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 17, 2006

Chapter 89: Beasts and Men

I found Gaea Artoria descending the spiral staircase that led up to Captain Carius' office. We almost collided on those narrow, turning steps. The unusually large (not fat - just proportionately large) Imperial woman grasped me by the shoulders.

"Frost! Edward Frost, yes?" I nodded. "Did you see them?" She asked, a note of hysteria in her voice.

"No, the attack was over when I returned. Someone said that it was wolf-like creatures - but I don't see how they could have done that to the walls..."

Gaea released me and motioned for me to follow her back up to the captain's office.

"Werewolves! They had to be werewolves. They took the captain -" she added dully - "I saw them; dragging him off to the north. I couldn't get to him; they knocked me down." She indicated her breastplate, which sported a series of deeply scored claw marks. Fortunately for her, the metal plates had not been cut all the way through. "I have to ask you for something, Mister Frost. I'm next in command, after Carius; so I can't go after him. I must stay here and lead the men. So, please... please will you find him?"

Gaea was staring at me intently. I studied her face. In her expression - and in her voice - I could sense something deeper than mere concern for a superior officer.

"You're saying werewolves carried him away?" I remarked. " You mean without killing him? Why would they do that? I thought they were wild animals: wouldn't they just..." I trailed off at the look on the woman's face. "I... am going north, in any case; but how would I find him? I'm no tracker."

By way of answer, Gaea slid the top off a storage crate in the corner of Carius' office, and lifted out a very old-looking human skull. This she placed in my hands. It was a strange answer, to be sure. I was about to assume that she was - or had become - a little crazy, when she explained herself:

"There is a group of savages settled on the north-east tip of Solstheim: the 'Skaal', they're called. I've heard that they worship wolves - that they can control them - or even turn into them! I know of no-one else on this island, and certainly no-one more likely: they must be behind the attack. Please... if you could speak with them - maybe gain their trust... give them that skull: they're superstitious. They'll like it. Just... please - find out what happened to Carius."

After a moment, I nodded in agreement - though hardly enthusiastically.

"As I said, I need to go north anyway - to search for some people lost up there. I can at least see if they'll speak with me. Perhaps they'll even have some word on the people I'm searching for."

I also thought to myself that if anyone on that island had some decent fur armour, or other warm clothes, it would be people who lived there permanently. Trekking across the entire breadth of the frozen island to procure some cold-weather armour was hardly ideal, of course; but by all accounts, the really cold part of Solstheim was to the north-west, over the Moesring Mountains. Where the airship had been headed, in other words.

Gaea heaved a sigh of relief.

"Good. Thankyou. I won't forget this." The Imperial woman sank into Carius' chair, and buried her face in her hands, as if exhausted. She may (apparently) be the most powerful fighter in the fort, I thought; but at that moment she did not look ready to assume command of all those men.

Not that it was really my concern. I would look into Carius' disappearance while I was in Solstheim's north, but it was not something I would dedicate my life to. I did not know much about werewolves, but what I had heard led me to believe that even if they had not killed the captain outright during the attack on the fort, it was very unlikely that he was still alive.

Early next morning, I teleported back to the Fort Frostmoth docks once more, and finally set out in earnest on my rescue mission. The Imperial Legionnaires were deep in the awful business of burying their comrades when I passed through. I let them be, striking out into the forest north of the fort.

Gaea had given me a better map of Solstheim the night before: probably the most helpful thing I received from those at the fort. With it, I could tell that the area directly north of Fort Frostmoth was called 'Hirstaang Forest'. And 'forest' was right: it was quite far removed from the wastelands and sparsely-wooded fields of Vvardenfell. There were pine trees, as far as I could see - and their heady scent made my hike a pleasant one; at least initially.

Everyone I had spoken to about the island of Solstheim as a whole said the same thing: it was cold and full of dangerous beasts. Gaea had elaborated a little on this treatise for me, describing many of the dangers I might face on my trek to the Skaal Village and the Moesring mountains. This was how I knew the name of the (nearly) stark-naked Nordic woman running at me through the trees: she was a berserker - or a 'Bare-Sark' in the Nordic tongue. The name was quite appropriate: all she wore was a pair of fur boots and a helmet that looked to be made from a bear's head! She carried no weapons.

Gaea had told me what to expect - saying that insane, naked berserkers roamed the island - but I was still taken by surprise; I suppose I hadn't really expected a female berserker. She came at me swinging her fists, and all I managed was a strangled "Wait - stop!" before she got in a heavy blow to my jaw. I reeled, my vision blurring - and she was on me, trying to bring me to the ground with her weight, while at the same time scratching at my eyes. It was then that the old instinctive anger and fright swelled up; and the next thing I knew the Bare-Sark woman was on the ground, dead.

Her helmet had fallen off in the fight, and I picked it up to examine it; curious to see how a helmet could be made from a near-whole bear's head. Basically, the skull had been hollowed-out and lined with fur: for warmth, comfort and practicality (so it would fit properly, in other words). It was made so that the wearer peered out from behind the bear's fearsome teeth - something of an odd sensation, as I soon discovered. The bear's-head helmet was warm and certainly felt sturdier than my Nordic Fur helmet, containing as it did the thick skull of a bear. I threw the Nordic Fur hat away and replaced it with the bear's-head one.

The Bare-Sark woman was far from the only attack I endured while passing through Hirstaang Forest. While passing a deep thicket of brush clustered around some rocks, I was set upon by a creature I had initially taken to be a young tree. It was a vaguely female-looking, bark-skinned 'Spriggan': one of the fairykin. Its hair was twigs and hanging lichen, its feet were gnarled, dirt-crusted roots, and its fingers were like wood whittled-down to sharp knives. It was also alarmingly fast for something that so resembled a tree.

I hacked into the Spriggan again and again. Each successive blow further widened a wound in the creature's side, and sent it flying - but it always landed deftly on its feet and barrelled back into me, leading with its sharpened fingers. It was like trying to split wood - green wood - upon a chopping block with sideways strokes rather than a chopping motion (and I was unable to land a single blow if I attempted a chopping attack: the damned thing was too fast). My Daedric longsword grew more and more sticky with the Spriggan's sap, until finally I hewed the thing in half - but that was not the end of it.

I watched in astonishment as the sap flowing freely from the creature's two halves appeared to actually pull the Spriggan together again, and then harden. Then the thing leapt up again and went back to the attack! I had to cut it down a further two times before the cursed thing finally stopped moving: and even then I had to hack the creature into many pieces and spread them far and wide among the trees, to be completely sure.

I do not know if I truly 'killed' the Spriggan: I had heard that the fairykin are immortal. Even chopped into pieces and spread out among the pine trees of Hirstaang Forest, it may have still lived. As I carried on my way, I imagined tendrils and rivulets of the Spriggan's sap weaving their way through the undergrowth, linking each of the splinters of wood together in a great web, and finally drawing the creature back together as a whole.

Or perhaps the pieces would rot and be drawn into the soil - and another Spriggan would grow near that thicket of brush.

I found myself wishing - and not for the first time (especially since the moment I learned that I was dying) - that I was more resilient.

That I was immortal.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chapter 88: Devastation... and amends

The Imperial Legion soldiers that had attacked Lusius and I had indeed been the weapons smugglers: an inspection of the caves in which we had found them proved as much. Inside several barrels that looked ready to be sealed and put aboard a boat, I found a small collection of arms and armour: swords, axes, hammers, steel armour, and finally, several pieces of decently sturdy fur armour. They looked to be fashioned from the hide of a large furry animal; probably a bear, as near as I could tell. It was not a complete set - I counted a cuirass, a pauldron, one glove, and a pair of foul-smelling boots.

Nevertheless, it was much thicker and stronger than the 'Nordic Fur' I had bought, so I collected it up and carried it to the entrance of the Gamdrung caverns. After checking that no-one was around (I did not want to be attacked while out of my armour), I stripped down and, as quickly as I could, washed the drying blood from my skin. The water outside the caves was achingly cold: I could not bring myself to dive in, even though it would undoubtedly have been faster. As it was, I squatted awkwardly on the flat rocks by the water and washed myself as best I could - with as little of the freezing water as I could.

Shivering violently afterwards, I hurriedly dried myself off with the warm cloak I had bundled in my pack. Back inside the caves, near the warmth of a fire one of the smugglers had built in the hollow of a peculiar stalagmite, I dressed and set about the difficult business of strapping on armour by oneself. I abandoned some of the Nordic Fur and replaced it with the Bearskin armour. It almost certainly belonged to the Imperial Legion - but I would offer to pay for it when I reported back to Captain Carius.

Carius. That was not an encounter I looked forward to. Saenus Lusius, the man the Captain had assigned to help me, was dead. It was hardly my fault, but I still felt an unpleasant twinge in my gut at the thought of what had happened. I had hardly known the man, but he had seemed a kind and friendly soul... and he was dead for helping me.

I stayed by the fire for a while, lost in thought. Would Carius still honour his part of our agreement and assign some men to help me search for the airship crew, if I reported that Lusius had died in my company?

Dusk had just given way to night when I made my way back to Frostmoth Fort, Lusius' body in my arms. My preternatural strength made carrying a full-grown man - even one in full Legion armour - a relatively easy matter. As soon as I was within earshot of the fort, I could tell something was very wrong. The awful screams of men and women in agony and despair carried over the walls of the fort, and as I quickened my pace, lumbering around to the gate with Lusius still in my arms, the reek of recent carnage met my nose. There was blood - and worse: the smell of bodies that had been cut open.

It was a scene of devastation. There had been an attack on the fort; there was no room for doubt. The walls of the fort were breached in several places, and the sharp smell of ground-up stone and dust penetrated even the stench of the many dead and wounded. The Legionnaires were in disarray: some grasped helplessly at their wailing, dying comrades, others tended gingerly to their own wounds, while some simply stood about looking dazed and out of breath. What really stuck in my mind about that moment - apart from the smell - was the steam. In the cold evening air, the heavy breathing of the living Legion soldiers - and the cooling bodies of the dead, broken and torn ones - sent remarkable clouds of steam drifting up into the darkened sky.

A Redguard soldier with a nasty gash down the side of his face jogged up to me. Horribly, I could actually see his teeth through the cut in his cheek.

"Lusius!" He cried - with some difficulty - as he tore the man's lifeless form from my arms. "Is he alright? No... NO!"

The man lowered Lusius to the ground, and remained crouched over his body, shoulders quaking silently. One of the few female soldiers in the fort stepped up to place a consoling hand on the Redguard's shoulder.

"What happened here?" I asked her.

Before she could answer, I heard something, off in the distance - to the north. It was like the howl of a wolf, only... there was something else behind it; something that made me shiver.

"There!" The woman exclaimed, pointing in the direction of the noise. "Did you hear that? It was those... creatures - they were like wolves, only... they were so big! And the claws... I've never seen a wolf like that. A horde! So many..."

She shook her head slowly, and swayed slightly on her feet. I noticed she was pressing a hand against a series of deep gashes in her side. Blood was oozing out between her fingers.

"Hold still." I prompted her, and sent my healing magic into her side. Once the wound closed over, she seemed more alert.

"You're Frost, right? You've been helping the Captain?" I nodded, and she went on: "No-one's seen him since the attack! We can't find him anywhere... he would be either... dead... or yelling at us to... do something. I can't imagine what else..." She indicated the general state of chaos that had descended on the fort. "If - if you can find Gaea - Gaea Artoria... she would know what to do..."

I nodded in agreement, but then hesitated, looking at the many wounded strewn about the yard. The female soldier seemed to be having the same thought as I:

"Yes..." she said, "you can heal... Could you - please..."

I nodded, and placed a hand on the injured Redguard's head. A moment later he was healed, and staring up at me with eyes full of tears, his face no longer a horrid ruin. From there I went among the wounded rank-and-file of the fort, healing every man and woman I visited: one by one.

Restoration magic is the stuff of miracles. I again gave thanks to whatever gods may exist that I had been blessed with some ability in that college of magic. Even the most grievously injured soldiers I brought back from the very brink of death: as long as they had breath still in their lungs. I asked every man or small group I visited to stay where they were and to stay quiet about what I was doing. The Legionnaires were mostly in a state of panic, and I did not want to be mobbed by hysteric soldiers - desperate either for themselves or their friends. Such a thing would have helped no-one: least of all me.

After what felt like an extraordinarily long time, I was finished. I hadn't been able to reach everyone in time, but I had saved most. I felt drained. Were it not for my link to the plane of magicka, and the magicka leak inside my body, I would not have been able to save nearly as many people that night as I had. As it was, my reserves of magicka were almost depleted by the time I was finished.

Once it became obvious that all had been saved who could be saved, I was slowly surrounded by grateful soldiers. There were many gruff slaps on my back, as well as some more-heartfelt clasping of my hands, as they all thanked me. It was a sombre vote of thanks, everyone very conscious of the bodies of those I had not been able to save - lying all around us.

I no longer felt so responsible for Lusius' death. I had brought so many back from near-death that night, that I... Was the debt repaid? I felt different, in any case. I felt more full of worth than I ever had.

I had saved lives, rather than ended them. Despite the horrible circumstances, it felt like the best thing I had ever done.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chapter 87: The Survivor

Zeno Faustus' account of all the warm clothes and armour in Frostmoth Fort being "already wrapped around bodies outside" made sense in such a cold climate, but did not help me much. I was stuck. Forced into helping Captain Carius once more, after all; unless of course I could find cold-weather armour elsewhere.

With that aim in mind I teleported back home, and then to Vivec. The two best-stocked armouries I had ever seen were in the Foreign Quarter Plaza there; and if they had nothing suitable, then I would be well and truly beholden to Carius if I wanted to pursue my rescue mission. In the first piece of real luck I had seen in days, one of the armour stores had in stock a full suit of 'Nordic Fur' armour. I bought it immediately, and it was actually quite inexpensive. I got the impression from the generous amount of dust nestled amongst the fur that the store-owner had had a difficult time selling such warm armour in the sun-baked holy city of Vvardenfell.

"Now, you are aware that this is classed as Light Armour, then?" The store-owner said, eyeing my Netch-Adamantium armour (which itself was in the 'Medium' class). "Light Armour can be tricky for one used to heavier armour."

I merely nodded. I did not really have a choice, obviously; not if I wanted to avoid freezing to death on Solstheim. Back in Wolfen castle, Falorn helped me change from my regular and (almost) comfortable Netch-Adamantium armour, into the Nordic Fur. Shortly afterwards I was standing once again on the dock near Fort Frostmoth, getting a feel for my new armour.

I felt ridiculous. Not to mention vulnerable: I was uncomfortably aware of how easy it would be for blades or teeth to sink right through the soft layer of fur. The owner of the armoury in the plaza had been right to caution me. At least I was warm at last.

So: I could either set off on my own and try to follow the line drawn on my rough map of Solstheim to indicate the proposed path of Louis' airship, or try to expose the weapons smugglers for Captain Carius and then set out with guides and extra muscle. In the end I decided to, at the least, take a cursory look into the matter of the smugglers. I had my Charm spell, and the assurance of the captain that his men now held me in high regard for returning their much-loved alcohol to them. I also had one of Carius' soldiers to help me: overall I did not expect the investigation to be difficult. On top of that was the (perhaps tenuous) hope that finding the smugglers would lead me to their stolen goods, and ergo some sturdier cold-weather armour.

Ignoring the sniggers of the soldiers at the sight of my new armour, I made my way through the general quarters of the fort to find Saenus Lusius, the man Carius had recommended as the best person to help me expose the smugglers. He was a wiry man with noticeable laugh-lines radiating from the corners of his eyes and mouth. I got to him just in time, it seemed: he looked about to be drawn into a drinking game with several other soldiers when I appeared.

With an exaggerated show of reluctance (but the hint of a smile on his lips), he lead the way out of the general quarters and across to the armoury, talking without cease as we went:

"Old Carius said you might show up to ruin the party for me. Oh well, never mind that - an order's an order, of course, of course. Now, you are after the weapons smugglers, am I right? Well, I think we should have a word with Zeno, seeing as he's in charge of the weapons... Ah, Zeno. Drunk yet?"

The quartermaster, who had been reclining in his chair with a mug of what smelled like sujamma, sat up as we entered.

"Not so far gone as you, Lusius - I would wager." Faustus said shortly, but with a light smile. "I see you found some fur armour after all, Mister Frost. And very nice it is, too."

I did not miss the subtly mocking tone in his voice, but seeing as I more-or-less agreed with him, it did not bother me very much.

"Yes, thankyou Mister Faustus." I cleared my throat. "Captain Carius has actually asked me - and Lusius here - to help him track down some suspected weapons smugglers. Lusius tells me that you're the person to ask about that."

The quartermaster looked to Lusius, his brows knitting together.

"It's alright, Zeno." The wiry soldier said.

After a moment's hesitation, Faustus shrugged and said to me:

"Well, I can tell you that I've noticed the stores going down too. At first I thought the captain was sending men down here to collect things when I was out - but... obviously not. Now," he lowered his voice, and motioned for us to lean in closer; "I can also tell you that I've heard some of the men talking - didn't see who they were, you understand -" he indicated the nearby window. "They were outside. They talked about the Gamdrung caverns, just nearby; and mentioned a stash of weapons there. That's all I know. And - of course - you did not hear it from me. I'll deny it, should it come to that."

Lusius lead me directly to the caverns the quartermaster had mentioned, joking that if we hurried, he could be back at the fort before someone stole his drink. The entrance to 'Gamdrung' was partially hidden among an outcropping of large, angular boulders, and opened onto a narrow cove. It looked the perfect place to bring in a small boat for a smuggling operation.

Clambering down the rocks towards the entrance (with the aim of avoiding the icy water), I glanced at my soldier escort. I barely knew the man, and we were about to dive headlong into a potential nest of weapons smugglers together.

"Are you ready?" I asked. Lusius nodded once, drawing his broadsword. I noticed he was not smiling anymore.

Once inside the twisting stone passages, we were set upon almost immediately by a young-looking Legionnaire wielding a silver axe that glittered with some kind of enchantment. I discovered very quickly what the enchantment was, when the renegade soldier's blade sliced easily through my armour and my flesh: paralysation. I was very lucky that Lusius was there: he was able to pull the man off me whenever I succumbed to the vicious enchantment. I had to return the favour more than once, too - and after a brutal fight, we put the thug down.

As I propped myself against the wall to heal my many painful wounds, I noticed Lusius staring at the dead man's face.

"Roscius..." He breathed. It was obviously someone he knew.

I said nothing, my teeth clenched as I sent healing magic into a gash in my side. The man had attacked us, and it had been all we could do to overcome him, armed as he was with such a cruel weapon. Lusius, too, grew silent from that point on.

We were ready to press on within moments; and a little deeper into the dark, echoing Gamdrung caverns, we encountered a fearful sight: two massive, brutish Orcs in Imperial Legion armour. (Orcs were commonly enlisted into service in the Legion - unsurprisingly, for their strength and warlike nature). One flew at Lusius, and the other, with a grunt, at me. In such close fighting, and with Lusius nearby, I dared not use my powerful offensive spells for fear of harming my ally in error.

Without my magic and the high-quality Netch-Adamantium armour I was accustomed to, I was clearly outmatched. In a flash I was down, with an agonising gash across my chest and several broken ribs. I tried to back away, pushing with my feet, and battling with my own body in a desperate attempt to draw breath into my broken chest. The Orc towered above me, taking his time to line up a killing blow. Through his legs, I could see the other Orc's back - and beyond him was Lusius. The pair were locked in grave combat, my ally frantically trying to hold the Orc back. I couldn't quite see what was happening, but I heard Lusius cry out:

"No, wait! Stop, stop! We're both -"

But there was a clang and a sharp -crack-, and Lusius' plea was cut short. Through the legs of the Orcs I saw him crumple to the cave floor, quite motionless.

There was nothing I could have done, of course. I was still on my back, bleeding and with my breath driven from my lungs. My attention was drawn forcibly back to the Orc directly before me, his blade raised high above his head. With Lusius down, and my own death an instant away, I could not afford to hold my magics back. I threw my 'Holding Field' spell out, hoping to halt both my enemies in their tracks at once. A ripple passed through the air around us, but the Orcs only hesitated for a short moment, a slight shudder in their step the only sign a spell had been cast at all. Orcs and their damned resistance to magic!

The blade came down, and I managed to catch it with my shield, but another sharp -crack- and an intense burning pain in my arm indicated that the bones had been broken. I tried the spell again, aware that if it did not work, it would likely be the last action I ever took. Facing the prospect of one's imminent death inspires thoughts of such anguish and desperation, I... do not truly know how to describe them.

The moment seemed to hang there in time, never moving forward. The Orc's blade seemed to slow in its downward, whistling arc, until it stopped. It stopped! It wasn't a dying hallucination, a figment brought on by a mind about to be silenced - the spell had worked!

Choking back both tears of relief, and pain from the exertion, I ran my uninjured hand over my wounds; letting healing magic soak into my body - closing cuts, mending bones, and replacing lost blood. Once back on my feet, I did not hesitate to terminate the paralysed Orcish Legionnaires. Both took two heavy strokes of the Daedric longsword to sever their heads from their bodies, their necks were so thick.

Lusius was dead. I knew it even before checking for a beating heart. The Orc had cut through his armour and deep into his chest. I had to leave him there to check the rest of the Gamdrung caverns. With Lusius... gone, I was free to make full use of my magic. There were other renegade soldiers there, but none came within striking distance of me.

I snuffed out the life of anything still breathing in those caves.