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, December 02, 2005

Chapter 56: Aggression, Compassion

"Get off me, s'wit!" Bulfim spat, pushing at me weakly with one hand. The sickly Orc was covering her face with the other hand, and was not letting me get a good look at her. I had tried to help her stand, tried reasoning with her, explaining that I was there to cure her, but she would not listen. I had read that some blight diseases affected the victim's behaviour - perhaps that was it. Either that or she was simply mad as a marsh rat - she was a worshipper of the mad Daedra god Sheogorath, after all.

Eventually I was forced to use a variant of a charm spell on her; 'Calming Touch': a spell of the kind employed to instantly remove aggressive feelings in the subject. Spells of this kind also worked in combat to cause one's opponent to forget that they wanted to gut you, but I had only used 'Calming Touch' once before (when I was caught stealing Dwemer artifacts for Habasi Sugar-Lips). Calming spells were notoriously short-lived and unreliable.

Nevertheless, it worked on Bulfim gra-Shugarz; the Orc relenting and allowing me to examine her. By 'examine her', I mean 'look at her face'.

"Alright! You want to see? Here!" Bulfim dropped her hand and pushed her face aggressively into mine. The small tusks protruding from her lower jaw actually poked into my cheek. She may have been more willing to talk to me, but she was still quite unpleasant. "Look at my face, and my hands!"

The Orc made to smear her palms across my face, but I grabbed her wrists before she could do it - and I was glad that I had: her hands were covered with weeping sores. Her face was much the same; I could see why she had wanted to hide it.

"Let GO!" Bulfim squirmed and pulled, trying to break free. I released her wrists and took a step back. "Fool! I have... Ash Chancre." A note of despair crept into her voice. She stared up at me, still slumped against the wall of the shrine, holding her hands awkwardly in front of her. The sores must have been quite painful to the touch.

I was surprised that she knew the name of the specific blight disease she had - I had actually been trying to remember the name of the blight disease that most affected the victim's behaviour; and it was 'Ash Chancre'. She knew more about it than I did; which I thought was unusual because I had considered Daedra worshippers to all be somewhat savage, and Orcs were known to mostly be relatively unintelligent.

"I know a spell that should cure you completely..." I said, returning her stare, "if you will let me try."

Bulfim narrowed her eyes at me and asked the same thing I knew I would have asked, had I been in her position:

"Why would you? What do you want?"

Deciding that I had best not mention the Tribunal Temple to a follower of Sheogorath, I shrugged and said:

"You're sick. I can cure you, so why not? I don't want anything from you. I actually never want to see or hear from you again, if that puts you at ease."

The Orc snorted derisively.

"Alright then. Let's see if this works. I won't stop you."

Silently praying that it would work, I brought the 'Ash Mask' spell to the front of my mind, using it to shape the flow of magicka collecting in my hand.

"Now, hold still." I said firmly, laying my palm on Bulfim's forehead. A blue glow and a cool column of air drifted down from my hand, enveloping the belligerent Orc. The effects of the spell were spectacular, in their own way: the sores on her face and hands closed up and faded away in a matter of seconds, and the colour of her skin changed noticeably, becoming a fuller, brighter green. I hadn't noticed it before, but she had been quite pale. Bulfim gave a gurgling sigh, relaxing back against the wall. She sat motionless for a while, with her eyes closed. When she spoke again, her manner had changed dramatically.

"It worked! Stranger... thankyou. Wait!" Bulfim stiffened, and attempted to get to her feet, all the while craning her neck to see back the way I had came, behind the shrine. She was still too weak, however, and sank back to the floor. "Listen Breton, don't go back there; you should leave, before my... friends see you." I hesitated. Her friends had to be the Sheogorath worshippers I'd encountered earlier, and I had of course killed them. The Orc was becoming agitated: "I thank you for what you've done, but you must go! They'll kill you if they see you!"

There was a stabbing pain in my heart, but it was not some surprise attack by an enemy in the dark; it was guilt. Her friends had attacked me - I had acted in self defense - I knew this, and yet her obvious concern for my safety stirred a deep feeling of regret in me. As I mentioned, I even knew spells of Illusion that could bring about a peaceful resolution to combat (at least for long enough to make a hasty escape). I was just not confident enough in the school of Illusion to trust my life to such spells.

I left Bulfim gra-Shugarz without a word. What could I possibly say to her? I didn't know what to feel about my 'act of devotion' for the Tribunal Temple. I had done as Tuls Valen had asked, and it had been a good deed, I suppose: but I could not help but feel that the journey had been more about violence and killing than anything else.

It was dark outside. As I left a magical Mark in the ruins and made to teleport back home for the night, my heart was heavy with guilt.

Was I to go on to kill anyone who opposed me? I could see only death down that road: death for others, and eventually, death for me. There had to be another way.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chapter 55: Flying, falling

In the early afternoon, I took a silt strider from Ald'ruhn to Maar Gan, coming into the village at around five o'clock. I was fairly certain I knew the Daedric ruins Tuls Valen had directed me to: on my recent hike from Maar Gan to Gnisis, I had seen the tell-tale jumble of dark-purple stone blocks and haphazard, sharp spires, off in the distance.

I struck out west for the ruins - 'Maelkashishi' - immediately. I was confident I could reach them before nightfall: if I remembered correctly, they were just on the other side of the mountainous ridge west of Maar Gan - the one I could make out even from the outskirts of the village. I intended to return to Maar Gan once I saw to the sickly Orc in the ruins. It would no doubt be dark by then, but the lights of the village would guide me back... if the clear weather held.

Which, unfortunately, it didn't. A wild ash storm blew up as I neared the foot of the ridge. I wrapped the scarf on my helmet around my nose and mouth, and squinted up through the blowing debris at the sheer, rocky side of the ridge. It wasn't far to go - I would press on. I had to levitate up to the crest of the ridge - it was too steep to climb. I felt a part of the storm, surrounded on all sides by the wind, and the whirling, blowing ash.

At the top of the ridge, I was above the worst of the ash storm. When I looked to the east, over the Ashlands, most of the terrain was covered in a thick blanket of roiling ashclouds. To the west, almost right in front of me, in fact, were the Daedric ruins. A massive tower grew out of the western side of the ridge, its crown of odd, streamer-shaped stone decorations reaching a little above the ridge's crest. At the western foot of the ridge, down in the beginnings of the West Gash region, the remainder of the Maelkashishi ruins were sprawled in a chaotic heap.

From where I stood I could probably have jumped right down to the lower ruins, my 'Infallible' belt carrying me down without injury. However, in the day's last remaining light, I could see that part of the Daedric tower, a little way down from where I stood, was open to the air. There was a kind of platform there - and I jumped down to have a closer look.

The mysterious oval door was evenly covered with a crust of brown dust, like the rest of the ruin. It was a Daedric door - of the kind that somehow opened of their own accord, quicker than you can blink - and it was set in the side of the ridge. It snapped open as I approached, the dust that had caked it crumbling to the floor. No-one had passed through the door for a long while.

Inside was black as pitch. My Night-Eye spell revealed that I was standing on a stone balcony, near the roof of an immensely tall, natural chamber. The Daedric stonework looked as if it had been built into the undoubtedly ancient cave. I approached the edge of the balcony. In place of a guard-rail was a row of jagged, triangular spikes. As I carefully leaned over them, I could see that there was a series of similar balconies ranged down the dizzying shaft.

I was considering whether to trust the Slowfall enchantment in my belt and drop down to the bottom of the shaft, or play it safe and levitate down, when a glint of black metal off to my right caught my eye. It was an arrow, and its head was buried in a solid stone pillar. The arrow was made entirely of metal; in place of flight-feathers, it had red, metallic fins. The black and red, the odd lustre... I had seen such metal before; the armour of every Dremora I had seen. It was Daedric metal, and the extremely rare weapons made of it - forged in Oblivion and brought to Nirn by plane-hopping Daedra - were apparently the strongest and sharpest known to man and mer.

That explained how an arrow could come to be buried in a stone pillar, but where had it come from? There were a few more Daedric arrows nearby, and all of them were buried at such an angle that they could only have fallen from above - at great speed. The roof of the chamber was too close for them to have been fired from below and then pulled down again by gravity - sharp and strong as they were, the fall would have been too short for them to gather enough speed to pierce stone. They had to have been fired from above. I looked up, and sure enough, almost out of sight, there was another balcony nestled up against the roof of the chamber.

Curious, I cast Tinur's Hoptoad and jumped for the high balcony. Unfortunately I had misjudged the distance, and after scrabbling frantically at the jagged spikes edging the balcony, I fell. Things were made worse when my Night-Eye spell wore off an instant later, leaving me to hurtle end over end down the darkened shaft, completely blind. My heart was in my throat: would my Infallible belt save me if I didn't land on my feet? What if I struck one of those spikes on the way down?

Somehow I forced my levitation spell to come, and my fall was brought to an abrupt stop in mid-air. Once my Night-Eye spell was renewed, I heaved a great sigh of relief. I was two-thirds of the way down the shaft, and thankfully had not come too close to any of the balconies during my fall. I floated back up the shaft, determined to investigate the high balcony.

I was glad I did: it was definitely worth the trouble. Slumped in the back corner of the cramped balcony was a skeletal corpse, the rotting remains of clothes hanging in tatters from the bones. At its side was what made my terrifying plunge down the shaft worth it: a Daedric longbow! There was no mistaking the lustre of the red and black Daedric metal. Daedric weapons were commonly held to be the finest in the world; it was unfortunate, then, that I could not make use of the bow myself. Apart from one of my 'magicka threads' precluding the use of ranged weapons, I was utterly hopeless with a bow; I couldn't hit a thing.

I probably couldn't sell it, either; Daedric weapons were so rare and valuable that finding someone who could pay what the bow was truly worth would be near impossible. So - it seemed I had found my first display item for my little museum at Wolfen Castle. I strapped the (very heavy) bow to my pack.

Near the corpse I found something else of value: a propylon index. I was reasonably sure it was an actual index, and not just a similarly-shaped stone, because it actually had a wax-coated label tied to it, with waxed string. It read, simply, 'Falensarano' - one of the Velothi strongholds that incorporated a propylon chamber (according to Folms). It was no doubt one of the indices Folms was looking for! I couldn't believe my luck.

I levitated down to the bottom of the great shaft, not wanting to take any chances. Lurking in the deep shadows at the base of the chamber were a couple of Daedra: a Hunger and a Winged Twilight. I was yet to meet a wild Daedra that did not fly to the attack as soon as they laid eyes on me, and these two were no exception. I dispatched the spiny, clammy-looking Hunger easily, but I had never encountered a Winged Twilight before, and she - or it - was a more difficult foe.

Winged Twilights have the torso and head of a grey-skinned woman (looking very similar to the Dunmer, as a matter of fact), great, leathery wings instead of arms, a long tail, and scaly, bird-like legs. The Twilight that I met attacked by alternately buffeting me with its powerful wings and leaping up to deliver a lightning-fast kick with both taloned feet at once. It was too fast for me to get any distance on it, so I had little opportunity to use my magic. I did manage to take it down before too long - cutting one of its arms (or wings, rather) off and then slashing it across the throat - but not before the creature dealt me a number of painful gouges, bruises and lacerations.

As I carried on, deeper into the underground ruins, I used my healing magic to close the wounds and ease the pain. My Keeper shirt would have done so eventually, of course, but it would have taken quite some time - and I was in a fair degree of pain. I (literally) stumbled across an ancient, rotting strongbox a little way from the Winged Twilight, and secreted within was a kama blade made entirely of green, volcanic glass. Almost anything made of volcanic glass was quite valuable, so I took it with me. With the demands of the castle I had 'inherited', I was in more need of money than ever.

Pushing through a heavy stone door, I was met by the somewhat more familiar interior of a Daedric shrine: huge, dark purple blocks of stone, carved with swirling patterns. I was also met by three Daedra-worshippers, who lived up to their reputation by screaming, waving their blades about and charging towards me. None of them were Orcs, so I did not hesitate in cutting them all down. One of them, a Dunmer in steel armour, had been carrying a fine glass war axe - I took that too.

In the main chamber of the shrine, as in other Daedric shrines I had seen, was a giant stone statue. This one depicted an old man with a cane - a representation of the mad Daedra god Sheogorath, I guessed. At its feet was an offering of precious gemstones; several emeralds and a diamond. With my katana ready, I scooped them up into a pouch at my waist. As I had been half-expecting since the last time I had done such a thing, an armour-clad Dremora winked into existence behind me and immediately aimed a blow at my head with a big black sword.

I dashed away down the steps at the statue's base, and yelped with alarm as the Dremora seemed to gather fire from the air above its head, and sent it down in a roaring, blazing sheet across the floor to roast my feet and lick at my legs. The flames grew in intensity, and I dived to the side to escape the unbearable heat, rolling and clattering across the stone floor. I came to rest against something in the corner of the chamber; it was soft - and warm - and woke with a startled snort and grunted angrily at me!

"Gah!" I gasped, jumping to my feet and backing away from the dark shape in the corner. Most of the rest of the chamber was light enough for me to have not needed my Night-Eye spell, but I couldn't make out what it was that I had disturbed. Regardless, I had to deal with the Dremora first. I rushed it before it could send another magical wave of fire at me, and battered it with my glass katana until the light behind its eyes finally went out. Using magic against Dremora was too risky to be worth it: they had a nasty habit of catching offensive spells and hurling them back at their attacker.

The spirit of the Dremora cast back into Oblivion, its Daedric armour crumbled to dust, and left behind (for whatever reason) the black sword it had wielded. The blade had a strange way of catching the light, and had dropped to the floor with an odd-sounding clunk. I picked it up, and soon recognised it to be made from fine ebony (dark volcanic glass, in other words) - much stronger than green glass. Stronger, but not sharper: I took it with me to replace my silver sword as a backup weapon (I was told that ebony weapons were also capable of harming supernatural beasts), but I kept my katana of green volcanic glass as my main weapon.

I remembered the thing I had disturbed in the corner of the chamber. Casting Night-Eye, I turned to get a better look. Glaring at me groggily and struggling to sit up was a female Orc - she had to be Bulfim gra-Shugarz, the one Valen had sent me to find.

She did not look well at all.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chapter 54: Venerate

Upon appearing back home in the great hall, I stumped down the hall to the smithy and stripped off my armour for Ulfred to repair. Almerie, the housekeeper, also insisted on taking my Keeper shirt with her so she could wash it. I must admit that, after travelling almost non-stop all day and night, it definitely needed it. Without its constant, soothing healing enchantment next to my skin, my head would soon begin to throb painfully from the magicka leak; but I was so exhausted that once in my bed, I fell instantly into a deep sleep regardless.

Since I had retired before noon, it was unsurprising that I woke at some point after midnight, unable to get back to sleep. With little else to do at such an hour, I dressed and made my way down to the kitchen for something to eat. I had slept right through my usual meal-times, and was starving.

The moons were out, and bathing the landscape in a pale, ghostly light. I spent the hours before dawn out on the surface of the water (through use of my Water-Walking spell), exploring the surrounding coves, bays and swamps. I explored to the north-west of the castle, mostly; and I believe I came nearly to Seyda Neen before turning back. The sun was about to rise by then, and I did have things to do that day.

My first port of call was the Caldera Mages Guild, to deliver the Falasmaryon propylon index to Folms; and find out where the next index on his list was. I thought, not for the first or last time, that it would be inordinately helpful to me if the Dunmer enchanter could just tell me all at once where all the indices were. Telling him as much was no good, though: he maintained that magically divining the location of each of the devices was difficult and time-consuming, and there was no point detecting them all in advance and giving me a list, because by the time he reached the tenth index, the first few could very well have been taken elsewhere.

This seemed especially true of the Valenvaryon index, the next on the list. Folms told me that it was in the possession of the Wise Woman of the 'Urshilaku', one of the nomadic Ashlander tribes of the Vvardenfell wilderness.

"I have heard that Ashlander Wise Women are often traders for their tribe," Folms said, marking the last known location of the Urshilaku on my map, "so this 'Nibani Maesa' might have the index up for sale. It's possible that she might not know its true worth, so you may be able to buy it from her cheaply."

After paying Creeper a visit (as usual) to sell a couple more inhabited soul gems, I used the Wolfen Ring and the castle's teleportation pillar to get back to Balmora. Several consecutive 'jumps' through space sometimes left me a little dizzy, but it saved a lot of time. In Balmora, I climbed the steps to the Tribunal Temple there to report my completion of the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces to Feldrelo Sadri. She was the priestess I had first appealed to when I decided to join the Temple, though she of course would not have recognised me with my new face.

She raised her eyebrows at me when I reported my success, her gleaming red Dunmer eyes looking me up and down.

"Then I must congratulate you, muthsera." She gave the slightest of bows. "As I'm sure you discovered, parts of the pilgrimage are not at all easy. Most... outlanders ... have especial trouble with the Shrine of Courtesy."

I remembered the Shrine of Courtesy rather more vividly than I cared to. Just reaching it required an Ordeal; of the type that gives religious orders a bad name; I had to literally drown myself in the waters of the Puzzle Canal. I was, of course, magically preserved somehow, but that made it no less unpleasant.

Feldrelo took me by the hands and lead me over to the triolithic shrine that formed the focal point of the domed chamber. She pressed the palm of my right hand against one of the shrine's faces, my left hand against another, and finally placed her own right hand on the remaining face, before closing her eyes and murmuring a few words to herself. I guessed that it was some kind of induction ritual, and I was right; but I shortly found that it was also a test, of sorts: of my honesty.

"So, you have indeed paid the proper respects at all the Seven Graces shrines." The priestess' hand dropped to her side, and she gave a deeper bow. "Forgive me, but I must check. Some people, especially outlanders... unintentionally make some error at one or more of the shrines. Unfortunately for some, having one's heart in the right place is not enough - the scriptures are quite clear. In any case, Sera Frost, this does not seem to be a problem for you - so I can raise you to the rank of Acolyte."

As I understood it, this was quite a jump from the lowly position of Layman, the rank given to people like me who walk in off the street and ask to join. I thanked Feldrelo profusely, but I think it was mostly lost on her: she seemed somewhat distracted.

"Hmm?" She raised her eyebrows at me again, and gave a vague smile. "No, that's quite alright. Most priests reach Acolyte when they perform the Seven Graces, so..." Something appeared to occur to her at that point, and she said: "But then you're not really a priest, of course, so you don't have duties. If you should want to perform services for the Tribunal, then - I'm sorry - but you'll have to ask at one of the other Temples. I'm only new to this position myself." She looked a little embarrassed - I think that if Dunmer could blush, she would have. "Try Endryn Llethan in Ald'ruhn, or maybe Tharer Rotheloth over in Molag Mar."

And so I was off again - I chose Ald'ruhn over Molag Mar, as the guild guide teleportation service to the Mages Guild branch there made it much easier to reach. I had made brief visits to the Ald'ruhn guild hall before, but I had never actually been outside; I had only ever travelled there by teleportation. The town was comprised almost entirely of Redoran-style buildings, like Maar Gan and Gnisis; only it was much larger. As I climbed the stairs to a kind of outdoor bazaar, near the Temple, I laid eyes on one of the biggest structures I had ever seen (second only to the cantons in the city of Vivec).

I am at something of a loss to describe what it looked like, except to say that it looked like what I learned it to be: the ancient, preserved shell of a giant crab. It was nearly as tall as the lookout tower at Wolfen Castle, and covered an area at least five times the size of the castle grounds. The Dunmer people actually used the hollow interior as the noble's district of the town! I could not imagine how such a massive living thing could have ever existed; what would it eat? How could it move about without destroying all in its path? How could there have been sufficient room in the world for a high enough number of the giant crabs to perpetuate the species?

It was unbelievable... but there the shell was before me, plain as day.

After a while, I realised that I was standing motionless in the centre of a busy bazaar, gaping like a rich, spoiled tourist. I moved on and found my way to the Temple. In the dimly lit entrance chamber was an authoritative-looking Dunmer priest, kneeling before a pit of ashes in the centre of the room. He was praying; the Dunmer people practiced 'ancestor worship', venerating the spirits of their own ancestors - and those important to the Dunmer as a whole. At the time I was unclear as to how this ancestor worship related to the worship of the Tribunal gods themselves - it was something I was still to learn - but the remains in the communal ash pits in the Temple seemed to suggest that there was, at the least, no animosity between the two forms of worship.

The Dunmer priest, who I learned to be named Tuls Valen, finished his prayers and stood up. I introduced myself as a new Acolyte, just finished performing the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces, and asked after Endryn Llethan.

"Endryn?" Valen remarked. "He's stationed at the High Fane in Vivec."

"That's... odd;" I frowned, "I just came from the Balmora Temple, and Feldrelo Sadri there sent me after Endryn to ask for some kind of task I can perform for the Temple. She said he was here."

The priest smiled.

"Ah - Feldrelo, yes. She's still learning her way around - only arrived from the mainland recently." He shrugged slightly. "A small mix-up. Sorry you had to come all this way... although if you're just after a service to perform, I do have something suitable for a travelling Temple member."

I began to sense that there was a clear delineation between normal priests of the Temple, and people like me who - as I mentioned - walked in off the street and asked to join. I guessed that normal priests - those for whom Temple business could be considered a full-time occupation - had regular, day-to-day duties; whereas I would be given... 'odd-jobs', more or less.

Valen cast a glance over his shoulder, down a side corridor.

"I must apologise for the lack of a proper welcome, but we're quite busy here; I only have a moment." The Dunmer paused before going on. "You've completed the Seven Graces: this is good; parts of the pilgrimage can be difficult. Now... do not misunderstand me when I say this, but I consider the Seven Graces to be a somewhat ... arbitrary show of devotion to the Tribunal. They perform their purpose: they are quite good at weeding out those that are not truly dedicated to the Temple; but I have a task for you that will help someone, as well as show your devotion."

I studied Valen with renewed interest. In my experience it was unusual to meet a devout man who did not adhere slavishly to the established precepts of his religion, but rather gave intelligent thought to what the religion in question was all about. He went on:

"To belong to the Temple is to practice compassion. This comes from Vivec: he is known to have often shown compassion to his enemies. The followers of Sheogorath are considered our enemies, and we theirs. We have come to know of a Sheogorath worshipper, an Orc, named Bulfim gra-Shugarz, who is sick with a blight disease. The task I have for you is to travel to Maelkashishi - some Daedric ruins west of Maar Gan, over the mountains - and cure her."

To say I was taken aback would be... well, it would be accurate. On the visits I had made to Daedric ruins, the Daedra worshippers that frequented them had only ever responded to my presence in one way: with naked aggression and naked blades. How was I supposed to cure someone like that of a disease? Valen had read my expression:

"Yes, it will likely be difficult. But if it was not, it wouldn't be much of an act of devotion. Here, take this with you." The priest retrieved a potion of 'Cure Blight' from a corner and handed it to me. "I would prefer you to use a spell and return the potion to me, if you can; they are expensive. Use it if you must, though: Orcs have especially thick skin when it comes to magic, after all."

Valen looked down the corridor again. In the dim light I caught sight of another priest waving to him.

"Sorry, I really must go." He made for the corridor. "Still, you have your task, Sera Frost. Be careful, and good luck. 'Faith conquers all.'" With that, he vanished into the depths of the temple.

And that was the extent of my formal introduction to the ranks of the Tribunal faith. Like the interiors of their temples, it seemed rather... sparse. I knew there had to be something under the surface... The tales of monsters and living gods that surrounded the Tribunal religion... There had to be more to learn.