Master and Apprentice
"Imagine yourself on a cold, dry winter night. You're on your way to a warm and comfortable room, and you reach for the door. The moment your finger touches the iron handle it sends a sudden, unexpected shock through your hand and it instinctively recoils back. Think of that feeling. Try to call it up in your mind right now."
"We're on the edge of Black Marsh. We don't get cold, dry winters here."
"Oh yes, I forget. You've never been up north, have you? But you still know the feeling I'm talking about, yes?"
"Mhmm, but it doesn't happen often enough for it to be a vivid memory."
"Okay. Let's try a different way."
"You're not going to shock me, are you?"
"I'm going to shock you. Don't worry Aemilia, this won't hurt, just sting a little bit. You might even like it."
She set a hand on the younger Imperial woman's arm with all five fingers extended- not the usual grasp for holding on to someone nor the soft touch of a loving caress. The moment her fingertips met with Aemilia's skin, bright sparks flashed where they made contact. The woman jumped back with a surprised yelp.
"Ouch! That hurt!"
"Sorry," she responded with a slight smirk. "That should've left a good impression though. Remember the hand positioning I taught you and try that on me now."
Aemilia did exactly that. She stepped forward and stretched out her hand, her fingers touching the exposed skin of the other Imperial woman where her robes ended. A flash emitted between them for a moment and she was sent stumbling backwards, leading to a fit of laughter from Aemilia before she turned more serious.
"Are you okay?"
"Oh I've been stung worse," she chuckled. "Now you already know how to project a destruction spell. It's the same process as casting flames, just with the feeling of that shock instead of warmth, and of course the proper hand movements."
She stood unmoving but watchfully as Aemilia turned away from her and reached both hands in front of her, fingers straight. A few sparks flickered around her fingertips, but nothing more significant happened. The woman glanced back at her for advice but she simply gave a nod. Aemilia spun around, took a few steps forwards and tried once again, achieving the same unspectacular result. Then, she let out an "oh!" as she finally managed to interpret her teachers advice and lowered her fingers so that they were pointing more outwards than upwards. This time, the lightning crackled around her hand before shooting away from her fingers and across the room. Beams of light danced and caused the house to flash violently, interrupting the slower rhythm of the firelight.
The spell burned bright but burned out quickly, with the lightning lasting only few seconds before ending abruptly. Aemilia returned her arms to her sides as she took a few heavy breaths.
"That was a very good first try," she said to the recovering apprentice. "I'll teach you how to draw less magicka so you can sustain it longer, but you've already done better than most at this stage. You've certainly learned how to project a good distance."
"I...might have been too ambitious there," Aemilia admitted. "I spent too much energy projecting it further and didn't leave enough to keep it going."
"You're only starting out. In time, you'll find a good balance. Maybe try to master the easier shock on contact first."
Aemilia suddenly spun around with a grin on her face and tapped her instructor on the shoulder, sending a jolt through the older woman that nearly brought her to the ground.
"Hey!" she exclaimed.
"You were the one who said it wouldn't hurt and that I might even enjoy it!" Aemilia replied in between bouts of laughter.
She joined in on the cheerfulness as she regained her composure, "In all seriousness though, you did well."
Reaching forward, she aimed to give the young woman a friendly pat on the shoulder but found Aemilia stepping back cautiously from the touch, which only renewed their laughing. When it died down, she approached again, this time raising and offering her hand slowly.
"There's better ways to have fun with a shock spell than trying to hit one another with it," she smiled. "Come on, I can show you..."
"The key to any spell is your mind. Some call it willpower, some call it intelligence, and others say it is imagination. In my experience, you need everything your mind has to offer. Most spells use some form of activation motion, usually a gesture or a verbal command. That is the part you see, but it is actually the easiest part. At advanced levels, motion and incantation often become unnecessary as they are done to help you focus your mind and direct the arcane energy where you want it. For what you seek to do, a simple open palm towards the injury will suffice for that step."
Celata straightened all five fingers and pushed her hand out to demonstrate. Asa mimicked the gesture perfectly, hovering her hand above Cato's wounded arm. If it was intelligence that was truly the driving force behind magic as a few scholars had claimed, the golden haired woman was certainly not lacking any of that. Celata had heard the bandits speak of her knowledge of Skyrim's wilds and wondered how much more experienced they could be compared to the Nord outlaws who also spent their entire lives in the province. Now, she had seen for herself as Asa led them through the snowy landscape, tamed one of its most feared predators and most recently, returned with a completely refilled vial of healing solution that she had concocted from ingredients in their surroundings.
As talented as the Nord was, Celata was not quite sure she was ready for healing a battle wound just yet, "Perhaps we should attempt something less severe first. Do either of you have any small cuts?"
"I'm sure we've both got plenty of those right now," Cato responded.
It was Asa who found a suitable spot to practice on first as she removed one of her gloves to reveal a tiny gash across one of her fingers, "I got this foraging through some bushes."
"That'll suffice," Celata affirmed. "Now, you're a hunter. You know what it's like to slice through the skin and flesh."
Asa gave a simple nod, and the Imperial mage continued.
"Imagine that process done backwards. Think of the strands when you tear apart a piece of well-cooked meat. Picture those strands slowly binding themselves back together. In your mind, fuse the separated flesh, pull the broken skin back together and slowly fade away the line of their joining until all signs of the damage are gone."
The Nord woman nodded again and placed her open palm above her cut, focusing intently for a few seconds. Nothing happened, and she tried once more. When it failed still, she looked to the mage with a confused stare.
"Like anything else, it takes practice to get right. Try to picture the process I described for the specific wound. See your own flesh melding back together, the red line on your hand disappearing."
Asa continued for several attempts, looking back to her instructor after each. Celata simply encouraged her to keep trying and stay focused and calm, as frustration was a mage's greatest enemy. A disillusioned spellcaster's magic was even more likely to fail and sometimes even backfire, doing the exact opposite of what it was meant to do or performing the effect on an unintended target. Asa took a seat beside Cato on the bronze piping that ran through the cave as she made her efforts, with Celata standing and watching over her.
Further down along the pipeline, Drubgurz and three of his ex-legionnaires gathered around the Dwarven chest where they had hidden away their valuables. The Redguard man and Imperial woman whom they met outside the cave were there, joined by a Dunmer man who made it to the cave some time after Celata and the others arrived. Silently and with a barely visible wiggle of her fingers she cast a spell to manipulate the way the sound bounced off the cavern walls so she would be able to hear them better. As she expected, they were discussing how best to discreetly trade for supplies and what they could afford to get.
She broke off her spell as she noticed a red flicker between Asa's hands. The Nord woman had seen it too and removed the hand performing the spell, holding the other one up to examine closely. Celata stepped over and she showed her the cut- it was far from healed but the colour had faded quite significantly, no longer being a deep red line.
"That's it," she smiled. "Just keep doing what you did there, and it should heal bit by bit."
Asa had resumed before she even finished speaking, and she watched more intently now as the Nord achieved her first success and was on her way to making good progress. The faint red glow emanated as Asa returned her hand above the finger, and she held the glow for several seconds before taking her hand away. This time, the line of the cut was barely visible save for a slight break on the very surface of the skin. After another go, the minor wound was completely healed, and Asa beamed proudly.
"Excellent," Celata commented. "It's a very simple restoration spell you're performing, but it can still be quite taxing for someone who hasn't learned to draw magicka properly yet. Are you feeling any signs you'd normally associate with weariness of the body or the mind?"
The Nord woman shook her head, then glanced to Cato. She looked back to the work she had performed on her own hand, then to Cato's now mostly healed injury from the Imperial arrow. Asa's hand left her side once again, this time to hover by Cato's shoulder.
"I don't think you're ready for that quite yet," Cato said with a chuckle.
"I want to see what happens if I try," she responded. "It worked on myself, so it shouldn't harm you at least."
"You might be able to do something, but it won't be a visible difference, at least not for the while you can sustain it," Celata stated. "You're welcome to try, but don't overexert yourself. There's better practice we can put your magicka energy to use with."
Asa did not heed the advice and held her hand in front of Cato's arm. Celata watched indifferently as the Nord woman extended her newly learned power beyond its limits. The red glow did form from her hand and engulfed Cato, the arcane energy soon focusing itself around the arm as Asa no doubt began visualizing the reforming of that particular wound. Like Celata had expected, not much actually changed at the site of the injury as the Nord's control over the spell was not as powerful as it could have been. Still, she observed while this went on in order to take in the details of Asa's pose and read her expression so that she might spot something for the novice to improve on.
"Okay, that's enough," Celata said after a minute. "Asa..."
"I'm achieving something," the golden haired woman refused. "The colour's a little lighter now."
Indeed, when Celata glanced back to the wound the red colour had faded slightly- just enough to be visible though it required a keen eye to notice the difference from before. She turned her attention back to Asa to persuade the Nord to pause again, but stopped short as she saw no signs of wear on her visage or body at all. Celata realized just how long Asa had been casting the healing spell now. It was a very basic and weak spell, but no beginner could possibly manage to draw upon so much magicka.
For a moment she wondered if the woman was hiding something, but the idea was ridiculous. If she were actually someone who had used magic before, the effects of her spell would not be so feeble. If she were so experienced that she could purposefully control her abilities to seem like a novice, she would have to be a master of not only the arcane but also of lies and deception. Celata had spent years upon years learning to read people and to use that knowledge to her advantage. Asa had to be very skilled to fool her without arousing her suspicion, and assuming she was so cunning, she had no reason to reveal her true nature now after so much effort to conceal it. No, this was something else.
The colour of the wound kept fading shade by shade as Asa maintained the spell. In all her days as a mage she had never seen someone who had only started learning to harness magicka so steadily. When Asa had finally decided to stop casting, her feat was even more impressive than anything Celata's former, very talented apprentice had managed to achieve in her early months of training, and she had begun with prior experience. No one knew for certain where the energies that fuel mages' powers came from, but all who use them understood that they were not something easy to tap into. Celata had felt something strangely radiant about Asa when she first set eyes on the golden haired Nord, and it wasn't just her appearance. Could the boundaries between Nirn and the arcane powers act differently for this woman? If so, why would it? She had certainly never encountered anyone like this before...