"Nothing is happening!"
The giant frost atronach stood unfazed as I blasted him with fire. 
Why isn’t it working? I thought frantically to myself. 
I hurled my axe at the creature. It stuck to its chest and burst into white hot flames, but the ice around the blade barely watered. I looked over at Brelyna who was slumped against the icy wall. She had been knocked unconscious by a blow from the atronach’s enormous arm. 
"Brelyna!" I called out, deftly keeping a safe distance from the creature’s deadly arms. "Wake up!"
The Dunmer stirred and raised her head slowly. “Wha-what happened?” she said groggily.
We had escaped the spiders only to be surrounded by a group of ice wraiths in the next corridor we ventured into. The creatures surrounded us immediately, their teeth clacking as they snapped at us viciously from all directions. We had killed the last of them inside this cavern and were catching our breath when Brelyna was suddenly flung across the cave straight into the far wall. 
"Brelyna! Are you hurt?" I called out as I continued my fiery assault.
The atronach seemed to take no notice of the Dunmer as she got up and slowly, if shakily, came around from behind and showered it with fire. 
The creature stood transfixed, confused as to what to do. It turned its torso back and forth, its blade-like arms swinging, as it took turns looking at me and Brelyna while we continued to swath it with fire. 
Small droplets of water began to fall on the snow around the creature. “It’s melting!” I yelled at Brelyna. 
We increased our fiery assault. “I-I don’t know how long I can keep this up!” Brelyna cried out. 
"Hang in there!" I replied, letting the sweat roll down my face. I began to feel light-headed, but I had to keep going on.
Then, suddenly, the frost atronach shattered into a million tiny shards that melted before the ice touched the ground. 

"Nothing is happening!"

The giant frost atronach stood unfazed as I blasted him with fire. 

Why isn’t it working? I thought frantically to myself. 

I hurled my axe at the creature. It stuck to its chest and burst into white hot flames, but the ice around the blade barely watered. I looked over at Brelyna who was slumped against the icy wall. She had been knocked unconscious by a blow from the atronach’s enormous arm. 

"Brelyna!" I called out, deftly keeping a safe distance from the creature’s deadly arms. "Wake up!"

The Dunmer stirred and raised her head slowly. “Wha-what happened?” she said groggily.

We had escaped the spiders only to be surrounded by a group of ice wraiths in the next corridor we ventured into. The creatures surrounded us immediately, their teeth clacking as they snapped at us viciously from all directions. We had killed the last of them inside this cavern and were catching our breath when Brelyna was suddenly flung across the cave straight into the far wall. 

"Brelyna! Are you hurt?" I called out as I continued my fiery assault.

The atronach seemed to take no notice of the Dunmer as she got up and slowly, if shakily, came around from behind and showered it with fire. 

The creature stood transfixed, confused as to what to do. It turned its torso back and forth, its blade-like arms swinging, as it took turns looking at me and Brelyna while we continued to swath it with fire. 

Small droplets of water began to fall on the snow around the creature. “It’s melting!” I yelled at Brelyna. 

We increased our fiery assault. “I-I don’t know how long I can keep this up!” Brelyna cried out. 

"Hang in there!" I replied, letting the sweat roll down my face. I began to feel light-headed, but I had to keep going on.

Then, suddenly, the frost atronach shattered into a million tiny shards that melted before the ice touched the ground. 

We stood still, following the faint skittering sound with our ears. 
The sound crossed above us, followed by a flurry of activity. 
My eyes scanned the cob-web dense ceiling. Hundreds of dark, glinting eyes stared back at me, waiting.
The spiders all dropped to the ground at once and slowly closed in on us, their sharp mandibles clacking in anticipation.
"There are too many!" Brelyna yelled, as she fended off an arachnid. Being a Dunmer, she was largely immune to the freezing poison that these creatures spat out, but it wouldn’t protect her for long.
"Get of here!" I yelled, throwing a flame cloak around me. The spiders near me squealed in terror as the flames lashed out, singing the wiry hairs that covered their exoskeleton. 
"YOL TOOR SHUL!" 
The cavern was flooded with fire, swathing the spiders nearest to me in fire. The others scurried out of the way of their burning sisters but there was no room for them to go. In a matter of minutes, the cramped cavern was filled with screaming, burning spiders.

We stood still, following the faint skittering sound with our ears. 

The sound crossed above us, followed by a flurry of activity. 

My eyes scanned the cob-web dense ceiling. Hundreds of dark, glinting eyes stared back at me, waiting.

The spiders all dropped to the ground at once and slowly closed in on us, their sharp mandibles clacking in anticipation.

"There are too many!" Brelyna yelled, as she fended off an arachnid. Being a Dunmer, she was largely immune to the freezing poison that these creatures spat out, but it wouldn’t protect her for long.

"Get of here!" I yelled, throwing a flame cloak around me. The spiders near me squealed in terror as the flames lashed out, singing the wiry hairs that covered their exoskeleton. 

"YOL TOOR SHUL!" 

The cavern was flooded with fire, swathing the spiders nearest to me in fire. The others scurried out of the way of their burning sisters but there was no room for them to go. In a matter of minutes, the cramped cavern was filled with screaming, burning spiders.

"This way!"
We quickly ducked into the nearest corridor, took a right turn, and a sharp left, then waited and listened. The pounding in my heart seemed to reverberate throughout the ice labyrinth as I struggled to catch my breath. 
A few minutes passed by as we stood with our backs pressed against the cold wall. “Do you think we lost them?” I finally whispered.
"I think so," answered Brelyna. 
I relaxed a little. That was a close call. We had encountered the largest frost troll we had ever seen and it was obvious that it hadn’t had a fresh kill in a long while. We managed to stun him with fireballs long enough to run away. But I knew that we would have to face that creature again, if we were to keep wandering these frozen corridors. 
Except we weren’t in a corridor. 
"Um, Brelyna," I whispered as softly as possible. 
"Hmmm?" she replied, still leaning close to the wall to hear any sign of the frost troll.
"Look up…slowly." 
Puzzled, Brelyna looked up slowly then choked down a gasp.
A dozen frozen bodies hung upside like icicles from the ceiling of the large cavern. Many more littered the floor, sucked dry. What we had thought were walls of ice was actually stone covered in silver spider web. 

"This way!"

We quickly ducked into the nearest corridor, took a right turn, and a sharp left, then waited and listened. The pounding in my heart seemed to reverberate throughout the ice labyrinth as I struggled to catch my breath. 

A few minutes passed by as we stood with our backs pressed against the cold wall. “Do you think we lost them?” I finally whispered.

"I think so," answered Brelyna. 

I relaxed a little. That was a close call. We had encountered the largest frost troll we had ever seen and it was obvious that it hadn’t had a fresh kill in a long while. We managed to stun him with fireballs long enough to run away. But I knew that we would have to face that creature again, if we were to keep wandering these frozen corridors. 

Except we weren’t in a corridor. 

"Um, Brelyna," I whispered as softly as possible. 

"Hmmm?" she replied, still leaning close to the wall to hear any sign of the frost troll.

"Look up…slowly." 

Puzzled, Brelyna looked up slowly then choked down a gasp.

A dozen frozen bodies hung upside like icicles from the ceiling of the large cavern. Many more littered the floor, sucked dry. What we had thought were walls of ice was actually stone covered in silver spider web. 

"Didn’t we already go this way?" asked Brelyna.
"I don’t know," I said, getting frustrated. "It all looks the same!"
We stopped as my last words, uttered a little too loudly, echoed throughout the ice caverns. A slight shuffling sound answered somewhere nearby, just as I had feared. 
"Sorry!" I whispered to Brelyna who gave me a disapproving look. "I’m at my wit’s end in here."
The shuffling grew louder. It was clear that whatever was making that sound was trying to find us. “Let’s go this way,” I whispered, turning into the corridor to my left. It would take us further from the shuffling sound, I hoped. It was hard to tell in this frigid, blue place.

"Didn’t we already go this way?" asked Brelyna.

"I don’t know," I said, getting frustrated. "It all looks the same!"

We stopped as my last words, uttered a little too loudly, echoed throughout the ice caverns. A slight shuffling sound answered somewhere nearby, just as I had feared. 

"Sorry!" I whispered to Brelyna who gave me a disapproving look. "I’m at my wit’s end in here."

The shuffling grew louder. It was clear that whatever was making that sound was trying to find us. “Let’s go this way,” I whispered, turning into the corridor to my left. It would take us further from the shuffling sound, I hoped. It was hard to tell in this frigid, blue place.

"I see one frost troll…and a small one at that."
"Just one?" Brelya responded. "Maybe all the stories I heard about the ice labyrinth were made up to scare the new students."
The steel gate slid open as I pulled on the lever that stuck out from the wall. The slight noise was enough to catch the troll’s attention. In mere moments, he had jumped off the ledge and was quickly shuffling towards us.
That is one fast troll, I thought to myself as I threw a fire ball at it. Fire, I had read once, was the best way to kill these creatures since it helped slow down their regenerative health. But it seemed that not many travelers knew about that bit of information from the number of corpses I had seen littered around Skyrim.
I made my way behind the troll so that it would be trapped between us with no way to escape. As I got into position,  I spied from the corner of my eye something moving beyond a fallen tree. Before I could react, three frost trolls came shuffling towards me. “Brelyna,” I said, already preparing a fireball with my left hand, “there are more of them.”
These trolls were bigger, faster, and meaner than the ones I normally encountered, and they were already upon me. I thought quickly as they chased me around the cave. Then I remembered the lever on the wall. 
"Get back!" I yelled at Brelyna as I ran towards the entrance.
The Dunmer mage looked up and nodded, then ran back to the outer cave with the smaller troll closely behind her. The steel gate clanged heavily behind me as I pulled the lever on my way out. 
Isolated now from its brothers, the creature roared angrily and bounded up the icy steps towards the ledge where Brelyna had situated herself. It took a while, but between the two of us, we were able to finally kill the beast. 
"Three more to go," I muttered. 
"Do you think we’ll be able to get them in here one by one?" Brelyna asked. 
"We can try."
I walked over to the gate. The three beasts tore at the heavy steel spikes, trying to get to me. I glanced at Brelyna who nodded. With a deep breath, I flipped the lever up, opening up the gate.

"I see one frost troll…and a small one at that."

"Just one?" Brelya responded. "Maybe all the stories I heard about the ice labyrinth were made up to scare the new students."

The steel gate slid open as I pulled on the lever that stuck out from the wall. The slight noise was enough to catch the troll’s attention. In mere moments, he had jumped off the ledge and was quickly shuffling towards us.

That is one fast troll, I thought to myself as I threw a fire ball at it. Fire, I had read once, was the best way to kill these creatures since it helped slow down their regenerative health. But it seemed that not many travelers knew about that bit of information from the number of corpses I had seen littered around Skyrim.

I made my way behind the troll so that it would be trapped between us with no way to escape. As I got into position,  I spied from the corner of my eye something moving beyond a fallen tree. Before I could react, three frost trolls came shuffling towards me. “Brelyna,” I said, already preparing a fireball with my left hand, “there are more of them.”

These trolls were bigger, faster, and meaner than the ones I normally encountered, and they were already upon me. I thought quickly as they chased me around the cave. Then I remembered the lever on the wall. 

"Get back!" I yelled at Brelyna as I ran towards the entrance.

The Dunmer mage looked up and nodded, then ran back to the outer cave with the smaller troll closely behind her. The steel gate clanged heavily behind me as I pulled the lever on my way out. 

Isolated now from its brothers, the creature roared angrily and bounded up the icy steps towards the ledge where Brelyna had situated herself. It took a while, but between the two of us, we were able to finally kill the beast. 

"Three more to go," I muttered. 

"Do you think we’ll be able to get them in here one by one?" Brelyna asked. 

"We can try."

I walked over to the gate. The three beasts tore at the heavy steel spikes, trying to get to me. I glanced at Brelyna who nodded. With a deep breath, I flipped the lever up, opening up the gate.


"Dear Dragonborn - 
I know this must sound like a cliche, but if you are reading this then I must be quite dead…”

I put the letter down and shook my head in disbelief. This was the third time I was reading it, and I still couldn’t believe that Savos Aren, the old Arch-Mage that had died while attempting to contain the Eye of Magnus, was, in fact, a member of the Psiijic Order. 
The letter had arrived a few days before the Thalmor ransacked the College. “Appeared out of nowhere, actually,” Brelyna confessed. “One day it was just there…on your bed.” Luckily, Brelyna had hidden it. She had sensed that it contained important information that the Thalmor couldn’t have. 
The letter was a confession of sorts. Savos had carried his secret ties to the Psiijic Order for many years, along with the overwhelming guilt he felt for the death of his friends in Labyrinthian, the old Nordic ruin he had sent me to finish up the business he and his friends had started years ago. And now, he was offering me his Psiijic robes as a gift…although he warned it wouldn’t come easily.
The robes were hidden deep beneath the College, in the ice labyrinth beyond the Midden proper. “The ice labyrinth has been closed for the last decade or so!” remarked Brelyna after I read the letter aloud to her. “Too many students have been killed down there. It’s most likely overrun with frost trolls and ice wraiths!”
"I can’t leave his robes down there," I replied. "What if the Thalmor gets wind of this letter and sends a group down there to retrieve the robes? I’m sure this is something they would love to get their hands on."
I awoke early the next morning. I stepped outside into the courtyard and looked around - all was quiet. The sun was barely a slip above the horizon, so it was still mildly dark outside. 
"You thought you’d go without me?" said a voice nearby.
Brelyna stepped out from behind the giant mage statue, her arms crossed. “I’m coming with you,” she said as sternly as she could. “And I don’t want to hear any excuses.”
To her surprise, I didn’t object. “Okay, you can come,” I said with a slight smile. “I can use your help.”

"Dear Dragonborn - 

I know this must sound like a cliche, but if you are reading this then I must be quite dead…”

I put the letter down and shook my head in disbelief. This was the third time I was reading it, and I still couldn’t believe that Savos Aren, the old Arch-Mage that had died while attempting to contain the Eye of Magnus, was, in fact, a member of the Psiijic Order. 

The letter had arrived a few days before the Thalmor ransacked the College. “Appeared out of nowhere, actually,” Brelyna confessed. “One day it was just there…on your bed.” Luckily, Brelyna had hidden it. She had sensed that it contained important information that the Thalmor couldn’t have. 

The letter was a confession of sorts. Savos had carried his secret ties to the Psiijic Order for many years, along with the overwhelming guilt he felt for the death of his friends in Labyrinthian, the old Nordic ruin he had sent me to finish up the business he and his friends had started years ago. And now, he was offering me his Psiijic robes as a gift…although he warned it wouldn’t come easily.

The robes were hidden deep beneath the College, in the ice labyrinth beyond the Midden proper. “The ice labyrinth has been closed for the last decade or so!” remarked Brelyna after I read the letter aloud to her. “Too many students have been killed down there. It’s most likely overrun with frost trolls and ice wraiths!”

"I can’t leave his robes down there," I replied. "What if the Thalmor gets wind of this letter and sends a group down there to retrieve the robes? I’m sure this is something they would love to get their hands on."

I awoke early the next morning. I stepped outside into the courtyard and looked around - all was quiet. The sun was barely a slip above the horizon, so it was still mildly dark outside. 

"You thought you’d go without me?" said a voice nearby.

Brelyna stepped out from behind the giant mage statue, her arms crossed. “I’m coming with you,” she said as sternly as she could. “And I don’t want to hear any excuses.”

To her surprise, I didn’t object. “Okay, you can come,” I said with a slight smile. “I can use your help.”

"It’s a mess in here!"
I looked wildly around the room. The shelves that lined the walls were empty while books, scrolls and other objects littered the floor. 
Marcurio picked up an ancient spell book and quickly glanced through the pages before placing the book on one of the empty shelves. “Looks like someone was searching for something. Do you have anything in here that someone might want?”
I thought about all the magical weapons, powerful scrolls, and ancient talismans that I had amassed and inherited since I became Arch-Mage. “I have a lot of things here that people want,” I replied. 
I started to pick up the shards of a broken bowl when I heard a cough from inside the inner sanctum.
"Brelyna?" I called out as I walked into the room. "What are you doing here in the dark? What happened?"
The Dunmer looked back at me dolefully from the small table where she sat. “There was nothing we could do,” she answered quietly. “They forced their way into every corner of the College. They warned us not to interfere.”
"Who?"
"The Thalmor." Brelyna looked up at me quietly as the information sunk in.
"What did the Thalmor want with the College?" I asked slowly.
"They claimed they were looking for Ancano," said Brelyna, somewhat reassured that I wasn’t angry at her. How could I be? She had stayed behind at the College in my stead while I traipsed around Skyrim trying to end the dragon menace. I owed her my gratitude. "I told them that he had disappeared, in the literal sense, after the incident with the Eye of Magnus, but they insisted on turning the whole place inside out. They looked everywhere, even in the wardrobes! If you ask me, they were searching for something else. They kept asking me questions about you and taking notes in their journals. I told them that you were on a diplomatic trip around the Holds by request of the High Queen, but they didn’t seem to care."
"How long ago was this?"
"That’s the strange thing," replied Brelyna. "They came in late last night and left about 2 hours before you arrived. Coincidence?"
I looked around the room, trying to figure out what they were looking for. The Staff of Magnus was gone, as well as several ancient enchanted weapons that had hung on the racks and some books. “Looks like they confiscated random objects,” I said, turning to Brelyna. “It doesn’t make sense.”
"They didn’t take this," she replied, sliding an envelope across the table.
"It’s from Savos Aren," she said, seeing my questioning look. "It arrived the day before. Just appeared on the bed."
I picked  up the envelope and turned it in my hands. My name appeared across the envelope in a fanciful flourish. 
"Oh, and by the way," Brelyna added as I tore open the envelope, "Faralda left with the Thalmor. I’ll choose a replacement among the advanced students right away."
****************************************************************
I was surprised to find that the “Winterhold College Improved!" mod had updated to a new a new version that now features a new Arch-Mage Quarters layout and a mini-quest. This will be interesting…

"It’s a mess in here!"

I looked wildly around the room. The shelves that lined the walls were empty while books, scrolls and other objects littered the floor. 

Marcurio picked up an ancient spell book and quickly glanced through the pages before placing the book on one of the empty shelves. “Looks like someone was searching for something. Do you have anything in here that someone might want?”

I thought about all the magical weapons, powerful scrolls, and ancient talismans that I had amassed and inherited since I became Arch-Mage. “I have a lot of things here that people want,” I replied. 

I started to pick up the shards of a broken bowl when I heard a cough from inside the inner sanctum.

"Brelyna?" I called out as I walked into the room. "What are you doing here in the dark? What happened?"

The Dunmer looked back at me dolefully from the small table where she sat. “There was nothing we could do,” she answered quietly. “They forced their way into every corner of the College. They warned us not to interfere.”

"Who?"

"The Thalmor." Brelyna looked up at me quietly as the information sunk in.

"What did the Thalmor want with the College?" I asked slowly.

"They claimed they were looking for Ancano," said Brelyna, somewhat reassured that I wasn’t angry at her. How could I be? She had stayed behind at the College in my stead while I traipsed around Skyrim trying to end the dragon menace. I owed her my gratitude. "I told them that he had disappeared, in the literal sense, after the incident with the Eye of Magnus, but they insisted on turning the whole place inside out. They looked everywhere, even in the wardrobes! If you ask me, they were searching for something else. They kept asking me questions about you and taking notes in their journals. I told them that you were on a diplomatic trip around the Holds by request of the High Queen, but they didn’t seem to care."

"How long ago was this?"

"That’s the strange thing," replied Brelyna. "They came in late last night and left about 2 hours before you arrived. Coincidence?"

I looked around the room, trying to figure out what they were looking for. The Staff of Magnus was gone, as well as several ancient enchanted weapons that had hung on the racks and some books. “Looks like they confiscated random objects,” I said, turning to Brelyna. “It doesn’t make sense.”

"They didn’t take this," she replied, sliding an envelope across the table.

"It’s from Savos Aren," she said, seeing my questioning look. "It arrived the day before. Just appeared on the bed."

I picked  up the envelope and turned it in my hands. My name appeared across the envelope in a fanciful flourish. 

"Oh, and by the way," Brelyna added as I tore open the envelope, "Faralda left with the Thalmor. I’ll choose a replacement among the advanced students right away."

****************************************************************

I was surprised to find that the “Winterhold College Improved!" mod had updated to a new a new version that now features a new Arch-Mage Quarters layout and a mini-quest. This will be interesting…

"Why is the entrance unguarded? Where is Faralda?"
We hurried across the narrow bridge that led up to the College. 
"It’s only after mid-day," I remarked as we entered the Hall of Elements. "Why are there no classes? Where is everybody?"
"Perhaps the students were given a day off?" suggested Teldryn. "A holiday of sorts?"
I thought about what day it was today. “First Planting was last week,” I said, shaking my head. “No, there is nothing special about today. I’ll have to find Brelyna…find out what is going on here.”

"Why is the entrance unguarded? Where is Faralda?"

We hurried across the narrow bridge that led up to the College. 

"It’s only after mid-day," I remarked as we entered the Hall of Elements. "Why are there no classes? Where is everybody?"

"Perhaps the students were given a day off?" suggested Teldryn. "A holiday of sorts?"

I thought about what day it was today. “First Planting was last week,” I said, shaking my head. “No, there is nothing special about today. I’ll have to find Brelyna…find out what is going on here.”

"Things hinge on Whiterun. If we can take the city without bloodshed, all the better. But if not…"
"You better make sure I’m not there to stop you," I said, finishing his sentence.
Ulfric turned to see who was talking. “So, Dovahkiin…it is just as I suspected. You are working for the Imperials.”
"No," I said, crossing my arms. "I don’t work for the Imperials…or for you. Although, trying to get me killed doesn’t win you any points."
"Dengeir is a foolish old man," said Ulfric, turning back to the window. "But he is a true Nord."
"You didn’t give him the order to kill me?" I asked.
"No. He did that on his own. I need the Dragonborn on my side to help win this war." He gave me a silent look, and seeing that I was not going to answer he turned back to the window. "I will keep my end of the peace treaty until Alduin is vanquished. But only until then. The people of Skyrim will rise and fight with me. Mark my words."

"Things hinge on Whiterun. If we can take the city without bloodshed, all the better. But if not…"

"You better make sure I’m not there to stop you," I said, finishing his sentence.

Ulfric turned to see who was talking. “So, Dovahkiin…it is just as I suspected. You are working for the Imperials.”

"No," I said, crossing my arms. "I don’t work for the Imperials…or for you. Although, trying to get me killed doesn’t win you any points."

"Dengeir is a foolish old man," said Ulfric, turning back to the window. "But he is a true Nord."

"You didn’t give him the order to kill me?" I asked.

"No. He did that on his own. I need the Dragonborn on my side to help win this war." He gave me a silent look, and seeing that I was not going to answer he turned back to the window. "I will keep my end of the peace treaty until Alduin is vanquished. But only until then. The people of Skyrim will rise and fight with me. Mark my words."

"Ah, Windhelm…" sighed Teldryn. "Such a dreary city."
The city came into view as we reached to the top of the last hill. We had left Riften three days ago and the roads had turned from mud to snow over the course of our travels. A snow storm had forced us to stay the night in a cave, keeping us from reaching Windhelm sooner. Not that I cared, really — I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Ulfric.

"Ah, Windhelm…" sighed Teldryn. "Such a dreary city."

The city came into view as we reached to the top of the last hill. We had left Riften three days ago and the roads had turned from mud to snow over the course of our travels. A snow storm had forced us to stay the night in a cave, keeping us from reaching Windhelm sooner. Not that I cared, really — I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Ulfric.