The sewers of the Imperial City were a bustling, thriving ecosystem. The towering monument of polished stone above was as strait-laced as can be. Things were pristinely maintained, gold flowed freely without concern, and the ratio of guards to actual citizens was near 1 to 1. The biggest threat to the police force was an imaginary man with a gray sack on his head. The closest thing the city had to back alleys were charming little decorative courtyards where you could barely hide from the blind. To put it simply, it was not a place that encouraged crime.
Hell, it’s better lit than most apartments.
It was for this reason that a hooded khajiit was currently walking down one of the dank passageways in the Imperial underbelly. Although perhaps walking wasn’t the right word. There was a sort of strange, stilted status to his stride. It was as though he was trying very hard to make his gait look completely normal. He stopped in front of a side passage that looked identical to the last twenty he’d passed, raised his hand, and knocked on the wall in a careful pattern. A deep, swarthy voice rang from down the passage.
“Ah, right on time. Step into m’office, come now.”
The khajiit walked through into a little alcove where someone had set up a rickety desk covered in papers and half-eaten rat spits. That someone was a large, hairy Imperial man with a somewhat…curved appearance. There wasn’t a right angle on him. Every limb, every fold of his person was covered in smoothly rolling hills of pudgy red skin and muddy brown cloth. There was one noticeable exception to this, and that was the extremely sharp angle on the arrow he had leveled at the door. The khajiit did not flinch or even acknowledge the weapon, walking straight past its line of sight and onto a chair facing the desk.
“You” said the khajiit “would be the one they call Big Bronson?”
“Well ‘m certainly ain’t Small Bronson, ‘ll tell ya that!” The man grinned and lowered his bow. “Daedra’s arse, but you ain’t ‘alf bold walk’n in ‘ere. What, ya think the fat man afraid to shoot away?”
“Quite the contrary. This one is aware you would not broker such…uniquely challenging work without having flexible priorities. But there is a reason you granted this audience. This one is the expert. You would not have hit me.”
“Hah! That a fact? Ya walked right ‘n fronta ma bow!”
“First: You were holding it wrong. With form that terrible the arrow could have gone anywhere, assuming you did not snap the string against your own wrist. Second: This one would not call that a bow. That is a mobile termite nest with all the stopping power of a stiff breeze. Even had this one not avoided the arrow, it would not reach this one’s flesh.”
Bronson oozed back in his chair, gesturing dismissively. “Pah! Sure, sure, talk’n like that ain’t ‘ard. An ya calls yerself an expert? Well ah got news fer ya, ya droppa imp’s gall: So’s damn near everyun round ‘ere. Ya steal some sweeties from yer mam’s cubbie an next thing ya know the underworld’s hearin bout the grand confection’ry heist. Ya wanna prove yerself, git the job? Ain’t need words, need proof.”
The khajiit quietly drew his bow from beneath his cloak. “As you wish. Name your target.”
Bronson scoffed. “Certainly ain’t anyth’n in ‘ere ah want shot up, ah-“
The khajiit swiveled in his chair, smoothly drew back his bow and fired down the passageway. The arrow ricocheted off a torch sconce and out of view. There was a distant squelch, a gravelly gurgle and a faint splash.
“There was a mudcrab around the corner” said the khajiit.
To be fair, it’s a pretty safe bet there’s a mudcrab around EVERY corner.
Bronson’s eyes bulged. “No, that ‘ad ta be staged. Ya didn’t ev’n see tha blasted thing!”
“Surely you have senses other than sight” the khajiit said, turning back and putting away his bow. Taste, for example, he thought privately.
“Ah didn’t know arrows could bounce like that.”
“Normally, they don’t. Expert.”
There was a pause while Bronson looked at the khajiit with wary eyes. Then he let out a deep, throaty laugh.
“Troll’s teats, ain’t easy ta argue with that! I guess ya just earned yerself a job. We’ll start ya off simple like, some basic extort’n an muscle work. But ‘m expect’n great things from ya, ‘ll tell ya that! Why don’t ya hop on up the ladder ‘ere an we’ll talk yer first job o’er lunch?”
The khajiit glanced at the ladder in question, propped up against the far wall and leading to a manhole cover.
“This one is only here for the job, no need to spend the time and money.”
“Ain’t no trouble ‘t all. Now up tha ladder afore I die a ‘unger. Ya wouldn’t wanna get b‘tween THIS” Bronson smacked a fold that was probably his midsection “an a prop’r meal, would ya?” He was still smiling, but there was a glint in his eyes.
“This one would not burden you, simply explain the job and-“
“Listen ‘ere, ya CAT” growled Bronson. “In this ‘ere work relationsh’p, what ah says goes. An ah says that yer gonna git yer arse up that ladder right now or this deal’s off!”
Cursing in his head, the khajiit nodded. He turned and walked up to the ladder, took a deep, quiet breath, and placed his left foot on the first rung.
Pain shot up the leg, quick and stark. It had grown worse than he thought. The khajiit did not flinch, but stiffened as he pulled his other leg up above it. Trying not slow his pace, he climbed the next rung. This time the pain climbed halfway up his side. It took all his concentration not to move the leg in reaction to the electric web of agony that flashed through it. Muscles stiff, he stepped up another rung. The pain was all along his left side now, and there was a barely perceptible scratch as his nails caught the ladder in a death grip. Another rung. His vision flashed, the pain now an unsettlingly warm wave through his body. He was sure his movements were starting to look unnatural, but there were only a few more rungs left. Another rung. His lip quivered and his mouth gaped open slightly, unable to close. Another rung. There was a buzzing in his ears, he couldn’t see out of one eye, his heart beat several times a second, each pulse filling every one of his senses until they burst. Another rung…
The khajiit screamed.
It was short, shrill and exceedingly desperate. His left leg jerked away from the ladder, bringing an arm with it. He gracelessly slid down on one hand, stumbling against the wall as he hit the ground. Slumped to the floor and panting, he gave up on perceiving things outright for several seconds. Then slowly, one at a time, his eyes begrudgingly flickered open and looked up.
Bronson was looking down at him, eyebrows raised and whistling beneath his breath. “Well ain’t that someth’n. Ah think ah recognize that there face.”
The khajiit cursed inwardly. His hood had fallen back during his descent.
“Right then, ‘f only ah could place tha name…that’s it! Yer S’razirr, ain’t ya?”
S’razirr glowered, but saw no point in denying it. He gave a slight nod.
“Hohohoo, been a long while since ya dragged yer ass down ‘ere, ain’t it? I’d ask why ya ain’t up topside rubb’n elbows with all them schem’n posh folk, but ah think tha scream tipped me off well enough!” He gestured to S’razirr’s still lightly vibrating leg. “An ya expected me ta hire ya with that messa boar’s behind?”
“It is not as bad as it seems” S’razirr protested. “My archery is unaffected and I know of a potion to numb it. I think you will find that with just a small advance in pay-”
Bronson let out the same hearty laugh as before, but now with a nasty edge to it.
“Goblin’s gonads, what kinda ijit d’ya think ah am? Meybe ya got tha hoity toity treatm’nt from yer pals topside, but that ain’t worth a spit a noth’n down ‘ere. Who needs a mast’r archer fer some dumb muscle job? E’en if ‘ey did, who’d put up with a bleed’n cripple who can’t run down a ‘allway ‘r climb a damn ladder? Ya think ah’m want’n fer bodies round ‘ere? Bandits may as well be tha racial major’ty ‘n this ‘ere country! No, ya’d best quit while yer ahead, boy. We’re done ‘ere.”
Bronson turned, ambled back towards his desk and started moving papers around. S’razirr took a deep breath and stood up, steadying himself for a moment.
“And oh” said Bronson with a harsh chuckle, back still turned, “ ‘ll have to be tell’n this ta some of my business associates. Noth’n pers’nal, a course. Just profess’nal court’sy, ya understand.”
“So, to be completely clear” said S’razirr in a crisp, level tone, “there is absolutely no chance you are giving me a job?”
“Not ‘n tha slight’st” said Bronson, turning with a smirk on his face. That quickly faded when he saw the arrow inches from his nose.
“Fair enough” said S’razirr conversationally. “Then this interview is now a robbery.”
Meanwhile, dozens of miles away, some cultists had rented a room at the Inn of Ill Omen. Or rather, they had started to. But their boss objected to paying at an establishment with such a fittingly foolish name. They had still taken up rooms, but they were only “renting” in the sense that they had some time before any guards came asking about the bodies.
Yes this is a real place. It’s even where you kill your first Dark Brotherhood target, which is a bit on-the-nose even for this game.
In one such room, a cultist with balding black hair and thin, wispy eyebrows was in front of a mirror. The cultist, known to others as the doctor, had a tiny pair of scissors clasped in one hand, and was staring with careful intent at his handiwork. Neat, precise snips for essentially invisible clippings of hair were interrupted by a knock at his door. The doctor carefully placed his scissors dead center on the dresser in front of him. He curtly smoothed the sides of his head and his brow with two fingers from each hand. Then he turned to the door and placed his hands behind his back.
Another cultist sheepishly entered the room. There was no visual difference between the plain red robes the two wore, but it was clear who was in charge. The newcomer made an awkward attempt at a salute. The doctor gave him a slightly condescending expression.
“Come now, there’s no need for that. Cultists do not salute. Even if we did, in absence of one of our glorious leaders, you are not technically under my command.”
“T-that may be, sir” said the cultist. “However, when you see someone pull off work like what you did to the bartender,” he shuddered, “you stuff the technicalities to be on the safe side.”
The doctor’s face remained placid, but the corners of his mouth tilted slightly upwards.
“Hmph, fair. Now report.”
“We’ve been tracking down information on the two heathens who disrupted the great Camoran’s ceremony, as you ordered-”
“As I politely requested.”
“As you politely requested, while standing over what was left of the bartender. We’ve got some on-foot reconnaissance at nearby inns as well as magical communication with the Mythic Dawn intel network. Unfortunately, even with all this we’re having trouble tracking the orc. He wandered out into the middle of nowhere and the path we’re tailing is extremely erratic. We presume that he is highly skilled at counter-maneuvering attempts to follow him.”
Meanwhile, dozens of miles away, Shush kneeled by a bush in the middle of a dense forest.
“Ha! Dat makes…three hundreds of dis foxy glove plant! Shush are gonna be de bestest at alchemies eva once Shush finishes what he were doin. Uh…whatever dat was.”
Meanwhile, back at the inn, dozens of miles away…
“I see” said the doctor with a slight frown. “Disappointing, but of no consequence in the long run. I assure you that…thing lacks the guile to evade us for long.” He turned back towards the mirror and stroked his chin. “And what of the traitorous house cat?”
In the interest of his organs remaining where they could do their jobs, the cultist declined to mention how horrendously racist that was. Instead, he simply said: “We do have a lead on that one! We found out from one of our operatives that Srazzor or whatever was spotted relatively recently in the general vicinity of the Imperial City.”
“Mm” said the doctor. His tone chilled. “Spotted relatively recently in the general vicinity of the largest, most central location in the country?”
“How wondrously insightful. Remind me later to break the arm of whoever was in charge of this intelligence hunt, hm?”
“Ah. Yes sir.” The cultist neglected to mention that this was him.
“And tell the others to prepare for departure.” The doctor stepped towards the dresser and started packing belongings into a bag in tidy rows. “You know what they say about wanting something done right. We’re headed to the city.”
Meanwhile, miles away (specifically to the order of magnitude that could be described as dozens): The bell rang at the Gilded Carafe, S’razirr limping inside. The proprietor, a young Breton alchemist with braided black hair, looked up from her counter.
You can see here that she...she...jesus. Are the faces getting worse the more I write about this? Like wow. Can we back the camera up a bit?
Much better. Anyway, here she is.
“Ah, you’re back!” said the woman, whose name was Claudette. “I’ve got your custom potion ready in the back room. Was beginning to wonder what was keeping you. Three days must be murder with that injury, especially walking around unaided. I’m assuming you have the pay…ment…”
Claudette trailed off when she got a look at the khajiit’s face under his hood. It looked disheveled, pained, and altogether…feral. Was that racist? Claudette wasn’t sure if that was a racially charged term. She thought she should look it up some time, maybe a friend from one of the beast races. Come to think of it, beast races sounded pretty racially charged as is. Should she not call them that? Had she actually been acting like a huge bigot this whole time? Oh gods, what if that’s why Ra’Jiradh stopped inviting her to parties?!
S’razirr growled, jolting her rambling thoughts to a halt. The khajiit stepped forward, face contorted into a snarl, and thunked a small pouch of coins down on the counter in front of her.
“One dose” he croaked in a coarse, low tone.
“Just one?” said Claudette. “But that will only last you…”
S’razirr growled again.
“Right!” she squeaked. “One dose, coming up, not a problem, be right back…”
She ducked into the backroom and quickly returned with a sealed bottle of viscous pink fluid.
“Here you are! One specialized healing potion, localized painkiller and muscle relaxant combo, freshly brewed and-”
S’razirr snatched the potion and immediately uncorked it, downing it on the spot. After several seconds, he exhaled deeply and slowly, limply slamming the bottle on the table. The khajiit’s face twisted again, but this time in disgust.
“Pah! This tastes even worse than the last one! How can something so good for you taste so positively foul?”
“I take it you don’t have much experience with prescription medicine” said Claudette as she counted out the coins in the bag. “You’re, uh, a few coins short…” She looked up at S’razirr’s grimace. “…but I suppose if I take the bottle back it’ll cover it. More or less.”
Claudette walked to the back of the room and started washing out the bottle. She called back to S’razirr as she was cleaning it out.
“So, I take it you’re not financially equipped to take the rest of the batch?”
“This one has experienced…difficulty finding work.”
“Ah. Yes, I suppose an injury like that would do it. Well it’s not like you asked me to brew this much, I just assumed, since you need it so badly…”
“And you are absolutely sure these specialized and expensive potions are the only way to halt the injury?”
Claudette shrugged. “My assessment hasn’t changed since the first time you asked. Sure, other potions and medical attention will help. But that leg is some of the nastiest work I’ve ever seen. You’d need a master of restoration magic to make any permanent headway.”
S’razirr grunted. “So this one has heard.”
Claudette placed the clean bottle on the counter next to her and turned back to S’razirr with a rueful look. “Sorry, but this really is the best bang for your buck I can brew up. A regular healing potion will give you relief measured in hours at best. In fact…” She walked over, picked up a potion, and tossed it to S’razirr. “Try it yourself and see.”
The khajiit looked over the potion. These were not cheap. “I can just have this?”
“Well you can’t buy the rest of the brew if you’re dead. Think of it as a customer rewards program. The type of program that rewards you for not asking questions or mentioning it to other customers.”
S’razirr gave a weak smile. “Ah. A good rewards program indeed. Thanks.”
Claudette nodded as the khajiit turned and walked out the door. S’razirr pulled out his pouch and placed the free sample amongst several gold rings he’d stolen from Big Bronson. He’d left the disgusting blob alive, because he had an idea how this would go. Had the khajiit killed Bronson, his numerous underworld connections would be very, terminally angry. As it was, Bronson would send some men to kill him, S’razirr would kill them, and Bronson would conclude he wasn’t worth wasting any more money on. Hopefully the man wasn’t as stupid as he looked, and that would be that.
S’razirr’s leg was feeling better, but he knew it wouldn’t last. He needed to pawn these rings, and do it soon. But the khajiit had been around long enough to know that was no easy feat. Fences were hard to find in Cyrodil, so he had to work through very specific channels.