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.
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.
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.