Katla muttered, closed the book, and dropped it on the table. She wanted to throw it across the Arcanaeum. Urag gro-Shub would have her head, though.
That was it. She had no more books to read or research. Tara had been right. There wasn’t much written about the Order of the Fire Queen, or any necromancy cult that wasn’t the Order of the Black Worm.
Katla stood and stretched. Time for a break. And to see Tara. See how her lessons were getting on.
Did she really want to watch Tara perform magic?
No, she didn’t.
She’d hoped watching Tara practice would alleviate her fears. The opposite was happening.
It’d been weeks now, Tara spending the day on lessons while Katla combed through the Arcanaeum, reading every book she thought might have a scrap of information on cults.
She’d read every book on necromancy, and felt dirty from that. She’d then taken to reading every history book on the Second Era, particularly anything about High Rock. She’d read about the Mages Guild, its formation, and wavering times of allowing necromancy, then banning it, the back and forth and various arguments for its use.
Tara’s family name had come up again, some Geonette who’d been a knight during the Three Banners War. Tara’s family had both villains and heroes in its history. Didn’t most, when you thought about it? What mattered was which part of family history you celebrated.
The Order of the Fire Queen had been mentioned once in another book. Besides Tara Geonette, there’d been another name. A Bedore Ashsmith. If the book was right, he’d been Tara Geonette’s second in command. The book also claimed he’d died in the year 2E 596, in the Rivenspire region. There’d been no mention of what had happened to Tara Geonette.
Was this the cult that was after her and the red soul gem? And what was in the red soul gem? Wylandriah’s suggestion from back in Riften seemed so…lacking.
Katla returned the books to Urag. He grunted at her and checked the books, looking for any damage. Katla liked the Arcanaeum and Urag. The library was peaceful. One could get so lost in reading here. Urag was like one’s cranky old grandfather, hiding his love of books behind a tough and irritable exterior.
Katla made her way to Tara’s room in the Hall of Attainment, where novice and apprentice level mages each had a room. The College had given Tara permission to let Katla stay with her. They were the only couple at the College. It felt good to stay near Tara and not have to pay rent at the inn. Katla had yet to find any steady work to replenish their gold. As more than one shopkeeper had told her, Winterhold didn’t get much business, not many travelers passing through. She’d picked up some work at the stables and the inn, but it’d been sporadic. If nothing else, the College was saving them gold.
Maybe that was part of her discomfort. Katla was a Nord surrounded by nothing but mages here. Even that Thalmor advisor, Ancano, who’d recently arrived, was a mage.
Too many mages.
In the room, Katla changed her clothes and freshened up. She knew Tara was in the Hall of Elements at lessons now. To go and watch, or head into town for a bit?
Lessons. She’d go see how Tara was getting on with them.
Katla stepped into the Hall of Elements, the main attraction of the College, and where lessons were held.
The Hall, was round, with columns dotted along its edges. A large fountain sat in the middle of the hall, with a bluish magic beam, instead of water, shooting up through a small hole in the high ceiling. Other fountains with magic beams were scattered outside the college, along the bridge to the college, and in the main courtyard. The other halls had them, too. This one was larger and more impressive. Katla had no idea where the magic came from or its use. Did it help replenish the mages’ magicka reserves when needed? Or were they just fancy decoration?
Tara and the other students were at the opposite end of the main room, gathered around Tolfdir and Faralda. Tolfdir was a senior wizard and key teacher. He was old, an elderly Nord, with the gray hair and wrinkles to prove it. If Urag was a cranky grandfather, Tolfdir was one’s kind, wise, grandfather. The one you wanted to spend time with, as he showed you wonders and told stories of bygone eras.
He’d been welcoming and warm, and his teaching method matched. He lectured and demonstrated with extensive knowledge, never harshly or boastful.
Tara had told Katla he was a master level wizard at Alteration, though he seemed to know all the schools well. Katla wondered why he wasn’t the Master Wizard of the college, why Mirabelle was second in command instead of him. Tara had told her he was absent minded, she having found his alembic twice for him already. Perhaps that was why.
Faralda was another teacher there, when she wasn’t guarding the bridge against unwanted company, or testing prospective students. She seemed to be leading this lesson, with Tolfdir observing. What did she teach again?
As she approached, Katla frowned. They were studying Destruction magic today. That’s what Faralda taught. Of all the magic they practiced, Destruction made her the most uncomfortable. Especially with Tara.
Because this is when she’s dangerous.
All the students started shooting lightning bolts of various strengths at the targets. Faralda walked back and forth between them all, giving pointers and corrections. Onmund, a Nord student, seemed to be especially good, shooting chains of lightning from his hands.
Tara, on the other hand, was sending simple bolts out. Katla watched her fire several, then take a quick break to recover.
Katla smiled. She couldn’t help it. All this time together and Tara’s looks still made her catch her breath. Her hair glowed a deep red, the blue magic beam in the room giving it a rich glow, a hint of purple. Tara wore mage robes now. As soon as she’d started lessons, she’d stopped wearing her armor, except for walks into town. Her axes were safely stored back in their room. The robes fit well, showing her curves, even while hiding her muscles.
She looks better in leather armor, though, Katla thought. When would Tara realize she was a warrior, not a mage? Soon, hopefully.
Especially if the weak lightning bolts were any indication. She looked the most novice of all the students. It’d been the same with the Alteration lesson Katla had watched the other day. Tara was clearly behind the others. She’d refused to learn Illusion spells, not even attending those classes.
Had the teachers even acknowledged how angry Illusion lessons made her? No, not by the pacing rants Tara had had with Katla as sole company, in the open courtyard at the top of the main college building.
“They don’t get it. No one does,” Tara had repeated while pacing.
“I do,” Katla had answered. She didn’t quite get it. Necromancy was the worst magic to her. Tara was proof of the dangers of Illusion magic, though. The danger of relentlessly using it on someone, especially against their will. That, Katla could understand.
Faralda had them all switch to fire magic, and Katla instinctively stepped back. She was across the room from them, leaning against a far column, well out of their sight and any aim of magic. They hadn’t even noticed her yet.
The Khajiit student, J’zargo, was especially good with fire. He sent fireballs and strong blasts of fire easily at the targets.
Tara watched him for a moment, then aimed at her target.
Katla held her breath.
Tara produced a large fireball and sent it to the target. Its size dwarfed J’zargo’s fireball.
Everyone paused and watched her. Tara switched to flames. These, too, were large, stronger than anyone else’s. And, unlike the lightning, she didn’t stop. She seemed to have endless magicka reserves.
Katla watched the flames. The light and dance of yellow, orange, and reds was intoxicating.
The Order of the Fire Queen.
Katla tore her eyes from Tara’s flames.
Tara Geonette. The Order of the Fire Queen. Was this cult the one after her? Katla needed answers.
Where to get them?
Katla watched Tara again. They’d all switched to cold spells. Tara, as with lightning, was behind everyone else, using an ice spike briefly, then resting.
Tara only knew her ancestor had been a witch. What if someone else knew? Someone else in her family might know the truth.
Tara’s sister. The older sibling and impressive mage.
Would she know more?
Tara’s parents and Mira had all kept Tara’s magic suppressed. They’d created her anguish waves with their abuse.
Had they kept more from Tara? Perhaps Tara’s mother had told Mira the truth about their ancestor? Mira was a trusted mage, and seemed the favored child. Perhaps, like her magical abilities, they’d told Mira the truth, and she’d agreed to keep the truth from Tara.
Tara hadn’t talked to Mira in more than a year and didn’t seem interested in seeing her sister anytime soon, though.
Well, Tara didn’t need to see or write Mira. Katla could.
Katla left the Hall of Elements. Tara still didn’t know she’d been there, watching, being so focused on her lessons.
Katla would write a letter to Mira, ask for any information on Tara Geonette. Couriers would find Mira. They always found their target.
This was the answer. The next step.
Would Mira be willing to reveal the truth? She’d confessed everything else when Tara confronted her at Frostcrag Spire. Surely, she’d not hold this back, assuming she knew anything.
Only one way to find out.
Katla headed for the Arcanaeum. She could get a quill, ink, and paper there. Write the letter there, out of sight of Tara. Tell Tara later about writing to Mira.
Don’t keep this from her.
She’d tell her. Just. Not yet. Not while Tara was focused on lessons and learning.
Not until Katla had answers. Not until she had answers that would erase any anger Tara might have about reaching out to Mira.
This was the next step.