

I was left with about fifteen thousand drakes after buying the glass katana; still an awful lot of money, to be sure, but the enchanter Folms had indicated that I should expect to pay more than twice that much for an enchantment of the magnitude I required. I would need to sell a lot of souls to Creeper to raise that money.

Thinking of Folms reminded me that he would no doubt be fascinated to hear of my experience in the Shrine of Azura. I decided to ask the guild guide to teleport me to Caldera instead of Balmora. I strode quickly through the Vivec guild hall, giving a quick nod in greeting to those I passed. I didn't know anyone there very well - I had only visited the guild on brief occasions before - but I was still taken aback at the strange glances I received from everyone after I greeted them. Putting it down to my (involuntary) new hairstyle, I ignored the looks, paid my ten drakes or so and was teleported across to the Caldera guild hall.

Folms Mirel was sitting at a table reading, just as when we first met. I called out to him as I approached:

"Folms, you'll never guess what happened to me this afternoon!"

The dunmer looked up from his book, and regarded me with the same consternation as every person in the Vivec guild!

"I don't doubt that, sera," he said, frowning as if in thought. "I'm sorry, but have we been introduced before? I have always been bad with names, and now it seems I'm no good with faces, either." He gave his slight, polite smile.

I was astonished. Surely he could not have forgotten me! He had never done so before...

"It's Edward ... Edward Frost?" I raised my eyebrows, confused.

Folms narrowed his eyes at me.

"Perhaps I'm getting too old; I'm afraid some aspect of your humour eludes me..." He made to go back to his book. "Don't get me wrong, the outfit is a nice touch: just like his - but you just don't look especially like him."

"No, Folms, it is me: what are you talking about? You just sent me off to the Shrine of Azura to find Azura's Star; you were keeping the Star a secret before you told me, weren't you? You didn't tell anyone else about it, did you?"

The enchanter set his book down on the table and stood.

"I may not have, but that doesn't mean that Frost didn't." His face betrayed no sign of a smile then. "Perhaps we should go speak to Steward Ranis about this."

I stared at him, dumbfounded. My gaze happened to fall on some polished metal plates behind the enchanter, stacked on their sides on a shelf. It was then that I saw my reflection.