On the blazing Sun’s Dawn morning Martina Floria died, after undertaking an experiment that no one else would have ever dared to try, my attention was drawn to a foreign merchant at the Market Square who was loudly displaying some new Bretonian pipe-weed. Her demise did not surprise me, for it was common knowledge that her mind had already partly passed on and it was only a matter of time when the rest of her would follow. I knew that the same madness would eventually inflict itself upon me as well, but it would still take many of a year for it to come to pass. I was certain that Martina never truly appreciated my methods of approaching illusion magic; but now that she was no more I felt compelled to cherish her memory, without any hint of that bitter rivalry which defined our relationship for so long. I remembered the second of the Rain’s Hand being the day when we both received the rank of Wizard; on that day to pay my respects to her fellow colleagues at the Arcane University, and to her apprentice Kud-Ei, would be seen as an act of necessary evil, yet make perfect sense. Once again I would have to withstand the smell of sulfur, the smell that so many familiarize with the Chironasium where both schools of magic, illusion and enchanting, are put into practice. Once again I would have to withstand the absurd demonstrations of Martina’s craftsmanship: Martina’s Levitating Tea-Pot; Martina’s Self-Tying Shoelaces; and Martina’s Bottomless Bucket which, if I may note, was originally an Altmeri expression to describe the lack of usefulness in illusion magic. All the same, I decided to return to the University more often, for I seemed to enjoy the company of fellow wizards more than I had remembered.
Martina Floria died in 341st year of the Third Era. From that time on, I never let Rain’s Hand pass without paying a visit to the Arcane University. However, I always stayed far away from the Chironasium, as the smell of rotten eggs is problematic, to say the least, to remove from one’s robes in conventional ways. Each year, I arrived to the Imperial City a day or two later and stay few days longer. It was during one of these visits, these social spring-time journeys, when Martina’s apprentice Kud-Ei requested an audience with me.
Martina had been an Imperial and a sorceress. She was absent minded and a woman of frail figure, a trait that so many other wizards share, but there was never a doubt that she would have been lacking in either intelligence or willpower. Her apprentice on the other hand was an Argonian and a Spellsword. Her scales had started to gather more and more red and orange tint, a well-known indication of an elderly age among the reptilian specie. She might have been an apprentice to Martina but she was also a very able wizard herself. In fact, she had been stationed to the Mage’s Guild of Bravil as an illusion magic trainer for the newcomers. She held her head high, for being the apprentice of a Master Wizard was no petty position, even if her master’s primary school of magic was that of illusion. Nonetheless, Kud-Ei did not receive the rank of a Master Wizard when her mentor passed away, and even though she acted as she would not have minded, everyone knew of her ambitious traits and thus had hard time believing her expressed sincerity.
The Mage’s Quarters never felt like home, not even throughout the years I spent there as an apprentice. Instead our meeting took place at a local inn, situated at the Market Square, the same inn that I took as my home during my stay in the city. Alongside with the delicious sweetroll, made with the hands of none the less than Salmo the Baker himself, I also dared to taste the house mead. Kud-Ei tasted the mead, thought of it as decent, and only after few full pints started finally revealing her reasons for wanting to meet me.
Without a doubt she was fully aware of the tension between her late master and myself, and showed no courtesy while addressing her superior. She had come, maybe only to boast, to tell me of an enchantment spell she and Martina had been working on. So foolish seemed her idea to me, so unconventional and without any coherence to other aspects of enchanting magic, that I asked if she has any written records of their experiments. As one could have, or rather should have guessed, she had a spell tome with her to prove her arguments valid – and that none before me had let to know anything of the matter, as their research was conducted in secrecy – and that not even Hannibal Traven, the arch-mage, had been told of their private project.
For more that of courtesy than interest I asked her to demonstrate on what they had found. She opened a specific section from the tome – clearly meant to be opened at first try – and, with a tone that made her sound as she would have been full of herself, uttered:
“Here lies the spell of spells”, she said, with a proud smirk on her face. “This spell will make the Thu’ums of dragons sound like beggar’s cry”, she continued without hesitation. “It will make Mannimarco look as he would have never known anything of necromancy, and from Gauldur to Traven there has been no one who has discovered what we have”. She continued with her babbling for a moment or two, and after the glorifying introduction was finished, Kud-Ei turned my focus on the drawings in the tome.
There was nothing spectacular about them. I did not find them any better than an apprentice’s first tries in hand-drawn sketches of the simplest enchantments. There were lines and symbols, many of them familiar to any wizard, for it seemed to me that every aspect of magic was mentioned and no school was forgotten. Without Kud-Ei’s guidance, I believe, it would take even a well-trained scholar more time than it would be worth to unravel and decrypt all that incoherency of the drawings and notes. Maybe noticing my confusion, Kud-Ei turned the pages of the tome and laid in front of me a picture that, according to her, showed the beauty of simplicity in all that was chaotic in the structure of the spell. It was a drawing, where lines were drawn to connect themselves to nodes, and then turning back to the same direction where the lines started from, making the lines and nodes looking something similar to leaves of a flower, a dandelion. I saw; however, that Kud-Ei’s true interest lay in the central node, one that connected all the surrounding ones and that was clearly the beginning and the end for all that was important in the tome, at least for Kud-Ei. She explained to me that it was an Aleph, one of the nodes in space that contains all connects all the other nodes in the network. She argued the Aleph being the source of infinite power, loaning its raw magical forces to all schools of magic. And harnessing that power into an enchantment spell would permit unlimited power, of any kind, to be forged alongside with a construction of a given item.
“It’s in the cellar under the Chironasium,” she continued, so overly excited that she forgot to maintain the arrogant tone of her voice. “It’s mine – mine. I discovered it when I was anapprentice, all by myself. The cellar is so perilous that Martina and Delmar, the staff craftsman, forbade me ever going there, but I’d eavesdropthem saying there was something that was not right. I found out later they meant no undead presence lurking in the shadows, but at the time I thought they were referring to necromancy, or worse. One day when all the staff was gathered to the Arboretum, I decended the stairs in secret, but dripped and fell into the darkness. When gathered myself and stood up, I saw the Aleph.”
“The Aleph?” I repeated.
“Yes, the only place inTamriel where all magicspursfrom –witnessed so distinctly, each school making an appearance, without any sign of tampering or artificiality. I kept the Aleph as a secret at first and went back every chance I got. As anapprentice, I did not believe that this privilege was granted me only for it to be taken away from me by superior ranking wizards. No, Delmar would not take the pride of discovering something so great for me – no, and an infinite numbers of no!
I did not believe a thing that she said, thinking the poor woman must have had hit her head as she fell down the cellar stairs. ”Surely such a source of power would have been found earlier, things of such potent magical energy hardly go unnoticed, least to say under the Chironasium itself”, I answered.
”Truth will not reaveal itself to those who do not wish to believe it. Perhaps the case is, that the Aleph was not found exactly because it is there, under the very feet of everyone, too close to be thought of at all.”
”Show me. Right now.”
I stood up before she could reject. It was now certain to me that Kud-Ei was either mad, or she was making a mockery of me, believing that I could be fooled so easily. Maybe she shared the madness of Martina already, but then again, all illusionists share the same fate. I simply wanted to get the farse over with and determinedly turned to the door opening to the Market Square. To my surprise, Kud-Ei did not utter a single word, only gathered her documents and followed me silently.
We arrived to the University soon after. We were greeted by Raminus Polus, one of the main administrators of the Mage’s Guild, and continued through the gardens to the Chironasium. Inside a lecture was being given to new apprentices, Delmar himself appearing as their mentor. The smell of sulfur filled my senses and a lump developed into my throat. On top of one of the enchanting altars was hanged a portrait of the late Martina Floria. With an act of pity, I approached the portrait and said to it: ”Martina, oh Martina Floria, if you could only see me now being lead by one of your pupils, it’s me, Falcar.”
Without disturbing the lecture any further we headed at the cellar door. Kud-Ei seemed confident in herself. There was no hint of uneasiness in her.
”First a potion of Night-Eye”, she ordered while giving me a flask of purple tinted liquid, ”you still want to see in the dark so you will not fall down the stairs as did I. Let me warn you, it is cold and wet down there, and shadows seem to be alive. Still you must lie on your back and focus your thoughts on the second last step. Once you go through the door I will close it behind you and you’ll be quite lonely. You needn’t fear the rodents, they are more afraid of you than you of them – though I know you will, nonetheless. In few moments you will see the Aleph – the…
I had suffered enough of her presence for a lifetime and embarked through the cellar door, leaving Kud-Ei alone with her folliness. The cellar door was slowly closed by the hand of Kud-Ei and then it was dark. The potion’s effect started slowly, but in few moments my eyes were accustomed to the darkness. I saw nothing out of ordinary, only barrels and empty wooden shelves. I thought to myself that this was already enough, but decided to play along little longer.
As I laid myself down to the ground, an uncomfortable feeling casted itself upon me: ”What if the meaning of all this was only to get me down here, being locked in a cellar where no rarely visits. Dark places such as the cellar of the Chironasium are known to be the realm of the dead, both the resting and the restless.” I felt stupid for drinking the potion without a question, now thinking it must have been poison. How could I have let myself fooled like this? Surely this was only a plot, weaved by Martina herself in her madness, to finally get rid of her rival for good – and the task was given to her apprentice – so Martina, even in death, would have the last of the laughs.
But I did not feel any different, the potion seemed to have only the effect it was made to have. I calmed myself, confident on my own skills to save me from such a situation, and continued staring at the steps.
I now arrive at the climax of my story. Here begins my own madness as a wizard. All magic is set in symbols, runes, or carefully weighted words of the speaker. How then, could I possibly describe the Aleph that had all the shapes without having a shape at all; to make no sound at all but to have at the same time the faintest of whispers and loudest of thunders; to have such vulgar display of power, only for it to be leaking out of a void? In the Aleph I saw the Nine Divines; from Akatosh to Kynareth; and from Mara to Talos himself. I saw the dragons of the previous Eras that were no longer; I saw the Dremora lord Mehrunes Dagon sitting on his throne in the realm of Oblivion; and I saw myself, and everyone else, multiplied by infinity. It was a shock of awe; a terrifying but at the same time the most beautiful sight a wizard has ever casted his eyes upon; but no, there are no words in any of the languages in Tamriel, or in words of magic for that matter, to describe what I had seen.
It was a spehere of pure energy, howering over the second last step as I was told. It was brighter than thousand suns, but as dark as death itself. Only, that the light and darkness were in complete harmony, lended themselves to the other, instead being absolute opposites. All magic was there and yet it felt that magic did not even exist. It was as if one could grasp the energy, only for it to fade away in an instant. All that was magical made an appearance: all the elements of destruction magic; the unfathomable power master alteration spells; the magic of living death, necromancy, was intertwined with its opposite, restoration magic, with a similar harmony of the light and the dark. Illusion was there, conjuration was there, mysticism was there, and many other types of magic that have have never been given a name. I could not believe what I saw right in front of me, but it was indeed the source of all that is magical in the universe.
”Do you still doubt the truth of my claim, so confident in your own wisdom and expertise that you are?” asked a squeaking voice from the top of the stairs. ”One damn magnificent sight, wasn’t it, Falcar?”
The light coming from Chironasium hurt my eyes, as the effect of the Night-Eye had not yet worn off, but the mocking tone of Kud-Ei did not go unnoticed. I stood up from the floor, shook my head and still not sure what had happened I rushed out of the cellar. I had seen something that cannot be described in words; I had seen something that is everything and nothing, always and never. I simply could not believe my senses and and became determined that I had been fooled by an illusion spell, the most potent illusion spell I had ever witnessed, but a mere illusion still.
At that moment I found my revenge. I kindly thanked for him, openly pitying his attempt, for locking me into a dark cellar and expressed my, supposedly sincerest,congratulations of fooling an elderly mage to take part in such childish play. I did not wait for Kud-Ei’s answer, as the scales in her face seemed to turn more red than usual, and departed from the smell of Chironasium.
As I passed the pipe-weed selling merchant at the Market Square I felt that no magic could ever surprise me anymore. I felt sad and angry, for I thought that the illusion I was force to see took away the beauty in molding the universe by my own hands. For that, I was angry at Kud-Ei and had a feeling that Martina was laughing at me somewhere in the beyond.
Post-script, 433th of the Third Era: A year passed since my visit to the cellar where I had seen the Aleph. For that time I did not return to the University,and instead stayed to myself, attending to my duties as the head of the Cheydinhal Mage’s Guild. When the new Annual Review of the Mage’s Guild was published, almost the half of it was devoted to a research which was titled ‘The Aleph’.Kud-Ei received the title of a Master Wizard thanks to her work, which to me seemed as more coherent gathering of the tome she had shown to me. I wrote to Kud-Ei, expressing my doubtfulness of the legitimacy of her research, but only received a short reply letter containing such language that I will not repeat here.
To this day I still do not believe the Aleph exists. Not in the cold and wet cellar where I was lead to, nor anywhere else. The existence of such a thing is impossible, even in the world of magic, and most certainly Kud-Ei and Martina had found a mere illusion spell that granted them fame and glory among the scholars of the Arcane University. But I have become tired; I feel my mind fading away, and bitterness has taken me. The bitterness caused by a dead woman’s laughter, echoing from her grave.