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Saturday, September 17, 2011

PART TWO: Prologue

The streets of the Great Bazaar were alive with colour and noise. Ropes of bright flags were strung from lamp to lamp, trees were wrapped in vibrant paper, and lanterns with different coloured glass threw circles of red and gold and blue light onto the cobbles below. A thick string of people shifted slowly up and down the narrow paths between street shops, their excited voices rising high into the night air. They were all dressed in clothes that varied from dazzling splendour to thin rags – all manner of people moved throughout the festival, including a man in a dark cloak that pushed impatiently through the crowds.

Celebrators shoved free brandy in his direction, and he ignored them, moving steadily onward through clouds of fragrant incense, magicians shooting fire spells high into the dark sky, musicians playing clashing sonatas from their respective street corners, children setting off firecrackers in the streets and running away as they sputtered and popped. The man passed by an ale cart offering free beer, the outdoor theatre a troupe of Bosmer acrobats were twisting and leaping into the air, a plump fellow gripping a handful of leashes that were attached to a group of domestic scribs. One of the scribs jumped excitedly at the man’s cloak as he passed and pulled at it, and he impatiently kicked the creature away and continued.
Soon the man had reached the outskirts of the Bazaar, where there was less light and the narrow alleys between buildings were thrown into shadow and whores lingered against the buildings, their robes slipped down off one shoulder to lure customers. The noise deadened as the man steadily made his way down a narrow pass between two tall houses, into the freezing night air, past the prostitutes that tempted him with seductive calls in sultry voices. He took no notice, but rather made a sharp turn to the left and found himself in the wide, dark street that was separated from the sheer walls of the city by a canal whose icy water lapped quietly against the stone barriers. A squat Dunmer man with a dagger on his belt leaned over the edge of the banister, checking a dented gold pocketwatch and looking increasingly agitated.
“Vules.” The Dunmer jumped and the pocketwatch slipped from his grasp, landing in the freezing water below with a solid plunk.
“My lord,” Vules said in an oily voice that dripped with irritation. “I thought you would not come. It is nearly eleven.”
“I would remind you, Vules, that it was your idea to meet on the night of the New Life Festival,” the cloaked man replied shortly.
“Of – of course my lord. I apologize. The Festival has never been this crowded before. The people are still excited over the end of the Blight in Vvardenfell, of the fall of Dagoth Ur. This is the first new year without worry that they have had in many years.”
“I don’t care,” replied the other tersely. “All I care is that I’m paying your…agency well for this service. And it had better be done right this time.”
“It will, serjo,” Vules assured him. “That last incident – very embarrassing, serjo, the first time we have ever failed a contract.” A hand lashed out from under the dark cloak, seizing the front of Vules’s shirt and pulling him close. Vules could smell the wine on the man’s breath, sweet and expensive.
“If the count goes up to two, I will hold you personally responsible. Do you understand?”
“Y – Yes, serjo. It will be finished by sunrise.”
“Good.” The man shoved Vules roughly away, then reached into his cloak and withdrew a small sack. “There is my payment,” he said, tossing it to Vules, who caught it quickly against his chest. “Contact me when the job is done.”
“Yes, serjo. Of course.” The cloaked man did not reply, but turned sharply and walked away, leaving Vules standing alone in the chill air clutching the sack of coins, the distant sounds of the festival dulled in the dark silence.

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