"Each event is preceded by Prophecy.
But without the hero,
there is no Event."
-Zurin Arctus | the Underking
A Fateful Heist
They had been watching the door for what felt like hours, and it was beginning to get dark. It would not be too long before Palonirya would be leaving her clothing shop, The Divine Elegance, sure to lock it up tightly behind her before heading on over to Green Emperor Way to meet with her not-so-secret love, Sergius Verus. It was a sort of weekly ritual for the Altmer and it was not uncommon for her to be out most of the night, sneaking back to her quaint home above her shop early in the morning, with the hopes that no one would notice. It just so happened that the seemingly unassuming beggars who wandered the streets had noticed, and knew a great deal about the woman– a great deal about many things, in fact– and had been all too happy to divulge this information on her schedule for a modest sum of five septims.
Adanji, the gray-furred Khajiit who had initially been waiting with bated breath, found herself getting bored. She sighed and shifted her weight, her legs tingling with pins and needles as the feeling began to come back into them.
“Shouldn’t be long now,” Her Argonian companion, Swims-In-Dark-Waters muttered, noticing her discomfort, “Unless she’s already left and you missed her.”
The Khajiit let out a quick, short hiss, her version of a snort, “If you want to take watch, be my guest. We should switch soon anyway, lest we look too suspicious and the guards take note.” Most people wouldn’t notice it, unless they were paying close attention, but the Khajiit had a slight lisp. Like her Argonian family, she had developed the tendency to linger just a little bit longer on ‘s’ sounds than was normal.
“The guards are always suspicious of Khajiit,” Swims noted, just before dropping his voice to a whisper and elbowing her sharply in the ribs, “Speaking of…” The flickering light of a torch announced the presence of a guard rounding the corner into the plaza and walking in their general direction.
Adanji immediately averted her gaze from Palonirya’s shop and busied herself with appearing as innocent as possible, beginning a random conversation about mudcrabs with Swims (annoying creatures…), and only dropped the charade when the guard completely passed them by, having only given them a single, suspicious glance with a raised brow before continuing on his patrol.
“I think he agrees with you,” Adanji said, feeling that the guard would not have given a second thought to two humans loitering in the street. “I hope she won’t be much longer. You sure Old Dran’s information was good?” No-Coins Draninus, or ‘Old Dran’ to pretty much everyone who knew him, was a down-on-his-luck Imperial who had once been in the Legion before taking an arrow in the knee– or so he claimed. He seemed a pleasant enough fellow, if a little crazy, but Adanji wasn’t sure how well he could be trusted, especially if his stories about having been a city guard held any truth.
“Nnn, can’t say that I am, but at this point, I’ll take what information I can get.”
The Argonian said nothing. When Adanji got particularly sarcastic, which happened often, he would consider the conversation closed. If he did not, the two would wind up arguing for hours until nothing but dry insults remained. He sometimes wasn’t even sure how they were friends, what with their near-constant bickering at this point, but theirs was a bond that went back to their childhood, even further back than their desires to join the Thieves Guild. He remembered how his elder brother, Hides-His-Heart, would tell them such tales about the exploits of the legendary Gray Fox– the longtime leader of the guild. The faceless, elusive man with a talent for finding luck- or for avoiding misfortune.
Hides-His-Heart had instilled such a hero worship for the man in their hearts that the two would often create games in which they pulled off impossible heists, always against equally impossible odds, and always together. In these games, they would usually give their treasure to the poor, a common ending in Hides-His-Heart’s tales of the Gray Fox, and keep only enough to afford shelter and decent food. Over the years, of course, such romanticism dwindled, and their games became aspirations, the ending only one in which they became absurdly rich or died trying. They still dreamed, of course, but since Hides had died such dreams seemed more like idle fantasy, convenient for nothing more than pushing them onward toward their goals.
“There!” Adanji pulled Swims out of his reminiscing with the hissed word and a flick of her tail, drawing his attention to the shop. They both ducked down behind the nearby stacks of crates and barrels that served as the Market District’s storage as Palonirya left her shop, locking it securely behind her. Adanji shifted just enough so that she could peek over her cover and watch the Altmer to make sure she’d leave. The woman seemed rather shifty, glancing over her shoulder on the odd occasion. Despite how dark it was she didn’t even carry a lamp or a torch, such was her desire not to be noticed, but Adanji’s jade-green Khajiit eyes could clearly see in the darkness. The duo waited a few minutes after the Altmer was completely out of sight before making their way to The Divine Elegance, and Adanji crouched at the door while Swims kept watch.
“Hurry…” Swims urged under his breath.
Adanji glanced around, having just pulled out her lock picks, and saw no sign of guards. She understood the lizard’s apprehension, though. Even if no patrol came by, there was always the competition. Swims and Adanji were not the only ones seeking entry into the guild, and while it was strictly forbidden for members to kill on a job, she wasn’t sure how well such rules were enforced- or even if they applied in this ‘entrance exam.’
Of course, being murdered by a rival or caught by a watchman wasn’t the only thing that could go wrong. Palonirya could return unexpectedly, having forgotten something, or one of their rivals could very well have already been there and taken the treasure, at which point the two would fail the test and be forced to try again later– assuming there even was a later. Then they would have to go through all the trouble of finding the rendezvous point (which changed constantly) all over again to hear the details of the next test, which would be vague enough that they would need to pay Old Dran yet another five septims for more precise information. All in all, it felt as if there was a great deal riding on this one night and too much that could ruin everything.
The sound of a click snapped Adanji’s ears to attention as the final tumbler had been knocked into place and the door was unlocked. Smiling to herself, she put her fears aside and swung open the door as silently as she could, then she and Swims slid in swiftly and shut it behind them.
“Any idea what these Quicksilver Boots look like?”
“I think they’re made of glass?” He shrugged, “They’re supposed to be nearly weightless and give you unnatural speed.”
“That should narrow it down…” Adanji stalked over to the counter and had a peek around, resisting the urge to simply pocket every piece of jewelry on display and leave. Like many high elves, Palonirya had a taste for the finer things and as such sold only the highest quality merchandise. The necklaces, rings and bracelets on display were clearly made of the finest metals, and the gems that glittered in their sockets were flawless. They sparkled in the silvery moonlight filtering through the slats of the window blinds. Adanji glanced up at the little colored pinpricks of light, like stars, the gems refracted against the ceiling. Along the walls were mannequins adorned in striking, delicate silks imported from Summerset Isle. There were dresses that shimmered in the brightest blues, the deepest reds, and one that was a vivid peacock green. One particular dress that caught the Khajiit’s eye was one of black silk adorned with red velvet and trimmed with gold lace. She had seen similar dresses worn by noblewomen attending royal parties- not that she had ever been to such a party herself.
“You want to try one on? I’m sure there’s plenty of time.” The Argonian had seen the hunger in Adanji’s eyes, and this was his way of pulling her back into reality.
Adanji shook her head, “No, there really isn’t. Besides, my fur would cling to it and she would know we were here.”
“Good. I don’t see the boots in here. We should keep looking.” He made his way toward the stairs which led to the shop owner’s private quarters then stopped, peering back at Adanji, “Don’t worry. If we pull this off you’ll be able to afford gowns like that in no time.” He smiled- as much as an Argonian could smile, with their reptilian mouths- and continued up the stairs before Adanji could respond.
She shrugged, pretending she didn’t honestly care about such finery, although she knew there was no fooling her old friend, and followed the lizard up.
Palonirya’s personal quarters, while compact, were luxuriously decorated. Tapestries covered the windows, casting the room in reddish shadows, dancing in the lanternlight from the streets below. An intricately designed red and blue silk rug spanned half the room. Occupying its far corner, in front of the right window, was a bed adorned with a green velvet duvet. At the foot of the bed sat an antique chest and to its right, along the wall, was a wide, towering bookshelf filled with trinkets, bits and baubles. Various other furnishings, including a smaller bookshelf, a desk, a sewing station, and a dining table spilling over with fruit, wine and cheese, filled out the remaining space in the room. There were plenty of places where the boots could be hiding.
“How much are you willing to bet the boots are in that chest?” Swims said.
“Ha! I doubt it would be that easy…” Adanji strode to the chest, gripped its lid firmly, and pulled up- it did not budge. “Of course it’s locked.”
“You did say it would not be easy.”
“Shush.” Adanji pulled out her trusty lock picks and busied herself with the mechanism. She found that this particular lock was more difficult to pick, with extra tumblers to knock into place. After several tries, and almost as many bent or broken picks, Adanji successfully picked the lock and immediately opened the chest- only to find bolts of fabric. It was certainly high quality fabric, being a rare, Tyrian purple, and likely very expensive- no doubt planned for use in future finery- but it was not at all what the thieves intended to filch.
“Has it crossed your mind to, maybe, just steal as much from her shop as we can carry and fence it somewhere?” She was speaking rhetorically, of course. The Thieves Guild would offer them more riches than just one raid on a noblewoman’s belongings, and of course would make it easier to locate a fence, but all of the items in the store were worth a small fortune on their own. The problem was that their test restricted them to stealing one specific item. The expression on Swims’ face clearly voiced that line of thought, “Never mind.”
The Argonian shook his head, muttered something to himself, then launched into the many reasons it would be a bad thing to simply take what they wanted, and the many benefits of the Guild, even though Adanji had heard it all before, “…sure, these trinkets seem like a lot right now, but when we join the Guild they will point us in the direction of greener fields, or however it is that Imperial phrase goes,” Swims said with a wave of his hand, “And then we will be rich in no time. Even better, they will offer us protection- an entire family looking out for our best interests...” His eyes glazed over as they often did when he fantasized about the more romantic views of the guild. Adanji wasn’t sure it would be as grand as all that, and certainly did not think a ‘family’ of thieves could be trusted, but she did see the advantages. Having heard her friend’s ramblings many times before, she tuned him out as he continued on that tangent and they both renewed their search for the boots.
Half an hour passed, Swims had finished rambling, and they had turned the room over with no sign of the Quicksilver Boots. The only thing they had accomplished was to leave the room looking as if some mage had gone wild casting spells about the place, with items overturned, sacks emptied, crates tipped over. Adanji was surprised they had not met any competition yet and was beginning to worry that, perhaps, the boots had already been taken.
“I don’t think the boots are up here,” she said forlornly.
“We should check the cellar, at least…” Swims started toward the bedroom door, then stopped and placed a reassuring hand on Adanji’s shoulder. “We should have plenty of time. If we don’t find the boots by the time the sun comes up we can leave.”
“Always in the last place you look, isn’t it?”
“You found them?” Adanji’s tufted ears perked up as the Argonian lifted the boots from a crate, brushing off the protective bits of straw. “Good!” She took them from him with little protest and examined them closely, heart thudding in excitement. They were indeed beautiful boots, a lovely shade of green, obtained only through a great deal of time and patience on the part of the smith who smelted and worked the malachite, purging it of any impurities. Silver inlays in the glass created a floral pattern on the shins, ivy vines sweeping back around the calves and ankles. The leather had been expertly crafted, intricate details pressed or stitched into it by skilled hands. Adanji assumed it must have been a collaborative work between the elf and some renowned smith. Palonirya had presumably been the one to work the leather and the stitchings on it. The only drawback was that the boots had been made for human or elf feet, and neither Adanji nor Swims could test them out- their enchantment would have been useful for outrunning guards.
But if all went well, they wouldn’t need to.
“We should leave now, before the elf gets back,” Adanji said, the tension finally getting to her. She had been having a bad feeling all night and now that they finally had the boots she felt the need to get out while they still could. All that remained was to get the boots to Armand Christophe, the Guild doyen who had given them the task, and their initiation would be complete.
“We have plenty of time...” Swims started, but then quieted down and after a moment nodded, “But yes, we wouldn’t want to tempt fate, would we?” He took the boots and led the way back up the cellar stairs to the shop, and they both stopped short of the exit. Adanji’s fur stood on end.
“Xhuth!” Swims cursed under his breath.
The windows were alight with the flickering yellow glow of torches. Someone was waiting for them.
“Could be Armond...” Swims said quietly in an attempt to calm himself, missing his usual air of optimism.
Adanji doubted it. They were meant to meet Armond behind the Arena at midnight the next day. It would be too much to hope that this might just be competition- unless the other initiates were stupid enough to try sneaking around at night with lit torches. Palonirya wanted her trysts with her imperial lover to be kept secret, so she would not give away her position with a lit torch either; She hadn’t even taken one with her when she left. Had to be guards.
There was a sudden, loud bang as whoever stood outside rapped on the door. “Come out! We know you’re in there!”
“How come nothing can be easy?” Adanji muttered under her breath, eyes darting around in search for escape. There was none; the entire back of Palonirya’s shop was a stone wall, but for one high, narrow window that, based on the lack of hinges, could not be swung open. The glass would be difficult- if not impossible- to break at the angle from which they’d be attempting escape, and assuming they could even fit through such a narrow space, they would surely cut themselves to pieces. The windows at the front of the shop were not much better, and would lead straight into the guards’ arms anyway.
Adanji briefly thought about fleeing to Palonirya’s quarters and blockading themselves inside, but both of the room’s windows opened to a sheer drop into the lower streets that even a Khajiit acrobat would be unlikely to jump without injury. The blockade would only serve to irritate the guards and slow the pair’s imminent doom. The Khajiit heaved a frustrated, resigned sigh and approached the door. “Put the boots down,” she whispered over her shoulder before grasping the knob and wrenching it open.
She flinched as she was met with a blade hovering inches from her face. “Is there a problem?” She squeaked, before attempting to regain control of her voice. The guard did not look amused. “Ahem, we were, ah, hired to keep watch of Palonirya’s shop for her. She’s out on business, so-”
“Shut up and hand over the boots.”
“What?” Adanji gazed over her shoulder to Swims, who shrugged- he had not put the boots down, but they were hidden behind his back. She glanced back at the guard and saw, peeking over his shoulder, the face of a smirking Bosmer woman- whom she recognized. She could not recall the wood elf’s name, but she had been at the meetup with Armond, and was competition. Or perhaps a spy in the Imperial Watch?
“See? I told you they would be here.”
“You–” Adanji could not finish her accusation, as Swims darted past her with the boots in hand. She barely heard him shouting over his shoulder for her to follow before he was cut down by one of the guards.
At that moment it was as if time stopped, yet the world was spinning so fast it was all but a whirl before her eyes. In an instant she found herself on her knees, cradling her friend’s dying body in her arms. Crimson soaked her hands as she pressed her palms into the wound to stop the bleeding. She could feel his chest rising and falling-- too quickly-- then a shudder, and an unnatural stillness. Her heart felt like a stone. There was an immense, burning heat within her gut but the rest of her was bitter cold. Swims was…
“On your feet!”
Adanji stared blankly up at the guard. This was all just a terrible dream, right? She would wake up and Swims would be right there, ready to launch into another scheme to get them into the Guild. Everything felt so numb. Somewhere nearby, she could hear the Bosmer and one of the guards exchanging words in hushed tones, and was vaguely aware of some compensation being paid, but nothing really seemed to register. Perhaps that just meant she was waking up, and the nightmare was ending?
The guards hauled her roughly to her feet. She did not resist, instead shuffling right along with them as they led her down the streets, through the imposing gates out of the Market District, and out of the Imperial City, toward the prison. As they drew closer and closer to the dreaded place, she became more and more aware that this was no dream. She was, in fact, being arrested, and that meant Swims was very much dead, or dying, his blood still spilling onto the street. Passersby would remark in disgust, but no one of import would mourn him. He would be dragged away at some point in the morning, unceremoniously dumped into an unmarked grave, and would be forgotten. His greatest dream of becoming a legend, like the Gray Fox, would never be realized. As the reality of the situation dawned on her, she finally broke down.
She was unsure how long processing took; it could have been hours or minutes. She did not care. She just stumbled through their probing questions, staring blankly at the desk in front of her the whole time, only blinking occasionally when her vision blurred with tears. Why did Swims have to run? She might have been able to talk their way out of it, if he had remained calm. He was supposed to be the calm, confident one, after all. Even if she had not been able to talk the guards down, surely giving up without a fight would have been better than needlessly resisting and being met with a blade through the gut. There had been so much blood, she just couldn’t cope. She had been so certain it had all been a dream, but now... Swims, her best friend and blood-brother was dead. She would never see him again. A lump formed in her throat, making it difficult to answer the guard-captain’s queries.
The captain’s voice droned on and on, uncaring, as if nobody had died. There were the traditional questions, about family or friends who might have money and could bail her out– not for her sake, of course. If someone bailed her out that meant extra money for the guards and the city, and compensation for Palonirya’s property damages. But there was no family that Adanji could speak of, and none of those she might call friends were any better off than she was, every last one of them either being beggars or petty thieves who were not backed by the Guild. There were still more questions after that, mostly regarding her background, all of which felt utterly pointless, and then finally they came to the questions of her crime, her past crimes, and her admission of guilt for their precious records.
At the end of it all, she was led to her cell; A miniscule, dreary room at the back of the dungeon. The cell had few furnishings to speak of– just a scant pile of straw and a thin scrap of fabric which could barely be called a bed and a bucket in the corner– and a tiny, barred window high out of reach, water steadily trickling through from some unknown source outside. The guard escorting her didn’t even give her a chance to cooperate, assuming she would not, and shoved her inside with enough force that she went sprawling to her knees, then slammed the iron-barred door behind her.
It would be three days before Adanji could sleep. Mostly due to grief keeping her up at night and partially due to the catcalls and gibes of the other prisoners. One in particular, a rather irritating dark elf, seemed unable to shut up. The Dunmer made constant racist remarks to both her and other prisoners, and kept insisting that she would die in prison, attempting to frighten her with tales of guards taking the prisoners out to torture and rape them. It only ever got quiet when a guard would finally come by and yell at them to cut the chatter.
Time seemed to stand still in the dungeon. Minutes passed like hours and hours like days. After a while her pain dulled and she was left simply feeling numb, only occasionally relapsing into sharp pangs of grief when she would dwell too long on what she had lost. She had been there almost two months when one morning armed guards woke her with a loud rap on her cell door, before swinging it open.
“Come, prisoner, and don’t make any sudden moves,” the guard at her door commanded, one hand gripping the hilt of his blade. Were they releasing her? She wondered, but she saw clearly they intended to cuff her the moment she was out of her cell and lead her... was she to be executed, then? She stood, shaking, and slowly made her way to the waiting guards, heart pounding. She had assumed she wouldn’t mind dying, after the loss of her friend and only family. It would have been a release and maybe the next life– assuming there was one– would be better, but now that the guards were here... No, she was getting ahead of herself, wasn’t she? Execution was not a punishment for thieves, but for murderers. Then why did they put her in shackles as they made their way out of the prison? She had been incarcerated before, briefly, and when they released her it had never involved chains- just rough handling and holier-than-thou lectures.
As they passed by his cell the loudmouth dunmer made some final catcalls and shouted after her gleefully that she was going to die, which the guards neither confirmed nor denied as they exited the prison and slammed the door behind them, cutting the Dunmer’s cries short. An ear-shattering clap of thunder rolled across the sky when they got outside, and fat drops of rain instantly soaked Adanji’s spotted fur and pinged against the guards’ armor. Adanji smiled grimly; it was as if they sky was mourning for her, though she was certain no one else would.
She was shocked and more than a little confused when the guards led her to a hidden passage out of the Prison’s courtyard walls, rather than through the main gates leading to the City, where executions were held publicly. “Where are you taking me?” She asked, suddenly suspicious. Perhaps she simply was not worth a public execution and they just wanted to get it over with, gutting her and dumping her into Lake Rumare? The guards did not answer her, nor did they draw their blades. Instead, they marched her along the wall, stopping at a waiting carriage- one that was clearly built for prisoner transport, as it had rough wooden slats forming a cramped cage and a heavy iron lock on the door.
Were they moving her to another prison? That seemed the most obvious explanation but it made no sense. Prisoner transport was expensive, and usually reserved only for carrying the most infamous of bandits and murderers to their execution-- usually to the Imperial City, not away from it. Clearly the guards were up to something shifty- slave trade, perhaps? It was illegal in Cyrodiil but she had heard that in some provinces, the trade was still allowed and quite lucrative. Adanji leaned back against restraining hands with her full weight– not much considering her scrawny size– digging her claws into the ground, “I demand to know where you’re taking me!” It came out as a rather unthreatening squeak and the guards ignored her again, shoving her forcibly into the waiting carriage and locking her in.
It did not take Adanji long to realize that asking questions would get her nowhere, and decided it would be a bad idea to pester her captors who seemed to be of a foul disposition. Save for the spattering of rain and the occasional booming thunder or grumbling guard, the journey was a quiet one. The carriage rolled and bounced along the gravel roads which seemed to stretch for an eternity beyond the gloom.
They stopped briefly at an inn in the middle of nowhere, where the tired horses were exchanged for fresh ones, as were the guards. Adanji noticed the leader of the old group handing a satchel over to one of the new guards and they exchanged hushed words before continuing on their way. She had no more luck getting information from this group than she had the previous one, but this time at least the leader had bothered to answer her with a rather final-sounding “That's privileged information.” Adanji felt that, as the information clearly involved her, she was entitled to some answers, but thought it wise not to voice that opinion.
The trip took the whole night and the better part of the following morning. Adanji had just managed to drift off into an uneasy sleep when she felt the carriage roll to a stop. The sound of gulls calling through the mist and waves crashing on the shore told the Khajiit they were near the ocean, which meant– if they were still in Cyrodiil– they were either in Leyawiin or Anvil. On closer inspection, blinking the sleep from her eyes, she saw they were outside the high stone walls of a city and saw a row of docks with huge ships and boats bobbing about in the water, causing the ships’ bells to ring softly through the air. She wasn’t sure if Leyawiin even had docks, so she was pretty sure this was Anvil.
Adanji watched closely as two of the guards met with a ship’s captain, straining her ears in a vain attempt to hear what they were whispering about. She noted that they kept glancing at her as they spoke. If she had been apprehensive before, now she felt a sense of dread. She flinched and tensed up when the door to her carriage swung open with a loud creak and two guards grabbed her by the arms and hauled her out and to her feet. She barely felt any more the pain that had settled in her back and legs from the cramped space she’d been sitting in for the past few hours. She was too focused on what the guards were planning and the contents of the official-looking papers that were being handed off to the captain. She craned her neck over her shoulder, attempting to get a better view of those papers as the guards pushed her past the group. They led up a ramp and onto a battered, dingy ship she had hardly noticed until they took her down a hatch, cutting off her view.
The sight of the brig erased the image of the papers from Adanji’s mind completely. There were dank, iron-barred cells along the walls, each filled with rather nasty-looking men and women of various races, many of whom appeared sick and frail, and the place reeked of vomit and excrement. It would have been ill-lit were it not for all the cracks in the hull, giving Adanji a nice view of the turbulent black clouds outside and an uneasy feeling that the voyage ahead would kill her. She was led along the cells and put in the large one at the back, which gave her a single cellmate- a bald Dunmer with a scar over his right eye, who was snoring soundly in a corner.
Not wishing to wake the dunmer– as she had no way of knowing how dangerous he was– she slunk over to a relatively clean corner and sat down, wrapping her arms and tail around her knees and staring out of one of the cracks in the hull. It was oddly cool for late-Sun’s Height, and unusually rainy.
The journey took a little over two weeks. While Adanji didn’t speak much, she had learned through overhearing snippets of conversation that her cellmate’s name was Jiub, and that he had been a freelance assassin that had botched his last contract, getting caught in the process. He had apparently been in the Imperial City’s prison about the same time as Adanji had, but she had simply not noticed him. She had also learned bits and pieces about other prisoners, but didn’t care as much because she did not share a cell with them. Of all the things she could have learned, she had never been told where she was going. Prisoners came and went as they made stops at unknown locations, and because they were never brought enough food, many died midway through the voyage from malnourishment or dehydration- the latter of which Adanji and Jiub had been able to stave off by drinking rain water that poured through the cracks in the upper deck like a miniature waterfall during the heavier storms.
The Khajiit’s last day on the ship saw the worst storm yet. They had been sailing smoothly for the first time for what seemed like less than an hour when, quite suddenly, the sky turned black and massive waves smashed into the ship at all sides, torrents of rain crashing down with the force of a battering ram. The ship lurched and the prisoners were tossed about. Jiub had managed to take hold of the bars of their cell, holding on for dear life, but Adanji was not so fortunate. While she had managed to dig her claws into the slick wooden floor on the first hit, the second lurch caught her mid-run to the bars and she was thrown backwards– clawing futily at the air where she was certain she had seen Jiub’s outstretched hand. For an instant she seemed to float, weightless, until she slammed into the hull with a sickening crunch.
All went black.