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Saturday, October 30, 2010

III - The Guild of Mages

For a while after she woke, Fenara lay in her narrow bed, wondering what was left for her to do. She had met with all of the Blades Trainers, but Cosades had told her to sign on with one of the local guilds. And her grandmother had told the head of the Mages’ Guild in Balmora to expect a friend. After a time, Fenara pulled herself out of bed, combed back her hair, and went outside to a chilly, but surprisingly clear morning. She found the Mages’ Guildhall in a crowded street lined with storefronts and crates, which she navigated carefully to reach the right building. It had an old wooden sign in front of it, creaking slightly in the breeze, and its doorway was lit with a blue lantern.
Inside, Fenara found herself in an empty hallway, and she reveled in the warmth of being indoors for a moment before she went around the corner.
“Ranis? Is that you?” A high pitched voice, clearly Bosmer, called down from the stairs behind Fenara. She turned to see a petite woman with feathery blonde hair piled on top of her head and an extravagantly embroidered gold robe looking down at her from the landing, holding a large tray of soulgems.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, setting the tray on the ground and flouncing brightly down the stairs. “You look like Ranis from the back. I’m Galbedir.” She stuck out her hand, and Fenara took it reluctantly. Galbedir squinted at her. “You know, I don’t think I’ve seen you before. And I’ve lived in Balmora all my life.”
“I’m new,” Fenara said quickly. “I just arrived in Vvardenfell a few days ago. And I was looking to join your guild,” she added.
“Oh, you’ll be wanting to speak to Ranis too then!” Galbedir said brightly. “She should be around here somewhere – ah! Good morning Ranis!” A tall, elegant-looking Dunmer woman had just come up from the stairs leading down from where Galbedir and Fenara stood. She had high cheekbones and narrow eyes that surveyed Fenara with an appraising look. Her hair was dark with an odd purplish tint and was wound around her head in braids.
“What is it, Galbedir?” she asked, turning her gaze back to the Bosmer.
“Oh, I can talk to you any old time,” Galbedir said cheerily. “You can talk to – what was your name again?”
“Thank you Galbedir,” Ranis said swiftly, and the Bosmer gave Fenara a cheerful smile and went back up the stairs, humming to herself. Ranis turned her attention to Fenara, who wanted to cripple under her firm gaze. “May I help you?”
“Um – yes – I – well my grandmoth – my friend Barenziah, she said she sent you a letter about me.”
“Oh, so you’re Barenziah’s stead?” Fenara found it hard to imagine her grandmother being friends with this woman. “Yes, yes, I know about you. I don’t really have an open space in the guild here at the moment, but I owe Barenziah a favor. Come this way.” Ranis went down the hallway towards the entrance and found a few sheets of blank parchment in a chest. “What did you say your name was?”
“Fen,” she said nervously, and Ranis wrote the name down. Somehow, seeing her grandmother’s pet name for her written down on an official document made her feel ill, as if she were sealing her fate and agreeing to be in Vvardenfell for the rest of her life.
“Now,” Ranis said a quarter of an hour later. She rolled up the documents, which Fenara had all reluctantly signed, and put them away. “You are Associate Fen of the Mages’ Guild. I don’t have any jobs for you. You’ll have to talk to Ajiira, downstairs. But see me if you want an advancement.” Her tone was dismissive, so Fenara took this as her cue to leave and thanked her. Ranis nodded coldly and went back to her work, and Fenara went down the stairs she had seen Ranis walk up earlier. She found herself in a low hallway lit by cool blue lanterns, and she followed it to the end, where it opened out suddenly into a tall-ceilinged, blue-lit room.
The hall was sectioned off by creamy-looking dividers, and Fenara didn’t know where to look first. There were endless shelves of books, tables straining under the weight of flasks and corked bottles of potions, a round garden completely filled with glowing plants, even a tall tree whose branches scraped the ceiling. Mages in finely decorated robes were moving back and forth across the hall, examining shelves, weighing potions, talking with one another. The air in the room was alive, prickling with the energy of magic.
“Excuse me,” Fenara said, stopping a tall Altmer woman who was crossing the room with a armful of scrolls. “Could you please tell me where to find Ajiira?”
“Back in the alchemy room, dear,” the woman said, nodding her head to a small arched doorway Fenara hadn’t even noticed.
“Thank you,” she said, and went back through the arch. This room was much smaller, and held only a Bosmer woman sitting idly by a teleportation platform and a Khajiit bent over a sifter at a high table in the corner. “Um…excuse me,” Fenara said, aware that the guild guide was looking at her. “Excuse me,” she said a little louder. The Khajiit looked up from her sifter. “Are you Ajiira?”
“Yes,” she hissed, looking affronted. Fenara found she was still taken aback by the strong accent. “What does this one want?”
“Um…Ranis Athrys told me to see you. For guild jobs.”
“Ranis admitted this one?” Ajiira said, and shook her head. “The Balmora guildhall is already fuller than a kitten’s stomach after a meal, now Ranis is adding more associates. More and more, every day!”
“Oh, shut up, Ajiira, you’re not even a journeyman yet,” the guild guide said with a yawn. Ajiira shot her a look and turned back to Fenara.
“What is this one’s name?”
“Fen then. Ajiira needs local mushrooms for her journeyman’s report. Ajiira needs violet corporinus, bungler’s bane, luminous russula, and hypha facia. All of these mushrooms grow in the Bitter Coast, which Fen can go to by leaving Balmora past the silt strider and following the ridge until she can cross into the swamps.”
“Um…okay. Thank you.” As Fen was turning to leave, she suddenly remembered something in her pocket.  “Oh! Here, I – um…will you buy these?” she asked, taking the small cloth sacks of moon sugar out of her robe. Ajiira’s feline eyes brightened.
“Certainly!” she said, her tone suddenly turning warm. She snatched the moon sugar out of Fenara’s hands and counted out a few drakes for her. “Ajiira will give one hundred septims for it.” Fenara had a nagging suspicion that the sugar was worth much more than one hundred septims, but she accepted the coins without question and went on her way.
Outside, the sky had darkened slightly, and clouds were starting to gather. Hoping to get in and out of the swamp before the weather changed, Fenara walked quickly past the silt strider and along the Odai River, following the path as thunder started to sound. She saw a campfire in the distance, and hoped to herself that its owners would lend her an oiled cloak to keep the rain off her back. When she approached it, she found two men, a Bosmer and a Redguard, sitting on benches drinking beer.
“What do you want?” the Redguard said sharply, turning to her. He was half-blind and had one milky eye with a deep scar running along it.
“Shut up, Dinok, she’s a lady,” the Bosmer said, and he smacked his partner over the back of the head. “Sorry about ‘im,” he said to Fen. “Been in a rotten mood ever since that Blighted kwama worker in Gnisis blinded him.” The Bosmer extended a hand, and Fenara shook it. “I’m Findulain, and this is Dinok. We’re egg miners.” He gestured behind them, where Fenara noticed a wooden door built into the rock. The rain started suddenly, and although the campfire was protected by the leaves of the tree overhead, Fenara dreaded the thought of digging through swamps for mushrooms in the rain. “Stay ‘ere for a bit if you like,” Findulain said, seeing her expression. “No point in walkin’ in the rain. Soaks ye to yer bones so that ye don’t dry until Hearthfire. What did ye say yer name was?”
“Fen,” she said gratefully, accepting the battered goblet Findulain passed her and sitting on the bench across from them. “Er…this isn’t beer, is it?” Findulain laughed.
“I wish. They won’t let us have alcohol in the egg mines. Just comberry juice.” Relieved, Fenara took a sip and found that the comberry juice was oddly familiar tasting, though she was sure she’d never had it before.
“Can you tell me about the egg mine?” she asked, glancing at the door of the mine again. Dinok snorted.
“Ain’t nothing to know about it,” he said disdainfully. “We mine eggs, that’s all.”
“You new in Vvardenfell?” Findulain asked kindly, and she nodded. “Well, when ye say yer a miner around here, yer usually an egg miner. Sure, up in rich places like Caldera they mine things like ebony and glass and diamond, but the real bulk of Morrowind’s money is from us.” He jabbed his thumb proudly in his chest and Dinok rolled his eyes. “The Kwama foragers and warriors won’t attack us, since they’re used to our smell. But they attack intruders. And ye smell like an intruder.”
“I’m not planning on going into a mine any time soon,” Fenara said with a smile.
“Probably better that way,” Findulain replied brightly. “Easier to mine the eggs without people goin’ every which way.”
“So kwama eggs come from mines?” Fenara asked. She had eaten kwama eggs all her life, but never though to wonder where they came from.
“Sure. So does scrib jerky and jelly and kwama cuttle. The queen of the mine lays the eggs, and the workers take care of ‘em. We harvest them.” There was a sudden absence of sound and Fenara realized the rain had stopped.
“Thank you very much,” she said, handing the empty goblet back to Findulain. “It was pleasant meeting both of you.” Dinok snorted and stood up.
“We’d best get back to work, Findulain, or the overseer will have our heads.”
“Nice to meet ye, Fen,” Findulain said, and they put away the goblets as Fenara carried on her way. She found a low spot in the ridge fairly easily, and she struggled slightly over the rocks, but managed to get down into the Bitter Coast area fairly easily. The ground was spongy and a putrid smell hung in the air, and Fenara advanced confidently, noting the descriptions of the mushrooms Ajiira had given her in her head.
She noticed what had to be the violet corporinus right away, a tall-stalked mushroom growing out of the middle of a pool of sludge. Fenara grimaced at the smell the sludge was letting off, but gingerly raised the hem of her robes and stepped in anyway. Her foot sank deeper than she expected, and as she waded out towards the mushroom, she soon found herself up to her waist in brown and green slime.
Fenara gripped the mushroom under its head and tried to pull it up, but its roots held fast. She put both hands on the stalk this time and pulled harder, struggling to rip the mushroom out. There was a sudden, unexpected boom of thunder and rain started to pour again, soaking straight through Fenara’s robe. She gave a frustrated huff and pulled as hard as she could. The mushroom came free suddenly, and Fen toppled backwards into the pool of sludge. She gasped and dragged herself out, dripping in slime and soaking wet, but clutching the long-rooted mushroom in one hand. Fenara was tempted to smash the mushroom under her boot for the trouble it had given her, but she continued on her way, looking for the rest of the mushrooms. As she passed by a cluster of rocks, she noticed three violet corporinus mushrooms growing out of the solid ground there, and swore.

* * *

The days grew colder, and they started to blend into a monotony of doing errands for Ajiira. After the mushrooms, the Khajiit sent Fenara to gather flowers, soul gems, and, once, two reports she had written that Galbedir had apparently stolen.
“Galbedir is just jealous that Ajiira is going to be a journeyman before her,” Ajiira hissed when she sent Fenara to find the reports.
“Oh, those two have always quarreled,” one of the mages said with a roll of her eyes when Fenara asked about it. “Ranis ought to put a stop to it. It’s petty and distracting.” It had almost been two weeks since Fenara had come to Balmora when Ajiira finally ran out of chores for her to do.
“Fen could talk to Ranis for jobs,” Ajiira said, taking the ceramic bowl she had sent Fenara to buy. “But Ajiira does not like Ranis much. Fen should visit Ajiira’s friend Edwinna in Ald’ruhn.”
“She will have better jobs for Fen to do, and she is much smarter than Ranis. A good guild leader. If Ajiira did not have to take care of her sickly old aunt in Balmora, she would move there.” A thought struck Fenara suddenly.
“Ajiira, do you know where I can buy a set of alchemy equipment? I’ve been looking for one for ages and haven’t been able to find anything.”
“Folms Mirel in the guildhall in Caldera might have an alchemy set,” Ajiira said thoughtfully. “Fen should ask there. Alchemy sets are good, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” Fenara said a little guiltily. She had studied alchemy every day in Mournhold, and being away from her finely crafted set of apparatuses made her feel like she was neglecting a very important task. “Thank you, Ajiira.” As Fenara was leaving the hall, she passed Ranis, who stopped her.
“You’ve been doing jobs for Ajiira, haven’t you?” Fenara nodded. “It’s high time you earn an advancement, then. I grant you the title of Apprentice. On your way.” Startled at this sudden promotion, Fenara thanked her and left the guildhall, stopping to buy food at the outfitter’s then going back to her lonely little apartment on the end of town. It was late, and Fenara’s eyes itched with exhaustion. She pulled off her new guar hide shoes (she had had to replace both them and the robe after the incident in the Bitter Coast) and stretched out on the thin mattress. It felt like years since she had slept in the enormous canopy bed heaped with silk cushions in the palace in Mournhold. She closed her eyes, thinking longingly of sleeping in the palace, and soon she was asleep.
They have taken you from the City of Light – north. To Vvardenfell. Fenara felt herself moving through the Ashlands, red dust flying all around her, her vision strangely blurred. Fear not, for I am watchful. The voice that echoed around her was low and distorted, a woman speaking. Spiky letters she could not read appeared around her, spelling out words she could not understand. You have been chosen.
Her eyes opened. She was still on the tiny bed in the one-room apartment in Balmora. Rubbing her eyes, Fenara sat up and glanced around the room. Weak gray light drained in from the green glass window, and she pulled herself out of bed and stared out at it, the voice from her dream cycling around her mind. Probably nothing, she thought to herself, and she got dressed and braided her hair. Slowly, Fenara packed up the few books and potions she had collected and left the apartment, leaving the key in the lock. Perhaps she would be able to find a more comfortable place to sleep in Ald’ruhn.
She took the guild guide to Caldera, where she quickly found Folms Mirel, an elderly Dunmer man.
“I haven’t got any alchemy equipment, I’m afraid,” he told her. “I’m rather focused on finding the rest of these indices at the moment.”
“What do you mean?” Fenara asked, genuinely curious. Folms showed her a small black rock, about the size of a finger.
“This is a propylon index. Ever seen a Dunmer ruin?” Fenara shook her head. “In the old days, before the Imperials settled in Morrowind, the Dunmer had strongholds set up that they operated out of to fight the Empire. The Imperial troops were always at a loss at how the Dunmer forces managed to move around the island so quickly. The strongholds have mostly been taken over by cultists and bandits by now, but none of them know how to use the propylon chambers. Every Dunmer stronghold has one. They’re kind of like old-fashioned guild guides, but you need the right index to operate them.” He held up the rock again. “I’m trying to gather all the indices right now. I think that if I have all ten I’ll be able to create a master index, which would allow you to travel through any of the propylon chambers with just one index.”
“How many have you found?”
“Just the one, I’m afraid. I’m getting too old to run all over the island tracking down indices.” Folms looked at her, as if suddenly aware of her situation. “I’ll tell you what – if you can help me find the rest of the indices, then I’ll give you the master index when I’m finished with it. I really wouldn’t have any use for it, anyway.”
“You would do that?” Fenara asked, shocked at his generosity.
“Certainly,” Folms said brightly. “Do we have a deal?”
“A deal,” Fenara confirmed. “I’ll bring them all straight to you.”
“Wonderful,” Folms said. “Now, about that alchemy equipment.” He leaned in, making sure no one heard. “There’s an old set of pretty good apparatuses in the tower of the guildhall. If you close the door behind you and make sure no one sees, you can take them.”
“Is that allowed?”
“Probably not,” Folms said casually. “But I’ve been here longer than any of the other mages pottering around this guildhall, and nobody uses that set anymore. Go on and take them.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said gratefully. She found the alchemy equipment easily and found that it was, as Folms had said, a very decent set of apparatuses, though not as well-designed as her’s had been. Carefully packing them away, she said goodbye to Folms and took the guild guide to Ald’ruhn.
Fenara had only briefly been in the Ald’ruhn guildhall, but she found she much preferred it to Balmora. The main room was supported by mosaic-covered pillars and lined with long tables heaped with books. The guild guide showed her to an empty room she could stay in, and Fenara gratefully emptied her bag. The bed here was a nice change from her apartment in Balmora, and Fenara resisted the urge to curl up on it at that very moment and went downstairs to introduce herself to the guildhall leader here.
Edwinna Elbert was a stout Breton woman with deep lines on her face that made her look more tired than anything. When Fenara introduced herself, she merely nodded and murmured something about needing a book.
“Can you do that for me, Associate?”
“I – pardon?”
“Chronicles of Nchuleft. Can you get a copy for me?”
“Oh!” Fenara said, understanding suddenly. “Yes! I – um, actually, I have a copy upstairs in my room –”
“Go get it.” As Fenara went upstairs to fetch the book, she had a nagging suspicion that Edwinna’s jobs would be mostly errands. Perhaps that was why Ajiira liked her so much.

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