Sloan's Story part 25 - The Hidden Cellar
The room had been carved out of the stone of the mountain and was at least twice as large as the house that hid it. Light glowed from narrow insets spaced along the walls and in the ceiling, bathing everything in an even pale light. Sloan paused for a moment to study the source of the light, but she gained nothing from it – all she saw was what looked like a candle. It held no actual flame, but glowed as if the fire was inside the candle’s body. A magical device she was far too ignorant to understand.
She turned away and took in the room itself. A massive table with a familiar three-dimensional map dominated the middle; the surrounding walls were jammed with cabinets and shelves. Sloan paced her way along the stone tiled floor, daring to touch nothing.
A heavy thump told her Mallin had found his way in and she glanced over her shoulder at him.
“Quite a room. You didn’t know about it?”
Mallin’s eyes roamed the room, apparently unable to settle on one thing. “No, but I should have. Melissa had bolt holes all over Skyrim. No matter where we were, she always had a secret stash somewhere nearby.”
“So there are more rooms like this?”
“No, not like this. Nothing on this scale. Most of them were just small creches, big enough for a crate, perhaps. This…” He shook his head. “This is something else. Oh, wow, I don’t believe it!”
“Hmm?” Sloan followed his gaze to the wall at the far end of the room. “The armor?”
Four…well, three and a half sets of armor hung from polished wooden mannequins in what she could only think of a display.
“Not just armor.” Mallin moved toward the wall with an air approaching reverence. “Her armor.”
“Well, yes. I assumed all this was hers.” Sloan shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like any of these.”
“You wouldn’t very often.” Mallin reached the wall and touched the first set, a half-plate so dark it seemed to suck in light. “This is ebony. It is very rare and very very expensive. It was a gift from the crown prince of Hammerfell. I have no idea what it’s doing here.”
He moved his hand to the second, a massive golden full plate.
Sloan frowned. “That looks more like a gold tea pot than useful armor.”
Mallin laughed and he stroked it. “It does, doesn’t it? But it is the finest in Dwemer armor. Hard to move in, but even harder to hack through. Melissa got this from an old Dwemer ruin we were hiding in. After we were attacked by a bunch of ancient automatons.”
“Attacked? The Dwemer have been extinct for centuries!”
“Yes, but their automatons somehow live on.” He shook his head. “The knowledge the world once knew. Ever wonder what things would be like had they not disappeared?”
“No. Nor am I certain I would want to. We’d probably all be their slaves.”
A laugh. “True enough.” He moved to the third, another black set, though not as deep of a hue as the first. “She called this Blade armor but she never told me where she got it or what a Blade is.” He shrugged. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. She never wore any of these. She just wore this.”
He motioned at the last set, although Sloan thought the word “set” was being generous.
“Where is the other half of it?”
Mallin laughed. “I nearly asked her the same question when I first saw her in it! But then I decided keeping my head was more important than the answer. No, believe it or not, that is all of it.”
Sloan raised an eyebrow as she looked it over. Unlike the other sets, it was not plate. Or even metal. It was comprised of black and red material that she didn’t recognize. Too thin to be leather but it didn’t look like any kind of cloth she was familiar with. Either way, it appeared to be only half an outfit.
There was only one leg. It was black with an admittedly beautiful flowery dragon motif stitched up the side. The material continued upward, but again only on one side, ending in a haltertop-style neck. The other side of the armor was mostly…nothing. A cup hung from the haltertop on the left side, clearly meant to cover a breast but with no visible support to keep it there, and a single strand of black material and a red sash/belt wrapped around the left hip.
“That doesn’t seem very…practical.”
“You wouldn’t think so, would you? But I can assure you, it is every bit as effective as the others.”
“How is that possible?”
Mallin shrugged. “Magic of some sort. I don’t pretend to know the answers to that kind of question.” He glanced at her and motioned to the half-armor. “You should try it on. See for yourself.”
She tilted her head at it. The material wasn’t very thick. It would fit under any but the most revealing clothes, so she could wear it like undergarments. If it really could protect as well as a full suit of real armor, that would be a huge advantage if a job went bad and she had to defend herself.
“You know, I think I’ll do that.” She pulled off her shirt as she walked forward and was amused to see Mallin’s face grow red as her pants and underthings followed.
“Um…I’ll, uh…look through the papers on the table.”
He mumbled the words with averted eyes as he shuffled out of her way and she resisted the urge to laugh. After months of being a whore and years of being whatever she needed to be for the job at hand, being naked in front of others had lost any shame for her, but she did not scorn those who felt otherwise. In a way, she felt a little jealous of their innocence.
The armor, such as it was, was even lighter than she had imagined. It felt like silk to her touch. She stepped through the leg and pulled it up, tied the haltertop around her neck and the thin cord around her left hip, latched the belt, and finally lifted the flimsy looking breast cup, shook her head at it for a wry moment, and placed it over her left breast.
A moment later she let out an involuntary gasp as she felt the outfit…suck into her, was the best way she could think to describe it. The parts that were a little tight loosened just enough while the looser parts tightened until the entire thing hugged her body like a second layer of skin. Even the breast cup adhered to her, cradling her yet supporting her at the same time. She tried an experimental jump, expecting her breasts to flop but, although they betrayed a minute jiggle, it was less than she might have expected from a decent set of supportive undergarments.
“Impossible.” She tried moving some more, jumping and dodging, twirling and even dancing a little. The outfit stayed with her, betraying no signs of letting go, and her breasts stayed as contained as if she had strapped them down.
“Have I mentioned you look just like her?”
Mallin’s voice kicked her out of her reverie and she stopped moving and faced him. His expression was something other than the lust she might have expected. His eyes were looking at her but he was seeing something else, some echo from the past Sloan could never view.
She cleared her throat. “This outfit is amazing.”
“You don’t know the half of it! Here, stand still.”
Mallin pulled out a dagger and, without warning, threw it at her. Sloan’s eyes widened and a yell began to form in her throat as she tried to dive to the side, but the movement had been too fast, too unexpected.
Even as the first curses at herself for letting down her guard began to burble in the back of her head, the knife struck true, point first into her exposed abdomen.
And then bounced away, repelled by some unknown force as Sloan’s dive continued. She and the knife hit the floor around the same time, but her mind was no longer on self-recrimination. She stared at the knife as it slid across the stone until it bumped into the leg of the map table.
“I told you! That armor is as strong as any I’ve ever seen.”
Sloan sat up and patted her stomach. It felt like skin – no invisible force stopped her. But there was no sign the dagger had connected. “It…it doesn’t seem possible.”
Mallin smiled. “Magic can do the impossible. That is something I learned a long time ago.” He stepped to the table and picked up some yellowed papers. “I think you’ll want to see this. There is something about a person called only The Shade. Mysterious, isn’t it?”
“The Shade?” Sloan climbed to her feet and glanced around Mallin’s arm as she passed behind him, but she caught only enough of a glance to confirm what he had already said. “I’ve never heard of anyone called that.”
“A code name, of course. Finding out who that is might answer some of our other questions. But more important, I found some other information that might prove useful.”
Sloan nodded as she picked up her strewn clothes and began to put them back on over her armor.
No. Her mother’s armor. She shivered a little as the thought passed through her. She was in her mother’s home among her mother’s things wearing her mother’s armor. Just a handful of hours ago, she hadn’t known a thing about her mother, and now…
“…and I think…are you listening to this?”
“Hm?” Sloan blinked and looked up, then realized she had frozen in place, her trousers still halfway up her legs. She yanked them on and tied them as she tried to remember what Mallin had said. “Um…something about…The Shade?”
Mallin laughed. “Right, I should have realized. You’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed. Look, I have some leads but it’s going to take some time to follow up on them.” He gestured around. “As far as I’m concerned, everything in here is yours by right, so take your time and look through everything to see if anything else will be of use to you. Maybe we can meet back here in, say…six months?”
Sloan frowned as her brain kicked back into gear. “Better make it eight. I have…business to attend to. It will take about that long.”
Mallin nodded. “Eight months it is, then. I can’t tell you how great it was to meet you, Sloan Shea. For just a little bit, this old man felt young again.”
He laughed and held out his arms; Sloan frowned and tossed him a quizzical eyebrow even as her heart let out a small trill at the sound of the full name she had not known she possessed at this time yesterday.
“Ah, of course you’re not a hugger. Your mother wasn’t either.” He waved a handful of papers as he turned toward the latter. “Eight months! Hope your business goes well!”
Sloan waved at his retreating back. “May the roads ever favor you.”
He laughed. “Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Can never tell, with roads.” Another laugh as he climbed the ladder, and then he was gone.
Sloan sighed. She was so close to learning more about her family. About herself! But it would have to wait. She was already behind - she should have started her assignment two weeks ago. She looked around the room with some regret, then touched her shoulder where the thin material of the miraculous armor could just be felt. Exploring the rest of the room’s secrets would have to wait for another day.
She turned toward the ladder and climbed with a heavy heart – for the first time in her life, she felt like she was leaving home.
Edited by jfraser