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.

4E 202 – Relations

Katla muttered, closed the book, and dropped it on the table. She wanted to throw it across the Arcanaeum. Urag gro-Shub would have her head, though.

That was it. She had no more books to read or research. Tara had been right. There wasn’t much written about the Order of the Fire Queen, or any necromancy cult that wasn’t the Order of the Black Worm.

Now what?

Katla stood and stretched. Time for a break. And to see Tara. See how her lessons were getting on.

Katla sighed.

Did she really want to watch Tara perform magic?

No, she didn’t.

She’d hoped watching Tara practice would alleviate her fears. The opposite was happening.

It’d been weeks now, Tara spending the day on lessons while Katla combed through the Arcanaeum, reading every book she thought might have a scrap of information on cults.

She’d read every book on necromancy, and felt dirty from that. She’d then taken to reading every history book on the Second Era, particularly anything about High Rock. She’d read about the Mages Guild, its formation, and wavering times of allowing necromancy, then banning it, the back and forth and various arguments for its use.

Tara’s family name had come up again, some Geonette who’d been a knight during the Three Banners War. Tara’s family had both villains and heroes in its history. Didn’t most, when you thought about it? What mattered was which part of family history you celebrated.

The Order of the Fire Queen had been mentioned once in another book. Besides Tara Geonette, there’d been another name. A Bedore Ashsmith. If the book was right, he’d been Tara Geonette’s second in command. The book also claimed he’d died in the year 2E 596, in the Rivenspire region. There’d been no mention of what had happened to Tara Geonette.

Was this the cult that was after her and the red soul gem? And what was in the red soul gem? Wylandriah’s suggestion from back in Riften seemed so…lacking.

Katla returned the books to Urag. He grunted at her and checked the books, looking for any damage. Katla liked the Arcanaeum and Urag. The library was peaceful. One could get so lost in reading here. Urag was like one’s cranky old grandfather, hiding his love of books behind a tough and irritable exterior.

Katla made her way to Tara’s room in the Hall of Attainment, where novice and apprentice level mages each had a room. The College had given Tara permission to let Katla stay with her. They were the only couple at the College. It felt good to stay near Tara and not have to pay rent at the inn. Katla had yet to find any steady work to replenish their gold. As more than one shopkeeper had told her, Winterhold didn’t get much business, not many travelers passing through. She’d picked up some work at the stables and the inn, but it’d been sporadic. If nothing else, the College was saving them gold.

Maybe that was part of her discomfort. Katla was a Nord surrounded by nothing but mages here. Even that Thalmor advisor, Ancano, who’d recently arrived, was a mage.

Too many mages.

In the room, Katla changed her clothes and freshened up. She knew Tara was in the Hall of Elements at lessons now. To go and watch, or head into town for a bit?

Lessons. She’d go see how Tara was getting on with them.

Katla stepped into the Hall of Elements, the main attraction of the College, and where lessons were held.

The Hall, was round, with columns dotted along its edges. A large fountain sat in the middle of the hall, with a bluish magic beam, instead of water, shooting up through a small hole in the high ceiling. Other fountains with magic beams were scattered outside the college, along the bridge to the college, and in the main courtyard. The other halls had them, too. This one was larger and more impressive. Katla had no idea where the magic came from or its use. Did it help replenish the mages’ magicka reserves when needed? Or were they just fancy decoration?

Tara and the other students were at the opposite end of the main room, gathered around Tolfdir and Faralda. Tolfdir was a senior wizard and key teacher. He was old, an elderly Nord, with the gray hair and wrinkles to prove it. If Urag was a cranky grandfather, Tolfdir was one’s kind, wise, grandfather. The one you wanted to spend time with, as he showed you wonders and told stories of bygone eras.

He’d been welcoming and warm, and his teaching method matched. He lectured and demonstrated with extensive knowledge, never harshly or boastful.

Tara had told Katla he was a master level wizard at Alteration, though he seemed to know all the schools well. Katla wondered why he wasn’t the Master Wizard of the college, why Mirabelle was second in command instead of him. Tara had told her he was absent minded, she having found his alembic twice for him already. Perhaps that was why.

Faralda was another teacher there, when she wasn’t guarding the bridge against unwanted company, or testing prospective students. She seemed to be leading this lesson, with Tolfdir observing. What did she teach again?

As she approached, Katla frowned. They were studying Destruction magic today. That’s what Faralda taught. Of all the magic they practiced, Destruction made her the most uncomfortable. Especially with Tara.

Why?

Because this is when she’s dangerous.

All the students started shooting lightning bolts of various strengths at the targets. Faralda walked back and forth between them all, giving pointers and corrections. Onmund, a Nord student, seemed to be especially good, shooting chains of lightning from his hands.

Tara, on the other hand, was sending simple bolts out. Katla watched her fire several, then take a quick break to recover.

Katla smiled. She couldn’t help it. All this time together and Tara’s looks still made her catch her breath. Her hair glowed a deep red, the blue magic beam in the room giving it a rich glow, a hint of purple. Tara wore mage robes now. As soon as she’d started lessons, she’d stopped wearing her armor, except for walks into town. Her axes were safely stored back in their room. The robes fit well, showing her curves, even while hiding her muscles.

She looks better in leather armor, though, Katla thought. When would Tara realize she was a warrior, not a mage? Soon, hopefully.

Especially if the weak lightning bolts were any indication. She looked the most novice of all the students. It’d been the same with the Alteration lesson Katla had watched the other day. Tara was clearly behind the others. She’d refused to learn Illusion spells, not even attending those classes.

Had the teachers even acknowledged how angry Illusion lessons made her? No, not by the pacing rants Tara had had with Katla as sole company, in the open courtyard at the top of the main college building.

“They don’t get it. No one does,” Tara had repeated while pacing.

“I do,” Katla had answered. She didn’t quite get it. Necromancy was the worst magic to her. Tara was proof of the dangers of Illusion magic, though. The danger of relentlessly using it on someone, especially against their will. That, Katla could understand.

Faralda had them all switch to fire magic, and Katla instinctively stepped back. She was across the room from them, leaning against a far column, well out of their sight and any aim of magic. They hadn’t even noticed her yet.

Still. Fire.

The Khajiit student, J’zargo, was especially good with fire. He sent fireballs and strong blasts of fire easily at the targets.

Tara watched him for a moment, then aimed at her target.

Katla held her breath.

Tara produced a large fireball and sent it to the target. Its size dwarfed J’zargo’s fireball.

Everyone paused and watched her. Tara switched to flames. These, too, were large, stronger than anyone else’s. And, unlike the lightning, she didn’t stop. She seemed to have endless magicka reserves.

Katla watched the flames. The light and dance of yellow, orange, and reds was intoxicating.

Fire.

Fire Queen.

The Order of the Fire Queen.

Tara Geonette.

Tara.

Katla tore her eyes from Tara’s flames.

Tara Geonette. The Order of the Fire Queen. Was this cult the one after her? Katla needed answers.

Where to get them?

Katla watched Tara again. They’d all switched to cold spells. Tara, as with lightning, was behind everyone else, using an ice spike briefly, then resting.

Tara only knew her ancestor had been a witch. What if someone else knew? Someone else in her family might know the truth.

Mira.

Tara’s sister. The older sibling and impressive mage.

Would she know more?

Tara’s parents and Mira had all kept Tara’s magic suppressed. They’d created her anguish waves with their abuse.

Had they kept more from Tara? Perhaps Tara’s mother had told Mira the truth about their ancestor? Mira was a trusted mage, and seemed the favored child. Perhaps, like her magical abilities, they’d told Mira the truth, and she’d agreed to keep the truth from Tara.

Tara hadn’t talked to Mira in more than a year and didn’t seem interested in seeing her sister anytime soon, though.

Well, Tara didn’t need to see or write Mira. Katla could.

Katla left the Hall of Elements. Tara still didn’t know she’d been there, watching, being so focused on her lessons.

Katla would write a letter to Mira, ask for any information on Tara Geonette. Couriers would find Mira. They always found their target.

This was the answer. The next step.

Would Mira be willing to reveal the truth? She’d confessed everything else when Tara confronted her at Frostcrag Spire. Surely, she’d not hold this back, assuming she knew anything.

Only one way to find out.

Katla headed for the Arcanaeum. She could get a quill, ink, and paper there. Write the letter there, out of sight of Tara. Tell Tara later about writing to Mira.

Don’t keep this from her.

She’d tell her. Just. Not yet. Not while Tara was focused on lessons and learning.

Not until Katla had answers. Not until she had answers that would erase any anger Tara might have about reaching out to Mira.

This was the next step.

4E 202 – Stay

“I found something,” Tara said.

She tossed the book, Orders of Necromancy, on the little table in their rented room at the inn.

Katla looked at the book with, what, trepidation? Yes, that was it, Tara thought.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Tara said and grabbed her hand.

Katla let Tara guide her and they left the Frozen Hearth Inn.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, until they reached the stables near the edge of town.

Tara had her furs over her new, leather scout armor. Heavier, with far more padding, she liked the new armor, and its blue-black color. The scarf helped, too, in a place like Winterhold.

Would she ever get used to the cold of Skyrim?

“Come here,” Katla finally spoke and pulled Tara towards the back of Winterhold, to the cliffs that once had been the rest of the city, eighty years ago. Looking down, one could still make out some of the ruins, perpetually frozen at the edge of the sea.

There really wasn’t a lot to do in Winterhold. And nowhere to go. Winterhold sat nestled up in mountains, on the northern coast. Glaciers and icebergs outnumbered the few small islands one could see off the coast. Tara had spied a set of Standing Stones, similar to the Guardian Stones they’d been to way back in Riverwood, out on a tiny patch of land. She wanted to check them out soon. To see what blessing they offered.

There was also the statue of Azura higher up in the mountains. It could be seen for untold miles, Azura holding high the sun in one hand, and a moon in the other. Both she and Katla wanted to make a pilgrimage to it. Azura wasn’t like so many of the other Daedra. She was said to be good, to care about mortals. If Daedra could be considered good. The line between a Divine and a Daedra felt blurred at times.

“I’m scared, Tara,” Katla said, as they gazed out across the Sea of Ghosts. “I’m scared of you.”

Tara swallowed.

“I’d hoped you’d change your mind when we got here. That you’d give up trying to be a mage. That…” Katla paused and turned to look at Tara. Her rich eyes held a blend of fear, sadness, and something Tara couldn’t quite place. The wind blew constantly and here at the cliff’s edge, it tossed Katla’s hair around her face in mesmerizing shapes.

“I’d hoped you’d see your destiny is not as a mage. I knew it the moment you killed that first assassin. And again when you stood at the Guardian Stones.” Katla’s eyes softened. “You couldn’t decide which to touch, but I knew instantly. You’re a warrior, Tara.”

Tara took a deep breath and thought. Katla’s words pierced.

Afraid of her. Perhaps that was justified, considering what she’d seen Tara do.

She doesn’t trust me to control myself, Tara thought.

She’s right.

Then, there was the warrior comment. Had Katla seen the truth Tara was avoiding? She could be so perceptive at times.

Didn’t matter. This was why she’d come to Skyrim. This was her last chance to learn to control and reach her potential with magic. She had to try. Learn magic and protect Katla. Both were equally important. She could do both. Somehow.

“I have to give this a shot,” she said. “Coming to the College is the reason I came to Skyrim.”

What was the look on Katla’s face? Sadness? Disappointment? She was struggling with something.

“I owe this to myself,” Tara continued. “This is my last chance. To see if the potential I was born with is still there. To prove my family didn’t ruin me.”

Katla’s tone was soft. Gentle. “You’re not ruined, Tara.”

“I need to do this for me.”

Katla reached out and surrounded Tara’s hands with hers. She pulled her closer.

“I can’t change your mind. I see that.” Katla held her gaze. “What about me? My need to understand what happened to my family?”

Tara squeezed her hand. “Stay with me. I’ll still protect you. And we’ll keep up the research. Besides, I don’t intend to stay here forever. I already know a lot, studying at the College of Whispers for as long as I did. I just need…” Tara paused and thought. How long did she want to stay? What did she need now? “… a little more education to control my magic better. I promise not to stay too long.”

Katla turned to look out over the cliff, out to sea. She kept one hand holding Tara’s.

“Okay.” She said after a minute. “Not too long. I’m holding you to that.”

Tara smiled and squeezed her hand. “Okay! Not too long.”

Now for the hard part, she thought.

“Speaking of research,” she said. “I found something in that book.”

Katla blinked. “What did you find?”

Tell her while standing on the cliff? After barely getting a yes from her about staying at the College?

Be honest.

“The book talks about the various necromancy cults that used to exist. Small ones, mostly gone and destroyed. Ones that never became as large, or well known, as the Order of the Black Worm.”

Katla had turned completely back to Tara. Her eyes were as intense as Tara had ever seen.

Tara swallowed. “One of them was called the Order of the Fire Queen.”

Tara bit her lower lip.

“What?” Katla asked. Those eyes.

“Their leader. This…Fire Queen…her name was Tara Geonette.”

Katla raised an eyebrow.

“She was my ancestor,” Tara finished.

Katla’s voice dropped. Her grip on Tara’s hand tightened.

“Your ancestor was a necromancer?”

“Yes.”

Katla let go of her hand and turned back to the sea. Her face became unreadable.

“I didn’t know,” Tara said. “I’m, uh, named after her. Because of the red hair.”

Katla stayed silent, her gaze distant.

“Mom told us she’d been part of a witch coven. Back in the Second Era. When witch covens were more neutral, even respected, in High Rock. Not all witches become hagravens, or turn corrupted.”

She watched Katla, waiting.

Katla closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if soaking in the sea air.

She looked at Tara. Angry.

“You should have told me this before you asked me to stay with you at the College. Learning magic.”

“I’m not my ancestor,” Tara said. She tried to keep her sudden anger in check. This was unfair.

“You sure?”

“I am not my family!”

Katla crossed her arms. Tara mirrored her.

“You have a temper. You have a dark side.”

“I’m working on my temper! You know this!”

Katla raised an eyebrow. “You’re proving my point.”

“I am not my fucking family!”

“You nearly burned down your family’s farm when you left home!”

There it was, Tara thought.

When she’d confessed her guilt about setting the crops on fire when she left home, Katla had hugged her, but not said anything. They hadn’t discussed it since. Now she knew why.

“I’ve done things I’m not proud of,” Tara said. She let the angry tone go. “We’ve had this conversation before.” She leveled her eyes at Katla, with all the intensity she could muster.

“I am not my family. I am not, and would never become, a dark mage. I sure as fuck would never pursue necromancy.”

Tara kept her gaze on Katla. “I have a temper. I have anger issues. I have these waves, which I still don’t understand, nor can I control.”

Tara sighed and dropped her gaze. “I know I have my problems, Katla. Believe me when I tell you I am not my family. Especially not this ancestor.”

She met Katla’s gaze. “I love you and want to protect you.”

Katla held her gaze. “I love you, too,” she whispered. “I’m scared, though. Look at what necromancy has done to my life.”

Tara nodded. “I know. Look at what magic has done to both of our lives.”

She reached out and took Katla’s hands. “Stay with me. I want to get to the bottom of my ancestor. See if there’s a chance she has anything to do with your soul gem. I will finish my magic education here as fast as I can. I promise.”

Katla nodded. “Not too long, though, Tara. I don’t want to stay here long.”

Tara stood on the tips of her toes and gave Katla a quick kiss. “I promise.”

2E 584 – Family History, Part 2

“Your sacrifice is greatly appreciated,” Tara Geonette said. She stared at the three corpses and smiled.

The three women, Asteria, Agnes, and Zyra, had been the final Glenmoril witches that knew Tara directly. The fewer people alive who knew her past, the better.

Plus, there was something…delicious…about using their souls for her needs.

She stared at the three filled black soul gems. Each pulsed slightly now.

Had their suffering been enough? Certainly, they’d screamed loudly as they burned. Pain and suffering were required for each soul she intended to use.

What they’d gone through would have to do. She could always experiment with the next group of sacrifices.

She placed their soul gems in the chest, to join the others. How many would she need? No book was clear on this. Especially with what she wanted. No matter. The more the better. Souls were always useful.

She’d get more.

“Bedore and Lysona,” Tara said. “You can take the corpses. Practice your Reanimate Corpse spells with them. They were once witches, though,” she added. “Do not let them stay long. Dismember them when finished.”

Bedore and Lysona, the two Bretons from Wayrest she’d convinced to join her, stepped forward. Bedore was a young man with black hair and dark blue eyes she’d met a month ago, at the local tavern. He’d been about the only one who hadn’t flirted with her. She’d liked that. He was handsome, though. That chiseled face.

She’d need to behave herself with him. At least, for a while.

Lysona, a petite blond woman, had been hanging around the alchemy shop. Tara noted which ingredients she’d bought and took a chance.

How was it one could tell when a person held similar, dark interests? Sometimes, you just knew.

So far, they were both working out well. Eager, and with enough skill to prove they could learn. Not too much, though. Couldn’t have anyone wanting to challenge her. She needed loyalty and eagerness.

She left them and headed out of the cave. The day was bright, with a strong summer sun shining down. A few strands of her hair blew in her face from the steady wind cutting across the mountainside. She gave herself a moment to admire the deep red sunlight brought out in her hair.

Had Bedore noticed?

She pushed the thought aside and stared outward across the landscape. Her eyes rested on Wayrest, that gleaming city. She’d need to recruit some more. Perhaps she should send Bedore and Lysona?

No, not alone. But, bring them with her? Yes, that might help recruitment.

Or, perhaps, take a break from Wayrest, travel around, maybe to Alcaire? She needed to find a new home. The cave would no longer do. Too small. Too…uncivilized.

She let her eyes drift slightly west of Wayrest, past the edge of the city. The sky was clear enough to just make out the family farm.

Yes. Time to leave the area. Take her new, and only, disciples and find a better place on which to build. And learn. And gather more souls.

One more recruitment mission, then they could leave.

She studied the farm longer. So tiny from here. So…

One more soul trapping, too.

Yes. Then, she could move on to Alcaire.

4E 202 – Dreams

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

Tara woke with a start.

The dream. The premonition. Rigmor.

How many times had it repeated last night? Too many.

Tara yawned and rubbed her eyes. Was there anything new in it? Any new hint to what, when, how, who, with this Rigmor?

She thought on it. Swords clashing. Yelling and battle cries all around her. Was one of the voices an orc? Maybe that was new.

Tara looked to her side. Katla was still sleeping. She looked peaceful.

How to tell her? Should she tell her today?

Be honest. Stay with her.

Tara carefully slipped out of bed. Katla grumbled and rolled over, still asleep.

Tara looked out the high window of their rented room at the inn. Still dark.

Good. Maybe she could return the “borrowed” book before anyone noticed.

The Arcanaeum was silent when she slipped inside. The candles on the reading tables were low, bathing the library in deep shadow. Urag gro-Shub was nowhere in sight.

Tara set Necromancy in Modern Tamriel on the return section of the main counter. She needed to find another book. Modern hadn’t told her enough.

When she’d seen the name, Geonette, she’d kept the book and reread it.

It almost exclusively discussed the Order of the Black Worm, the most infamous necromancy cult in history. It’d been led by Mannimarco, the King of Worms, one of the earliest liches, and most dangerous.

Other cults had been mentioned, though.

Geonette.

Her ancestors, on her mom’s side, were the Geonette’s. Mom was a Geonette, before she’d married Tara’s father and her name had become Blaton.

Tara Geonette.

Why was the ancestor she was named after in the book?

You know why.

Why had she been named after such an ancestor?

That was easy. The painting that hung in the living area while growing up made it obvious.

Tara Geonette had dark red hair and green eyes.

Redheads didn’t happen too often in the family, so Tara had been named after one of the few.

Why did they even have a painting of her hanging in the house? That, perhaps, was the real question.

Tara moved along the bookcases quickly. She needed to find the other book, Orders of Necromancy.

Modern had only mentioned a few other cults. Most had failed, felled by the famous knights, the Lion Guard. Tara remembered some of the history from her education. Most of the events she’d read about were from the Second Era, around the year 2E 582. The same time period Tara Geonette lived.

Mom had said Tara Geonette was part of a witch coven, the Glenmoril Witches. She’d never mentioned a necromancy cult.

The book was in the fifth bookcase she checked.

Tara sat at a reading table and lit more candles, brightening the area.

She looked up to the grand, arch window, near the entrance to the Arcanaeum. Dawn was breaking, tendrils of pale light touching the glass. She should get back to Katla.

She needed to read the book. She needed to understand more before she talked to Katla.

You should read it with her.

No. She’d read it first. Understand as much as possible. Then, talk to Katla.


“Are you Tara Blaton?”

Tara looked up from the book to see Mirabelle Ervine, the Master Wizard of the College looking at her. Faralda had told her Mirabelle handled the day to day operations. She was who Tara was supposed to talk to if she was interested in joining the College.

Of course she was interested. But, she needed to talk to Katla first.

Talk to her about attending the college. And what you’re finding in this book.

“Uh, yes. How did you know?” Tara asked.

Mirabelle gave a quick, curt smile. “You exactly match the description your sister, Mira, gave me of you. Also, one of the mages overheard you and your companion talking yesterday. I didn’t think there were too many redheaded Tara’s around.”

Mirabelle looked to be Tara’s height. She was in Mira’s age range, and, like Mira, seemed to carry a serious wisdom about her. She was otherwise indistinct. Round face, brown hair and eyes. Another person to think of as serious.

“Did Mira write you?” Tara asked. Might as well find out if Mirabelle and the whole College had been warned.

“Oh no. We haven’t been in contact for years. I hope she’s well.” Mirabelle’s eyes drifted to the book Tara was reading.

“Studying some history,” Tara said. She hoped that answer would suffice.

“Please let me know if you’re interested in studying magic here,” Mirabelle said. “Pleasure to meet you.”

Tara couldn’t resist.

“I am!” She found herself standing. “I…that’s one of the reasons I came to the College. Besides some research for my companion,” she added.

“Splendid. Welcome to the College. When you’re finished here, you can find me for a set of robes, a tour, and I’ll get you started on your first class.”

Tara watched Mirabelle leave, then sat back down and looked at the book.

What had she just done? How was she going to tell Katla?

You don’t belong here.

Katla would have to accept it, Tara decided. She’d never said she wasn’t going to study magic here. She wasn’t giving that up. She’d stick with her plan. They could stay here, continue learning about the soul gem while Tara learned magic. Katla would be safe.

She’d learn magic and protect Katla at the same time. This would work.

You’re not a mage, Tara.

Now, she just needed to finish reading this book and figure out how to tell Katla about it. About Tara Geonette.

4E 199 – Buried Hope

Katla stood in front of her old home.

Who lived there now? The gentleman had said his last name. Lylvieve.

Not much had changed since she’d been born inside. At least from the outside. The wood and stone walls looked as sturdy as ever, eighteen more years of wear hadn’t changed it.

Katla stepped back and surveyed the rest of Dragon Bridge. Her memories were fuzzy, they’d left when she was only eight, but, it looked the same.

Except for the Penitus Oculatus outpost, down by the lumber mill. That was new. Perhaps due to the rising tensions? The Thalmor were everywhere here, and no one seemed happy about it.

Katla wondered if the Oculatus were here to remind the Thalmor this was still the Empire’s province, and the Emperor would protect it.

She thought of the Blades, and her brief visit to Cloud Ruler Temple. She’d never met a Blade, of course. They were all gone. These Penitus Oculatus soldiers looked so serious. Intense. She liked their armor. That red and silver combination looked dignified. Maybe one day she could join them.

Hah. First, she needed to live long enough and become an amazing fighter.

First, she needed to kill a lot of necromancers. And get answers.

She turned back to her old home. The house was on the edge of town, the land butting up to the cliff and mountains that surrounded this side of town.

She’d forgotten how mountainous this region was. She spared a glance for the spectacular stone bridge, adorned with dragon head sculptures, that was the town’s namesake. How long had it existed? First Era? Even earlier? She couldn’t remember. The bridge sat at the opposite edge of town, crossing the Karth River and leading towards Markarth. She hadn’t yet decided if she wanted to head there, or to Solitude.

First things first. The bow.

Katla looked back over at the edge of the yard, past the vegetable garden this Lylvieve family was growing. They’d fenced in that section of the property. The spot she was thinking of wasn’t part of the property. It was technically just wilderness. She’d loved digging in the spot as a kid, though. Felt like she was burying things under the mountain. Now, she would be.

Evening had come on, and most of the town seemed to have already headed to the Four Shields Tavern for meals and drinks. She’d have some privacy.

Digging didn’t take long. The ground here was still soft dirt, just as when she was a child. Katla angled her digging to under a large stone that jutted out from a crevice between the sheer mountain stone. She kept the hole as small as she could, the less disturbed the ground looked, the better.

Satisfied after a time, she pulled out her father’s ebony bow and double checked the burlap and leather sacks. She hoped the leather and then burlap around it would keep it well protected from the elements and time. A chest would have been nice to use, but she’d doubted she could dig a hole big enough for one. Tightly wrapped in both sacks, she thought it would be safe.

She’d be back for it. When? A year, maybe two? Long enough to get her skills up. Her strength up. Ebony bows took time to master. Their overall weight, their draw weight. All of it required her to build up to.

But once she did, look out. She’d be a truly deadly archer then. She looked forward to that.

For now, the custom hunting bow Dad had given her for her birthday would do.

Given to you on the day he died.

Katla carefully placed the bow under the stone and repacked the dirt. There was enough tall grass around that the dig spot wouldn’t be too obvious, unless you were really looking at the spot. She placed small stones on top of the dirt, hoping it now looked like a simple tiny rock slide to the casual eye.

She stood and wiped her hands. She needed to rinse them off in the river. Wash the dirt, the evidence of what she’d just done, off. Then, grab a bite to eat and rent a room at the tavern.

Tomorrow, she needed to get out of town. Did the necromancers know this was her hometown? She couldn’t stick around and find out.

Markarth or Solitude? Maybe she best go to Markarth. They knew she’d lived in Solitude. Her parents had probably joined the cult then. She’d be a nobody in Markarth. That felt safer. Smarter.

“I’ll be back for you,” she whispered to the buried bow. The buried hope. The hope she’d survive long to come back for it.

She’d be a deadly force by then. She’d have answers by then. She was sure of it.

4E 202 – The College of Winterhold

Tara set down the book, On Necromancy, rubbed her eyes, and stared up at the ceiling.

The book made her skin crawl. But, oh, that glorious ceiling and the library they were in.

This was The Arcanaeum, the vast library of the College of Winterhold. It had taken nearly a year, but here she was, finally, in the place, the reason, she’d come to Skyrim.

You don’t belong here. Not anymore.

She and Katla had left Windhelm after a couple of weeks. Jobs were hard to get. Tensions with anyone not a Nord or a declared Stormcloak seemed to be at a high point. Tara had been ignoring the politics of the brewing fight between these Stormcloaks and the Empire. The days in Windhelm had her wondering if she could keep ignoring it.

Between the lack of jobs, the brewing war, and the feeling they wouldn’t stay safe from assassins for long, she and Katla had decided to head to Winterhold.

The trip had been cold. How could it be summer and still this cold?

Their first night in Winterhold was educational. The relationship between the town and the College seemed uneasy, due to the Great Collapse, the event nearly eighty years ago that had destroyed most of Winterhold. The former great city was still recovering and felt like not much above an old town. Some blamed the College for the event.

Katla and Tara had been clear they were only there to read books at the college’s library. They weren’t mages. Well, Katla had been clear.

Tara had held her tongue.

“Find anything?” Katla asked. She’d been reading The Path of Transcendence. Tara realized her skin was pale.

“No,” Tara said. “Just talks about whether you should use an old corpse or a new one and why. Disgusting.”

She watched Katla for a moment.

“You?”

Katla swallowed. “This goes over some aspects of becoming a lich. There’s, uh, details about their souls.”

“Yeah?” Tara leaned forward. Maybe a key to understand how valuable this red soul gem was.

Katla frowned. “It seems, once they’ve become a lich, the vessel they transferred their soul to…it doesn’t matter if it’s destroyed.”

“Oh.” Tara leaned back. She’d hoped they could destroy this gem and that would kill whatever darkness was inside it. It had to be something dark, something dangerous. It felt so wrong.

“I don’t think there’s a lich inside the soul gem,” Katla said. “Certainly, if their soul was inside, it wouldn’t matter once they’ve become a lich. The vessel is only needed during the transference. That’s when they’re vulnerable.”

“So, we still don’t know why a bunch of necromancers want it,” Tara said.

“It’s clearly a cult of some kind,” Katla said. Color had returned to her face. “Maybe that’s the angle we should research.”

“Good idea,” Tara said. “Research every necro cult we can. Maybe learn what some of their rituals are. Maybe they worship different Daedra. It’s not like one dark deity handles necromancy. Might point us to one that uses unique soul gems.” Tara sighed. “I don’t know.”

“I know I need a good meal,” Katla said and stood. “All this…” she swept her hands over the necromancy books they’d collected “…leaves me feeling dirty. I need a break and food.”

Urag gro-Shub, the librarian, overseer, of the Arcanaeum gave them a scowl as Tara handed in the books they’d already read. Tara wasn’t sure if it was because they were reading so many books on necromancy, or his determination that none of the books be damaged in any way.

When they’d first arrived, he’d been gruff, even for an Orc, and told them of the library’s long history, since the Second Era, and how extensive the collection here was. He had some serious pride about his job. Tara admired that. It was also rare to see an old Orc, one whose hair and beard had gone white. How different he was than any other Orc she’d met. She liked him.

They made their way to the Frozen Hearth, the inn and tavern in Winterhold. They ate lunch mostly in silence, Katla constantly lost in thought. Tara watched her. How could she help?

It felt like they were back to the beginning. No idea what was in the red soul gem, no idea what made it so valuable to some cult. And how to figure out which cult? If there was anything written about them?

They’d just have to dig through more books in the Arcanaeum. Spending more time there was something to look forward to.

When they’d first arrived at the College, a mage there, Faralda, had introduced herself as the gatekeeper and insisted one of them show some magic ability, even though Katla explained they were not joining the College. Tara had produced a fireball, which got them inside.

“Speak to Mirabelle Ervine, if you’re interested in joining,” Faralda had said to Tara. That was a name familiar to Tara. Mira had written of her. She was a Breton, a Master Wizard, and the two had trained together at some point. Mira had left Tara with the impression Mirabelle was as stern as Mira herself was.

What if Mira has written to her, warning her I might try to join? Tara wondered. Did Mira even know Tara had come to Skyrim to get to the College? She must know she’d left the College of Whispers by now.

A thought for a different day, it seemed. They’d made their way to the Arcanaeum and Tara hadn’t yet met any of the other mages here.

“When we get back,” Tara said to Katla. “How about I read that book on the Order of the Black Worm? I feel like that’s not who’s after you, but, it’s the most written about order of necromancy.”

Katla gave her a small smile. “Good plan.” She drifted off in thought again.

Tara watched her. She needed to do something more.

“Why don’t you stay here? Take a nap. Catch a break.”

Katla focused back on her. “What? Why?”

“You’re barely paying attention to your surroundings.”

Katla blushed. “Sorry.”

“What’s wrong?”

Katla pulled in her breath and let it out slowly. “I…I didn’t realize how much reading about necromancy would bring up these feelings.” Her eyes watered. “My parents.”

Tara nodded. Right. “This must be painful for you.”

“I…reading what we’ve read so far…I still don’t understand how they fell into some cult. What even drew them to necromancy.” She shook her head. “Makes no sense to me.”

Tara thought for a moment. “Perhaps they thought learning this would serve some good. Somehow. But they got caught up in a dangerous cult instead.” Tara leaned forward. “There’s the legend of Vastarie. She created Sigil Geodes. She intended necromancy for good.”

Katla smiled at her. “Maybe you’re right. On both fronts. I need a break, at the least.”

Tara left Katla at the inn, where she swore she’d take a nap in their room.

Back in the Arcanaeum, Tara relished the time alone. To really look around, take in the feeling of being at the College. After they finished this research, she and Katla needed to talk.

I will study here, she thought. One more shot. One more chance at being a mage.

This isn’t your path, Tara.

They could stay here at the College for a few months, at least.

Katla would be safe, Tara was sure of it. There was no way Dark Brotherhood assassins would get at her here. Tara could learn magic and protect Katla at the same time.

Yes, that would work. She’d convince Katla. Katla wasn’t Freta. Kata wasn’t afraid of magic.

She’s afraid of your magic.

Tara just needed to find some information on possible necromancy cults. Then, somehow, she could use that to convince Katla they should stay and…come up with a way to destroy the gem and the cult. Yes. She’d make this work.

Tara read through The Order of the Black Worm, then moved on to an old volume, Necromancy in Modern Tamriel. Most of it covered the Order of the Black Worm, and Mannimarco, of course.

She’d almost closed the book when she saw the footnote. And the name.

Geonette.

2E 584 – Family History, Part 1

Tara Geonette allowed herself a smile. She exhaled slowly and enjoyed the moment.

The dead thrall stood in front of her, ready for command. What had been his name?

Mordard. Yes, that was it.

He’d told her she had “flaming hair of passion” and “the deepest emerald eyes I’ve ever seen”.

That first date had not gone as he expected, she thought. At least he died looking into her emerald eyes.

Tara pointed and commanded. He was clumsy at first, but quickly, her newest thrall was gathering various fungus from around the cave and bringing them to her cooking station.

Good. Another servant. And another guard to protect her while she slept.

Now, perhaps, she could practice in peace. Away from the coven. Away from everyone, until the time was right.

While Mordard gathered, Tara stepped outside the small cave she’d turned into a home.

Masser rose high in the sky, leaving the night bright and shimmering.

She looked out over the rocks and trees. The cave was small, just the one room, and a partial tunnel she could keep supplies in. Moonlit Maw wasn’t too far away. She’d have preferred to reside there, but a cult of Supernal Dreamers, worshippers of Vaermina, had taken it over, and Tara had no interest in them, or whatever it was they were up to.

No, her cave would do. Smaller, higher up, so less likely to be discovered. She’d arranged, well, had her thralls, arrange large boulders around, to make the entrance even harder to spot.

She looked southwards, towards home. What had been home. The family farm outside of Wayrest.

Farming. Had her parents really expected her to want to be a simple farmer? Even after the great potential she’d shown with magic at a young age?

They were afraid of you. Of your magic.

No matter. The Glenmoril Witches had taken her in. She’d learned so much from them.

I’ll always be grateful, she thought.

But the Wyrd had rules. And rules were too binding.

Why had she trusted any of them? Why had she told Asteria of her dreams? Her desires?

No matter. They wouldn’t find her here.

Besides, she didn’t worship Hircine, as they did. She’d only joined because of what they could teach. She’d learned much, but not everything she needed.

My path is not theirs, she thought.

She let her eyes settle on Wayrest. The city’s lights stood out. The farm was too dark to see from here, even on this bright night, but Wayrest shown like the star it was.  

She needed to think up a new disguise. Couldn’t risk anyone recognizing her on her next trip there.

She didn’t need any more enamored men to turn into thralls.

The next trip would be for finding recruits. Those interested in her dreams. Her desires.

She had her own coven, no, her own cult, to form.

A moan escaped from Mordard. He must have finished gathering.

Time to get back to business. Tara turned and headed back into her cave.

4E 199 – Leaving Home – The Rest of the Story

Sunlight broke across the horizon, coating the morning in warmth, brilliance, and hope.

Today was the day. Tara was leaving home and heading for Cyrodiil. For a new life.

She finished tossing extra feed out for the chickens. Would Mom or Father feed them on time later today? Did they even know when to feed them? Tara had been doing it all these years. Who would take care of everything now?

Not your problem.

No, it wasn’t. They could hire some sap to do the chores for all she cared.

Tara put the feed away. What other tasks to do before she left?

None, she thought. She needed to get out of here.

She crept back in the house. She could hear her mom’s snoring, but not Father’s, as was typical with them every morning. Tara was always the first awake due to her chores. And Mom could get a loud snore on.

Back in her room, she double checked her satchel and camping gear. Everything in order. There wasn’t much to take. She’d travel light and earn more coin on her way to Cyrodiil. To the closest Synod Conclave; the one in Anvil. She only needed to grab one more thing on her way out. Father’s axe, though she really thought of it as hers.

How many logs had she split with it over these years? It belonged to her. A simple woodcutter’s axe. It’d do as a weapon until she could buy a real war axe. She had the iron dagger from Hardan, too. His gift to her, on their last visit.

“I hope you never use it, Tara,” he’d said. “Except for skinning game you’ve hunted.”

Hardan. She’d finally trusted him enough to tell him about the beatings three months ago. About why she wanted to learn to fight. If only he’d left well enough alone. She’d write to him. When she was far away and safe.

Tara stepped out of her bedroom. The house was quiet. She listened for a minute, then heard Mom’s snore again. Good.

She stepped into the kitchen and set the letter on the table. She’d kept it simple.

“I’m gone for good. Don’t try and find me.

  I’ll write one day. When I’m ready.

  Tara”

They didn’t deserve more than that.

He grabbed her by the neck from behind, just as she reached the front door. Where had he been hiding? She hadn’t heard a sound.

Tara felt herself lifted off the ground and thrown backwards. She landed hard and slid several feet, into the nearest wall.

Get up. You have to get up.

Father reached her in two strides, grabbed her by the top of the head, by her hair, and dragged her up.

“Sto…”

Before she could finish the word, he threw her forward, into their living area. She crashed into the small table and chairs, knocking both over as she fell. The books on the table scattered, surrounding her on the floor. She scrambled to her feet in time and backed away from Father.

His face was the same shade of red as the red flowers she loved to pick.

“Where do you think you’re going?!” he bellowed. He lunged for her.

Tara hopped over one of the collapsed chairs and avoided him.

“Get away from me!” she shouted.

“What is going on?” Mom had appeared.

“Get a scroll,” Father said to her. He was blocking the front door. Broad shouldered and barrel chested, he had always been imposing. More so now as he blocked Tara’s escape.

“Tara? What’s going on?” Mom looked confused.

“Our daughter is trying to leave,” Father said. “Get a scroll.”

“Let me go!” Tara said. They stood at a stalemate. Tara had put another piece of furniture between her and Father. She now stood behind one of the chairs parked in front of the fireplace. Father stayed planted in front of the door.

“You want to leave?” Mom asked Tara. “I don’t understand.”

Tara didn’t take her eyes off Father.

“I’m leaving. Tell Father to let me go,” she said to Mom. Could Mom convince him? Maybe. Or, maybe distract him long enough for her to slip out.

“Get a calm scroll!” Father yelled. Mom jumped at that, as if wakening for the first time.

Turning to Tara, he said, “You’re not going anywhere.”

“Get out of my way. You can’t stop me,” she spat back at him. She felt heat rise in her face. She wasn’t afraid of him, she realized. She was angry at him.

“By the Gods, woman,” Father said to Mom. “Get a calm scroll now!”

Tara risked taking her eyes off Father for a moment. Her heart sank. Mom had that look. That obedient, far off look. Mom turned to get a calm scroll.

Why hadn’t she thought to find all the scrolls and destroy them ahead of time, Tara thought. Stupid.

She couldn’t let Mom read one. Thank the Gods Mom had stopped using magic years ago. And Father had never been good with magic. They relied exclusively on the scrolls to calm her now, with Mira long gone. She had a chance.

“No scrolls,” Tara said. “I’m leaving. Don’t make me hurt you.” Her voice had trailed off on that last sentence. Too timid. Too unsure of herself. Too…she didn’t want to have to hurt them.

Not angry enough.

Father took a chance with Tara distracted by Mom. He launched himself at her.

She almost got away. She dived to her right, but his hand latched onto the strap of her satchel, which she’d draped across one shoulder and across her chest. He pulled hard, and Tara flew into the back wall of the room. The impact knocked the wind out of her and she slid to the floor, trying to catch her breath. Her head swam. She must’ve hit it on the wall.

Father stood above her, pulling back his arm, fist ready to fire. He was going to punch her, going to beat her again. Mom would use a calm scroll and that would be that.

No.

Tara let the wave fill her and release. The heat in her face had cooled. This wasn’t anger. This was fury.

The force from the wave knocked Father off his feet, onto his back. Mom screamed as all the dishes on the table near where she stood, now holding a calm scroll in her hands, shattered and flew at her.

The dining table and chairs slid several feet and toppled. Tara heard shattering from the other rooms. Perhaps she’d knocked everything off the walls.

She climbed to her feet. Father matched her. He took a step towards her.

“No!”

She let another wave loose. He was lifted off his feet and landed hard on the floor again.

The house shook, Mom shrieked again, and all the furniture in the living area toppled over.

“I’m leaving!” she said. She just needed to get out the door away from them.

Father was on his feet again. Mom had unrolled the scroll. Cuts dotted her arms and face. The shattered dishes had found their mark.

Tara pointed her left hand at Mom. It came so easily. She knew what she needed to do, and it happened.

The flame shot from her hand and caught the scroll, setting it ablaze. Mom screamed, this time in real pain, not fright. The flames had caught her, too, and Tara winced to see her hands burning.

Mom scrambled to the bucket of water they always kept near the sink. Tara heard the sizzle from the dying flames. She didn’t want to see what Mom’s hands looked like.

Father lunged at her. Some sound, some guttural rage, exploded from his mouth.

Tara dodged, ducking under his grasp. Like Hardan had taught her, she rolled, efficiently, to where she wanted to be.

She was at the front door.

Father looked posed to lunge again. His face now an even deeper red, almost purple, with rage.

Tara held up her right hand. A fireball danced in it.

“I will burn you alive,” she said. She’d never sounded so cold.

He stared at her, then the fireball. Fear had crept into his eyes and Tara had a moment of glee.

Mom’s moans of pain interrupted.

“Better help Mom,” she said to Father. “Get her to a healer. Get her to Arkan.”

She opened the door and stepped out.

The rich, pink light of sunrise greeted her and she hurried down the path, to the barn, to the woodcutter’s axe.

She had it in her hands within a minute and turned to get to the road. To get out of here. To get out of this place that was no longer home.

Father stood on the path, in front of the house, which Tara could now see had shattered windows. She’d blown them all out with her waves.

He was blocking her path to the road, unless she turned and cut across their fields, their crops, which had been freshly planted by her these past few weeks.

“Get out of my way,” Tara said. She brandished the axe.

“You’re going to pay for all of this,” Father said, pointing to the house. “For what you did to your mother.”

“Get. Out. Of. My. Way.”

“Everyone will know,” he said. A sneer had crept into his voice. “I’ll tell everyone. Spread the news. How violent you are. How unprovoked this all was. How you can’t be trusted with magic.”

“I don’t care.”

“No one will teach you. I’ll make sure of that.” Father was smiling. “I’ll use all my connections to tell everyone what a horrible daughter you are. Have been all your life. The sacrifices we made to keep everyone safe from you. To protect them from the damage you cause.” He gestured at the house. As if it presented the best proof.

“I don’t care!” Tara screamed at him. An idea crossed her mind. She shouldn’t, but…

I’ll give him proof I’m dangerous, she thought.

Don’t do it.

Tara turned away from Father, from the path, and headed for the fields. Yes, she’d give him proof.

Just cross the fields to the road. You don’t need to do anything else. Get to the road and leave.

Tara turned back to Father. He was following her.

“I’ll give you proof!” she yelled as she kept walking.

She stopped at the open gate of the fence; the loosely built fence that separated the crop fields from the yard. They didn’t need much of a fence, as the animals left the crops alone most of the time.

“Tara! Don’t!” He’d realized what she was about to do.

Tara closed her eyes and let both her hands come alive with fire. She touched each of the gate posts. The wood caught immediately and flames shot along the fence line, greedily chomping on the wood.

“TARA!”

She didn’t turn to look at him. She kept walking, now crossing the fields, moving angled toward the road, and away from the burning fence.

As she walked, she shot fireballs at the crops. There was no stone wall to shatter and hit her in the face now. Nothing to bounce back and harm her. The fireballs either landed harmlessly in the dirt and died, or caught a young sprout, just emerging from the ground, and consumed it, hungering for more.

She’d shot no more than twenty fireballs before she could see the fields catching on their own, the fire spreading. Wheat, potato, leeks. All were falling to the flames.

A blast of heat hit her, and she realized she could stop. The fire would feed itself and continue spreading, catching all their crops, all the food she’d planted. All the food that was to feed them for the coming year, and the excess they were supposed to sell for profit.

She wanted to stop and stare. To admire her handiwork. She was, what? Proud?

Proud of the magic. All those fireballs. How easy she’d created them. No headache. No magicka drain. They’d felt so natural.

She tore her eyes away from the growing inferno and looked back. Father had stopped at the burning fence. For the first time, he looked small, defeated. Confused. Weak. There was no way for him to save the crops. Even if he got Arkan and others from town here fast enough, much would be lost. This year’s crops would be a total loss.

Flames were still spreading along the fence. She needed to move before they cut her off from the road.

Tara ran and climbed over a section of fence that hadn’t caught yet, the approaching flames were still a good ten meters away. As her feet connected with the road that led away from Wayrest, and towards Hammerfell, she allowed herself one more look.

Father had disappeared. Gone to get help, probably. Hopefully, for Mom as well, for her burnt hands. Tara felt a pang of guilt. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Mom. Not like that.

She turned away from home and headed down the road.