Brynjolf, Delvin, and Vex were discussing their newest recruit, seated at the bar as Vekel served them a meal and drinks.
"I didn't even see the lass do it!" Brynjolf was saying yet again, "And I was watching her!" He gestured with his hands as he spoke, nearly knocking over his bottle of mead, which was saved only by Vex's quick reflexes. He shrugged apologetically at the other thief, but the woman only rolled her eyes.
"I said it yesterday and I'll say it again today: you've gone and fallen in love with another 'lass' who's just goin' to end up behind bars sooner or later," Delvin declared with a mock groan. "Seriously, mate, this is gettin' ridiculous."
"I'm telling you, Del, this one's going to be different. I can feel it!" Brynjolf said with startling conviction.
"Brynjolf's right," Vex said from her place between the two men. The other two thieves raised their eyebrows in surprise, causing Vex to roll her eyes. "He's right that she's different, but that isn't always good, Bryn."
"And I agree with Vex," a quiet voice behind Brynjolf said. He turned around, trying to keep the surprise from showing on his face. He must have failed, however, because he saw Delvin smirk out of the corner of his eye. Arsha gave a small laugh and deposited three sacks of gold on the table. "Different isn't always good, but hopefully this time it is. All three of the merchants have agreed to continue to pay."
Brynjolf shook his head in amazement and began counting the coins. Three hundred exactly. The woman hadn't even tried to take a cut for herself yet. Arsha just stood there waiting as he separated a pile of about fifty coins and pushed them toward her. She swooped them up and dropped them into a hidden pouch at her waist with the air of someone who had done this many a time before, leaving Brynjolf wondering just what it was the woman used to do and why she had found herself in Riften of all places looking for odd jobs.
Shaking his head inwardly, Brynjolf stood from the barstool. There would be plenty of time for questions, and the stories that undoubtedly went with them, later. "It's time I introduced you to the Guild proper," he said, gesturing for the woman to follow him. Arsha's eyes glittered as he spoke, and Brynjolf couldn't help but wonder if she wore a self-satisfied smile under that mask of hers.
As he walked past Vex the white-haired thief leaned toward him and said in a low voice, "She had been standing there since Delvin spoke. She's quiet, but is that really a good thing?" Brynjolf just shook his head at her disapproval and kept walking. They were thieves, of course, it was a good thing!
He led Arsha into the hallway and stopped in front of the door that led to the Cistern. "I'm about to introduce you to Mercer Frey, the Guildmaster. Mercer is a bit, well... you'll see. Just show him some respect and do what he tells you and everything will be fine," he explained and Arsha gave a small nod.
Arsha knew the second that she saw the Guildmaster's harsh face that the two of them would not get along very well. Mercer Frey stood with the attitude of one who was in complete control, something that reminded her far too much of the person she had once been. Mercer watched Arsha and Brynjolf with disapproving eyes as they approached.
When they reached the platform in the middle of the cistern Brynjolf said, "Mercer? This is the one I was talking about...our newest recruit." He gestured to Arsha, who nodded respectfully to the Guildmaster. Mercer, however, ignored the gesture. Instead, his eyes flicked over her with an air of disdain before he turned back to Brynjolf and sneered,
"This had better not be a waste of the Guild's resources, Brynjolf." Oh yes, Arsha just loved how he spoke as if she wasn't there. She barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and it was a good thing she did because the next moment Mercer Frey turned to face her. "Before we continue," he said, his tone pompous, "I want to make one thing perfectly clear. If you play by the rules, you walk away rich. You break the rules and you lose your share. No debates, no discussions...you do what we say, when we say. Do I make myself clear?" With a great effort, Arsha resisted a smart remark and merely nodded.
Mercer gave an all-knowing smirk and said, "Good. Then I think it is time to put your expertise to the test."
Arsha knew that Frey was pulling something and sure enough Brynjolf spoke up almost immediately. "Wait a moment, you're not talking about Goldenglow, are you?" he asked incredulously. "Even our little Vex couldn't get in."
Mercer turned back to Brynjolf. "You claim this recruit possesses an aptitude for our line of work. If so, let her prove it."
"The lass just got here, Mercer!" Brynjolf pointed out. "Give her some time to practice."
Mercer paused and Arsha thought he would deny her her time, but instead, he grinned and said, "Fine, she has one week." Arsha could tell Brynjolf thought about arguing but he just gave her an apologetic shrug instead.
Mercer turned back to her and continued on. "Goldenglow Estate is critically important to one of our largest clients. However, the owner has suddenly decided to take matters into his own hands and shut us out. He needs to be taught a lesson. Brynjolf will provide you with the details."
Mercer turned to leave, but Brynjolf stopped him saying, "Mercer, aren't you forgetting something?"
Mercer glared at Brynjolf before saying, "Hmm? Oh, yes. Since Brynjolf assures me you'll be nothing but a benefit to us, then you're in. Welcome to the Thieves Guild." With that Mercer turned his back on her and stalked back to his desk.
"Well, that went pretty well all things considered," Brynjolf said with an overly optimistic smile as he led Arsha away from the center dais.
"Liar," Arsha grumbled in reply, following the red-haired thief.
"Okay, so maybe Mercer doesn't like you as much as I thought he would," Brynjolf admitted, "but you're now an official member of the best guild in the business and you get a full week to train before you go on your first mission!"
"Brynjolf, there are some serious flaws to your argument. First, Mercer hates me, second you're the only guild in the business that I know of, and third I have seven days to train before I have to pull off a mission even your top infiltrator couldn't complete successfully. Yes, things went pretty well," Arsha said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Lass, you wound me. Here I am trying to make light of a less than shining situation and you're going and raining on my parade," He said in a mock offended voice. Then he smiled cockily. "You'll fit right in!"
Arsha just rolled her eyes and gave an exasperated sigh, though it was only a half-hearted one. 'Maybe this is the right decision after all,' she thought as she followed Brynjolf to a room off of the main cistern.
"This is the training room," he said gesturing to the many dummies, targets, and locked chests. "It's where we go to hone our skills and to learn from others. I oversee the training of most new recruits." His playful tone was gone replaced with a more serious one. Evidently this was important to him. "Today, I'll be assessing your skills with lockpicking, archery, and melee combat including hand-to-hand. I need to know what we need to work on before I send you off to Goldenglow." Arsha nodded firmly. She had been a thief for almost as long as she could remember. It was something she was good at.
"Let's start with archery, shall we?" Brynjolf suggested, gesturing to the targets on one side of the room.
Arsha walked to the far wall facing the targets and slung her bow off of her back. She fitted an arrow to the string and breathed in deeply. She sighted along the arrow and released hitting the bull's eye. She fired again and again until every target had an arrow buried firmly in its center.
"Well," Brynjolf said, the surprise in his voice making Arsha grin, "You can shoot." Arsha laughed quietly.
"What's next?" she asked not-so-innocently.
Brynjolf gestured to the locked chests. "Lockpicking."
Arsha walked over to the chests and sat down. The first one opened easily as well as the second and the third, the fourth and fifth however gave her some trouble. The expert locked one caused her to break three picks before she found the perfect spot and opened it.
Arsha looked at the master locked chest and sighed in annoyance. She hated these. In went the first pick which broke almost immediately. The second pick turned marginally before breaking as did the third. The fourth turned a quarter of the way before snapping. The fifth and sixth turned slightly more, but the seventh did it. The lock finally turned all the way before opening.
Arsha looked up to see Brynjolf nodding. "Not too bad, lass." He said. "Now I'll test your blade skills." Arsha glanced disdainfully at the dummies. They were for improving techniques, not actual dueling. Brynjolf saw her look and chuckled. "Don't worry, lass. You won't be using the dummies. You'll be sparring me." Arsha frowned and cocked her head.
"Rules?" she asked. She didn't want to risk hurting the other thief.
"We fight to five hits. No drawing blood," Brynjolf explained. "Ready when you are."
Arsha fell into an aggressive stance and drew her daggers. Brynjolf drew his, they were glass like her own. "Ready," she said, eyes narrowed.
Brynjolf let her make the first move. She leaped at him and turned to the side at the last moment bringing her dagger down on his back, but he wasn't there. On instinct, she ducked and rolled to the left. She heard the whoosh of a blade slicing the air where she had stood just seconds before.
She jumped forward, swinging her first dagger at his head with a force that required Brynjolf to use both daggers to block it. "You trying to kill me, lass?" Brynjolf growled still blocking her strike.
"No." She smiled tapping him with her other dagger on his side which was wide open due to the two daggers still raised above his head. "Hit number one." Brynjolf's eyes narrowed and he leaped at her again. Good. He wasn't holding back now.
Before long he had scored two hits on her, and Arsha was beginning to tire. Desperate, she backed up to get some space and then she ran right at him. At the last moment, she dropped down and slid past him scoring two hits on his legs. He lunged and almost stepped on her hand but she scrambled out of the way.
She sprang back up and waited for Brynjolf to attack. He did and the two engaged in a rapid exchange of blows. He struck, she parried and counterattacked, which he blocked and so on. Eventually, Arsha managed to score another hit on his arm tallying her hits up to four and Brynjolf to two, but before she could celebrate he struck at her with such power that she stumbled. Sensing her weakness, Brynjolf pounced. Arsha could barely keep up with the torrent of blows. All she could do was block with no chance to counterattack.
Before too long Brynjolf had scored two more hits leaving the two duelists tied. They broke apart and circled each other warily. They were both tired. Arsha's arms were growing heavy, and she could tell Brynjolf felt the same; he no longer stepped with the same bounce he had earlier. Assessing the battle, Arsha accepted the fact that more than likely she would be unable to win. But that didn't mean that Brynjolf wouldn't work for his win!
With an almost feral smile, Arsha flew at Brynjolf pushing him back with a force that obviously surprised him. She rained a flurry of blows at him and then darted away across the room at the last second. Tauntingly, she waved her dagger at him daring him to chase her. He accepted her challenge and launched himself after her. She led him on a chase around the room often coming close to being hit, but she always danced out of the way just in time. He was stronger than she was, but she was faster.
She was growing even more tired and she knew that she couldn't continue this much longer so she turned to face him and blocked his attack. Yet again they exchanged a powerful trade of blows. Each attack was growing slower than the last and Arsha felt the end nearing. With gritted teeth, Arsha pushed harder than ever her daggers a blur of movement. Brynjolf fought back with a burst of hidden energy blocking and counter-attacking forcefully.
All at once, Arsha felt her torrent of blows waiver as did Brynjolf. He attacked with the fierceness of a wild animal. One of his daggers slipped past hers and landed at her throat. The room fell silent. "Five...hits. I...win...lass," he panted out between gasps for air. Arsha smiled and her eyes shone. It had been a good fight.
She sheathed her daggers and shook Brynjolf's outstretched hand. "That was a good fight Brynjolf. What's next?" she asked, honestly curious.
Brynjolf shook his head in amazement. "Next is food, lass," he declared with a laugh.
Arsha followed as he led the way back to the Ragged Flagon. She wasn't actually going to eat anything of course—her mask made eating a little bit difficult—but it would be nice to have a rest before the next test.
When they reached the Flagon, Brynjolf sat down at the bar and motioned for Arsha to join him. As she took a seat on one of the barstools, Brynjolf placed an order with the man on the other side of the counter.
"This is Vekel," Brynjolf said after he finished his order. "He keeps everyone around here full of food and drink. Mainly drink."
Arsha nodded her head in respect toward Vekel before turning back to Brynjolf. "Well, lass," he asked with a gesture toward the food behind the counter, "You going to order anything?"
"No." Brynjolf looked at her inquisitively. "It's hard to eat with a mask on," she explained, gesturing to the material that covered her face.
"Then take it off. We are all family down here."
"Then I guess I'm the strange, paranoid cousin that you keep locked in the closet. The mask stays Brynjolf, always," she declared softly, and though her words were light, her eyes were hard. Anyone who tried to take her mask from her would see themselves at the tip of her dagger before they could blink.
"Alright, lass, suit yourself. You're missing out though," he said with a chuckle before turning to Vekel and ordering a mead.
After Brynjolf got his mead and began to drink Arsha asked, "Do you always try to kill your newest recruits?"
Brynjolf took another swig before replying, "Nah. Most of the time the first pickpocketing test is enough, but Mercer's in a mood. Sometimes I'll do a few extra, but never a full skills test like what I'm doing now." He grinned. "That's just for you."
"Great. I feel so special," Arsha replied sarcastically. Brynjolf grinned again and finished his tankard before standing and asking,
"You ready for some hand-to-hand, lass?"
"You're the one who wanted a break. I'm ready when you are," Arsha replied cockily. She wasn't usually like this, but the atmosphere in the Guild made her feel free.
"Alright, lass. You're asking for it." Brynjolf stood, placed a few coins on the table and then strode toward the door that led to the Cistern, a slight spring in his step. Arsha followed him, smiling behind her mask.
When they reached the training room Brynjolf turned toward Arsha and said, "The rules are fairly simple. The winner is the first person who makes the other fall and stay down for more than ten seconds. Don't hit too hard, but don't pull your punches either. Nothing below the belt. Ready?"
Arsha nodded and Brynjolf fell into a typical Nordic fighting stance. Arsha did the same. Instead of attacking first the way she had in their last duel, she waited for Brynjolf to make the first move.
After a few moments of circling, Brynjolf lunged forward aiming a punch at Arsha's stomach. She sidestepped him and allowed his momentum to carry him forward, past her. A well placed hit on his back made him lose his balance, but he quickly recovered.
Arsha looked him over. He was like most Nords if a little faster to regain his footing. He kept his hands up near his head like he should, but his footwork was lacking. Being able to throw a punch was important, but Arsha knew that what really mattered was the stance. No matter how hard your opponent hit you, if you had the right stance, you wouldn't fall.
Brynjolf came at her again, this time landing a blow to Arsha's side, but she turned causing the punch to skim along her stomach instead of landing solidly. Her feet were still firmly planted, so when Brynjolf's second fist aimed for her shoulder she stepped inside of the punch and landed one of her own right below Brynjolf's collarbone. He staggered slightly and Arsha took advantage of the thief's state, hitting him in the stomach.
They broke apart and Brynjolf circled her warily. Suddenly, Arsha leaped at him, and he sidestepped, letting her land just past him. She turned instantly and landed a blow to his upper back. Her next attack was blocked and Brynjolf swung at her head. She ducked under the swing and drove her fist into his stomach right below his rib cage. Brynjolf moved with the punch, almost throwing Arsha off balance. She swiftly found her footing, however, and squared herself against his attacks once again.
Trying a different tactic, Brynjolf rained a flurry of blows down on Arsha. Quite a few landed, but Arsha only staggered slightly. She managed to get inside his next punch and land her fist under his chin. Brynjolf's head snapped back, and while he was disoriented Arsha placed a few more blows and managed to get him to fall. He stayed down past the count of ten. Arsha helped him to his feet.
Once he was standing she glared at him before saying in an annoyed tone, "You could have gotten back up. I didn't hit you that hard."
Brynjolf shook his head. "Lass, when you win, don't question it." He rubbed his chin. "That one hurt." Then he grinned at her. "I had a feeling that we could go on forever. Our fighting styles are just so different. I have more strength than you, but you don't seem to stumble."
Arsha nodded. "An old Redguard friend of mine taught me how to fight. He said that nords have lots of power, but no stability. He argues that the most important part of a fight is footwork and your footwork, Brynjolf, is terrible." She rubbed her shoulder. "You've got the power part down, though.
Brynjolf stared at her for a moment before bursting into laughter. Arsha glared at him again, which only made him laugh harder. Eventually, he calmed down enough to say between chuckles, "Sorry, lass... it's just... it's not often.. that we get a recruit... who can tell me... how to fight!" He took a few deep breaths before continuing, "Most of the people who come our way lately can barely steal, much less fight if they get caught. Delvin thinks we're cursed, but I say it's just rotten luck. You just might be a sign that our luck is changing."
He was still grinning widely. Arsha just shook her head and said, "Are we done for today? If so, what time do you want me back tomorrow?" She was beginning to feel the exhaustion creep in, not that she would ever tell Brynjolf that.
"Actually, I'd like you to meet me by the stables around dawn. I'll be judging your tracking skills tomorrow," he replied. Arsha nodded and turned to leave. "Oh, by the way, lass," Brynjolf added, "Tonilia should have some extra Guild armor if you want a set."
"Thank you, but I think I'll keep mine," she said, running a gloved hand along the edge of her hood.
Arsha turned away and walked out of the training room, resisting the urge to rub her aching shoulder once again. Brynjolf knew how to hit!