The tunnel out of the Thalmor Embassy emerged into a troll's den. Though Matthias was able to slay the beast, it set upon the wounded and weakened Etienne, finishing the unfortunate man off beyond Matthias' power to heal. And so it was that Matthias made his way back to Riverwood and Delphine's hideout.
Delphine: You're back!
Me: Yeah. You know that valuable spy you had in the Thalmor Embassy? Dead.
Me: Yeah. Turns out the Thalmor noticed when one of their honored guests disappeared and somehow figured out that the one person who lived there who wasn't a High Elf might be involved. No idea why.
Delphine: Truly, they are cunning adversaries.
Me: Irony is totally lost on you, isn't it?
Delphine: But did you at least find evidence that the Thalmor are behind the dragons before you escaped?
Delphine: *sighs* Then this was all for nothing.
Me: Not quite. I did find proof the Thalmor are just as confused about the dragons returning as you are and just as keen to find an answer.
Delphine: Oh? And what is this so-called proof of yours?
Me: This journal their head torturer was writing regarding the information they were getting out of this one prisoner. They're trying to find this guy named Esbern.
Delphine: Esbern?! You are certain it was Esbern?
Me: See for yourself. It's written here.
Delphine: ... Esbern. I thought he was dead!
Me: You know him?
Delphine: Yes. He was an archivist for The Blades before the Thalmot began hunting us down. He was a bit strange, but a noble man. He was obsessed with the prophecies and lore of Skyrim, which spoke of the coming return of the dragons.
Me: The same prophecies that spoke about me, I'm guessing?
Delphine: Yes. If Esbern is truly still alive, his knowledge would be invaluable.
Me: Well, luckily the prisoner told me that he knew a man named Esbern who was hiding in the sewers of Riften.
Delphine: What? Why, that is marvelous news! We'll have to make arrangements to get you down there. I'll start forging the letters that will identify you as a dunny man, sent to inspect the sewers on behalf of the Jarl...
Me: Actually, I think I can manage this one alone. Ta!
Delphine: But...but...a plan! Subterfuge! False papers! At least take a pass-word to confirm your identity!
SOMETIME LATER, IN THE RAGGED FLAGON...
Me: Hey, eerybody.
Vekel the Man: Morning, boss.
Me: Morning, Vekel. How's the rat race?
Vekel the Man: Shut down until further notice. Seems someone was slipping Potions of Haste to the rats.
Me: Wow. Someone cheating at a gambling event held in a thieves guild. Who would have thought?
Vekel the Man: Oh, we expect some cheating, sir. You'd be a fool not to. The problem is EVERYONE was feeding the rats Haste potions. Their poor little hearts gave out before the first lap was finished!
Me: Poor little guys.
Vekel the Man: Ah, we'll get a new batch trained soon enough. So what brings you by?
Me: I need information on one of our tenants. Do we have an old man named Esbern living down there, as far of you know?
Vekel the Man: You know, it's funny... you're not the first to ask me that today..
Vekel the Man: We do have an old guy hiding out in the Ratway. Lots of people looking for him. Don't know his name but he's paid good money for nobody to know he's down here.
Me: Who else was asking about him?
Vekel the Man: Strangers in hooded robes. High elves.
Vekel the Man: Probably. Told them they were welcome to search the Ratway if they wanted.
Me: You what?!?!
Vekel the Man: Well I can hardly tell a bunch of people in dark hooded robes that I think they're suspicious and that they're unwelcome here, can I? I'd have to kick out half the guild then!
Me: ... Point.
Vekel the Man: Besides, I just reset the booby traps this morning. Figured they could help me "test" them.
Me: Vekel? You are going places in this organization.
Vekel the Man: Thank ye, Guildmaster. But I'm content to remain a fence and bartender.
Me: Still, you deserve some kind of reward. How about I don't tell Vex who has been stealing her underpants and selling them to Delvin?
Vekel the Man: That works too!
Me: Okay. Let's make sure these guys are really Thalmor and not just other random elves in dark hooded robes who want to kill me.
Me: I hate these guys but at least THEIR intelligence is actually intelligent. "May Be An Alias." Feh.
AFTER MUCH SNIPING OF THALMOR FROM AFAR...
Esbern: Go away! I already paid for the month!
Me: Relax! I'm a friend.
Esbern: I'm an old man! All my friends are dead! Now get off my lawn!
Me: You don't have a lawn. We're in a sewer.
Esbern: Well... get off my filth-incrusted stoop, then!
Me: Look, Delphine sent me. She wanted to come up with a really complicated plan to sneak down here as a dunny man...
Esbern: Hmm... welll, that does SOUND like Delphine. And I doubt the Thalmor would know that. I suppose you can come in. Wait a minute while I get all the locks.
Me: Isn't having that many locks sort of overkill?
Esbern: Not when the Thieves Guild are your landlords and the Thalmor are after you.
Me: Well, pack up what you can't live without. I've come to take you to Delphine.
Esbern: You are a Blade? A new recruit?
Me: Well, sort of. Actually, I'm the Dragonborn.
Esbern: What? You're... can it really be true? Dragonborn?
Me: I'll shout if you like but that might not be a good idea here.
Esbern: Indeed. There will be time enough to test you later. At the very least you are capable enough to gert here sneaking past the Thieves AND the Thalmor.
Me: Ha-ha! Yes. Snuck past the thieves....