Greetings and Salutations, readers new as well as old!
What I have here for you, this day, is nothing short of a pretty damn good story! So, buckle up and grab some popcorn, because I am about to take you with me onto a journey spanning a decade and two continents!
There will be magic! Trauma! Politics, intricacies, sex, violence! Lore, myths and religion(and all the inconsistencies borne as a result of meshing everything aforementioned), all for the taking, all previously ignored by the many, who would rather focus on the Dragonborn! Well, I say, no more. This story, as such, does not even involve the glorified son of a lizard! Instead, it's down to the guts of regular people, down to the discipline of the common soldier, and down to the moral integrity of the mortal being.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the first installment of 'Talia'
Fires of Ferelden
"Scrolls foretold, of dragons-blood cold, the Wyrm sheds its flesh and grows its scales and fangs. Tamrielan blood flows within the veins of Akavir, and men shall kill their fellows. The pyre will grow from a grave of chains, and the skies shall open, heralding the end." - Prophecy of the Moth Priest Ezkarr
Mages from across the Sea
The College of Winterhold was, traditionally, a place of learning, of study and of contemplation. It was the largest and most well renowned magical institution in Northern Tamriel outside of High Rock, and boasted the professors and scholars such would demand.
The student body, on the other hand, was somewhat less impressive.
Reaching just above twenty students in total, the College of Winterhold was among the least attended in the Empire. Most of this stemmed from the ongoing civil war making travelling between the provinces difficult, at best, as well as the local resentment of magic.
Talia, of House Aulus, was among the newer students. Having lived and learned within the halls of stone and brick for just short of three years, she and the rest of her peers were considered newcomers yet by the older students. That, of course, came with its own share of patronizing looks directed their way, as well as the constant pressure to prove themselves worthy of the place they held here.
Still, it wasn't all bad.
She greatly enjoyed the classes, an appreciation for knowledge and learning she had received already from an early age. Faralda's instructions in the applications of destructive spells was by far her favorite subject, as was whenever Tolfdir decided to break something new from his stunning repertoire of spells and arcane arts. Classes were five days a week, with Loredas and Sundas dedicated to self-studies and sleeping in.
Classes were, for the sake of practical instruction, held for no more than four or five students per professor. Three years ago, Talia had become enrolled at the same time as foreign students from Morrowind and Elsweyr had arrived, and thus she enjoyed the - sometimes questionable - honor of sharing classes with a Khajiit, a Nord and a Dunmer.
A Sundas was, traditionally, a day dedicated to sleeping in. Talia valued her sleep about as much as she did her alcohol, and did not exactly appreciate being disturbed. Still, the face she woke up to, on a morning where she normally should have been allowed to sleep off the skooma, did provide some consolation.
Cinereal skin, soft, red eyes and a muted smile on the creases of tinted lips. Raven hair tied into orderly buns and pointy ears that just barely managed to poke out from underneath the black locks. A voice that could as well have belonged to a seductress, instead possessed by the quiet, introverted girl known as 'Don't talk about Dunmer'…
Brelyna Maryon was a beauty to behold. She'd been a beauty when they'd met three years ago, and time - and puberty - had only honed that.
"Brelyna…There are two acceptable reasons for you to wake me up early on a Sundas." Talia groaned, trying to blink the sleep from her eyes; "Either you're finally here to engage in some extensive anatomical introspection…or someone's died."
"Oh, no one has died." The Dunmer mused, hiding her smile behind a curled hand. Damn, not even a blush? Talia swore to herself, realizing that of course, after three years one-sided crushing, Brelyna had gotten more than used to her flirting.
"So…you're here for the other option?" a dry grin started spreading across her lips. Emerald met ruby, only to close with a not-really-disappointed sigh at the amusement Brelyna found in her expression. It kinda merged with the weakly pulsating ache in her head; "Fine, fine…What, then, if I might be so bold to ask, is the reason for this travesty you call waking up early?"
"It's morning." Came the dry, yet gentle response. Talia sighed and grunted, halfway sitting up in her bed. Gentle hands ran through her hair, changing her sigh from one of annoyance to pleasure. She could feel the tiny pricks of a comb scratching the skin of her head; "And your hair looks like it was used for J'zargo's shock-spells."
"Probably was…Don't remember much from last night." Maybe she should have gotten a door installed in her room. She was pretty sure there'd been the sound of a Khajiit throwing up at some point in the night.
"Are you still asleep?" Onmund, of course, had to poke his head in and give her more reason to consider a door. She loved the guy, no question, but there was a point where she wanted some privacy, even from people who'd become like family to her; "Honestly, even J'zargo is up."
Damn. Her head was still thrumming, like someone was bashing her skull in with a warhammer. What on Nirn was in those… Skoma, riiiiiight. J'zargo better have a headache worse than mine or I'm dropping his furry butt from the bridge.
Why, oh why, had she indulged in his wares? Sure J'zargo, let's have a go at it. Do I feel weird? Nope, I'm a cool cat. Why am I turning purple… wait, purple? That's probably a bad sign. Should have stopped at purple.
Yeah…she should definitely have stopped at purple.
"Yes, Onmund. I am asleep and this is all a nightmare." She muttered, dusting off her robes. She envied J'zargo and Onmund each, when the bloody covers weren't sufficient at keeping out the bloody cold. Why did the College have to be placed in the coldest populated place on the entire continent? She'd weep tears over the idiocy if she didn't still fear they'd freeze to her cheeks; "And in a moment, Two-Sock's gonna come crashing down on the lot of you. And Faralda will dance around naked with Ancano."
"That is…an image I'd rather have been without." Brelyna shuddered, but it could just have been a reaction to the cold. The dormitory's only source of heating was the central well of fireglass, which was better than nothing, of course, but still not enough.
"You drank with J'zargo, I take it." It wasn't even a question. Damn him, and his introspection. Or, rather, damn the fact that he knew her so well by now. It really didn't leave her a lot of room for mischief or mistakes, when everyone around her could read her so damn well.
"You can't prove anything." She said, then added with a curious glance around; "Where is the damned cat, by the way?"
"Sacrificing to the Khajit god of the latrines, last time I…" Onmund started. There was the sound of someone reeking in the latrines; "…heard."
"Somewhat, yes. I offered healing his sickness, but he declined, stating that he would never be the greatest mage ever if he accepted help." Onmund explained, smiling a bit at the jab. He was like that, really; kinder than anyone really had any right of asking from him; "I did heal you though."
Talia felt a small flush of gratitude. That would explain why she wasn't currently joining the Khajit, emptying her bowels in the holes. The though alone made her stomach churn, and caused hairs to stand on her neck. Onmund had never really been the most outgoing of their group - somehow, J'zargo of all people filled that role - but he was loyal, and never hesitated to help.
It put him above her own brother, back home, quite easily.
"Yeah well I… thanks." She muttered, picking the first, the best edible object within arm's reach, which turned out to be a cold, half-eaten beef. Meh, she'd eaten worse at better places.
Not that the College wasn't an awesome place, it was just damnable cold. Only warm place was the library, which was why she spent as much time there as she could get away with.
That Urag had just picked up a fresh collection of books on summoning, didn't have anything to do with it. The Orc was probably the scariest librarian she'd ever met, but also by far her favorite. The books were his life, not just occupation. She'd even once caught him talking to them.
J'zargo joined them after a few more minutes of listening to him empty his body of fluids and whatever else was in a Khajit, looking none too pleased about anything. When Brelyna offered him a bottle of mead, Talia almost felt bad as J'zargo turned green beneath his furry face - and it really was all furry and fuzzy. So instead, she just forced down her own beef, and did the usual morning stretches, blowing at her cobber hair when the long strands fell into her face.
This, apparently, was a Breton-only thing. The first day she had been to the College, or rather the first morning, the others had looked at her, confused, when she did her exercises. Mother always did say a good physique was important to a mage, and just any young people in general.
It had helped her build up a pleasant physique over the years. That, and the cold of Winterhold had probably done more good for her body than any treatments or diets back home ever could. She was strong, fit and healthy.
Which was great, except it had made her that much more of an eligible bride in High Rock.
Tolfdir, as per mandatory, was far too cheerful and energic for a man his age - surely, he was bathing in the blood of virgins -, and started up with informing the class of what news had come to him concerning the blasted so-called trip to Saarthal.
"Trip", being a nicer way of saying 'Shared near-death experience'. The old man had almost looked like he enjoyed it, back in those fucking ruins. Personally, Talia wasn't a fan of the undead.
"Good morning, Students." He greeted them.
"'Good', he says…" J'zargo muttered, keeping his hands held over one of the wells. Fur aside, he was from the warmest place of them all, and thus the least adapted to the cold.
"Let me start by congratulating you all on a more mature and efficient work in Saarthal than I could have hoped for. You each did your assigned tasks with nothing short of praiseworthy dedication. I was, I admit, ready to call off the class when we encountered the Draugr, but once more, you young ones gave me faith in the new generation." Tolfdir beamed at them, causing Talia to shift her feet in the awkward silence that followed.
He always seemed unnaturally enthusiastic about anything even remotely related to the achievements of the younger generations. Was this what getting old was like? If so, Talia didn't look forward to it. Tolfdir was enthusiastic about most things though, the Draugr included.
It hadn't been that bad though, honestly. Draugr were scary, true, but in the end they were walking corpses. And corpses caught fire surprisingly easy. It had more been the giant eye-ball-thingy that hovered over the ground that had served to freak her the fuck out. Seriously, what in Lorkhan's two halves was that thing?
"We still don't really know exactly what we found, but…" and the way Tolfdir drew out the 'but', made Talia nervous; "We're going to find out."
"J'zargo wonders if this thing can be harnessed. Clearly, it is of great magical power."
"Looking for an easy catch, are we?" Talia grinned at the way his whiskers bristled with in mock-offense; "I'll admit…that thing is pretty weird. I'd love to know we don't have a Daedric artifact or some kind of sigil stone in the middle of the gods-be-damned hall though…"
"Quite true." Tolfdir agreed; "We are just not equipped to handle something like this, at least not with our current staff. So, I have prepared a scroll of teleportation that will take you to Cyrodiil, more accurately, to the Synod."
"The Synod?" Talia repressed a groan. Great, Tolfdir wanted them to go to that place? She'd left High Rock, among other reasons, to get away from bickering politicians, and people kissing the asses of aforementioned; "Why?"
"Because they're one of two officially registered magical authorities in the heartland. The Synod's main activities are searching for magical artifacts all across Tamriel, cataloging them and figuring out their uses." Tolfdir always did seem overly excited when asked to expand or explain something. Odd how enthusiastic he was when it came to their competitors.
"But they never share secrets, hmm?" J'zargo mused; "J'zargo knows, because he tried… learning what they knew of magic. They didn't want to teach." What he didn't say, but what every person in the room knew, Tolfdir maybe excluded, was that J'zargo was completely willing to snatch away artifacts if they would and could make him more powerful.
"Again, quite and sadly true. The Synod guard their secrets well, as opposed to the College. However, you won't be going to the Synod with merely a demand for answers. This scroll will allow you to travel to the Synod, pick up Master Artificer Sylvius Ambrent, and return here by help of a scroll prepared by the Synods themselves. All in less than a day."
"How come, if they have the scroll too, that we have to haul across Tamriel for this one person?" Talia asked, tugging at her left braid of orange hair.
"The Synod does not like to be summoned. They have…respectfully requested an escort." Tolfdir added the last bit with some irritation; "The scroll should be accurate enough that you'll be within eyesight of the Synod upon arriving."
"J'zargo does not like this way of travel. Too loose, too unknown."
"Says the Khajit who would have set himself on fire if I hadn't tested out the bloody scrolls." Talia glanced at him. Thát had been a fun day, really. Like, really fun, in the 'fuck, I'm on fire!' kind of way. J'zargo had wisely kept his distance it the weeks it took for her eyebrows to grow back out.
"Says girl, who pets the wolf-ghost." The cat shot back. Clearly, he was in a grumpy mood this morning. It might have something to do with his breath reeking of vomit.
"Two-Sock is a Familiar, not a ghost. And he's completely petable, just so you know."
"It is a magical being, not a pet for women who want to cuddle fluffy animals. J'zargo is fluffy and furry, why won't you pet him?" The Khajit asked, smirking with slightly bared fangs. The room went silent, even Tolfdir looking like someone had hit him with a fish.
Onmund just looked like he'd grown numb to these things. Which, honestly, Talia did not blame him. Of them all, he was probably the most sane, not to mention level-headed. It wasn't really a tall bar to reach, but it was something.
"…regardless." He coughed after a few seconds of awkwardness; "Head down to Master Urag, he will give you the scroll. It is a delicate piece of work, so be careful when using it. Enjoy yourselves now, won't you?"
Urag was in one of his better moods that morning. Better, meaning he wasn't verbally chewing out J'zargo for even looking funny at some of the tomes. Instead he only gave the cat a wary look, before turning to Brelyna.
In their class, the Dunmer was the most skilled with both summoning and using scrolls on the fly. It made sense, with how much of her time she spent with her cute little nose in the books.
Talia smiled a little at the thought, glancing to her classmate; it was a very cute nose.
"Here you go, Child…" The old Orc grumped, handing Brelyna a large scroll. The parchment was bleached and musty, and it gave off a smell of burning sulfur. Talia didn't mind, really. It was just how magic items tended to smell; "Handle it with care, scrolls like these take time to prepare."
"We'll be careful." Onmund promised. Of course, he would be careful, he always was. As for the rest of them though…Okay, so maybe it was just her and J'zargo.
Talia was just glad she hadn't been the one to be called 'child', by the old Orc. She was nineteen winters, as the Nords insisted on counting winters instead of Solstices. Come to think of it, she didn't actually know how old Brelyna was, only that the girl felt more like a sort of younger sister than an older one. Onmund, she knew, was the oldest in the class, with his oh-so-mature twenty-one winters. Of J'zargo, she had no clue.
Brelyna often felt like a somewhat less introverted version of her own younger sister back home, Alai. The difference, of course, being race. Though she'd not have minded Onmund as her older brother, instead of Aveel.
"So… do we use it in here or…" She asked, pulling one of the books on the art of finer summoning from the shelf. It would be a bad idea if the scroll sent a wave of fire outwards when they left. Urag would probably use their hides for new book-covers in that case.
"Malakath no!" The Orc exclaimed, his expression a mix of panic and outrage that they would even think of such a thing; "You will leave my Arcanum before even flickering a flame, much less using a scroll of this magnitude."
"Right, right. Sorry, Urag, didn't mean to imply we were going to torch the Arcanum. I haven't read half the books here yet." Talia quickly apologized, waving her hands in surrender. Books were precious to her, probably something she could blame on her sister and Brelyna both being absolute brown-noses.
Instead of braving the almost constant blizzards and snowstorms raging outside, the young mages gathered in the Hall of Elements. It was still cold, but the warmth coming from the magical well in the center of the room, heated the room a bit more than the entrance to the College itself. The only thing that bothered Talia, was the giant, hovering orb.
Somehow, it had been moved in the very short time between Tolfdir's greeting and their return. Magic could be creepy like that too. Most likely it was one of Arniel's spells, another one she could probably not even comprehend yet at her current level. The teachers here worked with what they did for a reason.
Or, it could be Savos Aren. The man was probably immortal, for all he had implied, so it wasn't exactly impossible.
"Ready for some instantaneous travel?" Brelyna asked, unfolding the scroll. Her eyes almost instantly started crawling across the surprisingly pristine parchment, eating up every little detail in its symbols and runes. Arithmancy had never been Talia's strongest suite, which was just another reason she failed as hard as she did with enchantments.
She could put up a pretty dapper fire-rune though, so that was something.
"Ready to head for a warm vacation, you mean?" Talia smirked. Gods, did she long for warmer weather. Even after three years of study in Winterhold, the freezing storms could still send shivers to the marrow of her bones. Something was obviously wrong when you needed expedition-grade clothing for a trip to the tavern. Reaching back, she pulled her hood up, tucking in the neatly combed hair before tying the strings shut, keeping the fabric in place.
"Doesn't a vacation usually last for more than a day though?"
"Fine then, a warm excursion." Talia corrected, giving the Nord a flat look. Onmund chuckled at her reaction, but remained silent as Brelyna started muttering the incantations on the parchment. Each breath of air from her lips carried strands of raw magica, grafting itself into the symbols of the scroll. It looked most of all as if the Dunmer was exhaling a thick mist, coalescing around them in spiraling clouds.
"Next stop: Cyrodiil." She called, silently looking forward to spend at least a few hours at the bank of the warm lakes iconic to the heartland. She herself had never been there, but her parents had, back when the College of Whispers still allowed necromancy; "Hold on to your lunches."
"J'zargo hasn't had-"
The cat's words were swallowed up by the break in local reality. The air imploded and swallowed them whole, and within the span of a second, the group was gone, leaving not even a mote of dust disturbed behind them.
The only witness to their departure had been the hovering orb, its mystic etchings aglow with sporadic bursts of energy. Slowly, it's lights dulled, and with the final flicker of green, it crashed to the floor with a splintering of brick and granite.
When the world once more untangled itself from a twisting vortex of impossibilities, the air itself seemed to finally have grown sick of its blind passengers, and vomited the four mages back out into reality. Empty space was their immediate reception, and Talia felt a brief moment of air blowing by her ears before slamming roughly into what felt suspiciously like wet, soggy hillside.
"Daughter of a bastard!" the Breton exclaimed, as soon as air once more returned to her lungs. She could already feel the back of her robes growing damp and wet from contact with the ground, and was not pleased.
"That was… not my best transit to date." Brelyna sheepishly admitted, groaning from where she was picking herself out of a bush. At least she'd landed dryly; "I was sure I would have landed us at the front stairs of the Synod."
"Well…" Onmund mused, optimism already in his voice as he scanned their surroundings. Talia did the same, and found she did not much care for the visual aspects either. They'd landed in a fucking marsh; "We seem to have been a bit off. I'm guessing we hit the forests outside the Imperial city."
There also was a statue, apparently depicting a woman of some sort. The head was missing from the shoulders, where it had evidently broken off and now rested at its feet, covered in mosses.
"Glad I didn't land on that thing…" She muttered, picking herself up. The land around them seemed to be the start of a swamp, of some sort. The marshlands was actually generously strewn with what looked like old ruins, the biggest of them being a broken dome of stone, halfway sunken into the wet ground.
"Swamps. J'zargo does not like swamps."
"If we hit Argonia, I'm going to be very, very disappointed with you, Brelyna." Talia wanted to glare at the perpetrator, but given who that was, she glared at the statue instead.
"Sorry, sorry, I-I don't know what went wrong." The Dunmer girl exclaimed, unfolding the scroll from her robes. It was so easy to make the poor girl upset, but right now Talia just needed to vent on something, even if it meant giving a statue the stink-eye; "I did all the right incantations, I even said them when we left. I don't…I…I…I am an idiot."
"A very loose term." Talia muttered from her glare at the statue; "What makes you an idiot, aside from the fact that we seem to be in the wrong place?" If an Argonian was going to turn up now, she was going to send him off with an ethereal wolf chasing his scaly ass.
"The orb." Brelyna deadpanned; "We should have never attempted magic near something so unknown and…no, no no!" At her panicked outburst, Talia snapped around, only to see the elf frantically trying to stop the scroll in her hands from disappearing into thin air.
As the Dunmer fumbled for the last scraps of the scroll, watching with open and declared dismay as it vanished into thin air, the rest of them could only watch. A tense silence lowered itself over the group, no one willing to first say the obvious.
"Well…J'zargo thinks we're fucked. We're stuck in a marsh, and he still wonders where we are."
No one except for J'zargo, of course.
"Not Argonia, at least." Onmund said; "It's nowhere near warm enough, and the trees are temperate, like near Riften." His words made Talia turn to him instead of the now panicking Brelyna; "I'm just saying…calm down. At worst, the College realizes we didn't end up the right place, and they'll send someone else for the Synod. We'll just have to get back home, somehow…"
"I don't think this is Riften or anywhere nearby. Those ruins aren't Nordic, even I can see that, Onmund, and it's your blasted ancestors, so you should know."
"I meant, we might just be a few miles outside the Imperial city." He explained, with an annoyed tone that said he wasn't in the mood for her to drag his ancestors into the mess; "We'll find a road, find some travelers, and ask for directions."
"Tolfdir is going to kill me…" Brelyna moaned, slumping against a sorry excuse for a tree; "And if he doesn't, Urag will flay me alive for wasting a scroll on the wrong destination."
"How about we try focusing on finding a road before we focus on what the teachers will do to us?" Talia said, pulling the depressed girl from her slumped state on the humid ground. If pull came to it, they would blame the whole thing on whomever had decided to place the Orb in the middle of the Hall of Elements.
No one was to blame.
Yeah, that was going to work really well with the man who probably valued books over his own children. Orcs were strange enough already, Urag just took that to the next level.
"Well, the sun is still below zenith, so…south would be that way." Onmund pointed; "and seeing how we're in humid, yet cool temperatures, I'd guess we are somewhere north of the Imperial city."
South it was, then. Talia repressed a sigh of having to wander through marsh and hills and whatnot, wearing only her normal footwear. Magical boots were meant to be flexible and comfortable, not to endure a continental tour. Damn… I should have stayed in my bed.
There was, even after hours of sullen, aching walking, no sign of functioning civilization. Ruins were all they saw, and even then those signs of civilization were lessening in frequency. Talia had called Two-Sock out as they traversed the countryside, mainly to let the Familiar stretch his legs. The wolf greeted the unfamiliar landscape with the same enthusiasm as he always did, tongue lolling and a powerful wagging of his transparent tail.
"Well at least someone's enjoying the change in scenery." Talia didn't even bother hiding the annoyance from her voice, resulting in her Familiar glancing her way with what she could have sworn was a cheeky grin; "You're so lucky you're cute."
"J'zargo thinks he stepped in something…"
The landscape barely changed, if only for the progressive addition of trees. It seemed they were moving out of the marshes, and the ground was steadily getting more firm underneath their feet. It was still humid as Dibella's inner thighs though, and strange birds kept chirping in ear-splittingly high pitches.
The sickness from the morning had already caught up with J'zargo again, forcing him to lean against a tree as the nausea passed. At least Talia only had to endure a small migraine until finally choosing to ignore the attention it would garner, and heal herself for it.
Neither Onmund nor Brelyna said anything though. Good. The healing left Talia a bit more drained than it should, likely because she only knew what healing spells the basic course had emphasized. Brelyna and Onmund were the better healers, with her only just beating out J'zargo on it.
"I'm tired…" Brelyna complained as they topped a small hill; "Can't we stop for a break?"
"The sooner we get to a road, the sooner we can find someone and ask for directions. We can rest then." Onmund stated, sounding about as eager about the concept as Talia felt. While agreeing with him, Talia really wanted nothing more than to set something on fire and curl up next to the warm flames.
She had never been one for traveling. There was a reason Skyrim had a carriage-service, for Daedras' sake!
"Someone approaches." J'zargo suddenly said, sniffing the air; "five men…They do not smell…they smell strange."
"What? Who?" Brelyna asked, receiving a look from the cat that said 'I don't damn well know who strangers are from their smell', but it was kept at a look. Talia glanced around, trying to spot wherever they were approaching from. Right now, though, all she could see was forest, and grass, and more forest.
"How far away?" Onmund asked, glancing at their surroundings; "We'll meet them halfway and ask for directions."
"Not far." The cat sniffed again; "…I think, that way." J'zargo pointed back the way they'd come, causing Talia to smack her forehead. If they had just remained where they were, the people would have found them a lot sooner and saved them the torment of trekking through the forests and marshes. Or, likely they'd still have had to trek through the marsh, but at least they'd know which way was, well, the way.
"I'm not walking another step. We walked all the way up here, so they can damn well do the same." Talia stated, dumping herself down on the ground. It was still damnable cold, so she ignited a pair of dancing flames in her hands to spread some warmth. The flow of magic was like a stream within her, oozing out of every and any pore she so chose. She could not imagine the inability to manipulate at least the basic laws of physics at will, which she knew might be arrogant, because she was well aware that the vast majority of the people of the Empire did not possess any aptitude for magic, only the very most basic potential.
She could do what she did, only because of how it had been part of her life since the day she could talk.
"J'zargo thinks humans are unused to walking because you lack the glorious fur of Khajit." J'zargo purred, crouching next to Talia to steal some heat without having to risk scorching his own paws. She gave him a dead stare, eyes wandering from where his tail was threatening her face, to his own.
"Bite me, Cat-man."
"Oh, where would you prefer?" There was a sinister grin in the cat's voice and expression, and Talia slapped his robes with a burning palm, causing him to wince back. Stendarr, why did he always manage to get under her skin?
"I can see them." Onmund said after a few minutes of boring wait; "Soldiers, looks like Heartland Legionaries. Good, they can direct us to the nearest road or town."
"Odd, I haven't seen that type of armor before…" Talia's eyes narrowed as she tried focusing on the approaching men. Onmund was right in that their armor did look like that worn by the Legions of the Imperial Province, but there were differences, things she couldn't get to fit.
The helmet was probably the first clue she should have gotten, it being completely enclosed instead of open like what was the norm with soldiers of the Empire. Years later, she would still regret this oversight.
Rubbing her flaming palms together for the last bit of heat, Talia got to her feet and followed Onmund as he went to greet the newcomers, pulling Brelyna to her feet along with her. The Dunmer did not seem appreciative of being made to move, and stamped the ground, rubbing some fire into her own palms.
"Hello, are you from the Imperial City?" Onmund called as soon as the soldiers were close enough to hear him; "We are students from Winterhold, and our spell somehow misfired and we ended up in a marsh. Could you maybe help us out?"
The leader of the soldiers signaled his men to stop, then stepped forward towards Onmund. Sword drawn, Talia noted with a bit of unease. Actually, a lot of unease. She hadn't been raised to survive machinations of Court without realizing when someone wanted something other than a handshake.
"…You are mages?" The man asked, looking between them. He seemed to linger especially long at J'zargo and Brelyna. The Khajiit was looking less and less comfortable with the situation, gradually stepping behind the Nord; "None of you look old enough for a Senior Enchanter, what are you doing outside your tower?"
"The College?" Onmund explained; "Tolfdir of the College asked us to teleport to the Synod, in the Imperial city, but…" He cast a sympathetic glance at Brelyna; "Our scroll didn't work properly."
"I see." The soldiers said, his words drawn out while he obviously pondered Onmund's words; "I don't know what you mean by 'the Imperial city' or the Synod, but I need to see a written permission from the Knight-Commander at your tower, or you will have to come with us. Please just comply, there is no need for this to become unpleasant."
"Our… what-now?" Talia asked, stepping up next to Onmund, arms folded across her chest. She could feel herself tensing up, muscles straining underneath the robes. There was definitely a hostile air here now, and she did not like the way things were going. Swords were drawn, and glares directed at not just her Familiar, but also her classmates; "Winterhold doesn't have any Knight-Commanders, we barely have any soldiers at all, aside from the Jarl's own guards. Look, we're just trying to get to the fucking city. We haven't committed any crimes, haven't set anything on fire, poached or even littered."
"I see. Before we proceed, we must deal with the abominations in your group." The soldier said, taking a step towards Brelyna and J'zargo; "I regret that they were possessed, but you know it is the risk. I will ensure this is done with quickly."
"What?" Brelyna's eyes widened in both horror and disbelief. Talia's did the same, feeling the hairs standing on her skin. Her heart was pumping faster already, sending out adrenaline and protective anger throughout her body and mind; "W-what'd you mean?"
"What are you doing?" Onmund demanded, his voice touching into a rare edge of anger. The air around him grew colder, and seemed to actually kill the grass he stood on; "What, do you mean 'abominations'?"
The soldier turned, regarding Onmund for a moment, before gesturing at the now-alert and hissing Khajiit, and the frightened, but wary Dunmer. Talia placed herself in-between them, keeping Onmund on her right, and a lightly growling Two-Sock on her left. She felt like her heart-rate was going to be the death of her.
"I understand why you left, I do. These two were clearly not prepared for their Harrowing. I'm going to end their suffering." The soldier gestured to his men, and Talia's eyes tracked them like a hawk as they started coming nearer as well.
"Please, we'll leave. Just, just stay back!" Onmund's hands clenched into fists in spite of his words; "This doesn't have to end in violence. We're innocents, and you don't want trouble with the College."
"And I am not suffering!" Brelyna exclaimed, leaping back next to J'zargo; "I feel completely fine!"
"J'zargo thinks these are madmen. We should leave before they decide to kill us up close. J'zargo's claws are not meant for armor." The cat snarled; "But he can still throw them off the hillside!"
"What in Julianos' name are you…" Talia started, the realization dawned upon her with all the dread that followed. They really did mean to murder them; "You want to kill people who haven't even lifted a hand against you?"
"What? No! You can't do that!" Onmund exclaimed, positioning himself between the soldiers and the rest of his group. Talia remained beside him, her feet rooted into the ground, ready to fight - and kill, if she had to.
She reviled the idea of actually, intentionally killing people.
"Stand aside, mage. You're lucky we're just taking the two of you back to the Circle." One of the other soldiers declared, with a lot less sympathy in his voice than the man who currently seemed to contemplate whether or not to simply run Onmund through to get to the non-human mages. Were things really this bad down south in Tamriel, that soldiers just killed any mage not human?
Was some kind of revolution going on, that the isolation of Winterhold had prevented them from knowing about? Was this another piece of the Empire, falling apart on itself? If things were this bad in Cyrodiil…could pretend-soldiers and sellswords really act in this way?
The thought made her blood boil in her veins. Indignation and protective anger, as well as no small dose of fear, rushed through her body.
"Touch them and I'll fucking flay you!" She shouted, hands ablaze with fire. At this moment, she felt like she could actually go through with it too. Onmund was right beside her, an aura of Skyrim's cold surrounding him. She knew he could kill someone, if he had to. Of the four of them, only he and Brelyna had actually taken lives before. Talia had hurt people, but…she didn't think that was going to be enough here.
Here, she might actually, finally, have to kill another person.
"Don't try it, mage. Don't throw away your life for abominations. Your friends are dead, it is time you realized this." The soldier took another step forward.
And Two-Sock jumped him. The normally so docile, hound-like Familiar had changed, its entire demeanor now ferocious and hungering for blood. The wolf's momentum was enough that they were carried backwards, tumbling down the hill.
"Run!" Talia screamed at her friends, not daring to take her eyes off the men; "Run! Run!"
The next thing she knew, the soldiers clapped their hands together behind their leader, the spread their armored palms outward in a snapping motion. Talia felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach, and found herself hitting the ground hard.
A wall of ice grew from the ground, separating her and Onmund from the soldiers. The Nord rushed to her side and helped her back to her feet, even as their attackers went around the barrier. Feeling yet like her bones were drained, she managed to put out a wash of her own flames, forcing back the soldiers as the ground at their feet caught fire.
Another bright light, and Onmund was sent to the ground. He did not move, nor even attempt to rise, and Talia's heart went into her throat when she realized she was alone in this now. Her friends had either escaped or been knocked unconscious, and now she had to do this, had to kill these people.
Grasping at the lingering strands of magicka in her blood, she pooled what scraps she could into the palms of her hands. A spray of fire was sent at their leader, one she wanted to scare them off more than actually maiming them. Gods, what the fuck was going-
Her head felt like an overdose of Skoma hit her without warning, and her mind swam in the clouds, unable to focus on even blinking one eye at a time, much less cast a spell. Her hearing became fuzzy, even as she was roughly turned onto her stomach and clasped in… were those irons?
"The abominations fled. The one…"
Even as all was dark, Talia started regaining her senses. She could feel something soft beneath her, like a bed, and something soft covering her skin. She had slept without clothes on, apparently. Great, that would mean catching a cold the second she would step from her bed. Well, then she was just going to stay in bed. Ought to, too, with the headache currently hammering away at her mind. And oh, someone was talking.
"…still think we should wait, Knight-Commander."
"I understand your concern, but they are clearly dangerous and have already been in contact with abominations. The sooner the better."
"Perhaps, but… this is all a bit much. Did Templar Morag say where they had run off from?"
"No, he didn't seem to know. A place called Winterhold was mentioned, but no records mention such a place, unless…"
"She seems quite old, never to have undergone the trial. Are we sure she is untested?"
"We ask her then. If she knows what goes on in the trial, she has been through it. If not, we put her through it. Is that acceptable?"
The other voice was a lot sterner, and didn't sound very nice. Next thing she knew, a pair of strong hands shook her awake, or at least to a lot more conscious state than before. Also it set fire to her headache.
"Wha… what… where…" She muttered as her eyes slid open, revealing a bearded man in heavy armor. His expression was one of barely repressed impatience and anger; "You… you're not Tolfdir."
"Do you know what the Harrowing is?" The man asked, completely ignoring the fact that he was, indeed, not Tolfdir. Talia pressed her eyes shut and tried retreating under the covers. Said covers were rapidly yanked away, laying bare her almost-naked form, bar underwear she herself had definitely not put on. She flinched and curled up, trying to preserve some modesty. Who… someone… saw me…oh Gods.
"I asked you a question."
"Why am I- where are my clothes!"
"Do you know what the Harrowing is?" The man repeated, getting within inches of her face. Talia could feel his breath, and did not care for it. Especially because it did not improve upon her headache. Nausea was working its way up her throat at the stench of pipe-smoke and stale garlic.
She pushed him away.
"No! Damn you, and what happened to my- here am I?!" Her demand for clothing was abruptly changed when she realized she wasn't in any place she recognized. The room was dimply lit, rather small and cold. Two pieces of furniture, a bed and a washing bowl on a stool, and nothing else decorated it. Clearly, this was not a place for paying guests.
Why was everywhere she woke up cold?
"I see." A man, the one with the concerned voice, said from behind the armored one; "Then, she goes through the Harrowing. Tonight."
"The what…" Talia started, even as the two old men left her small room, locking the heavy door behind them; "Hey!"
Talia groaned, rubbing her face with clenched fists.
"…what just happened?" she whispered to herself, still too overwhelmed to really process what had happened. Throwing off her covers, she found a set of dull robes, more a dress than anything else, lying neatly folded on the floor. She stared, aghast, at what was clearly meant for her to wear. A dress, or even worse, some parodic mimic of an actual set of magical robes.
Flickering her hand with magicka, she summoned Two-Sock. The ethereal wolf whined at sensing her mood, and placed his heavy head in her lab. There was something about being able to summon a confidante, that really couldn't be topped by a regular hound. Even if Two-Sock's ghostly eyes would have been even better if they were black orbs of love. Still, she ran her fingers through the ectoplasmic fur;
"Hey boy…" The wolf gave a small, soft whine in return; "Yeah… I've got fuck-all idea what's going on too…You think Onmund's around? We're getting out of here, just…need to figure out how."
The yiff she received told her that Two-Sock found the idea a good one. Good. She always knew he was a smart boy. Which really was a given, considering he was her Familiar. Soul-bound beings and all that, they tended to mimic the intellect of their owners, or in this case, really more like partners.
"Still… it's better than walk around in this." She gestured at her uncomfortable bra and smalls; "It's like they made it just to be chafing. You know what happened to the others?"
A sad whine. Figures. Two-Sock didn't know. Not that she had expected he would, but talking to the wolf made everything feel a bit less gloomy. Next on her list of worries was what this 'Harrowing' her captors mentioned could be? It sounded like a trial, of some sort.
Was that what the Heartland had devolved to? Old men setting up populist mob-courts to try and trial everyone trespassing? Would they start tying mages to stakes next, burning them alive for imagined slights? They'd already tried killing Brelyna and J'zargo, so insane as the concept was, she wouldn't put pre-mature funeral pyres past these people.
Annoyed with the situation in general, Talia picked up one of the shoes placed for her to wear, and hurled it at the door with a disappointingly soft thud being the result. Ignoring the rest of the clothing, She buried herself beneath the covers, let Two-Sock climb up and rest next to her, and just shut out the rest of the world.
"Dinner!" A series of heavy, frustratingly noisy knocks to her door stirred Talia awake. Two-Sock had vanished at some point, probably after the magica binding him had run out, leaving her without his comforting presence. When the knocking stopped, a small tray of dry cheese and bread was shoved beneath her door. Dungeon-food.
"Where are my friends?" she demanded, giving the door the stink-eye. The bucket-helmet of one of the soldiers came into view on the other side of a barred slide-port.
"Eat my ass and Bite me, you bastard! I want to know where my classmates are!" she kicked the door for effect. Sadly, it was thicker than she'd thought, and her reward remained at a stubbed toe. A faint shimmer also betrayed the fact that some sort of spell protected it, meaning trying to actually break the damn thing wasn't going to work.
Then, the walls maybe? She barely even entertained the notion, considering they were of thick stone. She couldn't deal with that, not even with a staff.
"Put some clothes on, woman. You will not tempt me. Your friends' location is of no matter until you have undergone the Harrowing. Eat."
"Go fuck a Horker." Talia growled, grabbing the tray with "food".
Divines, she had never had to eat this kind of food. Back home there was always enough food, because Bretons actually knew how to cultivate the damn land with magic, as opposed to the Nords who just worked until their backs broke and called it a day. That, and being as highly placed in society as they were, she'd never really starved.
The bread was hard and dry, almost impossible to chew without water or mead. And nothing was offered to drink, even with the cheese being moldy and dry as well. By the Emperor, didn't these people know how to cook? Then again, prisoners weren't usually afforded culinary treats.
But she was a mage, damn it. She could have made her own water if it wouldn't have meant licking frostbite from the wall, seeing as there was no way the tray could hold water. Damn this place to the deepest planes of Oblivion. Hydromancers could probably just summon up orbs of water, but sadly that was on the opposite spectrum of her specialties.
Two-Sock was her only reprieve from loneliness, his ghostly form still being better than a real dog or wolf any day. Swallowing her pride, Talia put on the dress, and slumped down on the bed with the wolf next to her. This time, she stayed awake, and Two-Sock stayed with her.
"I'm going to give them four more hours. If no one comes by, releases and apologizes to us, we're blasting our way out of here, right boy?" She mused, scratching the wolf behind his ears and under his jaw, prompting a merry waggling of his bushy, transparent tail. He probably knew as well as her that the only way to actually break through that door would be a fireball, and within this small a room, she didn't want to imagine what the blowback would do to her eyebrows, not to mention skin; "…someone better come and let us out."
As the situation would have it, she was let out only an hour later. Though, it wasn't with an apology. Four heavily armed and armored soldiers, the same type as those who attacked them earlier, were waiting to escort her someplace new. When Two-Sock made to follow her, one of the soldiers muttered something and hit her wolf with some sort of energy, banishing it.
Talia lost her shit, at that. Because contrary to popular belief, mages could feel what their Familiar's underwent, and that...that was painful. It was a rictus of pain, like an electric shock delivered from within. Talia snapped around to the man responsible and punched him in the face hard enough that his nose broke.
"I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!"
"Keep her down!"
"She bit me!"
"Andraste! The Hell did they drag her from?!"
The rest of the trip to their destination went with Talia going through her repertoire of insults and curses, of which she knew more than most. She was more a tangle of violent limbs and obscenities than girl, clawing, punching and kicking at every chance she got.
In the end she was shackled, and swears were all she had left. Even then, it wasn't until someone clasped a hand over her mouth to stop her swearing, that she realized she was at her destination.
An enormous room, at least the size of the Hall of Elements, where a bowl of glowing blue liquids was at the center off it all. A man in darker robes stood next to it, wearing a marginally less hostile expression than the armored men.
"What is your name, my dear?" The man asked, an amicability oozing from both his voice and looks. Out of context she could have taken him for a college instructor. Right here though, he clearly was in charge of these men. Oh by the gods, she would see him squirm, once he realized the nobility of the one he had imprisoned and slighted.
"Talia Aulus Geotien, daughter to King Omluard Aulus, Lord of Bankorai." She pressed down on each and every word of import; "I am a student of Winterhold, and you have no rights to keep me, or my friends, locked up in this place! Under Lex Imperatoria, I have the right to a fair trial, and to know of what charges I and my fellows stand accused, that warranted so violent an arrest."
"Do you know why you are here?" The old man, a mage obviously, asked. Talia blinked, feeling like her every word had just been ignored. Did she stutter? Had she fucking stuttered when listing their transgressions?
"Because Brelyna messed up." She bit out. Brelyna wasn't there to hear her say it, so she could be honest and say Brelyna had messed up. Because she had; "That does not, however, excuse the way in which your thugs broke imperial law and attacked us."
"I see. And, who, if I may ask, is this 'Brelyna'?" Was this man deaf? Or was he literally only hearing every second word out of her mouth? The only other explanation would be that either every person here but her was struck with insanity, or they thought she were.
"A Dunmer student. She's also my friend and a nice girl that one of your soldiers tried to kill without reason." Even if said girl was also incapable of understanding why you were supposed to not use murder as a result for every slight. Personally she blamed that one of the Telvanni, more than on Brelyna as a person.
"The dark-skinned abomination?" There was no malice in the man's words, but rather a simple curiosity. Talia bristled at the accusation nonetheless. How fucking dare he?
"Why the f- Why are you people calling her an abomination?" She growled, forcing down less mature words. Right now, if she had to get them out of here, she had to maintain her calm. A few of the remaining soldiers touched the hilts of their swords, a silent warning that she did catch. She was pissed off, not stupid.
"Are you saying she isn't a possessed elf?"
"There with the 'possessed' thing again. Why by the Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleventh would you start accusing people of being possessed, just because they happen to be Dunmer? Next thing, you'll declare the whole of Elsweyr or Argonia possessed for being inhabited by walking lizards and cats." She exclaimed, panting with wrath; "Honestly, you people are worse than the fucking Stormcloaks. Everything that's happened today is an absolute fucking travesty in the eyes of Imperial Law. At best, you'll be prostrated before a tribunal and made to pay reparations."
The room was silent for a long while. The mage who hadn't introduce himself yet, seemed to mull over her words. Talia shifted on her feet, glancing at the stock-still guards lining the walls of the room. There was no escape through fighting, she realized thát much. Somehow, the armored soldiers could drain her of magicka, without even touching her. It was dirty cheating, but that was where things were at.
"Where, to put it bluntly, would you say we are?"
"I don't know, and frankly I don't care as long as you just let us go again. Whatever messed up agendas you have going on here, there will be repercussions for detaining us." At least she hoped so. There were cases were powerful men had influenced courts to the point of ruling against common law. But even then, she had to trust word would get out. "What happened to my friends?"
"You are in the Tower of Magi, more specifically in Kinloch Hold. This is the Harrowing Chamber." The mage explained. He pointedly didn't answer her question.
"Funny, I was so sure it was the Blue Palace." She mocked his words, tossing the notion of 'remaining calm' to the wind, until a small fear started settling in her guts; "Are we even near Cyrodiil?"
"Cyrodiil?" There was clear and honest confusion in his voice, something that unnerved her more than being locked up ever could. Just where, by the intestines of Magnus, are we?
"The…- The Heartland? The seat of the Empire? The Imperial City?" She tried. The ever-confused wrinkles in the old mage's eyes didn't calm her down one bit; "Who are you people, where by the tits of Dibella are we?"
"Kinloch Hold." The man repeated, as if that would solve everything; "The tower stands in Lake Calenhad, and we are in Ferelden. The only current Empire I can think of would be Orlais, or Tevinter…your accent does strike me as somewhat Orlesian, now that I think about it."
"You are, not from Orlais, then?"
"…what." Talia stammered, her hands falling from her chest, to simply dangling by her side; "NO, I'm not from this Orlais-place, you old fucker! I'm an Imperial citizen of Tamriel, of High Rock!"
"Do you know what will happen here, in this chamber?" The old mage asked, returning her attention to the pedestal in the middle of the room. Talia wanted to hit him, truly she did, because this was like arguing with a pigeon - no matter what she said, eventually he'd just shit over her arguments and strut around like he'd won. But she had a feeling that if she did, those soldiers would simply smack her to the ground again.
She didn't have the pain tolerance for that.
"…no?" She did her best not to sling insults out with every word, but it was hard, so very hard. When the old mage beckoned her closer, she followed, if only so that she could be close enough to break his nose before the soldiers got to them. Right now, she was too stuffed with fear and anger to really contemplate the consequences of any potential actions; "But I'm guessing it'll be something highly illegal, since why stop at unlawful detaining?"
She'd never been too good at that, the contemplation thing.
"You will undergo the Harrowing. If you pass, there will be no further danger or mistreatment to you, and we can properly discuss your situation. Until then, we cannot know if your words are directed by demons from the Fade." The words were delivered as gently as he probably could, but still frustrated the Breton to no end.
"Demons from… I don't even… Fine, you old shit, what do I have to do to pass your test?" She was going to get out of here. And when she did, everything they'd done to her, including whatever this was, would be used against them. Nobles would soil their trousers all the way to Daggerfall when they heard of this. For now, she just needed to play along, to placate these madmen until such a point came where she could find Onmund and escape.
"Step up to the pedestal, and drink its contents."
"Why?" she moved, yes, but did not so much as reach out for the bluish waters, if they were even that. She was sufficiently skilled in alchemical crafts and its works that she knew anything safely ingested didn't smell this rank; "Why should I drink what is clearly infused, and I have no idea what it is?"
"It is a specially treated Lyrium-solution, meant to aid you in entering the Fade."
"The Fade…that's the trial, then? You want me to enter 'the Fade', and…?"
"And return, of your own power."
She wasn't even surprised when, having taken the cup of glowing liquids and poured it down, her body violently tried to reject it. The cold ground rose to meet her first, however. Worst of all was that she wasn't granted unconsciousness until after her face had kissed the tiles.
Opening her eyes, Talia was a bit surprised at what she saw. It definitely was a bit weird, especially because she was damn sure she had been kicked out by the same innkeeper who was now holding a mug labelled "infinite mead" towards her.
"My Lady, it is my deepest honor to offer you everything I have to serve." He exclaimed, his overly awed voice reminding her of home. Was it really that long since people had bowed and scraped before her? No matter, at least this meant the whole 'captured by soldiers' thing was a dream. Good thing too, because someone had hurt Two-Sock in it, and maybe Brelyna and J'zargo had even died. Still, just a dream.
"Did I fall asleep on the benches again?" She muttered rather sheepishly. It was just that fire was so nice to sleep next to.
"You did, but it doesn't matter. A courier arrived from High Rock with news from your esteemed father. He has cancelled the arranged marriage, if only you will return home to the estates." Well… that was unexpected news. Though not at all unpleasant.
"He did? Damn… I don't know what to say, really." She muttered, then eyed the innkeeper; "didn't you kick me out not long ago?"
"Oh, I am terribly sorry, milady, but it was nothing personal. I only hope to offer you some compensation for the terrible offense I caused."
"What happened to the roof?" Talia asked, having noticed that something was off. The roof was, indeed, gone, instead showing a vast expanse of air, filled with floating islands and thick wines; "…this is trippy."
"Milady?" The innkeeper asked, uncertainty in his voice. Deciding pondering really wasn't worth it, Talia grabbed the mead, sniffed it and handed it back again. She suddenly didn't feel like getting drunk anymore.
"Thanks. Listen, I'm going home, then. Father will no doubt be pleased to see me." She gave the innkeeper a curt smile, the ducked out the door. Outside, everything was normal. The winds were howling and snow was falling slowly despite the blowing storms. Guards in their cuirass's patrolled the street, holding torches to lighten their paths.
"Talia?" She turned, noticing a hooded man who was leaning against the outside of the inn, a friendly smile visible in the part of his face left visible by his hood.
"I am Ankus Tevian, and… I need your help. I'll reward you for it, of course." Well, it wasn't actually cold, despite the weather, so why not.
"Sure, I suppose."
"I have come across a tome that allows whomever reads it to master the arts of arcane destruction. Here, at least..." Now, she was piqued. This was exactly what she had been looking for all along, and to have it just offered to her…
"What's the price?" She did her best to suppress the eagerness in her voice, but it didn't really work. Ankus smiled friendly at her.
"You see, I was like you, once. I was a promising mage, and the Circle had me undergo the Harrowing. You do, of course, remember that this is all a dream?"
"Of course… no one ever offered me free mead before." She replied, a little sullen at the realization; "Wait, so…. What?"
"I never managed to finish the tests, and as a result, I couldn't escape this dreamscape. An eternity of wine, entertainment and, no offense intended, lusty women throwing themselves at me, can't make up for the real world." Talia perked up at that. If he could have lusty women… could she too?
"Wait, you mean you just have to wish for something, and it comes true here?" She asked, and dared hope for yes.
"It is a dream." He nodded. Talia felt a grin spreading on her lips. Come on, imagine. Imagine. Curves, long legs, perfect skin… what else… what else? "You're not trying to dream up something similar, are you?"
"…No." Talia tried, even as she turned to the sound of soft moaning. The entire street was gone, replaced with a lush field of soft grass and mosses, warm rays shining down through the canopy of leaves above her, and the sight before her; "…wouldn't dream of it."
In the middle of the clearing, nude as the day she had been born, Brelyna Maryon reclined on soft mosses, her shapely rear glistening with a light sweat. Cerulean skin and raven hair rivalled the other in reflecting the light in the most tantalizing of ways.
"Sweet Divines what an ass."
"Wanna fool around, Tali~a?" Brelyna grinned, rolling so that she was reclining on her side, showing of a bosom more generous than a Dunmer really had any right to possess.
Talia could feel her heart racing at the sight, and the fact that, even though this was a dream, every detail was nailed to perfection; "I wanna wrap my legs around you, Tali~a, and never let you go."
"H-hey, Ankus, can you wait like, just, like, ten minutes?"
"Listen, can you please just get us out of here? I'm not in the mood to watch you playing around in some messed up sexual fantasy. You won't get the tome unless I get out of here." Ankus groaned. The fantasy faded with that, and Talia was no longer granted the sight of her nude classmate. Damn. 'Blue Balls' how I did not miss thee…
"Fine… so, what do I do to get out of here?" She exclaimed, once again watching as guards did their routes on the street of Winterhold. Ankus pointed at the College, barely visible in the flying snow;
"A demon holds this realm. You'll have to defeat it in order to pass and return. I… wasn't able to do it."
"So, I just have to kick its ass?" She summarized, squinting her eyes to better see the College. Ankus nodded; "Easy."
"I hope so. I will try to help you, where I can. The demon will be in the shape of a person you know, to fool you."
"Figures. As long as it isn't Urag." Demon or not, when the orc was angry, he was scary.
Morrigan was not what one would describe as a normal girl. Normal girls did not grow up taking the shapes of wolves, spiders and birds. Normal girls also likely wore more clothing than she did.
It mattered little, she knew. Normal girls were the type to fancy those idiot Templars, and Morrigan was not one such girl.
Indeed, she was far superior to such idle fantasies as romance and 'happy endings' in castles of fine stone. Still, the mirror would have been a nice keepsake, from her one-time attempt at exploring the world outside her forest. But, Mother was right. Such things were superficial, and not fitting for one of her kind.
Speaking of the old hag, Mother seemed to be returning, the shape of a large avian blotting out the sun as Flemmeth landed with both claws full. It was odd, at first, when mother had explained that she must 'go and interfere with destiny', as she worded it, but Morrigan had long since gotten used to her mother speaking in riddles.
Indeed, it was not prey, which filled the talons of Flemmeth's giant bird form, but rather, two people. One, she at first thought to be very ill due to her coloration, and another she realized to be from a land far, far away. Cats in robes were, after all, not that very common in Ferelden, were they?
Setting Two-Sock loose on Ancano was, Talia realized, far more satisfying than she had ever imagined. She was only disturbed when the Thalmor's skin ruptured, and a humanoid being of living fire stepped out, swatting aside the ethereal wolf like an annoying fly.
"BURN! KILL!" It raged, moving towards her like a snail would, only much faster. Both Talia's hands shone with cold, and she sent the demon, what Ankus in the middle of his panicking had called a 'Rage demon', a smirk;
"You know, that's a really good idea." And she poured frostbite at the demon, causing its flaming surface to crack and rupture when the superheated liquids met with arcane cold. If a demon could feel pain, the agonized howls coming from the demon in front of Talia was probably a good show of it. Despite fire being her forte, frost was really just a different aspect of it. Creating fire meant using the magic in her blood to increase the temperature, whilst frost was the opposite. All in all, it was thermal manipulation, and she was good at that.
"That… was freaky… but surprisingly easy." She stretched and glanced at Ankus, who looked slightly uncomfortable at the show; "Well, what now?"
"Now? I don't know, I thought the trial would be done by now." The younger man muttered; "Maybe… try closing and opening your eyes?"
Talia did, and nothing came of it. There was something she was missing, she was sure of it. Demons… Demons. They took on human shapes to trick people… what more?
"How long have you been here, by the way?" She asked Ankus. The young mage sighed;
"A long time." He muttered.
"If I'm sleeping while here… how does my body get food and such?" She pondered, and once again, Ankus looked uncomfortable at her question.
"It doesn't. If you spend too long in here, your body withers away and dies."
"Then… wouldn't you be dead too?" She didn't fully understand how this place worked, but it seemed logical, to her at least. Still, there was probably some simple explanation here that would make her look stupid when he answered it.
"You just had to start asking questions!"
Or, maybe she wasn't stupid at all.
"I'm guessing this means I overlooked a demon…" Damn it, she almost actually was starting to like him. Was this an indication that her people-skill sucked more than she'd thought?
"If you will not let me out, I will come out, through you." And with thát, Ankus vanished, replaced by something that looked… really odd. It was like a picture of one of those Dragon Priests, only taller, and purple, of all things.
Talia started backing off a lot faster than she would call a smart retreat; "Nope, nope, nope, NOPE!"
"There is nothing to fear. You are different from the mages in Ferelden, you don't have to be afraid of demons. Let me bolster your magic, you can pull J'zargo through the dirt, humiliate him!"
"I really think I should go. As in, far away from you." Talia forced out through a fake, toothy smile; "It's nothing personal, I just don't love the idea of 'demons' toying with my mind."
"Oh, but where will you go?" The demon gestured for the entire dreamscape; "I am everywhere."
So, she was trapped with a demon in her own dream. This was starting to look more and more like something she would be seeing after taking Skoma. In retrospect, maybe that meant she should stop with the Skoma. Even if J'zargo was at his friendliest when a bit of the sugary stuff had touched his tongue. Mead was all she needed from now on.
In other words, she was going to have to fight this thing. Fantastic.
Summoning up her Familiar would probably not be overtly effective against this thing. At best he'd be a distraction, and guaranteed to be a smacked down. She didn't relish the thought, considering the stinging pain it always brought. So instead she fell back on what she knew and trusted to work. Streams for fire poured from her hands as she kept her distance, weaving around as spheres of acidic green were flung in retaliation.
Some sort of arcane shield appeared around the demon, protecting it from her attacks like a bubble that just would not burst. She just kept it up, dismissing the very idea of not being able to kill something with sufficient fire, even as she constantly backtracked to keep her distance to the demon.
All of sudden, she found out there wasn't any more ground to backtrack on. Her heels met air, and the weight she'd already placed on it carried her backwards and over the edge.
She realized she hadn't stopped falling yet, and looked behind her. There was nothing there, except for the endless depths of the dreamscape. Above her, the demon had leapt after her, a guttural laughter in its throat.
Well. Screw that laughter. From an angle like this, she doubted it could actually bring up the protective sphere again. Even if she had to fall into the nether, she wasn't going to let him get at her without a roasting first. She kicked at the air, causing herself to lazily spin in place.
When she came around to face the demon again, it stopped laughing. The centrifugal forces from her spin allowed her to sling a fireball with much greater power than usual. She expected a scream when it impacted, but instead the only reaction deemed her was the dry incineration of musty robes and bones.
Opening her eyes, she was staring at the ceiling of the Harrowing Chamber, and the old mage who had sent her into the damned dream in the first place.
"Good. You have passed the Harrowing." He said, a kind and relieved smile on his bearded face. Talia was, despite just having slept, far too tired to respond, and simply fell asleep on the floor.
A/N: First chapter down, only the rest of the story to go :)
Lex Imperatoria: The Empire of Tamriel is ruled by the Emperor, but although being subservient is a must, the citizens of the Empire are guaranteed certain rights. These rights fall under the Lex Imperatoria, or "Imperial Law", in common. Disputes are required by law to be settled before a court, whether they be between peasantry or nobility.
Another guaranteed right is the right to personal property and fair wages. This segment of the charter is mostly aimed at preventing the rise of feudalism, or petty lords acquiring too great amounts of power. Its side effect is the betterment of life for the peasantry, as they are by law guaranteed sustainable wages, as well as the right to refuse their local lords on certain old privileges, such as the Right of First Bedding.
Next chapter: Talia loses her shit. Again.