A New Face

He wanted to go and talk to Taminwe about work, and he thought he might ask her opinion about the sisters' riches while he was there. She was always good at seeing the broader picture.

He took his time wandering through the docks, and the Temple District. He stopped for a while to watch the workmen relaying the paving in the street around the Temple of the One. The Elder Council had argued for months about starting that project. Some of them wanted to leave the entire area untouched, as a monument to the victory over Dagon. The more practical members had called for it all to be rebuilt. People still lived there, and needed to get their lives back to normal. The compromise had been reached to leave the Temple building itself alone, and fix up the rest. He was glad to see that work had finally begun.

He walked around the central circle until he came to the broad street leading to the Talos Plaza district. All the way round, the huge dragon statue loomed over him, and he couldn't help looking up at it. As he neared the door to the next district, he turned and looked back once more. Somehow the dragon was trying to tell him something.

One had to walk through the entire Talos Plaza district before it was possible to double back up the alleyway that lead to the Red Dragon Club. As he passed the statue in the middle, he was struck by its similarity to the great statue of Akatosh inside the Temple. And this smaller one had been put there before that entire event.

"Thinking of buying it?" asked the watchman. He'd seen him looking up, but he thought he was looking at the building behind the statue. That was Imbel Manor, where Jakben, the late Earl, had lived. It was on the market now, but nobody seemed to have the asking price. "And you can't haggle on house prices, either." the legionary reminded him.

Taminwe had been the one who'd told about the Earl's death and he'd just found out that Minx was the one who'd slain him. He was starting to feel a personal connection to the place. "I wonder just how much gold the sisters have?" he thought.

Taminwe thought it would be pefect for him to become a neighbor. It would justify his presence in the area at any time, and he didn't need to be seen coming in. She was sure the sewers connected all the buildings in the district. "And if they don't, we'll get a few alterations made."

She could use a "noble" on her team, too. Even if he didn't have a title, yet. Now Ocato was Potentate, he could bestow one, once they'd worked out a good cover story. She knew all about the sisters, of course. They weren't a problem. Every Manor needs staff, family, whatever they wanted to be.

"And how's your book coming along?" she asked. Uzgash had told her about his progress on that. Taminwe thought that it might be quite successful, judging by the stories Uzgash had passed on to her. As long as he wrote it as well as he had for the Courier, it was bound to be a best-seller.

He told her that it was nearly ready for publication. At least the first chapters were, he still had some work to do on the last few. He'd have time to do something else, soon. Taminwe didn't react. He'd come back tomorrow, and check again.

The next day, he paid a visit to Vinicia Melissaeia at the Office of Imperial Commerce to find out how much Imbel Manor was on the market for. Vinicia was suprised to find the same man that had bought the shack on the Waterfront asking her about that. She told him it was 60,000 Septims, just for the empty building, and furnishing it would cost a good bit more.

He didn't yet know how much gold the sisters had collected, so he couldn't make any deal now, but Vinicia didn't expect anyone else to be paying that kind of money. It could wait until they got here.

At the Red Dragon Club, Taminwe was waiting for him, and Potentate Ocato was with her. He had a proposition for him.

"The High Council has agreed to make the Champion, the Hero of Kvatch, its new Count," he announced, "and that's going to mean that he'll be really busy with the rebuilding. Tsarrina has her hands full running Gweden, although she'll be able to spare a day each month to do the accounting for this place as before. The Champion needs someone to run this Club for him. I also need someone to act as liason to the Council for the intelligence operations. Before they made me Potentate, that was part of my department, but I need another head of operations now."

"But Taminwe's the person to do that, not me!" he protested. "She has much more experience than I do."

"I expect her to be an invaluable assistant," Ocato replied "but I can't elevate a whore to that station without questions being asked. I know you work well together, and we need you to act as spokesman for the agency. She'll still be doing most of the espionage work."

Taminwe pointed out she preferred to be underestimated. She didn't want a public position that would compromise her ability to do her intelligence work. He, on the other hand, was about to become a well-known author, as well as an Earl. It appeared that he'd get Jakben's status to go with his house. Ocato didn't need Council approval for that.

"Besides," Ocato reminded him "the High Council have no idea that the Red Dragon Club was in any way associated with the spies, except when they had the same master in Ormelius Goldwine. They knew that the Count ran both, but I've always encouraged them to think that they were separate. When the Champion took over the Club, I oversaw the intelligence part myself, and that helped keep them separate in the eyes of the Council. So the Champion will give you the manager's job here first, and I'll announce the other one later."

"And will we still see you visit here in the future?" He glanced sideways at Taminwe when he asked Ocato that. He knew that those regular briefings were important to her.

"Oh, yes," Ocato responded. "It would look suspicious if I changed my habits now. And there are those on the Council who prefer to see me coming here, rather than taking a wife and starting a dynasty! Plus what you tell me, and what you subsequently tell the Council, won't always be the same. I'll need an opportunity to get the facts from Taminwe."

Ocato indicated that his purchase of the Imbel Manor would be underwritten by the Office of the Potentate, if necessary. It was a good idea that had now become an imperative.

"There is one thing about all this you might not like, however," he continued. "We're going to have to change your face, if you're going to become a public figure. While you were hidden away on the waterfront, it wasn't thought necessary, but circumstances have changed."

"Change my face! How?"

"It's a straightforward alteration spell," Taminwe began to explain. "When you were growing up, did the healer straighten your teeth?" He nodded. "That was a weaker version of this spell. It will soften the bones so that they can be sculpted like clay. But we need to paralyze you, so your own muscles won't pull the bones around. That's why Ocato's here, too. He'll cast the paralysis, and then I'll use the face-sculpting spell. It will take all my magicka just for that one."

He wanted to know if Taminwe had ever had it done to her. He liked her face, and he'd have been disappointed if it wasn't real.

"Yes, but this is my original face. I was transformed into a doppleganger for a foreign countess once, but I thought she was ugly and had them put me back again when the mission was over. It's not something we do very often. Even if you look exactly like someone, the way you act wil give you away immediately. But that time the only people we had to fool had never met her, they'd only seen her portrait."

If she'd been through this twice he could hardly refuse. They laid him on a bed and started the procedure. Taminwe talked to him as she worked, even though he couldn't respond.

"I can't change your race, although I could give you pointed ears like an elf, you'd still be an Imperial. And I really don't want to do anything too drastic. What I'm aiming for is to make you look like the elder brother you never had. I'll make your chin a little more square, and your whole face a little less round. Would you prefer a straight nose, or an aquiline one? Maybe something in between."

All the time she was pushing and pulling at parts of his face, adjusting it to his new look. It was a strange sensation, but not painful. Eventually she stood up and looked over at Ocato. He cast a Dispel that both let the bones harden again, and the paralysis dissipate. Taminwe handed him a mirror.

She'd acheived what she said. He really did look like an older sibling. Only about five years older, and the family traits were all still there. Of course she was only changing the shape of his face, the color of his skin, and his eyes, remained the same. But it was a different face, and the reporter was now truly gone.

Parts of his skin felt tight, and when he touched his chin, the shape felt wrong, but he knew he'd soon get used to it. But would Angeline and Diablita, and all the others?

They called in all the Red Dragon Club staff to re-introduce him, and Miranda cut his hair to a different (and of course shorter) style. Then they sent him back to the waterfront to explain to Minx. Once she knew the story, that would take care of the Thieves Guild angle.

The beggars all thought that he was someone new, judging by the way they all tried to get a coin from him. He came up behind Carwen and spoke to her. She recognised his voice, and was surprised when she turned around and didn't see the face that went with it. But that helped him convince her that he was really the same man. "Minx needs to know about this" she told him, which matched his intentions completely. They went over to the guildhall to look for her. If he'd gone on his own, they might not have let him in.