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, January 13, 2006

Chapter 74: Meant to be

"You killed all of them?" A grin began to spread across Caius' face.

"Most of them, I think." I absent-mindedly rubbed my stomach, where the Dark Brotherhood cell leader had cut me with his poisoned blade. It was completely healed, of course; but I could remember the pain. "I left one alive to tell the others what happened: I wanted to scare them off me. I heard a few more coming, too, but... I killed most of them - and their leader. I found this."

I drew the contract on my life from my robe, and handed it to the spymaster. My armour was still with Ulfred, being repaired - even after several hours. The spectacular fight with the Dark Brotherhood assassins had left it in a terrible state. I had remained at Wolfen castle until the late afternoon, resting after the taxing events of the morning.

"Good, very good," Caius said, reading carefully through the contract. "Excellent, excellent work. So this 'H' is the one who wants you dead... Did you find out anything else; perhaps from this one you didn't kill?"

I shook my head, but then remembered what the cell leader had said before he died. It seemed to greatly interest the spymaster.

"'My liege'?" Caius sat forward in his chair. "He definitely said 'my liege'?"

"I'm fairly certain." I replied. "Why?"

The grey-haired Imperial leant back again, looking thoughtful.

"Well, the people of Mournhold would call King Helseth their 'liege'." He gave a wry smile, adding: "I don't know if the Dark Brotherhood members there would want to count themselves among 'the people of Mournhold' or not, but..."

"The contract is in the name of 'H'!" I finished for him, and then paused. "The king? You think the king is the one who..."

Caius held up a hand to stop me.

"This alone is too tenuous a link. As I'm sure you would agree, accusing a king of such a thing is something you should consider very carefully - even if you were absolutely sure that he was at fault." He began to study the parchment again. "I will have someone look into it. Perhaps we can find someone whose handwriting matches this contract - or find what this symbol means." He tapped the swirling, intricate symbol that took the place of a signature. "Maybe we could even find someone whose sketches look like this! Quite a likeness of you, isn't it?"

I was too distracted by thoughts of King Helseth to reply. What if it was him? Why would a king I had never before heard of hire assassins to kill me? Maybe it wasn't him after all...

"Don't trouble yourself, Frost." The spymaster interrupted my thoughts. "I think those boys in black will leave you alone for now - and I will find out for you who this 'H' is. In the meantime, I do have new orders for you..."

The following morning saw me in Vivec, to carry out Caius' assignment. He had given me two hundred drakes for "bribes and other expenses", and sent me off to the holy city to gather more information on the Nerevarine and Sixth House cults. He had three specific informants in mind: I just had to locate them and persuade them to talk. I was becoming more and more curious about the matter of my sudden release from prison, and about the reason for the spymaster's seemingly insatiable interest in those cults. Caius still refused to tell me anything about either subject, however; merely saying: "Patience."

It was an unusually cold and rainy day for Vivec, and I was able to comfortably wear a robe over my armour. I would still have been quite warm enough in my armour alone; I was wearing the robe to conceal (or at least mostly obscure) the armour; I wanted to blend in more, considering the type of assignment I was on. Full suits of armour draw attention. The bulky shoulder-guards had to be strapped on over the top of the robe (they were necessary to properly maintain the balance of the Netch-Adamantium cuirass). You might think it strange to bother with armour at all if I was simply on an assignment to talk to informants, but my time on Vvardenfell (indeed, my whole life) had taught me to favour caution.

I used Almsivi Intervention to teleport from Wolfen castle across to the High Fane Temple at the southern end of Vivec. My plan was to speak with Endryn Llethan at the Temple, and then search for Mehra Milo (one of Caius' informants) in the 'Hall of Wisdom' library beneath the High Fane. I would ask Endryn if there was some task or act of devotion I could perform for the Temple, and use that as my cover for visiting the Hall of Wisdom; I was supposed to be a spy, after all... and Caius had hinted that Mehra's position at the library was somewhat tenuous. He didn't want me to draw undue attention to her.

Endryn was one of the priests that Tuls Valen had recommended I speak to if I wanted to do more in service of the Temple. He seemed compassionate like Valen, but in contrast appeared to believe -without question - in every aspect of the Tribunal faith. Valen had more of an open mind. Endryn did have a task for me, and it concerned matters of faith: he was in a state of great consternation over it, in fact.

"There's a holy woman, a pilgrim, here in Vivec at the moment; her name is Tanusea Veloth. She is kind, pious and well-known and -loved by the people." Endryn wrung his hands. "It's terrible! In her travels she somehow caught the Divine Disease!" Upon seeing my expression of incomprehension, he added: "Corprus disease".

I was surprised. I had once killed some poor soul afflicted with Corprus disease out in the Ashlands: the disease had left the man swollen, deformed, aggressive, and quite insane. Someone like that loose in the city would be very dangerous; what if it - she - encountered a small child, or an elderly person?

"Where is she?" I asked, loosening my sword in its sheath. "Has anyone been hurt? And the Ordinators - have they been told?"

The priest looked shocked for a moment, then appeared to realise something.

"Oh, no; you don't understand, Curate Frost." (Curate was my rank within the Temple hierarchy). "Tanusea Veloth has been personally blessed by Almalexia: She is, as I said, a very holy woman. She does not suffer from the symptoms of the disease." Endryn began to look troubled again. "However, she is still passing the disease to others! We've already had to send two stall-owners from the Arena canton (a favourite place of Tanusea's) to the Corprusarium beneath Tel Fyr!" Endryn squeezed his eyes shut. He looked personally pained by the subject. "How could this happen to one so devout... one blessed by Almalexia?"

I had to ask him what the Corprusarium was: a place under the care of Divayth Fyr where sufferers of the 'Divine Disease' (a very strange name for such an awful affliction) were sometimes taken. There they could live without being a danger to themselves or others. I was surprised to learn of it: I had, of course, briefly met with Divayth at Tel Fyr, and I had had no idea that the Corprusarium was there.

In any case, I understood what was upsetting Endryn about the matter of Tanusea Veloth. The priest was obviously a very devout man, and the thought of his goddess making such a colossal oversight as giving one of her faithful immunity to the symptoms of a disease - but leaving her contagious to others - had to be quite dismaying. Unless, I thought; it wasn't an oversight...

"Perhaps, Endryn, Almalexia meant for it to happen this way." The priest stared at me, mystified. I continued: "Perhaps she means for Tanusea Veloth to go to the Corprusarium and care for the afflicted there. She would be perfect for the role, after all: she's immune to the effects of Corprus, so she will keep her mind and the proper use of her body. She would be free to care for them without fear of being infected herself..."

A cautious grin crept across the priest's face. He looked quite relieved.

"I think I can see the reason for your meteoric rise through the Temple, Curate Frost. Only four ranks above Curate, you know; and that includes Patriarch." Endryn clapped me on the arm. "Valen was right about you."

In truth I hadn't given much thought to my overall position in the Tribunal Temple. Higher ranks obviously came with greater power, but I wasn't sure whether this would hold with an outlander like myself. Tuls Valen had been quite generous with his promotions: it had all happened so quickly, and really, I barely knew anyone in the Temple besides Valen. I don't think anyone seriously entertained any notion of bestowing real power in the Temple upon me. No-one had yet mentioned such a thing, at any rate.

It wasn't something that really interested me, anyway. I would be happy enough if there was simply some indication that my position would grant me a path to a cure for my condition.

Endryn brought me out of my reverie by saying:

"In any case, Curate Frost, we need to persuade Tanusea to leave Vivec and go to the Corprusarium." The priest looked quite serious again. "You've shown that you are just the man to do it, I think! We did intend for her to go there as a 'patient' - but your idea is much better."

With a promise to look for Tanusea Veloth at the Arena canton later that day, I left and made my way down to the Hall of Wisdom. It was time to get on with Caius' assignment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Chapter 73: Fear and anger

I sliced again and again, putting great effort into every swing - but I couldn't hit him! The (apparent) leader of the Dark Brotherhood cell simply sidestepped or ducked my every attack, contorting his body in seemingly impossible ways. His speed was incredible, and he made absolutely no sound as he fought; no sound of exertion, no intake of breath as he narrowly avoided my blade, again and again.

I hefted the massive Daedric daikatana above my head and cut downwards, predictably hitting nothing but air. The assassin had shifted neatly to the side; and before I could lift the heavy two-handed blade back to the ready, his whole body seemed to ripple up from his feet, a wave passing through him to culminate in his arm, his elbow slamming into my jaw with terrific force. I staggered back, trying to keep myself from moving my jaw until the enchantment in my 'Keeper' shirt healed any damage that might have occurred. The assassin fired another spectral arrow while I was off-balance, and I only just managed to clumsily dive out of the way: the arrow passed through my breastplate (again, as if it wasn't even there) to tear a hole through the flesh under my arm.

From my prone position I sent a Poisonbloom spell at the wall near his head, hoping to keep him from leaping on me before I could get up. He turned his head to avoid the blast and the resulting cloud of acidic poison; and that was my chance. I leapt up and swung diagonally downwards, through the obscuring green cloud of poison. I felt the daikatana connect with something, and for an instant my hopes were raised. The assassin rolled out of the green cloud, his conjured Daedric longbow broken in two; but he was unhurt! He had blocked with the longbow and rolled away, moving with the force of the blow. He effortlessly bounded back to his feet, a shining adamantium short-blade suddenly in his hand (the broken longbow had vanished in a shower of sparks).

Before I could act, the assassin was in front of me, and had slashed me across the midriff three times! A familiar green cloud drifted up from the slashed netch leather, and I gasped; the leather was burning away from the magical poison on his blade. It was agony; I was bleeding heavily, and it felt like my insides were on fire. I was afraid: he moved so quickly! He could kill me in the space of a heartbeat...

As often happened at such times, my instinctive fear turned to instinctive rage. As the cell leader drew his blade back for a vicious upward stab, my fist closed around his throat. I used a spell I had not cast for some time: Frostbite. I watched his eyes: they had been narrowed, intent on my death; but as his throat froze near-solid and his mouth became stuck shut with ice, his eyes widened, full of fear.

I felt another sharp pain in my jaw as the assassin elbowed me away again. He fumbled helplessly at his throat, trying to do something about the ice. I could tell he couldn't breathe. For my part, I directed the 'Balyna's Antidote' spell into my wounded midriff, and, as the burning poison faded away, released a breath I hadn't even realised I was holding. I was still furious with (and deadly afraid of) the Dark Brotherhood cell leader, so with one massive, sweeping blow, I swung the daikatana into his side, slicing him completely in half.

I found myself vomiting on the floor of a darkened space yet again (something I was growing quite weary of); this time both from the after-effects of the poison in my body, and from the grisly sight of the near-dead assassin.

'Near-dead', because as I was being violently sick, I heard him murmuring something, though I don't know who he thought he was talking to. I was sure he was imploring someone to tell his "liege" that he had failed, and he was sorry. Needless to say, perhaps, he died very shortly afterwards.

At the rear of the chamber were a few personal belongings, collected near a bedroll. Among them I found an unremarkable-looking rolled length of parchment, containing an impressive likeness of me - with my new face. Where and when could they have procured such a thing? Below the sketch of my face was a short passage of hand-written text, containing my name and references to both the Mages Guild and Wolfen Castle as places where I might be found. It also identified the document as a binding contract with the Dark Brotherhood under the name of 'H'. That was all it said about the person - or organisation - that wanted me dead: just that one letter.

The sketch of my new face and the mention of Wolfen Castle made it obvious that the contract had been issued relatively recently; most likely to replace older contracts on my life when new information became available. It showed that Caius had been right: though it had been some time since the last Dark Brotherhood attack, this 'H' still wanted me dead.

The parchment was not signed with a name, but rather with a swirling, intricate symbol that I did not recognise. In any case, the way it was worded made it appear as if the Dark Brotherhood needed to have it in their possession to be permitted to attack me. I hoped that by slaughtering the entire Dark Brotherhood cell beneath Mournhold and confiscating the parchment, I would give this 'H' cause to reconsider issuing another contract on my life. Although... if all the assassins were dead, how would anyone know what had happened down there?

The solution came to me in the form of the assassin I had struck in the back of the head with a Frostball spell: the one who had seen me standing amongst the bodies in the great cavern. He was alive: I heard coughing in the corridor, and found him still on the floor, up against the wall. When he saw me he moved to draw his weapon. I stopped him by levelling a hand at his chest, Destruction magic crackling between my fingertips.

"I killed your leader - and I have the contract on my life here;" I said, holding the roll of parchment up. "You should probably stay down; and leave your blade where it is."

He hesitated, but then his hand dropped back to the floor, and he remained where he was.

"Take your hood off." I instructed. The assassin didn't move, so I repeated myself: "Take it off or I will freeze it to your face." I let the beginnings of the Frostball spell in my hand intensify, so that mist and shards of ice began to fall from it to the ground.

This time he did as I asked. He was a Dunmer, as I had expected; and he looked young - and terrified.

"Good. Now listen: you will tell your superiors what happened here. You know who I am, don't you?"

The black-garbed Dunmer nodded, and croaked:

"Edward Frost. Your contract has been open for a while."

I gestured with the parchment again, before stuffing it into a pouch at my waist, saying:

"I am closing it now. Tell your colleagues and employers that it is to remain that way; if you value your lives." At that point, it occurred to me that I should at least try to discover if he knew who had hired them to kill me: "Do you know who it was who took out the contract on my life?"

The prone assassin struggled to give what was probably intended as a mocking grin.

"You have some strange ideas about how we do business, s'wit." He rasped, and began coughing again. "Our clients don't usually want it to be known that they are our clients. Probably the only one who might know is... was the boss;" he glanced in the direction of the room I had just left; "and you said you killed him, so..."

I stared into his eyes, ice and frigid mist still raining from my hand. I was no interrogator. I couldn't tell if he was lying or not, and had little idea how to be sure. At that moment, I ran out of time to find out, anyway: I heard voices outside the building, in the great cavern: people calling to each other. Probably surveying the carnage. Apart from still feeling somewhat sick and off-balance from the poisoned blade, I also felt as if I had pushed my luck quite enough for one day. It was time to leave.

There was another shout outside, this one sounding as if it came from just the other side of the entrance door. Both I and the unmasked assassin glanced at the door, then back to each other.

"Tell them." I said, and finally let the Frostball spell go.

It burst against the wall, high above the assassin's head; showering him with fragments of ice. He covered his face against the deluge; and before he could look again, I slipped the Wolfen Ring onto my finger, vanishing from sight.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Chapter 72: Cacophony

In preparation for my attack on the Dark Brotherhood, I strapped the massive Daedric daikatana I had claimed in Ibar-Dad caves to my back. Well; Falorn and I did: he was helping me into my armour and equipment - it's much easier with help.

"You seem nervous, Master Frost," said Falorn, not very helpfully.

I secured my Daedric longsword in its sheath at my waist.

"I've told you about my fights with the Dark Brotherhood assassins before. Each attack nearly killed me - and there was only one assassin each time." I hoisted my shield. "I am better prepared now - and stronger... but I don't know what will happen."

The Bosmer groundskeeper shrugged.

"You have the Wolfen ring. You can teleport home if you get in trouble."

I settled the netch and adamantium helmet on my head, and took a deep breath. I was ready.

"If only it were that simple..." I murmured, half to myself. What if they overwhelmed me, and I couldn't reach the ring? What if I never even saw the killing blow?

Doing my best not to think about it, I thanked Falorn for his help and cast Recall. When I next opened my eyes I was back in the Mournhold catacombs, the Bosmer's wishes of good fortune echoing in my ears. I crept down the twisting, packed-dirt tunnel again, with my invisibility spell in place. There were two Dark Brotherhood men in roughly the same place as the pair I had seen the previous night. I had no doubt as to their identity as they wore the same distinctive armour of fine black chain as the men who had attacked me. The two assassins before me could have been the same couple as the night before, for all I knew: they also wore the same distinctive goggled-hoods as I had seen before.

The first the two guards knew of my presence was the hiss of an approaching Frostball spell; it exploded at their feet, blanketing them both in ice. Even slowed as they were by the numbing cold, they avoided my following spells and closed the distance between us with startling speed. I received a few deep gashes from their whirling short blades, but their thin chain armour was little protection against the crushing blows facilitated by my heavy (yet razor-sharp) Daedric sword.

A little way along the tunnel from where the guards had been standing was another tellingly well-cared-for door; and beyond that a great cavernous space yawned at my feet. A set of rickety wooden steps began at the lip of the massive cavity in the ground, and carried on from one precarious ledge to the next, all the way down to the base of the cavern. I could see similar wooden constructions at a couple of other points around the perimeter: evidently there was more than way into the cavern.

Down in the cavern, dimly lit by burning braziers, were the ruins of several strange buildings. Their style of construction was foreign to me, but they must have been very, very old to be buried so far beneath the city. They were obviously still fit for use, however, as I saw a couple of black-garbed men coming and going from the circular doors. I crouched at the lip of the huge cavity to observe their movements. As I watched, I was able to make out more and more of the assassins, ranged about the base of the cavern: usually only when they moved. Even with my Night-eye spell it was difficult to make them out at such a distance, so darkly dressed they were.

Absorbed by my attempt to count the assassins in the massive natural chamber, I carelessly allowed my invisibility spell to expire. I was spotted almost immediately; an assassin pointed a gloved hand at me, and looked about to cry out. Before he could do so, he was silenced by the explosion of an icy ball of magical frost over his upper body. He wasn't the only one to have seen me, though, and the streak of magical ice across the cavern made my position obvious.

A number of the men made motions as if they were throwing something at me. I took a great leap off the lip of the cavity (assisted by the Tinur's Hoptoad spell), and heard several deadly-sounding objects whistle past me, neatly intersecting the empty space I had just vacated. Soaring through the air near the cavern ceiling, my heart in my throat, I could see several assassins clustering around their frozen comrade, looking for a way to help him. As I fell towards the cavern floor far below, passing over the group in a graceful arc, I directed a Poisonbloom spell and another Frostball at them.

My 'Infallible' belt carried me safely to the ground, at about the same time as the magical ice and acidic poison burst over the group of assassins. They were momentarily lost amid a cloud of ice, misty poison gas, and a cacophony of screams. The remaining assassins in the great chamber were converging on the scene; I had scant few seconds before I would be overrun, and as it happened I was immediately engaged by two assassins at the same time. Every one of the black-garbed men appeared to favour short-bladed weapons, which was fortunate for me, as I was able to keep them at bay with wild, scything swings of my much longer Daedric sword.

I cut two of them down, but by then I was almost surrounded by the menacing black figures. Knocking one onto his back with a vicious swing of my shield, I used Tinur's Hoptoad again to leap up and out from the middle of them, to land on a narrow ledge halfway up the cavern wall. Again I pelted the gathered assassins with ice and poison spells, and again I leapt away before their black darts could find me.

The battle carried on in similar frantic fashion, as I juggled getting close enough to kill one or two assassins with moving quickly enough to escape being overrun. I couldn't simply keep my distance and keep up a constant barrage of spells until they were all dead: even as it was I felt my magicka reserves dropping dangerously low - despite my magicka threads, the powerful 'Magery ring' on my finger, and my blue ioun stone (which had, of its own accord, wedged itself up under the back flap of my helmet, to avoid being left behind as I leapt about). Magic was the only way I could keep out of their reach: with their light armour of fine black chain, they moved much faster than I.

As the fight wore on, I sustained numerous wounds from their flashing blades. A moment came when I thought I was about to be overwhelmed - with five dark figures dashing in to take me at once, my back to the wall - and I became desperate enough to try a new spell Yanika (the mage I hired) had helped me develop: 'Holding Field'. It was a paralysation spell, fashioned to affect anyone within a particular distance of the magical bolt's point of impact.

The bolt of Illusion magic shot out in a green streak, catching the centremost of the five assassins in the chest. There was a momentary ripple in the air around the group of men, and they were frozen in place, able to move only by the most infinitesimal degree. I took a moment to send my healing spell through my body, then stepped up to the small mob of paralysed assassins, all in a row. I took the first one's head off, and on the backswing, did the same to the second. At that point I was again surrounded by assassins, and forced to leap up and away once more.

Eventually, there were only two assassins left; both with a coat of glittering frost on their armour, from one of my earlier spells. I took them to be of a higher rank than the rest of the black-garbed men: for one thing, they had somehow survived a couple of my spells - but also because they bore wicked-looking Daedric tanto blades. One tried to circle around behind me while I struggled to keep the other at bay with my longsword. I let him think I was too distracted to notice the ploy, then when he attempted to dart in and stab me in the back, I lashed out behind me with my shield, smacking him in the head and sending him reeling.

At the same moment, I thrust forward with my sword. The first assassin jumped back awkwardly to keep the point from reaching his stomach. Before he could recover, I swung the Daedric sword in a circle up and above me, bringing the heavy blade down on his head. There was a sickening -crunch-, and the assassin flopped to the cavern floor, dead. Behind me, the other assassin, looking dazed from the blow to his head, was trying to regain his feet. Before he could manage it, I dashed up and skewered him against the packed dirt floor.

He let out an awful, chilling scream, trying ineffectually to pull the blade from his chest. Unable to keep myself from flinching - both at the noise and at what I was about to do - I reached out and sent the 'Righteousness' spell into his body; at once putting him out of his misery and healing my wounds. I yanked my sword out and stepped back, breathing hard; the sustained battle had been so heavy that I had become short of breath, even with my 'Tireless' pants.

Even now I know what thoughts went through my mind during that fight. I thought about everything that had happened to me on Vvardenfell - and in my whole life - that had enabled me to survive a plan as insane as attacking a Dark Brotherhood cell on my own. Things like my hours upon hours studying magic, my combat training, my rare and expensive arms and armour, and my newfound artificial strength and grace; born (I was sure) from the magicka leak in my body. Such an irony that the thing which was slowly killing me was the same thing that allowed me to live through one dangerous situation after another.

That situation was not yet over, however. One of the circular doors to the nearby partially ruined buildings swung open, to reveal another assassin - probably drawn by the horrible screams of the last man I had killed. I must have made for a fearsome sight; covered in blood, standing alone in the centre of a mass of ruined bodies, spread far across the great cavern floor. I don't know how many I had killed: the battle was too chaotic to keep track, and I was not inclined to undertake the ghoulish act of counting the bodies (and body parts) afterwards.

In any case, the black-clothed assassin in the doorway turned and ran down the building's entrance corridor, bellowing an alarm. Before he could escape my sight, I sent my Frostball spell hissing through the open door, catching him in the back of the head. He was thrown forward, skidding across the floor before coming to rest in a crumpled heap against a wall. I followed him in, glad to be out of the great cavern: there were far too many dark niches and corners that could serve as hiding places out there.

In the fitful light of a mismatched collection of lamps, candles, torches and braziers, I cut down several more assassins (much easier in the narrow corridors of the ruined building, where I could take them one at a time), before coming across the man I assumed to be the leader of the Dark Brotherhood cell. The bubbling stew over a small fire made it look as if he had been about to sit down to dinner: he also was not wearing his black chain hood. It was the first time I had seen the face of a Dark Brotherhood assassin while he was still alive.

He appeared to recognise me, exclaiming:

"It's... you!" He took in my bloodied equipment, obviously guessing at what must have happened. "You! ... YOU!" He bellowed, leaping up and clenching his gloved fist before his face.

With a flash, a Daedric longbow appeared in his fist, a spectral arrow already knocked on the string. Conjuration magic. A school I had never been very interested in pursuing; though I had to admit the appeal of being able to conjure items like deadly Daedric weapons out of thin air. I brought my shield up, but the cell leader's first arrow passed straight through both it and my netch-adamantium cuirass as if they weren't even there, gouging a furrow of skin and flesh from my side. I gasped in shock and pain, dancing to the side to avoid the assassin's second shot. Arrows that completely ignored my armour? I had to close the distance between us and bring him down quickly.

Tossing my shield away (it would be nothing but a useless burden if it was not going to stop the arrows), I sheathed my longsword and drew the massive Daedric daikatana that had remained on my back, unused, until that point.

I would not fall to one man after defeating so many.