Samuel walked into the secret room under the inn in Riverwood.
Delphine was waiting for him.
"Well? What did you find?"
"The Thalmor aren't the ones resurrecting the dragons," he said, handing her the letter.
"They're looking for some old guy named Esbern--"
"Esbern?! He's alive?!" she grinned.
"Yes. He's hiding out in Riften. The Thalmor are looking for him."
"When you find him, ask him what happened on the 30th of Frostfall. He'll know what it means."
"Alright. But where would I find him?" asked Samuel.
"Hmm. I would talk to Brynjolf. If anyone knows where Esbern is, it's him."
Riften is one of four older of the nine holds. The other three are Winterhold, Eastmarch (capital city of Windhelm) and the Pale (capital of Dawnstar). Riften is also home to the Thieves Guild, who the citizens of city despise.
Samuel approached the gates to the city.
"Stop!" said the guard. "Before I let you inside, you need to pay the visitors tax."
"What's the tax for?" asked Samuel.
"For the privilege of entering the city. What does it matter?"
Samuel scoffed. "This is obviously a shakedown."
"Quiet down," said the guard. "I'll let you in, just let me unlock the gate."
He fiddled with the gate and stepped away.
"Alright, go on in."
Samuel opened the gate and stepped inside. The first thing that greeted him was the fact Riften was built on a lake.
He looked at the market, where most of the townsfolk had gathered. He walked over and a man with red hair and beard spoke to him in a Scottish accent.
"Never done an honest day's work for that coin in your pocket, eh lad?"
"What?" asked Samuel.
"I mean, all the coin you have. You haven't earned a septim of it honestly."
"Aye, that's me, lad. Delphine send you to me? Not surprised."
Samuel was shocked by how much Brynjolf knew. "Yeah, she did. I'm looking for an old guy hiding out in Riften, name of Esbern."
Brynjolf had a twinkle in his eye. "I'll tell you if you do a job for me. There's coin for you as well."
Samuel sighed. "What?"
"See that Argonian by the jewelry stand?" Brynjolf pointed to a lizard man at a stand. "His name is Madesi. I want you steal the silver ring from the strongbox under his stand. Then," he pointed to a Dunmer. "I want you place it in Brand-Shei's pocket without him noticing."
"Why put it in his pocket?" asked Samuel.
"Someone wants him put of business permanently. This seems like good way of doing it. I'll cause a distraction. Go ahead and do it."
Samuel walked toward Madesi's stand.
"Gather 'round all!" shouted Brynjolf. "I have a new product you all must see!"
Madsei walked over to him and Samuel ducked behind the stall, and pushed open the sliding door. The small metal strongbox was locked. Samuel pulled out a lockpick and a knife, and fiddled with the lock. The strongbox opened and Samuel quickly grabbed the ring and jogged to Brand-Shei, who was sitting on a box.
"But wait, there's more!" said Brynjolf.
Samuel carefully put his two fingers around Brand-Shei's pocket, and pushed the ring inside. The dark elf didn't seem to notice.
Samuel nodded to Brynjolf.
"And that's all I have time for!" he said.
Samuel ran away from Brand-Shei and up to Brynjolf.
"Good job, lad," smiled Brynjolf. "I think you'd do well in my organization."
"The Thieves Guild," said Brynjolf. "Listen, I'll give you the information you if you come to our base of operations. The Ragged Flagon, in the Ratway. The Ratway is the city under the city. There's an entrance down by the canal. I hope I'll see you there."
Samuel took a stairway down to the Ratway entrance. A metal gate stood in front of him. He pushed it open, and a wooden door was behind it. He opened the door and into the sewer.
Two bandits were hiding out near the entrance. Samuel could barely smell their meat cooking, due to the stench of human waste.
"--just for a few days longer, Hrard," said one bandit.
"I don't think I handle one more day of this stench, Hodling!" said Hrard. "I'd rather die!"
Samuel tried to creep past them. He stepped in a puddle, and his heavy iron boot made a loud splash.
The one called Hrard grabbed a huge steel battleaxe from the floor, and ran toward Samuel.
FUS RO DAH!
Hrard flew backward, into Hodling. Samuel threw his sword at Hodling, and pulled out a small steel dagger. He slid under Hrard and stabbed him in the gut. He picked his sword and kept walking.
The next room had raised wooden bridge, and the mechanism to open it was on the other side. Another path, under the bridge, looked promising. Samuel lowered himself down and walked down the path.
It turned in a C shape, with stairs at the end. He walked up and saw a dining table and a fire-pit, with a man wearing fur gloves that glowed red sitting by the table.
"Huh?" he said. "Who's there?"
Samuel gulped. "Uh...housekeeping?"
The man snarled, and threw a punch at Samuel. The fist felt like it was inside a steel gauntlet instead of fur.
Samuel rubbed his cheek. "How..."
The man laughed. "Enchanted. Makes my fists strong as iron!"
Samuel sighed and drew his sword. "I think this will do a bit more damage."
"Hah! I'd like to see you try! I'll beat you to death!"
FUS RO DAH!
The man smacked into the wall and fell to the floor, clutching his chest.
"My ribs! Divine's sake, you broke my ribs!"
Samuel took his gloves and tossed them in the fire.
"Crawl back to surface. Maybe the guards will put you out of your misery," growled Samuel.
A door to his left had a wooden sign next to it that read THE RAGGED FLAGON. Samuel pushed open the door.
This area was clearly under the well in the marketplace, because the only natural light was from a circular hole in the ceiling. A large, hulking Nord stood in front the main pub.
Samuel walked up to him.
"Do have business with the Guild, or do I have to crack your skull and dump you with the rest of the trash?" said Nord.
"That sounds fun," said Samuel. "But Brynjolf is expecting me. Pity. Another time, maybe."
He walked over to the bar where Brynjolf was sitting, sporting the Thieves Guild uniform.
Brynjolf turned around. "Well, well...color me impressed lad. I wasn't sure I'd ever see you again!"
"How many more lunatics are hanging around down here?" asked Samuel.
Brynjolf chuckled. "Ran into Gian "The Fist"? Wanders all over the Ratway. Quite insane. Excellent enchanter. I heard that Shout of yours from here. Sounds like Gian won't bother us anymore."
"Now, you promised me information about Esbern?"
"Right, lad. He's holed up in the Ratway Warrens. Hardly ever leaves the place. Has someone bring him food and such. Crazy old coot, from what I heard. For that to stand out down here, he must be really off his nut."
"I'll go find him then."
"Be careful," said Brynjolf. "You're not the only one looking for him."
Brynjolf had a another Thieves Guild member, Vex, show him the entrance to the Ratway Warrens.
"I hope you know what you're doing," said Vex. "You think you can fight a Thalmor agent?"
"Yeah," said Samuel. "I caused quite a ruckus at the Embassy yesterday."
He opened the rotting wooden door.
Several Thalmor were camped out nearby. One in hooded black robes looked at Samuel.
"It that worm who attacked the Embassy! Kill him!"
Samuel launched a fire spell before he could stand up. He yelled FUS RO DAH at the other two, sending them tumbling down some stone steps into a purplish puddle.
"What is this stuff?" said one. "Oil?"
"You idiot!" said the other. "He can hear--"
Samuel set the oil ablaze. He walked down the steps and sidestepped the fire and screaming Thalmor.
After walking through the tunnels, he found a metal door covered in locks and chains, with KEEP OUT signs posted around it.
"This must be it," said Samuel. He knocked on the door. Almost immediately, a voice yelled at him.
"Esbern?" said Samuel. "Open the door. I'm a friend."
"What? No, that's not me! I-I'm not Esbern! I...don't know what you're talking about! Go away!"
Samuel sighed. "It's alright. Delphine sent me."
There was silence for a moment. "D-Delphine? How do you...s-so you've finally found her, and she led you to me. And here I am, caught like a rat in a trap. Here, I'll let you in..."
Samuel heard the sound of locks clicking. "This'll just take a moment...This one always sticks...There we go. Only couple more. There we are!"
The door swung open.
Esbern was old, around Jarl Balgruff's age. He was bald, and had a light gray beard. He wore simple farmer's clothes, with a satchel strapped to his side.
"Come in, come in! Make yourself at home!"
Samuel stepped inside. Esbern quickly shut the door behind him.
Esbern's "house" was a mess. In one corner, there was table covered in rolls of paper, books, and crumbs. His bed was shoved into another corner, and was neat, as if Esbern barely used. Shelves lined the walls, filled mostly with books.
"That's better!" said Esbern. "Now we can talk."
He and Samuel sat down at the table. Esbern pushed aside the books and papers and grabbed a loaf of bread. "Hungry?"
Samuel nodded and took the bread.
"So," said Esbern. "Delphine keeps up the fight, after all these years. I thought she'd realized it's hopeless by now. I tried to tell her, years ago..."
Samuel frowned. "What do you mean, 'it's hopeless'?"
"Haven't you figured it out yet? What more needs to happen before you all wake up and see what's going on? Alduin has returned, just like the prophecy said! The dragon from the dawn of time, who devours the souls of the dead! No one can escape his hunger, here or in the afterlife. Alduin will devour all things and the world will end. Nothing can stop him! I tried to tell them. They won't listen. Fools. It's all come true...all I could do was watch our doom approach..."
"Alduin..." said Samuel. He'd heard that name before. When he and Delphine had fought that dragon, it called the big black one Alduin. "The dragon that's raising the others?"
"Yes! Yes! You see, you know, but you refuse to understand!"
"So...you're talking about the literal end of the world?"
"Oh yes. It's all been foretold. The end has begun. Alduin has returned. Only a Dragonborn can stop him. But no Dragonborn has been known for...centuries. The original Emperors, the Septim Dynasty, were all Dragonborn. But that line ended when Martin Septim died, with no heir. There's been no Dragonborn ever since. It seems the gods have grown tired of us. They've left us to our fate, as the plaything of Alduin the World-Eater."
"It not hopeless. A Dragonborn has appeared," said Samuel.
"Really? Where are they?" asked Esbern.
"In the Ratway, talking to you."
Esbern gasped. "You mean...you're...Dragonborn? Then there is hope! The gods have not abandoned us! We must...we must...We must go quickly, now. Take me to Delphine. We have much to discuss."
Samuel stood up. "Delphine said to 'remember the 30th of Frostfall'."
"Ah yes. I do remember. It was the day the White-Gold Concardat was signed, ending the Great War, in 4E 175. It was the day we were forced into hiding. Let me gather my things."
He walked over to a chest at the foot of his bed. "I'll need this...No, no, useless trash...where'd I put my annotated Anuad? One moment, I know, time is of the essence, but I mustn't leave secrets behind for the Thalmor...there is one more thing I must bring...Well, I guess that's good enough. Let's be off."