Early Morning, Last Seed 17
For Ariane, everything had been tedious.
Defeating Nyrehtaud wasn't that bad, as Tsleeixth had already done the heavy lifting. The aftermath honestly took longer, but Ariane explained her part and let Gustav handle the rest. It was much easier for her than some of her fellow mercenaries. The leaders of High Rock applauded her bravery, and Ariane just nodded. She was somewhat proud, but knew well enough they were no more than empty praises.
Less than an hour later, Ariane was pacing around the dining hall. This place was in shambles. Finely stitched curtains fallen amid broken windows, spilled food splattered between overturned tables, and bodies, dozens of them, piled on puddles of blood. The guards had taken people outside for questioning, and the castle staff was busy cleaning out everything that didn't belong on the floor. No one really paid attention to Ariane, so she strolled onto the stage, one of the few spots left untouched. There, she found a pile of ash, and a wand. The wand emitted potent ice magic.
Ariane had a lot to think about that night, and suffice it to say, she didn't really get any sleep. She once again thought about Tsleeixth, and though she didn't know him well enough to be devastated by his (unlike Sagax), she was nevertheless shocked and saddened by his death. The Argonian, one who survived one grevious injury after another, the man that always followed his orders to the letter and never caused trouble, was the mission's lone casualty. It was unfair, and there was nothing could do about it.
What she could have done was save Maj. She could have persuaded the bounty hunters, or called help, or at the very least, put up a fight against Lightsleep. Maj was the only person she had a proper conversation with in the last few months, and one of the few people that approached her with genuine warmth, when others saw her as cold and aloof, and avoided her like the Thrassian Plague. Ariane missed her. So when Gustav suggested traveling to Wayrest that night, Ariane leaped at the opportunity. If they could get there fast enough, she could have a chance to save Maj. Maybe she could prove Maj innocent? No, the Redguard openly boasted about her pirating exploits. Busting her out of danger then. Ariane never pictured herself formulating a jail break, nor would she imagine Maj as the "damsel in distress". But she couldn't just let this lively and joyous soul be executed for something in her distant past. No, not before she told Maj how much she...appreciated her wits?
The company had to set early in the morning, so early, in fact, the sun had not even risen. Their transportation was a convoy of three carriages. The first one was comfortable, with an engraved overhead canopy and two rows of padded, plush velvet seats. The other two were uncovered and had only rough wood benches, so Ariane naturally sat in the first one. When they first set out, Gustav also invited Sadri and a new Breton woman to the luxury carriage. It was cramped inside, and once the small talk between them fizzled out, Ariane found herself bored and wanting to nap. Of course she couldn't nap with so many people there, so the first time they stopped, she shooed Sadri and Relyssa off to the less desirable carriages and set her down on the back row. She didn't sleep very well, but in Ariane's brief dream, she saw Maj.
Ariane could not quite understand what she was feeling. The last time she felt like this over someone was in her college days, when a fellow student asked her to picnic. She accepted, and never showed because of a flurry of confusing emotions making her nauseous. She kept this feeling deeply buried since, and when it had resurfaced, over Maj, of all people, Ariane performed the only magic she knew: trying in vain to bury it again. She spent the trip distracting herself with reviewing dossiers and tactical manuals. It became boring, for the first time ever, and Ariane wished for sea shanties to keep herself company.
Evening, Last Seed 21
When Wayrest came, it was through the sewers. Such a route would normally be too undignified for Ariane, but considering she would have to break into a jail, she went with it anyway. As the company's warriors slayed the werecrocodile, Ariane noticed a bunch of alligators breaking in through the sewer grates. The new and big man, Oren, threw them back out in a splash of water. Then Ariane used Sylette's wand to freeze the sewer grates, sealing the scaled threats out with impenetrable ice. She kept the alligators from overwhelming her comrades, and plus, the exhilaration of cryomancy made her feel confident again.
Lodging in a brothel was less than ideal, and sleeping in a cheap, musk-filled, fluid-drenched and bedbug-ridden room was certainly not going to happen. Ariane requested an upgrade from the madam, Xenia Richton. Richton told her none were available, so she conjured a bound sword and held it against Richton's neck.
Richton laughed. "You got moxie, girl. Some of my clients would love to-"
"Not interested!" Ariane retorted, while pressing the bound sword a little further. She wouldn't know until she looked at a mirror, five minutes later, that she was blushing furiously.
"My, my!" There was no fear in Richton's voice, only more amusement. "Got someone on your mind, do you? Well, they're sure lucky to have a passionate lass like you."
"No, she's-" Ariane huffed. "I just want a better room!"
"Ah, you don't have to tell me. I know a lovesick puppy when I see one." Richton wiggled a finger beside the bound sword, then she sighed. "To be young again...you can have the reserved premium suite, standard rates, for you and your sweetheart."
Ariane handed over the gold and took the keys without a word. Only then did she notice Richton was holding a knife against her lower abdomen the entire time. In her flushed state, Ariane would probably have gotten stabbed first. Richton noticed too, and winked.
The initial stay in the premium suite lasted less than ten minutes for Ariane. She saw Tamrielic Gazette on the tea table, and her eyes immediately darted to the High Rock section. Maj would be executed, in two days! Ariane had to act now!
The last person Ariane wanted to bump into was Xenia Richton, but there the madam was, the only "familiar" face in this bizzare establishment. Ariane was a little embarrassed to ask her, but she didn't know where Wayrest Prison was from her previous visits to the city (since she was an upstanding citizen), and when had such silliness called "embarrassment" ever stopped Ariane Fontaine from getting what she wanted?
"So your sweetheart is a criminal? Fallen for a dashing swashbuckler?" Richton smirked. "Here, I'll mark the prison on your map. And don't worry, it's our little secret."
45 minutes later, Ariane was standing outside of the city, and staring at a very large and foreboding wall. It was well into the night now, and the looming prison was illuminated by torches and braziers. A detachment of guards stood at the front gate. There were at least a dozen of them, and many more on top of the wall. The entire place was an impregnable fortress of steel, stone and fire. It would scare normal people, but not Ariane. Oh no, she marched up straight to the guards and demanded entry.
The reply was expected, though only so in Ariane's hindsight (for some odd reason). "You shall not pass!"
The prison was not taking visitors, that much was certain. Brute forcing through the guards and front gate also seemed unfeasible, as it would take an entire army and their siege engines to do so. In fact, Ariane remembered Richton saying the prison had only fallen to the allied forces because its former prisoners overthrew their Corsair wardens. Perhaps an unconventional entry then? Tunneling? Takes too long. Portal? Ariane would need a focus crystal and a set of transliminal braces, then she would have to tune them, which will take a day at the very least. No, that leaves-
"Hello? Can you hear me?" A man was waving in front of her. She was partway back to Wayrest, and somehow completely missed him while walking.
"Who goes there?" Ariane warned. It was near pitch dark on the roadside, but the glow of magicka in her hands began coalescing into a bound blade.
"Please, I mean no harm! Lady...Fontaine?" The man put his hands up, surrendering. He looked familiar. "Just listen to me for a moment. I am Quyon Cox, former...acquaintance of Maj Noor. I saw her being taken at-"
"Evermore." Ariane recognized him, the Breton that watched as Lightsleep took Maj away. Ariane kept her bound sword from taking shape, but kept the magicka in her hands. "What do you want?"
"Same as you, if I am not mistaken." Quyon was glancing nervously around. "Maj Noor's wellbeing, and her freedom."
"Why? Why approach me?"
"I saw Maj accompanying you as 'consort' during the banquet." Quyon admitted nervously. "I care about her the same way you do. You see, she was once my fiance-"
The bound sword materialized in Ariane's hands; Quyon jumped back.
"But that is no longer the case! I am married to another woman, for many happy years, if I may add." Quyon stammered. "I made a mistake! I thought informing the bounty hunter would reunite Maj with her family. But I messed up again, just like when my proposal drove her away in the first place. I only wish to see her happy!"
"Give me a reason to trust you." Ariane said, coldly pointing her blade at Quyon. But in her mind, thoughts of possibilities were already racing.
"I'll tell you a secret, alright?" Offered Quyon. "The guards change every two days at midnight. Daggerfall troops before, then Camlorn's, and so it goes again. I've been secretly observing them. The last time they did it, they nearly killed each other, until those Trifection templars showed up."
"The next change happens tomorrow evening." Quyon elaborated, his hands gesturing wildly. "We slip in during the inevitable chaos, then we'll find Maj and get her out before the new guards take up station."
"If it is so simple, then why have you not already done it?" Ariane pressed. Surely it would be more, but this sounded promising.
"I am not a mage, Lady Fontaine; I cannot trick the guards, or bypass obstacles like you can." Quyon shook his head. Then he sighed and muttered the rest. "I may also get lost; not good with directions."
In the end, Ariane decided to take Quyon up on his offer. She didn't fully trust him, and admitting begrudgingly, felt jealous of him. But Quyon had been scouting the prison longer than Ariane had, which meant he knew more about it than Ariane did. Plus, he asked for no reward, no payment, only to speak a few words to Maj before letting Maj go her own way. If Ariane had a choice, though, she wouldn't even let Quyon speak to Maj. Wait, since when did Ariane Fontaine care about a few words?
Still, Ariane and Quyon agreed on utilizing other outside assistance. Quyon suggested they hire contractors, and luckily for Ariane, she commanded a mercenary company. She could already see several mercenaries providing the perfect skills. Sagax had all the sneak they would need, and Niernen had the magicka fuel to melt steel beams. Now they only needed someone to forge identifications to ensure entry. Gustav came through with good news right on time; a "peacock man" would be willing to do just that. Ariane would pay him a visit next morning.
When Ariane returned to the brothel, she returned with a spring in her step. Richton greeted her with a knowing smile, and Ariane smiled back.