Prologue: Winterhold

The gates of Winterhold

Ever since she learned her first (and only) spell, Fairuz dreamed of attending the College of Winterhold. Truthfully, she would've preferred the College of Whispers in Cyrodiil, but her not even here fairly affluent parents could afford the tuition.

Skyrim, on the other hand, had just been through a civil war. The economy was desperate for recovery; schools everywhere were slashing their prices and lowering their standards. Which, as Fairuz would find out, worked very much to her advantage.

Of course, her parents weren't particularly thrilled about her moving across the continent, much less to study magic. And once she actually arrived in Winterhold, Fairuz started to see their point of view.

"For fuck's sake, it's cold!" she complained, for what had to be the hundredth time. The Imperial captain who led the caravan laughed for the hundredth time.

"I warned you," he chuckled, shaking his head. He was clad in heavy armor, which at this point was most likely to fend off the cold rather than an attack. He was taking a break from his horse and she was taking a break from the creaky old carriage full of chatty travelers. Their boots crunched in the snow and scraped against the rocky terrain. "I told you the weather in Dawnstar was nothing compared to this."

"I should've stayed on the boat," Fairuz shivered beneath her novice mage robes. "I should've gone back to Solitude." Every part of her was covered--hands, feet, head--and yet still she was at the mercy of the wind. "Does it ever stop snowing?"

"Winterhold actually does have some clear days," the captain nodded. "The sun comes out and you can finally see the horizon. But mostly? It looks like this."


The captain laughed again. It was his fifth or sixth trip to Winterhold since the war ended, and he always had this exact conversation with at least one traveler.

"Believe it or not, it's safer this way," he reassured her. "I've traveled this road many times and never crossed a bandit even once. People don't come up to Winterhold unless they absolutely have to."

"And how often is that?" Fairuz asked. It suddenly occurred to her that she may have volunteered to spend the best years of her life in the middle of nowhere...with no one.

"More often now that the war's over," he said. "Winterhold has an iron mine and at least three forts. And the new Jarl is trying to rebuild the harbor."

They arrived at the city gates and Fairuz's doubt immediately evaporated. "By the gods."

"Indeed," the captain nodded slowly.

Fairuz struggled to breathe, much less speak. "It's just..."

"I know."

"But Solitude...Dawnstar...all places we've passed through...."

"I know," the captain nodded again, eyebrow raised in mild amusement. "Winterhold is unlike any other place in Skyrim. Even its origins are mostly mythical."

Fairuz felt her breath catch again as her heart skipped a beat.

"Don't get too excited," the captain gently mocked as he led the caravan over the bridge into the city. "Because...this is it. The city is mostly empty, and most of the buildings are just rubble."

"But there are still people, right?" Fairuz asked, her face worried even as her eyes remained awestruck. "Young people...who drink?"

The captain chuckled slightly, grasping her meaning. "Winterhold is a college town--this is true. But it's unlike any other college town I've ever seen. The students here are extremely focused on their studies. They really don't do anything else."

"Oh, I'm sure they're all a bunch of goody goodies until someone opens a bottle of mead," Fairuz snickered.

But the Imperial captain was serious. "Not these people. Studying magic isn't like studying music or history or poetry. Mages can easily become the point of destroying everything around them."


"Good morning, Arch-Mage."

"Good morning, Professor Ervine. What news on this fine, chilly morning?"

Mirabelle smirked. She was the Breton Master Wizard of the College, second only to the Arch-Mage. And after years of working together, Savos Aren still refused to call her by her first name.

The old Dunmeri mage was sitting in his quarters, which were grossly oversized in Mirabelle's opinion. Not only did he have his own private labs, the chamber itself spanned two floors and housed an actual tree, which the Dark Elf was diligently tending.

"Urag has finally hired someone to assist him in the Arcanaeum," she reported in her signature deep, commanding voice. "So the books will be put back a lot faster and the desks won't be so dusty. Tolfdir has finished teaching magical theory to our first years, and is beginning basic wards today. And Faralda is admitting our newest student."

Savos frowned and looked up at her. "Newest student? Deadline for new admissions was last month."

"Special case," Mirabelle replied simply. "Girl coming all the way from Hammerfell; her parents paid tuition plus room and board in full."

"Ah," the Arch-Mage nodded, turning back to his work. "Remember when we didn't have to make exceptions for anyone? Students arrived in Winterhold a full week early to meet our deadlines."

"Times change, sir."

"Don't remind me," Savos grumbled. "Our new Jarl keeps inviting me to dinner, and that Thalmor spy won't leave me be."

"Kraldar is a decent man," Mirabelle told him gently. "Not the typical, narrow-minded Nord like his predecessor. As for Ancano...," she briefly trailed off, "you're on your own there."

"Kraldar will probably end up serving boiled mutton while Ancano drones on about the supremacy of 'Mer over Man'," Savos complained, even going so far as to mimic the High Elf's inflections.

Mirabelle laughed, despite herself. "I must conduct the new girl's orientation. Anything else before I go?"


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