"Tell me again where we're going, lass?"
Mrrsizha chuckled. "I never told you in the first place, Brynjolf." He grunted irritably in response and she shot him a grin over her shoulder. "You'll see."
He exhaled softly, an exasperated not-quite-sigh, but didn't push, and for that Mrrsizha was grateful. She hadn't told Brynjolf their destination for a reason: she didn't think he'd be very happy about it.
The Khajiit's ears perked as they rounded the cliff and she stopped short, holding up a hand. Brynjolf made a questioning sound, stopping just behind her. "Lass?"
"The lantern." Mrrsizha didn't carry a lantern--she didn't need one, even in the blackest of nights--but Brynjolf did, lacking her feline night-vision. Oh, he could see well enough in the dark--any thief worth their salt could--but he preferred not to impair his vision in the wilds, if he could help it. It was all too easy for Skyrim's wildlife to sneak up on you in the dark.
He didn't answer her, but after a moment the light from his lantern dimmed and died. Mrrsizha stayed where she was, watching the area ahead of her for a moment. Good; nobody seemed to have seen it. Distantly, she heard something roar; a dragon, it sounded like, but she hadn't seen many dragons, and in any case it sounded far off.
"Alright. Let's go." The Khajiit dropped into a crouch, hugging the rock wall next to her and staying low in the grass as she headed for their destination.
She heard Brynjolf exhale sharply behind her and a moment later he grabbed her arm, hissing, "The Black-Briar lodge?! Lass, have you lost your mind?"
"Shhh!" Mrrsizha pressed a finger to his lips, glancing towards the lodge. The guards--three of them she could see--didn't seem to have heard him. She hoped they'd been out here for a while; tired, bored guards were the best ones.
"No, I have not lost my mind, Brynjolf." She looked back at him, her eyes glinting in the dark.
He moved her hand. "Then why are you planning to do something that will get us all killed?!"
Mrrsizha sighed softly. "Brynjolf, calm down. I'm not proposing we clean the place out. There's just one small thing I need. Maven probably won't even miss it." She glanced over her shoulder again, nervously. The guards still hadn't moved towards them. "Anyway, even if she does, what can she do to us? She can't send the Brotherhood after us; Fadali would never accept a contract on the Guild. If she tips off the guards, half of them will get killed in the Ratway--the half that we haven't bought." She pursed her lips, ears flicking. "Brynjolf, I'm going in there with or without you. I'd just rather have someone watching my back with all these mercs around, and you're the best."
Brynjolf glared back at her, silent. Finally, he closed his eyes and let out a harsh breath thought his nose.
"Very well, lass." He opened his eyes to give her a critical look. "But I want it known that I did not approve of this."
"Yes, yes." She waved a hand absently, turning back towards the lodge. "You're just following the Guild Master's orders, and so on. Now hush." She licked her lips, watching the guards; two at the front door, one patrolling the general perimeter of the lodge.
"Thought Maven had some prized white stallion here," Brynjolf murmured after a moment. Mrrsizha glanced towards the stables, even though she knew very well what he meant. The horses she could see were fine beasts--she supposed--but not the prize Brynjolf was talking about.
"Mm. Yes, she did. Frost." The Khajiit glanced back towards the lodge, watching the patrolling guard.
"Yes. Did. Past-tense." Mentally, she counted. "Last I heard, he belonged to some Breton. Louis Letrush, or some such name."
Brynjolf was quiet for a moment. "...and how did he come across such a fine animal, I wonder? I can't imagine Maven was eager to sell."
"Don't know. But her fetcher of a son was, before he was locked up." One-hundred-and-thirty-seven seconds to walk around the lodge, give or take a few for the occasional delay. Plenty of time. "Luckily, Louis ran into a lovely Khajiit maiden who was just thrilled to offer her help acquiring the beast, as she goes out of her way to help people whenever possible...that's what I heard, anyway."
Brynjolf groaned. "And she would never do something that she knew would piss off the most powerful woman in Riften simply because she didn't like her, I suppose."
"Naturally not. That would be immoral."
Brynjolf sighed. "Lass, you're giving me grey hairs."
"Nonsense. Your hair is just as red as it was yesterday, don't give me that."
She could almost feel him rolling his eyes behind her. The Khajiit tensed, taking a deep breath. "There's a door to the basement around the right side."
Mrrsizha was about to make a dash for the back door when she heard the snap and cut of leather through air above them; the Khajiit cast her eyes upwards and saw what it was an instant before she heard it.
She hissed shrilly as the dragon's fire blinded her, shoving herself back against Brynjolf; the dragon hadn't noticed them, though, but was focused on the guards. Mrrsizha was aware of the screaming of horses and men and the pungent scent of burning flesh, but she was still too blinded from the dragon fire to see anything. Above the racket, she heard a hoarse, deep, loud laugh, and wind buffeted the two thieves as the dragon flew off.
She snarled, finally looking up as her vision began to clear, squinting into the night; the dragon had left a wide swath of flame in front of the lodge, and caught the patrolling guard in it; the other two had turned their attention from the road and to the sky as it circled around for a second attack, and after a moment more mercenaries appeared in the lodge's doorway, drawn by the chaos.
This time, the dragon swooped in for a landing, the ground shuddering when it did. It snapped up one of the mercenaries immediately, shaking its head and tossing him aside before the others had even begun to react.
"Now! While they're distracted!" Mrrsizha winced, nodding sharply before darting off towards the back door, with Brynjolf at her heels. It wasn't locked, and the two of them disappeared inside before the dragon had even taken off again.
It was quiet inside the house, the only sounds coming from the battle outside: screams and roaring and the crackle of fire. Mrrsizha growled, rubbing at her eyes. "Bleeding dragons and their bleeding fire."
"Are you alright?" Brynjolf's hand brushed across her shoulders gently and Mrrsizha nodded.
"Eyes just sting a bit. Nothing major." She looked up at the floor above them, ears pricking. "Luckily, I think the damn lizard got everyone outside."
"Aye, and if we hurry we can even get what you're here for before it burns the place down," Brynjolf answered wryly.
Mrrsizha chuckled. "I think those mercs can take him. Dragons aren't stupid; if he gets hurt, he'll leave."
Brynjolf didn't ask how she knew, and she didn't elaborate, lifting her muzzle. Eyes half closed, she took a few long, deep breaths through her nose. The scent of burning from outside threw her off, but she could still filter it out, mostly. The strongest scent she got was male, human and leather and nervous excitement: that was Brynjolf. She knew his scent. Aside from him and the ever-present smell of leather-nightshade-Khajiit-sweet--herself--she didn't smell anyone else. Not strong enough to come from someone actually present, anyway. Good.
"Alright. It's clear, for now. Come on." The Khajiit stood up straight, heading upstairs in a jog. She briefly lamented having to leave so much behind--there was so much here that she could sell!--but as much as she would have loved to rob Maven Black-Briar blind, she didn't quite want to incur her wrath just yet. Too much trouble.
Someday, she promised the treasures around her, someday.
She cut through the dining room, dimly remembering the layout of the building, and headed for the master bedroom. After a moment, Brynjolf said quietly, "You've been in here before."
"Had to get Frost's lineage papers," Mrrsizha answered simply. She purposely didn't mention that that wasn't all she'd taken, at the time...absently, she noted that Maven had gotten a new kind of silverware. Pity. She'd liked the older kind better, herself.
"Ah!" She let out a breath when she found the master bedroom, glancing around quickly. There were a few sprigs of dried, strong-smelling lavender around the room, and it made her uneasy; it confused her nose, and it sounded quiet outside now. The mercenaries would be back soon.
"So what are we looking for, lass?"
"Gem. Reddish-pink." She glanced back. "The guards'll be back soon."
Brynjolf nodded, wordlessly leaving the room to keep a look-out down the hallway. Mrrsizha snorted lightly in an attempt to clear the lavender from her sinuses, and started rifling through drawers.
Papers, quills, a few sealed pots of ink, some loose coins (Mrrsizha pocketed those)...nothing of much value, certainly not the gem she wanted. She glanced around, her eyes briefly resting on the surfaces in the room. She'd often seen the gems on display, perhaps...
Her eyes landed on a shelf in the corner, mostly populated by gleaming silverware. It was the gleam that had thrown her off; there, amongst a few goblets, sat her prize, floating gently in its case.
The Khajiit sucked in a quiet breath, smiling. "There you are, beautiful." She made her way to the shelf, gently picking up the box. The gem bobbed away from her touch when she ran her finger over it and she smiled. "One more down." She closed the gem's case, tucking it into one of the pouches on her hip and heading back to where Brynjolf waited.
"All clear?" Brynjolf stiffened a little when she spoke, then let out a breath, shooting her a mildly annoyed look.
"You're too quiet, lass. Gave me a fright." He nodded. "So far so good. You have the gem?"
Mrrsizha patted the pouch that held it. "Ready to come home with us, so let's get moving."
They stole back through the lodge without incident, reemerging into the night unnoticed. The dragon had left for good, though a good many of the mercenaries lay dead. That was what had occupied them, it seemed; putting out the fires the dragon had left behind and dealing with the bodies. Mrrsizha smiled, glancing off in the direction the dragon had come from. She gave a little salute to the sky.
With the guards occupied, it was all too easy for the two master theives to disappear into the Rift's wilds. They were about halfway back to Riften when Brynjolf finally spoke up.
"So, care to tell me why one gem was worth enough to risk angering Maven Black-Briar?"
Mrrsizha smiled a little to herself. She'd been wondering if he'd ask. She stopped, turning towards her second and shielding her eyes while they adjusted to his lantern's light.
She didn't say anything at first, just pulling the gem's case out of her hip pouch. "This is what I was after." She opened it to display its glittering treasure.
Brynjolf narrowed his eyes, unhooking his lantern from his belt and bringing it up for a better look. "Vex has one of these. Keeps a close watch on it." He looked up at her. "What is it?"
"Vex has one? Hm. Guess that explains how she knew about them." Mrrsizha shrugged. "She called them the lost Stones of Barenziah when I brought her my first one. There's supposed to be twenty-four...or twenty-five, I guess, counting hers. Worthless without the whole set." She closed the case, tucking it back into her pouch. "I've been keeping an ear out for them, and I heard Maven might have one."
Brynjolf gave her a look that clearly said he wasn't certain it had been worth the risk. He didn't argue, though, just shaking his head after a moment. "And how many do you have?"
"Nine, counting this one." She smiled, tail tip flicking, and leaning towards him. "And I know where the tenth is..."
Brynjolf groaned, evidently recognizing her look and tone. "Let me guess: it belongs to someone else we shouldn't be stealing from, and you want me to come along to watch your back."
Mrrsizha giggled, turning on her heel to continue back to Riften, and called over her shoulder: