Tara set down the book, On Necromancy, rubbed her eyes, and stared up at the ceiling.
The book made her skin crawl. But, oh, that glorious ceiling and the library they were in.
This was The Arcanaeum, the vast library of the College of Winterhold. It had taken nearly a year, but here she was, finally, in the place, the reason, she’d come to Skyrim.
You don’t belong here. Not anymore.
She and Katla had left Windhelm after a couple of weeks. Jobs were hard to get. Tensions with anyone not a Nord or a declared Stormcloak seemed to be at a high point. Tara had been ignoring the politics of the brewing fight between these Stormcloaks and the Empire. The days in Windhelm had her wondering if she could keep ignoring it.
Between the lack of jobs, the brewing war, and the feeling they wouldn’t stay safe from assassins for long, she and Katla had decided to head to Winterhold.
The trip had been cold. How could it be summer and still this cold?
Their first night in Winterhold was educational. The relationship between the town and the College seemed uneasy, due to the Great Collapse, the event nearly eighty years ago that had destroyed most of Winterhold. The former great city was still recovering and felt like not much above an old town. Some blamed the College for the event.
Katla and Tara had been clear they were only there to read books at the college’s library. They weren’t mages. Well, Katla had been clear.
Tara had held her tongue.
“Find anything?” Katla asked. She’d been reading The Path of Transcendence. Tara realized her skin was pale.
“No,” Tara said. “Just talks about whether you should use an old corpse or a new one and why. Disgusting.”
She watched Katla for a moment.
Katla swallowed. “This goes over some aspects of becoming a lich. There’s, uh, details about their souls.”
“Yeah?” Tara leaned forward. Maybe a key to understand how valuable this red soul gem was.
Katla frowned. “It seems, once they’ve become a lich, the vessel they transferred their soul to…it doesn’t matter if it’s destroyed.”
“Oh.” Tara leaned back. She’d hoped they could destroy this gem and that would kill whatever darkness was inside it. It had to be something dark, something dangerous. It felt so wrong.
“I don’t think there’s a lich inside the soul gem,” Katla said. “Certainly, if their soul was inside, it wouldn’t matter once they’ve become a lich. The vessel is only needed during the transference. That’s when they’re vulnerable.”
“So, we still don’t know why a bunch of necromancers want it,” Tara said.
“It’s clearly a cult of some kind,” Katla said. Color had returned to her face. “Maybe that’s the angle we should research.”
“Good idea,” Tara said. “Research every necro cult we can. Maybe learn what some of their rituals are. Maybe they worship different Daedra. It’s not like one dark deity handles necromancy. Might point us to one that uses unique soul gems.” Tara sighed. “I don’t know.”
“I know I need a good meal,” Katla said and stood. “All this…” she swept her hands over the necromancy books they’d collected “…leaves me feeling dirty. I need a break and food.”
Urag gro-Shub, the librarian, overseer, of the Arcanaeum gave them a scowl as Tara handed in the books they’d already read. Tara wasn’t sure if it was because they were reading so many books on necromancy, or his determination that none of the books be damaged in any way.
When they’d first arrived, he’d been gruff, even for an Orc, and told them of the library’s long history, since the Second Era, and how extensive the collection here was. He had some serious pride about his job. Tara admired that. It was also rare to see an old Orc, one whose hair and beard had gone white. How different he was than any other Orc she’d met. She liked him.
They made their way to the Frozen Hearth, the inn and tavern in Winterhold. They ate lunch mostly in silence, Katla constantly lost in thought. Tara watched her. How could she help?
It felt like they were back to the beginning. No idea what was in the red soul gem, no idea what made it so valuable to some cult. And how to figure out which cult? If there was anything written about them?
They’d just have to dig through more books in the Arcanaeum. Spending more time there was something to look forward to.
When they’d first arrived at the College, a mage there, Faralda, had introduced herself as the gatekeeper and insisted one of them show some magic ability, even though Katla explained they were not joining the College. Tara had produced a fireball, which got them inside.
“Speak to Mirabelle Ervine, if you’re interested in joining,” Faralda had said to Tara. That was a name familiar to Tara. Mira had written of her. She was a Breton, a Master Wizard, and the two had trained together at some point. Mira had left Tara with the impression Mirabelle was as stern as Mira herself was.
What if Mira has written to her, warning her I might try to join? Tara wondered. Did Mira even know Tara had come to Skyrim to get to the College? She must know she’d left the College of Whispers by now.
A thought for a different day, it seemed. They’d made their way to the Arcanaeum and Tara hadn’t yet met any of the other mages here.
“When we get back,” Tara said to Katla. “How about I read that book on the Order of the Black Worm? I feel like that’s not who’s after you, but, it’s the most written about order of necromancy.”
Katla gave her a small smile. “Good plan.” She drifted off in thought again.
Tara watched her. She needed to do something more.
“Why don’t you stay here? Take a nap. Catch a break.”
Katla focused back on her. “What? Why?”
“You’re barely paying attention to your surroundings.”
Katla blushed. “Sorry.”
Katla pulled in her breath and let it out slowly. “I…I didn’t realize how much reading about necromancy would bring up these feelings.” Her eyes watered. “My parents.”
Tara nodded. Right. “This must be painful for you.”
“I…reading what we’ve read so far…I still don’t understand how they fell into some cult. What even drew them to necromancy.” She shook her head. “Makes no sense to me.”
Tara thought for a moment. “Perhaps they thought learning this would serve some good. Somehow. But they got caught up in a dangerous cult instead.” Tara leaned forward. “There’s the legend of Vastarie. She created Sigil Geodes. She intended necromancy for good.”
Katla smiled at her. “Maybe you’re right. On both fronts. I need a break, at the least.”
Tara left Katla at the inn, where she swore she’d take a nap in their room.
Back in the Arcanaeum, Tara relished the time alone. To really look around, take in the feeling of being at the College. After they finished this research, she and Katla needed to talk.
I will study here, she thought. One more shot. One more chance at being a mage.
This isn’t your path, Tara.
They could stay here at the College for a few months, at least.
Katla would be safe, Tara was sure of it. There was no way Dark Brotherhood assassins would get at her here. Tara could learn magic and protect Katla at the same time.
Yes, that would work. She’d convince Katla. Katla wasn’t Freta. Kata wasn’t afraid of magic.
She’s afraid of your magic.
Tara just needed to find some information on possible necromancy cults. Then, somehow, she could use that to convince Katla they should stay and…come up with a way to destroy the gem and the cult. Yes. She’d make this work.
Tara read through The Order of the Black Worm, then moved on to an old volume, Necromancy in Modern Tamriel. Most of it covered the Order of the Black Worm, and Mannimarco, of course.
She’d almost closed the book when she saw the footnote. And the name.