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 30, 2006

Chapter 146: Spoiling for martyrdom

The king's champion stepped purposefully towards me, raising an unusual blade: gracefully curved, but wider towards its end than at the hilt. I side-stepped to avoid the whistling downward swing of the sabre, and was then forced to quickly jump back as Karrod swung out at waist-level. He was not using a shield: I sent my own Daedric blade in a low arc towards his unprotected flank...

It was a tremendous fight - and a long one. I do not know whether Karrod carried with him enchanted items that gave him preternatural grace and ability, or whether he was simply a physically powerful and extremely well-trained man; but he was easily my equal as a fighter. I was very impressed: my own strength and ability was not something I really considered to be well-earned: it was mostly the result of magic (the magicka leak), or my vampiric blood.

Karrod's god-like endurance was certainly not in question: every blow of mine that bypassed his armour only sunk a little way into his flesh - before he twisted away, out of the blade's path. Still, he was soon bleeding from multiple wounds; but it did not slow the giant of a Redguard in the slightest. I too was caught many times by his strange sabre; but I had fed from Hunter directly before departing for Mournhold, and her fresh blood served to heal my every wound almost instantly.

This was Karrod's undoing, in the end: he could not outlast an opponent whose wounds closed over as quickly as he could attack. As more and more of his blood stained the floor, his movements slowed and became sluggish. Eventually he sank to his knees, sabre resting on the dais; and he raised his hand, palm outwards.

"Stop... please." He said. Everyone gasped, and I blinked in surprise. Had Helseth not just told me that Karrod was mute? "You are the better fighter." Karrod rumbled. "I concede."

King Helseth stepped up onto the edge of the dais, clapping.

"Excellent! We should have expected no less from a vampire, of course. I think that you can be of use to us. But first: Karrod... you speak! After all these years..."

The massive Redguard did not stand, or raise his head.

"Sorry." Was all he said.

"Yes... well; we shall be having a word together shortly, you and I." Helseth turned to an Imperial Cult healer who had been watching on with the Royal Guardsmen. "Tend to his wounds, if you please." He said, pointing to Karrod. "And someone clean up this blood."

A very relieved-looking Sirilonwe came up and rested her hand on my shoulder as Helseth drew me aside to congratulate me on my victory. I had expected him to be disappointed that Karrod had not managed to kill me... and he probably was; but his expression was unreadable.

"That was quite a show. You deserve a commendation for defeating Karrod, vampire Frost: that really was the first time he has lost a fight. And that you have revealed that he has been keeping this secret from me for so long... well: I believe you have proven your loyalty through all this." The king lowered his voice slightly. "We have plans for you... and I'm sure you can see how we can both benefit from the powerful friends we would gain through a... joint endeavour."

I felt my body tense up as the king drew a large, glittering dagger with a blade of green volcanic glass from inside his robes. However, he then also pulled out the sheath to go with the blade, and handed them both to me.

"Take this as a token of my esteem: to seal this working relationship. It was my father's ceremonial blade: the 'Dagger of Symmachus', some call it."

The finely-wrought blade was quite large for a dagger, and boasted a minor protection enchantment. It was a valuable and generous gift. This only made me suspicious, of course.

"Now," Helseth continued, "onto our plans for you. They concern the Temple; and I have no qualms about admitting - in front of you, vampire Frost - my lack of love for Almalexia and her Temple here in the city. You helped Delitian secure an informant among them, after all. The attack by these constructs - these 'fabricants' as they have come to be called - on the city is obviously a cause for concern: and again, it was you who found that they are not Dwemer-made."

I found my attention wavering, drawn to the scent of blood stirred up by the servants mopping the throne-room's dais clean. I could not help it: I was a vampire. The next words out of Helseth's mouth drew my attention back in an instant, however:

"I should think this much should be obvious now, looking at the dead ones we preserved. I believe these fabricants to be beyond anything the Dwemer - or any other mortal race - could dream up. It would take the power of a god to create such things."

"You mean..." I began.

"I mean Sotha Sil, the Tinkerer god. No-one has seen the man-god in centuries - only Almalexia could shed some light on where he might be, and what he might be doing - we are sure of it."

I clenched my teeth. If I was right about what he wanted... it would make things difficult for me.

"I'm sure you can see what I want. We must know if these fabricants will come again. You are the most suited to question Almalexia. Now, it would be best if we are not seen talking until you have something significant to report. As you yourself told Delitian, Almalexia holds no love for our royal person, either. It would of course be better if she does not suspect our relationship."

"What do you think all that was about?" Sirilonwe asked, after we had left the palace.

"I think he's momentarily out of ideas for staging an acceptable 'accidental' death for me. Yes; that's what Karrod and those assassins were about - I'm sure." I added, at Sirilonwe's slightly startled look. "He was trying to lull me into a false sense of security with his gift - and he sent me away with instructions not to contact him so that I'll stay at a safe distance while he thinks of another way to dispose of me. Maybe that's why he's sent me to question Almalexia: he's hoping she'll take offence at my questions about the... 'fabricants', and kill me for him."

"You will be careful about asking her those things, won't you?" Sirilonwe frowned. "And not just blatantly ask whether her eons-old companion has been making predatory constructs recently."

I nodded absently, turning the enchanted blade Helseth had given me over and over in my hands.

"Of course." I replied.

Sirilonwe watched as I studied the blade.

"You know, I would have told you to be careful handling that, as Helseth might be expected to give you some kind of cursed or trapped gift..." she said. I started, and froze; holding the blade gingerly between my thumb and forefinger. "... But that blade is unmistakable. The Dagger of Symmachus is considered to be a magical artefact, you know. Quite the kingly gift, really. May I see it?"

I grunted at her subtle joke, and passed the blade to her.

"Hold onto it, if you'd like. Short-blades aren't really my custom."

The evening was still early, so I decided to visit the Mournhold temple immediately. Chief Steward Hler met us at the entrance. He had apparently been wanting to speak with me.

"I have been hearing things about your dealings with Delitian and the king, Sera Frost. I can tell you that we at the Temple certainly would have appreciated a report from you about the attack on the city." The scarred Dunmer held up his palms. "But do not worry: I was well-informed enough, in the end: I hear things, as I have told you. And I'm not worried about what you've been doing in the Royal Palace: I know why you go there, and what you're doing. Just remember that we're no friend of Helseth's either. You can come to me for help with... your 'business' at the palace. What you have in mind is something the Temple can benefit from too. Now... what can I do for you?"

"I wanted to speak to Almalexia about the attack, actually." I replied, with a slight smile. Hler's words had been a comfort to me.

"Better late than never, I suppose. Go right in: Our Lady has made it plain that you're welcome in her presence."

Almalexia stood, as before, in centre of her chapel, giving off that otherworldly - but warm - orange glow. I tried to ask her about the fabricants, but she quickly steered the conversation away. After exchanging pleasantries, I began:

"About the attack on the city..."

But Almalexia said:

"Yes, that is just what I wish to speak of. There have been some alarming developments since the attack. My attention currently rests on one of the worst: a cult lead by a young Dunmer named Eno Romari. They are calling themselves the 'End of Times'. In the wake of the attack, my people are troubled... and I fear that this cult is gaining in popularity - even in such a short time." She regarded us in silence for a moment. "I am... under strain, at present. Those who live in Mournhold were not the only ones injured in the attack. There are those in the rest of the city who require my aid - my healing; and I help them, from my chapel. It is not easy though... without the Heart." She gave me a significant look, before continuing: "You have helped me before - both of you. I would ask for your help again."

I nodded for her to continue. It seemed that my path to entering Helseth's confidence was at a dead end. He wanted answers to the mystery of the fabricants - and if those answers lay with Almalexia, then I would need to enter further into her confidence.

"Good." The living-goddess gave a brief - and quite grim - smile. "This Eno Romari is dangerous: many of his cult's members have been found dead in their homes: poisoned. He is right here in this holy district, spreading his pollution. The cult must be driven out: but do not kill him! A martyr speaks many times louder than a zealot. I have learned of a woman named Meralyn Othran, whose brother was one of the poor souls found dead in his home. She has been seen in the Great Bazaar this evening. You should find her and learn what you can about this cult. It would be a great service to me."

A High Ordinator in the Great Bazaar pointed us in the direction of Meralyn Othran: a small, listless figure sheltering from the tepid evening rain underneath a great raised walkway. She was staring out at the darkened and deserted bazaar as if she could see right through it.

Speaking with the grieving woman was unpleasant, and there is no need to recount the details of our conversation here. Suffice it to say that we learned that the 'End of Times' was a suicide cult. Her brother had apparently been something of a lost soul - someone seeking direction in life - but he was certainly not prone to self-harm. It was the influence of the cult that brought about his death. Secretly, I thought that her brother, Sevil, must have been remarkably open to suggestion, and prone to delusion: the cult apparently believed that the Gates of Oblivion were soon to open, and a Daedric scourge would cover all of Tamriel. A ridiculous notion.

We found Eno Romari where Meralyn had suggested we look: outside the Winged Guar in Godsreach, waiting to accost the drunken patrons as they left the tavern. He too was sheltering from the rain; under the awning suspended over the tavern's entrance. The Dunmer's strikingly white robe was spattered by the raindrops that blew sideways into the area beneath the awning.

"What do you want, vampire?" He snarled. "I can see the token of the Tribunal on your arm - and I can only imagine one reason their agent would come before me! Do you mean to make me into a martyr, vampire?" His voice grew a touch shrill. Perhaps he was afraid of me, despite his words. "Everything I preach is true! The Tribunal are in decline - they cannot protect us anymore! The very air will split and tear, into yawning gates to Oblivion; and the Daedra will come, and swarm over Tamriel! Why would you oppose us? Those that go on to join the Ancestors make the sacrifice willingly. It is necessary. Only our Ancestors can survive and defeat the coming horde!"

We left him there outside the tavern, shouting his nonsensical rubbish after us. He did not sound much like a charismatic cult leader to me - but perhaps he was merely afraid, and out of sorts. Still, that people were heeding his words was troubling. We returned to tell Almalexia what we had learned.

"WHAT?" Almalexia bellowed, the glow of her skin spiking into a blinding brilliance for an instant. "They would DARE? While I struggle and strain, expending my energies to heal the people of this city, they would claim that I am in decline? That I am DYING? I will show them what it is to mock the will of a GOD!"

Sirilonwe and I exchanged uneasy glances.

"These heretics will receive a lesson in power; and you, Edward Frost, will be my agent!"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Chapter 145: King's confidence

"So you are the vampire who routed the Dark Brotherhood from Almalexia, and has been doing such stellar work for Captain Delitian. Extraordinary to see such an... agreeable vampire." King Hlaalu Helseth was reclining casually on his throne, resting his chin upon his hand; as if the holy district outside was not in chaos after the attack of those strange creatures. "A fair length of time has passed since your encounter with the Brotherhood -" the regal-looking Dunmer went on - "may we ask what brings you back to Mournhold?"

The question may have sounded innocent enough to others, but I knew it for the barbed probe it really was. He was trying to discover whether or not I knew that he was the one behind the attempts on my life made by the Dark Brotherhood - and if I had come to have my revenge.

"I had some business with the Temple... your majesty." I replied. A bald-faced lie, but plausible enough.

Helseth's gaze rested on the Wraithguard for a long moment, before he spoke:

"Yes... Delitian tells us that your ties to the Temple have proven valuable to his... security work. He has also mentioned just now that you have come from aiding in the defence against these constructs that attacked the city. You have our thanks for this, but you may leave these matters to the enlisted guardsmen now. We have another task that you may help us with. As you have probably noticed through your work with Captain Delitian, my accession to the throne has not resulted in goodwill from all quarters. Even now, my informants tell me of a possible assassination plot against our royal person."

The king stared directly into my eyes as he spoke. I was in no doubt as to the subtext of his words.

"We have an informant you may find at the Winged Guar tavern - an Orc. Ask him about his 'uncle's farm'. He will give you what information he has about this plot." Helseth straightened in his throne a little. "He is a useful informant, but not always mindful of his place. A visit from someone of your... 'nature' may remind him of the need for proper conduct. At any rate; please go see him immediately, and return here with your findings as soon as possible."

"I was not expecting to see him there." Sirilonwe said, as soon as we were outside the palace. She studied my face for a moment. "I'm guessing that your plan here is more involved than just attacking Helseth on sight, then?"

"There were around ten Royal Guardsmen in the throne room;" I said, by way of reply; "plus Delitian, plus Helseth himself. And did you see the size of his bodyguard?"

"The Redguard? Yes... he looked powerful."

"Yes." I rubbed my eyes. It felt like it had been a long night - and midnight had not even passed yet. "I need to get him alone - or close enough to alone."

"You mean to get him to trust you, then?" Sirilonwe appeared sceptical.

"I can't think of another way, at the moment." I replied. "He is the king. His guardsmen are deployed specifically to prevent strangers from getting close to him; especially when he is alone."

It only took several minutes to reach the Winged Guar. No more than three or four of the odd constructs had made it into Godsreach, it seemed, so our passage was not slowed much by any debris from the attack; as it might have been in other parts of the holy district. There was only one Orc in the tavern. He was not happy to see us approaching him.

"Vampires!" He jumped up and away from his seat at the bar. "How'd you get in here?"

He looked as if he was about to take flight, so I quickly said:

"Wait! How's your uncle's farm doing?"

This served to keep the Orc from running, but he did not come any closer.

"The king sent you?" He stared at our fangs for a moment, and then shrugged. "Paranoid git keeps some strange friends." The Orc shook his head to himself. "Alright, look: for once, our majesty the suspicious one is right; there is an assassination plot. But the attempt will be on his royal mum, Barenziah - not him. That's all I have, so if you don't mind?"

The Orc looked pointedly at his drink; sitting on the bar near my elbow. We left him to it.

"Yes... we thought as much." Helseth nodded. "I have other sources, of course; and they tell me the same thing... and also that the attack will occur tomorrow night. It is absolutely imperative that our mother be protected. If we merely reinforce the men guarding her, it would tip my hand to these would-be assassins, and they would come for the Queen Mother in another way, on another day. This is what I intend: we shall catch these men in the act. We would have you two help in the plan." The king glanced briefly at Sirilonwe as he spoke. "Will you do this?"

I was a little surprised that the king would actually ask if I would help; and I could not help but think that there was some significance to him doing so. In any case, I agreed:

"Yes... your majesty."

"Good." Helseth nodded. "This is what you will do: there is an antechamber outside our mother's chambers; it is the only way to reach her when she is inside. You will hide in the antechamber tomorrow night, and keep watch for anyone attempting to enter our mother's chambers. Kill any intruders. That will be all."

It was obvious that we were dismissed for the night. Sirilonwe and I left for the streets of Mournhold, heading in the direction of the Great Bazaar and the Plaza Brindisi Dorom. We had not had the opportunity to do anything about it earlier - with Delitian and Helseth sending us here and there and back again - but since the attack, my ears had been burdened with the screams, groans, and whimpers of pain coming from the wounded all through the district. Only I and Sirilonwe could hear it, I am sure: and it was weighing on her, too.

In the hours before dawn, we walked the streets of Mournhold, healing all those who would allow us near. It was easier with the unconscious ones; we simply healed them and moved on before they woke up. Others had to be pacified with spells from the College of Illusion first. A scant few exhausted-looking healers from the Temple and the Imperial Cult were doing their part as well, but it was still a number of hours before the screams of pain faded (mercifully) from our ears. It was draining: just as it had been when I had healed the survivors of the attack on Fort Frostmoth.

We spent the daylight hours locked in my chambers in Wolfen keep, having some rare sleep. Sirilonwe needed it, especially: her magicka reserves were completely drained.

On our return to the Mournhold Royal Palace in the evening, we took up position behind a translucent changing-screen in the antechamber to the Queen Mother's chambers - making ourselves magically invisible, for good measure. Barenziah was apparently asleep in the rooms behind us. She was famous - or so I had been told. I must admit I had never taken it upon myself to read anything about her, so I did not even know why she was famous. Helseth had asked that I not disturb her, so it seemed that I would not get a chance to meet the famous Queen Barenziah, at any rate.

Two tedious hours passed before the rumoured assassins showed themselves; creeping into the room - and blowing out the candles as they came. I could still see them perfectly well through a gap in the changing screen, though; and something was strange about the three men. They wore the familiar black chain of the Dark Brotherhood, but they appeared broader and more heavily built than the other members of the fell group I had encountered. They were not exactly as stealthy and agile as I would have imagined, either: one of them actually tripped on the edge of a thick rug in the gloom, and nearly fell.

They were powerful fighters, though; as I discovered when I stepped out to meet them. With all three attacking me at once, several of their blows actually connected with my armour. Sirilonwe skirted around the edge of the scuffle, casting draining spells on them to rob them of their strength and balance. In a few short moments, I had cut them all down. In their weakened state, they were no match for the speed of a vampire.

I pulled the masked chain hoods off the bodies, receiving a surprise as I did so.

"They're Imperials!" I exclaimed. Sirilonwe gave me an inquisitive look, so I elaborated: "Every member of the Dark Brotherhood I've met so far was a Dunmer. This is strange..."

It was not yet midnight, and King Helseth was still awake.

"Good." He was saying, after hearing my report. "I think it's obvious I can trust you, now - and that you are capable of providing a valuable service to our government." Helseth pulled absently at his short beard. "I require those close to me to have great strength, however. There are plans I have in mind for you - and for your friend, if she will follow you - but you must prove yourself to me first. I cannot afford to have the weak in my confidence. Perhaps you have met my bodyguard, Karrod?"

Helseth gestured towards the giant of a Redguard Sirilonwe and I had noticed earlier. He wore the reddish armour of the Royal Guard, save for a helmet; and nodded to us briefly as the king introduced him.

"He has been with me since he was a child on the streets of Wayrest, deaf and dumb. A petty thief. I took him into my employ after the courage he showed in actually trying to rob Elysana - my sister." Helseth stared directly into my eyes again, as he had done on the previous night. "When a dog has been beaten, vampire Frost, he will lick the hand of one who feeds him even the most meagre scraps. Now Karrod is my most loyal servant, and one of my most deadly."

I glanced at the large Redguard. He had shown no reaction at being called a dog... he really was deaf, then?

"I wish for you, vampire Frost, to duel my champion - Karrod." Helseth said, drawing my attention back to him in an instant. "Tomorrow evening, so that you may both prepare adequately. Should you defeat him, you will have proven yourself to me. Do you accept the challenge?"

I nodded. What else could I do?

I spent another dull, restless day being the Arch-mage of the Mages Guild in Vvardenfell, and was relieved when darkness finally fell. I felt no relish at the thought of facing Karrod in a duel. Either I would defeat him, and have still more blood on my hands, or... he would prove superior, and I would lose my chance to get close to Helseth. I just wanted to have the whole business behind me. Shortly after arriving at the Royal Palace for the duel, I discovered that the stakes were perhaps much higher than I had first thought.

"Did I mention that Karrod has never been defeated in battle?" King Helseth almost smirked, as he and everyone else (including Sirilonwe) retired to the edges of the throne room. The fight was to occur on the great dais in the centre of the chamber. "You shall start on my command."

As I stood there facing the giant of a Redguard, I suddenly realised what the king was doing: why he had asked me if I would protect Queen Mother Barenziah from the assassins, and why he had again asked if I would accept a duel. If Helseth did not want to have me killed outright for fear of a reprisal from the Temple (perhaps before he was ready for one), then he would have me die during the course of performing a task I had freely accepted. The Temple could not rightly object to that.

And if the Dark Brotherhood assassins supposedly sent after Barenziah failed to kill me, then perhaps his undefeated champion, Karrod, could. If Helseth suspected me of plotting his death, then he knew that offering a place in his confidence (in return for defeating Karrod) was exactly what I wanted. He had to have been exceedingly confident in Karrod's abilities. Would I be able to defeat him?

King Helseth raised his fist, and shouted:


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Chapter 144: Allies and enemies

"This is just awful, Edward." Sirilonwe was wringing her hands. "How long must we continue doing such horrible things?"

After the massacre in the printing room of 'The Common Tongue', we had quickly teleported away to the Mournhold temple. There was no better vehicle for escaping a scene of conflict than teleportation. I was now sitting on the edge of the public water-pump I had used to wash the blood from myself, watching Sirilonwe pace up and down before me. She was a little agitated.

"I am sorry that it turned out that way;" I told her; "and I'm sorry that you had to see it." I took a deep breath. "However: I will continue until I can get close enough to Helseth to... take action to ensure that he no longer poses a threat to me. I don't ask for you to help me with this, Siri. It is unpleasant... I know. So... you don't have to go through all this with me."

It was a very uncomfortable thing for me to say - and I hoped that she did not misunderstand me. What she did do was display her knack for saying things I did not really expect:

"You killed many men and mer in the time before we met, didn't you?" She stopped pacing and stood there, watching me intently. "You never hesitated when those Dunmer attacked us; you did not even try to subdue them."

I did not answer. I could not think of what to say. Self-defence was only an excuse here: Sirilonwe was right - the encounter could have gone better, and those men need not have died. We both knew it. I stared back at her, for the longest time; a lump rising in my throat.

"I don't want to lose you." I said eventually, my voice almost a croak.

Now it was Sirilonwe's turn to be surprised.

"What? No!" She exclaimed, stepping forward to take my hands. "Edward, I... will be with you, regardless of what you decide - but... Must you pursue this matter with the king? The way you tell it, you have seen and heard nothing of the Dark Brotherhood since your... visit to their lair here - and you saw and heard nothing of them for quite some time prior to that, as well! Can you even be sure he still wants you dead?"

I shook my head, and swallowed the lump in my throat.

"Helseth would not have to hurry." I said. "Dunmer live a long time... and I mean to outlast him. I don't know what will happen, or... what I will need to do to reach him. You can remain clear of all this, if you want to."

Sirilonwe squeezed in beside me on the water-pump, and sat for a long time without speaking; just holding my hand. Eventually:

"No: we are safer together." She said firmly.

Captain Delitian was visibly gladdened to hear of the carnage in the secret printing room.

"You have done great work - again and again - and so far, for no reward." The Imperial hefted a sizeable, jangling sack in his hand. "I aim to rectify that now. Please accept this, on behalf of the king."

He tossed the sack to me; it contained something in the order of five thousand septims. Only a third of what the Temple had given to Sirilonwe and I, but still quite a generous amount.

"I am sure His Majesty would be impressed with your simple and elegant solution to the problem that broadside sheet represented." Delitian went on. "In fact, if you would return tomorrow evening, I will try to arrange a meeting for you."

My mind raced. This was it! I was finally getting somewhere!

"Thankyou." I replied, and added, though it made me sick to the stomach to say such a thing: "It would be - and has been - an honour."

I expected the evening to be a tense one: if Delitian did manage to arrange a meeting between Helseth and I, of course. When the night did come around again, and we made our way to the Ebonheart Council Chambers to be teleported back to Almalexia, we were wearing full armour - save for our helmets. It may not have been entirely appropriate dress for meeting a king, but I was certainly not appearing before the man who tried to have me killed wearing anything less.

The evening did turn out to be tense, though for quite unexpected reasons. When we arrived, the palace was in an uproar. Royal Guardsmen were pelting down the corridors, heading for the courtyard outside. One of them stopped and addressed us:

"Hey - you're the ones working for the Captain! Quickly - we need your help! Enchanted machines have come up out of the ground in the Plaza Brindisi Dorom - they're killing everyone! Please - come with me!"

The guardsman started off down the corridor again, watching us over his shoulder. We followed him, strapping our helmets on and readying our shields.

The first thing I noticed was the great dust-cloud rising from the centre of the massive plaza - completely obscuring the statue of Almalexia fighting Mehrunes Dagon that stood there. Strange creatures (or were they machines?) swarmed about the plaza. Some looked vaguely lizard-like; walking on their hind legs, their shorter forelegs held up to their chest. Others appeared almost like giant scorpions. They all groaned and growled in metallic tones, and indeed their joints were mechanical hinges, rather than flesh and bone. Having said that, much of their bulk was made up of a substance that looked - and behaved - disturbingly like flesh.

High Ordinators and Royal Guardsmen - groups usually at odds with each other - were fighting shoulder to shoulder against the horde of constructs; and Sirilonwe and I joined in. The things were fast, and powerful - especially the scorpion-like ones. They were difficult to put down, too: simply carving away at them did little good - it was as if they were armoured on the inside. My katana kept meeting metal inside their fibrous flesh - and while I am sure the Daedric blade would have found a path through their bodies eventually, if I could strike the same place a number of times - in practice this was difficult when they continued to thrash about so violently. I attacked their joints instead, levering them apart with noisy, metallic -cracks- and -snaps-; all the while trying to avoid their slashing and gouging attacks. Some I was able to blast apart with a Blizzard spell, if there was no-one nearby to get caught in the explosion as well.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the occasional glimpse of Sirilonwe doing what she did best: burning things to a cinder with the merest touch. Eventually the strange creatures seemed to be all defeated: strewn across the plaza in twitching, groaning heaps. The metallic moans sounded subtly forlorn, actually.

"You... you've been... working for... the Captain, right?" A Royal Guardsman limped up to us; panting heavily, and nursing his arm.

Some of his armour had broken off, and he was missing his helmet. His face was very pale - and after a moment I realised that his arm was broken. He drew back in alarm when I reached out to touch his arm - and then froze in surprise when the healing magic spread through the limb, mending the bones.

"Er... thankyou!" He said, flexing his arm gingerly, but still staring fearfully at my fangs. "Listen... we've secured the plaza -" he motioned at the Ordinators and Guardsmen behind him, checking over the remains of the creatures - "but someone needs to tell the Captain what's happening. Could you go?"

We were not at the palace for long.

"Yes Frost, I know." A harried-looking Tienius Delitian said. "I've already sent the scout back to see about putting a ladder down the hole he found. Right under the Memorial statue; can you believe it? Look, it's good you're here, though: I'll get you two to go down there and see if you can find where those things came from. If there's any foul air down there, it won't matter for you two, will it? The scout said he caught a glimpse of some Dwemer ruins down there, and since these creatures are mechanical - at least partly - maybe they're just some old Dwemer guard-dogs. Still, we need to know if there are more of them - so if you could go straight away, that would be fantastic."

Without waiting for a reply, the captain turned back to the grim-faced guardsmen he had been addressing when we arrived. We returned to the Plaza Brindisi Dorom.

The dust had mostly settled around the Memorial statue at the centre of the plaza - and I could see that it had been broken into pieces by the passage of the odd mechanical creatures. The remains of the beasts themselves were being gathered into a great pile on the pavement a little way from the statue. I suspected that the Ordinators and Royal Guard were going to burn them.

Just as Delitian had said, there was a wooden ladder descending into a dark hole between the cracked marble feet of Almalexia and Mehrunes Dagon. I climbed down - Sirilonwe following behind me - and we found ourselves in a narrow, twisting tunnel that wound down into the ground for a way, until opening into a truly massive chamber, near its ceiling. It was not a natural cavern: it was a great rectangular hall, made of now-familiar Dwemer metal. In terms of architectural style, it looked somewhat different to the other underground Dwemer ruins I had seen - and it was certainly a much larger space than any I had seen previously in such places.

Far down below us was a spectacular sight: a score of the mysterious flesh-and-metal creatures we had seen in the plaza were engaging all kinds of Dwemer constructs in battle! Sparks flew, and small storms of electrical energy flashed and boomed throughout their massed ranks. I had never seen Dwemer constructs attack each other - and had never heard of such a thing. It was obvious - even just to look at them next to the Dwemer machines - that the flesh-and-metal beasts were not Dwemer-made. Perhaps they had come from elsewhere, and the Dwemer machines were defending their home - as they did against all intruders.

Venturing down to the chamber floor with such violence going on would have been extremely foolhardy - and the fact that the strange beasts had obviously not originated from the Dwemer ruins there was something that needed to be reported to Delitian. We slipped back out to the Plaza Brindisi Dorom and returned once more to the palace.

To my surprise, King Helseth was there in the throne-room when we arrived. He was a relatively young-looking Dunmer; with a neat beard, very fine robes, and a golden circlet on his brow. He was watching me from the throne - Delitian met us at the door.

"They were fighting the Dwemer constructs?" The captain's eyebrows shot halfway up his forehead. "This cannot be good... Listen, though: the king has actually asked to hear your report himself. If you would step this way?"

In a moment, Sirilonwe and I were standing before King Helseth - the man who had ordered my death all those months ago. His voice was smooth and deep:

"Ah... here he is. The vampire. We've heard a lot about you..."