Though it took time, Ket was soon back to her usual self- curious, sneaky, and overall impulsive. Sure, she tired more easily than before, and had an appetite that Kaminda was finding rather hard to sate, but at least the cat was able to draw her bow again.
Despite all this, Kaminda sensed a change in Ket’s demeanor. She seemed...anxious. Ill at ease. And, most disturbing of all, she seemed to be silently brooding about something.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know.” Kaminda suddenly blurted out. Ket’s head whipped up and her ears suddenly laid flat. Trying to calm her friend, Kaminda raised her hands and said again, “It wasn’t your fault that you got ambushed. Some jerk had probably seen us with our loot, wanted to get an easy score, and set you up by telling the Thalmor that you were some weird, half Nord Khajiit with a taste for Talos worship.”
Ket’s expression went from startled to worried. “I look half Nord?” She asked, low ears and a dragging tail showing how much she took offense to the observation.
“No! Of course you don’t! I was just using it as an expression of sorts.” Kaminda smiled reassuringly and Ket grinned back, eyes bright once more. “Besides, I can tell you’re a Khajiit. And I’ve been living in Hammerfell most of my life!”
Satisfied that she was not in danger of being grouped in with the Nords, Ket lifted her chin and added a bounce to her step. To Kaminda, the cat was feeling self assured again, happy and light like always. The quick swipe Ket took at a vibrantly colored flower lifted Kaminda’s spirits. Ket was feeling better.
Inside, however, the cat’s stomach was twisting into knots.
It was no foolish bandit who had ordered the Thalmor to attack Ket. No simple, uneducated man could have sent Ket a note that specifically mentioned Ket’s status as a Nightingale. And the fact that the perpetrator had been able to enchant arrows to go through Ket’s Nightingale armor narrowed Ket’s list of suspects down to a single man.
‘Mercer...I swear, if you come near Kaminda, the Guild, or Nightingale Hall, you’ll be filled with so many arrows that you won’t even have the strength to scream when I boil you alive in a vat of dragon blood.’
Spotting their destination, Ket shook off her dark thoughts for a moment and pointed up the slope. “There’s Kynesgrove. We should stop at their inn before it gets too dark.”
Kaminda nodded, and shifted her rather empty pack. “Do they have food for sale? We need to restock.”
“We just restocked in Windhelm two days ago!” Ket exclaimed, shocked at the rate they had gone through their supplies. “What happened to the food we bought there?”
A grin playing across her lips, Kaminda looked over at her companion with laughter in her eyes. “A think a Khajiit must have snuck into camp and took it.”
Ket frowned, puzzled. “I would have heard the sneaky bastard.”
“You ate our food, Ket.”
Iddra welcomed the two travelers with open arms, always anxious to bring in any sort of business to Kynesgrove. She offered a room with two beds, a chest for storing their gear, and a hot meal for both the Redguard and the Khajiit.
While Kaminda chatted with the older woman, Ket tapped the warriors shoulder and muttered something about using the small village’s blacksmithing equipment. The forge was attached to the Braidwood Inn by a porch which was accessible through a door at the back of their rented room, and Ket assured her friend that she would be alright on her own for a few minutes.
Slipping away with her damaged armor, the Khajiit began the process of fixing an enchanted object. With the Nightingale armor, it was both a physical test as well as an arcane one: as each piece of metal was reformed, the wearer had to pick apart the tangled web of enchantments that had been shattered by the damage and weave them back together again. This meant that they would be holding a complex mess of magical strands steady in their mind, pinning them down carefully as they would try to whip about like angry snakes. All the while, their hands would be constantly working, flitting across the solid darkness that the Nightingale armor is formed of as they slide thin pieces of crystallized void salts into the damaged sections.
It was no easy task. Ket, having only fixed a few pieces of old Nightingale armor to surprise Karliah with Gallus’s old set, was still a novice at the skill.
‘This will take a while.’ The Khajiit muttered to herself, running her fingers over the holes that the arrows had left. Steeling her nerves and her willpower, Ket sat down next to the workbench and began murmuring her spells.
Inside, Kaminda was enjoying the large plate of potatoes, carrots, grilled leeks and two rabbit haunches. Though Kynesgrove was small, and was still recovering from the Sahloknir attack, the inn was cheerful, and warm. Roggi was telling a tale to a child that was sitting on his knee, alternating between drinking mead and regaling the small boy with his fancy words. Kjeld was eating dinner with his son at a table. Even the two Uriel sisters were calm, putting their usual arguments aside in the intoxicatingly friendly atmosphere.
The door opened, and Kaminda glanced in the newcomer’s direction as Roggi gave a call of greeting. Seeing that it was only a late middle-aged Breton man, the Redguard warrior turned back to her food.
The man made his way over to the counter where Kaminda was sitting and settled down, asking for a plate of potatoes and pheasant breast. As Iddra scurried off to the kitchen downstairs, the stranger held out his hand to Kaminda.
“Beautiful night, huh?” He commented as the Redguard shook the offered hand. His voice was not exactly smooth, but it had a bit of an edge that would have normally set Kaminda’s hair on end. His rather friendly, easy manner put her worries to rest. “I’m Mikel.”
“Kaminda. It’s nice to meet you.” Finishing her plate, Kaminda turned her full attention to the man beside her. He was armed, a dwarven sword strapped to his waist, but that wasn’t very surprising. With the dragons about, even children were given weapons to defend themselves. His armor was well worn, made of grey leather that formed to his body and showed that age had not at all diminished Mikel’s physique. It’s make, though slightly familiar, was rather outlandish. “What brings you to Kynesgrove, Mikel? You don’t look like a miner.”
Mikel waved his hand in the air vaguely, his graying hair swirling about his roughly shaven face. “Oh, a bit of this, bit of that. I’m a mercenary by trade, but I do odd jobs for towns that I find along the road. I heard that Kynesgrove was in need of repairs, so I came here looking for work.”
“You sound like someone looking to be a good civilian to make up for your mercenary work.” Kaminda joked. “Do you have a family you are looking out for? A sweetheart somewhere?”
The man gave a small smile. It looked rather off on his face, like he was straining against every fiber of his being to make his lips turn up the slightest bit. “No. I used too, though.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Kaminda offered, feeling a little foolish for trying to make a joke out of his misfortune.
Mikel waved it off, the motion of someone who had heard the line too many times in their life. “Don’t be. It was a very long time ago.” Rubbing his hands together, the older man again tried to smile. “Let me order you a drink, and you can tell me what areas around here are good for raids. You look like the fighting type of girl.”
As Mikel stood and retrieved two bottles of Black Briar mead from behind the counter and tossed a few coins down to pay for them, Kaminda began racking her brain for all the crypts and caves she had Ket had passed on their way towards Kynesgrove. A minute later, a bottle was placed next to her empty plate.
Ket stretched and opened her mouth in a wide yawn, her barbed tongue curling as she rubbed her eyes. She had been sitting in the same position for the past hour or so, mending the holes in her Nightingale armor. Her energy was gone, replaced by a sluggish pull in her tired muscles. Her stomach growled, announcing quite loudly that the Khajiit’s dinner was far overdue.
“Oh, hush...I’ll feed you in a minute.” Staggering to her feet on stiff joints, Ket stretched once more and collected her things. Kaminda had said that Iddra would have food for her inside, but the Dagi Raht needed to store her now repaired armor back in the locked chest that their room came with.
When Ket entered the small room, she noticed that someone had closed the door that lead into the inn’s main hall. ‘I guess my chanting was louder than I thought.’ Ket mumbled to herself, then knelt down and pulled the chest’s key out of her belt pouch.
Just as she was about to set the Nightingale chestpiece in the container where the rest of the armor had been locked away, a slip of parchment, so bright against the darkness that made up the shadowed set, caught her eye.
Putting the armor on the bed, Ket reached in and retrieved the note. It wasn’t in Kaminda’s flowing script, but that didn’t mean that Iddra hadn’t left the note there for Ket to find. ‘Probably just a bill for using the stupid chest.’ Holding the paper up to the light, Ket squinted at the words. ‘What kind of runes are these? This isn’t the common tongue.’
Confused, Ket turned the sheet over and began inspecting it for some kind of trick. She had to lift the lantern up towards the paper again to see through it to search for a watermark, but when the light shone through, her stomach clenched. All feelings of weariness and apathy fled Ket’s body in a single moment, dousing the Khajiit in a wave of icy water.
“Bastard. You bastard!”
Throwing the paper onto the bed, Ket slammed her shoulder against the door and shoved it open, yelling Kaminda’s name.
Always one step ahead. ~Love, Mercer Frey
The startled Redguard looked towards the room she had rented with Ket, shocked to see her Dagi Raht friend slam the door open with one of her ebony swords drawn. All movement in the Inn stopped, frozen for a moment as everyone stared at the Khajiit.
“Get away from her!” Ket yelled, her blade’s tip pointed towards Mikel’s nose. “She has nothing to do with what is between us!”
Kaminda was stunned. She had never seen Ket like this. The expression on her face, the positioning of her ears and the lash of her tail. Was that...anger?
No. It was beyond that. There was murder in the cat’s golden eyes.
This was rage.
“What in Oblivion has gotten into you!” Kaminda cried, standing quickly. She had to defuse this before it got out of hand. Having never seen Ket angry at anything before, she couldn't tell if Ket was about to slit Mikel’s throat or blow up the whole inn. “Ket, he’s not doing anything wrong.”
“Did he give you anything?” Ket asked, her seething glare still locked on Mikel’s face. The man wasn’t moving, but he had a chilling smirk on his lips. It came easier to him than his smile had before.
“He bought me some mead-”
Ket’s hand came up and a sudden bolt of ice blasted out from her raised palm, slamming into the bottle that Mikel had placed down not moments before. It shattered into pieces, making Kaminda flinch back.
‘Ket knows destruction magic?’
Mikel still did not move.
“He’s not who he says he is. Whatever he’s told you, its a lie!” Stepping forward, Ket scowled at the man, her hackles up and her blade trembling with barely contained rage. “He’s a traitor. To me, and to everyone I know!”
Kaminda was about to respond, was about to try and sooth the obviously mistaken Khajiit, when a cold chuckle filled the Inn.
“I was hoping you were still alive.” Mikel said between laughs. “You were always fun to watch, scurrying around like some sort of freakish kitten as it chased after a tomcat.” Ket grit her teeth and the sword’s dark tip inched closer to his neck.
Mikel’s voice was not the smooth, somewhat edgy sound Kaminda had heard before. It was now laced with razors, bubbling quietly with poisons and hissing with the sound of sharpening steel. It was the voice of a man who was very comfortable with giving death to those who did not deserve such a gruesome gift.
“Leave Kaminda out of this, Mercer! We can end it here and now- and it looks like you don’t have the time to draw your sword.”
Mikel- or, perhaps he really was this Mercer fellow- gave a deadly smile. “No. No, you foolish little kitten. This is just the beginning.”
Faster than Kaminda thought possible for one of his age, Mercer shot to his feet and threw what looked to be a cherry sized pebble on the ground. There was a loud crash, a blinding flash of light...
And when it all cleared, Mercer was gone.
As the spots faded, Kaminda felt someone taking her by the arm and leading her away. “What...” A door closed, and as her vision finally returned to normal, the Redguard saw Ket shoving their things into their packs.
“We’re leaving.” Was all the Dagi Raht said. Her voice had a sharp tone to it, leaving no room for Kaminda to maneuver around the obvious order. “Get your things.”
“What just happened?” Kaminda asked as she started packing up what food she had been able to purchase. After seeing Ket’s enraged state just moments before, she didn’t want to spark off another rampage. “Who was that man?” The Khajiit did not answer, strapping on her Nightingale armor and pulling up the hood. Still ignoring Kaminda’s question, she opened the door to the forge and hefted her pack, a strange mask in her hand. “Ket, where are we going?”
For the first time since she had barged into the inn’s hall, Ket turned and looked at Kaminda. Unlike before, her furred face was not showing any of the wrath she had displayed towards Mercer. In fact, she looked rather...sad.
“I’m taking you someplace safe.” Ket said softly, then placed the dark mask on her face. Pinpricks of bright blue light shone out where the cat’s eyes should have been. “I’m taking you to my home. I’m sorry for what you just saw. I am still Ket. I still want to...want to be your friend. If you still have some trust in me.”
Though slightly frightened by what had occurred, Kaminda knew that there was more to Ket than what met the eye. She had always had a feeling, deep down, that the Khajiit was hiding a past that was not all bright lights in the sky at night. What Ket had wanted to hide was Ket’s business and Ket’s alone.
But no matter her past, Ket was a damn good friend. And Kaminda knew that she would explain the situation in time.
Kaminda picked up her own pack and looked the Khajiit square in the eye. “I never doubted it for a second.”