Summary: An attempt at an RP-style play-through of Skyrim, with a story written based on the journal mod I used to keep track of what happened, separated into ten parts.

Pairing: Gen with a het slant

Beta: Batsutousai

Spoilers: Skyrim, All DLC, Mods (courtesy of Nexus)

Warnings: Flippancy? Mary-Sue-ish? Rampant sarcasm.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Bethesda. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Notes: Includes references to various mods I use, including but not limited to, in no particular order: Live Another Life, Dwemer Luggage, Ritual Armor of Boethiah, Chesko's Wearable Lantern, Convenient Horses, Elysium Estate, Take Notes!, Better Vampires, Balanced Magic, Forgotten Magic Redone, Males of Skyrim?, and so on. I have around a hundred mods, and I'll be damned if I list all of them.

The name Yvara was taken from looking at the UESP listings for female Breton characters from various Elder Scrolls games, so that I had something I knew was "lore friendly", but wasn't being used in Skyrim. The story also includes a non-existent made-up item because relying on the Face Sculptor wouldn't work and wouldn't be discreet enough (meaning I used showracemenu when necessary).

As for the pairing, I don't like how most people you can marry are either fugly or get ripped away from their lives. Yeah, because seeing Argis baking pies in whatever home is so adorable when he should be stalking around wailing on hostiles. Yvara hasn't done anything except appreciating the view and some vague flirting, but if you want to believe that she's secretly indulging in bedsport offscreen with certain people, you go right ahead.

Also, I almost never write in first person, but this one seems to lend itself to that, based on the notes I've been taking along the way (Take Notes! journal mod) as I play. Yvara is a bit flippant or tongue-in-cheek and it just doesn't come across right in third person. I think it has to do with not having an established character to keep in, you know, character, so first person is just easier to work with. She may also come across as Mary-Sueish, but part of that has to do with her benefits and assuming that perks unlock automatically.

Uh... since I'm writing this based on the journal mod it's weirdly descriptive and slow in places, and "wow, a week passed and I have no idea what happened" in others. Meaning, all or some of it may be hella boring to some people, but that's not my problem. Either you'll enjoy it or you won't. I probably won't write in loving detail a bunch of tombs, but there's probably going to be at least a passing mention of places she goes. This is a different kind of story from my usual in that sense, where I usually try to be economical and only include things that advance either the plot or the characters. This? Anything is up for grabs. Including very short sections for any particular day. Don't like it? Don't bitch to me about it. You were warned.

There's a lot of deviation and kludging together of dialogue options. There's also absurdity from actual events in the game (either by design, things the official or unofficial patches don't cover, or just catching people at the wrong time, so most of the stuff that comes across as a little bizarre really did happen in the play-through I journaled, which explains why most of the time she's jogging everywhere instead of "cheating" with fast travel). Uh, I also haven't fiddled with the rate of time or adjusted the dates to reflect a larger Skyrim so the dates are pretty much as-is, which again strengthens the Mary Sue qualities.

Missing dialogue (for Savos Aren) was used in chapters six and seven, courtesy of UESP. It was kind of a shame it was left out, because it really adds something to the whole thing. And you'd never know it unless you were curious and poked around, or had the right sources to tap.

Amusingly, a mod I have makes the dust motes down in Blackreach into snow, so I have to assume the devs were hopped up on skooma to make dust and snow from the same source. I should not be seeing my "whimsical" variety of snowflakes underground, yet I am.

1.1 The College of Winterhold

First Lessons
Last Seed, 17th, 4E 201

I arrived not long after dawn, having spent the night at The Frozen Hearth. An Altmer mage by the name of Faralda escorted me up and pointed me in the direction of Master-Wizard Mirabelle Ervine, the Arch-Mage's second. I approached, but when I saw she was in conversation I hung back a bit to wait.

"I believe I've made myself rather clear," Mirabelle was saying.

"Yes, of course. I'm simply trying to understand the reasoning behind the decision," her companion replied. He was wearing Thalmor Robes so I assumed he was an Altmer. The snootiness of his voice didn't help the image.

"You may be used to the Empire bowing to your every whim, but I'm afraid you'll find the Thalmor receive no such treatment here. You are a guest of the College, here at the pleasure of the Arch-Mage. I hope you appreciate the opportunity."

Well, that was putting him in his place, though I expect she just made an enemy.

"Yes, of course. The Arch-Mage has my thanks."

The mer's voice was both insincere and frustrated, but hopefully it would remain none of my business.

Mirabelle closed him off with, "Very good. Then we're done here."

It was only after the Thalmor had walked away that I continued my approach and introduced myself.

"Another new student. I'm surprised at how many of you there are lately," she said, then waved a hand and began walking. She led me into the Hall of Attainment and indicated the first room to the right. "This is where you'll be staying. This bed and desk are yours. Please try to be considerate of others and also keep your voice down while inside, as others may be working on research or . . . delicate experiments."

I frowned slightly given there weren't any doors on any of the rooms and resolved to at least hang up something to serve as a basic means of privacy, but nevertheless dropped off the majority of my things to one side of the bed. Mirabelle pointed at the wardrobe in the room. "Inside is a set of clothing, enchanted for mages. Every new student gets a set. Now, it's only a basic set, but it's certainly adequate."

"And if this one gets damaged beyond repair. . . ?" I asked curiously.

"Ah, then you would need to pay for another," she replied. "You can ask any of the trainers here about that, and you'll meet them as you go along. You've already met Faralda."


"Yes. Students are expected to be proactive and study on their own for the most part, but you can pay one of them for specific training to help you along if you're having issues."

"Not a problem," I said. I hadn't come here as a dirt poor student, after all, but I had every intention of being careful with the money I had. I wouldn't exactly call it an inheritance considering that I'd squirreled coin away obsessively in preparation for what I really wanted to do, but it served as one. The main thing I'd done was buy a horse. He was a sturdy beast well suited for the often frigid conditions of Skyrim and could carry rather a lot of goods for me. The point being, I could afford new robes if the ones the College gave for free met a bad end, but I'd rather not have to. The same went for training. Better to learn it through practice.

I was then shown a few features of the hall, including where food was normally set out for whenever the inhabitants were hungry, then guided back outside. Mirabelle pointed right, past the entrance, and said, "The Hall of Countenance lies over there, a mirror to this tower. The higher ranked mages usually live there. The central tower is the Hall of the Elements and it contains the Arch-Mage's quarters, the Arcanaeum, and where classes are generally held." She paused for a moment, then said, "Actually, Tolfdir has a class scheduled to start in just a few minutes. Why don't you head on in and join the other students."

I gave her a polite nod and backtracked into the Hall of Attainment and to my room so I could change, still unhappy about the lack of a door. After that I returned outside and to the Hall of the Elements. There were double doors to either side made from wood in the entryway, and ahead was more of a gate, fashioned with the symbol of the College. I could see a number of people already inside, so I pushed one side open and slipped in.

As soon as I got close enough the presumed Tolfdir (and I presumed based on him facing the other three) said, "Welcome, welcome! We were just beginning. Please, stay and listen. So, as I was saying, the first thing to understand is that magic is, by its very nature, volatile and dangerous. Unless you can control it, it can and will destroy you."

One of the students spoke, a female by voice, and said, "Sir, I think we all understand that fairly well. We wouldn't be here if we couldn't control magic."

I glanced off to the side. Handling known spells is one thing, but I gave her credit for being confident.

"Of course, Brelyna. Of course. You all possess some inherent magical ability. That much is not being questioned. What I'm talking about is true control, mastery of magic. It takes years, if not decades, of practice and study."

Well, I had time, I thought, and so did the girl if the way she spoke said anything about her race. The only reason I could tell for one of them for sure was the tail lazily waving about.

The Khajiit said, "Then what are we waiting for? Let's get started!"

"Please, please! This is exactly what I'm talking about. Eagerness must be tempered with caution, or else disaster is inevitable."

The third student, also male—I would have to learn their names later—said, "But we've only just arrived here—you've no idea what any of us are capable of. Why not give us a chance to show you what we can do?"

Tolfdir looked directly at me then. "You've been quiet so far. What do you think we should do?"

Oh, thanks. I was content to just listen, but no. "I think caution is very important, but too much caution means nobody ever gets anything done, and that danger can be an excellent teaching tool."

"An interesting outlook," Tolfdir replied. "Well, I suppose we can try something practical. In continuing with 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?" He looked at me again and added, "Would you mind helping me with the demonstration? Are you at all familiar with ward spells?"

I suppose I deserved being singled out a second time. "Yes. I've used them before," I said with a nod. I didn't bother to mention that I almost never remembered to.

"Well, then this should be no problem at all for you. Please stand on that seal there. You others, please move aside."

I stood where he indicated and readied a basic ward spell in my left hand.

"Now, cast the ward spell, and keep it up. You'll have to keep your ward up, or else this won't work. I don't want to hurt you. Hold still. . . ."

He waited a few seconds after I had it up—to let it charge—then cast a fireball at me, which impacted harmlessly. "Excellent work! Well, I think this is a good start. Now, do any of you need me to teach you a ward spell?"

Roughly fifteen minutes later we were paired off, Brelyna (a Dunmer) with Onmund (a Nord) and me with J'zargo. J'zargo was strangely competitive in my opinion. Now, I realized that most people would see a Khajiit and automatically assume they're addicted to skooma and traded in stolen goods. And for a lot of them that may be true, partly due to how they perceive the stuff. But I'd seen just as many other races do the same, so it was hardly fair. It was rather like how people see an Altmer and might automatically think Thalmor, but that's also not guaranteed.

At any rate, J'zargo seemed strangely competitive, almost boastful, but it was interesting in its own way. We kept switching partners every so often, taking short breaks in between, and Tolfdir seemed happy enough that all four of us were proficient. Before he ended the session he said, "The College has undertaken a fascinating excavation in the ruins of Saarthal nearby. It's an excellent learning opportunity and you'll all be able to go. I'll make sure a notice is posted in the Hall of Attainment to that effect. In the meantime keep practicing the spells you know, preferably in pairs, over the coming days."

J'zargo seemed intent on firming up his aim and stayed there, using one of the permanent mage lights as a target. Onmund eyed him and gave a tiny nod, as though to say it was an excellent idea, but left moments later. Brelyna wandered off, muttering to herself. On that note I took my own departure, back to my door-less room, and set about unpacking. When that was complete I wandered down to the town, or what remained of it.

I was headed for the inn when I walked close enough to overhear two Nords arguing about money and drink. Snide comments about the College aside it sounded depressingly familiar. The male stormed off toward the inn, presumably to pour more gold into the proprietor's hands in exchange for mead, and she just stood there, staring helplessly. It was horribly nosy of me, but I strolled over and attempted to find out what it was about by plastering a commiserating look on my face.

She launched into a rant about the conditions in Winterhold and how hard it was to earn any kind of coin—really, the only thing keeping her shop afloat was people who came to gawk or were curious about the College.

"You made a bad deal?" I prodded.

"Yeah," she said with a sigh. "It was stupid of me. I shouldn't have believed the story and just refused the trade. But I didn't, and now I'm stuck with this worthless junk."

Unfortunately, she wasn't showing me the "junk" she referred to. "Oh. The story was that good?"

"Some line about this claw thing and Yngol Barrow. He said it was worth more than its weight in gold if I took it back there. Something about placing it back in Yngol's chamber, I don't know. What was I thinking? Even if it were true, I'm not setting foot in some ancient tomb, filled with who knows what. Do you want to see it?"

I thought about that briefly. The adventurer who sold it to her was probably either a coward who spooked at the slightest thing, or fled when he ran into something beyond his skill to handle. The claw itself sounded interesting enough, and would make for a good decoration if nothing else. A talking point, essentially. "Yes, actually," I said, then followed her into her shop.

She went behind the counter and rummaged the shelves underneath for a moment, then placed it on the surface. It was exactly what she said, basically. A claw, admittedly a bit stylized, with a rosy patina to it and gem-like talons at the end of each claw. "I'll take it off your hands," I said.

"You will?" she said with undisguised relief, but then her expression hardened. "Fifty septims, but I'll hold no responsibility at all if you go there and get yourself killed."

I smiled and reached into the coin purse I'd brought along, pulling out the requisite amount. "I don't have any idea if I'll ever go there," I said, "but I like the looks of it." We made the exchange and I tucked the claw away, making a mental note about the barrow, then said, "I was wondering—do you carry any fabrics or related supplies?"

She raised a brow at me in confusion.

"I want to make a curtain of sorts. The door to my room is actually just the frame. I thought I could cobble something together and hang it up."

"Oh, I see," she replied. "I'll have to look around and see what I have. I'm not sure how long that will take."

"Well," I allowed, "I was going to get something over at the inn, so I can check back in an hour or so?"

"That sounds fine," she replied.

"Then I'll see you in a bit," I said, and headed to the inn.

I'd been given to understand that innkeepers were usually the first to get notices from the local Jarl regarding bounties because inns and taverns were where people usually all congregated at some point in the day, and I couldn't imagine that the average Jarl wanted various townsfolk traipsing in and out of their halls to bother their steward.

I had forgotten to confirm it the day before so I did then with Dagur, the proprietor, ordered some mead, then found a seat and sat back to listen to the bard and any conversation. I'd gotten into town pretty late so I hadn't spent much time in the common room. Unfortunately the place was nearly empty of anyone aside from the innkeeper's family, so I soon left and wandered around town for a bit.

In the daylight it was much worse than I'd thought. There were half-razed buildings that no one had ever made an attempt to fix scattered around, most nearer to the College. The Collapse had really messed this place up. It was depressing and I could see why people didn't spend much time here. On the other hand, if no one ever fixed what was left—

After I'd had my fill of the town I went back to the shop to see that Brina had stacked a number of things on the counter in preparation for my return. I was delighted to see several bolts of fabric, needles, a few wooden poles, and thread. After deciding what fabric I wanted I simply bought the entire bolt, along with the other things I need. I was just about to leave when a thought occurred to me, so I turned back and asked, "Do you have any metal bits that are otherwise useless? I didn't see a blacksmith in town, so. . . ." She looked confused again so I added, "For weights in the hem at the bottom of the curtain, to keep it from being blown about every time the exterior door is opened."

Apparently her memory of what she had on hand had been refreshed while looking for the things I had already purchased and she was able to move with surety toward a bin along one wall. Another session of haggling ensued, and then I returned to the College to begin my project in and around reading and practicing.

Several days later I noticed a parchment had been tacked up in the dining room upstairs. Tolfdir was letting us know that we would be going to Saarthal the next day—or at least, those of us who were willing. And despite knowing next to nothing about any of my fellow students, I figured they would all jump at the opportunity.

Under Saarthal
Last Seed, 20th, 4E 201

The next morning a few hours after dawn we gathered at the front gate and followed Tolfdir down into town and off to the west, along a path up a hill between two of the buildings. Along the way we had to contend with wildlife taking exception to us walking through their territory, but with five mages on the trip it wasn't much of a problem.

I rather liked that the people of Skyrim set cairns in place with remnants of fabric anchored between the stones. Considering how often it snowed that far north it could be very difficult to see where you were going and the flapping fabric was eye-catching enough to keep you to the established paths, even in conditions approaching a blizzard.

About an hour later we came upon the dig site itself. I hadn't actually seen much of anything on my way here so this was new. It was an old, old ruin so the entrance being so far beneath the present surface was not a surprise.

Just outside Tolfdir stopped and said, "And here we are. 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. This is an exciting opportunity for us. To be able to study such an early civilization, and the magics they used. . . . Well, are there any questions before we begin?"

"What's so important about this place?" J'zargo asked.

"We're particularly interested in the prevalence of magical seals placed on the tombs here. It's rather unlike anything we've encountered."

J'zargo nodded as Brelyna asked, "What are we looking for aside from that?"

"Anything!" Tolfdir replied. "Anything at all that might be of interest. That's why I adore this location. We have no idea what we're going to find. And if, along the way, my message about the dangers of magic should happen to sink in for a few students, that would be a happy coincidence. Any other questions?"

I had none and Onmund stayed silent, so Tolfdir opened the doors and headed in. It did not open into an entryway or room, but rather a corridor, so it was several minutes walk before we emerged at the top of a deep room. There were stone pillars with flattened caps, around which were wooden ramps leading downward. Off to one side I could see a barred-off corridor, but no visible way to open it up.

"Ah, yes, here we are," Tolfdir said. "Yvara, why don't you see if you can assist Arniel Gane. He's one of our scholars, here working on cataloging our finds. I expect he'd appreciate some help in locating any additional magical artifacts here in the ruins. Any enchanted items will do; the usefulness of the enchantment is irrelevant. If you find anything, the class can look it over. Arniel is deeper in, but you shouldn't be able to get lost."

I nodded and started down, but could hear him saying, "Now, let's see. What shall we have the rest of you do? Brelyna, my dear, why don't you search for warding magics? Anything designed to keep people out. Don't interact with any, just identify them. Onmund, please search that area over there. See if you notice any . . . residual energies. Alive or undead. J'zargo. . . . Ah! Why don't you verify that we're the first ones here? Look for any amount of tampering with the tombs. All right, everyone. Let's be careful, but have fun!"

I meandered through the area, dropping straight off the sides of things on whim, or jumping up instead of doing things properly, and eventually found Arniel. He was a twitchy sort of fellow. I let him know what Tolfdir said and he nodded, directing me north. Oddly, he was just standing there in an alcove, bent over a table in a contemplative pose. Never even looked at me. And there was nothing actually on the table but a lantern. Was there some mysterious and arcane knowledge to be found in the grain of the wood?

I, uh, left him alone with his table and headed north from him, scouting the area for anything with the subtle glow of enchantment. After locating three rings (a bit of focus revealed that they would fortify my health by a small amount) I saw an odd amulet in a shallow niche on the wall near a gate. As I grabbed it spears shot up and blocked the way I'd come in, imprisoning me.

Thankfully, Tolfdir showed up—possibly due to the noise—though it made me wonder where Arniel went. He was right there a short distance away just minutes ago! After I told Tolfdir what I'd done he suggested I wear the amulet to see if it caused any kind of reaction, and it did.

"Do you see that?" he said. "Some kind of resonance between you and the wall. It must be connected to the amulet! I wonder . . . what effect might your spells have?"

I turned back to the wall, prepping a fire spell, and let loose. The entire thing cracked like a dropped egg, the pieces falling to the floor, to reveal a passageway beyond. Well, it was more like a tunnel given its construction and how it looked to snake around. Its destruction also cause the spears to retract into the floor, so Tolfdir joined me and together we investigated. The passage eventually opened up into a more proper room and I was shocked when, upon entering and stepping near the table or altar there, a haze came over my sight and a figure appeared.

What he looked like I could not say due to the hooded robes he was wearing, but his height and what I could see of his face led me to believe he was Altmer. "Know that you have set in motion a chain of events that cannot be stopped," he said. "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." And then he disappeared and the haze left.

I looked over to see Tolfdir's reaction, but he just looked confused.

"What is the Psijic Order?" I asked.

He looked even more confused by the question, but readily enough answered, "They were a group of mages with a history that pre-dates the Empire. Very powerful, very secretive. No one's seen them in well over a hundred years. They vanished, along with their sanctuary on the Isle of Artaeum. Why do you ask?"

"Well, one just visited, told me there was danger ahead." I've read a fair amount of books, including history books, but I'm afraid the Psijic Order was not something I was familiar with.

"Danger ahead?" Tolfdir said skeptically. "Why that doesn't make any sense at all. The Psijics have no connection to these ruins. The idea of one being here is fascinating, though, assuming it's true, of course."

I took mild exception to that, but said nothing.

"If nothing else I'd take it as a compliment. The Psijics have only ever dealt with those they feel worthy. Now, perhaps we should take a look inside these coffins. Please do be careful. Who knows what we're going to find."

So Tolfdir saw nothing at all. Had the Order member somehow placed the two of us into a . . . a time bubble of sorts, outside Tolfdir's perception? I shook my head slightly and turned toward one of the sarcophagi, just in time for the lids to break free and draugr to emerge. Brilliant. I could see, even as I threw flames at one of them, that the center coffin had no back and led to another passageway.

Eventually, after much magic being tossed around (gleefully on my part), we came to another room, this one circular, and large enough to host a dozen or more sarcophagi that promptly cracked open to release the draugr inside. I am not ashamed to admit that I was only able to take down one of them and wound another before I was forced to flee back up the passageway to recover. Tolfdir was obviously a fair hand at Destruction spells because he easily downed the rest.

I decided to grab one of the bows and all of the arrows, just in case. It wasn't as though I had unlimited magicka, after all. I would prefer a bound weapon, but those hadn't been covered yet in classes. Now that I could look around, rather than looking out for something trying to kill me, I could see a door. It was barred off twice, once with more of those retractable spears and once with a gate, but to either side of the mess were dangling chains with loops of metal at the ends.

It seemed too easy, but perhaps it really was. I edged over to one of the chains, standing off to the side away from the spears, and pulled. The gate inside swung open. A pull of the other chain saw the spears retract, leaving the door accessible. Tolfdir said he wanted to investigate the room so I opened the door and continued on cautiously.

The next room held alcoves in the walls for the dead; it was more like a short hallway, actually, with four alcoves on each side. Some of them held skeletons and by the looks of things they were very old. Around the bend and up some stairs were three draugr. I managed to take out one of them with fire and was going for another when I very nearly stepped on a rune. I think it was fire, but didn't get a good look as just as I had stepped away from it and was turning around I heard that noise again, the one the draugr make, and then an explosion.

The damn thing had sneaked up behind me in the time it took me to turn and triggered the rune, taking itself out with the blast. That left the third one, which I immediately shot fire at. Unfortunately I was forced to retreat to recover and we ended up playing a game of fire, dodge, run, pivot, fire, dodge, run. . . .

Beyond that, once I finally wore the thing down, were more alcoves. I also very nearly triggered another trap, but I was not moving down the center of the passage and was confronted with some very obvious holes in the wall edges, matched by ones on the other side. I stopped dead and started scanning the floor. There was a circular stone that was slightly convex and I got the feeling that stepping on it would be a bad idea, especially for anyone who was racing headlong down the corridor in their haste to get at the chest I saw up ahead.

I looted the chest of its pathetic contents and continued along, but pulled up short again when I saw that the alcoves up ahead were much more, uh, roomy in nature, and that some of the bodies in them were not dusty skeletons. To test a theory I threw some fire at one, and sure enough the skeevy draugr came "alive" on me, as well as his friend in an alcove across the way.

Amusingly, one of them went the wrong way, giving me time to not only burn the one who noticed me, but also to recover enough so I could finish it off, as well. Beyond that I came across yet more corpses and skeletons, but these were all inert and packed in much more tightly. To either side in the first part of the passage were odd, triangular pillars with bas-relief carvings on them. Puzzles, I supposed. A closer look revealed there were similar carvings behind and above them, nearly invisible in the alcoves. Any reasonable person would assume they were hints.

I also saw, up ahead and centered in the corridor, a lever, and I had to assume that pulling it without dealing with the pillars first would be a bad idea. With the clues right there if not overt I was able to get the pillars to turn to display what they should, and pulled the lever to open the way ahead. Simple, and it made me wonder if the ancient Nords were a bit lacking in the brains department.

Did you know you can set off runes with fire? At least shock runes were more easily spotted than fire ones. Anyway, more draugr, more rooms and passages. The carvings on the walls were subtle but skillfully worked. I guessed they had plenty of time to be artistic when they weren't otherwise out bashing skulls in.

I wondered, though, about the chests I kept coming across. Tolfdir mentioned the Night of Tears, and I did vaguely recall reading about that. I guessed the people who once lived at Saarthal simply never had a chance to take everything with them? Except, I'd been moving through areas obviously meant to house the dead, so why would they be there? If there had been an alcove above with a skeleton . . . the chest signifying that this person was special in some way. . . .

I moved into a different sort of hallway or corridor. This one was wider and had carvings on the walls between the supports. One looked like a figure holding snakes in each hand. Well, the tails of them, anyway, as they were artfully done up and off to the sides. But at a glance I'd swear the figure was Khajiit, which is just silly for an old Atmoran structure. The figure in the carving across the way was wearing different armor and holding what appeared to be spears.

There were two more on the walls up ahead, and four more of those silvery carvings on dark stone that seemed to be there merely for decoration. Then a lever, more pillars, and more carvings above them as hints. More holes in the walls, too, which meant trouble. I was concerned because the hints were in plain sight, which made me think there was a catch.

When I turned one at random I saw it. Each pillar being turned forced at least one other pillar to turn. I ended up getting the two on the right to match their hints, then worked with the pillars on the left, since neither of those broke up the set on the right. A little experimentation saw the solution appear, so I pulled the lever and continued on, unharmed.

I had only just turned the corner and headed down the stairs when Tolfdir caught up with me. Funny, I had avoided stepping on that suspicious stone, but I guess Tolfdir wasn't paying attention to my pointed actions. Next thing I knew I was being skewered by darts. And since my vision went a little funny I suspected a weak poison. Such a thrill. I carried on despite that and opened the door at the end of the passage.

I stopped, not because I was suddenly afraid of stairs, but because up ahead was a swirling mass of green-blue light. It made me feel a bit anxious. I shuffled forward and down a little to see that it was shaped into a cylinder, centered on a prodigious sphere. The view of the sphere was blurred by the ward—well, I assumed it was a ward—but it looked to share the same colours. Nothing jumped up and no casket lids cracked off with that distinctive sound, so I continued down the stairs.

The room opened up into two levels, though the upper level we were on was minimal, with stairs leading down on either side. The ward and sphere were central to the main room and I could see something back there behind it. Tolfdir was in raptures of discovery and scurried on down to the lower level. I started to follow him and stopped. Down there, hidden at first by the nature of the room, was a draugr. And it was no normal draugr, not if that helmet was anything to go by.

Tolfdir was enraptured by the ward and sphere, but even he realized his life was in imminent danger. Flames came from his hands to target the draugr and he was promptly sent tumbling away when the thing shouted. Shouted! What in Oblivion? I could actually see the sound made visible as it rippled toward the old man. It also sounded almost like I could understand what the thing was saying, but it was no language I was familiar with.

I shook my head when Tolfdir braced himself against a handy bit of stone and levered himself up, then cried, "It's no use! I think the ward might be protecting it so I'm going to try to drain it. Keep that thing busy!"

Busy. Right. I readied my flames and started casting, to no real avail. The familiar I kept conjuring was blown away every time in a single hit. I was doing some damage, but it was miniscule, and the axe it kept swinging at me really hurt! Thank the gods Tolfdir was caught up in keeping the ward drained because I had no idea what to do aside from fall back to an old favorite, something I would normally never use around someone else.

I started to drain the draugr (I had already decided to call it a Deathlord in my mind) with my left hand, sucking whatever life force it had to replenish mine, all while shooting flames at it occasionally and running like Oblivion was after me. Up the stairs, around, down, around, and on and on. I was too busy "strategically retreating" to notice there was a staff on the table behind the thing's "throne" or I might have tried using it.

It went down, eventually, and Tolfdir never did notice how I accomplished it. Once the rush ended and my heart settled back into its normal rhythms I went back down and checked around, finally spotting the staff. I also saw a piece of parchment, yellowed with age and grey with dust. It was a Writ of Sealing for a Jyrik Gauldurson.

Be bound here, Jyrik, murderer, betrayer
Condemned by your crimes against realm and lord.
May your name and your deeds be forgotten forever
And the charm which you bear be sealed by our ward.

Well. I slung the staff across my back for safekeeping and quickly searched the corpse, then went to examine the sphere now that the ward was down. It was massive and an odd blue-green, darker in places, with deep, dark scores in an odd, organic curving pattern. The non-scored sections had some kind of writing or design, but neither I nor Tolfdir recognized it. The pedestal it floated above was more of the same. Convex around the outer edge of the matching material, concave in the middle.

"I'm not the only one seeing this, am I?" Tolfdir said wonderingly. "Why, this is utterly unique."

I already expected he had no clue what it was, but I asked anyway. "What is this thing?"

"I have no idea! This is amazing. Absolutely amazing. The Arch-Mage needs to be informed immediately. He needs to see this for himself. I don't dare leave this unattended. Will you return to the College and inform Savos of this discovery? Please, hurry."

I looked around and couldn't see anything else that bespoke danger, so I nodded. "What should I tell him?"

"Let him know that we've unearthed something. . . . Well, I'm not sure. Something unique, let's say. It's clearly magical in nature, but like nothing I've ever seen before. He should be most interested."

"Will you be all right by yourself?" I pressed, thinking that Tolfdir was more than a little absentminded at the best of times.

"Oh, I think I'll be fine. We seem to have eliminated the most pressing threat. It certainly seems that whoever placed this here intended for it to be well guarded. I wonder why. . . ."

I nodded again and went to check behind the sphere. I recalled that barred off archway on the way in and wondered if there was a way to it from here. As I went to pass the orb I heard humming, or something similar, and paused. The sphere itself was rotating slowly and I realized, fascinated simply looking at it, that those deep scores were more like seams. Sometimes I could see a blue light and it wasn't just a reflection from below. That begged the question: what's inside it?

I tore myself away and looked to the right; there was a door back there. Through it and part way down the resulting passage I started to hear something, voices, but not like draugr. Almost . . . chanting. I came out into another room, more like a natural cave, really, and down below the ledge I was standing on was a strange curved structure against the far wall. It had writing on it that made no real sense to me.

One part, one section of the "words" was glowing an ethereal blue. As I got closer I saw streams of light reaching toward me and I have to admit it scared me, the light, the chanting—but I felt compelled to get closer. The strangest thing happened then. My sight went all hazy and blue. The sound of the chanting increased in volume. I felt—no, it was like a whisper in my head: Iiz—Ice.