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, February 03, 2006

Chapter 83: Revelation

"As you know, the Emperor himself ordered that you be released from prison and sent here, to me."

Caius tapped the sheet of paper he had just given me. I was holding it up, as if to read it, but at that moment I could not take my eyes off the old spymaster.

"That is a decoded copy of the message you delivered to me when we first met." Caius leaned up against the rear wall of his single-room shack. "I must say, I had a hard time taking it completely seriously when I first read it... but, it says that the Emperor and his advisors believe that you have the appearance of meeting the conditions of the Nerevarine prophecies."

I blinked. I heard his words - clearly. But their significance did not quite penetrate.

"What?" I glanced down at the words on the document I held. "What do you mean?" I looked back at Caius.

The old Imperial motioned that I should keep reading the document.

"As you'll see in the decoded message, Emperor Septim believes you have the appearance of satisfying the conditions of the prophecy. I can't say that I know whether he really believes that you could be the Nerevarine..." Caius looked bemused.

"The Nerevarine?" I exclaimed, feeling much more than bemused. "You think that I'm the Nerevarine? How in the world..."

The spymaster raised his hands, in a placating gesture.

"Personally I don't know what to think." He replied. "It wouldn't be the first time a prophecy has come true... and of course no-one ever believes that they themselves could be the central figure in a prophecy of ... historical proportions. Who's to say? You are 'born on a certain day to uncertain parents', after all..."

That much was true. I actually knew the exact date of my birth; even though I had been left anonymously on the steps of the Imperial Cult orphanage as a newborn baby. From a relatively early age, my impressive magical ability - coupled with a susceptibility to fall foul of the harmful effects of my own amateur spell-weaving attempts - made it apparent that I had been born under the celestial sign of 'The Apprentice'. Those born under this sign were known to feel the flows of magicka more keenly through their bodies: for better and for worse. It gave people like me greater stores of magicka, but it also meant that we were more susceptible to harmful magic.

I sometimes wondered whether being born under the sign of The Apprentice had somehow contributed to - or even caused - the violent effect the moon emblem had had on me. Perhaps a 'normal' person would not have ended up like me: dying from an internal magicka leak.

In any case, to return to my original point, the Imperial Cult Priests had looked up their calendars upon surmising that I had been born under the sign of The Apprentice, and somehow calculated that there was only one possible day on which I could have been born. (Apparently they had been fairly sure of my birth-date already, since when they found me, it was obvious I could not have been out of the womb for more than a day or so).

Caius was still speaking:

"My original understanding of my orders was that we were supposed to create - in you - a persuasive impostor. Such an important figure as the Nerevarine, under our control... I'm sure you can understand the appeal of such a thing to the Imperial government." The spymaster rubbed his eyes fitfully. "But as I said - who am I to dismiss the possibility that you really could be the..."

"But the details of the prophecy are so ridiculous!" I interrupted. "If I was the Nerevarine, you could expect me to drive the 'outlanders' from Morrowind. Every last one - and the Empire! The Imperial Legion! You'll pardon me for saying so, Caius, but it sounds just a little far-fetched."

Caius gazed at me levelly.

"Perhaps if there is - or will be - a Nerevarine," Caius said, "he will not do everything exactly as it is laid out in the prophecy we've heard..."

I shook my head, and rubbed my temples. I could feel a headache coming on.

"Could someone like that still be said to meet the conditions of a prophecy, though?" I asked.

"I should think, Frost, that the varying accounts you've heard of the history of the Nerevarine cult would have told you something: the exact truth - of anything - can be lost over time. It could be that the original prophecy did not state that the Nerevarine will drive the 'outlanders' from Morrowind."

This made me think. One of the accounts of the prophecy I had heard did not in fact say that the Nerevarine would drive all foreigners from Morrowind: it merely said that he would 'honour the promises Indoril Nerevar made to the Ashlander people'. In that account, these promises were open to interpretation.

My mind was in turmoil. I could not really make myself believe that I could be the reincarnation of an ancient Dunmer General - a hero of prophecy. It was just too unreal. Caius had a point when he said that we couldn't really know for sure - one way or the other. I, of course, was leaning towards the opinion that the idea was ludicrous.

"In any case, Frost, I'm going to send you to talk to the leaders of the cult, now that we know who they are. Ask them to test you against the prophecies. I'll give you another two hundred drakes for expenses - though I'm sure you hardly need it with the kind of money you have now." He added with a grin. "You said you know where the Urshilaku camp is, correct? Now..."

"Wait, wait!" I exclaimed, head in my hands. "This is insane! The Nerevarine is obviously a figure of huge importance to these people. People to whom honour is a 'matter of life and death', apparently. How do you think they will react to a pale Breton arriving at their doorstep, claiming to be their reincarnated hero?"

Caius, looking exasperated, opened his mouth to interject, but I continued:

"I cannot go right now anyway. I made a promise to search for some missing people in the north of Solstheim. They could be in a lot of trouble if I don't go straight away."

The spymaster raised his eyebrows. He was actually starting to look a little concerned.

"Solstheim!" He pushed away from the wall, to stand up straight. "Listen Edward, while this business with the Urshilaku is not absolutely urgent, I can't say that we have all the time in the world. And Solstheim! Do you know what you're getting yourself into? If you think the Ashlands are bad..."

I shook my head, making for the door.

"I'm sorry, Caius. I... need some time to think about this. I'll come see you again when I return from Solstheim."

He called out to me, but I pushed through the door and out into the streets; leaving him behind.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chapter 82: Compulsion

There was a man loitering outside the Mages Guild hall when I was on my way in to make use of the guild guide service. I was coming from the Ald Skar Inn after speaking with Hassour Zainsubani, and was lost in my mind, composing my thoughts so as to give Caius a proper report on what I had learned. Initially I walked right by the man, hardly registering his presence. As I pushed my way through the door, though, I absent-mindedly held the door open for him, thinking he too meant to enter the guild.

When he took a small step towards the open door, but then stopped, looking indecisive, I shook myself from my reverie and frowned at him quizzically.

"Are you coming in?" I asked, more puzzled than anything.

He was a Breton, perhaps a few years older than me; though his hair seemed too shot-through with silver to properly match the apparent age of his face. He seemed to wear a permanently concerned expression.

"Well - yes. I mean... I was going to, I should say." He appeared quite nervous, for some reason. "I don't know if they could - er - help me, though. I... didn't want to waste anyone's time, if they can't ... help me." His voice became quieter and quieter as he went on, until I could scarcely hear him.

"You wish to employ the guild for something?" I asked, trying to make eye contact with the man.

He merely frowned, biting his lip and looking over his shoulder. He was either very shy generally, or very nervous about this 'help' he needed; perhaps both.

"Look," I said, leading him to the shady side of the guild hall, and choosing a seat on an empty water-barrel, " I'm a member of the guild. Why don't you tell just me what it is you need, and I'll tell you whether I think my superiors would assign someone to help you. I'm Edward Frost, by the way." I held out my hand.

"Nice to meet you." The Breton nodded, shaking my hand briefly. "Oh - L-Louis Beauchamp." He patted his chest.

There was a pregnant pause. We looked at each other, both expecting the other to do something, I think. I motioned for him to tell me his story.

"Oh! Yes, alright." There was another extended pause, in which Louis squeezed his eyes shut, apparently deciding where to begin. "It's a rescue mission." He said suddenly. "And... a search - for an... artefact... of sorts. But yes - mainly a rescue mission. It's a long story." He sighed.

I resisted the urge to take out my pocketwatch. The words 'rescue mission' had piqued my interest, in any case. I again motioned for him to continue. His words came out in a stilted jumble, but I caught the gist of it - at least I think so:

"I made an airship, you see... a beautiful craft, if I may say so! Powerful levitation magic, Dwemer parts... Because Solstheim is so very far away. Oh - Solstheim, in the north: that's where I sent my crew. I hired a crew, you see: to man the airship, and steer it all the way to ... H-Hrothmund's Bane, over the Moesring Mountains. They were to enter the crypt - Hrothmund's crypt - and fetch me the Amulet of - ahem - Infectious Charm."

I remained silent, but by the name of the amulet, I thought I could see why a man like Louis would want such a thing. He seemed in sore need of some extra charm... He was obviously an accomplished mage if he could make some kind of ship fly through the air with levitation magic... Perhaps he was poor at the Illusion College of magic, and couldn't cast an effective Charm spell on his own... At any rate, he shortly confirmed my suspicions:

"L-Legends say that Hrothmund was ugly - and - and - brutish, but he had plenty of... lady friends. It was the amulet - the one in the crypt..." Louis paused, and swallowed; before finally making eye contact with me - if only for an instant. "I need that amulet. I must... I can't go on like this, you see. I should say - don't get me wrong - there was one girl - lady - not too long ago; she was quite special... but..."

He trailed off. I cleared my throat, and changed the subject. I understood perfectly well what he wanted the amulet for...

"You said it was a rescue mission?" I prompted.

"Oh, yes. My crew, you see - they haven't come back! They've been gone for so long!" Louis wrung his hands. "The stories they tell ... of Solstheim, I mean - dreadfully inhospitable place... freezing, don't you know. The airship may have ... though I built it well! It is the first of its kind - that I know of... at least. What if it fell? What if ... a mountain - a cliff! What if they flew into something? And they would come back! I told them the airship would... convey them to Hrothmund's Bane and back again - nowhere else. Where could they go without the ship - in such... in a place like that?"

I began to feel a sense of urgency.

"Are you saying, Louis, that if they tried to ... fly off-course - for whatever reason - your airship would fall from the sky?" I frowned at the man. What if the crew had needed to change course for some reason? Would they have still crashed to the ground for this Breton's paranoia?

Louis obviously realised what I was getting at.

"Oh, no! They would have to go a long - very long - way off-course for the magic to fail!" He gulped. "I just... such a large investment you see - couldn't risk it..." There was another long pause. "Are you for hire, Mister... Mister Frost? I must know if they - my crew - can be - need to be - helped... and ... the amulet..." He looked at me hopefully.

Really, it didn't require much deliberation on my part. Even from the man's somewhat garbled speech, it was clear that people were in danger (more likely than not). I could not abandon them to their fate, stranded in a place as (apparently) desolate and unforgiving as Solstheim. Especially when to do so would mean that their survival might very well rest on whether or not Louis could strike up the courage to actually ask someone else for help.

I accepted, noting down the proposed route of the airship on my map of Vvardenfell (which included a rough approximation of the smaller island of Solstheim, to its north-west), and clarifying a few points with Louis. He told me that Hrothmund's Barrow could be located by the 'Hrothmund's Bane' formation: rock and ice that, when viewed from the sky, took on the shape of a wolf. The Barrow was at the 'eye of the wolf'. This was one of the reasons for the airship's construction, apparently; identifying that rock formation. Intriguingly, one must say the wolf's name ('Ondjage') to enter the Barrow - otherwise it would remain closed forever. This was all according to Louis, at any rate.

I had decided. I would depart for Solstheim the very next morning, and see if anyone indeed needed to be saved. I left Louis Beauchamp outside the guild hall, with the arrangement that we would leave word for each other with Guild Steward Edwinna - should such a thing become necessary.

Teleportation directly to Solstheim was not within my means: there were no strongholds with propylon chambers there, nor were there any convenient branches of the Mages Guild, with their guild guides. No, reaching the island would take some preparation... I had heard that one could book passage to Solstheim aboard a ship from the village of Khuul - and I would likely need to take a silt strider from Ald'ruhn or Maar Gan to reach the fishing village more quickly. Khuul was quite remote. I would also need warm clothes (which were sometimes difficult to find in such a warm place as Vvardenfell), food, water, and supplies.

I teleported back to Wolfen castle for a few minutes before continuing on to see Caius; mainly to ask Ancois (the castle cook) if she could prepare plenty of food for me that would keep well on a long journey.

The spymaster seemed preoccupied as I gave my report, absent-mindedly rubbing a piece of paper between his fingers as I spoke. Once I had finished recounting the names of the Nerevarine cult members Zainsubani had given me, Caius nodded slowly and cleared his throat.

"Yes - good, good." He said, almost automatically. "I'll need you to continue on with this line of investigation, of course... And... since this business is fast moving beyond my own personal experience, I'll need to promote you again. No, don't thank me: it's necessary, and you're doing fine work in any case."

At that, the old man paused, his brow crinkling into a slight frown as he skimmed through whatever was written on the piece of paper that was so distracting him. After a moment, he seemed to reach a decision, and handed the sheet over to me.

"It's time to let you know what's really going on, Frost. Why I've had you chasing cults, and... something you've wanted to know for some time..."

I leant forward. Could he mean?

"... I can tell you why you are here - and not still in prison."

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chapter 81: Generosity

Folms was surprised to see me teleport into the Caldera guild hall directly; usually when I finished my business abroad I used the Wolfen ring to go directly back home to the castle. He understood the situation as soon as he saw Abelle Chriditte in tow:

"Ah, Mister Frost. Back so soon? Oh - I see you have a passenger..." The Dunmer enchanter reached out a silver hand to steady Abelle as I slid her from my shoulder. "Young lady, would I be right to assume that this armoured figure here brought you back from some dark, dank hole or other?"

I removed my helmet and cast about me for some piece of cloth I could use to wipe the congealing blood from my face. Folms was speaking to Abelle as I did so, and I heard him generously offer to lend a Master Index to her so she could return to Valenvaryon for her expensive alchemical equipment and other belongings.

In the end he sent the Breton woman and I back at the same time, so that I could act as a bodyguard while she collected her things - just in case I had failed to slaughter all of the Orc bandits. I stood watch outside the propylon chamber door, doing my best to avoid looking at the heaped bodies of the Orcs I had killed.

Killing almost felt like second-nature to me by then, but at the same time I was all too aware that the power (physical and magical) inside me was not something I could truly call my own. It was not training, study or exercise that made me what I was. It was the magicka leak... it made me strong - very, very strong - but it was too much for my body to contain. It was still slowly killing me, and I could feel it from day to day: a kind of... brittleness inside. It's difficult to explain it better than that.

The same sense of helpless urgency I felt so often overtook me once more, and as soon as Abelle had teleported safely away I set off at a run, heading north-east for the Sanctus Shrine. There was, of course, nothing for me to really run towards or away from - nothing that would truly help - but with my shortened life-expectancy, I felt the suffocating pressure of time; every day. Running made me feel a little better.

The triolithic shrine was on a remote, boulder-strewn island, near a small wooden shack. I could see curls of smoke drifting from the chimney, so I placed my magical Mark a respectable distance from the shack, behind a large boulder. By choosing to close the vast distance involved with the Sanctus Shrine pilgrimage through teleportation, I was not violating any rules of the pilgrimage (at least as I understood them), but at the same time I did not want anyone in the Temple to know what I was doing. I needed their respect, and cheating at a sacred pilgrimage was not the way to go about it.

It took the space of a few scant minutes to teleport to Wolfen castle, cast Almsivi Intervention to bring myself to the High Fane, have Priest Endryn Llethan swear me to silence (and mark the beginning of my pilgrimage), and then teleport directly back to the island of the Sanctus Shrine.

As I made to kneel before the triolith, I took especial care to let my feet crunch noisily on the loose stones and gravel near the wooden shack. I wanted whoever was in there to know that I was outside. I assumed that he, she or they were in the Temple; and I wanted there to be a witness to my visit to the shrine. There was no inscription on the triolith - no passage to read aloud, or offering to make - so I chose my own prayer.

I prayed to the Tribunal gods to reveal the truth of the allegations the Dissident Priests levelled at them. It seemed appropriate, and I was very curious to know if such significant claims as they made were true.

If Vivec, Almalexia or Sotha Sil heard me somehow, they did not answer. I heard nothing but the soft sigh of the wind and the breaking waves, and felt nothing but the cold, misty drizzle of the northern Sheogorad region settling on my skin. After a moment, a Dunmer woman emerged from the shack behind me. We spoke for a while before I left; she was the sole caretaker of the remote shrine, and I imagined it could get quite lonely out there.

I planned to report back to Endryn after several days had passed, to make it appear as if I had completed the pilgrimage on foot. In the meantime I paid Caius a visit at his small, smoky hut in Balmora, to see if he had any new orders for me. I'll admit to actually being keen to do more work for him; such was my curiosity in some of the things I had uncovered for the spymaster. He leapt straight to business when I arrived at his door.

"Ah, Frost - good, good. Come in: I was hoping you would show up soon. We need an Ashlander informant, since so much of what you've brought back points to them. There's a fellow in Ald'ruhn I've heard of - Hassour Zainsubani, his name is."

I quickly learned that this 'Hassour' was an Ashlander man who had left the wastes to become a quite successful trader; apparently embracing Western culture.

"We need a way in to the Nerevarine cult Ashlanders, and I'm hoping that Zainsubani will provide that. If you've had anything to do with Ashlanders before, you'll know that they don't like outlanders - us - very much." I nodded. I had experienced that firsthand when I went to fetch that propylon index from the Urshilaku Ashlanders. "Zainsubani should prove to be more friendly: he's a trader, after all. I'll need you to learn what you can from him about the Nerevarine cult - and about Ashlander customs, to save you from treading on any toes later on."

Caius dropped a small pouch of coins in my hand, saying:

"I can tell you that they love to give and receive gifts - so find out what Zainsubani likes, and -" he indicated the money he had given me - "buy him a gift. He should help us then."

Several minutes later, I was on the streets of Ald'ruhn (I couldn't imagine how I had ever lived without teleportation). Caius had suggested looking for Hassour Zainsubani in the 'Ald Skar' Inn, one of the more respectable public houses in Ald'ruhn. I was in luck: the proprietor directed me to a cool, underground room containing several patrons - including the Ashlander. I found Zainsubani to be an exceptionally polite and forthright man:

"Yes, I am Hassour Zainsubani, Edward Frost. May you bless and be blessed." He said in reply to my self-introduction. "Please speak your business now, if you have any, for I am at leisure and would prefer to be left alone."

I gave a slight bow.

"I am actually very interested in Ashlander customs and traditions," I said, frantically racking my brain for the right thing to say; "especially their gift-giving customs... among other things..."

The Dunmer man gave me a curious look.

"A very... appropriate question, Sera Frost;" he said, a faint smile colouring his face; "it appears you know something of Ashlander ways already. Nevertheless, I'll tell you that a gift between strangers is a show of courtesy. A thoughtful gift is a sign that you are cautious and considerate - that you have taken care to learn something about the receiver - their wants and needs. For example, I love poetry. If a stranger were to gift me with a book of poetry, it would show that he had made a special effort to know and please me, as no real stranger could be expected to know of my love for poetry. I am an Ashlander, and unusual among my people because I do not reject the written word."

I was now sure that he was giving me a generous hint. He continued:

"A complete stranger would probably not think to present me with a book - of any kind - assuming that since I am an Ashlander, I cannot read!" He paused, still smiling pleasantly. "But now I have answered your question, and would like to be left in peace. If you would excuse me?"

It was fairly plain that a gift of a poetry book is what Zainsubani wanted. I was grateful to him for making the whole gift-giving business easy on me. I knew of a nearby bookstore (just around the corner, actually) - Codus Callonus'. Codus directed me to the poetry books, and before too long I found the perfect volume: 'Words of the Wind' - a "collection of verse gathered from Ashlander wise women".

Zainsubani was, unsurprisingly, pleased with the gift. His eyes seemed to light up as he flicked through the book - and I mean that literally: like many Dunmer, his red eyes actually appeared to glow of their own accord from time to time.

"The words of the blessed mothers... I thank you, Sera Frost, and I honour your courtesy. In return, it would please me to answer your questions fully. I assume you wanted to know about more than just our gift-giving customs?" His smile was now somewhat crafty-looking.

I took the offered seat next to him, and told him of my studies into the Nerevarine cult. Initially, most of what he said was not new to me, but it was interesting to hear his version of the story, and illuminating to learn a variety of Ashlander terms:

"The cult venerates the great Ashkan and Hortator, Nerevar Moon-and-Star; who, many ages ago, destroyed the evil, godless dwarves (the Dwemer), and banished the treacherous Dagoth Ur and his foul hosts beneath Red Mountain. The Nerevarine cult is very small: only in the Urshilaku clan is there a notable concentration of cult members - most Ashlanders are born into the Ancestor worship of their clan. Most Ashlanders - myself included - think the Nerevarine prophecies are just silly superstition; even if they sympathise with the sentiments of the cult."

"Sentiments?" I asked - though I thought I already knew what he meant.

"I assume you already know of the cult's anti-Imperial sentiments - that they wish for the Nerevarine to come and drive the foreigners from Morrowind. Most Ashlanders are not stupid enough to believe that they could actually succeed in a war with the Empire: but many would gladly give their lives in battle if they thought such a war could be won. That is what I mean by 'sympathising with their sentiments'."

I noted that Zainsubani was careful not to explicitly align himself with the ideals he spoke of. He knew as well as I did, I think, that such words would be regarded as treason.

Zainsubani went on to tell me about the Urshilaku clan - which was welcome, since though I may have already visited the Urshilaku camp (quite a coincidence), I did not really speak to anyone there properly. I knew little of them save their location. Zainsubani was full of useful information: he even knew the names of a couple of important figures in the Nerevarine cult: Sul-Matuul, the Ashkan (or warlord) of the Urshilaku, was also the 'Warrior-Protector' of the cult - and Nibani Maesa, the wise-woman, was the Oracle-Seer of the cult.

Since Caius would probably send me to speak with the Urshilaku next, I was glad to learn the last few pieces of information that Zainsubani imparted. It concerned matters of Ashlander honour and traditions, again. He reinforced the importance of thoughtful gift-giving, and listed a few other points: Do not enter someone's yurt (or 'tent') without permission, be especially courteous to Ashkans and wise woman, and always, always leave the presence of an Ashlander if asked.

"Violations of these customs could lead to you being challenged to a duel." Zainsubani said. "For the Ashlanders, honour and courtesy are matters of life and death."

I sighed.

"Of course they are."