AN: Wow, positive reviews! Thank you so much!
In this chapter, an interesting collection of characters and an unfortunate innkeeper are all gathered under the worn-down ceiling of the Inn of Ill Omen.
PS; To understand any of this, you need to have knowledge of the Main Quest line, the Thieves Guild quest line and the Dark Brotherhood quest line.
PPS; This is what you get when you are sleep deprived, slightly drunk and feeling lousy about a mediocre exam grade.
Chapter three; A night out
It was with a baffled face that Manheim Maulhand slid his hand through his long, thick hair and let his gaze move from face to face inside the inn. If even one guest stumbled into the Inn of Ill Omen, with that kind of lost and confused face they always seemed to have, it could be considered a good day for his business, a few more guests would be outstanding, but this… this was just mystifying. He even had to go into the basement to get more tables and chairs. Not in over a decade had he gone into the basement to get more tables and chairs. Something was clearly amiss.
Rufio was also a little bewildered at the sudden commotion, and seeming a little terrified of one of the guests, a peculiar fellow wearing black robes and a gloomy facial expression. He had tried to give Rufio several drinks and apples, of all things, but Rufio rejected them all. Manheim suspected the black-clad man to be… well… a man's man, so to speak, but he dared not dwell too much on that matter, as the guest gave him the willies.
Rufio coughed nervously. Unlike Manheim who could only make some vague and usually completely wrong speculations, Rufio felt absolutely certain that this was an assassin sent to kill him; an assassin with the nerve to try to give him very obviously poisoned food and drinks. Perhaps it was a twisted act of mercy on his part – urging Rufio to practically commit suicide before the assassin could give him a most painful death. There was little the man could do, though, when the inn was so crowded, especially with the presence of a very prominent Imperial Capain, to which Rufio was especially thankful. He hesitated – could he dare to approach the guardsman with the crime he had on his conscience? It was not as if he could smell it, was it?
Nevertheless, he mustered whatever courage he had and didn't have and walked up to the captain, who was sitting next to an unfamiliar, slightly cross-eyed man. "Uh-hm, excuse me -"
The Imperial snapped his face to him, thunderclouds sparking behind his steely blue eyes. "Are you the Gray Fox?"
Rufio blinked. "I… no -"
"Then what the hell makes you think I'm interested in talking to you?" he barked, returning his concentration to his drink. The other man, merely known as A Stranger, sighed.
"There, there, Lex," he comforted, albeit with a slight sneer. "I'm sure you'll catch the Gray Fox one day."
Hieronymus Lex only grumbled in response.
A little further away sat the Hero of Kvatch with what appeared to be a Dunmer admirer clinging to her neck. She looked miserable, swaying slightly in her seat with a squinted eye and a bottle of Surilie Brother's finest in her hand.
"What's wrong with men?" she asked out loudly, slightly to the innkeeper but mostly to herself. "Here I go around and close Oblivion gates, save people's asses, do menial tasks for just about anyone who asks me, bribe them into liking me and not one of them – not one, not even that twat Farwil, will let me court them! Let alone will they court me! What more could they possibly want of a woman? I mean – I'm not a bad looking woman, am I?" her voice was suddenly tinged with uncertainty.
"I have never seen truer beauty than when I first laid eyes upon you from my cell," said her Dunmer admirer in response, earning an angry glare.
"Just shut your hole, you filthy ashborn," she hissed at him. "I've told you countless times before; I'm not sleeping with you. Not even if you were the last breathing thing in Nirn, for I'd rather turn to necrophilia."
Moving her eyes to a point ahead of her, she decisively slammed her hand on the table and concluded; "Nay, I'm in truth an absolutely fetching woman – fetching! – and all I get are creepy comments on my 'nimble fingers' by random strangers and a dirty come-on from Valen Dreth."
"I'm sitting right next to you, you know," aforementioned Dark Elf said in annoyance, still with his arm draped over her shoulders.
"I know!" she lamented, eyes rolling dramatically. "It was bad as it was, being in that prison for no apparent reason at all, and then you had to go and make use of that 'favor' the guard owed you and get us put in the same cell."
"Quite lucky I was put in your cell and not the other way around," Dreth commented thoughtfully. "Though I'm sure we could have found some way to kill time, hmm?"
"If 'killing time' means slapping you around all day, then certainly," she snapped, the insult immediately sending Valen into a frenzy.
"You ungrateful harlot!" he spat, sounding almost astounded. "As if you ever deserved anything else than rotting all alone in that little hole until your -" the rest of the incensed rant was promptly drowned by the Hero of Kvatch stuffing her fingers into her ears, singing, "La, la, la, I-CAN'T-HEAR-YOOOU, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA-AAA!"
A few tables away, Martin Septim observed the hullabaloo, cringing inwardly. He was ever grateful for being saved from Kvatch, but he suffered in the Hero's companionship as she clearly had no clue of social norms and conventions whatsoever, somehow reminding him of the time he was worshipping Sanguine. At that moment, he was having a somewhat dreary conversation with an Altmer, who was dressed rather regally in a blue robe. Martin wished to stay as clear of discussions of the Divines and Daedra worship as he possibly could since it seemed like something his conversation partner was at least mildly obsessive about.
"So, you said you were an author?" Martin asked courteously.
"Indeed," the High Elf replied, with a slight nod and a jaded trait about his eyes. "Of four volumes, to be exact."
"Really? And what are these volumes about?"
"Oh, I shouldn't really tell -" the Altmer took a moment to scrutinize his fingernails "-but they revolve around a very specific Daedric Prince and His work, and rather profoundly so I might add."
Martin gave a nod while exasperatingly noting that it had only taken two questions before the subject had been wringed back on Daedra lords. "I see." His face lined in a thoughtful frown. "Four volumes… sounds unfamiliar to me. I'm guessing they're not about Sanguine."
A brow rose curiously on the Mer's forehead. "No, they're not. Hm. I must say, I would never have mistaken you for someone who worships Sanguine."
"Oh." Martin's cheeks colored slightly. "I don't worship him anymore. I'm a priest of Akatosh now."
"Is that so?" The Elf thoughtfully stroked his thumb along his stubbled chin, leering uncannily. "A priest of Akatosh, you say? I think we might have plenty of interesting things to discuss. What say you come with me back to my home for a nice chat and some, ah… red-drink?"
"Red-drink? What's that?"
A chilling shudder crawled down Martin's spine. "No thank you."
While all of this played out, Manheim was experiencing a crisis. No, an absolute catastrophe.
He was running low on booze. Actually, there was only one bottle –
"More!" demanded Captain Lex, disapprovingly swinging an empty mug in his direction. Manheim sighed. Make that zero bottles of beer left. After serving the captain and the Stranger, who shared a toast for the capture of the Gray Fox, he scurried into the basement looking for something, anything, that contained alcohol and was drinkable.
It was with a sudden spark in his eyes and a snap of his fingers he remembered the old barrel the previous owners had left behind in the inn. It was sheathed by a thick layer of dust and cobwebs, untouched and left forgotten for many years, as was any liquid left behind in it. Manheim questioned whether it was such a good idea to serve it to his guests, but they were in such a good mood, and with the heated, drunken fighting of the Dunmer couple and ceaseless, aggressive advances on poor Rufio by the willies-giving man, it somehow reminded him of Skyrim and he hadn't had the pleasure of serving so many guests in a very long time.
He fetched himself a mug and tapped some of the barrel's content into it. The liquid was unlike anything he had ever seen before, colored a deep, transparent bronze while shimmering silver on the surface, emanating a spicy odor that prickled his nostrils. Manheim hesitantly lifted the mug to his lips, taking a nip of it. Then another one. His eyes widened. This stuff was actually really good.
Now eager, he assembled several empty bottles he had lying around and filled them with the strange beverage, taking them upstairs. His guests didn't appear fazed by the lack of traditional drinks and they accepted and paid enthusiastically for it when they found that it was rather tasty, with the exception of the odd, black-clad man who seemed suspicious of it.
"I have much work to attend to tomorrow," he excused. "Wouldn't do to have a terrible hangover, I'm sure you understand."
Over the lapse of the evening, the guests grew giddy and extremely friendly to one another, giggling into each other's ears and sharing toasts to the honor of the Nine, Azura, the innkeeper, underpants, their mothers, beer, the Surilie Brothers, cliff racers, the Empire and what have you.
"You people," snuffled the Altmer author known as Mankar Camoran, with an arm firmly clamped around the neck of Martin the priest, "you people are great. You'll all ascend -" a short pause as he forgot what he was saying, "you'll all ascend with me to Paradise! Well, not you," he sneered to the black-robed man, who had kept his distance from the rest of the party. "We don't like shy people."
The man rolled his eyes in response, and continued what he was doing; whispering a magical enchantment into a ring.
"Me too?" the Hero of Kvatch asked, doe-eyed.
"You too," Mankar nodded and latched an arm around her shoulders, squeezing both her and Martin into his armpits. "Bring your friends and family."
"Pssst," whispered a fickle Hieronymus Lex to the Dark Elf Valen Dreth. "Psssst… hey… have you sch… have you seen the Gh… the Ghurr…" he could barely contain his laughter, "the Gay Fox?"
He snickered hysterically, receiving a snubbed glance from the Stranger. Manheim flinched.
"Ain't nothing wrong with being gay," he quickly stated, placing a hand protectively on the shoulder of the dark-clad guest, who just stared at him in blank confusion. After the innkeeper left him to attend to another guest's need, he let out a weary sigh and rolled his ring between agile fingers.
Lucien Lachance had never imagined that killing one old man would take this amount of time and energy, but since the Dark Brotherhood had experienced difficulties in recruiting lately, he had been forced to take on the contract of killing Rufio himself. Seeing the beverage the innkeeper was selling to his guests had given him an idea, as it was one that he as an assassin had encountered – and used – many times in his career to induce trust and friendliness with his marks. It was called Gruhle and was famous amongst thieves, spies and assassins for its ability to cloud people's judgment and common sense. He decided it was safe to execute his plan by the time Rufio and the young priest loudly began singing "Fair Argonian Maiden".
"Everyone!" Lucien called out, drawing the other guests' attention. "I feel like playing a little game."
"Oooh, what kind of a game?" asked the Hero of Kvatch, sounding eager. Lucien's lips curled into a smile.
The Hero of Kvatch groaned. Her brain had dissolved to mush and was currently trying to rearrange itself back to its original state, though rather amateurishly as she felt as if she could hear the chirping of birds through her skin. She tore her eyelids apart, and they fluttered for a few moments before she could fully open her eyes. It was only when she let her gaze glide down her own form, which was wrapped in Martin's robes, and over the other guests in the inn that she remembered what had happened there the previous night.
Everyone was having a jolly good time – so much that she even found herself liking Dreth – and then that odd, hooded man had suggested they play a game of something he called "Copycat". The gist of the game was that everyone needed to choose a partner they would then trade outfits with and try to imitate. It was her and Martin, Hieronymus Lex and Dreth, the hooded guy and Rufio, A Stranger and –
A sudden, infuriated screech started her, and her jaw dropped as she saw who was behind it. By Azura, she thought, marble-eyed. It's him! It's the Gray Fox!
"The Amulet of Kings!" he wailed, frantically searching a dazed Stranger who was wearing Mankar Camoran's robes. "Where is it?!"
Wow. Just bloody wow.
The Hero of Kvatch stared, mesmerized at his appearance. She had not expected the Gray Fox to be a High Elf, but that man had the cunning of a hundred starving crows, that was for damned sure. And he had stolen the Amulet of Kings from the assassins? The nerve of that man!
A pained moan sounded from her side, and she looked down at Martin who had just been brought back to life from his drunken unconsciousness. Her clothes was an ill fit for him as a bit of his stomach gleamed from under her shirt and he was unable to keep his arms close to his sides. Gold glimmered in the chain he had around his neck, which she thought was odd, as she had not been wearing any jewelry. He gave her a long, confused, squinted stare, before moving his gaze to the cowl-clad Altmer, frowning in disbelief at the sight.
"Is that…?" he began crustily, his voice hitching in his throat as he saw who the Gray Fox was groping. "Oh, my goodness!" he gasped. "I recognize him! That's Corvus Umbranox, the Count of Anvil and husband to the Countess! He just disappeared ten years ago. Where has he been all this time?"
It was at that moment the Hero of the Kvatch noticed that the golden chain around the Septim's neck ended in the Amulet of Kings, hanging limply against his back. She parted her lips to inhale a shocked gasp, but was started at a sudden sharp thud of a flat hand against bare skin.
"Answer me, you filthy thief!" hissed the Gray Fox to Corvus. "You're wearing my clothes! I know you have the Amulet of Kings! Where is it?!"
The past Count just gawked at him as he raised a hand up to a swollen, ruddy cheek. "You're wearing my clothes!" he gasped. "And the Cowl of Noctu -" the sentence ended in an abrupt silence. "Uh-oh."
"'Uh-oh?' What do you mean, 'uh-oh?'?"
Corvus bit his lip and opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by the booming cry of an insulted Imperial male.
"You!" Hieronymus Lex roared, aiming a shivering index finger at the Altmer while pressing the palm of his other hand against his forehead. "You! Gray Fox! Oh, how long I've been waiting for this moment! How satisfying the metallic click will be when I cuff your hands and drag you back to the Imperial court! Gray Fox, I hereby place you under arrest! Come quietly, or else I'll be forced to take drastic measures!"
"Let's get the hell out of here," the Hero of Kvatch whispered to Martin Septim before she seized him by his wrist and ran out of the inn as the verbal quarreling between the Gray Fox and the Captain was building up to a fiery, violent battle.
"What's going on?" asked Martin, still dazzled and struggling to keep up while wearing her pants.
"I think we won," she puffed in reply.
"Won? What do you mean?"
"Haven't you noticed? Your jewelry! We have reclaimed the Amulet of Kings!"
Martin looked utterly shocked at the revelation, and even more so when he adjusted the Amulet to a correct position around his neck and inspected it. "By the Nine!" he gasped. "The Amulet! How can this be?"
"The Gray Fox was searching for it!" squealed the Hero enthusiastically. "He must have stolen it from the assassins!"
"The sticky fingers of that man know no bounds!" Martin exclaimed, albeit sounding impressed. "Akatosh bless him! We have to go back to Jauffre!"
Only after they had run along the road for quite a distance until they vanished out of sight, did Lucien feel safe to leave the bushes he had been hiding behind. Straightening his posture, he elegantly brushed dust off of his robes and fished his little ring out of his pocket with a victorious smirk. He could hardly believe how smoothly his plan had worked out. After luring Rufio into wearing his clothes, he had also insisted upon him wearing his ring, which was magically enchanted to deal shock damage to anyone who would put it on. Suffice to say, Rufio had suffered a quick death and Lucien had carried his corpse into the forest and retrieved his black robes.
Lucien breathed a light sigh. Ungolim would probably scold him for using this amount of time on one very simple contract, but he could at least not criticize him for lack of ingenuity.
The Night Mother must be pleased.
He gave a slight, satiated smile at that thought before calling for Shadowmere and riding on her back towards Fort Farragut.