Grazhir :: Skyrim :: Yvara :: 06

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1.6

CollegeOfWinterhold

Revealing the Unseen
Heartfire, 8th, 4E 201

I exchanged a look with Erandur as the voice said, “G-Gavros? Is that you? I’d almost given up hope. Let me get the door. . . .” Moments later we heard a click and the door opened, revealing another member of the Synod. This had to be Paratus. “What the—what are you doing here? What’ve you done with Gavros?”

“Your friend Gavros is dead,” I said softly.

“It was the Falmer, wasn’t it?” he said with some heat. “Curse them! They’ve ruined everything! If Gavros is gone, there’s no hope. He was supposed to return with the crystal. Without that, all our efforts are wasted. And you. If you’re here for treasure, or wisdom, or anything, I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time. There’s just me, alone, surrounded by angry machines and angrier Falmer.”

“Crystal?” I said, thinking about the one we’d found.

“It didn’t work the first time. I tried to tell Gavros, but he wouldn’t listen. ‘No, it won’t be too cold,’ he said. Well, I was right, wasn’t I? Focused completely wrong by the time we got here! The cold had warped it! Gavros had to cart it all the way back to Cyrodiil. Left the rest of us here to fend off the damnable Falmer.”

While I rather wondered if Paratus had lost his mind, there all alone, I fetched out the crystal and said, “Is this the crystal you were after? I found it on one of the Falmer out there.”

Paratus’s whole face lit up. “You found—how in the world—that’s it! I don’t know who you are, but you may have just saved this little project. In fact, who are you, anyway?”

“Ah, I’m with the College of Winterhold.”

“You are, are you? Savos wouldn’t even grant us an audience when we came to you, but now you come here expecting something from me? I don’t much like this, I’ll tell you. But you saved my skin, so maybe I can overlook the past for now. Come on, I’ll explain on the way.”

Well, at least I wouldn’t need to try charming him.

“No matter what Gavros said, this was my idea,” Paratus insisted as he led us down the hall. “The Council is going to know that when I get back. I was the one who thought of using this . . . this Oculory. I don’t know what the Dwemer called it. Something unpronounceable, I’m sure. From all our research, it seems they were intent on discerning the nature of the divine. This machinery, all of it, was designed to collect starlight, and then . . . I’m not sure. Split it, somehow? It was my idea to replace one of the key elements with our focusing crystal. Months of enchantments went into it. Let’s just hope they got it right this time.”

Halfway down the corridor was an short offshoot with doors, and at the end was another set. Paratus led us to the end of the hall and opened the doors to reveal a massive sphere of whatever alloy it was the Dwemer used. I could see translucent walkways up above. Paratus veered left and kept walking, coming to a stone ramp that curved upward.

“Here it is. Magnificent, isn’t it? Took an incredible amount of work to get it running again. Now I’m hoping it’ll all be worth it. Place the crystal in the central apparatus, and we can start the process for focusing it.”

Hold on now, that sounded like I would be doing all the work. Sure. Paratus was steadily worsening my opinion of his level of greediness and laziness. I tried to keep in mind how shaken up he must be, but. . . . I hopped over the slight ridge circling the apparatus and fit the crystal into place. The whole thing flipped upside down, startling me.

“What now?” Erandur asked.

“Now the crystal needs to be focused. It was created so far away, we knew some adjustments would have to be made. Heating and cooling the crystal will cause it to expand or contract, which will change how the light passes through it. You’ll need to use spells to do that. Being from the College, I assume you know them already. There should be a few basic tomes around here somewhere in case your training is even more substandard than I’ve heard.”

I frowned and shared a look with Erandur, then poked around to see which tomes Paratus referred to. Did he mean constant flames or frost, or short bursts? The first tome I found was for Flames, so that question was handily answered. The buttons the next level up from the transparent floor were a mystery as well. I pushed the left one and saw one of what I had thought were simply decorative bands encircling the ceiling rotate.

There were beams of light coming from the focusing crystal, but where they landed seemed random. There were three of them, though, and three bands. A quick, whispered conversation with Erandur gave us an idea so he went down and cast Frostbite at the crystal, cutting the spell off when the beams of light moved. They weren’t each pointing at the bands so he cast again, then a third time. He looked back up at me and I nodded; it was time to push buttons.

The left button, controlling the top band, already had a beam of light hitting the circular seal on it so I hit the middle button instead. A couple of minutes later everything was aligned and Erandur got a surprised look on his face. I rushed down the ramp and looked. There, on the wall just below where I had been standing, was an image fashioned from light.

Paratus scurried over, a gleeful expression on his face. “Years of work, finally going to pay off—but what’s this? These results. . . . They’re not at all what they should be. This projection should be lit up like the night sky. Something is creating an incredible amount of interference. Something in Winterhold, it looks like.”

He shot an accusing look at us. “What are you playing at? Is this some attempt to stall my work!? So, what is it? What have you done? Did you know what we were attempting? Are you here to make sure your plan worked, that our efforts have been for nothing? Well, explain yourself!”

I eyed the image and saw that there were two areas of disturbance on the map; one was indeed Winterhold. The other, however, looked to be somewhere north of Whiterun. Rather, north-northwest? “So you’re saying there should have been more indicators on the map?” I asked.

Paratus tugged at his hair. “Yes! You show up here just as our work nears completion, and now I can’t get any results from this because of something at your College. Do you think me a fool? Do you think I’m too stupid to make the connection? You’ve ruined my work!”

Or maybe there were simply two things in Skyrim worth investigating on the level he was speaking of.

“You have something at your College, don’t you?” he insisted. “Something immensely powerful. Beyond anything I’d anticipated. What is it?”

It wasn’t my place to say, really. “We might have something, yes,” I said cagily.

“Well, now. This I hadn’t considered. If that’s taken into account, these results make more sense.”

If the Eye was the Winterhold disturbance, could it be possible the other one was the Staff? I pointed at the secondary point and asked, “So where is this, do you think? I’m not from Skyrim, but you seem much more erudite than I.”

Paratus preened for a moment and smiled. “Well, that can only be Labyrinthian.”

“You really are, then,” I said, trying to keep up the flattery. “I have trouble keeping places in this country straight. Say, have you ever heard of something called the Staff of Magnus? I overheard a mage at an inn I stayed at speaking of it, but I thought it was just a myth. You’re part of the Synod, though, so you’d probably know better.”

“Well, now, there’s an idea. Maybe that’s what’s causing the other disturbance,” he mused. “It could be, I suppose. It’s supposed to be very powerful, after all.” He stepped up to the image and started to scrutinize it, seeming to forget Erandur and I were even there.

I sidled away and caught Erandur’s eye. We quietly took our leave and I waited until we were out in the corridor again before saying, “I think he’s gone mad.”

“I think you may be right.”

We reached that offshoot and I was going to check the door, but before I could take more than a few steps another Psijic Monk appeared and mucked about with time. He warned me that I would encounter difficulties ahead—they’d only been telling me that the whole time, damn it—and assured me that I was on the right path, that I would prevail, and then urged me to return to the College with all haste. Then he vanished.

From that I took a couple of ideas. One, that Labyrinthian probably held the Staff of Magnus, and two, that all hell had probably broken loose at the College, or was about to.

Heartfire, 9th, 4E 201

During our journey back we stumbled over that party heading to Solitude again. This was, I thought, the third time, at least. And they were still heading the wrong way! Windhelm is not Solitude and not even on the same side of the country. Were these people too “noble” to ask directions? Hire a guide? Ride in a carriage?

We made it back as quickly as we could manage only to find that Ancano had gone crazy and was holed up in the Hall of the Elements with the Eye. Some kind of ward was preventing Savos and Mirabelle from getting in.

“I don’t know,” Mirabelle was saying. “It’s like a ward, but who’s casting it? Ancano? How?”

“I don’t care what it is,” Savos snarled, “I want it down now! I want to know what he’s doing in there!”

“I know where to find the Staff of Magnus, but I guess that can wait. Can I help somehow?” I asked.

“Help take this down, will you?” Savos said. “We’re throwing everything we can at it.”

I immediately started casting fire at the thing and Erandur joined in, as well. The ward buckled and shattered under the combined assault, and Savos and Mirabelle pushed open the doors and rushed in.

I could see that Ancano was doing something to—with?—the Eye, like he was drawing power from it.

“What’s going on!?” Mirabelle demanded.

“Ancano! Stop this at once! I command you!” The Arch-Mage advanced on Ancano with a spell prepared.

Mirabelle must have seen or understood something I didn’t because she cried out, “Don’t go near him!”

And then everything went white and I lost consciousness. Some untold time later I became aware that someone was shaking me gently; it was Erandur. I slowly got to my feet and looked around. Mirabelle was propped up against one of the pillars looking like death.

“Are you all right?” she asked. “Can you walk? I need you on your feet. We’re in trouble here.”

“I’ll manage,” I assured her. Sure, I might bash into the odd wall at first, but I’d be fine.

“Ancano is doing something with that thing—the Eye. We can’t stop him! I haven’t seen Savos since the explosion. He must’ve been blown clear, and he may be injured. I need you to find the Arch-Mage, and I need you to do it quickly! Get moving!”

Containment
Heartfire, 9th, 4E 201

Outside—outside was Aren’s body. He was dead. The doors into the Hall had been knocked open by the blast, or by Aren as he was flung against them. Members of the College were gathering to try to make sense of what had happened.

“He’s not. . . .” Sergius couldn’t finish that thought.

“Is he dead?” Phinius asked in disbelief.

“Everyone please, stand back!” Tolfdir said strongly. “Please remain calm!” To me he said, “Are you all right? What happened in there?”

I must really have looked worse for wear. “Ancano is what happened. He’s done something with the Eye.”

“By the Nine,” Tolfdir replied. “Is he responsible for this? The Arch-Mage, dead?” He shook his head. “There’s more, though. Something’s happened to Winterhold. It must be whatever Ancano did. You need to get out there and make sure it’s safe. Quickly now, quickly! I’ll find Mirabelle and see if we can’t put a stop to this!”

Erandur actually got a head-start on me. It was really heartwarming how he pitched in when he didn’t strictly need to. We got to the top of the bridge and were stopped by Faralda.

“What’s going on? What happened in there?”

“Ancano happened. Tolfdir sent me to make sure Winterhold isn’t in danger.”

Faralda raised a brow. “Take a look. I don’t think there’s much question that it is. Let’s get down there and do something about it. Come on, Arniel. Let’s go.”

“Do we have to?” he complained. “They’d never lift a finger to help us.”

I pushed past him and rushed along the bridge. There were things down there, something like the things accompanying wisp mothers or like ice wraiths, and I knew the guards would have a hard time dealing with them.

After killing off about a dozen Faralda swept the area visually and said, “That looks like the last of them. We’ll stay here. You get back to the College and let them know what’s going on. Arniel, stay on your guard. We can’t let harm come to these people.”

I exhaled heavily and turned around to race back up the bridge. No one was in the courtyard so I plowed through the doors back into the Hall of the Elements. Mirabelle was still awake and Tolfdir was with her. She saw me and quickly asked, “Well? Is everything out there all right?”

I tried to catch my breath and answer at the same time. “Winterhold is safe for now. Faralda and Arniel are still down there, just in case.”

“Wish I could say the same for us. Tolfdir and I can try to keep this contained. You need to get your hands on the Staff of Magnus. Now.”

I didn’t see any point in arguing. I simply wouldn’t mention the part where I would have to stop and get some sleep. Erandur and I had been pushing hard all day and even I needed some sleep. “Then I’m off to Labyrinthian,” I said.

Mirabelle just about gawked at me. “What? Are you—are you sure? The staff is there? That can’t be a coincidence.”

“Coincidence?”

“Savos. Before—before he died. He—he gave me something just a little while ago. He told me it was from Labyrinthian, and that I would know what to do with it when the time came. I think—I think he meant this for you, then.” She produced a large torc from somewhere in her robes and offered it to me. “I’m not sure why, but there was something very personal about it for him. Also, I think you should take this amulet.” She glanced at Tolfdir, who handed it to me. “It belonged to Savos, but I think it would do you the most good now. Take it, and get out of here. Bring back that staff before Ancano brings the whole College down around us.”

The Staff of Magnus
Heartfire, 9th, 4E 201

I nodded and tucked both items away, then left. I would have to unload everything I could from Horse to lighten the load so that Erandur could ride if he was coming along. I could run a lot faster than I usually did still without sprinting, so. . . . Once I ascertained that Erandur wanted to come along, because I wasn’t going to assume, I asked him to help me unload Horse and store everything in my room. Then we took rooms at the inn in town, more so I would be out of Mirabelle’s sight. I didn’t want her fretting over me still being there and the necessity of sleep.

That night, in the dubious privacy of my inn room, I finally reacted. I barely even knew Aren. He had made the occasional comment to me, either in passing or those times we had directly spoken, but I found that I was quite sad. Maybe it was just the devastation on the faces of the higher ranked members of the College? A part of me wanted to shed a tear for the man’s passing, but I couldn’t. I simply didn’t have enough of a connection to Aren to manage it.

Heartfire, 10th, 4E 201

Erandur rode Horse and I ran alongside. We took the usual route out of Winterhold, then west, then cut down the south road toward Whiterun. Not long after we passed Loreius Farm we cut west across the tundra to get to the road into Labyrinthian. It was harder on Horse because of vagaries of that path, but it was much quicker than coming in from the north, at least according to my map. Horse was not happy about climbing all those stairs.

I left him outside the walls where hopefully nothing would come after him. He was a coward, so I knew he’d run if necessary and return when it was safe. I had no real idea where to go once we got beyond the walls, but a flicker of ethereal blue caught my attention. We headed for that, frying a few trolls along the way, and dashed up a multitude of steps.

There, before a simply enormous set of doors, was a ghostly version of Savos. And then others appeared, and Savos spoke. “Come on, we’re finally here! Let’s not waste any more time!”

The Argonian (I could see the tail) said, “Are we truly sure this is a good idea?”

“We’ll be back at the College before anyone even knows we’re gone,” said a female.

“You would care about that,” said a male, “since you’re the Arch-Mage’s favorite!”

“Don’t forget,” Savos said, “this whole idea was Atmah’s to begin with.”

“Let’s just get inside,” said a different male, “see what’s in there.”

A second later all but Savos vanished. He spoke to me directly. “I knew you’d come eventually. It would seem I’m bound to this place. The bitter irony of it all—my greatest failure, and even in death I can’t escape it. I never meant for any of what happened here. Tried to seal it up, lock it away forever. But now it all comes out again. . . .” He then disappeared.

“I—” I sighed and glanced at Erandur. Somehow he—had he not witnessed that? What was so damn different about me that I kept seeing things no one else did? Or gaining understanding of things that were disconnected and still so mysterious? After a huff of frustration I looked at the door and realized it was missing something. I brought out the torc and fit it into place. It knocked by itself and the doors opened for us. Inside the spirits appeared again.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” one of the females said.

“Can you imagine the looks on their faces when we come back?” Savos said.

“You keep talking like you’re sure we’ll find something useful in here.”

I was having a hard time keeping track of any voice aside from Aren’s, to be honest.

“Enchanted weapons, tomes of ancient knowledge, Shalidor’s secrets themselves—who knows what we could find!” Savos said.

The Argonian countered with, “And what if—what if there are things guarding this place?”

“Against six College-trained mages? I think we’ll be fine,” the first female said dismissively. I thought that one was Atmah.

Again they all vanished but Savos. “There were six of us. Full of ambition, eager to conquer the world. It was Atmah’s idea to come here, at first. She talked me into it, and I convinced the others. We were sure we’d find it all here, hidden away from time. Power, knowledge. . . . All the things we didn’t want to wait for. We thought it would be so simple,” he said to me, then disappeared.

Erandur again did not hear or notice, so I shook my head and took a look around for anything of interest. I found a spell tome, but that was it. We continued on and came to a short hall barred at the end, leading into a vast room. There were levers to either side, presumably to lift the gate. I pressed up against the bars to get a better sense of the room, then backed up. “Erandur, there are skeletons wandering around in there. What do you think about the idea of us conjuring some atronachs through the bars and letting them clear it out before we go in?”

“Enough to warrant that? Yes, then, I think it’s a fine idea.”

We crowded back down the short hall and carefully took aim in order to get the spells through the bars, then each conjured atronachs. The skeletons seemed to sense where we were, but the atronachs were more of an immediate threat. And then something happened that defied belief.

“Are you seeing this?” I asked Erandur. “Because I’m having trouble believing I’m seeing what I am.”

“That’s a dragon,” he whispered. “An undead, skeletal dragon.”

“Okay, then,” I replied, still staring through the bars. I conjured another atronach when mine went down and Erandur shortly did the same. When the skeletons were all down and it was just the dragon left I said, “Well, do we keep on with the atronachs or do you want to risk going in there to attack it directly?”

“I’m feeling brave today,” he said.

“Okay, hang on. I’ll go pull the lever. Unless you want to.”

“It’s fine.”

I ran back and yanked, then rushed forward again. A good thing, perhaps, since the bars slammed back down almost as soon as I made it through. Erandur was already shooting spells at the dragon so I joined in. It . . . went down a lot more easily than I would have expected, actually. I wasn’t quite sure what that might mean.

I eyed the spot where the dragon had risen and realized something. It looked almost exactly like things I had seen in my travels, except those were convex. Did all of those contain dragon skeletons? Beyond the area was a much smaller room in which the spirits again appeared.

“We—we have to go back. We can’t leave Girduin.”

“We barely made it out alive, and you want to go back in?”

“What was that thing, anyway?” the Argonian asked.

“It’s too late,” Atmah said sorrowfully. “There’s isn’t enough of him left to go back in after.”

“Gods,” the Argonian said, “what have we done?”

“We can’t go back. Might as well go forward. We can still do this.”

“Savos is right,” Atmah said. “We can make it if we just stay alert.”

Savos said, as the others vanished, “Girduin died first. It happened so fast, none of us had a chance to react. One moment we joked about what we’d find below, the next he’d been ripped in half. And then we were all fighting just to survive. None of us were prepared. It was amazing the rest of us survived. When it was over, Atmah, Hafnar and I stared, pale-faced, at one another, unwilling to admit we’d made a terrible mistake. We could have turned back. It could have ended there. But we kept going.”

I frowned as he vanished. That could have meant several of things I could think of offhand. One, that the bars couldn’t be opened from this side. Two, that dragons (skeletal or otherwise) could not be fooled by invisibility. Or both. Or none of them could make themselves invisible, either by spell or potion. Three, what we faced was not what they had faced, because surely they would have recognized a dragon, even in skeletal form. I also had to wonder just how different our respective trips were. Had they run into that much more opposition? Or were they so very unskilled yet so very confident? I turned to Erandur and shared my thoughts.

“I . . . don’t know,” he said. “You’re right, though. This seems to be a much easier trip for us than for them.”

They had been arrayed around a plinth of sorts with a plaque affixed to the top. It read:

Hail All—Brave City Bromjunaar

Forever These Walls Shall Stand

May Enemies See Her Majesty

May All Quake to Behold Her

We kept going, eventually coming to an odd little room with a frozen over door to the side and an alcove with a plinth and a book. A few steps in caused the both of us to stagger as our magicka pools were drained.

“Wo meyz wah dii vul junaar?”

“What was that?” I gasped, trying to catch my breath. “That sounded like an oddly articulate draugr.”

“Do you think they had to deal with whatever that was, too?” he asked.

I shrugged and went to check the book. I already knew the spell, so I ignored it. I turned back to the door and sent a stream of flames at it to melt the ice, and was consequently surprised when something let out a death gurgle and dropped to the floor. “Okay, we should keep that in mind if we run across a similar door.”

Deeper in that voice spoke again and our magicka was drained. “Nivahriin muz gent siiv nid aaz het.”

I was staring right at a draugr, but that wasn’t what was speaking.

“You do not answer. Must I use this guttural language of yours?”

‘Hey, friend, your language isn’t exactly smooth on the tongue, either,’ I thought.

“Have you returned, Aren? My old friend?”

Whatever this thing was—and I certainly had some suspicions—was no damn friend of Savos. I just wish he had warned me before. He must have had some idea where things were leading if he gave the torc to Mirabelle, so. . . .

I conjured another atronach when I recovered, to help with the draugr, but I seriously needed to get better at it so I could conjure them farther away. I felt as though I had to aim the spell practically at my feet!

“Do you seek to finish that which you could not?” the voice asked a bit later. “You only face failure once more.”

I groaned and leaned against the wall. I couldn’t see Erandur and wondered where he was. While I waited I searched the room, muttering under my breath about how being short was a real pain at times. Getting stuff off the top shelf was an adventure in itself.

There was blood everywhere, with a trail of it leading away into a twisty corridor that was almost hidden from sight given how the room was constructed. Erandur showed up at that point, thankfully. I kept forgetting he could not move as fast as I could, even with his greater height.

“You—you are not Aren, are you? Has he sent you in his place? Did he warn you that your own power would be your undoing? That it would only serve to strengthen me?”

I might have cursed over that statement were it not for the damn troll that popped up to attack us! I cursed over that instead and dropped right off the side of the staircase we were on so I could flank the damn thing. Once it was dead I did something, well, rebellious? There was an ore vein down where I dropped to so I took some time to mine it. The pick striking helped to calm me.

‘No,’ I thought, ‘I am hardly Aren. But I am more than a little creeped out by this place.’ Having one’s magicka drained was awful, though it regenerated fairly quickly. No, I was more worried about having it drained during whatever inevitable battle was coming up with the owner of that voice. I didn’t even know what he meant, being strengthened. Did that mean he had been severely weakened over time, or something, and our stolen reserves were bringing him back to full strength? I still had my bow if I was forced to use it.

We found another one of those blocked doors, this time by fire. Whatever or whoever we were coming up on had control of the draugr, and draugr were supposed to be those who served the dragons and were cursed to servitude even in death, or something along those lines. That would mean the voice was probably that of a dragon priest.

Beyond that the spirits appeared again.

“Just another minute, please,” the Argonian said.

“Come on, we can’t stop now,” Savos replied. “We have to keep moving!”

“Where’s Elvali? She was right behind me,” Atmah said, looking behind them, at us.

“Dead,” said the male I still did not know the name of, but now assumed was Hafnar. “Something grabbed her from behind. Gone before I could do anything.”

“You’re right,” Atmah said. “This is all my fault. Should we turn around, head back?”

“I don’t think going back is a good idea,” Hafnar cautioned.

“Going back would be the end of all of us,” Savos insisted. “We keep pushing forward, and we’ll make it. We will!”

I hadn’t heard it so easily earlier, but I could detect the rising desperation in Aren’s voice.

“Come on, you can make it,” Atmah said a bit listlessly. “Let’s go.”

Savos stayed long enough to say, “Elvali died here. I don’t even remember what killed her. One of the countless faceless horrors. I think she was glad, in that final moment. Hafnar was covered in blood, but his stupid Nord pride wouldn’t let him admit defeat. I—I don’t know why I pressed the others on, convinced them to keep going. ‘If we can just make it through, it’ll all be worth it,’ I told them. And the fools believed the words I myself didn’t trust.”

I was unable to ponder the “memory” or Aren’s words further due to a shouty draugr, a Deathlord, as I titled them. It was quite difficult to stay on my feet when it bellowed, but I did a better job of it than Erandur. Maybe the difference in height was helping me?

When we found a word wall I called a break and Erandur was pleased to agree. I fetched out a blood potion and drained it, feeling almost immediately better, and Erandur leaned against a wall (better that than sitting when who knew what might trundle in and attempt to kill us) to eat his food. While he was doing that I wandered over by the wall and examined it: Tiid—Time.