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 09, 2005

Chapter 59: Septims

Folms was quite surprised when I delivered two propylon indices at once - and that's putting it lightly.

"Do you understand how unlikely the chances were?" The enchanter studied the Falensarano index I'd found at the top of the shaft in Maelkashishi, and was apparently satisfied that it was genuine. "As far as I know there is only one of each of the ten index types on the island. That you should just stumble across one is ... quite incredible, Mister Frost."

Once he recovered from the mild shock, Folms paid me for both the indices - a thousand drakes (always welcome) - and told me the location of the next index on his list.

"I've divined that the next one, the Indoranyon index, is in the personal collection of Divayth Fyr. Have you heard of him? No? Well, he's a somewhat famous Dunmer wizard - largely because of the mysteries surrounding him; as he has allegedly lived for thousands of years." It was my turn to be surprised. As I have mentioned, I knew that Dunmer, like all elves, lived far longer than humans - but not for tens of centuries - I had never heard that before. Folms went on: "He's something of a recluse, and a collector of artefacts. So... you might have some difficulty persuading him to part with the index. Be careful: one thing that is not rumour is that Divayth Fyr is very, very powerful. Here, get out your map, I'll show you where he lives."

Divayth lived in 'Tel Fyr', which I had learnt meant 'Tower Fyr' - or 'Fyr Tower', I suppose. It was on one of the shattered islands in Zafirbel Bay, south-west of Sadrith Mora. I decided to leave it for a short while, in any case. If the index was in the personal collection of a powerful wizard, it was not likely to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Matters at Wolfen Castle required some attention.

Nothing urgent, but something that would be beneficial to deal with sooner rather than later. Falorn and Idaynia, the Dunmeri general merchant I had hired to aid the groundskeeper in preparing the buildings in the castle yard for use as shops, had informed me that morning that they were ready to begin receiving visitors to the castle. They had asked me if I was ready to open the great hall to the public too; as the museum.

I had items ready for display - various suits of armour, mainly; some complete, others only piecemeal - but I didn't know how to best display them. Falorn, ever the useful font of local information, told me of a 'specialty' shop in Vivec: the House of Mannequins. It was located in Vvardenfell's main centre for the arts and crafts industries, the massive Saint Delyn canton, and apparently stocked display mannequins sturdy enough to bear the weight of even Daedric armour (if deployed in a conservative pose).

Glad to have the rest of the day off from travelling and fighting (as the latter seemed inescapable whenever I went anywhere), I teleported across to the Mages Guild hall in Vivec, and walked out to the armourers' shops in the Foreign Quarter plaza. With me I took the ornate, gold-inlaid daikatana. While it was a fine and beautiful weapon, it was not exactly a rarity or artefact by any stretch, so I sold it instead of putting it in my new museum. Neither of the armourers had the drakes to buy the blade outright, so in the end I traded it for money and several other fine weapons (glass daggers and the like) that I would sell on later.

I bought a number of carved wooden mannequins at the House of Mannequins; they were expensive, and heavy, but the workmanship was exquisite. After I added a small bonus on top of the cost of the mannequins, the shop owner was happy to arrange for the bulky and cumbersome items to be carried down to water level at the edge of the canton and taken by gondola to Wolfen castle that very moment. There was a small stone wharf just outside the castle walls - I asked that they be dropped off there.

Back at the castle, I had a look at what Idaynia and Falorn had done with the previously unused buildings in the yard. I soon found that the reason the pair of them had managed to have the place ready for visitors so soon was that not much work had actually been necessary. The buildings had previously been used to house stores of supplies for the castle, so they were easily adapted to hold stores of items to sell to visitors. Falorn had also arranged to have several resin-coated wooden tables (each with a complement of chairs of the same material) to be placed around the yard for the visitors' use.

Idaynia reported that she had the logistical side of things sorted out: the regular delivery of stock and other supplies for the shops, inventories, logbooks; that sort of thing. She had also arranged the hiring of another merchant with the representative from the Lord's Men company in Vivec - something we had spoken about earlier. There were two buildings we were going to use as shops, and Idaynia couldn't attend to both at once, after all.

It all looked good; I was impressed with their work. There were all the makings of a successful little ... I wasn't quite sure what to call it, actually. A 'service centre'? What I meant was that we had all the services an outpost or small village (or, specifically in our case; Ebonheart) could need. There was Idaynia's general store, and another store for the things Ulfred the smith would craft. We would even have the services of a mage, if Yanika could be enticed out of the laboratory. Perhaps she could even enchant items to be put on sale alongside Ulfred's wares.

These thoughts ran through my mind as I carefully piled the various suits of armour near where I planned to display them in the great hall. The mannequins were due to arrive soon. I was startled from my reverie by Falorn. He had someone with him: a green-robed Imperial with streaks of grey in his hair.

"Master Frost," Falorn said, "this is Calvus Essagan. He tells me Apelles Matius sent him." The Bosmer and I exchanged glances. We knew very well that Matius was not happy that I had taken possession of Wolfen Castle before the Imperial Legion had had a chance to do so.

At that moment I was unfortunately holding a piece of Dwemer armour - one of the few I had found amongst the belongings of bandits and smugglers a while back. I know I've previously expressed my reluctance at having anything to do with Dwemer artefacts, because of the Imperial government making it a law that only they can trade in them, and because of how distinctive they are; but I had found Dwemer armour to be too fascinating to resist. At any rate, there I was holding a Dwemer artefact in front of a man who had to be an Imperial official... it was just plain bad luck. I put the armour piece down and shook the man's hand.

"Ah, yes: you must be the ... er - official Apelles told us to expect."

Calvus gave a pleasant smile.

"Yes, that would be me." The Imperial paused, his gaze travelling about the great hall - lingering, to my chagrin, on the pile of Dwemer armour. "Quite a place you have here, Mister Frost. I think I can see why Matius is concerned. Well," he corrected himself, "why the Legion is concerned, I should say."

I offered him a seat at the table near the fireplace. Sitting down, Calvus drew his eyes away from the hall to regard me again.

"It's quite a well-defended castle, being surrounded by sea and all - and quite close to their fort at Ebonheart. That's what has them worried, I think." He gazed into my eyes, rubbing his chin. "Not to worry, though: I can see you're setting up some shops here, rather than plotting something... nefarious." He gave a wry grin. "And we certainly have no problem with that: it would be good for Ebonheart - not much to buy there, besides a drink at the Six Fishes."

Calvus was turning out to be quite a personable man - though of course I shortly discovered that he was after something.

"Still," he said, opening a small satchel at his side and leafing through the sheets of paper inside, "there are a few things I need from you. Now, as I said, we have no problem with you operating shops from here, but you do need a permit to do so in an Imperial province." Calvus laid a sheet of paper with fine print on the table in front of me. "Also, about the Dwemer items..." I clenched my teeth. "You're not planning to put those up for sale, are you?"

I wasn't quite sure of his intentions, so, cautiously I said:

"No - I'm not quite sure what to do with them, actually. This other armour here," I indicated the piles about the hall, "I'm putting on display... a museum, in a way."

Calvus began searching through his satchel again.

"Well, usually we ask that anyone who finds Dwemer items hand them over to an Imperial office - trade laws, and all that. However, in this case I think we can work something out, if you wish to put the Dwemer armour on display with the rest." The Imperial fished out another sheet of fine print and laid it before me. "A permit is required for that, too."

I was surprised.

"There's a permit for that?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Of course. You're not the first to want Dwemer items for a personal collection. If I remember correctly, there's some Redoran lord or other in Ald'ruhn with a personal guard all decked out in Dwemer armour. Can't imagine where he got it all from... In any case, if you wish to open those stores, and put that armour on display, I'll need you to sign those permits."

Calvus nodded towards the sheets of fine print before me, again leafing through the papers in his satchel. I read through both documents as quickly and closely as I could. The obscure language peculiar to legal writings made my head ache, but I became satisfied that they meant exactly what the Imperial official said; I would not be signing over possession of my castle to the Legion, or anything like that. Calvus waited patiently for me to finish, and then said:

"Before you sign anything, Mister Frost, there are administrative fees associated with the permits. One thousand septims for each."

And there it was: apart from the legal documents the Imperials were so fond of, Calvus was after money. It may have just been my background, but 'administrative fees' always sounded like 'bribes' to me. Still, if it kept the Imperial officials happy and (more importantly) away, then I reasoned that it would be worth it.

"Finally, there is this 'declaration of intent', for the Legion." He handed me yet another document, which I read even more closely than the permits. Basically it amounted to a signed declaration that I promised not to gather a force in my castle with the purpose of attacking them, or somehow undermining their interests in the area. It was something I had no trouble signing, in other words; because why would I want to attack the Imperial Legion? Even if I had a reason to, doing so would be lunacy: the name 'Legion' was a very fitting description for them.

So I signed Calvus' forms, gave him his money, and thanked him for coming. He had been polite enough about the whole thing, but as I watched him go I still muttered a few choice words about Imperials and their bureaucracy.

Calvus had put me in a foul mood. I had been enjoying getting things in order at the castle, but at that moment I just wanted to get out on the road again.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Chapter 58: Thief again

What I found in the previously lost passages in Ibar-Dad caves was definitely a tomb; but it was unlike any other I had seen on Vvardenfell. There was no ash-pit, and no burial urns. Instead, there was a skeletal corpse laid out on a stone plinth, arrayed in what must have been prized arms and armour indeed. On the skull was a frightening-looking Daedric helmet, different from those I had seen Dremora wear. At one hand was a Daedric shield, the other a Daedric war axe.

Daedric armour was the most highly prized protective equipment in the land, but it required a man or mer of epic strength to really wear it effectively. It was certainly too heavy for me, even with my newfound artificial strength. The armour would join the Daedric bow I found: on display in my new 'museum' at Wolfen Castle. I mentioned that I would likely never have to worry about funding for the castle again: this is because the rest of the ancient treasure in the burial chamber was truly stunning.

In addition to a number of superb weapons, including a Daedric war-staff and a beautiful gold-inlaid daikatana (which, incredibly, was even heavier than the Daedric daikatana), there were two wooden strongboxes full to the brim with mounds of gold coins, jewellery and precious stones of every kind. Best of all, lying atop one of the strongboxes was a Daedric longsword.

I could hardly have asked for a better weapon. While it was not quite as sharp and well-balanced as the daikatana, it was a much more manageable weight and length, meaning I could swing it with one hand. I had become accustomed to fighting with a shield, so this was quite welcome. The sword was a lot heavier than my glass katana, and I suspected it would take some getting used to the slower swings this necessitated; but with such a sharp, durable and heavy blade, I would be able to deal some absolutely crushing blows. I decided to keep the Daedric longsword as my main weapon, and use my trusty glass katana as a backup - assuming I could get it repaired somehow. I had no idea how someone would go about fixing a blade of volcanic glass that had snapped completely in half.

The weapons from the tomb and those from the Daedra 'guards' - plus the strongboxes - were altogether far too much for me to carry, of course. I cast Mark in the burial chamber, and, with a heavy armful of fine weapons, awkwardly slipped the Wolfen ring onto my finger. I was again drawn through space, crossing the entire span of the island in an instant, back to my new home.

The great hall was empty when I arrived, thankfully; I lumbered over to the hidden storeroom and carefully piled the weapons in a corner. I preferred not to face any questions from the castle staff about where I had found such a fortune. Personally my conscience was not much troubled over taking every item of value from Mordrin Hanin's tomb: it had obviously been lost to time - for an age or more. However, some might call what I was doing 'grave-robbing' or 'tomb-raiding', or some other equally offensive name: so if the staff knew nothing about where I got the money for the castle from, it would be a good thing. As for the Daedric items that were going on display, I could say that I won them fighting Daedra in a Daedric shrine: that was feasible enough, and quite close to being true.

It took several trips, teleporting back and forth, to gather up all the treasure and stash it safely in the hidden storeroom. Fortunately the rotting strongboxes didn't break along the way. The day was drawing to a close by the time I had finished, so I decided to stay home for the rest of the evening, and continue on from Ibar-Dad the following morning. It would give me a chance to get Ulfred's opinion on my broken katana and my new black sword, in any case.

Firstly though, I Recalled back to the tomb one final time to swim through and place my Mark on the other side of the foul stretch of water there. That way I would not have to wash the ill-smelling residue from my equipment - and myself - a second time (when I returned in the morning).

After a cleansing swim in the sea a little way from the castle (in my armour - something I would never attempt if I was not confident in my ability to cast water walking and breathing spells), I went to the castle smithy to show the swords to Ulfred. He was predictably enamoured of the Daedric longsword, and after a quick inspection, informed me that it was in perfect condition. The big Nord also surpassed my expectations by telling me that the glass katana would be easy to repair; he had apparently bought some (expensive) raw green volcanic glass for the express purpose of maintaining my favoured weapon. I insisted on paying him a bonus (of sorts) to cover the additional cost of the glass over his usual supplies.

True to his word, I teleported back to Ibar-Dad the next morning with my katana in one piece, and good as new. I just had one last item of business to see to in the far north of Vvardenfell.

The camp of the Urshilaku Ashlander tribe was only a little way to the east of the caves, laid out in a wide depression in the ground; so that it remained hidden until you were right upon it. I stood for a moment at the lip of the depression and watched the movements of the Dunmer tribes-people among their tents. Even without the foggy salt-mist drifting across from the nearby seashore, they were well-concealed and camouflaged. Everything about them was grey: their clothes, their skin (of course), even their animal-skin tents; they seemed to meld with the grey Ashlands.

Ashlanders were Dunmer people native to Vvardenfell, who, ever since the Imperial settlement of Morrowind, managed to (for the most part) remain completely independent of the Empire. No Imperial taxes, or laws... no contact. The exceptions were the people who traded with the tribes-people for rare medicines, alchemical ingredients or animal skins.

I too was there to trade with them; only I was after a very rare and specific item - unique, probably - the Valenvaryon propylon index. Folms, certainly, had only been able to divine the location of the one index. I hoped that everything would go smoothly; by all the tales I'd heard, meeting with 'natives' of any kind - whoever they were and wherever they were from - was always a delicate process. They always had some peculiar custom or other that made it ridiculously easy to grievously insult them... apparently. For someone like me, who cared little for any tradition that was observed just for its own sake, this sounded very frustrating.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the camp and politely asked the first person I met (who happened to be a young girl) if she could direct me to the Urshilaku wise woman. The child silently pointed to a nearby tent before continuing on her way. I approached the tent and looked for something on which I could knock. I was about to give up and call out through the leather 'door' flap instead, when my path was blocked by a tall, hairy Ashlander with a long, thin beard and deeply set, blood red eyes.

"The wise-woman will not see outlanders." His tone was even, but he wore a profoundly unfriendly expression on his face.

"I see..." I said, and paused, thinking. "Is there something I could do to change your mind?"

The slightly scary-looking Dunmer shook his head, and remained where he was, standing the tent's doorway.

"We live here to be away from your kind. Please be considerate enough to let us do this."

With a shallow sigh, I turned and left; back the way I came. Once out of sight behind a boulder, I cast my eminently useful invisibility spell and doubled back, skirting around to the rear of the wise-woman's tent. Fortunately for me, her tent was on the outskirts of the small camp, with the entrance flap facing inwards; towards the camp's centre. None of the Ashlanders could see around to the rear of the tent, which was good because what I did next disrupted my invisibility spell almost instantly. With the tip of my glass katana (I had nothing smaller with me), I cut a small slit in the back of the tent, and peered inside - after I was safely invisible again, of course.

A Dunmer woman (who I assumed to be the 'wise woman') was seated at a small fireplace in the centre of the tent, across from a younger girl - possibly a teenager (I wasn't very familiar with the way the Dunmer aged, excepting that I knew they lived a lot longer than humans). The woman was talking in a low voice, and staring into the fire. The girl's attention was fixed on the wise woman; neither of them paying the least attention to their surroundings.

On a small table almost directly beneath the cut I made in the tent was a collection of stoppered bottles, bowls of alchemical ingredients, and other paraphernalia. And there it was! The propylon index lay on the table among the other items I guessed had been gathered together to trade with - assuming they didn't turn all visitors away as they had me. It was the work of an instant to magically draw the index to the hole in the tent using a telekinesis spell. Since I had to keep my eyes on the index for the spell to work, and I didn't want to risk making the slit in the tent any larger to admit my hand, I tried to catch it in my teeth.

This was quite a foolish idea, as it turned out. At the speed that objects travel when grabbed through telekinesis, I ended up almost choking on the little-finger-sized stone. In a panic, and afraid that the woman and the girl would hear my coughing and spluttering outside the tent, I thrust my finger through the Wolfen ring; teleporting home. It was there in the great hall that I somehow managed to cough the thing up, spitting it onto the floor; right at the housekeeper's feet.

With a sheepish smile, I gingerly picked up the index and looked for something to wipe it on. I had embarrassed myself in front of Almerie, the pretty Breton housekeeper; but had come away safely with another propylon index for Folms.

Not too bad, all things considered.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Chapter 57: Treasure through foul waters

In contrast to my mood, the morning weather in the western Ashlands was bright and sunny. Trusting my enchanted belt, I leapt from the very top of the steep ridge near Maelkashishi, using 'Tinur's Hoptoad' to increase tenfold the distance I could jump. My heart still leapt into my throat at the sight of the barren wasteland laid out far below me; I didn't think I would ever get used to being able to fall so far without coming to harm.

I came to land in a great plume of dust and ash, and set off for Maar Gan at a steady pace. My jump from the ridge had let me sail over much of the rough terrain between it and Maar Gan, saving me some time; but I still had a long way to go that day.

My destination was the camp of the Urshilaku Ashlander tribe: the location of the Valenvaryon propylon index; according to Folms. The Dunmer enchanter had divined that the current location of the camp was on the north coast of the island, some way east of the village of Khuul. I was able to take a silt strider from Maar Gan to Khuul, and from there I struck out along the coast.

The terrain between Khuul and the apparent location of the camp was quite rough, like much of the Ashlands: full of ridges, ravines, boulders, and always the great drifts of black ash. I skirted around all that, using my water-walk spell to run across the surface of the sea, just off the coast. Off to the north-west, far in the distance, I could see the dark green coast of Solstheim. I fancied I could feel a chill breeze blowing across the water; the island was supposed to be mostly frozen wastes of snow and ice.

Apart from the far-off vision of Solstheim, there was not much to see during the dreary trip. I passed the time by attempting to run along the crests of the breaking waves; not easy, considering that even water-walking on a still, placid lake is like walking on slippery ice.

Such was my need to occupy my mind with something other than feelings of guilt over the events of the previous day, that I could not help but stop and explore a cave I found along the way. The most interesting thing about the entrance to the cave, and the other thing that had attracted me to it, was that it was situated very close to a Daedric ruin. I wondered if it could be a back-entrance to some underground Daedric structure. The name 'Ibar-Dad' scratched above the entrance didn't sound much like a Daedric name to me - but still; who was I to judge?

I made my way through the gloomy chambers of the cave as quietly as I could, my invisibility spell in place. The brightly burning torches along the cave walls made it obvious that the place was inhabited, and I wanted to avoid bloodshed if I could. I think I felt the need to atone - again, for the events of the previous day. I needn't have bothered with the spell, in the end, for the female Altmer necromancer I encountered saw right through the illusion with a single glance.

She did not even start, or make a sound: with a wave of her arms, she summoned a large bonewalker. The beast erupted from the cave floor in a shower of fiery sparks and lumbered towards me, arms outstretched. Not wanting to come within reach of the bonewalker's draining attacks, I cast a Frostball spell at its feet, and then another: effectively freezing it in place, with its rotting feet stuck to the floor.

The necromancer was no fool. Upon seeing that her minion was incapacitated, she waved a hand and dismissed it back to wherever it had come from, before summoning another one in its place! She was too dangerous: I would never get close enough to use my 'Calming Touch' spell - if it would even work on a mage as obviously powerful as she. Side-stepping a crackling bolt of electrical energy, I pointed one hand at the summoned bonewalker and the other at the Altmer woman, then proceeded to pummel them with Frostball spells.

They both expired at about the same time, and were left standing, frozen in shells of ice. The body of the bonewalker vanished with the death of its master, leaving an empty ice cast behind. The necromancer's neutral expression had never changed, the whole time: and now it was literally frozen in place.

The chamber in which I had disturbed the Altmer woman was home to a makeshift laboratory, study and camp; with alchemical equipment, books and spell-scrolls strewn about on a couple of rude tables. One of the books was open, and the ink on the final page still wet: the woman's journal. I skimmed through the pages, reading about what had brought the necromancer to Ibar-Dad caves. Her writing revealed her to be quite driven; she had been searching for an entrance to the underground chambers of the nearby Daedric ruins. Elante (for that was her name, according to the journal) made vague reference to some kind of 'treasure' to be had there, in 'Mordrin Hanin's tomb' - and this naturally piqued my interest.

The late Altmer's journal also revealed her to be more of a general summoner than a necromancer: she wrote of binding Scamps into her service as diggers. The last entry in the journal, the one Elante must have just finished writing when I stumbled across her, mentioned that the Scamps had broken through to a lost passage containing Daedric stonework. She wrote that she could go no further until she had brewed potions to let her pass through the foul water on the other side of the breach.

It was just too perfect: a potential treasure cache, lost for ages; and all the heavy excavation work done already. And since the summoner Elante was dead, that left the treasure all for me - if it existed, of course.

The wooden beams shoring up the freshly dug passage at the back of the cave system were easy to find, and beyond it lay the breach Elante had wrote about. While not quite as rancorous as her words had led me to expect, the dark water still reeked somewhat, and left me feeling light-headed. As was often the case, my magic allowed me to go where many others couldn't: with Night-Eye and water-breathing spells in place, I waded into the foul water.

The underwater passage was quite long and winding, and was littered with haphazardly scattered blocks of Daedric stonework. The water made my eyes sting, and my bleary vision put me at a distinct disadvantage when I eventually emerged from the pool at the other end to face two Dremora.

Each sent a roaring ball of flame towards me, and I was able to dodge one - which actually set the surface of the pool behind me alight - but the other burst at my feet, just about setting me alight. My Netch and Adamantium armour was flame-retardant to an extent - so I at least did not instantly catch on fire - but the flames leapt up all around me, right up to the cave ceiling. The intense heat was agonising; I staggered to the side to escape the fire-burst, somehow managing to focus enough to successfully cast 'Dispel'. The spell instantly negated the magical flames, as if they had never been. Giving a silent vote of thanks that the spell had actually worked ('dispelling' magic was often fickle), I charged to the attack.

Rushing headlong to meet two enraged Dremora may sound foolhardy, but I had little choice: each of the armoured Daedra wielded weapons of fearsome length - a spear and a massive, two-handed daikatana, respectively. Even worse, by the flash of the red and black metal, I could see that both weapons were Daedric in origin. I could not hang back and use magic: the demons were likely as not to simply catch my spells and hurl them back at me. The chamber was too small, and their reach was too great for me to do anything but charge in and stay close enough to limit the effectiveness of their huge weapons.

I was able to keep the Dremora with the daikatana mostly off-balance through keeping the ground at his feet slick with magical ice; allowing me to deal with the other one. I stayed close enough to the Dremora to prevent it making full use of the razor-sharp tip of its spear, and pummelled the thing's helmet with my glass katana. The Dremora used its spear as a war-staff instead, and I received quite a bruising from the metal shaft. Before too long (thankfully), I got in a strong enough blow to break the demon's helmet half-off its shoulders, banishing its invisible spirit back to Oblivion.

As the first Dremora crumbled to dust, the other lurched out of the darkness to my side, its massive daikatana raised high above its head - and mine. I span around, whipping my shield up and into the Daedra's 'head'. The side of the shield connected with its temple, and with a piercing shriek, bent the helmet to the side; leaving a jagged cleft in the thing's neck. The stunned creature stumbled sideways, its blade falling to its side. Before it could recover, I thrust the blade of my katana into the Dremora's neck and pulled downwards with all my might. My ploy worked perfectly... almost: The Dremora's helmet snapped off, 'killing' it instantly, but at the same time, my katana broke in half. Glass weapons may be very sharp, but they are brittle if mistreated.

And so it was at the worst possible moment, with my primary weapon broken in my hand, that a nearby Daedric door ground open and spat forth a Golden Saint. The thing carried a blade in each hand: a glass kama and a long, heavy-looking 'wrist-scythe'. With alarming speed, the powerful Daedra sprinted up and swung into me with both blades at once. I dropped the broken katana and brought my shield up, but the frightening strength of the Saint ripped it from my grasp and sent it clattering off into the darkness.

I was pitched backwards, down through the still-crumbling remains of the second Dremora's armour. I landed flat on the cave floor, the Daedric daikatana digging uncomfortably into my back. Thankful as ever that Dremora tend to leave their powerful weapons behind when banished, I rolled away from the Golden Saint's follow-up blow, grabbing the Daedric blade as I went. Jumping to my feet, I gripped the massive (and very, very heavy) blade in both hands, span around in a complete circle, and swept the daikatana into the Saint's metallic head.

With a shriek that signified either pain or the twisting of metal, the Golden Saint was knocked completely off its feet, sprawling to the ground a short distance away. Even after such a savage blow, the thing was not yet dead, though its head was bent completely to the side, as if resting on its shoulder! The creature got to its hands and knees, but before it could get any further, I leapt across with the blade raised above my head and brought it down upon the thing's neck, killing it.

Reeling from my wounds, I staggered across the chamber to support myself against the cave wall. My head swam from a combination of the pool's noxious fumes, adrenaline, and blood loss (I hadn't completely avoided the razor-tip of the Daedric spear). It took a while to persuade the healing magic to come.

Once I was healed and feeling better, I was able to collect my shield and broken katana, and take proper stock of the chamber. My dive through the foul water and the savage fight that had ensued were already worth it: the weapons of the three Daedra were worth a fortune: especially the Daedric spear and daikatana. Just holding it, I could feel that the balance of the daikatana was superb, and the blade, being made of Daedric metal, was by all accounts the sharpest and most durable I was ever likely to find. Its only drawback was that it was incredibly heavy. I decided to keep it for my own use (I doubted I could find anyone who could afford to pay what it was worth, in any case), but I would leave it at the castle, keeping it in reserve until such a time as I had need of a really, really big sword.

I was already very fortunate with what I found, as I said, but beyond the door that had produced the Golden Saint was the treasure cache Elante had written about! And it was just ... incredible. I could do nothing but stare for a long time.

In an instant, my worries about finding the money to support the running of Wolfen Castle were behind me.