“What?! Why?” Tara asked Mira.
They stood on the top-most balcony, away from the ears and eyes of everyone else in the spire. Mira had asked Tara to meet her there.
Despite summer being in full swing in Cyrodiil, the balcony remained cold. This high in the mountains, seasons changed the view below, but not the frigid wind that constantly blew.
It was late in the month of Sun’s Height and Cyrodiil was in its full color glory as far as the eye could see. Greens and reds dominated the landscape, with the exception of Bruma and the surrounding county. A little less snow, but plenty of it remained to beat back the greens of fertile farmland.
Mira had been at the College of Whispers since last Sun’s Dusk. So many months together. Tara couldn’t have asked for anything better, or more rewarding. She’d always been in awe of her sister. Time together had replaced it with respect and renewed love for the person she saw, not the reputation that preceded her.
Mira was confident and serious, and she had a genuine passion for magic and everyone trying to learn and understand it. Her presence here had brought an excitement to learning and exploration. She was still researching the teleportation pads with Algar, but she’d carved out time to assist everyone with lessons.
When Tara had confessed, and released, her guilt over Freta’s death those months ago, it’d brought them closer. Mira had reinforced the bandits were the ones to blame for Freta. That even with the Heal Other scroll, Freta probably would have died.
“Magic cannot truly stop death,” she’d said.
Now, eight months later, and Tara felt more healed from that grief and guilt than ever. Times of sadness still landed, and she thought of Freta daily, but the crushing guilt had left. If there were stages of grief, she was past whatever that one was.
The peace, and happiness, of these past months was being threatened now.
“I don’t think you should continue studying Destruction. Switch to something else,” Mira repeated. “Alteration would be an excellent school.”
This would explain why suddenly Algar had her divert to Alteration lessons. He’d said something about “waiting until you finish grieving”, but Mira’s influence was now obvious.
“You didn’t answer me,” Tara said, her voice low. “Why?”
Mira looked out past the balcony, seeing, but not seeing, the view. Tara watched her face run through emotions…anger, fear, determination…guilt? Mira turned back to Tara.
“I…” she paused. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes for a moment, then aimed those intense pale blue eyes at Tara. “I think it’s dangerous for you to study Destruction.”
Tara stared at her. She felt her anger building. Why did she know this conversation was coming?
It’s her fault.
“Why is it dangerous?” She tried to keep her voice steady.
Mara pursed her lips and looked down at the ground. Her arms remained crossed. The cold wind blew her raven hair around her face, obscuring it for seconds at a time.
“Little Tara,” she said. “There are things you don’t understand about magic. Things I didn’t…don’t…understand myself.”
Tara had never seen Mira like this. There was a pleading sound to her voice. She kept looking away.
“What did you do?” Tara asked. She didn’t want to hear the answer.
Mira looked at her for a long time.
“I…I don’t fully understand what happened,” she said.
“What did you do?” Tara’s voice was raised. She couldn’t help it. She needed to know.
“I was only thirteen when it started. You were barely a year old.” Mira wasn’t looking at her. “I had no idea. None of us did.” She paused, still staring at the ground. “Tara. I’m so sorry.”
“Maybe look at me when you apologize.” Tara heard the anger in her voice. She felt heat rising in her face. “And tell me what in Oblivion you’re apologizing for.”
Mira looked up at her. There was a sudden determination in her face.
“I came here to do more than research the teleportation pads,” she said. Her voice was serious, steady and strong. “I also came to study you. To see how well you were learning magic.”
Tara blinked. “Study me?”
“I wanted to see you,” Mira said. “But, also, I needed to observe you. I needed to understand how…everything had affected you.”
Tara felt tears sprout. She blinked them back, then walked to the railing, turning her back on Mira.
“I’m not an object, you know.” she muttered.
Mira came and stood next to her. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Tara pushed away from the railing and stood in the middle of the balcony. She felt more tears form. Mira still hadn’t answered the question. She didn’t want to hear the answer, but it was beyond time she did.
“You still haven’t answered me,” she said. “What did you do? To me?”
Mira crossed her arms again. She was struggling to stay serious and focused. Tara could tell she wanted to cry.
“Father insisted,” she said. “I don’t think he understood any of it. And Mom was no help. You know that.”
“Mira…” Tara said. She wanted to cry, but anger was creeping back. Why wouldn’t she just answer her?
“When you had your…fit while trying to learn Heal Other, I knew I’d have to stay and study more. Read every book here. Try and find something.”
“I call them ‘waves’,” Tara said.
Mira looked at her, then cast her eyes away. “Good description,” she nodded.
“I need you to answer me,” Tara said.
Mira looked at her again and set her jaw.
“I thought if I saw which schools of magic you struggled with, and found something in a book I hadn’t read yet…there are so many here…it all might point me in a direction to help you.”
“Did you find anything in all these books?” Tara couldn’t keep the bitter tone out.
“So.” Tara crossed her arms. “You study me like a…what, strange new plant you’ve found…”
“Tara…” Mira interrupted.
“I’m not finished!” She embraced her anger. No more games and avoidance.
“You study me like I’m one of these teleportation pads. Claim that you want to help me. And won’t tell me what the fuck it is you’re going to help me with!”
Tara clenched her fists. “You want to ‘help’ me? Tell me what you did to me!”
“Tara…” Mira started.
“You’re the reason I’m terrible at magic. Right? That’s what all this is? All this avoidance. All this ‘don’t study that, little Tara’. All the times you wouldn’t teach me any magic when I was a kid. Writing to the Synod about my temper. Coming here now and encouraging Algar to keep me away from Destruction.”
Tara swept her arms out. “Here, with the Whispers, I’m finally learning magic. Making progress. That scares you.”
“I’m here to help you…”
“You’re here to stop me from learning Destruction magic. Out of all the magic, it’s always the one you wanted me to avoid the most. Why?”
“You know why,” Mira said. She was angry now. “It’s right there on your nose. Those scars.”
“These scars are because you wouldn’t teach me anything. With a family history of strong mages, with you being such a natural. And no one would teach me! I had to try and figure it out on my own.”
“I was trying to protect you!”
“No, you weren’t,” Tara said. “It’s something else. Don’t lie to me.”
Now it was her time to plead. “Tell me what this is all about. Tell me why I struggle so much with magic. Please.”
Mira started crying. How long since Tara had seen that? The day Mira had left home for good, when Tara was eight.
“It’s my fault,” Mira said as tears streamed. Like so much about Mira, her crying was reserved, calmer. Not the intense outbursts Tara had. “I should’ve stopped when I realized the harm it was causing. But I didn’t.”
The top-most balcony had one small bench to sit on. Mira sat down, clasping her hands, alternately looking at the ground, then Tara.
Tara found she couldn’t move.
“When you were barely one year old,” Mira said. “You produced flames, right out of your hands. You almost burned the house down.”
Tara blinked. She had no memory, of course. Too young.
“Father didn’t know what to do. None of us did. So, he had me use Calm on you. It immediately put you to sleep and, of course, extinguished the flames from your hands.” Mira straightened up; her tears had slowed.
“He met with Arkan, who said a child producing magic so young had massive potential, the likes not seen in an era or more.” Mira sighed. “He also warned, it could be a dangerous sign. That you might turn out like our ancestor, Tara Geonette. That regardless, you were too young to control it, so best for all involved that he either take care of raising you, or we find ways to keep you calm. Until you were old enough to study magic.”
The world was coming in and out of focus, shifting on Tara. She felt unsteady, and sat down on the spot, on the ground.
Mira looked at her with pleading. “I…I was jealous, Tara.” She started crying again. “Father did make me use Calm on you too much. Every day, he insisted I calm you when I first woke up. He seemed to think that would keep you settled, and there would be no chance you’d set anything on fire.”
“And I…I went along with it because…” Mira swallowed hard. “I was jealous and scared.”
She did something Tara had never seen her do before. She bit her lower lip.
“If you were this powerful, naturally, as a small child,” she continued. “Where did that leave me? Father would have pulled me out of magic training with Arkan, and had you learning. You would’ve been incredible. I would’ve seemed ordinary. Not so special, after all. And Father would’ve insisted I marry some arrogant noble boy.”
Tara stared at her. She was numb, the cold wind couldn’t touch her. All that her body could focus on were Mira’s words.
“I really didn’t know at first that the Calm spells were doing any lasting harm. No one did. But then, when you were five, you had your first fit…sorry, waves. That day we picked flowers when Mom and Father were fighting.”
Tara felt herself nod. She remembered that day. Like so many, an intense sadness surrounded the memory.
“Now, instead of being afraid of flames, we were scared of any emotional outburst from you. By then, Father had been lying to Arkan. I was gone so much, he did need scrolls for the days I wasn’t there. But, he didn’t tell Arkan they were using them daily. And having me calm you on the days I was home.”
Mira swallowed hard. “When Arkan would ask about you coming to learn, Father would lie and say you weren’t creating magic anymore. It’d seemed to be a fluke.” Mira wiped tears from her face. “And I went along with the lies.” She whispered that last part.
Tara spoke. She almost didn’t recognize her own voice. It was as cold as the wind.
“I had more magical potential than you.”
Mira looked at her cautiously.
“But you all suppressed it. And my emotions. For my entire childhood.”
“And put me to working the farm, hard labor, as soon as you could.”
“Father kept trying to marry me off. Even when he knew I didn’t like men that way.”
“Tara. I didn’t know…”
“But you did.” Tara fixed her eyes on Mira. “You were afraid you’d be stuck with the life you all forced on me. You all knew as soon as I had that first wave, that you were hurting me. When I was only five, you already knew it was causing damage.”
Mira remained still.
Tara stood. “But you kept using that spell on me. Every day, all of you. For my entire childhood.”
The wind caught Tara’s hair, tossing strands of deep red across her face. With her intense green eyes, she momentarily looked like a Divine goddess, ready to pass judgement.
“You ruined me.”
“You’ve ruined my ability to learn magic. You’ve made it so hard for me to control my temper. And these waves. I destroy things when they happen. I can’t control them. I scare myself with them.”
“Let me help you with them. I’m sure we could find a way to…”
“STAY AWAY FROM ME!”
A wave escaped from Tara, and knocked Mira off the bench. In that moment, it gave her a sense of joy to watch.
“I could destroy this entire tower, tear down this building and kill everyone inside it,” she said, bitter. “All because of you, Mom, and Father.”
Mira slowly stood up. She looked scared and ashamed. Shame. Finally, the emotion that was long overdue for Mira to express.
“You are my family. You were all the ones I was supposed to be able to trust the most,” Tara said. She felt fresh tears form. She was tired. So very tired.
“I was your little sister. You should have protected me. Now, I can’t trust my own emotions. I can’t trust I won’t kill someone I love because I can’t control fire. Or these waves.”
“Please let me help,” Mira said.
“Stay away from me. You’ve ‘helped’ enough. You need to be gone by morning.” Tara left the balcony. She couldn’t look at Mira anymore.
The next morning, Mira was gone.