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, November 04, 2005

Chapter 44: Negotiations

"So Llarar Bereloth actually agreed to join the Guild, did he? Hmm..." It was obvious that Ranis had expected me to report that I had been forced to kill the Telvanni wizard. She didn't appear overly surprised or shocked, just... thoughtful. It was my guess that, should another new member of the Mages Guild come to her for tasks to perform, she would send them off to badger Llarar about the matter - and kill him if he objected to the nagging, or seemed to be delaying joining on purpose, or... pretty much anything that would provide an excuse to have him killed. I got the impression that Ranis simply could not stand having Telvanni anywhere near her guild hall.

"And Manwe's guild dues too... you got all two thousand?" I nodded, and she gave a half-smile. "Good. Nicely done. You deserve to keep half the... proceeds - as we discussed."

I sighed, and handed the thousand septims over to the Guild Steward. I was no stranger to theft; that was not what bothered me. It was just that I had thought my duties and studies as a member of the Mages Guild would be free of such things. Plus, I was still in a foul mood over the events of the previous day.

I was angry at Ranis for sending me through such dangerous territory: what with being harried by a dragon during my journey, and with the other things that happened. I kept quiet about it, though; partially because I was unsure whether she - or anyone else - would believe my story about the dragon, but mainly because I did not want the tale of the slaughter in Marandus to come out. Because that was the real reason I was angry. If I had known in advance how much trouble Ranis' task would be, I would have found another way to reach the rank of Conjurer. Ajira had told me that Edwinna, the Ald'ruhn Mages Guild Steward, might have assignments for me... Still, I told myself that if Ranis promoted me, and I could finally get Folms to make that damned enchantment, it would all be more or less worth it.

"Ranis," I began, as she slipped the pouch of drakes into her robes, "I don't wish to be too forward, but I need that healing enchantment from Folms, and he said that -"

She raised a hand to stop me.

"I know. It... hurts all the time, doesn't it?" She was gazing again at the crescent mark that had emblazoned my face since the skin and flesh had grown back. Usually the mysterious blemish was mostly hidden behind my now lanky hair, but on the occasions that the mark flared up and glowed brilliantly, it was pretty much noticeable no matter what. Right then must have been one of those times, as my head had just begun to throb painfully again; and the crescent mark always seemed to flare up at the same time. Ranis went on:

"Frost, never hesitate to ask me for advancement in the Guild - as long as the request is warranted. Gaining power and position is what we are here for. One of the things we are here for." She corrected herself. "And in your case, it appears you do deserve the rank of Conjurer." The Steward's gaze travelled up and down my armour and equipment. I had gone straight to her upon teleporting back from the Ashlands, and as she studied me, I realised that the state of my equipment told a patently obvious story about the hardships I had faced the previous day. My armour was scored and gouged all over, and in the comparatively sterile environment of the Guild hall, I noticed that I smelled of blood.

"Of course," Ranis said, "upon rising to the rank of Conjurer, your own Guild fees become due: two hundred septims. Do you wish to pay them now?" I blinked, but handed over another two hundred drakes out of the money I had received from Manwe. It wasn't much, considering the incredible amount I would have to give Folms before too long. I noticed that Ranis placed those coins on her desk, instead of in her pocket. "Thankyou, Edward. You are now, officially, a Conjurer. Congratulations."

At the news that I was now legally able to buy 'Summon Golden Saint' spell-scrolls from Folms, I sighed again: this time in relief. Now, as long as I could trap the soul of one of the lethal things without it rending me limb from limb in the process, I was set. I gave Ranis a small bow.

"Thankyou, Steward. Apologies for blowing through the hall only for a promotion, then leaving, but..." I attempted a smile, but it turned into a grimace, "the pain... I need to see Folms about this enchantment right away." I sent the healing spell into my head yet again, buying myself another few minutes of relief.

Ranis shrugged.

"I don't mind... but you'll probably find that he's out to lunch at the moment." I closed my eyes and forced myself to remain calm. After all the delays and setbacks, Folms being unavailable right at the instant when I could finally make use of his services was a bit much. Still, I reminded myself that he would have to be back soon. Ranis was still talking: "I was looking for him a few minutes ago, too; but they said they didn't know where he went. He shouldn't be too long. Have you had lunch yet?"

I shook my head. I was hungry, now that she mentioned it. Ranis fished out ten or so drakes from her pocket and dropped them in my palm.

"Here. You may as well head over to the South Wall for something to eat while you're waiting. And, if you're still planning on using that fancy shirt of yours for the enchantment, might I suggest dropping it off at the tailor's to have it washed and repaired, before you take it to Folms?"

Most members of the Balmora Mages Guild knew that I wore my finest shirt under my armour (as extra padding). They knew this because after my embarassing introduction to them all when I first joined, I figured that there wasn't much use in trying to maintain my modesty and dignity when changing clothes in the Guild Hall. I realised that she was probably right about the shirt, too: it was in a terrible state. The arms were almost entirely burnt off, and the rest was slashed, torn, and stained. I was surprised Folms hadn't mentioned it. Perhaps he had intended to take it to get repaired himself after I gave it over to him - and then add a surcharge to his fee, of course.

I thanked her for all her help, and turned to leave, but she wasn't quite finished:

"One more thing, Conjurer." By the way she addressed me using my new rank, I thought I knew what was coming. I was right: "There is something you can do for me while you're over at the South Wall. This will count as your next official Guild assignment. There is an Argonian mage over at the Club, offering magical training and tutelage out of the back room. While I'm not sure who would want to trust anything they learn out of a back room at a tavern - especially when it comes to magic - I can't leave this to work itself out with those Imperial officials hanging around."

She did not elaborate, but I assumed she was talking about the same officials who had told Folms that he couldn't serve anyone below the rank of Conjurer in the Guild. Ranis continued:

"They would see it as my responsibility - as Steward here - to ensure no-one outside the Guild offers training in the magical arts in Balmora; but I'll be honest: the whole matter turns my stomach. So - I would appreciate it if you could persuade this Argonian, whoever he is, to stop tutoring people out of the South Wall Cornerclub. In any case, with those officials around, it would probably be in your best interest to consolidate your rank as Conjurer by getting this assignment behind you; before you go buying something 'dangerous' from Folms."

I accepted the assignment, even though it seemed like another 'hired muscle' kind of job. The Steward presented a number of good points, and besides: she had accepted at face value my report that Llarar Bereloth had agreed to join the Mages Guild, even without any kind of evidence that I was telling the truth. I felt confident that I and my charm spell could work something out.

I stopped in at the tailor's before heading across to the club, and ended up walking out of the shop with a whole new shirt - my old one on the tailor's scrap pile. She had taken one look at the tattered remains of the shirt, and declared that it would be easier for her - and cheaper for me - if I simply bought a new one. Fortunately, she had one on her shelves that was almost exactly the same. Apparently the shirt I had stolen (from one of the manors in Balmora) had originally been made by her; she showed me her maker's mark on one of the hems; giving me a strange look as she did so.

Another reason for accepting Ranis' 'intimidation' assignment was that it would take me to a place with liberal amounts of alcohol, and with the weight of all the people I had killed the previous day heavy on my mind, I felt the need for a strong drink. So it was with a large mug of sujamma in hand that I slid into the seat across from the only Argonian in the South Wall Club. I introduced myself, and learned that he had what I considered to be quite a distinguished name: 'Only-He-Stands-There'. I was still quite hungry, so I wasted no time in launching into my reason for disturbing the lizard:

"Only-He, I've heard that you're the one to talk to around here should I want to learn some magic."

The Argonian studied my face for a moment.

"Is Breton in the Guild?"

I had learned from Habasi Sugar-Lips, the head of the Balmora Thieves Guild, that in a Thieves Guild hangout like the South Wall club, when someone said 'Guild', they almost always meant 'Thieves Guild'. I replied that I was, and Only-He confirmed that he had been teaching people magic.

"Breton wants training?" His thin, forked tongue darted in and out of his drink several times in rapid succession: the equivalent of a sip for an Argonian.

"No," I shook my head; "I'll be straight with you: I'm also in the Mages Guild. I've been sent to ask you to stop training people out of the club." I paused. Only-He was staring at me, as motionless as only the lizard-folk can be. It was unnerving; I always found it difficult to interpret Argonian expressions. I went on: "Perhaps there's another town you could teach in?"

Only-He shook his head.

"I have better idea. Breton goes back, tells mages I stop training - and I give good friend Breton magic training, if he wants." I already had all the tutors I needed at the Mages Guild, so the Argonian's offer was fairly weak, I thought. My lack of enthusiasm must have been evident, as Only-He quickly went on: "Also, I remember hearing about Breton called Frost looking for Imperial-man Cosades. You keep secret, I tell about Cosades. Important information."

I hadn't been back to see Caius Cosades since first meeting him, when he had revealed that he was a Blade - a spy in the service of the Emperor; or so he said. I was curious about the old Imperial man: that he was a Blade - in the secret service of the Emperor - was a pretty big claim on his part. I wanted to know more about him, so I accepted the Argonian's offer, ordering some food from Phane behind the bar; so I could eat while the lizard talked.

"Cosades dangerous, dangerous man." Only-He began, once I had assured him I would hold up my end of the bargain. "I had friends, told me they going to break into Cosades' house, steal things. 'Old man!' they said. 'Easy!'. Saw friends go into house. Never saw friends again. Vanished."

Only-He's thin lips cracked open, and he poured the rest of his drink down his throat in one go. The story appeared to distress him, but...

"Is that it?" I asked.

The Argonian cocked his head to the side, gazing at me.

"Breton not want to know Cosades dangerous man? Mess with Cosades, disappear!"

I'll admit it was a somewhat chilling tale - it just wasn't exactly what I wanted to know about Caius. Still, Only-He had fulfilled his part of the deal, so I thanked him, and left for the Guild hall once I had finished eating. Ranis was at her desk when I arrived, flipping through pages of notes. She gave me a distracted "thankyou" for my report, barely looking up, before saying she would have another task for me "later".

I was glad to hear it. I could finally go and get that enchantment from Folms, and have some relief from the pain - at last.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chapter 43: Try not to think about it

I acted in self-defense. I did. It was unfortunate that it reached the point where I had to kill every last person in the stronghold, but I don't think I had a choice, in the end. I simply could not allow any witnesses to leave those halls.

The fight itself was not overly taxing: I suspect that the occupants had only made the old stronghold into a Redoran outpost relatively shortly before my arrival, and had not had time to plan an organised defence of the place. If they had, they might have had some longbows or crossbows to hand, and hemmed me in, in one of Marandus' tight corridors: where I could not manoeuvre or take cover. As it was, the narrow corridors allowed me to face them one at a time, while the others jostled and crowded in behind, tripping over the bodies of their comrades.

Once I had scoured Marandus for survivors, I felt satisfied that the stronghold would make a suitable place to take shelter in overnight, safe from the ash storm and the dragon outside. Nevertheless I found a room with only one entrance, and rolled out my bedroll well out of sight of the door. I then magically locked the door, and balanced a glass bottle on the handle, so I would be well-warned of any intruders. After the day I had had, I felt quite jumpy and ill-at-ease.

My close encounter with the dragon had shaken me, but what really bothered me was that it felt as if I had been killing things from morning to night. A small horde of Daedra, then Orcish Daedra worshippers, and finally a whole stronghold of Redoran fighters and retainers. I lay awake in my bedroll for a long time. With my eyes closed I saw blood-red, rather than the usual black. Still...

I did not wonder if all the killing was justified, or worth it. While I felt awful about it, my sense of self-preservation outweighed all else: every life I had taken had been in pursuit of one goal: remaining alive for as long as possible. I mean this in both the immediate sense ('fight now or this bandit will slit your throat'), and in the more peripheral sense of the 'casualties' resulting from my search for a cure - or treatment - for my condition. It may sound harsh, but my sense of self-preservation is what got me through my time in the Imperial prison; and part of that was a willingness to put my needs above those of others.

Strangely enough, perhaps, it was the fact that I had been fighting and killing all day that let me eventually drift off to sleep. I was exhausted. I had taken more lives that day than many others combined, and as my dreams began to replace the waking world, I could feel my body twitch, lean and tense as if I was still fighting.

The next day, thankfully, dawned bright and clear, with nothing in the sky save a few wispy clouds: no ash, no dragon. From the 'roof' of the stronghold I had a good view of Lake Nabia, and of the path Ranis had told me to follow, disappearing into the low hills to the north of the lake. I was glad to leave Marandus behind: my visit there had turned the ancient Velothi stronghold into a stinking tomb. I felt a momentary twinge of deep pity for whoever next entered Marandus: the scene inside was a grisly one. I did not permit myself to think about the families of those I had killed.

I waded through the shallows around the edge of the lake, ducking beneath the surface a couple of times (with my pack held aloft, out of the tepid water), letting the dried blood that caked almost every part of my body dissolve, and wash away. I had had no chance to wash the night before, being trapped in the stronghold with the bodies of those I had killed...

I sighed. I needed something to occupy my mind. I made an effort to consider the somewhat strange properties of my now fully restored 'Magery' ring. During my search of Marandus, I had happened across two appropriately-cut tourmaline gems, sitting on a rude wooden stool, next to a bed. They were about the only good things to come of my incursion into the Velothi stronghold, as with them I could fully restore the potent magical ring. 'Magery' acts as both a conduit and a reservoir for magicka, increasing the rate at which magicka enters my body, and also allowing my flesh and spirit to hold more than it usually could. It even emits a field large enough to occasionally 'catch' an offensive spell aimed in my direction, and channel the spell's energy into my body - as even more magicka.

With the final two tourmalines in place (bringing the total number of stones set in the ring to eight), all these effects were intensified even further; meaning that I had so much magicka at my disposal, and it was replenished so quickly, that I basically had no worry about ever finding myself running out. This of course would be a different story if I knew some more taxing spells - and was skilled enough to actually cast them...

In any case, along with this great power, I also noticed, upon completion of 'Magery', that another effect had surfaced in the ring; and I wasn't sure if it was a beneficial one. It was frustrating: I could not quite discern what it was, but whenever I wore the ring, my skin felt overly sensitive; not to sensation, but to pain. The difference was something like how a slight rap to the knuckles can hurt in the chill of the colder months, but go unnoticed on a warm day. I would have to study the ring further.

Meanwhile, my musings had successfully occupied my mind right up until I found Punabi caves, a little way along the path leading north from the lake. The entrance to the caves was closed off by a wooden door, much like many other caves I had seen on Vvardenfell; only when I pushed this door open, it tapped a bell hung on a hook, just above the doorframe. Clanging away like a shopkeeper's doorbell, and setting my already raw nerves on edge, the bell soon drew the attention of a woman in fine robes.

Emerging from the gloom with a pained expression, she introduced herself as Manwe - the very woman I was looking for - and asked (fairly bluntly) what I was doing there. Upon learning that I was from the Guild, and had come for her overdue guild fees, she rolled her eyes and said:

"Look, we're quite busy with our research here, and I really-" Before she could get any further, I pretended to shift the weight of my pack with one hand, reaching out (towards her) with the other, as if for balance. My charm spell leapt invisibly across from my outstretched hand to her body, and her attitude abruptly changed, mid sentence: "... really should pay my guild dues, after all this time; especially since you asked so politely." She gave me a strange smile. "Wait here. My associates can be ... cranky if they're disturbed from their work."

Manwe disappeared back into the deeper parts of the caves, re-emerging a few moments later with a pouch of coins.

"Here you go," she said, "two thousand septims - I had no idea it had been that long." I remained silent. I suspected that very little of the money was destined for the Guild itself; especially since Ranis had promised half of the drakes to me, should I manage to pry them away from Manwe. As it turned out, the charm spell had made it rather easy. Manwe went on: "I haven't seen you at any of the halls before. Be sure to stop by again, should you pass nearby." Again that strange smile.

I thanked her and left, hiking further up the path outside. It wasn't until a few moments later that I realised that Manwe had been behaving as if she was attracted to me. It was an aspect of charm spells that I hadn't considered before. Manwe was the first woman I had cast such a spell on (no play on words intended). I resolved to be careful in my use of charm spells from that point onwards: while most people who have had a charm spell cast on them remain unaware of that fact, such spells are certainly not permanent. One thing I would have to watch is acting overly familiar with the target of a charm spell: such behaviour around the person when the spell has worn off could make them suspicious.

Manwe and the Telvanni wizard, Llarar Bereloth, were close neighbours indeed. After only a few minutes of walking, I found 'Sulipund': a stone dome rising out of the ground; just like the necromancer's dome, 'Mawia'. The similarities between Sulipund and Mawia made me uneasy, but I went in without my katana drawn: Ranis had asked me to persuade Llarar to join the Mages Guild, and entering his home ready for battle would likely not go down well.

Like Mawia, the interior of Sulipund reminded me strongly of the ancestral tombs I had seen; only this one, thankfully, was not crawling with undead. Llarar did not appear to be a necromancer, at least. Nevertheless, I was made to feel quite unwelcome by the Telvanni wizard's many Bosmer man-servants. I asked several of them if they could direct me to "Mister Bereloth", but the best response I received was a flat "no". Some of the rude little wood elves actually asked me to leave, barring me further access to the dome! If the wizard's servants were so seriously opposed to letting visitors in, I shuddered to think how I might be received should I make it to the mer himself.

Ranis had instructed me to kill Llarar, should he refuse to join the guild. I suspected that with all his servants around, however, trying such a thing would quickly devolve into another bloodbath. I still felt guilty enough from the events of the previous night to want to avoid such a thing, if I could, so I made liberal use of my charm spell to persuade the Bosmer toadies to let me pass.

The nicest thing I can say about Llarar Bereloth is that he did not, at least, attack me on sight. He was just as boorish as his servants, if not more so. Fortunately, after using my 'reaching out as if to shake hands' trick to Charm him, he became reasonably amiable. My 'gift' of a good amount of coin helped matters, no doubt. Strangely (and somewhat unnervingly), Llarar seemed perfectly aware of my ruse:

"Ha-ha - nice little Charm cantrip you have there, Breton." I guessed that the effect of the charm spell was to make him amused, rather than angry, at being manipulated. The wizard went on: "And the coin should cover travel costs to Balmora well enough, so... why not? Fine. Should I have the time, I shall join your guild on my next visit to Balmora. Now, leave me be, n'wah."

That piece of foul language was my hint that the charm spell had worn off, so I bowed and cast Recall, teleporting back to Balmora. Llarar Bereloth had said that he would join the guild; I could only speculate as to whether he would keep his word.

I just hoped that the Telvanni wizard's word would be enough for Ranis. If it wasn't, I would likely have to hike all the way back to Sulipund to kill him, and the harrowing experience of my last trip out there was not one I wanted to repeat.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Chapter 42: Slaughter

The dragon was forced to break off its pursuit to fly up and over the ruins, and since I was invisible to all, bar myself, I was free to stop and observe its movements. The scaly beast had obviously lost track of me, but did not appear to be willing to give up; as it began circling above the ruins, eyes fixed on the hole I had 'disappeared' into. I only had a few short moments before the spell wore off, but luckily there was an underground shrine beneath the ruins, and I was able to find the entrance fairly quickly.

Inside the Daedric shrine was not much of an improvement over the outside. Just inside the entrance was a flight of stairs leading down, and at their base were three Orcs, obviously attracted by the furious roars of the dragon outside. Like the last group of Daedra worshippers I had encountered, this lot wasted no time in leaping to the attack: two of them were mages, and hung back to cast their spells, and the other was a warrior in fine Orcish armour. Fortunately for me, the mages seemed to be holding in reserve their most deadly spells for fear of hitting their warrior associate in error. Still, I could not concentrate properly on fending off the mighty blows of the warrior with various offensive spells whizzing by my head, and after a couple of frantic attempts, I was able to land my paralysation spell on the fighter - no small feat given the Orcish race's natural resistance to magic.

The mages were not able to effectively escape my attacks and cast their spells at the same time, and since they were wearing nothing but simple robes, they fell easily. As for the warrior, well, I will say this about the Orcs' reputation as fearsome fighters: it is well deserved. While not as drawn-out as my fight with the Golden Saint, it was a desperate fight. I'm sure that without my healing magic, I would have died right there in that shrine; that Orc warrior was certainly a superior swordsman than I.

I was still somewhat peeved from Folms' news - but on one of the Orcs I found something that put me in an even fouler mood: a Grand soul gem. I had gone to so much trouble to earn Azura's Star - it was only that morning that I had killed the horde of Daedra - and there in my hand was something that could do the job just as well as the Star; for one enchantment, at least. Muttering several well-chosen curses to no-one in particular, I dropped the smooth, golden gem into my pack. I could at least capture some powerful soul into it and sell it: it ought to be worth a fortune that way.

In the offering place at the centre of the shrine, beneath the towering Daedric statue, were several glittering emeralds and rubies. Needless to say perhaps, I scooped them up and deposited them in a pouch at my belt. As soon as I touched the gems, I knew something was wrong. I had felt something; a disturbance in the still air of the underground shrine. Something was behind me.

Ducking and rolling away, I was able to avoid the scything cut aimed at my neck by the heavily armoured Dremora that had somehow appeared just behind me. It wielded a dull-yellow Dwemer axe, but the ancient weapon became the least of my problems. I was able to move much faster than the animated suit of Daedric armour the shapeless Dremora inhabited, but this particular Dremora was adept at Destruction magic. I spent most of the fight on fire - strange as that might sound - as the Dremora repeatedly sent magical flames licking across the surface of my armour. For my part, I alternated between using my 'Dispel' spell to negate the magical fire, and darting in to hammer away at the thing's armour with my blade.

I only tried using my own offensive spells on it once; and for my trouble I received the painful experience of feeling what my enemies felt when I used my Frostball spell on them. The Dremora actually caught the glittering ice spell in its hand, as if it was an actual ball, and then threw it right back at me - catching me full in the chest. Having one eye frozen shut and the other frozen open is just as painful as it sounds. I was quite relieved when my healing spell reversed the effects.

Eventually I got in a powerful enough blow to break the helmet off the Dremora, just like the last one I had faced. Unlike the one that had been summoned by the Altmer woman in Mabu-Ilu caves, however, this Dremora (and its Daedric armour) did not vanish in a geyser of sparks; instead it actually crumbled to dust before my eyes - rather like the weak vampire I had fought in Caldera. Strangely enough, it left the Dwemer axe behind. I left it behind, too: it was heavy, and Dwemer weapons, though rare, were not valuable enough to risk being caught carrying them.

I rested in the Daedric shrine for a while, listening to the beating wings and occasional snorts and bellows of the dragon outside. I guessed that the beast must have difficulty taking flight from flat ground - perhaps doing so expended more energy than continually circling above potential prey. Why else would it remain aloft - where I could hear it - rather than alighting on the ground outside and waiting silently for me to come out?

I felt uncomfortable while in the shrine - I had no idea where that powerful Dremora had come from: it seemed, in fact, to have simply appeared from nowhere, right behind me. So when the sounds of the dragon outside were replaced by the renewed howling of the ash storm, I chose to venture outside rather than remain in shelter. I had a plan: earlier, the dragon had been hidden from sight as it flew up above the stinging, gritty, ashen winds. It was my hope that I, too, could escape the beast's sight by making my way to the Marandus stronghold under cover of the storm. According to my map, which actually showed the Daedric ruins I had just left, the stronghold was not very far away.

The distance felt much greater than it actually was, I think. I spent the whole harried journey ducking and hiding behind the nearest rock or dead tree at every swell in the storm; afraid it was the dragon swooping in from above. What made it worse is that I could still hear the pulsing thrum of the dragon's wings far above me, punctuated by the occasional distant roar. If I squinted through the ash I could see the high dust clouds lit up sporadically by the creature's fiery breath.

It was just on dark by the time I reached Marandus. The way Folms had spoken about the ancient Velothi strongholds, I had been given the impression that they were long-abandoned; and Marandus certainly looked that way from the outside. The exterior of the squat, hulking, stone fortification was devoid of people, and what windows I could make out in the gloom did not have lights behind them. As it turned out I had completely the wrong idea about the place.

After climbing the stone steps to the flat 'roof' of the stronghold, I approached one of the fortified building that sat on top and pushed open a heavy wooden door set in its side. Just inside, my sudden entrance out of the wild ash storm startled a Dunmer woman, who had apparently been set to guard the door. I was startled in turn when she gave a shout, snatched up a sword that had been leaning against the wall, and made a clumsy stab at my chest. I acted reflexively, drawing my katana and whipping the blade across the Dark Elf's throat, breaking her neck.

In an instant she was dead, and her blood was everywhere, seeping into the distinctive tapestries on the wall, and spreading across the stone floor. A couple of people down the corridor were calling out, asking if everything was alright. The stronghold was certainly not abandoned.

I began to get that sinking feeling of dread I always felt when I suspected that I had done something wrong. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I got this feeling whenever I did something that could result in dire consequences - for me - should anyone ever find out. I was frozen to the spot, trying to work out what I should do. I had acted in self-defense, that much was true, but it was I that had intruded in their domain, and killed one of their number: and this was no den of bandits and smugglers. By the devices and tapestries on the walls, I identified the residents of the stronghold as members of the Great House Redoran. I had thought the place abandoned: evidently the Redorans had established an outpost there.

When there was no reply from the door guard, the people down the hall obviously realised something was wrong. The alarm was being raised throughout the stronghold, I could hear it: shouts and the ringing of weapons being drawn, echoing through the corridors and chambers of the place. I was not about to flee out into the storm, not with that dragon out there - and I was not about to surrender all my progress that day by teleporting away. On another attempt to reach Punabi caves I might not be so lucky in avoiding the dragon. Besides, my moment of hesitation had cost me my choices: the Redoran fighters were boiling out of the stronghold chambers, and had seen me standing there, above the bloodied body of the Dunmer woman. Anyone that saw me could not be allowed to leave that place alive.

There was no other way. I had to kill them all.