Tara stood on her balcony, watching Bedore lead the three mages onto the farm.
He’d not told her about their true origin until this morning.
Bedore continued his foolish attempts at taking agency where he shouldn’t.
Tara sighed. So tempting to be done with him, but…
She pressed her hand to her stomach.
Fortunately, Lysona continued to be faithful and had filled her in. When the time was right, Lysona would get her prize. Tara would see to that.
Tara stepped back into her bedroom, before the mages or Bedore thought to look up. She didn’t want them to see her until time for her speech.
Lysona had told her the mages were members of the Order of the Black Worm, supposedly they wanted to leave the order for a true leader.
Tara didn’t believe any followers of Mannimarco were looking for a new leader.
No. Any followers were here as spies.
Bedore was letting his ambitions and overestimation of his intellectual abilities get in his way.
No matter. Her speech later today would clarify it all. She’d been overdue to speak to the cult. Help them all see the long term plan. The real reason they were following her. Give them their needed hope.
Two ways to keep people faithful. Fear and hope. If one balanced it perfectly, you had the world.
As for Bedore, well, perhaps tonight’s speech would help.
She’d switched things up in the bedroom, to appease his fragile ego after his initial failure to retrieve her niece.
After making him promise to follow the one rule, she’d let him take charge in bed; fulfill all his desires. The violence had still surprised her.
No matter. She always healed herself without concern.
He was still stuck with the scars on his neck, though. That had been delicious. She’d never been able to heal others. Fool didn’t know. Even if she’d been good at restoration magic, she wouldn’t have healed those cuts properly. He needed his forever reminder of who was in charge.
Tara refreshed herself and changed into her new armor. She’d had it crafted by the finest blacksmith in Stormhaven, Zaros Frostman. What had he called it? Blood Witch armor.
The name fit. Primarily a thick dark red leather, cut in a diamond shape and layered in a protective, layering pattern, it fit tight, with a long coat, open below the waist in front, exposing the black leather pants matched to it. Her left side was protected by a silver pauldron that ran down her arm in segments and combined with the matching full gauntlet, coming to a finish with a silver glove and spiked fingers. A small, silver piece belted across her chest, protecting her heart. A lion’s head had been inscribed into it.
She’d not wanted that lion head, but had to admit it added extra flare to the armor, and could not be tied back to the cult or her family. There was also the irony of the Lion Guard, who’d surely kill her if they knew what she was up to. Perfect.
She suspected Bedore might come up to let her know their guests were here at any time. This was the time to look good for him, and impressive for everyone else.
She needed to let go of her annoyance with Bedore. He was filling his role. She could trust him. He simply let his ambition get in the way at times. She put her hand on her stomach again.
Besides, he had retrieved her niece for her. And deposed of her cousin, sister-in-law, and brother in the process. Perfect.
Speaking of her niece, she was overdue to visit with young Maline. She had one more test to perform. One more proof of her theory.
Did she have time before the speech? Maybe.
Tara stepped out of her bedroom and walked across the top floor of her tower to her lab. She stopped in front of the shimmering door. Once Maline had been brought to the farm, she’d needed to arrange a room for her. What better place than the lab? Keep her close. Easier to perform tests, and keep prying eyes from seeing anything.
The magic spell over the door served two purposes. Keep out Bedore and others while keeping Maline inside.
Tara waved her hand and the spell faded. She stepped inside her lab, quietly closing the door behind her.
Maline sat on her bed, cross-legged, reading a book. Her bed was pressed against the right wall of the lab, with a tall bookshelf, chair, and small table to give her a space of her own.
Soft light fell from the high windows, giving her raven black hair a blue tint.
She looked up from her book and smiled at Tara.
“Aunt Tara,” she said, in a high, small voice. “I really like this book! The Dwemer are fascinating.” She showed off her copy of Dwemer Inquiries Vol III that Tara had given her when she first arrived.
Tara matched her smile to Maline’s.
“I have something for you,” Tara said. She stepped over to the closest cabinet in the lab. The small cabinet sat against the wall, next to the door. Its top was strewn with soul gem fragments and a few dried deathbells. She opened the door and pulled out the only item inside.
“Oooo,” Maline said, her hazel eyes widening. “What is it?”
Tara walked over and sat down on the bed next to her. The leather of her armor gave a soft squeak.
“It’s a Dwemer cube. Thought you’d like to have it, since you love the book so much.” Tara handed her the small, faded bronze colored metal cube.
One of the cultists had found it exploring ruins back in Skyrim years ago and offered it to Tara when they joined, thinking it held some secrets she’d want.
It easily fit in the palm of one’s hand. Grooved symbols covered the dull metal. She wasn’t sure what dwarven metal even was, as it seemed something lost when the Dwemer themselves disappeared. The metal nearly matched Corundum in color, but seemed something more.
Either way, the little cube didn’t hold secrets. What Tara had researched indicated it was once like a book. Something the Dwemer inscribed with knowledge, perhaps to be stored and read by one of their strange machinations that lay buried in those same ruins.
Now, it was an empty artifact of a long gone race of elves. The perfect artifact for testing.
Maline took the cube and gently turned it over in her hands, her eyes holding their wide stare.
“What does it do?” she whispered.
Tara gave her a soft smile. “Nothing now. It’s empty.” She paused. “Would you help me test a theory with it?”
Maline’s eyes glanced up at her, and Tara saw the flicker of fear in them. “Like last time?”
“Well,” Tara considered her words. “I don’t think it’ll take very long and it shouldn’t hurt.”
Maline’s eyes dropped. “Okay.” She didn’t sound convinced.
“Just hold the cube for me. You really can keep it when I’m finished,” Tara said. She held a smile on her face, to be reassuring, but Maline didn’t look up at her. Her shoulders sagged forward and she put both hands around the cube, focusing her eyes on it.
“Okay,” Maline whispered. “I’m ready.”
Tara closed her eyes for a moment, giving final thought to the spell. She opened her eyes and concentrated on Maline, not the cube. Both her hands moved, as the spell required more physical effort than most.
A dark, purple glow enveloped Maline, quickly growing in size. Tara moved her hands and guided the energy to the cube.
The grooves of metal lit up with a matching purple glow, as if being filled.
Maline started crying and whimpering. “Aunt Tara…it hurts worse than be…fore. Please…stop.”
Tara watched Maline’s whole body shutter and shiver, though her grip on the cube remained firm.
She stopped the spell, and all the energy, all that dark purple glow, flowed from the cube back into Maline. The sound of a strong wind followed, as if a gust was blasting her. Her shivering stopped. The cube returned to its original dull state. Maline’s crying continued.
Tara affixed a parental look to her face. She stood, then knelt in front of Maline, laying her hands gently on her knees, as if to comfort her after an accident.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, keeping her tone worried. “I didn’t think it’d hurt you. I promise that’s the last test.”
Maline studied her and after a few minutes, her crying turned to slow tears.
“What were you testing?” she asked, through a final sob. Curiosity was getting to her, now that she’d been promised no more tests.
Tara sat back down on the bed and placed a hand on Maline’s shoulder. She remembered to keep her voice calm and soothing.
“You and me. I think we’re a special family, Maline.” She gave her a genuine smile at that. “You’ve helped me so much. You have no idea.”
Maline wiped her eyes and studied Tara again. “Really?”
“Oh, yes.” Tara stood and took one step towards the door. She turned and faced Maline. “Because of you, great things are going to happen. You’ll be so proud of your aunt.”
Maline wiped her face one more time. A seriousness swiftly took over and she leveled her eyes on Tara.
“Are you…can…” She sat up straighter. “Can whatever you’re going to do be used against Bedore? For…hurting Mom and Dad?”
Tara allowed another genuine smile to cross her face. “How smart you are. Yes, it will be.” She set her tone serious. “But, it will take time for him. You must be patient with me.”
“As long as you promise,” Maline said.
“I do.” Tara set her full gaze on Maline, letting her see the truth of her words.
Maline nodded and went back to turning the cube over in her hands.
Tara stepped out of the lab and closed the door. She waved her hand and the barrier spell shot back into place. She leaned against the wall next to the door, letting the cold stones of the wall soothe through the leather. She felt her forehead, beads of sweat dotted her face.
She wiped them all away, stepped away from the wall, and adjusted her armor.
That had been the final test. The spell took effort, of course, but it no longer drained all her magicka. She could easily handle it now and keep her wits about her. She was strong enough now.
She made one final adjustment of her armor. She had to look perfect for her speech.
She headed down the stairs to find Bedore, those guest mages, and give them all the speech they would remember for the rest of their lives.
(Armor from the excellent mod author, Zerofrost, and converted to SSE by xdanikitty915x. Find it here.)