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, July 07, 2006

Chapter 149: Mad gods

"I have watched you from afar, Nerevarine." Almalexia was smiling as she spoke, and her hands were still on my shoulders. "I have seen pretenders to the name come and go over the long years, but you have not shared their failures. Only the Nerevarine could have reaped the accomplishments to your name!"

To say I was surprised by all this would be something of an understatement. I glanced over at Sirilonwe. She looked as shocked as I felt - and angry, as well. Understandable, given the way Almalexia was behaving towards me.

"Trueflame has a twin." The living goddess continued. "My own blade: Hopesfire. On the day you and I were wed, Dwarf-King Dumac gifted us with the two blades: the pinnacle of Dwemer craftsmanship. But in the confusion of the Battle at Red Mountain, Trueflame was broken and its flame extinguished. I saw - and I knew - that only the Nerevarine could reforge the blade. You are he! My Nerevar reborn!"

I had to wonder at the depth - and significance - of her feeling. Some people believed that the Tribunal murdered Nerevar because he opposed their desire to use Kagrenac's Tools to grant themselves divinity. If that was true, and Nerevar was her husband, then had not Almalexia killed her own lover over a lust for power? It made me very wary: but I did not know if that account of Nerevar's death was the true one - it was too long ago. It was not for me to know.

I did know my own beliefs about the Nerevarine prophecies as they related to me, however.

"I am very sorry," I said, lifting her hands - which were hot to the touch - from my shoulders, "but I'm not the Nerevarine. So many people have tried to make me believe that I am - but it is just not true. It's all a coincidence: everything that happened on Vvardenfell. I have done what I can to help those around me... but for my own reasons, and to meet my own objectives. I am not the Incarnate."

I did not feel as if rejecting the advances of a living goddess was a particularly safe move - but what else could I have done? Sirilonwe came to my side, and slipped her hand into mine. A reddish tinge entered the light that radiated from Almalexia's skin. She looked furious.

"You... you say that - you... STAND THERE and say that, when you have Nerevar's blade right there in your hand!"

This was not just a figure of speech on her part: my hand had indeed closed instinctively around the blade's hilt at the dangerous tone of her voice. After a long - and very tense - pause, Almalexia appeared to master her anger:

"Make no mistake: we shall speak more on this later. For now, though, there is a more pressing concern. A very sad matter; and another burden I must place on you while my energies are devoted to healing those in my city." She drew a deep breath, the glow of her skin returning to its usual colour. "Sotha Sil. I have lost count of the number of times I have fought by his side. It pains me to believe it is so, but is he who sent the fabricants into my city."

Finally Almalexia had confirmed Helseth's suspicions about the origin of the attack. I tried to look surprised at her revelation.

"Once Sotha Sil was like Vivec and I: an active god amongst the people - but mortal eyes have not seen the Sorcerer for centuries now. He sits now alone in his Clockwork City, far to the south, and fashions his surroundings into a form that pleases him. He has barely acknowledged even Vivec or I for... a very long time now. He is not the man he once was. I believe his sanity has left him. As you have seen, he now poses a dire threat to my city and its people."

Sirilonwe's grip on my hand tightened. It was obvious where Almalexia was going with this.

"Trueflame can kill a god..." she said, adding: "especially one who has fallen so far from divinity as Sotha Sil. If you can just reach him... he may not even notice you; let alone offer up any resistance. I doubt he still 'sees' as we do..."

I somehow doubted that Sotha Sil had could have survived as long as he did if he was as defenceless as Almalexia made out. Still, the living goddess gave us little choice, in the end:

"Ready yourselves well. I will give you one day to prepare. Tomorrow evening, I will send you - both of you -" she added, with a cold glance in Sirilonwe's direction - "to the Clockwork City; from wherever you may be."

"I'm sorry for getting you involved in this." I told Sirilonwe, after we had left the uncomfortable atmosphere in Almalexia's chapel. "Killing a god of the Tribunal..." I shook my head slowly.

"I'm just glad she let us leave in one piece;" she replied; "but do not worry: I don't blame you. It's not your fault this time - and you know I would have gone with you anyway. And to that end... are you going to show me your secret supplies now?"

I started. I had never actually told Sirilonwe about the secret vault in Wolfen castle; it had never actually been necessary. She seemed to relish my surprise:

"Come now... you were hiding the Warlock's Ring somewhere. So how about it? Where's your hidden stash? If there's anything else that powerful mouldering away at the bottom of one of your strongboxes, I cannot imagine a time when you would have greater need of it."

And so I came to dig out the Mantle of Woe, that extraordinarily powerful - but equally dark and dangerous - artefact that had come into my possession during my brief visit to the frozen island of Solstheim, and show it to Sirilonwe. I did not permit her to try it on. Not even I had tried doing that; just touching the robe's purple fabric put me in a murderous state of mind. Sirilonwe was quick to divine its powers, however:

"This is not just a tool for necromancers. It would make you a powerful summoner, Edward: and your magicka reserves would have to be at least doubled! Actually... if you could only find someone to teach you a powerful summoning spell before Almalexia whisks us away to the Clockwork City, then we would have... 'expendable' allies to help us there."

She was right, of course. The most powerful summoning spell I knew of was the calling of Golden Saints from Oblivion. If I could do that, I would potentially have a limitless supply of formidable allies at my fingertips. The problem was that - being Archmage - I knew that no-one in the Mages Guild on Vvardenfell knew such a spell; or really any powerful summoning spells at all. I had a plan, though: the only other major practitioners of magic in Morrowind were the Telvanni wizards, and Skink-In-Trees-Shade, Steward of the Sadrith Mora branch of the guild, had spies and contacts among them. This was for good reason: the Imperial Mages Guild was not considered a friend of the Telvanni wizards, and Skink's guild hall was deep in their territory.

It was still early in the evening, and Skink-In-Trees-Shade was still awake to direct us to the perfect mer for my requirements: Felen Maryon, a Telvanni member living in Tel Branora; along the southern coast of Vvardenfell. Using our water-walking magic, Sirilonwe and I struck out from Wolfen castle and raced across the bays of the Ascadian Isles, and then Azura's Coast, to find the Dunmer Felen up in the great fungus tower of Tel Branora.

It was widely known in certain circles that the Telvanni wizards were utterly indifferent towards vampires: a good indication of the power and capability of the average member of their ranks. It was certainly the case with Felen Maryon: after offering him a very generous fee, he was quite happy to spend several hours teaching me how to summon a fearsome Golden Saint.

Outside, on a deserted beach, I prepared to attempt the summoning spell. It would mean actually wearing the Mantle of Woe, though: something I was not eager to do. Clenching my teeth, I pulled the Mantle down over my head. The world before my eyes was again merely a shell; a container for the shimmering bones that filled the ground for as far as I could see. Sirilonwe's anxious face was in the way, obscuring my view of the beautiful bones. Suddenly, every little thing about her made me furious.

"Oh Edward... you look awful. It's the Mantle, isn't it? You said it made that boy look like he was a dead thi-"

"Shut your mouth, whore!" I snapped; and then quickly gestured that I was sorry. It was difficult to swallow my sudden fury at her. That robe was an evil thing indeed.

Fortunately, I was able to successfully summon and control a couple of Golden Saints in quick succession. It was difficult, but I could cast the spell reliably enough. The significant drain on my magicka inflicted by the spell was no problem, either: my reserves felt near limitless while wearing the Mantle.

After feeding from Hunter, we returned to Almalexia just before dawn. I had the Mantle of Woe bundled into my pack: I did not want anyone at the Mournhold temple to see what wearing the robe did to me. The time Almalexia specified had not yet come, but I figured she would not complain if we asked to be teleported to the Clockwork City a little early. I was right, and she did not complain: in fact, she said very little at all - only:

"Steel yourself. I will send you to as safe a place as I can find in his city, so you are not surprised by fabricants... Now - do what must be done. Sotha Sil must be stopped."

The passages in which we appeared reminded me more of the insides of a Dwemer ruin than any conventional city I had seen. The first part of the Clockwork City we saw were wet, dimly lit by blue lanterns, and swelteringly hot. As I mentioned, the resemblance to Dwemer architecture was striking: as absolutely everything around us was fashioned of metal, and strange machinery was everywhere. Unlike the deafening clamour to be found in most Dwemer ruins, however, the 'city' was filled with (relatively) quiet hisses, whirs and clicks. No creature stirred in those first chambers (though this trend was not to last). We found a dry spot, and I pulled the Mantle of Woe down over my head again. Sirilonwe helped to fasten down the pauldrons of my Shadow Lord armour over the top of the robe. I was not used to fighting in robes, and the Mantle felt uncomfortably limiting.

There is not much to say about our journey through that insane maze. We made battle with fabricants - just like the ones that had attacked the city, navigated vicious traps, and cursed the humid heat. The Clockwork City was said to be 'somewhere south' of Almalexia - and my bet was that it was quite close to the border Morrowind shared with Black Marsh.

Deeper into the 'city' was drier; but no less hot: fiery sparks spewed from the machines that lined the passages. I had never seen such extensive displays of machinery before; but if any of them actually did anything, it was beyond my ability to comprehend.

After travelling through the endless, hazardous chambers and passages of the Clockwork City for the whole day and much of the night (according to my pocketwatch - we did not catch one glimpse of the sky while there), we came across a domed room that played host to a mechanical golem larger than any I had ever seen. It must have measured at least three or four times my height. At first I thought it was inanimate: but then it lurched towards us with a shriek of released steam.

It moved (alarmingly quickly) with a rasping series of clangs and crashes, and electrical energy leapt from its extremities in great arcs. Sirilonwe and I barrelled around the domed chamber, trying desperately to keep out of reach of its long metallic arms - while sending out our most explosive spells against its seemingly impervious body. One of the monstrosity's swings connected, and knocked me to the ground with a crack. It felt as if several of my ribs had broken.

The gigantic thing was actually about to step on me! Sirilonwe came to my rescue, though: sweeping in from the side and dragging me out of the way. The golem was momentarily caught off-balance, and I took the opportunity to leap up and jam Trueflame's burning blade between its head and neck. With a tremendous -crack- and a shower of sparks, something in the automaton broke, and it abruptly froze in place - just before its mechanical grasp had closed around my frame. I jumped down, and the machine toppled to the ground.

Shaking slightly from the intense battle, I drank down a couple of vials of blood, so that my vampiric body could go to work and mend the bones that had broken. It was all finished in several seconds. Fresh blood worked miracles for a vampire.

"I have a feeling that that thing was a... sort of personal bodyguard." Sirilonwe spoke up. "Do you think we could be close?"

"Let's hope so." I replied, biting back the irritated, sarcastic response the Mantle of Woe was urging me to make. "I don't fancy fighting anything more powerful than it to get to Sotha Sil."

Indeed, Sotha Sil was in the next chamber - I recognised the mask he wore from drawings I had seen - but he was dead! It was one of the more horrible sights I had seen. The 'Tinkerer' had somehow replaced most of his body with machinery: metal rods and wires for bones and veins. If this was not bad enough, what little flesh remained was grey, gashed, torn... and shrivelled, as if all his blood had been drained away. His mechanical legs were just... missing; from the knees on down, and he hung from a metal frame in a tangle of wires, swinging slowly back and forth. The stench of decay was sickening.

There was a rustle behind me, and suddenly the domed chamber was glowing faintly with an orange light. I turned to see Almalexia standing in the entrance, wearing a strange, frightening mask. It was a black, tusked thing; that completely hid her face, and made the angry buzzing behind her words even more pronounced:

"You - yet - LIVE?" She hissed. "This place was to be your death, Frost! A willing martyr to my cause! But... fear not. I will tell the tale myself when I leave here. 'To the victor goes the privilege of writing the history'. Is that not how it goes? 'Vampire Frost: unlikely hero of the Temple, killed in a valiant struggle against the insane Sotha Sil. The glorious Almalexia arrived too late to save her loyal servant, but slew Sotha Sil for the evils he had committed.' Yes... it will work."

I stared at her, aghast. My hand was wrapped around the handle of Trueflame so tightly that the knuckles turned white.

"Sotha Sil has been dead for weeks." Sirilonwe spoke up, the barest suggestion of a quaver in her voice. "You killed him, didn't you?" She said to Almalexia.

The masked, glowing figure just watched us in silence.

"If he has been dead for weeks, then that means..." I said slowly, "that the fabricants were not sent by Sotha Sil. 'It would take the power of a god to create such things'..." I pointed at Almalexia. "You? You were the one behind the attack on the city? But... how? Why?"

Almalexia raised her hand, and indicated a familiar-looking ring on her finger.

"The Mazed Band. It is a powerful item indeed... My thanks, again, for fetching it for me. With it I summoned the fabricants - and with it I teleported here weeks ago, to kill Sotha Sil - as I came here just now."

I was incredulous.

"Isn't - wasn't - Sotha Sil your comrade? Your friend?"

"The Sotha Sil I knew was gone long ago. That much is true. Just look at his 'home'. I put him out of his misery. He would have thanked me for it. He would have pleaded for me to do it - if he could still speak. But he made not a whisper as I killed him. He rejected mortality; but the path he took away from it lead to nothingness."

Almalexia reached behind her back, and slowly drew out a curved blade that looked just like Trueflame - only it burned with a cold blue fire. It had to be Hopesfire, the twin of Trueflame.

"Sotha Sil was a fool." Almalexia continued. "Vivec is a fool. A useless poet and a hopeless fool... a coward who would give up his divinity. I surpass them. I will be saviour to all of Morrowind: my people. Their one true god, who saved them from the mad Sotha Sil! Their faith shall bolster my divinity: I shall not have it taken from me!"

The living goddess levelled her blade at my head, and what she said next made me sure that she, too was quite mad:

"One god. One faith. One rule under my divine law. Those who do not yield will be destroyed."

Horrible draining magics burst from her hands and engulfed the entire chamber; threatening to suck away the energies that sustained our bodies. I called out to the plane of Oblivion and summoned a Golden Saint to help us; before rushing to engage Almalexia - Trueflame at the ready. Hopesfire flashed and crashed against my armour, burning my flesh. Neither my blade nor my spells could find purchase on her, and I very much needed my own draining spells to do so: I was badly hurt.

In desperation, I turned to the summoned Golden Saint (which also seemed incapable of even touching Almalexia), and gripped it by its smooth, metallic neck. The Wight-touch spell worked well enough on the Daedric creature: it expired instantly, and vanished in a plume of golden sparks. My most severe wounds were healed.

Almalexia though, had taken advantage of my distraction, and grabbed hold of my arms; pinning them to my sides, and lifting me off the ground. She began to channel some terrible, unknown spell into the thick fabric of the Mantle of Woe. The robe quickly became almost unbearably hot. Frantic, I summoned another Golden Saint off to my side, to aid Sirilonwe in pulling the insane 'goddess' off me. They struggled in vain, and flames began to lick at the folds of the Mantle. Almalexia meant to burn me to death!

There was a bright flash, and a searing pain all over my body. I was conscious of a sharp pain in my ears - and then I was blinded, and could hear not a thing. I felt Almalexia release me at the moment of the bright flash, but it was not until my vision cleared a moment later that I realised what had happened: the Mantle of Woe had been destroyed in a great (and literally deafening) explosion. Smoldering shreds of the purple fabric were spread around me in a wide circle on the floor. Sirilonwe was sheltering behind the melted remains of the Golden Saint, but Almalexia had not been so lucky.

She leaned against the far wall, her once golden skin blackened and charred. No light came from her now. Her arms hung uselessly at her sides. Her tusked mask had come off, and she was saying something to me: I could see her lips moving.

I could not hear her though. I walked over to her and brought Trueflame down upon her head.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chapter 148: Love of the goddess

"You have to admit, Edward: you and I, of all people, know that the Tribunal are largely mortal." Sirilonwe was convinced that Almalexia had indeed been hinting at a romantic relationship between her and the rogue elite guard, Salas Valor. "I would imagine that now, more than ever, they would feel the same desires as any man or mer - after what we did at Red Mountain, I mean."

We were on our way to Godsreach to confront Salas; the High Ordinators were apparently keeping a watch on him there; among the homes of the upper-class.

"Yes, you're right..." I replied, "it's just very strange to think about, that's all. And if it drove this man mad... it must be a very strange thing indeed."

Sirilonwe was quiet for a moment, and then said softly:

"Unless, obviously, he is not mad... and something happened between them."

I studied her for a moment.

"Are you saying that Almalexia would have a man killed over... a lovers' quarrel? You don't trust her, do you?" I did not speak in an accusing tone; I just wanted to know what Sirilonwe was thinking.

She simply shook her head.

"Well... I'll reserve judgement for now." I continued. "Denying the patron goddess of this city would likely be very dangerous, if nothing else. I need to be sure before doing that."

An Ordinator in Godsreach directed us to Salas Valor; telling us that the elite guardsman had been wandering the back streets, and acting strangely. The Ordinator sounded worried:

"He's scaring people. This is a residential area, after all. He's literally too close to home for the people here."

We found the rogue 'Hand of Almalexia' standing stock-still in the middle of a Godsreach back-alley, near the sewer-channel. He was fully clad in his elaborate, rouge-silver armour; every minute part of which glittered with powerful magic. I could not see his face, or even his eyes, really: he wore the masked helmet of the Ordinators. He gazed at me through the blowing ash of the storm.

"You are their pawn." He said calmly, and without preamble. "A vampiric pawn. A further sign that they are corrupted and false: how else could one explain Vivec entrusting such a relic to a fiend like you? I should have left when she was exposed - when her divinity was lost." The armoured man paused. "And now you are her favourite; I have seen it in the chapel. Do you feel for her as she does for you?" In a flash, a heavy-looking ebony scimitar was in his hand. "Would you die for her?"

Salas attacked me. The fight was quick and vicious; and I knew from the first cut he made in my skin that it could be no other way. There was a horrible draining enchantment placed on his scimitar: quite like the 'Righteousness' spell I had used during my first weeks on Vvardenfell - only much more powerful. His blade grazed the flesh of my wrist, and I felt resurrected cuts and bruises break out all over my body. My bones began to ache - as if threatening to break.

I caught hold of Salas' wrist to hold the scimitar away, and sent a new spell I had created (with Yanika's help) into his body. It was even more terrible than the Righteousness spell, or the draining magic in the elite guardsman's blade. I called it 'Wight-touch', and it drew the life out of Salas Valor in a few short seconds.

He fell to the ground in an expansive pool of blood, and I stepped back - fully healed. The spell was a considerable strain to cast, but extraordinarily effective. Several Ordinators had followed behind Sirilonwe and I to keep watch (from a distance). They now ran up and gathered around the lifeless body.

"We'll return him to the temple." One of them muttered grimly.

We went on ahead of them to report to Almalexia.

"This is a painful day for me, Edward Frost... but it was necessary, as you no doubt saw. Salas Valor will be missed." Almalexia closed her eyes for a moment before she went on: "You have both served me well, and it is in my mind to alleviate the burden I placed on you by granting a divine blessing. Come here."

The living goddess waved us closer with a languid gesture, and soon Sirilonwe and I were within arm's reach of her.

"I will make your skin as tough as iron." Almalexia rested her golden hands on us - one on Sirilonwe's shoulder, and one on mine.

Her radiance pulsed more brightly for a moment, but I did not feel anything of note after she was finished; besides a faint sense of unease at the fact that Almalexia's hand was lingering on my shoulder, but not Sirilonwe's.

"There is one more burden I must place on you." She said, finally removing her hand. "One more thing I must ask: and it is something only you can do. There is a continuing threat to my city; as I'm sure you must realise. I have seen that it is time to reforge an ancient weapon of power: 'Trueflame'. It will be needed. It is a fearsome blade, and it will be yours. It was broken into three pieces in ages past, but I have divined that all three reside here in Mournhold. You shall be the one to gather them together, and have Trueflame reforged." I found her words subtly mesmerising, but shook off the effect when she presented me with a small, oddly curved blade, saying: "Some of the pieces will be harder to find than others. Here is the first one."

I took the blade. It was shaped something like a hand-scythe, and its sheen was familiar to me somehow. I looked back to Almalexia. I did not really understand what she wanted - or, perhaps more accurately - I did not know why she wanted it.

"Only I can do this? Why is that?" I asked.

She only gave a small smile, and said:

"That will become clear very soon. Return once Trueflame burns brightly again."

Assuming that the threat Almalexia spoke of was the fabricants - and whoever was behind them - I began the search for the remaining two pieces of the mysterious blade. As strange - and oddly put - as Almalexia's request had been, it felt like I was finally getting somewhere.

I reasoned that if the pieces were indeed in the holy district, then the search should not be very difficult: I could think immediately of two places to look - the Museum of Artefacts, of course, and the Royal Palace. Perhaps one or both of the pieces could be found among the riches of the royal family. I could not imagine where else such items of antiquity might be found in the district; unless of course Almalexia considered the catacombs to be part of Mournhold proper. Trying to avoid that discouraging thought, we made our way to the Royal Palace, since it was closest.

King Helseth was present in the throne-room, and engaged in conversation with an Imperial man in fine robes. Mindful of Helseth's command that I not speak to him until I had information about the attacks on the city, I sought out Captain Delitian, and showed him the blade piece Almalexia had given me.

"The only thing this reminds me of is Karrod's blade. There's a similar lustre to the metal." Delitian said, after studying the piece for a moment. "Can't you see the resemblance, vampire Frost? You had quite a close look at his blade the other night!"

Laughing, the captain walked away. I turned my attention to Karrod - who was standing a little way away and watching everything that took place around the king. Of course! I knew the odd sheen of the small blade piece had been tugging at my memory for a reason: Karrod's blade had the same appearance. I stepped over to the giant Redguard, and to my surprise, he drew his large, curved blade and held it out for me to take.

"When I was a child," he rumbled, "my father gave that to me. He said none would defeat me until the rightful owner came to claim it from me. You are the one."

I held the small blade piece up to Karrod's sabre, and realised that the small piece would be a perfect fit for the hand-guard of the weapon (or part of it, at least): the sabre was indeed the second piece!

Marvelling at my good fortune, we continued on to the Museum (after I had thanked Karrod), and managed to catch the curator, Torasa Aram, just before she closed the place for the night. With a Charm spell keeping her calm, she said:

"All three pieces of the Trueflame here in Mournhold! Now that is something I would like to see! Unfortunately, I can't say that I've seen anything myself... although there is a piece I have in storage from around the same period, which is also Dwemeri in make."

Torasa went to look through a selection of crates behind the reception desk, and I glanced down at the two pieces I had already. Since she came to mention it, they did look as if they were made from Dwemeri metal.

"Ah, here we are." Torasa spoke up, hefting a Dwemer shield. "A shield, obviously - but not like any recognised type I can find a reference to."

I looked more closely at the Dwemer shield. It looked just like any other I had seen, only there was a sharp, curved lump of metal protruding from the centre, with an odd sheen to it... It looked just like the piece Almalexia had given me! It had to be the final piece; the other half of the hand-guard. It must have been obvious by my expression that I wanted that shield, because the curator shrewdly told me:

"I could let you have it - but the museum is always looking for more exhibits, so I'll propose a trade. You two look well-travelled. If you happened to have a couple of artefacts - recognised artefacts - that you would be willing to donate to the museum, I could let you have this shield. I have a popular book here somewhere, that... ah - here it is." The Dunmer woman handed me a book. "That lists a number of known magical artefacts. If you really did happen to have anything in there, we would be very happy to have it. If you have something that's not in that book, just ask me about it."

This was an area Sirilonwe excelled at, and she was already working at it.

"What about the Dagger of Symmachus?" She asked, pulling out the large dagger King Helseth had given to me. "You don't mind, do you?" She asked me, as an aside.

I shook my head. I honestly did care very little what happened to the blade.

"The ceremonial dagger of General Symmachus!" Torasa exclaimed. "What a local treasure! This would be most suitable." She looked to me for my decision.

I nodded, and the curator took the dagger, holding the glass blade up to the light of a lantern. I was distracted by the fascinating entries in the book on artefacts. After a few minutes of leafing through the book, I spotted a familiar-looking illustration for something called the 'Warlock's Ring'. I stabbed my finger at the page.

"I have this!" I called out. "Although... I can't remember where I found it. I never knew what it was."

"Are you sure?" Sirilonwe asked, coming across to look down over my shoulder at the entry.

I was quite sure, and teleported home and back quickly to fetch the ruby-studded ring, so that Torasa could have a look at it. The ring (which I had determined offered some protection against harmful magic, but only for short periods at a time) was the real thing, and the curator exchanged the shield for it without complaint. Before we left - again feeling spectacularly lucky - Torasa commented that the 'spike' on the shield was a little loose, and that we should probably take the thing to a smith.

A smithy was actually the next place I had intended to visit anyway: Almalexia had recommended trying the renowned Craftmen's Hall for someone to reforge the blade. And although my pocketwatch told me that there was less than an hour until midnight, the Hall was just across the way from the Museum of Artefacts, so I decided that there was no harm in trying our luck. It had been quite kind to us already that night.

The place was not locked, and inside I could hear the pounding and clanging of someone working a forge. An Orc with an impressive moustache was the only one left in the Hall - and he challenged us with his hammer, but a Charm spell calmed him down. The Orc blacksmith, named Yagak gro-Gluk, appeared to be quite gifted in his art - judging by the fine blade he was working on when Sirilonwe and I arrived.

I showed him the shield and the two blade pieces, and without hesitation, Yagak took the shield and yanked the 'spike' from it with a jarring -crack-. He then laid it next to the 'hand-scythe' piece on a table, and dropped Karrod's sabre across them, lengthways; so that the smaller pieces formed the hand-guard, as I had guessed.

"Interesting blade." He grunted. "I can do something with this. Make the best blade you've ever seen. I'll take the shield as payment, if you don't want it." I nodded in agreement, and he said: "Come back in two days."

Two uneventful days passed, in which Sirilonwe and I caught up on our Mages Guild work. Well, I did, at any rate: Sirilonwe spent most of the time studying the Dwemer books we had taken from the Bamz-Amschend ruins.

On our return to the Craftmen's Hall to see what Yagak had been able to make of the ancient pieces, we found that he had done an excellent job (the reforged Trueflame appeared superior even to my Daedric katana), but that there was a problem:

"Before you ask, I don't know why it doesn't burn. Yes - I know this is Trueflame, and what it's supposed to do." The Orc added, at my surprised expression. He seemed in a prickly mood; as if not being able to return the weapon to its full glory aggravated him. "I'm a smith, though: not an enchanter. If you want a Dwemeri enchantment on this thing, I'd need instructions of some kind. I've heard about what's down in those Dwemer ruins beneath the plaza. If you found something down there that would help, bring it here, and I'll see what I can do."

I looked to Sirilonwe: she had spent the previous two days poring over the technical manuals from the ruins. Could we have already found what was needed? Unfortunately not, as it turned out: none of the books seemed to be about pyrotechnics.

Almalexia had specified that I should only return once Trueflame 'burned brightly again', so there was nothing else for it: we would have to go down into Bamz-Amschend once more, and look to see if we had missed something in a dark corner. The place had been full of all sorts of alien blueprints and documents: there had to be something down there!

Down in the Dwemer workshops once more, we did not find any books we had missed on our last visit, but we did find something much more startling: the ghostly spectre of a bearded Dwemer man, seated at one of the desks and tinkering with something I could not see. He looked up as we entered the room.

"What?" The ghostly Dwemer snapped. "What do you want? Quickly now; I'm very, very busy here."

At something of a loss, I drew the reforged Trueflame blade and showed it to him - or it.

"Oh, that thing. Trueflame gone out, has it?" The spirit let out an expressive sigh. "Fine. Bring me some Pyroil tar and I'll fix it. It'll be in a metal bottle around so tall, and so round." He indicated the size with his pale, immaterial hands. "I saw some earlier; in the Daedric ruins down the hall." He pointed down a passage we had not explored on our last visit to Bamz-Amschend. "Just call out when you have it - but don't bother me until then, alright?"

With that, the spirit vanished - and no amount of begging and wheedling brought it back. It was quite frustrating: I had never even heard of a Dwemer spirit that would speak with the living (or - you know, vampires), rather than just attacking them. It could have made for a conversation of truly historical importance: if only the damned spirit would remain for long enough to be asked a question.

"Daedric ruins down the hall?" I echoed - puzzled.

But sure enough, down the passage the spirit indicated was an area that looked as if the Dwemer of Bamz-Amschend had broken into a series of natural caverns during their excavations; and inside those spacious caverns was a massive complex of Daedric ruins. Some of the caverns were huge, with towering spires of Daedric stones - some were cramped and dark - and all were infested with Daedric creatures that objected to our presence.

After a particularly titanic fight, we found a small passage that lead to a very tall and very steep waterfall, that crashed down a deep shaft, spilling from rock to rock on the way down. We were obviously not the first people to venture down there: bones, weapons and armour littered the jagged rocks on almost every shelf lining the deep shaft. We levitated down the treacherous waterfall carefully, and halfway down, I made a magnificent discovery: a Daedric cuirass in fine condition, with a matching pauldron hanging off it from a leather strap. It would, of course, make a fantastic addition to the small pieces of Daedric armour already in my museum at Wolfen castle.

Not that the museum really needed it: it was doing quite well, with a steady stream of visitors passing through once more; after a sharp drop when it was revealed that the master of the castle was a vampire. The groundskeeper Falorn speculated that many visitors came purely because of the intrigue and air of danger surrounding the place... especially once it became known that I was working with the Temple, and thus couldn't be all that bad. Yes, despite a renewed effort by the Imperial Legion and Imperial officials to make things difficult for us - with often outrageous fines and fees for every little thing to do with the museum and stores in the castle grounds, and patrols coming within an intrusive distance of the gates - the museum was doing very well.

Sirilonwe strapped the armour to my back so that it could be carried more easily, and we continued down the waterfall. At the very bottom, in a pile of bones and refuse, we finally found what the Dwemer spirit had asked for: a metal bottle in the shape he had described, full of a foul-smelling tar.

Once we had made our way back to the workshop rooms, the bearded spectre returned for long enough to take the sword and the bottle of tar with a heartfelt sigh, and then vanish in a blazing conflagration. When the roaring flames had died down somewhat, I realised that most of the remaining fire actually came from the blade itself: Trueflame was burning brightly once more.

I was a little apprehensive of wielding a burning blade - being a vampire - but I soon discovered that the magical flames were extinguished when the blade was pushed into the special sheath Yagak had made for it, and ignited again when I drew it out. A remarkably ugly-looking blade, I thought: but also the most devastating I had ever seen.

Almalexia was wearing an odd expression when she saw that I had returned with Trueflame successfully reforged. She glided over and laid her hands on my shoulders. The orange glow that the living goddess gave off suddenly felt uncomfortably hot, rather than warm and soothing. The strange buzzing behind her voice was unusually pronounced when she spoke:

"I knew it. I saw it... I knew it would be like this." Almalexia gave a radiant smile. "Nerevar - my groom. You have returned to me at last."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter 147: Weather Witch

"Ashstorms in Mournhold." Almalexia said. Her manner was more controlled now, but her intent was still alarming. "You shall be my hand in this, but I shall make it possible. It has been discovered that the Dwemer ruins beneath the Plaza Brindisi Dorom are those of Bamz-Amschend, home of the 'Karstangz-Beharn'; the mythical machine created by the Dwemer to control the weather."

"Mythical?" I managed to ask. I felt a little leery of addressing her in her current mood.

Almalexia's smile was grim and ferocious in her anger.

"Mythical no longer, now that the ruins have opened up beneath my city. The 'Karstangz-Beharn' - which means 'Weather Witch', more or less - is real, and you will go down into Bamz-Amschend for me, and make the machine to create ashstorms in Mournhold - in the whole of my holy city, even. The people shall know that it is the will of a god that brings the ash here: the ashstorms of Vvardenfell do not reach the mainland on their own - this far from the Red Mountain. This is how I shall make it possible..."

The living goddess stepped lightly across to a strongbox in a dim corner of the chapel, her feet making no sound on the floor. In a moment, she returned with an item I recognised: a Dwemer coherer, like the one Caius had given me to bribe Divayth Fyr with. This one was oddly warm to the touch, however.

"Take that to the machine. You will be able to divine the workings of the Weather Witch, I'm sure. You cannot have arrived at this lofty point in your life through stupidity. Once this is done, these heretics will have no choice but to acknowledge the power of the Tribunal... the power of Almalexia!"

Needless to say perhaps, Sirilonwe and I were locked in earnest conversation after leaving the temple.

"Don't you remember what Vivec said?" Sirilonwe exclaimed. "She is obsessed with power, and with her divinity - and its loss."

"I know, I know;" I admitted; "it seems a little extreme... But really, how could there be a machine that controls the weather? Through incredible magic maybe - or divine power; but a machine? If this 'Karstangz-Beharn' is even down there, I believe all we'll find is a strange old machine that doesn't work."

"I have seen too many strange things - half of them while accompanying you - to discount anything out of hand." Sirilonwe insisted. "What if it is real, and it does work as Almalexia says it will?"

She did have a point. Before coming to Morrowind, I would never have thought it possible for a god to walk Tamriel like a mortal person: but there the Tribunal were. Of course, they had been revealed to have only stolen a semblance of divinity from the remains of a god - but what they had accomplished in their lives could still (almost literally) be called incredible.

"Well... if the Weather Witch does work and we really do end up creating ashstorms over the city, would it be that bad? Ashstorms here would be alarming and uncomfortable, yes; but not dangerous. And... if you think about it -" I said slowly, ignoring Sirilonwe's incredulous expression - "it probably would accomplish exactly what she wants - with no loss of life. No, I mean it: people are really dying because of what that madman Romari is preaching! I agree with you that Almalexia's reaction was a little worrying, but this might be for the best..."

And so, labouring under an uneasy silence, Sirilonwe and I made our way down into the Bamz-Amschend ruins, just on midnight. We would at least see what could be found down there.

Bamz-Amschend had obviously been explored by members of the Temple - for how else could it have been identified as the location of the Karstangz-Beharn? I wondered how deeply those explorers had gone.

Probably not that deeply at all, was my conclusion: the place was patrolled by quite a number of Dwemer constructs: it seemed that they had been victorious over the invading fabricants we had seen. The massive hall that had been host to the confrontation now echoed with the clanking, hammering racket common to all Dwemer ruins, but it was not nearly so loud as it was in the more confined, cramped spaces of the average ruin.

Bamz-Amschend was interesting: the architectural style was recognisably Dwemer - a telling point being that it was almost entirely solid metal - but it was still very different to what I had seen in the ruins on Vvardenfell. Perhaps it was a variant style more common on the mainland parts of Morrowind. The spacious halls were dimly lit by a ghostly, yellow-green glow from a series of luminescent coils on the walls, encased in glass tubes.

It actually seemed to me that the place had never seen looters: and perhaps no-one had seen the inside of Bamz-Amschend since the time of the Dwemer! Dwemer artefacts lay undisturbed everywhere we looked. There were many piles of armour and weapons, especially: left as if the wearers had all stripped down and walked away naked. Of course, the story of the whole Dwemer race suddenly disappearing from Tamriel all at once threw some light on the reason for the piles of armaments.

Strangely though, most of the piles were accompanied by a mound of ash - making it appear as if the wearer had burnt to a cinder - rather than simply disappeared. Perhaps some calamitous event took place in Bamz-Amschend before the wholesale disappearance of the Dwemer.

Deeper into the ruin, we found a series of chambers that appeared to be workshops, judging by the workbenches, tools, desks, and metal scraps and contraptions to be found there. We even came across a number of remarkably well-preserved books, that seemed to be Dwemer technical manuals on a range of topics. The Dwemer text was unreadable, of course, but Sirilonwe happily gathered them all up to take back to the Mages Guild for study; stowing a number of them in my soon-bulging pack.

The books were not the only extraordinarily well-preserved items to be found, either. In a storeroom filled with metal drums and strongboxes, we found a couple of very interesting - and perfectly sealed - cloth packages, filled with black powder. I could not make heads or tails of them myself, but Sirilonwe assured me that they were 'explosive chemicals', and that she had read that the Dwemer used them in excavation and mining operations. I was unsure what use they would be - compared to a fire spell from the College of Destruction, but Sirilonwe said that such packages could be very potent; and not just for those who were inept at magic.

They turned out to be a very convenient find, actually: because just a little deeper into the ruin was a passage blocked by a rock-fall. I could tell that the passage continued on the other side: I could hear Dwemer constructs clanking back and forth. Being the expert on fiery and explosive magic, Sirilonwe set one of the packages among the fallen rocks, and drew me back down the long corridor a considerable way. From there, she sent a magical flame streaking down the corridor, to ignite the package.

... And it was quite a concussive blast. It was some time before my ears stopped ringing. But still: it had worked perfectly; a space large enough for us to crawl through had been cleared at the base of the rock-fall.

Our explorations took hours; it was already past sunrise (according to my pocketwatch) when we finally came across a huge domed chamber, with a strange, bulbous device sitting in the centre. It rested on a platform suspended over a large pool of water, and near it was a series of three levers. I made my way gingerly along a narrow beam to reach the central platform, Sirilonwe following in my shadow.

The levers did nothing but clank and grind back and forth in their tracks when I tried them, so I took out the Dwemer coherer and began to examine the nearby machinery. My theory was that the coherer might act something like the tiny gems set into my Magery ring: if I could set it into the machine, perhaps it would unlock its power. My idea turned out to be correct: I found a likely-shaped slot, and fitted the coherer into it. The large bulbous device above us began to emit a low hum.

On my second attempt, the levers caused a panel the size of a silt strider's body on the far wall of the chamber to shift aside, behind a square section cut from the wall. It shifted with deafening grinding, creaking and groaning sounds to reveal a series of panels, all marked with different symbols that appeared to signify different weather conditions. The machine was definitely the Karstangz-Beharn.

I could not work out exactly how the levers worked. Sometimes the panel shifted only one place, and at others, it span around and around without stopping. Much to Sirilonwe's consternation, I began throwing levers at random, until the panel eventually stopped on a symbol that seemed to represent clouds of ash spewing from a volcano: ashstorms, hopefully.

To be honest, I still did not expect the machine to actually do anything beyond what we had just witnessed, but I had done as Almalexia had asked; so she could not fault my intentions, at least. Hopefully not, anyway. In any case, we had to teleport directly home from Bamz-Amschend. Reporting to Almalexia would have to wait until the sun set again.

You can imagine my astonishment when we returned in the evening to find that the holy city had been suffering ashstorms all day! In addition to the worried talk on virtually everyone's lips, the trees that lined the streets of Mournhold bore testament to this fact: they were not suited to such weather, and their normally full and green leaves were shredded and limp. Sirilonwe and I pushed through the howling, gritty wind to the temple.

"You have done well, Edward Frost." Almalexia's warm glow pulsed slowly. She seemed much calmer than the night before. "We are seeing results already: many people that once followed that evil cult have come to the temple today to repent. I have sent my Ordinators to deal with Romari and any that still stubbornly cling to the 'End of Times' cult. I shall see to it that the ashstorms remain until they have all learned their lesson."

Sirilonwe and I again exchanged uneasy glances.

"And now," Almalexia continued, without waiting for me to say anything (I got the impression she was used to addressing people, rather than holding conversations with them), "I am afraid I must lay a sad burden on you... One of my most faithful servants, one my own elite guardsmen, the 'Hands of Almalexia'; has lost his mind. Salas Valor now spews vile untruths about me to anyone who will listen. He has abandoned me completely - but I pity him, for I know his actions are not those of a sane mind. He haunts the streets now, and his wild and distracted manner frightens the people. Even my Ordinators are afraid to confront him - and well they should be: the bodies and souls of my 'Hands' are fortified by my divine magic, and their armour and weapons blessed by the glory of my touch. In his current state, my poor Salas poses a grave danger to my people."

The living goddess paused, deep in thought, and I took the opportunity to ask the obvious question:

"What happened to him? Why has he become like this?"

Almalexia was silent for a moment longer, and appeared quite genuinely sad.

"Salas was my most trusted servant, but recently his behaviour became erratic, and he turned quiet, and unresponsive. I am afraid... that I allowed him to become too close. It is impossible for god and mortal to meet on equal ground... but perhaps he came to think..." Her words had slowed, but now her expression hardened. "I regret this state of affairs, and am sorry that I might be partly responsible for his condition, but I am tasked with the protection and welfare of my people. He is a threat now, and must be removed from the streets. I believe you - both of you - are capable of doing this. There are not many who could."

I was openly staring at her. Could she have been talking about a romantic relationship between her and this Salas Valor? And now she was as good as condemning him:

"You may have to do battle with him... and bring upon him the peace and understanding of blessed death."