LotS: Frost Moon - Chapter Thirty-One

  • Frostmere


    The silver-edged scimitar glowed white, cooling as if fresh from the forge. The soul gem was in shards, empty of its host soul. In his years of service to Arkay, Mor'vahka had never heard protest from the Neutral God over their usage.


    The souls he used did not deserve Arkay's Blessing. The souls these shards had housed once spat in the face of the time god. There was something cruelly satisfying in the motion as he rolled the shards around a cupped, clawed hand.


    A fitting use for the clan of necromancers he had found.


    Their spirits would go on to fight the wretched undead, and the rest of their poisoned kind. Mor'vahka threw a sheet over the enchanter's table. It muted the dull hum of power at the edge of his consciousness, and he returned upstairs to his preparations.


    Four bottles of differing sizes sat ready upon the writing table beside thick linen wraps, and a scroll, the edges frayed from the journey through Cyrodiil, bound in golden cord. It's twin was already in his pack, though he did not anticipate using both.


    Mor'vahka tapped his claws against a vial that would ward against the supernatural cold of the Pale Lady. By Arkay, he hated this place. He hated these Nords, this snow, and the chill in his bones that never thawed.




    The front door was unlocked. Kjeld hesitated at the threshold. Mor'vahka was the kind of creature who slept with a knife under his pillow and runes beneath the welcome mat.


    Yet the door was unlocked, even ajar.


    He discovered why, when the priest appeared with his arms full, carrying an odd, heavy leather contraption. Kjeld hastened back, clearing a path for the cat who passed by without a word, not stopping until he had brought it to the back of the painted mare pawing the grass.


    At first Kjeld had thought him punishing the animal, but she held still obediently while the cat latched the saddle into place. He meant to ride the horse, a feat that Kjeld was skeptical of. Could the horse bear the weight of both rider and seat? It looked heavy. Designed for long journeys.


    So, he's leaving. Thought Kjeld, almost forgetting the crostatas and the cat’s cryptic message that morning. What of the cat’s library? He didn’t anticipate Mor’vahka handing him a key and saying ‘read as much as this one desires’.


    Kjeld approached when the cat turned back to the Chapel.
    "Where are you headed?"


    "Frostmere crypt," Mor'vahka breathed the words through puffs of ice, lightly winded. "This one has need of your assistance."


    "You need my help?" With what? They had already established he had no useful abilities worth bartering over - unless the cat wanted him to reshod his horse. Kjeld had to refuse. He knew as much about nailing in horseshoes as Reidar did.


    "The mother of the child lost to fire must be put to rest," Mor'vahka beckoned him to the Chapel. "This one has found her."


    "What do you mean found her?" Said Kjeld. Where had the mother's spirit gone in the first place?


    "The wronged dead, they seek peace. Too much time bound to Mundus causes confusion. Madness. Spirits wander in search of what cannot be found."


    Kjeld's brows beetled. To be trapped in this world as a ghost. That was a wrong, cruel fate. The opposite of his own people's afterlife, in which their spirits would be renewed and breathed back into the world with the All-Maker's blessing.


    Entrapment was wrong. To trap an eternal force in a state of limbo - Kjeld could understand how madness developed. It was suffocation of the soul, with no release.


    "I'll ask again. Why do you need my help? I'm not a shaman, or a Vigilant. I don't see the purpose of my going with you." Kjeld watched him.


    "This one spoke to the daughter, yes? This one will be able to pacify the mother." Mor'vahka narrowed the sharpness of his stare. Even when asking for assistance - demanding it - he still gave Kjeld the impression of conversing with an ice wraith.


    It would surprise no one if Mor’vahka one day bared his teeth.


    "Pacify or distract?" His brawny arms folded, Jona’s basket still clutched in his right hand. "A final time, Mor'vahka. Tell me the truth."


    That black tail flicked to and fro, swaying like a thin bough in a storm wind.


    "Mor'vahka has a use for White-Paw's soft, foolish ways. White-Paw will coax her out of hiding, and this one will put the wronged dead to rest. Is this one frightened?" The cat’s eyes gleamed almost mockingly. “White-Paw will not go in unprepared.”


    So he was the distraction. "I'll help you, Mor'vahka, but I have a condition first." Kjeld met the cat's stare without fear. "I want you to perform proper burial rights for Laelette."


    The arrogance dropped. Mor'vahka hissed. "There is no point! That soul is damned to the wicked claws of Molag Bal! This one will not waste his time, speaking empty words."


    "It's not for Laelette," Kjeld retorted. "It's for Virkmund and Thonnir."


    Mor'vahka's tail swayed in pensive sweeps, the only indication he was considering the deal at all.


    Just when Kjeld opened his mouth to insist Mor'vahka find someone else to behave as bait, the cat spoke.


    "Fine. You have this one's word."


    "Prove it." Kjeld held out his hand, maintaining eye contact.


    Mor'vahka's lips twitched, but he matched the gesture. The foreign texture of lightly furred fingers was jarring. Kjeld let go first, feeling as if he'd just shaken hands with a fox.


    "When do we leave?"


    "At once," said Mor'vahka. "Spirits become more dangerous when Magrus sleeps. Must reach Frostmere by nightfall."




    Kjeld's shadow crawled after Mor'vahka's horse, dipping into the shallow bowls left by Raulitha's steel-shod feet. His shadow crawled over barren icy hills. The cold did not sting as deeply, thanks to the potion Kjeld had skeptically downed from the cat’s stores.


    The sun was weak, and as Kjeld gazed into the gray haze, feeling as if he were trying to look through winter linen, the sensation of being able to fall into the sky nagged him. The trees were anchors, thick pines that stood watch over the weary few who traveled the Pale with a deliberate destination in mind.


    They kept him rooted to the earth, and Kjeld's spirit drew comfort from their presence. They were not alone, here. There was life.


    And where there was life, there was the All-Maker.


    Though the priest chose to ride the painted horse, it gave him no advantage but for a higher view of the encroaching landscape. The horse breathed deeply, melting the ring of frost on each nostril, exhaling in a spray of icy mist.


    "Break for camp."


    Kjeld, who would never complain in front of the Vigilant, unshouldered the pack Mor'vahka had lent him - setting aside the crossbow he'd also been given just before they left. It was no gift, but Kjeld's eyes had still widened with boyish wonder when the cat had passed him the contraption and told him how it worked.


    It was as strong as a bow, but did not require strength to use - only decent aim and a good stance. Too noisy to hunt with, Kjeld understood its uses as a weapon of killing, of war - but his admiration for the mechanics betrayed him, and he could not make himself dislike it.


    They sought shelter under the boughs of three sister pines, and Kjeld swept the snow clear of the lowest branches while Mor'vahka readied the fire. Kjeld heard a few hissed curses, a sputter of flame, and when he turned around, a purple, smokeless fire burned beneath a stout black kettle of coffee.


    Kjeld flattened the snow by his feet, and crouched to let his hands thaw over the enchanted flame.


    Mor'vahka rummaged through his pack and produced a linen bundle of snowberry crostatas, clawed fingers delicately pulling aside the folds.


    "How did you become like this?" Kjeld watched him hesitate on the first bite, as if he had not expected such a question.


    The cat sneered, and spoke after he had taken two. "This one goes where the dead are wronged, or where the dead are doing the wronging."


    "No. I asked how you became a priest of Arkay. You do not enjoy your work. You do not go out of your way to help others. You care only for death." Was that all that existed of a priest? All that their gods demanded of them? Kjeld did not believe that.


    Mor'vahka flicked crumbs from his whiskers with a single twitch. "This one became a priest to kill the undead. To arm this one with spells and rites to end the endless." The cat reached for another, but did not eat it at once.


    "Swords and daggers - if these were enough, Mor'vahka's work would have ended moons ago."


    Mor'vahka's reasons were far from noble. This cat acted not with righteous anger, but an all-consuming fury. He had lost someone. Could he not see that killing did not repair what was lost? Kjeld did not know what kind of afterlife the Khajiit believed in.


    Perhaps this was in accordance with Khajiiti culture. This raw devotion to vengeance. Kjeld watched Mor'vahka over the flames, stricken with the instinct that Mor'vahka would have ended up here, in this place, doing this work, no matter the gods he served or the shrines he prayed at.


    "What will you do when your work is finished?" Kjeld asked, somber. Where would Mor'vahka's anger go then, if he no longer had need for it?


    The cat chuckled, a low, throaty hum. It was unpleasant. "Fine. This one will amuse you. Buy a manor fit for The Mane, count this one's coin and live off crostatas for the rest of this one's days."


    Kjeld leaned back, seeing the manic gleam in the cat's eye, and he understood. Mor'vahka's work would never finish. He would toil against the undead until Arkay's wheel stopped turning for him.


    Kjeld felt fear settle like a weighted stone. A cat like Mor'vahka was a dangerous being to associate with. I will tread with care. Kjeld lapsed into silence, chewing on these thoughts while Mor’vahka refreshed himself.


    After they had emptied the coffee pot and quenched the fire, they returned to their cold march across the Pale.




    Only fools and those who did not plan to live long traveled the Pale at night. Eisa was neither. She had passed the night with her belongings stuffed into a leather knapsack under her bedroll.


    Eisa waited.


    The dead didn’t need windows. She had no way to tell when morning arrived until two frost-beaten men stomped down the crypt steps, gnashing their teeth over last night’s guard duty. The usual complaints echoed through the cool, ancient halls: wolves, bear tracks, that khajiit’s screaming.


    Eisa glanced to the bedroll near hers, where Ra’jirr often curled up when their caravan-hitting or mining tasks were done for the day. He hadn’t turned in last night. There was nothing she could do for him now, anyway.


    His mind wasn’t right.


    She couldn’t keep covering for him.


    A strangled cry and the clash of steel made her flinch. Ra’jirr. Heavy footsteps and the slam of iron doors; Eisa sprang up from her bedroll, waited for more of Kyr’s band to rush towards the noise, and hastened to the crypt’s exit.


    She got as far as the snow-covered steps leading out into the tundra.


    "You runnin' away?" Said Tabor, taking a step from the hawk-carved pillar. "Chief won't like that. Bad enough you brought that crazy cat here."


    Eisa's hand found the skysteel hilt of her blade, the other tightening on the knapsack.


    "Looks like she took more than her fair cut, too." Said Misha.


    She'd always hated that smug Breton bitch. A few years in the fighting pits and Misha thought she could take on anything.


    “Back off,” Eisa warned. “Or this gets ugly.”


    Tabor snatched the knapsack—and got a sword to the gut for his trouble. The leather armor stopped most of the damage, but Tabor spat winded curses at her as she wrenched it free.


    Misha shrieked like a trodden cat, swinging an axe as the fight began in full.




    The crypt was tucked into rough stone and mountainside, the dense rock on all sides muffled the sounds of fighting until they were almost to the base of the steps. Kjeld’s heart tensed, and he instinctively held his breath as the sights, sounds and scents of violence rushed in at him.


    “Bandits?” He muttered, watching in uncomfortable silence as the fight clearly became two against one - but she was holding her own, barely.


    Mor'vahka's talents as an illusionist showed themselves at last. Ethereal blue light, glowing with potent magic, soared from the khajiit's hands, striking two of the three bandits.


    Their swords slowed and their steps faltered, uncertainty etched in the worried slant of their faces. The third bandit shoved them aside in her lurch for the stairs. She stumbled, her body pitched down the icy steps in a whirl of sword and warpaint.


    "Don't kill them," said Kjeld as he hurried to intercept the woman. Kjeld threw a sidelong glance to the cat stalking over with a silver scimitar grasped in his claws. If you can resist the urge.


    Kjeld reached for the fallen bandit’s arm, but hesitated; there was blood marring the stretch of skin between where her leather pauldrons began and her bracers ended. The sweetness of it hunkered into his senses. She slapped his hand away, picking up the blade where it had fallen and pointing it at his chest.


    Jarred from the carnal distraction, Kjeld eased back two steps. Was everyone in this country hostile?


    “Who in Dagon’s name are you?” She demanded, holding tight to her knapsack.


    “This one seeks Ra’jirr,” said Mor’vahka, who stood like a cold pillar at the top of the steps, two unconscious forms near his heels.


    The bandit lowered the sword. “He’s inside, but you’re too late to save him, priest.” She shook her head. “Obsessed with that sword - both of them. They deserve each other, as far as I’m concerned.”


    Retreating slowly in case they tried to stop her, Eisa Blackthorn made it onto what passed for a road in the Pale and took off.


    He was aware of the blood speckling the snow like sunspots in his vision; trying hard to ignore it, Kjeld was left to glower at the priest of Arkay. “What sword? And who is Ra’jirr?” This has nothing to do with Helgi’s mother, does it?


    “One who suffers.” Said Mor’vahka coldly. “This one will put an end to the torment. Come, or keep eyes on Raulitha - your choice.”


    The cat could say whatever he liked. He knew Mor’vahka would not have brought him here if he did not need him. With a cursory glance to the bandit’s shrinking form, Kjeld climbed the stairs after Mor’vahka.


    “What was that spell?” He asked, stepping around the unconscious fighters.


    “Confusion. The weaker the mind, the more potent the effect.”


    This was the kind of magic that men inherently feared. The kind that forced their minds to behave in ways it would normally not, or worse, it eked out aspects of themselves they preferred to stay hidden.


    As distasteful as Kjeld found Mor’vahka’s trickery, the alternative was far more violent. And Kjeld did not know how much blood he could endure before something irrevocable happened.


    Voices reached them almost immediately. While Mor’vahka blended effortlessly into the dark seams of the crypt’s empty entrance hall, Kjeld struggled to find shadows wide enough to hide in.


    They listened.


    "...Eisa? She's smarter than that."


    "Ra'jirr was always dragging her into things."


    "But..Stealing the boss' sword? Did he have a death wish?"


    “Who knows. The cat was crazy. She was a fool to trust him."


    “Boss went down there, then? After that cat.”


    “Aye. Nobody goes in or out until he gets back. Or the boss will skin you when he's done with Ra'jirr."


    The second bandit shivered. "I've got a bad feeling about this...something's just felt wrong down there lately. Eerie."


    "Now you're starting to sound like the cat,” snorted the first. ”Be going on about the Pale Lady next."


    The priest felt he had heard enough. Chairs and cookware clattered as Mor’vahka threw another illusion spell.


    He had more tricks besides confusion.


    Fury made them turn enraged eyes upon each other, and they aired petty grievances with sword and mace and arrowhead. Mor'vahka strode past them, no more concerned with the outcome than if they were two dogs wrestling in the mud.


    Mor’vahka stopped twice as they progressed through the crypt. Once to get his bearings when the architecture became convoluted by steps and levers and branching passageways. Once, because his strength wavered.


    Kjeld watched as the cat priest breathed hard, a tight jaw and rigid ears betraying how taxing the illusion magic was. He could not make it look as effortless as the Thalmor agents Kjeld had encountered in Northshore Landing, and Kjeld bitterly appreciated this.


    Power should not come without cost. Especially for those who wielded it so freely and without compassion.




    They could smell dirt and silverdust. Mor’vahka drew his sword, feeling the cool air on his nose and the delicate inner skin of his ears as the crypt descended into mining tunnels.


    The tight, twisting heave of a soured stomach interrupted Mor’vahka’s concentration like a horsefly. It had been foolish to eat before entering, but even more foolish to withhold food when carrying out justice required he keep up his strength.


    White-Paw was curiously silent. Holding his breath, Mor’vahka thought with a derisive, internal sneer. The blood of the slain bothers him.


    If that was not the mark of a monster, Mor’vahka was half Argonian.


    "Why did you ask me to come with you?"


    "This one sees ghosts. Specters. A werebear has sharp senses."


    "I am to watch your back, then."


    Mor'vahka detested that conclusion. "Mor'vahka will watch his own back, White-Paw. This one's only job is to draw in the undead, so the proper scrolls can be used."


    "You could have told me the truth," said Kjeld. His eyes were hard. "That you wanted me to risk my life so you could destroy the undead. Helgi's mother isn't here, is she?"


    "She is not." Mor'vahka's expression narrowed, as if the shadows were squeezing away the last of the light.


    "Do you have no honor? You lie and kill without hesitation. For what purpose?" The Skaal were a simple people, Kjeld knew, but they could all live and die knowing that they had done no intentional harm. "You cause as much suffering as you cure, Mor'vahka."


    "The world is full of suffering," Mor'vahka hissed, the resonant clang of distant pickaxes punctuating his words. "To live is to know one's tolerance for pain."


    "I will help you, Mor'vahka, because we have come this far." Kjeld approached, the grip on his crossbow tight. "But when we return to Morthal, I want nothing further to do with your dark purposes. I am not your pawn."


    "Yes," said Mor'vahka. "In the meantime, perhaps this one can be of use before his soul bloats and rots with every rise of Magrus."


    "And I'm keeping the crossbow." Said Kjeld. They fell silent as the clatter of boots indicated a fresh shift replacing the old.


    When the passageway was quiet again, Mor'vahka relented with a cold, jerky nod. If you survive, White-Paw. If you survive.









9 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 5 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  October 14, 2018
    Man, I love that cat. Such an awesome character. I'm very curious to see how his and Kjeld's relationship plays out after the confrontation here. Vividly written, as usual, and with an unusual bit of eroticism! Kjeld needs to get out more, honestly. 
    • SpottedFawn
      Man, I love that cat. Such an awesome character. I'm very curious to see how his and Kjeld's relationship plays out after the confrontation here. Vividly written, as usual, and with an unusual bit of eroticism! Kjeld needs to get out more, honestly. 
        ·  November 9, 2018
      Ahaha, eroticism? Please clarify! Is it the furry hands? I'll bet it's the furry hands.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  July 18, 2018
    Vhaka is like the TES' version of Punisher but even then takes it a step further and plays judge, jury and executioner with souls, judging who is worthy of afterlife and who isn't. Even Arkay seems to be just means to an end. Gritty stuff.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  July 14, 2018
    Image added!
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  July 14, 2018
    The sun was weak, and as Kjeld gazed into the gray haze, feeling as if he were trying to look through winter linen, the sensation of being able to fall into the sky nagged him. The trees were anchors, thick pines that stood watch over the weary few who tr...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 14, 2018
    Oooooo, a two-parter. :D Albee gives Mor'vahka a virtual hug. 
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  July 13, 2018
    What's this another chapter on Friday the 13th? Should I be worried? :P
    • SpottedFawn
      What's this another chapter on Friday the 13th? Should I be worried? :P
        ·  July 14, 2018
      XD Ha, I somehow keep getting the timing right! No spooky surprises here, I promise.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  July 13, 2018
    This one's a two-parter! Adding an image and posting the second half of this Frostmere Crypt adventure on Saturday, the 14th. :)