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 10, 2006

Chapter 98: Give it to me

On the morning after studying with Sirilonwe, I went directly to Vivec's Foreign Quarter by way of the guild guide. This of course meant that I needed to pass through the Vivec guild hall - but I did not meet Sirilonwe while there; her door was closed. She was probably still asleep.

I was headed for Jobasha's bookstore in the Lower Waistworks: the place I had previously visited in the company of the Morag Tong assassin Huleeya - one of Caius' informants. Jobasha's was the best-stocked bookstore I had ever seen, and home to an impressive collection of very rare books. I had to learn more about vampires: Sirilonwe's assertion that not all of them were mere animals driven mad by a lust for blood - and that many in fact regularly socialised with mortals - was a revelation for me.

Everyone knew the fundamentals about vampires: they were immortal - barring accidents or acts of violence - but they needed to drink mortal blood to sustain themselves. Direct sunlight made them burst into flame. And they were very powerful and dangerous.

I had previously thought them little different to other kinds of undead, like the near-mindless ghouls and zombies: not an existence anyone would want. But what if Sirilonwe was right, and one could lead something approaching a normal life (or maybe 'existence' would be a better word) as a vampire? I had to know. I did not want to die. I certainly did not want to grow old in two or three short years, and then fade away. It was as simple as that.

I asked Jobasha to point out all the books he had that contained information on vampires, and surprisingly, there were only two: 'Vampires of Vvardenfell, Volume Two', and 'Legions of the Dead'. I bought them both and teleported home to read.

'Legions of the Dead' only contained a few general points on the history of vampires in Morrowind. Apparently they were hunted to extinction by the Tribunal Temple's Ordinators and 'Buoyant Armigers' in earlier times, but more recently they were being spotted once again; and in greater numbers. The book underscored the deep hatred the Dunmer people felt for vampires, stated that a vampire's power was directly related to its age, and also drew a distinction between normal vampires and 'ash vampires' - whatever they were. That was about the extent of that book's useful information.

'Vampires of Vvardenfell, Volume Two' was a little better. It was at least more relevant - as one might expect. Intriguingly, it described vampirism as a disease: one that was somehow contracted by coming into contact with a vampire. Infuriatingly, the book did not go into detail on what kind of 'contact' was involved, only saying that once the disease was caught, there were three days in which one could be treated, and thus cured. Once three days had passed... well, it was inferred that one would become a vampire after that, but the book was quite vague on that point.

In fact, most of 'Vampires of Vvardenfell, Volume Two' seemed to be about various accounts of possible cures for vampirism - though it did mention, again, the extreme line the Tribunal Temple took against vampires - and even against study into vampirism. This probably went some way to explaining the vagueness and couched language of the book - the author did not want to risk persecution by the Temple - but it did not help my cause much.

I decided to look for the first volume of 'Vampires of Vvardenfell' in other bookstores; in case the lack of relevant information in volume two was due in part to an assumed knowledge of volume one's contents.

I was in luck: the bookstore just across the way from the Balmora Mages Guild had volume one in stock; and the book contained just what I wanted to know:

Blood. The vampirism 'disease' revolved around blood; which seemed appropriate. The disease was carried in a vampire's blood (or however much of the blood in a vampire's body could be called its own, at any rate), and so did many unique aspects and powers of the various vampires found in the land. In fact, bloodlines were so important that three separate 'clans' of vampire (the Aundae, the Quarra, and the Berne) were known to exist on Vvardenfell: each defined by the single bloodline that ran through the clan. The blood in every clan member could be traced back to a single (presumably very powerful) vampire - so a clan was a lot like a family of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers...

This led to the topic I was most interested in: how one became a vampire. According to the book, vampirism was contracted by 'wounds received from a vampire' - especially ones that became contaminated with the vampire's own blood.

So there it was: I knew how to do it - I needed only to find a vampire...

This may all sound quite shocking; I know I must sound as if I was behaving rashly... and perhaps I was. But you must understand: I was desperate - I had been for some time. Being told that you are dying can do that to you. My confession to Sirilonwe of the extent of the recent changes in my body had only increased my agitation.

In any case, I did what I did - and I did it straight away. I knew where I could find a vampire: months prior to that day, the spirit of Thynim Velos had tasked me with killing a vampire for him; that is, if I wanted to keep the 'Amulet of Scrye'. Since the only occasion on which I had actually wanted the amulet was when it was in my hand (I was sure the enchanted item had influenced my mind somehow), I had never felt inclined to go looking for that vampire. But now I had a clear path; and it led to the Reloth Ancestral Tomb, north-east of Berandas - the apparent lair of the vampire.

I barely spoke to Folms as he went about teleporting me to the Berandas stronghold; my thoughts were occupied by the formulation of a plan. The trek across the expansive grasslands of the West Gash took a number of hours, and my mind was buzzing the whole time. What if it worked, and I caught the disease? Could I really commit to the path I was on? It meant I would likely never see sunshine again... And what of my friends, and my newfound place on Vvardenfell? Would I lose it all, just to... persist in that world?

It was better than absolute, permanent death, I told myself firmly. Anything was better than that...

Eventually I found the entrance to the Reloth Ancestral Tomb, huddled among a cluster of great boulders. I paused outside to unstrap one of the Adamantium-plate bracers from my forearm, and roll up the sleeve of my 'Keeper' shirt, leaving the skin bare. My plan was decided.

Inside the tomb, my Night-eye spell allowed me to clearly see the vampire - a Nordic woman in a robe - as she rounded a corner and launched herself at me, leading with a steel short-blade. I was ready. With a well-aimed stroke, my Daedric sword cut cleanly through the vampire's weapon, sending the severed blade spinning off into the darkness. Before she could recover, I struck her hard across the mouth and nose with my remaining Adamantium bracer, causing them to bleed profusely. Quickly sheathing my blade, I grasped the vampire by the hair and, shaking her violently, forced her head down to my bare forearm - trying to antagonise her into biting it.

"GIVE IT TO ME!" I bellowed.

If she would only sink her teeth into my arm, her blood would run down into the wound, and...

But she was resisting, a look of fear and confusion in her eyes. It was not an expression I had seen on a vampire before. With a tremendous show of strength, the Nordic vampire threw me off, and sprinted away, deeper into the tomb. At an open doorway, she cast a fearful glance over her shoulder; and it was then that the tail end of her robe caught on a jutting nail from the doorframe, causing her to pitch forwards... directly onto a burning brazier.

Before I could close even half the distance between us, it was too late: her robe had gone up in flames, and there was no way to put them out. As I watched, trying to block my ears against the awful screams, the Nordic vampire was burned to ash; it took less than a minute.

Roaring in frustration and feeling like a wretched beggar scrounging for scraps, I cast about for a spatter of blood that the vampire might have left behind from my attack - I think even a speck of it on the grimy, dusty floor might have been enough for me to scrape it up and attempt to rub it into a wound.

But there was nothing.

I spent the remainder of the day trawling through every bookstore I could find, searching for another book on vampires. My despair only mounted as the afternoon wore on: I could find nothing better than the three books I had already bought: and certainly nothing that gave any useful indication where I might find another vampire.

When night fell, I again found myself at Sirilonwe's door. For obvious reasons, I had wanted to keep my plan secret - but I couldn't stand it any longer... and I could think of no person more knowledgeable on the topic of vampires than Sirilonwe.

We sat side by side on her bed, engaged in idle conversation. I cannot remember exactly what it was we were talking about: my mind was more on the matter of vampires - and on the fact that Sirilonwe had seated herself awfully close to me. Eventually though, she asked me if I had come to her for something in particular.

"Well... I was actually wondering -" I began - "does anyone know... what it's like to be a vampire?"

A faint frown crossed Sirilonwe's face for an instant, and she turned in the direction of her books, making to get up.

"I don't believe I have anything like an account written by a vampire, or by someone who has spoken with one about such things - hmm..."

"What about where exactly they can be found on Vvardenfell?" I pressed. I couldn't help myself.

Sirilonwe froze, and then turned back to me, looking very concerned.

"Oh no - Edward, please: I was only joking about becoming a vampire!" She clasped my hands between hers. "I shouldn't have said what I did last night. Look - vampires are... dead things! They need to take the blood of living things into their bodies to keep their dead limbs moving. You cannot want something like that!"

"Please, Sirilonwe!" I replied, gripping her hands in mine. "It may not be something you can understand... you're an elf: you will live for a long time. But for us... for me... I'm dying. Please: I need to know."

Before I knew what was happening, my Charm spell - which had been rising, almost unbidden, in my arms - leapt across into Sirilonwe's hands. My heart lurched as I saw her expression and her posture soften: I could see that she might actually tell me what I needed to know - but at the same time, I had Charmed - magically manipulated - someone I knew I felt something for - someone I cared about.

"Well, I suppose you are your own man -" Sirilonwe said, a serene tone entering her voice - "and you deserve to make your own decisions." She paused, her hand leaving my own, and travelling slowly up my arm. "And in any case, it's not something you can't hear from any old sailor in a public house... Do you know the wild lands up in the Sheogorad, west of Dagon Fel? Lots of vampires have been seen around there."

Sirilonwe reached across with her free hand to grasp my other arm.

"But really, you should forget about it." She chided, leaning in closer and closer. This time she was definitely not studying the crescent mark on my face. "Here... let me help you..."

And with that, she lay back on her bed, pulling me down after her. I couldn't stop myself.

She may have been the one under a spell, but in the end it was I who could not resist.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Chapter 97: On the way out

"A scamp? Only a scamp?" Guild Steward Edwinna snorted. "I suppose we should be thankful it was nothing worse, but really; I don't see that they needed to run to me about such a piffling thing. Anyway, Edward; thankyou for looking into it."

It was relatively early in the morning, and I had just finished describing to Edwinna how the 'disturbance' on the edge of Maar Gan had been due to Huleen's apprentice experimenting with Conjuration magic. The early hours clearly did not agree with the Steward: she looked as if she had spent half the previous night buried in a book, rather than her bed. I was fairly sure I knew which book it was, too.

"Here: I'll need you to return this to Sirilonwe." Edwinna said, dropping 'Chimarvamidium' into my hands. "It wasn't about a Dwemer construct after all; can you believe it? Just a clutch of men talking about armour, wars and surprise attacks." She rolled her eyes. "In any case, I think I have something else you can do for me, if you'll come see me after you've returned that?"

I nodded and departed with the old book, flicking through its pages as I made my way to the hall's guide platform. It did indeed seem to be an account of a conversation between a group of warlords in ancient times, as they planned an attack of some kind - that's all I gathered from the few small sections I skimmed through, at any rate. My mind was more on Sirilonwe. I was very glad that Edwinna had finished with the book so quickly: I could not have hoped for a better excuse to visit the silver-haired Altmer at the Vivec guild hall again.

She was just sitting down to breakfast in the dining chamber when I arrived. There was an early-morning chill in the air, and the tall elf was wrapped in a warm-looking black and white coat. As soon as her striking golden eyes met mine, she flashed a brilliant smile and invited me to join her. For the first time, I was almost thankful for the strange way in which my appetite had been behaving the previous few weeks.

To put it simply, I felt hungry far less often than I used to - on most days. On some days, though, I would feel a hunger so sudden and intense that I almost could not bear the time it took to get food into my mouth. Of course in the time since the magicka leak had sprung up inside me, my body had developed all sorts of odd idiosyncrasies. My drastically increased strength and grace, my mysteriously transformed face, and my accelerated aging obviously being the most drastic of these. I sometimes wondered whether the other myriad little things my body had begun to do were in some way caused by the magicka leak, or whether they were simply all part of growing old, and I was suffering many of them all at once.

In any case, my lack of appetite that morning meant that I had not yet had breakfast: so I could (relatively) comfortably sit with Sirilonwe and make myself eat something.

"You have finished it already?" Sirilonwe took 'Chimarvamidium' from me, and instead of resting it on the dining table as I would have expected, laid it across her lap, out of immediate sight. I guessed that she must have been somewhat protective of the book; and that was why Edwinna had seemed to hint that I might have needed to steal it, rather than ask for it directly. "Did you find it interesting?"

"I... well -" I struggled, my mind racing -"it wasn't quite what I was expecting... the same for Edwinna, too: she thought it would contain more on... Dwemer constructs. Historical accounts from so long ago are always interesting, though."

I think I almost noticeably sighed in relief. Sirilonwe smiled in such a way that indicated to me that she might indeed have noticed - but soon we were deeply engaged in conversation, just like the previous day. For the most part, we had the room to ourselves: members of the Mages Guild were known for retiring to - and rising from - bed quite late. I did, however, notice Trebonius Artorius, the Archmage of Morrowind, pass by the entrance to the dining chamber several times. On the second occasion - and the third, too - I distinctly saw the leader of the guild throw a decidedly odd look the way of Sirilonwe and myself.

Sirilonwe seemed to be studiously ignoring the Trebonius' presence each time, but her sweeping eyebrows were crinkling together slightly whenever he came near. I opened my mouth to ask about the Archmage (I had never spoken to him myself), but Sirilonwe merely shook her head gently, stopping me. Soon we were talking about something else.

Once we had finished our leisurely breakfast, she asked me to come visit her again.

"Come this evening, if you are able;" Sirilonwe said, gracefully brushing a few bread crumbs from her coat; "or the next would be fine, too. I have some books I think you would be interested in."

She would not be drawn further, only repeating that I would have to return that night to find out. So, reluctantly I left the Vivec guild to see what it was Edwinna had in mind for me.

"All I need, Mister Frost, is a Dwemer tube." The Ald'ruhn Guild Steward said, tapping a rough illustration of a glass cylinder, capped with metal at either end. "My research can't properly continue without one."

I glanced down again at the illustration in Edwinna's book. I could only assume that it was a pale reflection of the real item, as the tube did not look all that significant to me.

"Now, I remember seeing several in 'Arkngthunch-Sturdumz' a while back -" Edwinna continued, sounding out the difficult Dwemer name slowly - "why I didn't just take one while I was there, I do not know." The Steward looked irritated. "Ark - Arking... the ruins are on the coast west of Ald Velothi - or if you're more familiar with Gnisis, just head north-west from there. I can't think of a better place to look."

Again, it was a more interesting task than scouring bookstores or delivering potions - and it seemed a good way to pass the time until the evening, when I could see what it was Sirilonwe had been talking about. I accepted.

Folms teleported me to the Berandas stronghold, just south of Gnisis, and I struck out to the north-west from there. The region between Gnisis and the ruin was extensively scored by rocky gullies; like certain parts of the Ashlands, only these were shallower, more frequent and more narrow. A multitude of hanging rope bridges were slung across the many gullies, making my progress much easier than it may have been.

Still, the uneven terrain made it difficult to see my way, and it was mid-afternoon by the time I found the ruin. There is not much to say about Arkngthunch-Sturdumz: it was very much like Arkngthand; the place where Hasphat Antabolis sent me to retrieve the Dwemer 'puzzle-box'. I found a tube of the sort Edwinna wanted; and it looked every bit as unremarkable as the illustration she had shown me.

Steward Edwinna was nowhere to be found when I returned - which was odd - so I left the tube on her desk and returned to Wolfen Castle to wait for the night to come. There was no doubt. I had only met her the previous day, but I could not get Sirilonwe of Dark Copse out of my mind.

When the time finally arrived, I found her in her chambers, bent over several open books on her desk. Without a word, she motioned me over and indicated that I should read. The books were all hand-written by different people, and looked very old. Each, I soon discovered, was open to a passage on the subject of lengthening one's lifespan through magic.

I saw immediately what she was doing: she, like many (probably all, actually) in the guild, knew of my fatal condition - and she was trying to help me. I glanced up to find Sirilonwe smiling lightly - and I realised that I was smiling too. We settled in to read - her at the desk, and I seated on the edge of her bed...

... But after a time it became apparent that every passage referred only to alleged processes and rituals for elves - and no-one else. The human races, it seemed, were stuck with their already short time in this world.

"I'm so sorry, Edward;" Sirilonwe said, coming to sit on the bed next to me; "I began to find all those books that mentioned longer life, and..." The Altmer woman trailed off, and there was a sombre pause before she went on. "I know you don't like to talk about it, but - I heard about your... condition. Can I ask: what's it like? Are you really aging so quickly? I mean - can you feel yourself aging?"

I was surprised.

"It's not that I mind talking about it -" I replied - "I merely... I don't know. It seems like no-one can help me, so it would be maudlin of me to talk about it overly much."

After a moment, I said:

"My hair stopped growing a month or so ago - I think. I'm not sure when it was, exactly. I don't need to shave anymore; which is something, I suppose!"

I attempted a grin, but nothing much happened. Sirilonwe looked shocked - and to tell the truth I felt a little shocked too, at hearing myself say such things aloud. I mostly did not permit myself to even think about things like that. I found that I was staring down at my knees, feeling slightly embarrassed at what I had just said, for some reason.

"Oh - you poor thing." Sirilonwe sighed, reaching over to part the curtain of hair that had fallen in front of my eyes; and at the same time revealing the glowing crescent-shaped mark that crossed my brow, eye and cheek. "May I?" She asked, staring at the curious mark.

I nodded slightly, and she leaned in very close, studying the blotchy, luminescent patch of skin. I could feel her breath on my face, and the moment seemed to hang there for a long, long time. Eventually she drew back, sighing.

"Again - I'm sorry, Edward. I thought I could help, but..." she shook her head slowly - "I really can't think of anything. Unless - " she added with a faint smile - "you wanted to become a vampire."

She meant it in jest, obviously - and that was the way I took it.

"Oh come now, be serious." I said, the corners of my mouth twitching upwards despite myself. "I've met a number of vampires. Mindless beasts, all of them."

Sirilonwe appeared mildly ruffled at this.

"They're not all like that, actually. I told you I study spirits and the undead - well, I've read about a lot of vampires that actually socialise with mortals. There are a lot of rumours about the Mages Guild on the central mainland, actually. And: vampires do not age. So it's not that silly an idea." She said, slapping me playfully on the arm. I could tell by her tone that despite what she said, she was still joking about the idea of becoming a vampire.

We went on to speak about vampires for a while longer: I told her about those I had turned to dust, and she told me about past important members of the Imperial government who were said to have been vampires. The hour grew late, however, and frequent yawning pauses in our conversation indicated that it was time for me to leave. We stood for a moment looking at one another, until Sirilonwe suddenly reached out and drew me into an embrace, again breathing something that sounded like "poor thing".

I hesitated, leaning back. Her height made a close embrace somewhat awkward for me - especially since I was unsure exactly how our relationship stood. After an instant though, I gave in and left myself be drawn close - my head between her breasts. She was certainly very tall.

Once in my chambers at the castle, I lay awake for a long while, despite the late hour.

A vampire. Sirilonwe had set off a spark in my mind.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Chapter 96: A good day

Body armour is almost never comfortable. It's heavy, it pinches and digs into your skin, and it limits your movement. Were it not for my enchanted 'Tireless' belt and the artificial strength I developed since the accident with the crescent-moon 'emblem', I doubt I would have been able to walk around in armour all day as I had become accustomed to. Still, it felt good to be rid of that smelly bearskin armour, and back in my favoured Netch and Adamantium. Part of that was probably due to relief at again being behind metal plates that could actually stop blades. The fur armour had kept out the cold, but not much else.

It was the morning after my return from Solstheim, and I was keen to see that whole business brought to a close. I used Wolfen castle's 'teleportation pillar' (for want of a better name) to reach the Balmora Mages Guild, and there asked Masalinie to send me on to Ald'ruhn. Louis Beauchamp and I had arranged to leave for each other with Steward Edwinna; and she told me that I could probably find him at the Ald Skar Inn - he had been renting a room there. I was a little surprised that Louis had actually struck up the nerve to speak to a woman, given his personality - and his drive to possess the Amulet of 'Infectious Charm'. Perhaps it helped that Edwinna paid very little attention to the world outside her books.

Sure enough, I found Louis sitting down to breakfast in the Ald Skar common room. I sank into a chair opposite him, and dropped the airship captain's journal next to his plate. The wizard looked up at me, startled. I held up the amulet I had taken from Hrothmund's Barrow, and his eyes fixed upon it.

"Is that..." he croaked. "Is that...?"

I pointed to the journal.

"Read that first."

I waited while he bent over the book to read, watching his face. He paled slightly when he saw Roberto Joduin's name on the journal, and the rest of the colour drained from his cheeks as he turned the pages. He looked back to me, moving slowly. Unwilling to make eye contact, he focused on the space just next to my head. He looked so stricken that I knew there wasn't much I really needed to say.

Getting back to my feet, I dropped the Amulet of Infectious Charm on the open pages of the journal.

I hope," I said quietly, "that you find that this was worth it." I headed for the door.

Louis caught up with me at the exit, and pressed a large pouch of coins into my hands. He was surprisingly well-spoken:

"I am sorry about the loss of life on my airship." He said in a quiet voice. "I will notify the families of the crew-members... and I will take full responsibility."

I noticed the amulet was clenched tightly in his hand, and glowing oddly. The wizard gestured at the sizeable number of drakes he had given me.

"I promised to pay you for delivery of the amulet, and for information on my crew, so... take that. You have my thanks for the trouble you went to."

It was about the best I could have hoped for, I suppose; given the circumstances. Nothing could bring those crew-members back; but at least Louis was willing to take responsibility for dealing with their families. I returned to the Guild Hall.

When directing me to Louis, Edwinna had added that she had another job I could do for the Guild, if I was interested; and to come speak to her about it once I had finished with Beauchamp. Doing some work for the Mages Guild seemed like a good way to occupy myself while I decided what to do about Caius, so I went to see what she wanted.

As it turned out, all Edwinna had for me was another simple fetch-and-carry task: another book for her research into the Dwemer people. She wanted a rare book called 'Chimarvamidium', which was in the hands of someone at the Vivec branch of the guild: an Altmer named Sirilonwe. Edwinna seemed to hint that I might need to 'borrow' the book without Sirilonwe finding out about it - but apart from that, it sounded like another dreary errand better suited to an apprentice.

However, this was the third task that Edwinna had set me, and you may remember that I mentioned that this third task actually led to something quite significant...

The Vivec branch of the Mages Guild was its headquarters on Vvardenfell, but I had never spent much time there. I had learned spells from several of the members there; but as to the rest of the Vivec branch regulars, I couldn't put names to faces.

Sirilonwe was part of the latter group, but she recognised me as soon as I stepped into her chambers:

"Oh - hello!" She stood up from her desk. "Edward - Edward Frost!"

I was surprised - though perhaps I should not have been, given the curiosity that had followed me since the mysterious transformation of my face.

"Oh... yes..." I fumbled; "nice to... meet you."

"Sorry;" she said, smiling slightly; "I've seen you passing through the hall before - and everyone talks about you, so..." She paused, before extending a hand. "I am Sirilonwe of Dark Copse."

I clasped her hand for a moment. It looked very small in my own gloved hand. The illusion was especially noticeable because Sirilonwe - like all Altmer (or 'High-Elf') people - was very tall. She rose more than a full head above me.

Sirilonwe was really quite striking, actually. She had long silver hair down to the middle of her back, golden skin, and golden eyes. But her eyes! They were the largest, most expressive eyes I had ever seen on an Altmer woman: indeed on anyone. The skin around her eyes was darkened, almost as if it begrudged their amazing size. She wore a very long, deep red dress - the same colour as her lips.

I suppose I must have been staring, because Sirilonwe awkwardly went on:

"Yes... everyone talks about the things you've done for the guild, and how you came to own that castle - and about other things, too." I felt her eyes upon the crescent-shaped mark on my face, its glow peeking through the locks of hair I habitually let hang across it like a curtain. "Still, we haven't heard much for a while... What have you been up to?" She cocked her head, regarding me steadily with those eyes.

And somehow, I found myself telling her: nearly everything. I told her everything that happened on Solstheim: the cold, the bargains with Captain Carius, the vicious weapons smugglers, the death of all those soldiers in the attack on the fort, my role in healing many of them, my search across the island for the missing airship crew, Tymvaul and the Mantle of Woe, the final discovery of the fallen airship... and always, always the constant fighting.

I went further and further back over the things I had done since arriving in Morrowind (though I left out Caius, my release from prison, and the whole business with the Blades). Killing Daedra for the goddess Azura, and her gifting me with 'Azura's Star' (I showed Sirilonwe the many-pointed soulgem), the story of the Guardian in Wolfen castle, the work I had done for both the Imperial Cult and the Tribunal Temple...

Sirilonwe seemed to find the fact that I had worked for two competing religious orders interesting, and asked how this had come about. I told her that I found aspects of both doctrines interesting, and believed that both the Cult and the Temple did good things - and that prompted her to believe that my apparent impartiality there meant that I had an obvious scholarly bent. She began to tell me of her own studies. She was quite interested in all sorts of creatures; especially the differences in the way they thought and conducted their lives. From the aquatic Dreugh to the Bosmer or Breton - even spirits and the undead; she studied them all, with the common thread of trying to understand the differences in the way they thought.

She became quite animated as we spoke. Before I realised it, we had passed hours in conversation. I had become accustomed to not speaking at length with any one person: what with my time alone in an Imperial prison cell, and the amount of time I generally spent way out in the remote wilderness. I hadn't really noticed before - and it had never bothered me - but just then, looking across at Sirilonwe, I realised I was missing something.

Eventually, Sirilonwe stood up.

"I need to go to lunch now... Oh!" The Altmer woman gave a sheepish grin. "Was there something in particular you wanted from me? I'm afraid I distracted you..."

It didn't even occur to me to lie. I asked her if I could borrow 'Chimarvamidium'; to look through it with Steward Edwinna.

"You're working with her now, then? Not many people stay with Ranis very long, I must say." She gave me a wink, and fetched an old-looking book from a drawer. "Well, here: I don't mind, if it means you have a reason to come back and see me again."

With another bewitching smile, Sirilonwe handed the book to me.

"So hopefully it won't take long for you to finish." She added.

I too had a smile on my face as I left, and went to ask to be teleported to the Ald'ruhn guild hall. I was unsure what to think about my hours-long conversation with Sirilonwe... but I wasn't stupid. I knew something had passed between us.

"Ah - good. Excellent." Edwinna said, taking 'Chimarvamidium' from me. "Now, I'm sorry to put this upon you so suddenly, but we've had word of a disturbance in the home of Huleen, a Mages Guild member in Maar Gan. I really should send someone to investigate, and you -" she rapped her knuckles on my Adamantium breastplate - "are certainly dressed for the occasion. This will count as another official task for the guild. Are you able to look into it right now?"

I accepted without hesitation; it sounded a welcome change of pace from book-delivery.

In a few minutes, I was on the 'roof' of the Falasmaryon stronghold, tucking my Master Index back into a pouch at my belt. Folms always made time to teleport me to the propylon chambers, no matter what he was doing - something I greatly appreciated. The sun was shining and there was no wind to whip up the layers of ash on the ground. After battling the elements on Solstheim for a few days, it was a joy to see fine weather again. The clear weather made the journey from the Velothi stronghold to Maar Gan take much less time than it had previously, too.

Once in the small village, I was directed to Huleen's dwelling; a small Redoran-style hut on the south-eastern edge of town. Apparently all Edwinna had been told was that there was a 'disturbance' at the hut, and that was all. No word on exactly what kind of disturbance. I hovered outside the shell-shaped hut for a moment, listening - but there was only a deathly silence from within.

With my blade drawn, I cautiously pushed the door open - and was immediately set upon by a small brown scamp, that began to hammer frantically on my Adamantium greaves with an iron shortsword. The creature had been lurking quietly on the other side of the door. I think I was too used to Creeper: I actually considered, for an instant, grabbing the scamp and carrying it out into the wilds, before letting it go. I was wearing strong Netch-leather gloves, after all.

However, scamps were considered one of the 'Bad' Daedra, and this one showed it when it discovered the area at my knee that was not protected by an Adamantium plate. When the thing almost succeeded in stabbing me in the back of the knee, I had to end it. The scamp was dead in a single stroke.

I searched the few rooms of the hut afterwards. The place was in disarray: furniture toppled over, clothes strewn about, pages torn from books - that sort of thing. Huleen was nowhere to be found, but in a locked storeroom I did find Listien; Huleen's apprentice. He was completely naked.

"You killed it? Oh, thank the gods!" The young Breton man pushed past me and started looking for something among the wreckage. "I... just wanted to show Huleen that I'm not useless! I summoned the scamp, but it tricked me! It started tearing the place apart, and it took my clothes - I had to hide in the storeroom."

Listien straightened up, a pair of pants in his hands. He was staring at them with a horrified expression on his face. A hole had been chewed through the seat, as if the scamp had tried to wear them as a top, and had not been able to find the hole where its head should go. Despite myself, I began to laugh - and though I felt a little sorry for Listien, I couldn't stop. I couldn't remember the last time I had actually laughed out loud. Most of what had happened to me since arriving on Vvardenfell had been no laughing matter - and my time in prison before that was obviously nothing to chuckle over either.

But right then? It had been a good day.