Tara paced back and forth, at the top of the College of Winterhold. What was it with magic schools, tall towers, and her needing space to think?
Frostcrag Spire’s top balcony had been cold. The open courtyard at the top of the College of Winterhold was at least as cold, especially with the constant wind from the Sea of Ghosts. The view was nearly as fascinating as Frostcrag Spire’s. Where Frostcrag gave stunning views of Cyrodiil, here, the view showed the infinite ice and islands out in the sea. There was also Winterhold itself, and part of the statue of Azura. A Nord ruin was in sight, as well. Stunning and cold.
Cold and numbing. The numbing was good.
The courtyard on top of the college was large, spanning the roofs of all the halls and main building. Tara walked to the walled edge overlooking the sea. A bandit camp and groups of horkers, those sea lion beasts, could be seen on the closest spots of lands just offshore. Floating sea ice created areas one could walk on top of the water, to move between the outcroppings.
What had gone wrong?
Her arrival at the College of Winterhold was the epitome of everything. Why she was here in Skyrim. Why did everything feel so wrong?
Not everything. She had Katla. Katla was, well, everything. Or could be. Magic and Katla. That would be everything.
A gust of wind caught Tara’s hair and brushed it across her eyes and nose. More from habit than need, she scratched at her nose scars. Magic. The source of her pain. Her pain and frustration.
You’re not a mage, Tara.
She loved Tolfdir. If there was a bright light at this college, it was him. And having Katla here.
Otherwise, if she were being honest with herself, she was miserable.
She wasn’t progressing. At all. Her abilities were the same as when she’d been at the College of Whispers.
And the other students. They seemed nice enough, but Tara didn’t feel drawn to any of them. They either seemed to have their own issues, or were like J’zargo, staying away from her.
She wanted to like J’zargo, he was a Khajiit, which she loved. But, he was so competitive. Seemed to take offense for how powerful her fire magic was.
Brelyna had mentioned she thought J’zargo was working on some secret fire magic spell.
Tara liked Brelyna. A Dunmer, she was reserved and shy. She did not have patience for questions and refused to talk about her family’s history. Tara could respect that.
The wind let up for a moment and Tara heard a snowy sabre cat. She looked down over the wall and watched one attack a lone horker near the shore. Horkers were as mean as sabre cats, making the battle a toss-up. The fight lasted longer than she expected, with the cat finally earning its dinner.
Who was hunting for Katla? Was it some cult her ancestor had started?
Maybe that was why she was miserable. They weren’t any closer to answers on the red soul gem. The College of Winterhold was a dead end on magic and finding out about who was after Katla.
Tara noticed the sun’s position. Time for class. Wards and other Restoration spells.
She was sick of learning, well, trying to learn, the other schools. The College of Winterhold insisted, though. Mirabelle had been clear; all students had to study all schools until they reached a certain level of proficiency. Then, they could focus on one school.
Should she stop by the Arcanaeum and visit Katla first?
No. Something was off with Katla these past few days. Tara felt it. Katla had seemed distant. One almost couldn’t discern it, but Tara was no fool. Something was up.
Perhaps it was simply her disappointment at the dead end of the search for more about the cult. Perhaps Katla was still processing Tara’s family history, and dealing with her fear of Tara’s magic.
Lack of control over your magic.
Perhaps. But…something new was up.
Tara left the roof through the door that led into the Hall of Attainment, then made her way to the Hall of Elements. Katla would probably come watch later in the lesson. She seemed to prefer Tara learning Restoration.
Learning. Strong word. Tara hadn’t made any progress on her healing or wards. Certainly not on Heal Other. She still couldn’t heal another person with magic. She couldn’t have saved Freta.
If it ever came to it, she couldn’t save Katla right now. She needed to know how to heal others with magic. She couldn’t lose Katla.
Colette Marence had just started lessons when Tara arrived. They were starting with wards, as usual. One student would use a ward while another shot a spell at them. The goal was to use stronger wards against stronger spells. All of them had moved from the basic ward, known as Steadfast Ward, onto Greater Ward. Everyone except Tara.
“Tara,” Colette said, “Work with Onmund. Practice your ward. Take turns.”
Tara bit her lip. Onmund was good with Destruction. She’d need to defend herself.
They positioned themselves off to the left. The other students broke off and found their own spots away from each other. No one should hit anyone else with an errant spell.
“I’ll do wards first,” Tara said. Better to get it out of the way.
Onmund nodded and prepared himself.
Tara threw up her Steadfast Ward. Onmund sent flames her way. It was the most basic of fire spells and Tara’s ward easily absorbed it.
He sent a firebolt next. Tara doubled her effort at the ward. It wanted to buckle, but stopped the bolt. Tara saw the fire fade against the blue glow of her ward.
She was about to tell Onmund to give her a moment to recover her magicka, when he sent the fireball at her.
Her ward collapsed and Tara felt searing pain as the fireball caught her in her left arm and chest.
For a moment, she was seventeen again and dropping to the ground after that piece of stone wall hit her in the face. The pain; that smell of burning flesh. The overwhelming of the mind with nothing but agony.
She fell to the ground and covered her face instinctively, before snapping back to the here and now.
The wave burst from her without thought and sent Onmund flying.
Onmund landed on the nearby steps. He gave a loud cry as the crack of bones breaking, his ribs probably, could be heard.
Tara cast healing on herself. It wasn’t enough to stop the pain completely, but her robes and skin stopped burning so intensely.
She looked up.
Everyone else had been knocked down. Not thrown, thankfully. Instead, they’d sat down hard, as if a large hand had shoved them to the ground. They were all climbing slowly to their feet as she looked around.
Katla was standing near the entrance to the hall. It seemed she’d just arrived to watch lessons. The wave had not knocked her down.
Tara watched her face flash through emotions.
Fear and worry, perhaps at seeing Tara hit with fire. Shock at the wave. And now…
Colette was at Onmund’s side, healing his broken bones. Tolfdir appeared in front of Tara. He immediately cast a strong healing spell on her. Tara felt and watched as all the pain stopped and her skin healed, without scarring. Her robes were a loss, with gaping holes where fabric had been.
“Stay here for a moment,” Tolfdir said. His voice was steady, soft, and kind. “We need to speak.”
He moved away from her and went over to Onmund, who was now on his feet, talking to Colette. He looked fully healed.
Everyone was staring at her. Confusion, curiosity, and fear dominated their faces. It felt like the Fighter’s Guild again. Or the Synod Conclave. Or The Count’s Arms Inn in Anvil.
Tara looked back towards Katla.
She’d left the hall.
Tara stood. She needed to find Katla. What was going through her mind? She needed to catch her. Talk to her. Explain.
She turned to apologize to Onmund. He hadn’t deserved that wave. Perhaps they should’ve planned the lesson better, and agreed to stop after two spells to recover.
Mirabelle Ervine stood in the hall, near Onmund, Colette, and Tolfdir. They were all speaking together, with glances her way.
Tara’s heart sank.
Mirabelle waved for her to approach them. Her face was unreadable. As stern and still as Mira’s used to be.
Tara took one step towards her and stopped.
Who to deal with first? Mirabelle or Katla?
Tara left the Hall of Elements without a word.