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 27, 2006

Chapter 80: Leave

"Is she dead, Frost?"

"She is dead, Ranis." I lied.

My face was a mask. I would remain silent on the topic of my newly solidified opinion of the Guild Steward out of respect for her initial kindness towards me, but I did not want to be around her any longer. It was time to move on and work at another guild hall; with another Guild Steward and another subset of guild members.

Ranis was smiling.

"Then I should thank you. You have done ... the guild - a great service by putting Ashibael down." She rustled through some papers on her desk. "In fact, I think such service deserves a promotion. Congratulations... Magician Frost."

I thanked her - formally, rather than warmly. Ranis either failed to notice my lack of enthusiasm, or didn't much care. She did not mention any further work I could do for her, and I did not ask. We went our separate ways without further conversation.

Another guild hall though... where would I go? I had not had much to do with the other halls on Vvardenfell - I knew the other members only casually, from the times I had passed through while making use of the guild-guide service.

The other halls in Vvardenfell were located in Caldera, Ald'ruhn, Sadrith Mora and Vivec. My friend Folms Mirel lived in Caldera, so I might have considered entrenching myself there - however their guild hall lacked a Steward; or anyone else authorised to give official assignments. Vivec was the headquarters (after a fashion) of the Guild on Vvardenfell, and was home to Morrowind's Archmage: Trebonius Artorius. Although for reasons I was yet to fully understand, most guild members warned me off having anything to do with the Archmage. From what I could gather, he was a little odd.

Since Trebonius was the only one who could disburse assignments at the Vivec Guild, that left Sadrith Mora and Ald'ruhn. Sadrith Mora was way out on the eastern coast, in Zafirbel Bay. I knew little of what went on out there.

In the end I chose Ald'ruhn; taking the advice Ajira had given me months ago, and presenting myself before Steward Edwinna Elbert - another Breton like me. Ajira had told me that Edwinna was nicer than Ranis, and the Khajiit was right (though in my opinion, poisonous snakes were nicer than Ranis). The Ald'ruhn Steward was kindly enough... but she was prone to distraction: she was truly obsessed by her studies into the Dwemer race. I got the impression that she cared more about her books and ancient artefacts than she did about other people; that her kindness was more a force of habit than anything else.

So powerful was the distraction for her, that the first couple of assignments she had me do were simple fetch-and-carry missions: she couldn't free her mind for long enough to think of anything more worthwhile. Find and purchase this rare Dwemer history book, fetch this potion from Skink-in-Trees-Shade... tedious work, but at least it was over quickly. The third assignment she had for me began the same way, but turned into something much more significant...

That came later, though.

In the meantime, after delivering the potion I wanted a change of pace. I decided to pursue the pilgrimage to the Sanctus Shrine that Priest Endryn had told me of. Apparently, the shrine marked the place where Tholer Saryoni (a very important figure in the Temple) had written his famous sermons. The pilgrimage began at the High Fane in Vivec (near the southernmost point of the island), and ended at the Sanctus Shrine (near the northernmost point). As I mentioned, there was a vow of silence involved; to be observed during the entire pilgrimage - the idea being to make the journey (across the whole span of Vvardenfell) one that the pilgrim took entirely alone, under his or her own power.

While doubtless going against the intended spirit of the pilgrimage, I was going to place a magical Mark at or near the site of the shrine, and teleport there directly once I was vowed to silence. I simply hadn't the time to hike across the whole of Vvardenfell.

The Valenvaryon stronghold - with its propylon chamber - was fairly close to the shrine, according to my map. Both were in very remote locations; some way west of Dagon Fel. I asked Folms to send me to Valenvaryon - and while I was talking to him, I delivered the grim news of the state of the Falasmaryon stronghold. The knowledge of another place attracting insane Dreamers - those who were once his people - obviously weighed heavily on Folms. I turned down the money he offered for scouting the stronghold, saying:

"No, keep it until I bring back good news. I'll look through Valenvaryon too, if you'll send me there now."

The Dunmer enchanter smiled slightly, and began the teleportation spell.

When I opened my eyes on the Valenvaryon propylon chamber, I almost cried out in shock. Standing before me, looking just as surprised as I felt, was a pretty Breton woman, her hands up in front of her as if to ward off a coming blow.

"What? You... teleported in!" She exclaimed, slowly lowering her hands. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

Once I had assured her that I meant no harm, I managed to learn her name (Abelle Chriditte) and the story behind her incarceration in the chamber. For that was what the chamber was for her: the young woman, an alchemist, had been part of a trader convoy attacked by Orcs, near the village of Khuul. Abelle, along with her equipment, had been brought to Valenvaryon; the home of the band of Orcish bandits. Apparently they took a fancy to the restorative potions she could make.

I of course offered to bring her away from the stronghold, saying I could attempt to teleport back to Caldera with her using my Master Index. However, neither of us were sure if it would work. Abelle was afraid that I might accidentally leave her behind - with the telltale thunder-like -crack- of someone teleporting away. She didn't want to risk attracting the attention of the Orcs.

So - since I would have to face the bandits at some point anyway if I wanted to make use of the Valenvaryon propylon chamber, I decided to deal with them before attempting a rescue. Magically unlocking the chamber's only door and easing it open, I muttered a curse as I was met with the sight of five or six heavily armed and armoured Orcs ranged around the flat 'roof' of the stronghold - almost all of whom spotted me immediately.

Foregoing any further pretence of stealth, I threw the door open and stepped outside, weapons at the ready. With a chorus of fearsome roars, the band of Orcs began to sprint towards me. I risked a quick glance behind me and saw that Abelle was peering out of the chamber at the approaching Orcs.

"Close the door!" I shouted at her, yanking it from her hands and pulling it closed with a -bang-, shutting her safely inside.

By that stage the bandits were almost upon me - and even with my newfound artificial strength, grace and ability, there was no way I would survive the onslaught of six huge Orc warriors. Using Tinur's Hoptoad, I leapt high into the air, coming to land atop the propylon chamber. Even before my feet touched the stonework, I was sending a barrage of offensive spells towards the tightly grouped Orcs, gathered near the door to the chamber.

I saw them looking up at me - saw their faces - and then they were lost beneath the roiling clouds of magical ice and poison.

Abelle had fortunately had the good sense to back away from the door when she heard the Orcs gathered on the other side, so she was unharmed by my attacks. I made sure she was secure in the chamber before entering each of the domed 'huts' scattered around the top of the stronghold in turn, looking to clear out any remaining bandits. Luckily for me, most of the other Orcs appeared to have been asleep at the time of my arrival. They had been woken by the tumultuous noise of their friends' attack - and subsequent death - but most were still struggling to rouse themselves properly and find their weapons when I fell on them. I killed them relatively easily.

One particularly large Orc in a heavy, shining breastplate of silver was an exception. He and I fenced for what seemed like ages, the Orc absorbing one punishing blow from my Daedric blade after the next. Eventually I got in a lucky hit, and opened a great gaping wound across his throat. He finally collapsed, dead; but not before dealing me a nasty cut across my forehead.

Blood began to trickle into my eyes, obscuring my vision quite effectively. It was at that moment that the door to the large Orc's domed-hut flew open, a figure I couldn't quite make out standing in the entranceway. Cursing, I swung my sword up and over my head, about to bring it down on the indistinct figure. A feminine shriek stayed my hand - and as the enchantment in my Keeper Shirt took effect, closing the wound on my forehead, I managed to blink away enough blood to make out Abelle, cowering in the doorway.

"What are you doing?" I exclaimed, lowering my sword. "I could have killed you just then! I told you to stay in the propylon chamber! What if there are more Orcs around?"

"I know - I'm sorry!" She replied. "You were gone so long... I had to see what was happening. And... they wouldn't kill me - they want me alive to make potions, remember?"

I sheathed my sword, and, muttering several choice words about difficult women under my breath, caught Abelle up and threw her over my shoulder (my artificial strength made it easy). Ignoring her protests, I carried her back to the propylon chamber, and with my free hand, touched the Master Index to one of the propylon crystals, teleporting the both of us back to Caldera.

It was nothing like the stories of knights rescuing damsels in distress... but then - whose lives are really like that?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chapter 79: I see you with MY EYE!

"Dagoth Ur is risen - he is HERE, always HERE! You cannot deny your LORD!" The Dunmer woman was obviously quite mad, but her choice of words were unnerving... "Edward Frost! You will not deny the LORD!"

I started at the use of my name. I had never met the raving woman before, at least as far as I could remember; and I was not especially well-known around Maar Gan.

"Why have you denied your Lord, Edward Frost? He is the Lord and our Father of the Mountain. He sleeps, but when he wakes, we shall rise from our dreams and sweep the land clean of the n'wah. Listen close, outlander; for when he wakes, this will be no place for you. As Lord Dagoth has said, 'all shall greet him as flesh, or as dust'. Why do you deny your LORD?"

I looked about me for some other person - someone who might know the disturbed woman - but the streets were deserted in the encroaching ash-storm. In any case, I thought I knew already what was happening to her. She was one of the people Folms had told me of: a Dreamer...

"Risen we are! The Sixth House is risen, and Dagoth is its Lord!"

That gave me pause, and set my mind racing. Did she just say 'Sixth House'? The same Sixth House Caius had me investigating?

"Wait, Sera!" I finally found my voice; "The Sixth House? What do you know of them?"

She answered, after a fashion, but it was as if she could not hear me:

"The Sixth House, the Sleeping House, House DAGOTH, the House of the Lord DAGOTH! The true house, the one house to welcome all Dunmer, and drive the n'wah from the land."

I was struck dumb, unable to form a plan of action. The Sixth House, Dagoth Ur, the insane, naked Dunmer (or 'Dreamers') I had fought: were they all connected? A gust of wind sighed past us, bringing with it the dry, bitter scent of ash. I felt I was running out of time... Folms had told me that Dreamers disappeared in ash-storms, slipping away from the lives and the people they knew, to never be seen again.

The woman and I both glanced at the approaching storm, rushing across the open, blasted plains towards Maar Gan. When we turned back to one another, the disturbed woman's eyes, which had taken on a wild aspect up until that point, now seemed to harbour a silent plea for help. Without another word, she turned and ran; heading for the edge of town.

In a great booming rush, the billowing clouds of ash swept in behind me, blanketing the village in a choking, ashen gloom in an instant, and obscuring the woman from view. I gave chase, but without luck: I could find no trace of her in the storm. I stood for the longest time, squinting into the blinding storm for some glimpse of her, but there was nothing. At one point I thought I heard the faint words "You shall not DENY!" whip past my ears, but I could not tell their source in the blowing gale.

"Wait! Come back!" I shouted into the storm, my mouth filling with ash, my words lost in the roaring winds.

Back in the village, I remained hunched over a public water-pump for a time, letting the drifting sheets of ash pour over my back as I rinsed the ash from my mouth, nose and eyes. I felt I had failed: I had failed Caius; since the woman might have told us about the Sixth House. I had failed the woman's family and friends. Most of all though, I had failed her. I could have stopped her - kept her from escaping to a life of naked, bestial squalor in the filth and horror of a place like Telasero or Falasmaryon.

After a while I carried on with my original reason for being in Maar Gan: paying a visit to Tashpi Ashibael, the woman Steward Ranis accused of necromancy. A bonemold-clad guardsman held the door open for me as I entered the local tavern. He was supposed to be on duty out on the streets, but was taking shelter just inside the front entrance until the worst of the ash-storm blew over. He had some illuminating things to say about Tashpi:

"A necromancer?" He snorted. "Who told you such muck? She's a healer! Here, look at this." The Dunmer guard unstrapped one of his bonemold bracers, and showed me his bared forearm. "A thrice-cursed wild kagouti - mad as a marsh rat with disease it was - once almost took my arm right off. Mangled it real bad. D'you see the mark?"

I studied his silver-skinned arm. It appeared perfectly smooth and unblemished to me; I wasn't quite sure what he wanted me to see.

"I'm... afraid I can't actually see anything, sorry." I raised my eyebrows at him.

"Yes, exactly!" He exclaimed. "Exactly right! Not even a mark left now: Tashpi healed it just like that. She's a gift from the gods to the Maar Gan guards - I'll tell you right now! And I won't have anyone saying she's some kind of depraved dark artist!"

He was becoming quite suspicious of my intentions, so in the end I explained my position regarding Ranis' orders (not using her name or mentioning the Mages Guild directly). The guardsman, who obviously felt quite strongly for Tashpi, appeared quite alarmed at the notion that someone wanted the healer dead. He asked me to go warn her. Actually, to tell the truth he was about to go warn her himself, but through use of my Charm spell I persuaded him that that wouldn't be necessary.

I had to satisfy myself that Tashpi Ashibael really posed no threat - and at the same time attempt to satisfy my burning curiosity as to why Ranis wanted her dead.

"A - a necromancer?" Tashpi, a young-looking Dunmer woman, looked confused and worried. "But - who said this? I'm not a necromancer!"

Upon hearing my explanation, the healer remained silent for a moment, staring into the middle distance. Eventually she sighed, and said:

"She's hated me since I refused to join the Mages Guild, and stayed to be a healer for my people. If she's held a grudge this long, and feels so strongly to send you to... to... Then... I'll have to leave - go to the mainland. Some town there will need a healer." She paused, looking around at her sparsely-furnished home. "Since I'm Velothi - descended from Ashlanders," she added by way of explanation - "and not well-born like Ranis, there's not much else I can do."

She gave me a beseeching look.

"You'll tell her you killed me, won't you? So she'll leave me alone?"

As I made to teleport back home, leaving Tashpi to arrange for her departure, I realised that my jaw was beginning to ache from clenching my teeth. I was furious.

That was it - I was through with Ranis and her vicious, self-serving games. No more.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chapter 78: Dreamers... Sleepers

I was plagued by nightmares all through the night, and I didn't know why. Some of my days were filled with horrors I struggled to forget, but not that day: it had been entirely spent talking to people. So why did I dream of the tall figure in the golden mask, leading me through a crowd of dead people as if he was a host introducing me to the throng? The dream really was quite unnerving: I knew everyone there was long dead, and yet I could hear a buzz of voices. I tried to ask what was happening, but then I couldn't even breathe. At the same time I could not take my eyes off the masked figure; talking, joking, laughing with the dead bodies.

That was not the only disturbing dream I had, as I said: and every distinct nightmare I can remember included the tall man with the golden mask. The vast majority of them seemed to feature the masked man earnestly talking to me, as if trying to persuade me of something - but I couldn't understand what he was saying. Periodically, he would reach out for me, and for some reason it terrified me: especially that I couldn't move to escape him, or speak to object. I was frozen, as if paralysed by magic. In fact, I remember feeling scared that he was trying to cast some kind of spell on me.

I can't remember how any of the dreams ended; and I know that they were separate dreams - and not one long drawn-out one - because more than once I rose from my bed to try to clear my head in the fresh breeze atop Wolfen Castle's lookout tower, before returning to my chambers. The night felt as if would stretch on forever.

I was tired and ill-at-ease all morning. Why was I suddenly dreaming of nothing but this man in the golden mask? I had never seen a mask like it before, and I felt fairly confident that it was not some sleep-addled dream of an Ordinator's gold mask: they looked quite different. No, the mask in my dreams was big and round like the sun, with three chimney-like tubes radiating from the top. Very odd indeed.

It weighed on my mind, but I made no mention of it to Caius when I delivered my report on my assignment in Vivec. I didn't know what I could say to convey exactly what it was that perturbed me about the dreams. The spymaster was very pleased with the information and documents I had brought, though; especially with the banned 'Progress of Truth' pamphlet. He promoted me to Journeyman rank in the Blades on the spot. Despite all this, he seemed to have little time for me that morning, sending me off so that he had a chance to study everything I brought him.

He recommended spending a few days or so doing some work for the Mages Guild and the Temple - especially the Temple. Caius was obviously quite keen on the idea of me gaining a position of power within the Temple, considering how many references to the religion there were in the information I was bringing back to him on every assignment. I think the allegations the 'Progress of Truth' made of corruption and conspiracy among the higher-ups in the Temple were the main reason he wanted me to be an important member, though...

I had reported the resolution of the matter with the holy woman Tanusea Veloth back to Endryn Llethan at the High Fane the previous afternoon. He had appeared almost ecstatic at the news, promoting me to a Disciple of the Tribunal Temple immediately. The holy woman was obviously of great importance to him and to the public face of the Temple both. The priest had suggested firming up my new position in the eyes of other Temple members by performing the Sanctus Shrine Pilgrimage: one that required a vow of silence until I had reached the shrine.

More to the point, this vow specified that I make no communication with anyone until the pilgrimage was over: I had to reach the shrine under my own power. This meant no note-writing or creative gesturing to get someone to teleport or transport me part of the way. It was something that would normally have interested me, I think; but as I have said, I hadn't the time to hike a long way across-country without a very good reason - not with my shortened lifespan. Endryn said I could take my time to prepare for the pilgrimage, so I decided to place my magical Mark somewhere near the Sanctus shrine and then return to the priest to begin the pilgrimage. Then I could simply teleport there. Some might scoff at the validity of this as a pilgrimage, but magic was allowed, so...

In any case, I intended to follow up the business with Tashpi Ashibael in Maar Gan first. Guild Steward Ranis wanted her dead, saying she was a necromancer. I had my doubts, as I have mentioned, and would ask around Maar Gan about Tashpi first, before confronting her.

At the Caldera guild hall, I asked Folms to teleport me to the Falasmaryon Velothi stronghold, using the Master Propylon Index he had made for me - according to my map it was near to Maar Gan. It was to be the first time I made use of the Master Index. Before departing, I enquired as to the wellbeing of the propylon-based transport service the Dunmer enchanter had hoped to establish. He looked pained at the question.

"Things could be better, I'm afraid to say. It seems that many are worried about how safe the strongholds are as an arrival and departure point." I noticed a cunning gleam in his eyes. "Perhaps you could do me a favour... I'll pay you another five-hundred drakes for it, of course..."

I motioned for him to go ahead.

"What would help me immensely, Sera Frost, is if you could scout both Falasmaryon's interior and the area immediately surrounding it. Also, if it proves feasible - and not too risky - I would be indebted to you if you could clear the stronghold of any dangers."

Despite the awful experiences I had had previously in ancient Velothi strongholds, I agreed straight away. I intended to use my Master Index regularly, and I would personally feel more comfortable knowing what to expect when teleporting blind into a remote place. I decided to explore Falasmaryon as soon as Folms sent me there, and carry on to Maar Gan afterwards: I was already fully equipped for 'trouble', in case Tashpi Ashibael turned out to be dangerous after all.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I appeared in Falasmaryon's propylon chamber: the smell gave it away. As I followed my nose out from the dark chamber to the featureless grey slab of the stronghold's 'roof', and back inside, into the stronghold proper, I worked out what it was.

Falasmaryon was the same as Telasero: the stench of rotting flesh and infection, the dim red candles, the endless abrasive whispers, and the collection of half-dead horrors attempting to kill me. There were the robed, tentacle faced, magicka-spewing men, several naked Dunmer 'Dreamers' (who I did my best to simply paralyse or knock unconscious), hideously deformed Corprus men, plus a number of adversaries that... rattled me somewhat.

The first was an aggressive, raw-looking zombie that just refused to die a final death. No matter what part of its body I hacked off, the revenant would merely fall to the ground for a moment, its wounds knitting together and its severed parts pulled back by some force to rejoin the body. The thing would then get slowly back to its feet, ready to pursue me once more. In the end, I knocked the sickening thing down and fled, magically locking the door to its chamber behind me.

Soon afterwards I encountered what I can only describe as the dried husk of a Dunmer man, with skin resembling dusty grey paper. There was a great black cavity in his head, right where his nose and eyes should have been. He was shortly joined by a similar-looking creature with the same cavity in his face, only with a short and thick tentacle-like growth sprouting from it.

Despite the lack of apparent eyes, the two 'husk-Dunmer' sensed me well enough to launch a series of magical attacks my way. I was fortunately able to paralyse them with my own Holding Field spell and thus dispatch them fairly easily.

The resemblance of Falasmaryon to Telasero was uncanny. I even found another red, unsettling shrine room with troughs alternately full of rotting hunks of meat and miscellaneous valuables. Being somewhat prepared by my visit to Telasero, I was able to retain my last meal; but the relentless, stomach-churning atmosphere still took its toll. I was quite glad to be out of there. Folms was not going to be pleased with the news, but I would have to tell him that the Falasmaryon stronghold was too dangerous to send people to at that time.

I did bring one good thing away from the infested place: a cuirass, pair of greaves and pair of boots from a suit of green volcanic-glass armour. I had to peel them off a putrefying Dunmer corpse, but the armour was such a fine prize that it made the severely unpleasant recovery work worth it. I didn't personally fancy wearing glass armour, but armour of that type was so rare and expensive that it would make a fine addition to my museum.

An ash-storm was threatening to sweep over Maar Gan as I arrived at the outskirts of the village. I was so distracted by the sight of the great wall of dust and ash building on the horizon that I did not notice the wild-eyed Dunmer woman until she was right in front of me, levelling a quivering fore-finger at my face.

"I am a Sleeper!" She exclaimed. "One among thousands! I bring you a message from Dagoth Ur..."