The timeline may confuse some people, but it sort of goes like how I played—the Brotherhood stuff got done first, and then the main plot got into work. However, she's already Thane at this point, so let's go with the assumption that she did something else to get into Balgruuf's good graces.
Reality is not always probable, or likely. ~Jorge Luis Borges
A gentle rustling of wind stirred around the base of Skyrim's southernmost mountains. The night was piercingly cold, as winter was already descended upon the province. The thin forest let out no sound but silence. A small bird, disturbed by the odd shift of wind, chirruped angrily and flopped about in the air before landing back in the gangly pine it was nesting in. Rezuin spared it no attention and moved her gaze and footsteps instead to the very foot of the mountain, where several large rocks were tilted and angled around a large hole that was covered by a wooden door. She shoved one of the smaller boulders out of the way and knelt at the hole, heaving the heavy trapdoor open. The tunnel was a straight dive down for a good distance; at the bottom, the orange spark of a torch flickered feebly.
Rezuin straightened back up and fell back on her heels. She looked around the hole, the traces of the pulley system still imprinted in the snow. Frowning, she wiped away the tracks and bent down over the tunnel again. "Nulem!" She hissed. "Nulem, get over here. I know you're down there!"
The faint clacking of a cane bounced up the tunnel, and the weak light from the torch was shadowed by a Bosmer head. "My dear, how wonderful to see you!"
"Skip the pleasantries, old man; I need a place to stay and I'm in a hurry." Rezuin spat and pulled her legs over the edge of the hole. "I'm coming down."
"By the Divines, there is a ladder!" Nulem exclaimed. "That fall would probably kill you."
"Nothing kills me." Rezuin grabbed the edge of the trapdoor as she fell so it closed behind her. Dirt and a few disturbed bugs fell down onto her as she plummeted. Wind buffeted around her ears for not more than a few seconds before she crashed to the ground with a grotesque cracking. She heard Nulem yell out in shock and saw him fall back a couple steps. Rezuin turned her head, observing the so-called damage. One of her legs was bent at an angle it probably should not have been, and her midsection felt a bit off due most likely to a broken rib, but otherwise she was fine. Using her less injured leg, she pulled herself up and walked crookedly to a small table that Nulem had been sitting at near the entrance. Another trader was there, carving bits of wood from the corner of the table with a knife. He looked up, bored, as Rezuin sat down opposite him.
"Need a splint for that, girl." He commented and went back to carving away. "Even you don't wanna walk like that forever."
"Don't recall it bein' your fucking business." Rezuin snarled back. The thug shrugged, stood and walked deeper into the tunnels. Nulem took his place, sitting heavily and running a hand wearily down his face.
"I don't know how your mother handled you . . ." He sighed, then propped his arms on the table and interlaced his fingers. "Rezuin, why are you here?"
"You're hearing going?" Rezuin inquired from below the tabletop. She had two hands on either side of her leg and was moving the bone back to its normal position with a series of quiet clicks. "I said I was in a hurry." She straightened up and felt along her ribs, feeling several that shifted slightly.
"Yes, I know, but why?" Eye contact lasted for several seconds before Nulem understood, rubbing his temples. "It may seem like it now, but I can't always be here for you to fall back on when you get too deep with this little project of yours. I need to protect what I do and the men I have in my care." He jabbed a finger at her. "Stop this now, or go to your Sanctuary. You can stay here in the Tunnels for as long as you need, but we should be getting back. The men want their payment, and I wouldn't mind a good bed myself."
Rezuin listened patiently before answering. "I understand. It was just those fucking Solitude guards . . ." She hissed out a sigh of self-loathing. "I should have been more careful. Some of the bastards stayed longer than I thought after the execution of some Nord. Took me a good half an hour to get them off my back." She looked around, noticed a mostly-full bottle of ale on the table, and sniffed it. Deciding it wasn't toxic, she took a generous swig. "Whatever. How long are you staying?"
Nulem scratched his chin. "No longer than the end of the week. We're getting a little antsy down here—always do. It's a tight squeeze, so I'd watch your back. These are good men but they haven't seen a woman in a long time."
Rezuin frowned and wiggled her fingers. "It's good to see you still have a sense of humor, old man." She rotated her wrist and repeated the wiggling. She grunted and laid her hand flat on the table. Three fingers on her right hand were tilted at disturbing angles and her forearm was bent in a bad way. "Shit."
As she tried to push the two bones of her arm back into a healthy position, dusty steps sounded down a nearby branch of the tunnels. The trader that had been sitting at the table was back, now with several bruises and a sour look to him. Nulem looked up as he approached—Rezuin pressed on her radius. "Hey, boss, we've got a fight down here. It's starting to get out of hand."
With a groan and a tapping of his cane Nulem stood and started down the tunnel with the thug. "I told you not to call me that." As he vanished around the dirt wall he called back, "You may as well come along, Rezuin. I don't fully trust you on your own."
The assassin waved her good hand. The two pairs of steps slowly faded away. Now, as she listened, Rezuin could faintly hear shouts and scuffling coming from the same direction. It wasn't uncommon for fights to occur in the Tunnels after weeks of beings stuck with the same three dozen men, but it could be dangerous. There was an awful lot of weight above them. Rezuin pushed herself up and put a bit of weight on her leg. It wasn't completely healed yet, but she didn't particularly care. Limping along, she made her way after the retreating forms of the two drug dealers.
The branch stretched in a straight line for a while before curving left and down. Pickaxes lay here and there, as rocks could still get in the way after all the years the Tunnels had been in place. She stepped over them and continued on, sliding slightly down the muddy slope. She reached an open area where many of the traders spent their free time, gambling or drinking or smoking some of their wares. It wasn't the biggest room, just enough for a good fight to break out and get rowdy. Rezuin wiped filth off onto her shirt and hung back as Nulem stopped to look at the scene unfolding before them. An unidentifiable number of men were shouting and throwing punches, kicking their fellows in the fruits, or smashing bottles of varying types of alcohol on unfortunately exposed heads. The din was almost deafening as they yelled and thrashed in the liquid mud, a veritable orgy of violence. A Dark Elf, who had broken free from the fray, charged forward and with a cry smashed a wooden chair full over another man's skull. Shards of wood flew in every direction, a decapitated leg landing next to Rezuin's foot.
"Good luck." She yawned and rubbed her broken fingers. Nulem glared at her and marched forward, cane splashing wetly in the mud.
"All right!" He roared, smacking a couple men who happened to be too close to him. "Get up, you bastards! Enough of this; get up!"
Rezuin almost grinned at Nulem's sudden stance. She ran a hand over the side of her scalp that had hair, scratching at some dry skin under the locks too short to cover her fingernails. She could almost say that she counted herself lucky that she was not a permanent addition to the traders, because then she would have herself to deal with. She stepped forward as all the men lined up like punished children, spattered in all manners of filth and bruises. The man who had been smashed over the head with a chair was still out cold, face-down in a puddle of dirty water with his arm twisted at a strange angle. Nulem walked down the line, stepping over the man and cracking the occasional thug with his cane if they weren't standing straight enough.
"This is pathetic!" He snapped, coming to a standstill and sticking his cane into the ground pointedly. "Hear me? Pathetic! We're going home soon, and this is the treatment I get for getting you all jobs and homes? You better shape up quick, you fucking ungrateful maggots, or I'll have you all flogged. For now, you'll have to make do with our surprise guest for tonight." He stepped aside to show Rezuin smirking, exposing a mouth of sharp, yellowish teeth. "Have fun, boys."
The men glanced at each other and shifted in their line, but didn't move or speak. Rezuin rubbed her hands together dramatically and stepped forward to the first man in line. It was the Dunmer that had used a chair as a weapon. Before he could think about stepping back Rezuin had a vice grip on his arm. She snapped the limb out and briefly stabbed her thumb into his palm. He cried out, but there was no need to pull away, as she had already moved on to the next trader. On his hand was a small, almost triangular shape that leaked a stripe of blood down his hand. Rezuin licked off her nail and did the same treatment to each of the people in line. It wasn't excruciating, but it did fucking hurt for a good while. She would have done something far worse, say, break all their fingers on their right hands, but they needed those hands to move more shipments and it would take too long anyway.
When she was finished there were brownish streaks down her wrist. She brought her arm up to her mouth and began chewing the flakes off. "I'm done here, old man." She said to Nulem, a bit of spit mixing with the dried blood. "Take back your hounds. I'm going to get my bones back in place." She wobbled off, listening to Nulem shout his men back into line.
Rezuin sat at one of the tables that had not been somehow flipped over. She wiped her arm on her shirt and pulled the leg of her trousers up to expose more scarred flesh on her leg. The bone seemed to be mostly healed, but the leg looked crooked. She picked up one of the severed chair legs, broke a piece of wood away and ripped her pant leg off, the latter of which she tore into a single, long strip. Setting the supplies aside, Rezuin reached down and, with a little bit of force, snapped her leg again. She made sure the bone was straight this time before putting the wood against the bone and securing it there with her makeshift bandage.
"You know," Nulem hobbled up and sat down beside her with a groan. "I should just leave this business in your hands. It'll get your mind off this absurd hobby of yours, and I'm getting too old for this anyway. I need someone to take up my mantle." He turned to stare her down. "You'll always have a place to stay. You'll never be tired, hungry, unwanted. You'll be looked up to; I can make sure of it. All you have to do is observe and keep records of the shipments and break up the occasional fight, and I'm certain you can handle that fine."
Rezuin leaned back and rolled her head against her neck, letting out a series of loud cracks. "That's not much of a tempting offer, old man. I have most of that already, and I don't have to take care of a bunch of slobbering Nords." She turned and rested her elbow on the table, staring seriously at the elder Mer. "This isn't my life. I take the perks of knowing you, and am admittedly glad you lessen my prices because you have some sort of displaced fancy for my mother, but I'm not taking this business into my own hands." She held up the scarred digits as if to demonstrate, now slightly disfigured, as her fingers had healed. Dirt was caked under short, filed, torn nails. "You really want this precious lifestyle resting in these? Trust me—"
"Something I won't make the mistake of doing . . ." Nulem added quietly.
" . . . This operation will be better off with you." Rezuin gritted out, narrowing her eyes. She stood, keeping weight off her injured leg, and limped off deeper into the tunnels with a wave. "I'll be sleeping if you need me. And you better not need me."
Rezuin smirked and slammed a hand down on the table. Neat stacks of gold coins rattled and collapsed with the force of the blow and the men seated around her groaned in defeat. She pulled a pile of gold, strips of rabbit meat, small piles of dried shanka, two bottles of Black-Briar mead and a pair of leather shoes toward her in victory. "That, my friends, is how you play the game."
"You cheated, I know it." One of the men grumbled sourly. He had a splash of burns on his right side. "Playin' with you ain't fair, you been touched by the gods."
"The damned Divines have nothing to do with the fact that I just served you your own fat asses on a platter." Rezuin pushed her spoils into her bag, gnawing at her pipe.
"He wasn't talkin' about the Divines, lass." The Nord to her right leaned forward conspiratorially. "We was talkin' about the daedra."
Rezuin, as well as the two other men at the table, looked up at the Nord who had spoken. The table was set back in one of the ratty rooms of the Tunnels. The faint plucking of a lute came from somewhere far off, originating from a more musically inclined trader. That table that the four were sitting at was dimly lit from a single lantern in the middle of the four of them. Shadows flickered dangerously off Rezuin's already disturbingly sharp features as she leaned forward.
"What about the daedra?" She flicked the word off her tongue venomously.
"Well, it's no secret that you ain't quite, well . . ." The Nord gestured vaguely. "Right. I was just thinkin', maybe, you ain't been touched by the gods, and that somethin' more dark is at work here."
"So I'm a curse."
"No, no!" The man waved his hands, quickly falling back. "That ain't it! You been a great help to us, er, dolin' out, eh, punishments, and buyin' our goods and such. Not a curse, no, just . . . odd."
"Mhm, well, whatever you boys say." Rezuin propped her chair against the wall and breathed two streams of smoke from her nostrils. "I still win."
The table exploded with accusations and foul language as Rezuin watched the other three. A tankard spilled over and its warm contents oozed across the table. Handmade cards flew every which way, fluttering through the air like stained leaves. The outbursts slowly wound down to drunken mumblings, and the burned Nord slumped to the side, out cold. The other man belched loudly, drooled slightly into his beard, and flopped face-down on the cards table. The last standing—or, sitting—man was the Dark Elf that had taken a liking to the chair earlier in the day. He passed Rezuin a lazy, seriously intoxicated smile.
"You know," He said, his voice slurred slightly. "The more I drink the more female you appear."
"Well, what a stunning compliment." Rezuin spat.
"Thank you." He took another heavy draught from his glass, lolled his head back on his neck and promptly went to sleep. Rezuin reached over the wrecked table and pried the tankard out of his fingers. She peered inside, shrugged, and drained the contents before she folded her arms, leaned back and rested her head on her collar. She, too, was asleep in seconds.
The morning following the traders' revelries, the Tunnels were bustling with yells and groans as the men hauled different equipment around, preparing for their march south. Nulem stood in the midst of the clustering activity, barking orders with varying levels of annoyance, gesturing violently with his cane and ignoring the cries of those who happened to be in the way and get struck. Rezuin ducked as a crate of yet-to-be-sold shanka was tossed from one man to another and shoved her way through the crowd. She thrust out elbows and hissed threateningly at those foolish enough to turn and look.
"Nulem!" She pushed a bulky trader aside with a hand and marched toward the elder Mer. "I'm leaving, old man."
The blond, graying elf laughed and patted her shoulder. "How about, I'll stop calling you a girl if you stop calling me an old man. Deal?"
"Good enough, dust-bones. I'm leaving, thought I might say goodbye." Rezuin nodded curtly. "Goodbye."
"Ah, I suppose it is time we part ways." He smiled kindly, the corners of his mouth and eyes wrinkling. "Have fun prancing about with your Brotherhood. I do hope you bought enough shanka to hold you over, because we will not be returning to Skyrim for some time. Valenwood calls us home, I'm afraid."
Rezuin made a face, crunching up her nose and exposing the yellowed tips of her teeth. "Valenwood. Why you insist on returning to that melting jungle of ape-men and primitives, I am lost."
Nulem laughed and slapped her shoulder heartily. "Ah, you should be talking! I never got the impression that you held Nords in the highest regards."
"I don't." Rezuin pushed his hand away. "I'm leaving now. Have fun." She walked back through the Tunnels, stepping aside as men weighed down by massive crates, barrels or chests trundled along the worn mud. She reached the entrance, where high above her the trapdoor was closed to Skyrim. Rezuin pulled herself onto the rope ladder that hung on the wall and quickly scaled the wide hole, the rope digging red marks into her thickly calloused hands. When she pulled herself out the top, the sun glared blindingly down onto the snow and narrow pines. She blinked several times and focused at a small, quivering brown mass in front of her. A rabbit, ears flat against its sleek head, sat paralyzed in fear not a hands-length in front of her nose. Before it could react or run, Rezuin shoved herself out of the hole, clamped a hand down on the animal and easily snapped its neck.
Tossing the dead creature into her bag, Rezuin stood, brushed a bit of snow off her front and unfolded her map. She looked up again and pushed the paper back into her bag, opening the heavy stone door that led to the Sanctuary. It fell behind her with a loud scraping and shifting of dust; she hardly used this door, and the other members rarely left he Sanctuary, at least to her knowledge. She knew Cicero barely left the top floor, let alone the entire Sanctuary. Rezuin flicked a fat spider off her shoulder as she padded down the steps. She pulled the dead rabbit from her bag and sat at the main table, systematically skinning it.
"You want some, Nazir?" She waved the rabbit, its tiny pink muscles flopping.
"Uh . . . I think I'll pass." He sat down across from her.
"Too bad." She rubbed away stray bits of fur and skin and ran the knife down one of its petite thighs. Her one good eye was peering up at the man across from her. "What do you want, Nazir?"
"The drugs under your bed need to move, now."
"Because I can't hide it forever. Babette and I might not be so inclined, but if the initiates find out something as rare as shanka is here, I can't make any guarantees. Move it, or I'll burn it."
"That's what I do anyway."
"Listener!" Nazir barked, then took a deep breath. "Apologies, Listener. I lost my temper."
"Oh, that happens to me all the time. Except I don't talk to the other person again. No one does, actually." She glanced at the cold fire-pit and sighed. "You couldn't at least keep a fire going . . . what kind of place are you running here while I'm gone?" Her voice was muffled behind mouthfuls of raw rabbit.
"A fine place, I'm assured." Nazir answered, looking a little sickened. "Now . . . please, go eat in your room or something. I feel like keeping my dinner down tonight. And don't forget about the shanka!" He called as she walked into the back of the Sanctuary.
"Yes, mother." She grumbled and took another squelching bite. She would move the shanka all right; there was no way the milk-drinking initiates were getting their grubby little hands on her hard-earned drug. However, that didn't mean that she couldn't keep stashing it. She just had to be a bit more subtle.
"Honored to see you again, my Thane." Lydia bowed her head as Rezuin marched up the steps of Dragonsreach.
"Yes, Lydia." Rezuin greeted. Lydia followed after her as she walked up the steps to the long hall. "I heard an explosion outside, what's going on?" Guards were running past her, in the opposite direction, outside.
"There was an attack on the Western Watchtower. Witnesses say it was a dragon, but I believe Jarl Balgruuf will tell you more. He requests that you meet in the strategy room."
"A dragon?" Rezuin couldn't help but be skeptical. She had already come across a couple of the despicable beasts in the north. It was not too unusual. "Very well. You may come along as well, Lydia. If you are coming to fight with me today I would like you to be informed."
"Yes, my Thane." Rezuin quickened her pace, and she and Lydia jogged up the steps behind the empty Jarl's chair to the strategy room above.
"Ah, Thane. It's good to see you here." Jarl Balgruuf greeted not unkindly. "Allegedly, a dragon has attacked the Western Watchtower. I need you to go and find out what's happening. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave much time to talk. Irileth, will you show the Thane to the Watchtower?"
"Of course, Jarl." The Dunmer woman said, and began walking down the steps.
Rezuin, Lydia and Irileth marched out into the glaring noon sunlight. A couple more guards ran past them, down the stairs and into the city. As they walked, Rezuin pulled her bow off her back and quickly strung it, plucking the taut string in approval. "Lydia?"
"Do you still have that quiver of arrows I gave you ago?"
"Yes, my Thane. You actually gave me two quivers; which would you like?" She opened her own bag and looked inside, at the same time trying to keep her footing on the uneven grassy dirt and flagstones in the streets. The bag was of the same caliber as Rezuin's own, and had taken a long time to enchant and craft.
"Ah, right. Let me see." She peered inside the dark bag, and could see both. They were of finer quality than the homemade and often very shitty ones she carried with her. "I think I'll use the Orcish arrows." She reached in and grabbed the quiver, taking the one off her back. "Carry this one until after this has been taken care of."
"I am sworn to carry your burdens." Lydia said with a hint of annoyance, putting the dirty quiver in her bag in exchange for the green, metal one. At this point they were muttering, as Irileth was giving a sort of rally speech to the several guards assembled just outside Whiterun's main gate. After getting her arrows, Rezuin beckoned to Lydia and they continued past Irileth and her men, outside the city.
Even from the entrance to the city, Rezuin could pick out the puffs of dark smoke and flickers of orange amongst the tiny ruin of broken stone. "Hurm." She grumbled as they walked briskly down the slope and out the main gate.
The plains were mild and breezy, the light grasses swaying peacefully. The scene could almost be considered content if it wasn't for the pile of smoldering stone and wood that was the remnants of the western Watchtower. She strode past the charred remains of a person, twisted in a terrible way on the ground. Before she could get much closer to the tower, however, an earth-shaking roar echoed across the plains. The shape of a dragon silhouetted against the bright sun, coming down from the mountains to swoop down past the two women. It banked up again, screaming its rage and blasting an angry spurt of fire in the air.
"By the Divines!" Irileth and her guards had caught up, and one of them had exclaimed what all beside Rezuin were thinking.
"It's actually pretty weak and shouldn't be much of a problem." Rezuin, black eye still trained on the beast, pulled a dark arrow from her new quiver.
"Not a problem?" The same man yelled incredulously. He was a Bosmer, like herself; how unusual. "It must take dozens of men to take down this creature!"
"Oh, not at all." She answered, squinting her blind eye out of habit. Her voice had dropped to a stupid little muttering to herself as the point of her arrow followed the dragon's patterns. "Just one." Her fingers let go. The dragon bellowed fire.