When Ben returned to the college, he found that the orb had been moved to the Hall of the Elements and was now floating above the energy well in the center of the main lecture room. Tolfdir stood at the well, gazing raptly up at the orb, with Blanche standing next to him. Ben’s stoic aunt was wizard, vampire, and Dragonborn, and Ben loved her. She was the main reason he had taken an interest in magic as a boy.
“Aunt Blanche! It’s good to see you.” He rushed over to her and leaned in to kiss her cheek.
“You heard about the orb, I guess.”
“Yes, the Arch-Mage sent for me immediately. It’s quite the phenomenon.”
“So did Ma tell you? About me being Dragonborn, I mean.”
“She did. We already knew, of course.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I doubt you could learn Shouts as quickly as you do if you weren’t Dragonborn.”
“Then why didn’t she tell me?” he demanded.
“It’s a heavy burden to lay on young shoulders, Ben. Rather you aspire to it than carry it throughout your childhood.”
“I suppose you’re right, but I don’t like being lied to. She’s going to be mad that you told me.”
“I wouldn’t have told you without her permission. It was time, and she couldn’t be here to tell you herself.”
“I want to catch up with you, but I have some books to drop off with Urag.”
“I’ll be here,” she said with the half-smile that was usually all she could muster.
Ben went upstairs to the Arcaneum and placed the books on Urag’s counter.
“Well, well,” the orc said. “I see you made it out alive.”
“I had help. My sister went along.”
“The Companion, right? I’m surprised. I’ve heard they’re against magic use.”
Ben shrugged. “They can be a bit paranoid when it comes to magic, but Rowan and I grew up around magic, so she’s not afraid of it. Plus, she hates necromancers, apparently, and there were a lot of those to fight at Fellglow Keep.”
Urag picked up one of the books. “Hmm. Night of Tears. I remember this one. Did you read it?”
“Aye, while I was camping on the way back. It said the Nords had found something buried beneath Saarthal and the elves attacked because they wanted it. I guess that answers Tolfdir’s question about why it was sealed in there.”
“You should discuss that with him. In the meantime, I’ll read through these and see if I can come up with any more relevant information. Thank you for the leg work.”
Ben went back to the Hall of the Elements, where Tolfdir still stood staring up at the orb, although Blanche was nowhere to be seen. Ben could understand its appeal. Aside from its otherworldly beauty, it resonated with magic, humming softly as it spun on an invisible axis and sending tingles throughout his body.
“Urag suggested I come see you,” he told the old wizard. “I found a book that had some pertinent information. Night of Tears.”
“Ah, yes, I remember that one. It said men and mer fought over something buried beneath Saarthal. I’ll have to make a point of reading it again. For now, I can’t seem to tear myself away from our wonderful discovery. Its beauty is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Walk with me while I make some observations.” He started to amble around the orb. “I’m sure you’ve already noticed the markings. They’re not in any known language. I’m not certain you’re as attuned as I am, given my years of experience, but can you feel that?”
“Yes, yes. It practically radiates magicka, yet it’s unlike anything I’ve felt before.”
Ancano came into the hall and strode over to Ben and Tolfdir. “I’m afraid I must intrude. It is urgent that I speak with your associate immediately.”
“This is most inappropriate!” Tolfdir huffed. “We’re involved in serious research here.”
“I understand, but this is a matter that cannot wait.”
“The audacity! Ben, we’ll have to continue this at a later time.” He started to walk out of the room but stopped, turned, and went to the other side of the orb instead.
“What do you want?” Ben asked the Altmer.
“I want you to tell me why a monk from the Psijic Order is at the college, asking for you.”
“A what?” Ben responded, playing dumb. “I don’t even know what that is.”
“Don’t think I don’t know you were asking about them earlier. Now, we’re going to go have a little chat with him and find out what he wants.”
“And what business is it of yours, exactly?”
Ancano paused for a moment as if searching for a response. “If it concerns the college, it concerns me,” he said finally. “Now, you are going to speak to this . . . monk . . . and find out why he is here, and then he will be removed from the college grounds.”
He followed Ancano to the Arch-Mage’s quarters, where an elven mage in golden robes waited with Savos Aren and Blanche. When Ben entered, the room filled with a pale, blue aura. It was different from the light that had appeared in Saarthal when the Psijic monk had visited him, but the effect was the same: everyone except for Ben and the monk froze in place.
“Please do not be alarmed,” the monk said. “I mean you and your colleagues no harm. I merely wish to speak to you, and attempts to contact you as we did previously have failed. I cast a spell so that we could speak privately. I am Quaranir. I must be brief; I cannot keep this up for long. I believe our inability to contact you is due to the source of our concern.”
“You mean the orb?”
“The Psijic Order does not normally intervene in matters outside the Isle of Arteum, and some will see my presence here as an affront. I’m all too aware that my arrival has aroused suspicion with the Thalmor.”
A chill ran down Ben’s spine. “The Thalmor?”
“My order cannot act directly in these events. You must take it upon yourself to do so.”
“You know I’m just an apprentice, right?”
“Perhaps, but you set this chain of events in motion at Saarthal.”
“But I was just doing as I was told.”
“It matters not. Even as an apprentice, you are skillful, and you are best suited to deal with the situation. As you may have learned, this orb is immensely powerful. The world is not ready for it. If it remains here, it will be misused.”
“What do you expect me to do, then? I don’t think the Arch-Mage will listen to me if I just ask him to get rid of it.”
“Then your efforts should be directed toward dealing with the aftermath. Unfortunately, we cannot predict what that will be. The power of the orb has obscured our vision of the future. I would recommend that you seek out the Augur of Dunlain here in the college. His perception may be more coherent than ours.”
“The Augur of Dunlain? I’ve never heard of him.”
“He was once a student here, but now he is . . . something different. Speak to your colleagues; they should be able to help you find him. I’m sorry I cannot provide more help, but this conversation requires a great deal of effort on my part. I’m afraid I must leave you.”
“Wait. You mentioned the Thalmor. They’re not even allowed in Skyrim anymore.”
“How many times have you gone somewhere you were not allowed?”
“Good point,” Ben muttered.
“The Thalmor see our order as a threat because we have power and will not permit them to control us. As is always the case in matters of power, the Thalmor will covet the orb. You must prevent them from getting it.”
“But how am I supposed to do that?”
“I cannot say. Know that we will continue to watch over you and guide you as best we can. It is within you to succeed; never forget that.”
The light returned to normal, and Ancano, Blanche, and the Arch-Mage started moving again.
“I’m sorry,” said Savos, “were you about to say something?”
“Well?” Ancano demanded. “What is the meaning of this intrusion? What do you want with this apprentice?”
“I am afraid I don’t understand,” Quaranir replied innocently.
“Don’t play coy with me. You asked to see a specific member of the college. Well, here he is. What do you want with him?”
“There has clearly been a misunderstanding. I should not be here. I shall take my leave.”
“What? You’re not going anywhere until I find out what you’re up to.”
“I thought you wanted him to leave,” Ben taunted.
“I assure you I am not ‘up to’ anything. I apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused.” Quaranir left without another word.
Ancano pointed a threatening finger at Ben. “This is not over.”
Ben fought the urge to reach out and bite the Altmer’s finger.
Ancano stormed off, and the Arch-Mage peered helplessly at Ben. “I don’t know what just happened,” he said. “A Psijic monk here after all these years, and then he just leaves. I do hope Ancano didn’t offend him.”
“Any idea what he wanted?”
“All I know is that he asked to see you.”
“Arch-Mage, have you ever heard of the Augur of Dunlain?”
Blanche raised an eyebrow with interest but remained silent.
Savos rolled his eyes. “Has Tolfdir been telling stories again? This subject is inappropriate for conversation, and I’ve told him this many times.”
“So you have heard of him?”
“Please. Do not allow him to discuss it.” He waved a hand, dismissing Ben.
Blanche followed Ben out of the Arch-Mage’s quarters and stopped him on the stairs. “What just happened?” she asked.
“That monk stopped time or something so he could talk to me in private. He told me the Thalmor were trying to get their hands on the orb and I had to stop them. He said I should speak with the Augur of Dunlain. Do you know anything about him?”
“Only stories. He was once a student here, and he was involved in some sort of accident, but I’m afraid I don’t know much more. The Arch-Mage has always been very tight-lipped about it. The monk mentioned the Thalmor?”
“Aye, he implied that they were already in Skyrim.”
With that, Blanche came very close to having a facial expression. “The High King will want to know about this.”
“You gonna pay him a visit?” Ben asked with a smirk. Blanche and Ulfric despised each other. Some years back, he had indirectly caused harm to her family, and she had clawed a new scar into his already rugged face.
“Not if I can help it. But I will send word.”
* * *
Later that evening, as he and Faralda lay tangled together in her bed, Ben asked her about the Augur.
“It’s not my place to say anything,” she said.
“Why is this guy such a big secret?”
“Well, if I told you that, it wouldn’t be a secret.”
“Ugh, you’re killing me!”
“I’m sorry, Ben. It’s just not something I can discuss. Try going to Mirabelle Ervine.”
But Ben knew better. The haughty Master Wizard wouldn’t tell him anything; she wasn’t exactly fond of him. It wasn’t his fault. If somebody had told him she was Master Wizard, he wouldn’t have tried to get her into bed the first day he was at the college. No, if he really wanted information about the Augur, he’d need to talk to Tolfdir.
* * *
“Well, now,” the mage said when Ben asked him the next morning, “I haven’t heard that name in quite a while. He was a brilliant student and an accomplished wizard. This was before my time, by the way. A curious and astute pupil, but he focused too much on just how much power he could acquire. It caused a terrible accident, I’m afraid. Then again, I suppose ‘terrible’ is subjective. He is incredibly powerful, after all.”
“Do you know where I can find him?”
“I would guess he’s still down in the Midden. If you go to see him, tell him I said hello.”
“The Midden? Where is that?”
“It’s underneath the college. It’s not the nicest place in the world, so do be careful. There are trap doors in the Hall of Countenance and just outside the Hall of Attainment.”
“Don’t mention it. When you return, perhaps we can continue our discussion about the orb.”
“I look forward to it. And maybe the Augur can provide some insight too.”
Tolfdir smiled brightly. “That would be lovely!”
Ben found the trap door in the courtyard outside the Hall of Attainment and descended into the Midden. He navigated several long, dark sewage tunnels; after growing up in the Cistern, he felt right at home. He had to admit, however, that the occasional skeleton or bloody ritual remains he found were quite disturbing. He shuddered when he encountered two full humanoid skeletons hanging high on a wall, one of which had its head replaced with a deer skull.
Far down into the sewer, as he approached a door in a snow-covered cavern, a voice rang through the air.
“Your perseverance will only lead to disappointment.”
Maybe, Ben thought. Maybe not. He tried the door.
“Still you persist? Very well, you may enter.”
The door opened onto a small, round room with a magicka well in the center. Instead of the subtle blue light these magical focal points usually emitted, a blinding azure glow floated above the well. But it was more than just light; Ben got the distinct impression that it was sentient.
“Uh, are you the Augur of Dunlain?”
“I am that which you seek,” said a deep, booming voice. “Your efforts are in vain; it has already begun.”
“There’s no way to stop it?”
“Have those who sent you told you what they seek? What you seek?”
“I’m thinking no?”
“You seek that which all who wield magic seek: knowledge. Knowledge about the Eye of Magnus. But knowledge will corrupt, destroy, consume.”
“I heard what happened to you. But you can’t just assume that everybody is like that.”
“The Thalmor sought the same thing, and it shall lead to his end, as it has so many others.”
“Thalmor? What Thalmor?”
“The one who calls himself Ancano.”
Ben’s jaw dropped. “Ancano? A Thalmor? Here?”
“He seeks information about the Eye of Magnus, but what he finds will be quite different. His path will cross yours in time, but first you must find that which you need.”
“I need to tell someone he’s here.”
“You must know more about the Eye so that you can avert a disaster, but events are spiraling out of control and this disaster cannot be avoided. To see through Magnus’s Eye without being blinded, you require his staff, and you must act with haste. Take this knowledge to your Arch-Mage.” With that, the bright light went out and left only the pale glow of the focal point.
* * *
Ben went to seek out the Arch-Mage and found him in the Hall of the Elements with the Eye. “Ancano is Thalmor,” he said without preamble.
Savos Aren pursed his lips. “Ben, while I realize Ancano can be demanding and abrasive, I assure you he is no Thalmor, and it is beneath you to make such baseless accusations.”
“The Augur of Dunlain told me.”
“Did he, now? And what made him believe such a thing?”
Ben shrugged. “You know more about what he is than I do. He also called the orb the Eye of Magnus and said we needed to find the Staff of Magnus.”
“He specifically mentioned the Staff of Magnus?”
“I see. Well, someone should follow up on this.”
“Where do I start?”
“I’m impressed with your initiative. I seem to recall Mirabelle mentioning the staff recently. Why don’t you check with her?”
Mirabelle. Great. “What about Ancano?”
“I will see what I can find out,” the Arch-Mage relented. “But don’t worry yourself over it. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.”
Ben found Mirabelle in an office just outside the Arch-Mage quarters. She was sitting at a desk, composing a letter, chewing absently on her lower lip. He folded his arms and leaned against the door jamb, watching her write.
She realized he was there and glared up at him. “Do you need something?” she grumbled.
“You know, the way you nibble on your lip when you’re concentrating is so cute.”
Mirabelle rolled her eyes. “Do we have to go through this every time you’re in my presence?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Because I am Master Wizard of the college where you are a student, and you’re half my age.”
“But otherwise, there wouldn’t be a problem?”
“What do you want, little boy?” she snapped.
Ben sighed with resignation and gave up, although he was wearing her down. He just knew it. “I’m looking for information on the Staff of Magnus.”
The attractive Breton’s eyes widened. “Now, why in the world would you be asking about that?”
“It may be connected to the Eye of Magnus.”
“The ‘Eye of Magnus,’ is it? Look, while that thing—that orb—is quite impressive, let’s not jump to wild conclusions or assign importance beyond what we’re certain of. Where did you get such an idea?”
“From the Augur of Dunlain.”
Mirabelle put her quill down and stood up. She was a full head and shoulders shorter than he was, but she was still intimidating as she glared up at him. “What have you gotten yourself involved in?”
He took a step back. “It’s funny; I keep asking myself that same thing.”
“Ben, whatever is going on, you must be very careful. This is not just some class project. The staff is said to be extremely powerful. It has the capacity to store an incredible amount of magical energy. Many believe it’s only a myth. I might believe it as well if not for those Synod characters who showed up last month.”
“Synod? What’s that?”
“Mages based out of Cyrodiil.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t the Thalmor?”
“The Tha—well, no, I don’t believe—why do you ask?”
“I was told not to make baseless accusations.”
Mirabelle stared at him for a moment, then nodded knowingly. “I see. No, the Synod are separate from the Thalmor. They fancy themselves the Imperial authority on magic, but it’s my understanding that all they really do is make noise in an attempt to curry favor with the Emperor. Lots of politics, little magic. I was actually quite surprised to find them on our doorstep.”
“They were asking about the staff?”
“Yes, they seemed to think it was here. It is clear they’re trying to hoard powerful artifacts.”
“So no one knows where it is?”
“No one here does, although the Synod seemed convinced it was somewhere in Skyrim. They mentioned the ruins of Mzulft in passing. It could be they were headed there.”
Ben smiled. “A dwarven ruin, huh?”
“I suppose you’re intent on looking for the staff, yes?”
“I’ve been told by several people that I was the one who had to do this.”
The Master Wizard shook her head with bewilderment. “I knew you were going to be trouble the day Blanche brought you across our threshold.”
“Speaking of Blanche, have you seen her?”
“I believe she’s in her room in the Hall of Attainment.”
Ben left the office and headed toward the Hall of Attainment muttering to himself that he seemed to be getting a lot of exercise trekking back and forth between mages. Maybe he should just get them in one room and get all of his answers at once.
He knocked on the door jamb to Blanche’s room, where she sat with a book. “Can I talk to you?”
“Of course. Come in.”
Ben sat on her bed and leaned close. “The Augur of Dunlain told me Ancano is Thalmor,” he whispered.
She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. “You’re determined to get me in the same room with Ulfric, aren’t you?”
“You could still send a messenger. It might not even be true. Say, do you know anything about Mzulft?”
“It’s a dwarven ruin in Eastmarch. Nothing special that I know of. Why do you ask?”
“The Augur said I needed to find the Staff of Magnus, and Mirabelle said some members of the Synod were asking about it recently. They were heading to Mzulft. I figure it might be worth looking there.”
“So you’re off to Mzulft all by yourself?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Have you forgotten everything we’ve taught you? You mustn’t go into a ruin like that alone. I’ll go with you.”
Ben brightened. “You will? That’s great!”
“For now, go get some rest. We’ll leave first thing tomorrow. I have letters to compose. I still have to inform His Royal Majesty about the Thalmor, and I’ll want to send a letter to your mother as well.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, then.” He got up and started to walk out the door.
“Ben,” said Blanche.
She motioned for him to come closer, and when he did, she whispered, “Don’t tell anyone else about Ancano being Thalmor. It has to be confirmed before we can do anything, and there’s no sense in causing a panic.”
“I understand. Night, Blanche.”