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 19, 2006

Chapter 128: Found Prophecy

A problem became apparent when we found Blatta Hateria on the Ebonheart Docks, securing her fishing craft after a day out on the water. After some persuasion, she revealed that the Holamayan monastery was located somewhere along the eastern Azura's Coast, and that depending on weather conditions, even if she left directly after sunset, her boat might not be able to reach it before the sun came up. This may not have been a problem had her boat incorporated a cabin - or a hold - but it was just a simple, open-topped fishing craft; with no protection from the sun.

So it was not really possible - or practical, at least - for Blatta to take us to Holamayan in her boat. With the teleportation network I had helped Folms Mirel establish, we would likely be able to reach the monastery much faster on our own, anyway. We just needed to know where it was.

She was initially reluctant to give us Holamayan's exact location - for obvious reasons, I suppose - but staring into her eyes and baring my fangs slightly persuaded her to change her mind. Not very subtle, perhaps, but effective nonetheless.

With a small island between Sadrith Mora and the great south-eastern Shrine to Azura marked on my well-worn map of Vvardenfell, Sirilonwe and I prepared to depart immediately. There was no reason to wait. Going by the map, the fastest route there appeared to be striking out due south from the Mages Guild in Wolverine Hall at Sadrith Mora, to water-walk across the choppy seas and climb over the shattered islands of Azura's Coast.

We drank our fill from Hunter before leaving: if we really could not enter Holamayan until dawn, then it would likely be a long time before we could feed again.

After hours of running across the waves and climbing to the crests of any hills we could find on the myriad tiny islands to get our bearings, we found Holamayan - on the other side of a large, barren bluff. A single monumental structure of smooth, lipped stone was all that gave away the entrance to the monastery. As we had been told to expect, there was no obvious way in.

According to my pocketwatch, it was halfway past the third hour in the morning - which meant we still had two or three hours to wait until dawn. I had brought the 'Progress of Truth' pamphlet with me, so I sat on the damp, sloped ground to read through it again while we waited. Sirilonwe had brought along one of her history books that dealt with the Tribunal Temple, to see if she might discover anything potentially illuminating about the religion's past.

For a while we were content to sit there and read by the light of the stars, but by the time dawn approached, we were both feeling very uneasy. We could smell the sunrise: the warming light upon the lands to the east, carried faintly on the winds over the Sea of Ghosts. If the monastery entrance did not make itself known soon, we would have to teleport home and re-think things. A tent, perhaps; of very thick and sturdy material? We could pitch the tent outside the entrance and wait until we could get in...

Nothing so extravagant was necessary, though. The sky was turning from indigo to blue, and the burning sun was peeking out over the bluff to the east, when one of the stone lips in the monumental structure lifted up like a great eyelid, with a deep, grumbling, grating sound. A smaller, more regular door leading into the hill was revealed behind it, and we dashed inside, feeling as if we had had scalding water poured over us.

The interior was not unlike that of the average Temple building: sparsely furnished and utilitarian. In the dim candle-light, I abruptly realised that we were facing a semi-circle of triolithic shrines dedicated to the saints and gods of the Tribunal. I recoiled, expecting to be somehow burned or harmed by them, as in the High Fane... but nothing happened. They had no effect on me. Perhaps Vivec and the other Tribunal gods really had forsaken the Dissident Priests over their schism, and did not lend their power to the shrines in the monastery.

A monk, wearing the sort of suspicious expression I had grown accustomed to, directed us to Mehra Milo. She was in the Holamayan library - a small chamber lined with religious texts - engaged in conversation with another Dunmer; a wizened old man in robes.

"Who is that?" Mehra demanded without preamble, her copper eyes fixed on Sirilonwe.

"This is Sirilonwe, my partner." I replied. "Sirilonwe, this is Mehra Milo."

Sirilonwe did not offer her hand in greeting - to Mehra's relief, I'm sure. Not many mortals enjoy being in close proximity to a vampire.

Introductions aside, Mehra thanked me again for aiding her escape from the Ministry of Truth, and deferred my questions about the lost prophecies to the wizened old Dunmer - Master Gilvas Barelo, the abbot of Holamayan.

"Sera Milo tells me that you are the one who freed her from the Ordinators, vampire." Barelo said, in a voice like gravel being ground underfoot. "For that, I have trusted you to enter the monastery. Nevertheless, I would ask you to leave as soon as our business is complete." He paused. "Well, once the sun has set. The door will not open until dusk, in any case... You understand my position, I'm sure?"

I nodded, though not in a friendly fashion.

"We can teleport away sooner than that... assuming our business is complete."

Barelo gave the slightest of bows and gestured that we should follow him as he paced slowly around the cramped underground monastery.

"Now, Sera Milo also tells me that you are here for the 'lost' prophecies of the Nerevarine." The old abbot remarked. "Well, we certainly have those. In point of fact, I believe we have almost finished transcribing them." He nodded his head in the direction of a small group of monks bent over a long desk, their quills racing across their sheets of paper. "They are considered part of the 'Apographa': the hidden, censored writings of the Temple. One of the main reasons we are here, you know. We do not believe that the Temple should censor parts of the Dunmer faith... especially when it is obvious that it is only done to suit the interests of the priests in the upper-hierarchy." He shot a sideways glance at me. "But we can talk more about the prophecies - and the other documents we have prepared for you - once they are ready. In the meantime, are there any other questions I can answer for you?"

Quite apart from my general curiosity into the Nerevarine prophecies, the only thing I was genuinely interested in was Dagoth Ur and the Sixth House.

"Dagoth Ur." Barelo growled. "He is an old enemy - and for a very long time, the power the Tribunal poured into the Ghostfence was enough to contain him and his Blight. The Sixth House, though - his army - they are a new threat, and the strain is showing on the livings gods." The abbot looked directly into my eyes. "It is obvious to see - I think you will agree - that the Tribunal is weakening. The Ghostfence does not keep the Blight confined to Red Mountain any longer - nor does it prevent Dagoth Ur's Sixth House minions from entering the settled lands. They try to lay blame on the people for wavering in their faith - and on us, the Dissident Priests, for splintering that faith into 'heresy'. We do not believe it is that at all: the Tribunal's powers are diminishing for some other reason, and we have a theory as to why... but there is a paper I want to show you first; on Kagrenac's Tools."

"Yes," I spoke up, "they are mentioned in the 'Progress of Truth'. I was wondering what exactly-"

But I was cut off as Barelo was handed a stack of freshly-written papers, their ink just dry.

"Ah, here;" he said, passing them on to me; "these should be the prophecies your... friend, Nibani Maesa, has been looking for - along with some notes we have made on possible interpretations."

He indicated that I should sit, and read. My curiosity got the better of me, and I did just that. The 'Lost Prophecy' (that was what they actually called it) went like this:

'From seventh sign of eleventh generation,
Neither Hound nor Guar, nor Seed nor Harrow,
But Dragon-born and far-star-marked,
Outlander Incarnate beneath Red Mountain,
Blessed Guest counters seven curses,
Star-blessed hand wields thrice-cursed blade,
To reap the harvest of the unmourned house.'

Cryptic as always. The annotations added by the Dissident Priests went some way to explaining what the prophecy might have been referring to, though. I place an emphasis on 'might', as I believed that the passage was so vague as to possibly mean many different things. In summary, the priests said that according to the Lost Prophecy, the Nerevarine would be an 'outlander' - and probably from the Imperial Province, no less. They also said that he - or she - would be blessed by Azura, and would go to Red Mountain to confront Dagoth Ur and his seven 'ash-vampire' kin.

The other prophecy they had that had been considered lost by the Ashlanders was the one Nibani had mentioned specifically; the 'Seven Curses of the Sharmat' - and it was little better:

'Through the doors of the unmourned house
Where scoffers scoff and schemers scheme
From the halls of the oath-breaking house
Rings seven curses of gods blasphemed

First curse, Curse-of-Fire
Second curse, Curse-of-Ash
Third curse, Curse-of-Flesh
Fourth curse, Curse-of-Ghosts
Fifth curse, Curse-of-Seed
Sixth curse, Curse-of-Despair
Seventh curse, Curse-of-Dreams'

Here, the Dissident Priests said that according to the first few lines, the prophecy was about House Dwemer, or House Dagoth (also called the Sixth House) - or both; and that it referred to their blasphemy against the gods - any gods. The Curses of Fire, Ash, and Flesh referred to the Blight-storms Dagoth Ur sent from Red Mountain, and the Curse-of-Dreams referred to the Dreamers and Sleepers in the settlements. As to the Curses of Ghosts, Seed and Despair, the priests had no idea - and I could not blame them.

Interesting, certainly, but I was thinking about the other prophecy more at that moment. Much to my chagrin, the 'Lost Prophecy' only seemed to further implicate me as a potential candidate for the role of the Nerevarine - to someone who was inclined to believe in such things, at least. The section that specified the Nerevarine as being an 'outlander' was a particularly telling point. Though my strong feelings were possibly a source of puzzlement to Barelo - who (I think) did not know about my much-alleged birthright - I could not help but exclaim in frustration:

"Even if all these prophecies support one particular theory, there is no way to know if any of them are recorded now as they were told originally. There is no way to know if they were even genuine - or true - to begin with! To have even a chance of being sure of any of this, one would need to speak with someone who was alive at the time!"

"Such as Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil, perhaps?" Barelo murmured.

As much as it may have pained me to admit it, the abbot had a point. Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil were all first-hand witnesses to many of the things referred to in the prophecies, and were surely consulted on their accuracy, to guard against them being slurred and corrupted by time. So maybe the prophecies and histories were accurate... assuming that the Tribunal gods were telling the truth about them.

It seemed that the only absolutely reliable source of information about Dagoth Ur's origins was the Tribunal themselves.

It was something to keep in mind, I thought; especially considering what I learned next about the power shared by both the living gods and by the devil, Dagoth Ur.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Chapter 127: Keeping a secret

"You might try thinking of it this way;" I told the vampire hunter; "in your mind, you wanted to stop us from feeding on people, correct?" When the Dunmer woman did nothing but continue to glare at me sullenly, I went on: "Well - this way, we won't need to hunt anymore: not while we have your blood. So... it seems you will get your wish."

Still our attacker said nothing; merely standing there stiffly in the robe Sirilonwe and I had given her after stripping her of her weapons, armour, and equipment. We had used our healing magic to counter her blood-loss, too, of course. She was no use to us dead.

"What is your name, Dunmer?" Sirilonwe asked her.

"Your death, fiend." Was all she said.

She never did tell us her name. In the end, I came to always call her simply 'Hunter'.

It soon became apparent that as far as plans went, keeping Hunter as 'cattle' was rife with complications. A few minutes after we overcame the vampire hunter, Rhek'feer - the Khajiiti martial arts trainer and unofficial captain of my guardsmen at the castle - was hammering at my chamber door. My attention was not on what Rhek'feer was shouting, but on Hunter, for she had opened her mouth in a deep breath and looked to be about to call out for help.

I dashed across and rendered her unconscious with my Sleep spell - fortunately before she could make a sound. Demonstrating her knack for quick-thinking, Sirilonwe pointed at the prone form of the Dunmer woman, and she vanished beneath an invisibility spell. I unbolted the door and let Rhek'feer in.

"One of the men stationed on the battlements was found knocked-out cold, Mister Frost!" He exclaimed. "An intruder, maybe! Has Mister Frost seen anything?"

My mind was racing. If I said no, then Rhek'feer would likely order the guards to search the entire keep and castle grounds for an intruder; something I did not want if I was trying to conceal the existence of Hunter.

"Yes," I replied, "someone came in through the window and attacked us." That was that, but what to say next? That our attacker escaped?

Sirilonwe again came to my aid:

"And I incinerated him." She said.

Rhek'feer appeared surprised, and glanced around the room - obviously looking for some kind of remains.

"As I said," Sirilonwe went on; "I incinerated him."

After only a moment's hesitation, my captain of the guard was satisfied by our explanation, but it was obvious that we needed to do something about Hunter quickly if we wanted to keep her secret from the castle staff.

At sunset, when everyone was either having their evening meal in the dining room or on duty on the castle grounds, we smuggled the invisible and magically silenced vampire hunter downstairs to the underground passages beneath the keep. We accomplished this by Sirilonwe also going invisible, and keeping a tight hold on Hunter as I went on ahead and opened doors for them so that the invisibility spells would not be disrupted. On the way, I hid the Dunmer's armour, weapons and equipment in the secret vault.

It all worked perfectly; we arrived next to a certain secret door down there without incident.

I pointed to the back corner of the concealed tomb underneath Wolfen Keep - the chamber in which I had disturbed the Wolfen castle Guardian and found the Wolfen ring several months earlier - indicating that Hunter should enter. She made no move to comply, so I grasped her by the neck and carried her bodily into the tomb. It was to be her holding cell from that point on. The skeletal corpse of the late Master Wolfen (the previous owner of the castle) was still there on a stone slab. I had discovered that - strangely - the skeleton could not be moved from its place in the tomb; it was as if it was stuck fast to that stone slab. I suppose that Master Wolfen - whoever he had been - really did want to stay in his castle forever.

It was obvious that Hunter relied heavily on magic to carry out her... mission in life: levitation magic to reach the chamber window she had used to enter the keep, spells to let her move as fast as a vampire, her enchanted weapons and armour... So if we were to keep her, we needed a way to prevent her escaping through magical means.

I remembered the slaves I had freed (back on my second day on Vvardenfell) from the smuggler's cave just outside Seyda Neen. They had been restrained by 'slave bracers'; enchanted manacles that drained the wearer's magicka reserves to naught - effectively preventing him or her from casting spells. One - or even a pair - of those was just what we needed.

I would run across to the smuggler-cave to fetch the bracers (if they were still there), and Sirilonwe would stay behind to watch over Hunter - while at the same time consulting her books to find a way to create the spells and enchantments we would need to keep our 'guest' safely - and secretly - locked away. Firstly we needed a variation of a permanent Silence spell on the chamber; one that would (in simple terms) mean that someone on one side of the door to the concealed tomb could not hear anything that took place on the other side. That way, if Hunter decided to call for help, no-one would hear her.

We also needed a strong Locking spell for the secret door - and decided that it should be made to last for a week after being cast (unless Sirilonwe or I dispelled it first, of course). It was our intention to stock Hunter's cell with enough food and water to last for over a week; and with a spell like that on the door, she would not starve to death in the event that we were (for whatever reason) unable to return to the castle for some time.

Of course, if this were to happen and the door were to simply unlock... well, having an angry vampire hunter let loose in the castle could be quite bad for us. Sirilonwe had the idea of incorporating a contingency into the spell: so that if a week passed and the door did unlock, Hunter would - if she touched the door - be teleported far away; to somewhere on the mainland, probably. It would then be difficult for her to return to Wolfen castle - at least straight away. And if she did come back, then at least she would be on the outside of the castle-defences, rather than inside the keep.

It all sounded very complicated to me. I was glad Sirilonwe was taking on the challenge, while I had the simple task of locating a slave bracer or two.

And it was very simple, in the end. In the smuggler's cave, the bracers were still lying exactly where Baadargo and his fellow slaves had discarded them; barely even touched by mud or dust. The key to the bracers was still with them too: although I suppose this is not as surprising as one might think. Even if the caves had been well-scoured for valuables in the time since I had last been there, only a few 'sorts' were interested in things like slave bracers.

I picked up a pair of the bracers, plus the key, and returned home.

Once the bracers were safely snapped onto Hunter's wrists, I set about gathering up enough food from the kitchen to last her a week. The castle-cook Ancois might wonder what I had done with all the kitchen-stores, but I doubted she would question me seriously over it; I was the one who paid for the food, after all. After carrying in a great barrel of fresh water, plus another of (much easier to obtain) sea-water, accompanied by some soap and a sponge so that Hunter might keep herself clean, I scrounged together a small stack of books for her to read during her days of confinement. A straw mattress and some blankets were also needed.

All this may seem somewhat extravagant for a prisoner, but understand that keeping this woman as 'cattle' did not make me feel like a good person. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Sirilonwe and I both thought that keeping her there was the best (and safest) course of action we could take: save for resorting to the sort of vicious behaviour Hunter obviously thought we were prone to, and killing her outright. Still, keeping her prisoner was unpleasant for me; and I'm sure I was compensating for that.

As it turned out, I did not escape the difficult task of working on the spells and enchantments we required for Hunter's cell after all. Once my own tasks were all complete, Sirilonwe enlisted my help in searching through her books on magic research and creation. We stayed in for the rest of the night, and for all of the next day; Hunter's presence of course meaning that we did not need to go out to hunt.

By the following evening, it was done. Both Hunter and our new, relatively safe source of blood were secured.

I was now burning with curiosity about those 'lost prophecies of the Nerevarine' - and about the Dissident Priests, with their secret monastery. Did they really believe that the three living gods of the Tribunal were no more than powerful sorcerers, their power gained from some mysterious, profane source inside Red Mountain? Moreover, did they have any proof?

The 'Progress of Truth' pamphlet I had - a manifesto of sorts for the Dissident Priests - said the Tribunal had used 'profanely enchanted tools' to achieve god-like status, and that these tools were originally made by a Dwemer sorcerer named Kagrenac, in order to 'create the False Construct Numidium'. I had no idea what that last part meant - and I did want to find out - but what really piqued my interest was the section of the pamphlet that compared Dagoth Ur - and his powers - to the Tribunal. As I have made clear, I wanted to destroy the Sixth House and Dagoth Ur... but was it even possible, if he had the powers of a god?

It was time to travel to the Holamayan monastery, and (perhaps) find out.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Chapter 126: Intruder

The distress note that Mehra Milo had left for me (or for Caius, I suppose) was cleverly worded so as to not appear as a distress note, but her request was plain enough. She was being held in the Ministry of Truth - the prison and 're-education centre for the correction of heretics' run by the Temple Ordinators - and wanted me to bring her a couple of Divine Intervention spell-scrolls so that she could escape.

I have mentioned before the awe-inspiring 'moon' called Baar Dau: the gigantic rock that hovered magically (or by divine providence, some would say) above the High Fane. It was perhaps indicative of the... 'intestinal fortitude' of the Ordinators that they had established the Ministry of Truth inside that massive floating boulder. Or perhaps it was indicative of their faith: for it was the powers of the man-god Vivec that held Baar Dau low in the sky above the Fane; or so it was said.

In any case, it was into Baar Dau that I had to go: though not without some resistance from Sirilonwe.

"I wouldn't go if I thought it was dangerous." I told her, in my best cajoling voice. "They won't even see me. I can become invisible, after all."

"As long as you don't touch anything!" Sirilonwe argued. "I am sure you know how easily those spells are disrupted."

"And if they do see me," I continued, "I can Charm or paralyse them."

"Unless they have protection against magic, or they surround you!" She countered.

"And," I went on, "if all else fails, I can teleport away."

"Unless they have wards in place! Edward, is this woman - and this information she has - really so important that you would risk yourself like this?"

I grunted in frustration, and replied:

"Look, as I said, they won't even see me... and if they somehow do, I won't be caught. Do you remember me telling you about my childhood? I was a thief for a long, long time; I know what I'm doing. And if I can sneak into the lair of the Quarra vampires, then I can manage a few Ordinators..." I glanced at the distress note again. "Besides, this guard at the entrance - Alvela Saram; it sounds like she's on Mehra's side. It says here that she'll let me in. Maybe I'll be able to simply walk in and give Mehra the spell-scrolls."

I attempted a rakish grin, but Sirilonwe was not amused, and still not keen on my plan: not at all. She did give up trying to dissuade me, though; at least.

A while later - near midnight - we arrived outside the High Fane. We had returned to the castle briefly to don our armour: just in case something went wrong, as Sirilonwe seemed convinced it would. I had considered going in without armour, in the interest of making less noise - but the blackened Shadow Lord armour was cunningly constructed to as to make a minimum of noise when worn. While in the keep, I had also picked up the Divine Intervention spell-scrolls Mehra had requested: lifting them from Yanika's stores, and leaving enough coins behind to cover their worth.

It was near midnight by the time we returned to the High Fane, because we had water-walked, invisible, across the bay from Wolfen castle to the southern tip of Vivec: aiming to avoid being spotted at all on our approach. Using an Almsivi Intervention spell to just appear outside the High Fane was no good: Ordinators patrolled that area night and day.

Sirilonwe was going to wait outside (which suited her perfectly, in her current mood), perched out-of-sight atop the crest of the very tall High Fane building. From there she would have a perfect view of the spectacular floating 'moon', Baar Dau. As vampires, I could yell loud enough - and her hearing was acute enough - that even if I was deep within the Ministry of Truth, she would be able to hear me calling for help, and come in after me.

Alvela Saram's hand was on her sword the instant my feet touched the wooden platform that ringed the great, floating stone; but before she could draw, I said:

"My name is Amaya... Well, not really, but the name should mean something to you, yes?"

Alvela, a Dunmer woman in Ordinator's armour (sans the golden, masked helmet Ordinators usually wore), peered at my glowing eyes: the only part of me that was visible. I was wearing my Adamantium helmet, and had the attached Netch-leather scarf wrapped around my face to (hopefully) preserve my anonymity.

"So you're the one..." she said. "In Almsivi's name, I thought Mehra was joking when she told me you were a vampire! Al-alright, listen -" she began, tossing me a small key - "that's the key to the outer doors. I'll say you subdued me with magic, and took it."

"You will say that you don't know who I am, and that you didn't see my face, I trust?" I raised an eyebrow at her.

She cocked her head to one side.

"Well, I don't know who you are - and I can't see your face, so..." She shrugged lightly. "At any rate, Mehra is in the Prison Keep - the largest chamber in the Ministry - in the rightmost cell. Finally, and this is important; some of the Ordinators here are sympathetic to the Dissident Priests, but if anyone sees you - a vampire - in there... they would attack you. And remember, this is a huge trust we're placing in you: if you hurt anyone..." Alvela shook her head seriously. "So don't harm anyone, and don't be seen. Alright? Now, go - quickly."

Alvela directed me to what she said would be the best point of entry: the door around the other side of the huge boulder. I pulled it open a crack to peer inside, and when I was sure no-one would see, slipped inside.

The Ministry seemed much bigger on the inside, and was frustratingly mazelike. For what seemed like nearly half an hour, I crept through the winding, carved stone corridors, renewing and reinforcing my invisibility spell whenever no-one was looking (I became momentarily visible whenever I did this). I lost count of the number of times I had to freeze, pressed up against the wall, as an Ordinator strolled by on his or her patrol. I must say, though; not needing to breathe certainly had its advantages: I could be dead-silent when I needed to be (if you will pardon the pun).

Eventually, I found the door to the Prison Keep, a large cavern with a complicated mess of stalls, wooden dividers, and decking cluttering the floor. At the far side, I could see a row of sturdy-looking doors, set into the stone wall. They had to be the cells.

The stalls and wooden dividers provided good cover, and I made it across to the cell doors without incident. However, at the very moment my invisibility was disrupted by the spell I used to unlock Mehra's cell, an Ordinator on a raised platform looked down - and saw me.

"Stop, filthy s'wit!" He bellowed, as I threw the door open and dashed inside.

Inside the cell, a small chamber carved from the rock, a Dunmer woman with copper hair and copper eyes leapt from her cot.

"What? Who are you?" Mehra Milo asked, obviously startled, as I slammed the door behind me.

"I'm Amaya." I replied impatiently, locking the cell door with another spell.

"By Almsivi..." Mehra breathed, staring at my vampiric eyes; "so it's true..."

I tossed her the rolled-up Divine Intervention spell-scrolls, saying:

"There's no time: they saw me. If you use one of those now, I can follow you-"

But the priestess shook her head, interrupting me:

"No, we should separate. Listen quickly. We'll meet at the Dissident Priests' secret monastery, Holamayan. Look for a woman named Blatta Hateria on the East Docks at Ebonheart. Tell her I sent you, and that you want to go fishing."

A pounding at the door made her redouble her already feverish pace:

"She'll take you there; but beware, vampire: the monastery can only be accessed at dawn and dusk. Prepare accordingly."

I turned as the cell door flew open, a pack of furious Ordinators on the other side. My leather scarf still hid my face, and I think it was too dark for them to see my eyes; save for the light that glowed within them, of course. They surely knew that I was a vampire. There was a -crack- behind me as Mehra teleported away - and before the Ordinators could take another step, I followed her example.

However, I cast Almsivi Intervention and appeared outside the High Fane. I needed to collect Sirilonwe from the crest of the temple, before the Ordinators began a search of the Ministry and its surrounds for any suspicious individuals.

We made it home safely, and I had to assume that Priestess Mehra escaped too. We had to hunt and feed before the night was over, but were indoors well before the sun rose.

Travelling by boat to this intriguing secret monastery would require some careful planning and consideration if we wanted to avoid being roasted by the sun. Making things more complicated was the need to arrange things so that we would arrive during the night sometime; enabling us to wait until dawn so that we could actually get into the monastery. We could not rush into it, in any case. The plan was to find this Blatta Hateria the following evening, and find out more from her about what it would take to reach Holamayan.

Neither Sirilonwe or I had many duties to attend to that day, so in the early afternoon we retired to bed in Wolfen Keep, to sleep until the night came. This turned out to be just the opportunity one particularly dangerous individual was waiting for.

I woke at the brash clanging of a bell, and started horribly when I realised what it meant. Sirilonwe and I had fastened bells to all the doors and window shutters leading into my chambers, in case someone tried to enter without our knowledge or blessing. It saved us, on this occasion. Sunlight streamed onto the foot of the bed. Silhouetted in an open window was a figure in shining plate armour.

"Die, vampires! Fiends!" A female voice shouted, as the armoured figure darted across the room, towards the bed. She was very fast, even in full plate armour. I suspected she had any number of spells coursing through her body to grant her such speed: speed that rivalled our own. That, and the fact that she had yelled "die, vampires" made me certain that she was a vampire hunter.

Since I had been rudely awakened, I did not have my armour or weapons: I was stark nude, in fact. I did, however, have my magic. I leapt out of bed, and immediately made myself invisible. Sirilonwe had the same idea, and vanished too. I dashed around behind the armoured figure, to slam the shutters closed and keep out the burning sunlight - at the same time distracting our attacker, so that Sirilonwe could sneak up behind her.

It worked - after a fashion; she tried what was obviously a Sleep spell, only rather than the vampire hunter falling to the floor, there was a flash - and instead Sirilonwe was staggering back, looking groggy.

"The armour's enchanted... reflection..." she mumbled, before disappearing beneath an invisibility spell again.

No offensive magic, then. It would only reflect back on me; to potentially disastrous effect. Magic that acted upon me, though; that could work. I made myself invisible again.

"Hold on." I whispered, low enough that only Sirilonwe could hear me. "I'll try something."

While the armoured figure's attention was turned away from me - scanning the room to find Sirilonwe - I snatched up my Daedric katana from the top of my dresser, and struck the vampire hunter as hard as I could across the back of her head; with the flat of the blade.

The helmet flew off as the hunter pitched forward, onto the floor, revealing her to be a dark-haired Dunmer. At the moment she lost her footing, it was over for our attacker. I pounced on her and held her down, sinking my fangs into her neck. She struggled valiantly, even managing to rise to her feet with me still latched onto her back, draining her. Soon though, she had simply lost too much blood, and collapsed to the floor under the weight of her plate armour; too weak to move, and barely conscious.

"She's a vampire hunter, isn't she?" Sirilonwe said as she reappeared, blinking away the effects of her own Sleep spell, and stood over our fallen attacker.

I nodded; speechless at how rich the Dunmer's blood had been. She was very fit - and healthy.

"We cannot just let her go;" Sirilonwe was saying; "She would only come back and try to kill us again; and... I do not want to kill her like this." She paused. "You know... I can't help but think of those mortals you told me about, at Ashmelech: what did they call them? Cattle?"

She licked her lips absently, and asked, eyes on the armoured figure:

"Can we keep her, do you think?"

I looked down at the Dunmer woman, weakly pressing her hand against the wound on her neck, trying to stop the bleeding.

"Yes;" I said; "I think we can."