Tara shifted her feet and managed to keep her balance. Katla wasn’t so lucky. She fell sideways, missing the chair next to her, collapsing on the floor instead.
Tara’s stomach clenched as another wave of nausea hit. Katla looked worse, her skin taking on an unhealthy shade of green.
“Here, come on,” Tara said. She reached down and pulled Katla to her feet. “Sit.” She guided her to the chair she’d missed when they teleported into Mira’s home.
“Does it ever get easier?” Katla asked.
“Eventually,” Mira said. “If you teleport often enough.”
Mira looked the same as Tara had last seen her. She wore striking deep blue mage robes and her hair was styled the same as Tara had last seen it. She still looked serious.
Mira gazed at her with searching, nervous eyes. “It’s good to see you,” she said.
Two years, Tara realized. Two years since they’d uncomfortably hugged in Winterhold. So much had changed. Could Mira see the change in Tara? See what Rorikstead had done? Norring? The Penitus Oculatus? Or maybe she was still searching Tara for forgiveness.
“Yeah,” Tara said. “Glad you’re well.”
“I don’t know how you stayed on your feet,” Katla said, as she stood up from the chair. Her skin was back to a proper pale Nord shade. “You have a magical sense of balance, Tara.”
Tara felt herself twitch at the word. Magical. Magic. She bit her tongue.
The room in Mira’s home they’d teleported into seemed to be a reading room. Floor to ceiling bookcases lined several of the walls. Books of history and spell tomes dominated. Some shelves held scrolls or soul gems.
Tara turned from the bookcases to see Mira and Katla greeting each other in a warm hug. Katla had said she and Mira got on well during their time together in Wayrest. They were chatting like old friends.
“Your hair!” Mira said.
“Yeah,” Katla laughed. “Decided to grow it back out. Turns out, I prefer it long.”
How strange, watching them embrace and talk. Tara groped for the correct word to describe how she felt. Not jealous. Uncomfortable. Removed. Separate.
Perhaps it was the room itself making her feel this way. This home of a mage.
Double doors opening onto a balcony lined the only wall without bookcases. Next to it was a long, narrow table, taking up the rest of the wall. On top of the table sat crystal orbs, all filled with a blue, swirling energy. Magic. Each orb sat on a little metal stand, with a plaque in front of them. The orbs looked like the same type Tara had seen on some enchanting tables.
She stepped to the table and looked at the plaques. Each stated the name of a city or town in Cyrodiil.
Anvil, Bravil, Bruma, Cheydenhall…
The Imperial City was there, too. Tara raised an eyebrow.
“Those are teleportation orbs,” Mira said.
“You can teleport into a city?” Tara asked. Mira could teleport directly into the Imperial City? The Penitus Oculatus weren’t currently protecting the Emperor, but this wasn’t something they’d allow. Tara was sure of it.
“No,” Mira said. “I’d never do that. Appearing past any defense, past guards. That’d be wrong.” She cleared her throat. “For each city, I found a spot outside their city walls. Bruma, for instance, takes you right next to the destroyed Oblivion Gate. Out of the way, but close. I have to visit each place and choose a spot. Perform a spell there…” She paused. “Anyway, it’s a safe way to travel, if needed.”
Tara nodded. This kind of power, to be able to teleport right in front of a city, was dangerous. If someone could teleport a whole army…
Tara shook her head. This was Mira, not some invading army. What were the limits, though? She and Katla had teleported together using one of Mira’s scrolls. Tara had needed to hold onto Katla, then Katla had read the scroll. Their physical contact is what had allowed Tara to be teleported with Katla, as she understood it.
The experience itself had been unnerving. The trip had felt almost instant. She’d had a moment, maybe two, of feeling pressed tightly against Katla. The world had gone black, silent, and cold. As if they were passing through a void. Then, sound had assaulted her ears and Mira’s room had spun into existence. That last moment, seeing the room spin, had given her the nausea. Almost as if their bodies were trying to align with the room properly. Unnerving.
Teleportation had been an almost forgotten magic for hundreds of years. Perhaps that was best. Tara had heard certain Dunmer elves always practiced it, so it’d never been a lost magic, only one kept away from most human mages.
Did any of these mages even know what that void was they passed through? A plane of Oblivion? Magic could be dangerous. So many mages were careless with it.
She had once been.
“I really didn’t know at first that the Calm spells were doing any lasting harm. No one did. But then, when you were five, you had your first fit…”
Tara stepped away from the table and orbs. She opened the double doors, rich oak, with an inlay of silverwork and thick glass, and stepped out onto the balcony.
Chorrol. She’d sworn she’d never come here.
The balcony faced east. Mira’s home stood three stories tall, with the balcony, and reading room, on the third floor. Chorrol’s architecture reminded Tara of Cheydinhal. Excellent stone work could be seen on the buildings in her sight. Tile roofs, circular towers. This was a wealthy city. She looked down at the citizens moving about. The day was warm, the sun bright, and people seemed to be enjoying the summer day.
It’d been fall when Mira had written, but Tara had not wanted to come. Katla insisted, though, and after they’d studied her parents’ journal, and a second letter from Mira, she’d relented.
The seasons had changed, she’d gone on more jobs for the Penitus Oculatus, and now was on another short break. At least she could use needing to get back to work as a reason they couldn’t stay with Mira long.
There was also the reality Penitus Oculatus agents still weren’t welcome in Cyrodiil. She’d have to be careful. There was some turmoil going on, reports of war between some of the cities, but Tara had not read the latest report before they’d left. Mira might know what was happening.
The height of the balcony allowed Tara to see over the city walls. Beyond them stood the Great Forest.
Where Freta had died.
Why did Mira have to live in this city, of all the cities in Cyrodiil? Fucking Chorrol.
Tara ran her hands over her face. She didn’t want to be here. All that magic inside, all the Great Forest in front of her. Being in Cyrodiil, where if anyone discovered she was a Penitus Oculatus agent, could put her in danger.
She looked at her hands. They trembled. Anxious. That’s what she was feeling. On edge. Ready for a fight.
“You okay?” Katla’s soft voice surprised her. She jumped.
Gods, woman, get a hold of yourself, she thought.
Katla leaned up against the balcony railing, next to her. Her face showed worry. “I know you didn’t want to come here.”
Tara nodded towards the Great Forest. “I know I can’t see the exact spot from here…” she let her voice trail off.
“Freta,” Katla said.
“I hate it here. I hate all this magic in her house, I hate…” Tara stopped herself. She didn’t hate Mira. She sighed. Did she still love her sister, though? She didn’t know.
Katla pointed out past the city walls, south of where Tara had been looking. She turned and gave Tara a look mixing sadness and sternness. A hint of anger.
“You’re not the only one who’s lost someone they loved just outside of Chorrol, Tara,” she said. Her voice was stiff. “What’s left of our house is two kilometers southeast of Chorrol.”
Tara felt her face flush. “Oh, Katla. I’m a cow’s ass.” She put her arm around Katla’s waist and pulled her close. “I’m sorry.”
“Pull yourself out of your head sometimes, okay?” Katla said. Her tone was chiding, yet kind. “You’re not the only one who’s survived things.”
Tara nodded. They hugged and Katla gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “I know this is hard, being near Mira again,” she said. “She is a good person, despite what she did. I like your sister. I consider her a friend.”
Tara stepped out of their embrace. “We’re all in this together, huh?” She waved her hand in the air. “The Order of the Fire Queen.”
Katla nodded. “Your family and mine. So, yes. I think it’s going to take all three of us to figure out and stop whatever is going on.”
“Let’s make this visit as quick as possible,” Tara said. “Please?”
They walked back into the house. Mira walked into the reading room from another room. Tara caught a glimpse of a writing table and enchanting table through the open archway between the rooms. Mira held out two scrolls.
“Teleport scrolls. In case something happens, I want you to each have one. They’ll bring you back here.”
Tara put her scroll in her travel pack. She looked to see that Katla did the same. She took a minute to check her axes and adjust her armor. She and Katla had worn armor for the trip. Tara wore her leather armor. This was personal business, and with the Penitus Oculatus unwelcome in Cyrodiil, that armor sat on its stand back in Solitude.
Katla wore the armor Mira had commissioned for her. None of them expected trouble, but Tara wasn’t taking chances and had insisted she wear the tougher armor.
“Do you want to rest first? Maybe go over Katla’s parents’ journal?” Mira asked.
Tara looked back out on the balcony. The sun’s rays told her it was still late morning.
“I’d rather we go,” she said. “Get this over with. I still don’t understand why you think I’m needed.”
Mira nodded. “As I said, I know Geonette has done something with our bloodline. The magic barrier there, I think it responds to direct descendants.”
“You couldn’t pass through, though,” Katla said.
Mira nodded. “Part of me did. Your parents’ journal mentions a ritual, correct?”
“Yes, but the writing…”
“Our mother said I didn’t have the ritual performed on me,” Mira interrupted. Her tone had shifted into her teacher voice. Tara felt herself twitch. Mira’s tone grated on her.
“She said it wasn’t performed on Tara, either, but she said it as an aside. As if Tara didn’t need it performed on her, but I did.” Mira finished.
Mira paced. “I think that means Tara has some ability I don’t. Something tells me she’ll be able to interact with the barrier more than I could.”
Tara shifted her feet. This was really why she was on edge. Mira wanted her to touch some barrier tied to the order. To interact with magic she didn’t even understand.
“You’re guessing, though,” she said. She felt the edge in her voice. “You don’t know what will happen if I touch this thing.”
Mira stopped pacing and sat in one of the chairs. She focused on Tara. “My instincts tell me there’s something about you that will be different.”
“But you don’t know,” Tara pushed.
“I told you both in the letters,” Mira said. “We know there’s a ritual the order performs on members. Members of the order must need it for something. The journal mentions it more than once, right?”
“Yes,” Katla said. “There’s several bits about a ritual, also a stone, I think it’s the soul gem I have…”
“Did you bring the soul gem?” Mira asked.
“No,” Tara interrupted. “I didn’t think that was wise.”
“Probably for the best,” Mira said. “I’d like to see it at some point, though.” She looked at both of them. “I am a researcher, you know. Maybe I can discern something about it those other wizards who saw it couldn’t.”
Mira stood. “Anyway…” She looked at Tara again. Her eyes looked intense but with a hint of nerves. She took a big breath. “I didn’t put this in my letters to you, but I’ve been thinking about my last day at the farm with Mom.”
Tara raised an eyebrow. This didn’t sound good.
“Mom went through my things. I know she read through your letters I had with me.”
Tara felt color drain from her face. She’d left her parents behind when she left home. She didn’t want them to know anything about her life now. They didn’t deserve to know. More than that, she realized, it scared her to think they might know where she was.
Mira held up a hand. “None of the letters I had revealed your location. And I never said anything about you to them.”
“But?” Tara held her breath.
“I thought they were looking for Katla,” Mira said. “That they somehow knew you two were a couple and they’d want to get to Katla through you.”
Mira sat back down again. “I’ve thought on it. I don’t know how they’d know about you two. You’ve killed every assassin that’s attacked Katla. We were careful to never say your name when we were together.” Mira glanced at Katla, who nodded. “So, I don’t think Mom was looking for Katla through your letters. I now believe she was looking for you.”
Tara furrowed her brow. “Why would they look for me? After all these years?”
Mira shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean, since you left home, they’ve always asked me if I knew where you were, how you were doing.” She sighed. “Back then, I shrugged it off as them wondering after you, as parents might. I never told them anything, even when I knew.”
Small blessing, that, Tara thought.
“Now, though, I have to wonder. I know they’re in the order. Perhaps Father joined reluctantly once, but they’re in it.”
“Of course they are,” Tara said. “Mom’s the most direct descendant of Geonette. They have that painting in the house of her.”
“Named you after her,” Mira said.
“We’ve been fools to never realize Mom would be in the order,” Tara said. Was this the reason for all the abuse all those years? Had Father and Mom really fought about the order all this time? Taken it out on her? Why?
“What does any of this have to do with Tara touching the barrier?” Katla asked. Her brow held a crease of worry.
Mira stood. “It’s all a guess, I admit. But there must something about Tara. I want to know what happens when she’s near the barrier. At the least, I think you both should see it. So I’m not the only person who knows about it.” Mira picked up her travel bag.
“Then, let’s go,” Tara said.
“Both of you place your hands on my shoulders. That’ll be enough contact,” Mira said. “I’ll teleport us right into the cavern.”
Tara pulled in a deep breath and placed her hands on Mira. She looked at Katla, who matched her and gave her a slight smile.
Mira’s reading room disappeared into the void.
Tara felt the cold and silence. She was pressed into Mira.
Her eyes popped open to a spinning cave and she felt her feet slam into the ground. She shifted her stance and kept her balance. Her stomach turned. Mira stepped away and kept her balance, too.
Tara saw Katla fall again out of the corner of her eye. She stepped over to her and helped her to her feet.
“Thank you,” Katla said. “Ugh.”
The voices hit her. Hundreds of voices were suddenly speaking.
Tara looked around. Only she, Mira, and Katla were in the cave.
The cave was as Mira had described it. They were standing on solid rock, with a fort room on one end. As if at some point in the far past, they knocked down a wall of the fort to access this cave. She saw the cold campfire and sleeping bags.
“Do you hear them?” she asked.
“Voices?” Mira asked. “Yes, I hear faint voices.”
“I…” Katla closed her eyes. “I think I hear something? Too faint to know what it is.” She looked at Tara with a worried expression. “Are you okay?”
“You’re pale,” Mira said to her. She also looked worried.
“The voices aren’t faint to me,” Tara said. “They’re loud.”
Hundreds of voices, talking, calling her. How did either Mira or Katla think they were faint?
Tara resisted the urge to cover her ears. The voices were inside her head. Covering her ears wouldn’t stop them.
Another sound did hit her ears. Crackling energy was discernible through the rush of voices. The magic barrier in front of the alcove. Through it, Tara could see what Mira had mentioned. A stone sphere of some sort, floating above a pedestal. It seemed to be sending out its own magic waves.
The entire cavern was lit with the bluish purple of all the magic.
…not supposed to be here.
…is it time?
…I want to see…
The voices came from the barrier. Or maybe the sphere. She should’ve wanted to step back, away from the barrier. This magic was the epitome of dangerous. Tara had no doubt. But the voices were calling her. She found herself standing within a foot of the barrier.
“Tara?” Katla’s voice sounded faint.
…let me see you…
…I can bring her back…
“Tara,” Mira said. “Wait.”
She reached out, as Mira said she’d done, and watched her hand pass through the barrier. First, her fingers, and then her palm. The barrier felt cool to the touch. No burning sensation hit her and she wasn’t thrown back. The voices were louder.
…see you with my own eyes…
…does she have it…
…but the ritual…
…I want to see you…
Her arm up to her elbow was through the barrier.
“Tara, hold on,” Mira said. “If it lets you through, don’t touch anything.” Mira’s voice had retreated, as if she were further away than the voices calling from the sphere.
“Tara, stop. Please,” Katla sounded as faint as Mira.
…thought the flames weren’t…
…I feel you…
…really the one…
Tara found herself standing inside the alcove, past the barrier. She’d been up to her elbow, then…here she was on the other side. She’d simply stepped through it. She turned around. Mira and Katla stood in front of the barrier, still on the other side of it. They were speaking to her, but she couldn’t hear them.
“Can you hear me?” she asked.
Katla’s eyes were wide with fear. Mira shook her head. She gave her a look of both wonder and worry. Katla waved her hand, motioning for her to come back through the barrier.
Come here. I want to see you.
Tara turned to the sphere. Inside the barrier, the magic waves emanating from it were bright, but bearable. The sphere and pedestal it floated above looked like black marble. As black as the void they’d teleported through. Besides sending out magic waves, the sphere seemed to be spinning slowing.
Come here. I can bring her back, Tara.
She knew that voice.
I can feel you.
I want to see you.
Before she could stop herself, Tara reached out and touched the sphere.
The alcove, cave, Mira, and Katla, all disappeared.
Tara felt herself pulled into a void.