Eras Bygone

Previously: Step Five

"I know what you're thinking," Onmund said, when he saw Fairuz hesitate. "But the weather's actually calming down. We'll have some snow in the morning, but clear skies by afternoon."

He slung something over his shoulder, which made her raise a bemused brow.

"Is that a...hunting bow?"

"Skyrim is a dangerous place," he reminded her.

Fairuz brow furrowed in confusion. "But everyone keeps saying that no one comes up here."

His tone turned slightly grim. "People aren't the only dangerous thing in Skyrim."

They began by trekking down the mountain behind the College and crossing the water by stepping on floating bits of ice.

"Where are we going?" Fairuz called after him, suddenly realizing she hadn't bothered to ask before. The school was mostly empty for fall break as students and staff left to visit family or simply take a much needed vacation in a warmer clime.

"You ever hear of Ysgramor?" Onmund called back as they crossed the water and began to trek up another mountain northwest of the College.

"Yeah, he's a legend," Fairuz nodded. She closed her eyes briefly, pushing herself to remember. "He was a great warrior from Atmora, led the Five Hundred Companions, and is basically the reason humans have a presence in Tamriel. And, uh, he developed a runic transcription of your language, if I'm not mistaken. That's why he's considered your first historian, right?"

Onmund laughed. "Most Nords focus on tales his exploits--battling sea-ghosts, Elves, giants, and the like. They sing songs of the Night of Tears, the Return, the infamous Storm of Separation. They usually forget all the scholastic stuff."

"And what does Ysgramor have to do with our little field trip?" Fairuz raised an eyebrow. She was already sweating and out of breath.

Onmund grinned and pointed. "This is his tomb."

Fairuz stopped walking as her mouth fell open. "No," she rasped.

"Yes," Onmund nodded, eyes twinkling.

"No way."

"Yes way," he assured.

"You've got to be shitting me," she shook her head. "The Ysgramor is actually"

"That's right. There was a crypt prepared for him in Windhelm, but he insisted on being buried here, facing his place of birth."

The tomb was lake a carved crater with a wooden staircase leading down into it. Fairuz climbed to the top and stared down.

"We can't enter, of course," Onmund said regrettably.

"No, of course," Fairuz nodded hastily. "It would be sacrilege."

"No," Onmund chuckled, "I mean, we can't physically enter. There's some sort of mystical barrier that requires a special know how it goes."

"This is incredible," Fairuz gasped, shaking her head. "Skyrim is fucking incredible." She turned to him. "How are you not turning cartwheels right now?"

Onmund laughed. "I'll turn cartwheels when someone finally figures out how to get into the tomb."


Just he predicted, the clouds cleared and the sun came out right as they came back down the mountain. The waters glittered before them, and the snow was bathed in golden light. The sight was breathtaking.

"How did you know?" Fairuz murmured.

"Know what?" Onmund asked.

"That the sun would come out?"

"You live long enough in Skyrim, you develop a sense for these things," he shrugged. "Especially when you work on a farm."

They stopped on the shore as he pointed to some ruins atop a glacial mound, directly across from the College. "I wasn't going to visit those until tomorrow, but the weather's clear and we've got time."

Fairuz's legs were killing her, but she didn't dare say so. "Can we break for a snack first?" She raised her satchel. "I brought some bread, cheese, and apples."

Onmund laughed a little. "I was actually going to catch some fish for lunch and roast them, but your idea sounds good too."

"I could go for some roasted fish," Fairuz blinked. It would take time, and that's what this was all about: spending as much time as possible with him while everyone else was away.

It was charming to watch him work. She liked the way the sunlight made his pitch black hair shine, and how he absently hummed when he concentrated. He followed the fish to shallow waters and actually caught them with his bare hands. He then set up a makeshift spit with some dead branches and light the fire...with magic.

Fairuz's eyes were wide as saucers. "You know the Flames spell?"

"First one I ever learned," he nodded gleefully. "Almost set the house on fire."

"All I can seem to produce is light of some sort," she scowled slightly. "Candlelight, wards, healing--"

"All very important spells," he assured her.

"But what if that's all I am?" she asked. She wasn't genuinely worried; now that she knew she could learn new spells, Fairuz figured everything else would come in time. Feigning insecurity was just part of Step Six. "You started doing magic when you were, what, nine? I started doing magic this year. I've been at an actual college of magic for weeks now, and I've barely made any progress."

"You may have just stumbled across your magical abilities this, but you have to remember that it's something you were born with," he reassured her. "And there are six schools of magic, Fairuz, each one of them Professor Marence says."

Fairuz scowled. "Professor Marence gets mocking notes left on her desk. And her bed. And--"

"--on occasion, her lunch," Onmund laughingly finished. "That's just senior students being assholes."

Fairuz was unconvinced. "Oh, I bet some of her colleagues are doing it too."

"Maybe," he shrugged. "Everyone's a comedian about Restoration magic until they get hurt."

The fish finished roasting and Fairuz was determined to like it, even if it was unseasoned. Turned out, he had roasted it to perfect crisp on the outside, with the flesh cooked properly on the inside.

"You've done this before," she remarked.

"Years of practice," he beamed. "My father can say whatever he wants about magic, but I've noticed he never complains when I light a campfire or roast him some fish."


They set out almost immediately after lunch. Climbing the glacial mound was much easier than trekking up a mountain, much to Fairuz's relief. The sun was high now, the skies clear and brilliantly blue as their boots crunched in the soft snow. Everything about Winterhold was so pristine, even its ruins. It was peaceful and enchanting, and made all the more sense why the mages had remained after the Great Collapse.

From the top of the glacier, they had an amazing view of the College. It looked even more magnificent and intriguing from here. She was oddly filled with longing looking at it, even though she lived there now. It was almost as though the College itself was truly unknowable, like she would never really belong there no matter how long she stayed.

There was an altar overlooking the sea, and as they approached, Fairuz realize there was actual skeleton on it, just out in the open.

"What in Aetherius is going on here?" she murmured, perturbed.

"Probably not a ritual sacrifice, if that's what you're worried about," Onmund said, amused by her reaction. "Or maybe it is. The actual burial chamber's behind us, so maybe this guy was a sacrifice of some sort. I'm sure we'll get a lecture on ancient burial practices at some point. They frown on necromancy at the College, but they'll still cover it."

Her head snapped towards him. "Necro what???" He simply laughed in response.

They tarried a while longer, walking the mound, taking in the sights of the distant mountains and the Sea of Ghosts. From the edge overlooking the waters between the mound and the mainland, Fairuz spied what appeared to be an abandoned boat. She peered, squinting her eyes to get a better look.

"Is that a harbor down there?"

Onmund nodded gravely. "All that's left from the Great Collapse."

"The Imperial caption who led our caravan told me that the new Jarl is attempting to rebuild it," she recalled.

"Kraldar is a man of sane ambition and good intention," he replied. "He knows what a harbor will do for this town. More travelers, more students...we can go down and see it, if you like. It's on the way back to the school."

It was haunting to see up close, the boats left in the cold, partially held in place by floating ice. The last two standing buildings were boarded up. The scene made Fairuz feel lonely and a little sad.

"I would've really liked to see Winterhold its prime," she remarked forlornly. "I bet it was a truly magical place."

"I would've liked to see Skyrim in its prime," Onmund chuckled humorlessly. "Everywhere I go, everything seems to be a shrunken, decayed shell of its former self. Windhelm's not much better than Winterhold. All the forts are in ruin. Even a beautiful city like Whiterun has crumbling walls."

"What happened?"

"The Great War," he nodded somberly, "followed by a declining economy, and the rise of xenophobia. People already had their little 'issues' with Nords, but the Stormcloak Rebellion made it a thousand times worse."

"How did your family fare during the war?"

Onmund's eyes darkened. "It was rough. We fled Riverwood to hole up in Whiterun when the Stormcloaks came. Even behind the temple walls, I could see hear shouting and explosions. And when they brought in the wounded, I saw so many people die."

"I'm sorry."

He smiled tightly before gesturing towards further east. "I know you're ready to go home, but have you ever seen a Standing Stone?"


Almost completely forgot I took this screenshot!

They "borrowed" one of the aged boats and Onmund rowed them to Serpentstone Isle. He really was a hardy young man; trekking, fishing, and rowing came so casually to him. Fairuz was starting to get jealous of (what she could deduce about) his upbringing. He seemed so well-rounded and easygoing compared to her.

"What exactly is a Standing Stone?" she asked, as they climbed the low glacier and came to stand before a ring of ancient stones.

"A stone that grants a blessing of sorts," he explained. "This, for example, is the Serpent Stone. If you accept its blessing, you'll be able to cast a Paralysis spell once a day which, mind you, is an Alteration skill."

Her eyes widened. "How long does the ability last?"

"Until you accept the blessing from another Standing Stone."

There was no way she was turning that down. Wards and healing spells were nice and all, but being able to paralyze an opponent seemed much more valuable. She approached the Stone, place her hand in the hollow center. The whole filled with light, as did the carving on the stones. The Serpent Stone glowed bright for a moment, filling the air with a subtle crackling noise, before it went dark again.

Fairuz gasped, taking a step back as the light dissipated. "Amazing."

She turned around to see Onmund smiling behind her, and noticed the stunning view behind him.

The sun was now a pale shade of gold and orange. The snows glowed and the waters glittered exquisitely beneath the fading western light.

"Is it sunset already?" she blinked. "Have we been out all day?"

"At least we got some exercise," he told her. "I don't know about you, but being cooped all day was starting to drive me crazy. Also, isn't this weather great? It won't last, of course; soon we'll be snowed in all over again."

Something caught Fairuz out the corner of her eye. "Is that a statue in the distance?"

"Oh, that?" Onmund grinned. "That's tomorrow's trip. We'll be taking a carriage, and it'll still be quite the climb, but I'm told the view is worth it."

"And...'it' is?" she raised an eyebrow.

He beamed even more broadly. "The Shrine of Azura."


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