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 20, 2006

Chapter 77: Faith shaker

Huleeya took me to a bookstore owned by a friend of his; a luxuriously-maned Khajiit called Jobasha. It quickly became apparent that the bookstore was a haven of sorts for those who might be regarded as being at odds (to a greater or lesser degree) with Morrowind's established government. For one thing, there was an Ordinator posted inside the store, who marched constantly about the whole of the interior.

Huleeya and Jobasha (and myself, at their prompting) sat in one of the book-lined rooms, each with a tome open on our laps. Whenever the Ordinator entered the room on his rounds, a stony silence would prevail (in which we pretended to read) - our conversation proceeded in fits and starts whenever the armoured holy warrior was out of earshot. Jobasha was obviously under suspicion by the Temple for some reason.

The Argonian Huleeya turned out to be a keen amateur historian in addition to a Morag Tong assassin; he gave me a copy of some notes he had made on the subject of the Nerevarine cult (they were actually being kept in Jobasha's shop). He also gave his apologies that he knew very little about a 'Sixth House cult', and offered to summarise and explain any part of his notes I might wish. Jobasha chimed in now and then also; he seemed to have picked up a few snippets of relevant information from various books that had passed through his shop.

A lot of what they had to say I already knew, and they didn't tell me anything that might indicate why Caius was studying the cults; but I did learn a few interesting things about the Nerevarine cult from the pair. Huleeya's interest in the matter seemed to mostly stem from an interest in the Ashlander tribes and their history; apparently the Dunmer of the Great Houses and the Ashlanders were all very similar a long time ago. The adoption of the Tribunal into the popular religion of the Dunmer was the mark of change: the Great Houses flourished with the Temple at the centre of their government, while the Ashlanders were slowly pushed into the more inhospitable areas of Morrowind.

According to Huleeya, the two main reasons for the modern differences between the Great Houses Dunmer and the Ashlanders was the manner in which the Great Houses were influenced by the Tribunal Temple, and later, by the all-consuming Imperial culture from the west.

Another interesting point was that according to the verbal histories of the Ashlanders, Indoril Nerevar did not die from wounds sustained in the battle at Red Mountain, but rather he was betrayed and slain by the lords of the Great Houses, including Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil! This was allegedly shortly before they 'set themselves up as gods'. The Ashlanders certainly held no love for the Tribunal...

Possibly the most interesting thing I heard from Huleeya was on the topic of 'False Incarnates'; people who believed themselves to be the reincarnation of Nerevar, but in one way or another, were proven not to be. The Ashlanders had another term for them: 'Failed Incarnates'. The different word reflected the difference in attitude to the False Incarnates between the Ashlanders and the Temple. The Temple said the False Incarnates were proof that the Nerevarine prophecies were also false, while the Ashlanders believed that the emergence of a series of Failed Incarnates heralded the time of the true Nerevarine.

I was glancing over Huleeya's notes as he spoke, and I noted that he wrote of a recent, and apparently famous Failed Incarnate; a Dunmer woman named Peakstar. Not much was known of her; only that there were scattered reports of her exploits as a Failed/False Incarnate spanning the past thirty years. The Argonian assassin also wrote of a fabled 'Cavern of the Incarnates', where the spirits of the Failed Incarnates dwelled. Evidently they were all proven to be false by dying before they could fulfil the Nerevarine prophecies.

In a moment of good fortune, I discovered that Jobasha had a copy of the banned 'Progress of Truth' pamphlet in stock (this was what really led me to believe that the Khajiit's store was a haven for 'society's malcontents'). I bought it from him immediately, and laid it out across the open pages of the book I was pretending to read. I began to skim through it, Huleeya joining me to read over my shoulder; he had not heard of the pamphlet, and its contents were apparently something of a revelation for him.

Based on what Mehra Milo had told me of the beliefs of the Dissident Priests, I had expected the ideas presented in their... manifesto, I suppose I could call it - to be quite radical. I was not disappointed: not only was the pamphlet radical, it was blatant heresy and treason (at least in the eyes of Tribunal faithful). In it, the Dissident Priests accused the Ordinators and the upper hierarchy of the Temple of corruption, a love of power and luxury, and neglect of the people and various causes the Temple was sworn to aid. Welfare for the poor, weak and uneducated was allegedly being overlooked by the Arch-canon and other people in positions of power within the Temple.

The Dissident Priests also accused the Ordinators of utilising acts of 'terror, torture, abduction and secret imprisonment' to discourage dissent and heresy. The pamphlet speculated that the Temple's holy warriors and guardsmen might be out of control, or a tool used by the 'corrupt priesthood' to maintain their favoured position of power.

These points were relatively minor besides the main thrust of their argument: that the Tribunal gods were not divine immortals, but merely sustained and augmented by powerful sorceries. Here the Dissident Priests gave a summary of the Tribunal's apotheosis as the Temple told it: through 'questing, virtue, knowledge, testing and battling evil, Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil were granted godhood by the Dunmer ancestors - including the 'good Daedra', the prophet Veloth, and Saint Nerevar. The Dissidents went on to ask whether the Tribunal's power might come from the same source as Dagoth Ur: Red Mountain.

The pamphlet even speculated that this power source beneath Red Mountain might somehow involve the 'profanely enchanted tools' created by an ancient Dwemer sorcerer named Kagrenac to build the 'False Construct Anumidium'. I was very curious to learn what the alleged source of power for the Tribunal and Dagoth Ur supposedly was: so it was frustrating that I didn't understand the section about this 'Anumidium'. Huleeya and Jobasha were similarly baffled.

Unfortunately, the document provided no further clue about what the Anumidium - or these tools made by Kagrenac - actually were. The only related section elaborated on the Ashlanders' account of Indoril Nerevar's death. The Dissidents claimed that shortly after the battle at Red Mountain Nerevar left Dagoth Ur guarding the profane secrets beneath the mountain (which was curious, since Hasphat Antabolis' account placed Dagoth Ur on the opposing side of the war to Nerevar), and went to confer with Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil concerning what to do with what he had found. The three of them then supposedly killed Nerevar, and drove Dagoth Ur off in order to get at this mysterious source of power Nerevar had found. It was intriguing, but didn't explain what I was truly interested in...

The rest of the pamphlet made several further accusations of corruption and secrecy: mentioning a series of secret writings and histories called the 'Apographa' - or 'hidden writings' - that contain some of the truth behind the facade of the modern Tribunal Temple.

In short, the Progress of Truth was mostly comprised of the sort of accusations commonly levelled at powerful governments and religions. I might not have assigned the claims much weight, were it not for the fact that they came from prior members of the Temple who were obviously devout enough to really study what was (possibly) happening to their faith. This made me think. If what the Dissident Priests said was true, then it was nothing short of a true revelation - a thing of incredible significance. It would cast a massive part of Dunmer history into doubt, and potentially invalidate the majority of the Tribunal Temple's tenets. It could throw the whole of Morrowind into chaos.

Was this why Caius was investigating the Nerevarine cult? Could something about the cult be linked to the claims of the Dissident Priests - and could those claims be true? A flaw in the powerbase of Morrowind's central religion and government would certainly be of interest to the Empire.

I was shaken... I began to doubt.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chapter 76: Conviction

When I found Tanusea Veloth, what she was doing caused me to flinch internally. The Dunmer holy woman was inspecting the trinkets available for sale at a merchant's portable stall, far up behind the spectator's seats in the Arena canton. She would pick each item up and hold it close to her face to examine it, before replacing it amongst the jumble of other wares. She certainly didn't look as if she suffered from Corprus disease, but if Endryn Llethan was right and she was contagious, she could spread the disease to any number of people by fondling those trinkets.

I knew what happened to sufferers of Corprus disease; I had to do something to remove her from Vivec. She smiled and seemed friendly enough as I introduced myself, saying I was from the Temple, but a scowl dirtied her otherwise serene face as I mentioned Endryn's name.

"Listen here, young Breton; I'd wager I've been living in this world since before your great-grandfather was a suckling baby - I've travelled over Tamriel in the name of Almsivi, and I've caught more diseases in my travels than you could name. Oh yes! Almalexia has cured them all - and as I'm sure Priest Endryn can't have failed to mention, eventually the goddess blessed me with immunity to the worst afflictions. No vampirism, or lycanthropy, or blight for me - and no Corprus!"

I blinked under her verbal barrage. Her sheer force of personality was astounding.

"Vampirism?" I asked weakly.

"Please don't interrupt, young one. I wouldn't have thought so, but it seems I have to ask: do I look like I have Corprus? Are there great, swelling lumps on my body that have escaped my notice?"

I cleared my throat. It was time to try in earnest.

"Sera Veloth, I'm told that at least two cases of Corprus have been directly linked to you. Two stall-keepers, from right here in the Arena;" I indicated the merchants gathered around the edge of the Arena chamber; "friends of yours, even..."

I told her my theory on why Almalexia may have made her immune to the effects of Corprus, but still able to carry it: perhaps the goddess meant for her to care for the poor souls in the Corprusarium? But Tanusea just shook her head incredulously.

"Go and live the rest of my days amongst vicious monsters? You must be joking!"

She had a stubbornness born out of the conviction that she had survived her dangerous life for so long that she was too wise to be wrong about anything. In the end - and I'm not ashamed to admit this, as I believe it was the right thing to do - I used my Charm spell on her to change her mind.

The shift in her demeanour was immediate. She paused, and began to stare into the middle-distance, deeply in thought. After a short while she sighed, and said:

"Maybe... you are right after all, young Breton. I can't stay here and make my friends and my... I can't stay and make others sick. More than sick..."

The holy woman looked sad as she departed for the High Fane - which I could understand. Spending the rest of one's life caring for Corprus-men sounded a grim and thankless existence. Even when influenced by magic, it was still an incredibly noble and selfless sacrifice on her part.

Before I too left the Arena canton, I cast a wary eye over the merchant's wares, considering what should be done about them. What if they had been infected or dirtied in some way? I certainly couldn't persuade the storekeeper to dispose of all his stock, and I was not willing to touch any of it myself; otherwise I might have bought everything he had there on that table and disposed of it somehow. It couldn't have cost all that much.

I decided to take the merchant's name and tell Endryn about it: the Temple could work something out.

The last of the informants Caius ordered me to contact was an Argonian named Huleeya: a professional assassin for the 'Morag Tong'. As I've mentioned, the spymaster certainly had some colourful acquaintances. Caius had been quick to assure me of Huleeya's trustworthiness - which was a good move on his part as after my experiences with the Dark Brotherhood, assassins were not people I exactly held in high regard.

Caius also told me a little about the Morag Tong, and the two main points I brought away from his summary was that they were nothing like the Dark Brotherhood, and they were honourable and in fact legal in Morrowind. That something is legal does not necessarily mean that it is good (or even 'right'), of course; but it did ease my mind to learn that they were benign enough to be regarded as legal.

The spymaster had suggested looking for Huleeya in the Black Shalk Cornerclub in Vivec's Foreign Quarter; and sure enough there he was, seated at the bar and studiously ignoring the jeering calls of a nearby group of Dunmer men. They were loudly referring to the Argonian as a "worthless slave" - an "animal" - and worse. Closing my ears (for the moment) to their insults - which came to also target me - I took a seat next to Huleeya and introduced myself.

"With Caius, are you?" Huleeya remarked. He had the least inflected speech I had ever heard from an Argonian. In fact, if it were not for a slight hiss in his voice at every 's', he might not have sounded like an Argonian at all. "Am I right to suppose that the old man sent you to fetch information from me? He has a habit of doing that."

I nodded, and told him of my search for information on the Nerevarine and Sixth House cults. Huleeya was contemplating my request when a piece of bread, thrown by one of the ruffians at the table behind us, bounced off the Argonian's back. He gave an exasperated sigh, and said:

"We can't talk here - and I'm afraid that in their present state of inebriation, these 'Dungmer' here might not let us leave peacefully."

I'm sure my puzzlement was plain on my face.

"I heard you're an assassin;" I said quietly; "surely you can handle three or four drunken louts?"

Huleeya shook his head gravely.

"The oath I swore forbids such an act of pointless violence - and I don't want to cause trouble in my friend's establishment, if I can help it." He indicated the (rather more reasonable-looking) Dunmer currently busy behind the bar.

I gazed at the Argonian for a long moment, unsure what to make of him. It seemed I would have to do something about the loud, racist fools if I was to receive any help from Huleeya. I think, though, that I would have done something regardless: the behaviour of the small group of Dunmer made my blood boil.

At my approach, the three abusive Dunmer at the table fell silent, save for the occasional drunken titter.

"What do you want, lizard-lover?" Asked one of the men, with an insolent grin.

"I want to know what you intend to do regarding the Argonian over there." I said, stony-faced.

The mouthpiece for the group shifted in his seat to reveal a leather whip at his side.

"I think we'll teach the slave to wear a leash as he should." His grin broadened.

The other men sniggered. I was close to the end of my patience, but motioned for him to lean closer, and whispered in his ear, so the others couldn't hear:

"You know, I just heard a very funny name for you three..." The dark elf with the whip stiffened. "I think you'll appreciate it... Dungmer."

At that, the man made to leap up, his face a mask of fury. I released the Paralyse spell that had been building in my hand into the small of his back, freezing him in place, half out of his chair. His cronies stared on in shock, looking as if they too had been paralysed.

I poked the immobilised Dunmer with a forefinger, and then stomped on his foot to stop him from toppling right over. Next I caught up the man's drink and balanced it carefully on top of his head, addressing the other dumbfounded elves as I did so:

"As you can see, and as I think you can imagine, I can do anything I wish to you fools. You should count yourselves fortunate that I'm not in the mood to slit all your throats, and leave you to bleed to death before you're able to move again."

I noticed the Dunmer's faces were turning a very pale shade of grey.

"Now," I continued, "my friend and I are leaving. We've had quite enough of the scintillating atmosphere here, I think. You boys won't cause any... trouble, will you?"

The now terrified-looking young ruffians merely shook their heads.

"Good." I said, and fixed them with one last lingering stare, before moving off to rejoin Huleeya - who looked to be struggling not to laugh.

We left the club before the whip-carrying Dunmer regained his mobility. The Argonian assassin let out a long, hissing laugh as I pushed the door closed behind us.

"That was very nicely done, Sera Frost." Huleeya said with a chuckle. "Well worth whatever help I can give you; follow me to my friend's store: we can talk there."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Chapter 75: Schism

I identified the Dunmer priestess Mehra Milo by her distinctive copper eyes and copper hair; features Caius Cosades had told me to look for. He had ordered me not to ask for her at the Hall of Wisdom: he didn't want the Temple to know that she was meeting with anyone. Mehra herself was just as paranoid, making me follow her into a secluded spot amongst the rearmost shelves of the library before she would speak to me.

"Before I tell you anything, Sera Frost, you must promise to deliver a message to Caius for me."

She waited for me to reply, her intense metallic eyes boring into my own.

"Yes, you have my word;" I shrugged slightly; "I have to report back to him regardless, so..."

"Good. Tell him I don't feel safe here anymore." I noticed her eyes flick back and forth as she spoke. She was keeping an eye on the front of the library. There was an Ordinator standing guard there... "I don't know how much longer I can stay. If something goes wrong, I will leave a message under the code word 'Amaya'. As in 'Lake Amaya'. Tell him that." The priestess looked me up and down briefly, before adding: "You remember it too, Sera."

Code-words... I was beginning to really feel like a spy.

"Alright, listen;" Mehra whispered; "I don't know anything about a 'Sixth House' cult, but I can tell you about the Nerevarine cult. I'm sure you already know that the Tribunal Temple persecutes the Nerevarine cult because the cult claims that the Tribunal are false gods. The Ordinators, especially, go to a lot of effort to hunt down Nerevarine cult members. What most people don't know is that a little while ago, there was a schism within the Temple over all this."

This sparked my interest: I had not heard even a whisper of such a thing.

"A group of priests and priestesses left the Temple a short while ago - actually they were driven into hiding - and came to be called the 'Dissident Priests'. They agree - to an extent - with some of the things the Nerevarine cult say. Indeed, their main point of contention with the rest of the Temple is that they think the Nerevarine cult may be right when they say the Tribunal gods are false." Mehra cast another glance at the front section of the library. "I can't go into detail right now, but suffice it to say that they believe that the Tribunal have the power of gods, but that their power comes from sorcery, not divinity; that their power comes from the same source as Dagoth Ur's! You can understand why the Ordinators hunt them just as mercilessly as they do the Nerevarine cult members."

I could indeed. It was quite an extraordinary claim on the part of the Dissident Priests: Dagoth Ur was presented as the evil antithesis of the righteous and good Tribunal gods. To suggest that the two parties had such a significant thing as their godly powers in common had to be an outrage to devout followers of the Temple. For my part, though I was a member of the Temple, I was not upset at such claims. I believed in the Tribunal: I believed in their existence and their powers; I could see evidence of both all around me. However I believed in them in the same way that I believed in Mehra Milo standing before me.

I believed in the Tribunal, but I don't think you could accurately say that I worshipped them. So these claims the Dissident Priests made were not outrageous or offensive to me: rather I found them surprising and curious. Where could they have got an idea like that from?

"The Dissident Priests released a pamphlet - a now banned pamphlet," Mehra continued, "called 'The Progress of Truth'. All I could tell you about the Nerevarine cult is in that pamphlet, plus a whole lot more besides. If you can locate a copy of the Progress of Truth, you should be able to answer Caius' questions. It might be difficult to find, for obvious reasons. Try local booksellers - you'll probably have to ask for it directly... but use common sense: don't let anyone hear you ask for it - especially not an Ordinator."

I nodded, and thanked the priestess for her help. She looked relieved to be away from me. I felt sorry for her; I couldn't imagine what it would be like spending your days being endlessly watched by Ordinators, wondering if today would be the day you were taken away and locked up - or worse.

In any case, it was clear that I would have to find a copy of that pamphlet: I would have to keep an eye out for bookstores during my day in the holy city.

The next informant on my list was a Khajiiti Thieves Guild Operative named Addhiranirr. Caius certainly had some colourful contacts. She was apparently to be found somewhere in the Saint Olms canton, where she lived. Conveniently enough, the Saint Olms canton was just across a small bridge from the High Fane, so in a few short minutes I was in the Saint Olms waistworks, deciding who to approach to try to learn Addhiranirr's whereabouts.

I stopped a Dunmer man who was passing by and asked if he knew someone by the name of Addhiranirr. He gave himself away by starting at the name, and I noticed him glance at a well-fed Imperial man in very fine clothes, talking to a stall owner some distance away. For some reason, the Dunmer pretended he didn't know Addhiranirr:

"Addhiranirr? That's a Khajiit name! Why would I know a stinking slave by name?" He was trying to deceive me by acting as some Dunmer did at the mention of Khajiiti or Argonian people: as if they were merely beasts, good for nothing but slavery. He did not give a very convincing performance.

One surreptitious Charm spell later, I had the man's full co-operation:

"Alright, I'm sorry for that, but Addhiranirr's a friend, and I'm trying to watch out for her. You see that s'wit over there, in the man-skirt?" The Dunmer tilted his head in the direction of the finely dressed Imperial. On closer inspection he did appear to be wearing what looked like a skirt. Odd. "Census and Excise agent: a taxman. He's looking for Addhiranirr - and she doesn't want to be found; not by him, at any rate. She's probably hiding down in the underworks - lucky her. Such a lovely place..."

By way of sarcasm, he was right. The 'underworks' was just another name for 'sewers'; and the sewers of Vivec were not nearly as dry and odourless as those beneath Mournhold. They stank. Gritting my teeth, I made my way down to the underworks.

Addhiranirr had to be the most sarcastic Khajiit I'd ever met.

"Caius sent you to talk to Addhiranirr, did he? Tell you to look for her in her lovely new sewer home, did he?" Her tail flicked back and forth irritably. "Do you like it? I find the filth here mats in Addhiranirr's fur in such a way that just can't be found in other places!"

I looked her up and down. Her fur and her clothes were indeed filthy; she looked miserable.

"I take it you don't like it here," I said, drawing a withering look from the cat; "I heard that you have a problem with a Census and Excise agent."

"Addhiranirr is too popular these days. Too many nice people wanting to talk to her; like that nice taxman. Emperor doesn't like Addhiranirr trading certain things: Dwemer artefacts, ebony; smuggling, he says! Pompous Census and Excise agents enjoy being a pest about such things." The Khajiit gave a theatrical sigh. "Caius wants something from me, doesn't he?"

"Yes," I began, "he wants to know -"

Addhiranirr raised a paw to stop me.

"Addhiranirr couldn't possibly help right now. Far too busy avoiding unwanted guests. If Breton wants her help, he can make the bad agent go away." And with that, she refused to say another word.

Persuading Duvianus Platorius, the Census and Excise agent, to move on was quite simple. The over-dressed Imperial man was actually claiming that Addhiranirr was his friend, but he couldn't remember exactly where she lived. With the aid of my Charm spell (an extraordinarily useful cantrip, I was finding), I was able to make him believe that Addhiranirr had just left for the mainland. He left the canton immediately, actually looking quite cheerful. Perhaps he thought Addhiranirr would be caught coming in to the mainland by officials, due to the quarantine of Vvardenfell.

Addhiranirr had already heard of the taxman's departure by the time I returned to her. She must have had someone watching Duvianus for her; maybe that Dunmer friend of hers. The Khajiit was gathering up her belongings when I found her.

"So," she said, "you are the one Addhiranirr must thank for chasing away the annoying taxman? Then Addhiranirr is very happy to tell you about... what did friend Breton want?"

"Caius said to ask you about the Nerevarine and Sixth House cults." I said shortly. I was attempting to speak as little as possible, so I didn't have to breathe in as much of the horrid sewer-stench.

"Addhiranirr can't tell you much about this Nerevarine superstition. Fuzzy tales for little, itty bitty kitties. The Sixth House though; that she knows, because it's about smuggling."

This assertion came as something of a surprise to me; I had thought that the Sixth House concerned an ancient Dunmer Great House, not smugglers. Perhaps the cat knew nothing useful after all. Still, I listened to what she had to say:

"Some smugglers suddenly have no time for their usual clients, because they have a new employer; the Sixth House." Now that was interesting. It meant that the Sixth House was definitely still around, and in contact with people. That, or some modern group had simply taken on the name 'Sixth House'. Either way, I would inform Caius. The Khajiit thief continued: "This new employer pays very well... but Addhiranirr doesn't know what they smuggle now. They keep very quiet - which is very strange, because smugglers usually make a big yeowling noise, bragging about their work."

That was about the extent of Addhiranirr's knowledge on the cults. I thanked her, and we both left the filthy underworks at the same time. None too soon, in my opinion.

Next, I told myself, I would have to confront Tanusea Veloth; the holy woman with Corprus disease. This might go without saying, but I was not looking forward to it. She was carrying a contagious disease, after all: one that may as well be fatal.