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, May 05, 2006

Chapter 122: Dead or dying

Tired though she was after her long vigil outside Ilunibi (and from the vampiric 'disease' coursing through her body), Sirilonwe was at the High Fane in Vivec as soon as the priests were awake, asking for help with a case of Corprus. It was a futile hope, though: of course the Tribunal Temple had no cure for the disease. If they did, they would make sure everyone knew about it, for the sake of the goodwill this would generate. Corprus was a cause for concern for many people on Vvardenfell, and the Temple would jump at the opportunity to be their saviour.

No, all Sirilonwe returned to me with was a spell for herself; one that would provide her some measure of protection against the disease for when she was near me.

For my part, I remained in my chambers at the top of Wolfen Keep, away from anyone and trapped in endless, circling thought. I had Corprus disease. But Dhaunayne had told me that vampires were impervious to disease! I was supposed to be immune to most normal mortal deaths! But then... that devil, Dagoth Gares had cursed me intentionally with the disease - I was sure of it.

I was keeping myself saturated in Restoration magic: I found that I could treat some of the symptoms that way and keep my mind clear of the befuddling effect the disease seemed to have. Really though, I was just fighting to keep despair at bay. Corprus resulted in madness or death - but I was already dead, so... madness? Or something else? Had a vampire ever caught Corprus before? My mind went around and around... and I was no closer to knowing what I should do.

To her credit, Sirilonwe had not reminded me of her (obviously valid, as it turned out) arguments against my going into the Sixth House base - and she still allowed me to feed from her; albeit not in our usual way. She made a cut in her wrist (with no small degree of self-control, I'm sure), and let the blood trickle into my open mouth - without actually touching me. It was an uncomfortable and vaguely embarrassing ordeal for both of us, and neither of us looked at the other while she healed herself afterwards.

There had to be something I could do! But... even if there was, it would have to wait. I could not go anywhere while the sun still shone outside, and that night I would be staying with Sirilonwe in the castle. Three days had passed. She would die and be reborn as a vampire that evening... if nothing went wrong.

I had thought that Sirilonwe might change her mind, and decide that she wanted to spend some time in the sunshine while she still could, but no; she had returned from the High Fane complaining that the sun was too hot outside, and that she was exhausted. She just wanted to get some sleep. After I had fed, Sirilonwe went straight to bed.

For the long daylight hours of that day, all I did was sit at my desk and think painful thoughts. I turned the chair around so that I could watch Sirilonwe sleep, from across the room. I had nothing else to do, and regardless; she had asked me to watch over her while she slept. She was worried about the coming evening. 'Worried' is probably too gentle a word to describe what she must have felt, actually. I think it was probably a blessing that she was able to spend the last hours of her life asleep.

She woke in the final minutes before sunset, and called out for me:

"Edward, I... can't breathe -" she took a great, shuddering gasp - "very well. What's happening?"

I was at the bedside in an instant, but caught myself before I could lay a hand on her head. My hands were covered in red lumps and blisters: it would not have been wise to touch her.

"Sleep, Siri." I told her softly. "It will be better - and I'll stay with you until you wake up."

I cast my 'Sleep' spell on her to help her - well, sleep - and her eyes closed in seconds.

I brought my chair closer to the bed to watch her. For several minutes she slept, and then... I saw the last breath leave her - and could feel the heat that had radiated from her body begin to subside. I marked the end of her mortal life at the dusk of that day. I did not move from my seat, though. Whatever was happening to her - whether she was gone forever or about to awake and remain forever - there was nothing I could do for her right then.

Still, I was very worried as I watched her absolutely motionless form. The only thing that kept panic at bay was the smell that began to rise from her: very faint at first, then stronger and stronger as the hours wore on. It was the 'Aundae' scent: the smell that originally led me to Ashmelech.

She smelt like a vampire.

And still I sat and watched; as hours passed; as her golden skin grew pale - almost yellow - and as the shadows around her remarkable eyes grew darker and darker, until they appeared almost as bruises.

Almost exactly at midnight, Sirilonwe sat bolt upright and made several strangled gasping sounds as she reflexively tried to breathe. It made me start in fright: when I had 'changed', I had remained dead for nearly a day before my return - and I had not awoken in nearly so violent and sudden a fashion.

Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she continued her (needless) struggle to breathe, and then she grunted, and touched a hand to her mouth. She had bitten her lip with her new fangs, I think. By the time I found my voice, it was too late to reassure her; she had relaxed enough to realise she no longer needed to breathe. A trickle of blood ran from her lip and down her chin. She looked so beautiful. I was so relieved.

"Sirilonwe..." I said softly.

Her eyes fixed on me, and I saw that they had changed: there was a burnished orange glimmer to them now, rather than the golden glow of before. An ecstatic grin (that revealed her elegant new fangs) spread across her face, and she leapt up and threw her arms around me - never-mind my Corprus. Neither of us said anything: we did not need to. We both knew then that she was alright - that she had escaped the supposedly inevitable fate of all mortals.

I had not lost her. But... I still had Corprus disease. Would she lose me?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chapter 121: Infection

The sea-caverns of Ilunibi were very deep: I could feel it as soon as I entered them. Any noise made floated off into the darkness, to echo back much later; a faint shadow of itself. The first chambers were washed by salt water rushing through them, and falling in cascades down the walls. Those first chambers were not unlike the Urshilaku burial caverns in some ways: but where the burial caverns were filled with the feeling of ages-old sadness, the Ilunibi caves were burdened with a sense of dread.

The fresh sea-water did not reach far into the caves. A little further on, I was wading through stagnant, stinking pools of trapped salt-water. The revolting, soupy liquid reeked of rotten fish - and of blood that had sat until it spoiled. The red candles glued to the occasional natural stone shelf cast the barest glow over the scene. I knew then, beyond a doubt, that what I had seen in Telasero and Falasmaryon was also the work of the Sixth House. Apart from the distinctive smell of corruption that found its way to my nose from somewhere up ahead - even through the stink of the foul water around me - the red candles were of a unique kind. They seemed to promote darkness more than they dispelled it.

Soon, I realised that I could hear a chant echoing through the honeycombed caverns: coming from somewhere nearby. It was in a male voice, and went:

"Fire, poisons, claws, pincers, wheels... Fire, poisons, claws, pincers, wheels... Fire, poisons..." Those same five words, repeated over and over, in a hoarse, scratchy voice.

I rounded a corner and was surprised to find myself facing the source of the chant - the many echoes in that place made it difficult to judge the exact origin of a sound. It was a naked Dunmer man - a Dreamer - but upon seeing me, he did not attack; only saying:

"Fire, poisons, claws, pincers, wheels... What slave knows what the lover feels?"

The emaciated man began spouting odes and venerations to his 'lord', Dagoth Ur; his breath hot on my face all the while.

"Lord Dagoth has sent the blight to destroy the foreigners, and to chasten those Dunmer who bend to foreign will!" The Dreamer cried, reaching out as if to grasp my shoulders. "Those who oppose Lord Dagoth shall wither and die, while those who join Lord Dagoth shall be healed and strengthened, filled with the power and glory of Red Mountain, and inspired by the dreams of Dagoth Ur!"

I knocked his reaching hands away, and took a step back. 'Inspired by the dreams of Dagoth Ur', he said. It made me think. Those Dunmer who later became 'Dreamers': the dreams they complained of - were they being 'sent' somehow by Dagoth Ur?

The Dreamer still spouted his fanatic declarations:

"Now, we Dunmer who once ruled ourselves, in our own land - our Resdayn... are weak. We are no more than slaves -- ruled by foreigners who serve false gods. But now Lord DAGOTH, Dagoth UR, Lord of the Sixth House, has awakened! Now the restless shall wake from sleep, and this will once more be the land of the free and proud Dunmer!"

It was as the Dreamer - or 'Sleeper' - in Maar Gan had said: Dagoth Ur wanted to drive the outlanders from Morrowind; just as the Nerevarine was supposed to do. It was strange: the Ashlanders I had met - the ones who worshipped the Nerevarine - called Dagoth Ur an enemy; but from what the Dreamers said - the ones who worshipped Dagoth Ur - both the Nerevarine and Dagoth Ur wanted the same thing.

I listened to the Dreamer's ravings for a while longer, but he said nothing else of interest: merely different variations on "you and all outlanders should leave Morrowind while you still can." I had to knock him out with my Sleep spell to stop him following me.

Searching through the empty, stinking honeycombed caverns, my legs slosh-sloshing through the stagnant water, I eventually encountered some real resistance: another of those horribly disfigured 'tentacle-faced men'; with the stumpy, useless arms of a Dunmer person jutting out the side of their swollen robes. Staying true to my promise to Sirilonwe, I hung back and engaged the creature with my poison and ice spells - hoping to stay clear of any disease it might have carried.

I was able to dodge the destructive spells it threw back my way, and soon it was dead; dissolved into a putrid yellow dust (save for the deformed skull). I was horrified to see the thing. I had thought that the tentacle-faced man I had killed in Telasero was unique; a tragic mutation of some kind. Now though, I was faced with the idea that those things were men corrupted by a plague - or by a plan.

These Sleepers - these agents of Dagoth Ur - talked about the people of Morrowind 'joining him in the flesh'. Could these disfigurements to the flesh of what had once been Dunmeri people be deliberate?

The tentacle-faced man had been guarding a door to some deeper and (surprisingly) drier caverns. I pushed my way through the door and continued my mission: scouring the sea-caverns of all life - save for those who could still be called 'Dunmer' and not 'monster'. I sped through the dark chambers like the wind; fast enough that most of the naked Dreamers ranged throughout the 'base' did not even perceive that I was there - and fast enough that the first the ashen-skinned, zombie-like figures (with dark cavities in their faces where their eyes and nose should be) knew of my presence was the burning acid and ice of my magic on their backs.

Eventually, I found the room with the whispering shrine the deceased Legion trooper had mentioned - and within it, I found the trooper's comrades. They were in a frightening state: their infected flesh was swollen, jaundiced and raw; their cracked, warped armour broken and falling off. And they were moving about. They were not dead; they were Corprus beasts.

As I watched, two of the Corprus-men lumbered over to a metal trough just like the ones in Telasero, and proceeded to tear pieces of their own swollen flesh from their bodies, before depositing the oozing chunks in the trough. They tore themselves right to the bone in places - only to have the sickening, yellow wound bubble and run as the flesh began to grow back; almost instantly.

I quickly ended their suffering (at a healthy distance), using my destructive spells. It was a quick death; I do not think any of them knew I was even there. In fact, I doubt any of them had even known that they were still alive.

I did not want to go anywhere near that sinisterly whispering shrine, if I could help it; so I cast a quick glance around the room from the doorway. I was just turning to leave when something stirred in the deep shadows at the rear of the chamber. A figure emerged: one of those ashen-skinned 'men' with a single thick growth protruding from the black cavity in his face. He was tall and thin, and wore a grey, ash-caked robe.

He identified himself; the mouth squashed below his facial protuberance somehow still able to produce intelligible words:

"The Sixth House greets you, blood vampire. I am known as Dagoth Gares, priest of Ilunibi Shrine and minister to my Sixth House servants."

"Minister?" I called out, as the disfigured creature came to stand beside the whispering shrine. "You make it sound as if you are doing these Dunmer some kind of service - as if they are here by choice!"

The ghoulish thing's hands hung at its sides, arcane power crackling and dripping from the fingers.

"Ah, yes;" he rumbled; "the Sleepers... the Dreamers... You still think of them as part of your world - as belonging to their old lives - because they are newly come to Lord Dagoth, and not yet blessed with his power. But later they will be blessed as Children of the Lord. Yes... the Children of His Flesh, they are deep in the heart of his mysteries. Their bodies swell to contain his glory, and to yield the rich sacraments of our Lord's feasts. And we are the least of his servants, for Ash Poets, Ascended Sleepers, and Ash Vampires stand high above us in the Lord's bountiful grace."

"A... 'Child of His Flesh'? Is that what you call yourself? You... want to be disfigured like that?"

Speaking with that monster without eyes; that perversion of a Dunmer, was revolting. However, I was in sufficient control of myself to realise that I needed more information if I was to find and kill more members of the Sixth House. I was trying to keep him talking - to learn as much as I could.

"It is, and I do." Dagoth Gares replied. "And you, blood vampire... or 'Edward Frost' as you decide to call yourself; I can see in your mind the name Nerevarine. You are consumed with this name. You wonder what it means. It consumes your mind and your purpose. You wonder if you are something greater - bound for a place in history. Are you the Nerevarine? My Lord Dagoth Ur wishes to extend his friendship to the one called the Nerevarine. You may come to him - at his citadel on Red Mountain - and discover if you are the one."

I was without words for a moment. That this 'Dagoth' had apparently read my mind gave me pause.

"What say you, blood vampire?" The creature asked, taking a step towards me. "Will you go to Red Mountain in friendship, and submit to our Lord Dagoth Ur? Will you put away your weapons and join me in friendship?"

I looked about me, at the sinister whispering shrine, the grisly troughs of infected flesh, the ruined, deformed bodies of the dead Legionnaires... and I began to laugh. I laughed and laughed, my voice ringing harshly off the stone walls of the cavern.

"I am here to destroy you, Gares;" I said eventually - "and I aim to destroy your 'lord' Dagoth Ur, as well. This -" I indicated our horrific surrounds with a sweep of my arm - "is obscene, and evil. It revolts me. I will obliterate the Sixth House - wherever I find it."

Dagoth Gares said nothing more; merely rushing at me, giving a snort as he came that expelled a puff of ash from his facial protuberance. I sent my 'Blizzard' spell at him: once with my right hand, and then a second time with my left. With two great, concussive -booms-, the spells exploded against his spindly form; cracking the stone floor of the cavern and leaving Gares a broken mess on the ground. Most of his dry, ashen flesh had been blasted from his bones.

Cautiously, I drew closer to the body, to get a better look. I wanted to be sure that he was really, conclusively, dead.

Without warning, his bones twisted horribly beneath the ragged shreds of his flesh, and Gares pointed the remains of his hand right at my face. Some kind of force leapt from his hand; worming, forcing its way into my body. My vision blurred, and I felt as if I was losing my balance. I felt as if I was falling over backwards, but at the same time as if it might only be a trick of my mind: I could not work out which was actually happening. I heard Gares' voice sound out as consciousness left me:

"You shall come unto the Lord Dagoth Ur in the flesh, then; if not the mind. Yea, even as my Master wills, you shall come to him, in his flesh, and of his flesh."

When I came back to myself, I was standing outside the entrance to Ilunibi, under the open sky. The first rays of the morning sun were just peeking out over the horizon, searing my skin. Sirilonwe was staring at me in horror, and pointing at my wrist. Feeling too dizzy to simply look down, I raised my wrist to my eyes to see what was wrong. There was an exposed patch of skin there, and it was swelling and bubbling up, as if in huge blisters.

Just like the diseased Imperial Legion soldiers in the shrine. Dagoth Gares had cursed me with Corprus disease: incurable and almost always fatal.

I threw my head back and screamed out in rage, fear, and frustration.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Chapter 120: A path no-one wants

I was sure of my path. I was almost convinced that what awaited me in the Ilunibi sea-caverns was the same scene of grisly, horrific death and corruption I had found in Telasero and Falasmaryon. If my suspicions were confirmed, I would destroy those responsible - and I would do what I could to save any of those poor Dreamers I might find; if they were not too far gone.

Yes: for once, I was sure that I should follow Caius' orders - but Sirilonwe was not.

"Are you serious?" She asked after we had left Fort Buckmoth and teleported back to the castle. "After what she told us about that poor, diseased trooper; how can you think of going there?"

She was afraid of the disease. This was not something to be ashamed of: Corprus was a scary thing. I was about to remind her that it had been I that had, in the first place, argued against her coming with me on the mission - but thought better of it. It was beside the point.

"I am a vampire." I said with a shrug. "I cannot become diseased. And besides, from what Raesa said, I think I've been in places like it before - before I was a vampire, too. I've told you about Telasero." I reminded her quietly. "I must go."

But my partner was not to be discouraged.

"You only have that... Dhaunayne's word that disease won't affect you. Do you want to end up like that soldier? Think about it seriously." She paused, hoping to let her point sink in, I think. "We need more information."

I turned from her, unrolling my map of Vvardenfell and directing my attention to the Bitter Coast region. Raesa Pullia did not know exactly where this Sixth House base was: only that it was somewhere near the fishing village of Gnaar Mok.

"I don't think -" I said as I ran my finger up the island's south-western coastline - "that we'll do much better than an account from a trooper who saw the inside of the place." My finger stopped in place as something occurred to me. "Although..."

Studying the Bitter Coast section of the map had reminded me of my excursion through that area during the early weeks of my time on Vvardenfell. It was then that I had met that strangely sardonic spirit: Thynim Velos was his name... wasn't it? The surname 'Velos' was right, in any case: as looking closely at my map, I could see the place where I had marked on it the words 'Velos Ancestral Tomb'.

The spirit of Velos was the guardian of the 'Amulet of Scrye': a magical item that supposedly allowed the bearer to call upon any spirits that might be nearby, and talk to them. Previously, I had been too scared and distrustful of the amulet to even think of returning to the Velos family tomb and attempting to claim it - but maybe I could use the thing to speak with the spirit of that recently deceased trooper. If the amulet worked, that is.

Sirilonwe agreed to my idea; almost eagerly - reminding me of her studies into the 'minds' of spirits and the undead. We were already dressed for travel (with the possibility of battle) - Sirilonwe in what was now her volcanic glass armour, and I in my blackened Shadow Lord armour - so we went to see Folms right away. The Hlormaren Velothi stronghold was closest to the tomb, but after the Dunmer enchanter sent us there, we still had a fair stretch of swamp to traverse.

We were heading south towards Hla Oad (the Velos tomb was in the hills to the north-east of the village), picking our way between the pools of putrid water, when we were attacked. Three, alien-smelling vampires surged out of what had been (up until that point) perfectly still, stagnant water - surrounding us.

I had been careless. The vampires - two Imperial women and a Dunmer man - had obviously seen us coming: but I had not seen them. Vampires do not breathe, so it was easy for them to lie in wait under the water until we passed. These vampires were certainly had no friendly intentions towards me - and they were fast: as fast as me - if not faster.

Sirilonwe wrapped herself in magical flames, and used that (plus the occasional swipe with her Daedric wakizashi) to hold them off, but that was all she could do: she simply wasn't fast enough. It was the long reach of my elegant Daedric katana that won the fight: I cut at the other vampires until they had lost so much blood they could no longer stand - and then I finished them.

Panting, and letting the magical flames subside, Sirilonwe tapped her chest and said, with a re-affirming nod:

"I need this... 'disease'. They were too fast. If you weren't here..."

But she left the thought unfinished, and we carried on until we reached the Velos Ancestral Tomb.

The Amulet of Scrye was in exactly the same place as it had been when I first found it: sitting on a stone plinth in the centre of the tomb. The harsh, menacing whispering began the moment I picked the amulet up: voices begging me to look at them - to listen to them. The dusty book that had taught me the 'Scrye' spell was still there on the plinth too, and after reminding myself of the particulars of the spell, I went through the motions of casting it.

"VAMPIRE!" The glowing, big-eared spirit of Velos screamed at me; seeming to have appeared out of nowhere. "BEGONE, VILE... but wait - you're the silly little boy who claimed he wasn't a necromancer!" For an instant, and despite his initial outburst, I thought the spirit was going to be helpful. But then: "I sent you to kill an evil, foul vampire - and now look at you! It looks as if I had you pegged aright from the beginning."

A swelling, buzzing noise began to sound beneath the spirit's voice, and I noticed that he was starting to glow more brightly.

"What makes you think -" his voice boomed louder and louder with each word, his ghostly form inflating to a massive size, filling the whole chamber - "that I would traffic with a deviant SUCH AS YOU? LEAVE!"

And before I could utter even a word, the amulet was yanked from my grip and disappeared - along with Velos' spirit.

I realised Sirilonwe was squeezing my arm.

"Are you alright?" She asked. "You were staring at nothing there for a moment."

"You - you didn't see that?" I was surprised; the spirit had filled the whole chamber with its noise and light.

Sirilonwe shook her head.

"Oh. Well... he said no."

After hearing the news that we would not be receiving the aid of the Amulet of Scrye, I decided it was time to resume the original mission: find the Ilunibi sea-caverns, and destroy the Sixth House cultists there. I felt a sense of urgency: if I took too long, the Sixth House members would - after the attack by the Imperial Legion squad on their base - likely flee the caves and take up residence elsewhere. That, or they might summon reinforcements...

Folms was kind enough (considering we woke him up) to teleport us to the Andasreth stronghold, halfway up the western coast from the Velos Ancestral Tomb. Andasreth was only a little way north of Gnaar Mok: only some crumbling hills and coastal bluffs - and a small, marshy cove - separated them. Sirilonwe still accompanied me as I picked my way over the windblown bluffs - but she was not at all happy that I still intended to enter the Sixth House base, and remained silent until we reached Gnaar Mok; some time after midnight.

I was also in a bad mood after the encounter with Velos' spirit, so while Sirilonwe stood out in the village square shaking her head slowly to herself, I (deciding on a direct approach) magically unlocked the door on one of the shacks and went inside to ask the sleeping locals for directions.

"I'm looking for Ilunibi caves." I informed the terrified Dunmer man, who was shrinking back into the corner of the small room, his bed-covers pulled up to his neck. "Do you know where they are?"

Armed with directions to the sea-caverns, we left Gnaar Mok a few minutes later and carried on our way. The caves were actually located more-or-less back the way we had came; at the north-west tip of the promontory Gnaar Mok was built upon. Before long we found it.

A rotting, moss-covered wooden door hanging across a dark fissure in the low hill marked the entrance - and the faint smell of rotting flesh that seeped out marked it as exactly what I been expecting. Sirilonwe had remained silent up until then, but at the sight of the cave entrance, she renewed her efforts to dissuade me. She was beginning to sound desperate:

"Edward, please..." The expression on her face was almost enough to crack my resolve, and make me take her advice.

"I'll use magic." I assured her. "They won't get close enough to touch me. But... I have to go. And you have to stay here. Please, Siri: watch this entrance for me. Stop anyone coming in behind me. We'll meet back at the castle if anything goes wrong, alright?"

She refused to look at me as I pulled the door open and disappeared into that foul place; but I was glad she had stayed outside.

Inside the sea-caverns was worse than I had feared.