It had only taken two weeks for Finverior to find trouble in Solstheim, but it had been nearly a week since Glover Mallory had sent an urgent letter back to Windhelm. Now, the waiting — for more trouble, for a response, probably for both — was getting to them.
“Someone should be here by now,” Glover said. He stated it factually enough, but judging by the way his eyes kept darting to the door, Finverior could see that he was starting to get worried. “That letter should have made it to Messala; I’d have thought that he’d send someone by now, or come himself.”
Finverior, sprawled across a chair with his back and legs supported by the armrests, only shrugged in response. “Yusef won’t come; he’s got his hands full rebuilding Windhelm and running the High Queen’s spy network. And judging by what you sent him, he’s probably sending someone else from the Brotherhood.”
Glover raised his eyebrows. “Has his fingers in a couple of pies,” he commented, mostly to himself. “I knew that he and my brother are the Guild’s contacts to the Brotherhood, but I didn’t realize that he was Brotherhood.”
“Oh, he is, but Yusef prefers the Guild’s pie, as it were — he’s certainly sticking his fingers in Brynjolf’s.” Finverior grinned lewdly and stretched out a little longer in the chair. “Besides, I’ve got a much stronger bond to the Brotherhood than he does: hence, why the High Queen sent me.”
Ignoring the other’s crude comment, Glover frowned in thought. “Think the High Queen might be coming herself?”
Finverior considered it. “Maybe,” he conceded. “But I don’t imagine her husband’s just letting her jump on a ship to Solstheim without any explanation. Especially a few weeks after she gave birth.”
Glover snorted in assent. “Aye, there is that.” He glanced over at the door, again. “I just wish someone would get here. We got lucky before because you were already around to investigate, but we might not have the time to finish the job.”
As if on cue, there was a sharp rap at the door to Glover’s house. Finverior sat up, at alert.
Glover hurried over and opened the door, ushering two cloaked figures inside before shutting the door securely behind them. “Good to see you again,” he said to the foremost one, relieved. “We were wondering if you were the one who’d gotten my letter.”
“Actually, we were wondering when someone would show up,” Finverior interjected, sitting up and swinging his legs back over the armrests.
“Wonder no more,” Kajsa said wryly, shrugging off her fur cloak and folding it over her arm.
“Did a certain High King of Skyrim delay you?” Finverior asked, smirking. “Congratulations on the new heir, by the way. Still have that ravishing glow in your cheeks.”
“He tried.” Not rising to the bait, Kajsa crossed to the fireplace and held her hands over it to warm them. “Ulfric finally let me go when I explained the severity of the situation — albeit reluctantly.”
“Is that why we have a new member in our merry little spy network of misfits?” Finverior questioned.
It was the woman that had entered with Kajsa who spoke. She was a dark-haired Imperial with striking, angular features that seemed accustomed to scowling. “This isn’t permanent.” She spoke with a clipped, harsh accent.
“More’s the pity,” Finverior said, eyeing the figure highlighted by her close-fitting leathers.
“Show some manners, Finverior,” Kajsa chided, turning around. “This is the one I was telling you about. Sithia Dupre.”
Finverior raised his eyebrows. She, he had heard of, even before the High Queen had debriefed the network on her. “Ah, the infamous Thalmor-killing assassin, the rumored last Silencer of the Dark Brotherhood. I hear you’ve been difficult to track down.” He gave the Imperial a suave grin. “A kindred spirit.”
Sithia shot a disparaging look at the Dragonborn. “This is the Listener you were telling me about?” She snorted. “The Night Mother must be running out of options.”
“Sometimes I do wonder what She was thinking, but he’s a better fit for the position than I was,” Kajsa agreed sardonically.
“Was that an… almost-compliment I heard?” Finverior asked, widening his eyes in mock surprise.
Ignoring him, Kajsa addressed Glover. “Yusef showed me your letter, but it was vague at best. Would you care to elaborate now?”
“Of course.” Glover pulled out two other chairs for his guests, and then seated himself as well. “I was in Skaal Village maybe a week ago to see if I could trade. Y’see, I succeeded in finding a vein of Stalhrim — honest-to-gods Stalhrim — and since the Skaal are the only ones who know how to smith it —”
“I seem to recall you mentioning that before,” the Dragonborn said, cutting him off. “What exactly is Stalhrim?”
“It’s a very rare mineral,” Glover explained. “Enchanted ice, hard as iron and cold as death. It’s tricky to mine and even trickier to shape into armor or weapons, but the Skaal know how to do it.” He leaned back in his chair. “Anyway, I went to Skaal Village to try and talk to their smith about it, and one of the Skaal said he left — but another said he’d been kidnapped.”
Sithia frowned at Kajsa. “You spend months tracking me down just to drag me out to Solstheim over a missing blacksmith? I thought it was more serious than that.”
“It is,” Glover said, his voice grim. “The man that claimed Baldor — their smith — was kidnapped mentioned that he’d seen two elves lurking around the village late last night. Two Altmer, to be specific.”
Sithia scowled. “You think they’re Thalmor, then?”
“Oh, we know they’re Thalmor, darling,” Finverior said. “Otherwise, Glover here wouldn’t have sent you a letter and ordered me to investigate.”
“Getting ahead of yourself, are we?” Kajsa asked archly.
“Hey, Yusef sent me out here to keep an eye out for anything weird, and I thought this qualified,” Finverior protested. “Besides, the weather’s shit, the drinks aren’t worth my money, and there isn’t anyone to tumble; the only Dunmer who might be any good in the sack may have a nice voice, but his face is always covered by this damn creepy bug-helmet. Kills the mood.”
Kajsa smiled tightly. “Get to the point.”
“Fine.” Finverior sighed dramatically. “I hiked out to Skaal Village and then headed southwest, where the man that Glover talked to claimed that the Thalmor went. Lo and behold: an abandoned prospector’s shack with Thalmor prowling around it.”
“You took care of them, I hope.” It was not a question.
Finverior took on a lofty expression. “Just a little public service, High Queen.”
Admittedly, it was a little messier than his usual jobs, but no less difficult. Poison was his preferred method of operation, but when there was no food or drink nearby to taint, shooting them down with arrows from a distance, followed by slashing the throats of any who got too close, was good enough. Then again, nothing’s too good for the Thalmor when it comes to killing them.
“That’s my favorite kind of public service,” Sithia commented.
“What a coincidence, darling – it’s mine, too.” Finverior stretched out his legs. “In any case, I took the liberty of looking inside to see what they were so keen on guarding. Turns out it wasn’t so much of a ‘what’ as a ‘who.’”
“You found the blacksmith,” Kajsa finished.
Finverior nodded. “The Thalmor roughed him up a bit, but other than that, he was fine. I escorted him back to Skaal Village.”
“Well, it sounds like you have everything under control, then,” Sithia said to Kajsa. “Why am I even here then?”
“Favor for a favor, Dupre.” Kajsa’s tone was neutral, but her eyes were calculating as she turned back to Finverior. “Did you question the blacksmith?”
Finverior assumed a hurt expression. “Of course I did. I’m only lazy when I’m off the job.”
“Well, Glover’s suspicion was right. The Thalmor were indeed looking into how to forge Stalhrim.”
Kajsa’s face grew dark. “Did he say whether or not they had even found any?”
“Funny you should say that,” Finverior said, picking at his nails. “Baldor said that there was a Justiciar named Ancarion along with them who had a map showing a source of Stalhrim. Apparently, they stole that too when they dragged off Baldor.”
Kajsa sighed harshly. “So there are still Thalmor on Solstheim. Wonderful.”
“I wouldn’t despair just yet,” Finverior interrupted, a trifle smugly. “Baldor heard two of the guards griping about Ancarion getting the posh quarters on the boat while they were out in the cold wilderness.” He grinned. “I suppose they regretted it in the end.”
“Well, if we’re looking for a ship, then we should start combing the coast as soon as we can,” Kajsa mused. “I can only hope that the Thalmor haven’t discovered the loss of their prisoner.”
“Wait a second,” Finverior interjected. “Who’s this ‘we’?”
“You, me, and Dupre.” Kajsa crossed her arms. “We don’t know how many they have, so numbers would be best in this case.”
“You don’t need numbers for an assassination,” Sithia objected. “You could just send me to take care of it. You are paying me to be here, after all.”
“I could, but I have a better idea.” Kajsa turned to Glover. “You wouldn’t happen to have already mined some of that Stalhrim you found, would you?”
“Just a few samples that I took over to Skaal Village. They should be in the basement safe if Finn hasn’t picked the lock.”
“I’m not that bored, you know,” Finverior drawled. Admittedly, he had tried it a few times, but it had either been a really good lock or he’d just been too drunk and broke all his picks.
“And what do you have for armor in your shop?” Kajsa continued. “Any bonemold or chitin?”
“I’ve got both.”
“Two sets of chitin, then. Cuirass, gauntlets, greaves, the whole thing. Make sure to include the helmets.” She rose from her seat. “I’ll need the key to your safe as well.”
“Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this plan?” Sithia muttered.
“Oh, believe me, darling,” Finverior said with no small amount of dismay. “It’s not just you.”
The chitin armor was fairly light and easy enough to move in, but the helmet was on the verge of being suffocating, to say nothing about the limited visibility. Behind it, Sithia had a scowl affixed to her face. Being out in the open like this — in broad daylight, no less — made her uneasy, even though nobody she knew would have recognized her in this stupid armor.
Beside her, dressed in chitin armor with a bug-eyed helmet concealing her face as well, Kajsa checked the satchel containing the Stalhrim samples. “We’re good to go.”
“About time,” Sithia growled. “Let’s just do this.”
Ignoring her, Kajsa looked at Finverior. “Are you all set up?”
Clad in the red-and-black leathers of the Dark Brotherhood with a supple bow of gleaming dark wood in his hand, Finverior nodded. “Lucky thing we’re on a bit of a hill. I’ve got a perfect view up here.”
Sithia glanced down at the lone wooden dock perched on the sparse Solstheim coast. A long, thin wooden ship was tied up by it; though its crisp sails were not out, the black-and-gold banner of the Dominion still waved in the breeze. Some soldiers — she counted three, and then amended it to four as another came into view — in gleaming elven armor patrolled the surroundings in steady, regular rotations.
“Good.” Kajsa adjusted the enchanted Daedric sword at her side. “Let’s get going then. You know what to do.” With that last comment towards Finverior, she emerged from the sparse trees and set off down the hill.
After a moment, Sithia followed her, but kept her voice down. “As far as plans go, this is more dangerous than I normally go in for,” she muttered, “and that’s saying something.”
Kajsa only shrugged. “Infiltrating a ship is difficult to do discreetly unless you’re willing to swim, which isn’t always an option. Wet footprints on a dry deck are very noticeable.” Her tone turned grim. “We won’t be recognized, if that’s what you’re worried about. That’s what these gods-damned helmets are for.”
Opening her mouth to respond, Sithia closed it when she realized their proximity to the ship, growing closer with every step. As much as I want to, I can’t say anything now. Not without blowing everything to Oblivion.
Noticing their approach, a Thalmor soldier stopped and held out a gauntleted hand to ward them off, the other going to the hilt of his sword. “You are trespassing here. I strongly suggest that you move along,” he said, his tone threatening.
“I have business to discuss with Justiciar Ancarion.” Sithia almost didn’t recognize Kajsa’s voice; it had suddenly become more accented and flat, with different syllables stressed (a bit like Dunmer speech, she realized). “It concerns the Skaal prisoner.”
Luckily, the soldier seemed to buy her story, as he took his hand off his sword hilt. “You will find the Justiciar in his cabin, mercenary,” he said stiffly. “Any hint of treachery, and your life will be forfeit.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Kajsa said wryly, brushing past him.
Sithia caught up quickly enough, glancing discreetly back at the soldier that had stopped them to confirm he was not following them. “Impersonating voices is a handy trick,” she commented, grudgingly impressed.
“I lived in Morrowind long enough to pick up some things,” the other dismissed, reverting to her usual voice. “Unfortunately, sounding like a Dunmer is only useful if no one can see your face.” She strode briskly along the length of the dock towards the ship. “Let’s have a chat with this Justiciar while Finn takes care of things out here.”
As soon as he saw the two faint figures in chitin armor vanish below decks, Finverior grinned to himself. Let the games begin.
Drawing an arrow from the quiver on his back, he nocked it to the bow and drew the bowstring back with practiced ease. Peering down at the dock below, he scanned the soldiers for a potential target before selecting the one furthest out on the dock.
Inhaling deeply, Finverior aimed carefully at the standing soldier. Then, as he let out his breath, he released the arrow.
It was a beautiful shot, if he did say so himself. The arrow sped through the air, straight and true, and in the distance, the soldier on the dock stiffened and fell into the water as the projectile found its mark.
Upon hearing the splash, the other soldiers immediately whirled around and rushed out to the end of the dock, weapons drawn and destruction magic blazing in their hands. Chuckling to himself, Finverior readied his bow again, casually aimed, and fired.
Another fell, this time collapsing on the dock with an arrow in his unhelmeted head. The remaining two began to charge back down the dock, but Finverior reacted quicker, dropping another one as his bowstring sang.
The last one continued to race up the hill, hurling a fireball in the direction of the trees. Sighing, almost in a bored manner, Finverior pulled out the Blade of Woe from his belt and threw it. It whistled through the air and sunk into the Thalmor’s neck; the soldier stumbled back and tumbled down the hill, his corpse coming to a stop halfway down.
Finverior surveyed the now-deserted docks with an approving look. “Not too shabby,” he congratulated himself, holstering his bow onto his back and beginning to stroll down the hill to retrieve his dagger. “Now to flush out any remaining ones...”
“I do not know which of my men let you in, but you are trespassing here,” Justiciar Ancarion said sternly, addressing the two mercenaries standing just inside the door to his cabin. “I will not even make mention of the fact that you are interfering with official Thalmor business. Now, if either of you values your well-being, I would suggest that you leave now.”
Mentally, he made a note to speak with his guards, and have the one who was dim enough to let anyone anywhere close to Northshore Landing flogged. By the Eight, how was he supposed to concentrate on filling out his mission reports if random sellswords were going to barge into his cabin at any hour of the day?
The taller of the pair spoke, the harsh Dunmer accent grating unpleasantly on his ears. “My comrade and I heard you found a map showing a source of Stalhrim.”
Ancarion frowned. “And just how would you know that?” he said icily, directing his steeliest glare at them. He wished that they would just take off their helmets so he could see their faces; it was so terribly difficult to intimidate someone when one couldn’t judge their expression.
The shorter mercenary answered him. Surprisingly, her accent was not Dunmeri, but rather Imperial – not from the Imperial City, definitely, but more of a northern one. “We found the blacksmith you kidnapped, Justiciar.”
He kept his face neutral, but mentally, Ancarion swore. I thought I told the lieutenant to move the prisoner! “And so now you think you know my purpose here, hmm?” he said mockingly.
“Yeah, I think I know enough.” The shorter one made to step towards him, her hand going to the glass sword at her side, but the taller one put a hand on her companion’s arm, holding her back.
Ancarion permitted himself a cold smile. Fools. “Unfortunately for you, my mission here is also a secret. To protect it, I have no choice but to silence you. Now, give me one good reason that I should not kill you where you stand.”
“Because we’ll kill you first.” The shorter one tore off her helmet, hurling it down to the floor with her dark hair coming loose around her pointed, pale face – a face that he never thought he’d see off of a “Wanted” poster.
He found his voice after what seemed like an eternity. “Sithia Du –?”
The Justiciar barely had time to finish his question before her glass sword was out and whistling through the air, cleaving his head from his shoulders.
“We could have gotten more information from the Justiciar, you know.” Kajsa, swathed in a thick fur wrap, was lounging in a chair by the fireplace in her chambers, with a stack of confiscated papers from Ancarion’s cabin on her lap. “What his mission was, who ordered him to go to Solstheim... I can think of many questions to ask him were he alive.”
Standing by the desk with her arms crossed, Sithia shrugged tightly. “But he isn’t.”
“Yes. He’s not.” Kajsa’s tone was even, but her eyes were dark.
“Don’t tell me you weren’t going to kill that bastard!” Sithia exclaimed.
“For future reference, Dupre, I would have waited until after interrogation.” Kajsa’s lips quirked into a sort of wry smile. “But no matter. We recovered some materials – even if they are incomplete,” she added, frowning at one particular document.
“Anything worth mentioning?”
“Perhaps.” Kajsa indicated the paper she was holding. “This letter references ‘Operation Priesthood’ briefly, but unfortunately, it doesn’t say anything more about it.”
Sithia pursed her lips. “Should I know what that is?”
“If you did, I’d be very eager to find out more about it. I don’t know what Operation Priesthood is either, but whatever it is, it’s bad news.” Kajsa’s face sobered slightly.
“Whatever it is, it’s not my problem until you make it mine,” Sithia dismissed.
“And I won’t,” Kajsa said. “You heard me out when my people found you, and you accompanied me to Solstheim and aided me in a rather sensitive mission. It’s time for me to hold up my end of the bargain.” She gestured over to the desk. “You’ll find the file there. It contains everything we know on her.”
Sithia picked up the dossier on the desk. Running her fingers over the leather cover, she flipped it open to the first page, her eyes catching the name at the top:
“I don’t know where she is now, but it’s likely she’s still on Alinor,” Kajsa said quietly. “Whenever you end up going after her, tread cautiously.” She raised her eyes to the other’s “And make it painful.”
Sithia nodded, her gaze murderous. “You can count on that.”