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 11, 2005

Chapter 47: Monster

I jumped away from the doorway, back towards the stairs leading up to the great hall; the Wolfen Castle Guardian hurtling through the space in which I had just been standing, to crash into the opposite wall. Every part of my skin feeling as if it was about to jump from my body in fright, I turned to project a Frostball spell at the monster. There was no way I wanted to get within reach of those filthy teeth and talons.

This turned out to be little problem for the Guardian, as before my magical ball of ice could connect, it opened its mouth, shuddered, and squirted a great, virulent-looking stream of acid at me. I ducked to the side, managing to avoid the worst of the burning poison, and my Frostball spell luckily caught the creature in the mouth; slowing it down enough for me to gain some distance on the thing. My plan was to lead the beast outside, where I had more room to manoeuvre and make use of my spells - I just hoped the diminutive Bosmer groundskeeper could stay out of the way.

As I pounded up the stairs, however, I discovered that there was no way I was going to reach the castle yard with that Guardian behind me. Just before I could throw the door to the great hall open, there was a great flash, a deafening -crack-, and I was staggering through the door in agony, barely able to control my limbs. The creature was obviously able to project electrical energy from those bizarre 'organs' on its palms - in much the same manner as the Storm Atronach I had faced. Forcing my healing spell to come, and directing it into the severely burned part of my back, I changed course and limped as fast as I could off to the left, moving deeper into the keep. I could not possibly make the straight run for the main doors that lead to the yard: I would be caught, and burnt, or poisoned, or...

I had to stay out of the Guardian's sight to avoid its electrical attacks; until I could think of some way to kill it. Once the healing spell had run its course I could sprint through the dark, twisting corridors and chambers of the keep, always only just ahead of the creature. Wherever I went I could hear the terrifying howling, gibbering and moaning of the beast behind me, its pounding feet and the occasional -crash- as it broke through a door I had magically locked behind me driving me to desperation.

Shortly, I found the castle's central stairwell, and, narrowly avoiding a splash of the creature's acidic poison, dashed up the stone steps. There were several exits off the stairwell, leading into each storey of the keep, but the Guardian was too close behind for me to risk trying the locks on any of the doors. Soon, of course, I ran out of steps to climb, and found that the stairwell terminated in a small chamber with a ladder leading to a trapdoor in the ceiling. To buy some time, I sent the Frostball spell into the steps just behind my feet as I ran into the small chamber; the satisfying -thud- telling me that the beast had indeed slipped on the icy floor, as I had hoped.

A cursory examination of the trapdoor satisfied me that it opened outwards, and was not bolted shut; and I crouched down, concentrating on my 'Tinur's Hoptoad' spell. As the Guardian burst into the room, I jumped, pulling my head in so that my armoured shoulders would take the brunt of the impact; as I shot upwards and crashed through the closed trapdoor. The Hoptoad spell enabled me to jump at least ten times higher than I normally could, and it gave me a spectacular view of Wolfen Castle and the surrounding sea. The trapdoor I had emerged from was set in the floor of the tower lookout, atop the keep. As I fell back down to the fortified lookout, a great black arm shot out of the open trapdoor: the only part of the monster that could fit through the narrow space.

The hand scrabbled about on the lookout floor, the Guardian blindly searching for me. The glowing blue organ on its palm scraped back and forth on the stone surface, sending out sparks. It gave me an idea. I drew my backup silver sword, and, using the force of my fall, drove the point right through the beast's hand; bursting the organ beneath.

With a howl, the Guardian monster withdrew its arm, almost yanking the sword from my grip. I heard it thunder back down the stairwell, and then... nothing. I held myself as still as I could, feeling the magicka flowing back into me, smelling the salt in the drifting, hazy sheets blown over the castle by the gentle wind.

There was a -crash- somewhere below me, and I rushed to the edge of the lookout to see what was happening. The monster was there, crouched on one of the castle walls amidst the shattered remains of one of the tower doors. It had doubled back, found another way out to the castle ramparts, and was now looking up at me with its huge, bulbous eyes. I backed away from the edge as the hulking creature gathered itself to jump.

It was a long way down, but still the Guardian managed to make the jump - almost. With a thud, the beast latched onto the side of the tower, its uninjured arm snaking around the parapets of the lookout to hold on. Before it could pull itself up, I (of course) took the opportunity that presented itself, and stabbed the monster through its remaining good hand, again bursting the dangerous blue organ against the stonework. This time the beast did yank the sword from my hand, sending it spinning down into the castle yard below. In the back of my mind, I wondered if Falorn had had the sense to seek shelter somewhere.

Finally, I could face the Guardian without the threat of its lethal electrical attacks. The creature, somehow managing to maintain its grip despite the wound I gave it, clambered onto the tower lookout and engaged me in what was, without a doubt, the most feral fight I had ever endured.

There wasn't much room to manoeuvre on the lookout, considering the size of my foe, but at least the open-air nature of the locale enabled me to dodge the creature's streams of poison without fear of being hit by secondary splashes, or succumbing to toxic fumes. Every time the thing spat poison, I was forewarned by the telltale way it shuddered and drew its snout back, opening its mouth; meaning I could move out of the way and let the venomous streams sail out over the side of the lookout, to dissipate and be blown away by the wind.

That left the Guardian's amazingly long arms and sharp talons; and I received many cuts and gouges as I darted in and out to slash at the scaly, furry thing with my katana. Eventually, after hacking away a piece of one of its arms, I saw an opening in the beast's defences, and lunged forward, thrusting my blade deep into the thing's chest. The Guardian let out a horrifying scream, and batted me away to slam into the ramparts, my katana still in hand. I was winded, so much so that I couldn't get up. Slumped against the stone wall, I stared at the black creature, striving desperately to get my breath back.

The monster lurched on its feet, seemingly having trouble staying upright. Rancid black ichor dribbled down its front from the puncture wound I gave it, but as its remaining eye focused on me, I knew that it wasn't out of the fight yet. If I didn't regain my feet, I was likely to be crushed against the wall, or torn to pieces. Before the beast could lumber over to me, I concentrated as hard as I could, and sent out my Frostball spell once more, catching it directly in the chest, right where I had stabbed it.

The force of the spell lifted the Guardian from its feet and carried it over the edge of the lookout wall, to disappear from sight. Finally regaining my breath, I rushed over to the ramparts, leaning over the edge to see the fate of the monster. I caught sight of the black creature instantly: it plunged ever downwards, a last scream drifting up before it dashed against the jagged rocks far below, coming to rest in a broken, twisted heap.

I watched for a while, the waves breaking against the Castle Guardian's grisly remains, stained black as they receded into the endless sea.

My Keeper Shirt was going to work as I stood there, my many wounds closing up, and the bruises fading away. I had defeated the Guardian.

Wolfen Castle was mine.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chapter 46: Wolfen Castle

Falorn had the manner of a Bosmer who had lived most of his life in the company of Imperials. Many regard wood elves as rude, uncivilised people, but this was certainly not the case with Falorn: he spoke with all the diplomacy of one native to Cyrodiil, the Imperial Province. This was soon explained by the fact that Falorn had been the Wolfen family's groundskeeper for a very long time: centuries, in fact. Since Wolfen castle was built in the Imperial style, it was apparent that the family was Imperial themselves; or at least were accustomed to living according to Cyrodiilic customs.

"Master Wolfen - the last Master Wolfen - died just a few months back." Falorn told me, sitting on the steps leading up to the keep and rubbing the soil from his hands. "I wouldn't say that he was a friend; I certainly wasn't privy to his innermost secrets - or even the everyday secrets of the castle and his family."

At that, the Bosmer paused, and I took the opportunity to ask him about something that had been bothering me:

"It's interesting that you should mention secrets about this place. I asked a number of soldiers at the fort about this castle," I waved a hand in the general direction of Ebonheart, "and no-one knew a thing about it. It seemed quite the mystery: as if we were all noticing it for the first time."

Falorn chuckled.

"It's hardly surprising the Legion knows little of the castle," he said; "the Imperial army - the rank, file, and officers all - were hardly the social circles the late Master Wolfen moved in. It was the same with every Wolfen I've known: I've worked for them for generations of their family." The Bosmer scratched the side of his nose, and stared into the middle distance. "No, the guests they entertained here were always more interesting: strong men and exotic women - most wore the strangest clothes I had ever seen, and weapons, always they carried weapons." His eyes focused again, and he cast a glance down at my Netch Adamantium armour - and the swords carried at my waist. "Adventurers, I suppose they were."

"Still, though I said we were not friends, the late Master Wolfen was a kind enough master: it was his will that I stay on here at the castle after he was gone - if I wanted." Falorn pointed to one of the huts across the yard from the main keep. "I still have my own little place over there. I'm the only one here now. I don't go into the keep very much anymore; not much to take care of in there now. Most of the master's things went to his friends: the exotic visitors I mentioned. Also, before he died, the master asked me to see to it that the keep was kept for anyone to take shelter in for short times, should they need it."

The weathered-looking Bosmer shifted uncomfortably and gave the darkened windows of the keep an odd look.

"Not many come, however, and those that do, seldom stay more than an hour. Almost every man or mer that has gone into the keep since the master died has come out again complaining of spirits, or monsters, before leaving for the island straight away. Some just ran, faces white as pearl - and others - a few others simply vanished." Falorn began to look somewhat worried, and I guessed I was about to learn why he had been so talkative; so eager to tell a stranger his story. "After what the other visitors had told me, when this one travelling pilgrim went in one night but failed to come out, I went in to check on him."

"I went from bottom to top of the keep, calling for him. Then I checked every room when he didn't answer. I found no sign of him, though being a pilgrim, I imagine he simply teleported away to some shrine or other." The haunted look in the Bosmer's eyes told me that he was trying to convince himself, as much as me, of the pilgrim's wellbeing. He looked up, and stared into my eyes. "I know what the recent visitors are talking about. There's something in there - I could hear it. I've gone in to check on a few visitors that vanished since then, but the last couple of times, I just couldn't bring myself to go into the keep again. There's something dangerous in there, I know it."

I noticed that Falorn was looking at my weapons again, paying special attention to the fine glass katana strapped to my belt.

"Master Wolfen kept a journal, and I know that he wrote in it what was to happen to the castle after he died." Falorn paused, then pointed to the doors at the top of the steps we were sitting on. "It's in the great hall, just through those doors. I've wanted to know what it says about the castle for some little while now, but I'll admit - I can't read ... very well. I certainly can't read the late master's handwriting."

I stood, resting a hand upon the hilt of my katana. I knew what Falorn wanted.

"You want me to retrieve the journal, and read it to you, don't you?" I asked.

"I wouldn't ask, but I can see that you're well-armed." Falorn clasped his hands together. "I... want to stay here, in my hut; but I need to know what's in the keep - and if it's dangerous."

Well, I accepted and pushed through the doors into the keep's great hall, leaving the groundskeeper outside. As I said before, I was very curious about the castle. The hall was only illuminated by the slanting light from the few windows whose shutters hung open, and it was fairly bare; as Falorn had described. Besides the thick, square pillars that held up the ceiling, the only furnishings I could see immediately were a table and several chairs gathered around a fireplace set into one of the walls.

On further investigation, I found a small, low table, near an odd triolithic pillar - both sequestered in an out-of-the-way corner. On the table was the journal I was looking for. I pulled one of the wooden chairs over from the table, to set it under one of the open windows in a way that left my back to the wall, and gave me enough light to read by when I sat in it. Mindful of Falorn's tale of spirits and monsters, I sat with the bared blade of my katana laid across my knees.

I opened the book from the back, looking for the final entry in its pages. It made for an interesting read: the late master of the castle referred to himself as the last of his 'kind', rather than the last of his family - though he did not elaborate on what was meant by that - at least in the passage I read. It seemed that he had, for the most part, kept himself and the castle near Ebonheart a secret from the world; and by the way he wrote of his "life and his magic" failing as he approached death, I thought I knew why no-one had taken much notice of the place until recently. Wolfen castle had been hidden by magic.

Falorn was correct: Master Wolfen's final journal entry acted as his last will and testament - and it both explained an awful lot, and bred a great excitement in my gut.

He wrote that while most of his possessions and treasure was to be divided up amongst his friends, he left Wolfen Castle to whoever could defeat the castle 'Guardian', and lay claim to a particular seal - a 'token of his people'. I remembered that the front of the journal had been adorned with a fancy device; and flipping the book over to study it more closely, I found that the device incorporated an elegant 'W' character. Looking about me, I noticed that several of the stone blocks in the nearby walls were imprinted with the same emblem. That, then, would be the device of the Wolfen family.

The late Wolfen's final journal entry said that it was his will that the seal be kept with his body in his crypt, and that the mysterious 'Guardian' be posted to guard them both. That is what excited me: to put it simply, whoever took possession of the seal, took possession of Wolfen Castle in its entirety.

I certainly needed a place of my own: no-one had said anything, but it was plain that my welcome at the Balmora Mages Guild hall had been somewhat strained since the Dark Brotherhood attacks there. No-one felt truly comfortable sharing sleeping quarters with me. In addition, there simply wasn't room - or adequate security - for me to store all the things I found in my travels (not to mention my money). I had, of course, never had an eye towards owning a castle - me, a Cult orphan and released convict - the very idea was ludicrous.

But then, the book I held in my hands said that if I only found that seal, the castle would be mine. This may sound selfish, but I put off informing Falorn of my findings until I had had a chance to look for the seal myself. Slipping the journal into my pack, I stood and considered where I should begin my search. The late Wolfen's testament had failed to mention exactly where his crypt was located, but given the tale I had heard from Falorn of the "spirits" or "monsters" in the keep, I suspected that the castle Guardian - and therefore the crypt - was right there in the keep. Somewhere.

As I walked slowly through the great hall, I began to notice the same sense of eeriness I had felt outside. Even with several of the windows open, the sound of the breaking waves outside was oddly muffled; and as I stopped to listen to it, I thought I could hear something beneath the hiss of the sea. It was like a sinister whispering, but it was so close in sound to the murmur of the waves that I may have only imagined it.

Still, as I made my way deeper into the gloomy keep, it felt like every hair on my body was stirring, and standing on end. What manner of fearsome beast would be posted to guard the ownership to an entire castle? A notion such as that was daunting on its own, but there was something else at play. Could it be Falorn's unsettling story disturbing my calm?

I soon found a flight of stairs leading down into the ground. My experience with tombs and crypts told me that if I was likely to find one anywhere in a castle, it would be underground. There was a door at the bottom of the steps, and when I reached it I was sure I could hear something behind it: like shuffling footsteps, and an awful, low, groaning noise. My skin began to crawl.

On the other side was nothing: a dim, empty corridor. The noise was much louder, however, and as I crept along the corridor, I realised where it was coming from: behind one of the walls. Aided by the unnerving sound of something snuffling and groaning, the secret door was easy to find. With my helmet on and blade in hand, I shoved the door open by leaning into it with my shield.

With a piercing metallic shriek, the heavy stone door swung inwards on its hinges, and standing before me was the Guardian of the castle: a black, hulking monster that regarded me with large, iridescent, bulbous eyes. I couldn't tell if the beast was too big for the hidden chamber, or if it always appeared to be hunched over. In any case, the mass of muscle, scales and fur towered well above me, while the filthy talons at the ends of its long, wiry arms scraped along the stone floor. As I entered, the thing was stumping back and forth in the small chamber on its hind legs, like man or mer. In its palms were what I can only describe as pulsing, glowing blue organs - looking as if they rather belonged on the creature's insides.

Whenever the beast's hands scraped over a bump in the uneven stone floor, the thing twitched as if in pain, and fitful sparks shot out of the blue 'organs' in its palms. When the creature saw me, it snarled, showing a snout full of stained, crooked, razor-sharp teeth; before barrelling towards me, snapping its jaws.

It was like a creature from my nightmares.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chapter 45: Relief

The Golden Saint I summoned was better armed than the one I fought on the island near Dagon Fel. It was carrying a massive, two-handed glass sword, hanging loosely from one hand. The spell-scroll I had bought from Folms Mirel crumbled and blew away, and I gingerly stepped up to the immobile Daedra, which appeared to be waiting for me to tell it to do something.

While it did nothing more than tilt its head to the side in apparent curiosity when I cast Soul Trap on it, the Golden Saint whipped the glass claymore to the ready as I struck a solid blow to its head. I had summoned the creature just outside the town limits of Caldera: that way I could run to the guardsmen for aid, should the Saint become too much for me. Truth be told, though, I might have died of embarrassment had it come to that: running from my own summoning, with all of Caldera looking on.

I, of course, was wearing my full set of Netch Adamantium armour again, and was glad of it, as I was hard pressed to block the Saint's lightning-fast strikes. After another long, hard fight, I eventually dispatched the Golden Saint in much the same way as I had the last one: by snapping its metallic head off. This time, however, I managed to back the Daedra up against a low boulder, so that it fell onto its back, across the stone. From there I was able to jump up next to it and break the thing's head off with an almighty stamp of my armoured boot.

The Daedra, of course, gave me several nasty cuts to my legs as I did this, but when it was over and I had healed myself, I finally had the soul of a Golden Saint; trapped safely in Azura's Star. There was only one thing left to do.

"It's been a long road, hasn't it?" Folms remarked, taking my fine shirt, folded neatly, and with Azura's Star glittering away on top.

On the table between us were several large sacks of coins, plus one of the many inhabited soul gems I had in keeping. Altogether there was around thirty-one thousand septims worth of goods and currency on the table; and that was almost all the cash I had to my name. I had been burying caches of drakes in the wilderness south of Balmora - near the river Odai. Vvardenfell was certainly a frontier region: it had no banks. Vvardenfell citizens with the amount of money I had been saving up generally had their own store-rooms - or even vaults - to store their money and valuables in; not to mention their own guards to protect said valuables. Someone like me had to improvise.

The experience of paranoia that went along with sneaking into the wilderness in the dead of night to bury money acted as a reminder for me: I really needed my own place. At that stage I just couldn't afford it, though: all my money was going towards the enchantments needed to make my life somewhat more bearable (plus longer, of course). I didn't know what I would do.

Folms disappeared into the hall's 'alchemy tower' with Azura's Star and the shirt, apparently to protect whatever secrets went into his enchanter's craft. In the meantime, I tried to occupy myself through study: the Caldera Guild hall had several volumes that the Balmora hall lacked. During Folms absence, a lithe, muscular Argonian porter came in and ferried away my fortune in coins to parts unknown. I guessed that as a master enchanter, Folms was well-used to storing and handling vast sums of money.

After an hour or so, Folms returned, his Dunmer eyes looking a little redder than usual. With a weary smile, he placed the shirt and Star on the table in front of me. The shirt shimmered strangely in the candlelight, and felt wonderfully soft and soothing to the touch. It was most definitely enchanted.

"Try it on." Folms murmured, sitting down heavily across from me. I pulled my robe off (my armour was back at the Balmora guild), and slipped into the shirt. Instantly, the pain that had been building, yet again, behind my eyes - melted away.

I heaved a deep sigh of relief. Finally.

"Thankyou, Folms. Very much." I reached across and shook the Dunmer's hand.

"You are quite welcome." Folms replied. "Enchanting with Azura's Star was a real pleasure, I must say; it was actually easier than usual. Oh - before I forget: It is customary to give enchanted items a name, so... I'll be your witness, should you think of one now."

I gave it some thought, and said:

"This healing enchantment is supposed to keep me alive for longer, according to Healer Synnolian, so; what about 'Keeper Shirt'?"

Folms gave one of his small smiles.

"Simple names are often the best. Very well, I hereby witness the creation of Edward Frost's 'Keeper Shirt'. Now, I'm sure you can tell that the enchantment is working, but, should you wish to test it..." The enchanter drew a silver dagger from somewhere beneath his robes and slid it across the table to me.

I was curious, so, clenching my teeth, I took up the dagger and opened a small cut on the back of my hand. It still hurt as usual, but within a matter of seconds, the wound had completely closed up.

"I'm sure I've said this before, but the enchantment in that shirt is nowhere near as powerful as your average healing spell." Folms took his dagger back. "Given enough time, it could heal any wound - save the one that kills you - but do not rely on it to protect you in combat; it works far too slowly for that." I nodded, and assured him that I understood. "Excellent. The good news, though, is that I included my own little speciality in the enchantment: any rips or tears in the shirt's fabric should repair themselves on their own: the shirt's own little regeneration effect." Folms grinned. "For any major damage to the shirt - extensive burns for example - just bring it to me, and I'll repair it."

Thanking the Dunmer again, I took my leave.

The creation of my 'Keeper Shirt' marked the beginning of a week or so in which I felt at something of a loss for what to do next. I spent much of the time in study, scouring the books in the Mages Guild in the vain search for something to cure my condition. As usual I would visit Creeper every day to sell him more soul gems, meaning that as long as I had gems to sell, I had a steady income of around five thousand septims a day: most certainly nothing to sneeze at.

The day after obtaining my Keeper Shirt, I paid an overdue visit to Master Healer Synnolian, at the Imperial Chapel in Ebonheart. He was, of course, astounded by what had happened to my face, but could not offer any better explanation for it than Folms' theory. He did say that he had little doubt that the moon emblem was ultimately responsible for my 'transformation': the crescent-shaped mark on my face made that much abundantly clear to him.

Synnolian was in no doubt that I was who I claimed to be - after laying his hands on me and detecting the magicka leak I carried. While examining me, he took the opportunity to check the condition of the leak - and my body's reaction to it - and the news was, well, not exactly good; but not bad either. In Synnolian's words:

"I'm afraid the leak is still much the same, Mister Frost. Fortunately, though, the enchantment on that shirt seems to be helping: I'd say you have a good seven or eight years now, as long as you only take that shirt off when you or it needs a wash." The healer's broad face broke into a mild grin.

When Synnolian had laid his hands on me, I had gazed out the window, off to the south of the Chapel. In the distance, half-obscured by mist from the sea, I spied a castle I couldn't remember noticing before. It seemed to rise right out of the water itself. Once Synnolian had finished his examination, I asked him about it. His response was slightly... odd.

"That? I don't really know anything about it. You might want to ask one of the Legion soldiers about it. They're more keen on castles and forts and such than I am."

The castle soon turned out to be quite the mystery: I asked several soldiers about it, and they all gave me variations on the same vague answer: it was hidden by mist or fog most of the time, and no-one knew much about it. They all said that nothing out at the distant castle had changed for as long as they had been posted at Ebonheart, and they all spoke with a 'now that you mention it' kind of manner. I got the impression that no-one had ever much cared about the castle: until just then.

It was strange. How was it that no-one even knew if the castle was inhabited or not? As we talked about it, the soldiers and I became more and more curious. For me, that could mean only one thing: I set out immediately to have a closer look at this mysterious castle. A beaten dirt path led south-west from Ebonheart, following a narrow, lightly wooded peninsula. After ten minutes or so, the path came to a very long and narrow stone bridge, cast across a wide stretch of water. The impressive bridge was lined with parapets on each wall: it looked like a large force of archers could take up an excellent defensive position on that bridge. Ships would have a difficult time approaching the bridge from the sea in such a situation.

I jogged across the bridge, my eyes fixed on the castle on the other side. It completely dominated a tiny island; in places, the castle walls were only several paces from where the rocky shore dropped off into the sea. As I approached, I saw that the ramparts were unmanned, and the portcullis set in the towering wall a little way from the bridge was open. The castle was built in a similar style to the ubiquitous Imperial forts, though in sharp contrast to every Imperial fort I had ever seen, this castle was not bustling with activity.

It was a little eerie. I could hear nothing but the waves crashing against the rocky shore of the island. I passed beneath the portcullis and into a paved courtyard. The pavings were uneven and taken over by grass and creeping plants in places, but a short distance away, up against the modest keep, was an immaculate flower garden. I walked over to have a closer look, and just about yelped out loud in fright when a wrinkled, leathery-skinned Bosmer man popped up out of the flowering shrubs, stretching his back.

"Well, hello there!" The Bosmer said. "Can I help you, sera?"

I soon learned from the weathered Bosmer - named Falorn - that the place was called Wolfen Castle. He had quite an interesting story to tell.