Unraveling Aetherius

"Well...no," Onmund chuckled. "Lightning spells are different, and lot more destructive." He went on even though Fairuz wasn't listening, just staring at the wall. "Sparks is just a Novice-level spell designed deliver shock damage while simultaneously draining magic from your target. Wanna try?"

"You already know I don't," she murmured in reply.

"No worries," he casually shrugged, before turning back to his practice. "Let me know when you're ready to try some Destruction."

It was like being punched in the gut. Fairuz was numb and dazed as she wandered from the Hall of Elements. She needed to be outside, away...she didn't care how cold it was or if snow was pouring from the sky.

She'd thought the worst feeling would be to find out Onmund and Brelyna were lovers and keeping it a secret. She was wrong. First years just like her were lighting flames and wielding lightning, while she could barely stay awake during a lecture. 

No wonder they're not interested in dating or going to parties, she said to herself, wandering up the stairs to a door that led to the upper levels outside. Who cares about all that stuff when you can bend the very elements of nature to your will?

And these are just Novice spells, she gasped to herself. That meant far greater, more powerful magic existed and she hadn't even scratched the surface.

"We've got to stop meeting like this."

Fairuz turn towards the familiar voice, rolled her eyes. "You're just everywhere, aren't you?"

Norion was amused. "What's got you in a mood this time?"

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "Last I saw, you were in the library that has no rival."

"I was," he nodded, "but I forgot how stuffy the castle can be. And I missed the view of the city from up here. Winterhold might be in shambles, but it's still a wonder."

"This whole place is a wonder," she admitted. "I mean, I knew it when I first arrived, but I had no idea what I was walking into."

He raised an eyebrow at her subtle change of heart. "Oh?"

"I just saw people my age in my class doing spells I can't even begin to comprehend," she confessed, more so to herself than him. "Meanwhile, I'm getting upset that a boy doesn't like me and nobody throws any parties. This was supposed to be my clean slate. I'm supposed to be having a good time--I'm supposed to be relieved I got out of Stros M'Kai. Instead, I feel like I brought my problems with me all the way from Hammerfell. Nothing has changed! I'm still not smart enough, I'm still not pretty enough...like, what am I even doing here?"

"Why did you come to Winterhold?" he asked, curious. "It doesn't sound like your parents wanted to send you here."

"Earlier this year, I stumbled across an old tome containing the Candlelight spell," she told him. "The book was partly charred, with some pages missing. But there was still enough information for me to successfully cast the spell."

His eyes widened slightly, but he kept his voice level. "You learned it on your own? With minimal guidance?"

She nodded. "And I thought that meant something, so I did it over and over again, then begged my parents to send me here to learn more. I thought I'd finally be somewhere I belonged."

Norion chuckled softly. "I've got this theory that mages don't really belong anywhere outside the Immortal Plane. That's why we're obsessive; the closest we feel to truly being at home or belonging somewhere is when we're in touch with Aetherius. We can't get enough of it."

Fairuz frowned. That...makes sense.

"Listen," he began gently, "it sounds like you're behind your peers. Now, I'd be willing to tutor you while I'm here, but you have to commit yourself. I suspect you've got some real talent buried in there somewhere; it's just the discipline that's lacking. Do you accept?"


"Those avoiding this northern province due to claims of barbarism or concerns over climate are doing themselves a disservice; in fact Skyrim has a wealth of materials that every Alchemist would do well to avail himself of. I have traveled extensively throughout this land, and here are but a few of my findings."

As Fairuz read Herbalist's Guide to Skyrim, it felt like starting over, going back in time to when she first arrived, but this time, doing things right. She didn't know what it was about Norion that made her feel oddly inspired by him, but she did. Sitting at her desk and reading was no long sleep-inducing; for some reason, she could read, comprehend, and be interested enough to remember.

And it wasn't just the reading; he took her on treks around Winterhold on sunny days as well to provide context to the reading, all the while testing her knowledge to ensure she was upholding her end of the bargain.

Today, he led her all the way to the Tower stone, which was halfway to Dawnstar.

"Which ability does the Tower Stone grant?" he quizzed.

"The ability to open certain locks," Fairuz asked. "Why do I need that again?"

"You don't," he replied honestly, "but this isn't about the ability; it's about the magic. You've already been to the Serpent Stone, so you can't accept its blessing twice in a row. You need a new blessing from a new stone for this exercise."

"Now the great thing about Standing Stones is that the blessing isn't instant," Norion continued. "So as you climb the steps to the stone, form a connecting with the Immortal Plane. As you begin to accept the blessing from the stone, will the two connections together."

It seemed simple enough. Fairuz took her time walking to the stone, taking slow deep breaths and tapping into the familiar push-pull feeling. She'd been meditating, so it was easier now; in fact, tapping into magic and holding the feeling was easier than casting spells.

The warmth and cool of Aetherius wafted over her, took hold within her, and began to that slow, familiar build. She let it simply coarse through her for a few moments before reaching her hand into the stone.

Didn't manage to capture this effect last time.


Fairuz swayed on her feet as the two forms of magic met and melded; they all came from the same source after all. But this was intense, consuming; the light within and without burned bright and blinding until the light of the Tower Stone began to fade. Even so, Fairuz still felt aglow.

In a daze, she walked back down the steps and rejoined Norion.

"Wow," she gasped, when she could finally words.

"How do you feel?" he asked, smiling broadly.

It took her a minute to find the correct word. "Strong," she realized. "Like I could cast any spell."

"Don't," he said firmly, shaking his head. "Let it grow. Hold it. Meditate on it, day and night. Think of it as building your magical stamina. Some of your peers have magic in their blood, like Brelyna. Most of them were doing magic when they were children, while you only started this year. You can't cast on their level if you're not as strong as they are."

She nodded, "I'm starting to get it."


Their lessons continued into the month of Evening Star, as the mid-year exams approached. She continued to read, and he continued to quiz.

"What's the recipe for a potion to resist poison?"

"Thistle and Falmer ear."

"What about an invisibility potion?"

"Chaurus eggs and either a Luna Moth wing or Ice Wraith teeth."

"Very good," he murmured, as they wandered through crumbling walls and broken statues of the city. "Most people forget there are two versions. How did the Ayleids survive the siege of Empress Alessia?"

"By levitating themselves up the walls or breathing under water," Fairuz replied.

"Very good. And what is the Theory of the Lunar Lorkhan?"

"That the moons Masser and Secunda are personifications of the dichotomy, the "Cloven Duality", such as good/evil, being/nothingness, etcetera." She was especially proud of herself for this one because Lorkhan stories were especially boring.

"Excellent," Norion nodded. "That concludes today's lesson."

"When I do get to do spells?" she demanded, growing impatient. "All we've done is history, theory, alchemy, and copious amounts of meditation--when do I get to spend some of this energy I'm building up?"

"In due course," he promised. "You need to pass your mid-year exam, otherwise it won't matter how well you cast a spell."


Exams came and went, and while the students awaited their scores life went on as usual. At least, for the seniors. They were unfazed by exams at this point; most of them were about to graduate, so they just focused on practicing their spells, usually on each other. One would put up a ward while they others hurled fire and ice at them in the hallways. It was a marvel no one had gotten expelled. Then again, the professors didn't seem to care as long as no one got hurt.

Meanwhile, the first years were on pins and needles. Even J'zargo was a nervous wreck; he finally started opening up to his classmates about not wanting to go home just yet, and how he was certain he could be the greatest mage to ever grace the College, if he were just given more time.

Fairuz was surprisingly the calmest one in her class; Norion's tutelage had been most beneficial, and his lessons continued after the exam ended. He asked about the test questions she could remember and reviewed her answers with her, before assuring her she'd passed.

One evening, on her way back from one of her lessons, she was summoned to the Hall of Elements by Professor Ervine.

Mirabelle looked her up and down. "Where are your robes?" the Breton mage demanded.

"I wear my own clothes outside of classes," Fairuz replied without flinching, and Norion had encouraged to continue doing so. While she did want to become a good student, she didn't want to become yet another obsessed mage who had no life or identity outside of their magical ability.

"Interesting," Mirabelle said, though her tone said otherwise. "You passed your exams. With high marks, I might add."

Fairuz's eyes widened. "I did?"

"Indeed, but that's not the issue. You are still far behind your classmates, Fairuz," Mirabelle said in that emotionless voice of her. "We don't need someone who can read, write, and regurgitate; we want our students to be able to cast. I hear you haven't been practicing with the other first years."

"I know, I know," Fairuz nodded. "My tutor's been encouraging me to build my magical stamina as part of my lessons."

Mirabelle's eyes widened slightly. "You've been seeing a tutor?"

"A graduate," Fairuz confirmed. "He came briefly back to use the Arcanaeum and we got to talking."

"How proactive of you," the Breton blinked, as though genuinely surprised. "Some of your classmates could benefit from tutoring. Anyway, I expect to see you in the Hall of Elements practicing your casting along with your peers from now on. Understood?"

"Yes, Professor," Fairuz replied.

And just like that, she was terrified all over again.


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