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 31, 2006

Chapter 107: Druscashti

The same helpful Orcish vampire I had first met outside Ashmelech directed me to the lair of the Quarra family:

"Mother is sending you to Druscashti then, fledgling? I suppose we can't be sure whether that means she has confidence in you - or she simply wants you destroyed." He gave an unnerving smirk. "In any case, Druscashti is a Dwemer ruin on the eastern ridge overlooking Foyada Bani-dad: a little way east of Khuul. It's big: you won't miss it." The Orc pointed off to the west. "Just so you hold no illusions, child; the Quarra are our enemies. They will kill you if they see you."

With that uncomfortable thought in mind, I set out to the west at a brisk pace. If the Orc's directions were accurate, Druscashti was not very far away; especially considering how fast I could now run - so I elected to go there straight away, and at least scout the place.

For an hour or so I ran through the northern Ashlands, the terrain a featureless grey blur in the dark hours after midnight. My feet made no sound on the soft, drifting ash. I thought about what Dhaunayne Aundae had asked me to do. I doubted very much that she would agree to teach me if I refused her in anything - even once - but this...

I had killed vampires before, of course: quite a number of them - but now that I was a vampire myself, would killing Kjeld be... murder? I remembered Dhaunayne's words: "... as is often the case for our kind, it is a matter of blood...". Vampires of the Aundae and Quarra bloodlines were different to one another. I was different to Kjeld, and he was my enemy. By all accounts he was a killer of mortals too, so...

I could smell Druscashti before I could see it. Or rather I could smell the ruin's occupants: sharp and foul to my nose - akin to someone who has not washed in weeks. Soon the bulbous towers of a Dwemer ruin came into sight above a rise in the ground, and I knew I had found it. Making sure that I was magically invisible first, I crept to the top of the rise to get a good look of the ruin.

There was a gentle slope leading up to Druscashti's entrance - a pair of heavy, semi-circular Dwemer doors at the base of one of the towers. The slope was littered with boulders and the huge shells of dead silt striders. A number of vampires - most dressed in a motley collection of mismatching pieces of armour - had been milling about, but now they had stopped to look around, confused. Even at that distance, my new vampiric eyes allowed me to see the reason for this: their nostrils were flaring; they could smell me.

I was committed. It was obvious that taking things slowly would not work: as I shot up the middle of the scattered vampires, still invisible, they began to call out to one another, asking if they could smell something. There were so many of them! I would have to be fast, and try not to be seen.

My invisibility was, of course, disrupted as I pushed through the Dwemer doors into the underground ruin, but I was keeping the spell at the front of my mind, so I could disappear from sight again immediately. Fortunately, I was not seen in that instant.

It was very dark inside Druscashti, but in contrast to the near silence of Ashmelech, the Dwemer ruin was very loud. It was crawling with foreign-smelling vampires, most of whom were shouting to be heard over one another, and over the constant hammering creaks, rumbles, and groans of the ancient metal structure. Strange as it might sound, the crowd of vampires was actually a help to me: coupled with the noise of the settling ruin, their loud voices served to cover my footsteps as I crept quickly from one chamber to the next. Such a number of Quarra vampires also put off quite a powerful smell, and I had hopes that my own scent would be lost beneath theirs.

Ashmelech had its dark vampires, who moved almost faster than the eye could catch, but Druscashti was home to what had to be the strongest creatures I have ever seen. These massive vampires, hidden beneath heavy, blood red armour and masks depicting snarling faces, seemed to account for half of the noise in those halls themselves. The protesting metal flooring let out a shriek or shuddering groan with every step they took. I did not want to be found by one of them.

Dhaunayne had described Kjeld to me: a Nord with icy blue - nearly white - eyes and broad, planar features. I found him (he was actually the only Nord I saw there), along with a Dunmer vampire wearing a robe, in what was evidently a small and cluttered armoury. There was only one door to the room, which I pulled shut behind me; and locked magically - the inner workings of the lock clicking into place at a jolt of Alteration magic.

Of course by this time, Kjeld and the Dunmer vampire had seen me. Kjeld roared "Aundae - here!" (his voice was near deafening), and both turned to catch up weapons from a rack on the wall. However when they turned back to me, I had vanished again.

The Dunmer gasped as I sent my 'Sleep' spell into his back with a touch, and spun to meet me - but I was again invisible, and had danced away before his wildly swinging blade could connect. It took a moment for the spell to take effect, during which time I could hear fists and weapons hammering on the door to the armoury. I had gambled on the Quarra clan's apparent scorn of magic (something else Dhaunayne had told me of), and sure enough, judging by the livid shouts coming from the other side of the door, none of the vampires there could get past my magic wards.

When the Dunmer began to sway on his feet, I reappeared next to him and, snaking my head around to his neck, tore his throat out with my fangs. I was not sure whether such a wound would destroy a vampire outright, but it certainly incapacitated him. Staggering away, clutching at his throat, the Dunmer collapsed in a spreading pool of blood.

That just left Kjeld, and he was tougher. The massive, blue-eyed Nord came at me with a cruelly spiked mace, and shrugged off the Sleep spell I threw in his face. I had to cut him down, and it was probably the first true test of my new Daedric katana. My superior speed, and the quick attacks the finely-balanced katana afforded me, are what won me that fight, I think. That Kjeld was only wearing fur armour certainly helped.

After I had beheaded the centuries-old vampire and he had turned to dust, I had a quick look around the armoury, conscious of the repeated -crash-, -crash- against the door. It sounded like one of those massive vampires I had passed in the corridor had taken to throwing his weight against it. But I was curious about the intriguing armour I had seen the vampires of Druscashti wearing. It was like nothing I had encountered before.

Soon I had gathered two different suits of finely-crafted armour into a large strongbox, along with a pair of very rare Daedric greaves. With the strongbox tucked under one arm (while I could not compete with those massive, red-armoured vampires in Druscashti, the magicka leak and my vampiric blood meant that I was still very, very strong), I thrust a finger through the Wolfen ring and teleported home.

I never discovered what happened to that Dunmer vampire I left gurgling feebly on the floor, but I was soon to learn enough about the nature of vampires to know that if the other Quarra vampires failed to get that door open, he was doomed to a slow and agonising slide into nothingness.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Chapter 106: Relations

There was less guilt this time, waking up with Sirilonwe in my arms. She had returned to me. I, who had no right to expect anything but scorn from her; for the trust I abused, and for what I had become.

But still, there she was; absent-mindedly rubbing the place on her neck where I had fed from her, an hour previously - near dawn. I suppose she had her reasons... she wanted me to stop hunting others for their blood, of course; but she had also told me that she missed me...

Perhaps it was - and could be - as simple as that. I too had desperately missed being around Sirilonwe, and there could be no denying that we had both felt something for the other from the moment we met: even discounting the various Charm spells flying about. In any case, I promised Sirilonwe that I would stop hunting; and she reaffirmed that when I became hungry, I need only come see her...

She teleported away before the sun was much above the horizon, wanting to be back at the guild hall in Vivec before any awkward questions were raised. She told me that she was unsure how the other members of the guild would react if they were to find out about us; apparently they still trusted me, but only to an extent. I could quite easily imagine how brittle that trust would be, so I did not object to such subterfuge; even if it did not make me wildly ecstatic that Sirilonwe wanted to keep our relationship a secret.

I spent a large part of the morning with Falorn, discussing in detail how we might alter the shutters on my chamber windows so that they would allow fresh air to enter the room, but not sunlight. (This was largely due to Sirilonwe having complained that my chambers were too stuffy - something I of course had not noticed, since vampires do not breathe). In the end we decided on replacing the existing shutters with ones that closed to form a sort of box over the window, with a lip extending both beyond the top of the window and below the sill. Air could therefore pass through the spaces at the top and bottom of the shutters, but the lips would prevent sunlight from entering the room. A second set of more conventional shutters on the outside wall could be closed against rain and other bad weather.

Falorn and Ulfred (the blacksmith) decided to attempt the construction of the new shutters themselves, but I made them promise to seek a carpenter if it proved too difficult. I left them to it, and went to have myself teleported to the Mages Guild hall in Sadrith Mora. I was in an expansive mood (which can safely be attributed to Sirilonwe's return). I even felt confident enough to venture outside Wolfen castle without my armour.

Since arriving on Vvardenfell, I had spent the majority of my time in armour. Some people laughed, some scoffed, some merely shook their heads and wondered aloud how I could stand to walk around all day draped in heavy metal plates and chafed by tight leather straps. For my part, I had been made so paranoid by the attempts on my life by those Dark Brotherhood assassins that I had rarely dared to remove my armour outside the walls of my castle.

However in the time since I had become a vampire, it had dawned on me that I could move faster than virtually any creature (or man or elf) I had ever encountered; save for those dark, powerful vampires I had seen in Ashmelech. I would be in little danger if I chose to go without my armour.

And so, buoyed by the comfortable thought that as long as Sirilonwe stood by me I would not have to risk myself on the nightly hunt for blood, I felt - as I said - confident enough to visit Sadrith Mora in nothing more than some fine new clothes I had bought during one of my daytime trips to the Foreign Quarter canton in Vivec. My new pants, shirt and coat were all of a deep, deep blue, and had been found in a boutique store called the 'Red Drop', located (strangely enough) in the 'Canalworks' level of the canton - only one level above the sewers.
Despite the odd location, the store - which only carried clothes for men - was home to some very fine items. I was quite taken with my new clothes. I think I also held some vague hopes that I would appear less threatening, and therefore be more persuasive, dressed in fine clothes rather than utilitarian armour.

This was important because I was going to Sadrith Mora to look into the matter of Dhaunayne Aundae's long-lost mortal son, and I expected to need to talk to a number of people to do that.

Luck was with me that afternoon. One of the regulars at the Sadrith Mora Mages Guild was Tusamircil, an alchemist - and more importantly to me - an Altmer. I showed the Aundae signet ring to him, as Dhaunayne had suggested I do; and he recognised it immediately!

"Yes," the tall and quite gaunt Altmer said, "I've seen a ring just like that on Sinyaramen's finger. He's one of my customers. I don't know if you'll have much luck speaking with him though, Frost. He has... a powerful dislike of your kind." Tusamircil paused to check whether a potion he was preparing had come to the boil yet. "Although... he did order a potion from me, and neglected to say when he might return to collect it. If you took the potion to him, you might... win him over." Tusamircil smirked, as if he did not think this at all likely; but he still handed the small, stoppered potion over.

That there was an Altmer in Sadrith Mora who wore a ring with the same family crest as the one Dhaunayne gave me was indeed quite a stroke of luck. I could not think of a better explanation for this Sinyaramen wearing such a ring than him being part of the Aundae family, somehow. If the ring had been stolen, he would not likely wear it openly - not if it bore such distinctive markings.

I returned to Sadrith Mora at dusk and walked among the massive, creaking 'fungus-houses' (as I called them), crossing the local marketplace to reach the Gateway Inn; where I had heard Sinyaramen could be found of an evening. Most of the patrons at the Inn - including Sinyaramen - were richly dressed. I was again glad that I had thought to wear my fine new clothes.

Sinyaramen was engaged in conversation with a middle-aged Imperial man when I found him. Both were holding drinks. I stood a little way behind Sinyaramen and politely waited for them to finish. The Imperial man noticed me waiting, and paled when he saw my face (as I think I have mentioned, it was quite obvious to look at me that I was a vampire). Sinyaramen turned around to see what had disturbed his companion so, and the Imperial man took that as an opportunity to make a hasty exit.

Sinyaramen appeared a little startled to see me, but did not move - or even take a step back, as many people did when they saw me. Before he could speak, I held up the potion (which had a signed note from Tusamircil attached to it) and Dhaunayne's signet ring. The Altmer looked furious when he recognised the crest on the ring.

"Where did you get that, fiend?" He demanded, eyes fixed upon the ring. He did not appear to even notice the potion. "No doubt it was taken from one of my ancestors killed by your kind!" Sinyaramen clenched and unclenched his fists, looking as if he would have very much liked to tear my head off, but was holding himself back by virtue of his common sense and survival instinct.

"Not exactly," I replied, tossing the potion to him, "but... have many of your ancestors been killed by vampires, then?"

Seemingly distracted by having to catch the potion, Sinyaramen replied automatically:

"Yes - that's what I said, is it not? Vilandon was the most recent - but that was hundreds of years ago - he was my grandfather. Kjeld." He spat the name. "Kjeld, his name was: the vampire who killed my grandfather. Friend of yours?" He asked coldly.

I shook my head.

"No," I said, "I have not heard of him." I was about to leave, thinking that I had enough to satisfy Dhaunayne, but then it occurred to me to ask: "Do you know why Vilandon was killed?"

Sinyaramen shrugged, and replied with a sneer:

"You must be a young one. My grandfather was a great vampire hunter. Killed many of your kind before Kjeld took him."

I thanked him and left, pocketing the signet ring. I saw Sinyaramen slump into a chair and take a deep draught from his drink as the door swung shut after me. Even though I had left him unharmed, the Altmer would no doubt feel quite nervous for some time: unexpectedly coming to the attention of a vampire and not understanding the reason why can't be a pleasant thing. There was not much I could do about that, though. I had decided to keep Dhaunayne's part in the affair secret. Considering Sinyaramen's attitude to vampires, it seemed best to not tell him that one of his cherished ancestors was in fact a vampire herself. Safer for all involved, probably.

"My son... dead." Dhaunayne nodded slowly - a couple of hours later, once I had found Ashmelech - and her - again.

"Yes... mother." I replied, dropping the signet ring in her outstretched, pale golden hand.

"And it was Kjeld. I know Kjeld... Brutish oaf." The vampire paused - not saying anything more for a long time. Then: "This matter is not finished, little fledgling."

I suppose I must have looked quite hopeful up to that point: I had thought I had done rather well to uncover the fate of her long-lost son, and that she would definitely teach me what I needed to know as a vampire.

"Kjeld is of the Quarra family," she continued, "who reside in the Druscashti ruin. He should be there - along with the others. They do not often leave; lazy, bloated pigs the Quarra are. They prefer to stay inside and wallow in their filth. Kjeld is as big as he is dim-witted. He is strong."

Dhaunayne gazed into my eyes, and said, without blinking:

"But you will kill him for me."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chapter 105: Concerning blood

"So, little fledgling... are you here to ask what you can do for your mother?" Dhaunayne Aundae stared at me, her vivid green-gold eyes unblinking.

"Actually," I replied, "I'm here to ask about what it is to be a vampire... I have many questions -"

"Then you will ask what you can do for your mother." The finely-dressed vampire repeated. "You are asking for guidance - for teaching; these are things I give my youngest children when they join the family. Simply being born into my blood, little monster, is not enough. Being part of my family means doing things for your mother."

There was a long pause, Dhaunayne apparently waiting for me to speak the words she wanted to hear. I studied her for a moment, thinking again how strange she looked: a vampire with striking eyes, dressed in such fine clothes and seated as if upon a throne, on a raised platform - only instead of a lavish throne room, there was nothing surrounding her but a barren, dark and empty tomb.

It did not seem as if I would receive a better opportunity to learn about my existence (nothing is free, I suppose), so:

"What can I do for you... mother?" I finally asked.

At that, Dhaunayne actually smiled, revealing a set of petite - but very sharp looking - fangs.

"Good. Now, as is often the case for our kind, it is a matter of blood. This regards my old family: my mortal family, from very long ago. When I was reborn, my... husband was killed by my sire, but my son - Vilandon - was not. I am curious to know what happened to the boy, though he has probably succumbed to the eventual failing all mortals share, by now." Dhaunayne's eyes had slowly closed as she spoke, but now they snapped open. "Still, it would amuse - and satisfy - me to know his fate."

I waited, remaining silent. If all she had for me was the name 'Vilandon', then I did not see how I could possibly find him. Fortunately, Dhaunayne was not yet finished:

"The last I heard of my old family placed them in the area that is now Sadrith Mora. Start your search there - and take this ring."

The Altmer vampire languidly tossed a finely-engraved silver ring to me.

"That -" she said, pointing to the ring that was now resting in my palm - "is my family crest. High elves have long memories. Show that to a high elf in Sadrith Mora: they should recognise it. Find out what they know, fledgling. Get information that is valuable to me. Go now."

Sure enough, the ring bore an intricate device of swirling patterns and miniscule dots. It meant nothing to me, but I could see how it would be unique.

"Very well -" I said, giving a slight bow and pocketing the ring - "and I should thank you in advance for what you shall teach me."

With that, I slipped my own ring onto my finger, and teleported home to Wolfen castle.

Finding Ashmelech - and then finding Dhaunayne Aundae - had taken quite some time. Hours had passed since my last 'meal', and I was again feeling cold and sluggish. I had intended to go hunting directly - but there, seated in front of the great hall's fireplace, was Sirilonwe.

She was alone, sitting in one of the chairs arrayed around the fire, but she was holding a goblet. It appeared that one of my staff had brought her a drink while she waited - for me.

"Sirilonwe!" I exclaimed. I had not spoken to her since the morning after my return - roughly two weeks earlier. We had exchanged glances on the occasions on which I had passed through the Vivec Mages Guild, but that was all.

"Edward..." she began, but did not move from her seat as I walked over to her; "I've been hearing a lot about what you've been doing... working with the Temple! I don't know how you managed it, but I guess it shows that you are determined to... stay with us, at least."

She did not have to clarify. By "us", I knew that she meant "mortals". There was an awkward pause - I was surprised to see her there, and did not quite know what to say. I was very happy to be speaking with her again, and did not want to scare her away (so to speak) by saying the wrong thing. Eventually, Sirilonwe broke the silence:

"I feel odd offering you a seat in your own castle, but -" She gestured that I should sit in the chair next to hers.

As I sat down, removing my heavy Netch-leather gloves and dropping them on the low table in front of the chairs, Sirilonwe made to place her goblet on the same table; and somehow, her hand brushed mine. There was a sharp intake of breath from Sirilonwe.

"You're freezing!" She exclaimed. "Or... is that just how you are, now - since..."

"I'm not always this cold." I said quietly. "I'll be alright once I've..." I faltered, seeing that Sirilonwe had blanched when she realised what I was going to say - but I finished anyway; "once I've fed."

Sirilonwe stared into the dull orange, dancing flames in the fireplace for a time, and neither of us spoke. I felt that despite my fervent wishes, I had indeed said the wrong thing. And then:

"Edward, I want you to stop hunting."

It felt like a shock through my limbs. Was she serious?

"Siri," I said slowly, "I would die - truly die. I would starve! I told you before: I feed without killing - without even wounding, in the end..."

She shook her head, a look of determination in her large, golden eyes.

"Think about how it must feel to the ones you hunt! Can you honestly say that every one of them does not think they are about to die, when you... No - you must stop. You can stop, because... you can have me."

I just stared at her, struck dumb. It seemed that I would just never, ever know what that woman would say next.

"You told me how you healed them - the ones you... drink from." Sirilonwe explained. "Well, you can heal me too: do the same thing. I can also heal myself, of course."

I found my voice, though it sounded hoarse to my ears:

"You trust me?" I had been afraid, in some ways, of being near her: afraid that I might hurt her. And now she was actually asking me to drink from her...

Sirilonwe shrugged.

"I trust that I won't be in serious danger."

I noticed several shimmering rings on her fingers - obviously enchanted. I suspected that at least one of them held power much like that of an Almsivi or Divine Intervention spell - allowing her to teleport away almost instantly, should she want to.

Sirilonwe remained seated in the old wooden chair, but indicated that I should kneel before her. She held out her wrist.

"Be careful." She said, a light tremor in her voice.

She grunted when I bit into her wrist, her whole body becoming rigidly tense. Very slowly, she began to relax. As I drank, I felt Sirilonwe's hand on the back of my head, her fingers twisting my hair into a strong grip. Ready to pull me off, I suppose... But she did not. I reached up to place my hands on her waist, sending the healing magic into her.

When I was finished, I released her wrist, and watched the wounds close up under the ministration of my healing spell. I felt a pull on the back of my head. Sirilonwe, still grasping a handful of my hair, pulled my head back so that I was looking up at her. There was a strange expression on her face.

"Carry me to your bed." She instructed. "I'm feeling a little faint."

She kissed me as I carried her up the stairwell, careful to avoid my somewhat obtrusive fangs. For my part, I think I was in something of a euphoria after feeding, and not really thinking clearly. I was more-or-less just doing as Sirilonwe said.

I set her down on my bed, and she sat on the edge, slowly undoing the straps on my armour; letting the individual pieces fall to the matted floor with a dull clunk. It took much less time to undress her.

"Alright," she said, taking me by the wrists and pulling me closer, "... be careful with those teeth..."