December 23, 2016

Missing Rachel - Entry VII: Norman
Missing Rachel
Entry VII: Norman
Location: The Store
Date: Friday, June 19th, 2015

I had been traveling down the paved road for about twenty minutes when I finally reached Norman’s store. The garbage bin next to his store was a disgusting mess of rotten food and slick, black bags. Why did Norman let it get so bad? I saw a thin, greenish corner poking out from one of the bags. As I examined it closely, I saw that it was my driver’s license and it looked damaged. What was it doing here? Was I here before? I cleaned the license off as best I could and tucked it into my wallet next to the credit card. As I entered the back of the store where Norman lived, a light rain began to fall. It was oddly quiet inside except for the faint sound of a television. I went to the front of the store, the entrance was locked from the inside and it looked like I wouldn’t be able to just pop it open; it needed a key. There was a bit of what appeared to be blood on the keyhole too.

I went upstairs to see if I could find Norman, but what I found was more shocking. In Norman’s bedroom, I found one of Rachel’s old autumn coats hanging from a rack. What the hell…? What the hell was going on here?! What was Rachel’s coat doing in Norman’s bedroom?! I couldn’t think, my mind was reeling, why was Rachel here? Why was she with Norman? And where are they now? I searched the room for clues, any sign of where they might be. I found a cabinet filled with a small but impressive collection of hunting rifles, shotguns, and other items I didn’t think were legal here. One of the slots on the rack was empty, the gun I had in my pocket seemed to match the space. Was this handgun Norman’s and what the hell was it doing in that man’s house? Nothing was making sense, nothing!

I moved into a different room where the TV still flickered some indecipherable channel. My eyes searched the room until… oh no… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Norman, my coworker and one of the few friends I had in this town, lay dead in his armchair. His face and shirt were covered in blood; it looked like he’d been shot trying to get up. His eyes were wide with shock though they were already drying. Norman, what was Rachel doing here? Why did you have her coat?! I wanted to scream at him, grab him by the collar and shake him until he answered… but it was no use. Norman was gone. Maybe he deserved better, he probably did. I closed his eyelids down, shuddering as I did so. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give him peace or if I just couldn’t stand the thought of his lifeless eyes staring at me. What the hell was going on? I just wanted to wake up from this nightmare and find myself at home with Rachel beside me.

I went into the kitchen, Norman kept it clean enough, but there were water rings from two cups still on the wooden table. The kitchen trash bin was starting to stink; I found a hairpin amongst the rotting food. I hoped that I may be able to pick the front door lock with it. I was about to leave the kitchen when I noticed a chain hanging from the ceiling. I gave it a slight tug and a simple folding ladder to the attic popped down. I slowly climbed up, making sure to shine the flashlight into the darkness until I could finally see. Inside the attic, there was a large cardboard box that hadn’t been sealed. I opened up the old box and wasn’t entirely surprised by what I saw. There were more of Rachel’s things… more of my wife’s clothes! Photos, shoes… and even that old radio I gave her for her birthday. Why, Rachel? What were you doing here with Norman? I climbed back down the ladder, not sure if I even wanted to find out the answer to the questions I was screaming in my head.

I went straight to the front door and used the hairpin to pick the lock. It was a skill I had learned as a teenager and thought I’d never have to use again. I was now inside Norman’s actual store, it was small and clean. It had the usual things; postcards, snacks, magazines, and canned goods. I never went there much; Rachel usually stopped by after work if we needed anything. The register was mostly empty and a fat stack of travel magazines sat beside it. Many of the destinations had been places Rachel talked of going to. Paris, Rome, Bali, the usual desirable destinations but we never seemed to have the money or the time to go. The icebox seemed to be unplugged, it must have been off for a while; most of its contents were already melted. There were various postcards from the area, especially from the tourist traps. One of the postcards showed an old black-and-white photo of the water tower; it was in much better shape back then.

The night continued to take horrible turn after horrible turn. It’d been weeks since I’d last seen Norman, but to find him like that… as I thought of him still lying in his armchair upstairs, the gun I carried seemed to be ever-present. Seeing that dusty box of those old clothes was a shock; how long had they been there? And what was Rachel doing at Norman’s place? Then there were the other dead bodies; the man in the house, the sewer worker, the two campers, and the security guard. Who killed them? Who had done such a terrible thing? I was exhausted and wanted this whole ordeal to end. I felt like I had only discovered more questions no answers but I was close to home. It was time to find out the truth… it was time to go home.

November 25, 2016

Worth Fighting For - Entry XII: Rallying Cry
Worth Fighting For
Entry XII: Rallying Cry
Location: Midtown Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Friday, December 12th, 2003

After returning empty handed from the Manhattan High School, Chris knew that the only other location Isabella could be held at was Governor’s Island. He wanted to prepare for a full assault of the SAF’s headquarters but the Resistance had other things to content with. Now that we had lost our strongholds in Brooklyn and Manhattan, the Red army was moving unchecked across the city. The civilian camps we had helped were being destroyed and anyone caught out on the streets were either captured or killed. We were all concerned about the situation but it was Phil who pleaded with Chris to take action. After all, it was Phil and his team that spent the most time amongst the civilians who were trying to eke out a living in the city.

We had spent the past couple of weeks attempting to fight off SAF patrols, protect the civilian camps, and to restore the black market trade routes but to no avail. Chris knew something had to be done but we were unsure of how to proceed, our numbers had dropped significantly and we no longer had the firepower we used to. The Kid had a great idea in mind; the Red computer he had “procured” contained the blueprints to the SAFN headquarters. If we took over the station and broadcasted our own message to the people, maybe we could rally the civilians into joining the fight. Taking over the Manhattan TV Station was not going to be easy but we all knew that we couldn’t sit by and watch the Reds destroy what we had fought so hard to achieve.
Location: Manhattan TV Station
Date: Saturday, December 13th, 2003

We decided to infiltrate the Manhattan TV Station via rooftop, it had been an effective strategy in the past and we hoped it would be again. The elevated monorail tracks had collapsed onto a nearby building which allowed us easy access to the rooftops. We scampered along the tracks, first Chris and then myself followed by Logan, Steven, Kat, Chelly, Ryo, with Daniil bringing up the rear. We moved silently along the rooftops until I heard Chelly gasp. I quickly readied my gun and followed her gaze to find what had elicited the sound. All the electronic billboards on the surrounding buildings were lit up with the image of Tatiana Kempinski. SAFN was broadcasting their news show to every screen they had access to.

After the initial surprise of seeing the street lit up with the face of our enemy, the team moved forward towards our destination. We arrived at the Manhattan TV Station without meeting any resistance. Chris climbed down a ladder and onto the street below us. He scanned the area and then motioned for us to follow after he had given the all clear. We knew that the garage where the station used to park their vehicles would be the best point of entry. As we cautiously passed under the large bay door and into the garage, we expected to meet some kind of resistance but found none. We were alone; there wasn’t a single patrolling Red in the garage. I gave Chris a quizzical look and Steven muttered that something didn’t feel right about this.

Then, we heard the loud screeching of metal crawling across concrete. A Soviet tank appeared at the end of the garage and began inching its way towards us. As the tank aimed its long barrel, we scattered in every direction trying to find cover behind cars and concrete support pillars. The tank fired a shell towards the entrance, sending the heavy metal bay door crashing to the ground and trapping us inside the garage. Ryo returned fire only to find that his bullets ricocheted off of the tank’s heavy armor, giving us more obstacles to try and dodge. Now Red soldiers were coming down the stairwell to join the fight.

Chris acted without hesitation; he called for Logan, Chelly, and Kat to focus suppressing fire on the stairwell. The rest of us coordinated with Chris to try and get someone on top of the tank in hopes of prying it open like someone would a clam. After two failed attempts we realized our plan was futile. We were trying to catch our breath and come up with another plan when Kat screamed “RPG!” We scrambled behind a white pickup truck just in time to see the projectile fly right by us. As it exploded and sent debris scattering in the air, I took a quick glance at Chris to see a smile had appeared on his face. He had a plan. We returned fire as we moved away from the tank and towards the stairwell. Bodies clogged the steps, pinning the remaining Reds in position. Chris charged up, climbing over bodies and firing a well-aimed bullet into the head of the RPG shooter. Chris then grabbed the weapon himself, turned, and shot the explosive right at the center of the tank. A loud explosion ruptured the armor of the tank, halting its advance.

We all took a moment to collect ourselves; I was not a fan of tanks and was glad that this encounter went much better than the last. We collected what gear we could, cleared the stairwell of bodies, and marched up the stairs to the upper floor. We entered the lobby and continued moving towards the back of the building, searching for the broadcast room. There were signs that the SAF soldiers stationed here had left in a hurry. Guns, gear, and a few wounded Reds that had been executed were all that was left of the force that held the TV Station. As we swept the floor for any signs of life, we even discovered that the Reds had left two helicopters on the roof during their escape.

After our brief stint on the roof, we headed back down and located the broadcast room. All the equipment was still on and humming for the Reds didn’t realize that our ultimate goal was not in taking over the station but in making a broadcast of our own. Chris collected his thoughts while Logan and I figured out how to get a signal out. Once we did, Chris got into position and began his statement. He introduced himself to all the citizens watching and vowed that he would continue to fight the Soviet Armed Forces and that he would die a free man one way or the other. Chris still dreamt of a future where the American dream meant something. He still believed that we could achieve a great future if we all worked together to defeat our oppressors. Chris told the people that the Manhattan Resistance was not decimated but a sleeping army ready to be awakened and to reclaim our country. He called on every able bodied citizen to rise, take up arms, and join us in the greatest cause we would ever know; to prove to the SAF that they could never take away our freedom.

October 28, 2016

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XIX: The Skooma Trade
The Thief in the Snow
Entry XIX: The Skooma Trade
Location: Riften, The Rift
Date: Morndas, 1st of Heartfire, 4E 201

My excursion back to Riften went smoothly. I encountered very little in the way of danger name but a few wary Nords who cursed me for being in their lands. I felt as unwelcomed in the Rift as I felt welcomed in Whiterun. Though I recalled that when I first arrived in Skyrim, I was looked upon with disdain, it had taken some time for the people to not only tolerate me but to embrace me as well. Still, there were many in Whiterun that disliked my presence, after all, Catfolk were members of the Aldmeri Dominion which made them instant enemies to the Nords. I was no lover of the Elves though and disliked the Aldmeri Dominion almost as much as the Northerners did. I wondered if I ever would be accepted completely in Skyrim. I thought back to Amren in Whiterun who to this day, is still seen as a foreigner even though he had lived almost all of his life here.

It was early morning and the sun shone brightly but there was a nip of coldness in the breeze. It was only Heartfire but here in Skyrim; winter came early to the southern holds and never left the northern ones. My plan was to stop in Riften to resupply and then continue north to Windhelm for a visit to Aventus Aretino’s house. I was not expecting to stay in Riften long but when I saw Wujeeta, high on Skooma and wandering the docks, I knew I had to intervene. Even though I never dealt with the substance, I still felt a sense of guilt that my people were the ones that often peddled the highly addictive narcotic. I gave the Argonian another Potion of Healing to try and stem the side effects before I attempted to learn the identity of her supplier. Her thoughts were broken and her words were muddled but I managed to discover that Sarthis Idren was her supplier.

I left Wujeeta where I found her and inquired around the docks, hoping to locate Idren. I went to the marketplace and found Snilf at his post near Marise Aravel’s stall. I queried the Nord for information on Idren and a location. At first he slyly avoided specifics until I jingled a pouch of Septims, only then did he give me the information I sought. Sarthis Idren was a Dunmer bandit who had taken up residence in an abandoned warehouse near the docks. Snilf warned me that I had to be careful though, Idren had a few guards in his pocket and if they knew I was after the Skooma dealer, he would be informed and would disappear. I asked him why the Jarl had not done anything about this but the old Nord just shrugged his shoulders. I thanked him for his time with the pouch and then left to find this warehouse.

It only took me a couple of tries to pick the lock of the Riften Warehouse. When I entered, I startled a Dunmer and Nord into attacking me. I quickly surmised that the Dunmer must be Sarthis Idren and the Nord was his bodyguard. In the cramped quarters of the warehouse, the two suppliers could not maneuver as deftly as I could. The Nord was clumsy and practically fell on my daggers while Idren was a much more skilled fighter. Nonetheless, I was able to dodge his swinging sword and sink my dagger into his neck. With my two adversaries dead, I was able to explore the warehouse thoroughly. The warehouse was grimy and filled with trash, but there were no signs that Idren was making Skooma here. Then, I examined the dusty floors and saw footprints leading to one of the walls. Upon closer examination, I could see that the wall was actually a hidden door with a small keyhole. I went back to the Dunmer’s body and found a key in his satchel. I unlocked the door and discovered a small room with a wood table, an alchemy lab, and various supplies for creating Skooma. On the table, there were four bottles of Skooma and pouches filled with Moon Sugar and Nightshade. I collected the items with the intent to hand them over to the Jarl. I knew I could not trust any of the guards with these items nor could I leave them.

I hurried to Mistveil Keep, home of Jarl Laila Law-Giver and her family. She was one of two female Jarls in Skyrim, the other being Jarl Elisif the Fair of Solitude who inherited the title after her husband High King Torygg was killed. The guards were hesitant to let me in until I told them that I had located Sarthis Idren. They were familiar with the name and knew that the Jarl wanted him eradicated. When I entered the throne room of Mistveil Keep, I was surprised to be greeted by a Bosmer steward since the eastern holds were not especially fond of outsiders. The Wood Elf introduced herself as Anuriel and demanded why I had come to visit the Jarl. I told her that I had information about the Skooma supplier in Riften. The Jarl heard this and commanded me to approach and share what I knew. I made a slight bow as I drew near. Laila sat on her throne in a relaxed manner, much like Balgruuf did in Whiterun. I actually laughed in my head at how much Laila reminded me of Whiterun’s Jarl. While her hair was more reddish than golden, her mannerism and tone of voice were very similar to Balgruuf’s. I had to remember that while I had rapport with Balgruuf, this Jarl was unknown to me.

I explained to Jarl Laila that I met a few Skooma addicts and persuaded them to give me the name of their supplier. I purposely left out Wujeeta’s name for fear that she may be punished for buying the illegal substance. I then told the Jarl that I learned of Sarthis Idren’s involvement and was able to track his whereabouts to a warehouse near the docks. I entered with the plans to confront him but was attacked instead. After defeating the Dunmer, I collected his cache of Skooma supplies and brought them here to Mistveil Keep. I opened my satchel and placed it in front of the Jarl, the bottles of Skooma clinking as I did. Anuriel quickly called for the court wizard Wylandriah to take the satchel away and dispose of it.

Jarl Laila thanked me for the service I rendered to Riften and stated that she was glad to hear good news for a change. Then, she asked me if I would finish what I had started. I tilted my head quizzically and the Jarl motioned for her steward. As Anuriel approached, she was handed a letter which in turn, she gave to me. The Jarl explained that Sarthis Idren was just a spoke in the wheel and to truly stamp out the Skooma trade in Riften, I had to find the dealer. Jarl Laila declared that if I was able to exterminate these dealers, that she would consider allowing me to purchase property and become a citizen of Riften. I gave another bow and swore to do everything in my power to stop the Skooma trade. Outside of Mistveil Keep, I opened the note and read its contents.

Just got in a shipment of Moon Sugar from Morrowind. We are refining it now, and the Skooma should be ready by the time you get to Cragslane Cavern. Bring the gold or do not show up at all.

Now I had a destination and a name in my quest to stop the Skooma trade and while I promised the Jarl I would complete this task, I still had my main goal to accomplish yet. I decided to leave Riften and set my sights on Windhelm in the hopes of tracking down Aventus Aretino and putting an end to Grelod the Kind.

September 23, 2016

Missing Rachel - Entry VI: Down Memory Lane
Missing Rachel
Entry VI: Down Memory Lane
Location: The Auto Parts Factory
Date: Friday, June 19th, 2015

The light I had seen from the wood was that of an old factory. While it still had power, it didn’t appear like anyone was working there at this late hour. There was a fence enclosing the factory and as I approached, I could hear the metal gate swinging back and forth in the breeze. As I stepped through the gate, I suddenly recognized the auto parts factory where I had worked as a machinist for all those years. The plant had closed, almost three years ago now; times were better then. I thought I could hear a faint rustling behind me; I turned, but saw nothing. Maybe it was just the wind. As I walked through the parking lot, I found the body of a security guard… just doing his job no doubt, his face was covered with blood from some kind of head wound. I reached the back of my head without thinking, feeling the split in my scalp. I looked at the flashlight in my hands. Was this his flashlight? The thought just crossed my mind like lightning; I had no reason to think it was his but for some reason my mind still posed the question. Near the body, I saw metal glinting in the beam of the flashlight. I bent over and picked it up, it was a cracked wristwatch… my wristwatch. First my wallet, then my credit card, and now this… what was happening? The watch was useless but I put it on anyway.

I swung the factory door open, it had been left unlocked. Inside, I found the receptionist’s desk and a row of lockers behind it. One of the lockers hung open; its contents were tossed around like someone had been looking for something. Deeper in the factory, I came across a locked door with a little electronic box under the handle. A sign was pasted to the front that said, ‘DANGER: CLOSED FOR REPAIRS.’ I passed the door and entered another room, inside there was a large power box with five lights on it. Cables burst out of the box, snaking off to other parts of the factory. The metal case had started to show wear and cobwebs had collected in the corners of the box, it wasn’t receiving any power. I thought it might be the power supply for another door that was locked tight nearby. Maybe if I found the power panels, I might be able to unlock it.

I climb the stairs to the second floor of the factory in search of the panels. Every part of this plant smelled old and rotted. I noticed the old bulletin board on the wall. It contained yellowed clippings of newspaper cartoons and notices. There were notes to and from the guys that used to work here. One of them was to Norman, who was one of the older guys on the line. He was also one of the few friends I had when I was working here. I found the first power panel and flicked the red handle, it buzzed to life. I found four other panels nearby and switched all of them on but one panel refused to work. Now, I had to find another way to get out of this factory. I passed the employee locker room and saw that one of the lockers was left open. It had been stuffed with dirty work clothes and old boots. There was a photo of a woman taped to the inside of the locker door, but the face had been scratched out and made unrecognizable.

There was a door next to the lockers that was shut tight and required a keycard to open. The power was now on and the rusty-looking card slot had a yellow glow to it. Our old break table had a thick layer of dust and grime. Remembering the good times I had had with the guys around this table made the sight sting more. I decided to go up to the third floor before trying the door downstairs. There was a door that had been hastily boarded up. I moved past it and into the employee locker room. I saw Norman’s locker, the door was dented, like someone had punched it in. I don’t remember him doing that when we worked here. There was a utility shelf in the corner, crammed with mismatched tools and items. I grabbed the claw hammer off of the shelf and went to pry the boards off of the other door. I noticed that the hammer wasn’t as dusty as the rest of the tools from the shelf but thought nothing of it. Before leaving the room, I saw another locker that I was able to pry open. It was messy but hidden at the bottom was a keycard. I slipped it into my pocket and walked back to the boarded door.

It took some effort but I was eventually able to remove all of the boards. I left the hammer on the floor and entered, it was the secondary locker room, where my locker was located. I found it easily but was shocked at the sight of it. It had trash scattered beside it and more trash inside of it. It stank of booze too. There was a picture of Rachel inside, it had been torn up… I thought I took that picture home with me when the factory closed. There was a mess of empty booze bottles lying on the floor nearby. Did that man from the house have something to do with this? He sure had a lot of alcohol at his place. Maybe it was the same person whose room I found in the sewers, the one with bottles and newspaper clippings scattered about.

I decided I had enough of reminiscing about the past and just wanted to get home as soon as possible. I headed downstairs and used the keycard to open the previously locked door. There was some kind of ventilation hatch in this room and it looked like I could jump to the room below. My leg hurt enough as it was but I couldn’t see another option. I jumped and landed hard. Oh man, my leg hurt like hell. When my vision returned to normal and I was able to stand again, I took the flashlight and looked around the room. I discovered a crumpled up letter on the floor. When I smoothed the paper, I saw that it had been scratched out heavily and it was hard to make out. Most of the letters were violently scratched out with what looked to be a blue ballpoint pen. I could only make out a few lines.
--need to-- just don’t --drinking-- --NEED--
It was signed, ‘Norman.’ Who was Norman writing this to? What did he mean by this? I stepped out of the factory, glad to be rid of its smell and of its memories. I couldn’t stop thinking about that room with the bottles in it. Was that guard I found outside really drinking up there or was it someone else? What about Norman? And who had rooted through all of those lockers? I couldn’t tell where I was as I looked around, but I figured I needed to get to a road and get my bearings. Maybe Norman could help; I didn’t think his store was that far from the turnoff to the factory, if I remembered correctly.

August 26, 2016

Worth Fighting For - Entry XI: The Last Bell at Midnight
Worth Fighting For
Entry XI: The Last Bell at Midnight
Location: Midtown Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Wednesday, November 26th, 2003

We used the next few weeks to reorganize the remnants of the Manhattan Resistance. Chelly, Ryo, and Logan had turned up safe and sound a few days after we arrived at our new home. Disappointingly, we never saw Charlie or Manny after the fall of the Manhattan Rebel Base. I was still hopeful that both survived, after all they were some of our most skilled fighters, but the reality of the situation was grim. The extra time spent to find ammunition, food, supplies, and fighters gave my body the chance to heal. The bullet wounds were now scars and the concussions I suffered seemed to have cleared up as well. I still had buzzing in my ears and frequent headaches, but nothing as crippling as before. Everyone else felt revitalized after the short respite and having a clear plan of attacked had raised morale.

The Kid had stolen an SAF computer which contained sensitive information on two of the largest Red strongholds, the Manhattan High School and the Manhattan TV Station. The TV station housed SAFN and was where Tatiana Kempinski broadcasted her nightly news show from. The high school was rumored to house political prisoners along with the headquarters for the SAF top brass and it also functioned as an elite training center. Once Chris and Phil heard this, there was no question which target we would be assaulting first. If there was any chance that Isabella and Coronel Bulba were at the high school, we could not pass up this opportunity. The Kid did warn us that the last fleet of SAF helicopters was stationed near the high school. Again with the helicopters, I think the Reds have a fetish with the machines or something. It was settled then; we were rested and ready for a fight. We all knew that these last missions could mean victory or defeat for the entire Manhattan Resistance.

Location: Manhattan High School
Date: Thursday, November 27th, 2003

It felt like old times, being on a mission with Chris again. He was once again leading his team made up of me, Steven, Daniil, Kat, Chelly, Ryo, and Logan. Phil had taken a few freedom fighters and was working to help the small pockets of resistance that had broken out across the city while the Kid stayed back at the base to help coordinate the recovery efforts. Our first destination was the high school’s track and football fields. The Reds were using these adjoining facilities to refuel their chopper fleet. The Kid was able to obtain enough explosives so that we would be able to eliminate the last Red fleet. After that, it would be a direct assault on the high school itself in hopes of rescuing Isabella and finally finishing off Coronel Bulba.

We made it easily into the vicinity of the fields; the Soviet Armed Forces thought us defeated and had relaxed their security to a surprising level. There were no armed patrols, no spotlights sweeping the darkened streets, and not even a single guard in the watchtowers above us. The only activity we observed as we surveyed the landing area was of the ground crew refueling and maintaining the helicopters. Chris and Steven took the explosives and headed towards the landing pads while the rest of us hid behind the embankment near the fields. It was a strange sensation, feeling like we were not in any danger. I knew it wouldn’t last long because once the sound of the explosions reached the high school; our enemy would be alerted to our presence and prepared for our attack.

I watched as Chris and Steven scampered across the fields. Chris headed to the fuel line at the football field and Steven navigated towards the track field’s fuel tank. They darted past SAF workers and used the crates littered across the area as cover. I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching some new sporting event. Chris Stone and Steven Ryan racing to see who could blow up the Red fleet first. When Chris and Steven reached their destinations, they set the charges, and then sprinted towards the high school. The rest of us covered our heads as we watched the blasts hurl helicopter parts into the air like they were fireworks. I couldn’t help but let a wide grin appear on my face as we watched the last Red air fleet turn into a molten pile of metal. I watched for a few moments more before turning my smirk into a line of seriousness. Now we had the task of tackling the high school itself, the home to the SAF elite training facility. Our adversaries would be highly skilled and lethal; a mistake here could be permanent.

We rendezvoused with Chris and Steven in front of the gymnasium. Chris called out a few commands to coordinate our attack as we charged into the building. Daniil let out a few quick pops of gunfire, taking the SAF soldiers by surprise. The rest of Chris’ team quickly joined in the firefight. The concussive sound of bullet fire caused a twinge of pain in my head but nothing that interrupted my focus on the task at hand. Our team executed like the professionals we had become and it took us less than three minutes to clear the gymnasium. We scanned the area to ensure that there was no surprise attack waiting for us before moving farther into the school.

Chris assumed that the prisoners would be held in the classrooms located on the upper floors. We charged up the stairs and entered the main hallway. Multiple doors lined each side and we paired off in twos to clear every room. Logan caught my gaze and motioned to a door. I nodded and he twisted the doorknob open. I charged in and turned right as Logan covered my blindside. After a few intense moments of breaching into the unknown had passed, Logan patted me on the shoulder to indicate that the room was clear and that we could move on to the next classroom. We cleared every room one by one but found no signs of the prisoners or our enemy. As we regrouped at the end of the hall, Chris motioned to the ceiling. We all nodded, the entire Red force must be hunkered down on the last floor waiting for us to come to them.

We had no choice but to meet the Red ambush head on. There was only enough from for two of us to stand shoulder to shoulder, so I paired off with Logan once again. We volunteered to go up the stairs first and see if we could bait the SAF into giving their position away. Chris gave us the okay and I went back into a classroom to grab a chair. Logan raised an eyebrow at me but his quizzical expression soon melted into one of mirth. He knew what I was planning and gave me the thumbs up that he was ready. We reached the third floor and peered down the hall. There was no one waiting for us, I motioned to the door which had a sign above it that said “teachers’ offices” and Logan raised his gun. I opened the door and slid the chair into the room. Gunfire pelted the chair, highlighting the location of four SAF soldiers. Logan and I fired down on the Reds before they had realized that the chair was a decoy. I could hear behind me the sound of gunfire in the other rooms which quickly died out as our other two person squads efficiently eliminated all resistance.

It was strange, we had expected to fight a lot more Reds but it appeared that the main force stationed at the high school had fled. There was only one room left to sweep, the principal’s office. I readied my gun as Logan prepared to open the door but before he could turn the knob, it swung open with a violent thud, knocking Logan off balance. An SAF commando rushed out with knife drawn and attacked Logan. I couldn’t shoot for fear of hitting my teammate and tried helplessly to pull the commando off of Logan. Metal met flesh as the blade sliced Logan’s face, but Logan was able to land a solid punch to the commando’s stomach, winding the Red commando.

We finally subdued the commando to the ground but he wasn’t going down without a fight. He told us that we would never find the prisoners and that we had already been defeated. I then heard the sound of a pin hitting the ground but didn’t comprehend what has happening at first. Logan recognized the threat, picked the commando up from the floor, and flung him inside the office before slamming the door shut. Logan then yelled at us to take cover, which we did, just before the grenade detonated. After the smoke had settled we explored the area more thoroughly and found signs of people being held here but they had been moved before our arrival. We had failed to liberate Isabella and withdrew back to the Midtown Manhattan Rebel Base in hopes of formulating a new plan.

July 22, 2016

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XVIII: For Friends and For Honor
The Thief in the Snow
Entry XVIII: For Friends and For Honor
Location: Whiterun, Whiterun Hold
Date: Loredas, 30th of Last Seed, 4E 201

I traveled the long road and went back home to Whiterun. I had supplies I needed to drop off, goods to trade, potions to make, and weapons to mend. I also wanted to make sure things were in order before I went back to the Rift. After seeing Grelod the Kind’s treatment of the children at Honorhall Orphanage, I had made up my mind to visit Aventus Aretino in Windhelm and convince him to come back to Riften and speak before the Jarl. If I could also convince Constance to testify to the Jarl, then maybe Grelod the Kind could be put out of her misery. I was not sure if I could even enter Windhelm for Nords generally despised outsiders and a Khajiit was as ‘outside’ as you could get in Skyrim. It did not help that the Gagged Man, Ulfric Stormcloak, was the Jarl of Windhelm. He had been sentenced to death for murdering High King Torygg of Solitude but had escaped when the dragon attacked Helgen. I had seen him firsthand when I awoke in the wagon headed towards Helgen and later when I was fleeing the burning town. He had escaped like I did that day and was now sitting on his throne in Windhelm, commanding the Stormcloaks in their rebellion against the Empire. While Ulfric was viewed as a murderer in Solitude and the other holds loyal to the Empire, in the eastern Holds of Skyrim he was seen as a champion of the people.

I still had not devised a plan to enter Windhelm when I passed through the gates of Whiterun. The guards greeted me warmly and when I saw the paved streets of the city before me, a strange feeling came over me. ‘I have a home.’ The thought rung in my head, something I had never thought before. My first stop was at Warmaiden’s to repair my armor and to talk with Adrianne. I asked her if there was anything new happening in Whiterun since I had left and she reported that things had been calm considering that there had been more dragon sightings on the outskirts of the Hold. She also passed along a message from her father, Proventus, who wished to see me at Dragonsreach. When I was finished, I thanked her for the information and walked home. When I entered Breezehome, I was greeted by Lydia who again seemed surprised that I had survived my journey. I told my Housecarl that she should have more faith in the Thane of Whiterun. As I said this, I flexed my muscles and struck a pose which produced a fit of laughter from the Nord warrior.

Lydia then asked about my pilgrimage to the Seven Thousand Steps and if I had met the Greybeards. I was careful who I told about my ability to use Thu’ums. Jarl Balgruuf and his brother Hrongar knew of my abilities and even heard the Greybeards’ summons.  Balgruuf’s Housecarl, Irileth, and a few of her soldiers also saw me use my abilities to fight the dragon at the Western Watchtower. Lydia had heard the rumors of my abilities from the chatter amongst the Whiterun guards and I never admitted to being Dragonborn to her. Yet my Housecarl had a sharp mind and no secret could remain hidden from her. I related my adventures to her from the long hike to the Throat of the World and the Frost Troll to meeting the Greybeards and learning from them. I also told her about the Cultists that tried to kill me in Ivarstead, my travelling to Riften, and the Hired Thugs that attacked me there. She was awed by my ability to find enemies in a hold I had never been to before. I countered that it took an extraordinarily skilled warrior to create enemies wherever he travelled. Lydia inquired about my plans and I told her of Aretino in Windhelm and my hopes to get Grelod the Kind removed. She just shook her head and told me that I should focus on the task the Greybeards set me on but she knew that I was not one to do what I was told.

After bidding Lydia farewell with the command to protect Whiterun while I was gone, I walked through the Plains District towards the city’s marketplace. As I strolled past the various stalls with their goods on display, I heard Carlotta Valentia calling me over. She ran a produce stall that featured goods from Severio Pelagia’s farm. I knew Carlotta from my interactions with her daughter, Mila, who seemed to have taken a liking to me. Carlotta’s husband had died years ago when Mila was just a small child. A successful business woman and still very attractive, she was seen as an object of desire for most of the men in Whiterun. This caused Carlotta to be plagued with enamored suitors. When I approached her, I queried as to which so called ‘suitor’ was giving her trouble this time. She informed me that it was the Bannered Mare’s bard, Mikael, who was bothering her now. I assured her that she need not worry and I would go speak to him.

I entered the Bannered Mare and spotted Mikael easily. He was a slender Nord with sandy blonde hair done up in a hairstyle that would have looked better on a woman. He was serenading a patron with his songs and she was swooning at every bat of his long eyelashes. I could only shake my head as this self-proclaimed ‘enchanter of women’ continued his song. I waited until he was finished before calling him over. I asked what his intentions for Carlotta were and he stated that she was the most exquisite creature he had ever laid eyes on. I asked if he was prepared to not only take care of her, but her daughter, and the business. As I started rattling off all the newfound responsibilities he would have, Mikael began to stammer that while he found Carlotta to be lovely, she must have misunderstood his intentions for he just wanted to be friends. I told him that a long-distance friendship with Carlotta would be for the best and that maybe he should focus on someone who actually liked him in return. He coyly nodded in agreement and I left him in peace. As I exited the Bannered Mare, a female patron walked in and Mikael flitted to her side, singing the same song I had heard when I entered, just for her.

I returned to Carlotta and informed her that she should not have any difficulty with Mikael from now on. She asked me if I had roughed him up but I told her that Mikael was easily intimidated and no violence was needed. She thanked me with fresh produce and a few Septims for my troubles. I told her that it was my pleasure to help which she raised an eyebrow to, quizzing me if I had fallen for her as well. I put up my paws and quickly declared that I was helping her for Mila’s sake and that I did not want to see her daughter distraught over the treatment Carlotta was receiving. I took my leave then and walked up the stone path to the Wind District.

As I passed the Shrine of Talos, I heard the Nord Priest call out to me. I greeted Heimskr and he asked me about my beliefs. I told him that I followed the ways of the Khajiiti Pantheon. The Priest then asked me what I knew of Talos but before I could answer he began to give his sermon. He explained that Talos was first a mortal named Tiber Septim who conquered all of Tamriel and ushered in the Third Era. After death, he ascended to the heavens and became the ninth Divine, known as Talos though some of the Nords still call him Ysmir. His worship along with the worship of the Nine Divines spread throughout all of Tamriel and became the prominent religion of the Empire. Offended that a mere Nord had ascended to godhood, the Aldmeri Dominion demanded that his worship be banned when Emperor Titus Mede II signed the White-Gold Concordat, ending the Great War. Heimskr cried that the Emperor was a coward who banished the worship of Talos at the tip of an Aldmeri sword. The Priest continued that it was blasphemy and that a true son of the Empire would never turn his back on Talos for any price, let alone at the command of the Elves. Then, as if noticing for the first time that I was not a Nord, he started to rant about how the Khajiit sided with the First Aldmeri Dominion under the reign of Queen Ayrenn and continued to fight for the Second and Third Dominions. By this time, Heimskr was practically frothing at the mouth as he condemned my people’s involvement with the ‘Elven blasphemers.’ He ordered me to leave his sight which I gladly obeyed.

I was just about to climb the steps towards Dragonsreach when I overheard Amren fighting with his wife, Saffir. The Redguard warrior was one of the first people to truly accept me in Whiterun and I counted him amongst my friends. His wife and I got along as well, for we both shared a love of books. Amren’s daughter, Braith, was someone I was well familiar with too, for she enjoyed spending time bullying Lars Battle-Born. I tried not to look conspicuous as I eavesdropped on their argument. It sounded as if Amren wanted to spend Septims to hire a couple of men to explore a thieves’ den he had discovered. Saffir stated she understood that family honor was important to her husband but that they simply could not afford the expense. Amren responded that he had been searching for this den for weeks and could not get the sword back on his own. Saffir countered that he would let his family starve for a rusty sword. She then stated that either he reclaimed his sword or he could keep his wife for if he left Whiterun, she would not be there when he returned.

With that, Saffir left Amren in the streets of the Wind District. I approached my friend and lent him my ear. Amren related the story about how his father fed his entire family with the gold he made using the same sword but thieves had recently stolen it. He did not want the sword gathering dust in some thieves den and was going to hire the Whiterun guards or maybe the Companions to get it for him. He stated that he knew it was risky and foolish to waste resources on an old sword but that it was the only thing he had of his father and the only tie he had to his home in the Imperial Province. I reassured him that I understood how valuable the item was and that I would do my best to locate it for him. Amren offered me a bag of gold coins but I pushed it back into his hands, friends help friends for free.

I finally made my way to Dragonsreach and met Avenicci. The Jarl’s Steward was busy as usual and could only spare a few words for me. He thanked me for clearing out the rabble near Valtheim Towers when I fought them on my way to Ivarstead. He threw a coin purse at me and then shooed me out of his sight. As I weight the purse in my hands, a hundred Septims worth, a Courier called out to me and handed me a message. It was from a Calcemo in Markarth, far to the west of Skyrim. Apparently, the Dwarven Arrow I had previously purchased from Belethor was worth something and he requested that I bring it to him when I was in the area. ‘Another errand for the cat.’ I thought to myself. Still, I had no plans on journeying west for I had priorities in the Rift to take care of. I neatly folded the message and put it in my satchel, it would have to wait for now.

June 24, 2016

Missing Rachel - Entry V: Into the Wood
Missing Rachel
Entry V: Into the Wood
Location: The Wood
Date: Friday, June 19th, 2015

As I walked through the wood, I couldn’t help but realize how alone I felt. There wasn’t even a single hooting from an owl or a chirping from a cricket, everything was silent. I had passed a sign that pointed out various campsites and walking paths within the wood a few yards back. There was also a mention of a river and a washroom, but the details were too faded for me to see clearly. My mind wandered back to that man’s house and the tunnels underneath it. Whoever had used it had scribbled notes on this place, notes I couldn’t make out, but I wondered what someone would be doing poking around in those tunnels, and the sewers, and what that person would be doing here.

I traveled down what I hoped to be the main path out of the wood and into town. I came across a trampled pile of dirt and saw a plastic card of some kind sticking out. When I brushed it off and shined the flashlight on it, I was surprised to see it was my credit card. Was I here before? When was that… and what was I doing here? I pocketed the card, even though I wasn’t sure it still worked, and continued down the trail. I came across a fenced off area and could see a dilapidated outbuilding. I needed to find my way around the fence if I wanted to investigate further. I moved forward, coming across a fire pit which still had a few embers burning at the bottom. I had just missed the people here, maybe they would be able to help me… or maybe it was the same person that wrote those notes. I looked around the campsite and spied two folding chairs near the firepit. One was knocked over and there were beer cans spilled on the ground. There was a cheap dome tent that slept two people, with two bedrolls, two backpacks, and a cooler inside. Why would they leave their backpacks?

I tried to find a clue as to which direction they went, only to find some personal effects shoved behind a rock a few meters away. Wait… there was a notebook here too. Inside the cheap, dollar-store notebook was page after worn page of names and lists. None of it made any sense. The newest page contained several names.
Rachel?! Why was her name on this list?! Her’s was the last name on the list and it had a mark beside it in blue ink. The names ‘Daphne’ and ‘Olivia’ had been crossed out in the same blue ink. ‘Cheryl,’ ‘Heather,’ and ‘Rose’ had also been crossed out but these marks looked much older and faded than the others. No, no, Rachel… please be okay. I had to get out of here and get back home, back to Rachel. What the hell was going on and who was this person?!

I couldn’t run but tried to hobble down the path as quickly as possible. I somehow found myself on the other side of the fence and near the dilapidated outbuilding. There was a large hole in the chain link and I was able to squeeze through it. Inside, I found a grimy sink that had a small clean patch in it. There was no one inside and it looked like the washroom hadn’t been used for some time. A musty wooden plank was propped up against one of the stall doors, I wasn’t sure how it was useful, but I took it outside with me. Near the washroom was an old picnic table sat lonely amongst the trees. It had carvings and marks from years of previous campers. I sat down and as I tried to read the names carved into the table, I idly thumbed the knife I’d found in the sewers. With a few crude strokes, I etched a simple design into the wood of the table:
I felt like a teenager, defacing the table with my professions of love and eternity. I realized then that I could hear the babbling of water nearby. There was a small river and I could see some kind of clearing on the other side. The plank I found was long enough to form a crude bridge, but I wasn’t sure if it would hold. I quickly and precariously made my way across the plank to the other side of the river, what I found there was nothing I could fathom. Two bodies… two young women… were half-dug into a hasty, shallow grave between the trees. The younger-looking one was still face-up, her dead eyes gleaming against my flashlight. It was sickening, what kind of person could do this to another living being. They both deserved better than to be dumped in the wood like garbage. I tried to cover them up a bit more and I closed the younger woman’s eyes. I fashioned a crude marker from a couple of twigs and placed it near their heads. I wasn’t sure why I did this but I felt like I had to do something.

I rushed across the plank once more and down the path. This time I stopped for nothing, no exploring the other campsites or going down different trails, I needed to get home. I needed Rachel. I found the same sign that was placed at the beginning of the wood, but this time it was marking the opposite entrance. I had finally found my way out. Once I left, I knew I never wanted to return here again. Through the dense trees, I could finally see some light. I must have been at the edge of the wood, though I wasn’t sure where the path ahead of me led. I could almost feel the cryptic notebook in my pocket as I tried to think about what it could mean. And who had killed those campers? Was it the same person who killed the man in that house and the sewer worker? Though the path ahead of me was less dense, I still felt guarded and wary. Who knew what I would find ahead.

May 27, 2016

Worth Fighting For - Entry X: On the Run
Worth Fighting For
Entry X: On the Run
Location: Midtown Manhattan
Date: Tuesday, November 4th, 2003

I was briskly walking down a bustling city street as snow descended on myself and the other passersby. Every window was illuminated with shimmering green and red lights; and I could hear carols playing faintly in the distance. I was in a hurry, not due to the nippy air, but because I had a destination to reach. There was a little jewelry shop just down the street and I had to make a stop there before I carried on to my dinner appointment. A bell chimed as I opened the door and a blast of warm air rushed past me. I winced at the sensation of warmth swirling around my frozen face. The jeweler gave me season’s greetings and inquired to what I was looking for. I replied that I was looking for a ring, an engagement ring.

The jeweler clapped his hands in excitement and congratulated me. He pulled out a tray of stunning rings from the glass cabinet and set it on a table for me to examine. It wasn’t difficult to find the perfect ring, I knew which one would fit her personality the instant I saw it. As the jeweler wrapped up my purchase, he asked when I was going to propose. I told him I would do it tonight at dinner and that I had been thinking about proposing for some time now. I finally felt like this was the right time and I had made my decision to do it earlier at work. The jeweler asked me what my soon-to-be fiancé’s name was and I hesitated, unsure of the answer. I car honked its horn outside which startled me. I told the jeweler that if I didn’t hurry, I would be late. He gave me a small paper bag, wished me good luck, and I thanked him for the help.

As I stepped outside to brave the cold once more, I couldn’t help but feel an ominous premonition rise inside of me. I raised my hand to hail an approaching taxi and shook my head as if I was shaking the uneasiness from my body. As the taxi pulled near me it began to accelerate rather than slow down. I put up my hand to will the taxi to stop but it only barreled down on me. I could see the driver now, he was a large man dressed in a military uniform but not one from this country. He wore an officer’s hat with a blazoned red star on it. The taxi swerved towards me and onto the sidewalk. I tried to jump out of the way but my feet were frozen to the ground. As the headlights blinded my sight, I could only brace myself for the impending impact. I could hear the roar of the engine and then the piercing clash of metal.

I bolted upright, dazed and uncertain of where I was. Steven gave me an apologetic smile as he picked up the coffee pot he had just knocked over. Daniil was sitting across from me, slouched against the concrete wall, his sleep undisturbed by the fallen coffee pot. Memories of past events flooded back to me, drug along by a skull splitting headache. We had been betrayed by the man we thought was Mr. Jones but who we found out was really Colonel Bulba, leader of the KGB. He had duped us all and manipulated Chris into assassinating his rival, General Tatarin. Now Bulba was in complete control of the SAF and had ordered an attack on our Manhattan Rebel Base. We had already lost Brooklyn and Chris’ brother in that attack, and now we found ourselves on the run with no sanctuary.

I gazed at my surroundings as I tried to quell the headache that threatened to take me back into the darkness. We were hiding out in one of the many abandoned office buildings in Midtown Manhattan. Maybe it was my return here that triggered the strange dream I had, or was it a dream at all? I wasn’t sure if it was a long forgotten memory of my past life or a moving picture my fragile mind conjured up. It did not matter, either way it was an image of a life that no longer existed. My mind wandered back to the attack on the base. I saw Chelly, Ryo, and Logan escape, or at least escape the initial attack. Reds had pursued them down the tunnels and I was unaware if they had survived or not. I never saw Charlie or Manny after I had spoken to them earlier that day. I hadn’t seen Phil or Isabella either, so there was no telling what happened to them.

I worried about Chris too, he had no idea that the base was now under the Reds’ control. I hoped that when he returned, he wasn’t captured or worse, killed. I knew we lost a lot of Resistance members during the attack as well. Nikolay had sacrificed himself so that we could make it out alive. The blast from all the grenades going off had knocked me off my feet and sent my head reeling. Kat had to almost carry me for us to escape. Kat! I struggled to get up to my feet, I hadn’t seen Kat when I woke up and I had to find her, but the pain in my head just made me pitch forward onto my side. Two pairs of arms reached in and hoisted me up to a sitting position, then leaned me against the wall again.

Steven gave me a concerned look but Kat’s face was streaked with anger. She scolded me, practically yelling at me, for being so stupid. She told me I had probably sustained another concussion from the impact my head took when we were fleeing the base. I hadn’t fully recovered from the first one I received courtesy of a Russian tank at the power plant. And to top it all off, my gunshot wounds from the warehouse district hadn’t fully healed either. I apologized for my foolishness but told her in my defense that I was just getting up to look for her. The last thing I remember was her trying to drag me out of the base and then nothing. I was concerned that she was either left behind, or worse, met the same fate as Nikolay and the others.

Kat’s face softened when she heard this but I could tell she was still irritated with me. And then her voice took a serious turn, she informed me that the second concussion I suffered probably caused significant damage. She was unsure if the headaches would ever go away. Then there was the sensitivity to sound and light, which had already had a significant impact on me. The proof was there with our last mission, twice I had succumbed to it. I knew Kat was concerned for my safety but I couldn’t help thinking there was an ulterior statement in her message to me. I was now a liability to our straggly squad. A light shining in my face or a grenade exploding near me could trigger an agonizing headache that would leave me crippled. I knew the others wouldn’t leave me to die and that was the issue, they would sacrifice themselves to try and save me. I couldn’t let that happen so when Kat told me to rest, I promised that I would, but in the back of my mind I began to formulate a plan.

Location: Midtown Manhattan
Date: Wednesday, November 5th, 2003

The sun wasn’t even up yet when Kat gently shook me awake. Reds were crawling all over Midtown in search of any remaining Freedom Fighters and we had to keep moving if we wanted to stay free. Daniil held my arm as I willed my unsteady legs to carry me. There was only numbness in my head and body and a thick fog seemed to cloud my thoughts. It was hard to collect myself so I just repeated my plan over and over again in my head. It took a few minutes but I was able to regain enough sense of equilibrium that I could stand on my own. Steven and Kat were collecting what few belongings we had. We had rifles for all of us, a few ammo clips but not enough for everyone, and a couple of radios. Everything else we used was hoarded from the empty offices. Steven took a few extra moments to hide our presence and then we left towards an unknown destination.

We weaved our way through alleyways and side streets, trying as best we could to not make any noise. It had snowed the night before and the sound of crunching snow beneath our boots echoed through the empty streets. Our progress was slow going, partly because of the snow but mostly because of me. Unexpectedly, we saw beams of light moving ahead of us. It was a Russian patrol, not more than five or six soldiers, but enough that we could not take them head on. We ducked into another alleyway as we tried to maneuver away from the Reds only to find ourselves facing another patrol.

We had two options, flee left or run right. Our group started to sprint down the left alleyway and I began to follow only to stop dead in my tracks. My squadmates realized I wasn’t with them and turned to look at me. I gave a short salute and then ran back in the other direction. It was too late for them to try and follow me; they had to flee without me. My plan had worked and the distraction I caused diverted the Red patrol towards me and away from my friends. I had vowed that I would not let them die because of me and instead I would sacrifice myself for their safety.

I was starting to run out of side streets and had to scurry around alleyways I had already been down previously. I was slightly impressed with myself that I could keep up this physical exertion for so long in my condition but I knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t as I quickly found myself on a dead end side street. I fired four rounds before I heard the click of the gun that indicated I had run out of bullets. The extra clips were carried by Kat and Steven so I had no other options. I raised my gun over my head and prepared to charge at my enemies when I heard the sound of gunfire and saw them drop dead in front of me. A masked and hooded figure appeared from behind the dead Reds, a rifle slung over the shoulders. The figure let out a laugh that echoed throughout the alleyway, it sounded strangely familiar. Then the hood was pulled back and the mask was removed revealing the face of a dear friend, Chris Stone had saved me.
Location: Midtown Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Wednesday, November 5th, 2003

He led me into the sewers and to an abandoned maintenance room. There, a makeshift base had been set up with beds, supplies, and even a small table with a map of Governor’s Island on it. I couldn’t help but stare at the face of my friend. He had changed so much in the little time we had been apart. His hair was longer and stubble had grown on his face. His eyes had a sort of hollowness to them. He truly looked like a phantom now. He had always been a man on a mission ever since I had known him but now; it felt like his mission was more about revenge than about gaining freedom.

Then I saw the welcomed sight of a scruffy looking Phil Bagzton. He was standing next to a computer and its user, The Kid! I shouted his name when I saw the teen who had helped Chris and I on our very first mission. He gave us a big toothy grin and Phil tipped his hat as we approached. Then I heard someone call out my name and saw Kat, Steven, and Daniil sprinting towards us. Kat threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug before pulling away and punching me in the arm. I winced and let out a muffled wheeze; she had hit me hard and on my wounded side. Kat gasped and quickly apologized but the others just laughed. Daniil proclaimed that an entire Red army couldn’t kill the crazy writer. I had to correct him and told them all the story of how Chris rescued me.

Our happy reunion was short lived for we were all curious about what happened to Chris after Governor’s Island and the assassination of General Tatarin. He told us that he had returned to the Manhattan Rebel Base to find it overrun with SAF soldiers. Coronel Bulba was also there and was goading Chris into trying to kill him. Chris fought through dozens of Reds, chasing after Bulba, but the traitor escaped before he could catch him. From there, he had found the Kid, Phil, and a few other freedom fighters around Midtown Manhattan. The Kid knew about this abandoned maintenance room that wasn’t connected to the main sewer system so they had set up a temporary base to organize what was left of the Resistance. We also learned from Phil that Isabella had been captured again. This time, Bulba was planning on using her as bait to lure Chris out of hiding. We all knew something must be done but the Manhattan Resistance was a battered and broken shell of what it used to be. Luckily, the Kid had a plan.

April 22, 2016

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XVII: Kindness of the Nords
The Thief in the Snow
Entry XVII: Kindness of the Nords
Location: Riften, The Rift
Date: Turdas, 28th of Last Seed, 4E 201

The moon had risen over Lake Honrich when I ventured outside the walls of Riften and into the night air. My destination was the Riften Stables, just outside the main gate, to speak to Shadr about the deal I had struck with Sapphire of the Thieves Guild. A quick jaunt down the stone road brought the stables within view. Being so close to Riften, I let my guard down, thinking no bandit had the gall to attack travelers where Rift guards were posted. I was wrong in my assumption as I suddenly heard yelling and was ambushed by four Hired Thugs. They ran at me with weapons drawn, screaming that I did not belong in Skyrim for this was the land of the Nords. I did not have time to draw my bow or my daggers and instead, resorted to using a Khajiit’s true weapons; my claws. I dug into the chest of the first Hired Thug that approached me, using his momentum to propel him over my shoulder and send him crashing into the dirt behind me. My second attacker held his axe high above his head, ready to land a crushing blow. I dove straight towards his legs, with my claws extended, and tore into his calves. He cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Before his friends could attack me, I quickly picked up the Hired Thug’s axe and cut off his head. The next two Hired Thugs charged me at the same time but I deftly dodged their attacks and dispatched them with ease.

I knew about these sorts of people all too well for I had spent time in the same line of work as they; hiring out my skills as a fighter to any who would pay my fee. They did not attack me randomly; they had but hired to hunt me but who would pay money to sign a contract with them? I searched the thugs’ bodies until I found a crumpled piece of parchment. The Contract was paid for by a Solitude guard, and identified me as the target. ‘Solitude?’ I thought to myself, ‘I do not recall upsetting anyone there. I did not even steal anything from the Blue Palace.’ I continued reading the Contract; it stated that I was not to be killed but punished for defiling the grave of Roggvir. I had to pause a moment to remember who this ‘Roggvir’ was… and then it came back to me. He was the man that was executed when I first arrived in Solitude. His family requested that I bring back his Amulet of Talos, which required me to go into Solitude Catacombs, kill a few re-animated skeletons, and open his coffin. I would not call the ‘defiling’ so to speak at least not enough to hire thugs to rough me up. No matter, I now had more armor and weapons to sell when I returned to Riften.

As I was picking up the last of the valuables from the thugs I had defeated, a Nord warrior ran up to me. He waved his hands to show that he meant no harm and asked what had happened. I introduced myself and told him that bandits had set on me to try and steal my money but that I was able to handle them. The Nord was impressed and told me that he was Hofgrir Horse-Crusher from the Riften Stables. I told him that was where I was headed with good news for Shadr. As we walked towards the stables, Hofgrir informed me that the Redguard was his assistant and he had been worried about the difficulties Shadr was having with the Thieves Guild. The Nord spotted Shadr in the distance and waved his assistant over to us.

Hofgrir quizzed his assistant and asked if the Redguard knew a cat, pointing his well-worn fingers at me. Shadr flashed me a smile and relayed to the Nord how we met. He then turned to me and asked if I had any news and how he hoped it would be good. I nodded my head vigorously and reported that I was able to convince Sapphire to forgive his debts. Shadr thanked the Divines and then thanked me. He was astonished to hear that not only had I talked to her but that I was able to change her mind. He also added that he never thought anyone in Riften would ever care what happened to him, outside of Hofgrir. He reached into his satchel, handed me a bottle, and informed me that he was saving it in case he needed to run from Sapphire. I turned the glass flask in my hands until I realized what it was, it was a Potion of Invisibility. I thanked Shadr for the gift and bid him and Hofgrir a good night before returning to Riften.

While it was late by Whiterun standards, Riften was still buzzing with activity. I wanted to sell the armor and weapons I had procured from the thugs so I sauntered over to the Scorched Hammer and found Balimund the Blacksmith. As I sold my items, he told me how he was running low on Fire Salts to keep his forge burning. I told him that I would keep an eye out for them if he would allow me to use his forge when I was in Riften. Balimund happily agreed and told me he would even give me a good deal on metal ore as well. The other merchants were just closing their shops as I strode past the main marketplace. Grelka the Nord, who sells weapons and armor, was making fun of Madesi, the Argonian jeweler. She was also being especially cruel to a homeless Argonian. After she had left, I talked to Madesi a bit and offered to help him find some rare stones for his crafting. I also talked to the homeless Argonian, Wujeeta, and learned she was a Skooma addict. I gave her a Potion of Healing to help with the side effects of her affliction and told her to try and get help.

My last stop was Honorhall Orphanage to inquire about a home for Lucia and Blais. I was greeted by Constance Michel, the assistant to the headmistress. She came across as a genuinely caring person which was the complete opposite of her employer. Grelod the Kind, headmistress of Honorhall, was anything but kind. I could hear her yelling at the children, threatening to beat them if they did not finish their chores in a timely manner. Constance warned me that I should not be here, telling me that Grelod did not like visitors. I asked Constance why and she stated that Grelod would never allow anyone to adopt the children here. I could not believe what I was hearing. I was about to ask Constance why Grelod would do that when a little girl came up to me and told me about her friend Aventus Aretino. He had run away from Honorhall and returned to Windhelm. She told me that he was planning on summoning the Dark Brotherhood to kill Grelod. Then she pleaded with me to take her away from this place, telling me that she was a good worker and that she would be quiet. I left saddened and dismayed. This was not a place for children to grow up, especially someone as sweet as Lucia or as inquisitive as Blais. I had to find another place for them to live; someplace they could truly call home.

March 25, 2016

Missing Rachel - Entry IV: Moonless Night
Missing Rachel
Entry IV: Moonless Night
Location: The Wood
Date: Friday, June 19th, 2015

I inhaled deeply, the fresh air washing away the foul stench of the sewers. I had finally made it outside. The sun had already set and a few stars began to twinkle in the night sky. It was surprisingly dark as I saw that no moon shone overhead, luckily my flashlight still had power to illuminate my way. My journey from the house down into the tunnels, and finally through the sewer facility had taken me far from town. I could see an ancient water tower in the distance and knew that I was on the far side of the wood. If I wanted to make it home, I would have to travel through this area. I took a couple more deep breathes and then began to walk towards the water tower. I thought that I might be able to get a good view of the area and get my bearings. The wood was extensive and I didn’t want to get myself lost. Once I reached the water tower, I extended the ladder by popping the latch and began to climb.

The view from the tower was stunning and I couldn’t help but take a few moments to enjoy the sights but soon the thought of Rachel and home crossed my mind. I moved to stand closer to the railing to get a better view when my boot hit a patch of smeared dirt and grass. There was a beat-up old wallet in the dirt. It looked like mine; I picked it up and examined it. The wallet didn’t contain any cards or ID of any kind. I wondered where my credit card and driver’s license went. From the railing, I could see the town in the distance and knew which direction I should head. From the opposite railing, I could see down to the entrance to the sewers. Had I come through here before? If I did, someone definitely could have seen me from here.

With my destination firmly in mind, I climbed down the ladder and headed towards town. I wasn’t far from home now and hoped to find Rachel soon. Maybe this was all some sort of sick joke being played on me and she would laugh at how easily panicked I had become. Then I became aware of the weight in my pocket and the thin metal pressed against my ankle. That video, was that fake too? But then the bodies, they surely were real. I closed my eyes and rubbed them with my dirty hands. I needed to stop thinking and just get home. I came across a fenced in area with a locked metal door and decided to try the odd little key I had fished out of the murky water back in the sewers. It fit perfectly and I heaved open the rusty door.

Location: The Train Station
Date: June 19th, 2015

It took me a moment to realize where I was, the old train station. The wind was picking up a bit and the night air had become strangely chilly. The old station was quiet as a tomb except for the increasing sound of the wind howling through the empty building. I entered the structure hoping to find a working telephone but instead was greeted to the sight of an old map encased in glass that was hung on the wall. It was a map of the train routes connecting to the station, as I looked at it, something seemed familiar… of course! The map I found in the tunnels had similar locations marked, and the notes I found had mentioned the water tower and even this train station. What was he doing here?

I walked out of the train station and onto the platform. I could see an old train that was on its side and ripped open. I gingerly hopped off of the platform, being careful not to land on my bad leg, and moved closer to inspect the train. I could see something hanging from a shred of metal on the train as well as on the broken fence. They were dark-stained patches of cloth, some kind of synthetic like the kind used for outerwear. Inside the train’s shell, I could see a few faint impacts, like wounds. Could they have been bullet marks? Was somebody shot here? The ground was well-worn and I couldn’t make out any kind of tracks or other clues as to what happened here. Then I realized that I had been touching the gun in my pocket as I examined the train. I shakily pulled my hand out of my pocket and headed back inside the train station.

I checked the old map again and noticed that there was an entrance to the wood on the other side of the train station. I headed in that direction and came across the old ticket booth. It appeared to be fairly ruined and I was able to easily bust the rusted lock. Inside, there were sheets of paper strewn about and… wait, what were these? I shuffled through the dusty papers and grabbed what looked like train receipts. I thought the receipt I had picked up in the sewers might match these, but of course not, this station had been closed for years. The ticket must have been for the newer station that opened up on the other side of town. However, I did find a series of fresher-looking papers, covered in tiny notes and diagrams. I couldn’t make any sense of it so I left the papers and exited the train station.

When I reached the cold fresh air once again I couldn’t help but reflect on everything that had happened to me so far. I must have looked like death itself, my head had stopped bleeding by my hair was matted with dried blood and there was a red streak down my shirt. My leg was more numb now than anything but if I put too much weight on it, a sharp pain would shoot through my muscles. My boots were filthy, covered in everything from dirt and mud, and whatever I had walked through in the sewers. I still had the photo I had taken of the couple from the house in my front pocket. I don’t know why I carried it but it felt like some kind of proof of what I had found in that house. How would I explain what I saw to Rachel? Would she even understand? Then there was the reassuring weight of the gun in my side pocket and the knife tucked into my boot. They made me feel safe, not only as a way of protecting myself from whatever monster was out there but it also comforted me to know that they weren’t in someone else’s hands. Now I had the daunting task of navigating through the wood in the dark and finding my way home. Home… the word floated around in my head like some utopia, almost too good to be true that I feared it didn’t exist at all.

February 26, 2016

Worth Fighting For - Entry IX: In Remembrance
Worth Fighting For
Entry IX: In Remembrance
Location: Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Monday, October 27th, 2003

Once again I found myself waking up to the sensation of pain. This time it was more than just my head but my left shoulder and right leg as well. I opened my eyes and saw Kat looking down at me. Déjà vu all over again, I thought to myself. I asked her what I had missed and if everyone was okay. She told me that I had been out for three days and a lot of things had happened. Chris and Steven were able to drag me out safely. Phil had cleared the way for our escape and almost everyone made it back. I gave her a concerned look and she only shook her head. Arthur was shot in the back as we were escaping and was killed. Logan and Ryo had taken his death pretty hard but were physically fine. Everyone else made it out with minimal injuries as well.

The news didn’t get any better. When we returned back to base, the SAFN was reporting that they had captured the Brooklyn Rebel Base, and with it, Troy Stone. Chris had arrived in time to see the Russian news network showing Troy’s torture. They even forced Troy to make a public address denouncing the Freedom Phantom and all those in the Manhattan Resistance. Instead, he refused and called for every American to stand up and fight against the Russian invaders. He had cried out for Chris to stay strong and continue fighting no matter what. That “no matter what” happened moments later when General Tatarin executed Troy Stone live on television. I couldn’t believe it; we had sacrificed so much to retake Brooklyn, only to lose it now. Kat reassured me that Chris, Isabella, Phil, and Mr. Jones were all working on a strategy to, her voice trailed off. She knew just as I did that we were at the end of our rope and running out of options.

Location: Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

With the assistance of Kat, I was able to hobble my way to the command center where Chris, Isabella, Phil, and Mr. Jones were waiting. They had come up with the basis of a plan and wanted my opinion. Mr. Jones was able to procure schematics of Governor’s Island Naval Base, the headquarters for General Tatarin and the brain center of the Soviet Armed Forces. He felt that the only way for us to turn the tide was to assassinate Tatarin. Phil was all for this plan, he wanted revenge for the murders of Troy and every Freedom Fighter we lost at the Brooklyn Rebel Base but Isabella cautioned patience. After all, this was Governor’s Island, highly protected by the Reds best soldiers and weapons.

I suggested a surgical strike. If Mr. Jones’ intel was correct, we would be able to sneak a small team onto the island without alerting the patrols. Isabella supported my suggestion, stating that we had been successful using this tactic before. We were no army, but a small highly skilled team could successfully complete the mission. Phil instantly volunteered but was vetoed by Mr. Jones. Phil was exasperated by this and demanded to know why he couldn’t go but Mr. Jones flatly stated that Chris needed to go alone. We all looked at him in shock but he seemed to ignore our concern and continued outlining his plan. If we sent Chris with a large boat filled with even a handful of fighters, they would instantly draw the attention of the Reds. But Chris was the best sniper we had and if he went alone, along with the best sniper rifle we had, he would be able to locate Tatarin and assassinate him before anyone even knew he was there.

Phil was the first to speak, calling it a suicide mission. Isabella agreed that sending in one operative alone left little room for mistakes. I also voiced dissent stating that he would have no back up if he got into trouble let alone extracting him safely if he succeeded. It was Chris who subdued our concerns and stated that he agreed with Mr. Jones’ plan. We were all hesitant but we knew there was no changing Chris’ mind once he had made a decision. We nodded our agreement with reluctance and the others began working on the minute details of the operation. Chris took me aside to thank me for my help and to wish me a speedy recovery. I could only voice my displeasure that I would not be able to help him this time around. I shook his hand before I left, thinking in the back of my mind that I might not ever see him again.

Location: Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Sunday, November 2nd, 2003

Chris Stone, the feared Freedom Phantom, had already departed for Governor’s Island. There was a solemn air around the base as everyone knew how dire a mission he was on. The details weren’t widely shared but we all knew that Chris was going in alone, via boat, would try to breach the perimeter of the naval yard and slowly work his way to a sniping position near the barracks. There was always a helicopter patrolling the base as well as half a dozen large watchtowers encircling the entire base. It was a daunting task but if anyone could succeed, it would be Chris. This mission was imperative as well; the death of General Tatarin would cause a power vacuum within the Soviet hierarchy that could lead to a possible collapse altogether. All we could do was wait and watch SAFN for any reports on Chris’ success or worse, his failure.

I couldn’t just sit around and wait for news though, I had to do something. A lot of people were in low spirits so I hoped that I could try and take their minds off of everything, at least for a time. I sought out my fellow teammates, hoping to chat with them for a while. It surprised me how little I knew about all of them even though I trusted each and every one of them with my life. My journalistic instincts had been replaced with a fighter’s will but now that I had time to spare, I felt compelled to document as much as I could about these people who were writing history in front of my very eyes.

I spotted Charlie Raider in our weapons area, taking apart a rifle and cleaning it. She was the first freed POW to join Chris’ team. Phil and Miguel had rescued her near the Brooklyn Hotel and she didn’t waste any time in joining us at the Brooklyn Harbor to fight. She was injured during that mission as well and was sidelined for some time because of it. When she had finally healed, Chris’ team was already in the field so she helped out with Phil’s team until she could rejoin us on our first mission to the Manhattan Warehouse District.

I didn’t know much about her except that she was extremely good with a gun. We started to chat and I began asking what her life was like before the invasion. She was hesitant to answer at first, maybe because she didn’t want to think about the past or maybe she couldn’t remember it in detail. My own past seemed more like a dream than a life I had lived. She told me she was the youngest and only girl in her family. Her three brothers made sure that she was as tough and rumble as they were. When she was old enough, she worked at her family’s restaurant as a waitress and then as a bartender. I didn’t ask if her family members were still alive, it was an impossible question to answer for so many here.

I asked if she had known Manny Perez and Tony Ramos long. They were both POWs in the same camp she was at and were also rescued by Phil and Miguel. Manny was killed by machine gun fire at the Brooklyn Fire Station. Tony was the latest team member we lost, when he sacrificed himself so that we could escape the Manhattan Power Plant. She shook her head and said that she had never met them before. Charlie didn’t know much about them either. She thought Manny was an electrician and was married but she wasn’t sure. She told me Tony had mentioned a sister a few times and how he worked at the same office as her. Lawyer, accountant, maybe a tax consultant, something “corporate like,” Charlie answered. It was saddening to realize how little we knew about our fellow freedom fighters. We had fought together for months and I was there when both of them made the ultimate sacrifice. I would make sure that what we did know about them would not be forgotten, that they were heroes.

I found Steven, Daniil, and Nikolay playing a game of basketball, or at least something like it since they only had a trashcan and a deflated soccer ball. They asked if I wanted to join and I shook my head, I was still too sore to do anything that rigorous. I did stay to watch the “game” and participate in the small stalk. Steven Ryan was the other POW from Charlie’s group. He was the last prisoner to be brought into the camp before they were rescued so he didn’t even know any of their names when he joined us. The only thing I knew about Steven was that he was from the West Coast and was an only child. Other than that, he was pretty mum about his past life.

Daniil Goldobin and Nikolay Tarasov were quite the talkers though. They were SAF soldiers about to be executed before Chris intervened. We found them near the Brooklyn Hotel and they were instrumental in helping us accomplish our mission. We were wary of them at first but they quickly proved their loyalty. Though Daniil and Nikolay weren’t siblings, they had grown up together, went to school together, played on the same hockey team, and enlisted at the same time. They thought their cause was just until they saw the brutality of the invasion. When they were ordered to kill innocent children, they had refused, which was when they were sentenced to death. Daniil and Nikolay both had a love of mobster movies and would often quote various lines, in their thick Russian accents. Neither one were very homesick, stating that there wasn’t much of a home to go back to.

I found Miguel Bishop reading a book a few yards from the others. I went over to him and inquired if he would be willing to answer a few questions. He set the book down and gave me his undivided attention. Miguel, along with Billy Hurst, was the first Resistance member to follow Chris. They helped us take over the Brooklyn Post Office early in the war. Billy was killed during our failed attempt to free the POWs in the Manhattan Warehouse District. His death had hit us all very hard. I asked Miguel what he did before the invasion and how he knew Billy. Miguel answered that he and Billy had run an auto repair garage together. They both met when they were in college and both had a love of cars. They decided to put aside their initial plans, Manny was to be a computer tech and Billy a dentist, and start a business of their own. I laughed when I heard that Billy was originally going to be a dentist. Miguel chuckled too, stating that Billy used to get queasy when he saw needles.

Chelly Ouma, Ryo Ouma, and Logan Torres were eating at the cantina. I approached the group and said my condolences for Arthur Mays. Logan thanked me and told me that he had been Arthur’s partner for three years. The two of them were security guards for the power plant. I asked Logan if he knew much about Arthur’s life before the war and he told me that Arthur was divorced and only saw his daughter every other weekend. Arthur was also a big sports fan so the two of them used to watch the games often. Logan told me that Arthur was the only person he considered to be family. Chelly and Ryo Ouma were both power plant workers and had just recently gotten married. They were planning on taking their honeymoon the week after we were invaded. Both had family in the Midwest who they hoped to try and locate when this was over. As they talked about their family, I couldn't help but think this war was never going to end.

I went to Phil’s tent to see if I could find him but he wasn’t there. When I came out, I ran into Katherine Cutter, and she asked if I needed any help. I asked her if she knew where Phil was but she only shrugged. Phil wasn’t the type that could sit still, especially if he was worried, so we both knew he was out making trouble somewhere. I then asked Kat if she had some time to talk. She said yes and we proceeded to sit down near the makeshift basketball court to watch the game. I first met Kat during the Manhattan Movie Theater operation when she was a member of Phil’s team and was assigned to assist Chris with the navigation of the area. She was so effective that after the mission, she was permanently assigned to our team and had been with us ever since.

I posed a few questions about her life before the invasion. She was the oldest of three girls and was tasked with taking care of her sisters while their mother worked. That responsibility instilled a need to help people so when she graduated from high school, she went to college to study nursing. I asked her how she got roped in with Phil and she chuckled. She was an aid worker at one of the civilian camps and had helped a member of Phil’s team. He had asked her to join the Resistance to provide medical support but soon she had proven herself as a capable fighter too. She stated that she had been following him around since then but was happy to help Chris and myself out now. I was about to query further when I heard Chelly shouting for us to hurry to the television.

The familiar voice of Tatiana Kempinski crackled over the speakers and static filled images of Governor’s Island appeared on the screen. She reported the tragic news that General Tatarin had been assassinated by the Freedom Phantom on Governor’s Island. We all cheered but then fell silent as we listened for more information. She stated that the Freedom Phantom had escaped but that the Resistance had been defeated and the SAF had achieved ultimate victory. We all looked at each other trying to understand what she was saying. Then the feed cut to an image of Colonel Bulba as he made an acceptance speech, becoming the new leader of the Soviet Armed Forces. It was the first time we had seen Colonel Bulba on television but not the first time I had seen him for I knew him by another name, Mr. Jones.

The shock was only momentary because before I could reveal who he really was to everyone, a loud explosion rocked the base. The SAFN news feed cut out and we were all stunned by blast. That was when I realized what was happening, I shouted at everyone to grab a weapon and flee the base, we were under direct attack. Mr. Jones was a traitor; he had been playing us this entire time. The Soviets knew our exact location and had been waiting for the opportune moment to kill us off. Bulba had checkmated us, not only did he orchestrate Chris killing off his rival, but now he would look like a hero to his people for eliminating the entire Resistance. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

We scattered like leaves in the wind, racing to grab weapons and gear as the Reds broke through the tunnels. I saw Logan, Chelly, and Ryo make it out one exit before the Reds descended down the same path. Kat, Daniil, and Steven were with me heading for a northern exit. I whipped my head in every direction to see if I could spot Charlie and Miguel but to no avail. I noticed we were missing another member of our team, Nikolay wasn’t with us. I searched until I finally spied him near the weapons area; he was holding a large wooden crate. I heard Daniil screaming for him to run but Nikolay just gave him a sad little smile. It was then I realized what he was holding, a crate filled with grenades. He had one in his hand and waited for the Reds to approach him before he dropped it at his feet. It only took a few seconds, the blast dropped me to my knees and slammed my head against the concrete floor. Kat had to practically pick me up to get me moving again. When I looked back at our base, all I could see was black smoke seeping through the place we called home. There was nothing left we could do; we were now fugitives on the run.

January 29, 2016

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XVI: Depraved City
The Thief in the Snow
Entry XVI: Depraved City
Location: Riften, The Rift
Date: Turdas, 28th of Last Seed, 4E 201

I was forced to take my time traveling to Riften for the Bone Break Fever I had contracted from the Bear’s bite was slowing me down considerably. It was early morning and the air was calm as I followed the Treva River until it met Lake Honrich. From there, I travelled along the main road straight to the gate of the capital city. I was once again barred from entering the city because of my race. ‘These Nords,’ I thought to myself, ‘I should unleash a Shout upon them all.’ I knew that trying to break in with violence would get me nowhere, so I was forced to try a different tactic. The Guard was unwilling to allow me entrance into Riften without paying a ‘tax.’ Though my title of Whiterun’s Thane did little to help me, I was able to persuade the Guard to let me in for free, with promises that I would bring him back some well aged Nord Mead. As the large wooden gates of Riften opened, I reminded myself that I was now deep within Stormcloak aligned territory and touting my exploits from Whiterun would only hinder me here.

As I entered Riften, I could feel the uneasiness of the city; it was as if the city’s very foundation was on edge. The guards and citizens only glared at me as I walked down the main street towards the city’s center. As I tried not to draw too much attention to myself, I overheard a conversation between a Nord warrior and her Imperial friend. She lamented that Riften was being infected by the Thieves Guild and that someone must do something to stop the troublesome group. The Imperial warned her not to engage the Guild for they were supported by Maven Black-Briar. The way he said the name made me think that this Black-Briar was a powerful figure here in Riften. I approached the pair and inquired about the Thieves Guild and its activities in the city. The Nord introduced herself as Mjoll the Lioness and answered by relating to me all the problems the Guild had caused recently. It seemed that no house was safe from the Thieves Guild, except the Black-Briars’ of course. I asked who Maven was and the Imperial, Aerin, provided the answer. She owned Black-Briar Meadery and was essentially in control of Riften. While not the Jarl, her money and power ran so deep in the Rift and her connections to the Thieves Guild gave her eyes and ears everywhere, that no one could challenge her authority. I thanked Mjoll and Aerin for their time and decided to try the local inn for more information.

Before I could travel any further, an imposing Nord approached me. I saw him when I first entered the city and he had been watching my conversation with Mjoll and Aerin. His dark hair, piercing eyes, and muscular arms made it very apparent that he was not afraid to get into a fight. He challenged my presence in Riften, demanding that I cause no trouble. His name was Maul and he appeared to be Maven Black-Briar’s right-hand man. He threatened to break both my arms if I did anything against Maven’s family but I assured him that I wanted no trouble. I was even able to smooth talk my way into gaining information from him. He told me about the local orphanage, Honorhall, and a boy named Aventus Aretino who ran away to Windhelm. Rumor had it that Aretino was trying to perform the Black Sacrament to summon the Dark Brotherhood. Then we switched to the topic of the Thieves Guild. I lightly hinted that I may wish to contact them and Maul pointed me towards the Bee and Barb, the local inn. There, he said, a Nord named Brynjolf might be able to help me contact the Guild. I thanked him for the information and reaffirmed that I would not cause any trouble for the Black-Briars during my stay in Riften. He only shooed me away as he turned his gaze towards the main gate, readying to ‘greet’ any other newcomers.

As I reached the city’s center, I overheard a Nord woman shaking down a Redguard. She did not look too imposing, quite beautiful in fact, but her posture conveyed that she was not someone to be trifled with. The Redguard, I think his name was Shadr, was terrified of her. After she left, I approached the shaken Redguard and asked if he was alright. Shadr was grateful for my concern and informed me that he had borrowed money from the Nord. Her name was Sapphire and she was a member of the Thieves Guild. ‘Hmm, just the person I was looking for.’ I thought to myself. Shadr had used the money to ship goods into Cyrodiil to sell but unfortunately the caravan had been raided and he had lost everything. To make matters worse, he found out that Sapphire was behind the raid but she was still demanding that he pay back his debts. I told Shadr not to worry and that I would talk to Sapphire on his behalf. He thanked me for my help and told me to meet him at the Riften Stables after I had resolved the matter.

I was truly starting to feel the effects of Bone Break Fever and located the Temple of Mara in hopes of curing my ailment. The temple was simple but quite beautiful with intricate patterns engraved in the high wooden beams. The altar was a little more elaborate than ones I had seen in the past; I had heard this temple often performed marriage ceremonies here. I approached the altar and offered a prayer to Mara and asked for her healing touch.

I whispered softly, “Come to me, Mara, for without you, I might forget the ways of our fathers, and preening by the light of latest fashion, my words might tremble like the tin reeds of novelty in the tempest of enthusiasms.”

I suddenly felt my strength return to me and could tell that I had been cured of Bone Break Fever. I offered a tithe of five Septims and turned to leave when I was greeted by a priestess named Dinya Balu. She and fellow priest, Maramal, were the primary caretakers of the temple. She was surprised to see a Khajiit inside the walls, stating that the caravans rarely came this far south due to the strong pro-Nord affiliations in the area. I made a scoffing sound at this statement and she quickly apologized for she meant no offence to me and affirmed that Mara loved all of Tamriel’s inhabitants. Dinya proceeded to ask me if I was with a caravan or had any family in Skyrim. I explained that I was alone here and while I had people I could call family when I was a child, I had been on my own for many years now. She expressed sorrow at hearing this and told me that everyone should have a place to call home with someone they loved waiting for them there. I could only shrug and excuse myself, telling her I had business to attend to but as I left I couldn’t help but ponder her words. ‘A home? Family?’ I asked myself, ‘I am not sure what that would even be like. To feel like I belonged and had people who accepted me for who I am…’ I could not fathom that.

Riften was buzzing with activity when I left the Temple of Mara. I came across a Dunmer merchant named Marise Aravel. She made her living selling meat to the citizens of Riften but had difficulty obtaining Ice Wraith Teeth to keep her food cool and fresh. I told her that I often encountered the annoying little bastards and would be happy to bring her as many as I could next time I was in the area. She laughed and thanked me for her assistance. I asked her where I could find the Bee and Barb and she pointed me in the right direction. On my way there, I met a beggar named Snilf and gave him a few coins if he could keep an eye out for Brynjolf and let me know when he saw the Thieves Guild contact. He gave me a slight nod and told me that he would help me if he could.

I entered the Bee and Barb and was met by a rude Argonian running the bar. I could not even get her name let alone any information on Brynjolf unless I paid a hefty fee of Septims. Argonians, I hated dealing with those lizardfolk. Some would think that the Khajiit and Argonians would get along since we were both beastfolk but I have never found a more contemptible race in all of Nirn. I turned to the other patrons and hoped I would have better luck. I spied Sapphire sitting at a table that was tucked away in the corner of the room. I approached and told her that Shadr had asked that I speak to her. Immediately, she was on the defensive but I was able to persuade her to forgive his debt, telling her that she would be seen as the one with true power. After all, thugs can shake down people for money but those in control have the power to forgive debts. She agreed and I was pleased that I had accomplished this for Shadr. I tried to change topics and inquire about the Thieves Guild but Sapphire made it very clear that she was done dealing with me.

I next spoke to Svana Far-Shield, who was the niece of Haelga of Haelga’s Bunkhouse. Haelga managed the boarding house and Svana acted as maid though she told me that she was more like her aunt’s personal slave. Svana shared her disgust of Haelga, saying the woman was foul and coldhearted. She then confided to me that her aunt had been sleeping around with three different men; some were even married, and was taking her worship of Dibella too seriously. Svana asked me to steal the tokens Haelga gave each one of her ‘suitors’ to use as leverage so that Svana could blackmail her. I quickly waved my hands, mumbling about helping Shadr at the stables and the work Aravel commissioned me for. I tried to leave the inn, telling Svana that I was only in town for a little while and I had just been cured of Bone Break Fever so it was best that I did not overexert myself. She would not let me leave the Bee and Barb until I promised that I would help her if I got the time. As I rushed out of the inn, I could not help thinking, ‘Klimmek was right, Riften was a depraved city.’