Tara steadied herself in front of the stone wall.
“I can do this,” she muttered to herself. “I don’t need their help.”
She raised her right hand and pointed it at the wall.
She stood at the edge of Wayrest’s city limits, facing an ancient, collapsing wall that had once surrounded this part of the city. She was as far away from the farm, and merchant district, as she could get. Now, to hope no one came by, especially anyone who might recognize her.
Tara closed her eyes and imagined a fireball, like the kind she’d seen Mira create over the years.
Growing up, it was rare she could watch Mira practice. Mom and Father always tried to keep her busy and away from Mira’s practice sessions, but she’d snuck away enough times to admire Mira’s magic skills. She hadn’t seen Mira in three years, but memories of her big sister’s practices were engraved in her memories. She could do this.
Mira created magic spells with such ease. Surely, Tara could create them, too, with a little more effort. Considering no one would teach her, she’d figure this out on her own.
“Concentrate,” she clenched her jaw in effort. “You can do this.”
A warmth enveloped her right hand. Tara opened her eyes long enough to see a small flame floating in her hand. It vanished as soon as she dropped her focus.
I did it!
She’d produced fire magic! And she didn’t even feel that drain mages talked about.
Again. She could do this again. She raised her right hand again, closed her eyes, and felt warmth again in a few seconds. When she opened her eyes, the flame was a little bigger and lasted a little longer.
The day’s light changed as time lost meaning to Tara. Late morning light shifted to the bright, strong blue of afternoon on a cloudless day. A gentle breeze picked up at some point. Each flame was brighter, and Tara could hold them in her hand longer. She’d briefly tire, but never got those drained magicka headaches she’d heard about.
Finally, the flame became a fireball. She’d done it! She admired the spinning ball, its warmth in her hand, and its crackling hinting at its danger.
Send it to the wall. Test its power.
The fireball faded. She felt the twinge of a headache.
Yes, she thought. She needed to fire it at something. To see how well she could aim. Just point her hand, right? She wasn’t sure. It was just an old, unused wall. If she misfired, it wouldn’t hurt anything or anybody.
One more fireball, aim it, fire it, and then be done for the day. Yes, she could do this.
Tara steadied herself again, raised her right hand, pointed at the wall, closed her eyes, and felt that warmth, that intoxicating warmth that hinted at danger and power.
Tara opened her eyes and sent the fireball at the wall. It was big, far larger than the previous one.
The wall exploded. Fire and flames filled her vision. Pain suddenly seared her face.
Tara fell to the ground. “Ahhhh!” she screamed. She was blinded by the flash of the flames. She put her hands to her face.
The searing…it came from her nose, and under her left eye. She pulled her hands away. Her vision was blurred, but she could make out blood and black dust, pulverized stone, coating her fingers. If her eyes would just stop watering so much.
Tara lay on the ground, fighting against the lingering pain. She pressed the sleeve of her shirt against the spot under her eye. It stung, but she felt better after a few minutes. The bleeding stopped and her vision cleared. The searing pain morphed into a stinging throb.
She looked back at the wall. She’d obliterated it. At least six feet of it was now blackened stone laying around her in smoldering fragments. The explosion must have sent a piece of stone right into her face.
You’re lucky you didn’t lose your eye, she thought. She didn’t know fireballs could do that much damage. Mira had just made tiny ones the times she’d watched her. They’d been harmless to stone.
Yours was far larger. More powerful.
Tara climbed to her feet and checked that she wasn’t injured anywhere else. She needed to get away from here. Someone must have heard that explosion, and her scream. She didn’t want the attention.
She stumbled and half ran the long way through the field, towards home. How was she going to explain her face? She needed a mirror, to see what the damage was. Too bad there wasn’t a still pond nearby to look at her reflection in. She’d just have to slip into the house unnoticed, see the damage, and come up with some excuse for what had happened. She wondered if it would leave a scar.
She almost made it back into the house unseen. The chickens clucked too much, stirring loudly for their dinner when she came into the yard. It was late, too late, and they were hungry.
Fortunately, it was Mom, not Father, who was home.
“What did you do?!” she said when she saw Tara’s face.
“I…uh…when I was at…” Tara struggled to think of something. Errant dog bite? Falling tree branch?
“We’re having Sir Rodyn Masterton’s son, Tristard, over for dinner tomorrow!” Mom yelled. “For you! Now you look like…this.”
She dragged Tara over to the mirror they had in the sitting room. Tara took in the damage. The left side of her nose was burned skin, with two cuts running from the middle of her nose to just under her eye. Not bad, considering how much it still hurt. Or what it could’ve been.
“…find a healing scroll…”
Her mom was digging through the end tables in the room.
“Mom, it’ll be fine. It’ll heal…” Tara started.
“Tristard will not want to pursue you looking like that!” Mom said.
Right. Some noble son over for dinner. For her.
“I don’t care,” Tara said through suddenly clenched teeth. “I’ve told you and Father before. I don’t like men like that.”
“That’s just a phase, Tara,” Mom said. She’d walked into the kitchen, still searching for a scroll. “You’re seventeen now. We really should have had you dating nobles sooner…”
Her hands were now on her hips, scanning the room for any possible places she’d missed where a healing scroll might be. She hadn’t looked Tara’s way since dragging her in front of the mirror.
“Mom!” Tara yelled. Her mom jumped and looked at her now. Tara saw fear…real fear…on her face.
“I’m not dating any noble’s son. Or any man. I am not interested in men.” Tara set her jaw. Why did they keep ignoring her on this?
Mom stared at her for a minute, seeming at a loss of words. “Well, I’m sure the right man would look the other way, for your…interests, as long as you…”
There was that fear again. Mom was scared of her.
“When your father gets home,” Mom said, unsure. She was averting her eyes again. “He’ll straighten this all out.” She was straightening her dress, as if unsure what to do with her hands.
“I’m going to go feed the chickens,” Tara said. Mom was going distant again. The conversation was over.
Feeding the chickens, Tara had her first thought of leaving home. The threats and fighting with Father that night sealed it.
She started planning.