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Ele andava pelas ruas secas e movimentadas de Bal Fell, confortado por estar na presença de muitos estranhos. Já nos ancoradouros de Vivec, não havia tal anonimato. Já o tinham por contrabandista, só que aqui, ele podia ser qualquer um. Um ambulante pouco conhecido. Talvez até um aprendiz. Some people even pushed against him as he walked past as if to say, "We would not dream of being so rude as to acknowledge that you don't belong here."
Não encontrou Seryne Relas em nenhuma das tavernas, mas sabia que ela se escondia em algum lugar. Atrás da janela de uma casa, ou vasculhando pilhas de estrume em busca de ingredientes exóticos para um feitiço ou encantamento. Desconhecia dos assuntos das feiticeiras, mas tinha a impressão de que sempre estavam a fazer algo excêntrico. Por causa dessa concepção, quase não viu a mulher Dunmer que bebia água do poço. Era muito pacato, mas pela aparência ele soube que era Seryne Relas, a famosa feiticeira.
"Trago dinheiro para ti," disse a ela pelas costas. "Se me ensinar os segredos para respirar em baixo d'água."
Virando-se, um grande sorriso molhado se formou nas feições toscas da mulher. "Mas eu não estou respirando, rapaz. Estou só dando um golinho."
"Não zombe de mim," ele disse, rigidamente. "Ou você é Seryne Relas e irá me ensinar a magia para respirar embaixo d'água, ou não é. Estas são as duas únicas possibilidades."
"Se o que pretende é respirar dentro do oceano, terá de aprender que existem várias possibilidades além desta, meu rapaz. A Escola de Alteration é a escola da manifestação das possibilidades, das mudanças, e das transformações. Eu posso não ser Seryne Relas, mas eu posso te ensinar o que procuras," Ela limpou os lábios com a mão. "Ou eu posso ser Seryne Relas e não irei. Talvez eu até te ensine a respirar, e você não aprenderá."
"Eu irei aprender," respondeu ele.
"E por que você não vai e compra uma poção da guilda dos magos, ou um pergaminho?" perguntou ela. "Normalmente é assim que se faz."
"Não durariam o bastante," ele disse. "Ficarei submerso por um bom tempo. E venho disposto a pagar o preço que você ditar, mas não me faça nenhuma pergunta. Me disseram que você saberia ensinar."
"E qual é o seu nome, rapaz?"
"Essa é um pargunta," respondeu ele. Seu nome era Tharien Winloth, e em Vivec, lhe chamavam de Tarifeiro. Seu trabalho consistia por tarifar uma porcentagem dos ganhos de contrabandistas que vinham ao porto e entregar ao seu chefe na Camonna Tong. Em cima do valor que coletava, era remunerado com outra tarifa pequena. Acabava por não sobrar muito para ele. Mal guardava dinheiro para si, e o que tinha, deu para Seryne Relas.
As lições começaram naquele mesmo dia. A feiticeira levou seu aprendiz, que ela simplesmente chamava de "rapaz," para uma duna na costa do mar.
"Irei te ensinar uma magia poderosa para respirar embaixo d'água," ela disse. "Mas terá que ter total domínio dela. Assim como todas mas habilidades, quanto mais você praticar, melhor se tornará nela. Mas nem isso é suficiente. To achieve true mastery, you must understand what it is you're doing. It ain't simply enough to perform a perfect thrust of a blade -- you must also know what you are doing and why."
"That's common sense," said
"Yes, it is," said Seryne, closing her eyes. "But the spells of Alteration are all about uncommon sense. The infinite possibilities, breaking the sky, swallowing space, dancing with time, setting ice on fire, believing that the unreal may become real. You must learn the rules of the cosmos and then break them."
"That sounds ... very difficult," replied Tharien, trying to keep a straight face.
Seryne pointed to the small silver fish darting along the water's edge: "They don't find it so. They breathe water just fine."
"But that's not magic."
"What I'm saying to you, boy, is that it is."
For several weeks, Seryne drilled her student, and the more he understood about what he was doing and the more he practiced, the longer he could breathe underwater. When he found that he could cast the spell for as long as he needed, he thanked the sorceress and bade her farewell.
"There is one last lesson I have to teach you," she said. "You must learn that desire is not enough. The world will end your spell no matter how good you are, and no matter how much you want it."
"That's a lesson I'm happy not to learn," he said, and left at once for the short journey back to Vivec.
The wharfs were much the same, with all the same smells, the same sounds, and the same characters. His boss had found a new Tollman, he learned from his mates. They were still looking out for the smuggler ship Morodrung, but they had given up hope of ever seeing it. Tharien knew they would not. He had seen it sink from the wharf a long time ago.
On a moonless night, he cast his spell and dove into the thrashing purple waves. He kept his mind on the world of possibilities, that books could sing, that green was blue,water was air, that every stroke and kick brought him closer to a sunken ship filled with treasure. He felt magicka surge all around him as he pushed his way deeper down. Ahead he saw a ghostly shadow of the Morodrung, its mast billowing in a wind of deep water currents. He also felt his spell begin to fade. He could break reality long enough to breathe water all the way back up to the surface, but not enough to reach the ship.
The next night, he dove again, and this time, the spell was stronger. He could see the vessel in detail, clouded over and dusted in sediment. The wound in its hull where it had struck the reef. A glint of gold beckoning from within. But still he felt reality closing in, and he had to surface.
The third night, he made it into the steerage, past the bloated corpses of the sailors, nibbled and picked apart by fish. Their glassy eyes bulging, their mouths stretched open. Had they only known the spell, he thought briefly, but his mind was more occupied by the gold scattered along the floor, the boxes that contained them shattered. He considered scooping as much he could carry into his pockets, but a sturdy iron box seemed to bespeak more treasures.
On the wall was a row of keys. He took each down and tried it on the locked box, but none opened it. One key, however, was missing.looked around the room. Where could it be? His eyes went to the corpse of one of the sailors, floating in a dance of death not far from the box, his hands tightly clutching something. It was a key. When the ship had begun to sink, this sailor had evidently gone for the iron box. Whatever was in it had to be very valuable.
took the sailor's key and opened the box. It was filled with broken glass. He rummaged around until he felt something solid, and pulled out two flasks of some kind of wine. He smiled as he considered the foolishness of the poor alcoholic. This was what was important to the sailor, out of all the treasure in the Morodrung.
Then, suddenly,Winloth felt reality.
He had not been paying attention to the grim, tireless advance of the world on his spell. It was fading away, his ability to breathe water. There was no time to surface. There was no time to do anything. As he sucked in, his lungs filled with cold, briny water.
A few days later, the smugglers working on the wharf came upon the drowned body of the former Tollman. Finding a body in the water in Vivec was not in itself noteworthy, but the subject that they discussed over many bottles of flin was how did it happen that he drowned with two potions of water breathing in his hands.