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Chapter Thirty-seven – Novice Week



“Okay, Nora,” said Faralda, standing a hundred feet away with fire in one hand, the blue of cold in the other. “Now the spells I'm going to throw at you will not be full power. They will cause little harm to you, especially with your enchantments. But they will sting, to let you know you're been hit.”


“I understand,” said Nora, taking a quick look at her surroundings. They were on the roof of the central tower of the College, three hundred feet in diameter and with plenty of room to play. All of the College masters were there to watch her, to add their constructive criticism where needed. Even Enthir, a master of something, she wasn't sure what, was there. A group of expert level students were on the steps leading up, with instructions that Ancano wasn't to pass.


A hundred feet from Nora were a series of targets, the same kind she had seen in fortresses to allow warriors to practice. In singles, pairs, groups of three, they had been numbered so that Faralda could call out which she wanted the Dragonborn to attack. Annekke was there as well, with her bow and a double sized quiver full of practice arrows.


“Begin,” shouted Faralda, throwing a fire bolt intended to catch Nora off guard.


Nora smoothly cast the ward, fending off the fire bolt, then shifted to catch an ice spike coming in high.


“Second targets. Fire.”

Nora dropped the ward and brought up fire in one smooth motion, sending her own fire bolts into the pair of targets, one after the other.


“Arrows,” shouted the master destruction mage, and Annekke launched two very quick shafts at Nora, which she caught on her buckler. As soon as the last arrow was deflected Faralda sent some bolts of cold at the Dragonborn, caught easily on the ward she quickly erected.


“First target. Shock.”


Nora brought up lightning bolt, hammering the wood and straw target, which started to burn.


More magic came in, very fast, faster than she had ever seen. Nora missed the first, which splashed against her hauberk with a sting. She caught the next two.


“Arrows.” And Annekke launched three her way, all blocked, but magic came in on the tail end of the last arrow, and Nora wasn't able to drop her shield and raise her ward in time to get them all.


“Fourth target, shock,” and Nora hit those three targets with chain lightning, the sparks jumping from target to target.


Arrows started coming in unannounced. Nora got most, missed one, and a fire bolt came in as her buckler was still in the air.


“Will you look at that,” exclaimed Tolfdir. “I've never seen anyone move so fast. And without magic aiding her.”


Nora was moving at speed now, catching most of the things thrown at her, but not all. And servicing the targets with the spells announced as they were called. She gave up on the buckler, which was impeding her switch over to wards, and started knocking the arrows out of the air with her palm. More magic came in, and she took some of it with her wards, while shifting her body and dodging many of the others with minimal effort. She was sweating in earnest now, though her motions were still smooth and on target, and she could hear the oohs and awes as she caught one arrow and flung it away, before sending more fire magic into a set of targets.


“Close attack, five,” shouted Faralda, readying her spells.


Nora knew what she intended. To hit the Dragonborn while she ran at the targets with her sword. Nora had something else planned.


“Wuld,” shouted Nora, and in an instant she was to the targets, swinging Dawnbreaker through them both, taking off the straw heads and setting the constructs on fire.


“Enough,” said Faralda, jogging over to Nora. “If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it. You were moving faster than possible, but I sensed no other magic than your wards and attacks.”


“I took a serum on my own world, one that made me twice as strong, twice as fast, than any other woman of my body weight. It helped me fight the evil of the Commonwealth. And it lets me heal really fast.” Nora held up a forearm that had a very visible burn on it, becoming fainter by the moment, until in less than a minute it was gone. “So, how did I do?”


“There's room for improvement,” said Faralda, chuckling at the hurt expression on Nora's face. “But it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I stopped pulling the punches, throwing spells as fast as I could, when it became apparent that the attacks I threw at most battle mages in training weren't going to cut it with you.”


Now Nora was beaming, nodding her head in approval.


“Don't let it go to your head,” said the Altmer mage. “You should have no problem with most of the magic users you run into, but against a really skilled archmage you would be dead meat. But once we get you trained to handle any situation you will be able to deal with even the most powerful magic user in Tamriel.”


After the assessment session was over and the mages left to talk it over, to formulate training sessions for their star pupil, Phinis Gestor stayed on the rooftop. The mage walked over the Nora, a frown on his face.


“I've noticed that you have not asked me about conjuration spells, Nora. You have attended my classes, but don't seem to have the same enthusiasm for my specialty as your classmates.”


Nora really hadn't wanted to tell this man what she thought of conjuration, since he was looking into a cure for Eldawyn. “Frankly, Master Gestor, and no insult intended, but I get a bad feeling from conjuration. Raising dead, bringing Dremora to our plain of existence. I've made my peace with soul trapping, since I need the energy for enchanting and recharging my equipment. But the other spells give me the shivers.”


“There is more to conjuration than what you think,” said Gestur, a serious look on his face. “You can conjure powerful bound weapons, summon atronachs and spirit animals which have nothing to do with the dead, even teleport your friends and allies to you with the proper spells. And you can banish the creatures you do not like, sending Daedra and Dremora back to Oblivion. I think you are shortchanging yourself by not learning spells in my school.”


“Okay,” said Nora, still not comfortable with conjuration, but seeing how it could be advantageous to her. “Sell me a couple of novice level spells that don't involve calling dead or demons, and I'll give it a try.”


Nora had been surprised at how the College worked. She had assumed it would be like any institution of higher learning on Earth before the war. Pay tuition at the beginning of the semester, buy books, and there was nothing else to pay beside room and board. Room and board was free here, and not only were meals served, but snacks were kept in a room on each dorm floor. There were no books to buy, as they were available for free from the library. And basic casting instruction by the professors was also free.


Spell tomes, needed to actually learn the spells, were where the College made its money. They were awfully expensive. The cheapest novice spells still ran over a hundred gold, while the adept level were near a thousand, with the higher level running up to more than three thousand. Many of the students were beggared by the practice, having to do tasks for the College in order to get the funds to buy spells. Nora had no such problem, at least for now, though she could see having to loot many more tombs to complete her spell repertoire.


Gestor sold her the novice spells Bound Dagger, Bound Sword, as well as Soul Cloak and Summon Flame Atronach from the apprentice level. She would practice the bound weapons in her room, though Soul Cloak was best used in the wilds, where she could gather the souls of animals, and she was cautioned to not summon a creature from the Elemental Plain of Fire within the town. It set her back just over a thousand gold, and gave her some spells to evaluate.


“I could have given you those tomes for free,” said Eldawyn when she showed them to her fire mage friend.


“I know. But it gets me in good with Phinis Gestor, who I'm hoping will find out what I need to do to free you. I've also got permission for you and Sofia to have access to the College. You can't check anything out of the Arcanaeum, but you can peruse the collection as you want. It would be a great help for me if you could look up books about dragons, Alduin, magic, anything that might help me.”


Eldawyn smiled. “You are so cute when you are enthusiastic about something. Of course I will help you, darling. Now, I have been talking with Nelacar today, and I think I've talked him into a threesome.”


Nora woke early that morning and went over bound sword, learning the spell, then practicing casting it over and over. It was a good weapon, something she could call up if Dawnbreaker was out of her hand, though nowhere near as good as the artifact. Dawnbreaker now rode the hip of Eldawyn for safekeeping. She talked with the party at breakfast and found that they had been poking around the ruins of Winterhold during the day. Nothing much to be found, as it had been picked over for generations. But Eldawyn had been communing with the restless spirits that had been trapped on this plain during the disaster. They weren't hostile, and had much to say about their lives in Winterhold, possibly offering some clues to the Great Collapse.


The Dragonborn sat in her dorm room after the day's classes and training session with Faralda and Annekke. The student mages she shared the floor with were gathered around, sitting on the bed or on one of the two chairs. She found out that her floor mates were all apprentice level, and were in the classes she was scheduled to attend the next week. And about the time she would be moving up to adept classes they would be taking their tests for their own advancement.


“That is good,” said J'Zargo, a Khajiit, enthralling Nora with his wonderful turn of phrase and lilting accent. “J'Zargo realizes that Nora is much more advanced than the classes she takes. A waste of time, no.”


“Well, not really,” said Nora, looking into the cat face. “I picked up some bad habits on the road since I learned my magic through use and battle. And it lets the instructors know my strengths and weaknesses.”


“J'Zargo thinks that makes sense. And J'Zargo hopes that you will be there to help this cat advance himself.”


J'Zargo seemed to have more than enough money to afford his lessons. As did Brelyna Maryon, a Dunmer of House Telvanni in Morrowind, the preeminent house of mages in the land of the Dark Elves.


“I was so glad to get away from my house, and the, expectations of my elders,” said the attractive Dunmer.


“What kind of expectations?” asked Nora, her hackles rising at the way the young mage had said the words.


“The young women of the house were expected to, service, the older males of Telvanni. I had been pressed into service from an early age, and I was tired of it. I wanted to be a mighty mage, but Telvanni believes that only males should be trained in magic. My father was of a different opinion, and he funded my trip to the College, so I could get a real education in Conjuration.”


Nora was shocked at the revelation of the Dunmer mage. She had been raised as a sex slave, to sate the appetites of the old men of her house. Fortunately, her father had not gone along, and had gotten her to Skyrim, away from the clutching claws of a bunch of perverts.


“My family doesn't approve of mages,” said Onmund, the one Nord male that Nora had seen at the college. “They're traditional Nords, and if you can't beat an enemy over the head with it they think it of no use. But I'm determined to become a mage. I have a mind, after all, and feel that I can strengthen it just as well as my muscles. I worked hard to get here, saving every Septim, but it is hard to afford what the instructors offer.”


Feeling sorry for the young man, who was trying to better himself and not just become another farmer or warrior, she resolved to sponsor him, if he was amenable. She wanted him to succeed in his dream.


“And why did you come to Skyrim?” she asked of the Khajiit. From what she had learned about the cat people, they found Skyrim cold and inhospitable. The traders saw opportunity, so they came here. But surely there were other outlets for a young Khajiit in warmer climes.


“J'Zargo couldn't study in his homeland, unless it was in hiding. Thalmor stalk the land, and they forbid J'Zargo's people from learning magic that might challenge them. The Dunmer teach no one but their own. High Rock has many schools of magic, but they only accept Bretons.”


“What about Cyrodiil?” asked Brelyna. “They have several schools of magic.”


“Yes, J'Zargo thought about both the Synod and the College of Whispers, but there were too many problems. The Synod is all about politics, and little magic. They prefer to keep the magic out of the hands of the people. And the College of Whispers only trains their own. So that left this place as the only option for this cat. So J'Zargo endures the cold, that he might grow mighty in magic, and help his people against the Thalmor.”


That was an admission that could get the Khajiit in trouble in much of Skyrim, and assuredly in his homeland. From what Nora understood, the young cat was studying to become a battle mage, one that stood in heavy armor and traded spells with the enemy, using a melee weapon when those enemies got too  close. And any enemy of the Thalmor was a friend of hers.


“And what about these private training sessions we have heard rumors of?” asked Onmund. “And the stories that you are from another world, and Dragonborn.”


Nora thought for a moment. Should she lie to these impressionable young mages? They would find out the truth soon enough, and lying to them would lose their trust.


“I am Dragonborn, yes. And I am from another world, one in which magic doesn't work, as far as I know. We have technology on the level of the Dwemer. So it was quite the shock to end up here.”


“J'Zargo would like to know how you got here, Friend Nora? And why?”


So Nora told them the story of what had happened, starting with her life in the Commonwealth and ending with her arriving at the College. The apprentice mages sat silently as she spoke, totally absorbed in her narrative. “And there you have it. And I would appreciate it if none of this got to Ancano.”


“No problem, Friend Nora,” said J'Zargo, shaking his head. “That one is the enemy of this cat, and I will have nothing to do with him.”


The others agreed, and it seemed that the Thalmor was not a popular man in the College.


Nora decided to go to the Arcanaeum to see how Eldawyn and Sofia were doing, then go back to the inn with them. She had just entered the main hall when the Thalmor came out of the shadows to confront her.


“I've been wanting to talk with you, novice. Though not so much of a novice as you had presented as.”


“I have nothing to say to you,” growled Nora, trying to go around the Altmer.


Ancano grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him.


“Get your hands off of me,” hissed Nora, menace in her voice that would have caused most to step away from her. But not this arrogant bastard.


“I think I know what you are,” said the Altmer, his green eyes boring into hers. “But I want to make sure before I make my report. So, you will come with me and you will answer my questions.”


Nora was tempted to send the elf into the wall with Unrelenting Force. Doing that would confirm his suspicions, and she didn't want to make it easy for him. And the shout might kill the tall and slender elf, something that was sure to get her into hot water with the College. She decided another lesson might be in order.


The Dragonborn twisted away from his grip, going through the weak point, his thumb. She threw a palm strike at his face, a smooth steady movement that was fast enough while not revealing her full speed. The palm stopped, barely touching his nose. Nora hopped back on her right foot, raising her left into her body, cocking it, then sending a side kick toward the head of the Altmer. Again she stopped, the pad of her foot barely touching his nose, leaving it there for a couple of seconds before bringing it down. The Altmer stared at her with wide eyes.


“Don't try to take liberties with me,” said Nora, her voice rising. “And don't you dare touch me without my permission. Or I will kill you.”


The Altmer stepped back, determination on his face. He called magic to his hands, and Nora readied herself to hit him with a shout.


“What's going on here?” yelled Mirabelle Ervine, coming up behind Nora and putting a hand on the Dragonborn's shoulder. Tolfdir was with her, and Savos Aren seemed to appear out of nowhere behind Ancano.


“I was just going to ask this student some questions, as allowed in my position as advisor. And she attacked me.”


“He lies,” said Nora, eyes narrowing, her rage rising.


“We'll take care of this, student,” said Aren, his eyes never leaving the Thalmor agent. “Now Ancano. You have been warned about this behavior in the past. You are not to harass the students. One more incident like this and you will be escorted off the College grounds by the guards. And I will be with them.”


“Come with me, Nora,” said Mirabelle, putting an arm around the Dragonborn and leading her off. “I'm sorry. None of us want that bastard here, but a deal has been made with the Empire to allow the Thalmor access.”


“I thought this was Stormcloak territory?”


“Outside the College it is. But the College tries to stay above politics, which means, unfortunately, playing both sides.”


“Did I do something wrong?” asked Nora, wondering why the master mage was leading her into the Arcanaeum.


“Not at all,” said Mirabelle, stopping and looking into Nora's eyes. “If you had killed him, something I'm sure you could have done before he knew what had happened, there would be repercussions. Nothing we couldn't cover up, but the Thalmor would increase their scrutiny of the College. So I am glad that you didn't kill him. Let the archmage handle him, and if he approaches you again, seek out one of the senior instructors or Savos Aren and report his conduct. Savos will eject him, but then we will have another Thalmor assigned. And it's better to have one we know than another with unknown capabilities.”


“I understand,” said Nora, nodding. “I hate the Thalmor, but I would do nothing to cause problems for the College.”


“Good. Then we will speak no more of it. And Tolfdir will be leading an expedition to the excavations at Sarthal with the apprentice students. I think it might be a good idea if you went with them, get out of the College for five days or so. Let Ancano forget about your confrontation.”


Nora thought it a forlorn hope that the Altmer would forget anything in that short a time. But maybe getting out of the College would be a good idea.


“What about my training? And can I take my followers along? They're about to go stir crazy in that inn.”


“Tolfdir will be training you on the way,” said Mirabelle, nodding. “There will be camps on the way there and back, plus a couple of nights spent in the excavations, so you will have time. As far as your followers, I don't see why not. Tolfdir seems to take it for granted that it's a safe journey, and he's capable of defending himself. But there are many dangerous creatures out there on the ice plains. Additional security would be a good thing.”


“We're going on a field trip,” she told Eldawyn and Sofia when she greeted them in the Arcanaeum.


“What's a field trip?” asked Sofia, Eldawyn's expression showing that she didn't understand the term either.


“I'm going to the excavations at Sarthal,” she said, the words coming out fast in her excitement. “And I have permission to bring all of you along as security.”


“Will there be looting?” asked Sofia, and Eldawyn laughed.


“My dear Sofia. This will be a trip to a research excavation into ancient magic. They will not want tomb raiders taking their toys before they have a chance to study them.”


Sofia looked disappointed, but Nora was sure they would find something there to catch her interest. And Nora could buy a couple of spell books that would let the spellsword increase her own capabilities. Or ask Eldawyn to scribe some.


“When are we leaving?” asked Sofia, her own enthusiasm growing at the prospect of traveling.


“Day after tomorrow,” said Nora. “We can leave some of our gear behind, taking the tents and furs. And I want us to take everything of value with us, gems and gold. I wouldn't want to come back and find that we are dirt poor because some idiot cleaned us out.”


The next day Nora met with her floor mates, all of whom were going on the field trip. They were all taking excitedly, though Brelyna was somewhat worried about going out into the wilds of the Hold.


“And I guess you won't be coming along?” asked the Dunmer, looking sad. “Unless they promote you from the novice class before we leave.”


“I'm going,” said Nora, to the delight of her floor mates. “I've been promoted to apprentice. And even better news, my followers, six accomplished warriors and mages, will be coming with us, so you will be safe.”


That brought cheers from the others, and bottles of wine came out to be shared among the group. When the others were away she gave Onmund four spell tomes that Eldawyn had crafted. The Nord looked at her with a mixed expression of gratitude and exasperation.


“I'm not a beggar,” said the Nord, crossing his arms over his chest.


“I know you aren't, but isn't it a tradition here for nobility to become the patrons of Nords trying to attain something? Bards college, Mages college, things like that? Well, I am a Thane of two Holds, and wealthy, and I would like to be your patron.”


The young Nord still looked uncertain, and Nora let out a sigh. “Look, Onmund. Your family isn't helping you, and you are at the end of your resources. So let me help you. I have spell tomes of Oakflesh, Muffle, Fireball and Summon Flame Atronach. Surely useful to a student mage like you. So don't piss me off. You wouldn't like me pissed off, now would you?”


The wide-eyed young man shook his head, and Nora suppressed a laugh. Onmond looked so cute, Nora thought about seducing him on the spot. I'm here to help him, she thought, not to fuck him. Maybe later, when he wasn't feeling so grateful that any seduction would feel like a type of rape. And it wasn't like she was lacking in lovers.


That night Eldawyn instructed Nora in the scribing of spell tomes. It was something she would learn in the Adept class, but Nora wanted to get tomes scribed for Sofia and Onmund, though Elda had been making up some for the spellsword. The better Sofia was with magic, the stronger the party was, and the better their chances for survival.


“Later I will work with you on scribing scrolls,” said the Altmer, smiling. “I know you may never use them, but they have their uses. If you are low on magicka and need to cast a high-level spell, a scroll can come in handy. And scrolls given to those with little magical talent can allow them to throw spells like fireball into enemies you might not be in a position to handle yourself.”


So Nora spent a couple of hours working on scribing, ruining one tome and actually producing one, an easy fire bolt spell. Eldawyn had bought reams of the special paper and binders for their lessons from Enthir, the Bosmer instructor who had access to just about anything a student might want.


The morning of the trip the party gathered all of their packed animals and met the rest of the group in a large courtyard at the base of the College. There was Tolfdir, like a mother duck leading his ducklings. Everyone had a horse, a good thing, since going on foot would add at least an extra day. And for the instructor and sixteen apprentices there were seven pack animals, hauling food and tents for the class.


“There will be food and drink on the site,” said Tolfdir. “I just teleported them supplies last week. And a supply train should have arrived a day or so ago.”


“Couldn't we all teleport as well?” asked Nora, wondering if the trip across the ice was even necessary.


“Unfortunately, the teleportal to Saarthal went down, a recurring problem for some reason. I need to reestablish it, and I’m leery of bringing students through it. So, we are forced to ride.


“Is everyone ready to go?” he asked the class, getting many yells and nods, while others remained silent. “Not to worry. Nora here is an accomplished warrior, as are her six companions. So there is nothing to concerned yourself with.”


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