Brynjolf watched the lass go, a grin on his face. If she was as good at everything else he was going to test her on as she was at fighting, then she would turn out to be one of the best thieves he'd ever seen. Still grinning, he rubbed his jaw and set out to find Vex and Delvin.
Before long he found the two of them sitting in the Ragged Flagon having one of their characteristic arguments. Delvin was in the middle of speaking when Brynjolf walked over. "Oh my... umm, you won't let Mercer hear about this, will you? Ahem," he asked, embarrassment coloring his cheeks.
"Let Mercer hear about what, Del?" Brynjolf asked teasingly, taking a seat at the table next to the Breton thief.
"Oh it's nothing, I just—"
"Delvin here robbed a shipment of fir trees thinking they were rugs." Vex interrupted with a smug look.
"Don't worry, Del," Brynjolf said laughing, "your secret's safe with me."
Delvin grumbled for a bit before asking, "Where's the new girl? I thought you two were doin' some trainin'."
"We were until the lass beat me in a hand to hand fight," he replied.
Vex's eyebrows crept up in disbelief as did Delvin's.
"It's true, in fact, in the end, she was even telling me that my stance was wrong! I hit her every way I know how, but she never stumbled enough for me to have any kind of an advantage," he exclaimed, but instead of being upset, he grinned. "And that's not all, she can shoot faster than Niruin, and gave me a run for my money when we dueled, dagger on dagger. Her lockpicking could use a bit of work, but we know her pickpocketing skills are good."
Delvin began to grin. "She may be just the person we need to get rid of this bloody curse."
"She just might be," Brynjolf agreed thoughtfully. "She just might be."
Arsha exited the guild, surprised to see that night was falling. Had she and Brynjolf really spent that long training? She gave a small shrug in the fading light. She needed to get some food and find a place to sleep. There were empty cots in the Guild cistern, she knew, but she didn't feel comfortable falling asleep surrounded by a bunch of thieves she didn't truly know. Brynjolf might have accepted her into the family, but she had a feeling that there were others who didn't take to new blood quite so kindly.
And so, Arsha quietly made her way to her old house. The streets were still fairly busy, despite the fading light, and as Arsha slipped through the crowd, she lightened several pockets.
Eventually, she made it to her home and opened the door before stepping inside and closing it behind her. Ignoring the dust that was still everywhere, Arsha found some of the food she had bought before Keerava had kicked her out of her room in the inn.
After she had eaten her fill and put her mask back on, she stepped out onto the deck. She couldn't sleep in Honeyside, not tonight. The house still reminded her too much of a monster. Instead, she leaped from her deck to the ground. Before long, she was creeping along the city walls, looking for a good tree to sleep in until dawn. She found one not too far from the stables and curled up in its branches. The wind, cool despite it being almost a month into summer, slipped inside her hood causing her ears to twitch. Arsha closed her eyes and leaned against the tree. In seconds she was asleep.
Brynjolf was up before dawn. Careful not to wake the others, especially Vex who could be quite the terror without her beauty sleep, he slipped out of the Guild. He made his way through the empty streets of Riften silently. His fingers itched to pick a lock or two, but he had other business. He made his way to the stables, but no one was there. He was a bit disappointed, to be honest; he had figured the lass would have the sense to show up on time. He crossed his arms and leaned against a post, already planning the lecture he would give the woman when she showed up. A few seconds later, the tree directly across from him shook. He looked up and saw a figure all in black drop from among its branches.
"Good morning, Brynjolf," Arsha said.
Brynjolf had to work hard to keep the surprise from showing on his face. "Morning, lass. You ready to get started?" Brynjolf could almost hear Arsha's smile as she said,
"Yes. Unless you want to just skip this one to save face."
He raised an eyebrow. "Someone's confident."
Arsha said nothing, but her posture radiated comfort. Brynjolf had a feeling that he could throw just about any test her way and she'd be fine. That idea only served to heighten his curiosity about the woman. What had she done before coming to Riften that had given her the skill she had?
Shaking his head inwardly to clear it he said, "First, we are going to see how good you are at tracking someone in the dark before the sun fully rises. Close your eyes and wait for a few minutes before trying to track me down. Good luck." Brynjolf snuck through the trees laying false trails, circling back, walking backward, and covering his tracks. Eventually, he was satisfied that he had chosen a good place to wait. He leaned against the rocks and prepared to sit there for a while.
Needless to say, Brynjolf was very surprised when, a few short minutes later, Arsha was peering at him from around a tree. As she walked over to him she said, "It's a good thing that most guards are idiots."
"I don't think even Delvin could have done it that quickly. How'd you track me?" Brynjolf asked, unable to believe Arsha had found him so quickly.
Arsha gave a shrug. "I ignored any tracks that were too obvious. You are a thief; it's your natural instinct to cover your steps as best as you can. Once I had found a good trail, I looked around for potential places. Another one of any thief's instincts is to be surrounded by as much shadow as possible. That implied a cluster of trees as well as a possible rock outcropping." Arsha shrugged again.
Brynjolf had to grin. This lass was good! "Whatever you did, it worked. Now, let's see if I can track you. I'll give you a seven-minute head start." he said, and if Arsha hadn't been wearing a mask, Brynjolf had a feeling he would have been able to see a grin.
Regardless, Brynjolf closed his eyes and Arsha left. He thought that he could hear the whispers of her footsteps, but that might have been his imagination. Seven minutes went by slowly. At last, he was able to look for Arsha.
A few minutes of searching yielded no clues, and Brynjolf became more and more aware of the time that seemed to speed by as he hunted for any signs of Arsha's presence. She had been able to track him easily, and yet here he was, hopelessly lost.
Eventually, he found a few small signs that told him that Arsha had been there, but there were no clues as to where she had gone. The minutes ticked by. A breeze rustled the leaves of the trees. The leaves of the trees! Brynjolf looked carefully at the trees above him. After a while he saw a pattern of slightly bent branches and leaves. He had the lass now.
Following the trail, he came to a thicket of trees. Amid the branches of one he just barely saw a glimpse of black leather. "Come on down, lass," he called up.
Brynjolf heard a laugh followed by the rustling of leaves. Arsha appeared, perched on a branch that looked too thin to hold her. She jumped and landed in front of him in a crouch before rising.
"Twenty minutes. You aren't blind, are you?" she teased, and her eyes seemed to glow.
Brynjolf shook his head, unable to contain the slight chuckle that escaped him. "No, I'm not. I think you cheated." he retorted.
"Yes. I stuffed invisibility potions in my pockets," she said sarcastically. "Even if I did, we're thieves. Cheating is just another, far easier, way to play the game."
"Fair enough. I'm going to say that you passed this test and leave it at that, lass," Brynjolf declared.
Arsha laughed again before asking, "Is there anything else you'd like to throw at me?"
"No," Brynjolf said, shaking his head. "I could do a few more, but I have a feeling that you'd do fine. I've learned to trust my instincts, so no more tests."
"Sounds good," Arsha said, stretching her arms above her as she spoke. The way she moved reminded Brynjolf of a cat, lithe and strong. "I still need to work on my lockpicking, especially if I'm going to be breaking into Goldenglow Estate in a few days. Do you think Vex has any heists for me?"
"She always has jobs, but lass, if you need to work on lock picking, the chests are there for a reason," Brynjolf said, but Arsha had already turned and begun to walk away.
Arsha threw her reply over her shoulder, "It's no fun if you can't get caught!" Then she slipped away into the shadows that clung to the city walls.
Brynjolf grinned. The lass had the spirit that the Guild had been missing.
Arsha spent the next few days doing jobs for Delvin and Vex as well as occasionally sparring with Brynjolf in the training room. He still won every time.
Now, Arsha was pacing the training room, waiting for Brynjolf to show up so that they could spar one more time. It was late, almost midnight. In the morning she would be leaving for Goldenglow, so she was trying to get some last minute training in.
As she turned to begin another lap around the room Brynjolf appeared in the doorway. His usual grin was missing. "You ready, lass?" Arsha nodded and the two fell into fighting stances. "Go," he said as soon as they had both settled into their stances. There would be no small talk or taunting tonight.
Arsha lept at Brynjolf, her daggers a blur. This would not be a slow fight. He responded to her attacks by dodging smoothly and bringing his blades up to scrape her side. She blocked.
They broke apart for only a second before Brynjolf rushed at her in a whirlwind of attacks. He gained a hit, but Arsha didn't pause. Attack. Block. Counterattack. Block. Block. Swing. Miss. Another hit for Brynjolf. Attack. Attack. Block. Attack. A hit for Arsha. Spin. Attack. Block. Dodge. Clash. Block. Attack. Another hit for Arsha. They were tied.
They broke apart again, circling each other. The entire exchange had taken only a few seconds. Without warning, Arsha lunged at Brynjolf. He barely managed to block the dagger in time. He recovered quickly and retaliated with a storm of blows. Arsha blocked and counterattacked again and again, but Brynjolf gained two more hits.
Arsha's eyes narrowed and she threw herself at Brynjolf jabbing and slashing. He blocked but she didn't give him the chance to launch a counter attack. She scored one, two hits. They were even again.
Brynjolf fought against her continued barrage of attacks. He pushed against her daggers causing her to stumble. He pounced, but she recovered in a flash and his attack was met with a firm defense. In an instant Arsha's defense turned to a flurry of well-timed attacks. Brynjolf blocked furiously and responded with powerful counterattacks only to have them blocked. Arsha attacked again with a massive burst of energy. This time Brynjolf's defense couldn't prevent one of her daggers from landing. They both froze. Arsha looked down at her glass dagger which was digging into the leather above Brynjolf's heart.
"You win, lass." Brynjolf declared. Arsha thought she heard a bit of pride in his voice. She looked at her dagger again and let out a small sigh of relief. She sheathed them both and shook Brynjolf's hand.
They looked at each other for a long minute, not speaking. Eventually, Brynjolf broke the silence saying, "Good luck, Arsha."
Her mask hid the small smile she wore. "Thank you, Brynjolf." Brynjolf nodded, smiling slightly and Arsha left.