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, April 07, 2006

Chapter 110: Partner

"Siri, think of it this way: what if you met someone whose job - whose purpose in life - was to kill every high elf he met?"

Sirilonwe and I had been arguing for some time about my... disposal - of the vampire hunter. I was not apologising for what I had done - there was little point. And I was not sorry.

"I would have him thrown in chains - taken away!" She retorted, the shadows under her eyes looking particularly deep. The hour was late. "I would not simply kill him!"

"I think you can see that it cannot be like that for us." I said softly. "What authority would imprison a vampire hunter for attempted genocide? I did it to protect my... the other vampires at..."

And then I had to tell her where I had been for the last few nights. Somehow I had avoided the topic until then, afraid of her reaction to my spending time with other vampires. With good reason, it seemed. She was horrified at my tale of Ashmelech, and of my new 'mother', Dhaunayne Aundae.

Again though, Sirilonwe was prepared to give me a chance where I did not expect I deserved one. I considered myself blessed to have found someone like her.

"You've been in the company of dead things too much in the past weeks, I think... It's time to work again with mortals, Edward. Those... vampires you were with are not going anywhere - and certainly aren't getting any older - and the Temple just sent you out to kill things night after night... It's time to be among us again. Come work with me at the guild."

I think in her mind she wanted to keep an eye on me, and act as a more 'positive influence' on me. I did not mind at all - the idea was much more palatable than the alternative: Sirilonwe leaving me. I agreed right away - to Sirilonwe's relief:

"Good;" she sighed; "let's talk about it more in the morning. I'm tired."

She led the way up the stairwell to my chambers, pulled her dress off on the way to the bed, and was asleep in minutes. I joined her presently (after checking that the shutters and doors were securely closed), and forced myself into sleep.

Over breakfast (Sirilonwe's breakfast, anyway) in Wolfen keep's dining hall, we discussed our plans. While an environment of competition and professional jealousy among Mages Guild members meant that most of those members tended to work alone, it was not unheard of for two or more members to work together. Sirilonwe said she would adjust to sleeping through part of the day so that we could both go out at night, if our allotted tasks required us to go outside.

Sirilonwe having assured me that going to Archmage Trebonius to ask what work we could do was a bad idea, we teleported across to the Ald'ruhn guild hall to see Steward Edwinna Elbert. Edwinna seemed happy to be asked:

"Yes, there is something..." she began, closing the book she had been reading, but leaving a finger in between the pages to keep her place; "a colleague of mine - of ours, I suppose I should say - Senilias Cadiusus, is heading the Imperial research expedition to the 'Nchuleftingth' Dwemer ruin. He is supposed to send a report on the excavation once a month - but this month's report has not arrived... it is long overdue, in fact. I'll need you to travel to Nchuleftingth, and find out what's happening there."

The Steward looked from Sirilonwe to me.

"Going together, are you? Well, Nchuleftingth is in Molag Amur, so two people are certainly safer than one." Edwinna shot me a not-entirely-trusting glance. "Not that you need it, Frost."

As we made to leave, Edwinna drew Sirilonwe aside for a "word in private". Afterwards, Sirilonwe rejoined me with a light frown on her face.

"She does not trust you." She said levelly. "She does not like the idea of us travelling together, alone, in the wilderness."

This was, of course, true of virtually everyone in the guild. No-one really trusted me much anymore.

"Do you think they - she - would trust me if they knew we were together?" I asked quietly.

"I think they would not trust me, if they knew that." Sirilonwe replied darkly, as we prepared to teleport back to Wolfen castle (she had placed her magical Mark in the keep's great hall earlier that morning).

As Steward Edwinna had hinted, the volcanic Molag Amur region was a dangerous place - especially at night. I engaged Sirilonwe in serious conversation about what we would do if we encountered resistance during our travels. She did not seem concerned about the prospect of danger; in actual fact I was surprised to learn that she owned a rare Daedric blade of her own: a wakizashi hidden in her chambers at the Vivec Mages Guild.

"I have not always been a library-bound scholar, Edward." She said with a smirk, at my astonished expression. "You do not even know how old I am!"

This was true. Age was often difficult to judge when it came to elves. She could have been three or four times my own age, for all I knew. I had better sense than to ask her age right then, at least.

So, Sirilonwe had a fine weapon she could lay her hand to, and she assured me that she was an excellent student of the Destruction College of magic - nearly as good as the Archmage, in fact. She did not have any armour hidden away in her chambers, however, so I took her through my small museum of arms and armour to see if we could find something suitable. My collection (all of it functional) had grown considerably in the past months, and now incorporated (among others) Orcish plate, ancient Dwemer armour, the 'Vampire Ancient' armour, the enchanted snow-wolf fur from Solstheim, a few select pieces of Daedric plate, and...

"The glass armour..." Sirilonwe breathed - "that would be perfect."

She chose the green volcanic glass armour: the best 'Light-classification' armour in the museum - and also one of the most rare and expensive sets out of all the armour I owned. The suit was complete save for a pair of bracers or gauntlets and a helmet. I had seen both these things for sale at the Tower of Dusk at Ghostgate (during my visits there on Temple business), but had been unable to really justify the tremendous expense; until Sirilonwe chose the glass armour for her use. She was insistent that we go to Nchuleftingth together, and I would not have her hurt along the way.

So we spent most of the early afternoon discussing precisely what we would do if we were attacked during our journey, while Ulfred fitted Sirilonwe for the glass armour. I also fetched my old water skins from one of the storerooms for Sirilonwe to use. I did not really become thirsty anymore - except (obviously) for blood - so I had not needed them since my change. Sirilonwe slept through the late afternoon, until the sun set, so that she would not be too tired for us to depart that very evening.

After dusk we had ourselves teleported to Ald'ruhn, before setting out for Ghostgate to buy the remaining pieces of the glass armour set. We flew along the steep and winding path between the settlements, Sirilonwe magically empowering her legs to run faster so that she could keep up with me. In the Ashlands at night, especially so close to the Ghostfence and Red Mountain, faster was safer.

The Buoyant Armiger outpost in the Tower of Dusk at Ghostgate never slept. Someone was always on duty to guard the gate against the beasts from Red Mountain. So; there was no trouble purchasing a pair of glass bracers and a helmet from the quartermaster there, especially since I gave the money to Sirilonwe and had her make the transaction. I kept a low profile around Buoyant Armigers. After all, along with the Temple's Ordinators, they were the group responsible - in earlier times - for driving the vampires of Vvardenfell to apparent extinction.

The armour pieces were as expensive as I had remembered: nearly thirteen and a half thousand septims! At least the quartermaster also included his adjustment of the bracers and helmet to fit Sirilonwe in that price.

It was still well before midnight by the time we were finished at Ghostgate, so we decided to make for Nchuleftingth that night. After a great deal of teleporting about (from Ghostgate to Wolfen castle, to the Balmora guild hall, to the Caldera guild hall, and finally to the Telasero stronghold's propylon chamber), we were as close to Nchuleftingth as we were going to get without using our legs. We had discovered earlier that both of us could be sent to the Balmora guild hall by Wolfen castle's 'teleportation pillar': it was as simple as having Sirilonwe hold my hand when I touched the Wolfen ring to the pillar. Both Masalinie (the Balmora guild guide) and my friend Folms were habitual night owls, so they did not mind teleporting us to Caldera and Telasero (respectively).

We did not linger at the Telasero stronghold. I had told Sirilonwe about my previous visit to that awful place... And though I had previously learned from Folms that members of the Temple had been dispatched to cleanse Telasero (in more ways than one), I could still smell the stench of blood, infection and rotting corruption - even from outside. I don't think Sirilonwe could smell it. I would rather have not travelled via Telasero at all, but one of Sirilonwe's maps had shown the precise location of Nchuleftingth - and leaving from Telasero was obviously the most efficient route to take.

In Molag Amur, the night was especially dark. The sky was overcast, and the air permeated by drifting smoke and steam from the bubbling pits of mud dotting the volcanic landscape. I could see much better than Sirilonwe of course, and led her on a safe route through the unstable region. At one point I saw a curious 'beast' (for want of a better word) off in the distance. At first it looked like a pile of boulders, half covered by windblown ash and dirt. As I watched, though, the boulders rose from the ground, ash sloughing off their surfaces as they grouped together into a rough man-shape. The thing lumbered slowly off into the gloom, and I said nothing of it to Sirilonwe.

Apart from a couple of aggressive alit and kagouti, we encountered nothing particularly dangerous on the journey... until we neared Nchuleftingth.

I had just spotted the bulbous top of a Dwemer tower and was turning to tell Sirilonwe when I saw them: two ghostly blue shades with white, indistinct, shimmering scythes. They were standing just behind her, their diffuse, glowing scythes raised to strike.

"Get down!" I shouted, dragging my blade free of its sheath and leaping towards her.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Chapter 109: Self-preservation

Now that I was considered part of the Aundae family (or 'clan'), more of the vampires residing in Ashmelech were willing to speak with me. I was somewhat surprised to learn that several vampires there offered goods for sale, though perhaps I should not have been. Who else could most vampires purchase things from? The items I found most interesting were not the sort of things that would likely be available outside a den of vampires, either...

They were glass vials and bottles that had been enchanted in such a way as to keep any blood placed within them as fresh and warm as if it had just left the body. Some of the vials were enchanted to keep a vampire's own blood fresh, and others were designed to store the blood of mortals - as vampire blood is obviously quite different to mortal blood. In short, the highly-priced bottles were intended to be used in an emergency - as an alternative to restorative potions. Since healing magic does not work on the undead, these vials were an elegant, yet simple, solution to a difficult problem for vampires:

One of the things I had learned from Dhaunayne was the reason why drinking fresh blood actually heals a vampire's wounds: an injured vampire will actually heal gradually over time - we regenerate, in other words. Unless a vampire is very old and powerful though, this process is so slow as to be essentially imperceptible; unless helped along by the substance all vampires need in order to persist in this world: fresh blood. Hence why glass vials of preserved blood could take the place of healing potions for a vampire.

Glass - white glass, as opposed to the stronger green volcanic glass - may seem like a poor choice of material for an item that would likely be carried into battle, or other dangerous and physically demanding situations; but I was told that no other (readily available) material would hold the required enchantments as well as the white glass did. In any case, I bought a number of the vials; of both the 'vampire-blood' and 'mortal-blood' varieties. Since I was keeping my word to Sirilonwe and not hunting any more, I did not know when I would actually have the opportunity to fill the mortal-blood vials... perhaps if I kept some empty ones on my person, in case I was attacked...

My own blood though - that was my own to spill as I pleased: with my sharp-tipped fangs, I neatly sliced my wrist open and let the blood run into one of the vampire-blood vials. It took a very long time (or so it seemed to me) to fill; leading me to the discovery that the vials were also enchanted to hold much more than they appeared to. I felt weak afterwards, and had to pay Sirilonwe a late-night visit to restore my lost blood.

In the morning I asked to be teleported to the Ald'ruhn Mages Guild. The more I thought about the vampire hunter who had been driven from Ashmelech, the angrier I became. I was reminded of how I felt about the Dark Brotherhood assassins, actually - and about whoever it was that had purchased the contract on my life from them. As far as I was concerned, anyone who would seek me out - would hunt me - with the intention of killing me, when I had done nothing to them... well, they deserved death.

In my mind, this vampire hunter was guilty of attempting a kind of genocide, and though I may have hesitated at first, when I arrived in Ald'ruhn I was decided: I would kill him, in just the manner Dhaunayne requested.

My problem was that I only had a vague description of the vampire hunter, and did not even know his name or where, precisely, I might find him in the town of Ald'ruhn. I asked around the guild hall (receiving some very suspicious looks for my trouble), and it was the inscrutable Argonian Heem-La who had just the information I needed. Heem-La, I learned, habitually sat under one of the thick volcanic glass windows near the hall's main entrance, and from his vantage point saw everyone who passed by in the street outside the guild. The vampire hunter was apparently somewhat famous; Heem-La knew him by name:

"Ano Vando?" Heem-La rasped. "That one usually passes by in the early hours of day; going towards the town gates." The Argonian paused and inclined his head, his mouth open - as if tasting the air. "Around this time each day. Look out window - he may be seen soon."

And sure enough, after a few minutes, an armed man with an arresting gold-and-black ebony shield strode by, his form distorted through the thick green glass of the window, but still recognisable as the hunter Dhaunayne had described to me. I was already prepared; wearing my new Shadow Lord armour, plus my Adamantium helmet with its Netch-leather scarf wrapped about my face. Over this I had thrown the thickest robe I owned, with the hood pulled low over my brow. Only my eyes were uncovered; I was as well protected from the sunlight as I could manage.

Faster than I think he could perceive, I spun and threw Heem-La to the ground, sending the 'Sleep' spell into him as my fist connected. Fortunately, he was the only guild member in the hall's entrance chamber at the time: he was the only one I had to render incapable of witnessing what I was about to do.

The sunlight was so bright - though I kept my head down, the street's every surface seemed to blaze with heat; reflecting the burning, deadly light under my hood and into my eyes. I sprinted from the guild hall - a streak of smoke, and then flame - across the ashen street. There were others on the street - guardsmen, commoners, and (unfortunately) children - but they barely had time to turn and stare before I reached Ano Vando. Even blinded as I was - by pain and light - in the blink of an eye I had overtaken the vampire hunter, and taken his head off with one clean swipe as I passed; he did not see me coming.

I was gone before his head hit the ground; teleported back home to the castle's great hall, where I tore off and threw aside the smouldering, charred remains of the heavy, hooded robe. It had not helped much. I was burned all over; every part of my skin was reddened and painfully raw. I almost pulled the stopper from my vial of blood and drained it there and then; but with a great effort, forced myself to save it for a real emergency. I was in no more danger; I just needed Sirilonwe...

Her blood would heal me.

That evening, I again jogged up and down the ridges and gullies of the Sheogorad region, on the way to Ashmelech. My heart was weighed down by the lies I had told Sirilonwe. She thought I had been burned when Heem-La unexpectedly threw open the main door to the Ald'ruhn guild hall to get a better view of what had happened to Ano Vando just outside, flooding the entrance chamber with light (as I told it). In fact, directly after receiving much-needed blood from Sirilonwe, I had visited Heem-La to apologise for knocking him aside (and accidentally rendering him unconscious) in my haste to close the door. Heem-La couldn't quite remember what had happened - in fact he couldn't even remember what he and I had been speaking of - so fortunately for me, he accepted my story without question.

I did not like lying to Sirilonwe; but I did not know how she would react if she knew that it was I who had killed the vampire hunter. I did not want to lose her.

Dhaunayne was pleased with what I had done, though the only outward indication of this was her gift to me: an 'Aundae Amulet'. It was finely made; a tiny silver mask (about half the size of my palm) depicting an elven face, with two teardrop-shaped rubies set to resemble a blood tear in the corner of each eye. According to Dhaunayne, if I pressed both rubies in at the same time, I would be instantly teleported to just inside the entrance to Ashmelech; from wherever I may be. It was an inordinately generous gift, even considering the agony I had endured running out in the sunlight on her orders. The vampire hunter Ano Vando must have concerned my 'mother' even more strongly than she had let on.

I thanked her warmly for the amulet, and attached it to the same chain I hung the Wolfen ring upon.

Dhaunayne asked nothing more of me, so I teleported home a few minutes later, intending to visit Sirilonwe in her chambers... but she was sitting in front of the fire in the keep's great hall when I arrived. She was in fact sitting in the same chair as the night when she had returned to me.

I grinned at the sight of her, but when she turned to face me and I saw her expression, my smile melted away.

"I know you killed that vampire hunter, Edward." She said.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Chapter 108: A safe place

The sun had risen by the time I returned home from Druscashti, and I was starving. After leaving the strongbox full of armour pieces in the smithy for Ulfred to look over, I teleported across to the Vivec Mages Guild. Sirilonwe, along with a few other guild members, were sitting down to breakfast when I arrived. I again noticed Archmage Trebonius directing an odd glance at Sirilonwe and I as I sat down across from her; but then I received a lot of strange looks those days...

I sat and watched Sirilonwe's spoon rise and fall from her porridge. I no longer needed to eat. There was only one thing that could sate my hunger now, and once Sirilonwe had finished her breakfast, we retired to her room so that I could have it...

And quite some time after that, I emerged from her chambers and made to leave for home. I could feel Trebonius' eyes on my back as I stepped up onto the guild-guide platform and teleported away. I could have teleported directly home from Sirilonwe's chambers of course, but both of us agreed that it would be better if it was obvious to the other guild members that I had left. Otherwise it might appear as if I had not left at all, and stayed with her all day - and that is how rumours start...

Most of the rest of the day was spent with Ulfred, as we studied and made adjustments to my two new suits of armour; so that I could wear them if I wanted to. Yanika stopped in for a while too (at my request), bringing with her some books on unusual armour and artefacts so that we could try to put some kind of name or background to the pieces I had found.

In one of her books was an illustration that matched the suit of blackened chain, plate and leather; with the caption 'Shadow Lord Armour' - but no accompanying information. The other one; a striking red, black and silver suit of chain and 'honeycombed' plate, did not have a proper, known name - according to Yanika's book (which only referred to it as 'Vampire Ancient Armour'). This book is where the term 'honeycombed' came from: apparently the armour plates were layered, with a metal 'honeycomb' in between each sheet that helped to absorb impacts upon its surface.

This meant that the 'Vampire Ancient' armour provided an amazing degree of protection, but was not very durable. Our studies (if they can be called that - we simply hit the armour with different weapons to see how it coped) demonstrated this; Ulfred had to spend quite some time and effort repairing it afterwards. In fact, though it was certainly impressive-looking, with its large, wicked spikes and shining chain skirt, these same elements made the 'Vampire Ancient' armour somewhat impractical. I could easily imagine tripping over the skirt in battle, and the spikes looked as if they may catch on the surrounding environment. I would put it in my museum for the time being.

The Shadow Lord armour though; it seemed on par with my prized Netch and Adamantium armour in terms of quality, though it was perhaps not quite as durable. It was also easier to move in than the Netch-Adamantium (once we had made our adjustments so it was tailored to my body), and its blackened surfaces would serve to hide me well in the darkness. I decided to wear it that very night, when I visited Dhaunayne to tell her that the Quarra vampire, Kjeld, was dead.

"I have spies, little monster." Dhaunayne said. "I know Kjeld is dead." There was a pause. "Well done, fledgling. Perhaps you have some actual potential. I do not mind, in any case, allowing you now into my family - and calling you my child. Sit." The high elven vampire pointed at the stone floor in front of her chair.

I sat cross-legged at her feet. Something of a feat in my armour.

"You wanted to know about being a vampire. Everything, perhaps. Well, I will not tell you everything, but there are some things all young children need to learn; and those are the things I will teach you..."

Dhaunayne spoke at length on the particulars of being a vampire - on our 'gifts', as she called them - and I learned many things. I learned of our many strengths; things I may have guessed on my own, but were nonetheless a relief to have confirmed: as a vampire I would be quite difficult to kill. I could not be paralysed. Anything less than a weapon forged of silver or given some destructive enchantment would barely touch me. I was immune to disease, and to the effects of aging. In fact I was immune to virtually any kind of natural death, save for our great enemies: fire, the sun, beheading; and for some, the wooden stake.

There was also the matter of blood, of course - and here Dhaunayne answered a question that had been worrying me:

"We all need blood, fledgling - it is our other great weakness - but young ones such as you need it all the time, like a suckling baby or the squawking chick in its nest."

I weathered Dhaunayne's implied insults without comment. It was simply her way. She continued:

"If you survive for long enough, and do not end up killed for trying to drain a village of its blood in these early, hungry times, this will change. Your body will absorb the blood more slowly as it adapts: as it settles into its role as your eternal shell. But yes: we all need blood. Even the eldest of us, who can last months - at least - without feeding, need it. These ancient vampires may not die if they go without blood for too long - though they will enter a death-like sleep - but you; you will die if you go hungry. So, I have a question for you, child..."

The vampire leaned forward, her green and gold eyes boring into mine.

"Should something go wrong when you feed, do you have a way to escape? An instant method? Something that cannot fail? And you have my magical blood in your veins. There is no excuse for not being able to master at least a single teleportation spell, so..."

"I have... an item -" I replied, "that can teleport me home instantly."

Dhaunayne smiled, again showing her petite fangs.

"That is good, child; but let me ask you: is this 'home' of yours truly safe?"

I found I could not answer. With the Imperial Legion garrison (that held Apelles Matius and his probable grudge against me) in nearby Ebonheart, and the lingering concern that one or more of my personal guard might crack under the strain of having a vampire as paymaster, Wolfen castle was perhaps not entirely perfect. Dhaunayne took my silence as a 'no'.

"In that case, fledgling, I have a gift for you... an 'item' -" she mimicked me - "that will return you here - to Ashmelech - in an instant. This is a safe place. I and my strongest ones -" Dhaunayne gestured to my right at this, and I caught a dark flicker and a brief throb of power and magicka there - one of those dark, powerful vampires had been standing nearby, unknown to me - "promise protection to all of my family who shelter here. However, I need something done to ensure that this remains a safe place for us: for the young ones, especially - before I give this gift to you."

An expression of disgust and anger crossed her face for a moment, as she explained:

"A vampire hunter was here. Here! In my home! He was driven off, but he must be finished. It is not enough to simply kill this one, fledgling. For three weeks my children have been wondering at the dawn whether that day would be the day when a horde of hunters or Temple men would drag them all into the sunlight... But my spies have finally tracked this hunter down - to Ald'ruhn. Yes... it is not enough that this one just die. He must be killed in broad daylight, with many people around to bear witness that we will NOT tolerate trespass in OUR HOME."

Dhaunayne appeared almost agitated now. I had not seen her that way before.

"Find this mortal who kills OUR KIND, child! Bring him to justice in the light of day, so that all who look on shall know that they can suffer the same fate!"

A vampire hunter, I thought to myself... someone who would kill me not for anything I had done, but simply for who I was. When looked at from that perspective, such a man could be seen as dishonourable. But...

Could I kill someone in cold blood? A mortal?

Perhaps I could: my blood was now most decidedly cold, after all.