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 28, 2005

Chapter 41: Fire, ashes, and dust

I left my armour and weapons at Meldor's to be repaired while I ate lunch in the Guild hall. Once I had reclaimed my arms and paid the hefty fee associated with having such a fine weapon as my glass katana repaired, I gathered together my equipment, refilled my water skins, and set off for Lake Nabia.

The task Ranis had set for me (several weeks ago at least) was to find a Guild research magician, Manwe, and persuade her to pay her well overdue guild fees. Obviously the situation must have been somewhat prickly: otherwise why would Ranis send someone else in her place? Guild dues seemed to me to be a matter usually left between the Steward and individual members. Perhaps Manwe's chosen research quarters had something to do with Ranis sending me instead: the mage had apparently taken up residence in the 'Punabi' cave system near Lake Nabia, deep in the inhospitable and downright dangerous Ashlands. Indeed, Manwe was apparently close neighbours with a Telvanni wizard that Ranis wanted me to talk to, and convice to join the guild.

To put this in perspective, the Great House Telvanni were all but openly hostile towards the Mages Guild. They were the premier arcane 'family' in Morrowind for thousands of years before the Imperial Mages Guild rode in on the back of the Empire's occupation of the land, and thus they held quite a grudge against us. And Ranis wanted me to persuade this Tharer Rotheloth, a Telvanni wizard of unknown disposition, to join the organisation his House despised. I expected it would be an interesting conversation.

Lake Nabia was some way east of Balmora, and located quite far from any settlements. My map of Vvardenfell indicated that it was just north of the 'Marandus' stronghold; and as I noticed that I remembered that Ranis had in fact cited the stronghold as a landmark. I had not yet actually laid eyes on one of those ancient Velothi buildings, so I supposed I would just have to look for a striking structure near a lake. The name 'Marandus' sounded familiar, and after a quick flick through my notebook (that doubles as a journal), I found that it was one of the strongholds that Folms had told me contained a propylon chamber.

I decided that I would have to get back to finding those propylon indices for the Dunmer enchanter before too long. Being able to simply teleport across to a remote place like Marandus would have been a blessing. It also would have saved me from the trying afternoon that was to come.

Since I couldn't teleport all the way there, I did the next best thing I could, by casting Divine Intervention and instantly covering at least part of the distance there. The Imperial Cult shrine in Fort Moonmoth was the closest to Balmora, so it was from there that I set out.

I made better time than I had expected, finding that I was able to use the Tinur's Hoptoad spell to leap up the steep hills and ridges that would otherwise have barred my way. Once atop a ridge, I would then slide down the gritty, ashen slopes on the other side. Soon I was trudging ankle-deep through the ash and loose topsoil of the Ashlands, the region ringing the massive volcanic Red Mountain at the island's centre. This ever-present ash was one of the main contributing factors to the inhospitable nature of the region: the slightest breeze would lift and carry the drifting ash, whereupon it would infiltrate every crack and crevice of anyone caught outside. What's worse, the wind in the Ashlands is normally not what one would describe as 'slight'.

The wind picked up sometime in the mid-afternoon, forcing me to squint and shield my eyes from the flying ash and grit as best I could. My helmet fortunately came with a scarf that I could wrap around my nose and mouth, but there wasn't much I could do to protect my eyes. Luckily, as the wind really began to howl, I spotted the distinctive shape of an ancestral tomb entrance, built into a hillside.

As I made for the tomb, intending to take shelter within until the ash storm blew over, an unusual movement, spied out of the corner of my eye, caught my attention. At first I thought it was some kind of a bird, or perhaps one of those reptilian cliff-racers - but then, a bird - even a cliff-racer - would not be able to soar about so easily as this creature in such fierce winds. After a short, perplexed moment, squinting through the flying ash, I realised that what I was looking at was a good deal further away than I had first thought, and thankfully so: it was a huge, pot-bellied, dragon.

Almost as soon as I had recognised it, the massive creature beat its wings and vanished up and into the drifting sheets of ash and dirt. I could still hear the whoosh ... whoosh ... whoosh of the dragon's huge, beating wings though, and in the gathering gloom of the storm, I could see the clouds and sheets of ash far above my head lit up here and there by what could only be the beast's fiery breath. Shortly, of course, it occurred to me that standing still in the open was probably not the best idea with such a massive, unstoppable predator around.

The ancestral tomb turned out to be entirely vacant of any dangerous undead or spirits (for a change). I sat for a while near the entrance, with my back to the wall, listening to the muffled wind outside. Now and then I fancied I could hear a fearsome roaring above the whistling gale... the dragon?

A dragon! Creatures so rare that most people did not even believe in their existence. I must admit that until that moment, I too believed them nothing more than a myth. I suppose the area around Red Mountain was so remote and untamed that scores of dragons could potentially live there and no-one would know. I wasn't sure how I felt about seeing a dragon flying about when I needed to hike across country. Some of the tales painted them as noble creatures; others described them as predators; nothing more or less.

Once the ash storm died down, I decided to take my chances, venturing out into the settling ash and dust. The sky was clear of both ash and the dragon, and soon I was picking my way through the soft, black cinders; past boulders, skeletal trees, and later, pits of lava, smouldering with a baleful, dusky red glow.

About an hour later I scaled a ridge and found myself facing the dark, hulking stonework of some Daedric ruins. As I slid down the blackened slope, coughing from the ash I stirred up, I spotted a pair of Scamps in the shadow of of a slanting stone wall. Strangely enough, they appeared to be playing like children; clasping each other's brown leathery hands and skipping around in circles. When they noticed my presence, they began to spin ever faster, stirring up a cloud of dark cinders with their feet. In a short moment they were a blur of movement, until they let each other go, one of the Scamps flinging the other right at me, a bundle of fur, claws, and flashing teeth.

I already had my blade out of course, and I was able to sidestep the flying Scamp and cut it almost in half with an upwards swing. Before the poor creature could breath its last, I quickly placed a Soul Trap spell upon it, then turned to face the remaining Scamp. The beast's claws were no match for the much greater reach of my katana, and soon I had two soul gems with the spirits of the little Scamps in my pack. I felt somewhat ashamed of my actions: the two child-sized lesser Daedra lying in a crumpled heap before me reminded me strongly of Creeper, and as unsettling as the peculiar Scamp merchant could be, I had grown almost attached to him... or it.

I wasn't sure if I believed in the notion of karma, but right then, something happened that presented a convincing argument for its existence. Just as I dispatched the second Scamp, a massive shadow eclipsed my own, and an instant later, the dragon I had seen earlier whipped by overhead, close enough to the ground to raise a wave of ash in its wake. With a tremendous, fearsome bellow, the pot-bellied beast spread and angled its webbed wings to turn a half-circle, before hurtling back in my direction!

I had absolutely no delusions of grandeur: I ran for it - as fast as I could. The closest shelter was the jumbled stonework of the Daedric ruin, and that's what I headed towards. Ahead was a stone wall with a hole large enough to admit an armoured man, such as myself. As I neared the wall, I risked a glance over my shoulder, catching sight of a stream of bright yellow flames pouring out the dragon's mouth, and igniting the cinders in a trail behind my feet. At that moment I leapt through the hole in the wall, timing the casting of my invisibilty spell so that I vanished just as I passed through - disappearing in the billowing fire, ash and smoke that exploded outwards from the wall.

It looked to all the world as if I never made it to the other side.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chapter 40: Rules and regulations

"Mortal, I owe you thanks for cleansing that island of Sheogorath's minions." I was back in Azura's shrine, at the feet of the great statue, and the voice of the goddess was again sounding from within my own throat. "That signet ring you hold bears the device of Sheogorath. It proves that the mad god was indeed behind the attempt to disrupt our wager. But that is of no matter now."

I was glad to hear that she was not about to wax lyrical on the "folly of cheating and dishonesty" or somesuch. Apart from being generally unsettling, having Azura speak through me still gave me a sore throat.

"Now, since our bet is free to naturally take its own course - because of your actions - I will reward you as promised." As she - or it - spoke, I began to have the unshakeable feeling that I had heard her voice before, sometime in the past. Sometime before I first visited the shrine, I mean. I just could not place where or when it might have been...

I was distracted from my thoughts by a sudden weight in my hand. Looking down, I found that I was holding a flat, glittering white, star-shaped stone, with eight sharp points. It had to be Azura's Star, the artifact Folms had sent me after - the very thing I needed most! I could not speak to thank the goddess - she still held sway over my voicebox:

"There is your reward. Use it wisely. You have my thanks for what you have done for me, mortal. There is one last thing I would ask of you: do what you will with Sheogorath's signet ring, but do not leave it here."

With that, Azura was gone, and I could speak for myself again. I thanked the empty air for the gift, and received no answer: just like my previous attempts to actually hold some kind of conversation with the Daedra goddess. She had ignored my pleas for a cure for my affliction the last time, and I had no reason to believe she would listen now, after already bestowing such a generous gift upon me.

So, my quest was successful. It felt somewhat strange thinking of it in those terms: a 'quest' sounded like something for errant knights, not a released convict like me. Still, if travelling across a whole island to perform a task for a goddess, and being rewarded with a powerful, near-mythical artifact was not a quest, I didn't know what was.

After my previous visit to Sadrith Mora on my way north to Dagon Fel, I knew that the Imperial fort 'Wolverine Hall' there housed an Imperial Cult shrine. By my map of the island, that made Wolverine Hall the closest place with a Cult shrine from where I was standing; at least as far as I knew. Since the Hall also housed a branch of the Mages Guild, there was possibly a much faster way back to Balmora than I had taken the last time.

I cast Divine Intervention, and after I recovered from the quick black-out, I was standing at the top of a flight of stone steps, at the centre of a Legion fort. A quick glance around confirmed that I was at Wolverine Hall. I found my way through the cramped, winding passages of the Hall to the small Mages Guild branch - truth be told it was a single room and nothing more - and asked to be teleported to Balmora.

Before going to see Folms Mirel, I eased out of my weighty armour, and walked over to the guide platform in the fine clothes I had originally 'recovered' from one of the noble's houses in Balmora. Now that I had a steady income in the form of selling highly-prized inhabited soul gems, I could justify owning something as expensive as those beautiful clothes. I placed my magical Mark on the platform again, since I had no further need to instantly teleport to the middle of nowhere (spectacular shrine of a goddess who had actually spoken to me notwithstanding).

I asked Masalinie to send me across to Caldera, and a few moments later I was standing back as Folms studied Azura's Star. He was fascinated by it, like a child with a new toy. He reverently turned it over and over in his palm, wearing a big grin. However when he gave the artifact back, the smile faded, and he gave me some very unwelcome news: he could not sell me a 'Summon Golden Saint' spell-scroll (the soul of a Golden Saint being a necessary component for having an item enchanted with a constant effect).

I was furious.

"WHAT?" I just about shouted.

Folms gave one of his small smiles, albeit a somewhat nervous-looking one.

"I am sorry, Mister Frost, but the Empire regulates trade in magical items, services and knowledge. They have deemed my services to be 'of a potentially hazardous nature', in their words, and I am prohibited from trading with those below a particular rank in the guild."

I couldn't believe it. I had travelled back and forth across the entire island of Vvardenfell, killing demons on the orders of a goddess, to obtain the tools I needed to assuage my fatal affliction and slow the accelerated aging that came with it, and now I was to be thwarted by Imperial rules and regulations. Folms went on:

"There have been rumblings about harsher restrictions on magic for some time, but they only just began enforcing them - in my case - yesterday. I really am very sorry. I think they objected to my selling spell-scrolls that summon Golden Saints. Almost any idiot can use those, and you of course know how dangerous Golden Saints can be." I had told him the whole story of my quest for the Star, including my climactic fight with the Golden Saint.

"Now, don't concern yourself too much, Frost. I was speaking with Ranis about this, and she told me you almost qualify for promotion to the rank of Conjurer. This is fortunate, because it apparently makes you almost sensible and trustworthy enough - in the eyes of the officials who visited me yesterday - to allow me to assist you with this enchanted item you need."

I sat down at one of the tables, and massaged my eyes and forehead. I could feel another headache coming on.

"Ranis tells me that she gave you a task a little while ago. My suggestion to you would be to see about completing that task for her; I have the feeling she would be free to promote you for that, and then we would be free to do business. In the meantime, I can probably give you a quote on how much gold I'll need to perform this enchantment for you. Actually, I can't help but notice your clothes; they're quite exquisite, if you don't mind me saying so. That shirt would be ideal for a constant effect enchantment, I think."

The Dunmer leaned forward and ran his hand over the sleeve of my shirt, then gathered up part of the fabric and rubbed it between his fingertips.

"Yes, this will do perfectly. Especially since you want healing magic to constantly seep into your body from the item. That's what this healer, Synnolian, recommended, am I right? An item of clothing, so that the enchantment will be in as close proximity to as much of your skin as possible?" I nodded, and Folms went on: "Now, you understand that such an enchantment as I can put on this shirt will not be nearly as potent as a standard healing spell, don't you? Not if you want it to be constantly in effect?"

"I've spoken several times to Galbedir before about enchanting, when we were studying," I said. "I gathered that that would be the case with a permanent effect enchantment; a creature's soul can only give off so much energy, right? And if it has to do it without stopping, essentially forever..."

Folms nodded.

"Yes. In any case, it will likely cost around thiry-one thousand septims... and just to reiterate what I told you earlier, the expense behind these enchantments is, unfortunately, out of my control."

I clenched my teeth. I had known that it would be expensive, but it was still less than pleasant to hear just how much money I needed to scrape together - and then immediately part with.

"Alright, Folms," I said, rising from the table, "I'll be back as soon as Ranis calls me Conjurer. I hope, when that time comes, that the process will not take long."

The enchanter smiled, and reached out to shake my hand.

"It should not take long at all. Good luck," he said. I clasped his hand briefly, and turned to go down the stairs and out into Caldera, heading for Creeper's place.

I couldn't remain angry at Folms. That the politics of the Empire (for surely that was what it boiled down to, rather than a genuine concern for the safety of the magically-inclined minority) had interfered with my needs was not Folms' fault. I could certainly understand his wish to not to be thrown in a cramped cell. At any rate, I needed more time to raise the necessary funds for his enchanter's fee.

After my journeys to Azura's Coast and the Sheogorad Region, I had plenty of inhabited soul gems to sell to Creeper. The problem was, the Scamp only seemed to be able to pull so much money from his mysterious 'screaming crate' each day. I could of course travel around the towns and settlements and sell the soul gems to whoever could afford them, but no-one payed as well as Creeper... It would be better for me to take the extra couple of days, and earn that much more money.

And so, after paying Creeper a short visit (in which he made a lunch out of the soul gems I sold to him), I had a quick lunch of my own, and went to strap my armour back on. On the very same day that I had battled demons and spoke with a goddess, I was off to persuade a surly mage to pay her overdue guild fees.

"My life on this island is nothing if not varied," I thought to myself. "But such a menial task..."

Of course, the 'boring task' quickly came to entail an afternoon of terror, pain, bloodshed, and desperate flight.

Just my luck.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Chapter 39: Minion

A roaring, crackling ball of electrical energy swept by over my head as I dived to the pebble-strewn beach. It struck the supine form of the dead Ogrim with a loud -bang-, causing the massive body to begin horribly thrashing and twitching about in the bloody water again. The towering Storm Atronach stumped forward at a slow, deliberate pace, and rose its stony fists above its head to hammer me into the ground.

The Daedra's lumbering gait allowed me time to jump to my feet and dash out of the way, dealing the thing a solid slash to its side as I did so. I was very grateful for my new katana: since it was made of volcanic glass and not metal, it did not conduct the deadly lightning from the creature's body to my own. Nevertheless I still received several painful shocks as I reached in close to swing at the Atronach, arcs of energy jumping across to the exposed adamantium plates on my armour. Thankfully I did not explode like the mushroom trees had; some of the creature's 'charge' must have dissipated during its spectacular and fearsome approach.

I saw that my attack had broken off a few pieces of the porous stone that made up the Storm Atronach's body, and since at that point I was behind the creature, I thought I could quickly step in and hack off a few more pieces. It appeared, though, that I had woefully underestimated how fast the Atronach could move; because when I made to attack, I suddenly found myself at the receiving end of a massive, stony-fisted punch to my stomach. I doubled over, and I think my head pitched forward and collided heavily with the thing's forearm, before I was thrown back against a mossy boulder.

I'm a little unsure what happened after that: my next clear memory is of sitting with my back to a (different) boulder, trying to focus on a greater soul gem I was clutching in my fist. I felt as if I was terribly drunk, but at the same time I knew I had hit my head - hard, even with my adamantium helmet on. My hands were trembling and twitching violently, as if someone had a hold of my wrists and was shaking them. Actually my whole body was twitching spasmodically; it was difficult to move. A short distance away I could see a scattered pile of white, porous rocks, some of them sparking fitfully into the sand and stones.

I supposed that I must have defeated the Atronach - but in the process I had been turned into a burnt, walking bruise. The twitching and shuddering seemed to be some effect of the Daedra's electrical attacks; and the burns certainly were. As soon as I managed to settle my hands properly on my chest and send the healing spell into my body, my head began to clear. I actually had to cast it twice before I was fully recovered. I must have been quite seriously injured; thankfully (after a fashion), my head had been too muddled at the time for me to really feel it.

I gathered up my shield and katana, then the greater soul gem I had found myself clutching. Upon examination, I detected that it did indeed contain a powerful spirit: I must have managed to land a Soul Trap spell on the Storm Atronach. The Daedra's spirit had passed over the cheaper soul gems to take up residence in one of the highest quality stones I had. When this happened, everyone had assured me, it meant that the captured soul would be worth a small fortune to an enchanter.

I secured the gem carefully in my pack, and carried on up the gully - right into the ambush laid by a muscular, muddy-green Daedroth. Camouflaged against a mossy outcrop of rocks, I didn't see the crocodilian-headed beast until its great, toothy jaw hinged open and a jet of putrid green acid streamed out at me. Luckily for me, the creature seemed somewhat unintelligent: it had attacked as soon as it had seen me, rather than waiting until I was closer. As it was, the hissing noise it made as it spat what I could only assume was a deadly, acidic poison alerted me to its presence, and I was able to jump out of the way.

A Frostball spell momentarily confused it, and I rushed in to engage it with my katana. I soon regretted being so bold, as when I drew my sword arm back, the Daedroth twisted about and darted in beneath my shield, a blur of muscle, scales, and teeth. Its elongated jaw clamped around my thigh, and I could not help crying out as its long, irregular teeth bit through my greaves and into my leg. The Daedra's fingers ended in filthy-looking talons, which it raked up and down any part of me it could reach, all the while shaking my leg violently with its jaws. While it held me in place like that I was presented with an easy target, but with my long katana, it was difficult to get enough leverage to swing at something so close to me.

Shaking off my shield and letting it fall to the ground, I gripped the back of my glass blade with my off-hand and began sawing with all my might at the back of the Daedroth's sinewy neck. Pushing down with both hands, I was soon rewarded with a sickening -crunch- and -crack- as the katana dug deep into the thing's neck. The reptilian beast instantly collapsed, dead.

Prying the Daedroth's jaws off my leg took some strength and more than a little cursing, but soon I was away again, having healed the puncture wounds in my leg, and the gashes in my side from the thing's talons.

Just around a sharp, narrow turn in the gully, I disturbed a couple of 'Hungers', the grey, clammy-looking, reptilian Daedra I had seen from the ridge. Each of them constantly lashed out and discharged offensive magic, but beyond identifying it as belonging to the school of Destruction, I was at a loss as to what their magic was supposed to do; I certainly felt no ill effects from it. Incredibly, the Hungers neglected to use the spikes and horns adorning their body as weapons, or physically attack me in any other way at all! As they did nothing but constantly buffet me with their mysteriously harmless Destruction magic, I was able to cut them down with little trouble.

I began to feel more confident as I continued up the gully. By that stage I must have thinned the ranks of the Daedra on the island by at least half, I reasoned. I certainly needed that confidence facing my next opponent: a Flame Atronach. These man-shaped creatures of molten rock and dancing fire were generally considered to be less dangerous than Storm Atronachs; but then I couldn't actually remember how I had defeated that Storm Atronach, so that wasn't much help to me. Also, the experience of being burned almost to death in that Daedric shrine had instilled in me a healthy fear of fire.

I hung back, and neatly sidestepped the blazing fireballs the creature tossed at me. As I had hoped, the Flame Atronach proved to be quite vulnerable to ice magic, my Frostball spell causing the flames that licked across the thing's entire body to sputter, hiss, and die down significantly. Perhaps sensing that ranged combat with me was not the best course of action, the Atronach closed the distance between us with a single leap, moving fast as wildfire through the treetops. I took a couple of searing hits from the beast's arms, but managed to break the thing apart with my katana in fairly short order.

After soothing the red, raw burns on my arms and chest with my healing spell, I rounded another turn in the gully and finally came within sight of the holy woman's cottage. There were only three Daedra gathered in front of the small, weathered building now: two frill-necked, reptilian 'Clannfear', and further away, what appeared to be a golden statue.

Only I immediately saw that it was not a statue, as it turned to watch impassively from a distance as the two Clannfear scampered up to attack me. The creatures had sharp, weighty talons, and equally sturdy-looking beaks, but that was it. Unlike every other Daedra I had faced on that island, they had no means with which to attack me from a distance. However sharp their appendages may have been, the Clannfear had no opportunity to bite or slash me, because the greater reach of my fine glass blade allowed me to keep them at a safe distance.

As both beasts fell into a pool of their blood, their spirits whipping through space to rest within soul gems in my pack, the eerie moving statue finally moved to the attack, jogging leisurely up to meet me. I examined it as it came closer: it resembled a statue of a regal-looking woman clad in strange, yet elegant armour. Strikingly, the Daedra had the appearance of being made entirely of gold. Shortly I realised that I was facing the very type of creature Folms had told me about - the one whose soul I needed: a Golden Saint.

Of course, I was lacking a soul gem of sufficient quality to capture such a powerful spirit, so, cursing my foul luck, I prepared myself as best I could for the coming battle.

And what a battle it was. Never had I fought a single opponent for as long as I faced that Golden Saint. She - or it - was armed with a Dwemer shield - distinctive for its angular design and yellow-orange metal, and a small, unwieldy-looking sickle made of the same green volcanic glass as my katana. I think it was the odd (and to be perfectly honest, poor) choice of weapon on the Daedra's part that ensured my eventual victory. I suppose if the sharply curved blade had caught around any part of my body I would have been hard-pressed to escape with that part of my body still comfortably attached, but the weapon was simply too short and small to be effective.

Nevertheless, the Golden Saint put on a mighty show, and was extremely difficult to kill. It made up for its lacklustre weapon by constantly buffeting me with the Dwemer shield, and soon I was covered in swelling, purple bruises. It was also astonishingly proficient at dodging and blocking my scything attacks - and when I did actually connect, it was much as I imagined striking a solid gold ingot to be: not quite as jarring as striking solid iron or steel, but just as pointless. We traded blows for the longest time, and nothing seemed to faze the Daedra: I did not tire, because I had my Stamina spell to fall back on, but I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I made a fatal mistake.

Eventually, in a daring move, I ducked down low and hooked my katana behind the Saint's calves, before pulling it towards me, and yanking the creature's feet out from under it. Before it could rise again, I jammed the narrow end of my shield into the lip at the top of the creature's 'breastplate', and, using it as a kind of lever, kicked the shield as hard as I could into the Golden Saint's head, snapping it off at the neck.

The Daedra lay completely motionless, except for its head, which rolled away down a gradual incline. To my surprise I saw that the Golden Saint was completely hollow; nothing inside but an acrid stench. I took the sickle and tucked it away in my pack: as I could attest from the amount I payed for my katana, glass weapons were quite valuable, and after the punishment I had just put my katana through, I was going to have to spend a fortune having it repaired. I also strapped the Dwemer shield to my pack - they were prized by collectors, and fascinating, besides.

The only other thing the Golden Saint carried was an intricate silver ring on its finger, with the Daedric letter 'S' engraved in it. The ring was powerful, I could tell: it made the wearer fantastically compelling and beautiful to the observer. At the same time I instantly recognised a curse upon it: the wearer would also have their mind and their will befuddled, as if by strong drink.

I pocketed it. Azura had wanted proof of Sheogorath's interference with the natural course of their bet; perhaps the ring was suitable in that regard.

With one last look at the house of the priestess; the woman a goddess had forbade me to disturb, I cast my Recall spell and vanished from the island.