Quinn started planning for battle from the very moment she awoke.
That's what Imperials did, right? It's not like you could just snap your fingers and get the biggest empire ever. You had to plan and think and plot to win your battles.
And she had one doozy of a battle before her.
Quinn resisted the urge to squint as she looked into the mirror. Squinting created wrinkles. She had to stay calm and relaxed and perfect. She adjusted the mirror to catch some of the morning light, her mind already running through a hundred different possibilities for hair. There were just so many choices!
Making the wrong one wasn't an option.
Especially now, with how things fell apart with that one girl Synda, who was from exactly the kind of family you were supposed to make friends with in Balmora! Quinn still didn't know why things went wrong, whether it was something she did, Daria did, or Daria's creepy friend did.
Quinn listened to her sister's quiet breathing in the next bed over. Not like Daria ever cared about what happened to the family. Figured that the only friend Daria made was another weirdo who didn't have any other friends and who wasn't even rich for goodness' sake!
The Morgendorffers were outlanders. To survive, they needed to make friends with native Dunmer. Synda was mad at Quinn, and that meant a lot of the other Dunmer were also mad at her. Not all of them—just enough to make things a lot tougher.
"Oh Talos Stormborn," she sighed, bowing her head and clasping her hands in prayer. "I know I'm not a big general or battle-mage or anything, but I am fighting for the Empire in my own way. And fashion's something that affects everybody so it's actually a lot more important than swords and stuff! And I could really use some divine aid about now."
Raising her head, she studied her blurry reflection in the mirror's smudged surface. Maybe it would have been better to pray to Dibella, but right now she needed the backing of the biggest and toughest god of all time!
Quinn had two things going for her. First, she knew fashion better than anyone else. Second, she came from Cyrodiil, the Heart of the Empire and the fashion center of the known world. Sure, she was from a really faraway part of Cyrodiil, but it's not like any of the Dunmer knew the difference between Stirk and the Imperial City!
You could learn a lot if you kept your mouth shut and your ears open, and that's just what Quinn had done for the past week when she was on school grounds. Most attendees were outlanders like her, from all over Tamriel. But if the Morgendorffers were going to make any impact on Morrowind, she needed to get in with respectable Dunmer!
Books were boring. But sometimes they were useful and she'd found a big yellow one (the ugliest shade of yellow, too) that listed all the important Hlaalu families. She paid attention to names and places of residence, making up a chart in her head of who was connected to who and how they mattered.
Between that and keeping a careful eye on things, Quinn had three prospects in mind. First, Briltasi Talori. From a minor noble Balmora family and super-nice, but already had like a million friends, both Dunmer and outlander. Quinn would just be a drop in the ocean in her crowd.
Second, Torosi Jerylso. Also really popular, but was a total mystery beyond that. Everyone seemed to say something completely different about her, though what they said was almost always good.
Third, Vidrene Servo, who people liked but whose family might be friends with Synda's family or something. Quinn wasn't completely sure, but she didn't want to take that chance.
Quinn sat down in Sera Benniet's classroom. Benniet went on and on about investing in glass mines or something really boring like that. Quinn didn't even get why she needed to learn this stuff! It's not like she'd ever spend her life doing something so dull.
Next to her was a Dunmer girl with her shoulders bunched up and her round red eyes fixed on the sleeve of her blue gown. Her Imperial-style blue gown—so she probably wasn't one of those Dunmer who was all rude to outlanders. She smoothed the sleeve, like she was trying to get it just right.
Satheri Rowleni, Quinn remembered. The Rowleni family was loaded. Didn't the dad own like some kind of big jellyfish (or whatever those weird flying tentacled things were called) farm out in the Ascadian Isles? But even though the Rowlenis had connections, Satheri didn't.
Quinn smiled. This smelled like an opportunity!
"I really like that dress," Quinn whispered.
Satheri gasped. "Really? I got it imported from Cyrodiil. But I'm worried it doesn't match my eyes."
"It totally does!" Quinn insisted. "Color contrast is so in right now! I bet if this were the Imperial City you'd have guys, like, all over you. Plus blue's a great color in Cyrodiil these days. Being from there, I would know!"
Okay, maybe color contrast wasn't in—but it's not like anyone would know way out here.
"Oh wow! We never hear anything about the styles in Cyrodiil out here. You're so smart!"
"Only about the important things."
"Do you know Tiphannia Blumius?" Satheri asked. "She's human like you and she's like my best friend—well, a really good friend."
Satheri suddenly seized up, the way you would if you saw a bug crawl out of your dress, except this was Morrowind and bugs weren't a big deal.
"Wait, don't tell her I called her a really good friend!" Satheri begged. "I meant she's my best friend but I didn't want to say that and make you think I didn't like you—"
"Satheri?" came Sera Benniet's voice. "Is everything all right in the back row?"
Satheri just quivered in place.
"Sera," Quinn said, "Satheri was saying she had like a fainting spell this morning, and she came here because she really wants to learn but it's acting up again."
Fainting spells were perfect for an excuse. They weren't gross like food poisoning or fevers. When guys heard "fainting spell" it just made them want to protect you.
"Could I go outside with Satheri? I think some fresh air might help," Quinn said.
Benniet shrugged. "Fine. Better that than a classroom disruption."
Satheri was still freaking out when Quinn walked her outside.
"Calm down!" Quinn said. "We're out of that stuffy classroom."
"Please don't tell Tiphannia what I said, because I really didn't mean it that way except I sort of did—"
"I won't say a thing." Not like she could even figure out what Satheri was going on about.
Satheri brightened up. "Thank you so much! You are my best friend, Quinn, and I mean that!"
Okay, that was a little weird. But whatever. Best to have someone who was gracious.
Satheri kept going. "And I'll introduce you to Tiphannia later on. I think you'd really like her. She knows all about fashion. Plus, she's actually from some big family in the Imperial City."
"Wait, the Imperial City?"
"Yeah. Are you from there too?"
Time to change the subject and not mention coming from a city out on an island in the middle of nowhere. "Oh, you know what else is in? Ruffles," Quinn said, and really hoped it was true.
Quinn wanted to freak out, but the problem was she couldn't. Not if she wanted to be popular. Yes, there was a time and a place where a girl could do that, like at the right dramatic moment to prove a point to mom and dad, but not when she was trying to make friends.
And why hadn't Quinn heard of Tiphannia if she was some big deal from the Imperial City?
She just about froze when Satheri pointed Tiphannia out, standing outside of Instructor Ondryn's class and looking at her nails. Perfect jet black hair, her face round and fine-boned, with a cyan dress that was just right for her figure. Tiphannia wasn't an Imperial—Quinn couldn't quite figure out her background—but that didn't matter when she already looked so good! Quinn was just some backwater hick. No way she could compete with someone who'd grown up in the capital and probably knew all of the latest fashions by heart. It wasn't fair!
"Hi, Tiphannia! This is Quinn, I met her in Sera Benniet's class today. She's super-smart—like in a good way—and knows all about fashion."
Tiphannia slowly looked up at Quinn, her face serene and incurious.
"Hi," Quinn said, standing straight and tall.
"Hi," Tiphannia responded, drawing out the greeting.
Go ahead and judge me, Quinn thought, as Tiphannia eyed her up and down. And then all of a sudden Tiphannia looked back down at her nails. Like Quinn wasn't even worth judging.
"So Quinn was saying that all the popular girls in Cyrodiil are wearing blue and ruffles right now," Satheri went on. "And that color contrast is in, so blue goes well with Dunmer eyes."
"Blue... goes really well... with my hair..." Tiphannia said, and she spoke so slowly that listening to her talk was like watching molasses drip from a spoon. And she still didn't look up from her nails.
Something about Tiphannia seemed off. It wasn't like she was making fun of Quinn—even if she was, there was no way Satheri was in on the joke. Maybe Tiphannia was just like that for some reason.
"Exactly!" Quinn said. "Which is why it's such a popular color right now."
"And ruffles, too!" Satheri added, beaming.
"Ruffles... are so like... complicated..."
Okay, so Tiphannia was really weird. That must have been why Quinn hadn't heard of her. But this was even better! Unpopular friends from very popular families!
Quinn kept up the attack. "Which is also why it's crucial that they be perfectly matched to the outfit! Too many and they just look too busy, but the right amount totally gets attention. A little around the sleeves and maybe around the back of the neck—they can be really slenderizing like that."
And sure Quinn didn't know for sure if that was true. But all that mattered was that people thought it was true! It's like mom said—you needed the right story to win a court case, and fashion was no different!
By the end of the day, Quinn knew she'd found her place.
"I think it's clear that Morrowind's been neglected for too long," she said. "So I say we form a Fashion Guild to make sure that the ladies of Balmora get the style that they deserve! And as founders, we get first dibs."
"Oh wow! That's so great! I never thought I'd be in a guild!" Satheri exclaimed.
"Gilded sleeves are like... so slimming..."
"I do applaud your ambition," mom said, back at home. "But legally, to call yourself a guild, you need an imperial charter."
"And you can get one, right?"
Mom looked thoughtful for a second. "That would be an interesting legal challenge—but obtaining a charter is a long drawn-out process. It took the scenarists decades to get theirs."
"Decades!? I'll be all old and wrinkly then!" Quinn protested. "This is important. By spreading Imperial fashion I'm spreading the Empire!"
Mom sighed. "Yes, but you'll have to convince the emperor of that. I think you're off to a great start! This is a wonderful way to make yourself known in the city, and both the Rowleni and Brolius families are well-connected. In fact, I met Junius Brolius a month ago, he does a lot of business with the East Empire Company."
"Is he Imperial? Because I don't think Tiphannia is," Quinn said.
"He is, but Tiphannia's adopted. She's a Keptu orphan from Cathnoquey—Junius and his wife were stationed there, and took Tiphannia in just before they were sent back to the capital for reassignment. Regardless you can't call yourself a guild, and professionally, I can't defend you in court for false representation."
"Fine," Quinn sighed.
So Fashion Guild was a no-go. Thinking about it a bit, she decided Fashion Club was a good start.
In the meantime, she needed to figure out how to get an imperial guild charter. If it took decades, she had to get started now!