A/N: BIG thank you to silvermoser for making the Skyrim Elsanna Tumblr; it seems to have attracted more readers! GhostofWintersPast has been a rock for me, and I can't thank her enough. I also want to thank Requ (author of A Formal Arrangement), whom actually really gave me the initial push to write Elsanna fanfiction in the first place, and I haven't taken the time to thank her for that. If you haven't read AFA yet, go do it. Now. Don't even bother with this chapter. Just go read AFA.
Alright cherubs, enjoy!
Krev…Sister…I will not fail you. Blood for blood, I will have my revenge.
He had been following Anna's progress for months. Most other Silver Hand operations had been put on hold to allocate his best resources to tracking the Companion who took his sister's life from him. The incident at Gallow's Rock happened mere months ago, and the Companions made the mistake of overlooking one body…and that body, Hadalvar, became Hans' most trusted informant.
"She had red hair, braided in two. I believe she is The Circle member Aela's sister, Anna."
"Was this her initiation..?" Hans sneered.
"Yes. They swore her in the night before. I'm so sorry, Hans…"
"Silence! Leave me…"
Hadalvar sat across the room from Hans now, picking at his fingernails with a small knife while the fearless leader contemplated his next move. The sheet that served as the door to his tent flapped in the cold wind; their camp was distant enough from Windhelm and Winterhold both, but perfectly in-between. He had gathered twelve of his best warriors and scouts to join him in his pursuit.
Hans raised his head at the sound of panting; one of his men had returned.
"They've returned to the College, sir."
"Damn it all to Oblivion…" Hans hissed through clenched teeth, his fingertips gliding over the leather map spread out over the table. He needed an opportunity, needed her to leave the fortress if he was ever to get his hands on her. Attacking the College would be the most foolish thing he could ever do in his life.
All he could do was wait, and hope that Anna would leave the grounds. He was patient; anything for his sister.
The return journey to the College was spent in silence once again, with more questions than answers flowing through Anna's mind. She simply could not push aside what Elsa had said, and couldn't understand how she could hate who she was. Anna was proud of her Nord blood, her heritage and her family. Had Elsa truly been so poorly treated? Was that why she ran away? Not just from home, but why she continues to run from everything.
"The true motives behind the Night of Tears have been obscured to us by the passage of time, but I believe this was not a simple war of territory, or of control of Skyrim. I believe that what happened was a significant event based around something very particular."
Savos Aren swallowed and looked up to Tolfdir, who nodded for him to continue reading.
"The Nords found something when they built their city, buried deep in the ground."
"The orb…that must be what he's talking about." Tolfdir sat in the chair across from the Arch Mage. Elsa and Anna were leaning against the wall next to Mirabelle, and Urag was sat cross-legged on the floor; all eyes were on Savos, and all ears were hanging on every word.
"They attempted to keep it buried, but the elves learned of it and coveted it for themselves. Thus they assaulted Saarthal, their goal not to drive the Nords out but to secure this power for themselves."
Elsa bit her lip as she lost herself within her thoughts; maybe there was justification for her father's and Jarl Ulfric's hatred towards the elves after all. She never really paid attention to the politics, but even within this book there was evidence that the elves truly wanted to dominate the Nords, and take over whatever land they could claim.
Anna's hands were balled into fists, and her jaw clenched as she glanced at Elsa.
"I believe Ysgramor knew something of what the elves would find under Saarthal, and rallied together his people to keep the elves from gaining it. When Nords once again controlled Skyrim, this power was buried deep below the earth and sealed away."
Savos closed the book and furrowed his brow. "What exactly have we found?" He shook his head and brought his hand up to scratch his head.
Tolfdir rolled his tongue around in his mouth as he thought for a moment while everyone else remained silent. "I think we should all get some sleep for now; Elsa has had a long journey, and the hour is late. Perhaps with fresh minds we can better figure this out."
All agreed and dispersed. After washing up, Elsa settled into her bed and doused the sconces on the walls with a snap of her finger. Anna let out a yawn as she settled on her rather elaborate bedroll; it was practically a legitimate bed; there were so many furs.
"Anna?" Elsa whispered softly.
The last thing Anna expected was for Elsa to initiate a conversation, especially after that disagreement at the camp. Nevertheless, she felt a sense of relief at the opportunity to lessen at least some of the tension between them. "Hmm?"
"Why did you run?" Elsa asked hesitantly, and settled her hands atop her belly, lacing her fingers within themselves as she stared up at the hanging moss dangling from the ceiling.
"I…after you healed my hand?" Anna suddenly felt hot. Her cheeks flushed and she was thankful that the room was too dark to show.
"Yes. Why did you run?"
Come on Anna, think! 'Sorry Elsa, your touch made me suddenly want to hump your leg like a hound would a bitch.'
"…I was overwhelmed." She shut her eyes tight, immediately hating her answer, but it was the only one she could give.
"I see." Elsa pursed her lips and turned her head towards Anna's direction. "At least it wasn't an ice bolt, or an arrow."
"Right." Anna replied quietly and rolled her eyes at the subtle slight against her, shifting once more.
The air was thick with unspoken words. Sleep did not come easily to Elsa that night; her thoughts drifted between the day's events, her sister, her remaining family…and Anna.
Anna let out a loud yawn, blinking the sleep out of her eyes as they focused through the haze of slumber to see Elsa making her bed.
Prim and perfect. No surprises there. Anna scoffed inwardly as she stood and followed Elsa downstairs. The two found Tolfdir already up and hovering around the orb.
"Elsa! Good morning. And to you too, Companion."
"Anna, sir." She nodded and gave him a little smile, which he returned before focusing his attention back on the orb.
"Ladies, I just can't seem to tear myself away. Whatever this is, its beauty is like nothing I've ever seen before." His eyes were wide with awe as they roamed the artifact.
Anna nodded in agreement, absentmindedly watching Elsa.
"If you wouldn't mind indulging me for a moment, I've made a few observations," he raised his arm and moved his finger along a row of etchings that glowed with the pulsating aqua light. "I'm sure you've already noticed these markings, Elsa. They're quite unlike anything we've seen before, no known languages. Dwemer, Daedric…not even Falmer. None of them are a match." He sighed softly and turned to look at Elsa. "Quite curious indeed."
"I am not familiar with languages other than Norse and a little self-taught Elven." Elsa confessed, mildly ashamed of her lack of knowledge and experience in comparison. She reminded herself of why she was here; to learn. To learn from people like Tolfdir, and this right now was an incredible opportunity. Historic, even.
"Now, I'm not sure that you're quite as attuned as I am, given my extensive years of experience, but can you feel that?" His expression turned hopeful as he watched Elsa approach the orb slowly. She closed her eyes and gave him a quick nod; the magicka was practically overflowing from it, surrounding her body.
Anna raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms, unsure of whether she should be bored or interested in this whole exchange.
"This marvelous object," he continued. "It practically radiates magicka, and yet it's unlike anything I've felt before."
"Have you been up for long?" Elsa asked, still regarding orb.
Anna's ear twitched at the sound of approaching footsteps, and she turned her head in its direction. Soft steps but deliberate, non-threatening. She sniffed the air. That Elf…
"Arch-Mage Aren and I have been up for a little while; he's hard at work with Urag and hopefully we'll have more information soon." He joined Elsa's side. The footsteps became louder, and Anna's eyes narrowed; Ancano had entered the chamber.
"I'm afraid I must intrude. It is urgent that I speak with your student immediately." His tone was cutting, authoritative. Anna suppressed a growl when he approached Elsa purposefully.
"Why, I…this is most inappropriate! We are involved in serious research here!" Tolfdir's protests fell on deaf ears; Ancano was almost staring at Elsa now. Staring with…contempt? Anna couldn't decipher. She allowed her arms to fall to her sides and walked up behind him, balling her fists so hard that her knuckles cracked.
"Yes," Ancano hissed. "I have no doubt of its gravity. This, however, is a matter that cannot wait."
"The audacity…" Tolfdir's jaw tightened and his eyes almost looked as though they would pop out of his skull. "I've never been interrupted like this before. Elsa, I suppose we will have to continue this later, when we can avoid interruptions."
"I don't understand…" Elsa's brow furrowed as she looked to Ancano.
"Really? Well, allow me to clarify the situation." He answered in a patronizing tone, resting his hands on his hips. "I'd like to know why there's someone claiming to be from the Psijic Order here in the College."
Elsa's eyes widened and her heart began to pound in her chest.
"More importantly, I'd like to know why he would ask for you, specifically." He folded his arms and took a quick glance at Anna before looking towards the stairwell leading to the Arch-Mage's quarters. "We're going to go have a little chat and find out exactly what he wants."
"Aren't you just an advisor here?" Anna snapped, drawing nearer to the Elf in a threatening posture.
He raised his head as if to look down at her. "Hold your tongue, Companion. I report to the Aldmeri Dominion, and this situation will not be ignored." He turned his back to the wolf and mage. "Don't worry, you can return to your petty squabbles and meaningless 'research' as soon as this matter is resolved." While walking forward, he continued as they followed at a distance.
"Now, you are going to speak to this…monk, and find out why he is here, and then he will be removed from the College grounds."
Anna's eyes narrowed. Although the Companions tended to stay away from politics, she and her sister knew enough to know that the Aldmeri Dominion were at war with the Nords, and not to be trusted. The elves threatened their way of life, and wanted nothing more than to make the Nords subservient. Aela was right, Ulfric Stormcloak was right…there was something wrong about the elves.
Savos Aren and Mirabelle were standing with a man dressed in strange robes, robes Anna had never seen. She tilted her head as her eyes grazed over his form, feeling a strange tingling sensation; the world seemed to stop.
Elsa sighed at the familiar buzzing in her ear as time indeed did stand still, just as it had in Saarthal. The Psijic Monk who stood before her was not the same, however. He approached her slowly as the world lay suspended and the familiar blue glow blanketed the room.
"Please do not be alarmed, I mean you no harm." His voice was soothing silk in her ears, warm and soft. Her head spun mildly as she breathed in again finally, listening. "It is good to meet you in person."
"What do you want with me?" Elsa asked quietly, cautiously observing his eyes.
"I cannot do this for long; we must be brief." His expression fell solemnly. "The situation here at your College is of dire importance, and previous attempts to contact you have failed. I believe it is due to the very source of our concern: this object…The Eye of Magnus, as your people have taken to calling it."
Elsa blinked and her brow furrowed in confusion. "My people? You mean the Nordic People? The Eye of Magnus?" She shook her head, trying to make sense of it.
"Yes, The Eye of Magnus. The energy coming from it has prevented us from reaching you with the visions you have already seen. The longer it remains here, the more dangerous it becomes, and so I have come here personally to tell you it must be dealt with."
"How? What is it, even?" Elsa's hands rose to emphasize her distress. She had barely begun her studies, and now she was supposed to save the College…how? "What am I to do?"
"Unfortunately, the future is as obscured to us as it is to you; the overwhelming power of the Eye makes it difficult for us to see. I fear I have already overstepped my boundaries enough, but I can offer this: seek the Augur of Dunlain here in your College. His perception may be more coherent than ours."
"The…Augur? Who is that?" Elsa asked.
"He was once a student here at the College. Now he is…something different."
"I don't…where do I find him?"
The monk frowned. "I am…unsure. He is somewhere within these walls; perhaps one of your colleagues know of his location, but now I must leave you. We will continue to watch and guide you as best as we can, mage. It is within you to succeed, never forget that."
The blue glow sizzled away and the air shifted once again. Elsa's skin prickled with the sensation as the world slowly regained momentum. Anna turned her head towards Elsa, and she wore an almost knowing expression on her face. Everyone else was blinking, confused and easily fooled by the monk's ruse.
"I'm sorry, were you about to say something?" Savos Aren looked to the monk. Ancano crossed his arms impatiently and Mirabelle readjusted her robes. Urag shook his head and leaned against the nearest pillar.
The monk did not reply.
"Well? What is the meaning of this?" Ancano snipped almost viciously. The monk simply offered him a small smile.
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Don't play coy. You asked to see a specific member of the College, here she is." He nodded towards Elsa. "Now what is it you wanted?"
"There has been a misunderstanding. Clearly I should not be here." The Psijic representative looked towards the doorway behind Anna. "I shall simply take my leave."
"W-what trickery is this?" Ancano's arms unfolded and he stepped forward. "You're not going anywhere until I find out what you're up to!"
The monk raised his hands defensively, continuing to play his role. "I am not 'up to' anything, I apologize if I have offended in any way." Disregarding any potential further protest, the monk turned away from Ancano and the rest of the group, and disappeared down the stairwell. Anna smirked, noting Ancano's mounting frustration, and instant relief washed over her as he left their company. Anna wasn't overly biased in most cases, but that Elf in particular…was unsettling.
"We will see about this…" Ancano hissed, following after the unexpected visitor.
Savos shook his head in wonder and turned to Urag. "A monk from the Psijic Order, after all these years…and then he just leaves."
Once Elsa was certain that the High Elf was out of earshot, she approached the wizards and Urag; her hands were nervously folding and unfolding within one another as her eyes searched the other three pairs. "Have you ever heard of 'The Augur of Dunlain'?"
"The Augur?" Mirabelle was the first to answer; her brow furrowed as the other two stood wide eyed at the question. "That's nothing you need to concern yourself with, Elsa."
"Where on earth did you hear that name, Elsa?" Savos questioned.
"The monk, he told me to seek out The Augur." Elsa swallowed hard, still looking to Mirabelle.
"How? Did he stop time as you say was done in Saarthal?" Savos continued, interested.
"Yes, exactly. He told me once again that the Order would be watching, and would guide me when possible. The orb seems to be inhibiting their ability to 'see' my progress, apparently." Elsa began chewing her bottom lip, afraid that she was about to find that this whole venture was only going to get worse. Their expressions were indicative enough.
"It was an experiment gone horribly wrong, and his ghost still roams the halls, they say." Urag offered.
"Tolfdir was here at the time, he may be the most capable of answering your questions." Mirabelle sighed and shook her head as she turned to follow the path their previous company had taken. Savos nodded in agreement and gave Elsa a small encouraging smile.
"Keep us apprised of your findings, Elsa. You have already come so far."
"Well now, there's a name I haven't heard in some time…" Tolfdir slowly rose from his chair, watching Elsa's eyes as though she had asked him a question whose answer she couldn't possibly be prepared for. Anna watched his body language, seeking a hint of just how dangerous the inquiry was, but he gave no negative signals. She couldn't smell fear nor apprehension, but rather, familiarity in his scent.
"It's been years since I've spoken with him. How did you even come to learn of his existence?" Tolfdir began stroking his beard as he awaited Elsa's answer.
"The same way I learned of the orb; the Psijic monk stopped time again and had a conversation with me."
"Again? How fascinating! Well, The Augur was once a student, a brilliant and accomplished wizard. He delved into magic in a way no one had seen before. But I think he became too focused on just how much power he could acquire, and that's what led to the accident."
"The accident? You mean…the Great Collapse?" Elsa's eyebrow rose, and Anna immediately interjected.
"Wait, is he dangerous!?" The warrioress postured defensively.
"No, he is merely a knowledgeable entity now. Completely harmless, I assure you. If you need to speak with him, ladies, you will find him in The Midden." The older man turned to sit down once again.
"What is The Midden?" Anna asked before Elsa had the chance.
"The basement of the College, as it were. He has taken residence in a far corner where he is not easily disturbed. There is a hatch on the Northern part of the courtyard that will lead you straight to him."
"Alright…then, that is our next step." Elsa sighed, looking to Anna and clearing her throat quietly.
"Do tell him 'hello' for me, will you?" The old mage smiled, and the girls nodded before taking their leave.
The dank bowels of the College reeked of moist rock, vegetation, and death. A humid mist was hanging in the air that clung relentlessly to their clothing and skin as they ventured through the narrow halls. Skeletal remains, abandoned and rotting bedrolls, among other evidence of dwellers were scattered about the various corners they passed; some skeletons still walked but were immediately impaled by precisely aimed ice spikes shooting from Elsa's palms. No point in wasting arrows today.
Elsa could feel the magicka emanating from what she imagined could only be the Augur himself; it was much like the aura of the orb, but not as overwhelming and inviting. Anna blinked when she noticed the temperature drop as they journeyed into the lower levels, and shivered at the sight of ice coating the walls around them. Her breath plumed out of her lips steadily and she looked to Elsa bewildered.
"Aren't you cold?"
"The cold never bothered me. I think he's this way, I can feel him." The blonde continued forward, determined to get this over with. She knew that she would not be pleased with whatever this 'Augur' had to say; it would likely lead them into another ancient crypt, or an old Nordic ruin, or a cave…by the nine she hoped there wouldn't be any caves involved.
As they neared the end of the hallway, a door greeted them in the distance. A disembodied voice echoed around them, which Anna found very displeasing. Magic was too surprising, too unpredictable.
"Your perseverance will only lead you to disappointment."
Elsa stopped in front of the door and drew in a long breath, the fists at her sides clenching defiantly. Her eyes followed along the grains of wood on the door in front of her as she pondered how to respond. Anna growled low in her throat and reached behind for her bow.
"I need answers, Augur." Elsa's tone was firm, but not demanding. There was a momentary silence.
"Still you persist? Very well, you may enter."
The door opened on its own, and the pair was almost blinded by the magnificent blue light that greeted them from beyond the threshold. Anna abandoned the plan to draw her weapon, and followed her charge into the small room. A cylindrical font sat in the middle of the room, occupied by the source of the light which was hovering above the stonework much like the orb from Saarthal.
"So…you're the Augur of Dunlain." Anna said plainly.
"I am that which you have been seeking." The voice was clearer, but no more pleasant than before. Anna winced slightly at the sharpness of its register. "Your efforts are in vain. It has already begun."
"What has already begun?" Elsa asked, worry crossing her features.
"Those who have sent you have not told you what they seek. What you seek."
"And what is it I am seeking?"
"You seek that which all who wield magic seek; knowledge." The ball pulsed and then dimmed, offering little relief from its intensity. "You shall find this: knowledge will corrupt. It will destroy. It will consume. You seek meaning, shelter in knowledge. You will not find it."
"I don't understand…" Elsa whispered to the entity, shoulders sinking tiredly.
"The Elf you know as Ancano, sought the same thing. It shall lead to his end as it has so many others. He seeks information about the Eye, but what he will find shall be quite different. His path will once again cross yours in time, but first you must find that which you need."
"What do we need?" Anna walked up to Elsa's side, showing the confidence Elsa was beginning to lose.
"To know more about the Eye of Magnus, and to avoid the disaster of which you are not yet aware."
Anna's eyes narrowed; she was growing tired of riddle-like answers. She needed targets, subjects and bodies, not words and further confusion. Is it so impossible for mages to speak plainly?
"To see through Magnus' Eye without being blinded, you require his staff. Events now spiral quickly towards the inevitable centre, so you must act with haste. Take this knowledge to your Arch Mage."
The air thinned to a normal state as the light dissipated, leaving glittering wisps dancing in the subtle breeze.
Anna's muscles tensed and primed as the adrenaline coursed through them. What in Oblivion was that thing? How in Oblivion did it speak? She wasn't quite sure how to stomach the experience; a seemingly unnatural light just spoke to them…the more she was being exposed to in this job, the more she understood why the Companions, and the Nords in general, disliked magic; what was stopping that ball of light from exploding and blinding them? What other damage could it do?
"…Anna?" Elsa's hand on her shoulder guided her thoughts back to the task at hand. "Anna, let's go."
"Wait…how can you just…that light just spoke to us! It-it-it-"
"Yes, and?" Elsa simply stared at Anna as if she were the strange one. She regarded her for a few seconds and raised an eyebrow. "Did it frighten you?"
Yes. "Frighten me? No, never! It just…I've never…it was really strange, alright?"
"You're going to see a lot stranger, I'm sure. It seems that this is only the beginning." Disappointment laced her words as she responded to Anna's defensive retort, and her expression fell dreadfully.
Anna's brow knitted; a thought crossed her mind. Are you afraid, too?
"Did you find him?"
Elsa nodded, smoothing her bangs back from her forehead as she regained her composure. "We need to find the staff of Magnus." The words were simple, but their affect was profane. If Savos had looked surprised at the mention of the Augur, he was absolutely stunned now.
"Th-the staff of Magnus? Well…I'd certainly love to have such a powerful staff, but I'm not really sure that-"
"It's connected to the orb." Anna grumbled impatiently, having tolerated enough words. Her muscles seared with the burning desire to kill something again, and a relic such as an ancient staff would have to be located somewhere that would give her ample opportunity to release that need.
"And how do you know this?" Savos glared at the Companion, clearly unimpressed with the interruption.
"We spoke with the Augur of Dunlain." Elsa stepped in front of Anna, breaking their eye contact. The Arch Mage's expression softened as he looked to the apprentice. His shoulders relaxed and he nodded.
"He specifically mentioned the Staff of Magnus?"
Elsa nodded again.
"I…I'm impressed with your initiative, Elsa. We must follow up on this." He began to pace, stroking his braided beard as he looked to the floor in thought. "Something as specific and ancient as the Staff of Magnus…I'm not sure we'd ever…Mirabelle!" He snapped his fingers and looked to the two with excited eyes.
"Mirabelle?" Elsa echoed.
"Yes! She mentioned the staff to me somewhat recently. Why don't you see if she can tell you anything?" He smiled, then turned toward one of his shelves. He reached out to a display case and open its latch. "Before you go, Elsa. I want to give you this." He held a beautifully crafted circlet, which glowed with an enchantment spell sealed to its metal and azure gems. "This circlet will enhance your magicka several folds; I hope it will help you on your journey."
Elsa blinked and reached out to take the trinket from his hands. The cool metal hummed in her palm, and thoughts of Wuunferth back in Windhelm surfaced in her mind. He had taught her a few enchantment spells, mostly for daggers and clothing, but once he had her enchant a necklace with a spell that would strengthen the wearer, giving them an edge in battle. She had meant to give that token to her father, but instead it still lay in a box in her room.
"Arch-Mage…thank you." Elsa gingerly packed it into her side bag. "We will find her immediately."
"Elsa…you have proven yourself to be more than just an apprentice. There are great things ahead for you. I can feel it." He smiled, watching them walk away, a sense of pride swimming in his chest and belly.
He walked to the window that overlooked the courtyard, and watched the sky as a light dusting of snow began to fall.