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 09, 2006

Chapter 137: Descent

Once more, we raced against the coming dawn to make it safely home. Before even washing the ash and dust of our climactic journey to Red Mountain from ourselves, we paid Hunter a visit in the hidden tomb. After giving most of my blood to Sirilonwe, so that her body would mend itself, I had availed myself of a vial of blood to keep myself going; but I - both of us, really - still desperately needed more.

Our early daylight hours were spent recovering from the taxing events of the night before: washing ourselves, leaving our armour and weapons with Ulfred to be cleaned and repaired, re-setting teleportation Marks in the castle (in Sirilonwe's case, at least), and generally trying to calm ourselves after our battle with a living god - or perhaps I should say a living devil.

Once the daylight hours were passed, I meant to visit Vivec; to confirm with him that our efforts in the Heart Chamber had had the desired effect. Thinking that bringing the full set of Kagrenac's Tools near one of the Tribunal might be considered an error in judgement - after all that had happened - I hid Sunder and Keening in Wolfen castle's secret vault. They would, of course, have been the museum exhibit to put all others to shame - but by the same token they would attract too much attention. No-one knew what I had done; the distinctive hammer and blade would draw too many questions.

It was a strange feeling, going about my usual duties at the Mages Guild that day; everything was so mundane compared to the struggle of the extraordinary night before.

In the late afternoon, reports began to come in that the Ghostfence had fallen - or, to put it in more accurate and less dramatic terms; the wall of magical power (that had once used the physical part of the Ghostfence as its frame) was gone. In addition (and much to the relief of everyone who stood aghast at the report of the Ghostfence failing), the Blight storms were blowing themselves out; the diseased ash and dust that had been carried upon the foul winds coming to settle on the lower slopes of Red Mountain, inside the Ghostfence. The red glow in the sky above Red Mountain was fading.

This was the only topic of conversation on everyone's lips as Sirilonwe and I left the guild hall. It was frustrating, obviously: we knew the answer that everyone craved. We could relieve everyone of the misery of fear and conjecture... if they would believe us. No-one would, though, of course. It was just too much of a disclosure: the Tribunal had been accepted as gods of apotheosis for thousands of years. Who would believe us - a couple of vampires - if we told them the truth of what happened between the Tribunal and Dagoth Ur?

No: the secret - and the power to make people believe in it - still lay very much with Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil. I had already intended to visit Vivec in his palace as soon as the sun went down, but now I had something else to ask him: What would the Tribunal - and the Temple - do next? Would they tell everyone what had happened?

"I have been in discussion with the Temple leaders." Vivec said, conspicuously seated in a wooden chair at his desk. He seemed a long way from floating above his triangular dais, as he had before. "I am not a god much longer. With our connection to the Heart severed, our divine powers diminish. I have told the priests that I will withdraw from the world, and that the Temple should return to its original worship of Mephala, Boethiah, and Azura... the good Daedra. We are still discussing how to do this, and also how to reveal all that has happened to the people."

Vivec sat and gazed into the middle distance for a long while. I noticed that he was now blinking every now and then - rather than the unnerving, endless stare of before. I wondered if he had spent his whole godhood never-blinking; as if frozen in time.

"I met with Almalexia today." He said eventually. "She never wore the mantle of divinity as lightly as I. She tends to brood - and our loss weighs heavily on her... I almost wonder if she actually agrees that destroying Kagrenac's enchantment on the Heart was the right thing to do! But - no, no. She has never been afraid to do what was necessary."

The man-god fell into another uneasy silence.

"And what of Sotha Sil?" I asked, unable to resist. While I had only ever heard a little about Almalexia, I knew next to nothing about Sotha Sil.

"I have not spoken with him yet." Vivec replied absently. "We have not really communicated regularly for many years now. His divine powers go the same way as mine and Almalexia's... but I doubt he will even notice." A sad smile shadowed his face. "Always so fascinated by the hidden world... I doubt he can lift his head from its mysteries for long enough to even notice us most of the time."

We left Vivec smiling sadly to himself after that. I had been the one to strip him of his divinity. However civil he may have been, I doubted he really wanted to see me.

Over the following week, the news of the disappearance of the Ghostfence and the Blight Storms spread. Rumours proliferated: Vivec was dead or absent; the whole Tribunal was dead; the volcano Red Mountain had erupted and fallen in on Dagoth Ur; Dagoth Ur had finally been defeated by the Tribunal... some even nervously joked that the Tribunal and Dagoth Ur had mended their differences and formed a truce.

And still no announcement came from the Temple... it was a time of great unease for the people of Vvardenfell. Sirilonwe and I were soon to become somewhat distracted and removed from the mire of doubt, fear, rumours and speculation that infested the minds and speech of everyone on the island, however.

One week after the death of Dagoth Ur, an unremarkable letter arrived at the Vivec Mages Guild, addressed to the Archmage - me. There was no indication of a return address, and it read simply:

It was Helseth. Be careful. Regards, C.C.

So Caius had finally lived up to his word, and revealed the identity of the one who had purchased the Dark Brotherhood contract on my life. King Hlaalu Helseth... figurehead of Morrowind's royal family; a family I had not even heard of before travelling to Mournhold itself, the king's place of residence. Such was the meagre influence they had on life and politics in Morrowind.

Why would the king want me dead? Were his agents still plotting my downfall? Had another contract been drawn up with the Dark Brotherhood? I had to know; and I had to see to it that it would not happen - that it would not get as far as fending off assassins that attacked while I slept. And I had to see justice done: I could not forgive the terror visited upon me in my first weeks on Vvardenfell.

It was time to return to the holy city of Almalexia.

Early that evening, we (Sirilonwe, as ever, deciding to come along) paid a visit to the Grand Council Chambers in Ebonheart, looking for Asciene Rane. Asciene was the mage who had, at the time of my previous visit to Almalexia, offered an unauthorised teleportation service to Mournhold, Almalexia's holy district. I was hoping she still did, as it would save a lot of time and effort.

We found her writing in a notebook at one of the many long tables reserved for Council meetings during the day. It became necessary to Charm her, as it was obvious that she was too afraid and distrustful of our vampiric natures for conversation to proceed otherwise; but she agreed to send both of us across the Inner Sea to inland Almalexia.

As soon as we arrived in the reception area of Mournhold's Royal Palace, we were approached by a nervous-sounding Royal Guard, in his full set of dusky-red armour.

"Edward Frost." He stated. "My Captain, Tienius Delitian, wishes to speak with you."

The guard's voice sounded a little forced; as if he was concentrating on keeping a tremor out of it.

"What is this regarding?" I asked. Hearing that an officer of the law wanted words with me always made me wary. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

"It concerns the matter of the group of Dark Brotherhood men slain in the catacombs some weeks past, as I understand it. Do not worry!" He added hastily. "You are not under arrest. P-perhaps this is speaking out of turn, but I would actually say that the Captain was impressed, more than anything. Er... if you would follow me?"

The Royal Guardsman led us through a series of richly appointed chambers and corridors to the Palace throne-room, and there introduced me to his captain.

"Tienius Delitian, Captain of the Guard." The smiling, strong-jawed Imperial man said, extending his hand.

I took a brief moment to observe that the king was not present in the throne-room, then clasped the man's hand.

"Yes... Mister Frost. I must say, it is good to meet the one who routed the Dark Brotherhood from Almalexia. They were quite the thorn in our side!" He gestured around the room at the guardsmen standing on duty.

"What leads you to believe that that was my doing?" I asked curiously.

Delitian's grin widened.

"Afraid I can't reveal my sources. In any case;" he shrugged - "it's my job to know such things. Now: you must be wanting to know the reason I asked to see you. Well, this is it: you are obviously a powerful and capable individual - with a powerful and capable friend." He added, giving Sirilonwe a wink. "I always have need of such people for tasks that... do not really fit in with the general roles and responsibilities of a member of the Royal Guard."

The man had a pleasant enough manner; but I found it somewhat difficult to trust his sincerity. (I had good reason to, after all).

"For example;" Delitian went on; "if you were to work with me, then the first thing I would ask you to look into is this persistent rumour about the death of our previous ruler, King Llethan. I would like to know the source of this rumour. Not too difficult. A few questions here and there. After all; who would say no to you?" He exclaimed with a laugh, eyeing my fangs. "Now, I report directly to our King Helseth; and I do talk to him about those in my service who do admirable work. This could be quite the opportunity, you know; even for someone like you."

Captain Delitian was quite right, I thought. It was the perfect opportunity; although perhaps not exactly in the way he had meant. I could hardly imagine a better way to get close to the king than to work closely with his Captain of the Guard. I might almost have considered it a gift of fate from the gods - were I not certain that I had only been approached by Delitian because he had been tasked with keeping an eye on me.

So... each would watch the other - and I hoped that I would not be the first to reveal a weakness.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Chapter 136: Gods' end

"Blood Vampire." Dagoth Ur's voice - smooth and deep - was in my head, rather than sounding as if it came from the masked figure before us. "It is kind of you to come bearing Kagrenac's Tools. I have... desired Wraithguard for such a long time. I shall relieve you of their burden shortly - so it is only right to thank you for coming all this way to deliver them."

Dagoth Ur gave a smooth bow, his odd muscles rippling, and a trickle of ash falling from the three 'chimneys' atop his mask as his head tilted forward. I felt almost as I had in the presence of Vivec: as if drawn to the man (being?) by an irresistible tide. The feeling this time was even more sinister: like the inexorable current that ensnared me dwelt within a body of rancid oil - rather than seawater.

"I might have offered you immortality in exchange;" he said; "change your blood for ash. But you are a vampire - you will already last forever; and you already have a power rising within your bones. It is a gift you do not need. So: your gift of the Tools to me will have to be a selfless one."

"I will ask you nothing," Dagoth Ur went on; "as you mean nothing to me. However, should you flee from here, I would have my intentions known to the world. You may ask me questions."

I kept my shield and blade up before me, my whole body tense. My skin felt as if it was about to crawl - or jump - off my flesh; my every sense screamed "danger!" at me.

"I will not surrender the Tools, fiend;" I managed to force the words out - "and I do not need to ask you your intentions. You would corrupt all the land to bring it under your rule."

"Corruption?" The heartwight asked. He had not yet moved from his station near the shrine. "I use the Heart to spread the divine power on the blight winds: to touch each and every soul in Vvardenfell - and one day the rest of Morrowind... and perhaps all Tamriel. I would have every mortal in Tamriel feel the touch of the divine. I will make everyone gods."

Even as my instincts urged me otherwise, I took a step closer to the masked, ashen figure.

"A touch of the divine?" I remarked. "You would call the deformations and misery of Corprus divine?"

Dagoth Ur's voice became cold, its tone seeming to change in my head; making it ache.

"You speak of things outside your ability to comprehend." He said shortly. "A guar trying to understand the will of its owner. I will say this, though you have shown that you are unlikely to understand: Those who cannot reach the divine dream-world will still know the touch of the divine. Those too weak or unworthy for even that will be purged."

He was obviously quite insane... or telling a truth I would never know. In either case, the outcome was the same for me. I gathered myself for the attack, biting out the words:

"There is nothing else to say."

I lashed out with my 'Blizzard' spell, but Dagoth Ur was gone before it reached him. I span wildly about, trying to find where he had gone, but Sirilonwe muttered:

"An illusion!"

Sure enough, there was no-one to be seen in the chamber but us. We cast about feverishly, looking for a possible ambush, but nothing moved there - save for a Dwemer door set into the stone wall; swinging slowly open to reveal a glimpse of a cavernous space behind. Dagoth Ur was there; standing at a distance, waiting for us.

We charged through the door, and into the Heart Chamber. It was truly massive: I have never seen a larger space. We - and Dagoth Ur - stood upon a platform of Dwemeri metal that projected out over a spectacular drop; down to a lake of molten rock. This lava gave the chamber much of its light; a lurid red glow. Standing ankle-deep in the molten rock was what appeared to be a statue in the shape of a man or mer: only it was as tall as three or more of the district cantons in the holy city of Vivec, if they were stacked atop one another. It reminded me of the statues of Dwemer people I had seen around certain Dwemer ruins - only in parts it appeared more angular and machine-like, and in other ways it looked like a grotesque imitation of a decaying body, with hunks of flesh torn from the bone.

It was Akulakhan - the 'Second Numidium'; the god-construct built by the Dwemer Craftlord Kagrenac, and intended to be powered by the Heart of the dead god, Lorkhan. Dagoth Ur stood - framed by the massive, fan-like 'head-dress' of Akulakhan behind him - near the edge of the metal platform. This turned out to be a mistake on his part.

Sirilonwe and I rushed the heartwight; he swiped at us with his gnarled, taloned hands - but by virtue of our combined attacks, we drove him back to the very edge of the platform. I gave Dagoth Ur one almighty shove with my shield - and he was off the edge; plummeting down into the molten lava far below, without a word.

I did not believe for one moment that he was dead: he was supposed to be completely indestructible, after all... at least while his link to Lorkhan's Heart remained. Looking down after the heartwight, I could see a hewn stone path leading from the metal platform and winding around the cavern wall, going down and down until it terminated at around the height of Akulakhan's belly. A wood and rope bridge was slung across from the stone path to the gargantuan construct, and I could see that the thing's belly was open and hollow. A red, throbbing object at the end of a mess of pipes jutting from Akulakhan's exposed 'spine' sat near the base of the hollow: it had to be the Heart of Lorkhan.

The rope bridge was almost directly below us - and quite a long way down. There was no time to lose: I leapt down onto it, Sirilonwe following just behind me. The bridge bucked from the impact, but we were vampires: supernatural agility was ours. I could see the Heart: a vivid red, glistening thing around twice the size of my head, with a faint nimbus of magical light around it. I rushed over, hurriedly pushing my Daedric katana into its sheath, and gingerly pulling out the hammer Sunder.

A single, pure (and very loud) tone rang out as I struck the Heart with the hammer; actually, it sounded as if it was all tones at once - from the deepest to the highest - at least, that is the only way I can describe it. A voice cried out from behind me: it was Dagoth Ur, and this time the voice definitely came from behind the golden mask, and not inside my own head:

"Stop!" He sounded desperate now. "You will undo eons of toil and history! You will ruin it all!"

The heartwight had appeared on the wood and rope bridge, surrounded by a shimmering red fire-shield. Bright molten lava sloughed off the protective magical barrier and onto the thick wooden slats of the bridge, setting them alight.

He ran forward to stop me, and Sirilonwe rushed to meet him on the bridge, shouting:

"Finish it quickly, Edward!"

I turned away from Sirilonwe - her blade wreathed in magical fire and flashing back and forth as she held Dagoth Ur back - to draw the blade Keening and strike the Heart. At the first blow, the pure tone that had been resonating through the chamber splintered into a dissonant, screeching noise - and it only got louder and more painful on the ears as I struck the Heart again and again with the crystalline blade.

With one final strike, the Heart was hewn from the mess of pipes, flopping onto the base of Akulakhan's stomach-hollow. The nimbus of light around it vanished, and a single, very deep pulse swept through the chamber. I had to swallow to release the sudden pressure in my ears. Was it the sound of a god's end? Dagoth Ur began to curse and scream terribly:

"NO! You and your families be DAMNED! Would-be saviours, the genocide of a race of GODS is on your heads!" The heartwight swayed on the wooden bridge, flames licking at his feet. Several gashes on his body - that had previously only dribbled a minute trace of ash - now spewed the grey dust everywhere.

"I will smear you across the WALLS!" He bellowed.

Dagoth Ur rose his hand to strike at Sirilonwe, but I shot across and swept my blade through his chest, casting his finally lifeless body down into the pit of fire below.

The chamber began to shake and tremor violently, as if in an earthquake, and I sped across the protesting wood-and-rope bridge, Sirilonwe behind me. I reached the hewn stone path at the edge of the chamber and span around; to see the bridge snap in two and collapse - with Sirilonwe still on it. She jumped; and I - my heart lurching painfully - darted forward, catching her by the arm and hauling her up, just in time.

It was only then that I realised she had been badly wounded by Dagoth Ur: the armour over her stomach had been torn open and to the side, and she was bleeding heavily.

"It hurts..." she gasped, barely audible over the roar of the quaking cavern.

I caught her up and threw her over my shoulder, then sprinted up and around the carved stone path, as the convulsing chamber grew dark with smoke and dust. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the monstrous figure of Akulakhan collapsing in on itself; sliding down into a bed of molten rock.

In the chamber with the shrine, where I had spoken with Dagoth Ur, I set Sirilonwe down and drew the Dwemer door to the Heart Chamber closed, locking it magically against whatever destruction was happening on the other side. Sirilonwe's eyes were closed, and her face was horribly pale. She needed blood desperately if the wound to her stomach was to be mended: more than could be had from a single glass vial.

I bit open my wrist and held the wound to her mouth. She - thankfully - began to drink; weakly at first, and then with more insistence. I began to feel faint as Sirilonwe drank away my blood - my head was swimming... the world grew darker, and darker...

I was on my knees, and a female figure appeared before me; luminous in my darkened eyes. She appeared as a Dunmer woman, in an azure dress, but somehow I felt that she was not a Dunmer - not really... she was not even mortal.

She spoke, and I recognised her voice; from her great shrine on the south-east coast. Azura: the Daedra goddess who had given me an artefact of legend: 'Azura's Star'.

"Edward Frost... Moon-and-Star. You carry my star with you, and you wear a crescent-moon mark upon you. You have acted as the blessed Nerevarine, even if none have called you such; and even if you do not yourself believe. You should be proud: the Heart is freed, the Blight is gone, and the devil, Dagoth Ur, is dead. Few will know or acknowledge what you have done for this world tonight... but you have my thanks - and my blessing."

A strange feeling flooded through me: a sense of certainty and assurance. I knew suddenly that Dagoth Ur had fallen for good, and that the Sixth House would soon follow. For once there was no doubt in my mind. Azura smiled as she faded from my sight, and I realised that Sirilonwe was shaking my arm: apparently somewhat recovered from her wounds.

"Are you alright?" She asked. "What are you staring at?"

"A truth I will never know." I replied.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Chapter 135: At the top of the mountain

We returned to Red Mountain the following evening; appearing at our teleportation Marks in the abandoned mine near Odrosal. There was a path leading out from the mine, carved into the south-western side of Red Mountain. Sirilonwe and I followed it around to the north-west, bound for Gate Citadel Vemynal - and hopefully the hammer Sunder. I had thought the path might be sheltered from the Blight storms somewhat - being in the lee of the mountain - but it was not to be. The winds were just as bad as on our ascent of the southern slope the previous night - and the fighting was just as heavy, too.

The south-western slopes of the great volcano seemed to have been abandoned to the undead. They were everywhere: animated skeletons caked with ash; zombies and bonewalkers; fast, flitting spirits - all of them oblivious to the violent Blight storm, and listlessly wandering the ashen wasteland as if they had been there forever.

During the journey, we passed underneath a Dwemer citadel, perched high above us on a rocky bluff. It looked quite large - from our vantage point - but curiously, it was not marked on the map the Buoyant Armiger gave me. In any case, we decided to leave it alone - there was no point stirring up more trouble: we had quite enough of it already. I could hear something through the storm that I had hoped to never hear again: the great, booming pulse of a dragon beating its wings. The sound was coming from off to the east, somewhere above us - near where I estimated the top of the mountain to be.

I had, of course, told Sirilonwe about my previous encounter with (or perhaps I should say 'flight from') a dragon; and we exchanged concerned glances whenever the faint roar of the dragon filtered through the howling wind. Still, the poor visibility brought about by the ever-present Blight storm would hopefully keep us safe. We continued on, and the path eventually twisted around to lead us down the mountainside a short way, to approach a jumble of haphazard Dwemer towers from above: Gate Citadel Vemynal.

The interior of Vemynal was much smaller than that of Odrosal: but the defenders were waiting for us, this time. We hacked and burned (or froze) our way through the ashen and eyeless followers of House Dagoth, and found Sunder in the deepest chamber of the ruin: in the hand of an Ash Vampire.

I cursed - and ducked out of the way - as the beast swung the deceptively small-looking hammer at my head. The weapon struck the wall of the cramped chamber; letting out a deafening, dissonant tone, and leaving a dent in the thick, heavy metal. Sirilonwe was behind him, and raked her Daedric wakizashi down his back. When the Ash Vampire jerked around to fend her off, I sent my paralysing spell into his side - and thankfully, it held.

Before the thing could regain its mobility, I hacked off the hand that held Sunder, and awkwardly pried open the taloned fingers from around the handle (again, trying not to touch the artefact with anything but the Wraithguard) as we began our flight from the citadel. I discarded the grotesque hand as soon as the hammer was free: there was no telling what the appendage might have done once the paralysation spell wore off.

Once outside again, we rushed back to a dark tunnel we had found nearby, and placed our teleportation Marks inside. The sun was nearly up, and we were faced with another frantic dash back to the castle. This time we were more fortunate, however, and made it with a little more time to spare. Our nerves were already on edge: nearly being burned by the sunlight would not have been a welcome addition to our worries.

It was done: all three of Kagrenac's Tools were in my possession - and very impressive they were, too. Wraithguard, as I have mentioned, had become a permanent part of my armour. I considered making Keening my main weapon, as it was a superlative blade; but I could not abide the constant worry that I - or Sirilonwe, perhaps - might accidentally touch it without the Wraithguard. Vivec had told us that this would result in 'a mortal wound'; to use his words.

Studying the hammer was a little difficult for Sirilonwe and I, since I was the only one who could hold it; and even then, only with the hand protected by Wraithguard - but we determined that the enchantment on it augmented the physical strength of the wielder by a tremendous amount. It was a pity that I was hopeless at using hammers as weapons; Sunder seemed capable of delivering blows of devastating power.

After studying the hammer, we spent the daylight hours attending to Mages Guild business, trying not to think too much about what we would be doing that evening. And it had to be that evening. Word of both Sunder and Keening's loss would have no doubt already reached Dagoth Ur. The time lost while we were trapped inside by the sun was bad enough: who knew what awaited us in Dagoth Ur's citadel, with the time he had had to prepare for our arrival.

We again departed for the Red Mountain region just after sunset, and struck out to the south-east - to Dagoth Ur. It was another long slog up the mountain, with heavy resistance along the way - but things became much worse when we finally reached the top, and peered down into Red Mountain's massive crater.

A tremendous, stinking gale of foul, blighted air spewed from the crater. This was the source of all the Blight on Morrowind. The heat from the lake of molten rock somewhere beneath the choking cloud of ash was nearly unbearable. A number of Dwemer buildings and towers were perched around the inside of the crater; the forest of spiked tips atop the structures arrayed so far below us making me realise just how perilously deep the crater was.

Worst of all, though, was the large, pot-bellied dragon squatting on one of the Dwemer buildings down in the crater. We had no chance to avoid it; it was as if the thing was waiting for us - or perhaps it could just smell us. The dragon launched itself into the air - its great wings fanning the clouds of ash over the lake of molten rock into a flat, plate-like shape for a moment - and came screaming up at us. I cannot imagine a more terrible foe for a vampire than fire-breathing dragon.

"Find a way in!" I shouted to Sirilonwe, and leapt from the lip of the volcano. My 'Touch the clouds' spell took me far across the crater, and up to one of the Dwemer towers built near the top of the steep caldera.

Sirilonwe cried out to me in dismay, but it was too late to take back what I had done. As I soared through the air, I sent my 'Blizzard' spell streaking out to the dragon, to keep its attention on me, rather than Sirilonwe. It worked; and as I caught hold of the needle-like pole atop the tower to arrest my movement, the scaly beast inhaled with the sound of a gale shrieking through a narrow space, and spat a gout of fire at me. I kept my grip on the pole, and swung around it to avoid the flames - and to build up enough momentum to leap out onto the dragon's back.

This may sound extremely foolhardy, but really, I just wanted to be somewhere where I could remain behind the fire-breathing dragon's head. I wrapped my arm around a sharp, curved spine (shaped like a trama-vine's thorn), and held on tight to avoid sliding off the smooth, scaly back. I think the dragon was actually not sure where I had gone. It soared in a wide circle above the crater, twisting its head this way and that; looking for me. The beast did not realise I was perched on its back until I awkwardly pried one of its scales off with my Daedric katana.

The dragon bucked once, trying to throw me off - but it was too late for the beast. I had already discharged my powerful 'Holding Field' spell into the exposed flesh under the scale; paralysed, the dragon plummeted down into Red Mountain's noisome crater. I leapt off and sailed down to a ledge halfway up the caldera, where I could see Sirilonwe waiting for me. I landed gracefully next to her, as she gave me a look of mingled relief, pride, and amusement. A shocking -crash- sounded deep in the crater, as (I assume) the dragon struck the lake of molten rock.

I have never once regretted spending so much money to have my enchanted 'Infallible' belt made. I doubt I would have survived that fall, otherwise.

During my potentially (alright; almost definitely) foolish act of heroism, Sirilonwe had indeed found an entrance to Dagoth Ur's citadel. In contrast to the spectacular environment outside, the interior of the citadel was just like virtually any other Dwemer ruin I had seen. It was eerily deserted, too: like Odrosal before I took Keening. I could not shake off the feeling that we were being watched, though... or perhaps not watched, inasmuch as 'felt'. I felt just like I did growing up; on the occasions that I tried to pick someone's pocket, and they felt the intrusion before I could grab what I was after.

Perhaps that pot-bellied dragon outside used the crater of Red Mountain as its home, and was (or had been) effective at discouraging intruders. Perhaps Dagoth Ur had become so powerful that he did not fear anything anymore; and was capable of killing anything that came through the door.

My nerves were raw, and my senses were screaming at me. I was afraid; deathly afraid.

"You don't have to come with me, Siri." I said, risking a glance at her. I did not like to speak to - or look at - her when we were about to go into battle. The thought that one of us might lose the other in the near future was always hard to bear.

"We are safer together. Both of us. Wherever we may be." Was all she said. I noticed she was not looking at me, either.

The Dwemer tunnels plunged deep into the ground, and eventually led into chambers carved from the rock. We followed them from one cavern to the next, and came to a chamber lit with red candles, and filled with the otherworldly whispering of a Sixth House shrine. Dagoth Ur was there - standing before the shrine, and not moving.

He looked like an Ash Vampire - with ashen skin, ropy muscles in strange places, and taloned hands - only he wore a golden, circular mask with three eye-holes, and three tubes arrayed along the top. Ash floated out from them as if from a trio of small chimneys. I knew the mask: I had seen it before.

Months ago, he had invaded my sleep: it was the masked face from my dreams.