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 16, 2005

Chapter 62: Penetrate

Tuls Valen seemed quite relieved to hear that I had persuaded Elvil Vidron to see reason, and that there had been no need for violence. He actually gave me three very potent healing potions as a gift for my "wisdom in the matter", as he put it. Lacking another 'odd-job' for me to do for the Temple, Valen had suggested that I could perform another pilgrimage: a much shorter one than the 'Seven Graces', he assured me.

I took up the pilgrimage straight away, as it sounded like one I could easily complete in what remained of the day. My destination was actually somewhere I had stopped during my 'Seven Graces' pilgrimage: the shrine in Maar Gan. There I was to read the inscription on the rock (that I had ignored the last time, in my rush), and to imitate the actions of Vivec described there. Valen would not be drawn further on the subject; I got the impression that it was another pilgrimage he did not much care for.

The silt strider ride from Ald'ruhn to Maar Gan took much longer than I had anticipated. The driver apologised numerous times during the trip, saying that the giant insect was being "stubborn". At one point he was actually kicking the exposed nerve endings that (ideally, at least) allowed him to direct the creature's movement. As it was, the strider spent half the time wandering about as it pleased - at one point it even stopped for several minutes to lean against a large rock spire; having a rest, apparently.

I was glad of Denstagmer's ring (the powerful piece of jewellery I'd found in the tomb near Gnisis): its protection against the elements meant that the merciless sun of the Ashlands was more bearable over the long trip.

After such a delay, it was dusk when I arrived in Maar Gan. Making my way slowly down the tall, precarious 'strider ramp' to the ground, I gazed out to the west, at the last remaining light fading behind the mountains. Admiring the desert sunset turned out to be a mistake: a shape lurking in the inky shadows among the rooftops near the strider ramp caught me completely off guard. The gap between the rooftops and the ramp was one that I was sure no mere mortal could have jumped - and certainly not in the full steel plate armour this figure wore - but the shape closed the distance in the blink of an eye.

Such speed I had never seen: I was halfway down the ramp when the figure crashed into me, sending us both sailing off the ramp, over the village walls and down, down the steep incline on the other side. The breath was knocked completely from my body when we landed, the speed of our flight sending us tumbling down the hill in a great streak of ash and dirt. The figure rolled up and off me when we came to rest at the base of the slope, revealing himself to be a Dunmer - and a vampire. He wore no helmet, and the infernal glow of his eyes gave him away.

"Got you alone now," he grinned, his long canine teeth glittering in the faint light from beyond the village walls.

I staggered to my feet, coughing and heaving; striving to get my breath back. I couldn't say anything. I drew my new Daedric longsword, but before I could make another move I was on my back again, the full weight of the armoured vampire on top of me. Even in full steel plate, he was fast and agile as a cat. The other vampires I had fought had been weak, and near feral: this Dunmer was most certainly not.

Straining against him, striving to keep my neck away from his teeth, I raised my heavy sword above his head, and brought it down hard upon the only part of him I had enough leverage to really damage: his legs. With a hiss, the vampire leapt off me, up into the air; to land unsteadily a short distance away. Blood was seeping from his broken greaves: the Daedric metal of my blade had sliced right through the steel as an axe through wood. The creature scowled, and drew a silver longsword, before leaping to the attack once more.

In the end I think it was only the hobbling blow I had dealt to the vampire's calves that saved me: even slowed down somewhat, the thing still knocked me off my feet again and again. He didn't use his blade much - wanted to avoid spilling my blood if he could, was my assumption. Nevertheless the ramming tackles and stunning blows from his gauntleted fists cracked ribs and split skin; I had to use my healing magic several times, desperately rolling and scrabbling in the ash and dust to avoid his attacks while the spells took effect.

My Daedric sword was brilliant: the vampire was very difficult to hit, but such was the power of the crushing blows my sword facilitated that I only needed to connect a few times to slow the creature enough to finish - or so I thought. His armour rent, broken and stained a deep red with his own blood, the vampire crashed to the ground, the infernal light in his eyes fading away.

A couple of days earlier I had mentioned the high number of vampires I had faced in the West Gash to the priests at the Temple. One of them had mentioned that some more powerful vampires could only be killed by a wooden stake through the heart - not even decapitation would permanently stop them. He sold me a wooden stake with a hardened steel tip, suitable for punching through armour.

The Dunmer lying before me seemed like just the type of vampire the priest was talking about: even as I watched, the creature's visible wounds were closing up. I drew the stake and dove forward, making to drive it through his heart. At the last moment his eyes flashed and his body twisted in place, meaning that although I buried the stake in his chest, I missed the heart. A vicious kick to the jaw sent me staggering back, to watch as the writhing, thrashing vampire disappeared in a cloud of ash and dust, kicked up by his struggle.

I just knew that the deadly thing would try to use the ash-cloud as cover, so I already had my sword drawn back and ready to swing when the vampire shot up into the air in a plume of dust, trying to land on top of me. My blade caught the beast full in the side, before he hit the ground - it severed his arm at the elbow and buried itself halfway through his midriff.

Kicking the Dunmer off my sword and not taking any chances that time, I pinned him in place by driving the point of the blade right through his stomach and into the ground. Stamping down on its throat to further inhibit the squirming, hissing vampire's movement, I again drove the stake into its chest. Jumping back and taking my sword with me (if the damned thing still refused to die, I was not about to let it have my sword), I watched as the vampire again thrashed about and disappeared into a cloud of dust and ash.

This time, when the ash settled, there was nothing left of the creature but its sword and a pile of broken steel armour. I left it there and made my slow way back into the village, checking myself for injury.

As I paused at a public pump to wash myself of the blood, ash and dirt, I realised I was shaking subtly in the aftermath of the fight. It had been a while since I had truly feared for my life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chapter 61: The Message

"The time of the Incarnate is at hand! Red Mountain vomits ash and blight over the land! Beware the sleepers and sinners - they gather at the House! I am the Incarnate! Listen: it will all come down from the Mountain - down upon your heads! Listen to me! It will all come down - death, ash, and blight, and fire, and... what?"

Elvil Vidron, the 'False Incarnate' I had been sent by the Tribunal Temple to reason with, finally put a stop to his tirade long enough to respond to my attempts to attract his attention. I repeated myself:

"You are Elvil Vidron, correct? I would like to have a word with you about your ... sermons."

To say 'sermons' was to describe Vidron's behaviour in a fairly generous way. Overall he made for a mildly disturbing and yet pathetic figure; topless and sweating profusely in the hot Suran sun, bellowing nonsense at the top of his voice at anyone unlucky enough to be passing by. Lacking a hapless target, he would simply shout at the sky. I had seen his kind before; in the streets of the Imperial city, during my childhood. Some people follow a religion that requires them to attempt to recruit others to their belief - and some of these people are so lacking in intellect that they see no alternative to accosting people in the street and shouting at them, in order to achieve that end. Surely such a belligerent approach gains them the opposite of what they want?

In any case I was there to stop Vidron's anti-social behaviour - much to the relief of the denizens of Suran, I'm sure. I thought I had an idea how to do it in a peaceful fashion, too.

"You..." Elvil panted, "you wanted to know about the message sent to me?" He stood there and stared at me, chest heaving, waiting for me to say something. I got the impression he was not used to yelling at the top of his voice in the scorching sun for hours. What could have happened to him?

"I wanted to know -" I paused, my mind racing; casting about for the right questions - "what is this message? How did you... receive it?"

The 'False Incarnate' glanced up at the sun and, as if conceding some kind of minor defeat, moved into the shade of a tree at the edge of the town square, beckoning me to follow.

"The waking dream!" He had lowered his voice from a shout, but was still rather more loud than necessary. "Have you not seen it? Every day and every night these past few weeks, the same message: they send me visions of Red Mountain, storms of putrid ash, deformed beasts that were once men and mer, DOOMED TO LIVE ETERNALLY IN DARKNESS AND MADNESS!" Vidron was shouting again. Behind me, a mother quickened her pace as she passed by, pulling at her curious young son's hand.

It was true that since the incident with the crescent moon emblem, I sometimes felt as if the realm of dreams was intruding upon my waking mind; but it was a vague feeling, nothing more. I had certainly not experienced anything like what Elvil Vidron described. I told him as much:

"I've never had a dream like that, Sera Vidron. So... you believe that these dreams - these messages - mean that you're the Incarnate; the Nerevarine?"

Vidron gave me a hard, suspicious look.

"You disbelieve? I know my destiny! I know what I see in the dreams! You'll have a hard time proving otherwise!"

This is where my idea for a peaceful resolution came in:

"You know the prophecy of the Nerevarine, then?" I asked. Miraculously, the Dunmer seemed - momentarily at least - at a loss for words. I took advantage and pressed on: "It's my understanding that the prophecy says that the man - or mer - that will be born as the reincarnation of Indoril Nerevar will 'unite the Dunmer and drive the invaders from Morrowind'. All the Dunmer - on Vvardenfell and mainland Morrowind - united under your command to drive the outlanders and the Imperial Empire out."

I paused, looking the sweaty, bare-chested man up and down.

"That's you, is it?"

As I spoke, Vidron's shoulders slumped ever so slightly. I knew I was getting through to him; I just had to get him to swallow his pride and admit it. Again, I pressed the point home:

"And what about the animosity and distrust I hear about between the Great Ruling Houses? How do you plan to persuade the Redorans to trust the Hlaalu? How would you get the Telvanni to work with anyone besides themselves? And the Empire! Are you ready to face down the Imperial Legion? I imagine they would have something to say about your plans to take Morrowind back from them."

At that, I stopped. I could see he had given up - that he believed me. The Dunmer sat heavily on the steps leading from the square.

"I... thought it would come to me." He spoke quietly now. "The dreams - I thought they would change, and show me the way; what I should do." Vidron looked up at me. "You're from the Temple, aren't you? I've heard that they don't like people mentioning the Nerevarine."

"Yes, they asked me to talk to you;" I replied, figuring there was little point denying it; "and it probably is in your best interest not to mention the Nerevarine again. They apparently wanted to send Ordinators to pay you a visit; they sent me, instead."

At this, Vidron looked positively alarmed:

"Oh! Then - please, please accept my apologies, and my... my thanks!" He jumped to his feet and gave a quick bow. "Please forgive me for this. I will pray - I will go to the Temple and seek penance for my sins."

I felt sorry for him. Facing such a fast, brutal destruction of something he had fervently believed in. I wondered how he would face any friends or family he might have had in Suran, after the performance he had put on.

"If it were me that you should apologise to, then I would forgive you, I think; but it would be best to go to the Temple and seek penance, as you said. For my part, I'll report that you've agreed to stop your public sermons and that you admit that you are not the reincarnation of Nerevar: that you were mistaken. This is right, isn't it?" It was my turn to give him a hard look; I felt I had to be certain.

"Yes, yes!" He nodded, and rubbed his eyes. "It was those dreams - they never stop. I haven't been able to sleep for days, upon days..."

I clapped him on the shoulder.

"Well, maybe someone at the Temple can help you with that too."

Vidron gave me a weak smile before bidding me goodbye; bowing one last time as he left.

And that was that: something of a landmark for me. I hadn't seriously expected to be able to persuade a man against something he believed in strongly enough to shout to the rooftops, but there was the living proof, walking away from me. I hadn't even needed to fall back on my Illusion magic. As I made to teleport back home, I felt remarkably good about myself. Of course I would have normally argued that a person should be free to believe what they want, as long as it doesn't intrude on others' lives: but that was just it: Elvil Vidron's aggressive public 'sermons' were nothing if not intrusive. Also, there was little doubt that I had likely saved his life by getting to him before the Ordinators did.

And finally, all he said about the 'time of the Incarnate' being at hand was pure fantasy, without a doubt.

Wasn't it?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Chapter 60: Faith and Heresy

"You seem... unhappy, Sera Frost." Tuls Valen gazed at my face, his eyes lingering on the glowing crescent-moon mark emblazoned across my left temple and cheek. "Does doing good in this world not please you?"

I had just reported to the monk Valen that I had cured Bulfim gra-Shugarz, the Sheogorath worshipper in the Maelkashishi shrine, of her blight disease. He was pleased to get the Cure Blight Disease potion back; and I could understand that: making them was just as difficult (I'd heard) as finding an apothecary with them in stock. I was unhappy because I still felt guilty over having killed Bulfim's friends - even if it was in self-defence.

"I... killed people in the shrine." I said, staring at the floor before my feet. "I cured one, but killed three. They were Sheogorath worshippers, but..." I trailed off.

Valen placed a hand on my shoulder.

"Why don't you tell me what happened." The monk stood back and waited patiently. Of all the Dunmeri Temple members I had met; he was certainly the friendliest.

So, after a moment's hesitation, I described my visit to the Daedric ruins; from the haphazard descent down the shaft, to how I had cured Bulfim with the spell I somehow 'learned' from Vivec's Ash Mask, and ending with the Orc asking me to leave before her friends saw me - not knowing I had already killed them. Valen was silent for a short moment, though I suspect that it was more out of respect than not knowing what to say: his comments were quite decisive:

"Sera, this may not actually comfort you, but in the eyes of many in the Temple, killing Sheogorath worshippers would not be a bad thing: they are regarded as our enemies, after all. Aside from that, I'm afraid I can't say anything that would not be an obvious platitude." Valen clapped me on the shoulder. "Still, it may be some consolation for you to know that receiving that curative spell from Vivec's Ash Mask is thought of as a great indication of piety. We call that spell 'Vivec's Touch'."

I thought this was curious, and it did serve to provoke my interest and raise me out of the doldrums a little.

"Really?" I asked, puzzled. "But I only recently joined the Temple - how could that be?"

Valen explained:

"It is said that it is not so much a matter of long service to the Tribunal as it is an indication of a great depth of belief and faith. So... yes, as a matter of fact it is unusual for an Outlander and new member to be gifted with Vivec's Touch."

A matter of 'belief and faith', he said. I couldn't help but think that that rang false - at least in my case. Most religions are signified by their members believing in something that cannot be (or perhaps has not been) conclusively proved to others. With the Tribunal Temple, the gods Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil were not only proven to exist, they could be seen by the naked eye (albeit only by the select few admitted into their presence), just like any mere mortal. For me it wasn't a matter of faith - of believing in them: I knew they were there.

"In any case, it's an impressive thing, Sera Frost. Be glad of it." Valen broke across my thoughts. "Now, I do have another task in service of the Tribunal for you, if you wish."

"Yes, alright: I'm ready." I nodded, bringing myself out of my reverie. The more I did for the Temple, the faster I would gain friends, rank, and influence among its members: that was my hope, anyway. It was a slim hope that such influence would grant me access to some Temple secret that could lead to a cure for my affliction, but I had little else to go on.

"That's good. Now..." the Dunmer monk hesitated, "I'd like to be able to say that this task will be easy, but it involves persuading a man against something he must believe in with near-religious fervour. I'm sure you know how difficult it is to successfully argue a point of belief with someone who disagrees with you..."

I groaned internally. I would be more inclined to describe it as 'nigh-impossible'. Growing up in the Imperial Cult orphanage listening to the priests argue religion almost every day had taught me that.

"... but still," Valen continued, "this man, a Dunmer named Elvil Vidron, is by all accounts somewhat mad - so who can say? In any case, Elvil is a 'False Incarnate', claiming to be the Nerevarine. This in itself is heresy; but what's worse is that he is roaming the streets of Suran, shouting prophecies of doom and disaster to all that pass. The Ordinators wish him dead; 'no man, no problem' is their line of thinking - and that is how they usually deal with those who profess belief in the Nerevarine. In this particular case there are many priests in the Temple who agree: saying that someone should be sent to execute this Vidron; because if he is indeed the Nerevarine, then he is protected by prophecy and cannot die."

I got the impression from the way he spoke that Valen did not count himself among those ordering Elvil Vidron's death. What he said next further persuaded me of this:

"As I am bound to the Temple, I must tell you this: if you accept this task, you must agree to kill Elvil Vidron if you cannot find some way to persuade him to give up these heretical views. However I, like you - it would seem - believe that we should work to preserve rather than to destroy. Find a way. Do you know much magic?" I nodded (of course). "Good - use it if you need it. Even if you have to manipulate him, and make him believe that he agrees with us; it would be better than killing him."

I agreed with him completely. I was thinking more and more those days that mastery of the Illusion school of magic was my path to saving my conscience. It may have been the opinion of many that Illusion magic was the domain of thieves and deviants, but if it would enable me to placate or avoid enemies that didn't need to be killed, then it seemed worthwhile to me.

As to the business of 'False Incarnates' and the 'Nerevarine', I was a little lost by the terminology. I had heard the word 'Nerevarine' here and there during my stay on Vvardenfell, but I could not remember where or when, and didn't know who or what the Nerevarine was. Valen obliged me with a brief explanation:

"Lord Indoril Nerevar lived at the time when the Tribunal were still mortal - indeed, he was their friend and comrade; a legendary General of the Dunmeri people. He is a Saint to the Temple, and a hero to the history books. The Ashlander people have a prophecy that Nerevar will be reincarnated as the 'Nerevarine'; a figure who will - according to their prophecy - unite the Dunmer and drive the 'invaders' (that would be the Imperial Empire) from Morrowind; so restoring the ancient Dunmeri nation." The monk paused to draw breath, and I strived to make sense of the torrent of information. He continued: "As for us, the Temple says this is heresy: a profane superstition. The Ordinators are - usually - set upon those who profess to believe in this prophecy."

Even hearing all this for the first time, I could tell that Valen had given me only a basic overview of the issues at hand. Nevertheless, it seemed straightforward enough, at least on the level at which I would be dealing with it. Vidron held beliefs that the Tribunal Temple forbade (for whatever reason), and was actively trying to convert others to this belief - at the top of his voice.

My task was to argue religion with a madman. It was not my idea of an enjoyable afternoon.