“I found something,” Tara said.
She tossed the book, Orders of Necromancy, on the little table in their rented room at the inn.
Katla looked at the book with, what, trepidation? Yes, that was it, Tara thought.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Tara said and grabbed her hand.
Katla let Tara guide her and they left the Frozen Hearth Inn.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, until they reached the stables near the edge of town.
Tara had her furs over her new, leather scout armor. Heavier, with far more padding, she liked the new armor, and its blue-black color. The scarf helped, too, in a place like Winterhold.
Would she ever get used to the cold of Skyrim?
“Come here,” Katla finally spoke and pulled Tara towards the back of Winterhold, to the cliffs that once had been the rest of the city, eighty years ago. Looking down, one could still make out some of the ruins, perpetually frozen at the edge of the sea.
There really wasn’t a lot to do in Winterhold. And nowhere to go. Winterhold sat nestled up in mountains, on the northern coast. Glaciers and icebergs outnumbered the few small islands one could see off the coast. Tara had spied a set of Standing Stones, similar to the Guardian Stones they’d been to way back in Riverwood, out on a tiny patch of land. She wanted to check them out soon. To see what blessing they offered.
There was also the statue of Azura higher up in the mountains. It could be seen for untold miles, Azura holding high the sun in one hand, and a moon in the other. Both she and Katla wanted to make a pilgrimage to it. Azura wasn’t like so many of the other Daedra. She was said to be good, to care about mortals. If Daedra could be considered good. The line between a Divine and a Daedra felt blurred at times.
“I’m scared, Tara,” Katla said, as they gazed out across the Sea of Ghosts. “I’m scared of you.”
“I’d hoped you’d change your mind when we got here. That you’d give up trying to be a mage. That…” Katla paused and turned to look at Tara. Her rich eyes held a blend of fear, sadness, and something Tara couldn’t quite place. The wind blew constantly and here at the cliff’s edge, it tossed Katla’s hair around her face in mesmerizing shapes.
“I’d hoped you’d see your destiny is not as a mage. I knew it the moment you killed that first assassin. And again when you stood at the Guardian Stones.” Katla’s eyes softened. “You couldn’t decide which to touch, but I knew instantly. You’re a warrior, Tara.”
Tara took a deep breath and thought. Katla’s words pierced.
Afraid of her. Perhaps that was justified, considering what she’d seen Tara do.
She doesn’t trust me to control myself, Tara thought.
Then, there was the warrior comment. Had Katla seen the truth Tara was avoiding? She could be so perceptive at times.
Didn’t matter. This was why she’d come to Skyrim. This was her last chance to learn to control and reach her potential with magic. She had to try. Learn magic and protect Katla. Both were equally important. She could do both. Somehow.
“I have to give this a shot,” she said. “Coming to the College is the reason I came to Skyrim.”
What was the look on Katla’s face? Sadness? Disappointment? She was struggling with something.
“I owe this to myself,” Tara continued. “This is my last chance. To see if the potential I was born with is still there. To prove my family didn’t ruin me.”
Katla’s tone was soft. Gentle. “You’re not ruined, Tara.”
“I need to do this for me.”
Katla reached out and surrounded Tara’s hands with hers. She pulled her closer.
“I can’t change your mind. I see that.” Katla held her gaze. “What about me? My need to understand what happened to my family?”
Tara squeezed her hand. “Stay with me. I’ll still protect you. And we’ll keep up the research. Besides, I don’t intend to stay here forever. I already know a lot, studying at the College of Whispers for as long as I did. I just need…” Tara paused and thought. How long did she want to stay? What did she need now? “… a little more education to control my magic better. I promise not to stay too long.”
Katla turned to look out over the cliff, out to sea. She kept one hand holding Tara’s.
“Okay.” She said after a minute. “Not too long. I’m holding you to that.”
Tara smiled and squeezed her hand. “Okay! Not too long.”
Now for the hard part, she thought.
“Speaking of research,” she said. “I found something in that book.”
Katla blinked. “What did you find?”
Tell her while standing on the cliff? After barely getting a yes from her about staying at the College?
“The book talks about the various necromancy cults that used to exist. Small ones, mostly gone and destroyed. Ones that never became as large, or well known, as the Order of the Black Worm.”
Katla had turned completely back to Tara. Her eyes were as intense as Tara had ever seen.
Tara swallowed. “One of them was called the Order of the Fire Queen.”
Tara bit her lower lip.
“What?” Katla asked. Those eyes.
“Their leader. This…Fire Queen…her name was Tara Geonette.”
Katla raised an eyebrow.
“She was my ancestor,” Tara finished.
Katla’s voice dropped. Her grip on Tara’s hand tightened.
“Your ancestor was a necromancer?”
Katla let go of her hand and turned back to the sea. Her face became unreadable.
“I didn’t know,” Tara said. “I’m, uh, named after her. Because of the red hair.”
Katla stayed silent, her gaze distant.
“Mom told us she’d been part of a witch coven. Back in the Second Era. When witch covens were more neutral, even respected, in High Rock. Not all witches become hagravens, or turn corrupted.”
She watched Katla, waiting.
Katla closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if soaking in the sea air.
She looked at Tara. Angry.
“You should have told me this before you asked me to stay with you at the College. Learning magic.”
“I’m not my ancestor,” Tara said. She tried to keep her sudden anger in check. This was unfair.
“I am not my family!”
Katla crossed her arms. Tara mirrored her.
“You have a temper. You have a dark side.”
“I’m working on my temper! You know this!”
Katla raised an eyebrow. “You’re proving my point.”
“I am not my fucking family!”
“You nearly burned down your family’s farm when you left home!”
There it was, Tara thought.
When she’d confessed her guilt about setting the crops on fire when she left home, Katla had hugged her, but not said anything. They hadn’t discussed it since. Now she knew why.
“I’ve done things I’m not proud of,” Tara said. She let the angry tone go. “We’ve had this conversation before.” She leveled her eyes at Katla, with all the intensity she could muster.
“I am not my family. I am not, and would never become, a dark mage. I sure as fuck would never pursue necromancy.”
Tara kept her gaze on Katla. “I have a temper. I have anger issues. I have these waves, which I still don’t understand, nor can I control.”
Tara sighed and dropped her gaze. “I know I have my problems, Katla. Believe me when I tell you I am not my family. Especially not this ancestor.”
She met Katla’s gaze. “I love you and want to protect you.”
Katla held her gaze. “I love you, too,” she whispered. “I’m scared, though. Look at what necromancy has done to my life.”
Tara nodded. “I know. Look at what magic has done to both of our lives.”
She reached out and took Katla’s hands. “Stay with me. I want to get to the bottom of my ancestor. See if there’s a chance she has anything to do with your soul gem. I will finish my magic education here as fast as I can. I promise.”
Katla nodded. “Not too long, though, Tara. I don’t want to stay here long.”
Tara stood on the tips of her toes and gave Katla a quick kiss. “I promise.”