Elder Scrolls: Heartbreaker — A short story
Bravil, at dawnlight
Antoine entered the small curio shop at the end of a back-alley with new merchandise. He greeted the owner and uncovered his catch for the day: two iron daggers and a broken glass sword. The store owner turned the weapons on their side, squinted, dismissed the daggers but clutched the sword.
“20 septims, take it or leave it” he said, placing the sword on the counter.
“40” Antoine replied. “I didn’t risk my life in the mountains for bargains.”
“The thing’s broken. You’re always free to take it elsewhere” the store owner continued.
“30 and that’s it” Antoine said.
The store owner stared at him, turned to another counter from where he produced a small pouch, counted the septims inside and shook Antoine’s hand. Antoine took the money, packed the iron daggers and turned to meet the eyes of a young Imperial woman who had entered the shop without making noise, patiently waiting her turn. She glanced at Antoine, smiled and moved to the counter where she uncovered a tiny ruby for the store owner.
Outside Cheydinhal, 2 days later
The sky is of the clearest dark, graced by Masser and Secunda above Tamriel. Antoine has waited in silence for 2 hours for the guards to change their schedule at the Harlun estate outside Cheydinhal. He then entered the mansion by escalating the climbing moss that surrounds the back of the building and cut a hole through a window. Inside the room lies the Chalice of Reversal, an artifact transported from Elsweyr with great care and protection.
He steps inside the room while peering around, then moves to the glass case where the chalice lies. He cuts one hole on each side of the case and simultaneously places a stone of about the same weight while sliding off the chalice to the other side. The pressure plate under the chalice stays in place as Antoine moves both his hands in tandem.
When he leaves the estate and reaches the three-way river near Arkved’s Tower, further south, and searches the glade where his horse should be stabled, he finds it sleeping.
“Over here” a soft voice calls from high up. A masked thief dressed in black leather stripped with dark blue is perched on a branch. “Don’t worry, he’s not dead” the thief says. “But he’s got a bit before waking up. Throw the chalice up and I’ll spare you.”
“You could prove honor and come and take it” Antoine says.
“I’m not here for banter” the thief replied. “Throw it or I’ll put you to sleep”, he continues, pointing his wrist-crossbow at Antoine, who listens to the admonition and throws the pouch with the chalice upward. The thief catches it and returns the favor with a smoke bomb. Antoine covers his face, afraid the smoke might hurt him, but only his eyes suffer for a while. When the tears have cleared, he waits under the night sky for his horse to awake.
Bravil, 2 nights later
Commoners, barflies and a few visitors have gathered in Bravil’s Silverhome on the Water. Antoine is drinking Alto wine, waiting for his informant, conversing and gathering rumors from the bartender in the meantime. When the night is still young and he’s far from drunk, he walks home, high up on the wooden lodgings of the town. Outside his door, fixed with a small arrow, is a note. “Behind the chapel, in the alleyway to the cemetery, at the following nightfall. Be alone and you’ll get your prize” the note says.
When the sun is past its time again, Antoine roams in the alleyway that unites the chapel and the cemetery, trotting nervously between the two. A silhouette steps from the cemetery until it’s close enough for Antoine to make out the dirty brown leggings of beggars, but wearing the same face-mask as the thief who had stolen from him, this time not covering the rich black hair that hangs on the nape. The thief places the pouch at his feet, then steps back and bows. Antoine approaches the pouch, touches it to check the shape, takes it and turns to leave.
“Not curious at all” the thief said.
“Not really” Antoine replied, moving away.
“I need a companion” the thief continued.
“You should try the ad board at a tavern.”
“The Mace of the Crusader” the thief said in a flat tone. “It’s in the Valen estate, in the Great Forest. Double lock system, two men needed, not many guards.”
“And you’re spilling this to me because?”
“Because you’re good” said the thief. “And now you know you can trust me” he continued, pointing at the pouch. “I have basic schematics of the place and know a tunnel that leads to the estate. Meet me after dusk, tonight, if you’re interested” the thief said, walking backward and disappearing toward the cemetery. Antoine stood for a moment, looked around as if to awake, then returned home.
The following night, they met in the same place and the thief took Antoine to a small hovel that bordered the town’s walls. They reviewed crudely drawn schematics of the Valen estate and chose the tools for the heist: one glass dagger and cutting diamond for Antoine, one wrist-crossbow with sleeping darts and smoke bombs for the thief.
“Can I at least know who I’m working with?” Antoine finally asked. “Or do you like wearing that mask?”
“This mask is who I am” the thief said calmly. “If we are not our craft, what are we?”
“Agreed” said Antoine. “But a name to be called by?”
“Mirabelle” the thief said. “No more, no less.”
After settling the plan, they cheered with glasses of wine and decided to meet 5 nights from now, when maester Vaelen would be bound to sleep after visiting the Imperial City.
5 days later, the Valen estate
The sky grows from light to purple-dark as Mirabelle and Antoine have stationed their horses at the Inn of Ill Omen and Faregyl Inn, one hour apart, and have traveled upward into the forest, both masked and equipped. Mirabelle led them on the leaf covered trail that tapered among the trees, revealing the ruins of a small tower where she pointed to a trap-door hidden at the base.
Antoine opened the trap-door, helped Mirabelle descend and followed her through the murky, cramped corridors inside. When they reached the exit they were inside the Valen estate’s fence, coming out of the walls of a similar tower that strengthened the defenses.
Torches illuminated around the house and they heard vague chatter coming from the front of the estate. Pale candles burned in the room where maester Valen slept.
Mirabelle helped Antoine climb the wooden ledges to the first floor, then lying down on his stomach, he hauled her slowly up, swung her sideways until she could reach the margin of the balcony, then followed her.
He lockpicked the window of the empty room then invited Mirabelle inside. They stepped carefully, stopping at the door to acknowledge sounds and movement. When the house seemed clear, they descended to the base floor where the mace was beautifully displayed in a reinforced case above the room’s hearth.
“Climb up, see if the case can be opened” Mirabelle said. Antoine climbed on the hearth, checked the case’s clamps, pulled on both, considered lockpicking, then stopped and mimicked a no. Mirabelle approached the hearth and checked on one side for locks or latches. “There should be another on the other side” she said after finding one. “On the count of three”. Antoine climbed down to grab the other latch when someone turned keys in the front door of the house. They both jumped and rolled to safety, Antoine under a desk and Mirabelle behind the door.
One guard stopped in the doorway, looked around, entered and went to the hearth to inspect. Before he could turn, Antoine leaped at him, punched him in the back and grabbed his neck in a clasp, the other hand on his mouth. The guard squealed and struggled, then elbowed Antoine in the ribs and screamed for the others.
Antoine backed away and Mirabelle revealed herself to shoot a sleeping-dart into the guard, then ran and crashed on him with her whole body, sending him into the hearth to near unconsciousness. She then closed the door and asked Antoine if he was well. Upstairs, old-man Valen had opened his door and was screaming for help.
Another sentry, this time a burly Redguard, crashed through the door, splinters flying inside, almost sending it to the floor and roared. Mirabelle shot another dart at him, hitting his cuirass. The Redguard smiled, grabbed the dart out of the armor and threw it back.
Antoine took out his glass dagger and positioned himself for a fight. The Redguard ran for him and swung once above Antoine’s head, which returned a dagger swing on his elbow. The Redguard grabbed Antoine’s chest and threw him to the wall, then took out his sword and closed in. Mirabelle heard another sentry running from the outside, threw a smoke bomb in the doorway then kicked the man in the stomach and face.
Antoine flashed to the side, the sword scraping the wall behind him, jumped and headbutted the Redguard, then climbed on his knee, swung to his back and clasped his head and his neck with each hand. The Redguard struggled and rotated to grab Antoine, all under the desperate watch of Valen.
When they turned to face her, Mirabelle ran, jumped and kicked the Redguard’s chest with her knee. The strike distorted his plate armor and almost sent him back while Antoine tried to suffocate him. “The neck!” Mirabelle shouted and Antoine released his grip while pulling his head higher. She let fly another sleep-dart which hit the Redguard above the chest. He tried to grab it while Antoine pressed his feet on the Redguard’s back and pushed both of them in opposite directions.
The Redguard staggered, roared and tried to grab Mirabelle, who was dancing under his hands, until he collapsed.
“The mace, on three” she said, and Antoine moved to the opposite side of the hearth, turned the locks together with Mirabelle, then climbed up and grabbed the mace from its case. Mirabelle knelt before the three fallen men in the room and made incisions on their wrists with a dagger that had been concealed.
“What are you doing?” asked Antoine.
“Bleeding them” Mirabelle said. “The big one might wake up soon. I don’t want them running around tonight.”
“I’d prefer no victims” said Antoine.
“And there won’t be any” Mirabelle replied. “They’ll be up and panicking long before dying. We need to move” she said while heading for the stairs. Valen had already retreated to his room in dismay.
They went out through the same window they had entered by and climbed down to the backyard, then reached the border tower and entered the cramped hallway of the tunnel. They separated at the Inn of ill omen and Antoine convinced Mirabelle to meet him later in the night far south, close to Leyawiin, for a small celebration and further plans.
Later that night, near Leyawiin, in the Blackwood
“We don’t need formalities” Mirabelle declared when they reunited outside Leyawiin. “Our celebration is the act itself. Our life is the thrill of stealing and watching them bow in horror whey they realize they’ll never get back the trinkets.” Antoine smiled hearing this.
“Will I ever know who I’ve worked with?” he asked.
“You already know” Mirabelle said. “A skilled thief that lives as a shadow. You know too much. You’re practically a liability for me now.”
“As you are for me” Antoine replied. “You’ve earned my trust. I would like to earn yours.”
“What makes you think I need it? Our business is done. Successfully and in style, I will add” Mirabelle said.
“You don’t. But before you leave, I want to show you a special place, where we can also hold our small celebration. Then you’re free to leave” Antoine said.
“I’m already free to leave” Mirabelle smirked. “As I am free to join you.”
Antoine led her south and east, beyond the murk of the Blackwood. After passing several knolls they came to a clearing between marshes, where Antoine opened three locks hidden under a rock. He descended then helped Mirabelle climb down and they traveled through water-strewn tunnels until they reached a small cave where Antoine lighted a torch.
“Look at this” Mirabelle said when seeing the few artifacts lining the walls of the cave. “The Ring of Bloodlust. I know people looking for it. And all these, why not sell them?”
“I sold some of them” Antoine said. “I already have enough gold to live comfortably. With some, I just can’t be persuaded. They remind me of great moments.”
“After all, it’t not about the gold” Mirabelle said.
“True” Antoine replied. “Now do you trust me?” Mirabelle turned to him, stared at his eyes and took off her mask. The same imperial woman that had waited behind him in silence in Bravil days ago stood now in Antoine’s secret cave.
“Done” she said, sternly. “And now we must part.”
“We already know too much about each other” Antoine said. “Why not come with me. We could have the best life together. We can gather gold for generations. Travel all over Tamriel, steal the greatest artifacts and laugh at the owners’ humiliation. Sleep in the best inns, plunder at night and make love during the day.”
Mirabelle listened with a sharp smile, gazed around the cave without speaking, put on her mask and moved toward the exit.
Antoine took one of the bottles of brandy lying around and followed her outside.
“Will you at least cheer me one last time?” he asked. Mirabelle stopped and Antoine invited her on the small hill above the cave. “This is actually the special place, not the cave” he said. “Look”, he pointed to the East. “You can see the lights of Gideon. And there” — he pointed upward, to a clearing in the dark canopy where the stars were clear and Masser and Secunda seemed to fill the sky. Mirabelle said nothing but smiled under the mask.
“You’ve earned my trust” Mirabelle finally said. “And there is one last gift I have for you” she continued, taking the concealed dagger from her belt. The blade shone surreal in the faint light and a small irregular red ruby glinted from the hilt. “This is Heartbreaker” she continued, turning the dagger on both sides.
“The blade with which you bled the guards.”
“Yes. It thirsts for life. My family would like you to have it.”
“Your family” Antoine said. “You have already told them about me” he continued, frowning.
The family of the Dread Father has watched you for a long time” Mirabelle said.
“The Dread Fa-”. Before Antoine could continue, Mirabelle plunged the blade in Antoine’s chest. He grabbed her hand and her throat and she sunk her nails in his veins. Antoine clasped her neck and pushed her away, sending her on her back.
“Please don’t struggle” Mirabelle said, panting. “The blade hurts the harder you oppose it. ”Antoine tried to to pull the dagger out, but Heartbreaker seemed to hold deeper to his chest. She came on top of him.
“You know, you almost had me” she said. “If not for Sithis, I would have followed your life of adventure. Even with your immense stupidity at showing me your cave of treasures. No master thief does that, Antoine.“ He tried to blink and mumbled, but only a tear and the taste of blood came forth. ”Do not despise me“ Mirabelle said. ”You and I, we are mere mortals. But Sithis is eternal.“
Antoine’s hands fell to the side. Mirabelle slowly took Heartbreaker out of his chest, the blade coated in blood and the red ruby glinting stronger. She got up, covered the dagger and took a sip of brandy under the mask, then left for her horse. A rivulet of blood flowed from Antoine’s mouth and his eyes remained open, fixating the majesty of the heavens.