Merotim Blades - Silk and Cashmere, Part 3

  • 12th of Hearthfire, 4E 209


    The Elven Gardens District. Such a nice name for a district, yes? It has always been where most of the Elven citizens of the Empire took residency, and it is just that now it has become much more prominent since the Dominion established a presence in the Imperial City.


    This one knows that in the old days the district was where most of the classy restaurants were, but these days one can find everything here. There are traders of all kinds in here, restaurants and taverns, all services. Only this time, it is strictly run by the Dominion. Of course, there are some exceptions - there are non-Dominion traders and citizens in the district too, but they all need to be approved by the Thalmor first.


    During the day anyone can enter the district. Most of the traders bringing goods to the Market District travel through the Elven Gardens. The main street is wide enough for three wagons to pass through side by side, so one has to be always careful when crossing the street, because it is not just the wagons, but also carts and carriages... citizens of the Dominion are really not so different from everyone else. The coachmen - or coachmer in this case - still shout at each other, the people in the streets still rush after their business, shop the same way.


    And that is the thing, is it not? The Great War, Sacking of the Imperial City, Battle of Red Ring, everyone knows these names. Everyone is taught that the Dominion are the enemy, one to be hated like some kind of monster. But look around, look around. Look at the Bosmer trader trying to sell his bone charms, look at the Khajiit trader trying to sell her pottery, look at the Altmer stopping and haggling for a better price. How are they monsters? How are they different from Empire?


    In this regard, not so much. They are all just people, living their lives, day by day.


    Of course, such a fact often pales when you look carefully around and see Dominion soldiers or Justiciars patrolling the streets, and that reminds you that not everything is as they seem to be. This district has its own law, its own set of rules, and the Thalmor are the ones who make them, and trust Maz when he says the laws are a bit different, so if you ever think about visiting the Elven Gardens make sure you know the law, because ignorance is almost a crime in itself for the Thalmor.




    This one blinks and looks at Ballista walking in front of him, looking over her shoulder, and Maz realizes he is lagging behind. That is what getting lost in thought gets you. “Yes, yes, Maz still follows,” this one murmurs.


    “I can see that, though you most likely didn’t hear me, right?”


    “Huh?” this one tilts his ears, avoiding an older Bosmer walking opposite him.


    “I asked you what your history was with Silk,” Ballista looks over her shoulder again. “Though with our previous discussion about people’s secrets it’s rather hypocritical of me. It’s your past, not my business,” she shrugs. “But still, can’t deny I’m interested. You know the… Khajiit? Yes, the Khajiit behind the legend after all.”


    “Hmm,” Mazubar-do mumbles, though Ballista most likely cannot hear that over the ruckus on the streets. Maz moves closer and is about to speak, but then closes his mouth, his tail twitching in annoyance. Such ruckus is not the right stage for such a discussion. Maz is an entertainer, and what is one of the worst nightmares of an entertainer? That he cannot be heard. Maz grabs Ballista by her arm and steers her off the main street.


    And that is where this district gets its name from. Once you step off the main street, into the side alleys, it becomes a whole different world. Everything is a bit more quiet, and it is easy to get lost among the decorative shrubs and trees. The buildings around are still visible, there are still people walking these alleys, but somehow, everything is less rushed.

    “I hope you’re not dragging me to some favourite spot of yours,” Ballista chuckles and this one’s whiskers twitch in amusement.


    “This one just prefers the quiet when he talks. And this is a shortcut.”


    “A path that’s both longer and worse. Some shortcut.”


    “Hah!” Maz cannot deny that the does enjoy the lashing whip that Ballista’s tongue sometimes is. Uhm… That came out wrong. Not in the way Jahad seems to be enjoying itl. “You want to know about this one’s and Silk’s history, yes? Understandable, but in Maz’s opinion it does raise an interesting point from our previous discussion.” This one stops when he sees a very rare desert rose of his homeland, surprised how it can even survive in these conditions. Maz leans in and smells it, savouring the scent. It has been far too long since this one smelled something so tightly associated with Elsweyr. Maz sighs. “There are always two kinds of past, are there not? One we remember fondly and speak about with happiness. And one we would rather forget and that gets us to the matter at hand. Is speaking about it bad? Does it force us to relive those moments we do not want to remember? Does it bring us pain?”


    Silence follows and Ballista’s eyebrows then shoot up in understanding. “Ah, that wasn’t a rhetorical question. Well… I wouldn’t say it bring us pain, or it makes us relive it, because we don’t exactly remember it. By that I mean we don’t remember it precisely. But what we do remember is how we felt in those moments. We remember the feelings. And if we felt discarded, abandoned or alone back then and we recall it in this moment… Well, it definitely shifts our balance.”


    Discarded, abandoned or alone. And it is exactly about moments like these, when Maz gets Ballista to talk and she slips, revealing bits and pieces. Maybe those were just examples meant for this discussion, but maybe they were not. Maz clears his throat. “Yes, and that is why Maz’s history with Silk is not as easy to talk about, because this past consists of both kinds of the pasts we mentioned. There is the one in Corinthe, which was not an easy life, but it was simple, and it was where two Khajiit fell in love with each other. And they were happy, just as anyone can be living on the streets. But one Khajiit wanted to escape the streets, the other wanted to control them, and so their love fell apart. One left and one stayed. And that is where Maz ends the story, because everything after that brings nothing but pain and shame.”


    Ballista stops and clenches her fists, almost as if she struggles with something. “Sorry to hear that, Maz. The world certainly doesn’t cuddle with any of us, but for what it’s worth, I am sorry.”


    This one smiles and slightly shrugs. “It is what it is, but maybe, just maybe, since Maz shared with you, you could share something with Maz.” She frowns and this one winks at her.


    “Oh you little…” she shakes her head, chuckling. “So you get all philosophical and sobby only to soften me up so that I pour my heart out? Hah. Well, it worked. A bit. Fine. I’ll give you little something.” She leans closer and Maz tilts his ears in anticipation, his tail swinging from side to side. “I’m a bastard,” she whispers into this one’s ear and Maz waits for more, but she pulls back and with a smirk on her face she continues down the alley.


    A bastard? A bastard. Well, beside the obvious, which is teasing Maz only to give him so little, it could mean only one thing. A child born out of wedlock, but pretty much everyone knows that about Ballista - her father was a travelling bounty hunter and her mother a simple woman living in a small village. That does make Ballista a bastard.


    And yet… it is not that uncommon among the common folk, for children to be born outside of marriage. Everyone would have to be a bastard then. No, most of the times, the word bastard is associated with-


    No, this is not the time and place to reveal such things. Maz is beginning to understand the puzzle that is Ballista, but some secrets should not be revealed until the time is right. It might not be in this tale, not in the second, but eventually it will. When the time is right.


    Ballista walks on even when Maz stops. “Ballista!” this one shouts after her, almost losing her from sight among the shrubs and trees. “We turn here,” Maz points to the left, to a alley. She returns and gives Maz a look.


    “Since when did you know your way around Elven Gardens?”


    And this one shrugs to that. “It is where the Khajiit are. And if this one has to pick between those at Small Tenmar or Elven Gardens...well, a little bit of Thalmor presence is a small price to pay for the opportunity to be amongst his own people.”


    “Do you miss it? Elsweyr?”


    Interesting question. Being homesick is an interesting feeling. What do we actually miss? Can we really miss something like heat or sand? Can we miss scents or the language? No, this one thinks not. Being homesick is more of a feeling of belonging, of missing the familiar. Not specific things, the overall picture. So does Maz miss Elsweyr? “Sometimes.” When he feels out of place or time. “Do you miss the Jeralls?”


    That question catches her off guard and her eyes look into the distance, towards north. “Definitely not the cold. Or the snow. But family? Yes.”


    When she finishes Maz realizes we have reached the main street again, and that we have reached our destination too. Right in front of us is a house of marble, with clothes and fabrics on display behind the windows on the ground floor, with Altmer and Bosmer walking in and out. The door never shuts for long in this tailor shop apparently.


    “So this is it, huh?” Ballista smirks. “Well, Quaridicus the Younger is not doing bad at all. Thanks to his Thalmor friends or recently stolen cashmere, eh?”


    She looks at this one and Maz merely shrugs. It is a conclusion this one is not ready to jump to.


    All of a sudden screams sound from the other side of the street. Surprised screams, as if blood has suddenly been spilled. Then the door of the tailor shop bursts open and people run outside, over each other and Maz exchanges glances with Ballista.


    Without a single word we rush towards the tailor shop.


    “Out of the way! Move!” Ballista shouts, pushing her way through the people trampling over each other as if someone had set Oblivion fire behind their heels. It all becomes a blur of motion, people screaming and limbs flailing around. Someone nearly knocks this one’s teeth out with an elbow, then some Bosmer hits Maz directly in the face. We fall to the ground, Maz’s eyes start watering as he rubs his muzzle, wondering if something has been broken. Humans constantly complain about their broken noses, but we Khajiit have it all the worse, because we do not have these tiny little buttons they call noses but we-


    “Maz!” someone shots and grabs this one by his collar, getting him back on his feet and Maz blinks few times, just now recognizing the red mane of hair that belongs to Ballista. “Stop lying around! Quickly before the Thalmor guards show up!”


    She drags Maz inside and this one looks around with hazy gaze. There are a lot of clothes around. Fancy robes, exquisite dresses, astounding doublets - Maz would love to have the black one-


    “What happened here?!” Maz hears Ballista shout and looks in her direction. Directly opposite the door is a counter with some kind of dressing room behind it, but in front of it is a Bosmer female on the ground, kneeling over a body in a slowly increasing pool of blood. An Altmer female lies in the Bosmer’s arms, clutching her throat, but her eyes are still, her skin slowly turning pale. Bubbles escape from the wound on her throat and when Maz looks closer it seems as though someone had ripped the Altmer’s throat out.


    The Bosmer sobs, deep in shock and Maz considers using his secret charm on her, but Ballista grabs her chin and turns her head. “Hey, listen. It’s alright now. Everything is alright. The guards are on the way. Just tell me what happened?”


    “A cat… walked in,” the poor thing begins in between sobs, somehow reconnecting with reality for a moment. Maz still thinks his charm would have been better because we do not have much time before the guards show up and the culprit was getting further away with every passing second. “Asked for… master Quaridicus. We called him and...she dragged him away, but not before she… she…” The Bosmer hugs the Altmer, tears rolling down here cheeks.


    “Where did they go? Hey! Where did they go?!” Ballista growls and the Bosmer’s eyes widen.


    “The...back door,” she points behind the dressing room.


    We run through the room, into another one full of raw fabrics. The air smells of turpentine and Maz notices overturned buckets of paint as we head for the door. Ballista bursts out with this one right behind her and we appear in an empty alley, marble walls around us and cobblestones under our feet.


    She looks one way then the other and the she looks under her feet and Maz notices it too. Footprints of paint on the cobblestones, heading to the right. Well, that is quite some luck, almost as if the gods were smiling at us. Maz would say too lucky, but who he is to argue with the gods?


    “Quick!” Ballista barks and Maz lets out a sigh as he tries to keep up. We reach a small garden between the houses and Maz immediately notices the trail of paint leading to a manhole on the other side of the garden.


    Ballista runs to it and grimaces, covering her nose. “Why does it always to be the sewers? Gods damn fucking sewers,” she curses as she starts climbing down into the darkness. “It’s like every damn criminal has to use sewers to get somewhere undetected, but if that was the truth then why isn’t it fucking thief main street down there with everyone bumping into each other? And the smell. Why does no one ever notice the smell when they crawl out? Seriously, Maz, if you ever write this story, leave the sewers out of it. Come up with something smarter than this bullshit. Every shit smelling story has sewers…”


    “Well, it is a cheap and effective writing trick for surprising escapes in broad daylight. Such as a carriage with contraband stopping right over the entrance to the sewers and when the guards are about to search the carriage the smugglers and the contraband disappear through the fake floor of the carria-”


    “Shut up, Maz. Seriously, not another damn word.”


    Very well then.


    The light slowly wanes as we descend down the ladder and the stench gets overwhelmingly… well, overwhelming. Piss and shit, among other things, there is nothing as aromatic as that, no?


    Once we reach the bottom a pitch black darkness envelops us in its obscuring arms, with only the thin slope of light from upstairs being the only thing illuminating our immediate area.


    Maz blinks few times and everything around brightens a bit, but devoid of colour. The thinnest ray of light becomes a beacon illuminating the dark for Maz as his cat-like eyes adjust.


    There are faint traces of paint on the ground of the narrow tunnel we are in and Maz heads in that direction, his ears picking up sounds coming from ahead. Footsteps and splashing.


    “I can’t see shit!” Ballista growls after she stumbles, bumping into this one, reminding Maz she cannot see in the dark like him.


    “The same can be said of Quaridicus the Younger,” Maz murmurs. “He is slowing the Khajiit kidnapper down. Kidnapper Khajiit. How is Maz supposed to say it?”


    Ballista bites her lower lip, weighing her options and comes to the same conclusion as Maz. “Go, damn it! I’ll just slow you down, so go. Get Quaridicus."


    “Maz is not a dog, but oh well. Just follow the sounds,” this one shrugs and heads down the tunnel at a speed one can run in broad daylight - or maybe dusk or dawn. Khajiit eyes do need a bit of light to reflect to be able to see in the darkness, but it is not like the darkness completely goes away. It just changes to a… murk, yes?


    Maz makes sure he runs close to the wall, avoiding the foul smelling liquid running through the gutter in the middle of the tunnel. The trail of paint slowly weakens - either the paint had dried or gotten washed down when Quaridicus stepped into the gutter.


    The sounds are getting closer now and Maz reaches into the hidden pocket of his doublet. “My precioussss,” this one murmurs and chuckles at how ridiculous it sounds and puts his Precious on his finger.


    “Help!” someone with a strong Cyrodiilic accent shouts from up ahead.


    “Shout one more time and I will claw your eyes out!” answers the kidnapper - probably - in southern accent but with heavy Cyrodiilic pronunciation. And it is a female’s voice.


    Maz takes the turn to right and he finally sees them. It is that Suthay-raht, Jaari. Silk’s daughter. And she is pushing a very fat Imperial in front of her, though he keeps stumbling and slipping in the darkness his human eyes cannot pierce.


    This one’s footsteps must have reached Jaari’s ears because she turns around and looks straight at Maz. Only she cannot see him. She narrows her eyes, and her whiskers twitch as she sniffs, her nostrils widening. Not a good idea in this one’s opinion, we are in the sewers after all, so Maz doubts she can smell anything but the hideous stench of piss and shit.


    She looks away and Maz sneaks towards her and jumps on her. She must have heard or felt Maz somehow because she turns around in the last second and Maz hits her muzzle with his forehead while tackling her to the ground.


    She hisses and curses and Maz quickly rolls away, She blindly cuts the air with her claws, unable to see Maz, and this one applies his charm, focusing on her mind and she suddenly turns away from Maz as if she had heard footsteps behind her. But she did not, it was a mere illusion.


    Maz steps forward and wraps his arm around her neck and lifts her up, tightening his grip, choking her. She kicks around, she cuts with her claws, leaving deep gashes on this one’s arm and so Maz uses more strength. Her legs find footing on the wall and she kicks, sending us both to the ground. But Maz does not let go.


    She slowly grows limp and Maz lets her go, breathing deeply. This one hopes she is not dead, because then Silk would flay poor Maz alive.


    “Maz?” Ballista shouts from the tunnel behind this one.


    “Here!” Maz replies and stands up, groaning. This one can feel and smell the awful wetness all over his clothes and fur. Disgusting!


    “W-wh-who?” Quaridicus the Younger mumbles and Maz looks at him properly in the darkness of the sewers while taking off the ring from his finger. Quaridicus still cannot see Maz but Maz can see him.


    And… It is Quaridicus! As in our employer, the one who’d hired us. Same bald head, same three chins, same small pig-like eyes, same body constitution-


    Wait. This Quaridicus has no beard. And very few wrinkles.


    Amazing. Maz has only heard about how humans can look exactly the same, a father and a son for example, and this Cavisus Quariducus looks exactly like his father. And with a fake beard and a bit of women’s powder the illusion would be even more convincing.


    We have found our doppelganger.


    “Maz?” Ballista sounds even closer.


    “Follow this one’s voice. Maz can see a ladder leading out,” this one says and helps the pale Quaridicus on his feet. “Come on, let us get you out of here, before the mean kitten wakes up.”


    “Shit!” Ballista as she trips over Jaari lying on the floor. It is somewhat hilarious watching humans blindly stumble in the dark when you can see well enough. “Is she alive?”


    “This one thinks so. Now come on, before the Thalmor guards finds us.”


    It takes us a while to crawl out of the sewers and when we do so it is somewhere in the Market District most likely, in one of the abandoned alleys. We are all covered with filth from the sewers and Quaridicus’ feet are painted red from all that spilled paint.


    Ballista stares at him with narrowed eyes, figuring out the same thing as Maz. “You declared the bankruptcy,” she states the obvious.


    “Who- What- What are you going to do with me?” Quaridicus asks with a trembling voice that makes his three chins tremble just as much. He is pale and covered with cold sweat, clearly overwhelmed by all this.


    “We were hired by your father; we escorted him to Dragonstar and back. So we have some questions and you are going to answer them.” She says that in a resolute and cold voice that cuts right through the Imperial’s shock and wakes him up.


    “I didn’t know what to do!” he shouts and Ballista cuts him off with a raised hand.


    “Calm yourself! Just start from the beginning.”


    He takes a few deep breaths. “My father was told about a perfect deal. One of his contacts in Hammerfell gave him reliable information that the prices of silk will go higher and cashmere will go down. And so he he bought a huge quantity of silk for regular price, sold it for a higher price in Dragonstar where he bought cashmere way under price. Very profitous deal.”


    “And how do you know all that?”


    It seems that Quaridicus the Younger has regained his composure by now for he straightened, looking Ballista in the eyes. “Because he told me. He needed capital to buy the silk and so he came up with a proposition to me. He wanted me to buy off a percentage of his company and that way he would have the capital needed to buy the silk and ultimately we would both profit.” He then grimaces, shaking his head. “I saw it only as another ruse to get me to come work with him. It was always his dream, working with his sons. But after what happened with my brother… I have my own business, so I said no.”


    “No?” Ballista raises her eyebrows. Yes, that is strange, because if Quaridicus the Younger had no money in his father’s business, they why the bankruptcy? “So you have no idea where the cashmere ended, right? Who killed your father? And think carefully, because there is a witness who saw you there the night he died.”


    “I-” Quaridicus starts, but pauses, his eyes watering. “I didn’t do it, I swear. I was there the night he died, yes, but I didn’t do it. Listen, he invited me to his home. He needed money. So he explained to me that he got a loan from someone so that he could finance that enterprise of his. But then his goods were stolen, and the person he loaned from started shaking him down.”


    Maz and Ballista exchange looks. S’hni. She said Quaridicus owed her money.


    “He told me the sum he needed, but I don’t have that kind of money. I told him he has to declare bankruptcy, that it is the only way. And then he said that if he did so his father would be turning in his grave, that he can’t shame the family name like that. That he’d rather die. I thought he was being melodramatic, but then he slipped something into his wine and a few moments later he…” Quaridicus suppresses a sob and wipes his eyes. “I couldn’t call the guards, they would say I did it. So I ran and then I declared the bankruptcy, impersonating my father, so that everything could return to normal and…”


    So that is it. The big mystery. A son trying not to get arrested for a death of his father he was not involved in at all. Maybe he is lying, maybe he did steal the cashmere and is merely trying to save his hide. But Maz does not thinks so.


    Maz catches Ballista’s gaze and she raises her eyebrows in a question. This one nods.


    “Go, get out of here,” Ballista murmurs. “Go find your Thalmor friends, tell them you were kidnapped by a revolutionary or whatever. Lay low, for some time at least.” He stares at her and she growls, pushing him away. “Just go!"


    We watch him disappear into the alleys, heading towards Elven Gardens. Voices reach us, coming from the sewers entrance next to our feet and we come to the conclusion it would be better to leave.


    “The Golden Blade?” Maz asks.


    “The Golden Blade.”




    When we get back to the tavern, first we take a bath - separately of course - and by the time we dry - which takes Maz much longer than Ballista - and change our clothes it is already getting dark and everyone is waiting for us. Cutter and Selence are there, talking about something which does not seem to involve bickering and insulting each other for a change. Jahad sits there with them, silent and listening and the Orcs are at their own table, eating yet again like a pair of starving wolves.


    Besides the Merotim Blades the tavern is again full with all kinds of mercenaries, discussing jobs, exchanging stories and most importantly drinking.


    We walk towards Selence and Cutter and when we sit down Ballista gives them a look. “What are you two so excited about?”


    Selence grins. “Cutter found the cashmere.”


    Ballista’s eyes grow wide. “What? How? Where?”


    All very important questions indeed. Cutter tilts her head and her lips become a thin line before she speaks. “I went to the warehouse and there were… how should I say it so that you ignorants can understand? Traces of magicka, yes. Residual leftovers from continuous use of magic. Recall spells.”


    Maz frowns and Cutter notices that, shaking her head. “Teleportation spells, you dumb cat. They transported all the goods without actually physically moving them-”


    “Maz knows what a Recall spell is,” this one mumbles.


    “I take it something like that isn’t easy,” Ballista thinks out loud. “Not everyone could do that. Did you find where the goods ended up?”


    “Do you take me for an amateur? Of course I did,” Cutter snorts, yet again giving us a full display of her arrogance. “They were not far. Five warehouses away from Quaridicus’. Already informed the Captain of the Watch, so the goods are being confiscated right now.”


    “What have you learned?” Selence focuses on Ballista and Maz.


    “Quaridicus the Younger didn’t do it, his father took his own life rather than declare bankruptcy. Someone was shaking him down for money he loaned… Whose warehouse was it? Where the goods were found.”


    Selence frowns as she tries to remember. “Uhm. Some Khajiiti owner. Haraaji? Yes, Haraaji.”


    Maz freezes after hearing that name. Oh no. This is not good. “Silk,” this one murmurs and everyone gives him a look. “Haraaji. It is a name she was using back in Elsweyr.”


    “Gods below,” Selence smacks her forehead. “How couldn’t I see it before? It is a classic scam, one of the simplest, but on such a scale…” She pauses, noticing us staring at her and she raises her eyebrows. “Come on, don’t you get it? Silk loans Quaridicus the money. He does the hard work, brings the cashmere to Cyrodiil and she steals it. When she sells it she gets her money back plus the profit. Shaking Quaridicus down and ruining his life was just a bonus."


    “Only Quaridicus ended up killing himself,” Ballista murmurs.


    “And we found the cashmere before she sold it,” Cutter grimaces.


    “Shit!” Selence curses.


    Yes, shit indeed. We have just taken away all of Silk’s profit from this scam. She told us to leave it, to walk away. Count our losses. And suddenly, four thousand Septims sounds like an acceptable loss in comparison to pissing off one of the most powerful bosses in Weye, especially if that one is Silk.


    “So what do we do now?” Selence breaks the silence. “It’s not like we can go against Silk. Best thing we could do is to cover her losses and hope for her forgiveness.”


    Cutter snorts at that as his her habit. “Ask for forgiveness from a petty criminal? We hand her over to the Watch.”


    “And what exactly does the Watch have on her?” Selence retorts, her gaze burying into Cutter’s skull. “The warehouse is written on some fake name. There will be no official documents for the loan she gave Quaridicus. She got her people out of the prison so she has connections in the Watch. Did I cover everything? I think I did.”


    Jahad clears his throat in that moment. "A thrust is elegant, and a cut is powerful, but sometimes the right action is a head-butt."


    “Seriously?” Selence scoffs. “I mean, are you fucking serious, Jahad? I just explained why the Watch can´t reach her and you suggest we head-butt her? Seriously?”


    Jahad stares at her, his eyes narrowing. “If we remove her, we remove the problem.”


    “Genius, just genius,” Selence shakes her head, then gives Jahad a look that clearly says what she thinks of that. “Not everything can be solved by a sword, moron. Ballista, come on,” she switches her attention to her sister, who has not said a word yet. “Tell him how damn stupid that is.”


    Ballista is silent for a moment. It is clear she has been pondering the same questions since she was silent the whole time while we talked. She grimaces. “It’s my fault, you know,” she starts with a sigh. “I was just too stubborn to let this go. Should have moved on. I’m sorry, I don’t see any way out of this. Either we fight her and make things only worse or we just hope we can come up with some sort of deal.”


    Wise decision. Putting her pride aside and try to make this right without bloodshed, Ballista has just proved that she really is wise beyond her years. She just admitted her mistakes. How many people can do that, especially in her position? And yet, Maz sees how she is hurt. Blaming herself.


    “We are still alive,” Maz leans closer and shakes her a little. “That is what matters. And Maz is glad it is going to stay that way.”


    “That’s the cat’s way of saying that you made the right call,” Cutter snorts.


    “What right call?” someone speaks behind us and Maz turns around, only to see S’hni right behind him. This one nearly jumps out of his chair and everyone at the table reaches for their weapons.


    “Now now, darlings. Just came here to talk,” she cackles and Maz notices that she wears very simple clothing this time, just a white shirt and short pants, looking like some kind of sailor. “Everyone is so jumpy these days. Do you mind if I sit?” she continues and Maz scans the tavern, looking for her people. But every face in the tavern is familiar, all mercenaries and regulars, no one really a suspect of working with Silk - though that does not mean it is impossible.


    Silk sits down and looks at each of us, smile playing on her face. “Don’t worry, my sweet liar, I came alone,” she strokes this one’s cheek and looks at Ballista. “Just came to talk, that’s all. You know, in case you were about to do something stupid. Like putting on all your practical armor, grab your big weapons and come knocking on my door.”


    Selence raises her eyebrows. “No, absolutely not, we weren’t planning-”


    “Shut up, girl!” S’hni barks at her, her eyes flashing with anger and her whole body tensing. When Selence closes her mouth a smile appears on Silk’s face again and she leans back in her chair, as relaxed as she could be. “I came to talk with your Captain. So if you want to listen, then listen, but don’t say a word. Pretty please,” she winks and looks at Ballista with expectation.


    The Nord clears her throat and sighs. “This is a very unpleasant situation for all of us.”


    “Oh, sugar, this is not unpleasant. It could get unpleasant, yes, but that all depends on you,” she waves her hand as if she was chasing away an annoying fly. “Just tell me. Was it worth it? This stubborn pursuit of truth and all that.”


    “I should have counted my losses and left that be, I see that now,” Ballista murmurs.


    “Well, now it’s too late, because now you have to lose more than that. You see, there are consequences for everything, and I do very much want you to know that all this is your fault, Ballista Merotim,” Silk leans closer, suddenly very serious again. “And do you know why? Because you won’t allow yourself to give up and that is the problem. You are still young, yes, but you have to learn how to accept defeat. Whatever your reasons were to pursue this mystery around Quaridicus, it was your stubborn pride preventing you from accepting defeat. And so you acted like a gambler who couldn’t help herself but to keep on betting more and more.”


    “We can pay you what you’ve lost in this-” Ballista starts but Silk cackles, interrupting her.


    “Oh, darling. You’ve beaten up my people. You’ve taken away my profit from this and with Quaridicus’ death I’ve lost even my initial investment. And you even managed to land my daughter in Thalmor prison,” with every word S’hni was growling more and more, gritting her teeth. “What makes you think that I want you to pay it back to me? Money money money. It’s not about money all the time. There are other kinds of currencies than that. Services. Favors. Oh, I would love some favors from the famous Merotim Blades.”


    Owe favors to the underworld crime boss. Now that does not sound good at all. Paying her in money would be so much better, that way we would retain our neutrality. But working for Silk? Nobody’s hands would remain clean. We do not do this kind of work, and Ballista is about to say exactly that.


    “We don’t do this line of wo-”


    “Or we could fight,” Silk shrugs. “We could wage war,” she continues dramatically and then cackles again. “Sure, why not? Could be fun. Me against… what? You seven? Eight with the old hag behind the counter?” she points at Thrattia. “Your mercenary friends from here?” She then looks at Selence. “Your Thieves Guild friends?” Then Cutter. “The Watch? The College of Whispers?” Silk scoffs and shakes her head in amusement. “Yes, I know you and your allies - who are unreliable at best. I know you all.” She turns her attention to Ballista, smirking. “And I know who you are, Ballista Merotim, who you really are. What a curious twist, isn’t it? I wonder what I am going to do with that information.


    Ballista freezes after those words and Maz raises his eyebrows. What exactly does Silk know about Ballista that it makes the Nord so scared? Well, scared? She looks downright terrified. But of what?


    “What do you want, Silk?” Ballista growls after she regains her compose.


    “As I said, I love favors. So… you owe me, that’s clear. So I’m going to ask few favors then and now. Quite simple really. You can of course continue with your boring work and all that in the meantime, but when I call, you come and do what I say. Deal?”


    Ballista frowns, not very happy about accepting such terms but what other choice do we have? Flood the streets with rivers of blood fighting Silk’s gang? How many of us would be left standing in the end - or would any be left standing at all?


    There was no other way but to seal this deal with the daedra.


    “Deal,” Ballista says resolutely, so that there is no doubt left.


    Silk smiles and pats her on her back. “Looking forward to our cooperation. And Maz, dear, do come visit me at the Silken Web sometimes. For old times’ sake.” And she leaves, just walks away, leaving us sitting at the table in silence, trying to absorb the fact that we have just sold our impartiality and our morality to a crime boss.


    City of Gold.


    There is a saying: ‘Money moves the world.’ If that is the truth, then the Imperial City is the heart of that world, a heart pumping with gold. Gold that corrupts. It is a hub of corruption. Money is everything here, it is power and connections, services and favors, and if you look carefully enough you can find anything in this City of Gold. All dreams can be crushed in matter of seconds, all dark wishes fulfilled, all perverted desires satisfied. If you have enough gold of course, to buy power.


    Every story has a lesson. And this one?


    This one tells you that if you keep digging deeper and deeper eventually you will dig a hole so deep you will not be able to climb out of it.


    Stubbornness, pride, curiosity and greed are the best tools to bury yourself alive. Ballista has just learned that truth, dragging us down with her.


    It is not fair.




    You would think that this is the end of the story. We have hit the bottom of the hole we’d dug out for ourselves by accepting Silk’s terms and now we have to live with that. And as of now, living with it means lots of drinking.


    Ballista, Selence, Cutter and Jahad sit at the table where they talked with Silk just moments ago and they all quickly order their drinks and start looking for the bottoms of their tankards, glasses or flasks.


    Merotim Blades, all we’d stood for, just ended. We have been building our reputation for so long, our neutrality in the workings of Imperial City and its underworld, our honor and our name. And now it was gone.


    Ballista has agreed to Silk’s terms, yes. But Maz did not.


    They do not even look up when Maz stands up and heads away from the table, heading upstairs into his room he shares with Jahad. This one walks up the wooden stairs and then continues down a hall and opens the second door on the left.


    The room is not big, barely five steps wide and long, with two beds at each side of the window that is opposite the door, which lets in a weak light of the moons, otherwise leaving the room drowning in darkness - which is not a problem for Maz. The right side of the room is practically bare except for the bed and a small chest under it. That is Jahad’s half, simply… practical.


    Now the left side. A wide comfortable bed with a chest under it, two wardrobes standing next to the bed, a table with writing tools, a shelf for instruments. That side belongs to Maz of course, because this one needs lot of things, comfortable and exquisite things, for the harsh life of a mercenary.


    Life he will not allow to be corrupted and ruined by Silk. This one values freedom above all else and Silk’s terms have not made us anything but slaves. Yes, we are free to do what we want, still take jobs, but that is only a illusion, no? There is a collar around our necks now, and Silk does not mind if we stray for some while, but she will eventually tug at the collar, reminding her new pets who holds the leash.


    Who can tell what exactly would Silk want of us, what kind of favors? This one is worried that it would not be anything we could normally agree with. The Merotim Blades did get into trouble with the law more than few times, but it always was for the right thing. Not because we wanted to commit crimes, to stoop so low to earn our living by crime.


    Well… Selence does steal for the Thieves Guild sometimes, but that is not really a major issues. Cutter digs out some graves then and now, but, surely she means well. And Jahad sometimes takes contracts that involve duels and killing. And the Orcs break quite a lot of things if not watched carefully.


    All right, this one admits our hands are not exactly clean. But It is not like we kill people for territory. No, we actually do kill people when protecting some fat merchant on the road, or when there is a bounty on their heads… Fine, fine, Maz does not help make the case for this.


    But the point stands that no one tells us to do something we do not want to do. We are free to choose what we want to do. And that is a reason enough for Maz to make this right, to fix this.


    Do you remember how Maz talked about a true entertainer never revealing too much? Well, sometimes a true entertainer keeps the best tricks for the very end. And maybe that time has come.


    This one reaches into the hidden pocket of his doublet and pulls out a golden ring with a huge golden gem set into it. When this one looks at the gem it seems to absorb the moonlight entering through the window and then in another second it seems to reflect the light. And yet, none of it is the truth.


    Maz crouches next to his bed and pulls out the chest from under it. “This one thinks it is time to put the old troupe back together, my friend,” he murmurs towards the ring and then puts the ring into the chest’s lock. It clicks and Maz slowly opens the lid.


    It is full of clothes and Maz quickly tosses everything out and then he opens the fake bottom of the chest. And everything is there, waiting for him.


    A pair of ancient Khajiiti double bladed daggers called haladie. Short handle made of wood and bronze, with a curved blade on each side of the handle. The blades are made of the finest iron, the etching of Khajiiti symbols in them still perfect and intricate as when it was made.


    The daggers were lying on a dark black piece of cloth, which in reality was a short cape of the blackest material. When Maz reaches for it is cold on touch.


    And next to them is an old, rugged wide-brimmed hat, everything about it screaming ‘archaic’ ‘worn out’, somehow not fitting into the set in the chest. And yet it is a perfect final touch.


    “Oh, how Maz has missed you, old friends.”


    Maz takes the daggers along with the sheaths and the belt and straps them on. Then comes the cape which Maz flings over his left shoulder and as the fabric settles the shadows in the room twitch. Cold spreads through the room and the shadows start forming into the vague shapes of humanoid figures. This one puts the hat on his head and smiled. “You have surely missed Maz too, yes? Oh, this one knows you did. Then come, come, let us be off.”


    Maz waves with the cape and the shadows dart under it. Then he slips the ring on his finger and disappears.




    The first place Maz visited was the Silken Web, a brothel in Small Tenmar owned by S’hni. Since she told this one to come by there, it only made sense. But she was not there.


    No, she is at her private residence most likely. Which is a problem since Maz has no idea which one it is, but it would make sense if it was somewhere on the Crooked. That is where the more fancy houses are built in Weye.


    But which one?


    Maz is a gust of wind tonight but even he is not fast enough to search every house on the Crooked. But shadows, shadows travel faster for they have to escape the light. This one lifts his cape and shadows escape from under it, spilling on the roof Maz is standing on and they form into vague figures again.


    “Find her,” this one says and the shadows scour all directions. And Maz waits. The night is still young and there is plenty of time. Tonight is not about ‘if’, it is about ‘when.’ S’hni will reconsider her terms, there is no other way, and the right questions is what it will take for her to come to the same conclusion.


    One of the shadows return in less than an hour and now Maz knows where to go. He calls all the other shadows back as he heads towards the southern edge of Weye, close to the southern gate.


    The streets of Weye are emptying out, the crowds getting thinner and thinner until there is no one left but drunks, the homeless and criminals wandering the streets. The brothels and gambling dens slowly come alive, their lights and sounds luring people to come spend their money for a bit of pleasure or try their luck at a gaming table.


    Maz passes all the establishments, all the people, unnoticed, a mere breeze in the night for them, and then he finally reaches his destination.


    It is a two-story house, standing a bit alone among the other houses with its back close to Weye’s outer walls. When Maz looks carefully he can see men and Khajiit patrolling the premises of the house, standing guard by the entrances. You would almost think that a noble lives here, or a very rich merchant, and maybe that is the purpose of this appearance.


    But Maz knows it is where S’hni lives.

    This one is standing on the other side of the street, watching the house, while the shadows whisper to Maz about all the entrances and the guards. There is the front door, then there is a back door behind the house, leading to the kitchen. And there is a window left open on the second floor. The window is too obvious and could be trapped - Maz did encounter few of these. Leave one entrance to a house seemingly unguarded, making the thieves think it is the easiest way in while in reality it is the most deadly one.


    Well, the front door it is.


    The shadows whisper that the guards should be switching very soon and Maz quickly moves across the street, literally running right up to the guards and stands next to the door. One of the guards, a Khajiit, frowns and tilts his ears. He looks straight at Maz,but sees nothing.


    The door then open and Maz quickly slips in.


    He enters a large lobby, and it takes Maz a second until he suppresses his surprise. From the outside the house looks like nothing special, a bit rugged and old, but the inside is just… exquisite though a little bit… cheesy. There is some fancy artwork on every wall, antique vases and various curiosities and artifacts in displays almost everywhere. As if this house was decorated by a person who did not care for the art itself, but for its price. It was all in display just for show.


    Yes, that does sound like S’hni.


    The floors are covered with red carpets, the walls are painted white - almost as if to represent the colouring of the marble houses of Imperial City. Right in front of Maz is a set of double stairs leading to the upper floor, while to his sides are hallways leading to… Ah, yes, Maz has to thank the shadows. To the right is the dining room and kitchen and to the left are the servants’ rooms.


    A Khajiit maid nearly bumps into Maz when he is not paying attention and he quickly takes a step back, letting her pass.


    Where now?


    The shadows whisper, giving Maz a direction and he quickly heads up the stairs. Right at the top he nearly runs into that Imperial with the wide hat, who is sitting on a chair at the top of the stairs, his broken arm still in a splint close to his body. Maz freezes and then he realizes the man is sleeping. Well, all the better. Maz steps over the Imperial’s stretched out legs and turns left as per the shadows’ directions.


    He passes a room with open door and he sees Jaari sitting on the floor, playing some game with that Alfiq Maz clashed with at the Golden Blade. Just as this one is passing the door the Alfiq raises his head and stares right at Maz, as if he could see him and this one freezes.


    “Is something wrong, Zan’nir?” Jaari turns around, looking into the hallway. But she does not see anything apparently.


    Maz does not move. The Alfiq stares motionless. And then he shakes his head and lowers his eye and Maz quickly slips away from their line of sight. That was rather close, and this one has no idea how that Alfiq could get so close to detecting Maz. It should be impossible. Though they say that Alfiqs do sense more things than most Khajiit.


    And Jaari. Well, it is a surprise seeing her here, because Maz thought she was still stuck in Thalmor prison. But if S’hni managed to get her out so fast… Well, it speaks volumes about her connections. And maybe even sentiment for her daughter.


    Maz continues down the hall to the door at its end and pauses. The shadows twitch, letting this one know that S’hni is in this room.


    With a deep breath this one opens the door and slips in. It is an office of sorts, with a big wooden table in the middle and Maz can see maps and all kinds of documents on it. The room is lit by candles and a lamp on the table and this one immediately notices S’hni standing behind the table, right next to a window. Her back are towards Maz and as soon as the door open she turns around.


    “I told you have to knock-” she pauses when she cannot see anyone and Maz closes the door. As he does that he quickly conjures an aura muffling the sounds in this room. “Is that you, Maz?” she asks and this one does not even want to know how she was able to figure that out. Maybe Jaari’s encounter with Maz gave her the clues.


    The shadows swarm the room and all the candles are snuffed out. S’hni moves towards the table, but immediately stops dead in her tracks when one of the shadows takes its form right in front of her, blocking her way. Another shadow forms behind her and puts a knife on her neck.


    Maz would expect shock, surprise, but she remains as calm as block of ice. “So we have come to this, darling? You have come to steal my life?”


    This one moves a bit closer, but remains on the other side of the table. “This one can steal many things, but your life is not what he came for.” This one’s voice echoes in the room as it is voiced by the shadows and not Maz - to confuse S’hni, to not give this one’s position away.


    “Are you-”


    “No,” Maz interrupts her before she can finish the question. “This one is not him. But for all intentions and purposes you can assume as if I was.”


    “So why have you come? I take it you are not here to rekindle the old flame of our love.”


    “To negotiate better terms for the Merotim Blades?”


    “Better terms?” she snorts and then bares her teeth, her eyes darting at the shadows in the room. “All things considered they got the best deal possible! I went easy on them, just because of you,” she raises her voice a bit, most likely in hopes in attracting the attention of someone in the house.


    “No one can hear you,” this one says softly, trying to not sound threatening, because a line as this has many implications and Maz certainly does not want to relay the wrong message.


    She raises her eyebrows. “Good, then I can scream at you as loud as I want then.” She then shakes her head. “Why do you care so much about them? You could have been anyone. Literally anyone! And yet you decided to be Mazubar-do, a travelling bard and an adventurer. Why?”


    “Because this one has met many people in his life, and every person brings something out of this one. Some people bring out the best out in this one, some bring out the worst. With the Merotim Blades this one has come to know freedom in its purest form.”


    “Since you’re here I take it I bring out the worst in you,” she cackles. “Why does it matter so much if they owe me few favours?”


    “You answered your own question. You bring out the worst in me. And you would bring out the worst in them. You would steal away their freedom to choose.”


    “Even after all these years, you’re still the same naive kit from Corinthe,” S’hni chuckles, rolling her eyes in disbelief. “Freedom is overrated, my sweet liar. No one is ever free.”


    “The Merotim Blades will be,” this one replies. “New terms of the deal.”


    “What kind of terms are you imagining?”


    Maz is silent for a second, trying to figure out how to approach this. Then he lets out a sigh. “This one feels that a demonstration might be needed before we negotiate the new terms.”




    “Yes,” this one mumbles and then straightens - though it does not matter, she cannot see Maz. “This could go in so many directions. This one could steal away your memories, everything that you are. Or he could steal away your will or sanity and simply convince you to let the Merotim Blades be. But this one would prefer a deal favorable for both sides. You and this one.” Another pause as Maz takes a deep breath, narrowing his eyes to look for S’hni’s reaction. “This one wonders. What do you love? Truly love. Is it money? Power? Or maybe your daughter?”


    Her eyes narrow into thin slits and her whiskers twitch as she bares her teeth. “If you touch her-”


    “No, no, this one would never do such a thing,” Maz quickly stops her. Sometimes it just sounds differently when said out loud in comparison to how Maz imagines it in his head. This one sighs. “No. But imagine if someone stole the love away. The pure raw love that you feel, gone. Money and power turn into ash in your mind. And your daughter? She becomes a stranger you will feel nothing for. Can you imagine that?”


    She is silent, trying to comprehend what this one is talking about and Maz understands it is not entirely easy.


    “That is why this one said that a demonstration might be in place first,” Maz murmurs and one of the shadows reach forward, the shadowy hand passing through S’hni’s head, right into it and her eyes grew wide. The pain has to be terrible, just as the cold spreading in her mind. The hand then pulls out and in its palm is a ruby of the size of an egg.


    S’hni looks at it, then at the room, looking at it as if she had seen it for the first time in her life. Something in her does not understand the luxury all around her and Maz thinks that should be enough. The shadowy hand again reaches into her head, giving the ruby love back.


    And S’hni takes a sharp breath, her jaws clench and Maz can see a lonely tear appearing in the corner of her eye, disappearing in S’hni’s fur. Maz waves his hand and the shadows disappear and Silk pulls a chair and heavily sits down, head in her palms. “Don’t ever do that again. Never ever. So cold, so… distant.”


    Maz removes the ring from his finger, letting her see him now and her eyes immediately find him on the other side of the table.


    “Are you ready to renegotiate the terms then?”


    “Yes,” she murmurs, slowly trying to regain her composure.


    “Merotim Blades will owe you no favors. You will stay away from them. And you will give them the payment Quaridicus owed them.”


    She stares at Maz, chewing the inside of her cheek. “And how exactly is this a favorable deal for both sides? I already lost quite a sum on this and now I have to pay more?”


    Maz narrows his eyes and sighs. “You saw what this one can do, no?” Maz waits for her reaction and she nods. “Instead of Merotim Blades owing you… This one will owe you a favor. One favor.”


    She tilts her head and Maz gives her time to let it sink in. One favor. With all of this one’s capabilities and possibilities.


    “Any kind of favor?”


    “No, not any kind,” Maz shakes his head. “A worthy challenge, but something not for the mere profit or power. A favor that will actually mean something for you. You may call it a wish.”


    S’hni stares at Maz, stares at him for a long while until she finally speaks. “Is there a time limit on this wish?”


    “No, there is not. Tomorrow, next month, next year. It does not matter to this one. As long as you are alive and as long as this one is alive.”


    She stands up and frowns. “Then we have a deal, Mazubar-do.”


    And so the Merotim Blades have remained free thanks to Maz who negotiated better terms and got four thousand Septims as a bonus. But what is this one supposed to say to them? How should he explain it?


    Maz could always come up with some fancy story about his friendship with Silk, how he convinced her after a night of love. Something along those lines.


    Or he could say the truth. It is not like they will believe it anyway.


    How many people have stolen freedom for someone else after all?




    Many months later a Khajiit bursts into a tavern, holding a book above his hand. “They agreed!” the Khajiit cheers and runs to the table his friends are sitting at.


    “Congratulations, Maz!” Ballista pats him on the back.


    “Let me see, let me see!” Selence grabs the book and looks at the cover. She frowns. “Investigator Vale: Silk and Cashmere. What’s this? I thought the book was meant to be about us.”


    The Khajiit shrugs. “Biographies do not sell as much as fiction, and Investigator Vale is quite popular.”


    Selence rolls her eyes. “And it gives you an opportunity to make yourself much more important in the story than you really were, you bugger. I sincerely hope you scratched that lute bullshit.”


    “So which of us is Investigator Vale? Me? Selence?” Ballista asks.


    “Please, please, everything that happened to us merely inspired the book, do not look for resemblance and-”


    “‘-then Mazubar-do swung the lute and it exploded…” Selence reads out loud and looks at Maz with raised eyebrows “No resemblance at all, eh? I sincerely hope the ending will be better than that nonsense you told us about. Magic cape and all that god like bullshit. How could you even think anyone would believe such a thing?”


    And Mazubar-do merely smiles.


    The End




3 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 3 others like this.
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  October 18, 2018
    Thanks all for reading. Sorry it took me so long to reply, busy schedule and all that. I appreciate everyone's support. See you at the next story. :)
  • Justiciar Thorien
    Justiciar Thorien   ·  October 15, 2018
    Wow, the Kitty is serious))) And he is really fond of Ballista it seems...
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 15, 2018
    Nicely done, Karver. I like the little twist in the end and your character development.