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This question is exclusively about Netflix's The Witcher. I know this doesn't happen in either The Last Wish (which I've read) or the Witcher saga, but I'm not interested in how it differs from the novels or whether it's a bad or good change. I'm just interested in its explanation within the TV show.

While Yennefer is training at the Aretuza academy for female mages, we see a scene where some of her fellow students are taken to a room and then

transformed into eels by Tissaia, much to Yennefer's dismay. Tissaia's words imply these students weren't worthy of "ascending".

Yennefer considers at least some of these students her friends. Since I have a hard time telling Aretuza's nondescript students apart, except obviously for Fringilla and Sabrina, it's not clear to me if this was permanent. And also,

is this the fate that awaits all students who fail to graduate/ascend? Were these particular students aware of this? They don't seem surprised or afraid, even when Tissaia isn't particularly fast about it.

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They stay there to power Aretuza

Magic is described as 'controlling chaos'. Mages are, essentially, chaos conduits, and Aretuza is there to make certain these mages are trained to control their chaos. Those who have the power to control chaos but lack the self-control or aptitude for doing it properly are a risk to themselves and everybody around them.

The ritual for the failed students awaits all who fail to ascend, as mages that fail to ascend are a risk. None of the students seem to be aware of this, as shown later in the season when Yennefer returns and confronts some of the new students about this fact.

It's described that the eels 'still have power, but lack control'. They can't channel their magic themselves anymore, they have become conduits for Aretuza, lending their power to the tower.

Sometimes, the best a flower can do is die.

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    +1 Right! I didn't understand Yennefer's comment later on, but now it makes sense :) Though would Tissaia "eel" the daughters of rich parents and risk their wrath? (I mean from the later episode; it's clear the students from the early episodes don't come from wealthy families) It's also puzzling that the failed students in the eel scene take it so passively, like accepting their fate... – Andres F. Jan 2 at 23:32
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    @AndresF. I don't think there's any point to eeling the wealthy kids, Yennefer points out that they lack any magical powers. They're there because Aretuza wants their family's support, not because they'll ever make strong mages. I don't think the failed students know beforehand that there's something wrong, they might just think it's part of ascending. Nobody told them they failed, I assume. – Theik Jan 3 at 7:49
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    On Yennefer's return to the pool with the new students, she also even calls to one of the eels by one of her former friends' names, making it quite clear that, at least as far as Yennefer understands things, they remain there indefinitely (presumably they have finite lifespans as chaos-eels, if for no other reason than otherwise after a finite time the pool would run out of room and there'd be too much magic being conducted, but that's not stated). – zibadawa timmy Jan 7 at 3:56
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The student she is friends with is Anica, the girl who came to Aretuza after she saved a drowning boy with her mind. She was paired with Yennefer for the mind reading exercise and encouraged Yennefer, and later Yennefer encourages Anica when it's her turn at the Tower of the Gull. As she is never seen again, and Yennefer calls out her name to the pool when she visits about 50 years later, it would appear to be permanent.

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