4E 205 – Rigmor

“Blaton! You’re here. Come with me,” Commander Marius said.

Tara caught her breath, tucked the courier’s note into her hidden pocket, and headed towards the tall Imperial that was her new boss. Maro had been of a medium build and had the look of a cosmopolitan Imperial. A fighter, but a cultured one. Marius looked battle hardened and was about the most muscled, broad chested man Tara had ever seen. Father’s barrel chest had nothing on Marius.

His left eye was white, blind, and his face displayed long, dramatic scars below that eye and down his face. This man had fought hard and survived. His black hair was shorn close to his head. He was all business, by the look of him.

“Sir,” she said as she reached him. He’d been standing far down a long curving hallway inside the Imperial Palace. Tara still hadn’t fully taken in the palace, or the city, for that matter.

The Imperial City was unlike any other city in Cyrodiil, perhaps all of Tamriel. The city was wheel shaped, districts separated in sections, as if by spokes, with the White-Gold Tower, the tallest building in Cyrodiil, at its center. The tower was home to the palace. This meant a domed roof, a lot of curving hallways, with a confusing number of doors leading to guest suites, personal quarters, meeting rooms, and somewhere, the throne room. The seat of power in the Empire. Fitting it sat in a building once used by the Alyeids, those ancient elves who’d once enslaved the Nedic people and ruled Cyrodiil back in the First Era.

How was she living in such a building? The history here was boggling.

Tara had barely unpacked in her quarters, a small, sparse room a palace guard had led her to when she arrived this morning.

Had his name been Crispus? She’d liked him.

The palace seemed to contain a mix of mostly Imperial guards, specifically Praetorians, elite guards with the honor of serving in the palace. The palace was in a word, busy. Besides guards, numerous couriers, and tons of servants, milled about.

She’d not seen any other Penitus Oculatus agents, though she knew headquarters were nearby. She’d have to make her way there at some point.

She’d received a note before leaving Solitude ordering her to head straight to the palace as soon as she got to the city. She suspected there’d be no rest for her weary body. Not that the ride had been physically hard. Things had weighed on her mind, though.


“Good, you have your issued sword,” Marius said as she approached. “First impression, I want you in official attire.”

“I’m better with axes, sir,” Tara said. She was good enough with a sword. But, if she was going to be a bodyguard, didn’t they want her in her best equipment?

“I’ve heard,” Marius said. He gave her an appraising look. “Might want you training other agents one day.” He shot her a quick smile, then looked serious again. “This is for show. While you should always be on your guard, we’re safe right now, and I wanted you looking proper before meeting Lord Chancellor Blackwell and the queen. You can switch to your axes after this.”

“Right into work?” Tara asked. They were now walking further down the long, white marbled hallway.

“Never a quiet day here. Our Lady Rigmor’s previous guards have already been reassigned. Blackwell wants her protected anew immediately.”

“The other guards were reassigned, leaving her unprotected until I arrived?” Tara raised an eyebrow.

“Either the queen or Blackwell would’ve had their heads by now, if not.” Marius tossed her another flicker of a smile. “I don’t think they were cut out for that kind of work. Loyal, but…I’ve heard stories.”

Bumbling guards or a temperamental queen? Tara thought about her premonition, the Rigmor in it. Not a spoiled, temperamental queen. Those eyes told the story of a strong woman who’d overcome. What the scars had left behind might be a woman with no patience for foolishness. Tara was going to find out soon.

“I need to meet the Dragonborn in the throne room,” Marius said. “I’ll leave you with Cerys, our queen’s lady in waiting.”

Tara searched her memory of the Rigmor file. Cerys had been mentioned. A Breton, adopted by an Altmer elf who worked and resided at the College of Winterhold. He’d possibly been Arch-Mage for a time, though not confirmed. Jonte Malesam was his name. He and Cerys had been the keepers of Rigmor’s lineage, the ones charged with overseeing the artifacts and knowledge of Morgan of Winterhold, Rigmor’s ancestor. The descendant of Titus Mede I. Malesam had become Court Advisor in Bruma and had defended Rigmor during her trial. He and Cerys were trustworthy.

Outside of being a Breton mage, and about Tara’s age, there wasn’t much else on her. Cerys had been Rigmor’s lady in waiting since she’d been countess of Bruma.

“Cerys will introduce you to our lady Rigmor. I believe she’s meeting with Blackwell.”

Marius stopped in front of a non-descript door.

“Then, your duty starts. Where ever Rigmor goes, you go with her. Unless she or The Dragonborn order otherwise.” Marius’ eyes, well, the good one, drilled into her. “Protect our queen at all costs. Either she or Cerys will introduce you to Kintyra at some point today. The baby was born two weeks ago.”

Tara nodded. “Yes, sir.”

They stepped through the door into what Tara thought of immediately as a politician’s office. Thick rugs covered the floor in an overwhelming, yet tasteful, manner. Old paintings of nobles Tara didn’t recognize dotted the walls, broken up by paintings of the White-Gold Tower, or landscapes of Cyrodiil.

Plush chairs with ornate carved legs sat along two walls. An open doorway led to another room. Tara heard two voices coming from it. A man and woman.

“Cerys,” Marius said. “This is Tara Blaton. The new bodyguard for our lady.”

Cerys was standing quietly in this waiting room. She wore simple robes, dressed like a mage. Her hair was brown, as were her eyes. Her face look both gentle and mature. A woman wiser than her years. War paint lined her eyes, running in matching lines down her face.

Tara didn’t often see Bretons wearing the permanent skin paints. It’d fallen out of favor over the years, especially since so many Reachmen, the Forsworn, had adopted the look.

At least she was close to Tara’s height. Finally, someone not towering over her.

“Well met,” Cerys said. She gave Tara a genuine smile.  “When my lady finishes, we can…”

“I couldn’t take a dump in peace with the last ones, Blackwell. I don’t need a bodyguard!” The woman in the next room was yelling.

“Rigmor,” the man said. There was a tone to his voice that made Tara think of a politician, a manipulator. Yet, it held real feeling in how he said Rigmor’s name. In one word, it was obvious he wasn’t trying to calm her. He cared. This had to be Lord Chancellor Blackwell.

“…we must protect you, our queen, and Kintyra. It is the duty of the Penitus Oculatus to protect the royal family at all costs. They have sent me their best agent for this task.”

Cerys was looking thoughtfully at the doorway. “Protocol dictates we wait here until they’re finished,” she said. “I think we should make an exception in this case.”

“I shall leave Tara in your hands for the formal introduction, then,” Marius said. “I am needed in the throne room.” Marius nodded at them both, turned, and left.

“Come on,” Cerys said to Tara. Tara followed her into the room.

Blackwell was a Nord who carried a stately attitude. She perhaps used the word serious to describe people too much, but before Tara stood a man that put Mira’s level of serious to shame.

She wondered if he knew how to smile.

He was dressed in fine Imperial attire, reserved for nobles and politicians. He looked to be in his forties, and his face showed a life of dealing with both the noblest citizens and the lowest of lowlife. If the reports she’d read were true, he’d been behind the destruction of the Dark Brotherhood here in Cyrodiil. He was said to have a deep network of spies. He’d been responsible for keeping the Penitus Oculatus together, despite their official disbanded status under Sethius.

This was a man that could beat her in a game of Tales of Tribute.

The room they were now all standing in was lush, with more thick rugs and one of the finest desks Tara had ever seen. These walls held paintings of ancient kings, queens, and landmarks around Cyrodiil. Another room that had seen a lot of history.

She turned her eyes to Rigmor. The woman from her dreams. The premonition had gotten her eye color wrong. They were amber, not a brown hazel. The other details matched, though. Rigmor was a Nord, making her taller than Tara by almost a head. Tara estimated she was perhaps an inch or two shorter than Katla. Her build was slender, far more so than Katla’s. Her hair was the same rich brown, though, and thick, as it’d been in her dream.

Tara realized she was holding her breath. Of course she was. Reality was here. She was standing in front of the woman she’d had dreams about almost every night for the past five years. If she’d ever doubted whether the dream had been a premonition, here was proof. This was the woman from her dreams. She felt lightheaded.



Tara took in a deep breath. The moment was surreal. She had no words for how she felt.

This was a dream coming true. Not any dream one desired. This was fate. Tara didn’t like the confirmation the Divines were messing with her life. Dictating it. She’d not thought much about fate before this moment.

Before that moment in Oblivion.

Tara Geonette.

“When the time comes, don’t fight me…”

Another one promising a fate for her.

Tara snapped herself back to the moment.

This Rigmor wasn’t the woman from the when of the premonition. Her face was heart shaped, with a small nose, and mouth that formed a natural pout. She was beautiful in the way all women were to Tara. Real. Something about her captivated.  Her eyes shone a deep soul. Someone with a story and incredible strength. A glance easily told anyone she was not to be messed with.

If that didn’t do it, the scars on her face would be the other clue. They matched the dream, almost. A shorter one up high on her left cheek. The other, dramatic one, ran along her left jawline, from near her ear, stopping at her chin. Possibly a cut from a sword. This woman had been in more than a few fights and lived.

The age of her face, the slightly redder color to the scars told Tara this Rigmor was years younger than the premonition. Whatever was happening in that dream was more than a few years away.

Tara took another breath. This was her. Really her. These past years of finding her purpose, the Imperial Legion and her struggles. Rorikstead. The training, and loyalty tests, for the Penitus Oculatus. Varro’s face floated in front of her.

Tara had sworn loyalty to the Empire, officially. Not in her heart, though. She’d sworn to Rigmor. To a woman she didn’t know. Because Freta had told her it was a premonition. Fate. All of this for Rigmor.

Now what?

“Lord Chancellor, milady Rigmor,” Cerys said. “May I introduce Tara Blaton. Your new bodyguard.”

Tara dropped to one knee and bowed, the ultimate show of respect one was to give to nobility. She’d never bowed like this before to anyone.

“My queen,” she said.

“Perfect,” Blackwell said as Tara stood back up. “You are set, my lady. As I was saying, Tara here came highly recommended by Commander Maro. She’s traveled all the way from Skyrim to serve.”

Tara took in both their gazes. Blackwell had given her a quick glance, keeping his face stoic, not revealing his thoughts.

Rigmor was studying her. Tara met her gaze. There was a curiosity and also conflict in Rigmor’s eyes. Perhaps she’d not been expecting a woman to be assigned to her. Certainly not a short little Breton. Ironically, she now had two Bretons at her service, Cerys and Tara. Reports had said Rigmor’s bodyguards while countess of Bruma were two Nord women. Though, apparently, she’d left them at the castle often. Rigmor liked her freedom, it seemed. If reports were true, she was an incredible fighter. Of course she wouldn’t want a bodyguard.

Rigmor turned back to Blackwell. “I don’t need a bodyguard. I can take care of myself!”

Blackwell’s face showed patience. “Rigmor, think of her more for Kintyra, if you must. You’ll be busy, between the child and your royal duties. Tara here relieves you of having to worry about your or Kintyra’s safety.”

Rigmor didn’t look convinced.

“If I may,” Tara said. She looked at Rigmor, thought to the overheard conversation. She took a chance.

“I might be short, but I won’t be underfoot, my lady. Or in the privy with you,” she said. She gave Rigmor her widest grin, the kind she reserved for flirtations and when trying to convince Katla to change her mind.

Katla. She still needed to see her. Make up for their fight.

Rigmor looked at Tara, as if taking in her short stature for the first time. She looked at Cerys, then back at Tara. She burst out laughing.

“Fine. Come on,” she said. She was smiling.

Tara and Cerys followed Rigmor down the curving hallway.

“You live in Skyrim?” Rigmor asked her.

“Been there since 201,” Tara said. “My girlfriend and I have a home in Solitude.”

“But you’re from High Rock?”

Tara nodded. Rigmor walked at a fast pace, and Tara had to focus to keep up. “Wayrest, ma’am.”

“How do you like Cyrodiil so far?”

“Oh, I’ve lived here before. Before Skyrim, I spent a few years here. Never visited the Imperial City, though. It’s impressive.”

Rigmor seemed about to ask another question, but stopped herself. She stopped walking.

“Oh, Cerys, can you go check on Kintyra? Mom could use a break.”

“Of course,” Cerys nodded at Tara. “A pleasure to meet you.” She turned and headed back the way they’d come. Tara made a mental note to find out if the royal suite had another entrance in that direction. Marius had told her it was located behind the throne room. Perhaps Kintyra and Rigmor’s mother were somewhere else. If there was more than one way inside the royal suite, Tara would need to know. She really needed to get a handle on the palace layout.

Rigmor started walking again. Tara walked slightly behind her. Protocol fluctuated on whether she should be in the lead, as a guard, or lag behind slightly, out of respect for a royal. She’d let Rigmor indicate what she preferred, Tara decided. Outside of obvious dangerous situations.

By Dibella, she was walking behind the woman she had committed to sacrificing herself for.

“There is much the Divines do we cannot comprehend.”

Freta’s words. Tara was here because the Divines wanted her here.

Would she have to die for this woman?

Not for a while, at least. Tara glanced at Rigmor again. She was sure this Rigmor was younger than in the premonition. They had time.


Tara bit her tongue. Rigmor’s voice was loud, bouncing off the marble floor and stone walls. They stopped and Tara realized they were in front of the throne room.


Without giving Tara a chance to step forward and secure the area, Rigmor walked into the throne room. Tara followed her. She caught her breath.

The Dragonborn.

The new ruler of the empire. The hero that had saved all of Nirn from Alduin. The one Rigmor was married to.

The other one in the premonition.

Rigmor, a young girl crying nearby, and someone else had always been in the premonition. Someone who felt powerful, who was also protecting Rigmor.

The Dragonborn. The sense of power emanating from them was tangible. Maybe it was the premonition that made her sense it. Perhaps the look in the Dragonborn’s eyes. This was another person that had seen things. Experienced more than perhaps any mortal had. Or should.

“Dragonborn, we need to talk!”  Rigmor walked up to the Dragonborn, whose face revealed an incredible amount of patience. Marius stood off to the right, slightly behind them.

Tara walked over to her spot, across from Marius, positioning herself further away and on the Dragonborn’s right side. She’d been taught the general stance, where agents were to stand in relation to the royals in the throne room. If they were meeting a guest here, Rigmor would normally be to the Dragonborn’s right, which put Tara in the perfect position to offer protection. Marius, as commander, was closer to the Dragonborn, to protect them. Not that they looked to need any protection.

“It’s been a little time now after…” Rigmor was talking to the Dragonborn. It felt like she was working up to something.

Tara let her eyes drift around the throne room, as this was her first time in it. Grand was insufficient as a word to describe it. The floor was white marble tile with red diamond accents selectively placed in them. She was standing on one such tile. Larger tiles had the empire’s symbol embedded in them. They matched the long Imperial banners hanging around the room.

The room was circular, full of columns, and a dome ceiling. They were in the middle of the White-Gold Tower, Tara realized. The center of the dome had an opening. Tara wondered what floors were up there. She had so much of the palace to study.

The throne room looked to be able to hold an audience of maybe a couple hundred people. The eye catching spot, the focus of the room was the thrones. Grand stairs, made of white stone, in the center of the room led up to the thrones. If you sat on the throne, you were truly elevated above everyone. Tara wasn’t sure how high the thrones were at the top of the staircase. Twenty feet?

The main throne was the Ruby Throne, of course. It was directly behind her, with a large ruby embedded in the white stone of the throne’s back. She couldn’t tell from this angle if the seat of the throne also had rubies embedded in it. No wonder red and diamond shapes dominated the banners of the Imperials. How old was the throne? It was clearly a permanent fixture of the room, as was the throne for the queen, to its left. No ruby in it, but otherwise it was the same white stone, high back seat.

Were these the same thrones Alyeid kings had once sat in? The history of this room, of this entire tower, was unfathomable to her. Thousands of years of events had happened here.

“I told Mom and Blackwell what I want, so we can leave Kintyra here with her and Cerys and take a few days off organizing the blessing in Bravil,” Rigmor was saying to the Dragonborn.

Tara snapped back to the conversation. Bravil? Traveling already with the queen. She and Marius would need to plan the route, scout ahead…

“Bravil?” The Dragonborn asked. This seemed news to everyone.

“…It has to be in the chapel of Mara,” Rigmor said. “…and I won’t take no for an answer.”

Tara thought quickly. Yes, there had been a chapel to Mara in Bravil. Also, a large statue of Mara outside the chapel. Many of the cities here in Cyrodiil had chapels dedicated to specific Divines, even if they had alcoves and pedestals inside for people to worship any of the other divines. Talos worship had been reinstated, adding back the ninth Divine, the one Freta had worshipped. Tara felt Freta’s amulet press into her skin.

The main focus of a chapel would be a specific Divine, with priests and priestesses of that order maintaining and handling services.

Bravil also had a statue to Dibella, on the east side of town. The story went it had magically appeared one night, appearing where a statue of Zenithar had once stood. The loss of Zenithar had happened in what became known as the skooma wars. This had all happened before Tara and Freta had moved to Bravil. That’s where Tara had worshipped. She’d never gone into the chapel. It’d be good to see Bravil again. Her sweetest memories of Freta were there.

So, they’d need to scout the chapel, perhaps check the history of the priests there.

The Dragonborn was suggesting to Rigmor they needed to be careful.

“You do still love me, don’t you?” Rigmor asked.

Tara raised an eyebrow. She put it back down before anyone noticed. Were Rigmor and the Dragonborn fighting? Or was this something else? She couldn’t imagine saying that to Katla, or Katla to her.

You two are fighting, anyway.

“Rigmor, of course I love you.”

“I know you’ve been amazing lately, saving me…”

Tara listened to the conversation. What was Rigmor about to ask for? Was the Dragonborn this difficult to convince of anything?

“For you…anything.”

Maybe not. Or, maybe they were placating Rigmor.

“Great! I’ll inform everyone and…” Rigmor was excited. It struck Tara that perhaps the woman was feeling restless. She’d just talked about surveyors and redesigns to the palace. Did she hate it here? Considering her wild history as countess in Bruma, probably so.

“Hold on a minute. What about Kintyra?” the Dragonborn was asking.

“Dragonborn, she’s safe here. Blackwell has reformed the Penitus Oculatus and we have a ton of Praetorians, plus we have Grom and Tiny…”

Grom and Tiny? Right, they’d secretly been watching out for Rigmor while she was with Robere de Medalius. He’d been the son of the bandit Sethius had named Count of Leyawiin after taking over. Robere and Rigmor had dated for a year, per the file she’d read. Things had changed when the Dragonborn came to Cyrodiil.

At some point, Robere had been revealed to be working with Sethius’ wife, Morag Sethius, the vampire. Perhaps she’d put him under a spell. He’d led one of the assaults on Bruma early in the war that broke out when Rigmor escaped Roscrea. He’d been captured. The report didn’t say what had happened to him.

“…I need this. I need some time, just me and you.”

There it was. Rigmor wanted alone time with the Dragonborn.

Tara had received a fresh report of Kintyra’s birth. The attack by The Mute, an assassin hired by someone, still unknown, and how the Dragonborn had saved Rigmor and Kintyra from him and the various other assassins attacking them at the Roxey Inn and in Bruma castle itself.

No wonder Rigmor wanted time alone away from the palace. This had all happened just a couple of weeks ago.

The Penitus Oculatus really needed to find out who’d hired the assassins, Tara realized.

“Great. I’ll see you outside the stables…” Rigmor was saying.

Wait. She and the Dragonborn going alone to Bravil? Without her and Marius?

“Permission to speak,” Marius said to the Dragonborn. Rigmor was heading out of the throne room. Tara wasn’t sure if she should follow. Had she been given an order to watch over Kintyra instead? She looked at Marius.

“Do you think it is wise to go alone to Bravil?” Marius asked. “Allow Tara and myself to go ahead of you, if only to make sure of your safety for when you arrive.”

He’d mispronounced her name, his natural accent changing the color of it. She wondered what city he was from. She’d need to correct him.

“I’ve got this, Marius. I need you to stay here and protect Kintyra,” the Dragonborn said.

There it was. A direct order to look after Kintyra and not go to Bravil. The royal family could give direct orders to the Penitus Oculatus, including telling them to not perform their job, as it were.

How long had Tara officially been on duty? An hour? Already being told to watch the baby, and not the queen. She supposed it was to be expected. Many previous Emperors and Empresses had been great fighters before taking the throne. Had fighting skills matching those of their bodyguards. Rigmor and the Dragonborn, perhaps even more so. Of course they wouldn’t think they’d need protection. Was this how it was going to be? Fighting to actually do her job?

“As you command,” Marius said to the Dragonborn. “The child shall be protected at all times.”

“We’ll be back in a day or two, so I want you and Tara with her. Never leave her side,” the Dragonborn said.

The Dragonborn left. Tara looked at Marius and raised an eyebrow.

“We’ll take watching Kintyra in shifts,” Marius said. “Let me show you the royal suite, then I’ll take the first shift.”

The royal suite was surprisingly simple and small. The entry was indeed behind the thrones, hidden behind a large banner. Few knew it existed.

The suite consisted of a living area and the royal bedroom, which is where Kintyra stayed, being a newborn. It’d be awhile before she had a room of her own. She wasn’t here now.

Marius pointed to another door. “Still being built out,” he said. “I believe they will build us rooms here, so we’ll be closer and can protect them easier.”

They discussed the shifts and how best to break up their time watching Kintyra.

“I know you’ve just arrived. I’ll take this first shift. Go finish settling in, get some rest, study the palace layout,” Marius said. “I’m off to find Cerys and Sigunn. You can meet Kintyra when your shift starts.”

Tara saluted. “Sir.”

She stepped outside the throne room and pulled out the courier’s note she’d tucked away. She read it again. Katla had arrived in the Imperial City and was safely in the apartment Tara had arranged for her.

Time to go see her.

(For Tara’s story, I will follow the events from Rigmor of Cyrodiil that follow the romantic arc. Also, I will try to keep the Dragonborn generic, to allow for anyone’s Dragonborn to fit the story. If I find my writing suffers as a result, I will revert to Tara’s actual Dragonborn, my Imperial named Anna)

2E 593 – Transformation

Tara Geonette stepped into her basement lab. She headed for her alchemy table. Keeping her back to Bedore, she set down her tools and the soul gems.

“You’ve had the baby,” Bedore said. He’d noticed she wasn’t pregnant any more.

Tara turned around and smiled at him. “I have. Congratulations on becoming a father again.”

“Is it…”

“It is,” Tara said. “A red haired, green eyed girl.” She let him see her genuine satisfaction. “I’ve named her Tara. We’ll call her ‘the younger’, to differentiate, I think.”

Tara studied Bedore’s eyes. They remained haunted, the same as Maline’s still were, after all this time. She’d done to Bedore what he’d done to Maline, and Lysona, but many times more. She’d even continued raping the man after she’d known she was pregnant, only stopping when there was no way to hide her growing belly.

She couldn’t remember when his eyes had taken on the dead look. Instead, she remembered the pleasure his pain gave her.

What a revelation his rape of Lysona had been. Feeling her mental anguish at his violation had awakened in Tara a new path to growing her own powers.

There was something to magic and pain, at least for her. All these years of torturing people before soul trapping them had paid off. Physical torture left a mark on the soul; the mark she needed.

Mental torment, though. What a mark that left on them. She could feel the difference in the souls she’d captured since. Better still, her own magic had grown as she fed off others’ suffering.

She had new ideas, too. Understood new ways she could use that pain to adjust spells, create new ones, and improve her plan to become immortal.

Yes, these past nine months had been the greatest revelation. Now, she was ready for the next step.

“I am glad, my queen,” Bedore said. He sounded exhausted, yet Tara caught a spark of hope in his voice.

Tara slowly walked over to him, careful to block his view of the tools and gems she’d set down. She wasn’t ready for him to see them.

Today, she wore black mage robes, with the order’s symbol, in red, on them. This was not a day for armor. Besides, black always suited when a necromancer was about to work.

“She’s beautiful,” Tara said. “We always made beautiful children together. She is special. I thank you.”

Bedore was still bound to the table, naked. After she’d stopped raping him, she’d allowed him some freedom. Mordard was finished clearing the cavern and digging out the alcove. He now spent his time watching over Bedore. This allowed for Tara to occasionally release Bedore from his bindings so he could exercise around the cavern and lab.

Tara had needed to cast multiple, strong calming spells on him, to keep him placid and pliable, when he was released. Mordard was ready to attack if he broke through the charms. Fortunately, he’d not been a problem.

Bedore had lost weight, but was still in good shape and looked strong. Perfect for his upcoming transformation.

Standing by his head, Tara ran her fingers through his hair. How she missed the feel of him. Touching Lysona was not the same. At least Lysona was an excellent source of pain. She far exceeded Bedore in that way.

Bedore didn’t fight Tara’s touch. She traced her fingers gently along his face. So chiseled, so perfect. She committed it to memory.

“I know you’re happy I don’t need you to produce any more children,” she said. She smiled as he twitched, his eyes flashed to a pained look. Memories of the past months. Tara felt a small jolt. She needed more.

She’d had an idea for a spell. She’d not tried it on Lysona yet. Bedore would be the better candidate, in case something went wrong.

“What else can I do to serve you?” he asked.

Always calculating, Tara thought. He wanted out of his bonds, of course.

“First,” Tara said, keeping her voice soft, “I need to test a new spell on you. You’ve inspired me.”

Bedore looked scared, but only for a moment. He composed himself into a neutral look. Not as defeated as he played at. No matter. The game was almost over.

Tara moved her fingers that were gently caressing him to his forehead, pressing them firmly to his skin. She took her left hand and produced the spell. The red glow of it moved to her right hand, down her fingers into Bedore.

His scream was immediate. He jolted and tried to twist away from her, but she kept her fingers pressed into him.

His memories hit her. In her mind, she saw herself, on top of him. Different clothes, different lighting, as if every time she’d assaulted him were passing through his mind, one after the other.

The rush of pleasure hit her hard. This had to be what joy was. She felt elated, turned on, and filled with a satisfaction she couldn’t express. This had to be happiness, that feeling she’d watched others claim since she was little.

She broke contact with him, and his memories faded from her. She stepped back, still relishing the rush his pain brought her. She’d need to adjust the spell, she didn’t want to have to touch her victims, but oh, how glorious this feeling was! Burning people alive had never come close to this.

She felt heady, almost drunk.

Yes, some adjustments, perhaps she could learn to control what memories came forth. Pace herself.

Tears ran down Bedore’s face. He’d stopped screaming, but his face revealed his suffering. He almost seemed to be reliving what she’d done to him, running through the same emotions and pain.

Now was the time, while he was still at the peak of anguish.

Tara walked over to the alchemy table, giving him a clear view of what was on it. She picked up the black soul gem, the smaller, common soul gem, and the rest, her dagger, embalming tools, and linen wraps.

“My queen, don’t. Please.” His eyes were wide. Tara smiled.

“I never got to teach you all the ways to create a zombie, did I?” She said to him. “A pity you didn’t enjoy conjuration. It’s very useful.” She winked at him.

“Tara, please, let me serve you…”

“I made a promise, Bedore,” Tara said. “To all my members. All of you will live forever. I won’t break my promise. That includes to you.”

“There’s another way,” he said. The pleading in his voice was of a pitiful level, like a child thinking its world was ending because it had to eat a vegetable it didn’t like.

“Wrapping a body properly in linen helps preserve the skin and give longevity. Protects from injury,” Tara said. She set out the tools, the curved knives, and thin iron scalpels that would help her remove his organs before embalming.

“The better shape the person is in helps, of course,” she continued. She tapped his chest and smiled. He flinched. “What abilities the person had stay with them, but only if you give them their soul back, instead of using any human soul. That’s the most common method, throwing any soul into a fresh body. Lazy,” she said.

“No, if you want a true servant, one who will last, and, pardon my word choice, live forever, you need to give them their soul back as soon as possible.”

“Don’t do this, please.” His voice was raw.

Tara held up the ebony dagger. She’d owned it for years, having bought it from a blacksmith in Wayrest when she was a teenager. The deep black of the blade almost shimmered in the reflected light of the lit braziers.

“The soul needs to be marked, of course, which, as I taught you, is the reason for torture beforehand,” Tara continued. She smiled at him. The rush from the memory spell still flowed through her. Today was a good day.

She positioned the dagger, using her fingers to find a spot on his chest where the blade could slip easily between his ribs and slide into his heart.

Bedore tried to shift away, but the bonds held him. Turning his head away from her had always been a luxury she gave him. She’d made sure he was strapped too tightly to move the rest of himself from her touch.

Pressing its point against his skin, ready, she looked at him. Watching someone die, watching the light of their soul leave their eyes, was its own pleasure. The dagger was enchanted with a soul trap spell, one of the few spells one could bond to a weapon. She cast another spell on it, a soul splitting one.

“The real secret to a powerful zombie, though, Bedore,” she said, “is splitting the soul. Keeping a piece of the person separate, forever in possession of the caster, guaranteeing loyalty. Yet also keeping most of the original soul intact, so the zombie keeps its memories of who he, or she, was. So they might spend their days remembering the pain of death, and the pain of the life they led. All while being subservient to another. Ideally, their torturer.”

Bedore stared at her with utter hatred. He’d moved past the stage of begging, as they all did. He was at acceptance. Where he could be his most authentic with Tara. When it didn’t matter what he said or did.

“Are you ready to be transformed, Bedore?” She gave her voice its most sultry tone. She felt her chest rise and fall in excitement. She didn’t think she could be more turned on than in this moment.

“Fuck you, bitch,” he said.

Tara shook her head at him. “What a boring answer.”

She slowly drove the dagger into him, feeling a fresh rush as he screamed in pain, and blood poured out. She twisted the knife in his heart and watched him gasp, his skin drain of color, then his eyes, staring at her with loathing, fade and shift, to a deep sadness. Perhaps even grief or regret passed through them, before all life left.

Bedore’s soul drifted up from his body, a blue swirl of energy that sparkled and mixed with the light of the room. Tara guided most of it into the black soul gem, a rare geode that could hold a human’s soul. She guided the rest of it into the common soul gem. Both gems came aglow, throbbing slowing and emitting a soft light, almost purple through the prism of the geodes.

She placed the gems into metal holders she had sitting on the stone table. She got to work preparing Bedore’s body to receive his soul again. The rest of the process for today went quickly as she thought about what she wanted to do to Lysona tonight.

They’d have to have a special night together, she thought.

Finish this perfect day of pleasure and pain on a high note.

4E 205 – Guilt

Mira read through the letter again. Katla had kept it short. For its brevity, there was a lot to absorb.

Tara was heading to the Imperial Palace here in Cyrodiil. She’d been made personal bodyguard to the new queen, Rigmor Morgan-Mede. She’d be living there. For the first time in years, they were living in the same province.

Katla, too, would be living in the Imperial City. She couldn’t live with Tara, but would be nearby.

“…told her to have loved ones nearby. Helps with the stress of the job. Plus, I should be safe there. So many Imperial guards and the Penitus Oculatus…”

Katla had suggested Mira arrange to visit her when she was settled in an apartment and setup a teleport spell between Mira’s home and Katla’s new one.

“…not sure if you think that’s proper, but it would let me visit you unseen. I hate teleporting, but whatever keeps us safe…”

The idea was good. Mira had no ill intent, so appearing inside someone’s home in the city wouldn’t be a problem.

Plus, maybe she could see Tara soon. Apologize.


“You! Magic! All you ever do is hurt me with it! Nothing but pain! This whole fucking family!”

If Tara would let her.

The real news wasn’t Tara and Katla coming to Cyrodiil, though.

“…Geonette is alive in Oblivion somewhere. With Lysona Meric and a lot of order members. Something happened to Tara there, Mira. She didn’t tell me much, but…”

Tara Geonette, who had lived over a thousand years ago, was somehow still alive. In Oblivion.

Mira ran her right hand through her hair, then caught it on a knot.

Had she brushed her hair today? No.

She hadn’t bathed since…

Mira put down the letter and slowly stood from the chair she’d been sitting in since…

She’d slept in it. Her joints cracked to confirm. She felt stiff.

Pull yourself together, she thought.

“You! Magic! All you ever do is hurt me with it!”

How was she supposed to pull herself together? Tara was right. She’d caused her nothing but pain. The whole family had.


Mira made her way to her bedroom on the second floor of the house. The first floor held her living area, comfortable chairs and sofas with plenty of bookcases and side tables to hold books for reading. She’d once imagined hosting parties, entertaining mages from all over Tamriel here. She couldn’t remember when she’d given up on the idea.

When you stopped thinking you were the greatest mage that ever lived.

Now, the living area, with the kitchen next to it, were the rooms she spent the least amount of time in.

She much preferred her reading room on the third floor, with her laboratory next to it. Plus her balcony with the excellent view of Chorrol.

She’d fallen in love with the city when she’d spent time helping heal its citizens during an outbreak of blood lung. The count and countess had been graceful, and grateful. They’d had their steward offer her a home for sale and asked her to become court wizard.

She’d declined the job, but purchased the home. Chorrol’s weather, and closeness to the Great Forest, had charmed her and settled the matter. The romance with Sir Gaersmith had helped, until it’d ended. At least he’d left the city.

If Mira wasn’t going to live in High Rock, here is where she wanted to be.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was unkempt, knotted, and sticking up where it’d been pressed into the chair. Her robes, simple red ones she wore around the house, were rumpled. When had she last changed out of them? She looked exhausted, yet all she’d done lately was sleep.

Pull yourself together.

She needed a bath. And food. Mira realized she was famished. When had she last eaten? Yesterday? No, two days ago? Maybe.

She grabbed a fresh pair of undergarments and robes, then made her way back downstairs. Off the kitchen, in the back of her home, was the bathing area. A large, square sunken tub, lined with stone tiles, and fed by pipes took up almost all the room. There was a stone bench on the side, where she set down her fresh clothes.

Mira stripped and stepped down into the tub. The water was cold, as the pipes only fed cold water to it. She shivered and stepped back. How had she forgotten this?

She cast a spell of flames, warming the water. She eased herself in and felt her muscles relax. The stiffness from sitting in that chair for hours, or days, melted away with the steam and warmth.

After the bath, she stepped into the kitchen. What did she even have to eat?

Her eyes traveled along the table to the bowl of fruit in its center. Her nose twitched to the smell that matched the sight before her eyes. A half-eaten apple sat on the table, next to the bowl, rotting. Was this the last thing she’d eaten? An apple she hadn’t finished?

Pull yourself together.

She cleaned up the rotting fruit and looked at her cupboards. No fresh bread, cheese, nothing. Pull herself together indeed. Time for some fresh air and food.

Mira headed to the market. There was a collection of merchants at Great Oak Place, an area in the city shaded by a grand oak that had grown through the ages, dating back to the Second Era. There were always market stalls setup under it with daily wares to sell. Mira’s favorite one was run by an older Imperial, selling fresh goods from the nearby Odiil Farm.

She bought a chicken, carrots, fresh lemons, basil, two loaves of a multigrain bread, and some goat cheese. The day was bright, the light of the afternoon was slowly shifting towards the golden air of evening. She let herself feel the warmth of the sun on her face, and took in the beauty of the Great Oak, its leaves a dark green at their peak of summer growth.

She started on dinner as soon as she arrived home. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d cooked much for herself. The baked chicken recipe consisted of lemon, basil, and garlic. A simple one Mom had cooked a lot when Mira was little. When she seemed happier. Before Tara was born.

Mira nearly dropped the knife she was slicing lemons with.

Before Tara was born.

Yes. Things had changed after Tara was born. Mira couldn’t remember her parents ever being a loving couple. They’d always bickered.

After Tara, though, the real fights had begun. Father assaulting Mom. Mom going distant, quiet.

When Tara had first produced those spontaneous flames, things had gotten even worse.

There was something about Tara.

No wonder Mira had felt instinctively Tara needed to be at that cave, that ancient home of the order. In front of that barrier.

She added firewood to the bottom of the stone oven and sent a few sparks at the logs to start the wood burning. If there was one benefit to being a mage, it was never having a problem lighting a fire.

Mira finished preparing the chicken and put it in the oven, once it was hot enough. She set the bread on the stone edge of it, so heat from the oven would warm it.

She pulled out several carrots from the bunch and started slicing them.

Yes, she needed to know what else had happened to Tara with Geonette.

“…she said Geonette made her relive every painful memory. How is that possible?”

Mira shivered. How many of those painful memories included her?

Pull yourself together.

She sautéed the carrots with butter and more basil. She couldn’t dwell on that. What was done was done. Guilt wasn’t going to solve anything right now.

Dinner was ready shortly and Mira dived into it, burning her mouth on the first bite of chicken. She took a deep breath and savored the flavor. The chicken seemed like the best thing she’d ever eaten. She really hadn’t eaten in days to think that.

She made notes in her journal as she ate.

Yes, she needed to know exactly what else had happened to Tara. Maybe Katla’s next letter would have more information.

If not, she or Katla would have to convince Tara to tell them. It was important, Mira was sure of it.

“…How is that possible?”

Mira didn’t know. Illusion magic wasn’t her favorite school of magic. Of course it wasn’t. Not after the damage she’d seen it do to her little sister.

The damage you did to her.

Mira’s calm spells were legendary. The creatures she’d stopped with it. She’d had all that practice. Of course, she was good. She’d limited her pursuit of the rest of the school, though. She knew all the essential spells, but had not studied anything deeper.

Was there a way to peer into others’ minds?

She’d need to research, but it was feasible, for a powerful mage. How strong of a mage was Geonette? Perhaps something else had allowed it to happen. Tara had been in Oblivion, after all.

Geonette probably had elevated abilities there. Especially if she’d created the realm herself.

Mira grabbed the letter Katla had written and scanned it. She’d not described the realm in the letter. Mira needed to know. Was this a pocket realm Geonette had created for herself and her followers? It had to be, but without a description, she couldn’t be sure.

Mira finished eating and cleaned up.

She needed to know more about Oblivion. Things outside of the Oblivion Crisis. Why hadn’t she researched when they’d gotten back from the cave?

She looked up the stairs towards the third floor.

Pull yourself together.

She climbed the stairs and paused at the landing for the second floor.

Pull yourself together.

Right. She needed to deal with this.

Mira finished the climb and stepped into her lab, the room the stairs emptied into. When Tara had sent that wave, much of the lab had been disturbed. Loose ingredients covered the floor. A few potions had shattered and Mira saw their long dried stains coating the rug the alchemy table sat on.

The reading room was more of a mess. All the books were still on the floor. Half the teleportation orbs, too. Soul gems and scrolls were scattered about. The table and one of the chairs still sat on their side.


The look in Tara’s eyes. The pure rage.

The wave that had shoved Mira into the bookcase. Knocked her to the ground.

She thought of that first wave, when Tara was five. One of those had shoved her to the ground, too.

After Tara and Katla had left, Mira had cried. Then what? She couldn’t remember.

Had she gone downstairs and done almost nothing for two weeks? She remembered sleeping a lot.

She’d felt nothing.

Master Wizard Artoria had once described the sensation to her, as he discussed a noble he’d tried to treat with various potions. The man had eventually committed suicide. Nothing had helped him.

“He did not suffer sadness, as I wrongly assumed,” Artoria had told her. He’d realized too late, the man suffered from something far worse.

Depressed was the word he’d coined. A state where events pressed you into a feeling of having no hope. Feeling numb.


Yes, that’s where Mira had been these last couple of weeks. Feeling nothing, as if she was nothing.

A void.

Is that how Tara had felt for years because of what Mira had done to her?

Pull yourself together. For her. For yourself.

Mira started cleaning up the lab and reading room.

4E 205 – The Assignment

When they arrived in Dragon Bridge, Tara noticed the uptick in activity. Agents were everywhere, more than she’d ever seen together at once. Tents were setup around the outpost, all the way to the lumber mill. The outpost couldn’t hold this many agents, so they’d setup camp. Everyone was doing some task.

“The commander should be inside,” Cines said. He nodded and rode off to stable his horse.

Tara did the same, tying Twilight to her usual spot. She took another look around at all the agents.

Packing up. That’s what they were doing.

Inside, the outpost was crowded. Several agents sat at the center table, writing reports, or orders. One was packing up a travel bag.

Another stood before Commander Maro, who was giving him instructions.

“Quintus’ camp is near the border. Meet with him. He’s aware we’re setting up a new outpost in the area, and will have suggestions for suitable spots. Dismissed.”

“It’s been an honor, sir,” the agent saluted. The Imperial nodded at Tara as he left the outpost.

“Blaton,” Maro said. He looked both tired and energized. His armor shone bright, as if he’d made sure to have it polished and cleaned. “Walk with me.”

The two of them stepped outside and Tara followed Maro towards the bridge. Maro turned left near it and walked along the cliff side to a large flat stone outcrop that jutted above the Karth River. The stone gave a scenic look at the land across the river, and on clear days, an excellent view of Solitude further down the river.

Evening was coming on, pinks and blues lit up the thin clouds. Solitude’s windmill was visible, and the bright lights from the Blue Palace could be seen. The air had already cooled noticeably. Tara relished the breeze after the ride from Solitude.

They stood alone for a few minutes, admiring the view. They were out of earshot, which Tara assumed was the goal.

“I hope you enjoyed your time off,” Maro said. “You’re about to be very busy.”

“What’s happened, sir?”

Maro gave her a smile. Tara hadn’t seen one on his face before. “The Empire has new leadership. The Penitus Oculatus is officially reformed. I’ll leave some agents here, but the bulk of the order is headed to our headquarters in the Imperial City.”

Tara blinked. A new leader? The Imperial City? Cyrodiil?

“Once the move is complete, I will be retiring as commander,” Maro added.

Tara felt the look of shock cross her face.

“Long overdue, Blaton,” Maro said. “Had we not lost Mede II under my command, I would’ve retired years ago.” Maro looked serious again. “Keeping us together, even while we were considered disbanded, doesn’t make up for losing an emperor. It is something, though. Lord Chancellor Blackwell convinced me to stay on long enough to see us be reinstated.” Maro nodded at her. “The Empire has new leaders, and so should the Penitus Oculatus.”

Tara looked back towards Solitude. So much had changed within the past two weeks. Inside her and around her. She didn’t like it.

“I have a special assignment for you,” Maro said.

More change coming. Tara swallowed.

“Lord Chancellor Blackwell asked for my best agent. You’re that agent.”


“The new royal family needs new personal guards,” Maro said. “As is standard, one will be the new commander, Commander Marius. For the second guard, Blackwell asked for my best. A loyal agent I know can handle what it entails to be the personal bodyguard to our new queen.”

Tara realized she was holding her breath. She released it. “Personal guard to the queen?”  

“Yes,” Maro said. “And her child, who should be born any day now. It’s possible the baby has already arrived.”

Freta’s words came to her.

When you fail the one, don’t fail the other.

You have to protect her.


All of them, my little Breton.

“Details of the royal family are in this file. You’ll need to know them as well as you know your own family.” Maro handed her a thick collection of parchment sheets, loosely bound.  

“I’m behind on the reports out of Cyrodiil,” Tara said. She counted at least fifty pages in the file. “Can you summarize what’s happened?”

Maro pulled in a breath. He glanced back at Dragon Bridge, perhaps considering how much time he had before fresh demands overwhelmed him again.

“Our new queen turned out to be a pretender,” he said.


“Someone with a claim to the throne,” Maro said. “You’re not much of a Breton, are you?”  

“Oh,” Tara let a laugh escape. “Right. My noble training is…rusty.”

“You’ll need to get up to speed fast,” Maro chided. “These aren’t regular nobles.”

“Yes, sir.”

Gods, she’d have to deal with all the pomp and ridiculousness of a royal court. What kind of snobs was she about to work for? She thought of all the noble families Father had forced her to have dinner with. All the boys he’d wanted her married off to. How was she supposed to protect people like that? She’d want to kill them herself.

“Our new queen is the former countess of Bruma,” Maro said. “Turns out, she is a descendant of the Mede Dynasty, from Titus Mede I. She’s a distant cousin of Mede II. This gave her a claim to the throne, once Mede II disappeared.”

Bruma. Tara did love Bruma. Maybe there was hope.

“Mede II knew of her ancestry, and had appointed her countess when the previous Bruma family was lost.” He pointed at the file. “She was eighteen at the time, late in the year 201.”

He cleared his throat.

“While Mede II knew this, he kept it a secret. As did the countess herself. Seems she wasn’t much interested in the noble life.” He tapped the file. Tara took it to mean she’d read details in the file.

“She was discovered, though, by Emperor Sethius, and put on trial. She was convicted and the noble houses exiled her to the Imperial prison on the island of Roscrea. She should have spent decades there.”

Tara raised an eyebrow. Roscrea was rumored to be cold, desolate. How had she escaped?  

Maro tapped the file. “Two things happened, though. First, and this is important to keep to yourself,” Maro paused. Tara nodded.

“Akaviri attacked the island.”


Tara searched her memory for the history she’d read of the place. The Akaviri were from the continent of Akavir, east of Tamriel, somewhere across the Padomaic Ocean. They’d invaded Tamriel before, far back in the First Era and again in the Second. Defeated each time. Supposedly, several different races lived there, all of a beast nature, serpent-folk Tsaesci, and some others she couldn’t remember.

Emperor Uriel Septim V had attempted to conquer them early in the Third Era. Few had survived to tell the tale. The Emperor had been slain in battle.

If they’d invaded Roscrea, was another war on the way?

“The threat of another invasion is being dealt with,” Maro said. “As always, the Penitus Oculatus is focused on the Empire’s rulers. Remember that.”

Tara nodded. The royal family. Her responsibility.

“Lucky for the countess, before the Akaviri could kill her, the Last Dragonborn arrived and together they defeated the invaders and eventually made their way to Bruma,” Maro continued.

Tara held up her hand. This was not the summary she was expecting. “The Last Dragonborn? The hero who saved us all from Alduin?”

Maro nodded. He tapped the file. “You have a lot of reading to do. Yes, they knew each other from before she was made countess.” He tapped the file again.

“War broke out once it was known the countess was again in Bruma. There are rumors the Akaviri invasion was the work of Sethius’ wife, Morag Sethius. Turns out she was a true vampire. A daughter of Coldharbour.”

Daughter of Coldharbour was the title given to vampires created by Molag Bal. Women who’d undergone a ritual by the Daedric Lord himself and survived. If what she’d read about the ritual was true, Tara shuddered. She thought of Rorikstead.

“What I know is this,” Maro said. “Some noble houses, cities, sided with the Emperor and some with Bruma. War broke out. The countess and the Dragonborn fought together and led a fierce army. They won, and had camped outside the Imperial City. Instead of negotiating a truce of some sort, Emperor Sethius fought the Dragonborn in combat and lost. He is dead.”

Tara blinked. “That means…”

“The Dragonborn sits on the Ruby Throne, yes, with the countess as queen.”

“Are they…”

“They are married. Whether it is for political convenience, or actual love, I don’t know,” Maro said. “Blackwell reports they are committed to ruling together and raising the forthcoming child together.”

Tara studied the ground for a minute. She then looked at the file. So much to read and grasp. Right now, her head spun.

“They have been crowned.” Maro interrupted her thoughts. “Blackwell sent word after their coronation for the Penitus Oculatus to be reformed.”

Tara looked out towards Solitude. The windmill was fading in the approaching night. More lights from the city were visible. It’d be too late to ride home. She’d need to stay here tonight.

Soon, home wasn’t going to be Solitude. Not with this assignment.

“You need to be at the Imperial Palace within two weeks,” Maro said. “Take care of whatever business you need to here, but get there in a fortnight. Report to Marius as soon as you arrive.”

“How long is the assignment?”

Katla. Was Katla going to need to move to Cyrodiil? What would they do with the Lucky Skeever? Would Katla be safer here, away from Tara? Away from…

I’ll even spare Katla for you.

“For however long they rule and want you as a personal bodyguard,” Maro said. “They can change their mind. Dismiss you on a whim, of course.” Maro leveled his eyes at her. “This assignment could last years, Blaton. You need to be prepared for that.”

Tara nodded. “It’s a lot to take in, sir.” Her thoughts raced. So many things to do. To consider.

“I suggest you move your girlfriend to the Imperial City,” Maro said. “Have your loved ones as close as possible.” He looked at Solitude. “You’ll want that, trust me. You’ll be staying in the Imperial Palace. She can’t, of course, but there are plenty of safe, good places to live in the city.”

He paused. “Are assassins still after her?”

Tara swallowed. “It’s complicated, but I don’t think more assassins will come after her.”  

“Check in with one of the Professor ranks. They’ll know of the safest options. You can also explain your situation to Blackwell. He’s a busy man, but you’ll be working with him a lot, anyway. He needs to be aware of your unique situation.”

Maro grew thoughtful. “You’re an agent. While whatever is going on with your girlfriend is personal, use all resources at your disposal. The safer she is, the better you can do your job. I trust you to be discrete and understand boundaries.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I need to get back,” Maro said. “Any more questions?”

Tara looked back at Solitude. This was really happening. Personal bodyguard to the royal family.

She turned back to Maro. “Why me?”

Maro smirked. He’d been waiting for that question.

“The loyalty test, for one. You still think about Varro?”

Tara nodded.

“Your job as an agent is to be a tool for the Empire. You have to do your job. Do the right thing. The best agents aren’t mindless animals, though. You did your job, in spite of your doubts. In spite of the weight you now carry from obeying.”

His looked shifted. As she’d seen only once before from him, it held a hint of understanding.

“I sent you on jobs I thought would get you killed. Jobs that would either break you, or prove what Rikke saw in you. What I hoped was on the other side of that drinking problem.”

“You thought I’d fail?”

“I failed my emperor,” Maro said. “I lost Mede II. I needed to test agents. Mold ones that won’t make that mistake. I saw the potential in you. You haven’t let me down, Blaton.”

He took a deep breath. “Regardless of your rank, this is a high honor, to be directly trusted with the care of the queen. Don’t fail me.”

…don’t fail the other.

Tara saluted Maro. He nodded.

“Last question, sir,” Tara said. “What is the queen’s name?”

“Rigmor Morgan-Mede.”

4E 205 – The Break

“Where is she?!” Katla screamed at Mira.

“I don’t know!” Mira yelled back. Katla realized she’d grabbed Mira by her robes and pulled her close. She let go and stepped back. It hit Katla she’d never heard Mira raise her voice before. Or sound this scared.

Both women looked back at the barrier, and at the strange stone on the pedestal. Tara had touched it and disappeared in an instant.

“You must have some idea?!” Katla said. Her voice was still raised.

Her heart wouldn’t stop hammering.

Mira composed herself, straightening out her robes.  

“I don’t understand why she touched it. I didn’t want her to touch it. Just describe it to me,” she said.

Katla bit her tongue. Was she really blaming Tara?

“She said voices were loud in her head. Maybe they told her to,” Katla said.

Mira looked lost in thought.

“Maybe. I wasn’t expecting the voices to sound so different to her than for me. I can’t make out what they’re saying.”

“Where do you think she is? You must know something. You brought us here.” Katla tried to keep out an accusing tone, but didn’t succeed.

Mira looked at her with her icy blue eyes. She seemed to be fighting fear and anger. She cleared her throat.

“I wanted her to tell me more about the stone. I think I know what it is, but I’ve never seen one in person. Few people have.”

“What is it?”

“I believe it’s a sigil stone,” Mira said simply, as if that explained everything.

Katla blinked. “A what?”

“Sigil stones. They’re…” Mira paused. She looked at Katla with one of her serious expressions.

“…most of what I know comes from reading about the Oblivion Crisis back in the Third Era. Back then, they were used to maintain gates to the Deadlands. They allowed the Daedra to invade, under Mehrunes Dagon’s orders. The stones were inside towers, and the Hero of Kvatch had to destroy them to close the connection to Oblivion…”

“Are you telling me Tara is in Oblivion?!”

Katla put her hand to her mouth. This could not be happening. She felt her heart drop.  

“Oblivion is as varied and different as Nirn, all of Mundus, is. The stones can be tied to a specific plane. We have no idea which plane. Maybe it’s tied to a pocket realm. If the stone is locked to a certain spot here in Mundus, which I think this one is, they can indefinitely open and close a portal to that place,” Mira said. She sounded worried.

The two women stared at the stone again. It continued its slow turning and ebb and flow of magical waves.

“We have to get past this barrier! We need to rescue her,” Katla said. She couldn’t stop yelling.

Don’t panic. That won’t solve anything.

“I…I don’t know how to bring it down,” Mira said. She’d stepped back again from Katla. She turned her attention to the walls of the alcove.

“Perhaps, if I can figure out a safe way to remove the cave walls, and if the barrier doesn’t extend inside them…”

“Maybe we can dig under the barrier,” Katla said. She looked at the ground. It looked like solid stone.

She heard a sudden rush of air, as if air was suddenly being pushed into the cavern. Tara appeared on the ground outside the barrier, between where Katla stood and Mira had walked to.

She was on her hands and knees.

She was screaming.

“Tara!” Katla rushed to her and knelt down. “It’s okay, I’m here. You’re back.” She struggled to keep a tremor out of her voice.

In all their time together, she’d never heard Tara scream like this. This was the scream of abject terror. For all the fighting together, moments when one thought the other was about to die, neither had ever sounded like this. This was the scream of a wild animal right before death, when fear is all it has left.

Tara looked at Katla with wide eyes. She blinked, and seemed to recognize her. She stared around the cavern for a second. She straightened up, still on her knees, then put her hands to her ears, as if trying to block out a noise.

“Get them out of my head! Get her out of my head! Get me out of here!” She’d closed her eyes, as if that would help.

“Get me out of here! NOW!”

“Grab my shoulder,” Mira said to Katla. She’d rushed over to Tara, too, and stood behind her. Mira placed a hand on Tara’s back. Katla grabbed Mira, then reached down and put her spare hand on Tara, to comfort her.

“We’ll get you out of here. Hold on and…” Katla said.

Mira cast the teleportation spell.

Katla felt the cold of the void, her hands seemed to almost melt into Mira and Tara. Then a room spun into view, Katla felt her stomach twist, and they were back in Mira’s reading room.

Katla fell to her knees, next to Tara. Tara climbed to her feet, though, lightning fast as always. Katla pushed through the wave of nausea and climbed to her feet.

“YOU!” Tara screamed. She was looking at Mira, her face full of rage. A rage to a degree Katla had not seen before. She took a step back from her.

“I had no idea…” Mira started.

“Why did you bring me there?! You should’ve known!”

“I didn’t want you to touch anything. I thought if…”

“You! Magic! All you ever do is hurt me with it!” Tara was shrieking now. “Nothing but pain! This whole fucking family!”

Mira’s voice quivered. “What happened? Maybe I can…”


A wave shot out from Tara. Katla felt it caress her, gently brushing her hair. It felt like a comfort. The rest of the room wasn’t so lucky.

Mira was pushed back against the bookcase behind her, as if shoved by a large hand. Mira slid to the floor, the breath knocked out of her. Books, scrolls, and soul gems flew off the bookcases, knocked off by the wave. The two chairs and small table between them were knocked over, spilling the unlit candle and an empty goblet to the floor. The doors to the balcony rattled. Something downstairs shattered.

“I need to get out of here,” Tara said. She turned away from Mira and Katla and headed for the long table with the teleportation orbs. A few of them had been knocked out of their stand.

“Tara, wait…” Katla said. Too late, Tara touched one and was gone.

Katla felt her heart pound. She didn’t know which one she’d touched; where’d she gone. Tara seemed far more wounded than when she’d told Katla about Rorikstead. What had happened to her? She’d only been gone for a few minutes when she’d touched that sigil stone.

Katla fought back the sudden fear that hit her. She’d find her. She’d help her. Somehow.  

“Bruma,” Mira said. “She touched the one that takes you to Bruma. Third from the left.” Mira still sat on the floor, books and scrolls laying around her. She looked and sounded defeated.

“Are you alright?” Katla asked. “Let me help you up.”

“Go after her,” Mira said. “Take care of her. Help her.” There was a pleading sound. A new type of waver to her voice. “Write me when you can.”

Mira was on the edge of crying, Katla realized. She didn’t want anyone around for that moment.

“I’ll write,” Katla nodded. She walked to the table, braced herself, and touched the orb next to the plaque that read “Bruma”.

Cold air hit her first, when she appeared outside of Bruma. It was refreshing, and a salve to the fresh wave of nausea another teleport brought. At least this time, she’d only ended up on one knee, not completely on the ground. Perhaps she was getting used to teleporting.   Katla climbed to her feet and looked up at the gate.

A broken, stone oval arch with spikes sticking out of it. As tall as a castle wall, maybe taller. When it had worked, stepping through the center would take you to Oblivion. To think Tara had gone to such a place.

She needed to find her. She looked towards Bruma, just a short walk from the gate ruin. The city looked much the same as she’d last seen it. Snow dusted the ground, even in summer here. Perhaps that’s why she loved the city. It felt like Skyrim.

Katla glanced behind her and noticed catapults and raised wooden platforms out around the intersection where the road to the city split from the main road of Cyrodiil. There’d been a battle here recently, from what Katla could tell. Tara, or was it Mira, had mentioned something about war between some of the cities here.

She hoped she’d have no trouble getting into the city. She glanced around again, just in case Tara was somewhere in sight. She’d only been a minute or two ahead of her. Where had she gone? Where would she go in Bruma? Was she in Bruma? Or had she headed back to Skyrim, and even now was walking ahead over the nearest hill.

Evening was coming on, though. Tara would’ve stopped in the city first, surely? Katla walked to the city gates. If Tara was in Bruma, she knew where she’d go.

The guards were as friendly as they’d been both times Katla had stayed here. One greeted her and waved her through the city gates. There was an energy here. A happiness Katla could feel.

The Tap and Tack was not far from the gates. Katla took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped inside.

Tara was sitting at the bar, back to the door, on the stool closest to the corner. Half of the tables in the tavern were full. Only one other person, an orc, sat at the bar.

Everyone was staring at Tara.

Katla never stopped being amazed by how many people noticed Tara. She garnered attention, as much as she didn’t want it. This wasn’t the usual attention, though. People struck by her hair, or those muscles. The energy inside the tavern had a nervous edge.  

Colin was talking to Tara.

“Eris will kill me if I give you another. You remember last time. She almost took my head off.”

Colin’s deep, rich voice soothed. Katla had never heard a smoother voice. She imagined he was good at calming people down.

A bottle of Ye Olde Special Brew sat in front of Tara, empty. Katla hadn’t been far behind her. She must’ve drained it as soon as she bought it.

“Give me another drink, Colin,” Tara said. “I have the coin.” Her voice sounded on edge. She was itching for a drink or fight.

“No more for her, Colin,” Katla said. She was still standing by the door.

“Hey! Katla,” Colin said. “It’s reunion night!” He looked at Tara, then Katla. “I take it you two know each other.”

Tara had turned around to look at Katla. The pain in her eyes. Katla’s heart ached. Katla walked over to her. “Come on,” she whispered.

Tara sighed and slid off the stool. “Okay.” She sounded tired.

“Good to see you again, Colin,” Katla said “Maybe we can visit longer another time.”

“Sure thing, kid.”

When they stepped outside, Tara headed for the city gate. Katla stayed by her side.

“Do you want to get a room? It’s getting late,” she said.

“I want to go home,” Tara said. She kept her pace quick. Outside the gates, Tara made her way to the Oblivion gate. She stopped and stared at it. Light flurries fell on them. Snow dusted the ancient stone. The light of the day was fading. Light from Bruma still cut across it, though, tossing strange shadows.

Katla stood next to her and waited. She shook snow out of her hair a few times.

“She’s alive,” Tara finally said.

“Who?” Katla asked. She kept her voice quiet.

“Lysona Meric, too. Members of the order were there. More than a hundred.”

Katla caught her breath. That wasn’t possible, was it?

“I don’t even know where I was,” Tara said. She turned to look at Katla. Katla’s heart ached again.

“Mira thinks…” Katla started.

“Don’t say her name!” Tara snapped.

Katla swallowed. Okay. No mentioning Mira.

“You probably touched a sigil stone,” she said.

“A what?”

Katla pointed at the Oblivion gate. “They’re used to open portals to planes, or realms, in Oblivion.”

Tara stared at the gate again.

“Oblivion? That would explain why it felt so strange.” Tara shook her head. “Something about it felt familiar, too.” She sighed. “I don’t understand.”

The snow stopped falling and Katla spotted a few stars peeking through the fading clouds and darkening sky.

“What did she do to you?” She kept her tone gentle.

“She was in my head,” Tara said. She continued staring at the Oblivion gate. “She showed me my life. Made me relive everything.” It came out a whisper.

“Every painful moment in my life. One after the other. I was there all over again. For all of it.” Tara had turned to look at her. Katla realized she was trembling.

“All the sounds, the smells, the…touches…the pain. All over again.” Her voice remained a whisper. At some point she’d started crying, Katla could see the trail of tears on her face.

“Oh, Tara…” Katla started.

“I want to go home,” Tara said. She turned away from the Oblivion gate and started walking.

“Do you remember where the entrance to that smuggler’s cave is? I don’t want to risk the border gate.” Tara gestured at the catapults. “I don’t know what this was all about, but I can’t risk anyone knowing I’m an agent. I shouldn’t even be in Cryodiil. If only I hadn’t listened…” her voice trailed off.

Katla caught up to her. Tara seemed to be done talking. She’d need time, much like Rorikstead, Katla realized.

This is worse than Rorikstead.

“I do.” She gave Tara a small smile. “Let’s go home.” This was not the time to pry or argue. Tara needed to go home. She probably needed to feel in charge, in control. Katla could let her have that.

The trip through the smuggler’s cave, and tunnels, under the Jerall Mountains took them a few days. Katla remembered enough of the way compared to her previous trip to save them time. They passed fewer people, too. The ones they did cross paths with avoided them. More than one gave Tara a wide berth. Even without wearing Penitus Oculatus armor, she carried herself in a way that pushed people away.

Katla felt it, too. The nights they slept in the tunnels, Tara wouldn’t sleep with her. She’d take watch and sit at a distance from Katla. Katla wasn’t sure she even slept. She caught her writing in her journal at least once, so that was good.

Attempts at a hug or kiss were rebuffed. Tara apologized, “I’m sorry. I…not right now.”

She needs space.

Katla felt her heart sink. What was she supposed to do for her? She’d stare into her eyes, see their haunted look, and feel helpless. She couldn’t comfort Tara. Now what?

Give her time.

They emerged near Falkreath. By this point Tara looked exhausted, so they spent one night in town, renting a room in Dead Man’s Drink. Where they’d first met.

Tara let Katla hold her, and more, that night.

Back on the road towards Solitude, Tara had refused the suggestion of renting a carriage for the rest of the trip, she was back to being distant. On alert.

As if she’s a guard, ready for an attack, Katla realized. Tara seemed to be on the edge of a fight, ready for anything. No one bothered them, though.

It took them over a week to finish the journey to Solitude. Tara refused to travel near Granite Hill, Rorikstead, and even Dragon Bridge. They traveled to Markarth, only briefly stopping for supplies, and then passed several small towns, before hitting the mountain paths that brought them to the northern coast, bypassing Dragon Bridge by approaching Solitude from the mountains and shoreline of the Sea of Ghosts.

It was midday on Sundas when they finally passed through the gates and climbed the stairs to the city walls towards their house.

Katla wanted nothing more than a bath to wash off the trip.

“How about we first…” Katla started as they walked around the last corner. She was cut off by the sight of a Penitus Oculatus agent standing at their front door. Standing guard.  

Young and thin, he looked like a fresh recruit. “Agent Blaton,” he said to Tara. “You are to report to Commander Maro in Dragon Bridge.”

Tara had shifted to attention. “Understood. Let me get…”

“Immediately,” the agent said. “I am to escort you.” He sounded nervous, as if he didn’t know how to respond to any deviation from his order.


“Cines, ma’am,” he stuttered.

“I need to change into my armor, Cines,” Tara said. She sounded surprisingly calm to Katla.

“I’ll meet you at the stables in a quarter of an hour. I assume you have a horse you rode to get here.”

Cines nodded.

“Mine is at the stables. Please. I’ve come off a long trip. I’ll change and meet you there shortly.”

Cines shifted his feet for a moment, as if undecided, then nodded.

“Ma’am,” he said and left.

Once they stepped inside, Tara immediately headed upstairs, to the bedroom.

Katla followed. “Do you think you’re in trouble?”

Tara looked at her. Her eyes were still haunted, but also alert. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never been escorted before. New orders are normally courier visits.”

Tara stripped, dipped her face in the wash basin, then quickly splashed water on herself, to freshen up. She grabbed a towel. “I have to go, though. Now. Whatever this is, it’s important. I can’t say ‘no’.”

“I know,” Katla said. She pulled Tara to her, who was still naked. Tara let her, and buried her face in Katla’s chest. “I wish we had more time.”

“Me, too,” Tara said. She sighed. She pulled away and finished changing into her Penitus Oculatus armor. “Duty calls. I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I can.”

Katla went with her to the stables and watched Tara ride away with Cines.

Keep her safe, she prayed to the Divines.

She wasn’t sure which one might answer.

4E 205 – Revelation

Tara blinked and looked around.

Where was she?

When she’d touched the stone, she’d been pulled into a void, like the other teleportation trips. Cold and silence had greeted her.

The first sound she’d heard was the wind, much like she’d heard as a child, blowing across the fields around the farm. This one sang the song of a constant howl, rustling all in its path.

The world had spun into view and Tara found herself standing on a stone road, surrounded by open fields that went to the horizon, where they met distant mountains. The sky above her was a dusty red, almost the shade of sunset, though not peaceful like one. She couldn’t spot the sun. The light of the day seemed everywhere at once.

The wind tossed her loose hair around. She’d worn her hair in her usual fighting style, with the top section pulled into a ponytail to keep it out of her face. The rest hung loose, falling above her shoulders.

The voices in her head started again, louder than before. There were so many of them, words toppled over each other. She couldn’t make sense of any of them.



…see for…




“Stop!” she yelled. “Shut up!”

No one was around her.

…I want…


Where in Nirn was she?

This isn’t Nirn.

Tara looked around. Down the road, in the midst of the fields stood a house. Modest in size, it looked to be made of stone, with a roof of wood tiles. Surrounding it were crop fields. No crops grew, though.

Looking again at all the land around her, Tara was struck by how dead everything was. The fields by the house, it looked like a farmhouse with a second glance, were full of long dead crops. Tall stalks of dead wheat, potatoes, and other plants. Some looked burned, others simply dried husks.

The surrounding land was full of dead grass, shrubs, sparsely interrupted by long dead trees. The ground itself was cracked, dry ground, as if the worst drought of an era was in full swing.

Leave, Tara. It’s not safe here.

The constant wind blew warm air, adding to the feeling of a long, dead land.

Tara turned around and looked behind her. More flat land and mountains in the distance. No sign of the strange stone she’d touched. Or of Katla. Or Mira.

Mira. She’d wanted Tara near the stone.

I shouldn’t have listened to her. Shouldn’t have agreed to go to the cave, she thought.

Tara surveyed the land again. Something felt familiar.

She’s coming. You need to leave.

The voices seemed to be growing louder.

…over there…

…what to do…

…are we finally…

…so long…

…I feel you…

Tara looked beyond the farmhouse. Past it stood a city, perhaps a kilometer down the road. Old, crumbling walls, and ancient towers were all she could make out. Some of the towers looked to be in ruins. The city architecture felt Breton, but also not. Older? Or some blend of another culture? Something was off about it.

The voices were coming from the city.

…I want to see you…

People were coming from the city.

Get out of here, Tara.

Tara felt herself step back and her hands touched her axes. There was nowhere to go, though. To that farmhouse? She’d never get there before the approaching crowd.

…see her…

…is it time…

…all my sacrifice…

…does she have it…

…how is she here…

Where to go? Fields, mountains; there seemed to be nothing else besides the farmhouse and city. What lay past the mountains? Could she run to them?

…there you are…

The crowd was unlike any Tara had ever seen. She took a quick count. There were more than a hundred people approaching her. All of them were dark haired, raven black, except for two.

…I feel you…

Nearly all the people seemed to be wearing mage robes of various styles. As they drew close, Tara realized all the robes had the same emblem on them. The tree and sun. The Order of the Fire Queen.

The only two not raven haired led the crowd, as if they were the leaders. Two women. One blonde, the other…

Tara stepped back again. She felt her stomach clench. Her throat ran dry.

The other woman was from her dream. The fire woman. The woman in the painting in her parent’s home. Her namesake. Her ancestor.

Tara Geonette.

The crowd stopped about three meters away. Everyone stood behind Geonette, whispering, except the blonde, who stood by her side. Tara searched her memories for the research, what Katla had written, about the order.

The blonde woman was perhaps the first Breton Tara had met that was actually shorter than her. The woman was thin and petite. Delicate. She had to be Lysona Meric. Geonette’s first or second in command. One of the order’s top leaders.

Lysona’s blue eyes were the most haunted Tara had ever seen. Her face was thin, pale. Hungry. Greedy. There was something else in her eyes. A recognition of sorts.

Lysona was like her, Tara realized. Attracted to women. Tara had never been able to put into words why she knew some women were potentially interested in her, and others only had eyes for men. It’d been something she picked up in their voice, the way they moved, a look in their eyes. A knowing between two people of a special group. Lysona’s eyes held that special aspect.

She looked so hungry, though. Haunted by…something.

Tara turned her gaze to Geonette. She felt her skin go cold. The woman was smiling at her.

“Welcome, Tara,” she said.

Her voice held a sultry tone, a playfulness. Tara felt her skin crawl. Geonette was tall for a Breton woman, having several inches on Tara, and Lysona. Unlike everyone else’s robes, Geonette was dressed in armor, a thick red leather, dark pants, with a steel pauldron running down her left arm, ending in a spiked gauntlet. A protective steel band with a lion’s crest sat across her chest, covering her heart.

Geonette’s hair color was the same as Tara’s, a striking dark red that shone as fire in bright light. Her eyes were green, too, though of a paler shade than Tara’s. Tara’s eyes had a ring of blue around their edges. Geonette’s did not.

Her eyes didn’t have that special aspect Lysona’s held, either. They were the most intense Tara had ever peered into, though. They were also cruel.

Captain Havilguss’ face floated in Tara’s mind. His eyes had been cruel.

“Does she have the stone?” someone in the crowd asked.

Geonette’s face flickered to annoyance. She held her hand up, as if to silence everyone. The crowd stopped whispering.

She kept her eyes on Tara, tilted her head slightly, and breathed in deeply.

“No, she doesn’t,” she said. “She’s touched it, though.” Her voice had a curious tone.

Geonette closed her eyes and reached out a hand toward Tara, as if she were feeling the air around her. A memory of Katla floated into Tara’s mind. The first time she’d seen her, standing in Dead Man’s Drink, looking for a table.

Geonette opened her eyes. A slow grin spread across her face.

“What are the odds?” she said. “You and her.”

Tara caught her breath. She knew about Katla. Had the woman read her mind? That wasn’t possible.

“How’d she get here?” Lysona asked Geonette. Lysona’s voice was high and frail. Her eyes stayed planted on Tara.

“Good question,” Geonette said. “I do wonder which anchor you found.”

An image of the cave and barrier floated into Tara’s mind.

“Ah,” Geonette said.

Tara stepped back. “Stay out of my mind!” she said. How was the woman reading it?

“So much anger,” Geonette said. She sounded amused.

“So much…” A wider grin spread across Geonette’s face. “…pain.”

Memories flooded Tara’s mind. She found herself on her knees. Flashbacks hit her, one after the other.

The first time she remembered Mira using a Calm spell on her. Mira leaving home for good. The first boy who touched her against her will. The look in Ginette’s eyes at the Buckingsmith’s. The first time Father beat her. All the other beatings. The fight with Shum gro-Ulfish. Riser kicking her out of the Synod Conclave. The bear attack on her first day in Skyrim.

Rorikstead. The entire night played out in slow motion.

Freta. The bandits. Seeing the arrow in her neck. Knowing she couldn’t save her. Freta drawing her last breath.

The memories wouldn’t stop. As each shifted, Tara was there again, reliving these most terrible of moments. She heard Captain Havilguss’ voice. Felt his breath. She heard her father telling Mom to get a scroll. Freta was shaking her head one last time, reaching up to touch her.

All the emotions slammed into Tara. The terror, anger, confusion, guilt, grief.

The shame.

Tara heard screaming and realized she was screaming. Her voice cracked and she tried to catch her breath. She was on her hands and knees now, her nose almost touching the stones from this ancient road.

“I can bring her back, Tara,” Geonette whispered. She had knelt down next to Tara. Tara flinched, crawled backwards, away from her.

“I’ll bring Freta back for you,” Geonette said. “I’ll even spare Katla for you.”


“When the time comes, don’t fight me, and I’ll bring her back for you,” Geonette said. She stood and stepped closer to Tara.

Tara tried to stand, but more flashbacks hit. Norring’s punch and her shattered nose. Argas kicking her out of the College of Whispers. The Augur’s warning to stop pursuing magic. Katla leaving her.

Varro. Plunging the knife into his neck.

“You’re not ready yet,” Geonette said. “Have Katla give back the stone. Don’t fight me when I come for you, and I’ll let her live.” Geonette was staring down at Tara, a smile across her face.

“So much pain. You’re perfect. Better than I imagined,” she said. “One day, you’ll be free from it all.” Her tone sounded happy.

Geonette stepped back from her. “Not today, though, my little catalyst.”

Her voice turned to ice. “Don’t try to return here.”

Geonette snapped her fingers and Tara felt the void again.

2E 592 – Consequences

*tw: sa

Tara Geonette stepped inside her basement lab and closed the double doors behind her.

Mordard, only the second zombie she’d ever created, was dutifully digging in the cavern. The alcove she’d commanded he create was coming along. She needed everything perfect.

Tara turned her attention to Bedore. He stared at her with a baleful look.

She’d had him shackled to a long table, one she’d had for years, specially made for her tougher experiments and zombie creation. The table was long enough for a person to lie on. Shackles were set at four points, so a subject’s hands and feet could be bound. The foot shackles were adjustable for various heights, as were the metal plates one’s feet could rest on.

The plates were needed when she chose to use the table’s best feature. The ability to tilt it up at an angle. Depending on how much she tilted it, her subject’s feet would rest on the plates, so gravity wasn’t pulling too hard on their bound wrists. The table also had grooves cut into its stone surface, making it easy to drain blood and any other bodily fluids, especially when tilted. She’d had a hole dug and a grate set into the floor for that.

Mordard had been used for much of the work. Much like the digging out of the cavern and alcove.

That there was a cavern on the property had been a stroke of luck. Some collapsed ground had been found near the edge of the land, where hills butted up to the property. Exploration had revealed the cavern. Breaking through the fort’s underground back wall to get to it had been a slow process, but now that the cavern was open to them, Tara had sealed the original opening.

Using her destruction skills to explode enough rocks to cause a complete collapse of that side had been a fun distraction. She rarely got a chance to use her skills with abandon anymore.

For Bedore, she had the table slightly tilted up. Enough for the man to see the door and not be completely flat on his back. She walked up to him.

“Mordard has been such a useful zombie, don’t you agree?” she asked him. “Works day and night. Never takes a break.”

She looked at the dark circles under Bedore’s eyes. “I suppose he must keep you up at night.”

“I did as you asked. I didn’t mean to be so violent,” Bedore said. A look Tara had never seen on his face crossed it. Shame. “I don’t know what came over me.”

She tilted her head and smiled at him. “That might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“You were perfect with Lysona. Better than I expected, actually,” she said. She smiled and ran her index finger from his forehead to the tip of his nose. He flinched. She laughed.

Bedore blinked, confused. “Then why am I here?”

“Your assault of her taught me a valuable lesson. I thank you for that.” She gave him a fresh smile and ran her fingers through his hair. He turned his head away from her. She dug in her nails and turned him back to looking at her.

“I’d forgotten how much more rewarding the mental pain someone feels is over physical pain. I don’t think it’s a lesson I enforced enough with you, when I tried to teach you the importance of torture before killing.” She ran her fingers through his hair again. He didn’t try turning away this time, but she watched him grimace.

“So many lessons I tried to teach you. You wouldn’t listen. Now, here we are.”

Bedore swallowed. “I can change, my queen.”

“Do you think I’m stupid, Bedore?”

“No…no, of course not,” he stammered.

Bedore was naked, the same as he’d been while assaulting Lysona. Tara had not let him wear clothes, though he’d asked for some. She ran her fingers down his chest, stopping at his navel. She sighed. What a waste. He was thinner, his chiseled muscles already losing some of their definition. She made note to up his food allowance. She didn’t want him losing too much weight.

She’d entrusted Nira Hawkcroft to bring food down for him. She gave it to Mordard, who actually fed Bedore. Nira was under strict orders not to talk to Bedore or tell anyone he was still alive. So far, Tara’s theory, that Nira’s disgust at what he’d done to Maline would keep her quiet, had paid off.

“Do you really not know why you’re here, Bedore?” she asked him. She kept her hand on his stomach and looked at him.

His eyes had drifted to her hand. Tara admired he’d not flinched. He obviously didn’t want her touching him. Watching him trying to balance his disgust with seeming obedience and attempting to avoid punishment was fascinating. He’d always been calculating, but Tara hadn’t bothered to watch how hard he worked at it. Balancing his ambitions with pleasing her. In the end, he’d failed. For lesser people, he’d probably have them under his control by now.

“I’ve done what you asked. Been with who you told me to be with…”

“Yes,” Tara smiled at him. “You are the father of this order, in many ways. You performed that service almost perfectly.” She moved her hand below his stomach and gently grabbed him.

At that touch, he flinched. She heard his sharp intake of breath. She released him and gave him a grin.

“You used to respond so differently to me,” she said. She walked over to the other table in the room. Her alchemy table. Two bottles of a potion sat on it. Both shone a deep shade of red. She picked them up and turned back to him.

He licked his lips. “My queen, let me change for you. Make amends for…” he paused. “…how I’ve wronged you.”

Tara gave him a wide smile. “Oh, you will, Bedore.” She stepped up to him. “First things first. Drink.” She held the potion to his lips. He kept his eyes on her while he drank, but didn’t resist. He seemed to be studying her, calculating.

“What was that?” he asked.

“A fertility potion,” she said. “We still need to have a third child. I need a red haired one.”

Confusion crossed his face. “You still want a child with me?”

“Want?” She shook her head at him. “Need. I need a redhead. With you.”

“I can’t control the color…”

“I know,” Tara interrupted. “I’ve thought about that.” She reached up and pulled a strand of hair out of her head. Holding it, she cast a lightning spell in her hand, turning the strand of hair into ash. She carefully poured the ashes into her bottle of the potion. She swirled it until the ashes dissolved, then drank the potion.

“We’ll need multiple attempts until I confirm I’m pregnant. We’ll also have to wait nine months, of course. Should give you plenty of time to…contemplate,” she said.

“My queen, let me make proper amends,” Bedore said.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Tara asked him again.

Bedore tightened his mouth and remained silent.

“Of course you do,” Tara said. She ran her fingers along his chest. “Have I told you the good news? You’re a father again. Congratulations.”

“My queen…”

“Maline had twins. A boy and girl.” Tara ran her hand down to his navel. This time he flinched.

His face dropped all pretense of appeasing her.

“My niece. Only sixteen. You weren’t to touch her.”

His dark blue eyes flickered to anger.

“You put something in that wine,” he said.

“The wine I told you not to drink?! The wine with my berserk potion in it?!” Tara dug her nails into his stomach until she drew blood. He grunted in pain.

“That wine only made you more violent, Bedore. Why do you think you were so vicious with Lysona, fool?!”

She brought her mouth to his ear and whispered. “It didn’t make you want a child. It didn’t give you desires you didn’t already have.”

She straightened up. “Consequences, Bedore. Making amends.”

“Tara…” he started.

“We’re done talking,” Tara said. She smiled at him. She ran her hand down past his stomach, to where he didn’t want it to be.

“I need a third child. Fitting, you don’t want to be touched that way. Much like Maline didn’t want you touching her.”

Tara watched him struggle against the shackles.

“Why don’t we start get started,” she said.

4E 205 – The Calling

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.

Was Mira?

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.

…she’s here.
…not supposed to be here.
…the one?
…is it time?

…come here…

…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.

…come here…

…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.

…come here…

…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.

Come here.

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.

2E 592 – A Night to Remember

tw: sa

Tara Geonette leaned her head back against the wall and pulled in a deep breath.

She’d been six years old when she first realized the pain of others gave her pleasure. Back then, it felt like joy, that moment of happiness one might get from receiving a new toy.

As she’d gotten older, the pleasure it elicited had shifted. An adult body and mind changed things.

As had her understanding of what happiness was.

Lysona’s screaming shifted to guttural outbursts of pain, lower in volume, but richer in intensity.

Bedore was louder now, and happy. He was getting what he wanted. The potion he’d drank encouraged it. Liquid berserker, Tara had thought to call it. It heightened his fertility, of course, as he did need to get Lysona pregnant. Tara’s goal with the potion had been amplifying his violent tendencies, though. Otherwise, she’d have let Lysona give him one of her potions.

Silly of the woman not to question why Tara had handled his potion for their planned night together.

Pain was needed for so many of the spells and rituals for the order’s future. For her future. How perfect then, it brought her pleasure, too.

Standing outside of Lysona’s room, next to the door, was more satisfying than she thought it’d be. She hadn’t decided if it was hearing Lysona suffer or knowing Bedore was about to get his reckoning that made tonight memorable.

They both deserved what they were getting, Tara decided.

Bedore for not being satisfied with what Tara had given him. For not knowing his place. For how his assault of Maline made Tara’s leadership look.

Lysona? For not being a man. For requiring Tara to sacrifice her own interests.

Tara closed her eyes and breathed deep again. She sometimes wondered if the pain of others helped her magic. Perhaps it was a key reason she was so good at it. Something to ponder.

She ran through her plan. She lifted her left hand and brought the first spell up and watched the first tendrils of it float in her hand. The orange glow brought a smile to her face.

She lifted her right hand and formed the second spell. The green glow brought a larger smile to her face. This would be glorious.

She cancelled both spells. She stepped to the door and put her ear to it. She needed to time this right.

Her moment came within minutes. She heard the familiar sounds of Bedore’s climax. He’d finished.

She gave it another minute, then pulled open the door and rushed into Lysona’s room.

She hit Bedore with a telekinesis spell. Most mages could only use telekinesis to move objects. Elevating one’s skill to move living things had taken longer than she thought to learn. This moment made the effort worth it.

Bedore flew off Lysona and landed on the stone floor, sliding close to the window. Tara hit him with a paralyze spell, the other spell she’d been prepared with. His naked body froze in a position she had to restrain herself from laughing at. His knees were splayed out, one arm was raised above his head; the other stuck under his back. For all his chiseled beauty, he look pathetic right now.

The real reward was the frozen look on his face. He could still breath, paralyze spells did not seem to ever stop breathing, and move his eyes. The rest of his face had frozen in surprise and confusion. His eyes shifted to look at her. The fear in his eyes contrasting with the rest of his face was intoxicating. This part of the plan had worked perfectly.

Tara turned away from Bedore. She needed to take care of Lysona. She was bleeding more than Tara had anticipated. She let the shock show on her face. Bedore had always liked to bite, but Tara had not thought the potion would drive him to do so much, in so many places.

The bruising and injuries to Maline paled compared to what Bedore had done to Lysona. No wonder Tara had felt so enraptured outside the room. The pain, physical and mental, emanating from Lysona far exceeded what fire torture gave her in pleasure.

She couldn’t relish it, though. She shifted her shocked face into a look of compassion.

Lysona had backed up on the bed and was crying and screaming. A combination of rage and terror. Sobs and shrieks.

“I’m here. He can’t hurt you anymore,” Tara said. She kept her voice calm, patient, like with the children. Like she had with Maline the day after.

She climbed onto the bed and crawled towards Lysona.

“Don’t…stop…I…” Lysona was pressed against the headboard, as if trying to press herself into it. She’d curled up into the fetal position.

“Shhhh,” Tara soothed. “Let me help you.”

Lysona’s eyes tore into Tara’s. She couldn’t discern all the emotions pouring out of them. Shock? Fear? Confusion? Anger?

“I won’t let him hurt you ever again,” Tara said. She hoped she sounded strong, yet caring. She was next to Lysona now, on her knees. She reached out her hand. An offering. It seemed best to let Lysona initiate any physical contact.

Lysona’s eyes shifted. Tara recognized the pleading look in them. The look of someone desperate to escape the pain and suffering overwhelming them.

“Heal me,” she whispered.

Tara nodded. She looked around Lysona’s room, for the healing potions she knew the woman kept nearby.

Lysona grabbed her outstretched hand. “Heal me,” she said. Her eyes dug.

“I…I can’t,” Tara said. She felt her face flush. She’d still not been able to cast Heal Other on anyone. The one spell that alluded her. She fought back a flash of anger. Lysona wouldn’t know this was Tara’s weakness, her one fault.

She squeezed Lysona’s hand and gave her imploring eyes. “Trust me.”

With her other hand she pulled the two healing potions she’d spotted off a nearby bookcase and drew them to her. They were minor potions. Not enough. Lysona’s nose was broken, and the swelling in her face indicated more damage. Then, there were the deep bite marks and torn skin.

“Drink these first,” Tara said. Lysona dropped Tara’s hand and drank them. Tara reached into her robe’s pockets and pulled out several strong healing potions. She’d hoped not to need them, to use whatever Lysona kept with her. Good she’d planned ahead and brought them, anyway.

While Lysona drank two of the strong healing potions, Tara reached out and pulled towards her a mage robe lying in the chair next to the bed.

“Put this on,” she said, keeping her tone gentle. Lysona nodded and slowly dressed, as if moving her arms was too painful of a motion to rush.

The healing potions were working, though. Her nose had repaired itself, the swelling in her face disappeared. The bite marks had faded; most no longer visible. Dried blood dotted her body, revealing the locations of injuries no longer there.

“Come with me,” Tara said when Lysona had dressed. “Stay in my room tonight. Stay with me.”

Lysona’s mouth dropped open.

“I will keep you safe,” Tara said.

“My queen…”

“You’re with me now,” Tara whispered. “Forever.”

Lysona seemed stunned silent.

“Come on.” Tara put her arm around Lysona and guided her off the bed. Lysona stiffened, then shook, at the sight of Bedore, still paralyzed on the floor.

“Is he dead?” Her voice sounded dead.

“Not yet,” Tara said. “Soon.”

She kept her left arm around Lysona’s shoulders as they made their way to Tara’s room. Without saying anything, she cast a calm spell on her with her right hand. A few more mild ones, and perhaps she could get her to sleep tonight.

They didn’t pass anyone on the way to Tara’s room. She’d given everyone the night off from the usual patrols of the tower, to make sure no one else came to Lysona’s rescue.

When they got to the room, Tara guided her to the washing area. A private area where one could actually bathe had been a luxury she’d allowed herself, Lysona, and Bedore to have in their living quarters. The rest of the order used the community bathing room they’d set up in the main house.

Tara’s bath was a large round tub, sitting on a raised stone platform in a small room off from the bedroom. Constructed of wood slats and steel rings, the tub looked like a large wooden bucket, without the handles. Water was already inside the tub, as she’d had Elayne Moorford fill it earlier in the day.

Two metal pails sat by the tub, filled with water. Tara fired a mild flame spell at the pails, quickly heating up the water.

She poured both in the tub, warming the bath.

“Get in. I’ll wash the blood off you,” she said.

Lysona swayed for a moment. Her eyes had a dull, unfocused look. The calm spell had hit her harder than Tara thought it would.

“Let me help,” Tara said. She slid the mage robes off Lysona, then guided her up the small stone steps that made climbing into the tub easy. Tara knelt on the steps while Lysona sat in the tub.

She used the cotton cloth and goat’s milk soap she kept by the tub to gently wash the dried blood off her. She kept her hands away from any sensitive areas. Now was not the time to touch the woman that way.

Tara thought about her children as she bathed Lysona, then washed her hair. She kept her touch soft, delicate, like she’d bathed them as babies. She allowed her fingers to be a little sensual while washing Lysona’s hair. Something to make it appear she cared.

She hit Lysona with another calm spell. Anything to make her more pliable, to feel bonded to Tara. This moment of vulnerability was the time to pull her completely into her sphere and ensure her utter loyalty and trust moving forward.

Lysona seemed to awaken some. She took care of washing her sensitive places.

“My queen,” she finally said. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m the one who’s sorry,” Tara said. “Let’s get you dried off and into bed.”

She tucked Lysona into her bed. How strange to have a woman where Bedore had once been.

“Drink this.” Tara sat on the edge of the bed and handed her a potion. “It’s like the one you gave Maline. No nightmares.” Lysona greedily drank it and was asleep within a few minutes.

Tara relaxed her face, letting go of the mask of compassion. She checked on the children, quietly looking in on them as she left her room. Part of the lab had been converted to their bedroom. She could keep them close, without having them in her living space as she had when they were babies. It felt good to be past the part of tending to their every need.

Tara made her way back to Lysona’s room. With no one else in the tower, her heels clicking sharply on the stone felt amplified. An announcement of her approach.

Bedore was still paralyzed on the floor. Naked, vulnerable.

Tara let a smile cross her lips as she looked at him. His eyes shifted to her. Rage poured out from them.

His mouth twitched and a groan escaped. The spell was wearing off.

Tara hit him with another paralyze spell, this one less powerful. Enough to enforce the current one while she moved him.

“Ready for your new room?” She grinned at him.

She cast telekinesis on him and used it to drag him behind her, across the stone floor. They made their way down the stairs that led to the basement of the tower. She made sure every step of the stairs caught him. His breathing shifted as he landed roughly, the closest he could get to expressing pain.

The basement consisted of a long hallway, lit by magic torches. Torches she’d treated to only light up when they sensed a presence. They lit, then extinguished, as she and Bedore passed them.

The hall turned sharply to the right and ended at double stone doors. The doors were stunning, Tara thought. She’d had members carve the order’s symbol into them. Impressive to see the symbol so large.

Inside, the room was mostly stone flooring and a blend of stone and cave walls on the side. The back of the room opened into a partially excavated cavern. One lone zombie was digging it out.

“Perfect place, I think,” Tara said. She turned to look at Bedore. Fear had come back into his eyes.

Tara knelt down beside him and brought her lips to his ear.

“So much privacy,” she whispered. “We still have much to do together.”

4E 204 – Old Magic

Mira shivered. She rubbed her arms. She wasn’t cold. Fall was in full swing, but her robes were heavy enough for this dreary region of High Rock.

Silly. You’re a master mage. Calm down. Nothing to fear here.

Here was in Rivenspire, outside the village of Wickhart. In front of Mira were ruins that had once been an estate, a small stone castle that existed in the Second Era.

She’d read the property records in Shornhelm to confirm this was the place in the book. The location of a showdown between the Mages Guild and necromancers from the Order of the Fire Queen. The supposed destruction of the order. Where Bedore Ashsmith, Tara Geonette’s second in command, had died in 2E 596.

One sunken, broken tower stood before her. The top parapets were cracked or missing. The base of the tower had sunk into the muddy ground, giving the tower a left lean.

To the left of the tower, the stone remnants of what had been the main house fought with thick vines, scrub trees, and tall grass to be seen. The rest of the plot of land looked to be nothing more than ancient crop fields, long returned to the wild. Various scrub grasses fought for dominance. None of it tended or neat. No one had walked this land in years, perhaps decades.

She looked back at the tower. A doorway arch faced her, partly sunken with the base of the tower. Still intact, the arch was the only way into the tower. Whatever door had stood was long gone. If anything was left here, it’d be through that black maw of an opening.

A fresh gust of wind brought a chill to her. She pulled her mage robes tighter. The overcast skies had shifted into a duller gray. Rain looked to be on the way.

Late afternoon would not be a good time to start an exploration of the tower, she thought. Morning would be better. Safer.

Mira walked to Wickhart, which was a kilometer down the road. The village was newer than the old estate, a place that had cropped up maybe a couple of hundred years ago. It wasn’t on most maps. Five houses and an inn doubling as a general goods store were all Wickhart amounted to. Quaint should’ve been the word for such a village, but the houses and inn looked run down. Inside, the inn was well-kept, if small. It probably served as the town’s center, where everyone gathered. Enough reason to keep it maintained.

Near the town’s single well had been small shrines to Diabella and Zenthiar. All the homes had gardens behind them. The land in this area of Rivenspire, in the northern section of High Rock, was bleak, desolate. Full of moors and other lowlands. Crops fought to survive.

“I need a room for the night,” Mira said to the old Breton man behind the bar. He wore basic barkeeper clothes and a dirty apron he’d been wiping mugs on.

The man squinted his eyes at her, taking in her mage robes. His gray hair looked unkempt, his face displayed several days of stubble, as gray as his hair.

“One night?” he growled at her.

“Yes,” Mira said. She tried to keep her tone in check, to not sound condescending. She didn’t succeed.

“Good,” he huffed. “Ten septims.”

Mira paid and followed him to the back of the inn, where he gave her the room on the right. The room was tiny, with a single bed, small chest of drawers, and a chair. No table or wardrobe cabinet. The furniture looked old, an afterthought.

She wondered how long it had been since someone stayed in the room. A layer of dust coated the chest of drawers. Knocking the worst of the dust away, she put her clothes in the top drawer. She kept most of her traveling items in her backpack. She would only be here the night. No reason to get comfortable.

Her stomach growled. When had she last eaten?

She thought of the old man’s dirty apron, wiping the mugs. What choice did she have, though? Wickhart was more than three hours from Shornhelm. There was nowhere else to eat. Why hadn’t she thought to pack food for the trip?

“May I see the food menu?” she asked, after coming out of her room.

A few people had come into the inn. Two couples, both looking to be husband and wife combinations, sat at tables, enjoying ale.

A lone man, in dirty farmhand clothes, sat at the bar, nursing a mead.

An older woman, with dark brown hair streaked with gray, moved between the tables, obviously the inn’s server. Mira shifted her feet. Everyone was staring at her.

“Don’t serve ravens here,” the barkeeper said. He was wiping his hands on the apron, giving her a look both defiant and disgusted.

“Pardon?” Mira asked.

“We don’t serve ravens here,” he repeated. He drew out each word, as if talking to a child still learning basic language.

“I don’t understand,” Mira said. Ravens?

“Nolore,” the older woman said to him. “Maybe she isn’t one.” She looked at Mira with a mix of kindness and curiosity.

“Of course she is, Jolie,” Nolore said. He waved his hand at Mira, pointing out her clothes. “Jus’ look at her.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mira said. She wanted to let her anger show, but resisted. They were wasting her time. She wanted a bite to eat. Nothing more.

“You were over on that property. You’re one of ‘em,” Nolore said. His eyes flicked to the farmhand at the bar. Someone had seen her and gossiped.

What was the best tactic to take with them? She wanted food. Plus now, they had her curious about “ravens”.


Yes. Let them know they could trust her. She wasn’t a threat.

“Yes, I was at that property down the road,” she said. She used her teacher tone. The tone that made others lean in to learn. “I’m a mage researcher. I’m researching that land, trying to confirm some of its history.”

Nolore didn’t look convinced. “Raven. I ain’t serving you.”

Jolie let out a large sigh. “Sit,” she said to Mira, pointing at a small table in the far corner. “All we have is beef stew. Five septims.”

As Mira sat, she watched Jolie head behind the bar, to the large stew pot, and dish up a bowl. She whispered something to Nolore, who seemed angry, yet resigned.

Another couple had come into the inn and sat at the last open table in the inn. Everyone continued to openly stare at Mira, or do a poor job of avoiding staring at her.

Jolie returned with the bowl and a bottle of mead. She placed them on the table and sat across from Mira.

“Thank you,” Mira said. She took a bite of the stew. It was hearty and hit the spot, perfect for such a chilly fall day.

Jolie watched her eat, as if trying to decide something.

“You do look like them, but your robes aren’t right,” she said.

“These ravens?” Mira asked.

Jolie nodded. “Your face is…” she trailed off. “You look like them, but you don’t look cruel.”

Mira flashed back to childhood. To using calm spells on Tara. Hadn’t that been cruel?

“What are ‘ravens’?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”

Jolie shifted her skirt, suddenly nervous. “Dark hair. Like ravens.” She studied Mira’s face. “Eyes, too. The blue. You look like them.”

Mira took a sip of mead, grateful Jolie had not brought over a mug to pour it into.

“Are they necromancers?” she asked.

Jolie held her gaze and gave the barest of nods.

“And they show up on that property?”

The small nod.

Jolie cleared her throat and stood. “Enjoy your stew,” her voice was raised. “Best be on your way tomorrow, understand?”

Mira nodded. “Yes.”

Mira woke early the next morning. She decided to skip trying to have another meal here at the inn.

Rain drizzled on her as she walked. Gray clouds coated the sky. She passed some of the homes of Wickhart. A few people were working in their gardens, one feeding chickens. All of them looked at her. None of them waved or nodded a greeting to her.

The old estate looked the same as the day before, though now muddier. In the gray morning light, the black maw of an opening into the tower was less welcoming. She needed to go inside, though. No question. Not after Jolie saying necromancers came here.

Mira pushed through the tall grass and vines, making her way to the tower. If there’d ever been a path to the tower, it was lost long ago to time. Her boots slipped and slid in the mud, but the thick grass roots provided some stability. It was a messy walk, but not dangerous.

Reaching the tower entrance, she was greeted by near silence. The drizzling rain had stopped. Some dripping water could be heard inside the entrance. Faint shafts of light shown through the opening, the top of the tower probably partially collapsed, letting light in. The black maw not as black as it first seemed. Mira stepped inside.

She gave her eyes a few minutes to adjust. She could cast a light spell, and have an instant ball of light follow her, but wanted to take in the tower naturally. Evaluate it before determining what magic was needed.

There was also the chance she wasn’t alone. Best not to disturb anything or announce her presence.

The faint light revealed the bottom of the tower filled with overgrown ferns and stone rubble, covered in moss. Dank. Dreary. Mira looked up. A broken stone staircase wound up to a floor above, with most of the floor missing, probably the stones now at her feet.

Through the broken floor she could see what was left of the top of the tower. More intact than the floor above her, it was still missing large blocks of stone, accounting for how light had made its way inside. There would be no climbing the stairs to see if anything worthwhile still existed above.

Whatever was here was not above. Mira turned her attention back to the base of the tower.

The entire floor was dirt and mud. Whether the tower had sunk down, or dirt and debris over the centuries had partially buried it, she wasn’t sure. Ferns mixed with vines and grass. All seemed stunted, as if fighting for what light they could get. The ground was drier than outside, the mud less slick, as the tower offered some protection from the rain.

Obviously alone, Mira cast a candlelight spell. A ball of shimmering light appeared and floated above and slightly behind her, illuminating the area.

Stone, plants, and dirt seemed to be all that surrounded her.

There’s something here, Mira thought. She could feel it. She closed her eyes and listened. There was a faint sound, something almost like the wind, or voices carried on a breeze. That’s what she was feeling. She was hearing something.

She opened her eyes and turned toward the sound. She stepped towards the east end of the tower, the side away from the broken staircase, and highest, the section least sunk into the ground. She recast her candlelight spell and moved the ball of light around, shifting the shadows.

There it was. Surrounded by thick ferns was a trapdoor. The petrified wood nearly matched the color of the surrounding soil. You needed to be looking for it to find it.

Mira shivered.

Stop it, she thought. You can handle anything.

It took two tugs on the handle before the trapdoor relented. With an audible creak, it opened. A dark square of black space stared at her.

Mira closed her eyes and listened again. That faint sound, of almost voices, was there.

No, not actually there.

It’s in my head, she realized. She wasn’t hearing anything. Her mind was. She felt…called.

She sent a ball of light down the shaft the trapdoor revealed. A wooden ladder led into a tunnel. Stone walls. This wasn’t a cave; it was a basement, perhaps. The wood of the ladder was too new to have been original. Someone was maintaining access to whatever was within.

Mira climbed down. As she went to cast another candlelight spell, the torches in braziers closest to her flared to life, casting wavering firelight down the hallway she was now standing in.

A proximity spell of some sort? Mira stepped forward. Sure enough, the next set of torches lit up, and the ones behind her extinguished themselves as she moved away. She continued down the hall for about fifty meters, the torches leading her forward. The distant voices in her head also led, getting louder as she continued.

The hall took a sharp right turn. Down a short hallway, no more than twenty meters, stood a set of double doors, made of carved stone.

Mira swallowed as she reached the door. The carving on the doors was the symbol of the Order of the Fire Queen. The unmistakable tree with a sun above it.

The calling, the voices, were louder.

Mira’s hand shook as she reached for the ring shaped handle of the right door.

Calm down, she thought. You can handle anything. She pulled in a deep breath and pulled on the handle.

The door gave easily.

The room the doors opened into was where the tower ended and a natural cavern started. What was left of the tower was a stone floor with steps leading down into the cavern. Several bedrolls, a cooking pot and fire pit, long cold, and two side tables occupied the stone floor.

The cavern was the focal point, though.

Magic braziers lined it, tossing a soft light to the back wall. The cavern ceiling was perhaps twenty feet high, the cavern maybe fifty feet deep.

Mira blinked looking at the back wall. What was she looking at?

The back of the cavern contained an alcove. A shimmering magical barrier covered it.

Mira walked down the steps and approached the alcove. Not a natural formation, it’d been carved into the cavern wall. It looked ten feet tall. Mira wasn’t sure how deep it was, the magic barrier distorted everything on the other side. Maybe six feet, maybe twelve. The depth didn’t matter, though. What stood in the alcove did.

In the middle of the alcove sat a pedestal with a sphere hovering above it. The pedestal and sphere were black and looked to be made of marble, or some other smooth stone.

Magic poured out of the sphere, surrounding it in colorful waves. Mixed with the magic barrier itself, the brightness was overwhelming up close.

Mira stepped back.

What was she looking at?

The voices inside her head were loudest here, coming from the sphere.

She felt drawn to them. She wanted to touch the sphere. Something told her she should.

She belonged to it. Somehow.

What was the sphere? She’d never seen anything like it.

You’ve read about it.

Yes, this was…something.

Mira scanned the magic barrier again. The barrier shimmered and shifted in shades of blue. There were no telltale signs of what kind of magic it was. Cold, fire, or lightning based barriers were easy to discern. Not this one.

Mira brought her hand close to the barrier, to see if she could feel anything from it. She’d once tested a barrier made for illusionists and seen her hand fade. Perhaps this was similar.

The closer her hand got to the barrier, the louder the voices sounded. Could she make out what they were saying?

“…one of…no…never…perfor…not wel…”


Her fingers touched the barrier and started to pass through it.

The pain hit as all her fingers passed through, with her palm touching the edge of barrier.

Mira screamed as the sense of burning coursed through her fingers and she was shoved back away from the barrier, knocking her to the ground. She looked at her hand. Her fingers were burnt black. Shock seemed to be stopping her from feeling any additional pain.

She cast a healing spell on her hand and watched her fingers return to normal.

She looked up at the barrier. A cruel tease, letting her pass through before rejecting her? Or, something else?

Mira climbed to her feet and approached it again.

She sent flames at the barrier. If it had burned her, perhaps flames would bring it down. The flames faded against it.

She tried ice spikes, then lightning bolts. Same.

She cast a few illusion and alteration spells at it. Same.

Conjuration was left.

She conjured a flame atronach. The flaming womanly form floated next to her. She pointed it at the barrier and watched it fling a few fireballs at it. Like her own flames, they faded on contact.

“Sorry,” Mira said. She used a telekinesis spell to shove the atronach against the barrier. With a scream, the atronach exploded. The barrier didn’t budge.

Mira sighed. Why had she partially passed through? And what was that in the alcove?

You need help.

She did. She’d found this place. Whatever battle had once happened here, this barrier and that sphere had to be part of it. This was a find.

You need Tara.

Maybe she did. But, why? Tara couldn’t perform much magic.

She’s supposed to.

Right. If not for her parents. If not for what Mira had done.

Mira knelt down. She needed to bring Tara and Katla here. Research what that sphere might be.

She wanted a faster way here, though. No need to go to Wickhart, or even Shornhelm. No need for anyone to know she’d visited the land.

She ran her fingers over the rocks of the cavern floor, giving herself a feel of the place. She pulled out a scroll of parchment and made some notes.

She stood and cast a small spell at the ground. She then pulled the magic back into herself.

She had it. She could now teleport here. She could write out a few scrolls for Tara or Katla to come here instantly, too. All that research at Frostcrag Spire had taught her so much about teleportation. It’d become a lost art in the world of magic.

At least I got one positive thing out of visiting the College of Whispers, she thought.

Not true.

As painful as it’d been, she’d needed to come clean to Tara about their childhood. That was the other good thing. The strain in their relationship now was earned. Maybe uncovering what their ancestor had done would seal the breach.

Mira looked back at the barrier and the floating sphere behind it. She had a lot of work to do.

She steadied herself and teleported home.