I had figured that that world would suck me in, sooner or later. The dreary, perfectly organized world where countless Marcuses move like cogs and wheels of a gigantic mechanism with its core centered inside the tall, silvery tower that looms over Riften City's financial centre and is an obligatory feature of every single postcard - the headquarters of BBI, Black-Briar Industries. Fortunately for me, for I don't think I would ever bring myself to enter that dazzling bulk of metal and glass that each day consumed hundreds of people and then spat them out again, like some kind of prehistoric monster - a Swamp Leviathan, perhaps, one of those that used to dwell in the now dried-out marshes of Argonia - fortunately for me, my new job was not at the tower itself, but at one of the BBI's smaller offices, scattered all across Riften City, as well as all across Skyrim, and all across the Federative States of Tamriel.
On my first day, I left home - that is, the apartment where I lived together with Mother and Marcus and which I called home for convention's sake - two hours in advance, in order to carefully explore what was about to become my usual route to work. The exploration revealed... I'd say it revealed a lot of grey. Grey pavement, grey buildings, grey trees - according to the books I had read for my ancient history course, Riften City and the area around it used to be a vibrant burst of gold this time of year, what with all the birch groves... but they, too, are now part of the past - grey-faced people in grey clothing hurrying down grey streets, hiding beneath their grey umbrellas from a sticky grey drizzle splattering down from the lead-grey sky. Too much grey - much too much grey for a mentally unstable young female who has colourful visions. And just as I was beginning to feel like tiny grain of salt sinking into a gigantic bowl of grey gruel, it came, as though in answer to my thoughts - the voice. Singing, softly, sadly, to the quiet accompaniment of a simple acoustic guitar,
Sometimes you may feel
The rain will never cease,
Sometimes you may think
It's always been this way,
Sometimes you may fear
You'll never be at ease,
Your soul trapped
Among the shades of grey...
But the sun will come out again -
If you're patient enough to wait,
The sun will come out again -
If you're steadfast enough to cope,
The sun will come out again -
For it never is too late,
The sun will come out again -
If you teach your heart to hope...
I swivelled round on the uncomfortably high heels of my newly bought office shoes - and as soon as I located the source of the sweet, melancholy sound, I dashed towards it like a starving man might dash to a stand with hot pies.
I had to elbow my way through a small crowd of casual onlookers to catch a glimpse of the singer. He looked much like the rest of the bunch - battered guitar, torn jeans, a second-hand jacket with its hood pushed right down to his eyes, obligatory long, unkempt hair. But his voice was quite unlike the voice of any other singer I had heard before. There was something about it, something almost indiscernible, too subtle to be described with words, like the delicate hint of strange, exotic spice in an otherwise familiar dish. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly, but it didn't stop it from being there, stirring my senses with it inexplicable vagueness, making me strain my hearing and my mind till my head started aching. Preoccupied as I was with the mystery of the voice, I was still able to appreciate the words that it sung. They did not seem to belong to any of the songs I knew - and I knew many, for what better remedy is there for bothersome stepfathers than putting on your headphones and assaulting your own eardrums with throbbing waves of wild music? No, this song was completely new to me - perhaps he had composed it himself - and so strangely... about me... The first verse was a perfect description of my feelings, not just on this dreary day, but for most of my adult life; I couldn't wait till he finished with the chorus and started on the second one - but then...
'Hi there!' my vision was suddenly obscured by a young, neatly dressed, ample-bosomed Nord woman, with an upturned nose, a single blonde curl escaping artistically from beneath a grey (obviously) beret and a large roll of paper stuck beneath her arm; she seemed to have emerged out of nowhere and was now steadily dazzling me with the brilliance of her smile, which had too many teeth in it for my liking. 'You look awfully like a girl I was in an Art class with, back at school! I remember she drew this gorgeous portrait, which was given a fail grade for being unrealistic - what was it called now... The, uh, Psychic Monk?'
'Psijic Monk,' I said curtly.
Her smile seemed to grow a few extra teeth. 'Oh, so you are her! Gosh, I am good with faces, aren't I? Not so good with names, though...'
'Lavinia Atrius,' I winced slightly as she bent over and planted a wet, perfume-reeking kiss on my cheek. 'And you are...'
'Hildi!' she introduced herself brightly. 'You might not recognize me - I've lost a lot of weight'.
I vaguely recollected a pink circular shape darting noisily across the classroom - and smiled, quite in spite of myself.
'So, Lav,' Hildi went on, thrusting her arm beneath mine with an air of unceremonious friendliness, 'What have you been doing with yourself all these years? Me, I am a designer now. Working in the advert dep for BBI - well, who doesn't work for the BBI these days? Actually, I am not really working there yet; it's more of a kind of internship... I do stuff for Dravin Marius's projects - you know, he is one of the best - and if he puts in a good word for me, they might give me a permanent job! Isn't that exciting?! Of course, I have to tie myself into knots just to make Dravin notice me...'
She clung on to me, her arm twisting round mine like the tentacle of an octopus - a good-natured, talkative octopus that dragged me away from the crowd, away from the mysterious singer... When I finally managed to shake Hildi off - not daring to utter a polite excuse, for a single word of mine triggered an avalanche of hers - he was already gone.
Office work wasn't half as bad as I had expected. It turned out to be some sort of massive coffee break, interrupted from time to time by dropping into a revolving chair to send a couple of meaningless emails to a couple of meaningless addresses - until I got tired of assaulting the local vending machine (because there are only this many candy bars you can eat) and took to staring at my desktop wallpaper. I had set it to be one of the default pictures I had dug up from the not too exciting depths of my office computer - another of those typical postcards from Riften City, showing the highlight of our picture gallery, the portrait of a hard-faced, dark-haired woman with eyes that pierced through you like two shards of ice. Maven Black-Briar, founder of the financial Empire, the woman who had laid the first cornerstone of Riften City as it is now, and one of the few personalities from ancient history that we were actually encouraged to learn about. It seemed that my little staring game with the distinguished old lady went a bit too far - or maybe I just wasn't used to so much sitting in front of the screen - because when the long- (and ardently) expected end of the workday came and I darted out, not waiting for any of my new colleagues, (they hadn't taken any notice of me throughout the day, and frankly, I am terrible at making friends) the evening sunlight made my eyeballs ache.
'You were right,' I muttered to myself. 'The sun has come out again - only what use is it to me?'
And as though he had heard my question - just as he had read my thoughts and made the into a song - the vagrant musician crossed paths with me again; as I turned round the corner of a street, which the touch of the setting sun had not made any less grey - I saw him sitting on the edge of the pavement, biting ravenously into a burger, his face still concealed by a low-hanging curtain of hair. On the ground next to him, there was a back, in which he must have been collecting his tips. I went up to him, on tiptoe because I hated the ringing sound of my new high heels, bent over to throw in my handful of septims - and saw that apart from the money, there also were a several discs, self-recorded no doubt, thrown carelessly on the very bottom of the bag.
'I... I'd like to buy one of those,' I said falteringly, reaching out to take one of them. And just as my fingertips brushed against the scratched iridescent circle, the singer started and looked up at me.
Maybe the incredible amount of stressed-out, near-suicidal people wandering the streets these days isn't such a bad thing, after all - otherwise, my scream would have attracted much more unwanted attention. The singer's face looked exactly like one of my hallucinations - oval, high-cheekboned, with that peculiar goldenish tan... And his eyes... His eyes were deep pools of liquid amber; the eyes of an Altmer.