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 16, 2006

Chapter 140: Playing both sides

Going by the angry words of the Altmer goblin trainers, it seemed safe to conclude that the large goblins Sirilonwe and I killed were the War-Chiefs Steward Hler had sent us after. I was glad to finally leave the catacombs; even though (as a vampire) I could not become tired, a whole day and night of constant fighting in those dark caverns and passages was somewhat wearing on my nerves.

There was still the matter of how to get back out again, obviously: but Sirilonwe and I were both accomplished mages. We tried casting Almsivi Intervention, and I was delighted to discover that it worked exactly as I had hoped: we appeared just outside the Mournhold Temple. It was a little after midnight by then: Chief Steward Hler was likely asleep. Giving him an account of the encounter with the goblin army would have to wait; instead, we went to see Captain Delitian (stopping at a public water-pump along the way to wash ourselves of the filth of the sewers and catacombs). I had a couple of presents for him.

"Something smells of the sewers." Delitian sniffed.

Mind racing, I somehow managed to say more-or-less smoothly:

"Yes... well - that's where I found this." And I handed over the copy of the broadsheet 'The Common Tongue' I had found.

The guard captain skimmed through it quickly - his expression unreadable - before briefly thanking me for it and quickly moving onto the topic of the informant he had wanted me to produce from the members of the Mournhold Temple.

"Galsa Andrano, eh?" The Imperial rubbed his chin. "And she told you that Almalexia herself wishes the Temple to move against King Helseth?" Delitian took a deep breath. "This is excellent work, vampire Frost. Mister Frost. I'll make sure his majesty hears of this. In actual fact, since you've done so well testing loyalties, I have a somewhat related task that I think you would be perfect for."

The captain glanced around the throne-room at the Royal Guardsmen standing on duty.

"You - and you, Ms Sirilonwe - are both obviously powerful mages. You are quite high-up in the Mages Guild, of course." He winked. "How are you with the College of Illusion specifically?"

"Passable." I said levelly; wondering where he was going with such a line of questioning.

Delitian looked pleased.

"Excellent, excellent. It's my men, you see." The Imperial lowered his voice. "I replaced many of the former king's guards with... more reliable men; but I had to keep some for virtue of their experience. I need to be sure of their loyalty to the new king. That's all."

Delitian handed Sirilonwe and I each a signed document that read simply:

'Esteemed member of the Royal Guard; please give this person your name, and answer their questions.'

"Go, do your magic." The captain said, with a grin.

It was as simple as that, in the end. Sirilonwe and I made a tour of the Royal Palace, speaking to every guardsman we met (the ones on night-duty, at least). Without more specific information from Captain Delitian as to exactly what he was worried about, we simply Charmed each one and asked him (or her) how they felt about King Helseth.

A somewhat simple - but massively strong-looking - guardsman named Ivulen Irano looked about ready to cry at the mention of the dead King Llethan, and, in stark contrast, appeared to be only just managing to hold in his anger, when I asked him about Helseth.

"Look through his things;" Delitian suggested, with a slight frown, when I told him about this - "but don't be seen. My men have no time for thieves."

The captain's sense of humour may have been a little misplaced, but I knew from long experience how to properly steal things; and the guards' quarters was not exactly a 'secure location' for someone like me. Their dormitory in the palace was darkened and full of sleeping bodies. Only occasionally did a patrolling guardsman pass by the chambers, glancing in from the hallway. Using my levitation spell, I floated silently across the dark ceiling, safely out of sight of anyone passing by in the hall.

At the foot of one of the beds was a strongbox belonging to Ivulen Irano (which I identified as his by the carved wooden sign on it that bore his name). From my position flattened against the ceiling, I used Telekinesis to quietly open the box and have a 'look through his things', as Delitian had asked. There was nothing much besides clothes in the box - but after a moment I noticed that wedged under the box was a worn-looking piece of paper. Such a thing was difficult to grab using Telekinesis, so I dropped lightly to the floor, caught up the note, and quickly left the dormitory, invisible.

The note turned out to be a strange copy of the guard rosters in the palace throne-room for the previous few weeks, with several shifts underlined heavily. I will admit that I thought it held little significance, myself; but Sirilonwe asked to see it too. After a moment's study, she pointed out something I had missed: the names recorded for the underlined shifts; Milvela Dralen, Aleri Aren, and Ivulen Irano himself - were the only ones that were consistently spelled correctly.

"This suggests to me -" Sirilonwe said - "that these three know each other well, and might be planning to do something on one of the shifts in which they are alone in the throne-room with the king. Or at least that this Ivulen Irano may think something like that."

It was a very astute observation on her part, and when we went to question Milvela Dralen and Aleri Aren, it became obvious that the pair also held little love for King Helseth.

"Maybe they want the same thing you do - and are planning the same thing you are." Sirilonwe whispered afterwards.

"Perhaps;" I nodded; "but they're little good to me if they're incompetent enough to leave something like this lying around." I gestured with the marked roster. "No; I'll give this to Delitian, I think."

The captain looked very pleased at our findings, tucking the roster away in a satchel at his side - and that was actually the last we heard of the matter. Quickly dispelling the idea that he might have some more pleasant or rewarding work in mind for me, Delitian told me that he had been concerned for a little while about rumours of a conspiracy against Helseth among the House Hlaalu nobles in the city.

Apparently, supporters of the late King Llethan among the Hlaalu nobles had not accepted the new king's accession with 'good grace', as the captain put it. Delitian was concerned that these nobles might have some plan to put forward an alternate candidate for the throne - a Hlaalu one, of course. What this boiled down to for me was that Delitian wanted me to break into Llethan manor, in Godsreach, and try to find some evidence of a conspiracy. That the manor shared the name of the late king did not escape my notice... but perhaps it was merely a coincidence. King Helseth's first name was (coincidentally) 'Hlaalu', after all.

So: another vaguely defined, questionable piece of espionage for the guard captain. He at least had not been lying when he said that the work he wanted from me was not suitable for the rank-and-file of his guardsmen. You can imagine my chagrin at being ordered to do such things by a man like Delitian; but I believed it all to be necessary.

It would have to wait, in any case: the sun was rising as we spoke.

On our return to Mournhold in the evening, we went to see Chief Steward Hler about the goblin army. That was a task I could feel better about having worked at.

"Sera Frost!" The Steward beamed at me. "It is done: the back of the army is broken! I have been receiving reports of a mass exodus of goblins from the sewer outlets beyond the city limits. By all accounts, they're fighting amongst themselves every step of the way. You - both of you -" the Dunmer gestured at Sirilonwe as well; "have done Almalexia - and I mean both the Lady and the city - a great service."

Before I could quite believe what was happening, Sirilonwe and I were gifted with fifteen thousand septims from the coffers of the Temple. It was all we could do to physically carry it, such was the sheer bulk of our reward. I could not really think of what to say. It was Hler who spoke first:

"While having Wraithguard on your hand is sign enough that Vivec himself placed his trust in you, I have not forgotten that there is no little animosity between vampires and the Temple. The dissolution of the goblin army alone deserves such a stipend - but I also do this because we at the Mournhold Temple wish to secure your services - and your loyalty."

"And you shall have it." I said.

After accepting such a generous gift, I did not really feel as if I could refuse. I was still thinking of the possibility that the Temple might aid me in my eventual attack on the king, too...

"Excellent." Steward Hler nodded. "Now, I believe Archcanon Drin has something for you to do."

Gavas Drin, an intelligent-looking Dunmer man in a fine robe, was Almalexia's Archcanon; but he introduced himself as 'Patriarch' of the Temple.

"Ah, yes: the vampire-saviours." Gavas said, fixing me with a long stare. "I have something you can help me with. Now, as you may already know," he began, his gaze flicking briefly to the Wraithguard, "the Tribunal - Vivec, especially - wish for the Temple to return to its old ways; to ancestor-worship... of both the Anticipations and our Dunmer forebears. With that in mind, Almalexia has asked that the ancient Shrine of the Dead, in the ruins of Old Mournhold beneath the temple, be cleansed."

I was interested to hear of the Tribunal taking action to pursue the course Vivec had spoken of in our last meeting. I listened keenly.

"This shrine was once a place of great power." Gavas went on. "It allowed the faithful to speak with the ancestors; to learn and draw power from them. Over time it has become forgotten and neglected, and it has grown sour. The power there now draws nothing but hordes of the undead to it. Almalexia has asked that young Urvel Dulni here be escorted to the shrine so that he may cleanse and purify it in her name. Our Lady wishes to utilise the power in the Shrine of the Dead to aid her in her guardianship over the city. I would ask you to go with Priest Dulni to the shrine, and keep him safe from the undead along the way. One last word of warning: I have divined that the shrine has drawn to it powerful and profane liches... very dangerous things."

Gavas motioned for a young-looking priest in a blue robe to follow us. It seemed that he was Urvel Dulni - and that the Archcanon expected us to set out for the Shrine of the Dead immediately. With the last ominous-sounding words of the Archcanon ringing in our ears, we followed the young priest down to the temple basement. There was apparently an entrance to the sewers (again into the sewers!) down there.

Dulni was a quiet one; at least around Sirilonwe and I. I noticed him surreptitiously fingering an amulet that hung from his neck and glittered with obvious magic. He grasped it tighter whenever I or Sirilonwe spoke to - or even looked at - him. It was most likely enchanted with a teleportation spell that would allow him to escape quickly, should we give in to our 'natural urges as vampires' - or somesuch.

"You don't need to worry." I told him. "We don't need your blood. We can get it elsewhere."

"Although if we become seriously wounded while protecting you," Sirilonwe added, "you might consider allowing us some so that we might recover. It would be only fitting, don't you think?" She winked at me, over the priest's head.

Dulni's grey face turned a pale silver.

Thinking about it now, I do not think that what either of us said helped at all.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chapter 139: Catacombs

While moving through the Mournhold Temple to talk to the priests and priestesses, I fell into the habit of holding the Wraithguard up in front of me as I entered each room; as if I was adjusting its fit on my hand. Having the eyes of such religious people fall first on an object given to me by one of their 'gods' - rather than on my vampiric face - was generally more convenient for me.

"Have you noticed, Edward, that we are not harmed by walking on holy ground here - or by coming near their shrines?" Sirilonwe asked, as we explored the temple.

"Yes..." I replied, thoughtfully; "although it may not be that surprising, really. If the Tribunal are no longer gods - or are in the process of losing their divinity - then the 'gods' that temples like this were devoted to no longer exist... and have no power over us."

Sirilonwe nodded, and added:

"Maybe that will change if the Temple returns to their old worship of the Anticipations - the good Daedra; as Vivec said."

I asked several priests and priestesses if they had heard anything of substance regarding the reports of goblins being in or near the city somewhere. Most of them said the same thing: people in Godsreach - the small residential area in Mournhold - had been complaining of strange creatures lurking around the sewer entrances for some time. One of the impressively armoured High Ordinators patrolling the halls of the temple confirmed that these 'creatures' were indeed goblins. From what he said, many of the Ordinators assigned there would much rather have the opportunity to hunt goblins in the sewers than trudge the halls of the temple.

I knew from my last visit to the holy city of Almalexia that the ancient sewer system there delved deep into the ground, breaking into even deeper caverns and even more ancient ruins. They were catacombs, in other words; and someone could get so lost down there that they would never escape. A goblin army could be easily hidden beneath Almalexia, and Godsreach was obviously the best place to start looking for it.

One of the priestesses I questioned was the healer, Galsa Andrano; and she seemed distracted as we spoke. She stared at Wraithguard (once she got over the alien idea of speaking to a vampire, and stopped staring at my face). Eventually she said:

"So you're the one who struck down Dagoth Ur... and the Tribunal's 'divinity'." She paused, and then said decisively: "I just knew it! I have to say: for some time now - years, actually - I could tell that something was not right with Almalexia. Even when she began to walk among us once more - as she always did in the past - I could tell. Almalexia's Homilies are about compassion, understanding, wisdom and acceptance. Now her sermons incite the destruction the wicked, punishment of the foolish, and rewarding the faithful; the truly, blindly faithful - if they are worthy. Still;" she sighed; "hard times call for a hard goddess... and even if she is no longer divine... I don't think we've seen the end of that aspect of her, with Helseth taking the throne."

"Helseth?" I prompted. At the front of my mind was the possibility that the priestess might be the sort of informant Captain Delitian was looking for. The healer certainly seemed disillusioned with her faith.

Her response was surprisingly blunt:

"Hlaalu Helseth murdered King Llethan. He is wearing a stolen crown. His majesty - 'ruler' of Morrowind - has always been a puppet king; but Llethan was a fool, and danced when we pulled our string. Helseth is no fool. I have heard Almalexia say it herself: if Helseth is set in his wish to be king, then the Temple is sworn to destroy him."

So that was that. It was exactly the sort of information Delitian was looking for - and it was actually good news for me, too. Hearing that Almalexia herself had professed a desire to destroy Helseth made me believe that receiving aid from the Temple - should I ever be in a position to attack the king directly - was a distinct possibility.

In any case, that was a consideration for the future. In the short-term, Sirilonwe and I were bound for the Godsreach sewers. As usual though, it would have to wait until nightfall (some time would have to be spent beneath the open sky while looking for a sewer entrance). While we were shut up inside for the day - back at home - we discussed what we would do about our search for the goblin army. As was often the case, Sirilonwe was the first to voice concerns we both felt:

"That Steward, Hler, may say that Helseth and Delitian cannot admit to knowing about the army, but it would not stop them from retaliating in other ways - if they discover our part in this. At the least, you would lose your chance to get close to Helseth."

"I know." I replied. "It means that anyone who sees us down there near the goblins will have to be killed."

"Any enemies that see us, you mean?" Sirilonwe frowned.

"Of course." I nodded - secretly hoping that no-one I would normally deem 'innocent' somehow happened to see us fighting the goblins; because I did not know what I would do if it came to that.

"And... the Altmer trainers..." Sirilonwe continued, looking troubled.

I had almost forgotten: Sirilonwe had never actually fought against a human (or elven) opponent in all the time we had travelled together - save for when Hunter attacked us, of course. And there were the times we went hunting for people to feed from - but none of those encounters resulted in a death. I still did not know very much about her past, but it could be that she had never killed another elf (or human). Starting such a practice with a member of her own race would make it especially difficult for her.

"Leave them to me." I said.

In the evening, Asciene Rane again teleported us across to Almalexia. A trapdoor to the Godsreach sewers was not too difficult to locate; and we went through once we were sure no-one was looking.

The reek was worse than the last time, thanks to my vampiric sense of smell. Fortunately, it became more bearable when we left the functional parts of the sewer behind for the drier areas. The goblins were definitely down there: and in force; I could smell them, too. Soon we encountered the first party of them: a rabble of grey or green-skinned creatures about three-quarters my height, all muscle, with glistening eyes, and pointed teeth. They carried weapons that looked like they were made from some strange, fawn-brown bones - with thick ridges and protrusions, and wickedly sharpened edges.

They had Durzogs with them too: with spiked collars on. Steward Hler had warned me about them: huge beasts - almost the size of a bear, only shaped more like a bizarre combination of a dog and a lizard.

The Durzogs were tough, and the goblins swarmed us; but we were faster than they, and killed them all without taking serious injury. With the immediate threat gone, we were able to have a better look around the area in which we had found the beasts. Torches had been lit along the walls in that part of the sewer, and upon following them we found more goblins - and more, and more. They were probably patrol-groups, but their behaviour more closely resembled that of a gaggle of drunken, oafish and belligerent young men.

As I hinted at earlier, the sewers and passages beneath Almalexia were often referred to as catacombs for good reason. We walked the catacombs for hours upon hours, fighting goblins all the way. Eventually we entered some natural tunnels that led to ruins of the type I had seen around the Dark Brotherhood's lair; though these ones were inhabited by still more goblins - rather than black-clothed assassins.

Eventually we found an incredibly large cavern; roughly cylindrical, like a gargantuan well. A fat, monolithic stone sat in the centre, standing at a height maybe half that of the cavern itself. A combination of paths hewn from the stone, walkways, and scaffolding allowed us to scale the monolith; and at the top was a makeshift camp - inhabited by the largest goblin I had ever seen. It was taller than I - and much broader - and barked orders in a guttural tongue to a group of smaller goblins surrounding it.

They all attacked us, and it was a difficult fight; the flat area atop the monolith was too small to allow me the room to manoeuvre properly. We defeated them all - the big goblin (who was obviously a leader of some kind - hopefully one of the 'War-Chiefs') toppling off the side of the monolith to land with a sickening crash far below - but were wounded doing so.

We were both starving and feeling vaguely sluggish by that point, and our wounds were not closing over; the blood left in our bodies was not fresh enough. According to my pocketwatch, it was already the tenth hour of the day: we had been searching through the catacombs all night long. They were just too extensive - but to teleport away right then, and lose our hours and hours of progress... well, we may as well have not gone after the goblin army at all, if we did that.

We had to have more blood, though; there was no getting around that. In the end, Sirilonwe drank her fill from the blood vials we had brought with us, and then stayed there on top of the monolith (invisible), while I placed my teleportation Mark next to her, and used the Wolfen ring to return home quickly. I fed from Hunter, refilled the glass vials, and Recalled back to Sirilonwe's side, to continue the hunt immediately. We could (literally) go forever without sleep: all we needed was blood.

The hunt continued for hours more: we followed our noses to track the goblins - through natural tunnels littered with human and elven bones that crunched and scraped beneath our feet, massive caverns with large packs of goblins (that fell quickly to our ranged Destruction spells), the shattered ruins of ancient buildings, and water-logged passages filled with waterfalls and underground streams.

We killed another huge goblin who had been drinking from one of these streams, and then another a short time later. That one was also bellowing orders to other goblins nearby, making it the second obvious leader we had put down - were they the War-Chiefs?

By the time we found the Altmer goblin-trainers Steward Hler had told us to expect, a whole night and day had passed since we first entered the sewers. I had just Recalled back to the catacombs after another quick visit to the castle, and was beginning to feel like we would never find the High Elves in charge of the army - or know if we had killed the right goblins. As fate would have it, though, the trainers were in the very next ruined building we searched. They wore a battered hodge-podge of iron and steel armour, and were not glad to see us:

"You!" One of them screeched. "It was you! You killed the War-Chiefs: they'll all go crazy now! You'll be the death of us!" They charged to the attack, their heavy volcanic-ebony weapons almost one with the darkness of the buried chamber.

Sirilonwe hung back, and I - feeling full of life (so to speak) after just feeding from Hunter, killed them both quickly. They were powerful warriors: muscular as well as tall - but I leapt from one to the other with quick flashes of my blade, faster than they could hope to move.

The second Altmer to fall did so at Sirilonwe's feet. She stepped back to avoid the dark, spreading pool of blood; and regarded me steadily, her face a mask.

"Sorry." I said to her quietly. "It had to be done."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chapter 138: Opposing powers

"Are you angry that no-one knows what we did at Red Mountain, Edward?" Sirilonwe had been watching me as we made our way to 'Godsreach', the upper-class residential area in the western part of Mournhold. I could tell that something was on her mind. "We would be called heroes, you know."

"Yes," I remarked, "we probably would: if we weren't vampires, and if the whole business wasn't wrapped up in political and religious secrets. I doubt they'll ever acknowledge our part in it; just as Azura said."

Sirilonwe's eyes narrowed slightly.

"You believe you really did see Azura, then?" She asked.

I did not say anything for a while. I had told her about what I had seen after killing Dagoth Ur: through the haze of significant blood loss; but it was obvious that she was not sure whether I could trust my senses in such a situation.

"It's not the first time she's spoken to me." I said shortly. "Where else could the 'Azura's Star' soul gem have come from?"

Sirilonwe nodded, and said gently:

"I only ask because you seem so... angry and determined when it comes to pursuing this 'H' from the Dark Brotherhood contract. Even if it really was Helseth, is this the best course of action? He is the king! This could be - would be - very dangerous for us."

I was not frustrated with her for expressing these concerns. I agreed with her that it was dangerous.

"Think about how you felt when that vampire hunter came in through the window - while we were sleeping." I paused, and let the idea sink in. "This is not something I can simply leave alone. It would be just as dangerous if I did."

That; and the fact that we had reached the 'Winged Guar' - the tavern in Godsreach - settled the discussion for the moment. We were seeing to Captain Delitian's request: to discover the source of the rumours surrounding the death of the late King Llethan. In essence, the rumours stated that Llethan had not died a natural, accidental death; someone had murdered him. Delitian had assured me that this would not be as hard as it may have sounded: Mournhold was still quarantined from the rest of Almalexia, so the community there was a small and contained one. Since the rumour was a fresh one - and apparently only known inside Mournhold (and not in the rest of the city), it had to have originated from somewhere within the holy district.

The nervous Royal Guardsman that had approached me on our arrival had directed us to the Winged Guar; the only tavern in Mournhold. The hour was too late to hope to find people anywhere else.

We were still in our armour, as prior to our arrival, I had not known what to expect from a visit to the Royal Palace (would the king's men make an open move against me?); and returning all the way home just to change into casual dress would be too much trouble. A full suit of armour is not exactly appropriate for trying to blend into the crowd in a public house, but seated in a dark corner we found a Nordic man so drunk that our state of dress did not matter - and nor did our vampiric nature. That is not to say, however, that he did not notice:

"H-hey - " the drunk, hulking man slurred, as I handed him a mug of sujamma I had bought from the Charmed bartender; "you're not... you're not vampires, are you? C'mon; you can tell me." He spoke as if trying to wheedle an admission of an obvious secret from someone.

"Well... no - " I replied; "but don't tell anyone, alright? Trying to keep up appearances, you know." I suspected that what I told him would not really matter; as long as he thought that I had divulged some kind of secret to him.

The man nodded sagely.

"You can trust me." He said solemnly. "Is there s-something I can do for you... vampires?" He giggled.

"Yes, actually." I leaned forward, as if to speak on a topic that held great intrigue for me. "We've been talking about King Llethan, you see. Everyone says that his death wasn't an accident - but no-one really knows anything about it. They all just say they overheard it somewhere."

The Nord took a long draught from his drink, and, blinking blearily, said:

"Ah, they're all too ashamed to admit they only read it in 'The Common Tongue'. But I don't care one bit! It's a f-fine broadsheet. Very smart, whoever writes it. Big secret, of course. The guards don't like The Common Tongue. 'Specially since this one that has everyone up in arms says that Helseth killed Llethan."

A broadside sheet, then. I had not seen their like in Morrowind before, but I remembered them from the Imperial City, in my youth. Sensationalist stories printed on cheap paper. So: the meat of the rumour was that Helseth was responsible for the late king's death! Considering what Caius had told me about the new king, I found it easy to believe.

We learned nothing further from our Nordic friend in the tavern: he rushed outside to be violently sick in the gutter.

Captain Delitian (who apparently was on duty all that night) was interested to hear about the story in 'The Common Tongue'; and even more interested in seeing a copy; if we could find one for him.

"Whenever you happen across one," he said, "just bring it to me. That would be fine. In the meantime, since you've shown dedication and speedy work, there's something more important I'd like you to look into..."

This 'more important' task turned out to be finding an informant in the Mournhold Temple. Delitian wanted to know if the Tribunal Temple planned to accept Helseth as the new king - or if they planned to move against him somehow. I began to get a sense of the captain's current duties: Helseth faced distrust and suspicion from the people and from the Temple (the other main power in Almalexia - and indeed all of Morrowind, some would say), and Delitian was tasked with quelling this 'ill will'.

The captain cited the schism of the Dissident Priests from the main order of the Temple as a sign of discontent in their ranks; and said that this discontent would doubtless make it easy to find a willing informant. While I was obviously chagrined at having to play spy for the lapdog of my enemy, I did not really feel disquieted at the idea of producing an informant among the priests of the Temple. The Tribunal Temple was so full of corruption, heavy secrets and control by terror already that an informant would fit right in.

Finding a copy of 'The Common Tongue' proved to be an easy - albeit tedious - task. I reasoned that locating a discarded copy of the broadsheet would be our best bet; and the best place to find one would be in a busy, public area - such as the Great Bazaar in the eastern part of Mournhold. Sirilonwe and I split up and combed the bazaar; empty of people in the hours after midnight.

After searching for hours (if you can believe it), I eventually found one that had been stuffed into a well-tended garden bed near the centre of the bazaar. In summary, the broadsheet inferred that King Helseth was a 'subtle and accomplished' poisoner, with hundreds of murders to his name. It also suggested that the deaths of both the late King Llethan - and his young protege Talen Vandas (who had apparently been widely expected to take the throne after Llethan) - were the result of poisonings, rather than illness. It was worded carefully so as not to accuse Helseth directly, but left no doubt in the mind of the reader as to what was intended.

Finding an informant in the Temple would likely be more difficult: there was no way I could simply skulk around the Mournhold Temple, looking for someone who appeared frustrated with their faith. The Ordinators (High Ordinators, actually) would attack me; given my appearance.

No - I would have to gain their confidence; perhaps work with them, as I had on Vvardenfell. However, therein lay the same problem as ever: the Tribunal Temple was well-known for their hatred of vampires. Unless... unless they would recognise Wraithguard on my hand as a sign of Vivec's trust in me. It seemed simple, actually - and the thought made me feel more confident: really, what better recommendation could I have?

In the last hour before dawn, Sirilonwe and I made for the spectacular temple that dominated the northern side of Mournhold: the building that I had heard was also the home of the living-goddess Almalexia. A Dunmer priestess stood on the Temple steps, giving blessings to passers-by on their way to or from work. She called out to me as I approached. I noticed she was staring at the Wraithguard.

"Wait - are you... Edward Frost?"

I stopped and regarded her silently. She took in my face, and gasped quietly.

"By Almsivi! You really are a vampire..." She gave a hasty bow, and said: "Sera Frost, I have a message for you. Almalexia says that she is thankful that you did what she - and Vivec and Sotha Sil - could not, even if it means- " she gulped, and glanced about us - "the decline of her divine power." The priestess paused. "I admit: I still can't believe Dagoth Ur is really gone. It's just... such amazing news. I know that everyone at the Temple here would be proud to have you visit us. Steward Hler especially, I think: I heard him say several days ago that he was keen to talk to you."

After that encouraging encounter, we proceeded into the entrance hall of the temple, to be met by none other than the Steward the priestess on the steps had spoken of; a hard-looking Dunmer with a scar down one side of his face.

"Ah, yes!" He said. "The vampire Edward Frost! And Sirilonwe, too!" He added, his eyes flicking briefly to Sirilonwe and then back to me. "I am Fedris Hler, Chief Steward for Almalexia. It is excellent to meet you."

The Chief Steward repeated more-or-less what the priestess on the steps had said about Almalexia and the events at Red Mountain, but added:

"I would show you around the temple, but there is actually an urgent matter that requires my attention... and that since you are here, almost like a gift from the gods -" he gave a reserved grin - "perhaps you can help us with. If doing even more for the Temple is not an imposition."

I nodded for him to go ahead. Again, things were happening almost exactly as I could have wished them too... though I was soon to learn that - again - it was not the divine hand of fate that guided events, but the rather more dirty hand of politics and intrigue.

"Ah - good;" Hler continued - "I am indebted to you. Well, this matter actually concerns our new King Helseth... as I understand it, you have been approached by his majesty's guard-dog, Delitian, yes?" At my sharp look, the Steward went on to explain: "I hear things, you see. For instance, I have heard it said that our new king has ties to the Dark Brotherhood... and I have heard that you had a... rather violent disagreement with the Dark Brotherhood cell here in Almalexia. Now; I am no fool. I can put these three facts - plus the fact that you have agreed to work for Delitian - together and see what you intend."

His manner had changed subtly. In his words I could sense - not a threat, or even a warning - but a notification that he held the power of knowledge over me: of secrets that could be detrimental to me if they were made public.

"Not to worry though;" he said; "my feelings towards Helseth are commonly known around here. He is a foul man, and unworthy of the throne. Which brings us to the matter at hand... Our Lady Almalexia watches over this city and keeps it safe - and recently she has been watching Helseth closely... with good reason. The king is raising a goblin army somewhere nearby."

I glanced at Sirilonwe, shocked. She looked just as taken aback. A number of Altmer were said to keep and train goblins as cheap, vicious muscle - but Sirilonwe was one of the many High Elves that frowned on this practice. Goblins were very dangerous.

"Yes..." Steward Hler continued. "What I would ask you to do - what you would be perfect for - is to discover the location of the army, and kill their war-chiefs (there should be two); plus their Altmer trainers. There should only be two of them, as well. The army should disband with no-one to lead them: goblins are just like that. And if you are worried that taking action against Helseth's dubious army would jeopardise your chance to... meet the king, then don't be. Even if they somehow discovered that it was you, they could never admit as much; not without revealing their culpability regarding the goblin army. This is why I mentioned my knowledge of your 'work' with Delitian, you see."

Any trace of a smile left Hler's face, and he became very serious.

"Besides," he said, "this must be done. That army could cause untold loss of life in the city, should those Altmer trainers lose control over it." He paused for a moment. "Yes... this is very important. Again, I apologise for thrusting it upon you like this... Please, feel free to ask any of the priests here if they have heard anything about these goblins. We must find them quickly, before the army grows too large."

So: I found myself in the service of the right-hand men of both the major powers in the city of Almalexia. Opposing powers, no less.

"This might become a little complicated." I murmured to Sirilonwe.