The dread in Elspeth’s chest grew heavier and heavier as she made her way up the stairs to the Arch-mage’s quarters. Ancano sneered when they entered and gestured toward the back of the room, where Savos was waiting with an Altmer wearing what Elspeth now recognized as the robes of the Psijic Order.
She looked at Savos as she approached the mer. He appeared uncomfortable—much as he did the night in Kraldar’s house when he first informed Elspeth of the nature of the Order’s interest in her. She smiled weakly at him before turning her attention to the other mer. It wasn’t the same one who addressed her in Sarthaal though within moments the air shuddered and turned cold, as it had in the ruin. She glance around briefly but soon looked at him attentively when he began speaking.
“I’m Quaranir. It’s good to meet you Elspeth,” he said. His voice was steady and composed; however, its haughtiness—typical of most Altmer Elspeth had known throughout her life—had softened and he looked quite concerned as he spoke. “I’ve given us a chance to speak privately, but I’m afraid I can’t do this for very long. We must be brief.”
“But I have so many questions,” she cried. “The purge at the University, the dragons, being dragonborn—I need to know how they’re connected!” She bit her lip as she looked back at Quaranir.
“You? You’re the dragonb—“ Quaranir stopped, suddenly feeling incredibly stupid. Like the others, he’d been told that Elspeth’s Nord companion was the Dragonborn and he had been so consumed with getting to Elspeth and warning her about the orb, it didn’t even occur to him that was a ruse. “Of course you are!” he said firmly, as if he should have known. “You’re a—“ He stopped suddenly, recalling that Elspeth had no knowledge of her true ancestry. “You are a chosen one,” he said quickly, desperately trying to recover his poise. “In time, all will be revealed…I promise.”
She seemed unconvinced by this, but remained quiet and waited for him to continue. “Elspeth, the situation at the college is of dire importance,” he explained. “The orb in the Hall of the Elements, the Eye of Magnus, the longer it remains here, the more dangerous the situation becomes. And so I have come here personally to tell you that it must be dealt with.”
“Yes, but why me?” she asked.
Quaranir paused. Before Nerussa’s revelation, he would have been happy to pass the task on to any other skilled mage. He had also greatly underestimated the power of the orb and it’s potential role in helping certain Thalmor achieve their more nefarious goals. He shuddered at the thought. If they were to prevail, the Order and its allies needed her—that she was the Dragonborn only reinforced that. However, it was becoming increasingly clear to him that Elspeth’s role would not be nearly as straightforward as Illario and Nerien had hoped and that it would have to be carefully orchestrated. But that was too much to burden her with now.
“You must understand,” he began, “the Psijic Order does not typically intervene directly in events.” This was once true, he thought before he continued. “My presence here will be seen as an affront to some in the Order, and as soon as we have finished, I will be leaving your college.” This much was true. The Masters of the Order were still ambivalent about involving Elspeth and the college in their plans. And Nerien was going to be livid when he discovered that Quaranir was encroaching on what he believed to be his territory and responsibility.
Elspeth closed her eyes and shook her head. “All right,” she said, albeit reluctantly. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
Quaranir felt terrible; she looked so disappointed. Suddenly, he wanted to reveal everything her knew to her: the Order’s relationship with the dissidents, her Septim ancestry, and how she might rise to power. But he knew that he could not and that wasn’t his reason for being there.
“As I’m sure you’ve realized, the orb you’ve found is immensely powerful. The world is not ready for it. If it remains here, it will be misused,” he explained. “I’m not sure how or when, but something terrible is on the horizon and it is linked to that orb. You need to seek out the Auger of Dunlain here in your college. His perception may be more clear than ours.”
“What…who is that?”
“He was once a student at the college. Now he’s something…well, different,” he said. “He’s on the grounds somewhere. One of your colleagues should know where to find him.”
“Okay,” she said quietly. She supposed that if she didn’t have to leave the college to deal with the orb, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult. Still, seeking out a student who was now something different seemed dubious at best.
“Elspeth, this conversation requires a great deal of effort on my part,” Quaranir said. “I’m afraid I must leave you. I…we will continue to watch over you, and guide you as best as we can.” He pursed his lips and looked at her intently. It was awkward for a moment, as if there was more he wanted he wanted to say but was suddenly rendered inarticulate—an unusual situation for someone part of an elite order such as the Psijics. Finally, he looked at her and said, his tone noticeably softer, “It is within you to succeed. Never forget that.”
She opened her mouth to say something but nothing was forthcoming as the air around them returned to normal. Elspeth turned around sharply, assuming a confrontation with Ancano who would no doubt want to know what they discussed, but everyone looked just as they did right when she and Trygve had arrived.
“Well!” Ancano strode forward and stepped up to Quaranir. “What is the meaning of this? I’ve brought you Elspeth now tell us what you want.”
Elspeth kept her eyes fixed on Quaranir who gave her a quick, knowing look before turning his attention to Ancano. “We heard that the Dragonborn of Skyrim had returned and that Elspeth was his mage companion.”
“So?” Ancano was clearly perturbed at Quaranir’s presence.
“Regardless of the Thalmor’s rejection of mysticism, even a Justiciar can appreciate the significance of such an event to those of us focused on the oldest school of magic.” He narrowed his eyes at Ancano and gestured to Trygve before turning back to Elspeth to whom he commented, “When all of this is done, we will want a full report so that our scholars can begin to analyze the consequences of this event for the Order’s intellectual interest. I trust your librarian will direct you to the appropriate resources.”
His tone was somehow both snide and sophisticated and while Elspeth rather enjoyed the way that he dealt with Ancano, she was eager to leave. After nodding farewell to Quaranir and to a very fearful looking Savos, she gestured for Trygve to follow her. When they were outside and well out of earshot of the others, she relayed what Quaranir had told her.
His face darkened as she spoke and when she finished, he looked at her intently. “We need to talk to Tolfdir,” he insisted. When Elspeth looked at him quizzically, he continued. “Well…everything you just said is extremely unnerving. And I really want to speak with someone who isn’t…you know?”
“I suppose,” she said slowly though she did not protest. She tried to remind herself that the college was a milieu to which Trygve was not accustomed. Still, she disliked seeing him unsettled. Anything less than cold, stoicism on his part made him seem vulnerable, which triggered her ongoing feelings of guilt. That he was treating her a bit more affectionately wasn’t helping either.
From Tolfdir they learned that the Augur of Dunlain was once a brilliant student and an accomplished wizard whose attempts to harness power led to some sort of accident that left him bound to the midden, the college’s dungeon basement. Trygve’s unease only grew as Tolfdir spoke, though once the location was given he seemed to recover some of his tenacity.
After a quick lunch they made their way to the midden. Inside, Trygve glowered as they began to walk. “What is that?” he asked.
“What is what?”
“I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. He paused for a moment and looked around. “The air, it feels thick—it’s not unfamiliar, it’s just more…intense.”
Elspeth cleared her throat and looked intently at him. It’s just magicka,” she said. “It’s everywhere. But there are higher concentrations here.” She looked at him intently. “You’re highly attuned to it,” she said. She stopped to consider her next statement carefully and then she realized she didn’t actually care much. “It’s because you’re a mage.”
“I am not—”
“Enough!” Elspeth put her hand up and shook her head. “If you were just a healer, I might humor you a bit. But you cast wards Trygve—powerful wards. I don’t know why you resist the designation so much.”
Trygve scowled at her but considered this for a moment. “Wards are protective,” he explained. “I’m not interested in conjuring the dead. Or in manipulating people and their surroundings. Or destruction,” he paused. “Nature is destructive enough as it is. Harnessing that power is irresponsible. If it can’t be controlled then—”
“But it can be controlled!” Elspeth protested. She noticed he did not actually address the issue she posited. “You can be a mage without doing any of those things. You need to talk to Collette Marence. If you just want to stick to restoration, she can teach you so much more. There are spells that you can use against draugr and skeletons that will send them running.”
“Like fear and those other spells Onmund was casting on you?” Trygve’s voice was becoming increasing louder. “I’m sorry but no, I have no interest in illusion or anything that manipulates people’s minds.” On this he was adamant to the point of sounding impassioned, almost as if it was personal.
Elspeth sighed. “Undead creatures don’t have minds,” she said, a touch of irritation I her voice. “Those spells are in the restoration school.” She paused for a moment to see which way they were heading. “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to be a little more broad minded,” she said. And under her breath she muttered, “Though it might kill you not to be.”
Trygve looked at Elspeth sharply, but his face softened after several moments. But before he could reply, they were interrupted by ice wraiths. Following this, all conversation apart from shouts and battle directives ceased as they fought their way through the rest of the dungeon. Once they finished, they continued on in a weary silence until they approached what appeared to be an elevated summoning circle.
“What in Oblivion is this?” Trygve looked a little sick as he approached. “And I mean Oblivion literally,” he continued, gesturing to the symbol at center of the circle.
“That’s because it’s a sort of link to Oblivion,” she replied. She held up the book she found and was paging through. “It’s called the Atronach Forge.”
“That is not a forge,” Trygve protested.
She shoved the book into her satchel and stepped back. “I can’t wait to show this to Onmund.”
“Elspeth,” Trygve said firmly, “That is not a forge. He can’t smith on it.”
“He’ll want to see it,” she explained as she turned and walked out.
“But why?” he asked. “Something like this should be destroyed, if not then sealed off. Two centuries ago the doors to Oblivion were shut permanently, with the help of your ancestor.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Trygve let out a long exasperated sigh and shook his head. He was going to let her have this one as he really wasn’t in the mood for rehashing every argument he’d ever had about magic with Elspeth of all people.
They continued on and passed through several more doors. Soon, there was a distinct change in the atmosphere that even Elspeth admitted was remarkable. It was emanating from a locked door, which they approached cautiously.
As she tried in vain to pick the lock, they heard an ethereal voice from behind the door.
“Your perseverance will only lead to disappointment.”
Elspeth rolled her eyes and continued to work the door with picks until they heard the voice again.
“Still you persist? Very well, you may enter.”
The door opened and Trygve gasped as they approached the enormous, ethereal globe of light in the middle of the room.
“Not what you were expecting?” Elspeth said sarcastically before she approached the light. “So, you’re the Augur of Dunlain?”
“I’m that which you have been seeking,” replied the light. As he spoke his voice remained ethereal but also raw and deliberate. “Your efforts are in vain. It has already begun. But those who have sent you have not told you what they seek. What you seek.”
Trygve groaned rubbed the back of his neck. “Here we go,” he muttered. He really wasn’t in the mood for the cryptic nattering of this thing.
Elspeth shot him a harsh look though she was inclined to agree with him on this—why did everything have to be so vague? “Quaranir of the Psijic Order told me to find you,” she explained. “But what is it that I seek?”
“You seek that which all who wield magic seek. Knowledge. You shall find this: Knowledge will corrupt.” At this, Trygve gave Elspeth a knowing look to which she responded by rolling her eyes and turning back to the ethereal glow.
“It will destroy,” he continued. “It will consume. You seek meaning, shelter in Knowledge. You will not find it. The Thalmor sought the same thing, and it will lead to his end, as it has many others.”
“Th…the Thalmor?” asked Elspeth nervously. “You mean Ancano?”
“He seeks information about the Eye, but what he will find shall be quite different. His path will cross yours in time, but first you must find that which you need.”
“All right then…what do I need?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. She was becoming rather impatient, in addition to being anxious.
“You, and those aiding you, wish to know more about the Eye of Magnus. You wish to avoid the disaster of which you are not yet aware. To see through Magnus’ Eye without being blinded, you require his staff. Events now spiral quickly towards the inevitable center, so you must act with haste. Take this knowledge to your Arch-Mage.”
After the glow went quiet, Elspeth let out a deep breath and hurried away with Trygve on her heels.
“So, that used to be a student?” he said derisively. “And you want me to be open minded about magic because…?
“Shut up, Trygve.”
They hurried back to the college in silence. In the Arch-Mage’s quarters, Savos was at the table, hunched over several books. Elspeth was pleased to see him alone, until she realized that Ancano’s absence did not bode well for them based on what the Augur had said.
“Arch Mage Savos!” she exclaimed, still out of breath from their return trek through the midden. “I spoke with the Augur of Dunlain. He said that we needed to recover a staff…the staff of Magnus, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Savos looked up, his eyes filled with dread. “The staff of Magnus? A powerful artifact indeed. As a matter of fact, some members of the Synod were here recently inquiring about that to Mirabelle. She directed them to Mzulft.”
Trygve’s eyes widened at mention of the Dwemer ruin. “Great,” he muttered.
Savos turned to respond to Trygve and then thought better of it. Instead, he shook his head and looked at Elspeth intently. “Elspeth,” he said. “I’m not sure what it all means; I wish I did. But I want to say that I’m pleased with your…” his voice trailed off briefly as if he needed a moment to figure out what he wanted to say. “Your initiative,” he continued though she had a feeling that wasn’t what he meant. “If you need anything at all, please just let me know.”
He looked absolutely miserable, in a way that was almost unbecoming of a man of his station. But Elspeth didn’t inquire. “Thank you,” she said quietly as she led Trygve out of the quarters and down the stairs.
In the Hall of Elements Elspeth turned and looked at Trygve whose stern countenance was impossible to read. “Just say it,” she said.
“Say what?” he asked, looking genuinely confused.
“How we shouldn’t be involved with this. We should be focused on the dragons. Or something.”
Trygve smirked and shook his head as he considered this. “I’d like to say that,” he said. “But you seem to be implicated in all of this already and I doubt you’d see my side of things. Even if I thought I could drag you away, I’m not sure it would be smart to alienate ourselves from the resources here.” It pained him to admit this, though his expression didn’t reveal as much.
“I guess we’re going to Mewlzef,” she said.
“Mzulft,” he corrected. “You’ve never been inside a Dwemer ruin, have you? And no, the stuff in Markarth doesn’t count.” He chuckled a bit as she shook her head. “Oh, you are in for a treat. Come,” he said grinning slightly as he led them out of the building. “We have many terrifying things to prepare for.”