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Garyn had spent the night at the Eight Plates in the company of a bottle of strong mazte, and all his thoughts and burdens. Vainly he had tried to douse the latter with the former. Instead his passions swirl dizzily, mingling with his fears. Ibani. Caius. Blades. Sith. Milliways. Ibani. Above all else, Ibani. They have enough terrors to face on their own without having to bear their fears for each other. Of death, of torture, of transformation. This might be reason enough to stay away. But he knows he can't. He's already sunk too deep. He needs this too badly. And love without fear is a gift a mer like him will never know in his life.

He rises late. His back screams at him. He had fallen asleep half-sitting, the empty bottle still lying on his stomach. He staggers down the stairs, past the barkeep who is already scrubbing the tables down after the breakfast rush. She shoots him a strained, irritated smile and asks him how he slept.

Not well. Never well. Not in a long time.

He finishes his meal quickly. The eggs are cold, but the bread isn't stale yet. He can't complain. He pays his tab and leaves.

It's midday, and the city is melting. The whole of Balmora is a delirious haze, sizzling upward from cracks in the baked clay. He wades through the mass of men and mer on the scorching city streets. Their eyes are tired, indifferent. They scarcely even look his way. They don't know who he is, what he is. What he has done. No one does, save for Ibani.

And Caius Cosades. For all its anonymity, this is his city. And however many nameless eyes have seen him, he knows that at least one set of them had to be his. He could feel them on his back as he passed beneath the ornately stuccoed walls of the Manor District.

They stayed on him as he sat in the courtyard, paging through the Yellow Book of Vvardenfell, and its accompanying forward which extolled the glory of its House. He had been given the volume by an eager Hlaalu kinsman in the Council House. Every noble house needs retainers to perform their martial duties. Garyn has the skill, and needs the money. And everybody knows that the Hlaalu are rich. He leans against a wall on the shaded side of the street and begins to thumb through the book.

House Hlaalu is the most open and modern of the Great Houses. We are the only Great House who has embraced the irresistible tides of Imperial law and custom. And thus we have profited by the Empire's new policies, rising from obscurity as the Greatest of the Houses.

Collaborators, in other words. Ready to betray their cousins when the opportunity struck.

In the great wind of progress, tradition cannot stand.

And perfectly willing to make justifications and allowances. Not that he's ever much cared for tradition himself.

The Redoran may surpass us on the field of battle, but when the dust clears, they will find themselves indebted to us. The Telvanni may know many arcane secrets, but they fight among themselves more than against each other, and they cannot adapt to the ways of the Empire. Ancient and powerful though a Telvanni wizard may be, no individual can withstand the march of history. The Indoril are loved by the people for their gifts and donations, but when the money runs dry, will the people remember? The Dres know how to make money, but they have not learned how not to make enemies.

Grasp fortune by the forelocks. When you see your chances, seize them.


They're practically minded, at least. He'll give them that. They would probably pay him well. He shuts the book and looks upward.

He sees the Argonian. He's been following him since the other side of the river. He knows he never would have seen him if Caius hadn't meant him to. Garyn glares at the beastman and hisses something foul in broken Jel. The agent nods and vanishes into the shade of the nearest corner.

Garyn looks out at the city. Most of it is beneath him now, sloping down into the Odai. Before him is the Grand Manorial Staircase, a quarter mile long, and 30 feet wide. At the bottom he sees the familiar sign of the shield and crossed swords. No doubt it's what Cosades expects of him. From the Guild of Cyrodiil to the Guild of Vvardenfell. It would suit Cosades well to have him in full view.

To hell with Caius Cosades.

From Ibani Garyn has no secrets. But from the world he will hold them sacrosanct. The world can do nothing for him but become a perfect stranger to him. Yes, this would be the best arrangement. He will know nothing of it, and it will know nothing of him. To do that, he will need to find a place where he can be truly lost. Not from the eyes of the Imperial Secret Service, of course - he knows full well that that's impossible. But perhaps, for a moment, he can forget that the Blades exist. He flags down a guard.

"Where's the largest city in Vvardenfell?"

"Vivec City, outlander. To the south."

"And the fastest way there?"

"Teleportation service."

Garyn's brow furrows. Then relaxes, and resolves. He makes his way to the Mage's Guild.

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Garyn Balvadares

January 2017

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