Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a rewriting of a resurrected fic?
You bet it is.
I can't believe it has been four years, but, hopefully, I have now improved enough as a fledgling writer as to manage finishing this fic without embarassing myself.
.: Prologue :.
The Merchants' Inn, Market District, Imperial City
So late at night – it is almost early in the morning
The goblet bonked against the half-empty bottle and some of the liquid spilt over. Avidius dismissed the incident with barely a raised eyebrow, but he could not miss the horrified glance of the Altmer woman sitting at the table across him. Paloneerya or something, he thought. Owns the fancy clothes shop down the street. Probably thinks I murdered the Ninedamned tablecloth. Well, too bad for her, but she had to get used to it. The captain of the Imperial Watch's days at the Feed Bag with the rest of the peasant rubble were over. Thanks to the generous and uncontrived donations of her fellow merchants, Avidius had finally begun to enjoy a slice of the commodity he had always felt he deserved and there was nothing that Mer hag could do about it. That is, unless she wanted to find out just how deliciously bureaucratic he could get when it came to vendor licenses, building permits, hygiene regulations, tax evasions and the like.
Huh. Uriel Septim might be Emperor, but he, Audens, was damn well the High Top Hat or whassit of the Market District. And it was just damn right. After all those years of backbreaking labour in the Watch, always out, every night, come rain, hail or snow, catching petty criminals that were out in the street again before you could sneeze and don't forget just how annoying the superiors could get, them and their crazy obsessions – and here Avidius mentally recalled the voice of Hyeronimus Lex- "We must catch the Grey Fox! He is a menace! He must be stopped!" or even worse, Phillida and his flirts with the Dark Brotherhood – "If they're gunning for me, then I'm on the right track!". Crazy bastards. All he wanted what a snug, cozy spot of comfort away from trouble. He deserved it.
He turned to look at the nervous Elven waitress. She was snatching her battered uniform with her hands, creasing what was once a brightly embroidered coat of arms showing the initials of the Inn.
"There's someone waiting for you, sir- " She gulped. Avidius was puzzled. He wasn't expecting anybody. Maybe it was someone from the watchtower? Nah, Lex, the accursed fool, couldn't possibly be that discreet. The elf went on. "A woman, sir. She asks for you, sir. Says it's urgent, sir."
"Fine, whatever." He sighed and left the table, handing some coin to the waitress. A woman? Could it be that Breton wench who had tried to –haha- reason with him earlier on about his "business"? Priceless. She still wouldn't get it, would she?
He groaned on the stairs, mentally replaying their meeting. "I want you to stop taking bribes!" she had chirped. What were the merchants thinking, sending someone with about the same subtlety of an Orc? They should have known better. He had even been gentle with her, because it was obvious she didn't have a clue. Avidius had asked her what she intended to do about the situation, since it was her word against his, and she was a nobody and he was an Imperial Captain, and he could no doubt find out something about her that could get her expelled from the City in a heartbeat. The woman had looked slightly puzzled, then, in what he assumed was her "intimidating voice", had told him that she could "make bad things happen." Right. Another crazy Breton thinking she's a magical miracle waiting to happen. As if. Avidius, then, had simply extended a gauntleted hand and calmly pushed her off the sidewalk. Crazy bitch.
When he opened the door to his room, however, there was no one inside. Maybe she had come back to her senses and left. Good riddance.
Avidius stepped in, door closing behind him. Darkness reigned in the room, while a gentle breeze entered from the window. The moonlight bathed everything in a slight silvery cloak, which was very poetic and certainly did wonders with the décor. Pity he had never cared much for such things.
The breeze was gentle but also a good deal chill, in spite of the warm season. Didn't he leave the window closed? Oh well. He turned to the small nightstand. That was when he saw her.
And that was the last thing he said.
"The Black Horse Courier"'s backyard, Market District, Imperial City
Itius Hayn risked a glance down the arched hallway that led to the Black Horse's stables yard. Yep. There she was. Breton, female, from early to late twenties, red hair, plain clothes, probably a farmless labourer from the south provinces, coming to try her luck in the big city. He couldn't see any green eyes, but he would made sure to check once they got closer.
"Is that the suspect, sir?" asked behind him the voice of Giovanni Civello, his subordinate. Itius nodded.
"Doesn't look like much to me, sir. I mean, for a killer."
"Criminals are a vicious and cowardly lot." Preached Itius, with the self-assuredness that comes from years of deep-rooted and genuine persuasion. "They seek to strike fear into the heart of good citizens. We must stop them at all costs."
"It's just that I heard in the barracks that Avidius was all over the place and well, he was kinda burly, what with being a guard " – and a bit of a lardass, Giovanni privately added –" while she looks about as strong as my sis."
"Huh-uh" muttered Itius, all taken in preliminary observation of the suspect.
"You've seen my sis, sir. And Avidius was a guard. My sis knows nothing about fighting a guard, sir, though don't let her come near you with that broom of hers 'cause-"
"Ah! But crime is devious, Civello." Said Itius, triumphant. "It hides behind an innocent façade to strike better at the heart of justice. When you're more experienced, you'll know this." He pointed at the girl. "Besides, suspect was seen by witnesses arguing with the victim not long before the deed was done."
"Sir, if I know Avidius half as much as I suspect I did, all witnesses saw was him checking her out."
"Ah! A crime of passion!"
Itius was positively beaming. Civello sighed.
"Let's go apprehend her, Civello."
"Yes, sir. Apprehending right now, sir."
This was bad, thought Giovanni. A guard had been killed, and that was always bad. In this particular case, it had been Avidius, and well, Giovanni was a good lad and he prayed to the Nines as much as the next man, but he couldn't help himself to be sorry for the lardass. Avidius did all that Giovanni thought a guard should never do, from the bribes to some less incriminating things like stealing the last muffins from the barrack's common larder, and surely somewhere in the Chant of the Nine there was something about that and Avidius right now was probably having a very stern talk with Pater Akatosh and Julianos Arbiter.
But Giovanni had become a guard out of what Itius called "searing love for justice" (and Avidius called "sheer stupidity") and he was sure his ma' wouldn't have liked him arresting girls.
Without a thoroughly sound investigation, of course.
Which hadn't really happened, because A Guard Had Been Killed.
Which was more like "dismembered in minute fragments of which apparently several are missing", as the Watch medicae had written in his report.
Giovanni sighed. This was bad. They were now less than two or three feet away from the girl, who was sitting on a barrel, her back turned, eating some sort of rolled pancake.
And now the show's on, he thought.
"STOP RIGHT THERE, CRIMINAL SCUM!" Itius bellowed. Giovanni flinched, as probably did everyone in a three mile radius. The girl, who by now would have probably been in need of some advanced reconstructive healing magic applied to her eardrums, turned around, staring at the duo with a pair of bewildered bright –
"Ah ha! Green eyes! It's her! What did I tell you, Civello? Suspect's eyes: green!"
"I know, sir." Said Giovanni. The girl was still munching a mouthful of lunch, he thought. This was going to be embarrassing, but there was no stopping Itius Hayn now.
"Helena Marie D'Eath, you are under arrest for the grievous murder of Audens Avidius, Captain of the Imperial Watch!"
The girl's, suspect's, D'Eath's jaw dropped.
That was all she said before Itius grabbed her wrist and stood her up. Her rolled pastry dropped on the ground. Waste of good lunch, thought Giovanni.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then the Breton let out the most ear-piercing, shrilling shriek that had ever been heard from either Man or Mer, taking even Itius's rock-solid adherence to procedures slightly aback. He blinked.
The three Khajiits that ran the Courier peeked from a small window, all puzzled bright yellow eyes and questioning tails. Several others passerbys had stopped and were now looking at the two guards with the mixture of worry, concern and fear that every cop learnt to be wary of. Giovanni started sweating slightly in his armour. The girl had gotten herself an audience: so much for a quiet arrest.
"What do we do, sir?" he whispered to Itius. Before his superior could answer him, the girl had refilled her portentous lungs with air and let out another scream.
"Murder! Kidnapping! Help!"
Itius was positively shocked. No one had ever resisted being arrested from him. Well, of course they did, but usually they did it by the rules, and there were flights, brawls, knives, chases and the like.
"Look, madam, you don't understand-" he started.
"It's just for questioning, madam, please." Intervened Giovanni, quickly. "We're the City Watch. It's all perfectly legal, but you have got to come with us and-"
"Abuse of power! My rights have been violated!"
"It's just that there has been a killing, you must have heard, Audens Avidius, and-"
"Framing! They're trying to frame me! Help!"
Giovanni looked around. There was a small crowd forming at the entrance, because this was as good a piece of street theatre as any. What was worse, they were right in the Courier's backyard, and the six most curious eyes of the entire Empire were staring right at them.
"We're not trying anything, madam, we just need your co-operation with a matter-"
"Avidius framed me! I knew he would!"
The young guard stopped. This was a Clue, or he wasn't a guard.
Itius interrupted. "But he's dead! This is ridiculous! "
Now it was the Breton's time to be taken aback. There was a moment's pause, but then…
"He would stop at nothing! He told me he would!"
Giovanni took a deep breath. It was time to apply one of the Guard Academy lessons and try to do some damage control. Maybe back at the Watch house he could have squeezed out more Clues from this D'Eath. There was obviously a lot more on this case than it seemed, and he was set out on being the best guard and do what truly awesome guards did, which was Solve Crimes, Serve and Protect.
Itius nodded at him, and together they grabbed an arm each. They were both tall men wearing heavy armour, so there wasn't much D'Eath could do besides wriggling like a mudcrab and screaming.
When the shouts grew fainter and fainter, then disappeared, and the crowd slowly disassembled and went about its own business, the six yellow eyes all looked at each other in mute questioning. (In pairs, that is.)
"We need new courier." Said Ra'jiraadh.
"She is good courier." Said Urjabhi.
"She is prisoner now, not courier." Said Hassiri.
"Maybe we get back prisoner and make her courier again?" asked Urjabhi.
"Getting prisoners is troublesome." Said Ra'jiraadh.
"Getting couriers is not troublesome." Said Hassiri.
"She was good courier." Said Urjabhi.
"She was not." Said Ra'jiraadh.
"Letters had teethmarks on them." explained Hassiri.
"Clients complained." Said Ra'jiraadh.
"But letters arrived!" said Urjabhi.
There was a moment of careful thinking, where the eyes weighed a good courier against bail and teethmarks.
"We need new courier." Said, finally, Urjabhi.
The others nodded.
"But maybe we make story about prisoner?" proposed Urjabhi.
The others exchanged a glance.
"Maybe someone else gets prisoner back and we have courier again!" concluded Urjabhi.
"Maybe we make."
They scurried off.
Leyawiin outskirts, Cyrodill
Dead of night
So close, he was so close.
The wound hurt like hell, and if Blanchard was right, the blurring in his vision wasn't caused by blood loss only. That bastard must have used some kind of poison- good for him. But if he could get to the Speaker in time, the Speaker knew alchemy…
Ah, there. The outline ….of the fort? He was nearly there….
Got to be fast, though, head's spinning…
Blanchard urged the horse.