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Balmora murmurs beneath the moons. Before Garyn's feet the city glows, its baked clay walls and streets crackling orange under dim torchlight. In sight and smell there is nothing in it of any city he has ever seen - a three-story beige maze carved from earth and brick, with fifty thousand souls lost in the bowels. A guard crosses his path, armored from head to toe in bonemold and bugshell, with not a trace visible of the mer beneath. Behind him and around him sounds the tired hum of a vast alien mass - and the silt strider hasn't stopped making noise either. The city after the midnight hour - it whispers but it doesn't stop talking.

He'd almost feel comfortable if he had any idea of where to go, other than the name of a tavern and the name of a man. He looks to his left, peering toward the nearest alleyway. A rugged Dunmer leans against a wall, tossing and catching his knife as though it were a toy.

The Dunmer notices Garyn's attention. He gives him a look that would frighten the fleas off a dog's back. "What do you want?"

Garyn doesn't flinch. "Directions," he says. "I'm looking for the South Wall Cornerclub."

The Dunmer stops tossing his knife. If there was resentment in the mer's eyes before, there's murder in them now.

"And what sort of business does a Dunmer have there, pray tell?"

Garyn raises his hands - he knows well enough that he's said the wrong thing. "Nothing, nothing. Just food...drink. Lodging. I was...told to look there."

The street Dunmer tilts his head and another Dark Elf emerges from the shadows. Slowly they begin to advance on Garyn.

"Oh, I'm sure," he says. "If there's anything an outlander wants at this hour, it's to find a friendly dunghole to drink and foul themselves in. Isn't that right?"

"Better than he deserves, I say," sneers the other one. "What do you suppose we give him what's coming to him?"

Garyn's raises his left hand as his right hand drops toward his scabbard. "Actually, why don't we forget I said anything?"

In the distance, the armored guardsman turns back on his patrol. He stops in his tracks, staring down his visor as his hand reaches for his cudgel. He says nothing and is understood. A guardian mudcrab. The thugs look at each other.

The larger of the two leans in near enough that Garyn can smell his last meal. "This is our city, n'wah. Leave it and never come back. Race traitors like you are even worse than the Imperials. There'll be a reckoning for your lot. Very soon."

The second jabs his finger at him. "Never forget - we're watching you...scum."

Scum. N'wah. Garyn has heard the first word directed at him plenty of times. But n'wah was a word the Old Master directed at humans and beastfolk when they were out of earshot. He hadn't imagined it could ever refer to himself, even if he is an outlander.

Garyn stands straight and upright, emboldened by the guard's presence. "Oh, I'll be sure to remember."

If only because I'll be sure to smell you before you see me, s'wit.

The pair of toughs snarl and disperse, heading for the inside of the tavern they were leaning against. Garyn has no idea what the reason for their reaction was, but he doesn't need to be told to put as much distance between himself and their headquarters as possible. He's halfway to the river before the faceless guard flags him down.

"Hold a moment, outlander."

Garyn halts in his tracks and groans. How is everybody in this city able to spot him for a foreigner so quickly?

"What?"

The bugmer swiftly closes the distance between them. "Just curious as to what you might have done to attract the interest of such a fine pair of gentlemen."

"Very little," he says. "I asked for directions."

"Where to?"

"The South Wall Cornerclub."

The guard lets out a startled chuckle. "Outside the Council Club? B'vek, you're either very new or very stupid."

Garyn's eyes narrow. "The former. What's wrong with asking there?"

The mer's smirk shines clean through his visor. "Sera, the Council Club is the headquarters of the Camonna Tong."

"Never heard of them. They're a gang?"

The guardsmer scoffs. "'Gang' would be a vast understatement. They're the largest criminal syndicate in the province - nearly in all of Tamriel. They've got their hands in everything - skooma, greenmote, Dwemer artifacts, slavery, extortion, murder. Anything you can think of. And they've got powerful friends - all the way up to the Hlaalu council, though you didn't hear it from me. Officially, the Duke's brother is very much not their leader."

"Of course he isn't." Balmora was beginning to feel more and more familiar by the minute. "They don't seem too fond of foreigners, from what I've seen."

"You don't know the half of it, outlander," the guard says. "You won't find anybody more violently anti-Imperial than the Tong. That's why it was damned foolish of you to ask them about South Wall."

"Because that's where this city's foreign element congregates?"

The guard crosses his arms. "Officially, it is very much not where the Thieves Guild congregates."

"Perish the thought."

Garyn certainly doesn't need the guard to tell him about the Thieves Guild. The existence of the Guild has long been the worst-kept secret in all of Tamriel. The Empire officially denies it and dismisses it as a romantic fiction, but no one who has ever come into any contact with the criminal world believes them.

"You know, for a moment, I nearly thought you were Thieves Guild," the guard says. "Especially with the way they confronted you. But you were just an ignorant outlander in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Your ringing endorsement of my character is heartening, sera."

"Make light if it if you want, outlander, it's your life on the line. House Hlaalu may be officially friendly with the Empire, but this is still Morrowind. It's no easy place for any foreigner - not even in Hlaalu territory. Walk into the wrong neighborhood, say the wrong thing, or just look at a mer the wrong way, and you'll be feeding slaughterfish at the bottom of the Odai. We don't suffer outsiders gladly - not even other Dunmer. Especially not other Dunmer."

"I'll be careful," Garyn says. "I don't suppose you could give me directions to South Wall?"

"Certainly. It's on the south end of Labor Town on the other side of the river. Cross the southmost bridge and look for the first major road on the other side. That's Labor Street. Take a right there and follow the smell."

"Thank you, sera."

"We live to serve, outlander," the guard says. "Now be careful with yourself and stop being a damned idiot."

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Garyn Balvadares

January 2017

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