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 21, 2006

Chapter 116: Tears for the ancestors

The Ashlander woman's cry of "vampire!" caused a ripple of movement through the camp; tent-flaps were thrown open and spewed out men and women armed with longbows - which were quickly trained on me. The woman who raised the alarm had been uncommonly sharp: I had not thought myself close enough to be recognisable as a vampire.

When I made no move beyond stepping in front of Sirilonwe (in the event that arrows began to fly), a few of the armed Ashlanders - who had fortunately not immediately released their taut bow-strings - began to relax their stance, lowering their weapons.

"What do you want, vampire?" One of them called out; a man with black tattoos around his eyes.

I was perhaps a little surprised that they did not attack me outright upon recognising me as a vampire; but then again, they were quite far removed from the 'civilised' Temple-going Dunmer of the native Vvardenfell towns. It was the Tribunal Temple that held a special hatred for vampires, I reminded myself: not the Dunmer race as a whole.

"I want to learn more about the Nerevarine prophecies." I replied. "I'm told that the leaders of the Nerevarine faithful are here, in the Urshilaku people." Having looked over my notes from my meeting with Hassour Zainsubani before leaving for the Urshilaku camp, I had refreshed my memory as to a couple of relevant names - and I felt it was time to use them. "Can Ashkhan Sul-Matuul and the wise-woman Nibani Maesa be found here?"

Dropping the names of (who I assumed to be) the most important people in the Urshilaku tribe - and the way in which I had moved to protect Sirilonwe - seemed to satisfy the armed Ashlanders that I could be trusted to enter the camp - albeit surrounded at a distance by a number of bowmen. I felt confident that, as long as I made no move that could be construed as threatening, I would not find myself pierced by a volley of arrows.

However, it was (of course) not quite as simple as that. Sirilonwe and I were left standing in the centre of the camp - a rough circle of yurts - with the armed men and women all around us.

"Vampire, you may not speak with our Ashkhan or the wise-woman just for virtue of asking for them by name." The same tattooed Dunmer said. "Wait here and I will bring the gulakhan."

I soon learned that the 'gulakhan' was an impressively-muscled Dunmer called Zabamund, and that his title marked him as the 'champion' of the tribe - and Sul-Matuul's second-in-command.

"So, vampire Frost," Zabamund said (upon learning my name), "you are here to talk of the Nerevarine, and the prophecies about him? You have questions?"

The large Dunmer was regarding me with an expression of great interest - curious to see what the 'oddly-civilised' vampire would do, perhaps. For my part, I was remembering Zainsubani's advice about the popularity of gift-giving with the Ashlander people.

"Yes, I am." I replied. "Though I think it would be ill-mannered of me to ask for such a favour without first offering something in return. I would like to present you with a gift... however I don't know what would best suit you, gulakhan."

"Ha!" Barked Zabamund, apparently well-amused. "Well said. I'll make it easy for you, then: among strangers, we honour our gift-giving custom with gold. A tribute of two-hundred coins, and you can speak to Sul-Matuul. He knows more about the prophecies than I do, in any case - and as well he should!"

That was easy for me. I counted out roughly two-hundred septims from my coin-pouch and tossed them over to the gulakhan.

"The Ashkhan may be angry with me for this, but -" the muscled Dunmer hefted the money happily in one hand - "I think I can bear that."

Zabamund vanished into one of the well-appointed yurts underneath a large secondary shade-cloth, to emerge a moment later followed by a wiry but quick-looking Dunmer, who I took to be Sul-Matuul, the Ashkhan. He was surrounded by a nimbus of magical light (a protection spell of some kind), and his hand rested upon the handle of an intricately-carved silver axe, hanging from his belt. He was obviously prepared for any duplicity on my part, and looked as if he was indeed not very impressed with his gulakhan.

"Vampire." He addressed me baldly, dislike etched into his features. "I don't care what Zabamund told you - I will not traffic with-"

In a flicker of movement barely perceptible to the mortal eyes around me, I dashed in close to Sul-Matuul and let my Charm spell leap from my fingers to his rigidly unwelcoming body - before returning to the exact spot I had been standing - next to Sirilonwe. There was a rustle of tense movement among the Ashlander bowmen that surrounded us: they had seen me move, but could not not tell where I had moved to - or what I had done. Sul-Matuul did not notice, but his manner changed abruptly, and in mid-sentence:

"... one who has not offered me an appropriate tribute."

I dutifully counted out another two-hundred septims and tossed them over. With a Charm spell and suitable bribe in place, the Ashkhan - his hand dropping from his axe - was in a much more helpful mood.

"You think that you are the Nerevarine?" Sul-Matuul, an incredulous look on his face, exclaimed after I explained my interest in the prophecies.

"It... seems that I might be." I replied, gritting my teeth. It galled me to put on such an absurd charade, but Caius had been specific... "At least -" I continued; "according to what I've heard of the prophecies, it seems that I... fit the description."

The Ashkhan shook his head, perplexed.

"It's ridiculous, but... if what you say about your birth is true..."Sul-Matuul appeared thoughtful for a moment, then seemed to reach a decision. "It is not really my place to decide such things. Far be it from me to judge, when wise-woman Nibani is the one who should test you. She will not help one who is not a member of the Nerevarine cult, though. She is stubborn. Although... if you were a Clanfriend - an adopted member of the Ashlander tribes - " he explained; "then she might be willing."

Sul-Matuul became businesslike, as if the bizarre backdrop of a circle of armed tribesmen training their arrows on a vampire and his mortal companion was nothing unusual.

"An initiation rite is required for someone to join the tribes as a Clanfriend; and I have one in mind. A harrowing. You must be judged worthy by our -" he indicated the Urshilaku people around him - "ancestors and spirits..."

The Ashkhan sent us on our way, bound for the nearby burial caverns of the Urshilaku. He wanted me to fetch an old bonemold longbow; a family heirloom of sorts. It was called 'Bonebiter' (leading me to assume that it was enchanted, as it was customary to give enchanted items a name of some kind), and was apparently still guarded by the spirit of Sul-Matuul's father, Sul-Senipul - somewhere in the burial caverns.

Sirilonwe and I found the rock cairn Sul-Matuul had told us to look for - on the northern shore a little way east of the Urshilaku camp - and from there we struck out south for a way (again, as directed), until we came across the entrance to the caverns. I left Sirilonwe by the simple wooden door that capped the dark tunnels, as the Ashkhan had insisted that I undergo the harrowing on my own. He had gone so far as to say that we would be watched, so I thought it best to comply. Sirilonwe was not keen on the idea, but was persuaded in the end. She sat herself down on a nearby ashen slope and began to practice some complicated-looking spells, as I pushed my way into the burial caverns.

A feeling of deep sadness pervaded the caverns. Not hopeless despair or despondency: just simple sadness for those interred within. Even the rocks seemed to weep, for there was water everywhere: running down the walls, flowing through the lower parts of the caverns, even falling in great torrents from fissures in the walls. Where so much water could have come from was a mystery: the Ashlands were a desert, after all. I waded out into the icy water, feeling the pressure of a thousand mourned souls upon me.

The caverns of sadness were deep, and it was a long time before I came out again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Chapter 115: Passage of time

"It is done - I can feel it." Sirilonwe said, a light tremor in her voice.

I released her hand, and sent a light healing spell into it; the wound vanishing instantly. The cut in my own palm healed more slowly, but of its own accord: evidence that what Dhaunayne Aundae had told me about vampires' 'regeneration' was true.

So - it was done; as Sirilonwe said. The 'disease' I carried in my blood had been passed into hers - and now there was only the wait until the 'change' to be endured. The burden of doubt was mostly hers, of course. For my part, I was relieved that she had chosen this path. My feelings for her had only intensified in the time we had been together, and if she shared the same 'everyday trials' as I did (in terms of being a vampire), then I would have to worry considerably less about her objecting to some of my perhaps less-than-savoury actions: the ones I had deemed necessary to preserve my immortal existence.

Rather than spend some time in the sun, Sirilonwe decided that she wanted to stay with me during the three days she had left as a mortal being.

"Trust me, Edward; I have seen enough days of sunshine to last me." Her arm was around my shoulder. "I have been in this world for a long time already, remember." She gave a small smile. "And as you can imagine, you are really the only one I can trust to look after me properly when... it happens."

I was happy to oblige. I would most likely have not been able to concentrate on anything with her away from my side in such a state, in any case.

There was more on my mind than Sirilonwe's surprising request and imminent change. Arch-Mage. I was now the highest-ranked mage in the province of Morrowind - at least in the eyes of the Empire. It would be incorrect to say that the title was unwanted; I was too much of a realist to turn down such a position of power over my displeasure at being manipulated into it by Ranis Athrys. She would be under my thumb from then on, at any rate - though I would have to watch her closely. She was too clever to have placed me in a position of power over her and not have a secondary plan in mind, should her scheme of exploiting my debt to her fail - as it had.

Issues concerning my new position could wait until the morning, though; for there was still another matter on my mind: I had decided to go back to Blades Spymaster Caius Cosades.

I had not spoken once with the old Imperial since his revelation that the Emperor himself (allegedly) thought that I might be the prophesied Nerevarine: the reincarnation of the near-legendary Dunmer general Indoril Nerevar. I had not changed my mind regarding this: I did not believe in reincarnation - it was as simple as that.

However, I found that I was still curious to learn more about the Nerevarine and Sixth House cults. The things I had learned previously researching the cults for Caius had been fascinating, and the matter of the schism in the Tribunal Temple and the subsequent accusations levelled against the Temple and the Tribunal gods by the Dissident Priests was intriguing, to say the least. Could Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil really be nothing more than powerful sorcerers, rather than divine immortals?

I have said before that curiosity is a driving force for me; and it is certainly what drove me back to Caius. My new power as a vampire also served to alleviate the concerns I had previously felt over approaching the proud and dangerous Ashlander people with the proposition that I, an 'ignorant outlander' might be the reincarnation of their greatest hero. If I could work with the Tribunal Temple - a faith that despises vampires - then I could handle the possible conflicts that might occur with the Ashlanders. My Illusion magic would get me through, if all else failed.

I persuaded Sirilonwe to stay behind, since the relationship between Caius and I revolved around secrecy: I was supposed to be a spy for him, after all. It was possible that he might be rattled enough by seeing me as a vampire that I would not want to add to the strain by bringing a guest along to one of our supposedly secret meetings.

As it turned out, Caius was not rattled - or surprised - by my new vampiric nature; but he was not pleased with me, either.

"You've really put me through the wringer, Frost." Caius muttered - without preamble - as he ushered me into his shack and closed the door behind me. "Can you imagine the questions I've had from my superiors? 'Where has your man gone?' they'd say. 'Oh' - I'd reply; 'he's disappeared up into Solstheim - no idea when or if he'll be back - and wait; now he's a bloody vampire!'"

Caius threw himself into a chair, massaging his temples. He did not seem at all concerned at being in close quarters with a vampire. I noted again the powerful muscles moving beneath his clothes, and remembered the stories I had heard about the mysterious disappearance of any who trifled with him. Though an old man, I thought, he was not someone I should underestimate.

"You know the reasons for those things, Caius." I said. "You know why I did it all... or you would not be worthy of your title of Spymaster."

This only seemed to further incense the old Imperial.

"Oh yes - since you mention titles... Arch-Mage! You just had to kill old Trebonius did you? In a duel in the Arena, no less? And now you're the vampire Arch-Mage of Vvardenfell - and starting tomorrow, the gossip on everyone's lips! Do you even know the meaning of the phrase 'to keep a low profile'? It's only I swear that I mentioned at some stage that you are a spy in my employ!"

I just waited while Caius vented his frustrations, my manner impassive. The problems with his superiors were not my concern - I did not care in the least about his troubles. Continuing our research into those cults was all that interested me.

After a moment's silence, the spymaster continued:

"So what do you want from me, Frost? Why have you shown your fresh-vampire-face here?"

"I'm ready to talk to the Urshilaku Ashlanders about the Nerevarine prophecies." I said simply. "Though I should clarify that I still do not believe that I could be the Nerevarine. I'm curious about them - and the Sixth House cult - that's all."

Caius seemed pleasantly surprised, though still mildly suspicious.

"Well - at least no-one has connected you to me - or to the Blades. Though I suspect that's due to your having not performed your duties or reported to me for such a long time, more than anything."

Despite his obvious irritation with me, the spymaster went over my previous orders again. I was to make contact with the Urshilaku Ashlander clan; with the intention of questioning their 'wise-woman' and 'Ashkhan' (their leader) regarding the Nerevarine prophecies. I was also to have them test me against the 'requirements' of the prophecy, to see if I could be the 'one'.

"Yes, it's still important, Frost - and it is part of our orders." Caius paused. "Look, perhaps I should have made it more clear that we think you may have the appearance of satisfying the prophecies - even if in reality you are not the Nerevarine. Personally, I'm not convinced one way or the other."

In my memory of our last conversation, the old Imperial had sounded fairly convinced to me - but I remained silent on that point.

"And Frost?" Caius was saying; "I'll expect to see you back here within a few days - rather than a few weeks or months. I know how quickly you can move around - and it's past time we dealt with this issue seriously."

I merely smiled and slipped the Wolfen ring on, teleporting home.

Sirilonwe and I arrived at the outskirts of the Urshilaku camp around an hour later. I had visited the camp before, during my search for the propylon indices for Folms - so locating it again was not difficult. The time had not come for the nomadic clan to move their yurts to another site.

The current site was quite remote from any major towns or villages, but was not too far from the Valenvaryon Velothi stronghold, with its propylon chamber. Because of this fortunate coincidence, most of our journey was over in an instant, when Folms teleported us across to the propylon chamber.

Just outside the camp was a Dunmeri Ashlander woman, beating the dust and ash from a woven mat. Looking up from her task, she studied Sirilonwe's face, and then my own.

Without hesitation, the woman turned and shouted across the entire camp:


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Chapter 114: Initiation

"Even after all my studies - all that training, to have someone like him -" Sirilonwe almost spat the word at Trebonius Artorius' body - "just... render me helpless like that. He was yet to be born when I... Gah!" She exclaimed in frustration - before continuing in a more sombre tone: "To be trapped like that by him... After all this time..."

She shook her head slowly, those large eyes of hers fixed on mine. Other Mages Guild members, informed of Trebonius' actions by Sirilonwe before her departure for the Arena, were arriving and grouping around the late Arch-Mage's body - a little way from us. Everything had happened so quickly - and no-one in the guild (save for Sirilonwe and I) knew of the duel until it was underway - so I think there were some suspicions as to the exact circumstances of Trebonius' death.

I was not surprised to see Ranis Athrys among them; even though her position as Steward of the Balmora guild hall (physically a long way from Vivec) made her fast appearance at the scene somewhat suspicious. I suspected that she had in fact hoped that I would kill Trebonius - and that pushing he and I into a confrontation was the reason for my rapid series of promotions. Before I could consider the ramifications and reasons for all this, however, Sirilonwe broke her momentary silence:

"After all this time..." She repeated. "I am old, Edward... though I may not look it. Any longer and it will show, I think. Oh, you look so shocked! But why do you think I have all those books on magically extending one's life? Why do you think I study vampires so closely? Why do you think I am still by your side? Why do you think I am willing to share a bed with a vampire?"

I just stared at her. I have mentioned before that I had no idea how old Sirilonwe was - I was like that with most elves (some lived for hundreds of years, after all) - but I had never imagined her to be a truly old woman - not as old as she was insinuating.

"I have used those books: I have extended my life through magic - for a long time now. It will not last any longer. The thought of dying - of aging, even... it terrifies me." Sirilonwe's expressive eyes portrayed this fear eloquently. "Without magic I am weak - and old. I want to be with you - and I want to be strong - and I want to live forever."

I finally found my voice:

"Siri, I... I just thought... I thought you didn't like what I've become... I had no idea..."

"I am sorry I put you through so much over... the necessary aspects of being a vampire." Sirilonwe said ruefully. "It was... to see such things, right before my eyes - and to think that that was what my future held, should I manage the... the change... I was afraid." She shook her head again. "But you, Edward: when you decided, you just left... and then you came back, a vampire. How did you make yourself do it?"

"I was able to do it without hesitation for the same reason I think you are able to ask me for it now." I replied. "A greater fear - the same fear that compels you now - spurred me on."

At that moment, Steward Ranis approached, with some interesting news:

"Based on Sirilonwe and Janand's testimonies, it has been decided that the... skirmish between you and the late Arch-Mage Trebonius Artorius constitutes an official and legally binding duel. Congratulations, Frost." Ranis smiled, a cunning look in her eyes.

I clasped her hand for a moment - stiffly. I had not forgotten the questionable, self-serving things she had once ordered me to do in the name of the guild.

"Thankyou, Ranis. It is a relief to know that I will not be held responsible for his death."

There was a pregnant pause. Ranis gave me a strange look, then grinned abruptly; never-mind the still-cooling body of the late Arch-Mage just behind her.

"You don't realise what it means, do you? There are only a few ways the Arch-Mage of a province may be replaced. The Mages Council in Cyrodiil must vote in favour of making a replacement, or a current Arch-Mage must choose a successor - again usually in consultation with the Council. The other way - an old law, but still a valid one - is through a duel. Both parties must agree to the challenge - so obviously it is quite unusual for an Arch-Mage to accept a challenge to a duel, let alone be the one to issue the challenge himself..."

I thought I understood then why Ranis had manoeuvred Artorius and I into that fight: she wanted him removed from power, and saw (through me) a way to achieve that.

"In any case, Arch-Mage Frost," Ranis continued, "this means you have a new office to call your own."

My initiation ceremony took place later in the day: after a service in honour of Trebonius Artorius (not the actual funeral; just a Mages Guild ritual). I (and Sirilonwe too, I'm sure) had no good memories of the late Arch-Mage, so I spent the duration of the service studying the skull-and-dagger amulet (which I later learned to be called the 'Amulet of the Necromancer'). No-one was aware of this, as all I had to do was grasp the amulet in my hand and concentrate on the magical effects emanating from it.

It was an item of extraordinary power. Just by holding it, I could feel my mental faculties expanding: everything suddenly seemed so clear and simple - as if I could solve any problem with but a moment's consideration. On top of that, the amulet projected an invisible, intangible shell around me; there was a great possibility that any offensive spell sent my way would be caught by this shell before it hit me, its energies transformed harmlessly into magicka that I could then make use of for my own spells. If that was not enough, when the amulet was in contact with my skin, I felt as if any weapon - save for one made of some supernatural material - would barely scratch me.

Needless to say, perhaps, I decided to wear it from that day onwards. Once I had finished my analysis, I glanced sideways at Sirilonwe. She had remained silent since her revelations in the Arena; and she was still staring into the middle-distance, quite pre-occupied.

There was a period of general speech-giving at the end of my initiation, though most of the addresses were vague and garbled. I think that from the point of view of the other members of the guild, everything seemed to be taking place behind a veneer of shock and uncertainty. Ranis was the exception, and her speech was cleverly worded so as to assure everyone present of the legality of my advancement to Arch-Mage; while at the same time making it seem as if that was not the focus of the speech at all. After her conclusion, she added:

"... So Frost: don't forget those who got you there, now." Ranis said, to a round of subdued laughter. Everyone assembled had taken it as a joke - as Ranis had no doubt intended them to - but I caught the deeper meaning behind her words: a message meant for my ears alone.

She wanted to remind me of the (admittedly very generous) aid she had given me when my fragile self had just recently stepped off the prison boat. She thought that I would feel indebted to her. She was, no doubt, looking forward to having the ear of the Arch-Mage of Vvardenfell.

"I have not forgotten, Ranis." I replied, and everyone fell silent. "I will not remove you - or anyone else, for that matter - from your position." There were a number of satisfied nods from the other members. "However, Ranis; the only reason you will continue to be a part of this guild is because of the kindness you showed me when I first joined. If I am truly to be the Arch-Mage, then your behaviour to date, Ranis - the behaviour I witnessed working under you - will not be tolerated. You know of what I speak. If I become aware of any such conduct from you again, I will remove you from the guild." Everyone looked uncomfortable at my emphasis on the word 'remove'. "This will be your only warning." I added.

Ranis' luminous red eyes flared brightly, but she made no reply. There was no need, either: her expression made her displeasure plain to see.

As soon as we possibly could, Sirilonwe and I made our excuses and left the hall, teleporting back to Wolfen castle. In search of some privacy, we proceeded directly to my chambers.

"Are you sure you want this?" I asked her, taking her hands in mine.

Sirilonwe swallowed fearfully, but replied:


With a small dagger, I made a cut in my palm, and then in hers, before pressing the wounds together.

I held her hand until it was over.