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 24, 2006

Chapter 104: Maternal

Since my 'change', my friend Folms Mirel at the Caldera Mages Guild had taken on the manner of a mildly disappointed senior relation; once asking rather pointedly if there had been nothing else I could have done to deal with my condition. Still, he continued to teleport me to the various propylon chambers on the island, if I asked. Folms was actually one of my better friends on Vvardenfell.

And so one evening, after feeding on a young man relieving himself in an alley behind a Balmoran public house (he was so far gone in his cups that I would wager he forgot me entirely upon re-entering the stuffy tavern), I asked Folms to send me once more to the Rotheran stronghold, south of Dagon Fel. This time I knew exactly where I was going, and I ran all the way there: the Sarethi Ancestral Tomb. It was there that I had manipulated my vampiric 'parents' into biting and infecting me with the... 'disease'.

I hoped to find them - and I hoped that they were not angry with me. I had so many questions about what it was to be a vampire; and who else could I ask, if not another of my kind?

The tomb was empty. There was no indication that vampires - or anyone else, besides the ashes of the dead - had ever been there. Except... there was a smell there, strong in the various dark chambers of the tomb. It was akin to a smell I had vaguely noticed, now and then, since I had become a vampire. I had not been able to discover where it came from - nor did I pay much attention to it until that night. It was not an unpleasant odour: at times I would describe it as having a familiar feeling to it.

After a moment I thought I may have solved the mystery: the smell I had noticed in the past week or so was actually myself (though it was unlike any other natural scent I had noticed myself producing), and since what I could smell in the tomb of the Sarethi family was similar, it was probably the scent of my vampiric parents!

It was true that my senses had become noticeably more acute since my change. I could now hear every syllable of a whispered conversation conducted at what previously would have been shouting distance. I could almost count the eyelashes of a person a few hundred steps away, in near-absolute darkness. I could feel the warmth of a footprint on featureless stone, and now I could smell the trail of my vampiric parents: it just had to be them.

Their trail (the strongest one, at least) lead out of the tomb and off into the wilderness to the south-west. I followed their scent across country for an hour or so; over hills and down rocky gullies, until I reached the south-western shore of Dagon Fel's island. The scent-trail continued right up to the gently lapping waves on the pebble-strewn beach, and there stopped abruptly. Across a channel though, I could see another, smaller island, with what looked like a short strip of beach at the entrance to a narrow valley. The position of the moons cast the valley into deep shadow.

If the trail of the vampires had continued in a straight line from where it left off, it would have intersected perfectly with that far beach. It was definitely worth investigating. With one great running jump (and the use of my 'Touch the clouds' spell), I soared over the water and just made it to the narrow beach, skittering slightly on the loose, wet pebbles.

It was tucked away there in that dark, narrow valley that I found the crumbling stone entrance to an ancestral tomb; 'Ashmelech' inscribed above the worn, wooden door. Several vampires - including a Nord and an Orc with tusks of gigantic size, alongside a couple of Dunmer - were seated on a grassy rise near the entrance. Apparently engaged in quiet conversation, they stared at the stars. Following their gaze, I thought I could almost see threads and streams of magicka flitting between the twinkling pin-pricks of light. Was that what they were looking at?

The small group of vampires turned to eye me with idle curiosity as I (cautiously) approached. Even if I was a vampire myself, at that point in time I had never spoken to one. Virtually every other vampire I had met had attempted to kill me - hence my trepidation. I needn't have worried, though; the Orcish vampire called out as I came near:

"What do you want, fledgling?"

Every glowing pair of eyes were on me, though they did not seem at all agitated at my presence. The same scent I had followed to that tomb - the same scent I had noticed on myself - was coming from each of the vampires before me. Actually, the odour pervaded the whole area around the tomb entrance. Many scent trails radiated out from the place, headed in all directions. Apart from making it clear that 'Ashmelech' was a central meeting place of some kind to these vampires, this meant that I had effectively lost the trail of my 'parents': it was smothered among the rest.

"Fledgling?" I remarked. "So you can tell that I'm... new, then?" The reclining vampires all nodded. After a pause, I went ahead and voiced what was at the front of my mind: "I was looking for my par... I should say, the vampires who -"

Most of the group seemed to have lost interest, returning to their vigil on the night sky - but the heavily tusked Orc interrupted me:

"Your sire? Or - do you really mean sires? ... Ah." He grunted. "So you're the one." The Orc rose to his feet, seemingly without pushing himself up. "The ones you seek came this way three nights ago - but they moved on straight away. They do not want to see you;" he said bluntly; "and you will not find them. They are looking for a place unknown to the living. They did not know where that might be, and neither does anyone here. You will have to forget them."

The vampire spoke without malice, but his words still hurt. Actually I think it was my perceived abandonment that upset me, really. I felt a sense of loss at the thought that I might never meet the two Dunmeri vampires who effectively saved me from death - final death. I had never known my mortal parents, and now it seemed I would never know my vampiric parents either.

Almost as if he read my thoughts - and saw my need for guidance - the Orc said:

"Our mother is here, fledgling. Dhaunayne Aundae." He pointed to the crumbling tomb entrance. "In the deepest chambers. If you must talk to one of us, talk to her. It is hers to say what will happen to you." He studied me for a moment longer, before adding: "And maybe she'll give you what you need."

Ashmelech was a maze, with no rhyme or reason to its twisting corridors. Whoever built it must have been quite mad. It was also very dark: I doubted I would have been able to see at all, were it not for my new vampire eyes. There were burning braziers here and there; but only a few. After what happened to the female vampire I confronted in the Reloth Ancestral Tomb, I must say I was not surprised at the scarcity of open flames in Ashmelech.

For the place was a communal home to a great number of vampires. Most were high elves, but representatives from all races were present. Not one would speak with me. As it turned out, the Orcish vampire at the entrance was marvellously friendly compared with all those below ground. As I searched for a way down to the 'deepest chambers' and this Dhaunayne Aundae, I contented myself with studying each vampire I passed. No-one seemed to mind: in fact, most conducted themselves as if I was not there at all. They all shared the same bloodless pallor and luminous eyes, but some dark individuals were obviously different.

They flit about, almost too quickly for me to even see. As I have mentioned, I was able to move much faster than I had previously - before the change - but these vampires were without compare. Brushing by them in the narrow corridors was an unnerving experience. I am sure my heart would have been hammering in my chest... if of course it had still been beating. They were powerful, powerful creatures; I could sense it. They moved without a sound, and were the ones that really made me notice how quiet it was in Ashmelech. There was little to be heard besides the occasional echoing -snap- of a closing door, or faint shuffling footsteps... a cough.

A cough?

In the time since I had ceased breathing, I had not once felt the urge to cough. Was there a mortal down there somewhere? I followed the sound to its source, and to my horror, found that there was.

A short, scrawny Bosmer wearing a slave-bracer was slumped against the wall of one of the insane, looping passages, staring into what must have been darkness to him. He could not see me. He was not the only one I saw in that tomb, either: other defeated-looking mortals were ranged throughout the sprawling corridors, some absently pressing their hands against bleeding puncture-wounds; usually on their neck or wrist. I was to learn later that the other vampires called these mortals 'cattle'. They were kept to provide the vampires of Ashmelech with a reliable source of blood - like a farmer keeps livestock.

Pushing down a cold feeling of disgust and anger, I moved on and left them behind. There was nothing I could do; not with those shadowy, supremely powerful vampires flitting about. I also still needed to know more about my new existence, and as much as their behaviour might have disturbed me, they were my new family: a bond of blood. I probably would not receive answers to my questions anywhere else.

Eventually, I dropped down a deep pit, and, at the bottom, found a sparse throne room of sorts, with a regal-looking Altmer woman in fine clothes seated in an antique wooden chair, atop a raised stone platform. Two menacing-looking vampires in black armour made to bar my way, but the Altmer woman called out:

"No, let him through. You are my new fledgling, yes?" I nodded, stopping at the base of the steps up to her platform. She peered down at me with glowing, golden-green eyes. "Well, come up here - now. What is your name?"

"Edward Frost." I replied, climbing the cracked stone steps. I could not look away from those eyes. They were like piercing beacons in the dark.

"Well, Edward Frost," she said, leaning forward in her chair, "I am Dhaunayne Aundae."

Before I knew what I was doing, I was on my knees before her, my head cupped in her golden hands. She studied my face, lingering on the crescent mark. Her gaze felt as if it would bore through my skull.

"... and I am your mother."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chapter 103: Abuse devotion

The fear (well-founded or not) that Apelles Matius and his Legion cronies might at any time decide to 'liberate' Wolfen castle from me spurred me into action. Falorn - and my guardsmen - were right: I needed to prove to the world that I could be trusted. The course chosen for me (by a bunch of scared and I daresay drunken guards - but nevertheless) was to work with the Tribunal Temple - and of course I was already member and had worked with them before... which could only help.

In fact, I had never reported to Endryn Llethan - at the High Fane in Vivec - that I had completed my pilgrimage to the Sanctus shrine. Matters on Solstheim had distracted me - and then when I returned from the frozen island...

I decided to pay Endryn a visit: straight away, before the evening grew too late. Until then I had not dared remove my armour, for fear of attack: I had not changed since before becoming a vampire... since before my three-day trek around the island, in fact. After addressing my staff I retreated to my chambers to remove the Netch and Adamantium armour suit, before washing myself quickly in the breaking waves outside the castle walls.

I appeared outside the High Fane wrapped in a dark, hooded robe - hopefully indistinguishable from any other commoner or member of the Temple who had just used Almsivi Intervention to shorten a journey. Indeed, with my tell-tale glowing eyes hidden by the robe's hood, none of the golden-armoured Ordinators stationed about the Temple took the slightest notice of me. Light was showing through the windows and around the door to Endryn's office in the High Fane, so it appeared that he had not left for home yet.

I pushed my way through the door and came face to face with the priest. Unsurprisingly, Endryn started when he saw me... but so did I. The very instant I entered the room, it felt as if I had been dumped in scalding water! In fact, smoke was starting to issue from beneath the folds of my robe: the pain was terrible. Was it Endryn's doing?

"Stop it!" I growled, grabbing hold of his arms.

But the Dunmer priest merely looked confused - and terrified.

"Wh-what?" He gasped.

I glanced over his shoulder, and immediately had to squeeze my eyes shut. Several triolithic Temple shrines in the adjoining room were visible from where we stood, but I could not even look at them: it was like staring at the sun.

Throwing the petrified Endryn over my shoulder, I burst through the door and back into the night air. The burning sensation was gone as fast as it came, leaving my skin red and raw. So that was it... I could not even pass within holy structures anymore. Perhaps I was truly cursed in the eyes of the Temple.

I had a more pressing problem though: the Ordinators on duty there did not take kindly to the abduction of one of their priests, and were bearing down on me, weapons at the ready. Calling on my new 'Touch the clouds' spell, I leapt up to the top of the High Fane, well out of their reach. From there, still with Endryn over my shoulder, I leapt high, high into the sky, to land lightly on the top of the moon 'Baar Dau', that floated uncannily just above the Temple.

I set Endryn down, but kept a hold on his wrist, in case he tried to escape and fell from the massive floating boulder. He certainly looked scared out of his mind: too frightened to speak, even. I had to use both my Calming Touch and Charm spells to relax him enough for us to talk.

"Endryn, I'm very sorry for this: but I need to talk to you."

"Frost..." the priest said slowly, "you're Edward Frost. I sent you on the Sanctus pilgrimage... what happened? What have you done?"

"I completed the pilgrimage," I replied, "but..." And I told him my story: how I had let myself become a vampire to avoid dying - and how I wanted to prove myself to everyone by continuing to work for the Temple.

Endryn began to appear more relaxed, though still obviously under the effects of my Charm spell:

"Well Sera Frost, you'll understand if I can't send you on any... sensitive assignments. The rest of the Temple would likely throw me out if I sent you to cure the diseased, or somesuch - and they would refuse to recognise your contribution, too. However... recently they have been baying for the return of a particular relic... But I must say, this is quite unusual! A vampire asking to work for the Temple..."

In any case, Endryn went on to describe the relic they wanted returned, and afterwards I levitated the both of us back down to the great stone platform the High Fane rested upon. I set the priest down behind the building, out of sight of the swarming, searching and very angry Ordinators. I teleported away, leaving Endryn to return to his office and the inevitable questions as to what had happened.

So Endryn Llethan sent me on the first of a series of dangerous assignments (or 'shows of devotion') for the Tribunal. He, and later a priestess at the Ghostgate Temple named Uvoo Llaren, sent me all over the island to retrieve 'sacred relics' that had been somehow lost in hostile territory, or somewhere deep in the wilderness. Sometimes there was no pretence of an assignment being to recover Temple property: they simply sent me to kill someone - or a group of people. It was always Daedra worshippers, and I justified it to myself by reinforcing in my mind what everyone knew: Daedra worshippers were - without exception - dangerous murderers.

Still, I knew I was being used. At least my continued acquiescence seemed to be enough for those in power in the Temple: they were actually acknowledging my contributions - though not without a certain number of vocal objectors, of course. I needn't have worried about word of my actions reaching the Imperial Legion - and Apelles Matius in particular - either: according to Falorn and other members of my staff, "Frost, the vampire who works for the Temple" was all anyone in the nearby towns and cities could talk about.

A week or so passed, and I fell into a uneasy routine. I usually slept through the day, either in the secret vault or in my chambers - with the shutters closed and the doors barred. I found that I did not actually need to sleep anymore, but there was not much else I could do when trapped inside during the daylight hours. Occasionally I would visit the various Mages guild halls, as I could teleport directly to the Balmora hall, and from there to the others. The Vivec guild hall was housed within the Foreign Quarter; so I could also range throughout that entire canton, if I wished.

Doing so was not without its dangers, though. If someone suddenly threw open a door, or a window...

My nights were spent on Temple business, usually travelling far and wide beneath the stars to retrieve some saint's 'sacred shoes' or 'blessed axe'. Each night began and ended with the hunt for someone to feed from. It was always the first and last thing I did because I was - for obvious reasons - unable to hunt during the day; meaning I passed every afternoon in a state of perpetual starvation. The stolen blood in my body really only lasted until around midday...

Was it like that for all vampires? Was that why I was attacked by those gaunt, wild-eyed vampires just before dawn all those times?

This was just one of the questions regarding my new existence that had begun to nag at me. I had begun to discover some things about my vampiric nature on my own, but there was so much I didn't know! Perhaps I could even do things I had no inkling about yet... there was no way for me to tell.

I needed answers. I had to find my vampiric parents.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Chapter 102: Trust

I think I half-expected Sirilonwe to ask that I perform some epic and difficult show of devotion - to prove that she could trust me. In the end though, she just asked for time: time in which I was nearby, perhaps working with mortals... and of course not giving in to my supposed new 'animal instincts' and hurting someone. She did not actually voice that last part - at least not in so many words - but I could tell that that was what she meant.

She wanted me close, but not too close. In short, I was to leave her alone for a while.

The Mages Guild and Imperial Cult branches on Vvardenfell had relatively close ties (they were both Imperial organisations posted in a frontier land, after all), but I was still somewhat surprised, as I left Sirilonwe's chambers, to meet Master Healer Synnolian Tunifus of the Imperial Chapel in the main hall of the guild, speaking with Archmage Trebonius. Synnolian was the man who had first explained that I was dying from the magicka leak inside my body. It was a fortunate meeting for me: I could ask him to examine me - to see if the extreme gamble of letting myself become a vampire had been worthwhile.

If I had been surprised to see Synnolian there, the ruddy-faced healer was positively startled to see me.

"By the Divines -" he gasped, his hand darting to a dagger on his belt; "a vampire!"

I kept my distance, and watched as Trebonius - who I had still never actually spoken to - whispered something in Synnolian's ear, before excusing himself and melting away into one of the guild hall's back-rooms. I noticed several other guild members follow him from the hall, throwing hooded glances my way as they went. It was fairly safe to assume that they all knew by that stage what had happened to me.

Whatever it was that the Archmage said, it seemed to calm Synnolian - at least a little: his hand left the grip of his dagger. Without preamble, I said:

"Master Synnolian, I need you to check on that leak, to see if... my recent 'change' has had any effect on it. I would consider it a great favour."

But the Imperial healer was shaking his head, saying:

"You must think me a fool, Frost, if you think I'm coming within arm's reach of you!"

"Come now," I replied, "I stand to gain from you being alive to tell me if there's anything wrong with me - I would gain nothing from hurting you... if you must think about this in mercenary terms."

I sat down at one of the tables in the hall, with my back to the healer - so that he could approach without me seeing him. I'll say one thing for Synnolian Tunifus: he was not a coward. After a moment I felt a hand on my shoulder, and saw the distinctive blue glow of Restoration magic out of the corner of my eye. Rather than a vague warmth spreading out from his hand though - like the last time - his touch stung. I would even describe it as a mild burning sensation. I think we were both relieved when he let go.

"You'll remember, Frost," I heard Synnolian say, "that I told you the magicka leak would bleed into every fibre of your being, edging out your life-force and eventually killing you in the process?"

I nodded, shifting in my seat so that I could see him. He had already retreated several steps upon releasing my shoulder.

"Well," Synnolian continued, "the leak is still there, just as it was before. However..." he paused; "you are dead. No heartbeat, no breath - no life-force."

"This means..." I began.

"This means it will no longer kill you, because you are already dead. Congratulations -" he added dryly - "you no longer have to worry about that. Oh - and you may as well take that shirt off now: its enchantment will do you no good anymore. Healing magic restores one's life-force; and since you have none... healing magic will no longer work on you."

I fingered the fine, shimmering material of my 'Keeper' shirt. It was true that since waking up in the crypt, the thing had felt a little uncomfortable; like wearing a thick, warm shirt in the scorching sun. Still, despite the worrying news that I could no longer simply heal myself if I was seriously injured, Synnolian's words brought out a feeling of intense relief.

I was no longer dying. It had been such a weight on my mind - and my spirit - for so many months...

Thanking the Master Healer warmly (though he would not allow me close enough to shake his hand), I made to teleport back home.

I spent most of the remaining daylight hours in Wolfen castle's laboratory with Yanika, the Altmer mage on my staff; enlisting her help in the creation of several new spells to make my new life - or 'un-life', rather - easier. That I could no longer heal myself was worrying me: I needed an alternative... and as horrible as it might sound, Synnolian's explanation that I no longer had a 'life-force' gave me an idea. Perhaps I could steal the life-force of another being when I was hurt, and use that energy to repair the damage!

That was what my old 'Righteousness' spell did, after all - and since the very existence of a vampire could be said to rely on stealing the life of other beings, I expected it might work. That was how Yanika and I came to make my 'Absorption Field' spell: a very powerful - but very draining - spell used at range to create a huge vortex that sapped the life from anything within it; and then transferred it to me. I was to discover later that the act of feeding on someone would also go some way to healing any wounds I happened to have - though it was not until later again that I understood why that was. In any case, for times when I was hurt and not able to feed, the Absorption Field spell would be invaluable.

After that we built on my levitation and Tinur's Hoptoad spells to create more powerful versions of each; called 'Flight' and 'Touch the clouds' respectively. With them I could fly faster and jump higher than before; and I felt ready for them... I felt nearly invincible, in fact.

Together we also created a spell that I called simply 'Sleep'; which would (ideally) render anyone I touched unconscious: allowing me to feed without struggle. It would be safer that way for both myself and my 'victim'. (I did not like calling them that, but I could not think of another word I could use and remain honest). There was also one that I affectionately called my 'Firestarter' spell, which had the power to provoke almost anyone into attacking me. I was not breaking any laws if someone attacked me, and I was merely 'defending myself'. Of course this was a complement to 'Calming Touch'; a spell I had known for some time.

With a little imagination, I think you can see how these spells might aid a vampire in the business of safely and more-or-less harmlessly drinking the blood of another - against their will. I could tell that Yanika certainly knew what I intended to use the spells for: and she showed great fortitude in both helping me and in remaining with me in that room for all those hours. My whole staff knew by then that I had returned - but save for Yanika and occasionally Falorn, I did not see a trace of them for the whole day. Ulfred was in Vivec purchasing smithing materials, and Ancois the cook had gone with him to order food; Almerie the housekeeper had apparently decided to sweep dead leaves from the castle yard... and in fact every off-duty member of the guard had conspicuously chosen to spend their free time outside - in the sun.

And so when night fell, I asked Falorn to gather all the staff in the castle yard, so that I could address them. I had waited until evening for this because the only place I could speak to everyone at the same time and not leave the walls undefended was in the yard: and I obviously could not venture out there until the sun went down. I stood in the centre of the yard, the on-duty guards ranged around the ramparts, and the remaining staff in a loose circle around me. Every person's eyes were on me.

"How many of you have met a vampire before?" My voice rang out, over the hissing and crashing waves beyond the walls. I had thought I might have to scream at the top of my voice to be heard by the guards on the far walls, but it was no strain at all. It seemed as if I could make my voice much louder than I ever could as a mortal.

As to my question, no-one answered.

"No-one then? I would suppose you've all heard a lot about them, though... In any case, most of that is irrelevant here. I am still Edward Frost; the same man I always was."

"You're no man, vampire!" One of the archers called out.

"Falorn says you want us to stay," another guard shouted, "but how can we? What if you get hungry in the dead of night?"

"Your words mean nothing now, Frost;" one of the guards gathered in the circle said; "you'll have to prove your intentions to us - one way or the other."

Almost every member of the staff nodded as this last guardsman spoke. It was undoubtedly the conclusion they had all reached during the day. I suppose I should have been flattered that they did not all simply pack their things and leave in the daylight hours. They were at least giving me a chance; though as it turned out, not much of one.

"Very well," I replied, "what can I do?"

"The Temple!" Yet another guardsman cried out immediately. "Work with the Tribunal Temple!"

This was followed by a cheer from almost my entire retinue of guards. I got the impression that they had all decided on this already - and I suppose it would have made sense to them: vampires and religious organisations were not generally seen as being on friendly terms. What better way to prove that I was different to other vampires? I'm not quite sure why they chose the Tribunal Temple over, say, the Imperial Cult... but perhaps it was because they knew - as I did - that the Temple harboured an especially intense hatred for vampires. Any priest I approached would likely instantly set the Ordinators on me.

Falorn left the circle to stand at my side, and said softly:

"I think it would be a good idea, Master Frost. Remember that more people than those you see here will need to be convinced that you are not just... an undead thing." The Bosmer groundskeeper was speaking with his eyes straight ahead, not looking at me. "Remember Mister Apelles Matius from the Legion: he wants this castle, and I believe that with the way you are now, you need to make sure he doesn't think he can just come in and 'liberate' it from some monster. This is my home: I don't want to lose it."

Falorn made a very good point. If Matius heard what had happened to me, it would probably not take him long to fabricate some story about 'an insidious vampire holding people hostage' in the castle. His superiors would be unlikely to challenge such a story, and if the Imperial Legion decided to pit its weight against me... I would certainly lose.

I did not want to lose my home either: Wolfen castle had kept me safe from many things. I clenched my teeth, and shouted out:

"Yes - very well: I'll do it!"

Under the remaining cheers and conversation of the staff, I muttered: