4E 203 – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

I can bring her back, Tara.

Tara woke with a start.

Pale light shone through the window of her room. Dawn announcing another day without Katla.

I can bring her back.

What was that? Who was that?

Tara rubbed her eyes and tried to hold on to the fading dream.

Nightmare.

First, there had been the premonition of Rigmor. She’d dreamt about Rigmor every night since Katla left. The premonition felt like a comfort. An old friend, greeting her nightly.

A destiny she was somehow headed towards. One she’d known about for over two years now, since her time with Freta.

I can bring her back to you.

After the premonition, she’d dreamed something else. Someone else.

She’d been running after Katla. In a dark forest. Running along a trail. Katla was up ahead, barely in sight. She’d sprinted to catch up.

Just as she’d reached her, been about to touch her shoulder…

Fire. She’d been enveloped in fire.

Another woman had stepped into view and whispered to her, “I can bring her back to you, Tara.”

Tara climbed out of bed, stretched, and shook her head, trying to remember more details.

What did the woman look like?

Shorter than Katla. Wearing…robes? Armor of some kind.

And her hair…nothing. Tara didn’t know. No facial features, either.

The dark forest in the dream. It could’ve been anywhere in Skyrim. Or Cyrodiil. Even High Rock.

Had it been The Great Forest?

Maybe.

Was this some other premonition?

Nightmare.

After cleaning herself up, grabbing a quick bite in Windpeak Inn, Tara stepped outside and took in the sights of Dawnstar.

Morning mist hovered over the area. Buildings floated in and out of focus as the fog shifted its thickness. The sound of gentle waves from the port waters hitting the shoreline soothed her.

Dawnstar was a port town, Tara counted twenty ships and boats of various sizes docked in the bay. The smell of the sea dominated, the salt of the water and air cutting down on the lingering smell of freshly caught fish.

The town should’ve felt perfect. Maybe the rumors from the townsfolk were true. Maybe that’s why she’d had a strange dream. Maybe the place was haunted.

She’d gotten in yesterday afternoon. To say every citizen she’d met looked tired was an understatement. Collectively, everyone seemed to have nightmares and disturbed sleep.

Tara had shrugged it off, but…well, the forest dream might give truth to the rumors.

Fortunately, she wasn’t staying here another night. She needed some fresh supplies and could get on the road to Morthal, then, eventually, to Dragon Bridge.

If Katla wasn’t there, then on to Solitude. The road to Solitude went through Dragonbridge, unless Tara wanted to cross through the swamp and marshlands surrounding Morthal alone.

She did not. How long since she’d been alone on the road in Skyrim? She’d met Katla the day after she arrived. Within a few days, they were traveling together. And falling in love.

How was that less than two years ago?

Best to stick to the roads. Hit Dragonbridge first, then Solitude. Katla had to be in one of those towns. If not, then what?

Keep searching.

She made her way to the apothecary shop, The Mortar and Pestle. The owner, Frida, was pleasant, and Tara stocked up on the various healing potions she had. Plus, a few cure disease ones. By giving up magic, and hope of gaining any more skill with restoration magic, she’d need to keep potions on hand, and work on her alchemy skills.

She stepped out of the store and put her hand up to shield her eyes from the now bright sunlight.

“I’ve been looking for you.”

“By Dibella!” Tara yelped. Her free hand flew to her axe before she realized the man who’d suddenly appeared in front of her was a courier.

Gods, how did they do that?

“I’ve got something I’m supposed to deliver,” the young man said. He rummaged around in his satchel. He looked road weary, his face and clothes covered in the dirt and grime of traveling.

“Ah, here we go,” he said. He smiled at her and handed over a letter. “Your hands only,” he added. “Oh, one more thing.” He dug around his satchel again. He pulled out and handed her a key. It was iron, richly carved. “It came with the letter.”

“Thank you,” Tara said. She gave him a few coins as a tip. Maybe he’d stop and take a bath at the inn and get himself a decent meal.

Tara looked down at the letter. The delicate writing on the front was Katla’s. Without thinking, Tara pressed the letter to her nose and inhaled. Did she catch a little of Katla’s scent, that blend of wood and leather that surrounded her? Tara decided she did. She stared at the key. Too big for a chest. Had to be a house key, or something significantly large. She put it in her pouch, where she kept all of Katla’s letters.

She’d already closed out her tab at the inn, given up the room. Where to read the letter?

Tara headed to the nearest empty dock and sat on its edge, letting her feet dangle deliciously close to the water. The tide was in, for her feet to be so close.

She opened the letter and read. At first, it looked like nonsense, jumbled letters that could be from an ancient, dead language.

Code. Katla had written in code. Of course. Tara closed her eyes and breathed in the salty air. The waves lapping the shore were louder here. A sweet lullaby she could listen to all day.

She’d memorized the code, reciting it quietly to herself every night. She opened her eyes and looked back at the letter. It made sense now.

“Tara, love,

The key unlocks a home for you.

Yes, I bought you a house.

Oh, to see the look on your face right now. If only I could be there when you arrive, but I won’t be.

By Talos, I miss you. Every night, when I lay my head down, I fall asleep remembering our first night together in my tent, up at High Hrothgar. Remembering your eyes when you first woke up that morning.

I love you.

The house is in Solitude. Above The Winking Skeever. Have you been to Solitude before? I guess not. The inn is near the gate into the city. Take stairs up to the city walls to get to the house. I hope you love it. You’ll be safe there. Tons of Imperials around. Did you know the army is stationed in Solitude? Things with the Stormcloaks are heating up. I think a full out war will break out soon.

I’ve not had trouble with any assassins, but I’m sure they, or at least spies, are around the city, looking for me. Stay alert. With us separate, though, you should be safe.

I’ve left it for you. I think you’ll figure out where it is in the house.

Keep it close. Please. I know it’s a burden to carry, and I’m sorry, but this feels right. Even if they do find me, I won’t have what they want.

Don’t try and find me.

Kill every necromancer you find.

I’m following some leads.

Write me when you’re home.

I love you,

Katla”

Tara read the letter two more times. Tears rolled down her face slowly. They felt like a caress from Katla.

She’d bought her a house!

She was gone.

She’d left the red soul gem. Katla intended for them to stay separated for some time, if she was leaving it.

Tara put away the letter and stood. Time to go.

Nothing had changed. The road led to Dragonbridge, then Solitude. She’d stick with that path. Write Katla when she arrived in Solitude. Write Mira, too, so she knew where Tara was.

Then what?

Search for clues to where Katla had gone, of course. She wasn’t giving up on finding her.

The sky stayed bright and cloudless as Tara made her way to Morthal.

4E 203 – Mending

Tara watched Mira climb back to her feet for the tenth, or maybe twentieth, time. Mira’s right wrist turned funny and her hand drooped unnaturally.

Broken.

Mira waved her left hand over it and healing energy surrounded the broken bones. Less than a minute later, she flexed her hand and wrist, as if Tara’s wave had never touched her.

“It’s okay,” Mira called from across the cliff they were standing on. “Good as new.”

Tara nodded. “Give me a minute,” she said.

She turned away from Mira and looked at the Serpent Stone, one of the Standing Stones, like those Guardian ones she and Katla had visited what felt like so long ago. The Serpent Stone stood alone on a small cliff on an icy chunk of land in the Sea of Ghosts, east of Winterhold, and the College of Winterhold. She caught sight of the College in the distance, fading in and out of view as thick fog rolled off the mountains and passed by on its way out to sea.

She and Mira had agreed to practice Tara’s wave focus far from prying eyes, and to make sure Tara didn’t injure anyone. She could let loose and not worry about how strong the waves were. A few horkers had lost their lives so far. The remaining herd had quickly left and swam to another icy chunk of land.

The Serpent Stone was as steady and solid as ever, though. Her first few waves had blown accumulated snow off the stones. Otherwise, it looked the same. Ancient, strong, Nord. Mira said it granted a magical ability to paralyze, if touched. Tara hadn’t touched it. She was glad her waves didn’t seem to affect it. Not that her focus attempts had anything to do with that fact.

She turned back to Mira and studied her sister. She’d broken Mira’s arm, wrist, and ankle with previous attempts. One wave had thrown her off the cliff. Tara had caught her breath at that one. Mira still hadn’t explained what magic she’d used to avoid injury from it. Her robes were worse for wear, with fresh tears in the fabric from the multiple trips to the ground.

How did she feel about hurting Mira? And, why wasn’t the focus working yet? Every wave so far had done something to Mira, even if it only knocked her off her feet. This was nothing like Katla, who’d not been touched by any wave.

Katla.

Katla was gone. Tara was still in Winterhold. Not going after her.

She’d gotten the code letter. Katla was preparing for the two of them to communicate by letter.

Tara didn’t want that. She needed to find her. Be with her.

Not here with Mira.

“Ready to go again?” Mira asked.

Tara nodded. “We can try a few more.”

“Sure,” Mira agreed. She shifted her feet, balancing herself. “Remember what I taught you.”

“Got it,” Tara said. She shifted as well, setting her feet to feel grounded, balanced. If she were fighting with her axes, this stance would be excellent. Standing like a warrior, always.

Mira cast the conjuration spell, calling forth a skeleton. Tara was to send a wave at it, to focus her anger at the thing she wanted to destroy. Mira theorized Tara could do that, leaving the rest of the wave’s power to gently wash over people, leaving them unharmed. The waves were always waves…energy that spread out from her in all directions, as if she were the epicenter. There seemed no way to narrow that down.

The best she could do was handle the force of them. Aim the emotion, which seemed to be where the power was, at something or someone. The rest of such a wave would be more like a gentle breeze.

A skeleton. Conjuration. Tara tried to focus on the skeleton only, but its existence didn’t sit well with her. Why was Mira using such magic around her? Using it at all? Especially with the history of their family. With what she’d told her about Tara Geonette, how could Mira even consider using such magic?

The skeleton standing there made her feel uncomfortable.

Angry.

A wave shot out from her, destroying the skeleton. She heard a yelp and watched Mira go flying, landing roughly about twenty meters from where she’d been. At least she was still on the cliff.

She couldn’t do this with Mira, Tara realized. She was still too angry at her for her childhood. Katla had been both right and wrong. Mira had important information. And she’d given Tara invaluable insight on how to learn how to control the waves.

Tara closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. What Mira could not be was her teacher.

I’m too angry at her. At my family, she thought. She didn’t know if that would ever abate.

She opened her eyes to Mira brushing off snow from her robes. Mira looked up at her. Her eyes searched Tara’s face.

“Done for the day?” she asked.

“For good, I think,” Tara said. “I can’t do this with you. Not the practical part, at least.”

Mira nodded. “Must not be easy seeing me hurt every time.”

It would be easy to lie to her, Tara thought. To agree with her statement. Mira needed to hear the truth, though. Or, Tara needed to express it. She wasn’t sure which was more important.

“I’m too angry with you not to hurt you every time,” she said. She watched Mira’s face shift to shock, before she caught herself.

“Ah.” Mira nodded.

“I need to be leaving, anyway,” Tara said. “I have to find Katla.”

Mira walked over to her and they silently made their way down the cliff.

“I need to leave Winterhold, too,” Mira said as they traversed the ice floes that led back to shore.

“You’re not staying to help them with that Nord ruin?” Tara asked.

Mira shook her head. They slowly climbed until they caught the path that met the road back to town.

“I…met the Augur,” Mira said.

Tara raised an eyebrow at her.

Mira gave a small smile. “When you told me about him, well, I couldn’t resist. I had to meet and speak with him. He’s fascinating.” She glanced at Tara. “Magically speaking. Very unique.”

Tara shook her head. “Are you always studying magic?”

Mira nodded. “One should never stop being a student of life.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes. Winterhold came into view. They’d reach the inn within minutes, where Tara was now the one staying in a rented room. Mira had been staying at the College.

“The Augur told me to leave,” Mira said.

“Really?”

“Yes. He…warned me staying would be dangerous. Gave me the sense my life might literally be in danger if I stayed.” Mira shook her head. “Something about there was nothing I’d do to change the outcome. That others approached who’d make a difference.” Mira shook her head again. “I…believe him. So, I’m going.”

They passed the stables and reached the inn. Tara put one foot on the bottom step. “Coming in for a meal?”

Mira shook her head. “No. I want to pack and have one last visit with Mirabelle and Tolfdir. Be on my way early in the morning.”

Their eyes locked.

“This is goodbye, then, I guess,” Tara said. How did she feel about that?

Mira smiled. “For now, little…” She caught herself. Too soon, she’d realized.

“We should keep on a writing schedule,” Tara offered. “Stay in touch about the order and anything else you or I find out about them or Geonette.” Tara had taken to dropping her first name when in conversation with Mira. She didn’t want to hear her own name represented by such an evil woman.

Mira smiled. “I’d like that. Smart.” She cleared her throat. “I’m going to head to High Rock. Go back home.”

Tara felt her face flush.

“I won’t tell them where you are. Or, anything about you,” Mira said. “I want information from them about Geonette. I know they know something.”

Tara studied Mira. Did she believe her? Yes.

“I think they’re my best source on our ancestor’s history,” Mira said. A determination came over her. “I’m going to find out what they know. And research the family history far more than I ever bothered to when we were kids.”

“Thank you.” It burst out of Tara before she could catch it.

Mira smiled. “I figure I’m the best one to research the order more. Leave the hunting down, or hiding from, these necromancers to you and Katla.”

Did Mira know about the red soul gem? Tara realized she must not know. To tell her or wait?

Wait.

Tara took a step closer to Mira. She reached out and pulled her into a hug.

Their embrace lacked the warmth of their hug so long ago at the College of Whispers. There was a stiffness between them. But, something lingered. Dying embers that could be ignited again.

Mira gave her a sad smile. “Remember what I told you about your focus. Practice as you can. I think you’ll gain control over the waves.”

Tara nodded. “Safe travels.”

“You, too.”

Tara watched Mira head up to the College, losing sight of her as the bridge leading to it turned to the right and hid her from view.

She stepped into the inn.

One last night here. Then, off to find Katla.

4E 203 – Hide and Seek

Katla stepped into the dark alley. Where to hide?

Some barrels stood against the stone wall, just before the back door to someone’s home. In two moves, she was crouched behind them.

She watched and waited.

She heard someone approach, soft steps on the hard stone of Solitude’s streets.

Katla hovered her right hand over her daedric dagger. The daedric dagger Tara had taken off that first Dark Brotherhood assassin she’d killed. Tara had insisted Katla keep the dagger.

“You can’t shoot everyone with a bow and arrow. Keep the dagger. For close quarter fights.”

The first time Tara had saved her. The first of many.

Gods, why had she left her?

Magic.

Magic. Tara wouldn’t give it up. Katla couldn’t stay. Leaving had to be what would force her to consider giving it up.

And Mira, hopefully. Mira had promised Katla she’d talk to Tara about giving it up. She thought she could convince her this time.

Mira. How different from Tara. Hard to get a read on her. She loved Tara and regretted what she’d done. Katla believed her on those points. Maybe Tara would, too.

The footfalls hit a crescendo and Katla placed her fingers around the dagger, ready to pull it out of its sheath. A shadow crossed the alley, lit by the lantern post in front of the Temple of the Divines, where Katla had left moments before.

The shadow quickly passed, as did the Imperial woman the footsteps belonged to. The sounds of her steps faded as she continued to wherever she was going.

Not following me, Katla breathed. She relaxed and stood.

I’m not paranoid, she thought. She couldn’t be too careful. She needed to get back home.

The safest route was also the closest. The Temple of the Divines, where she’d met with Styrr, was close to Castle Dour, where the Imperial army was stationed. General Tullius himself was here in Solitude.

If she went through the Castle Dour grounds, a staircase led up to the city walls. Katla could walk the walls all the way back home. Enough guards patrolled the walls, plus the Castle grounds were littered with Imperial soldiers, all practicing, or generally standing about. No one would dare approach her.

Katla left the alley and made her way home.

Not really home. Certainly, not a place she felt relaxed. More safehouse.

Her safehouse sat above The Winking Skeever Tavern and Inn, near the front gates of Solitude. The place was well designed, with a cozy feel. And it was hers.

Corpulus Vinius, owner of The Winking Skeever, had offered it to her for a price she couldn’t resist. He’d had it built in hopes to turn it into a private, romantic rental to offer guests, but few had taken him up on the offer, preferring to just rent a standard room in the inn, no matter what activities they were up to. Corpulus had learned the hard way Nords weren’t a very romantic people. Travelers didn’t seem to want to spend time in The Lucky Skeever, as he’d named it, either.

“I just want it off my hands,” he’d told her when she was negotiating a room rental from him, wanting the one at the back of the inn, for privacy.

It’d taken almost all her gold, but it was hers. She had the privacy she needed and the place was fully furnished. It gave her a high vantage point overlooking much of Solitude. Also, it sat across town from the home she’d grown up in here.

They had to be watching the old home, even as it was occupied by someone else. Why had she come to Solitude? Like Dragonbridge, the cultists must have people staked nearby, hoping perhaps she’d come here, or have hidden the soul gem here.

Retrieving her father’s ebony bow had been easy enough. She’d camped above Dragonbridge and waited until late night to dig it up. She’d preserved it well, and it looked no worse for wear, considering the three years it’d been buried. She’d left town immediately, not risking staying even one night.

When she’d had a moment, a quick practice of shooting iron arrows into trees had allowed her to make a few adjustments to the bow. It felt like hers now, not Dad’s.

 Of course it did. Dad was gone. They were gone. She still didn’t understand why.

Katla stepped inside The Lucky Skeever just as a sob escaped. They’d been gone four years now.

When did grief stop attacking from the shadows, rising out of Oblivion to overwhelm? Did it ever?

The deeper the love, the deeper the grief.

Stop it, she thought. Get a hold of yourself. Grieving leaves you vulnerable. There would be time for that later, after the cultists were dead and the soul gem destroyed.

Katla wiped her face and ran her fingers through her hair, to clear her mind. She laughed when her fingers quickly ran out of hair to run through. Her short hair. She’d gotten it cut in Stonehills, a small village, on her trek to Dragonbridge.

She’d also bought and changed into more casual clothes, and stopped wearing her leather armor. She needed to look different. Just another citizen. Not some skilled archer.

It wasn’t much, but she hoped the short hair and change of clothes would be enough for watching eyes to skip past her.

She stopped in front of the small mirror hanging on the pillar near the front door. She liked the look. It really changed one’s face without having to go to one of those face sculpting wizards she’d heard about. The ones that used magic to change your look. She’d never do that.

Would Tara like her hair this way? She better, Katla thought. Because I like it, so it stays.

Tara. Her heart stabbed. Gods, she wanted Tara’s arms around her right now.

How long before they would see each other again?

If Tara would have her back.

She would. She had to. Their connection was too deep. This was only a necessary separation.

Katla reached into her pocket and pulled out the note she’d received from the courier two days ago. Tara had written her. She’d kept it simple and short.

“Katla,

I’m working with Mira. For you.

I love you.

Tara”

She loved her. That’s all Katla had needed to hear.

Katla made herself something to eat and started writing. One more letter to Tara before she left Solitude.

She’d written Tara a week ago, though it wasn’t a letter per se. Just the code. The code they’d need to use from now on between them. In case anyone intercepted their letters.

Now, it was time for a real letter to Tara. She’d tell her what she’d learned from Styrr. And send her the key to The Lucky Skeever. Tara would need a place to stay when she got to Solitude. Katla had no doubt Tara was trying to find where’d she’d gone.

There was no telling how long she’d work with Mira, or how successful Mira’s training would be. If Katla knew Tara, and she did, Tara’s patience wouldn’t last long. She’d want to find Katla. She’d go to Dragonbridge or come to Solitude first. No way she’d respect Katla’s request they stick to letters.

Tara’s impatience worked to Katla’s advantage, though. The red soul gem wouldn’t be left alone for long. Katla looked around. Where to leave it? The Lucky Skeever would be locked, no one would enter again until Tara arrived.

Still. She couldn’t just leave it lying out in the open. That seemed dangerous. Tempting the Daedra for mischief, even. Where to put it? She wouldn’t say where in the letter, just that it was here.

Where?

Katla lifted her head up and looked towards the bedroom, which took up most of the second floor. Of course, in the nightstand by the bed. Similarly to where Katla had found it in her parents’ bedroom on that terrible night. She wouldn’t leave it out like her parents had, though. She wouldn’t make that deadly mistake.

Tears threatened to sprout at the memory. Katla shook her head, as if shaking the memory away.

Focus.

Finish the letter. Hide the soul gem. Then, pack.

The ship Tava’s Venture was leaving early in the morning, and Katla had to be on it. No other ship currently docked in Solitude was headed to High Rock.

She’d leave that out of the letter. Tara couldn’t know where she was going. Not for a while. Not until Katla had answers.

Katla reached for her pouch, the one with the soul gem. She could feel the gem calling through the fabric of the pouch. What was captured in this gem?

If Styrr’s theories were right, something terrible. Katla hadn’t told him about the gem, but his knowledge of the Wolf Queen, Queen Potema Septim, and her use of necromancy back in the Third Era, had been enough to get Katla’s mind working. He was a wealth of information the history books left out about the woman and her evil.

Katla looked again at the pouch. Was it wise to leave it with Tara? To leave it with a descendant of Tara Geonette? Would it tempt Tara? Call to her to release it? To turn it back over to these necromancers worshiping a long dead leader?

Katla could trust her. She had to. Tara had saved her life too many times. Tara was a good person, as horrified by what she knew of Geonette as Katla had been. Katla imagined the information from Mira had only reinforced that.

Yes, she could trust Tara with the soul gem. She couldn’t take it with her to High Rock. That was the real danger. Let it stay with Tara, in Skyrim.

Finish the letter.

Finish the letter. Hide the soul gem, pack, and get what sleep she could.

This was her last night in Skyrim.

(check out the mod, The Lucky Skeever, for an excellent player home in Solitude)

2E 585 – Family History, Part 4

Bedore Ashsmith shifted softly on his feet. It occurred to him he was as tense as a rabbit waiting to see what a fox’s next move would be.

A wolf, actually. They were far more vicious than foxes.

Her hair shone as fire this morning. She stood on the balcony outside of her bedroom, at the top of the tower on Hawkston Farm, where the cult had lived for over six months now. They continued to grow. At last count, thirty-two people considered themselves part of the Order of the Fire Queen. The farmhouse was being expanded to accommodate them, besides a bunkhouse being built on the other side of the grain mill.

Tara had a way of attracting people to her, Bedore thought.

The moment she’d walked into that inn back in Wayrest, he’d been drawn to her. Like a luna moth to a flame. Her hair was its most gorgeous and passionate in bright sunlight or bright candlelight. The inn’s light that fateful night had set her hair ablaze.

He’d played it cool as nearly every other man fell over themselves to get her attention. Men could be so disgusting.

What had intrigued him were her eyes. Well, not the eyes. Certainly, they were a lovely green that set off with her pale skin and fiery hair perfectly.

No, it was that delicious, ambitious soul within her eyes he was drawn to.

Fortunately, she’d read the ambition in his eyes and she’d asked him to join her.

It hadn’t taken long to join her in bed. Of course not. There was a reason he kept himself fit. He knew he was attractive to women, and many men, and used it to his advantage. People were such useful objects.

Being Tara Geonette’s second in command, and lover, had its perks.

Though, not at the moment.

“I’m not sure why you and Lysona bothered to come back here without her,” Tara said. She turned around and leveled those eyes at him. Her voice had been ice.

He shifted again. He had not anticipated this level of anger from her.

“We…thought it best to regroup,” he said, modulating his tone into something soothing. “Best not to get caught.”

Her angry look did not change.

“I sent you two on one simple mission. A task so important, I asked my two most trusted leaders to handle it.” Her voice dripped with a level of condemnation he’d not heard in a long time. From his childhood teachers, long dead. He bristled. Then, checked himself.

Don’t be a fool, he thought. Stick with your plan.

“My apologies,” he said. “I should not have taken Lysona’s advice to give up the mission.” He bowed his head to add effect.

“Pathetic,” Tara said. She’d stepped inside and now stood just a foot away. Her anger had not abated.

“I…” Bedore started.

“You, Bedore, are my second.” She now stood inches away. She drove her long index finger into his chest for emphasis. “You were in charge, not Lysona. Leaders take responsibility.”

He looked into her eyes and found himself drowning in green embers.

He took a step back and knelt down, head bowed, neck exposed. Don’t grovel too much, he thought. But, he needed to figure out how to soothe her when she was this way. Or, excite her.

“You’re right, as always, my Queen,” he said. He looked up at her, careful to give her an imploring look without simpering. “I will complete the task.”

She stared down at him, seeming to savor the moment and his weakness. She traced her fingers across his forehead and through his hair, gently, as intimately as when they shared her bed. Her fingers reached the back of his neck.

She dug her nails in, piercing the skin. He bit his tongue to stop his startled yell. She yanked him up by the scruff of the neck until he stood in front of her again. He kept his face stoic. Best not to waver and let her know how much it hurt. He could feel rivulets of blood running down his neck, working their way under his shirt.

Her breathing had picked up, coming hot and heavy as they stood looking at each other, noses nearly touching.

“Don’t fail me again,” she whispered. “I need my niece brought here. Alive. Unharmed. Do you understand?” She traced her index finger down his forehead to the tip of his nose. Gentle again. He could almost hear her heart racing.

“I understand,” he said. He decided to match her breathing, to acknowledge he sensed her change in mood.

She pressed herself against him, full body. She brought her lips almost to his. They shared a few breaths. No pretending now, he felt himself respond.

“Just you this time. No Lysona,” she breathed. “Kill anyone who sees you or tries to stop you. Even if they’re one of my relatives. Except children. Do not hurt any children of my blood.”

She gave him a lingering kiss. “Understood?” It was barely a breath.

“Yes, my Queen,” he said, more eagerly than he intended.

“Good,” she said.

She pushed him onto the bed and Bedore followed every command.


(shout out to the mod, Black Mage Armor SE, Bedore’s outfit)

4E 202 – The Return of Mira

“You should eat something,” Mira said. “You’re going to get drunk.”

“I want to be drunk,” Tara said. She hiccupped, as if for emphasis.

Katla was gone.

Gone.

It wasn’t goodbye, she’d said. Might as well have been. She was gone.

And here was Mira. With all those painful memories.

Tara hiccupped again and pulled the bottle of mead closer to her, as if to hug it.

Katla’s bow sat in her lap. Katla’s letter was carefully tucked in her pouch. Maybe if she read it again, she’d catch some clue as to where Katla had gone. She said she’d have gotten her father’s ebony bow by now. Where would that have been hidden for years?

Dragonbridge.

Of course.

Or, Solitude, where she’d spent the most time? Something to think about. Where would Katla go first? Would assassins be waiting for her?

When you fail the one…

Yes, Tara had failed Katla. She wasn’t protecting her anymore.

…Don’t fail the other.

Rigmor.

Rigmor was in her future.

Rigmor didn’t matter right now, though. Katla did.

And Mira.

Tara took a swallow of mead.

“Why are you here?”

Mira sighed. “Did Katla not say in her letter?”

“She did,” Tara said. “Why are you here?”

A small smile broke across Mira’s face, before disappearing. She nodded.

“On the surface, to meet with Tolfdir and Mirabelle about a Nord ruin they’re exploring. The Synod Conclave is hoping to be involved. I’m here as an ambassador of sorts.”

Tara took another swallow. A burp escaped. She waited.

Mira nodded again, acknowledging it wasn’t the real answer. “I think I can help you.”

Tara drained her mead, then waved to Haran, Dagur’s wife, for another.

“You think you can…help…me?” Tara heard the sarcasm drip out of her.

Mira pursed her lips. “I deserve that.” She somehow intensified her gaze. “I deserve all the hostility and anger you’re feeling.”

“Yep.” Haran had brought over another mead. Tara took a big gulp. She didn’t want to be sober.

“I can help you,” Mira said. “I’ve learned some things. I have an idea how to…”

“I don’t want your ‘help’,” Tara said. “You ‘helped’ enough when I was a child.”

Gods, why couldn’t she be drunk already? Better yet, numb. She didn’t want these feelings. This anger at Mira. Why did she have to come back? Dredge up all the pain?

“I can repair some of the damage I caused,” Mira said. A pleading entered her voice. “Please, Tara. Let me help. Let me undo some of what I did.”

“I. Don’t. Want. Your. Help.” Tara stood, then felt herself sway. Not sober now.

“Then, do it for Katla. She begged me to help you.” Mira’s eyes and voice had softened. She seemed so…earnest.

Katla. She’d been the last to see Katla. She’d talked to Katla, for how many days, all while Tara had no idea Katla was leaving her. The anger flared. She wasn’t going to get to a state of numbness. This was too much. No magic future. No Katla. Mira back.

“Don’t…don’t say her name.”

“She loves you so much, Tara…”

Tara threw what was left of her mead in Mira’s face.

The shock on Mira’s face only lasted a second. Then, a sereneness washed over her. A calm Tara herself had never felt seemed to emanate from her. Mira looked down at her mead soaked robes and wiped the worst of the mead dripping down her face with her hand. Then, with that same hand, she turned her wrist slightly, and it evaporated. Her robes were dry, as if the drink had never been tossed.

Tara blinked, swayed, and then sat back down with a thump. What magic was that?

“How…I’ve never seen that before,” she said. She hiccupped.

Mira gave a small smile. “A type of alteration spell. Like a transmute spell.” She paused. “That was a waste of perfectly good mead.”

Tara blinked again. “Did you just make a…joke?”

Mira smiled. “I’m trying to develop a sense of humor. I’m not sure it’s working.”

Tara couldn’t help herself. “Needs work, but not bad for a novice.”

Mira let a laugh escape. “Thanks.”

Tara looked at her for a minute. Mira met her gaze with that new softness Tara wasn’t used to.

“But, for me, let her help you now. Let her fix what she helped create.”

Katla thought Mira could help. And Mira had information on Tara Geonette.

For Katla, she needed to put aside her anger. Her pain. At least long enough to hear Mira out. For Katla, she could do that.

After she sobered up, anyway.

Tara looked at the food on the table. Mira had ordered salmon steak, bread and goat cheese. A bowl of soup, maybe vegetable, was also on the table.

Tara’s stomach growled. She realized she hadn’t eaten in more than a day. Not since before she’d gone down into The Midden.

She tore into the salmon.

“Okay. For Katla,” she managed between bites.

Mira smiled and nodded. “Good.”

While Tara ate, Mira caught her up on the last year and half of her life. She’d stayed in Cyrodiil, finishing her research on the teleportation pads she’d studied at the College of Whispers.

She said she’d been intermittently visiting all the Synod Conclaves for research.

“I’ve never stopped looking for answers; some hint of what might have happened to you.”

Tara swallowed the chunk of bread she’d just bitten into. She coughed. Should have chewed that better, she thought.

She took a swallow of the fresh mead Haran had brought both of them. Now that she was eating, the initial inebriation was wearing off. As long as she drank the mead at a reasonable pace, she could enjoy it.

“Find anything?” Tara surprised herself. She thought she’d snap back to anger about being studied, or the research, but curiosity was winning.

Mira frowned and shook her head. “No. I mean, there are all kinds of stories of weird magic. And who knows what we’ve lost over the ages. Or when the Dwemer disappeared.”

“But,” Tara said. “You think you can help me now?”

Mira’s eyes brightened. “Yes. I think you’ll always have these waves.” She stopped and Tara watched her face shift into a deep sadness. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

How was she supposed to respond to that? Forgive her? No. Not that. Not yet. Maybe never.

Tara waved her hand to dismiss the apology. “Go on.”

“I think you can learn to control them,” Mira said. “I have ideas on that. I believe I can teach you how to only send them at those you want them to affect. And, hopefully, have far fewer of them. Be able to stop them. Or, at least more than you do now. I assume you stop them on occasion?

Tara nodded. Talking to Mira right now about her waves, so dispassionately, was odd. It struck her she’d never talked to anyone about them in any detail. Always only in response to them being found out. After she’d damaged something or someone.

“If I can…calm…myself down fast enough, I stop them,” she said.

Calm.

Gods, how she hated that word.

Mira leaned back in her chair and took a sip of her mead. She grew thoughtful.

So serious, Tara thought.

“That’s what I thought. Your emotional state is a major factor, if not the factor.”

“My anger,” Tara interrupted.

Mira nodded. “Yes. Your…well-earned anger.” She took another sip. “Not the only emotion involved, though.” She leaned forward. “I think I can teach you a kind of focus that will allow you to direct aspects of the waves.”

“You’re not going to teach me to calm myself down?” This was new.

Mira shook her head. Her eyes held a sadness. Lingering shame, perhaps.

“No, that was a mistake. Whether by magic or asking you to settle down, trying to calm you was the worst thing to do.”

Mira looked away and was silent for a minute. She then turned back to Tara with bright eyes.

“Tara, there’s something different about magic within you. Different from other mages. Different from me. I don’t know how to explain it. Nor, do I understand exactly, but…”

Mira straightened up. She suddenly had an air about her that brought back the memories from their time together at the College of Whispers. When Mira had taught and excited everyone around her. The element of her that Tara had learned to admire and respect. She wasn’t a practical mage as much as a teacher. A true researcher and educational wizard.

“I’m glad Katla wrote to me and asked about Tara Geonette. It helped me come to a conclusion.”

“What?”

“There is something about our ancestor. Something she did hundreds of years ago that is why you’re the way you are with magic.”

“What…how?” Tara found herself blinking in shock again. What?

“I’m still working it out. I have a lot more research to do, but she did something that affects our bloodline.”

Tara felt her jaw drop open. She closed it.

“I know,” Mira said. “I don’t have much to tell you on that aspect yet. But, as for the Order of the Fire Queen, and whether they’re still around and the ones after Katla, I believe they are.”

“You told Katla?”

“I did. When I got here.” Mira smiled. “You know, she impressed me. You found yourself a strong Nord. She really loves you, too.”

Tears sprouted. “Well,” Tara said. “I seem to have lost her.”

Mira looked concerned. “I…I don’t know what’s in the letter, but I was under the impression she wasn’t breaking up with you.”

Tara wiped her eyes. “I don’t know anymore. I’m…lost.”

“I’m sorry, Tara.” Mira’s voice was gentle. “I could tell magic scares her. That she didn’t like you studying it.”

“If she’d waited a few days, problem solved,” Tara said. She drained the last of her mead. Her mood had soured again. Katla was gone. Everything Mira had bombarded her with didn’t change that reality.

“Why?” Mira asked.

“Because I quit magic. The Augur told me what I already knew. What you all knew. It’s dangerous for me to pursue magic. I accept it now.” Tara shifted. “That’s why I came here. To tell her.”

Mira now had a look of confusion. Her face didn’t seem to know if it should be happy or sad about the news.

“The Augur?”

“Come on,” Tara said. She stood. “Let me catch you up on things while I pack up my room at the College. And, uh, actually officially quit.”

They left the inn together. Tara kept her hand tightly around Katla’s bow on the walk. Something of Katla’s to protect now and for however long it took to get her back.

4E 202 – Love, Loss, Letters

“Where is she?!”

How was she here?

Why was she here?

“Tara…” Mira started.

“Where is Katla?!” Tara roared at Mira.

“Keep it down in there!” Dagur, owner of The Frozen Hearth Inn, yelled.

Tara tried to steady herself. She hadn’t stopped trembling since she burst into the inn, after leaving The Midden. She’d gotten a dirty look from Dagur from that arrival. Guess he’d tired of her busting into the inn, and not spending any money.

It’d been three days since she’d seen Katla. She’d respected her wishes. She’d studied, spoken to Tolfdir some more, then made that trip to The Midden. She’d been down there a day, apparently.

She’d come straight here, after that ominous warning.

Now that you’ve failed the one, do not fail the other.

Tara thought of Freta and her warning, so long ago, but so fresh in her memories.

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

Who was the “one”? Freta had said Rigmor was one of them.

Was Katla the other? How had she failed her?

“Where is she?!” Tara asked Mira again, keeping her voice down this time.

Why was Mira here? How did she know Tara was here, in Winterhold? At the College? Had Mirabelle written her after that wave incident? Had Katla?

No. Why would Katla write Mira? She knew Tara’s feelings on her sister. She’d respected them.

But here Mira was. In Katla’s room.

Okay…deep breaths, Tara thought. Figure this out.

She inhaled slowly and let her eyes take in the room.

Katla’s clothes and backpack were not in sight. Instead, a different backpack sat on the bed. Cleaner, yet older. As if its owner traveled frequently, but in places where the backpack wouldn’t get dirty. In cities, towns, and inns. Not the wilderness Katla and Tara had spent so much time camping in. It had to be Mira’s.

An ache crept into Tara’s chest. A steady throb surrounded her heart, and threatened to shift and amplify.

No, no, no, no.

Mira was sitting in a chair at the small table in the room. On the table rested Katla’s bow.

Katla’s bow was shaped like a common hunting bow, but its steel tips were a slight blue, and the wood of the bow was a rich, dark wood instead of the blonde wood Tara saw around Skyrim.

How many times had Katla saved her life with that bow? How many times had they saved each other?

The ache added a stabbing pain.

A letter sat on top of the bow.

Tara shifted her eyes to Mira. To the sister she hadn’t seen in a year and a half. The new year was only a week away.

The time since they’d last seen each other seemed so much longer. So much had changed.

By the looks of her, much had changed for Mira as well.

Her hair was longer now, styled in a way Tara had never seen before. Mira had grown out her bangs, and much of her deep black hair was pulled back in a ponytail to rest on the sections left unbound. Some standout strands hung in front of her face.

The overall look made her seem younger. She still looked serious. Mira had always looked serious, but somehow, they didn’t look twelve years apart in age.

She looks more relaxed, Tara thought. As if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

Tara supposed it had been. All that shame during their final fight atop Frostcrag Spire.

“Katla asked me to tell you to read the letter. That we should speak afterwards,” Mira said. Her voice and tone were the same as always. No humor. Matter of fact.

No, not quite. There was an edge of softness to it. Tara flashed back to the good months they had together at the College of Whispers. To the bonding and kindness Mira had shown. Before the truth had come out.

Mira stood. Her icy blue eyes pierced. They, too, had a softness rare for Mira. “I’m going to step out. Grab some food and drink at one of the tables,” she said. “Come find me when you’re finished reading the letter.”

She lightly touched Tara’s arm as she left the room. She closed the door behind her, leaving Tara alone.

Strength left her legs and Tara found herself sitting in the other chair at the table. The one she’d sat in normally when Katla and she’d rented the room initially.

The stabbing pain picked up its pace.

She reached out and caressed the bow. Her hands trembled and ignored her requests to stop.

She’d started crying as well. No way to stop that.

She picked up the letter and read.

“Tara, my love.

I will be back for my bow. This is not goodbye. Unless that’s what you want. I hope you can forgive me.

I’m sorry. I should’ve told you about Mira. I got so angry with you for keeping things from me, and here I am. I did the same to you. What a hypocrite I am.

I love you.

I remember the moment I realized I loved you. Not just crushing on you. That happened the moment I laid eyes on you back in Falkreath. Your soul shines through your eyes. And touches mine. I don’t know how to describe it. You’re amazing. Not just gorgeous. Amazing as a person.

I knew I loved you, really loved you, when I woke up the morning after that crazy night outside of High Hrothgar. I woke up to you sleeping next to me. I felt so safe. So comfortable. And then you opened your eyes and I knew it. I loved you.

I love you, but I can’t be near you right now. Your waves terrify me. Magical power scares me. You and magic scare me. For the sake of us, I need to be away from you until you figure out magic for yourself.

You’re a warrior, Tara. You need to come to that conclusion yourself, though.

Mira. Right. I need to explain. Please forgive me.

I wrote her two months ago. No, not about your waves.

When we couldn’t find out more about your ancestor, Tara Geonette. I was scared. Frustrated. I wanted answers. I thought Mira might have them. Your family suppressed your magic when you were little. Maybe they’d kept information about Tara from you, too.

I took that chance. Talk to her. She has things to tell you about your Fire Queen ancestor.

Then, please, for me, let her help you.

I know what she did was terrible. I can never understand that level of violation.

But, for me, let her help you now. Let her fix what she helped create.

Don’t try and find me. Write me.

Take care of my bow. Use it to keep yourself safe. By the time you read this, I will have my father’s ebony bow in my hands. I hid it well years ago. I’m ready for it now.

Talk to Mira. Then, write me. We’ll go from there.

I love you, Tara.

Katla”

Tara read the letter again.

The stabbing in her chest settled into an ache. A constant pain, enough to tell you it was there, but not enough to stop you. A reminder of a wound.

She folded the letter carefully and set it back on top of the bow. Katla’s bow. Hers for now.

Katla was gone. Tara had failed her. She was no longer protecting her.

No more magic.

No more Katla.

What was she supposed to do?

Talk to Mira.

Tara looked at the closed door.

She’d talk to Mira. For Katla.

4E 202 – Dreams Don’t Come True

“You already know the truth.”

Tara stared at the ancient wood door, so inexplicitly placed down in the strange blend of caves and tunnels that was the Midden; the area under the College of Winterhold.

The things she’d seen just to get to this door.

When Tolfdir warned her about the dangers, she’d assumed he meant the couple of skeletons she’d destroyed and the far too abundant skeevers. Skeevers were such aggressive rats. She’d stopped counting how many were now dead down here.

No, neither the attacking skeletons nor skeevers had been the danger. Dark magic seeped from the walls here. Tara felt it in her bones.

The rooms she’d past. All the old, ruined books, destroyed by spells gone wrong. The dusty alchemy table, littered with ingredients saved for poisons. The bones embedded in stone in strange patterns.

Then, there’d been the magic forge, with the symbol of an Oblivion gate at the bottom of it.

Or that gauntlet, clearly a Daedric relic of some sort, in one of the rooms.

Dark magic emanated from here.

Where did this Augur fit in all of this?

“Your perseverance will only lead you to disappointment. You follow a path to your destruction. And the destruction of those you care about.”

“What?” Tara asked the door. She’d hardly arrived at the door when The Augur of Dunlain, it had to be him, started speaking. The door itself was closed. What did this Augur look like behind it?

“Tolfdir said you could help me,” she said.

“Tolfdir told you the truth. This is the help you need,” The Augur said. “You don’t want to hear these words, but you know they speak true.”

Tara bit her lip.

You’re not a mage, Tara.

How many times had the voice in her head, the truth in her head, told her this?

“Can I see you?” she asked.

Silence draped over her for a minute. If The Augur contemplated, that seemed what he was doing.

“You may.”

The ancient door swung open and Tara put up a hand to shield her eyes from the blue light that suddenly enveloped her. Her eyes watered and it took a full minute of blinking to get used to the light.

The Augur was a large, floating, ball of the same magical energy that came out of the fountains throughout the College. He floated above a similar fountain…well, in the room the door opened into.

Whatever happened to him, Tara thought, he must’ve fused with the energy of the College. Had this room he was in once been his laboratory? Had one magic experiment gone wrong? Or, many?

“I show you myself to warn you. Not all gifted in magic are meant to pursue it.”

“It’s all I’ve dreamed of,” Tara said. She hadn’t expected to whisper. Or, to start crying.

“It is not all you dream.”

“How do you know about that?”

“Knowledge is power. Knowing spells can be powerful, but applying that knowledge is key. You will never be able to apply your knowledge. You know all this already.”

You’re not a mage, Tara.

The words rattled in her head. All these lessons. All this time, these years, trying to learn, trying to control her magic. Her waves. Was it all for naught? Were the sacrifices to get here wasted?

The words were true, though. She knew it. The Augur was right. Tolfdir had been right to send her here. The Augur was giving her the words she needed to hear. The answer she already had.

Tara wiped tears from her face.

The waste was not in pursuing her dream. It’d been in not giving up when she knew the truth in her heart. When, standing in front of those Guardian Stones with Katla, she’d been afraid to touch the one that called to her.

The Warrior Stone.

Time to leave the College and move on. Time to focus on Katla.

“Thank you,” Tara said to The Augur. “You’re right.”

“Now that you’ve failed the one. Do not fail the other,” The Augur said.

“What?” Her hairs stood on end.

The door swung closed and the blinding blue light that was the Augur faded, leaving Tara staring in the darkness of the Midden.

Now that you failed the one…

She needed to get to Katla.

4E 202 – Loss

Where was she?

Tara stood in her room in the College. No Katla.

She’s only been, what, twenty minutes behind her?

Damn Tolfdir.

Mirabelle had motioned to Tara to join her, Onmund, Colette, and Tolfdir after the wave incident.

Tara had chosen Katla, though. She needed to catch her. Explain. Calm her down.

She’s scared.

She’d made it out of the Hall of Elements and caught sight of Katla, who was heading into the Hall of Attainment, and their room, probably.

“Tara!” Tolfdir had shouted. Tara had never heard him shout, not even raise his voice once, in the months she’d been here.

She stopped in her tracks. He’d stepped out of the Hall of Elements, as well, and was standing behind her only a few paces. How had he been so fast?

“Back inside. We need to talk,” Tolfdir said. His voice made no allowance for argument or disobedience.

Tara had dutifully trudged back inside with him. This would only take a minute. She’d catch up to Katla.

Everyone stared as they approached where Mirabelle, Colette, and Onmund still stood gathered. Tara felt like everyone was studying her as if she were a new bee they’d discovered and were deciding if she was going to sting them. Or, a dragon. And whether it was going to breathe fire down on them.

“Are you okay?” she asked Onmund.

He nodded. “Colette patched me right up. I’m sorry I sent that fireball at you.”

Mirabelle cleared her throat. Her eyes bored into Tara.

“What magic was that?” Her voice was steady. She seemed curious, and nothing more.

“I…” Tara paused. How to explain a wave? Not really possible. Certainly not without details she didn’t want to give out.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Tara said.

“It’s not a shout,” Colette offered.

“No, it’s not,” Mirabelle said. “Though, it seems similar to the shout I’ve been told Ulfric used on King Torygg. Some kind of force magic.”

“Is it a spell?” Tolfdir asked.

Tara shook her head. “No. It just…erupts from me.”

“Can you control it?” Mirabelle asked.

That was the real question, wasn’t it?

“I’m working to improve my control,” Tara lied.

“Did you intend to hit Onmund, and everyone else, with this…?” Mirabelle started.

“Wave,” Tara filled in. “I call them waves.”

“Did you intend to hit Onmund with a wave?”

“No,” Tara confessed.

Mirabelle nodded. She turned to Tolfdir. “Come see me later.”

She nodded again to the rest of them. “Excuse me.” She then turned and left.

Tara’s heart sank. History was repeating.

Katla.

She needed to get to Katla.

“Everyone’s dismissed,” Tolfdir said. Everyone had still been standing around, watching, listening.

Judging.

Tara waited. She knew she wasn’t dismissed.

As everyone filed out, Tolfdir watched them leave. They were alone within seconds.

Tolfdir turned back to Tara. His eyes rested on her. Kindness radiated out from them.

“I want you to speak to someone. An old…friend of mine,” he said.

“Who?”

“He was a brilliant student, an accomplished wizard. Delved into magic in a way none had seen before. A Breton. Once,” Tolfdir said.

“Who?” Tara asked again. He was confusing her.

“He’s down in the Midden. We call him the Augur.”

“The Midden?”

“Yes,” Tolfdir said. “Below the College. You should speak to him. I think he can help you.”

“Okay,” Tara said. What else to say? The Midden? An…Augur? Perhaps she should ask the others. If anyone would speak to her after that wave.

Katla.

She needed to get to her. Tara excused herself from Tolfdir and hurried out of the Hall of Elements back to her room.


Tara looked around again, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.

Katla’s bow was gone. All of Katla’s stuff was gone.

No, no, no, no.

Tara felt her heart skip. A pain emanated from her chest.

She scanned the room again.

Gone. Katla’s stuff was gone. Katla was gone.

No. She had to be nearby.

The Frozen Hearth Inn.

Of course. The only other place nearby to get a room.

Tara ran there, not even bothering to grab a heavy fur to protect against the cold.

She burst into the inn. Everyone looked her way, then turned back to their drinks.

The inn felt crowded for it only being early afternoon.

But, it was cold outside and, well, Nords and their drinking. Tara walked through the crowd, searching.

No Katla.

She had to be in one of the rooms for rent. Perhaps the one they’d initially rented.

The door to that room stood ajar. Tara stepped in, not bothering to knock.

Katla was unpacking her backpack, laying folded clothes on the bed. She turned her head at the sound of Tara coming into the room. Their eyes met. She’d been crying.

“You need to leave,” she said.

“Katla, we…” Tara started.

“I can’t talk about this right now,” she interrupted. “You need to leave.”

“We have to talk about this.”

“Not right now.” Katla looked to be fighting through anger and fear at once. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

Tara’s mouth dropped open. That pain in her chest persisted.

Katla let out a sigh and ran her hands over her face for a second. Her eyes then focused on Tara with that firmness and intensity Tara both hated and admired.

“Tara, I’m scared. Of you. I can’t talk about this with you while I feel like this.”

She set her jaw. “I need space. What I saw you do to a bunch of mages in an instant. Just…”

She shook her head. “Bad enough I watched you get hit by a fireball.” Her tone softened at that.

“I don’t trust mages. I don’t like magic. What you do…out of control…the power you wield.” She shivered.

“I’ve hated being at this college every day since we arrived. I’ve only been here for you. I warned you I didn’t want to stay long. And now…you…another wave…”

“Tolfdir wants…” Tara started. She’d tell Katla what he said. About the Augur. Surely the Augur could help her with her waves. That’s why Tolfdir had told her to go see him, her, whatever it was, right? Maybe this would settle Katla’s nerves.

“I don’t want to talk about it!” Katla interrupted. Her mouth formed into a tight line.

“I’ll be here for a few days. Don’t come see me. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to talk.”

They stood looking at each. Tara felt her eyes fill with tears. Katla’s eyes matched.

“Get out. Now,” she said.

The cold walk back to the College numbed Tara. Like too many times in her life, she welcomed it.

2E 584 – Family History, Part 3

Tara Geonette stretched out her right arm, lit a fireball in her hand, and sent it towards the distant fox.

The fox turned to ash seconds later, never aware of its impending destruction. That would teach it to come looking for crops to steal, Tara thought. She’d need to remind everyone to keep an eye out for any other wildlife that might damage the crops. Deer, foxes, rabbits, whatever stepped on the property, they’d need to be killed and skinned for their meat.

The farm needed to look well cared for, which included keeping out pests.

Tara surveyed the rest of the property. Her property. She stood on the upper floor balcony of the stone tower, outside of the room she’d turned into her bedroom and personal lab. The top floor was all hers, as it should be. From this balcony, she could see all areas of the farm and past the road to the other low lying farmlands near them.

The lower half of the tower housed the community kitchen and training area. The small stone and wood farmhouse next to the tower served as the bunkhouse for her disciples. There were ten of them now, with more to come.

The farm was the perfect size for the burgeoning cult. The Order of the Fire Queen is what Lysona had started calling them. Perfect.

Lysona’s skills as an alchemist had come in handy and Tara had left most of the day to day running of the farm up to her. She was quite capable and malleable.

Because they needed to keep a low profile, in plain sight, Tara insisted most of the crops planted and harvested be the same as the previous owners’. Which meant mostly wheat was grown. They kept the wheat on the outer sections, so from the road, things looked no different. Further in, they’d added leeks, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes to even out what they could harvest for themselves, reducing the need to go to town.

Lysona had found hidden areas behind the tower, plus within its basement to grow the alchemy ingredients needed for potions and poisons. One had to be completely on the land to see the nightshade and deathbells sprouting.

Seven months after leaving that cave near Wayrest, and Tara finally felt like she had a place to grow her cult and powers.

So much of the Rivenspire region was still in turmoil, even all this time after the fighting from King Ranser’s War. Finding land large enough for her needs, but held by an insignificant noble family no one would miss had not been easy. Other prospects had not panned out. Alcaire had earned her the next three recruits, after Bedore and Lysona, but the people had been suspicious and the politics of the region seemed unstable. Perhaps it’d simply been too close to Wayrest for her tastes.

The tower and surrounding land here in Rivenspire, south of the city of Shornhelm, had belonged to the Hawkston family. The “sale” had gone smoothly enough.

Tara had ordered Bedore to kill Carolabyth, which was enough to convince her husband, Perard, to sign over the land. They’d not had to kill their daughter, Vannara, to convince the man his farm wasn’t worth that much.

Their daughter had lived, until Tara killed her and Perard, placing their souls, along with Carolbyth’s, in her soul chest. Best to not have any witnesses, she’d reminded Bedore and the others. No matter their promises, they would’ve eventually told someone of being forced off their land by necromancers.

Tara needed more souls, anyway. By handling their deaths herself, she was assured of the suffering they’d gone through, which was key.

Bedore had done well enough, but his incineration of Carolabyth had been too fast.

He didn’t have the same control over fire as she did, Tara reminded herself. No one did.

She lit flames in her left hand and admired them. Fire had always come easy to her. If there was a magic she did not have to work at, it was flames of any sort. Even when she was just a baby, her parents claimed, she’d been producing flames in her hands.

Conjuration still took some focus, though she was a master now, so the magicka drain was minimal. Illusion magic was the same.

Fire.

There was something about burning people alive that satisfied her.

Excited her.

Conjuration was more a means to an end, though there was joy in resurrecting someone you’d just killed. The power you could have over them eternally. Well, that was her right. Not enough people understood that. Yet.

Tara extinguished the flames in her hand and turned away from the view of her property. She looked through the open balcony doors at Bedore, still asleep in her bed.

Yes. She’d need to work with him on his fire spells. Teach him the control to slowly roast people alive. Teach him to not only tolerate the screams of agony flames could elicit, but to appreciate them. Roll that sound around in your mind and rejoice how it marked a soul before trapping. The power that pain added to the strength of a soul.

He needed to appreciate torture more.

Tara let a smile creep across her face. Maybe they could get in a lesson today, between her long list of tasks to do.

First, though, time to have more fun with him in bed. She still wasn’t sure how he felt about her. Was this just mutual attraction, satisfying some carnal lust? Was he drawn to her for her power? Was he ambitious and saw her as a path to his own domination? He could be hard to read.

Those dark blue eyes and black hair. A body as chiseled as his face.

She’d understand him sometime soon. The more time they spent together, the more she’d be able to read him, no matter how private he was trying to be. He did not stand a chance.

Regardless, time for some morning fun. She stepped back into her bedroom for a start to the new day.

(Tara Geonette recreated in Skyrim’s engine. I’d originally created her in ESO)

4E 202 – Be Careful What You Wish For

Tara paced back and forth, at the top of the College of Winterhold. What was it with magic schools, tall towers, and her needing space to think?

Frostcrag Spire’s top balcony had been cold. The open courtyard at the top of the College of Winterhold was at least as cold, especially with the constant wind from the Sea of Ghosts. The view was nearly as fascinating as Frostcrag Spire’s. Where Frostcrag gave stunning views of Cyrodiil, here, the view showed the infinite ice and islands out in the sea. There was also Winterhold itself, and part of the statue of Azura. A Nord ruin was in sight, as well. Stunning and cold.

Cold and numbing. The numbing was good.

The courtyard on top of the college was large, spanning the roofs of all the halls and main building. Tara walked to the walled edge overlooking the sea. A bandit camp and groups of horkers, those sea lion beasts, could be seen on the closest spots of lands just offshore. Floating sea ice created areas one could walk on top of the water, to move between the outcroppings.

What had gone wrong?

Her arrival at the College of Winterhold was the epitome of everything. Why she was here in Skyrim. Why did everything feel so wrong?

Not everything. She had Katla. Katla was, well, everything. Or could be. Magic and Katla. That would be everything.

A gust of wind caught Tara’s hair and brushed it across her eyes and nose. More from habit than need, she scratched at her nose scars. Magic. The source of her pain. Her pain and frustration.

You’re not a mage, Tara.

She loved Tolfdir. If there was a bright light at this college, it was him. And having Katla here.

Otherwise, if she were being honest with herself, she was miserable.

She wasn’t progressing. At all. Her abilities were the same as when she’d been at the College of Whispers.

And the other students. They seemed nice enough, but Tara didn’t feel drawn to any of them. They either seemed to have their own issues, or were like J’zargo, staying away from her.

She wanted to like J’zargo, he was a Khajiit, which she loved. But, he was so competitive. Seemed to take offense for how powerful her fire magic was.

Brelyna had mentioned she thought J’zargo was working on some secret fire magic spell.

Tara liked Brelyna. A Dunmer, she was reserved and shy. She did not have patience for questions and refused to talk about her family’s history. Tara could respect that.

The wind let up for a moment and Tara heard a snowy sabre cat. She looked down over the wall and watched one attack a lone horker near the shore. Horkers were as mean as sabre cats, making the battle a toss-up. The fight lasted longer than she expected, with the cat finally earning its dinner.

Predators.

Hunting.

Who was hunting for Katla? Was it some cult her ancestor had started?

Maybe that was why she was miserable. They weren’t any closer to answers on the red soul gem. The College of Winterhold was a dead end on magic and finding out about who was after Katla.

Tara noticed the sun’s position. Time for class. Wards and other Restoration spells.

She was sick of learning, well, trying to learn, the other schools. The College of Winterhold insisted, though. Mirabelle had been clear; all students had to study all schools until they reached a certain level of proficiency. Then, they could focus on one school.

Should she stop by the Arcanaeum and visit Katla first?

No. Something was off with Katla these past few days. Tara felt it. Katla had seemed distant. One almost couldn’t discern it, but Tara was no fool. Something was up.

Perhaps it was simply her disappointment at the dead end of the search for more about the cult. Perhaps Katla was still processing Tara’s family history, and dealing with her fear of Tara’s magic.

Lack of control over your magic.

Perhaps. But…something new was up.

Tara left the roof through the door that led into the Hall of Attainment, then made her way to the Hall of Elements. Katla would probably come watch later in the lesson. She seemed to prefer Tara learning Restoration.

Learning. Strong word. Tara hadn’t made any progress on her healing or wards. Certainly not on Heal Other. She still couldn’t heal another person with magic. She couldn’t have saved Freta.

If it ever came to it, she couldn’t save Katla right now. She needed to know how to heal others with magic. She couldn’t lose Katla.

Colette Marence had just started lessons when Tara arrived. They were starting with wards, as usual. One student would use a ward while another shot a spell at them. The goal was to use stronger wards against stronger spells. All of them had moved from the basic ward, known as Steadfast Ward, onto Greater Ward. Everyone except Tara.

“Tara,” Colette said, “Work with Onmund. Practice your ward. Take turns.”

Tara bit her lip. Onmund was good with Destruction. She’d need to defend herself.

They positioned themselves off to the left. The other students broke off and found their own spots away from each other. No one should hit anyone else with an errant spell.

“I’ll do wards first,” Tara said. Better to get it out of the way.

Onmund nodded and prepared himself.

Tara threw up her Steadfast Ward. Onmund sent flames her way. It was the most basic of fire spells and Tara’s ward easily absorbed it.

He sent a firebolt next. Tara doubled her effort at the ward. It wanted to buckle, but stopped the bolt. Tara saw the fire fade against the blue glow of her ward.

She was about to tell Onmund to give her a moment to recover her magicka, when he sent the fireball at her.

Her ward collapsed and Tara felt searing pain as the fireball caught her in her left arm and chest.

For a moment, she was seventeen again and dropping to the ground after that piece of stone wall hit her in the face. The pain; that smell of burning flesh. The overwhelming of the mind with nothing but agony.

She fell to the ground and covered her face instinctively, before snapping back to the here and now.

The wave burst from her without thought and sent Onmund flying.

Onmund landed on the nearby steps. He gave a loud cry as the crack of bones breaking, his ribs probably, could be heard.

Tara cast healing on herself. It wasn’t enough to stop the pain completely, but her robes and skin stopped burning so intensely.

She looked up.

Everyone else had been knocked down. Not thrown, thankfully. Instead, they’d sat down hard, as if a large hand had shoved them to the ground. They were all climbing slowly to their feet as she looked around.

Except Katla.

Katla was standing near the entrance to the hall. It seemed she’d just arrived to watch lessons. The wave had not knocked her down.

Tara watched her face flash through emotions.

Fear and worry, perhaps at seeing Tara hit with fire. Shock at the wave. And now…

Colette was at Onmund’s side, healing his broken bones. Tolfdir appeared in front of Tara. He immediately cast a strong healing spell on her. Tara felt and watched as all the pain stopped and her skin healed, without scarring. Her robes were a loss, with gaping holes where fabric had been.

“Stay here for a moment,” Tolfdir said. His voice was steady, soft, and kind. “We need to speak.”

He moved away from her and went over to Onmund, who was now on his feet, talking to Colette. He looked fully healed.

Everyone was staring at her. Confusion, curiosity, and fear dominated their faces. It felt like the Fighter’s Guild again. Or the Synod Conclave. Or The Count’s Arms Inn in Anvil.

Tara looked back towards Katla.

Gone.

She’d left the hall.

Tara stood. She needed to find Katla. What was going through her mind? She needed to catch her. Talk to her. Explain.

She turned to apologize to Onmund. He hadn’t deserved that wave. Perhaps they should’ve planned the lesson better, and agreed to stop after two spells to recover.

Mirabelle Ervine stood in the hall, near Onmund, Colette, and Tolfdir. They were all speaking together, with glances her way.

Tara’s heart sank.

Mirabelle waved for her to approach them. Her face was unreadable. As stern and still as Mira’s used to be.

Tara took one step towards her and stopped.

Who to deal with first? Mirabelle or Katla?

Katla.

Katla.

Tara left the Hall of Elements without a word.