Algar opened the sealed parchment Tara had handed him and read the message. Tara tapped her foot nervously, caught herself, and stayed still. Algar looked up from the parchment and studied her with his red eyes. Tara couldn’t read his expression.
He looked at the parchment again, then back at her.
“Shara will show you where you can bed and camp,” he finally said. “We’re still setting up a proper place for the novices and adepts to stay on the lower floor.”
Shara was a tall Redguard woman. Her skin glowed with a warm brown-red tone; her eyes were a rich brown.
“Follow me”, she said, her voice as warm as her skin, and led Tara back to the first floor.
On the first floor, Tara took in again the Spire’s lower floor. What had first captured her attention and still stood out was the symbols and writing on the wall. She couldn’t understand any of it.
Then, there were the platforms. Teleportation platforms. Small circles raised slightly off the ground. These tiny platforms, there was only room for one person to stand, took one to the upper levels.
When Tara had first arrived, Rahi, the wood elf mage she’d first met, had shown her how to use them to get to Algar’s laboratory at the top.
Tara had heard of it. Supposedly, some Morrowind Telvanni wizards used them in their mushroom tower homes, to float one up from the entrance to the main floors.
But to fully teleport, materialize elsewhere? She wondered what other magic existed that she didn’t know about.
“You can set up here,” Shara said, as they got to a corner of the first floor, around a large pillar from the entrance.
Three cots were set up, surrounding a small cooking station. Tara set down her camping gear on the one side of the cooking station with some space.
“When you’re finished, come back up to Algar’s laboratory,” Shara said. “He’ll want to speak to you again.”
Tara unpacked and thought about the past few days.
The long walk from Bruma to the base of the mountain Frostcrag Spire sat atop had been mostly easy. She’d killed a few rabbits for meat, having left Bruma with little of it. Colin and Eris had loaded her up with bread and cheeses, continuing their incredible kindness, so she could’ve even skipped the bunny killing. Wolves had left her alone, though she regularly heard them off in the distance. Plenty of easier prey for them to hunt, it seemed.
There had been a couple of bandits to dispatch. Highway thugs, Tara had thought. They’d accosted her along the road, an Argonian and Nord, clearly looking to take coin and supplies from citizens passing through. They’d been looking to rob, not kill, which had given Tara the advantage in the fight. Now, they were dead. More fodder for hungry wolves.
More kills to add to the count, Tara had thought. What was that, five people? Was there going to be a point when she stopped killing? Or counting?
Wila had not been kidding when she said it was quite a climb up the mountain. The path was narrow, and cold. Tara avoided an orge along the way, a close call. Orges were huge, at least twice a person’s size, and ugly, with clubs that could bash your skull in with one hit. Fortunately, the blue-skinned creatures were also slow and lumbering, and perhaps not the most critical of thinkers. She’d remained quiet and gingerly stepped around it, staying just out of sight until she was far enough along the path to sprint around a corner. She’d not run into anything else. Even the hawks seemed not to want to fly this high.
The spire itself was spectacular. A wide base that narrowed into a spire at top. It fit perfectly on top of the summit. Tara wondered if it was the highest point in Cyrodiil. If it wasn’t, it was a close second.
Tara finished setting up her bed and camping gear and looked around. Rahi was over by the alchemy table, working on something. No one else was on the lower floor. Tara had spotted several people practicing magic when the initial teleportation pad brought her to what she assumed was the second floor of the spire. Algar was on the third floor, the highest inside point, though from the outside Tara had thought she’d spotted a balcony or two near the very top of the spire.
Time to see what Algar wants, she thought. Maybe he’ll tell me what’s in the note.
She stepped on the pad, and again on the one on the second floor, and found herself in Algar’s lab once more. Teleporting was effortless. Blue, shimmering light surrounded her each time she stepped on a pad, but there was no physical sensation. The shimmering light simply faded each time and she was in a new location. She wondered if there were scrolls of teleportation, and how that might work.
Algar stood near some flowers in an interior garden, in the center of the lab. Strong sunlight shone through from a window high above them directly on the well-tended, raised platform of dirt. Numerous plants were growing. She recognized mountain flowers, a few fungi, but not much else. None looked like crops. They all seemed plants for alchemy.
“Ah, there you are,” Algar said when he noticed her. “Come.”
He walked out a door and Tara followed. She found herself outside, on a large wide balcony. She pulled in her breath.
She could see Bruma off in the distance, to the west. Far south, the Imperial City looked small, though the White-Gold Tower stood ever present and impressive. Looking down, Tara watched hawks circling below. She couldn’t imagine the distance down. Climbing the winding path to the spire had hidden how far up she really was.
Algar interrupted her thoughts. “Which school of magic are you most interested in?” he asked.
Tara paused, not out of actual contemplation, but to avoid seeming too eager.
“Destruction,” she answered. “I seem to be a natural with flame spells.”
Algar looked at her thoughtfully. “Of course,” he said.
Tara furrowed her brow. “Of course? What do you mean?”
“My child…” he started. Tara let that slide. He was a Dunmer, a dark elf, and like all elves, they tended to live long lives, over two hundred years. Any human would seem young to them. Especially a nineteen year-old Breton. “Wila stated in her note that you were kicked out from the Synod Conclave for your temper. Destruction would attract you.”
His tone was that of a man explaining the simplest topic to a toddler. Tara tried not to bristle.
“Since you claim to be a ‘natural’,” he said. “Show me.”
He pointed his long index finger towards several rough stone figures at one end of the balcony. Practice targets that wouldn’t catch fire, or suffer much damage, from magic thrown at them.
Tara faced the targets, closed her eyes, and let warmth build in her hands. How long since she’d attempted fire magic? Outside of one night camping and using a small flame to start a campfire, she’d hadn’t practiced since Anvil.
She opened her eyes to tall flames floating above both her hands. They easily danced as she watched them. With little effort, she pointed her right hand at the right target. The flame flew and engulfed the target briefly, before fading.
With her left hand, she sent its flame to the center target. It, too, was quickly engulfed in flames, before fading to a warm glow from the heat.
Tara breathed deeply in relief. Her headache from the magicka drain was minimal.
“Again, please,” Algar said. “Create the biggest flame you can.”
Tara closed her eyes and imagined flames again.
This time, when she opened her eyes, a fireball sat in each hand, instead of dancing flames. Not her intention, but, they were big. She shot them at the targets, where they exploded and left the stones glowing in their warmth again.
When she turned to Algar, he was watching her intensely. He nodded at the targets.
“Did you intend fireballs?”
Tara rubbed her forehead, as she now had a raging headache.
“No,” she admitted. “I just imagined strong flames, and the fireballs appeared.”
“So,” he cleared his throat and looked briefly outward, as if admiring the view for the first time. “Not that much control. Just a natural at calling up fire.”
He looked back at her with…what? Disappointment? Sarcastic amusement? He was hard to read.
“I guess,” Tara mumbled. “I don’t understand how it works.”
“That much is clear,” he said. “Follow me.”
They stepped inside and Algar stepped on the platform leading back down to the second floor. In a moment of blue glowing light, he was gone. Tara followed.
On the second floor, Algar was walking towards an older, pale, Altmer elf.
“Banris! I have a student for you,” Algar said. Banris was casting a ward spell of some sort. Restoration magic, Tara thought. Not Destruction magic.
Banris turned and looked at Algar and Tara. He stopped casting and his ward spell, it looked like a swirling circle of symbols, disappeared.
“This is Tara Blaton,” Algar said. “A recommendation from Wila.” Banris raised an eyebrow and give her a curious stare. “I want you to start her off in Restoration. Let’s see how she progresses,” Algar finished.
Banris nodded. “Certainly,” he said in a smooth, deep voice. “Welcome.” He gave Tara a slight nod.
Tara looked at Algar. “But, I thought, since I was interested in Destruction…”
“Dear girl,” Algar said. Tara felt her cheeks flush. Why did men insist on saying “girl”? They never called men “boy” unless they were insulting them.
“I have a philosophy,” Algar was saying. “Never start a student on what they want to learn. Start them on what they think they’ll least like. The school of Restoration is essential and not given enough respect. If you intend to cause harm to others, as that is what Destruction magic does, you must first know how to heal those you do not mean to harm. As will happen eventually with Destruction magic. Every mage makes that mistake at least once.”
Tara opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. She had to admit, it made sense.
“You will focus on Restoration. Banris will keep me appraised of your progress. I will advance you and let you move on to another school of magic when I believe you’re ready.” Algar said. “That is all.” He left them, heading back up to his lab.
“Are you ready to get started?” Banris asked.
Tara nodded yes.