Skyrim quests: First Lessons, Under Saarthal.
The Nightgate Inn was very busy. Hadring might not host many visiting travellers, but the locals seemed keen on his inn for breakfast at least.
After a generous serving of bacon and eggs, we left for Winterhold just after 7:00 AM.
We stayed on the main roads and did not venture cross country. To our delight, we had no violent encounters.
After stabling the horses, we entered The Frozen Hearth.
I explained to Inigo, “I will try and let you know if you have to stay here overnight. But I can’t promise.”
“We will figure it out. Langley’s vision suggested you will be heading to some tomb or ruins.”
“Yes, and you will be hired guards if I can convince the Arch-Mage.”
I left the inn then approached the bridge. Master Mage Faralda was the guardian on duty once more. I approached with confidence and optimistic she would not recognise me.
“Cross the bridge at your peril! The way is dangerous, and the gate will not open. You shall not gain entry!”
“I have come a long way to be a student here. What do I have to do to gain entry?”
“What do you wish to study?”
“I want to unravel the mysteries of Aetherius.”
“Ah, the immortal plane. It is said to be the source of all magic. That is a noble goal, indeed.”
“If you require proof of my skills, is this adequate?”
I summoned two Dremora Lords.
I dismissed the Dremora then made myself invisible.
I cast Dragonhide, which made me visible but with scaly skin. I removed my hood and Faralda stared with her mouth open.
After a few seconds, she gasped, “That is a master level spell!”
“Is that good?”
“You don’t know?”
“That is why I am here. I want to learn.”
“Welcome to the College. Allow me to give you a tour.”
“No need, I have memorised maps. Is there somewhere I need to go to get my studies started?”
“Master Mage Tolfdir is conducting the first lessons today.”
“Do I have to rush? Has he started already?”
“You should have at least thirty minutes. Are you sure you do not need a tour?”
“I need to go to the Hall of Elements, is that correct.”
“Then, I thank you, but I will find my way.”
“OK, I hope you enjoy your time here. I have opened the way for you.”
As I crossed the bridge, I noticed the same Thalmor Justiciar I had seen when we had visited Malesam. He was arguing with the same mage as months before. Nobody, including Rigmor, has seen my shape-changing ability. I decided to make myself look like a Half-Orsimer in case the Thalmor recognised me. I removed my hood and approached the bickering pair.
The argument paused as I passed. The Justiciar stared at me for a second, then dismissed my existence as unimportant. They waited till I entered the College before resuming their heated discussion.
I made my way to the Arch Mage’s Quarters and entered.
Arch-Mage Aren walked up and asked, “Are you a new student? You must be as I don’t recall a young Orsimer being here.”
“Oh, forgive me. I forgot!”
The transformation spell can be dispelled by thought only. So, in front of Savos Aren’s disbelieving eyes, a huge Half-Orsimer instantly changed into a tall, muscular and bald Nord.
“How did you… wait… do I know you?”
“Imagine I have a long ponytail. Does that help?”
“The Dragonborn! Now you do have me intrigued. Is Rigmor in danger? If so, we have heard nothing indicating that from Malesam.”
“Rigmor is not currently in danger, but she will be if there is a connection made between her and me. So, for Rigmor’s safety, I ask you never refer to me as ‘Rigmor’s Guardian’ or ‘Guardian General’ in words spoken or written. I am General Valdr, The Dragonborn, and that is all.”
“Malesam has asked us if we know why her Guardian has not made an appearance in Cyrodiil.”
“As I said, any known connection between myself and Rigmor will endanger her. It would endanger everybody on Nirn. Malesam is not to know I have visited the College. What he knows his chosen god might learn. Malesam genuinely wants to protect Rigmor, but Boethia has unknown plans and motivations.”
“I will not pry as to why this is necessary. This College does not want to be involved in the politics of mortal and immortal. However, we are sworn to protect Rigmor and if that means complying with your request, so be it.”
“As for my transformation. It is a spell that I am hesitant to share. Can you imagine the chaos if immoral mages used it to infiltrate and spy?”
“Can you make yourself look like other races apart from Orsimer?”
“Yes, I can change into any of the intelligent bipedal races. Please, can we discuss why I am here?”
“Oh, of course. It must be important, and I assume you are concerned about the Thalmor presence?”
“That and the fact I want to be treated as a young mage for now. Being known as The Dragonborn might complicate things.”
“So, why are you here, General Valdr?”
“The Divines sent me. I believe the College of Winterhold is about to uncover a powerful and dangerous artefact. That is all I know at the moment. The Divines do not tell me much. I have to figure it out as I go.”
“Normally, I would regard such talk as a sign of insanity. However, you defeated Alduin and the details of how you accomplished that are known to be factual but seemingly impossible. For instance, time travel and teleporting to a realm of Aetherius! Only yesterday we received reports of you destroying Dragon Priests and travelling to Oblivion to kill another Dragonborn.”
“Apocrypha to be precise. Hermaeus Mora and I are not the best of friends. But I have been to several realms in Oblivion. There is much that is yet to be made public knowledge. But it will be when it does not endanger others.”
“Master Mage Tolfdir is planning to take a group of new students to the College’s archaeological dig at Saarthal. Could that be where this mysterious artefact resides?”
“Digging up Saarthal can’t be popular with the local Nords. There is much myth surrounding that ancient city and great evil once lived there in the form of Ahzidal. Like the Dragonborn I recently fought and killed, he was a Dragon Priest who turned to a Dark Lord in his quest for knowledge and power. But his tomb is in Solstheim. The artefact may be in Saarthal, but there is only one way of finding out.”
“The local Nords don’t like the fact we exist at all because they blame us for the city’s destruction. We have had a lot of complaints about the excavation of Saarthal due to general mistrust of us. The average citizen also believes we are meddling in things best left alone.”
“I have read various accounts, and nobody is quite sure what caused the storm that destroyed Winterhold. There is no evidence that this establishment was to blame.”
“We are surrounded by ignorance. It is why we persevere. Mages can do many things to help the citizens of Nirn and used to be looked upon with respect. Then the Oblivion Crises caused the sundering of the Mages Guild. Mages were no longer a common sight and useful resource. Dislike for magic grew, and disasters such as the destruction of Winterhold needed an explanation. Mages became scapegoats and easy targets for unfounded accusations.”
“I am keen on history and unlocking the truths of the past. I would love to discuss this topic in length, especially since you witnessed the destruction of Winterhold, but I need to concentrate on my task.”
“Tolfdir is the danger there. He could talk for days on any given subject.”
“Historians and archaeologists are working on the new museum in Solitude with the same level of enthusiasm.”
“Ahh yes. I need to speak to you about your proposal when possible.”
“About the shared pocket plane for safe storage?”
“Yes, I agree it would be in both institutions best interest.”
“How long has the excavation at Saarthal been underway?”
“We completed almost a two years of excavation before the civil war intervened. Not long after you resolved that problem and took care of Alduin, we resumed. We have dug fairly deep vertically but not horizontally. We have found nothing so far that suggests danger, so I deemed it safe for the students to visit.”
“If Tolfdir and his students were to encounter powerful Draugr or a Lich, they would die. Of that, I am positive. And if you had my experience at crawling through such places, you would know that innocuous-looking ruins can hide such denizens quite well.”
“I know of what you speak via personal experience. I watched colleagues die beside me in such a place. Perhaps we are irresponsible in sending students in there. We have let a few months of no danger blind us to the potential danger.”
“I have some of my colleagues with me. One of them fought beside me in Sovngarde against Alduin, and all are fine fighters. I need to join Tolfdir on today’s field trip, and I need my friends to accompany me. Tolfdir can keep the students busy in the already excavated areas while my team can investigate the unknown.”
“I will tell Tolfdir that your team is to be allowed to wander from the main group as there are indications undead may exist in parts of Saarthal yet to be excavated. He will not pry too much as to the source of my information or who you are. He knows I have tools and friends best not spoken about.”
“I had better rush to Tolfdir’s lesson. There is no need to test his thespian skills at this stage as I am just another first-day student. On the other hand, I have no idea what acting ability I have!”
“I will intercept him before he leaves for Saarthal. You can gather your team and be assured they will not come as a surprise to him.”
“Thank you, Arch-Mage. I appreciate the co-operation.”
“As if I am going to say no to the man who has saved everything that I love and hold dear. Not just once, but several times and is probably about to do it again!”
I made my way to where the lecture was being held. I was late, but at least they were still there.
Eight students were watching, but Tolfdir was concentrating on what I assumed were three newcomers.
- Wulf: Excuse me, Master Tolfdir, I was told to report to you.
- Tolfdir: Ahh, another new and eager student. Welcome. Your name?
- Wulf: Sven from High Rock.
- Tolfdir: Students, please introduce yourselves to Sven.
- Brelyna: I am Brelyna originally of the Ashlands. But I now proudly call Winterhold my home.
- J’zargo: This one is J’zargo from Elsweyr. Do not ask which half. This one cares not for politics.
- Onmund: Onmund from Morthal.
- Wulf: I am pleased to meet you all.
- Tolfdir: So, as I was saying, it is essential to understand that magic is, by its very nature, volatile and dangerous.
- Brelyna: Sir, I think we all understand that reasonably well. We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t control magic!
- Tolfdir: Of course, my dear. Of course. You all certainly possess some inherent natural ability. That much is not being questioned.
- J’zargo: Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get started!
- Tolfdir: Please, please! This is exactly what I am talking about. Eagerness must be tempered with caution, or else disaster is inevitable.
- Onmund: But we’ve only just arrived here, and you have no idea what any of us are capable of. Why not give us a chance to show you what we can do?
- Tolfdir: Sven, you have been quiet so far. What do you think we should do?
- Wulf: I think the young mages should listen to somebody far more experienced, knowledgeable and wise than themselves. I am sure this College has a long list of dead students who did not temper eagerness with caution! To counter my fellow students’ impatience, why not teach us something new that is not dangerous? Something practical and can’t be used to kill ourselves or others in our pursuit of knowledge.
- Tolfdir: Well said.
- Brelyna: See? He agrees with us too! Why don’t you actually show us something?
- Wulf: Don’t forget, I also agreed with Master Mage Tolfdir!
- Tolfdir: All right, let’s settle down. I suppose we can try something practical.
- Wulf: And safe!
- Tolfdir: Of course. In continuing our theme of safety, we’ll start with Wards. Wards are protective spells that block magic. I’ll teach you all a ward, and we’ll see if you can successfully use it to block spells, all right?
- Wulf: A wise choice.
- Tolfdir: Sven, are you at all familiar with ward spells?
- Wulf: I know a few and how to use them.
- Tolfdir: Would you mind helping me with the demonstration?
- Wulf: It would be my pleasure.
- Tolfdir: Good. Please stand over there, I’ll cast a spell at you, and you block it with your ward.
I moved to the designated spot then cast Greater Ward.
- Tolfdir: Sven, Greater Ward is too complicated for your fellow students. Despite their earlier protest, I know exactly what they are capable of. Can you cast one of the other wards? If they watch and listen, they should be capable of reproducing it.
- Wulf: Then I shall cast Lesser Ward. It should be sufficient for this demonstration and costs less Magicka per second than Steadfast Ward.
I deliberately slowed down my casting so the eager audience could follow.
When the ward was in place, Tolfdir cast Incinerate at me. That is a much higher-level spell than I thought he would use. The Master Mage was more than a little suspicious and was testing me. If one of the students tried to block Incinerate with Lesser Ward, they would end up crispy.
When my low-level ward completely blocked his high-level spell, Tolfdir smiled.
- Tolfdir: Well, I think this is an excellent start. I’d like you all to continue practising with wards, please.
- J’zargo: This one would like to learn Greater Ward!
- Wulf: That one probably wants to learn Incinerate as well. That one would end up with singed whiskers and burnt tail.
All of the other mages burst out laughing including Tolfdir. J’zargo stood with his arms crossed and his tail twitching uncontrollably.
After a few seconds, Tolfdir put his hand up, and the laughter slowly resided.
- Tolfdir: Is everybody under control? Good, then I think perhaps we’re ready to begin exploring some of the various applications of magic throughout history. The College has been undertaking a fascinating excavation of the ruin of Saarthal nearby. It provides an excellent learning opportunity. I suggest we meet there in a few hours and see what awaits us inside. That’s all for now. Thank you.
Some of the new students and the others that were watching paired off. Each pair then began practising the casting and use of wards. Tolfdir stared at me, then walked off in a hurry. No doubt he was heading to the Arch-Mage to ask about his peculiar new student.
I quickly exited the College and made my way to The Frozen Hearth.
I gathered The Sentinels who had been enjoying themselves talking with the multicultural crowd inside the inn.
Inigo stared into his mug and said, “Alas poor mead, although we have become friends, it is time for you to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
He sculled the mead, burped and then wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
We moved away from the inn so I could talk more freely. Anahbi was still chatting to Kharjo.
- Wulf: Anahbi, when we are travelling you must pay attention to our surroundings, not gossip!
- Anahbi: Oh, please forgive this one.
- Wulf: You will soon be accustomed to the way we operate. It is paramount for our safety that we exercise caution when not at Silverpeak Lodge.
- Inigo: The way Wulf is busy collecting mortal and immortal enemies, that is a sensible approach.
- Wulf: We are headed to an ancient Nord city called Saarthal. It was the largest settlement of the Atmoran when they first came to Skyrim. A senior mage will be escorting some young students on a field trip. They will stay in the already explored areas and hopefully be safe while we stick our noses into unexplored territory.
- Inigo: Do you think the artefact of Langley’s vision is in Saarthal?
- Wulf: I have no idea or even if it has anything to do with this Divine Task. It does not help that the histories of Saarthal are very inconsistent and biased towards the Nord perspective. They are worthless as accurate learning tools.
- Kharjo: We explore, then we see.
- Wulf: That is the plan. I will be acting like a mage. I will use no Thu’um and despite carrying a sword and shield, no weapons.
- Ashni: We carry enough sharp things to compensate.
- Anahbi: That one not knowing things. Is it always like this?
- Wulf: Normally, I would not even know what the danger may be. At least with Langley’s vision, if accurate and associated, I have some idea. But why the artefact is dangerous and what I am supposed to do about it is a mystery you will help me resolve.
- Inigo: You will have fun Anahbi. Not as much fun as manacles and whips but what is?
I just shook my head and started walking towards Saarthal.
Just outside Winterhold, we encountered a patrol of goblins. We had killed many goblins at the same place yesterday.
The students would have come this way to get to Saarthal and been slaughtered by goblins. We wiped them out instead.
We surveyed the dig site from above. It was evident that the College has spent a lot of money, effort and time on the Saarthal excavation.
We arrived at the entrance to Saarthal almost an hour before the others. While we waited, I discussed with The Sentinels what I knew about Saarthal. As soon as the last student arrived, Tolfdir began.
- Tolfdir: Finally, we are all here. Can I have your attention, please?
- Brelyna: Who noticed the dead goblins just outside the city gates?
- J’zargo: This one had to step over pieces of goblins. So, of course, this one noticed!
- Wulf: The goblins ambushed me, and I was lucky these fine Khajiit arrived in time and slaughtered them.
- Tolfdir: Ah yes, the Arch-Mage has sent them along as extra security. A wise decision it seems.
- J’zargo: This one wishes he was there to fight beside his countrymen.
- Ashni: Ahzirr vara kara jer vabeka. (We are glad you weren’t.)
- Anahbi: Jer ko raba fibi jerno. (You would have soiled yourself.)
- Wulf: Do not make empty boasts near such warriors, J’zargo. You only make a fool of yourself.
- Brelyna: What did they say?
- Wulf: They spoke Ta’agra for a reason. I will not interpret it for you.
- Brelyna: Why does somebody supposedly from High Rock speak Ta’agra? The Khajiit do not trade in those kingdoms.
- Wulf: Why is a member of House Telvanni studying magic in Winterhold? Master Neloth would faint at the idea.
- Brelyna: How…
- Wulf: Your ring displays the seal of House Telvanni. And yes, I am a friend of Master Neloth. Now, if you have stopped snooping, I believe Master Tolfdir wishes to speak.
- Tolfdir: To stop further bickering, shall we step inside?
- Wulf: Would it not be prudent to tell us ignorant students why this place is important?
- Tolfdir: Apart from its history, we discovered a prevalence of magical seals placed in the tombs. It’s rather unlike anything we have encountered before.
- Wulf: I hope you are not cats, the small meowing type, not our Khajiit friends.
- Tolfdir: Feel free to explain, Apprentice Sven.
- Wulf: Cats like to investigate places they should not. A common saying is, ‘Curiosity killed the cat’. Complex magical seals are within because powerful beings do not want grave robbers to plunder Saarthal.
- Tolfdir: But we are not grave robbers. We are archaeologists.
- Wulf: The magical seals and likely undead guardians do not differentiate, and in reality, there is no difference. Also, the seals are often in place with the primary purpose of keeping dangerous beings within. When you show concern for young mages being too eager to learn and thereby risk their wellbeing, you can extrapolate that to elderly mages when it comes to ancient tombs and crypts. I have discovered many remains of mortals in front of such seals. I have found just as many beyond the breached seals where guardians have attacked.
- Onmund: Then, should we even enter?
- Wulf: Stay where the digging has already been done, and you should be safe. I am guessing that any recently discovered seals are in areas you are forbidden to enter.
- Brelyna: Master Tolfdir, what is the College hoping to find here?
- Tolfdir: Anything of all that might be of interest. That’s why I adore this location. We have no idea what we’re going to find.
- Wulf: Meow!
- Tolfdir: If anything, this trip will reinforce my message about the dangers of magic.
- Onmund: Let’s go before we die of exposure out here.
- Tolfdir: All right, please stay close to me while we’re inside. It should be safe, but it’s always better to be cautious.
Upon entering Saarthal, it was immediately apparent that the College had dug down quite far and that many months of work had been undertaken.
Tolfdir lectured as we followed him down to the lower levels.
- Tolfdir: As some of you may know, Saarthal was one of the earliest Nord settlements in Skyrim. It was also the largest. Sacked by the elves in the infamous ‘Night of Tears’, not much is known about what happened to Saarthal.
- Wulf: Which race of Mer, Master Tolfdir? There are many Mer races still living or have lived on Nirn. Ayleid, Falmer, Chimer, Altmer, Bosmer, Orsimer etcetera.
- Tolfdir: Why, the Falmer, the Snow Elves, of course.
- J’zargo: That is good to know. This one is not versed in early Skyrim’s history, so the ‘of course’ is misplaced.
- Wulf: Nobody knows for sure why the Falmer attacked Saarthal. Up until that point, they had lived in harmony with the Atmoran refugees. Do not believe histories that use ‘The Night of Tears’ to justify the subsequent genocide!
- Tolfdir: Politics aside, this is an exciting opportunity for us. To be able to study such an early civilisation, and the magic they used.
We had reached the floor that Tolfdir wanted to show the students.
- Wulf: Is there something you would like me to do, Master Tolfdir?
- Tolfdir: Ah, yes. Hmm. Well, why don’t you see if you can assist Arniel Gane? He’s one of our scholars working on cataloguing our finds.
- Wulf: I bet he wishes this were a Dwemer ruin. He is most likely bored to death here.
- Tolfdir: You know of him?
- Wulf: I prefer the theories of Calcelmo over Arniel’s. The research of Professor Patero Marassi is far more thorough and therefore, his conclusions more fact-based than either of theirs. Arniel also risks too much in the pursuit of knowledge.
- Brelyna: Sir, what is going on here? We are told to stay close to you, and then you send Sven off by himself. He seems to have tremendous knowledge for an apprentice mage.
- Wulf: I am not going by myself. I will be with my furry guards.
- Brelyna: Your guards?
- Wulf: Surely a daughter of House Telvanni is no stranger to intrigue and deception?
- Inigo: The logical conclusion is Sven is not what or who he appears to be.
- Kharjo: It is also logical that one believes deception is no longer necessary.
- Ashni: Which means so-called guards need to be silent no longer.
- Brelyna: Alright then, Sven. Who are you and the Khajiit?
- Wulf: I am General Valdr, the Dragonborn. I am also a Master Mage in all the Schools of Magicka and a member of the College. I apologise for the deception. It was necessary up to a point. I was having difficulty with the façade as you witnessed, but now it is redundant.
- Inigo: General Valdr has done seemingly impossible things. Keeping his mouth shut when knowledge can be shared is beyond even his enormous willpower.
- J’zargo: Fascinating, but this one wants to know what spell this one can use to change colour. That one’s blue is rather striking.
- Inigo: It is a product of the moons during my birth. A few are born like me but murdered by superstitious Khajiit.
- Brelyna: General Valdr, do you know Master Neloth?
- Wulf: We have explored ancient ruins together. I would like to think we are friends, but it is hard to tell with him.
- Inigo: As General Valdr once said, ‘Master Neloth could give Thalmor Justiciar lessons in arrogance.’
- Onmund: Oh my, you think there is something dangerous down here, don’t you?
- Wulf: Don’t worry, you will have plenty of warning if I do find something.
- Onmund: What kind of warning?
- Ashni: The sight of running Khajiit will follow loud screaming!
- Onmund: My eagerness for this field trip has vanished. Can I go back to the College and hide under my bed?
- Wulf: Sometimes, if you are aware of the dangers and take precautions, it is worth risking your life to regain knowledge lost to the ages. But the threat to yourself, accompanying colleagues and the population, in general, must be understood. Blind eagerness, combined with a lack of precaution is what generally leads to disaster. Unfortunately, excavations like this can unleash dangers that threaten more than just the archaeologists even when great care is taken. My team is here to make sure it is safe to continue the excavation. No danger has been discovered up to now. Otherwise, you would not have been allowed to enter.
- Tolfdir: The Dragonborn! There are so many questions you could answer.
- Wulf: I promised Arch-Mage Aren that I will help the College better understand the Thu’um. Past Tongues have been mages of strength and have adapted some learning magic techniques to learning the Thu’um. But we are not here for a lecture on that, and I apologise for hijacking your field trip.
- Tolfdir: I may join you soon. Once I have these young ones assisting the scholars in this area.
Tolfdir had not told us where Arniel was. However, the more recent excavations were devoid of people. I do not think that was due to precaution but more to do with scholars not wanting artefacts destroyed by excessive activity.
Inigo said, “I can hear murmuring and smell somebody who needs to bathe. If you like, I can lead you to the scholar.”
“Then please lead on, my flea-infested friend!”
Through the intricate twists and turns of the excavation, Inigo led us straight to Arniel who was so engrossed in reading a book that he failed to realise five armed persons stood feet away from him.
I coughed, Arniel jumped.
- Arniel: Kynareth save me! I almost soiled myself!
- Inigo: That wouldn’t have made you smell any worse!
- Wulf: My apologies Mage Arniel. Master Tolfdir sent us to see if you need assistance.
- Arniel: A scruffy newcomer and four Khajiit?
- Wulf: See Inigo, I told you he was a smart man. He counted to four!
- Arniel: OK, no need to get snarky. If Tolfdir sent you, he must think you are somewhat capable. I appreciate the help. Just don’t make a mess of my work.
- Kharjo: No do smash?
- Inigo: Kharjo is not to smash.
- Kharjo: Kharjo sad, not allowed to smash.
- Wulf: Is there somewhere you wish us to investigate?
- Arniel: I’ve looked through a portion of this section. You lot can, uh, you can look around in the chambers just north of here. Try and be careful, all right? We don’t want to damage anything.
- Inigo: My nose smells reanimation and damnation.
- Arniel: What?
- Wulf: Draugr.
- Arniel: Ridiculous, don’t you think a renowned scholar like me would know if they were around.
- Wulf: No, you wouldn’t. You have been searching for Keening and openly admitted you want to replicate some Dwemer experiments with it. Even Calcelmo thinks that it is a stupid idea. You will ignore danger in pursuit of knowledge, and you are out of your depth as this is not a Dwemer ruin. Even if you suspected the presence of Draugr, you would not stop poking and probing.
- Arniel: I don’t know who you are, but I will not stand here and take such disrespect from you!
- Wulf: Where would you like to stand? I can talk for hours about unethical research and how the innocent are impacted. People like us get tired of cleaning up after people like you.
We left Arniel with his mouth wide open. He knew I was right, but he would never change. Mages like him never do, and that is why Hermaeus Mora always has visitors to Apocrypha.
The newer excavations led to a series of small chambers. We found several rings with weak protection dweomer of no great interest historically or as examples of ancient magic.
We entered a larger chamber with lowered portcullis in each of its entry points.
Hanging from a sealed archway was an amulet.
- Wulf: I can sense a dweomer on it, but I have no idea what it does.
- Kharjo: It is not Daedric, though?
- Wulf: No, I cannot detect Dark Lord magic.
- Ashni: Khajiit know when you pick up the amulet, the portcullises will rise.
- Wulf: It could be a test of some sort. Pass the test or starve to death in a little room with freedom within reach.
- Inigo: A wise person would walk away and forget they ever saw the amulet.
- Wulf: Meow!
- Inigo: The analogy would be more acceptable if you stopped swearing at us!
- Wulf: OH, MEOW!
- Ashni: That one is vulgar!
I picked up the amulet. As predicted, the portcullises sealed us in with loud grinding and clanging.
Tolfdir came rushing up to the bars.
- Tolfdir: I heard some loud noises then Arniel rushed past me in a panic. Is everything all right?
- Wulf: Yes. The bars locking us in are a test of some sort associated with this amulet I just picked up.
- Tolfdir: Do you think there some way you can use it to free yourself?
- Inigo: That would be the logical conclusion, would it not?
- Tolfdir: Yes, it is.
I held the amulet and walked closer to the sealed archway. Nothing happened until I wore it.
- Wulf: Now I am wearing the amulet I can sense some resonance with the sealed archway’s top centre.
- Tolfdir: If one of your friends is not a mage, see what happens if they wear it.
- Wulf: An excellent suggestion, Master Tolfdir!
- Inigo: Pass it to me. I will wear it.
- Ashni: That one is so brave!
- Anahbi: And pretty as well!
I handed Inigo the amulet. When he put it on, neither he nor I could detect any resonance. I put it on, and the resonance returned.
- Wulf: Logically, it has something to do with me being a mage.
- Inigo: It could be reacting to your dragon bits.
- Wulf: That is possible.
- Tolfdir: Perhaps casting a spell at the top centre of the archway may produce an interesting result?
- Wulf: Another great suggestion. Right then, one colossal Fireball coming up!
I looked at the horror on the faces of The Sentinels, and Tolfdir, then I burst out laughing.
- Inigo: General, you should stop practising on us just because the children are easily winning the prank war!
- Wulf: How can I compete against their devious minds?
- Tolfdir: Become your enemy to defeat your enemy. I remember reading that somewhere.
- Wulf: Let me try a simple low-level destruction spell. Move as far away as you can, which is not far, but the dweomer on your armour will protect you, maybe.
- Tolfdir: It seems the General does not know how to ease our concerns.
- Inigo: He does, but he prefers to see us squirm.
- Ashni: Who doesn’t?
The Sentinels moved to the furthest corner of the small chamber. Tolfdir stepped away from the bars.
I cast Sparks at the top centre of the archway. The stonework exploded with energy far exceeding that of the low-level spell.
- Inigo: Wow! Lucky you did not try anything stronger!
- Wulf: Wisdom, not luck. But I missed an opportunity!
- Tolfdir: What opportunity?
- Wulf: I would have liked to see if the dweomer reacted that way to the Thu’um.
- Tolfdir: I assume you can moderate the strength of your Thu’um?
- Wulf: Yes, I can, but it is not an exact thing. However, each Shout has varying tiers of power and effect according to how many Words of Power used. The first Word of the Fire Breath Shout would have sufficed to emulate the Sparks incantation’s energy.
- Tolfdir: Perhaps later we can learn the dweomer on the amulet and recreate the seal?
- Wulf: That is your third good idea in a row, Master Tolfdir. I am unused to working with such competence. Stop, or you will ruin my unflattering generalisations of Tamriel scholars!
- Tolfdir: I am keen to see where the newly opened archway leads.
- Inigo: To many Draugr. Or too many Draugr. Take your pick.
- Wulf: Inigo is quite sensitive to the presence of Draugr. That scar on his nose is evidence of why.
- Inigo: It is one thing to face them with a weapon in your hand. Another when naked and unarmed.
- Wulf: I will lead. I advise you stay at the back, Master Tolfdir.
The archway led to a short corridor. At the end of the corridor, a similarly shaped archway opened into a small cavern. Inside the cavern, three vertical sarcophagi lined the walls.
- Tolfdir: Well, this is highly unusual and very interesting.
- Wulf: Do not approach the coffins. Each one will contain a Draugr, and often they wait for a mortal to approach before attacking.
- Tolfdir: Why in the world would this be sealed off? What is this place?
- Kharjo: At a guess, it is to stop trespassers from finding the dangerous artefact.
- Tolfdir: What dangerous artefact? Is that the real reason you are here, General Valdr?
- Wulf: The Divines sent me to the College. They do this so I can resolve a problem that endangers people or even Nirn and Mundus.
- Tolfdir: Why did they send you this time?
- Wulf: I do not know as yet. But somebody with foresight said I would find an artefact of great power that is dangerous in the wrong hands. It is round or spherical, so it is not one of Kagrenac’s tools or the Heart of Lorkhan. This unknown artefact might be why The Divines wanted me to visit the College.
- Tolfdir: Why don’t they simply tell you what concerns them?
- Wulf: It is complex and to do with the infinite possibilities created due to every action. They want me to achieve a particular outcome, so a set of infinite possibilities become more likely than all other infinite possibilities. Mathematically that makes no sense but to the God of Time, Lord Akatosh, it does! The actions I take to resolve what I call a ‘Divine Task’ are just as necessary as the resolution itself in shaping the future. If they give me too much information, it might steer me away from the preferred solution.
- Tolfdir: It this fact or speculation?
- Wulf: It is speculation based partly on instinct, as I have the soul of a dragon. Partly based on what gods, Talos in particular, have told me. And, due to the nature of my mind, it is part logic. Still, it is only speculation but well-researched speculation.
- Tolfdir: This topic alone could generate a library of research!
- Wulf: Probably, but let’s get back to why we are here. I have a hunch, and they usually turn out to be the truth no matter how far-fetched they seem, about the Night of Tears. Do you think you know what my hunch might be?
- Tolfdir: You said before that nobody knows why the Falmer attacked Saarthal. Maybe this artefact was the catalyst?
- Wulf: Stop this competence at once!
- Tolfdir: So, the Falmer attacked because they knew of the artefact and did not want the Nords to obtain it?
- Inigo: Or the Nords already had it, and the Falmer wanted it or to prevent them from using it.
- Wulf: Alas, only a Falmer could tell me the reason for the attack, but Ysgramor and his barbarians seem to have done a thorough job with their genocide.
- Tolfdir: They even destroyed the Snow Elf libraries.
Inigo stared at me then exclaimed, “My friend. I sense some energy. It is making my whiskers vibrate!”
Everybody around me froze as colours leached from the world. It was the same effect as when I used the Slow Time Shout.
My Dovah spoke for the first time in weeks, “We are in a Time Well. Some of our celestial brothers can do this thing. Beware!”
A person appeared. At a first guess, he was Altmer, but his robes were unlike any I have seen before. I could detect his body heat, so it was not an apparition. He had teleported into the chamber.
He said, “Hold, mage, and listen well… Know that you have set in motion a chain of events that cannot be stopped. Judgment has not been passed, as you had no way of knowing. Judgment will be passed on your actions to come, and how you deal with the dangers ahead of you. This warning is passed to you because the Psijic Order believes in you. You, mage, and you alone have the potential to prevent disaster. Take great care, and know that the Order is watching.”
“The Psijic Order have no authority or moral right to judge me! Especially when you just demonstrated poor logic and gross ignorance!”
The Psijic Sorcerer looked uncertain. My Dovah was to the fore, and I gave him full reign. This interloper was no better than a god pretending to be omnipotent!
“This chain of events was set in motion by the curious minds of the College of Winterhold, not me. From the moment they started the excavation of Saarthal, years ago, the artefact’s discovery was possible. Yes, I know about the artefact.”
My anger continued to grow. I had to take some control back. It would be so easy and pleasing to cut him down before he could react.
“I am far more than a mage, but you know not what that may be. In your ignorance, you believe I am here to explore these ruins on behalf of the College and thereby accidentally started a chain of events. A chain of events you falsely claim cannot be stopped. The future is not preordained! There is an infinite number of possibilities, and your seers have seen but one! If the chain of events cannot be altered, then there must be a set and inevitable outcome. You contradict yourself!”
The Psijic Sorcerer might have been in contact with a peer or peers. Several times it seemed as if he would reply, but silence continued to be his answer.
“The truth is The Divines asked me to come here and deal with the potential disaster. Therefore, your warning is late and superfluous! Your assumptions are wrong and insulting!”
I gave the Psijic Monk another opportunity to respond. He just stared at me, but the consternation was evident. It had replaced the Altmer smugness that seems to be a natural talent of that race.
“The Psijic Order rejected Lord Akatosh and chose another path. Therefore, I find it hypocritical you display a picture of one of his celestial sons on your uniform or expect me to regard you with anything but contempt. Look into my eyes and realise why that contempt feeds my anger! The approval of the Psijic Order is neither wanted or valued. Unless the Psijic Order can help me divert the disaster, I do not want to see or hear from them again. Leave why you still have the choice!”
The Psijic Sorcerer teleported and the Time Well ended.
- Tolfdir: I… I swear I felt something strange just then. By the gods, what have you become?
- Inigo: My friend, why is the dragon showing?
- Wulf: You were all in a Time Well. A split second to you was about thirty seconds for me.
- Inigo: Did you do that with a Shout? Like the one where you move so fast around the battlefield, you are a blur?
- Wulf: The magic behind it is the same, but it was the Psijic Order who created the Time Well, not me. I cannot make a Time Well that includes others. A large amount of Magicka must have been used, and your handy whiskers detected that surge of power.
- Tolfdir: The Psijic Order? Are you quite sure about that? That’s very odd.
- Wulf: Do not doubt my words!
- Kharjo: This one advises strongly not to anger the General when the dragon shows.
- Tolfdir: It is just that the Psijic have no connection to these ruins. And no one’s seen any of their order in a long time. It doesn’t make sense.
- Wulf: They may have noticed the artefact long ago and set the seals we just breached. Their Mysticism is capable of feats none of our Schools of Magicka can replicate. They vanished with the island of Artaeum for five hundred years, and nobody knows where they went and what they may have learnt there. It has been a long time since they showed interest in the affairs of Nirn.
- Inigo: What has brought about your anger, my friend.
- Wulf: My Dovah rarely makes an appearance, but he came to the fore to warn me of the Time Well. I have to search for time anomalies. A dragon’s natural senses instinctively detect them.
- Tolfdir: Sense time? Dragon to the fore?
- Wulf: I have the blood and soul of a dragon. I am like two beings in one body.
- Inigo: Master Tolfdir, say hello to General Valdr the dragon. He is not as forgiving as General Valdr the mortal.
- Tolfdir: Fascinating. Truly fascinating!
- Wulf: A Psijic Sorcerer teleported into this chamber. He was not an apparition but flesh and blood. He then dared to tell me that the Psijic Order has not judged me yet but are watching so they can judge me on my future actions! That was the least of his moronic assertions!
- Inigo: Calm down, my friend. I am sure you had a few choice words for him, but he is inconsequential. We are here on behalf of your gods, and some of mine I might add. Let us continue the Divine Task. For all our safety, put the Dovah back in its box and think clearly.
- Ashni: Anahbi, what is that most useful Tamrielic word?
- Anahbi: Fuck?
- Ashni: Yes, that is it. Fuck the Psijic Order!
- Tolfdir: That sounds like wise advice. Let us continue. Perhaps we should take a look inside these coffins?
- Wulf: Tolfdir… No!
Tolfdir stepped towards one of the coffins. A Draugr smashed the lid aside then attacked the mage.
Inigo quickly stepped in front of Tolfdir and engaged the Draugr. The rest of The Sentinels and I tackled the other two that also emerged from their respective coffins.
We soon disposed of all three Draugr. They were not of the stronger type that could use the Thu’um.
- Tolfdir: I am sorry. After the stunning revelations of the last few minutes, I forgot the warning issued earlier.
- Wulf: A perfect example of eagerness not tempered by caution. Too bad the new students were not here to see your lesson eloquently demonstrated.
- Tolfdir: I can’t see the dragon in your eyes?
- Kharjo: That one is full of biting sarcasm. The dragon is not needed to deliver it.
- Wulf: Tolfdir, now you know why I have four fine warriors with me. Even those three Draugr would have killed you and wiped out the students.
- Inigo: And there will be many more and some far more powerful than those.
- Tolfdir: We have been a bit blasé, haven’t we?
- Wulf: It is a curse amongst the curious. Just over a week ago, I had to stop a well-known scholar from unintentionally releasing Draugr and a Dragon Priest from a tomb.
- Tolfdir: You must write a paper on this. Maybe even conduct a class or two. Master Mages and down need to have some lessons enforced by the experience of others.
- Wulf: Arch-Mage Aren implied he learnt this lesson in the worst possible way.
- Tolfdir: He has not spoken to me of it.
- Wulf: It is most likely a painful, and maybe even shameful, part of his past. It won’t surprise me if he has hidden it even from close friends and colleagues.
- Inigo: There is an opening at the back of one of the coffins.
- Wulf: Then we know where to go next.
The hole in the back of the sarcophagus led to a short corridor. At the end of the corridor was a gate and a lever to raise it.
I peered through the bars of the gate.
- Wulf: Inigo, what does your huge nose tell you?
- Ashni: That one’s nose is cute and not overly large!
- Kharjo: Now that this one is familiar with the scent, I think many Draugr are nearby.
- Inigo: Admittedly, my nose is more prominent than Kharjo’s, but he has sniffed out the truth.
- Wulf: Those who wanted to protect the artefact have given us a choice. If we lift the gate and enter, we willingly trespass and subject to punishment.
- Tolfdir: At the College, we would probably debate for days on the merits of doing so.
- Wulf: Not all such places allow you to turn back. Past a certain point, you are attacked with no second chance.
- Tolfdir: For you, the decision is straight forward.
- Wulf: If I don’t enter, somebody else will, and that is an unacceptable risk. So, it is not just the artefact that has dangers from which I must save mortals. The path leading to it does as well.
- Inigo: General Valdr has to make such decisions with far less time than this regularly. That is partly why the Psijic Sorcerer angered him with his declaration of future judgement.
- Tolfdir: Everybody is wiser after the fact.
- Wulf: To think I could be judged by those who are not taking risks and making the decisions galls me.
- Tolfdir: I now understand why your more violent half came forward.
- Wulf: I will enter first. Give me some time to assess the situation. I may need to use Magicka or Thu’um and do not want my choices limited by others’ being in harm’s way.
- Tolfdir: I cannot just stand by and not assist. I am not the strongest in the School of Destruction, but not weak either.
- Wulf: It is up to you. Just ensure you do not enter until the others do.
I pulled the lever, and the gate slid upwards. There was no immediate response from the waiting Draugr.
I was halfway across the central bridge before they attacked.
The Sentinel could see I would not bring all of them down before some reached me. So, they entered the fray with Tolfdir following.
Before the last Draugr fell, Tolfdir was severely injured.
I cast Grand Healing on him. The Bark Skin spell Tolfdir had cast only came into effect after he was healthy once more.
- Anahbi: That one is now bluer than Inigo!
- Wulf: Tolfdir isn’t protected by permanent dweomer as we are.
- Tolfdir: Yes, and as you saw, I was not quick enough to protect myself.
- Wulf: You cast an offensive spell first instead of a ward. Once again, a split-second decision that we could find fault with if we sat and debated it.
- Tolfdir: Luckily for me, you are not the Psijic Order and will not sit in judgement of my error!
- Wulf: Their robes are a horrible yellow colour. For that reason alone, I could never be a Psijic.
- Inigo: Count me out as well. It sounds like their uniform would clash horribly with my blue fur!
- Tolfdir: This unpleasant experience supports what you said. The Draugr would slaughter the students, diggers and mages if left to run rampant.
- Wulf: A organised team of Master Mages, with protective dweomer in place, could destroy the Draugr.
- Inigo: But there would be no immediate organised resistance. The initial fear and panic would doom those the Draugr encountered.
- Tolfdir: Not only would the deaths be tragic, but such a thing would also mean disaster for the College. Our number of students is already too low.
- Wulf: You know how healing works after such a traumatic injury.
- Tolfdir: Yes, I will be weak for some time. I suggest you proceed with your hunt for the artefact. I will rest here and study what we have found in this quite remarkable room.
- Wulf: We still do not know what we face. Therefore, I might need the assistance of a Master Mage later.
- Tolfdir: Then I will endeavour to catch up after my legs stop feeling like jelly. How will I find you?
- Wulf: Follow the trail of re-dead Draugr.
- Tolfdir: Re-dead?
- Wulf: Well, they are already undead. So, we can’t kill them, can we? All we can do is reintroduce the dead state they were in before being made undead. So, re-dead it is.
- Tolfdir: Inigo, is the General being serious or funny?
- Inigo: Sometimes, it isn’t easy to decide.
- Kharjo: That one was dropped on that one’s head when a cub.
- Tolfdir: Oh, that explains a lot.
Two pull handles lowered two sets of bars. Only by lowering those bars could we exit via a door. Once again, we decided to move onward. The creators of this establishment were keen on free choice and accepting penalties. I would have liked to meet them.
We walked some distance from the room where Tolfdir was recovering when instinct told me greater danger was ahead.
- Wulf: Do any of you sense that we are walking into greater danger?
- Inigo: My sense of foreboding is always high whenever Draugr are around.
- Kharjo: This one does not have such finely honed instincts.
- Anahbi: Khajiit will be alert.
A bit further along, I detected a Fire Rune. A student would not have detected it and ended up crispy.
I cast Lightning to trigger the Fire Rune.
A Draugr attacked and shrugged off my most potent Destruction spells. Both fire and lightning had little effect on it so its Magicka resistance must have been extreme.
It then did an Ice Form Shout which froze Inigo, Ashni and me.
Kharjo and Anahbi fought to keep it away from their defenceless friends. The situation worsened when another very powerful Draugr joined the melee.
We three ice blocks eventually thawed out and rejoined the fight with anger lending power to our blows.
Eventually, the two powerful Draugr fell to our combined assault.
There was no need to say anything. We all knew how close to defeat and death we had just been. It was a timely reminder to all that I am not invulnerable. It also emphasised the fact I need more mages to join The Sentinels. Dispel Magic would have freed the frozen instantly.
I have ample Magicka, so could afford to have spells prepped as we walked. Most mages could not do that for long before running out of Magicka.
The density of traps and Draugr increased as we delved further into Saarthal.
We eventually came to a lowered portcullis which had a lever to raise it. Six animal totems needed to be rotated correctly or poison darts would strike the one pulling the lever.
- Wulf: There are no clues except the animals behind each totem. So logically, I simply need to turn each totem to match the corresponding background animal.
- Ashni: Not that this one doubts the logic. But standing away from the poison darts seems wise.
- Inigo: I agree. Let Wulf be the only one turned into a pincushion!
- Wulf: Your generosity astounds me.
- Inigo: You deserve it, my friend.
I turned all six totems to what I assumed were the correct orientation then pulled the lever. The portcullis disappeared upward accompanied by a loud screech.
We continued along many more corridors full of traps, runes and Draugr.
We faced another lowered portcullis with a lever but only four animal totems this time.
- Wulf: There must be a trick to this one. I still think the totems have to be turned to match the background picture.
- Anahbi: This one thinks they have to be turned in a particular sequence.
- Wulf: There is only one way to tell.
The Sentinels moved back and left me as the volunteer pincushion once more.
The turning of one totem would make one or more of the other totems turn. No poison darts were fired. They would be triggered by pulling the lever.
Since there were no clues, I had to determine the sequence logically. By carefully observing the patterns of what totem would make others rotate, it did not take long for me to discover the correct sequence.
I pulled the lever, and the portcullis disappeared into its recess.
We had not gone much farther when Tolfdir came huffing and puffing up to us.
- Tolfdir: Hold on! Hold on! I have finally caught up to you. It was surprisingly easy to follow your trail of destruction!
- Wulf: We will wait for you to catch your breath. I would hate to need a spell cast, and you are incapable!
- Inigo: My whiskers are playing up again.
- Wulf: Yes, there is a massive amount of Magicka nearby.
- Tolfdir: Could it be the artefact?
- Wulf: It might just be some magical defences. Either way, protect yourself with dweomer and have a ward ready.
A couple of minutes later, Tolfdir had cast his protections and caught his breath.
We continued, and it was only a short distance later when we stopped at another door.
- Wulf: Whatever is on the other side is frightening in its power. Even the gods I have faced did not emanate so much Magicka.
- Kharjo: Would just a concentration of Magicka be a danger?
- Tolfdir: Oh yes, if you could draw upon it, you could achieve remarkable, and very deadly, feats of spell casting.
- Wulf: But it could also have beneficial uses like Ayleid Welkynd Stones. They converted starlight into Magicka and were used for many peaceful purposes. A Giant Welkynd Stone may have generated Magicka of this magnitude, but that is speculation. They are all gone, so I will never know.
- Inigo: Why are they all gone?
- Tolfdir: Every Welkynd Stone ever discovered has been destroyed by mages trying to unravel how they work. Many mages lost their lives in that futile pursuit of ancient magic.
- Wulf: Weapons ready? Is your ward ready?
As soon as I heard all five confirmations, I opened the door. In front of us was a large floating sphere surrounded by a magical barrier.
- Inigo: There is your circle or sphere. Langley’s ego will be unbearable! Do you have to tell him his vision was accurate?
- Wulf: Let us survive first then discuss our options.
- Tolfdir: I can see only one guard, and I don’t think it is a Draugr.
- Wulf: My dragon sight says it is not living. If undead, I would guess a form of Lich.
- Inigo: I will get closer and see if it says hello.
- Wulf: Tolfdir and I will help with Destruction spells if it attacks. The others can pepper it with arrows.
Inigo had barely started down some stairs when the creature stood then attacked.
Inigo used all his skills to land many blows while dodging the creature. Many arrows hit it, and Tolfdir and I cast powerful Destruction spells at it.
- Inigo: We are not even making it bleed!
- Wulf: It seems to be drawing Magicka from the sphere to regenerate itself.
- Tolfdir: What can we do?
- Wulf: Have you ever been hit by a Lightening spell?
- Tolfdir: Yes, during training decades ago.
- Wulf: And what did it do to you Magicka reserve?
- Tolfdir: It was completely drained.
- Wulf: Maybe a continuous application of electricity on the sphere or its barrier might interrupt the flow of Magicka?
- Tolfdir: It is worth a try. Keep it busy. I don’t want it coming after me!
- Ashni: Hurry old mage. Khajiit have brought new whips and shackles and do not want that one to die before we try them out!
- Inigo: It is thanks to you ladies I have the stamina to keep this up!
My most potent Lightning Bolt spells slowed the creature down enough to make Inigo’s task more manageable. I had enough Magicka reserves to cast them for hours. Arrows continued to bounce harmlessly off it.
Tolfdir rushed to a safe distance from the creature then cast Sparks at the barrier surrounding the orb.
Inigo yelled, “That works. We are causing it harm!”
Without the continuous stream of Magicka and regeneration, the creature soon succumbed to our combined attack.
As the creature fell, so did the barrier that surrounded the sphere. Tolfdir was so mesmerised he did not even flinch when a powerful wall of fire burst from the creature. It was similar to what many Spriggan, Fire Atronach and Dov do when defeated.
I rushed down to make sure Inigo was OK. I did not get there before the ladies who were giving their hero hugs and kisses.
I stood and studied the sphere. The runes upon it seemed familiar. I closed my mind to everything else as I recalled where I had seen them. Then I gasped as I confirmed to myself what language it was.
- Tolfdir: This is utterly unique!
- Wulf: Do you recognise the language?
- Tolfdir: No, not at all.
- Wulf: I believe it is Ehlnofex. The language of the Ehlnofey, the gods who became mortal. The ancestors of Man and Mer. It was projected before me when I read an Elder Scroll. I have seen it when reading the Black Books created by Hermaeus Mora. It is the language of the et-Ada. It is the language of the gods who created Nirn and Mundus. It is the language of Magnus and the Magna-Ge.
- Tolfdir: I don’t doubt your conclusion, but of course we would need to verify because if that is correct…
- Wulf: This would date from the earliest days of this Kalpa.
- Tolfdir: The Arch-Mage needs to be informed immediately. He needs to see this for himself.
- Kharjo: Even this one understands the dangers of this object. And this one is not a mage.
- Tolfdir: Of course, we will have to be careful when studying it.
- Wulf: You should not touch it! May I remind you of what happened to all the Welkynd Stones? Ayleid magic, Varliance, seems indecipherable to us yet primitive compared to the magic wielded by the gods! The power of creation is hidden in that magic. Elder Scrolls are a mystery to us, and this magic was used to create them. Mortals are not equipped morally or mentally to learn or wield it. The Dwemer tried and vanished!
- Tolfdir: I think you underestimate our abilities. If the most outstanding scholars studied this thing, imagine what we could learn!
- Wulf: If that magic holds the secret to creation, it logically has the secrets to annihilation. Here is a hypothesis for you. Alduin is supposed to end each Kalpa. To figuratively ‘swallow the world’. What if all he has to do is use an incantation of this magic? That is speculation, but you must put your curiosity aside. You must realise and respect the incredible danger to our very existence this thing represents!
- Tolfdir: Dragonborn you may be, but decisions relating to this sphere lie with those whose work uncovered it. That is the College of Winterhold.
- Wulf: Don’t be ridiculous! If I were to obey instructions regarding this thing, they would be those of the High Queen or Emperor. Even then, the wishes of The Divines would be my guide! This sphere does not belong to the College of Wintehold!
- Tolfdir: Are you going to run to the authorities and prevent us from even studying it all?
- Wulf: To know what to about it, we need to learn more about it. The safest way to do that is to search for information and not interfere with it! If I can trust College mages to study it without using it, we could add to any advice we provide our leaders.
- Inigo: Think, Master Tolfdir. If there was any benefit to using this dangerous thing, why was it abandoned then protected by traps and wards? Why would Ysgramor not utilise it in his war against the Snow Elves? Why does its existence seem to be erased from the histories?
- Wulf: What happens when word of this discovery reaches the ears of Tamriel’s enemies? You have Thalmor sniffing around the College! What do you think The Dominion will do if they believe The Empire will potentially harness the power of the gods? Its huge Magicka capacity alone would cause both allies and enemies’ concern.
- Tolfdir: You suggested that even the decision of our Emperor might not be enough for you. That sounds treasonous.
- Wulf: If The Divines made it known that The Emperor’s decision is wrong, I would do what is required. To do otherwise would be an act of treason towards every single mortal on Nirn!
- Tolfdir: What are you going to do?
- Wulf: I will speak to the Arch-Mage and express my concerns. It is paramount that The Dominion remain ignorant of its discovery. I won’t involve anybody else until we know more.
I stepped away from Tolfdir. He could only think of positive possibilities. Not the terrifying outcomes that mortal greed, interracial hatred and ignorance will inevitably create.
Upon a table was an impressive looking staff. It has weak dweomer to absorb Magicka and health. I will hand it in at the museum, and they can figure out if it is junk or history. It will be sold to help pay for the building’s expensive refit if deemed of little historical value.
I examined the dead creature. I was pretty sure it was a Lich. Upon it was a note which I read to The Sentinels.
“Be bound here, Jyrik, murderer, betrayer.
Your crimes against realm and lord condemn you.
May your name and your deeds be forgotten forever.
And the charm which you bear be sealed by our ward.”
The charm seemed to be part of a larger amulet. It had dweomer to improve spell strength and make the learning of spells easier.
There seems to be a story behind Jyrik and the amulet that the museum’s team may know.
We approached the back exit of the room containing the sphere.
- Wulf: There is a Word Wall quite close.
- Inigo: Wouldn’t the people who put Jyrik in here know about the giant magical orb floating merely feet away?
- Wulf: Unless they were blind, you would assume so. Since I don’t know how long ago Jyrik lived and died, I have no idea who those people may have been.
- Ashni: Did that one not also say an evil Dragon Priest lived here.
- Wulf: Yes, his tomb is in Solstheim. But why would he leave this place if power was his desire?
- Ashni: Maybe even the evil one realised to play with the sphere was too dangerous?
- Kharjo: It sounds like many mysteries are to be investigated.
- Wulf: Yippee!
- Inigo: What that a genuine yippee or a sarcastic one?
- Wulf: Both. I like history and exploration, but you know how exciting most ruins are to me.
- Inigo: Boring?
- Wulf: Boring!
We opened the door then had to leap down about eight feet before approaching the Word Wall.
- Wulf: The Word of Power is ‘Slen’ which means flesh. It is the second Word of the Ice Form Shout. I already know it and how to use it.
- Inigo: That is the Shout that turned us into ice blocks.
- Wulf: That is the one! The message says, ‘Nonvul bron dahmaan daar rot do fin fodiiz bormah-orin pruzaan dwiin aal kreh ahrk kren nuz slen do vahzah muz los sindugahvon.’
- Kharjo: Of course, this one knew that!
- Wulf: Rough translation is, ‘Noble Nords remember these words of the Hoar Father: Even best steel may bend and break, but the flesh of true men is unyielding.’
- Ashni: This one thinks that is a lie. This one is yet to meet a Nord who does not bleed when hit by axes!
- Wulf: Maybe you haven’t met any true men?
- Ashni: I have seen that one bleed when hit with sword and axes. That means there are no true men if the words hold truth!
- Wulf: It is metaphorical.
- Ashni: Can you translate that to Ta’agra?
- Wulf: No, but you are a devotee of Riddle’Thar. One of his rules states that a true cat must be curious to avoid Lorkhaj’s machinations. That does not mean you have to be like the curious cat who gets killed investigating everything interesting. It means you must learn and become educated to overcome Lorkhaj’s machinations.
- Ashni: Ah, a tale that talks about one thing when it means another!
- Wulf: Yes. The Word Wall’s inscription means men who remain loyal to the old gods will be more likely to win in battle.
- Ashni: This is not gobblygook?
- Wulf: No, this is what I call mumbo jumbo. That is when something could be plainly said, but instead, metaphors and allegory are used. Gods have a habit of speaking mumbo jumbo, and so do their priests and priestesses. It makes it sound more ominous and differentiates what they say from the words of mortals.
- Inigo: I also believe it makes us examine the true meaning. Sometimes your instant reaction is, ‘That is silly! What is that immortal trying to tell me?’
- Ashni: This one thinks that ‘mumbo jumbo’ can lead to mistakes.
- Wulf: Plain speaking would eliminate some of the different interpretations of what gods say. Some arguments of interpretation lead to followers of the same god warring with each other.
- Kharjo: This one’s head is always full of new things after travelling with Wulf.
- Ashni: It is good as it helps this one to obey the curiosity rule of Riddle’Thar.
- Wulf: It is always good to think of things from different perspectives. Only then can your choices be not from ignorance made.
A door led to a small corridor. That led to a lowered portcullis. Beyond that was the original ramp we walked down on entry to Saarthal.
- Wulf: I would say it is about two hundred feet from that entrance ramp to the artefact.
- Inigo: They probably did not bother investigating the locked portcullis as the excavating was much easier elsewhere.
- Kharjo: The fighting of Draugr. The traps. All could have been bypassed.
- Wulf: Thank The Divines they did not investigate the shortcut we just traversed!
A twist handle raised the portcullis.
We made our way outside and then hurried to Winterhold. It was approaching midnight and too late to disturb many at the College. The Sentinels rented rooms at The Frozen Hearth. I made my way to the College.
I encountered the Justiciar near the entrance.
- Ancano: Another new Apprentice, I see.
- Wulf: Ancano isn’t it? I heard somebody use your name in amongst several curses and swear words.
- Ancano: Where are your tusks? I am sure you had tusks earlier today.
- Wulf: I think you are mistaking me for somebody else. Perhaps your view was blocked by your nose when looking down on him?
- Ancano: A quick wit and sharp tongue will not save you from Dominion justice. I advise you to speak with more civility.
- Wulf: Yeah, right, pffft!
- Ancano: Tell me, are you the sort that believes you’re here to change the world? Or are you only in it for yourself?
- Wulf: I mistakenly thought this was the Bard’s College. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. My first lesson was a bit of a shock!
- Ancano: I assure you that I shall be watching you, all of you, very closely.
- Wulf: I shall find the holes in the steam bath walls and plug them up. That will stop you!
- Ancano: I can’t figure out if you are ignorant of who I am or stupid or stupidly brave.
- Wulf: Alright then, who are you and what is it you do here?
- Ancano: I am an advisor to the Arch-Mage. The Thalmor wish to promote relations with your College. I am at the Arch-Mage’s disposal if he requires advice.
- Wulf: Does the Arch-Mage often ask for advice?
- Ancano: Perhaps not as often as he should. In time, I believe he will be more trusting.
- Wulf: Tell me more about the Thalmor.
- Ancano: Now that stability has been established between the Dominion and the Empire, we seek only to help Skyrim.
- Wulf: The reports that Ulfric was one of your puppets, and that you wanted him to weaken Skyrim to make it ripe for invasion must have been a big lie.
- Ancano: I am warning you, be careful what you say!
- Wulf: The Thalmor desire to restore immortality is behind your blasphemous lies about Talos. Am I correct?
- Ancano: What blasphemy. Surely you are not going to tell me you worship that false god?
- Wulf: Why pick on Talos? Arkay was once a mortal? Saint Alessia was another mortal made into a god. Please, explain to me why Tiber Septim could not become a god?
I pulled out my Talos amulet and held it before Ancano.
- Ancano: You could be arrested for wearing that. You are a heretic!
- Wulf: Show me proof that the other Divines have asked for Talos worship to be banned. Thalmor repeating a lie continuously does not make it the truth.
- Ancano: Who are you?
- Wulf: Figure it out. It isn’t all that hard.
I walked away from the fuming Ancano and made my way to the Arch-Mage Quarters.
- Savos: You look concerned. Did you find the artefact?
- Wulf: Yes, and it is a thing of almost unlimited power from the earliest days of this Kalpa. Think of a Great Welkynd Stone but containing hundreds if not thousands the quantity of Magicka stored within.
- Savos: I can imagine that would be a problem in the wrong hands.
- Wulf: The storage of Magicka was the only function I could detect with such a short study. But I fear the secrets it holds could be a danger to all life and to Nirn itself.
- Savos: What makes you think that?
- Wulf: It is a sphere that appears to be made of several segments. Along the edges of each segment are lines of writing. The language is Ehlnofex. I think that, like a Dwemer Lockbox, the sphere can be opened with the right incantation or tool. We can detect in its closed condition a minuscule part of the secrets and power that reside inside.
- Savos: Ehlnofex? I doubt we have even one item in our library that has an example of it. How would you recognise it?
- Wulf: As you know, I read an Elder Scroll at the Time Wound on the Throat of the World. Upon that scroll were lettering and a language I had never seen before. Recently I read some Black Books created by Hermaeus Mora. Upon them was projected the same script. After returning from Solstheim, I discussed what I saw with scholars working at the new museum. One of them showed me a picture of a ceremonial bowl from the time of the Ehlnofey. Inscribed upon the bowl was the script I had seen. Ehlnofex!
- Savos: Where is Tolfdir?
- Wulf: He stayed behind. I fear the desire to learn and utilise this thing will overcome common sense. I could already see the signs in Master Tolfdir. He was almost drooling at the prospect of studying the sphere. I fear that I will hear empty claims that it will be studied with caution and that possible benefits outweigh the potential problems. I am sure the Dwemer thought the same before vanishing. All the mages who have died trying to unravel the secrets of Welkynd Stones felt the same.
- Savos: I will look at it myself, and then we can decide what to do about it. In the meantime, we need some more historical information on what it is. Master Urag will have retired for the night. I suggest you visit the Arcanaeum just after sunrise, that is when he tends to make his way there. He may be able to help you.
- Wulf: The decision on what to do about the sphere will, in the end, be a proclamation from the High Queen or more likely, The Emperor. While we gather information, I urge that no attempt to use the sphere be made. Observation only and with the naked eye. No spells and no tools should be used upon it.
- Savos: They will be my instructions.
- Wulf: Ancano must be kept ignorant.
- Savos: I have kept him at arm’s length but tolerated his presence because our leaders have ordered he be allowed to remain. I agree that it is best if The Dominion not learn of this discovery until we know more.
- Wulf: One more thing, the Psijic Order know of the artefact and also warned me of its danger. One of them teleported into Saarthal to issue the warning.
- Savos: One of their Sorcerers used to advise the Arch-Mage when I was but an Apprentice here. But that was a great many years ago before all the Psijic Order were called back to the Isle of Artaeum, and it disappeared.
- Wulf: The Psijic Order may provide me assistance, but that first encounter was not promising.
- Savos: They have rarely intervened in politics or religious matters. They have areas of magic expertise far superior to us. The fact one of them teleported to your location is evidence of that. I believe their advice and assistance would come from a position of knowledge and a genuine desire to resolve the issue.
- Wulf: History certainly supports the idea they would not want it for any reason other than to keep it from misuse.
- Savos: We would also have wagons of Synod banging on our gates demanding access to the sphere is they become aware of its existence.
- Wulf: The College of Whispers might even be tempted to ask politely for a look.
- Savos: Have you encountered Ancano?
- Wulf: He told me he has his beady eyes on all us Apprentices. He also told me, ‘We are only trying to help The Empire.’
- Savos: You weren’t civil with him, were you?
- Wulf: Ahh… no. But he is still alive!
- Savos: So now he will whine at me and the Embassy in Solitude who will then whine to High Queen Elisif. Her Majesty will pass on the complaint to Emperor Mede II, who will ask for a, ‘please explain’ letter.
- Wulf: Tell him General Valdr was practicing his diplomacy. That will be the end of the matter.
- Savos: Does Ancano suspect who you are?
- Wulf: I gave him enough clues. But I think it is time The Dragonborn became involved. Ancano is less likely to cause problems if I am breathing down his neck. I am a Master Mage and member of the College after all.
- Savos: While visiting the artefact, I will get further details of today’s events from Tolfdir. Do you have somewhere to stay the night?
- Wulf: My friends are staying at the inn. I have a room in the student quarters, don’t I?
- Savos: I would offer you the getaway you used last time, but the portal to it has become unstable. But feel free to use the room where Malesam stayed.
Savos saw the slightly disgusted look on my face then laughed.
- Savos: The bedding gets changed after each guest, and the whole place is cleaned. Other visitors use the room when the getaway is busy.
- Wulf: In that case, I thank you and will take advantage of the better accommodations.
- Savos: You have my word that we shall be careful, General Valdr. When yourself and the Psijic Order say there is a grave danger, then there undoubtedly is.
- Wulf: The Divines would not have sent me if there wasn’t.
I was going to visit the inn and ask for a favour of The Sentinels. Master Mage Faralda was waiting for me outside the Arch-Mage Quarters.
- Faralda: Apprentice, I just wanted you to know that Ancano’s been asking about you.
- Wulf: Of that, I have no doubt.
- Faralda: You do not seem surprised. I advise you to be careful what you tell him all right?
- Wulf: You believe his ‘advisor’ position is a sham, don’t you? I too think that ‘spy’ would be a more accurate description.
- Faralda: Yes, there are rumours about him.
- Wulf: You have taken a risk to warn me, so have proven trustworthy. I can’t, in all good conscience, deceive you any further.
- Faralda: You are the Guardian General. Once the Countess of Bruma’s guardian.
- Wulf: The Guardian General has not been seen or heard of since the New Order’s defeat. He is dead or got sucked into Oblivion or some other disaster. Didn’t you know?
- Faralda: They must have kept that quiet for moral purposes.
- Wulf: Of course, that must be it! Then everybody forgot about him when the much more handsome Dragonborn defeated both Ulfric and Alduin.
- Faralda: Maybe one day you can tell me the reasons that tragic death was needed.
- Wulf: One day, everybody will know. And I would not be surprised if the Guardian General makes a reappearance at some stage.
- Faralda: Is Rigmor’s safety at stake?
- Wulf: Definitely. That is why the two recent heroes are not the same person.
- Faralda: I understand.
- Wulf: I tipped you off with the spells on the bridge, didn’t I? You are a Master Mage so will have an excellent memory. Eventually, even with my bald head and the shadowed face, you would have made the connection. I must practice my acting a bit more!
- Faralda: I don’t think your heart was in the performance. Ancano must suspect due to the nature of questions he was asking.
- Wulf: I gave him enough clues. He will know tomorrow as the disguise is now more hindrance than a help.
- Faralda: It would be a pleasant change to watch him be careful of what he says instead of the students and faculty.
- Wulf: Good night, Master Mage Faralda.
- Faralda: Good night, General Valdr.
Rather than walk to the inn, I decided I would summon Inigo. I made my way to the guest room.
I looked in the room where Rigmor had collected her armour and sword. So much has happened since then it seems like the distant past. The reality is that day was exactly seven weeks ago!
Once in the guest room, I summoned Inigo.
A few seconds later, he teleported to me.
“Sorry for the delay, I had to disentangle myself from Ashni.”
“At least you are not manacled.”
“The inn’s basement is occupied by a posh Orsimer according to Hadring. We were still in the common room amongst dozens of other people. I still had to be careful where her hands were roaming!”
“A Thalmor Justiciar is getting very nosey. I think General Valdr has to be here tomorrow morning.”
“But we didn’t bring your armour, did we?”
“Precisely the problem my smart and slightly perverted friend.”
“So, do you want one of us to go fetch it?”
“I want two of you to catch a carriage to Whiterun. The ride to Silverpeak Lodge had proven to be dangerous, so I would not feel comfortable sending one Sentinel. I also need Celestine to return in place of one of them.”
“Ashni and Anahbi, at this stage, will not want to be separated. I know they will have to on later missions, but my advice is to give them time to adjust first.”
“I want you with me as your senses have proven very useful. If one of the ladies won’t go with Kharjo, then send those two. Explain I am more than happy with how well they have done, and it is not punishment or criticism that Celestine and Argus will return in their place.”
“Don’t worry, my friend. They will understand the need for Celestine and the fact you are keeping them together.”
There was some paper with the College of Winterhold letterhead on a shelf. I quickly wrote a pass signed by Master Mage Valdr so that Inigo would have no trouble if stopped when exiting or entering the College grounds.
I handed it to him then he asked, “Are you going to summon me so I can bring you the armour in the morning?”
“If you arrive with that pass and Celestine with you, there should be no issues. She is still a member of the College. All of you should be able to enter.”
“I bet ten gold pieces that Argus will mention the damaged bridge and how Nord workmanship would never have crumbled.”
“Just point to the rest of Winterhold and comment that Nords made it.”
“That is logic, my friend. We are talking about Argus.”
“Then just grunt your agreement. But no way am I throwing away ten gold pieces with that bet.”
“I had better rush back to the inn and get the ladies on their way.”
Inigo left, and I contacted Rigmor.
“I know it is late, but this is the first chance I have had to chat. It still takes a lot of concentration to use the rings.”
“I knew you were well via the rings, so I was not worried.”
“Guess where I am sleeping tonight?”
“That wonderful place we visited the last time?”
“That is being used by somebody else.”
“With the other Apprentices?”
“At the local inn?”
“OK, where is my Dragonborn sleeping?”
“It is used for many different guests, so it is not like I am sleeping in his bed. If that were the case, a nice comfy chair would have been preferable.”
“Did it feel strange to walk in there?”
“That was such a dramatic day for many reasons. It does seem like ages ago. Would you believe that only seven weeks have passed since then?”
“Only seven weeks! Imagine how much longer that would have seemed if we could not see each other.”
“I bet the days sitting on the throne listening to people, including your advisors, seem especially long.”
“They drone on and on and on. I have to be a lady and not fart or scratch or swear or jump out of my chair and cleave them in half.”
“Who do you want to cleave? The visitors or your advisors?”
“Not a good idea. Even if there are plenty of citizens, you will quickly run out of advisors.”
“The stonework in the throne room is porous, so it would take forever to clean up the blood and entrails.”
“You poor thing!”
“Anyway, what news do you have for this lonely and abused Countess?”
“What do the rings tell you?”
“That you are worried.”
“I genuinely fear that mortal stupidity is the biggest danger. Langley’s vision was accurate. The artefact is very powerful, and not something you want the wrong type of person to get their hands on.”
“So, grab it and hide it.”
“It is an eight-foot-tall sphere.”
“Oh, you would need bigger pockets!”
“The mages will salivate over it and want to try and use it. The Thalmor and other enemies of The Empire will want to seize it. It is ancient magic, from the very first years of mortal existence on Nirn.”
“Why is it dangerous? What can it do?”
“At the least, it provides a limitless source of Magicka. Normal spells can be made devastating if you can pour enough Magicka into the casting of them. Some spells that should theoretically work but drain too much Magicka to cast can now be used. I could go on and on how such a source of Magicka could prove dangerous.”
“Is there another way it is dangerous?”
“The magic involved is from the Ehlnofey, the very first mortals on Nirn. Mages already have difficulty learning the magic of the Ayleid, which is primitive in comparison. The Dwemer vanished when trying to master it. It is the magic of the gods. It is the magic of creation.”
“That is terrifying! What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know as yet. I will see if I can find any references to it in the library then go from there.”
“And you have the complication of the Thalmor being there.”
“You know what I said to a Justiciar today?”
“Nope. I said, ‘Yeah, right, pfft!’”
“Yes, I most certainly did!”
“He threatened me because I wasn’t civil. I refused to stick my nose up his arse.”
“You can’t resist it, can you? You have to bait them every time.”
“Faralda later warned me the Justiciar was asking others in the College about me. She knows who I am but like the Arch-Mage, will keep the secret because of the danger to you.”
“Are you keeping up the disguise?”
“No, I have sent a couple of Sentinels to retrieve my armour. Sven the Apprentice is no more.”
“That will give the Justiciar something to think about.”
“There is a whole bunch of other stuff, but it can wait. Talking via the rings still wears me out even though we managed it for hours once.”
“That was an emergency. Iona and Kharjo!”
“Please, don’t remind me!”
“I will sleep better after having even this short chat, and so will you.”
“I love you and goodnight, milady.”
“I love you, my Dragonborn. Goodnight.”
I sat and wrote this journal entry then climbed into bed.
I know not what time I fell asleep.