“J’zargo is eager to hear how the scrolls are working,” the apprentice destruction mage announced, first thing after breakfast, the morning after Alexa arrived back at the College.
“Were they supposed to explode?” Alexa asked, looking up from the journal she was transcribing. “Because contact with undead caused the flame cloak to explode.”
“Ah. No,” he admitted a bit sheepishly. “That was not supposed to happen. But... J’zargo is pleased to see that you are here, and not in pieces! You are a good friend to have done this. J’zargo will not forget it.”
“The concept behind them is quite interesting,” Alexa allowed. “Perhaps if you could make the explosions directional, or happen at a greater distance from the caster? The Circle of Protection spell might contain some ideas on how to structure that kind of specification.”
“Restoration?” J’zargo enquired in obvious surprise.
“I know,” Alexa winced sympathetically. “Talking to Colette can be… difficult. Barring that I am lead to believe that Tolfdir’s understanding of spell structure is unparalleled among the masters here.”
He narrowed his eyes slightly, his whiskers twitching. “Khajiit will consider these things,” he told her. “But he wonders how you know so much about a school of magic you say you can barely use.”
“Restoration or Destruction?” she asked, smiling, and then shook her head before he could answer. “Doesn’t matter. My interest – the reason I am studying lost magics – isn’t in casting spells but in understanding how magic works. As such I know a fair amount about the theory behind each of the schools even if I’m terrible at actually using them.”
“Why would one study magic if not to become a powerful mage?” J’zargo demanded, sounding mystified.
“Magic is a part of our world,” Alexa responded easily. “One cannot understand the workings of the world without understanding magic.”
“And that is important to you?”
“What could be more important?” she asked.
J’zargo’s whiskers twitched. “It does not seem that this is a subject we are likely to agree upon.”
“Then we will just have to agree to disagree,” Alexa noted, brightly, before going back to her transcribing.
Brelyna stuck her head into Alexa’s room a little before two in the afternoon. “Will you be attending the afternoon lecture?” she asked.
“I suppose I should,” Alexa smiled, pushing back her chair and digging her coat out of her closet. She followed Brelyna – at a fast trot – across the courtyard and into the Hall of the Elements. Phinis Gestor was already standing in front of the mystic focal point in the center of the room. He cleared his throat.
“At this time, I would like to make a few statements regarding policy here at the College,” he announced, his gaze lingering for a moment on Ancano before falling on Brelyna. “Please refrain from practicing Conjuration spells in view of the town of Winterhold. Atronachs have a tendency to frighten the locals. Undead... well, I don’t even think it needs to be said.”
His eyes drifted to Enthir. “Urag has asked me to remind everyone to please return materials borrowed from the Arcanaeum in the same condition as you received them. If this is impossible due to misuse or accident, Urag recommends finding a replacement copy to deliver to the Arcanaeum. Failure to do so will result in paying, in Urag’s words, ‘a blood price’. I did not ask him to elaborate on that point.”
Phinis frowned in Sergius’ direction. “Once again, I must ask that everyone please clean up any materials used in the common areas. We’ve had yet another sprained ankle due to soul gems being left on the floor. Let’s please try and keep injuries to a minimum.”
Again his eyes drifted over the Thalmor Advisor before he addressed himself to the new students. “The Midden remains off-limits at this time; while the initial outbreak has been cleaned up, the area is still considered hazardous. No more experiments are to be carried out there, and mages are advised that you enter the Midden at your own risk.”
The corner of his mouth twitched slightly as he continued to stare in the direction of the new students. “While Drevis appreciates the spell casting skill that went into somehow cramming several hundred apples into his pillow... He would ask that it please not happen again. He has suggested that, should he find out who is responsible, he is well versed in making things disappear permanently.”
“There have been unconfirmed reports that someone has been sneaking into the town of Winterhold while invisible, and causing... issues. This goes quite against College policy, and the party responsible is advised to cease these actions at once.
He then sighed heavily. “Any information as to the whereabouts of the previous group of Apprentices would be greatly appreciated. As of yet, there has been no sign of them.
“What ‘outbreak’?” Alexa asked Brelyna once all the students had returned to the Hall of Attainment.
“Something about undead,” she answered.
“Aren’t they worried that wild life will move in if they leave the Midden unpatrolled for too long?”
“Apparently not,” Onmund shrugged.
“Were the apples you or Enthir?” Alexa asked the Nord apprentice.
“It wasn’t me,” Enthir announced, as he passed through on the way to his room. “I would never do anything that might draw that much attention to myself.”
“Well done,” Alexa smiled at Onmund as the Nord student blushed a brilliant crimson. “But why Drevis?”
“He’s… rather full of himself,” Onmund muttered. “And he was rude to Lyn.”
“Ah,” Alexa looked over at Brelyna who was looking a little embarrassed. “I’m guessing Neloren isn’t a name associated with any of Morrowind’s great houses?”
Brelyna shook her head. “I don’t blame him. Really I don’t. I’m sure someone in my family has, at some point, done something…”
“But this isn’t Morrowind,” Alexa told her, “and the fact that you’re here proves you aren’t sailing through life on being a daughter of a great house. He should be giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
J’zargo pricked up his ears at that. “You are a member of one of the Great Houses of Morrowind?” he asked Brelyna.
“Was it a secret?” Alexa asked, suddenly concerned.
“I hadn’t told anyone else,” Brelyna admitted. “You’re the only person who asked for a proper introduction.”
“If J’zargo has been rude, not to properly introduce himself, he apologizes,” the khajiit purred, bowing. “He had thought the lack of formality was a sign of friendship in this place.”
“It is,” Alexa assured him.
“It is good to hear as J’zargo has no important family to speak of and so must make himself important,” the khajiit smiled at her.
“My family are all farmers,” Onmund admitted. “What about you?” he asked Alexa.
“Merchants. But I haven’t used their name in years.”
“Why not?” Onmund enquired.
“They got caught up in political intrigue,” Alexa answered.
Brelyna’s eyes widened and she gave a soft “Oh” of understanding.
Onmund looked back and forth between the Dunmer and the khajiit, clearly realizing he’d missed something.
“This one regrets the death of your family,” J’zargo told Alexa, managing to sound genuine. “If he had known he would not have brought it up.”
“I think it is safe to say that if any of us fit in with our countries of origin we would not be here,” Alexa smiled.
“Still, this one finds the apples an interesting idea,” J’zargo purred. “A way to test ourselves against each other, perhaps?”
“You’re starting at a disadvantage, my friend,” Alexa said, gesturing to the Expert robes of Alteration she already wore.
“Khajiit does not think so, unless you intend to begin spending more time at the College?”
“Competing across such a broad playing field would please you?” Alexa asked, surprised.
“It is better than having no competition at all,” J’zargo replied.
Alexa glanced at the other two students. There was an excited glint in Onmund eyes and Brelyna was chewing her bottom lip. “Alright, J’zargo, it seems we’re all in,” she laughed.
Not particularly interested in getting back to transcribing her journals, Alexa headed to the Arcanaeum, her second book for Urag’s collection under one arm. In exchange he handed her a copy of his translation of Shalidor’s manuscript and a note on the location of another rare book.
On her way back through the Arcanaeum she passed by Drevis Neloren who was seated by himself at a table.
“May I take a seat?” she asked, indicating the other chair at the table.
“You... You can see me?” the Dunmer gasped.
“Should I not be able to?” Alexa asked, sitting down anyway.
“Confound it all,” Drevis complained. “I was quite sure I was invisible, or at least transparent.”
“Perhaps you were and the effect has worn off?” she suggested.
“Maybe,” he admitted. “Either way the spell requires more work.”
Alexa considered that for a second. There was no way an illusionist of Drevis’ skill couldn’t cast a standard invisibility spell. “What kind of invisibility spell are you working on?” she asked.
“It occurred to me, a while ago, that it is inconvenient, when one is invisible, to not be able to see one’s self. I am trying to rectify that.”
“Was there something you needed?” he asked.
“Two things, actually,” she admitted.
Drevis arched an eyebrow at that.
“I was hoping you might have time tomorrow to evaluate my skill level in Illusion.”
“Of course!” he beamed. “It would be my pleasure to assist in your study of Illusion. Come by my room after dinner and I’ll give you the written exam to work on tonight and we can meet, in the Hall of the Elements, for the practical at 10AM tomorrow morning. What’s the second thing?”
“Brelyna, and House Telvanni,” Alexa said, calmly. “That’s not a real problem, is it?”
“Ah,” he nibbled on the tip of his thumb for a moment. “No. I suppose not. She… seems like a relatively unassuming person more interested in learning than in rank…” He glanced sideways at Alexa. “Certainly nothing for another student to worry about, or bring to the attention of the Master Wizard.”
“Good,” Alexa smiled sweetly at him. “I didn’t want to assume. Anyway, now that is out of the way, is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.
The written part of the Illusion skill test only took Alexa about an hour. Reading the translation of Shalidor manuscript, however, was far more interesting, and time consuming. It was on Destruction magic – the school of magic she was weakest with. Reading Shalidor’s thoughts on the subject did give her some insight as to what she’d been doing wrong all this time. With a bit of practice Alexa was fairly certain she could now handle all the Apprentice level spells – including the lightning related ones. There were also some odd implications for ways in which the school of Destruction might overlap with other schools. She would have to give it some real thought.
Alexa was enthralled enough by her reading that she was actually startled when a shadow, cast by someone coming between her and the light from the mystic focal point, fell across her desk. She looked up to find J’zargo standing, a little awkwardly, in her doorway.
“Khajiit thought, maybe, you might enjoy some of his less magical writings more than you did his scrolls?” J’zargo offered, stepping into Alexa’s room.
“You write?” she asked, putting aside the manuscript translation.
“J’zargo likes to imagine the people he meets in… different scenarios,” J’zargo admitted. “He has noticed that you seem – good – with people and wonders what you might think of his efforts? Perhaps you may have some notes on characterization?” he placed a journal on the desk beside her. “When time allows, of course.*”
Ancano was, frankly, a little surprised, when he returned to the College, to find the Breton student in residence. He’d assumed her month long absence from College grounds had been due to injury or death.
He was on hand, the next morning, to watch the Master Illusionist, Drevis Neloren, run a technical assessment of her skills. She’d already mastered quiet casting, indicating an adept proficiency level but, Drevis felt, she was overcoming the magicka cost of an Invisibility spell, not through fineness, but by simply having a large enough magicka pool to brute force it. Ancano, privately, concurred.
Later that night Ancano managed to catch most of the conversation between the new students, while they were toasting their friend’s new status as an “Adept Illusionist”.
“J’zargo wonders why you bother,” the Khajiit sniffed.
“I’m tired of being attacked by bears,” the Breton girl told him.
“If you knew Destruction magic, you could just kill them,” Onmund reminded her.
“I see no reason to feed trolls,” the Breton student responded. “Or leave a trail of animal corpses for one to follow me.”
It was a very reasonable, and logical, response to the problem, Ancano felt. Still, an Expert proficiency with Alteration, combined with an Adept proficiency with Illusion, and, it would seem, a significant magicka reserve, was uncommon even in Altmer of her age. But, in his opinion, neither were particularly dangerous unless paired with ingenuity and, as bright as she appeared to be, “clever” or “tricky” wasn’t something her saw in her. In fact everything he knew about her, thus far, seemed to fit snugly into the needs of a field researcher: Alteration to protect herself and Illusion to diffuse situations without leading to new dangers or destroying the thing she was trying to study. And yet… something told him she didn’t fit.
Maybe if he could find out about that sword she’d handed to the librarian… There had to be a vault, or something, where the Orc had stashed it. Tomorrow he would return to the Midden and begin looking in earnest.