Jo'ji and the Rogue - Part One: Rift Rats

  • Part One: Rift Rats

    It was a mid-Hearthfire's day that found Magnus burning low in the sky, once again seeking rest beyond the horizon. As the sun waned, nestling in, another creature stirred at her perch in the Jerall Mountains. A great barn owl, snowy white save her dark eyes and blue-black speckles, peered down upon a dreary waterfront town. With daylight fading she knew the mice would soon be out to play. The owl beat her mighty wings once, diving from her perch. Wind whipped through her feathers as she extended her arms gliding gracefully toward the shadowy town of Riften.

    The owl circled the town fully before gracing the rooftop of a two-story inn with her rump. From on high she observed the goings-on at Riften's various market stalls. The rodents did indeed run amuck, but only two would earn her interest.

    * * * * *

    A lithe form weaved through the legs of the market crowd taking care to avoid detection. Twilight ushered most of the townsfolk into the Bee and Barb with promise of hearsay and sweet Black-Briar mead. Jo'ji, however, had a grand scheme to hatch, and it was nigh time to incubate.

    Invisible to the naked eye and no more than two feet tall, the Khajiit effortlessly made his way toward his mark: a shifty Wood Elf he spied sizing up the coffers of Riften's finest market stalls. The elf wore a simple forest green shirt, dark brown trousers and leather boots. His mahogany top knot bobbed to and fro as he surveyed the area. With the crowds dissipating the Bosmeri thief was ready to make a move. He stood idly by as the stragglers left with the last light of day.

    The elf lingered behind a particularly popular stall, glanced all 'round, slunk down and set to his task. A lockpick snapped into his hand and he glanced about once more to be sure. Fear seized the wretch all at once, unable to move his increasingly sweaty hands. The elf struggled against an impalpable force to budge his arms, his legs . . . anything, yet no avail! Like a fly caught in a web, he would have to wait for his assailant to rear its nasty head. Panic and nausea took root anticipating a swift death.

    "You are too eager for your plunder," Jo'ji purred. His victim's heart nearly burst at the sound. With a thought he dispelled his invisibility and came into view pacing. "You are truly lucky I happened along."

    The elf's eyes seethed malicious intent. Jo'ji, sensing animosity, plucked the lockpick from his captive's grasp and tossed it toward the wooden frame housing the lockbox. A large daedric sigil flared to life as the pick came in contact with the framework. With a flash and puff of smoke the tool sizzled to soot and lay in a useless pile. The sigil slowly faded and blinked out, inviting another attempt.

    The Khajiit beamed at his captive, released his paralyzing hex, and scrambled clear as the thief fell to hands and knees.

    "I... suppose I owe you thanks, cat." Returning to his crouch, the Bosmer studied the mage. He seemed wise, old even, but the Khajiit only stood as tall as his knee! And his tail was just as long, swishing like a wild, autonomous thing. The creature wore loose-fitting, deep purple robes with coral designs snaking about the shoulders and hood. The garment parted in the front revealing a black tunic and white trousers underneath, both simple in design, tailored to his wiry form. The most curious thing was the cloth wrapped around his feet where boots ought to be found, especially in such a cold and harsh land as Skyrim. The elf thought he would surely fall dead of chill in the coming season.

    "There is much to explain, smooth skin. But the guards will make rounds soon. Come with me," and with that Jo'ji closed his eyes, slowly relinquishing magicka to empower his spell. A feeling of euphoria cascaded through him, gradually exhausting his energy. When he opened his eyes he could see a faint blue aura outlining every living creature in town, detecting life sources through walls. Jo'ji scanned for guards in the immediate area. None were present . . . yet three auras in particular caught his eye in the distance. They appeared to be engaged in a quite rigorous display within Haelga's Bunkhouse. The elf sensed Jo'ji's unease.

    "What is it?"

    "One can never tell," he smirked. "Make haste, thief."

    The pair scampered to Riften's lower level, eluding the night patrols thanks to Jo'ji's wonderfully invasive spell. The mage led them through the tunnel system below Riften known as the Ratways, at last arriving at an unassuming door.

    "We really shouldn't intrude here. These guys aren't ones to cross. The Ragged Flagon is a Thieves Guild establishment!" The Wood Elf was fairly new to Riften and had had two run-ins with the crime syndicate already. They weren't exactly on good terms.

    "Relax, thief. They are good people if you have coin. But don't make eye contact with Dirge. Vile man, that one," he warned.

    The tavern was setup on the far side of a large, dome cistern dimly lit by candlelight. The duo made their way around the outer wall, passing by the notorious Dirge whose glare was tangibly painful. The Bosmer had never observed his leather boots with such intent as he did now.

    Jo'ji led his new acquaintance to a table and motioned to the barkeep. "A couple pints for us, Vekel," he said with a lighthearted smile. Jo'ji lithely sprang atop his seat, squatting restfully. The rogue observed the peculiar scene with amusement before seating himself.

    "Don't like the looks of your friend," the barkeep stated bluntly, sizing up the elf.

    At this point, the ten patrons present were all staring at the new arrivals with obvious distaste. For the second time that night the elf dwelled on all the ways he was about to die.

    "If the cat vouches for him then he's alright by me,” replied an approaching figure clad in black leathers. “First drinks on me lads."

    "Brynjolf," exclaimed Jo, "so good to see you. I must thank you again for your hospitality under such unusual circumstances." The master thief's presence eased the mounting tension.

    "I don't often discriminate when it comes to gold. Stay as long as ya like, Jo'ji. Vekel, treat them as family. It's a rare thing indeed to see a Dagi outside of Elsweyr. Don't go running our new friends off. I'll leave ya to it then, Jo," he said with a smile, heading to a table in the corner opposite them.

    "A Dagi?"

    "And the questions begin," Jo'ji chuckled. Vekel brought their drinks and left without a word. "I think introductions are in order. I am Jo'ji," he announced with a bow, "a mage that has come a long and weary way."

    "Jo'ji," the Bosmer stated aloud. "I was raised to distrust Khajiit. My father said they were all deceitful addicts . . . no offense."

    "None taken. There is some truth to your father's words, but you should never judge a tome by its bindings. I saved your life this very day," Jo added.

    "True. I'm Thaerin of Haven." He paused a moment before reiterating his thoughts. "So what are Dagi?"

    "We are one of many breeds of Khajiit." Jo'ji pulled his tankard closer with both hands and lapped from it briefly before continuing. "From birth, we are raised in the highest branches of the Tenmar Forest surrounding the infamous sugarcane groves of Elsweyr. You know of moon sugar, yes?"

    "I'm familiar with skooma," the elf chuckled, reminiscing internally.

    Jo'ji matched his laughter. "Indeed, it has been many moons since my last indulgence. I have sworn it off until my mission is complete."

    "Your mission?" Thaerin eyed his frothy beverage, hoping he could visually discern whether or not it was poisoned. With a shrug he took a hefty swig of the worst mead that had ever passed his lips. This certainly wasn't Black-Briar unless it were diluted with sewage water, he thought.

    Jo'ji continued, "My task is most secretive. None outside of this room know that I'm in Skyrim. You see, Dagi aren't permitted to leave the Tenmar Forest for they are bred as war mages to protect the sugarcane groves. We are gifted with remarkable magical prowess, as you have seen. From birth we are trained to defend the groves from any that would seek to hinder the moon sugar trafficking in our land. Therefore, abandoning one's station is punishable by death. It is one of Elsweyr's best kept secrets."

    Thaerin pondered these revelations for a moment. He found himself strangely sympathetic. "So why did you leave?

    "I took a gamble, as Khajiit are prone to do, and fled from the forest so I could pursue the one thing I love: magic. It is nearly as irresistible to Dagi as moon sugar. I left to study under the greatest wizards of our time but I cannot freely do so with this form. My people will endlessly hunt me down to keep their secret and make an example of me."

    Thaerin eyed Jo'ji carefully. "You wouldn't be telling me this for nothing. How do I play into it?"

    Jo'ji smiled. "You are very wise, Thaerin. I simply need an escort. I'm heading to a land even further north, Solstheim they call it. Rumors speak of a Telvanni wizard of great power who had to relocate during the Red Year. He may be able to help my situation, but only time will tell."

    "With magic as strong as yours, why do you need an escort at all."

    "It is true, my magic is powerful, but all mages have their limits. To run out of magicka in the heat of battle is to forfeit one's life. Can you handle yourself in a fight?"

    "Some might say I'm a better brawler than I am a thief. I may lack coin but I'm plenty rich in scars from years of misthievery." Feeling suddenly foolish, Thaerin turned to the matter at hand. "I appreciate you telling me all this but what makes you think I'm interested in the job? I certainly don't work for free."

    "If you were to lend me your services I would do the same for you. Enchanting is another of my skills and I am quite adept at the craft. You mentioned a deficiency in your thievery. I propose this: for every day you are my escort I will enchant one of your possessions, augmenting your abilities." Jo'ji drank more of his mead, almost dipping his entire head, save his long ears, into the cup.

    Thaerin pondered, sipping at the backwater mead. He hadn't any success in Riften thusly, yet this could be his shoe-in with the Thieves Guild. On the other hand, enchanted gear would allow him to operate alone in other towns. Jo'ji seemed trustworthy enough and the mission wasn't particularly difficult, he thought. Why not? "I'll need a show of faith. One enchantment up front."

    "This I can do. However, we will have to... acquire a few more soul gems along our path." A dopey, twisted smile and foamy lips betrayed Jo'ji's slight inebriation.

    He dipped his paw into one of his interior pockets and produced a small, jade ring with a thin line of gold that ran the center of its circumference. "This was gifted to me as I left the Tenmar Forest and now I give it to you as a show of good faith. It grants the ability to dampen the sound of one's footsteps with a mere thought. The ring is too big for me anyway, and was more sentimental than anything."

    Jo dropped the magical ring into Thaerin's outstretched palm who then slipped it onto his third finger and thought of muted footsteps. Still seated, he rapidly tapped his boots on the ground and, to Thaerin's delight, no sound came forth.

    "Consider me hired, my feline friend!" They both laughed heartily, the mead taking the edge off for a moment. Realizing where he was, Thaerin lowered to a snicker. A thought crossed his mind. "I haven't any armor nor arms. I certainly can't fend off bandits with my hands. Some bodyguard I'll be."

    "No worries, friend. I will see what Brynjolf can acquire for you. We should get some rest now and leave before dawn. They will provide us with lodging for the night."

    "We're sleeping here?!" The thief knew enough of his ilk to distrust the lot.

    "These people have a strange sense of honor but stand by it. They will not steal from us and they do not kill. We will be fine."

    Too tired to argue, Thaerin resigned. Brynjolf must have taken note of their weariness for he offered to show them to their pallets. After draining their tankards the pair fell in line behind their host.

    They walked up to a storage cabinet and Brynjolf turned to Jo'ji and Thaerin. "Typically only members can gain further access. But Jo'ji can't be seen by anyone or he risks being hunted down. That just leaves you," he said to Thaerin. "By allowing you access here you're essentially a member of the Thieves Guild." Thaerin's heart skipped a beat. "More out of necessity than anything.” His heart now sank. “Some of my colleagues have seen you around town and you haven't caused us any trouble yet. If you're serious about getting into this business then we may as well take you under our wing. I'll get you some armor for your quest at hand."

    "A dagger too, perhaps," Thaerin piped up. "Or even a sword?"

    "Aye," agreed Bryn, "a bodyguard should be armed. I'll have you something by morning. You're one of us now and we'll expect you upon your return." Brynjolf turned back to the cupboard, unlocked and opened it revealing . . . nothing. Jo'ji and Thaerin exchanged puzzled looks. Brynjolf then placed his right hand on the back of the cabinet and pushed. The false back swung open into a dimly lit, shallow corridor. The master thief winked at the pair and walked through the opening which led to another door just around a corner.

    "Lads," he paused building anticipation, "welcome to the Thieves Guild." Brynjolf threw the door ajar revealing another domed cistern encircled by pallets and chests, populated with thieves-in-training, and permeated by pipe smoke, stench of ale, and camaraderie. As they entered, laughter erupted from a huddle of thieves gathered around a benched table to their left. An adjacent round table hosted an equally jovial card game. To their right, a cooking spit held a bubbling pot of stew. Training dummies were setup for swordplay and archery practice. Most interesting of all was the recessed wall opposite the entrance adorned by a massive steel vault door, the Thieves Guild cache! Two perpendicular bridges arced over the drainage basin connecting at the center to traverse the reservoir with ease. Jo'ji and Thaerin silently admired the hideout and all its harsh splendors.

    "You can bunk here for the night." Brynjolf motioned to the pallets on either side of the entrance. "Thaerin, is it?" The elf nodded. "Tonilia will stow your arms and armor in the chest at the foot of your bed before sunrise. She's the guild's fence and should be able to supply you with some good gear. You boys've got a long journey. Rest up and hit the trails early. Best of luck to the both of ya."

    The elf and cat thanked Brynjolf again for his hospitality and bid him farewell. A plan was formulated after some time and the pair retired to their respective pallets. The other members had either gone to pilfer or retired themselves and all was quiet within the thief den. A hazy sleep stole over the room powered by the noxious aroma of smoke and ale. The rodents of Riften's Ratways slept well enough on the eve of a long journey.

    * * * * *

    "These leathers are superb!" Thaerin appraised the armor as he equipped himself. "The straps provide relief so the leather doesn't creak when you bend or twist. It seems pre-worn, even. There are numerous tight-fit pockets to stow coin or gem without sound. I've a belt for daggers . . . and this saber is fashioned of pure ebony!"

    Jo'ji chuckled as his bodyguard found himself smitten. "I detect traces of enchanting as well." The embellishment saw the elf's eyes widen, astonished at the thought.

    "Enchanted for what?!"

    "I cannot discern. Only time will tell," he jested to the unaware.

    Thaerin pulled the sword from it's scabbard and gave it a flourish, taking extra caution not to touch anything for fear of the mysterious enchantment. "I guess an unlucky bandit will help me discover that." He sheathed his weapon and belted it on while Jo'ji packed a small sack full of sweet rolls and honey nut treats.

    "We should slip out before daylight. Less chance the guards will catch sight of us. Then we can follow the foothills of the Velothi Mountains all the way to Windhelm."

    The rogue nodded in agreement and they set off fully supplied and ready for the road ahead. The duo took a secret exit from the Thieves Guild leading to the graveyard of Riften and outfoxed the night watch until they arrived just behind Haelga's Bunkhouse. Jo'ji listened carefully for any number of exotic noises before he resigned to his task of climbing a birch tree resting against the town wall. Tying a slip knot around a thick branch he tossed a line of rope to Thaerin who scaled up one side and quickly down the other. Jo recoiled the rope, tossed it to his partner, and hopped from the twenty foot wall, channeling a small amount of levitation to cushion his landing.

    Thaerin and Jo'ji, catching their breath, looked out over Lake Honrich. Magnus had just begun to send his rays across Skyrim's tundras. The sunbeams reflected off the calm lake, sending forth a myriad of oranges, blues, and yellows from the water's surface. The pair took a moment to appreciate Nirn's intricacies, accepting this blessing as a good omen. With one last gaze they finally turned north, taking the first few steps that led away from Riften and its Ratways, heading for whatever was in store for them.

    * * * * *

    As the sun burst into life, so too did Riften's market once more. The streams of light stirred the great, white barn owl at her perch atop the Bee and Barb and she surveyed the scene below with less enthusiasm than the day before. The first sale of the day, a Dunmeri trader had sold a useless trinket to an elderly Nordic man.

    "Thank you for your patronage, sir. Let me get your change." Brand-Shei bent down behind his stall and grabbed the door to the wooden frame housing his lockbox. A large daedric sigil flared to life in front of his very eyes for a fraction of a second. Then an eruption of gnashing flame burst forth slamming him hard against the stone wall behind. Brand-Shei shook off the daze as a surging pain spewed from his shoulder. His eyes followed his brain's warnings to the bleeding mess where his arm should have been! His vision swam and he collapsed from the pain.

    "Guards," the Nord yelled frantically," guards! Brand-Shei is no more!"

    *Le Table Au Contents*

Comments

12 Comments
  • Alastor
    Alastor   ·  October 8, 2015
    Thanks Fawn! I've just started the third and final part of the series and I can honestly say that each entry is more exciting than the last. Glad your enjoying the duo as much as I have :)
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  October 8, 2015
    This is the start of a very exciting adventure! I'm really curious about Jo'ji, I love the idea of a tiny little Khajiit mage and a Bosmeri thief teaming up together. That's a dynamic duo that must attract trouble like a magnet.
  • Alastor
    Alastor   ·  September 12, 2015
    Thanks Exuro! I did tons of editing because I am big on smooth transitions and creating natural dialogue. Thanks for the like btw! And all I can say is I'm glad somebody caught that ;)
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 12, 2015
    I'm excited to see where this goes. Your writing has a nice flow to it too.
    So casting the rune on the lock box helped the Dagi recruit the Wood Elf, but what did he have against Brand-Shei? Don't answer that if it would be a spoiler.
  • Alastor
    Alastor   ·  September 11, 2015
    I originally wanted to incorporate an Alfiq into my first blog but discontinued it. When I started brainstorming this plot it was based on an Alfiq but the teeny paragraph mentioned that they couldn't talk and the Dagi worked out with the magical incorpor...  more
  • Lissette Long-Chapper
    Lissette Long-Chapper   ·  September 11, 2015
    Haha, I know that feelling. My character in my blog was good friends with an Alfiq. Yep, teeny tiny paragraphs in the UESP indeed. 
    I have seen an ohmes follower once on the nexus. 
  • Alastor
    Alastor   ·  September 11, 2015
    Thanks Lisette! I only wish we could pick some of the different types of Khajiit as playable characters :/ even just two or three would be nice
  • Alastor
    Alastor   ·  September 11, 2015
    At this point I just tell you I'll give you a heads up so that I can surprise you lol! You're in for a ride Jin. I've got the outline of the story but have to fill in the middle parts. I think part two will take the longest unfortunately. That's why I wan...  more
  • Lissette Long-Chapper
    Lissette Long-Chapper   ·  September 10, 2015
    Very cool. I love the Khajiit lore. 
  • ShinJin
    ShinJin   ·  September 10, 2015
    You've got a piss-poor notion of what it means to give 'advanced warning' xD

    True, I've already seen much of this installment, but I like to jump in right away to do my fanboy-esque geeking out right at release. I'm doing it now, of course, b...  more