Sure, things did get all cold and gloomy in autumn, but that just meant it was time to buy an outfit with layers. And it’s not like Quinn had bought any new dresses (that second-hand one didn't count) since coming to Morrowind so she had to mix things up. Like always, fashion had a solution. She only needed a mantle to drape over her shoulders. That’d keep her warm and she was sure she could talk mom and dad into letting her buy a new dress (like actually new) for the Old Life Festival in a few months.
But no one ever said choosing the right mantle would be easy.
Quinn stood in front of table displaying the best moth-silk mantles at Kashad’s. The best mantles mom would give her money for, anyway. And it was definitely one of the more fashionable outlets on Silk-hawker’s Street, with clothes from some of the better mid-range moth farms back in Cyrodiil, like Tartus and Locutto Silks.
“Guys?” she asked. “Do you think I should get the blue Locutto or the white Tartus?”
Satheri was suddenly right next to Quinn, her eyes wide. “The blue looks cool.”
“Yeah, but my hair would really stand out against the white.”
Satheri pressed her hands into fists. “Oh, this is so tough. Tiphannia?”
But Tiphannia was lost in her own world, like always, staring at a see-through scarf.
“Tiphannia?” Quinn called.
“You can like see… right through this...” she said.
Quinn sighed. She loved Satheri and Tiphannia to death, but she was starting to think the Fashion Club needed more than three members. Sure, she knew what looked good and what looked lame, but it’d be nice to hear someone besides Satheri agree with her. Not that she didn’t value Satheri’s opinion. But Tiphannia just wasn’t all there.
She took a chance and went with the white mantle. If she was going to make a statement, it might as well be a statement. She put the mantle on after buying it and then headed out with her friends. There’d been a big rainstorm the other day, so they had to lift the hems of their dresses to avoid all the gross puddles.
“It’s so hard to know what to buy,” Satheri complained. “I’m still worried that the fabric I chose is too thin for this weather.”
“Lighter is better because you can always double-layer!” Quinn proclaimed, taking the wide way around a cart to avoid getting splashed.
“You’re so smart, Quinn!”
Quinn drew herself up. “I wish there was some way for us to tell everyone else what to buy to look their best. I mean, nobles get the most stylish stuff because they’re like nobles, but we can still help regular people look good.”
“But like… lots of people… wear whatever...” Tiphannia said.
“Exactly. And we can do something to fix that!”
They turned a corner and almost ran into a big crowd of people standing around the town crier. Dunmer like Satheri got all their news from each other, but outlanders like Quinn had to listen to whatever the criers were paid to talk about.
“… as of Fredas, honorable Bertrand Reauchamp will be retiring to Pelagiad with his wife and will pass his shop unto Clagius Clanler. This means there’s still time to take advantage of the going-away sale! Affordable work clothes, endurance potions, earthenware goods, and glassware will be even more affordable for the next few days.”
Outlander merchants always hired criers to let people know about sales. If she wanted to let everyone know about fashion—and maybe get a few more members in the club—why couldn’t she hire a crier of her own?
“Ladies,” Quinn said. “I just got the most wonderful idea.”
Drenlyn Academy had tons of people. Quinn knew that not all—face it, hardly any—had the talent to be a good town crier. But there were plenty who wanted to try and impress her and that was always fun to watch.
She stood with Satheri and Tiphannia next to the library as the last few guys in line tried out. At first, she’d figured they’d pick someone with a nice voice or something, but when she thought about the crier she’d heard yesterday, she knew they needed someone who could put on a show.
“Hey, Quinn!” Jonus said, standing at the front of the line with his friends behind him. “I’m the best crier you’ll ever find.”
Everyone in the line cracked up, and Jonus blushed as red as his hair when he realized what he’d said. “I mean best town crier! I never cry with tears. Ever.”
“Pick me instead,” Julien pleaded from behind him.
“Guys, don’t rush me on this!" Quinn insisted. "One at a time. Jonus?”
“Uh, right.” Jonus cleared his throat. “Uh, hear ye! Hear ye! I’m the guy with all the news you could want. Like, uh…”
He was sweating, which was totally gross! The last thing the Fashion Club needed was a sweaty town crier.
“Next!” Quinn called out.
Jonus fell to his knees. “Wait! Give me one more chance,” he pleaded.
“I’m sorry, Jonus. But it wouldn’t be fair to all the other guys who want to try.”
“Out of the way, loser!” Julien said, pushing Jonus to the side. Julien posed like he was on stage or something. “Hear ye, hear ye! Julien here with the news to please ye!”
Ugh, he rhymed a word with itself? Not even the laziest bard would do that.
“Aw, come on! I got this whole rhyme thing—”
“If you keep going, I won’t give you the chance to help me the next time I do something.”
He hung his head low and wandered off to join the other losers. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“Jervas!” she announced, calling up the next guy.
“Jeval,” he corrected. “Uh, hey, Quinn,” he said, “so are you paying us for this?”
“Of course. I’m paying you with the chance to hang out with me.”
“And the rest of the Fashion Club,” Satheri added.
Jeval shook his head. “I mean with money. Since we’re doing a job we oughta get some, you know, cash.”
“Oh, well you’ll get lots of experience that you can use if you ever want to do it, like, for real," Quinn said.
“Think I’m going to pass, then.”
That was not the answer she’d expected. But Jeval had already wandered off to join his buddies, who were making fun of him.
“You idiot!” Julien said. “Quinn’s not going to pay with money.”
“Why do you care? Me getting the job won't give you a chance with her,” Jeval protested.
Jonus stepped in. “Yeah, but at least one of us could have gotten in. And then helped out his bros.”
“Whatever," Jeval said. "If you’re good at something, don’t do it for free.”
Quinn took another look at Jeval. Was he actually good at this? Next in line was…
“Oh, gross,” she whispered. Karl the Unctuous stood at the front, with that icky grin stretched across his face.
He stepped up without being invited, which was so like him, and then bowed which might have been nice from someone who could make it look courtly. Karl was way overdressed for the part, with an orange silk frock coat so bright that it hurt to look at.
“Make it quick, Karl,” she said.
He straightened up, put one hand on his chest and pointed his nose in the air. “Hear ye, hear ye! Are you struggling to decide on autumn colors suitable for this drear land? Do you fear your silks are so last decade? Fret not, for you will find the answer at the fashion event of a lifetime, the opportunity of a century, where Quinn Morgendorffer, maiden of reputation most sterling and the scarlet-crowned queen of the sartorial realm, shall be sharing her wisdom on the best fabrics, dyes, cuts, and styles for comely young women like yourself.”
Wow. One of the key things about being popular was not to get impressed too easily. But he’d made it sound exciting. She looked to Satheri, then to Tiphannia who was staring at herself in a mirror, and then back to Satheri.
“A moment,” she said to Karl, holding out her hand. Then she whispered. “Do you think he’s going to be a creep if we hire him?”
Satheri shrugged. “He did a good job. Maybe if we tell him to behave himself?”
“Karl, did you make that all up on the spot?” Quinn asked.
“Extemporaneity is one of my many virtues, dear lady. Though some find my vices more interesting,” he added in a lower tone.
This was tough. Everyone hated Karl—and for good reason. But no one else came close.
“All right, Karl, but if you get the job you have to promise not to be a creep or a loser or anything. There are rules here.”
He grinned and leaned in so close she could see all his gross pores and smell his breath. “Ooh, you’re feisty!”
That made her decision way easier. “And you just lost the job.”
Karl blinked, and then stepped aside.
Quinn wanted to get the ball rolling and she did not have time to go through the rest. “Jeval! You said you’re good at this, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” He cleared his throat, then spoke: “Do you want to look your best this season? Quinn Morgendorffer can tell you how!”
Okay, it wasn’t terrible. Not as good as Karl’s but at least he said it like he meant it. Satheri seemed all right with him, going by the expression on her face.
“Fine, you can be our crier. And I’ll pay you two septims every time you announce something.”
“Cool!” he said, as his friends wailed. “What do you want me to say?”
“Uh, that’s your job.”
“Yeah, but I gotta know what you’re planning. So I can tailor the message.”
“That’s easy,” Quinn said. “We’ll be talking about fashion, duh!”
“And? Like are you going to talk about dresses? Accessories? Dyes? Trends?”
“Uh, all of that. Maybe?” But Quinn realized she had no idea.
Ugh, who thought that advertising would be so much work!
Bad poets (and some good ones, to be fair) loved to pontificate on the seasons, autumn especially. But this usually meant autumn in High Rock, where the leaves lit up in blazing reds and yellows before moldering on the loamy ground below. Autumn in Morrowind’s Vvardenfell District, however, meant little more than the smell of damp ash and the sight of gray clouds above brown hills.
Not that this meant too much to Daria. Her childhood home of Stirk barely had seasons at all, blessed by genial sunshine year-round. Balmora’s bleak fall weather appealed to her, particularly the rain that always washed a bit of adobe into the streets, reminding the city that nature still ruled.
Looking out the window to the dark clouds roiling above High Town’s haughty manors, Daria smiled and then turned her attention back to her essay on Imperial governance in Morrowind. Thunder pealed somewhere in the distance as she wrote, followed soon after by the steady patter of light rain.
Not wanting to get her essay wet, she closed the shutters and lit a second candle. It wasn't often that she got to write on a somewhat interesting subject in a pleasantly gloomy environment.
“Not bad for a Middas afternoon,” she said.
“Ugh, are you kidding me? It should be sunny so people can like do things,” came Quinn’s voice from behind her.
“Clearly, I spoke too soon.”
Quinn walked over to her bed and put her bookbag on the mattress before sighing and opening up her wardrobe. Daria watched out of the corner of her eye as her sister took out one dress, and then another, her brow knitted in frustration.
“What’s going on?” Daria asked. “Can’t figure out which color goes best with a tramp through the rain?”
“For your information—hey! Wait a minute.”
Daria tensed up. She did not care for the tone in Quinn’s voice. It was the tone she used whenever she got excited about some ridiculous triviality and begged mom or dad for some extra money to fritter away.
“You’re a writer, right?” Quinn asked.
“No. While I appear to be writing an essay it’s actually an elaborate ruse concocted by mom and dad to maintain the illusion that they have a literate daughter.”
“Uh huh. So tell me what would you write if you wanted to like, I don’t know, get people involved in fashion?”
Daria sighed and put her quill back in the inkwell. “Okay, out with it. What do you want?”
Quinn gasped and drew back, hand on chest for melodramatic effect. “Can’t I be curious about what my own sister gets up to?”
“No, because you know as well as I do that I’m boring. Get to the damn point.”
She resumed her normal posture. “Okay, fine! So, me and the Fashion Club thought it’d be a good idea to have like a town crier, but just for the Fashion Club things. We hired Jeval—”
“Wait, you spent real money?”
“It was either him or Karl, and even though Karl’s good at speaking he’s still a creep, so we went with Jeval! Anyway, we got him to do the job but now I have to figure out what kind of event to do so that people know how great we are! Not that they don’t already.”
Quinn raised her eyes heavenward. “What’s a girl to do, Daria?”
“This girl,” Daria pointed at herself, “doesn’t care, and isn’t going to do anything.”
“What do you want me to do, anyway? I don’t know anything about fashion.”
“Yeah, but you’re like really smart and a writer and stuff. I’m sure you could figure out something for us to do.”
“Why would I do that when I could watch you stew in the mess you created?”
“I’ll pay you.”
“Hm, well that’s different. How much are you paying Jeval?”
“Uh, half a septim for each announcement.”
Daria thought about it for a moment. “Pay me four times what you pay him, per session.”
Quinn gave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. So tell me, consultant, what should I do?”
Daria pushed her essay aside and opened the window back up to observe the fall of rain.
“First, why do you want a Fashion Club crier? Other than for the attention fix.”
“Because we’re only like, three girls! If we ever want to make it big, like you know, for a guild or something, we need to get more attention. We need people to know that we know everything about fashion.”
“I see.” Daria turned to face Quinn. “On that case, you need to offer some kind of expertise. Can’t you natter to them about dresses the way you do with your friends?”
“I can, but the thing is Satheri and Tiphannia are just so nice, you know? Like they always want to support me, and I love that. But sometimes I worry that maybe I’m making a mistake in picking out a pattern or fabric and they’re too nice to tell me I’m messing up.”
That got Daria’s attention. Every now and then, Quinn showed actual depth. She hoped it didn’t last; otherwise, she might have to start respecting her sister.
“Sounds to me like you need to enlarge the Fashion Club,” she said.
“Maybe I could have Jeval say we’re going to have tryouts or something.”
Would it actually work that way? The vagaries of popularity eluded Daria, but while Quinn always had a line of lovelorn guys trailing after her (and always kept at a convenient distance) she didn’t seem to have many close friends beyond Satheri and maybe Tiphannia.
Sort of like how Daria didn’t have any friends beyond Jane and maybe Jolda.
She decided not to pursue that line of thought. “Might be worth a shot.”
“But wait,” Quinn said, “People won’t want to join the Fashion Club unless we get our name out there first. Sure, they know what the Fashion Club is, but I need to make them care about it. How do I do that?”
“Uh, give a fashion advice seminar?” Daria had no idea, but she’d talk as long as she was getting paid.
“Hold on, Daria, did you make any friends at that Mages Guild thingie? Because if you did, you could ask him to teleport over to the Imperial City and find out what’s in vogue—”
“Since when do I make friends?”
“Oh, right. Ugh, I need to figure out how to get in touch with what’s going on over there! Or at least some other fashionable place. Maybe Vivec City? That’s a lot closer. Let me think. Autumn’s all about accessories, so the Fashion Club can give advice on that. I know, we can give personalized advice on what kinds of accessories go best with what people like to wear!”
“Listening to that sounds like torture to me, which means it’ll probably be a big hit with everyone else.”
“You know, Daria, a sash would go really well with your dress. You could do a brighter color, ‘cause you’re totally skinny enough—”
“Stop. Or I can’t be held responsible for what happens next.”
Quinn waved her hand. “Fine, fine. Anyway, I think that’s a great start. Hey, wait a second! All you did was like, ask questions and prompt me and stuff. I came up with all the ideas! Coming up with ideas was your job!”
Daria smirked. “What can I say? Consultancy’s a pretty good racket.”
Quinn thought she’d die when the first ever Fashion Club seminar opened up on Fredas afternoon to an audience of nobody.
“This is terrible!” Satheri sobbed, next to her.
“There’s… no one… listening...” Tiphannia drawled.
It’s not like there weren’t people around. But practically everyone was jammed up at the gate, trying to get out. No one listened to Quinn. This was so embarrassing. She glared at Jeval.
“You needed to make it sound more exciting! And go into the details,” she said.
Quinn wasn’t so sure Jeval’s pitch had been all that great. Style changes with the weather, and you don’t want to be left behind! Quinn Morgendorffer of the Fashion Club has the lowdown on what to wear this autumn!
It got the information across but was boring, like something a teacher would say.
“I don’t know anything about fashion,” Jeval said. “But I can try a different pitch next week. You gotta remember though: Fredas afternoon is a bad time for a seminar. Everyone wants to get out of Drenlyn and hang out with their friends.”
“Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Quinn demanded.
“I know, but you didn’t convince me. Hmm, okay, so maybe Fredas isn’t the best day. Girls!”
Satheri raised her face from her hands, her eyes filled with tears. At least her eyes were naturally red, so she didn’t have to worry about them getting all bloodshot and gross after crying. Tiphannia had her usual blank look.
“The problem here is not that we aren’t popular or that people don’t want to listen to us," Quinn announced.
“It… it isn’t?” Satheri said between sobs.
“Not at all. But you have to remember that the people who care about fashion are also people who are like popular, and stuff. Which means they’ve got their own things going on after school on Fredas. It’s just like, bad timing.”
“That’s a relief,” Satheri said, still looking like she was going to cry again.
“When are we… going to do… with the…” Tiphannia started.
“The seminar?” Quinn finished, because sometimes it was such a pain waiting for Tiphannia to get to the end of a sentence. “Good question.”
“What about after school on Morndas?” Satheri suggested.
Maybe. Except Jeval was right. Drenlyn was boring and no one wanted to stay longer than they had to. “I think lunch might be better. We’ll get more of an audience that way.”
Satheri’s eyes got big. “But lunch is when I re-apply my makeup and that can take a long time!”
“Uh, can I say something?” Jeval said.
“People aren’t going to come unless I hype it up, and I won’t have enough time to do that by Morndas. Give me a couple days. Do it at lunch on Middas, instead. I’ll run some new copy by you, but you’ll need to help me if you want me to be more specific and stuff.”
Huh, that actually made sense. It also meant she’d have to pay Jeval way more if he was going to announce each day. Between him and Daria she was already cutting into her fund for a new hat!
“Okay, fine," Quinn said. "We’ll try this again next week. For now, let’s be like the popular people we are and go do something fun!”
Fun things also cost money. But it’s not like she could stop now.
Stress was like the worst thing that could happen to Quinn’s pores! It had gotten so bad since the failed seminar that it almost hurt to look in the mirror. She could see them, like a gross version of freckles all over her face.
But if that’s the price she had to pay to get the Fashion Club the recognition it deserved, she’d just have to buy extra lotions and ointments.
At least Jeval had been doing a pretty good job. She checked in on him as he called out to the crowd during lunch and after school.
“Come one, come all, to the Fashion Club Autumn Style Seminar this Middas at noon! Worried that your frills make your wrists look fat? Not sure if that Colovian fur hat really works in Morrowind? Get those questions answered and more this Middas, courtesy of the Fashion Club!” he called out.
He sounded interested and his voice carried. Definitely enough to get attention.
But not to keep it! Everyone still walked past him, except for one or two of the unfashionable girls who were super-insecure all the time. The Fashion Club needed to get the attention of popular people like Agrippina or Sephannia.
That meant more work for Quinn. She didn’t have class on Tirdas but she went to Drenlyn anyway and spent all afternoon talking to the kinds of outlander girls people wanted to hang out with. She had Satheri do the same for Dunmer girls.
“Anyway, we’re going to have like this big thing tomorrow at lunch. Everyone knows that autumn’s a great time for accessories but there are so many that it can be hard to choose!” Quinn said to the more popular outlanders in Ondryn’s class.
“Ugh, I know!” Agrippina said. “I still can’t decide if I should go with some new tippets for my sleeves, or a new belt.”
“Well tippets—” Quinn started.
But wait! She couldn’t give all her secrets away now! She had to save some for tomorrow. “Well tippets are totally something we’ll be talking about.”
They seemed pretty interested. But what if they didn’t show up? What if it ended up being her and Satheri and Tiphannia in front of a big empty space where no one paid attention to them?
Quinn closed her eyes. “Think positive thoughts. You got this.”
Satheri saw Serjo Briltasi Talori leaving school that day and breathed in. The Talori family was a noble one. But Satheri’s dad had an important job as a Hlaalu-Empire liaison, and that meant the Rowenis were still a big deal. Plus, Serjo Talori liked outlanders and her stepmom was one, so she’d probably be okay with going to the seminar.
“Serjo Talori!” Satheri called out. “Forgive my intrusion, but I humbly ask for your attention.”
“Huh? Oh, hi Satheri!” Serjo Talori smiled and gave a little wave and Satheri relaxed. Serjo Talori didn't always know how to act like a noble, but Satheri kind of liked that about her.
“Thank you, Serjo Talori.” Satheri gathered her thoughts. Might sound weird if she were too formal. “Uh, so Sera Morgendorffer is going to be holding a fashion seminar this Middas.”
Serjo Talori twirled one of her ponytails around her index finger. “Yeah, I heard that Bosmer guy talking about it. Jerain, I think?”
“Juvval,” Satheri corrected, and then smiled. “You’re already like, super-fashionable. But we’d love to have you in the audience! If you’re there, then you can make a strong impression on some of the families of the other Dunmer students in attendance.”
“Hmm,” she turned her head askance. “I was going to ditch school. But that sounds like it might be fun. Okay!”
Satheri inclined her head. “Thank you so much, honored Serjo Talori. Sera Morgendorffer and I are grateful.”
Satheri breathed a sigh of relief. That had gone well. She always knew exactly where she stood when she talked to other Dunmer. Outlanders were more complicated. Muthsera Morgendorffer obviously had seniority in the Fashion Club, but Satheri wasn’t always sure where she stood in relation to Tiphannia. That scared her since she didn’t want to be second-best in Quinn’s eyes.
Quinn made everything scary, but she also made them fun. Satheri only had a few more years before mom and dad would send her to her husband-to-be in the red cliffs and yellow fungal forests of Shipal-Shin, hundreds of miles to the south. Which would be wonderful! He’d protect Satheri, and love her and make her a full part of Great House Hlaalu and she’d be happy there, finally, because she’d have a place.
But she wanted to have fun for a little longer.
Nidrene Serlo walked past. The Serlos weren’t that notable of a family, but her dad did work for Synda’s mom, so Satheri still needed to be respectful.
“Sera Serlo,” she said, walking toward Nidrene with her head held high (since she had to uphold her own family’s reputation, and they were more respectable at least by a little bit), “I’d like to talk with you for a second…”
This was it!
Okay, Quinn knew how to handle crowds. Sure, it was kind of scary when you saw a whole bunch of people all looking at you and ready to judge even the littlest mistake, but wasn’t that life in general?
Thank the Divines it wasn’t raining. The Middas noon was bright and cool with a few cute little clouds way up high in the sky. Thanks to Jeval’s town crying, Daria’s advice, and her talking to the right people, they had a crowd. The Fashion Club stood under the big mushroom in the middle of the courtyard, ready to give everyone the real lowdown on style.
Most of the people were popular outlander girls like her, but Satheri had brought in some Dunmer girls too. Some unpopular people showed up, like always. Daria and Jane watched from a distance, probably making some weird brainy comments. Whatever.
Synda also watched with a few of her creepy friends over by Lli’s office. Ugh, Quinn had tried to be nice to her. She still didn’t get exactly what had happened between them, but they were definitely enemies now.
Quinn smoothed her long hair, acting like nothing bothered her at all, and stepped out to the front.
“Welcome, everybody! I’m so glad you could all make it to the First Fashion Club Style Seminar! Today, we’re going to talk about autumn fashion. Now I’ve always said that autumn is the season for accessories, but which one? There are so many.”
She heard a bunch of “yeahs” and “oh, I knows” from the crowd. Good sign!
And now what? Her breath caught. She’d been so focused on getting things ready that she hadn’t prepped a speech. Like she thought it’d just come to her since she knew so much. But that was the problem! There was tons to talk about. She had to prove herself to these girls! It wasn’t like Satheri who’d always agree, or Tiphannia who never said anything.
“Uh…” she trailed off.
She couldn’t lose now. Not in front of everyone. Not with Synda watching and waiting for a mistake. But what to start with? Belts? Hats? Jewelry?
If the gods wanted to strike her with lightning, this would be a great time.
Or maybe the crowd could help.
“Let’s start with some questions!” Quinn announced, clapping her hands together.
Silence. Only silence.
“Yes! I have a question.”
Oh no. The girl asking was Treads-on-Ferns, the one Argonian in Drenlyn. Quinn panicked. She knew everything about fashion, but only for human and elven girls. She didn’t know how to accessorize for someone who had scales, claws, and a tail. Quinn always fell back on telling people to get hair pins when she couldn’t figure out anything else, but Argonians didn’t have hair!
“Yeah, go ahead!” Quinn said, her mind tumbling from one fashion idea to another.
Treads-on-Ferns made a hissing sound. “Thanks. I want to get some jewelry for my crest,” she said, and pointed at the little spikes growing from the sides of her head. “But money is short. What sort of jewelry do you think is best for me?”
Quinn had thought of a lot of different fashion possibilities, like the best color for winter wear in each province of the Empire, even though she’d only been to three (and hadn’t seen much of Skyrim). She’d never thought about Argonian crests.
But wait. She looked up and down at Treads-on-Ferns. Her scales were a brilliant green, almost like emeralds, except on some parts around her neck and forearms where the scales were this amazing cobalt blue. It must be nice to have skin—er, scales—that coordinated so naturally. Something of a similar color might work.
“Hm, I think turquoise would look great on your crest. I saw these really pretty turquoise signet rings at the market the other day.”
“Rings usually slip off,” said Treads-on-Ferns. “But I can tie the turquoise to my crest with twine. Thank you. I’ll do that.”
Quinn was still taking in more details. Treads-on-Ferns’s dress was this bland beige one that was all baggy and stuff, but boring dresses sometimes made for great bases. “If you want to add an extra something to your wardrobe, I think you’d look great with a netch leather cloak. A little one that goes over your shoulders and maybe halfway down your back.”
“Interesting. What color?”
“Hm, I love the green and blue and beige you have so far, it has this natural feel which looks great for you. Maybe blue but like a little darker than the turquoise or your scales, so it fits but still stands out.”
“I like that. Thank you.”
Everyone started murmuring. Not nasty things, but like they were impressed.
Agrippina, whose hair was done up in one of those crazy piled-high Nibenese styles that took hours to prep each morning, raised her hand.
“How long should my scarf be?” she asked, not waiting for Quinn to call on her.
Quinn already had an idea.
“That depends on what statement you’re trying to make. A short scarf can be stylish, but a longer one adds some mystery…”
Muthsera Morgendorffer was a genius!
The seminar had been perfect. Everyone loved Quinn and of course they did. She’d been like some kind of glorious saint from the days of Resdayn telling everyone how best to live. And Satheri was her closest friend! Or one of her closest, anyway.
Now they’d be popular. More popular, that is. Over the next few days, she saw people come to school wearing the accessories Quinn recommended. Treads-on-Ferns tied turquoise to those weird horns of hers and Agrippina got a long red moth-silk scarf with a fringe at the end just like Quinn had said.
“We should do another one next week!” Quinn said after school that Fredas. The whole Fashion Club had gone to the Glass Crown, a little cornerclub for fashionable people right next to Saint Roris Square. A whole bunch of rice wine had come in from Cyrodiil and was being sold for cheap, so they’d bought a bottle of the stuff, like what rich ladies drank in the capital.
“I think that’s a great idea!” Satheri said.
“What should it be about? We already did accessories.”
Satheri thought about it. Maybe fabrics? You had to keep warm during the winter but you didn’t want to get wrapped up in ugly guar-hide like some Ashlander.
“Maybe fabrics?” she said, and right away wished she hadn’t. Quinn probably already had a better idea.
“That’s a great idea, Satheri! Fabrics and layers are important. Now that it’s getting cold, everyone needs a way to stay warm and look good.”
Satheri smiled and almost fainted from relief.
Through a narrow window she watched a herder lead a line of guars through the marketplace, their claws clicking against the paving stones. The scaly beasts reminded her of Treads-on-Ferns. Not that Argonians were animals, or anything, she thought to herself with a bit of guilt.
They (well, Quinn, really) settled on doing the layering seminar next Middas so it could be a regular thing. All the same steps as before: Jeval making announcements, Quinn telling the outlander girls, and Satheri telling the Dunmer girls. It was so exciting! Kind of scary, too. Satheri couldn’t make any mistakes when Quinn was so invested, and she got so worried that she ran to her room to cry once she got home. What if she screwed up? Life was so much simpler before the seminar.
What if Quinn found out about Serjo Ules's birthday party last month, where Satheri had burned a bunch of heather flowers? Synda told her burning those flowers meant she hated outlanders. That’d be it. Quinn would cut her off, and so would Tiphannia, and she’d never have a friend again until she moved. And who knew what her future husband would be like?
Drenlyn was the only time she’d have fun in her entire life and she couldn’t lose that.
Yet Morndas came and she had a job to do. Maybe start with Serjo Talori. She was always nice, so it wouldn’t be too scary to talk to her. Satheri got to school as Serjo Talori walked through Drenlyn's gates. She stepped forward—
“Satheri. A moment of your time.”
Her heart sank at the voice: commanding, certain, and petulant. It was Synda. Satheri lowered her gaze and turned to face the girl.
“Uh, of course, Sera Grilvayn,” she said, keeping her head low. Synda’s eyes were so intense that it kind of hurt to look at them; easier to stare at the ground, and probably more respectful since the Grilvayns had been prestigious for a long time.
“Walk with me.”
Synda led her out of Drenlyn and into the crowded street.
“Quinn has certainly been making an impact on local fashion,” Synda said.
“She really has been.”
“I think it’s getting to her head.”
Satheri gulped and tried to hide her own head between her shoulders. Oh no, what if Quinn saw her talking like this? Or heard about it? Her heart kicked into overdrive and her vision blurred.
Synda kept talking. “How will I uphold my own honor and secure my future if I simply let some outlander act as if she can dictate fashion to us Dunmer?”
“But she’s not doing that at all, Synda! She’s giving—”
Synda made a cutting gesture with her hand. “It’s time to take a stand. Outlanders have their uses, but they must remember their place. Quinn has clearly forgotten hers. Thus, I am forming the Haute Society to ensure that there is an alternative to Quinn’s ideas. You will be a part of it.”
“I’m already part of the Fashion Club!” Satheri protested.
“We don’t need to make it official.” Synda stopped and turned to face Satheri, grabbing her shoulders and looking right into her eyes. Satheri shrank back but couldn’t break free. Her knees wobbled.
“We are both Dunmer, Satheri. I will look out for you. When I see you, I remember the girl who so bravely burned those disgusting heather flowers at Serjo Ules’s birthday party.”
“But I didn’t know what that meant! I thought they were just flowers until you told me they’re supposed to be outlanders—”
Satheri heard herself starting to blubber, like she did when she forgot to buy everything on mom’s shopping list and mom got madder the more Satheri cried. She wished she was more like Quinn, who was strong and sure the way a Dunmer was supposed to be even though she was an Imperial.
“Whether you knew it or not, you still did it. I’m going to break Quinn’s hold on Drenlyn, and you’re going to help.”
“Quinn’s my friend,” Satheri said, speaking so low she almost couldn’t hear herself.
“You only think she is. Human girls are fickle. What do you think Quinn would do if I told her about those flowers you burned?”
“Absolutely. I’d never betray confidence like that. But supposing someone did tell her, do you think Quinn would still be your friend afterward?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“She would not. Betrayal can never be forgiven, after all. That’s why you should only trust other Dunmer. We stick together. Here’s what’s going to happen: the Haute Society will be holding its own seminar this Middas, at the same time as the Fashion Club. I don’t want any interference from Quinn, so make sure she does not trouble me.”
“Satheri, this is an opportunity. Not only for you, but for your entire family. I’ll certainly tell my mother which of my peers supported me in this endeavor, and your support can only improve your father’s standing. Now listen closely…”
Middas came, and Quinn couldn’t wait. She ducked out of Sera Benniet’s class early (it was super-boring anyway) to clear her head.
The whole layering thing was only a theme. People could ask about anything they wanted. But she still wanted to go over her ideas. Thin moth-silk almost always worked as a second layer over thicker fabrics like wool or flax, but netch leather also worked great as a way to add more variety in texture.
Quinn was still mentally going over her plans when lunch started. She saw Jeval hurry to the courtyard, where he’d make one last announcement to remind everyone. Except there were two Dunmer guys in fancy western clothes standing in his usual spot next to the gate. She’d never seen them before, and they looked way too old to be students. One of them carried a long brass horn.
But Jeval was a pro. He took his position and opened his mouth. Quinn closed her eyes and smiled, ready to hear her name shouted out to everyone in school.
“Today at lunch! Get the—”
The blast of a horn drowned out his voice. Jeval clamped his hands over his ears; the poor guy had been right next to the Dunmer who’d blown it.
Worse, the horn had gotten everyone’s attention.
“Oh no,” Quinn said, suddenly getting a bad feeling.
“Uh, today at lunch—” Jeval tried another time.
That jerk horn player blasted over him again! No way was it an accident. Okay, well if that dumb hornist wanted the most popular girl in Drenlyn to yell at him, he’d get that. Quinn balled her hands into fists and started toward him.
“Hey, could you stop that?” Jeval said. “I gotta make this announcement. Plus I'm deaf now because of your stupid horn—"
The other Dunmer guy shoved him to the side. Quinn halted. This was getting weird. The hornist played a stupid little tune and then spoke: “Hereby announcing the first meeting of the Haute Society, led by honored Sera Synda Grilvayn!”
Synda marched out onto the courtyard with a bunch of her friends. They all wore dark gowns of thick moth-silk, the kind you’d never go shopping in but might wear to a funeral or something.
“Come one, come all!" Synda announced. "You have fashion questions, and I have fashion answers. What’s more, I know exactly what the wealthiest and most respectable ladies of Vivec City will be wearing this winter. My cousin, Muthsera Bronosa Nedalor, lives in the Hlaalu Canton.”
She already had a big crowd. It looked like all of the Dunmer girls stood there right at the front, except for Satheri and Jane.
Synda kept going. “Dark colors will definitely be in. You won’t want to be wearing anything bright if you or your families get invited to any Hlaalu parties. Remember: image is everything.”
“Where can we get the right dress for this winter?” Agrippina asked, standing toward the back.
“Good question. The key to dressing for Hlaalu events is to know the right people. I would not recommend just any dressmaker’s store…”
And she did it all in that snooty voice of hers!
Tiphannia and Satheri finally showed up.
“Guys! Do you see this? Synda’s totally stealing our seminar!” Quinn fumed.
“I can’t believe… she thinks… she can get away… with this...” Tiphannia said. At least she was paying attention, or as much attention as she ever did.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Quinn,” Satheri said.
“We have to do something!”
Satheri gave an apologetic shrug. “Maybe we shouldn’t?”
Quinn couldn't believe what she was hearing. “Huh?”
“Muthsera Morgendorffer,” Satheri said, looking down at her shoes, “the Grilvayns are like really influential in Great House Hlaalu. I’m scared if you go against her, well, it might hurt my family.”
Satheri raised her head, and her eyes were full of tears. Which wasn’t that weird actually, since she cried about everything.
“Please?" Satheri begged. "We don’t need seminars to have fun. It can be like it was in the old days. Because if you pick a fight with her... it’s going to hurt me, too.”
“Hurt like how?” Quinn asked.
“Like they might ostracize daddy and it'll get harder for him to work with Great House Hlaalu. If it gets bad enough, my betrothed might decide not to marry me and—”
Suddenly Satheri grabbed the front of Quinn's dress and pulled her close. Satheri's face was all weird with her eyes huge and her teeth clenched. “Please! I can’t afford this!”
Quinn didn’t know where to start.
“Wow… that much stress… will give you wrinkles...” Tiphannia said.
Thanks for that, Quinn thought, and wondered what was wrong with Tiphannia.
But poor Satheri looked like she was about to fall apart. Quinn remembered how Turimar had threatened to put mom and dad in the poorhouse. How maybe he’d have done it if the Morag Tong hadn’t, well, killed him.
Plus, though Quinn hated to think it, Satheri was a wimp. Quinn liked protecting Satheri because it was like having a little sister to watch out for (way more fun than the weird older sister she actually had), but it was a lot to deal with. Putting Satheri through that would become a problem for Quinn, too.
Though she wished Satheri would stand up for herself a little more.
“Calm down, Satheri. I'll let it go."
Satheri released her grip and then knelt at Quinn’s feet. “Thank you, Muthsera Morgendorffer. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to get in the way, but thank—”
“Come on, come on! Get up, we have reputations to maintain!” Quinn said.
Because they totally did, even if Synda hogged everyone's attention. Crying was great when it made a guy feel sorry for you, or maybe at one of those big confession and reconciliation moments. But you looked clingy if you did it too much.
Jeval walked up to them. “Hey, Quinn. Sorry about that, but you saw what happened.”
“It’s okay, Jeval,” she said. “I think we’ll be putting the seminars on hold. We got what we wanted.”
“What did we... want?” Tiphannia asked.
“You know, to make sure everybody knew about us! And unlike Synda, we didn’t need a noisy hornist or some snooty relative in Vivec! After school, I think we should celebrate by going out the Glass Crown. All on me, girls.”
Except she hated to give up like that. She’d worked so hard and done everything right. She’d given her money to Jeval and Daria, answered everyone’s questions, and given fashion advice that people actually followed. All that work undone because Synda had connections that Quinn never would.
Oh, she was mad. She wanted to yell and scream until everything went her way. But getting really mad was like crying: you had to do it at the right time.
“That sounds… great…” Tiphannia said.
“Thanks, Muthsera Morgendorffer. I’d love to go,” Satheri said. She was smiling through her tears but still had kind of a crazy look in her eyes, like she might flip out over something.
“Can I get hazard pay for today?” Jeval asked.
“Tell you what, I'll pay you your regular amount, but you can join us at the Glass Crown. Since you helped us a lot.”
He looked from side to side, and then thought about it for a moment.
“I guess you guys are like my coworkers now. So, sure, I'll take it.”
Daria loved to see her sister taken down a peg. But Synda beating Quinn at her own game only threw Daria into a panic. She hyperventilated as the pain of old blows echoed through her nerves and bones. She heard the crunch of her old glasses beneath Synda’s feet, the hateful sound forever imprinted on her memory.
She fled Drenlyn. Chest heaving and arms shaking, she practically ran through the streets. All she wanted was home: its thick walls, its darkness, its safety.
Daria threw herself on her bed as soon as she reached her room and tried not to think about the attack.
So, naturally, that’s all she thought about.
The longer she waited, the more likely Quinn would escalate the situation with Synda and unwittingly bring it to a violent breaking point. Daria should have stayed at Drenlyn to keep an eye on things. That's what good older sisters did. But it hurt. She shivered and hugged herself, and it still hurt.
Later in the afternoon, hearing Quinn’s footsteps coming up the stairs, Daria realized she still didn’t have a plan.
“It’s so unfair!” Quinn shouted the moment she came in. “You saw what happened today, right?”
“I sure did,” Daria said, lying on her side and trying to sound like she didn’t give a damn. Maybe a display of apathy would make Quinn give up.
Make Quinn give up and hide her confidence so that she truly became the conformist she pretended to be. Daria’s stomach twisted.
“After all that work I did. That we did, ‘cause you helped!” Quinn said.
“My rates are going way up if you want me to fight Synda.”
Quinn crossed her arms, her face flushed with anger. “Right, I get it. You don’t care about anything.”
“Trust me, it’s way easier.” Oh gods, she hated the words she spoke. She wanted to tell Quinn the truth. Tell her how awful Synda was.
But she couldn't. Not if she wanted Quinn to stay safe.
“Well, I care about things," Quinn fumed. "The only reason I can’t do anything is because Synda’s family is like important or something, and if I fight her it might get Satheri’s family in trouble. The way Turimar tried to get us in trouble.”
Gods. Not only was Daria a complete failure as an older sister, but Quinn actually sacrificed what she wanted most to keep a friend safe.
What if Quinn was just better than her?
“This makes me so mad,” Quinn said.
Daria slowly sat up and took a few deep breaths to calm down. She couldn't leave Quinn completely adrift. “Yeah,” she finally said. “It’s enraging.”
Quinn gave her a quizzical look. “I thought you didn’t care.”
“It’s not that.” Daria weighed her options. She wanted to tell the truth.
But she couldn't.
"So, we can do something?" Quinn asked.
"It's not that simple. Remember how you felt when Turimar threatened you? Because his influence went a lot farther than our influence? It's kind of like that with Synda. There's not much we can do to her."
Quinn looked doubtful. "Satheri tells me that the Grilvayns are powerful, but not that powerful. She knows a lot about this stuff, Daria. It's like her whole world."
"Well," Daria said, "how can Satheri be sure? Remember the time Synda tried to trick you into going into that Camonna Tong hideout? That's a pretty sure sign that she has friends in low places who might be willing to do some pretty brutal things to us."
Quinn shook her head. "No way. Synda was just trying to embarrass me. Satheri told me that the Grilvayns don't hang out with the Camonna Tong anyway. They aren't the right kind of family."
Daria hesitated. She didn't think much of Satheri. Then again, Satheri had grown up in this kind of environment, so she would know. Jane, for all her street smarts, was almost as much of an outsider as Daria.
Had Synda lied to her about hiring Camonna Tong thugs?
The pain of the memory cut through everything else, and Daria shook her head. "Look, you've already had one close call with Synda. Don't try for another."
Quinn drew herself up. "So what then? Keep rolling over like some loser?"
"If that keeps things from getting worse, so be it."
"Daria, is there something you're not telling me?"
Yes. Tons of things.
"Remember what I said," Daria warned, taking a random book from her desk and opening it up. "And if it comes crashing down on your head, don't blame me."
"Fine, I won't!"
As Daria's eyes moved over the text without taking in the words, she prayed that it would end with this.
Daria sucked at lying.
Which was weird, because she was all creative and stuff. But only on paper. She couldn't fib to save her life face-to-face.
She knew there was something her sister wasn't telling her.
Quinn didn’t have any classes the next day, so she went off to the market to buy a kwama egg for the evening meal. She didn't usually think about the stuff Daria said, but she'd sounded scared the other night. Of what? Synda?
Okay, so Synda had almost tricked Quinn into going into that sketchy tavern. But the Camonna Tong couldn't get away with killing people who blundered into the Council Club. Them killing random outlanders would make the Hlaalu look bad, and if there was anything the Hlaalu hated, it was looking bad. Satheri said that only the sketchiest or most powerful families hung out with the Camonna Tong. Boring business families like Synda's didn't go anywhere near them.
Balmora was more dangerous than Stirk, but not by as much as Daria thought. Hiding away wasn't an option for Quinn. People loved her. Like practically everyone who mattered had gone to the seminar and followed her advice.
Quinn got in line at Llervo the egg-seller's stand. That’s when she saw Treads-on-Ferns walking past, a big sack full of something slung over her shoulder. She still wore the turquoise in her crest.
“Hi,” Quinn said, waving.
“Oh, hello,” Treads-on-Ferns said, coming to a stop. “Thanks again for answering my question last week.”
“My pleasure,” Quinn said. It felt good to remember, but it hurt, too. Gods, she wanted to be able to help like that again. “I guess Synda’s the new expert though.”
Treads-on-Ferns shook her head. “I know better than to ask her for anything. To tell you the truth, Quinn, I was trying to put you in a hard spot. Most people don’t like to think that we Argonians care about looking good. They think we’re nothing more than lizards. But you did a good job, and even thought about my scales.”
Huh, she hadn’t expected that. But it seemed like a compliment. It was hard to tell because Treads's face was so different. “Of course! You have like the prettiest scales, so it only makes sense to emphasize the colors. It’s like what I do with my hair.”
“I don’t know much about hair, but I guess that makes sense. Anyway, I’m sorry that Synda’s Haute Society took over.”
“Oh, that’s no big deal. Seminars are so last week, anyway.” Quinn thought about it for a second. Treads-on-Ferns wasn’t popular. In fact, Quinn wasn’t sure she had friends at all.
But at least she gave her opinion. Tiphannia was always off in la-la land and Satheri was too scared to say anything. If the Fashion Club was going to be for all Tamriel, she needed to get some Beastfolk perspectives, too.
“You know, Treads-on-Ferns, the Fashion Club could use a new member.”
Treads-on-Ferns looked like she was thinking about it. At least Quinn was pretty sure she was.
“What would I have to do?”
“Oh, you know, stay up to date on fashion. But that’s like super-easy since we spend all our time in the market anyway. It’d be great to have you if we ever do seminars again.”
Treads made another hissing sound, which sounded sort of scary but she probably meant to be friendly. “Okay, I’m up for that.”
“Great! I, Quinn Morgendorffer, formally accept you, Treads-on-Ferns, as the fourth member of the Fashion Club!”
“Are your friends going to be okay with that?”
“Oh, totally! We’re all really supportive. Anyway, we’ll be having a meeting tomorrow after school so you can get to know everybody then.”
“Great. I’ll be there,” Treads-on-Ferns said. “I should probably get these ash yams back to my parents. See you tomorrow.”
She waved as Treads-on-Ferns left the market. So it wasn’t a total loss after all. Sure, Treads-on-Ferns wasn’t popular or anything but maybe that didn’t matter so much. In a place like Morrowind, you needed whatever friends you could find.