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Tales of The Elder Scrolls: Chapter One

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The Heist

 

 

     In midwinter, all nights seem cold, but Jacob had to admit that this particular night was especially so, or at least it seemed that way. Despite the perceived chill, his hands were breaking out in a clammy sweat, soiling the small piece of parchment he carried, crumpled tightly in a fist.

 

     As he made his way through the deserted streets of the town, he wondered to himself if the parchment was a prank, some elaborate joke on the part of the town kids, some of whom were infamous tormentors. The hastily scrawled signature, however, told him this was not so. Even after 23 years, he recognized that signature. Jacob reminisced on past times, his mind lost in the days of his youth.

 

     Though his mind was occupied, his feet had walked the streets of the town so long they knew almost by instinct where to guide him. Jacob came out of his reverie and found himself in the spot the parchment had designated for the meeting, an unassuming house in an unassuming part of town. Sighing, Jacob clutched the paper tighter and stepped up to the door. He hesitated briefly, thinking he could still turn back at this point, then knocked softly three times.

 

     The door swung open and firelight chased away the night's gloom. Standing illuminated by the blazing hearth was a figure Jacob recognized.

 

     "Hullo, guildcousin," Jacob said, "never thought I'd see your ugly face again."

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"Stow it, Jacob." Evan's scarred face peered into the shadows beyond his first visitor. "You weren't followed? Then get in, quickly now."

The old man hovered impatiently as Jacob stepped inside. As soon as he was through, Evan slammed the door. "You bring your tools? Over by the fire, sit." He limped over to the hearth and tossed in another log. Wrapping his tattered leather cloak tightly about his gnarled body, he threw himself into an ancient oaken chair. "Too bloody cold anymore. Can't...seem to get warm..." With that, he fell silent, glaring into the roaring flames.

A few moments later, there came another light rapping at the door. Evan let out a horrible cough. "See who it is, boy. My legs ain't what they were."

 

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     Jacob smiled at Evan's familiar voice and slipped a hand into his coat. It came out holding a long piece of leather, tightly rolled and held in place with strips of tied leather. His lockpicking tools, and there was not a finer set to be found in all Tamriel. He laid them on the room's only table. a worn old thing of oak, and went to answer the door.

     Jacob was a fool when it came to staying hidden in the shadows, quiet as a mouse. You would never find him running rooftops, or swindling merchants out of their gold, or nimbly relieving a noble of his purse. He would never intimidate anyone, and when it came right down to it, he doubted he could even wield a knife (or any weapon for that matter) with the intent to kill. Despite that, Jacob was a respected thief for one reason; when you needed to get into something that others most definitely didn't want you getting into, Jacob could get you in, guaranteed. Wizards were less adept at going where they weren't welcome.

     Jacob opened the door a hair, at least trying to appear more cautious than Evan.

     "Who goes there?" He asked, unsure of what exactly to say in that situation, but feeling it was an appropriate enough start.

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 "You know who I am, fool." Burkak grunted at Jacob, "now let me in here before I catch my death."

Burkak shouldered his way into the room and strode over to the fire. As always, he was the distraction. Like most Orcs, he was a useless sneak. He finished picking his tusks and put his lucky bone pick in his pocket, then held his hands by the fire.

"I hate winter." He grunted. "I left the Wrothgarians to get in the warm."

That was all Burkak had for small talk. Now it was business time. "Once you tell me where the big game is happening, I can start my job."

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Evan grunted. "Right then. Any luck, a couple others will show up, but let's get started." He spread a map of the city across the table. "You're wondering why we're freezing our arses off here in Solitude. Got word of something big. Something precious is coming through here, for King Istlod hisself. Source says it's Daedric. Big money, anyway. High security, lots of guards, locks, probably magic. High security. But big damn payout." He leaned back with a sigh. "I pull this off, I can finally retire. One last job." Scowling at his guests, he added "Fifteen percent to all involved. That's guild-tax free. Them over in Riften, they don't need to know. Nobody does. Only the best. Only you. You in?"

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     Jacob looked sheepishly at Evan, unsure of what his next words would elicit from the old man.

 

     "How...dangerous will it be, Evan?" Jacob glanced at his old orc friend, knowing full well that if he had been called, there was probably no need to ask that question. It was going to be trouble.

 

     "You both know me," Jacob said, "I'm no dandy. I used to live it up with the best of them." Here he paused, drew a breath, and dived in. "Thing is, I'm married now. A rich one, too. Don't ask how it happened, I don't rightly know myself." He looked at the two men, his old thieving comrades, thinking of all the situations they had gotten into in the past, thinking how close it had been at times. "And what's more, I have three kids now." He sighed, the full load off his chest.

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Evan gave Jacob a hard look. After a moment he said "If you're out of the game, boy, why'd you answer the call, I wonder? I know you, Jacob. You're not really living unless you're on a job. Here's a chance for something more fulfilling than sneaking out to pick your neighbors locks late nights. Real work. With real risks for real money."

Evan sighed again. "How dangerous is it? Dangerous enough. But look. You're the best damn tickler I've ever trained, and Burkak's a bloody good thumper. More might be on the way now." He looked up, a gleam in his eye. "But if you want out? I guess I could always ask Ez Nai. I know he wouldn't object to taking your share."

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"Am I fashionably late yet?" Vardan swaggered through the foyer, chased off the street by a gust of cold. He took account of the crew, neither of which he was in particularly high esteem with, "Not who you were expecting, I would guess?" Though Redguard at a glance, he had the fire-stare of a Dunmer. "I suppose my invite was lost in the mail, but fear not--I have arrived."

The  grifter's eyes roamed the map as his feet roamed the room, both tasks accomplished with casual grace. He flashed a debonair smile, letting his ruby gaze settle on the old man as he himself settled low into an armchair. "You're looking well, Evan; spry as ever." He produced a drake from thin air and let it crawl over his knuckles. "Septim for your thoughts?"

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"Vardan." Evan's charcoal eyes turned to ice. "Last I heard you were for the ax down in Elsweyr. Don't recall inviting you to take a seat." The old man spat into the hearth. "Bah. What do you want, mongrel? Who sent you?"

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"No one sent me," He snapped his fingers, making the coin vanish. "I followed Jacob." Vardan grinned deviously at his admission, stood, and slung an arm around the locksmith's shoulders in a brotherly embrace. "I notice my dear old friend, last seen pretending to be a happily married father sneaking around at this time of night?" With a nod of his head in the direction of the map, he continued, "It doesn't take a blind priest figure out what you're all up to, which is hip-level in 'no good,' just like me." He grinned again, giving the other man a hearty squeeze before resuming his seat, "And as amazing as I am, I know I can't do it alone."

Locking eyes with Evan again, Vardan's visage solidified into seriousness. "I want in."

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     Jacob suffered through Vardan's embrace with good humor. He had never understood the depth of hate Evan and some others bore for the Redguard. The two of them, and Burkak too now that Jacob thought of it, had been a part of the band when Jacob had first joined as a gangly youth. A sudden thought gave the man a shock. He interrupted Evan, who seemed about to reply to Vardan's query.

 

     "You look great for your age, Vardan. How old are you now? Must be..." Jacob tried to count off how old he thought Vardan was on his fingers, then gave it up when he got lost the second time. "Well, older than me anyhow, and I'm past 40, says my wife, and she's one to know.

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Vardan looked twice at the man, clearly not comprehending the question at first. He arched a brow, "Fifty-three, and thank you." This was odd, to be sure. "Wifey doesn't let you do much thinking for yourself anymore, hm?" The half-elf smirked and hissed through his teeth in imitation of a cracking whip.

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     Fifty-three, Jacob thought, and he looks nearly as young as he did when I first saw him. Jacob found himself envying the man his elvish blood...and thinking his old woman could stand to have a touch of elf in her, as well. Jacob ignored Vardan's taunt regarding his relationship and took a seat next to Evan.

     "Let him join us, Evan. If one of us old bastards breaks a hip or something, the spry fellow can carry us home." Jacob grinned at Evan, knowing his words would do little to sway him one way or another, but Jacob knew Vardan's worth and wanted his help on this job, regardless of whatever bad blood there was between him and his other old guildmates.

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 "Can we get on with it?" Burkak scowled. "The sooner we get all this planned the sooner I can get down to Cyrodiil or Elsweyr."

He looked at Evan. "I can take care of the guards. Even do it with nobody dying, but there might be a few broken noses. You can't distract magic, though, so you'll need someone else for that."

Burkak ran callused fingers over the map. "Do you know anything past it being Daedric? Is it something you reeds can lift easy?"

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Evan scowled at his companions, then turned his eyes back to the half-elf. "Fine. Five percent cut. No argument."

He turned his chair slightly away from Vardan. "Nothing heavy, source says. Some ornament. Pretty little thing." He pointed at the map. "It be coming in on Hela's Folly, small chest. Chances are there's only one key. At the docks, eight elite guards will escort the courier to the Palace. Once there, four will drop to guard the entrance while the rest bring it to his majesty personally." He leaned back. "From there, chances are it will be headed to the north wing, to Istlod's chambers. We'll need to know more about that before we can proceed." At that, he turned his head back to Vardan. "You'll be scouting the palace for us."

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"So...after Vardan finds out where the chest is at, what then?" Jacob knew that once he had the chest before him, opening it would be easy, but the matter of getting to it was something else entirely. "Have our orcish friend cause a ruckus while you sneak in and filch it, Evan?"

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"Yeah, more or less." He glared at Vardan. "Waiting for something? Get moving."

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"Whoa-whoa-whoa," he bolted up from his chair and returned Evan's scowl, "Whoa. That's the plan? I'm on 'scout detail?' For five percent?!"

Vardan turned to the Orc, "Burk, you must know you can't handle more than two of them at once, even on your best day. You heard him: royal escort."

"And the two of you can't pull off the sneak-in-sneak-out anymore, you're just not quick enough," He asid, trading glances between Jake and Evan, before focusing his blazing stare on the old man again, "Look, Evan, be reasonable--there is no way the three of you can pull this off. I know I'm an arrogant cock sometimes, but you must realize that the only one of us here who even has a chance of casing the joint without getting clapped or worse is me. Give me my fair cut."

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"Not fast enough? Boy, I may not have fairy dust in my veins, but don't think for a second that I can't still do my job. Sixty four years in the game. Fifty eight since I was caught on a job. I'm old because I'm good. So don't tell me what I can't do." Evan shifted his gaze into the fire. "Fair cut? Get us a route to the prize and I'll see about your fair cut." His eyes, glinting, turned back. "Though after you left me to die in that damn ruin, I'd say I'm being real generous already."

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"Give him part of my cut," Jacob blurted out. Before anyone could do more than gape, he pressed on. "You offered me fifteen. I'll give him five of that. Brings us both to ten." Jacob rubbed one hand through his thinning hair. "Listen Evan, what you said before...you were right. I don't care how dangerous it is. I'm not in it for the money, neither. My old lady has plenty, she keeps us cared for. That rankles, old friend." Jacob cast a hard glance at Vardan, hoping to forestall any wise-cracks. "I love her, sure enough, but she's a hard love. I gotta get this one last job in before I settle down for good and all. Hell, I'd even trade his five for my fifteen if that's what it took to get this gig running."

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The half-elf smiled genuinely at Jacob, "I appreciate the gesture, but it wouldn't be fair." Returning his attention to Evan, Vardan relented with a sigh, "I know I've got a lot to answer for, and maybe I'll have to prove myself again (that thing in Elsweyr could've gone a lot better) but if I'm doing the legwork, then I think I at least deserve compensation same as any of you."

He grinned again at Jake, "Besides, love might be free with purchase for you, but some of us still gotta pay by the hour."

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"Job first. Then we'll see." Evan turned once again to the roaring fire, signalling an end to the night's negotiations.

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 Burkak thought his role through. "I don't need to fight all of them, exactly. I really don't have to fight any of them."

He counted out the numbers on his fingers. "Let's say I do my usual 'act-drunk-and-take-a-half-arsed-swing' bit. Myabe I clip one of the boys across the jaw, and maybe he goes down. They won't see a thief or assassin, if I only use my fists. They'll see a drunk Orc who needs a good pounding in an alley."

Solitude certainly had enough to count as one of those, even leading up to the palace. "So let's say a few bring me into an alley and give me a few jolts. we all know I can take it after the Largushbur job. So you have at least a few less to deal with. If they just let me walk off, then one of their guys is dinged. If they do draw on me, they'll still be expecting a drunk Orc, not a quick runner."

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"I just had a wicked thought, I did," Jacob said, a huge grin appearing on his face. "I've been teaching my eldest boy a bit about the wild life, taking him with me to pick a few locks and such. The boys a good runner too, something he sure as hell didn't get from me." Jacob winked merrily at the orc at his side. "You might be getting a bit of help, friend. After all, what's a guard to do when some snot-nosed alley-rat kicks him in the shins and runs off with the sword he left lying around so he could beat on a poor old drunken orc?" Jacob chuckled. "I know the lad is up for it, though his mum would kill me if she catches us."

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Vardan simply stared incredulous and unblinking for a long, long moment.

"You want your kid to help us boost an ancient, priceless demonic artifact, which we know to be kept under constant watch by veteran troopers, from within the most secure fortress in Skyrim...?"

He gave his statement more than adequate time for Jake to absorb, before continuing, "You are either the single best or worst father in the entire realm, I can't make up my mind yet."

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 "Sounds like the best, to me." The Orc said, baring his tusks to the gums in a smile. "No sense sheltering the kid when valuable work experience is there for the taking. Aside from which, he'll learn that he has to earn good things in life."

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The three visitors slowly trickled out the door. Vardan hesitated at the threshold, turning his bloody eyes to Evan for a moment, before shutting the door. Evan continued to stare into the hearth as the blaze collapsed into flames, then embers, then ashes. Perhaps he slept. In any case, this was how dawn found him.

 

And then it was midnight again. The table and chairs had been rearranged to allow easier access to the map. Evan sat in his traditional oak chair, glaring angrily at the streets and alleyways. A spot on the docks and the Blue Palace had been marked with charcoal x's.

He flinched slightly at the first knock on the door, but dragged himself out of his chair and limped his way over to answer.

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Vardan charged his way through the door, shouldering past Evan without any of his typical vaunting or flashing smile, and crouched low by the fire. Shaking snow out of his hair, he hugged himself tightly and shivered violently. "I s-should've ask-k-ked for twenty," he grumbled through clenched and clacking teeth as he rubbed his chest and arms vigorously.

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 Evan's initial snarl of anger faded into a slight smile. "Not too much trouble, I hope?" He closed the door and sat down. "Sit. Blocking the heat."

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Next into the room was Jacob. He opened the door slowly and entered, a little hesitant. He waited a moment, as if expecting something. Then he cleared his throat, peeked out the door and said, "Come on, nothing to worry about here." In response, a child shuffled his way into the room, head focused on the floorboards. Jacob steered his shuffling feet towards the hearth and pointed to each of the other thieves in turn as he introduced them. "This scruffy fellow here is Vardan, and the geezer is Evan. Don't be scared of them." Jacob grinned at the two thieves for a second. "Told ya he'd be up for it. This is Richard, my oldest."

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 Burkak walked in, already in his tattered and dirty clothing to better sell the "drunk ne'er-do-well" act. He had also, without drinking any, swished some sujamma and mead about in his mouth before arriving for the smell. 

"This the kid?" He asked. "He'll do fine. You tell him what we need?"