Arsha knew as she stepped up to the gates of Riften that something was about to happen. The night was cloudy and starless, the moon was dim, and the wind refused to blow. It was as if nature was holding its breath. The gates were locked, but the guards slept peacefully, so she carefully pickpocketed one of them, opened the gates with his key, slipping through them silently. and opened the gate with his key.
Walking through the empty moonlit streets, Arsha breathed in the smell of Riften with a slight smile. It had been years since she had been in the city, and she had missed the place.
Now, Arsha once again pushed open the door to Honeyside. As she stepped inside her long-abandoned home, her feet left prints in the thick dust that covered everything within. Not a single thing had been touched in fifteen years. This house held the painful memories, memories that seemed to belong to a different person, and not a good one. It seemed everywhere she looked, an object would catch her eye and drag one of those dark memories from the shadowed corners of her mind.
Arsha sighed and turned to leave the house. She would deal with all of this later. Before she stepped into the street, however, she made sure that her hood and mask were in place, shrouding all but her eyes from view. It had been fifteen years since anyone had seen more than her eyes, and she planned to keep it that way.
She walked toward the Bee and Barb intending to sleep there until she got her house cleaned up. That could take some time, however, as she would have to do it in secret, or perhaps she could buy it from the Jarl... Shaking her head, Arsha drew herself from her thoughts and pushed open the door to the inn.
As she stepped into the Bee and Barb, she could feel the eyes of almost every patron within turn toward her. She could imagine what they thought of her, dressed as she was in dark leathers with two enchanted glass daggers hanging at her side and a similarly enchanted glass bow with a quiver full of arrows on her back. She was quite a sight.
Ignoring the stares, she walked up to the counter and placed a bag of gold on it. "I would like to rent a room for seven days," she said, her soft voice at odds with her frightening appearance. The barmaid, Keerava, appeared unfazed by her appearance, however. Instead of commenting on it, the barmaid simply scooped up the coins and told Arsha to follow a different Argonian who stood nearby.
The Argonian showed her to her rooms upstairs, and Arsha thanked him with a generous tip. He grinned a reptilian smile before wishing her a good night and leaving the room, shutting the door behind him. As soon as the man left, Arsha knelt in front of the door and rigged a quick tripwire that would wake her should someone try to enter. Then she shrugged off her weapons, except for her daggers, which she placed under her pillow, and collapsed onto the bed and promptly fell asleep.
In the morning, Arsha left the Bee and Barb to seek out work. There was always somebody who needed someone to fetch or deliver something, a fact she had learned well over the past several years, but today those people were scarce. One person wanted her to gather some alchemical ingredients, and Arsha said she would keep an eye out, but other than that no one seemed to be in need of the newcomer's services.
Brynjolf watched the stranger in town as she searched for someone who could give her work. He couldn't actually see her skin thanks to the leathers and mask she wore, but she appeared to be a nord. She was a bit tall and less muscular than most nords, but judging by the bow she wore slung on her back she was an archer rather than a warrior. Her golden eyes, far from common among nords, although not impossible, swept the market for someone else who could offer her work. They focused on Balimund, and the woman made her way over to the smith on light feet that made hardly any sound against the stone street.
She and the smith spoke for a few minutes, and Brynjolf could tell from the woman's posture that she was ready to spring into action at any moment. Even as she spoke to Balimund, her head moved from side to side, keeping an eye on her surroundings, and Brynjolf had a feeling that her ears were just as alert. The woman would make a good thief with traits like that.
The woman bid goodbye to Balimund and made her way back across the market. As she passed by his stall he stepped in front of her and said, "Never done an honest day's work in your life for all that coin you're carrying. Eh, lass?"
"I like to think I've managed at least two days' worth thank you very much," she replied nonchalantly, her eyes drifting lazily over his face. "Although the people around here seem intent on keeping me from reaching three."
"I'm afraid I can't help you with that lass, but if you're willing to be flexible on the honest part we may be able to make a deal." Brynjolf offered, wearing the trademark grin he always used; the one that had charmed more than one woman in his days.
"I'm listening," was all that the woman said in reply, unmoved by his smile.
Undeterred, Brynjolf went on to explain his scheme and the woman nodded her acceptance. He started his distraction, but she clearly didn't need it. It took her no more than thirty seconds to break into both Madesi's stall and safe and grab the ring. Less than a minute later, the woman was leaning against the wall near his stall; he never even saw her place the ring on Brand-Shei.
Before long, Brand-shei was arrested and the woman pushed herself off the wall and sauntered over to his stall. She didn't even open the bag to see how much gold there was when he paid her. Maybe she didn't need the gold as much as she appeared to.
"My organization could use a person like you." He said to her before the woman had a chance to walk away. "Meet me in the Ragged Flagon under the city tonight if you're interested. If not, well, you're wasting your talents, lass."
The woman tilted her head as if considering the offer before turning to walk away.
"By the way," Brynjolf called after her, "The name's Brynjolf. Yours?"
For a moment, she hesitated, as if she wasn't sure if she should tell him the truth, but then she said, "Arsha, my name is Arsha." The woman quickly disappeared, but Brynjolf had a feeling she would be back. Her name seemed to be a promise of that.
It wasn't until Arsha had fought her way through most of the Ratways that she stopped to think about what she was doing. She was going to try and join a group of thieves! Stealing was part of her old life, a life she had sworn to leave behind. And yet she couldn't deny the rush she felt when she cracked open a safe or slipped her hands in and out of an unsuspecting person's pocket.
She had always known deep inside that a thief was who she was but there were two types of thieves. One had honor and discipline, the other didn't care who they stole from or how they did it. Judging by Brynjolf's attitude, this Guild seemed to be the first kind. It was a huge gamble, but maybe, just maybe, this could be her chance to finally start a new life.
When she reached the Flagon her quiver wasn't quite as full as it had been, but other than that she bore no signs of having been fighting just minutes ago. She neared the table Brynjolf was sitting at and heard a bald Breton next to him chuckle and say, "Oh no, Bryn's gone and fallen for some pretty girl again."
"Well, Delvin," Brynjolf replied with a grin, "I can't actually tell if the lass is pretty or not."
"How in Talos's name can you not tell if she's pretty?" the Breton named Delvin asked in a disbelieving tone. "Have you gone blind, mate?"
Brynjolf laughed and shook his head. "Take a look for yourself, Del," he said, gesturing to Arsha who stood behind the Breton.
The Breton, Delvin, turned around, his eyes widening in surprise as he looked over Arsha. He paused for a moment before glancing over his shoulder and saying, "Well, I can see what you mean."
Brynjolf chuckled and shook his head before turning his attention to Arsha, who had watched the exchange with a slight smile, not that anyone could see the expression through her mask. "Have any trouble getting here?" he asked her in what she figured was supposed to be an innocent voice, but he ruined it by grinning.
"I would have been fine, except the smell almost killed me. Really Brynjolf I don't know why you bother with security," she replied in a serious voice, not letting her eyes give away her humor.
There was silence for a moment before Delvin laughed loudly. "I like her!" he exclaimed.
The woman sitting next to him only grumbled, however. "I might start trying to like her when she gets her first job done," she declared, looking Arsha over with a critical eye.
"Now, now Vex. That's not very nice. The lass just got here!" Brynjolf said in a mock scolding tone. Vex just shrugged unapologetically.
"Vex is right though, lass," Brynjolf admitted, turning his attention back to her. "As impressive as that stunt in the marketplace was, you'll need to do more than that to prove your worth to us."
"Of course," Arsha said. She hadn't expected to be able to just waltz in and join the guild. "What do I need to do?"
For the next few minutes, Arsha listened as Brynjolf explained her assignment. Apparently, some of the local shopkeepers had been skimping on their protection payments to the Guild. A part of her wondered if there was some truth to the rumors that the Thieves Guild wasn't a strong as it used to be. She had dismissed the rumors as false, but if even merchants in Riften weren't taking the Guild seriously...
Brynjolf drew her out of her thoughts when he stood from the table, wishing her good luck. "I know this job doesn't seem like much," he said, "but it's important that we make sure the shopkeepers know who's in charge around here."
Arsha nodded. "I understand." Brynjolf grinned at her and clapped her on the back before wishing her good luck once more and walking over to the bar to join Delvin and Vex. For a few moments, Arsha remained seated at the table, deciding how she would approach the job, but eventually, she stood and began to make her way back through the tunnels.
Several minutes later, Arsha finally made it back to her bed at the Bee and Barb and crashed into it, falling asleep almost instantly. Her sleep, however, was far from restful.
Scenes flashed by, too fast for Arsha to understand what was happening. Instead, she was left with a deep feeling of terror that seemed to dwell within her very bones. And so she ran. She ran as fast as her legs would carry her, but it didn't make a difference. The scenes around her still changed too rapidly, and that feeling of terror only grew. Then the voices started. Only whispers at first, calling her name, telling her to join them once again. She recognized the voices, they belonged to the Deadric Princes she had once served. She tried to will her legs to move faster, but it was no use. The whispers grew louder and louder until the words filled every piece of her being, shoving out her very soul and replacing it with something dark and all too familiar.
When Arsha awoke, she was shaking worse than a leaf in a blizzard. Cold sweat covered her body in a damp layer, causing the mask she wore even in her sleep to stick to her face. The mask that hid a monster.
With effort, Arsha shook herself from her dark thoughts. She had work to do, and she didn't have time to waste sitting here feeling sorry for herself. She had decided to confront Keerava last because she still didn't know what to do about her, so she bought a sweet roll and went to find Haelga.
Brynjolf had told Arsha that Haelga was a devout follower of the goddess Dibella, which made Arsha immediately dislike her. She didn't have anything against the goddess, but some of her worshipers were a little too...devout for Arsha's taste. So, when Haelga told her that she wouldn't pay the protection fee Arsha grabbed Haelga's statuette of Dibella and held it around the throat.
"Maybe I should go dump this in the sewer then." she hissed at the now extremely frightened woman.
"No! Not Lady Diabela!" Haelga sobbed, looking paler than the moon. Arsha rolled her eyes, unimpressed by the woman's dramatics.
"You give me the money and I give you the statue. Deal?" Arsha said in the same tone she would use with a small child.
Haelga glared daggers at her but threw a large bag of gold on the counter. Arsha smiled behind her mask and pocketed the gold in a quick movement. Then, she slammed the statuette on the counter making Haelga squeal. Arsha sighed. Religion fanatics.
Arsha's next target was a man named Bersi Honey-hand. He was easy to convince to pay. All Arsha had done was raise a dagger above his precious Dwemer vase and he had agreed to pay his debt in full on the spot. So far so good. All she had to do now was convince Keerava to pay up.
When she stepped into the Bee and Barb Keerava's eyes immediately found hers. She wore the lizard version of a scowl. Obviously, the woman had heard about Arsha's mission. This might be a little more difficult than she had expected.
Instead of going to Keerava, Arsha made her way over to Talen-Jei, the male Argonian that had led her to her rooms the first night. She had learned from Brynjolf that the two were romantically involved and she hoped that Talen-Jei would be more cooperative. Luckily her hope was not let down.
"I don't want a war with your people." Talen-Jei said, wringing his hands nervously, "I'll try to talk to Keerava, but I can't promise anything."
Arsha nodded and sat down in a corner to wait, keeping an eye on the couple in case they tried to pull any tricks. Many people gave her strange looks that ranged anywhere from curious to scared to outright angry. She was used to it though. Very few people, however, were actually brave enough to speak to her and most of the ones who did were drunk.
Finally, after almost an hour Talen-Jei returned with a bag of gold, which Arsha took. "I managed to convince Keerava to pay, but she refuses to let you sleep here anymore. Here is the rest of the gold you paid for your seven days." He said as he held out a smaller bag.
Arsha shook her head. "Keep it," she said. The Argonian looked confused but didn't ask why which Arsha was grateful for as she wasn't quite certain herself. A part of her wanted to reach out and snatch the purse back, but the larger part felt like she owed it to the Argonian. Maybe she was changing.