Dragon of the East - Arc 3, Chapter 4

  • Dar-Meena

    ~ ~ ~

    Riverwood. I can’t put a claw on why I didn’t like the place. It might have been the locals – dirt-caked Nords with sweaty shirts and sunburnt skin.  Or maybe I’m just not a country girl. The town was so remote, an afterthought built up along the road, sandwiched between two mountains. The trees and the water were nice and all, but they wouldn’t be enough to convince me to stay.

    Thankfully, we got to Riverwood with all our limbs intact. For all the talk of war and dragons, we hardly met a crumb of trouble on the roads. I expected more raw danger from the land of the Nords. Yeah, there were those highwaymen we met along the White River, but they weren’t worth the bother – one thu’um from Chase and they hightailed. Even the wildlife left us alone. You’d have thought Skyrim was the mildest province in Tamriel.

    I figured the gods were holding back, just for us. There wasn’t a chance in Oblivion we’d get another peaceful trip like that one.

    We rode our horses into town, but nobody seemed to care much. Just another band of merry travelers passing through. The villagers kept to their morning labor, bundled up against the chill of autumn. Riverwood was content to leave us alone, so we left Riverwood alone. Except for Reinhardt. He didn’t.

    “Don’t wait for me,” he said, walking away as the rest of us tied down our horses near the Sleeping Giant Inn. “I’ll be back.”

    “Where are you off to?” I asked.

    The Nord strolled down the road with a smile. “Made some friends here last time I came by. Gonna go pay a quick visit.” He stopped suddenly and turned around, looking like he just remembered something. “Hey, Chases! You come too! Ralof and Gerdur – you met them both, right?”

    Chase slid off his saddle awkwardly, happy to relinquish his horse. He hadn’t learned to ride all that well on our short trip to Riverwood, but he was grasping the basics. I knew he would.

    “Thank you, but I will decline,” he said. “I never intended to see Ralof or his sister again. Please do not tell them I am here.”

    Reinhardt threw out his hands in disapproval. “Delphine can wait a little longer, don’t you think?”          

    “Delphine has nothing to do with it. I came to this province to erase my tracks. Being relational works counter to that.” Chase walked past the Nord, expressionless, straight to the porch of the inn. Reinhardt raised an eyebrow and scoffed.

    “Ysmir. You’re a piece of work, lizard.”

    “As you say.” Chase entered the inn alone.   

    The three of us watched the door close, standing in the middle of the road. Reinhardt muttered something to himself, drowned out by the babble of the nearby brook. Falura was giving me a wired look, as if I was supposed to explain why the Dragonborn was acting aloof for the umpteenth time.

    “Let’s just get on with this,” I said.

    “Lead the way,” Falura replied. She nodded to her bodyguard. “Reinhardt, you know where to find us.”

    The Nord waved and left, saying, “Give a holler if a dragon shows up.”

    We stepped into the Sleeping Giant and immediately – immediately – I wanted to step back out. Is there a single inn in Skyrim that doesn’t look like the inside of a horse’s ass? Aside from the three of us, there was a disturbing lack of customers. A gruff, bearded man was busy sweeping near the back with an unkempt broom. The tile floor, and his apron, looked stained by something dark and runny. I walked up to get his attention. His eyes might’ve twitched in my direction.

    “Are you a zombie or something?” I asked, bending down to see his face.

    “We got rooms and food. Drink too,” he said in a gravelly voice. “I cook.”       

    “Where’s Delphine?” 

    He motioned his head over to a door on the right. “In her room. Said she didn’t want anybody bothering her.”

    “Great. When will she come out?”                

    The bartender went back to sweeping. Message received.

    “We’ll… settle ourselves in,” Falura said, eyeing the decor. She walked over to a wooden chair at one of the tables and dragged it closer to the hearth, then asked the barkeep if she could start a fire. The man went to fetch some logs, while Falura pulled out a book to read. Chase found a nice dark corner and leaned his back against the wall – not to seem inconspicuous, I think, but to ward off strangers from coming up and chatting with him. With that look on his face, I’d have sure kept my distance.

    Too bad for him we weren’t strangers. I went to the wall and leaned back next to him.     

    “How’s your hand feeling?” I asked, thinking of his mishap earlier that day.

    “Fine,” he said. “I am ready to start this meeting.”

    “I hear you there.” I flung him a high-cheeked grin. “At least you can say your horse is warming up to you.”

    Chase scowled. “Is an attempt to bite off my fingers a show of affection?”     

    “It wasn’t his fault. You held your hand up too long. Lots of horses get grabby when you feed them.”

    “Dar-Meena, the fact that I have now lost blood to that creature has not improved my feelings toward it.”

    I couldn’t help but snicker. “You know he didn’t mean it.”

    “We cannot read its mind,” Chase muttered. “I am more baffled by your apparent mirth at my injury. Why are you taking the animal’s side?”

    “Because one of you has healing magic and the other is a horse,” I said. “Now stop being such a baby.”

    “You mean hatchling.”          

    “I know what I said.”

    The inn’s front door swung open with a burst of sunlight. We turned our heads to find Reinhardt standing in the doorway. He singled out Chase and waved him over.

    “Gerdur’s house,” he said. “You need to go there. Right now.”

    Chase straightened himself, brow creasing. “What is it?”

    “Don’t know. Gerdur wants to talk to you, says it’s important.”       

    Why did you tell her I was here?”

    “She mentioned you first,” Reinhardt grumbled. “I think something happened to her brother.”

    Apprehension flashed in Chase’s eyes. He took a step to the door, meeting each of us in the eye. “Wait here for Delphine. All of you,” he said. “If she asks, tell her I will be back soon.” Chase hastened outside, boots clopping down the steps of the porch. He didn’t shut the door behind him, letting a cold breeze blow right in. Reinhardt took the task of closing it and sat down on a tabletop. Falura looked up from the book in her lap.

    “Oh my,” she said. “Is everything alright?”                                                           

    “It’s Gerdur. Something’s got that woman scared,” Rainhardt grumbled. “I don’t like it.”

    Neither did I. Then again, I was already walking to the door.                                              

    “I’m going to check it out,” I said.

    Falura closed her book and stood up. “Chases asked us to stay here, did he not?”              

    “Like I give a shit. He should know me better by now.”

    Outside on the porch, I looked around for where Chase had gone, squinting beneath the blazing sun. Going right down the road would take me out of town, back the way we came, so I took a left. At a fork in the path, I saw Chase enter a house on the other side of town, back near a rocky foothill. He didn’t notice me. I went closer. Townsfolk were tending to their gardens, too distracted to mind me strolling over to Gerdur’s house. Whoever Gerdur was.

    I walked up to the wood fence rimming the property. It was a decent sized home, cobble-walled and thatch-roofed, big enough for a small family. The fence gate was open and some chickens were loose, clucking and squawking around my feet. I kicked one away. Where are the windows on this house? I thought. I stepped over the fence, circled around and found a strip of window panes. They were too high up, though, for me to see through. I had to improvise. Behind the house near a crop of potatoes I found a wicker basket. It made a nice footstool.

    I peered through the window on the tips of my toes, just to get a quick glimpse. Chase was talking with a straw-haired woman, his back to me. Gerdur had heavy bags under her eyes, like she hadn’t slept in days. It was your typical Nord hovel inside; nothing looked out of place or unusual, until I saw the bed at the far back wall. There was a blanket laid over what I could only describe as raw meat.

    If it wasn’t for the hair, I’d have never guessed it was a face.

    Son of a bitch… Is that Ralof?                                                                                               

    My feet collapsed into the basket with a crunch. I was too heavy for it. I cupped my mouth to muffle a yelp, checking around to make sure no one heard me. “Damn,” I hissed. I hid the basket back behind the house and hurried back to the inn, trying to act unassuming. It was lucky break getting out of there uncaught, though the image of the beaten man stayed in my mind. Whoever he was, he was important to Chase and Reinhardt, which made his state of being all the more troubling.

    I creaked through the door of the Sleeping Giant, picked up a stool, set it next to Falura’s and sat. She gave me a prying glance, but didn’t ask anything – I’ll bet my face said enough. She returned to her book. Reinhardt pitched me a few questions, but I ignored them. It was Chase who deserved to tell him anything. A good half-hour passed before he returned. Chase shuffled through the doorway like a dead man, face void of all feeling. I couldn’t tell if he was pissed or just coldly indifferent.

    “Finally back. Have you something to share with us?” Falura asked. Chase slumped against a wood beam, one arm hanging limp, the other resting on the pommel of his sword. He stared at the flames of the hearth in the center of the room.

    “We will discuss it later,” Chase said calmly.              

    “What’s the matter?” Reinhardt asked. “Don’t leave us all hanging. What did Gerdur have to tell you?”

    “I said we will discuss it later.”   

    Before anyone could keep prodding, Delphine appeared from her room, dressed in the long skirt of a landlady. She gaped at us, then scowled at the bartender.

    “Orgnar, I told you to knock if a customer comes inside,” she said.                                     

    Orgnar kept sweeping the floor. “Want me to do it now? Or is it too late?”

    Either these two were a genuine couple of clods, or really good actors. I could see how Delphine managed to keep up her cover as an innkeeper. She was convincing, bitchy tone and all. Reinhardt hopped off his table and almost spoke a syllable.

    “Not here,” Delphine interrupted. “Follow me.” She returned to her bedroom. After a moment’s hesitation, we all walked to the doorway. Reinhardt and Falura stepped through first, single-file. I was about to walk in, before Chase put a hand on my shoulder and leaned into my ear.

    “Speak nothing of what you saw,” he whispered. “Everything has changed. No one can be trusted.”

    Chase skirted past me, glaring back to seal his words, and returned to a state of blank composure. The heated tone of his voice reminded me of Riften, back when the Dark Brotherhood attacked us. I swallowed as I entered Delphine’s room. A queen-sized bed, wooden chair with arm rests, and a single cabinet dominated the space. It was roomy for one, but stuffy for five.

    “Close the door,” Delphine ordered, and Falura complied. Chase’s eyes climbed the walls. Reinhardt once again tried to pop off a sentence, but Delphine turned away and opened her cabinet. It was empty. She pressed something inside that made a distinct click. Suddenly the cabinet back board swung open, revealing a hidden staircase.

    “Now we can talk,” she said. “Watch your step.”       

    The four of us stared down the dark, narrow corridor. It reeked of dank stone. Did Delphine just happen to own an inn with a secret basement? Seeing the false cabinet, though, made me think of the Thieves Guild, and that made me smile. Falura and Reinhardt traded looks. Chase still betrayed no emotion – he went down the stairs first. The rest of us followed, closing the cabinet behind us.

    We found ourselves in a musty, low-ceilinged cellar. An iron chandelier hung over a table at the center of the room. Barrels, chests, shelves of alchemy ingredients, and weapon racks branding bows and swords lined the walls. The place was a stockpile as much as a hideout. Delphine stood across from us on the other side of the table, leaning over it with her hands spread apart. The chandelier cast dark shadows on her face.

    Chase looked uncomfortable, tail taut and mouth pursed, eyes exploring the clustered room. “I hope we will be keeping our discussion brief,” he said.

    “There’s a lot to cover, Dragonborn. But I’m glad you all made it here in one piece,” Delphine replied.  “Let’s get down to business.”

    Falura stepped forward. “Last we spoke, you brought the Thalmor to our attention,” she said. “Are you still convinced they’re responsible for the black dragon’s appearance?”

    Delphine nodded. “And I’ve figured out how we’re going to learn what they know.” She opened a chest under the table, pulled out two rolls of paper, and unfurled one in front of us. It showed a detailed map of Haafinger, Skyrim’s north-western hold. There was a spot marked with a red circle.

    “We’re going inside the Thalmor Embassy,” Delphine said, “the heart of their operations here in Skyrim.”

    Chase scowled. “An embassy? You wish us to break inside their embassy?”          

    “It’s our only option. Anything they’ve recorded about the dragons will be there, and we need to get our hands on it.”

    “Oh? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds like a heist,” I said, curling up a smile.      

    Reinhardt folded his arms. “Huh. Don’t usually take on these kinds of jobs.”                     

    “I do not like this idea,” Chase spoke sharply. “We already have the dragons as foes. Adding the Aldmeri Dominion will only compound our problems. Is it truly worth infiltrating their embassy?”

    “If you’re allying with me, Dragonborn, I guarantee the Thalmor won’t turn a blind eye to you,” Delphine said. “It’s a good thing they don’t know who you are yet. I suggest you get used to seeing them as your enemy.”

    Chase huffed. “They were never friends of this one. I crossed swords with the Thalmor in Hammerfell. The ordeal taught me all I needed to know about them, though it’s been some years since.” He matched Delphine’s frown. “Before you ask, no – my identity is still a secret.”

    “Do you know for sure?”                                                                                         

    “Corpses cannot recall a face.”

    The woman smirked. “Well, that’s music to my ears. You had me worried for a minute. So what’s it going to be? Are you up for this or not?” After some lengthy consideration, Chase nodded. Delphine relaxed a little, redirecting our attention to the map. “The Thalmor Embassy is near the city of Solitude. Problem is, the place is locked up tighter than a miser’s purse. They could teach me a few things about paranoia.”

    “Got a plan to get us in, then?” Reinhardt asked.                       

    “I doubt we’d be here if she didn’t,” Falura replied.

    “Nevermind that. Give me two days to scout the embassy grounds,” Chase said. “If they have any flaws in their security, I will find them.”

    Delphine held up a hand. “Slow down, Dragonborn. It won’t be that simple. Besides, I do have a plan. The Thalmor ambassador, Elenwen, throws parties on the third of every month, where the rich and connected cozy up to the Thalmor.”

    Chase’s brow rose in interest. “Is that so?”

    “I can get us an invitation to one of those parties. Whoever we send in can sneak away and find Elenwen’s private files. Most of the guards will be busy tending to the guests. Perfect opportunity to slip away unnoticed.”

    “I see,” Chase said. “Then I volunteer.”

    Delphine shook her head. “Here’s the problem with that: the person we send has to assume a cover identity, one that I’ve been cooking up for a while now. I can’t have just anyone fill it. When was the last time you heard of an Argonian entrepreneur operating in Skyrim?”

    Chase grimaced. “You’re saying my race will make me suspect?”                           

    “We can’t afford to take chances here. I can’t be the one to do this – the Thalmor know me intimately. I’ll attract the wrong kind of attention.”

    “What use is a cover identity to you, if you yourself can’t assume it?” Falura asked.

    “I didn’t make it for the disguise. I work in the shadows, behind the scenes. Getting things done is easier when people think you’ve got a rich and influential employer,” Delphine replied. “Right now, there’s only one person in this room I suspect who’ll pass for a Skyrim aristocrat.”

    Delphine set her eyes on him.                                                                               

    Me?” Reinhardt balked.

    My jaw fell open. “You’ve got to be joking.”

    “He best fits the profile,” Delphine said. “Middle-aged Nord, native born… a little dim-witted but charismatic. His background in this province should help give him credibility.”

    “He’s a damn sword for hire! Even if he looks the part, how is he supposed to sneak around inside this embassy?” I threw the man a hard look. “What do you even know about thievery? Have you stolen anything before in your life?”

    Reinhardt scratched his neck. “Well… I’m not a thief or–”

    “See!? It’ll never work!” I growled.

    “We need an expert in stealth, Delphine,” Chase sternly insisted. “Perhaps we can approach this another way. Let’s take a step back – do you have a floor plan of the embassy?”

    Delphine unfurled her second roll of paper. “Right here. Keep this copy for yourself when we’re done. You can look it over on the way to Solitude.”

    Chase perused the detailed diagram, musing aloud. “Two buildings, one stable, separated by an open courtyard… Perimeter fencing, single entrance gate… A defensible layout. How many guards on average at the premises?”

    “Rough guess, no less than thirty,” Delphine said.     

    “Warriors or wizards?”

    “Both.”

    “Rune traps? Detect Life spells?”        

    “This is the Thalmor we’re talking about.”

    Chase folded his arms. “I am assuming elven weapons and armor for patrols. Weather conditions?”

    “Snow. Lots of it.”                 

    “Hmm… Problematic. Describe their defenses in more detail.”

    Delphine did her best to answer every question Chase asked, and he asked a lot of them. Each one dealt with something specific about either the Thalmor or the embassy itself. He wanted a very thorough picture. What startled me was that he knew exactly what questions to ask; this was definitely something he’d done before. He’s a trained killer, a wilderness survivalist, and now an expert in espionage. Little by little, I was piecing a picture of the man Chase used to be.

    Once he finished with his questions, he brooded for a while, then said, “I will need to scout out the embassy and see it for myself. But one thing seems clear – this party is our best chance to reach the Thalmor’s documents.”

    I glanced warily at Reinhardt. “You’re saying we have to send this idiot in?”

    “Hey. I like to think I’m more an oaf than an idiot,” the Nord replied, chin turned up.      

    “Were there any other way, Dar-Meena,” Chase muttered. “If Delphine’s information is correct, this embassy will be heavily patrolled and defended. It’s not impenetrable, but there aren’t enough of us with the proper training to attempt a concerted break-in.”

    “Oh? You imply that you have much experience with planning infiltrations, Dragonborn,” Falura asked, eyes narrowed at Chase.

    “I do,” he said with a frown. “Which is why I hope you will all listen to me.”

    Some of us still hadn’t warmed up to the plan. We all debated back and forth for a while, Falura and Reinhardt lending their voices, but Chase struck down every proposal. According to him, our biggest obstacle boiled down to a lack of manpower and resources. I had to accept the sense of that. It took five of us from the Thieves Guild to rob a single caravan on the Cyrodiil frontier. How much more would it take to steal from the Thalmor? We probably did need Delphine’s invitation.

    “But Reinhardt?” I groaned. “Really? Even if he attends the party, he’ll never pull of a job like this alone.”                                                                                                                                               

    Chase turned to the Blade. “Can we send another person in with him? Someone posing as a bodyguard or steward perhaps?”

    Delphine leaned over her table, processing the idea. “Not a bodyguard, they won’t allow that. But a steward might work. The other guests tend to tote along their lackeys.”

    “Then make it this one,” Chase said. “Surely you can come up with some excuse for my presence. Reinhardt is going to need my help once he’s inside.” Nobody argued against the suggestion. Regardless of what anybody thought about Chase’s skills, his thu’um was the real show stealer. Having a trump like that inside the embassy would help tip things in our favor. Delphine perused the floor plans, thinking to herself.

    “Alright Dragonborn,” she said. “I’ll get you in.”                          

    “What about me and her?” I asked, pointing at Falura. “What are we supposed to do during all this?”

    “There is still the issue of our getaway,” Chase reminded everyone. “But first, we need to know where the Thalmor keep their documents. Delphine?”

    The Blade gathered us around to get a closer look at the map of the embassy grounds. She pointed her finger on the parchment as she spoke. “The largest building is the embassy itself, where the party will be held. This smaller one, here, is Elenwen’s Solar, where the ambassador keeps her files.”

    Chase growled. “We will have to cross the courtyard outside to reach it. In snow. I foresee trouble remaining undetected, even if we can obstruct line of sight. Invisibility is just as useless if the Thalmor’s mages can cast Detect Life. Xhuth…” He clawed at his feathers. Chase was getting progressively more agitated for some reason. His eyes kept flicking to the walls.

    “So we can’t sneak in,” Reinhardt shrugged. “We’ll fight ‘em, then, if that’s what we gotta do.”

    “Fighting’s not how you handle a heist,” I scoffed.

    “No, Dar-Meena. I fear he may be right,” Chase said. “Once we step out into that courtyard, the Thalmor will almost certainly discover us, if they have not already by then. We will have no choice but to press into the Solar and keep the guards at bay. As for escaping… going back outside exposes us to archers and mage fire. I can use my thu’um to repel attackers or clear long distances. However…”

    “I’ll slow you down,” Reinhardt finished for him. “You’re a quicker one than I am, lizard. I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

    “There’s a stable,” I said. “Just steal a mount and ride off.”                                   

    “The Thalmor will sooner kill their horses than let us take them,” Chase replied.

    “Does this Elenwen have a panic room? A hidden exit in her Solar?” Falura asked.

    “No hidden exit,” Delphine muttered. “Trust me. I’ve checked.”

    “We will have to go outside, then,” Chase said, “and escape on foot.”

    Falura gripped her staff. “But with patrols and magical traps throughout the surrounding forest…”

    “Gods damn. You two are gonna take it hard and sideways out there,” I said, thumping an elbow on the table. “We’ve got to create a diversion, something to keep the Thalmor busy while you make your getaway.”

    Chase nodded. “We should scout out the area surrounding the embassy first, before we plan anything further. I can scour the area for the most optimal escape route.”

    The mage looked less than delighted with that prospect. Judging from the glances she threw Reinhardt now and then, I think she was more concerned with his safety than Chase’s. Of the two, he would be the one least likely to get out of that embassy alive.

    “There must be a better way…” Falura whispered.

    “There might be,” Chase replied. “It will be a long ride to Solitude. That’s time to come up with ideas.” He turned to Delphine. “One final matter. Reinhardt and I will need weapons and equipment if we are going to survive, not just what we find inside the embassy. Can we smuggle anything in with us?”

    “Yes,” Delphine said. “I have a contact inside the embassy. He’s not up for this kind of high risk mission, but he can help us. His name is Malborn. Wood Elf. It’s because of him that we have these floor plans.”

    “You’re certain we can trust him?” Falura asked.     

    “He’s not a dangerous character, but he hates the Thalmor at least as much as I do. They wiped out his family back in Valenwood during one of their ‘purges’ that we never hear about. Luckily they don’t know who he really is, or he wouldn’t be serving drinks at the ambassador’s parties. I’ll get word for him to meet you in Solitude, at the Winking Skeever. It’s an inn on the city’s south quarter.”

    “Very well,” Chase said. “I assume you will need time to secure our invitations.”

    “I’ll handle it while you head for Solitude. I’m as fast on the ground as any courier. You’ll have invites for the third of next month, so don’t waste time getting there.” Delphine, uncharacteristically, smiled. “This has been a long time coming. I’ve wanted to get into the Thalmor Embassy for years. I’m honored you’re the one who’s helping me do it, Dragonborn.”

    “As long as this yields worthwhile information. Stopping the dragons is all I care for,” Chase replied. “I reserve the right to change my mind, if I am ever inclined to.”

    “Alright. Be careful,” Delphine said. “I’ll meet you all in Solitude.”     

    The woman left shortly after we dispersed. After a quick resupply at the general goods store, the four of us assembled back outside the inn. I stole a peek at Chase as I took the reins of my horse. He was still measured and calm, but his movements were stiff with a bottled tension. I wanted to ask him what had happened to Ralof, why he looked like such a mess, and what his condition had to do with anything. Our eyes met and he mouthed the words, Not here. Soon.

    Turns out by soon he meant much later that evening, while we slept out in the hills overlooking Whiterun. Chase claimed he’d camped in this spot before, on his first trip to see the Jarl. Bright stars glittered in the sky, poking through a patchy cloak of clouds. Lights from the city were burning in the distance. We’d prepped a small fire, positioning our tents to hide its glow from the valley below. Chase insisted. He sat on a rock close to the fire and I sat beneath him, while Reinhardt and Falura used cots to keep from dirtying their pants. Frogs croaked. Wolves howled. Wind moaned all around us. The night was chilling.

    Sometime during dinner – a simple rabbit stew brewed by Reinhardt – Chase made his announcement.

    “Ralof was beaten bloody. Tortured,” he said, “because he knew of my whereabouts.”

    “What!? Who?” Reinhardt growled, tossing aside his empty bowl. “Damn the lot to Mehrunes Dagon! Who did this?”

    “Bounty hunters,” Chase said. “My enemies must have contracted them, which means they know I am here in Skyrim. We are all in terrible danger.”

    I feigned a cough to end the silence.

    “Uh, Chase?” I spoke up. “We knew that a long damned time ago. We’re fighting dragons, in case you forgot.”

    “Yes. Dragons that we can see. Dragons that announce their presence with roaring and fire.” Chase leaned forward, arms resting on his knees. “Dragons cannot slit our sleeping throats or poison us with darts. My enemies can. And they will try.”

    “They’ll try alright,” Reinhardt sneered. “That’s all they’re gonna get to do, before we wring their necks.”

    Chase didn’t cheer for Reinhardt’s sentiment. He barely acknowledged the man, let alone the rest of us. He was off in his own world of thoughts.

    “What do you advise we do, Dragonborn?” Falura asked.     

    “I must teach the three of you how to live as I have,” he said. “Expect the worst at any moment and be wary at all times. If one of us looks forward, the rest should look back. If one is asleep, the others should be awake.” He sat up, breathing deeply. The conversation didn’t get much better after that.

    Chase asked me to take first watch with him that night. My eyelids were getting heavy, but I didn’t say anything, on the hunch that he wanted us to talk alone – a hunch that turned out right. We sat together just outside of camp, looking out over the darkened vista. Chase was cross-legged in the dirt and I lay against a boulder, fingers weaved behind my head.

    “Alright already, get it over with,” I said, yawning enormously. “Aren’t you going to badger me for spying on you?”

    “No,” he replied.                       

    We listened to the sounds of the wind and rustling plants. I was barely awake, but I couldn’t fall asleep even if I’d wanted to. Every swish and crackle made me twitch. We were out in the open. I felt exposed, seeing killers in the dark that weren’t there. How did Chase learn to live with this kind of paranoia?

    “You’re upset about this Ralof guy,” I said.

    “We escaped Helgen together. I knew this would happen,” Chase hissed. “The question was never if, but when. Still, this is sooner than I expected.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Of course. It’s always doom and gloom with you. If you’re trying to scare me, by the way, it’s working. Can you stop now?”

    “It never stops.”

    My eyes had adapted to the soft dusk. I looked over at Chase and noticed something in his hand. He was holding a piece of folded up parchment, yellow and worn. There were dark splotches on it. Bloodstains.

    “This flier is old,” Chase said, after he caught me staring. “Whoever had it, kept it for a long time. Years. I do not know why.”

    “When did you get it?” I asked.

    “Ralof managed to take it from one of the men who tortured him, an Argonian. His sister gave it to me. I can only hope she showed it to no one else.”

    That woke me up a bit. “Holy shit… Is there writing on it? What does it say?”

    Chase turned around to check on the others. Reinhardt and Falura were fast asleep. He leaned forward, taking a deep, resigning sigh.

    “You wish to know who I really am?” he asked.

    I sat up. Chase handed me the paper.

    “Here is your chance, Dar-Meena. It’s time you learned.”                        

    I stared at him. What was I supposed to say to that? His eyes had me in their grip, reflecting the bright city lights. I tore myself away, running a comb of claws through my feathers. Chase tilted his head.

    “Is this not what you have sought after?” he asked. “You have asked your questions tenaciously since we left Riften.”

    “But… I didn’t think you would–”

    “Do this? I have tried to keep you in the dark, yes. But the arrival of these bounty hunters has made me question the sense of it.” He glared at the sight of Dragonsreach. “Word of my identity is going to spread. Some truth. Some lies. I would rather you learn these things from me, than from someone else.”

    “Like who?”                                                                                              

    He didn’t answer. He just held the parchment up for me to take. Reluctantly, I did.          

    “Why?” I asked, glancing back at camp. “Why me and not them?” 

    Chase sighed. “Trust is… difficult, for this one. But if we’re to survive the threats rising against us, perhaps it’s time I chose someone to trust.” He paused, closing his mouth to change words. “If you open that parchment, you will be accepting a burden of knowledge. You will become an accomplice, in the eyes of my hunters.”

    I held onto the parchment with both hands, feeling my quickened heartbeat. Why was I so nervous all of a sudden? I’d been trying to figure out Chase’s identity for weeks, and here it was, literally within breathing distance. I should have been excited, but the solemn look on Chase’s face sure didn’t fill me with excitement. For the first time, I had to ask myself: did I really want to know who he was?

    We all hide scary things about ourselves…

    “Chase, I…” The sentence had trouble forming, but I soldiered on. “I don’t care who you used to be. That’s not… I’m not traveling with him, whoever he was. I’m traveling with Chases-The-Wind. The Dragonborn.”

    In response he chuckled, a wide and thankful grin on his face, like those were the best words he’d heard all day. “If we could abandon the shadows of our pasts, we would,” he told me. “But our pasts tell us who we are. I am not Chases-The-Wind. That is not my real name.”

    “Then…” I trailed off. I didn’t need to ask who he was. He’d just point to the paper.

    “Open it or give it back,” Chase said. “I will not judge whatever you decide to do.”         

    It hit me then, what he was saying by doing this. After spending weeks trying to scare me off and send me back to Riften, he’d given up. At no point did he say that he didn’t want me to read whatever was on that paper. Maybe he was actually hoping I would. It’s a stretch, but I like to think it that’s how he felt…

    After sitting for minutes in an hour of silence, I undid the folds, frowning.

    “It’s too dark,” I muttered. “I can’t read a thing.”

    Chase took in a breath, then held up an idle healing spell, illuminating the parchment.

    It was a wanted poster. The writing was in a foreign language. I couldn’t even make out the reward sum – it wasn’t Imperial currency – though it didn’t take a child to figure that the number was big. Very big. I looked at the criminal’s portrait, sketched in ink: an Argonian male, horns sawed off and head feathers plucked, except for a stripe down the middle of his scalp. He looked angry, features traced with thick dark lines, like the artist pressed them forcefully onto the page. The name below was written in two languages, one of them Tamrielic. Okan-Zeeus. I glossed over it. My eyes were fixed on the picture, on the young man staring back at me.

    There were claw-mark scars on the left of his face.

    “The insignia on that parchment,” Chase said, “comes from the An-Xileel and the Organism, the highest echelons of my people’s leadership.” He hesitated. “You cannot read the words, but they demand my death. A sentence such as mine… is only given in response to treason, of the gravest kind. Not against our rulers, but against our creators. The Hist.”

    I turned and looked at him. His face was lined with deep remorse.

    “You are traveling, Dar-Meena, with the most wanted man in Black Marsh.”

     

    AUTHOR’S NOTES

    A few things warrant explanation. First off, I’m giving the Thalmor Detect Life spells. Because, let’s be honest, a race of magically inclined elves are going to use that kind of asset to protect their secret documents. They just would. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

    Second, Elenwin’s Solar has a trapdoor exit in the actual game that leads directly outside. Personally, if I were the Thalmor and I wanted to keep thieves from pilfering our secrets, I would not allow such a convenient escape route to exist. So in my fiction, it doesn’t.

    I’m also up-scaling the size of the Embassy itself. It’s going to be bigger than the one in the game, with more people (and opposition) inside. You can apply this to all major cities and locations, actually. In real life, places like Whiterun would be considered villages due to the small number of actual occupants.

     

     

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Comments

15 Comments   |   Fallout Night and 1 other like this.
  • Fallout Night
    Fallout Night   ·  May 3, 2016
    @Okan-Zeeus 
    Ah well, thanks for the heads up. Just really enjoying the series that's all. See ya next time!
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  May 3, 2016
    @Fallout Night
    Sorry... Not for a while probably. I'm back to writing my original manuscript. I wrote this chapter in my down time while working on other stuff (and being generally lazy). Keep tabs on the TOC for any updates, though. 
  • Fallout Night
    Fallout Night   ·  May 1, 2016
    Praise be to the Divines! Hopefully we will start seeing more chapters, no? It's good have ya back Okan.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  April 29, 2016
    “Yismir. You’re a piece of work, lizard.” Fix Ysmir.

    “Bounty hunters,” Chase said. “My enemies must have contracted them, which means they know I am here in Skyirm. We are all in terrible danger.” Fix Skyrim.

    We knew it would hap...  more
  • Malign
    Malign   ·  April 29, 2016
    Now I have a strange desire to start a play through that owns an armoured troll called Barnaby...
  • Tolveor Deschain
    Tolveor Deschain   ·  April 29, 2016
    "Chase was cross-legged in the dirt and I lied against a boulder, fingers weaved behind my head." Lay against a boulder. A true pleasure to read about chases again. Tortured ralof makes me Wanna take up the friendly faces playthrough and make the villains
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  April 29, 2016
    Oh, you misspelled Ysmir, added an extra "i". 
    Yeah, Altmer actually trained and kept trolls for battle. I thought that was particularly cool when I read that in Rising Threat. Aelberon even had a named troll as a fighting companion, Fal.
  • Andrew Paredes
    Andrew Paredes   ·  April 29, 2016
    Ahh, another great chapter. Keep it up, you're an amazing writer.
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  April 29, 2016
    You know when I heard about the quest, I thought of that line from Lethal Weapon 2.
    Shame there wasn't....
  • The Wing
    The Wing   ·  April 29, 2016
    Well I'm sure we all knew Chases-The-Wind was Okan-Zeeus for quite a while now, but what on Nirn did he do to the Hist to get himself in so much trouble? Somehow I doubt it was graffiti vandalism.  I'm really really looking forward to the Diplomatic Immun...  more