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, June 02, 2006

Chapter 134: The great climb

After leaving Vivec to concentrate on maintaining the Ghostfence, Sirilonwe and I spent the next day and night preparing for a journey into the Red Mountain region. Upon gifting me with the gauntlet Wraithguard - which accounted for one out of three of Kagrenac's Tools - Vivec told us where we might find the other two. To the best of the living god's knowledge, the hammer 'Sunder' and the blade 'Keening' had - unsurprisingly - been taken to separate Sixth House strongholds (or 'Gate Citadels') inside the Ghostfence, and were likely guarded by Ash Vampires.

The plan as laid out by Vivec went like this: first we should enter the Red Mountain region via the Ghostgate, so that we could ask the Buoyant Armigers (a small military force that answered to Vivec) garrisoned there for the latest reports on conditions inside the Ghostfence, and directions to the Gate Citadels where Sunder and Keening were probably being held. Second, we had to recover both Sunder and Keening. Third, we had to find the Heart Chamber underneath Dagoth Ur's Citadel - and finally, we had to destroy the enchantments upon the Heart of Lorkhan using the full set of Kagrenac's Tools.

This was to be done by striking the Heart once with the hammer Sunder (while wearing Wraithguard, as neither Sunder or Keening could be safely handled otherwise) to 'produce a pure tone', and then striking it many times with the blade Keening; until the enchantment was broken. Vivec unfortunately had no idea how I would actually know when this had occurred; but maintained that severing the ties to divinity of several god-like beings would produce some kind of noticeable result.

"A quest for ancient, magical weapons that made an entire race vanish from Tamriel all at once." Sirilonwe remarked, as we handed our armour and weapons over to my smith, Ulfred. "Does it make you feel like a figure out of legend?"

Events that may be considered to be of great significance to others can seem, by turns, both profoundly affecting and quite mundane to those directly involved. I did not really know how to answer Sirilonwe. Still, I thought as I gave her a vague smile; the enormity of the task before us was not lost on me. We were playing in the shadows of gods; and a mistake could easily mean a swift death.

Though with a clear path before me - a method to follow to achieve Dagoth Ur's end - I was not afraid. I trusted Vivec; at least, I trusted him to tell me how to kill Dagoth Ur - his sworn enemy. I believed that shame and a reluctance to lose their godly powers (and by extension, their lives) had caused the Tribunal's failure in their war against the Sixth House. I believed that the desperate situation the Tribunal found themselves in led Vivec to trust someone like me with the tools and the knowledge to do what they could not.

Sirilonwe was still concerned about the Blight and Corprus that was said to saturate the Red Mountain region, so I took her (for the first time) to Ashmelech, so that she herself could ask our 'mother' Dhaunayne Aundae all she liked about what it was to be a vampire. Dhaunayne was not in a pleasant mood.

"We are both Altmer, whelp." She told Sirilonwe coldly. "You should know full well that our pure blood makes us hardy against disease. In addition, my refined blood in your veins leaves you absolutely impervious to sickness. If your sire here is not simply spinning tales about his apparent case of Corprus, then - as he said - he was only infected because he clumsily irritated a Dagoth. I do not like repeating myself - to either of you. Vampires are immune to disease. We are not, however, immune to curses."

Dhaunayne's casual mention of the powers of a Dagoth surprised me a little, and for an instant I considered asking her if she might allow any of her 'children' from Ashmelech to aid me in the assault on the Sixth House citadels on Red Mountain. I thought better of it, though: neither the vampires there, nor their mother, would ever do anything I asked of them. At that moment, too, Dhaunayne seemed especially cross with me; perhaps because I had passed her vampiric blood on to Sirilonwe without asking her permission.

Before we left Ashmelech, I bought a number of those glass vials (the ones enchanted to keep human blood fresh) from the trader there, and gave them to Sirilonwe, as none of the vampires there would even speak to her. We spent the remainder of the night laboriously filling the glass vials with (a furious) Hunter's blood, and were then faced with a long, restless day before the sun set and we could finally be on our way. We had a long way to go.

With newly repaired armour, sharpened weapons, and enough bottled blood to (hopefully) see us through any battle, we teleported across to Ald'ruhn and set out for Ghostgate from there.

The Buoyant Armigers on duty in the Ghostgate recognised Wraithguard on my hand - as Vivec had said they would - and an impressively armoured Dunmer there gave me an old map of Red Mountain showing the locations of the ancient Dwemer citadels the Ash Vampires had taken as their homes. This was all the intelligence he had for us, really; as no-one had ventured far inside the Ghostfence for years.

Vivec had told us that Sunder had been taken to Gate Citadel 'Vemynal', and Keening had been taken to Gate Citadel 'Odrosal'. According to the map the Buoyant Armiger gave me, Dagoth Ur's citadel was located in the centre of Red Mountain, over the Heart Chamber. Odrosal was south-east of this citadel (and closest to the Ghostgate), and Vemynal was to the north-west. We would try Odrosal first then, since it was closest.

Inside the Ghostfence was just as I remembered it. The sky was a lurid red, the wind howled, the air was choked with flying ash and dirt, and the ground underfoot was a shifting mass of grit and fine black ash. The Netch-leather scarf attached to my helmet was not as useful as it might have been; had I still needed to breathe - but it at least kept the blowing ash of the constant Blight storms from entering my nose and mouth. I wished I had a helmet like Sirilonwe's - which incorporated eyepieces of green volcanic glass. I had to squint against the stinging ash, but she could see perfectly.

Climbing the mountain was desperately hard. A steep, smooth path of shifting ash was the only remotely easy way up the southern slopes of Red Mountain, and we were fighting nearly every step of the way: Ascended Sleepers, Ash-ghouls, Corprus beasts; even poisonous scorpions that scuttled around in the ash, near-invisible - all attacked us relentlessly. Our invisibility spells were not working, either: it seemed as if the constant barrage of sand, soil and ash whipped up by the Blight storm disrupted them. There was nothing we could do but fight.

We had both drunk our fill from Hunter before leaving the castle, and with so much fresh blood in our bodies, any wounds we sustained during the ascent closed over in moments. Eventually, Sirilonwe spotted the distinctive bulbous towers of a Dwemer installation - high up on a cliff above us. It was the only structure we had yet seen; it had to be Gate Citadel Odrosal. The steep path we were following branched off to the right, and snaked its way up the bluff to the citadel entrance. After dispatching the Ash-ghouls outside, we finally made it into Odrosal. It had taken most of the night.

It was just like any other Dwemer ruin inside Odrosal; dark and noisy - though perhaps kept in better condition than most. It was also eerily void of any Sixth House defenders - at least at first.

We found Keening in a tower near the entrance; identifying it by Vivec's description. It was unmistakable: a longsword with a handle of Dwemer metal, and a brightly glowing blade of some strange, almost crystalline, material. I had made the gauntlet Wraithguard a permanent part of my armour (replacing the right-handed Shadow Lord gauntlet), as it was far superior to any other armour piece I had seen; by virtue of both its workmanship and the powerful protective enchantments placed on it. Careful to touch it with only the Wraithguard, I drew the blade Keening from the pit of black ash in which it was stuck; feeling immediately as if my limbs had been relieved of a great burden. The wondrously light blade was enchanted to bolster the wielder's limbs with amazing speed and grace.

A low thrum passed through the stronghold as I took up the blade; and it meant exactly what I feared. Wherever they had been during our ingress, the monstrous defenders of Odrosal came out in force to prevent our escape. Of course we could have simply teleported away home, but then we would have lost an awful lot of hard-earned ground in our foray into the Red Mountain region. No: we needed to find a safe location to place our teleportation Marks (as the rapidly approaching dawn necessitated a return to the castle) - and Odrosal was definitely not safe.

Almost a score of ashen-skinned ghouls and zombies sought to stop us as we dashed for the exit, and the fell figure of an Ash Vampire loomed behind the throng. There was a deafening -bang- as Sirilonwe set our attackers ablaze with a devastating fire spell. The wall of writhing, burning (but disturbingly close-mouthed) bodies prevented the Ash Vampire from advancing any further, and secured our escape. Sirilonwe and I burst out into the red night, and disappeared into the swirling storm.

There was less than an hour until the sun came up by then, and we ducked into a nearby abandoned mine we had passed on our climb up the mountain, to hurriedly place our magical Marks in a secluded spot. I still had the Wolfen ring, of course; so I could teleport home any time I chose - but Sirilonwe's only method of quickly returning to the castle was a Recall spell. With her Mark now in a cave halfway up Red Mountain, we needed another way home.

With only twenty or so minutes left until dawn, we cast Almsivi Intervention to return to the Temple in Ald'ruhn, sprinted to the Mages Guild to be teleported back to the Vivec guild hall, and then cast Divine Intervention to teleport to the Imperial Chapel in Ebonheart. Finally, we cast our water-walking spells and tore across the swells of the bay to Wolfen castle. The door to the great hall slammed shut behind us just as the sun rose above the sea.

It had certainly not been easy, but we had recovered Keening from the place where it had been held for hundreds of years. We had done what three livings gods could not.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chapter 133: The temporary gods

I learned a lot from Vivec. Much of it was information he volunteered, and much was in response to my questions. He told me that this was to gain my trust; since his (unnerving) ability to see into my mind meant that he already knew that he could trust me to do all I could to destroy Dagoth Ur. Of course it had been I that had forced entry to Vivec's Palace and beseeched him to help me - but I appreciated the gesture. According to the Dissident Priests and the Ashlanders, Vivec was someone to be wary of placing trust in.

Some of what he told me was in the form of written documents, as he insisted that the need for his attention to be focused on holding back Dagoth Ur's forces (by proxy of the Ghostfence, I assumed) precluded the luxury of any 'redundant talk'. The method in which he made copies of these documents (seemingly from memory) was unexpected; and fascinating. As we watched, Vivec took up a container of black ink and poured it over his hand. He then planted his black hand-print on several long rolls of parchment, and stood back - hand clean once more - as the ink on the parchment resolved itself into words and paragraphs.

One of the scrolls was another account of the Battle at Red Mountain, and the events that took place immediately before and after it. The preface claimed that the account was Vivec's own; a transcription of the living god's words to a Dissident Priest who confronted him, demanding to know the truth of what happened all those centuries ago. Considering the nature of this encounter, Vivec appeared to have replied with surprising detail and honesty. After reading the 'Kagrenac's Tools' document given to me by the Dissident Priests, I was already familiar with some of what was said; but I will recount here the points I found interesting - or that became significant later:

One remarkable point (at least for someone as ignorant of history as myself) was that the Dunmer people used to be called the 'Chimer', and in fact used to have golden skin - not unlike the Altmer. Before the War of the First Council and the Battle of Red Mountain (thousands of years ago), the Chimer and Dwemer were uneasy allies after their war against the invading Nordic forces from Skyrim. At that time, Dagoth Ur (and likewise House Dagoth) was still an ally of the Tribunal, and discovered proof that High Engineer Kagrenac of the Dwemer intended to build a god for his people using the Heart of Lorkhan buried beneath Red Mountain. The Chimer viewed a 'god' such as this as a mockery of their faith - and a terrible weapon in the hands of their enemies of old.

The Dwemer refused to cease construction on 'Akulakhan' - their fabricated god - and the situation deteriorated into the war that culminated in the Battle of Red Mountain. During the battle, the Dwemer's leader was slain; and, seeing that the fight went badly for his people, Kagrenac tried to do... something (what exactly he tried to do is not known) with the enchanted tools he had made and the Heart of Lorkhan. Indoril Nerevar and Dagoth Ur were apparently nearby at the time, and all they saw was Kagrenac approach the Heart... and shortly afterwards, the wholesale disappearance of the Dwemer race.

Kagrenac's enchanted tools (which were not named, but I assumed to be Wraithguard, Sunder and Keening) remained behind, and General Nerevar entrusted Dagoth Ur with the duty of guarding them until he could speak with his advisors Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil about what should be done with them.

Nerevar told the Tribunal that Kagrenac had tried to save or empower his people somehow using the tools and Lorkhan's Heart, but the incredible power that resulted from this combination had resulted in the removal of the Dwemer from Morrowind - and perhaps from Nirn altogether. Obviously the tools were items of terrible power, and had to be destroyed or kept safe somehow. The latter choice was argued (and decided upon in the end) by the Tribunal, so they and Nerevar returned to the 'Heart Chamber' under Red Mountain to retrieve the tools from Dagoth Ur.

However, Dagoth Ur refused to give the tools up, saying that they were too dangerous. He allegedly appeared so obsessed with the tools that it was assumed that he had been corrupted by them somehow, and eventually Nerevar and the Tribunal attacked him; driving him off, and taking the tools from him. Nerevar, Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil all swore before the Daedra goddess Azura that they would never attempt to use the tools 'in the profane manner in which the Dwemer had intended'; and the tools went with Sotha Sil to be studied and kept safe. Dagoth Ur was presumed dead.

Years later, Sotha Sil told Vivec and Almalexia that he had discovered a way in which they might safely make themselves divine immortals using the tools. With plans of setting themselves up as just and righteous gods of the Chimer; divine patrons that understood the plight of mortal people, the trio made a pilgrimage to the Heart Chamber and performed the rituals Sotha Sil devised. They were successful, and became as gods with physical bodies; but Azura appeared before them and cursed them for breaking their oath, and for mocking and defying the will of the gods.

At that moment, the Chimer were all changed into Dunmer, with 'skin turned ashen' and 'eyes turned to fire'. Azura had been very displeased.

I glanced up at Vivec at that point. The change from the golden-skinned Chimer to the grey-skinned Dunmer went some way to explaining the odd pattern to the living god's own skin.

A remarkable story indeed: but it did not end there. Despite being cursed by a goddess they had once paid homage to, the Tribunal successfully established themselves as the new gods of the new Dunmer people; and Morrowind (or Resdayn as it was known then) enjoyed hundreds - even thousands - of years of peace and prosperity under their guardianship. Once a year, the Tribunal would go to the Heart Chamber to bathe in the Heart's power - and it was on one of these visits that they discovered that Dagoth Ur was not dead.

Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil were ambushed by a newly awoken Dagoth Ur, aided by his Ash Vampire brethren - and driven from Red Mountain. It was assumed that Dagoth Ur must have found a way to tap the Heart's power without Kagrenac's Tools. Since the moment of Dagoth Ur's return, the Tribunal never again entered the Heart Chamber. They tried, of course; making intermittent attacks against Dagoth Ur's forces over the years (hundreds of years, in fact) - but denied access to the Heart, they grew weaker and weaker. On one of these forays (the last recorded one, it seemed), the artefacts Sunder and Keening were lost to Ash Vampires, and the Tribunal retreated to the respective capital cities named after them, to focus on upholding the Ghostfence. By that time, the Ghostfence was the only thing holding Dagoth Ur's forces at bay.

The account certainly read like Vivec's own: it did not portray him - or Almalexia and Sotha Sil - as being particularly evil. One aspect of the transcript that particularly stuck with me was the way in which the death of Indoril Nerevar was glossed over; in fact, it was not even mentioned at all. Ashlander traditions held that Nerevar was killed by the Tribunal... so lack of a mention of Nerevar's end in Vivec's account made me suspicious. That the transcript ended with the living god threatening the Dissident Priest with death - should he reveal to anyone what he had been told - only made me more uneasy.

I looked up at Vivec once I had finished reading, and he said:

"I do not care what you believe, vampire Frost - or what you think of me. You should realise that it makes little difference now." Again I had the feeling that he knew exactly what was in my mind. He continued: "The important information to take from that scroll is what Craftlord Kagrenac aimed to do with the Heart of Lorkhan; as in some ways, Dagoth Ur is taking on the role of a 'Kagrenac reborn'. He aims to do the same as Kagrenac, and create a god - 'Akulakhan', the 'Second Numidium' - with which he can conquer Morrowind."

This was something that one of the other scrolls he gave me mentioned: a summary of the Tribunal Temple's theories on what Dagoth Ur actually wanted and intended. I will not go into slavish detail here on the contents of the scroll: suffice it to say that the Temple was quite certain that Dagoth Ur intended to drive the Empire and all foreigners from Morrowind, and rule the province (and later, perhaps, the whole of Tamriel) as a kind of god-king. A supreme ruler over all other authorities in Morrowind. This did not surprise me. What I had seen of the Sixth House spoke of a vicious, ruthless ambition behind it all: alongside the obvious depravity and insanity, of course.

I was, however, surprised to learn of the part Corprus disease played in this plan - and in the corrupted members of the Sixth House. This was something Vivec told me himself, though - as he began to summarise what he knew of the opposition we faced:

"It all begins with Dagoth Ur." Vivec said. "His flesh, and the flesh of his followers, evolves towards a mutable, magical form. He invades the dreams of Dunmer across the land - and compels them to come to the Sixth House - or drives them mad, sometimes. Of the Sleepers brought into his service, the strong have their bodies warped and changed through several stages - or 'ranks' - on the path to becoming one of his most powerful servants. Ash Slaves, Ash Ghouls, Ash Priests, and finally the powerful Ascended Sleepers, with tentacles sprouting from their faces."

"The tentacle-faced men?" I asked.

Vivec regarded me in silence for a moment, before saying:

"Is that what you call them?" I suspect he might have laughed at this point, had he been the sort to do so. Instead, he continued: "Yes... these creatures were once Sleepers lured by Dagoth Ur - the strong ones, at least. The others; those too weak to control the distorted manifestations of their flesh... they lose control and become Corprus beasts. That is what Corprus is: a manifestation of Dagoth Ur's will."

I was a little shocked. Everyone said that the Blight and Corprus came from Red Mountain, of course; and that Dagoth Ur was to blame - but an intentional effort to subvert or convert his enemies? It was horrifying. Not least because that corruption had been in my own body - and perhaps part of it still was (according to Divayth Fyr).

"Still higher in Dagoth Ur's service, however -" Vivec went on - "are his fellow 'heartwights', the Ash Vampires. Have you seen one?"

Sirilonwe and I both nodded.

"But you were unable to kill it, correct?"

Again, we nodded.

"Then you know something of what it is to face Dagoth Ur in battle." Vivec was nodding now, and he looked pleased (though I could easily have been imagining that - he was not the most expressive being I had ever met). "Heartwights are bound somehow to the Heart of Lorkhan. They are supremely difficult to kill, and even should that be achieved, they will be revived in the Heart Chamber shortly afterwards. This is true of the Ash Vampires and of Dagoth Ur, just to be clear."

The living god paused.

"Which brings us to what you must do... if you would destroy Dagoth Ur. As I said, the Heart of Lorkhan must be destroyed... or perhaps only the enchantments placed on it by Kagrenac that bind Dagoth Ur and his minions - and Almalexia, Sotha Sil and I - to it. In any case, Sotha Sil tells me that Kagrenac's Tools are required for this - and as you have just read, Sunder and Keening are lost to Ash Vampires. We - the Tribunal - cannot leave our havens to retrieve them; we must maintain the Ghostfence. You, vampire Frost, have nothing to keep you from getting them back. I will tell you where they are probably being held, but first -"

Vivec pointed at me, and I blacked out for a moment. It was something like the sensation of teleporting from one place to another, actually. When I came back to myself, I was cradling something cold and heavy in my arms.

"I can still give one of Kagrenac's Tools to you." Vivec was saying. "That is Wraithguard."

I was holding a great right-handed gauntlet of gleaming Dwemer metal. It was enchanted with powerful protective magics, and was so long that it would actually protect my entire forearm, as well as my hand.

"You may have felt strange just now." Vivec said, as I turned the Wraithguard over and over in my hands. "I had to... change you, slightly, so that you can safely wear that. Wraithguard is an artefact of great, great power. You will not die or be taken while you carry that. Should your death - true death, vampire - approach, you will teleport away to safety - understood? We cannot lose Wraithguard as well."

I pulled off my 'Shadow Lord' gauntlet, and slid the Wraithguard on. The power in it was indeed tremendous.

"Now..." Vivec said, "you are appropriately armoured to put our enemy to death."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Chapter 132: Place in the world

"I have never met anyone more inclined to rash decisions than you, Edward." Sirilonwe, as often seemed to be the case, was styling herself as the voice of reason in my life: "You cannot seriously mean to just walk into Vivec's Palace and ask him how to kill Dagoth Ur."

After telling Nibani Maesa what I truly thought about the Nerevarine prophecies, Sirilonwe and I had left the Urshilaku camp immediately - without speaking another word to anyone. I doubted that I could ever go back there, after what I had said - not without violence, at any rate.

I was obsessed, you could probably say. I just had to see to it that House Dagoth was destroyed: I could not stand the thought of all those Dunmer people lured by their sleeping and waking dreams to sickening places like Telasero; where they would likely die or become corrupted by Corprus.

"Vivec must know." I insisted. "I don't know who else I can turn to in this - and I don't know what I would do if House Dagoth is left to continue like it is. Look, Siri; knowing what you do about what's really happening to this place - to Vvardenfell, I mean - what else can we do?"

I think that what Sirilonwe had seen of the disfigured Sixth House monsters in Kogoruhn influenced her in my favour; she eventually agreed to my plan.

Not that it was much of a plan, really.

We stood outside Vivec's domed palace, at the southernmost tip of the holy city; readying ourselves to go in. The palace exterior was deserted; it was quite late at night, after all. The lack of guardsmen might have been puzzling, were the occupant of that palace not a living god. Lord Vivec needed no bodyguards, I was sure.

With sight augmented by the magical, vampiric blood in my veins, I looked through the single small door to the palace - with its complex lock and powerful electrical trap - and saw, or perhaps felt, a single, pulsating power inside. It had to be Vivec; and he was alone.

I felt a powerful sense of trepidation as I backed away to a safe distance and magically neutralised the lock and the trap. If the man-god inside objected strongly to our intrusion, we would likely not have a chance to retreat. To reassure myself as much as Sirilonwe, I said, with an attempted grin:

"I've read that Vivec is compassionate - so as long as we're polite..."

She only clenched her teeth, and followed me inside.

Vivec stared at me for what seemed like a long time, his large eyes not blinking once. He did not shine with divine light, or speak with a booming voice as I might have expected; but the sense of presence he exuded was almost unbearable. I felt helplessly drawn towards him, a feeling very similar to being dragged inexorably out to sea by the tide. An unpleasant feeling.

He looked much like an unusually tall Dunmer, and wore only a loin-cloth, a couple of arm-bands, and bonemold and chiton pauldrons - attached to a heavy golden necklace. Perhaps the strangest aspect of his appearance was his skin: it was two colours, rather than one. The left half of his body was grey, like the Dunmer; and the right half was golden, like the Altmer (only perhaps a little more bronzed). The colours met in a dead-straight line down his body: right from the top of his head, all the way down to his pelvis. He was sitting cross-legged and floating, unsupported, in the air above a three-sided dais.

As we stood and stared at the man-god, seemingly unable to say a single thing, Vivec raised one hand, and pointed at me. I suddenly felt afraid - I knew I was in great danger.

"You are uninvited." Vivec said, his voice flat and emotionless. "Why are you here?"

"Sorry for the intrusion," I said tentatively; somewhat cowed, "but the priests would never have allowed me in to see you had I simply asked."

"There are very good reasons for that, vampire. My attention must be on this land's enemy."

I shifted my weight. Suddenly I was feeling very weak; as if my strength was flowing out and into Vivec.

"That is why I'm here!" I struggled. "I've seen the Sixth House - I've fought the Sixth House. I want Dagoth Ur's destruction, and... I know about Kagrenac's Tools."

Vivec's expression did not change, but I was feeling still weaker. I fell to my knees, and realised I could feel something wet and sticky running into my mouth: my nose was bleeding.

"Edward..." Sirilonwe whispered, a pleading note in her voice. Her hands were tight on my shoulders.

"You do not endear yourself to me by speaking of our eternal shame;" Vivec said, still in his emotionless monotone; "but... I see your mind now."

At that, the horrible sensation of my strength leaving me stopped abruptly, and I was able to stand again. The man-god continued:

"You sincerely wish the end of Dagoth Ur."

There was a long pause, in which I steadied myself and wiped the blood from my face. My nose had stopped its spontaneous bleeding. Vivec's hand was resting on his knee once more.

"Why did you become a vampire?" He asked eventually. "Was it to escape death? Mortality?"

"I was dying." I replied, nodding slowly and carefully - worried at what would happen if I offended him somehow. "I wanted an escape from that."

Vivec nodded too, and said, surprisingly:

"I know how you felt... Mortality is a cruel reward at the end of a life dedicated to finding time for worthwhile and just endeavours. You said you know of Kagrenac's Tools; from accounts in the Apographa, no doubt. There is some truth in those accounts - so I would presume that you know of the manner in which Almalexia, Sotha Sil.... Dagoth Ur - and I - came into divine power?"

I recounted briefly what I had learned from the 'Kagrenac's Tools' essay that abbot Barelo had given me: about Wraithguard, Sunder and Keening - and the heart of the dead god Lorkhan. Vivec confirmed all this with a wordless nod, and then - again - said something I was not expecting:

"Have you ever tried to kill yourself?" He asked, darkly.

I was taken aback, and all that came to mind was:

"Well, there was that trick to the Puzzle Canal underneath your palace." I replied, frowning. That 'trick' - which essentially involved drowning oneself in the Puzzle Canal, to be revived near a secret shrine associated with the Pilgrimage of the Seven Graces - was quite an unpleasant memory for me.

Vivec grimaced slightly - the first expression of emotion I had seen him make.

"Yes... that test was constructed in the spirit of what I wanted to - one day - have the willpower to do. Well - perhaps want is the wrong word."

The man-god paused again - apparently lost in thought; even though his eyes never blinked, and never left mine.

"Destroying the heart of Lorkhan is the only way to strip Dagoth Ur of his immortality." Vivec said eventually. "I have known this for a very long time. The reason Almalexia, Sotha Sil and I have not done this ourselves is because destroying the heart would be akin to suicide for us. We too would be stripped of our divine powers; and in time - perhaps only a short time - we would die."

It all made sense - destroy the source of Dagoth Ur's power to destroy him. I thought I could also understand why it had not already happened: and what Vivec said next let me know that I was right:

"This is the shame I spoke of. The need for our eventual self-destruction was established when we first took the power of the heart - but until recently we deluded ourselves that we could escape this fate; Almalexia, Sotha Sil and I. Until recently, Dagoth Ur slept beneath the mountain." Vivec sighed - an odd sound, that gave the impression of a building settling. "Now he has awoken, and an army stirs in his shadow. We lost the chance to quietly do what was necessary by ourselves - in secret - and now raising a force to storm the heart-chamber would necessitate the disclosure of our shame to the world. For I do not think that - even now - Sotha Sil, Almalexia or I would have the strength of will to end it ourselves."

Vivec gazed at Sirilonwe and I with renewed intensity.

"I know who you are now. You - both of you - have power, but no real allegiance - nothing and no-one that would prevent you from..." He trailed off, and left the sentence hanging. "Yes, you have your 'ranks' in your guild of mages, but I can see that it means little to you: now, if not always. You have power; few in this land could stand against you - but you are still in the world. I have studied the immortals of Morrowind - and some are superior to you. The dark, ancient vampires deep in their holes in the ground: they could crush you - or almost anything they chose. But they do not: they stay in their holes, bored and waiting for the world outside to end."

"No - you are not all-powerful, Frost: but you still need this world - and that may be enough."