“Did we have an appointment? Or, wait, you were getting something for me?” Wylandriah asked them.
“I already found it,” Tara said. The woman could not be this forgetful. This had to be an act.
“We’re here about the gem I showed you,” Katla added. “You said you had information.”
They were standing in Wylandriah’s study, inside Mistveil Keep, the castle of Riften, where Jarl Laila Law-Giver resided and ruled.
If she was the one actually ruling. Tara had her doubts.
Wylandriah’s study was just outside the throne and dining room of the keep, where the jarl conducted her business. Tara had caught snatches of conversations on each visit. Laila Law-Giver sounded like a good jarl, but Tara had heard her defer to Maven Black-Briar, who had been inside the keep every time Tara and Katla had come by to see Wylandriah. Instinctively, Tara didn’t like Maven. Something wasn’t trustworthy with her.
“Gem?” Wylandriah said. “Oh, yes, the red soul gem. Sorry, it’s just that I’m in the middle of some delicate experiments.”
Tara resisted rolling her eyes. Wylandriah had put them off the other afternoon, when she was supposed to have information. Now, today, on the last day of 4E 201, they were determined to get some answers.
Wylandriah came out from behind her counter, where she sometimes sold ingredients, and hustled over to an enchanting table. Various soul gems were scattered about on it. All were pale blue in color. Tara knew from her time with the Synod and College of Whispers the basics of them. Everything from small petty ones, for capturing small animal souls, up to a greater soul, for larger animals and beings, like giants, were on the table. Several looked filled. They had a subtle throbbing glow about them when filled. Most though, were empty, ready for a soul.
“Let me see it again, please,” Wylandriah said. She no longer sounded forgetful, lost.
Katla pulled out the red gem and handed it over. Tara shivered at the throbbing coming from it. Had she noticed that before?
Wylandriah turned the gem over in her hands. She gave several small shakes of her head.
“Where did I leave that…” She dug around on the table, through some scraps of paper lying along the edge.
“Ah!” She read a note, looked at the gem, then nodded. She handed the gem back to Katla.
“Red soul gems never contain a human soul,” she said, triumphant.
Katla and Tara looked at each other, then back at Wylandriah.
“Not human?” Katla asked.
“Not human,” Wylandriah said. “Well, not anymore.”
Katla looked confused. “I don’t understand.”
Wylandriah looked at them, disappointed. “I…you wanted to know if the gem contained a human soul, correct? It doesn’t.”
Tara cleared her throat. “Is it an animal soul, then?”
“Oh no. Of course not.”
Tara grit her teeth.
“What kind of soul can make a soul gem red?” Katla asked.
“Oh…well…” Wylandriah looked confused. Her face then turned serious and she lowered her voice. “I did research this, even with my delicate experiments going on and all. I was curious…never seen a gem like yours, you know.”
She whispered, “I’d hoped it’d be related to my personal research, harmonic energy and…” She shook her head. “Anyway, what was the question? Right. The kind of soul that makes a soul gem red has to be something powerful, perhaps formerly human, but well beyond that at the time of capture. Like a lich.”
“A lich?” Katla asked. She looked shocked, her mouth had dropped open. Liches were powerful undead. Former mages that had practiced the dark arts and made themselves immortal, deadly beings.
History books told many tales of the destruction they had wrought. The most famous was perhaps Mannimarco, formerly an Altmer elf. Known as the first one, and the King of Worms.
“I thought liches had to take the souls of others,” Tara said. “How would one capture a lich into a soul gem?”
Wylandriah looked confused again. “I’m not sure. I’ve never studied necromancy, or any dark arts. There aren’t exactly a bunch of books lying around about the process, either.”
Wylandriah grew thoughtful. “I’d say, if it’s a lich inside…it could be some other powerful soul…it’s in there after it was created, captured not for enchanting, but to stay…trapped. Instead of burying it in a ruin, it’s in that gem.”
“No way to tell who, or exactly, what it is?” Katla asked. They were all whispering now.
Wylandriah shook her head. “You’d have to release it. You’d be setting it free of the gem. I have no idea what spells would even do that. Necromancers would know.”
Tara watched Katla over the bottle of mead she was drinking. She was lost in thought, unreadable.
“How are you feeling?” Tara asked.
Katla raised her eyes to Tara and gave her a small smile.
“Sorry. Just…wondering if I wasted our time by having us come to Riften,” she said. “Maybe the College of Winterhold would’ve had clearer answers.”
“Not a waste,” Tara said. “We know a lot now. Besides, it is warmer here. More to my Breton blood’s liking.”
Katla nodded. She took a sip of her mead. “I know this city’s shady, but I’m glad we’re celebrating the new year here.” She smiled. “And I’m sharing it with you.”
Tara raised her mead and smiled. “To us, and a new year.” She hiccuped. She should slow down on the mead. She was feeling her third one.
Katla laughed and raised her bottle. Her eyes sparkled and Tara watched the unreadable expression fade into one of genuine happiness. “To us.”
“We now know the soul gem’s a lich, or something just as awful.” Tara hiccuped again. “We can go from there. Another step closer to…to…” Words were suddenly getting difficult.
“…to you having too much to drink,” Katla said. She chuckled. “I’m cutting you off, milady.”
“I’m not a…” Tara burped. “…lady.”
Katla burst out laughing, louder than she had since Tara had known her. “You proved that.”
“Hey. I can prove all kinds of…uh…things.”
“I bet.” Katla winked. She then nodded her head toward someone at the far end of the tavern. They were in The Bee and Barb, along with what seemed half the city. Celebrations for the end of the year were picking up, with everyone coming in for a drink.
“Loona’s here. Want to go say hello?”
Tara turned to see LoonaShadow, barely visible through the crowd, leaning up against the wall near the main entrance.
“Not today,” Tara said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Tara liked the dark elf, or, really, part Bosmer, part dark elf. They’d met briefly when Tara had gone into Haelga’s Bunkhouse, before realizing it didn’t serve as an inn, but as a place for the men of Riften to enjoy a night of “company”. Haelga, its owner and namesake, had spoken to Tara as if she were in the wrong place, tried to escort her out. Tara imagined for enough coin, Haelga would change her mind. Loona had stood out in the bunkhouse, as she clearly didn’t provide “company”. She’d said she was waiting for someone. Though their chat had been brief, Tara felt strangely drawn to her. She’d had another premonition about Rigmor the night she’d met Loona.
“I’m curious about her bow,” Katla said. “It’s gorgeous.”
Tara hiccuped. “I think she’s an arche…uh, arch…arv…a treasure hunter.”
Katla laughed. “You really are feeling the mead.”
Tara squinted at her bottle. “What is in these?”
Katla shrugged. “It’s Black-Briar mead. Honningbrew’s better. Stronger. I think that Cliff Racer is catching up to you. I warned you about Talen-Jei’s ‘special’ drinks.”
“You might be right,” Tara said, then hiccuped. When they’d first gotten to The Bee and Barb, after meeting with Wylandriah, Tara had ordered one. Talen-Jei kept offering his special menu, and she’d thought why not. After getting the news that they might be carrying a lich around in a pouch, it’d seemed something to have a strong drink over.
Katla had smartly had the Velvet Lechance instead. A drink that didn’t include Firebrand Wine and Cyrodiilic Brandy.
“We should call it a night,” Katla said. She drained the last of her mead, then Tara’s, and stood up. “Come on. Before you can’t stand.”
Up in their shared room, Tara leaned against the doorway and watched Katla prepare her bed. The room contained two single beds, and Katla had taken the one furthest from the door, at Tara’s insistence. They were still keeping a watch schedule.
Tara admired the smoothness of Katla’s movements. Like a dancer, precise and delicate, with the confidence of someone who knew their body.
Katla turned to her and they locked eyes.
“How drunk are you?”
“Not as much as you think,” Tara answered. “Drink gave me the hiccups, and I feel good, but…” She smiled. “I have my wits and…skills about me.”
“You want to take first watch?”
Tara shook her head. She stepped away from the doorway, then turned the lock in the door. She grabbed one of the chairs by the small table that was in the room. She leaned the chair against the door, wedging the back of the chair under the door handle. Now, if anyone managed to unlock the door, they still wouldn’t be able to open it. Not without a lot of force and noise.
“I think,” Tara said, as she stepped towards Katla. “We deserve a night off from guard duty.”
She grabbed Karla’s hands and gently pulled her close. Standing on her toes, Tara kissed Katla. Katla responded, wrapping her arms around Tara, and pulling her tight.
After the brief eternity, they broke apart.
“I have to agree,” Katla said. Her eyes glowed with a warmth and fire that matched what Tara felt. “No guard duty tonight.”
They kissed again, and their hands explored. Somewhere in the moment, Tara guided them so Katla was pressed against the far wall of their room.
They broke apart again and locked eyes.
“Are you sure? Do you want me to stop?” Tara asked.
Check out the custom follower mod, LoonaShadow.