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Tales of The Elder Scrolls: Chapter One

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Jacob nodded in reply to Burkak's question. He placed a reassuring hand on Richard's shoulder, urging him to stop stop staring at the ground. "Now this big one here is your partner in crime today, son." Richard finally broke eye contact with the floor and looked up at his father's other accomplice. He got one look at the grubby, smelly, drunk-looking orc and grinned brightly. Then, he stepped forward, offered his hand and said, "My dad told me everything, so no need to worry. I got your back!"

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 Burkak threw back his head and laughed. "Good! So, you're gonna help your Da get rich tonight!" He grasped the boy's hand and shook it, not too hard for worry he might break something. 

"Well, let's go get in position. You'll also have to run and find your Da if they don't take the bait, okay?"

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Evan gave a grumpy cough. "You get the layout, mongrel? Let's have it, then." He spread his hands across the table. "Chest is being carried up in two hours. Can't snatch it in the city, too many escorts, too much risk. Be presented to Istlod in the Palace, he'll send it to a treasury somewhere. You two, you'll be in the courtyard making noise. No blood, if possible. Either of you gets grabbed, Jacob will spring you soon as we're done." He turned to Jacob. "You come with me. Get us in, I'll watch your back, take care of any guards or traps." Lastly, he looked to Vardan. "You'll be staying here."

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"Stay--? Wait, what?!" Vardan forgot how cold he had been a moment ago, as now he virtually steamed. He rose up, twisting on Evan like a tread-upon cobra. "You have any idea what I went through to get this?" He held up the map of the palace interior he had spent most of the evening making, shaking the paper in his fist as he glowered and growled, "I spent over an hour up on the roof of that damned castle in this weather, trying to figure a way in that gods-damned tower that would save us the trouble of getting clapped or worse, and you're making me stay?"

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 Evan paused for a moment, letting Vardan fume. "You'll like the chance for a break, then, I'm sure. Three's too many to go along, anyway." He grinned, then, a horrible sight as his gnarled and scarred flesh rearranged around his blackened teeth. "'Sides. Guarding the nest is surely an honorable task. For a rat."

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Vardan sucked his teeth, then grinned right back, balled up the map in Evan's face and tossed it into the fire. "Have fun stormin' the castle, boys," he said amicably as he turned for the door. He stopped and ruffled the boy's hair, "Good luck, li'l man, hopefully your daddy doesn't get you in too much trouble." With a nod to Burkak and Jacob, "I'll be at the Skeever, either of you wanna stop by and have a pint," and then he was in the cold, the door slamming behind him.

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Evan's smile withered. "Unreliable little shit," he muttered, "Like Elsweyr all over again." He let out a growl. "Well, Jacob, seems we're running blind. No problem. Just need to be careful is all. I know castles, don't usually change much from place to place."

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Jacob looked from the door to Evan, and back again. "You sure about this Evan? Going in blind is...we all love a little danger, but this is more than we can handle, I say." Jacob looked down at his son briefly, a pained expression on his face. "Look, we got time. Let me talk to him. I guess I'm the only one here that isn't dead-set on hating him. "Jacob opened the door, then turned back to his companions. "Stay with Burkak, Richard. I'll be back with Vardan as soon as possible." With that, he closed the door behind him and set out for the Skeever.

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He sat at the table farthest from the door, chatting up a pair of Khajiit hoods, a panther-black rogue and his calico co-ed. The three were exchanging tall tales by their jovial expressions and relaxed postures. The half-elf halted his story when he noticed Jacob enter, his grin spanning ear to ear. The cats studied Jake with mild suspicion, and it was obvious to the older thief that he beheld the new generation.

"Sorry, guys," Vardan said to the pair, "I've got some unfinished business with this fellow." The panther nodded briefly in understanding, and though evidently annoyed, the two Khajiit made themselves scarce.

"Jacob, have a seat," Vardan invited, gesturing to the vacant chair across from him.

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Jacob took the seat offered by Vardan. He sat there for a few moments, staring at the half-elf, trying to think of how best to voice his thoughts. "Evan is pissed at us both right now, you know. Well, he's always pissed at you. But then I walk out on him as well, for your sake..." Jacob sighed and raised an eyebrow at Vardan, hoping he understood what was being said. "Whatever happened in Elsweyr, it's done. But he doesn't see it that way. How bad was it, that he can't let go?"

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Vardan threw his hands up with an exasperated sigh, "I don't even care anymore, and I don't know why he does either; it was years ago." He leaned back in his chair, letting his eyes wander as he went back in time. His face hardened and he stared at Jake, "I'm not a rat. I'm a lot of things, maybe, but not a rat." He shrugged sympathetically, "Yeah, things got scary and hard choices were made, but that's the job. I mean, no one takes up this life without having to do some things they don't want to do, but there are lines that should not be crossed, and I won't cross them for anything."

Vardan let his eyes fall to his fist, which sat clenched on the table before him; it opened as the anger left him, replaced now with regret, "He just did, though, when he said that word. He crossed a line, so I burned the map." The half-elf looked at Jacob again with sincere affection, "I'm not going to let him kill you and Burkak or anyone else over some bit of treasure, no matter how much it's worth." He furrowed his brow, frowning in bemusement, "And your boy, Jake. Why? He's a kid, and I know you want him to take up the cowl too some day, but I don't want anything to happen to him or the rest of your family. I've always respected you, Jake, you were one of the few that managed to never let the darkness get you, not all the way. I could trust you. And you did what a lot of us can't do, you got out, got a life that's not this one. You really want to risk all that now?"

He sat back then and let the grin return, "I mean, c'mon, she can't be that much of a bitch, can she?"

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Jacob averted his eyes from Vardan's disconcerting half-elf gaze. "Why, Vardan? I'm bringing Richard along on this one because...I want him to have one adventure with his old man before I send him away." Jacob looked back at Vardan now. There were no tears in his eyes, just hard determination. "That's what this job is for. I'm going to use my cut to pay off some nobleman to take my Richard on as a page, or squire, or whatever they're called. Someone who has a chance of learning things, going somewhere. Not stuck with people like us in places likes this." He waved a hand to indicate the Skeever and it's patrons. "My wife has money, enough to keep us cared for, but not enough for something like that. I was willing to give you part of my cut earlier, because I figured the thing was valuable enough that even a five percent cut would be enough." Jacob smiled at Vardan now, a half-grin that didn't really reach his eyes. "I'm not letting this job fall apart. I'll take Evan by the throat and force him to look you in the eye and say sorry, if I have to. Look at it this way though, you hold the cards now. Unless he's really desperate enough to go in blind, he needs you, seeing as how you burned the map. Guess I'll have to hold the fort while the two of you go in."

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"I'm glad you feel that way," he replied with a chuckle, "But I don't see it like that. He needs me to get in, but he still needs your expertise to get out with what we came for." He shook his head, "No, he just wanted to cut me out, probably for Elsweyr. I mean, what does he need one of us to stay behind for?" He sucked his teeth, "No, his plan was I wait for you to come back, and by the time I figure out you're not, you're all back in Riften or wherever splitting the loot." Leaning back in his chair, Vardan let a conspiratorial smile pass over his face, "And what does his old wrinkled arse bring to the table, anyway? He creaks like a rusty gate when he walks, and he wants to go out in the field? No, he's up to something, but then I suppose I don't trust him any further than he trusts me."

"But as for your boy, I just hope he's really up to it and doesn't get one or all of us caught. I really think there's probably better ways to spend quality time with your kids, but I'll keep my mouth shut about it for now."

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Jacob was beginning to despair at ever seeing his plan fulfilled, ruined by the two hard-headed men. Then, with a merry glint in his eye, he looked over at Vardan. "Well...here you are, knowing how to get in the place, and here I am, knowing how to get what we need out." He paused to let his implications sink in. "As for a distraction, I think Burkak wants this job done as much as any of us."

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Vardan had to bite his tongue quite hard to not say or do anything foolish just then. He only smiled contentedly and nodded once, winking. "It's very good to be working with you again, Jake."

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Jacob chuckled, then in a more serious tone said, "So how do we pull this off? We can just walk in and tell Evan we're cutting him out, or we can come up with an excuse to separate Burkak and Evan...what do you think?" Jacob was still shocked at himself for suggesting such betrayal. He didn't really want to do this to the old man, but the way he saw it Evan wasn't leaving him much choice.

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The half-elf shrugged, "I don't suppose Evan would appreciate me waltzing in again to chat up Burk about pulling the heist without him, but I don't see a reason you couldn't bring it up." Vardan grinned, "After all, you have an excuse for plotting with Burk, you need to set things up with your kid. So, you pull him aside with that pretense and maybe during the discussion, you suggest how things might go another way."

"If Burkak's intent is to stick with Evan," he continued, reclining on his chair like a king on his throne, "Then it makes no difference to us, he'll get his fair share either way; I wouldn't cut him out yet."

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"Well, it's settled then," Jacob said, thinking again to himself that this was for his son's sake, no matter how treacherous it was. He rose from the table, gave Vardan a firm handshake and assured him he would return, with or without Burkak, and headed back to the meeting house. As he entered the door, he shook his somberly to indicate he had failed to bring Vardan back. He then took a seat in front of the hearth and stared into it intently, hoping to avoid too much conversation until he could catch an opporunity to speak with the orc and bring him into the plot.

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 "Now kid," Burkak was saying, "when I distract these guys, I'm gonna have to say some things. Nasty things."

Burkak had no sons of his own. When he still lived in the strongholds, he had never been quite strong enough to be clan chief and afterwards he had always had a reputation as an honorless Orc so he could never settle down. That said, he had always thought human children were fun to be around. 

"Now I need you to promise me, and really mean it, that you won't repeat anythinI say where your Mam can hear it, okay?"

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Evan sniffed, coughed. He looked hard at Jacob, taking in his hunched shoulders and troubled face. "Vardan's filth, Jacob. Don't beat yourself for not bringing him back. Elsweyr, we were on a heist together. Ancient ruin. Got ugly. Wanted to turn back, cut our losses, but Vardan insisted there was some prize further in. Son of a bitch lied. Son of a bitch led me into a trap and left me to die."

Evan spat into the fireplace. "I don't die easy. Not then, not now. Fought my way out of that bloody tomb, found him in a whorehouse, drinking himself blind. Worse man than me, would have killed him then. But I'm not him. I don't betray."

He turned back to the orc. "Burkak, stop lecturing him on etiquette and get in position."

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"I just don't want to spend the rest of my time up North looking over my shoulder for an angry human mother. They get testy." Burkak said.

"All right, kid, you heard the man. Let's head out."

The human boy keeping behind him, Burkak walked out into the street.

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"Hold a moment, Evan. I'm going to have a word with my boy before we start this thing." Jacob left Evan in the house and followed Burkak and Richard outside. "Wait, Burkak!" He shouted at the retreating figures, and the slowed to let him catch up. Jacob ruffled RIchard's hair as he began speaking, much to the child's annoyance. "Listen, old friend, there's been a change of plans. I had a talk with Vardan, and we decided we don't need Evan. He hates that half-elf more than he loves common-sense. Going in blind just because of his stubbornness? Were you really comfortable with that?" Jacob stopped tousling his son's hair and looked down at the dirt, clearly uncomfortable. "I mean Evan no harm, I've been through too much with him for that. In fact, when all's said and done, I was planning on making sure he still got a cut of the profits, even if Vardan protests. We owe him at least for bringing us here and pointing us towards the target." Jacob looked up, first at Richard, who simply stood there fidgeting, not understanding the point of the conversation and impatient for the fun to start, and then at Burkak. "If you're with us, say so and we'll do this thing proper, with Vardan leading me in while you and my boy do your thing. If not, I'll go back to Evan and go in with him, no map and no plan, and won't say any more about this."

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 "Wait, what?" Burkak said. He had been so intent on making sure the kid really had been told everything he had not been paying proper attention to the others. "The man didn't take the fucking map!?" He looked down. "That's one of the things I mentioned, kid, don't repeat that."

Burkak ran his thumbnail along one of his tusks. "I'd rather be distracting for a reason. Go ahead, I'm with you. No bloody map!"

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Jacob didn't smile, but he felt a definite relief at knowing Burkak was with them. "Alright, here's how we're gonna do this. You go ahead with your side of the plan as normal. I'm going to go back and tell Evan you two are moving into position and convince him to come down to the Skeever for a preparation drink on me before we go in. All goes well, I get him smashing drunk and Vardan and I go ahead without him any the wiser. The signal to start the distraction is the same. I've been running with Evan long enough to imitate his bird calls." Jacob sunk to one knee now, bringing his eyes level with Richard's. "As for you, you just stick with the plan and if anything goes wrong, stick with Burkak and do what he says." Richard nodded as solemnly as any 12-year old can, and Jacob gave him a smile before rising to his feet and heading back to the house.

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Evan looked up from the map as Jacob returned. "Kid all set? Good, let's go. We'll start in the servants quarters, likely to be a back staircase, get us up to the third floor at least." He paused, as if sensing that something was amiss. "What is it?"

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The room was disturbingly quiet. You could hear, almost, just where that stone was over-etched, the screams that the bloodstains would once have fueled. It was disgusting, that in over a thousand years they hadn't bothered to scrub the place clean of atrocities.

Caelindir bowed. "Of course your Majesty. If you would allow us to offer you a parting gift..." Eyes like fire conjured forth a precise mark in the Void, making apparition of a machination in between long nails on brassed flesh. The spell dissipated, black twirlings receding away fingerlike as their mattered counterparts seized the object firm. Caelindir had to force back a smile as he examined his company. "Courtesy of the Psijic Order, and of course — the Thalmor."

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Jacob reached in a pocket and brought out a coin to cover for his hesitation. He rolled it in his palm, as if thinking something over, then tossed it to Evan. "Let's head to the Skeever. Now that my kid is out of the way and I've had my talk with him, I want to get loosened up for this job. Drinks on me?"

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"Drinks? Before a heist? Hmmm." He gave Jacob an odd look. "Well, if we're quick about it. And not too much. Dangerous work, especially without a map. Better be on our guard."

Evan slowly rose from his chair. He groaned, and wrapped his cloak around his withered body. "Come on, then."

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Jacob smiled at Evan and lead the way to the tavern. He entered ahead of the old man and glanced into the corner where he and Vardan had been making their plan. The air was thick with smoke and the crowd wouldn't give him a clear view, however. He hoped that if Vardan was still there, he would have the sense to let Jacob handle Evan unless things obviously got out of hand. Winding his way through the crowd, he found a rickety table with a couple seats and took one. As Evan took the other, he slammed a fist on the wood to bring a serving boy over. "A pint of your finest for each of us." He slipped the required coins into the boys hand and watched as he disappeared in the crowd, then reappeared some time later with two filled mugs. When they had been placed at the table, Jacob took hold of one and lifted it in Evan's direction. "To a successful haul, and an easy retirement," he toasted, and proceeded to swig his drink down.

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"Aye. To retirement. To rest." Evan took a swig before turning his steely eyes down to his brew. "May shadows hide us."

He finished the drink. "Well, lad, best get to it." He moved to get up.