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, March 03, 2006

Chapter 95: Drifting

I had failed. It had taken me three days to reach the foothills of the Moesring Mountains, counting from the morning I first entered Fort Frostmoth at Solstheim's southern tip. There were delays, obviously - but necessary ones: when I first arrived on the island I had not the equipment or the knowledge needed to reach the Moesring mountains. However even if the delays were not, strictly speaking, my fault; it may have cost those men and women their lives.

Judging by the grisly remains of the airship crew... actually, I couldn't judge from the remains; they had been eaten by the wolves and other beasts there. They could have died several days prior to my discovery of them - or they might have died the previous night. I couldn't tell. They might, I thought to myself, even have died upon being thrown from the airship when it came to ground.

This last theory turned out to be - at least partly - correct. Hunching over the pages to keep too much snow from falling on them, I quickly skimmed through the journal I had found. It belonged to the captain; one Roberto Joduin, and was not very long. Only the first few pages were filled: it looked like he had started the journal upon taking flight in the ship.

As I mentioned, the journal told a grim story. The expedition to find the Amulet of Infectious Charm sounded doomed from the start - Joduin wrote of the airship "trailing bits and pieces of itself" from the moment they left Ald'ruhn. He went on to tell of an Argonian crew-member that apparently went mad from a fear of heights, and tried to force the ship down into the sea. The captain wrote that he had been forced to kill the Argonian, and throw him overboard.

The trouble did not stop there, of course: they had actually spotted the Hrothmund's Bane formation from the air, and were looking for a place to land when a blizzard overtook them. Joduin wrote that the airship was blown into the ground by the strong winds in the blizzard. He had obviously survived the crash himself, to write as much in his journal; though most of the crew had not (as I had guessed).

That was the last entry in the journal. It was understandably a little hard to follow, but it sounded as if the blizzard that brought the ship down had continued into the night, and the surviving crew-members had been unable to take shelter in the hold of the ship because ice and snow had blocked the way in. All the remaining crew-members had died of the cold that night, according to Joduin - and it seemed likely that the captain had suffered the same fate himself: the last words in the journal were lamenting the infernal cold.

Of course, he may instead have been killed by a wolf, or a bear. There was no way to tell; and no need to know, in any case. I stowed the journal in my pack, planning to give it to Louis Beauchamp. There were things in there he needed to see. All that anguish, those lost lives - for a magical trinket the pathetic wretch believed would make him 'irresistible to the ladies'. I almost teleported home right then, intent on making Louis see the result of his obsession... but I didn't. I didn't feel quite like speaking with anyone right then - I needed time to think.

The slopes of the Moesring Mountains rose sharply to the west, and, using my levitation magic, I flew up the mountainside; face upturned to the falling snow. I knew where I was going: Joduin's journal had included detailed-enough directions to Hrothmund's Bane. As I ascended through the drifting sheets and flurries of snow, I thought about my reasons for coming to Solstheim. It was to search for the missing people on the airship, of course - but it was also to have some time alone, to consider what Caius, the Blades Spymaster, had told me of my release from prison. With my failure to reach the airship crew in time (and Captain Falx Carius almost certainly dead - and definitely lost without a trace), I really had no further reason to remain on that frozen island. I needed to reach some conclusion as to what I should do when I returned to Vvardenfell.

I was not in doubt over my own thoughts regarding the idea that I might be the Nerevarine: I did not believe it, pure and simple. What was bothering me was that Caius appeared to actually believe it. I had followed the spymaster's orders up until that point because I had believed that he knew why I had been released from prison. And he had, but the reason for my release was ridiculous! I was grateful to be free, of course, but it was insane! Edward Frost: orphan and thief, from the streets of the Imperial City in Cyrodiil: reincarnated Dunmer hero and centrepiece of a Morrowind prophecy? How could that possibly be?

And now Caius seemed intent on placing me on a collision course with both the powerful Tribunal Temple and the dangerous Ashlanders! Groups with brittle tempers both. Had I still a reason to follow the spymaster? Was he still - had he ever been - in his right mind?

I felt as if I was drifting like the snow. I did not know what to do next, if I could not follow Caius. Obviously there was the search for a cure to my condition - but there was, of course, no clear definition to that pursuit. If there was, that is what I would have been working at, rather than wasting my time in a miserable place like Solstheim. Really, the only good that had come of my visit there was that I had been able to save the lives of a number of Legion soldiers after the attack on Fort Frostmoth.

I was no closer to a decision when I reached the peak of one of the mountains, quite some time later. It was nearly sunset, and what little light penetrated the grey banks of snow-clouds was failing. Still, from my vantage point near the top of the mountain, I could see quite a way. Laid out in a depression beneath me was the rock and ice formation called Hrothmund's Bane - and I could clearly see how it resembled the shape of a wolf. There was no need for the height afforded by - say, an airship - to identify it.

Strangely, off in the far, misty distance - beyond Hrothmund's Bane - I thought I could see something that resembled a great castle. In the encroaching darkness and the veil of bad weather, however, I could not see clearly. In the next moment it looked nothing more than a wall of ice worn by the wind into an unusual shape - and then it was lost behind the darkening snow-clouds.

Louis had said that the entrance to Hrothmund's Barrow (which was said to hold the Amulet of Infectious Charm) was at the 'eye' of the wolf-shaped ice and rock formation. With the help of the ever-useful Tinur's Hoptoad spell and my 'Infallible' belt, I was able to reach the 'eye of the wolf' (so to speak) in one great leap - passing over some quite treacherous and slippery-looking terrain.

I found the 'eye' to be a mass of worn boulders, jutting out of the mountain. There was a gap in the middle of the boulders where a mass of thick, dirty-looking ice had collected into a curious shape. I was leaning in to examine it when a great, booming voice sounded out; as if coming from the collection of boulders before me. It felt as if my skin was about to leap off my body, I was so badly startled. The mysterious voice spoke in a rhyme:

"Some they call me Hrothmund's Bane,
with midnight teeth and moonlight mane.
I am the wolf one soul may tame,
by uttering my given name.

But speak the truth, for those who lie,
gain not the wealth beyond my eye!
Answer false and evermore,
closed shut will be my icy door.

What is my name?"

I was at a loss for words. Was there some spirit trapped within the barrow, set to terrorise intruders? It didn't actually sound very malevolent, if that was the case. Then I remembered: Louis had told me to speak the name of the wolf that had killed Hrothmund to open the way to the barrow. That would have to be what the disembodied voice was asking for.

"Ondjage." I said, once I had found my voice. The rhyming began again:

"You spoke the truth and won the game,
for Ondjage is my given name."

The voice fell silent after that, but as it repeated the name 'Ondjage', there was a tremendous -crack-, and the mass of dirty ice split in two; revealing a dark passage into the mountain.

Once inside, I found myself in a barrow that looked just like the one in which I had helped Ingmar defeat the Valbrandr draugr. The strange booming voice had mentioned 'wealth beyond his eye', but all I found besides a few rotted strongboxes of rusted armour was a large battle-axe buried in a stone plinth (which I tried, and failed, to remove), and the amulet Louis had sent those men and women to an early grave over.

I sensed magic within it: an enchantment that acted upon the user's mind: to make him or her more confident - as best I could tell. There was something else behind that, though: magic relating to disease, and sickliness. After a moment I sensed that it was not beneficial magic - not by any means. It seemed that using the amulet could actually make one sick. I suddenly realised that the name 'The Amulet of Infectious Charm' was probably a play on words.

So. A cursed amulet and a journal detailing the awful deaths of a sizeable number of people - that was what I had to give to Louis Beauchamp.

It was not worth it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Chapter 94: Found and lost

Once the sun had risen and it was again warm enough to travel Solstheim's wilderness, I teleported back to my Mark near the Rimhull caves. From there I went west, down onto the northern edge of the Isinfier Plains. At first I could see where the grey, glittering Isild River split in two to become the Iggnir and Harstrad rivers, but this view was lost to me as I arrived on the snow-drifts, soil and blasted rock of the low-lying plains.

There were few trees this far north, and therefore very little to break up the chill winds that swept down from the Moesring Mountains looming on the western horizon. The mountains: they were my destination; so I spent most of the day with the wind blowing full in my face. The painfully bright sunlight prevailed for most of the day, though the gusting wind occasionally whipped up enough of the powdery, freshly fallen snow to cast my surroundings in a grey, freezing shadow.

In the early afternoon I spotted a group of men trudging down a gentle hill towards me. For a moment my hopes were raised: could they be the crew of the airship? One of the pale, fur-clad men noticed me at almost the same time, and nudged the man next to him. In a short moment it became obvious that they were not the ones I was looking for: they were bandits.

They all drew weapons and moved to the attack: most had axes and were charging down the slope towards me, but two were hanging back, longbows in their hands. An arrow whistled past my head, and I dashed up the hill a little way to get behind a boulder, cursing to myself. If only I had kept a better watch on the landscape, I might have seen the bandits before they saw me, and been able to skirt around them.

In my defence I was quite bleary-eyed from the constant chill wind - though mainly I was just careless. I had not expected to see anyone in such a remote place, especially highwaymen: there were (obviously) no highways anywhere nearby! I readied my sword and shield, straining my ears to listen for any sound that might give away their positions. I had counted five of them. I had been triumphant in the face of worse odds than that before, of course, but that was usually in relatively close quarters; where it was difficult for my enemy to out-manoeuvre me. On the wide-open Isinfier Plains, I would have to be careful indeed.

Fortunately for me, one of the bandits was quite careless himself; and came rushing around the corner, sticking close to the boulder behind which I was hiding - rather than ranging away from it as he came, which would have been rather more sensible. With one vicious swipe of my Daedric blade, I literally cut his legs out from under him.

As it turned out, the highwaymen had at least had the sense to come at me from both sides at once: a crunching footstep in the snow behind me alerted me just in time, and I leapt forward to escape the whooshing swing of a silver axe. Almost. A searing pain shot up my back as the obviously enchanted blade carved a shallow furrow from my flesh. I smelt burning fur, from my armour - and worse: burning flesh - from my own back. I stumbled forward another few steps, suddenly feeling weak and ungainly. The enchantment in the bandit's blade had set me alight with a flash of magical fire, and was sapping my strength. Save for weapons that paralysed their victims, I had never before encountered a more brutal enchantment.

My leap out of the way of the bandit's axe had taken me out from behind the protection of my boulder; with near-disastrous results. An arrow came in over the top of my shield, burying itself in my arm, near the shoulder. At the same time, a taller bandit in sparkling white fur armour caught up with me and dealt me a powerful blow to my chest with his own axe. I was thrown backwards onto the ground, and had to turn my head away from the burst of magical flame that erupted from the wound, or risk being blinded. There had been an audible crack when the blow landed, and I knew what that meant - even in the tiny instant before the pain blossomed through my body: my ribs had been broken once again.

Wishing that I had not become so familiar with the sound of my own ribs cracking, I struggled weakly to my feet. My strength was still ebbing away, but now it was not just from the foul enchantment in the highwaymen's blades: I was bleeding heavily. Forcing the magic of the Tinur's Hoptoad spell into my trembling legs, I leapt high into the air before the two remaining axe-wielding men could descend on me. I came to rest upon the snow-capped tip of a tall, monolithic boulder, my blood spattering the snow at my feet from the impact. I was out of reach of the men with axes, but the archers would still pose a threat.

Awkwardly balancing atop the monolith, I put my sword away and crouched down behind my shield. I needed a free hand to yank out the arrow from my shoulder (which hurt so much I nearly fell from the boulder), and send healing magic into my body. Once my wounds had closed and I had negated the strength-sapping magic spreading through my veins (numerous arrows burying themselves in my shield all the while), I directed my attention back to the bandits. It was very clear that I would have to kill them all.

The Hoptoad spell was still buoying my body up, and so I took the opportunity to make a wild leap high over the heads of the troublesome archers. I came back to the ground just behind them, but not before landing my 'Holding Field' spell on the pair of them. In two neat strokes, I beheaded the two paralysed men. Now I could focus on the formidable axe-men without worrying that I might receive an arrow in my back.

There were only two left now, and they were close together and sprinting up to meet me. I tried to paralyse them, too; but the tall Nordic man in the white fur-armour shrugged off every spell I threw at him. The other man was not so lucky: just before the white-clad bandit reached me, I vaulted over his head and landed virtually on top of the other (paralysed) man, burying my blade in his head.

The bandit in white fur was possibly the most formidable warrior I had yet faced. Our fight lasted for what seemed like nearly half an hour, and I lost count of the number of times I had to break off and heal myself. He never once gave any indication of giving up and trying to escape - perhaps he was waiting for my stores of magicka to run dry (not knowing, of course, that mine never really did). Eventually I got in a lucky hit and cut halfway through the man's wrist (on his axe-arm). I thought that then, maybe he would give up, being no longer able to even hold his weapon.

But no: he made to grab the axe with his other hand, forcing me to kill him. I thrust my sword through his neck in that vulnerable moment.

I must have been an awful sight to behold after that fight: my armour was sliced, torn, scorched and bloodied. I felt little better myself. I was shaking from adrenaline and fear - I very much disliked facing better warriors than I in close combat. Still, I managed to force my quivering hands into stripping the man of his white, sparkling fur-armour. They seemed to be made from wolf-skin, though I had never seen a wolf with snow-white fur. Just by touching it I could tell that the armour was enchanted to protect against cold temperatures - I recognised the feel of the magic by its similarity to that in my own Elementward ring.

I discarded the pieces of wolf-skin armour I had been wearing (they were damaged almost beyond repair anyway) and replaced them with the white fur armour. I did not replace my bear-skin armour: I wanted the added protection the thicker hide afforded. The rest of the white armour I gathered into a sack one of the bandits had been carrying and slung over my shoulder. It was not overly heavy, and I was sure it had to be quite rare. Perfect for my museum.

Making sure to keep a better watch out from then on, I set out once more; trudging up the steeper and steeper slope to the west. Soon I realised that I was standing on the feet of the Moesring Mountains; sharp-looking, grey and white spires of rock above me. Snow began to fall softly in the late afternoon, and it was through this grey, shifting veil that I saw the ruin of Louis' airship.

I stood and stared at the macabre scene for the longest time, my heart seeming to freeze over and almost stop beating in my chest, such was the despair I felt. At the same time my scalp prickled and my face felt hot with frustration. After all the trouble I had gone to on that island; the pain, the danger, the near-constant fighting for my life, and the absolutely-constant, will-sapping cold; I had found the stranded airship crew...

But... the only sound was the ghostly hiss of the falling snow. They were all dead. I could see their bloody, reddened bones half-buried in the snow all around the wrecked hulk of the airship. The thing looked like a normal wooden boat, only with several still-clanking and -clamouring Dwemer machines bolted to it in various places. It looked as if it had fallen from the sky.

Tearing at a near-fleshless corpse was the largest wolf I had ever seen: a wolf with snow-white fur. Instantly I knew what sort of creature the sparkling, white fur-armour had been made from. I shouted at the thing in an attempt to scare it off, but the wolf, its muzzle stained red with the blood of man or mer, snarled and threw itself at me instead. The monstrous thing was nearly as tall as I, and I certainly did not want it to get close enough to bite me.

I slashed the beast across the throat as it made to fasten its jaws on my leg. With a series of horrible, gurgling yelps, the massive wolf tore off into the nearby trees... probably to die.

Clenching my teeth, I set about the grisly task of surveying the scene of the crash. Next to the tangled mess of blood-stained bones the wolf had been attacking was a book - a journal. I gingerly crouched in the red snow around the corpse and picked it up.

It told a grim tale.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Chapter 93: The Mantle of Woe

The young-looking man that had summoned the skeletons to attack me stirred, the movement obscuring my view of the shimmering bones in the ground. His gaze fixed immediately on the dark purple robe in my hands.

"Thief!" He snarled. "Give it back!"

The young Nord rose, and made to snatch at the heavily enchanted item. I kicked him back down, drawing the robe back - out of his reach - as I did so. Before he could make another attempt, I swung my pack from my shoulders and hastily bundled the robe within it. For an instant after kicking the man down, I had wanted very much to kill him - to stomp on his head with my spiked boots until he stopped moving.

There had been times - many times - in combat when I had done some truly vicious things; but it had always been in the midst of a chaotic fight, fuelled by fear and anger. This young man was quite defenceless without the robe - that much was obvious - and I had never felt the urge to kill an obviously defenceless man before. The robe I had taken from the young man was very, very powerful; but it would have taken a true fool to not see that there was also something wrong with it - that there was a cost for using it.

Sure enough, as soon as the thing was out of my hands, and out of his sight, my vision returned to normal - the shimmering spectres of bones fading away - and the Nordic man suddenly relaxed, looking as if he could not quite remember what he had been doing.

"Are you Tymvaul, Lassnr's son?" I asked, my hand on the hilt of my sword; just in case.

It turned out to not be necessary. The man's appearance was markedly different: he no longer looked almost like one of the undead himself, and certainly no longer looked as if he wanted to attack me. He had been wearing next to nothing under the robe, and I was reminded again how the Nordic race was said to be virtually immune to cold - even magical cold. Right then this certainly looked to be true: the young Nord was sitting on ice, and not even shivering. He started at my question.

"What? Yes - I am! But - don't hurt me, please - I'm sorry! I'm sorry for... When you came in, I thought you wanted..." Tymvaul paused, head in his hands. He appeared quite confused.

He said no more for the moment, staring at my hand - the one ready on my blade. He seemed to be waiting for a sign that I did not mean to do him harm. I relaxed my stance, letting my hands fall to my side.

"I did not come here to kill you;" I told him; "your father is looking for you. He was about to jump down the well himself to find you."

Tymvaul sat bolt upright at the second mention of Lassnr.

"My father! Does he know? Does everyone... know what I've been doing? I just wanted to study magic. Not many here approve of magic - 'a man's place is as a warrior', they say. I learned about... about the Mantle..." His eyes strayed to my pack. I swung it back onto my shoulders, noticing a frown crossing his features briefly as I did so. "The Mantle... I learned that it was here - right beneath the village... and powerful. I wanted to show them that magic is powerful: no less worthwhile than skill in armed combat." Tymvaul paused, looking at his feet. "But... that thing... something about it - it filled my head... They don't know, do they? What I've done?"

I shook my head.

"Everyone thinks you are dead;" I replied; "except your father - but he's very worried. No-one knows what's happened down here."

Tymvaul leapt to his feet.

"I must go to him! You won't ... tell him about this, will you?" There was a pleading look in his eyes.

I shook my head again, making to lead the way back to the pool where I had first entered the caves.

"It is your place to tell him;" I said, adding: "and tell him everything."

The young Nord agreed, looking relieved. He stopped me from going back the way I came, saying there was another, easier way out. I was glad to hear it: I had not been sure how to get Tymvaul back up the well.

The Nordic man lead me down a twisting ice tunnel that shortly opened out into the cold night air, behind a stand of thick bushes and several boulders. We were near the base of the steep hill leading down to the west from the Skaal Village. Tymvaul turned to me before he left.

"I am sorry, again." He said quietly. "Take that robe far away, and burn it, if you can. Thankyou for this. I owe you - everything."

With that, he sprinted off up the hill, calling out for his father. I turned and set about looking for a fairly level place to leave a magical Mark. The young Nord seemed free of whatever destructive impulses had seized him in the Rimhull ice caves, and I had other things on my mind: namely what to do with the insidious enchanted robe in my pack.

After a moment I looked back; up the hill, and saw Tymvaul running into his father's arms. Wondering vaguely what it would be like to have a father, I turned and cast my Mark, before teleporting home.

I spent the remainder of the evening in Wolfen castle's laboratory with Yanika, the assistant mage I had hired, studying the robe I had recovered. I made my suspicions about the item clear to the Altmer woman before drawing it from my pack, but her eyes still gleamed with thinly veiled desire at the sight of the faintly shimmering folds of purple fabric.

I have to wonder, though, if I did not look much the same as her right at that moment. There certainly was "something about it", as Tymvaul had said. The obvious, extraordinary power and utility of the robe's enchantments to a mage were seductive, and difficult to deny.

After a cautious and tentative examination of the robe, and a search through one of Yanika's books on magical artefacts, we determined that it was called the 'Mantle of Woe', and was fairly well-known in certain circles. In the most basic sense it made the wearer take on the aspect - and some of the powers and weaknesses - of a powerful, magical, undead being: a lich, perhaps - or a vampire. It increased one's magicka reserves to spectacular levels: many times what the wearer could store normally. It also gave one an incredible insight into the Conjuration school of magic, and the act of summoning a beast - especially an undead creature - or an item from another place. For me this had manifested itself in my visions of the bones in the ground all around me.

Those were the strengths endowed by the Mantle. The weaknesses were quite severe. The wearer, as I said, took on the aspect of an undead thing: almost literally, in fact. This is why I had originally almost mistaken Tymvaul for a revenant of some kind. The robe was obviously not something that could be worn in public. It also could not be worn in daylight - according to Yanika's book - or the wearer would burst into flames. This is what made me think the Mantle was linked somehow to a vampire.

On top of all that, the wearer would inherit the fragility of an ancient, magically animated body: he or she would be that much more vulnerable to attack or damage of any kind. The entry in Yanika's book on the Mantle speculated that the soul of a powerful lich or vampire may have been used to imbue the robe with its powers: citing the pressing influence some wearers felt upon their mind.

In summary, the Mantle of Woe was dangerous. I was unsure what to do with it. Somehow I couldn't quite bring myself to destroy it - and I was unsure what would happen if I tried to, in any case. I was certainly not about to put it to use myself; not with its questionable background - and with the way it made me feel when I merely touched it. I could not take the risk of giving it away, trying to sell it, or putting it on display in my museum. I could not risk someone else behaving as Tymvaul had done. People could get hurt.

In the end I hid the Mantle away in the castle's secret vault, taking even more care than usual to make sure no-one saw me enter or leave. As far as I was aware, I was still the only one who knew the vault existed. I did my best from then on to pretend that the Mantle was not there, but a small voice in the back of my mind told me that I had hidden it there in case I needed its power one day...