Meliandra carried the large crate toward the looming doors of the Blue Palace, the Firebrand Wine buried beneath breads, cheeses and salted meats. She felt conspicuous in the maids clothing she had helped herself to to pull off this heist, but so far no one had questioned her. Brynjolf hadn’t been joking about having to buy off the Argonian, but she didn’t think it would entail stealing an entire case of wine from the palace of the late High King. If she got caught by the palace guards she had no doubt that she would not be able to smooth talk her way out of jail this this. She turned the corner, the doors right in front of her, just a few steps away; she was holding her breath as she reached for the door handle.
“Haven’t seen you before. What’s in the crate?”
She closed her eyes as she silently swore. She turned and smiled sweetly at the brown-eyed guard approaching her. “I’m new here, sir; my first day. Helping in the kitchen. I was told her ladyship wanted this brought to the inn, sir.”
The guard looked at the foodstuffs and seeing signs of age, nodded and held the door open for her.
She nodded and walked out the door. She made her way down the path that led to Castle Dour and from there she’d make her way to the Winking Skeever. She found herself annoyed with Gulum-Ei; she would play his little cat and mouse game, and she would get the answers that they sought. She stopped outside the inn and looked at the beggar by the door. “Want some food, old timer?” She dumped the foodstuffs on the top of a barrel and walked inside with the wine.
She set the crate down and looked at the lizard. “Here’s your wine; now talk.”
He smiled. “Good. Can’t have the buyer getting impatient and looking elsewhere for this, can we? Here, take these,” he handed her some soul gems. “I certainly can’t use them, but I suppose I need to pay you something for the goods.”
“Are you trying to bribe me now?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. I consider it an investment in prolonging my life.” He took a bite of his seared slaughterfish followed by a swallow of mead. “As far as Goldenglow Estate goes, I’ll tell you what I know.” He sat back in his chair and continued, “I was approached by a woman who wanted me to act as the broker for something big. She flashed a bag of gold in my face and said all I had to do was pay Aringoth for the estate. I brought him the coin and walked away with her copy of the deed.”
“She happen to say why she’s doing this?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. I tend to not ask too many questions when I’m on the job.” He smiled. “I’m sure you understand.” He paused the continued, “However, I did notice she was quite angry and it was directed at Mercer Frey.”
“That’s it? No name or anything?”
He chuckled. “In this business, we rarely deal in names; our identity comes from how much coin we carry.”
She rested her hands on the table and leaned in toward him. “I think you’re lying to me.”
“Look, that’s all I know. I never promised you I’d have all the answers. Now,” he stood up, “since our transaction is done, I’ll be on my way.”
She watched the Argonian leave the inn, a smug look on his face while she glowered at him. She paid for an ale, drank it and then proceeded to follow Gulum-Ei. As she exited the inn she heard the gates of the city creaking closed. She sprinted to them before they closed; seeing Gulum-Ei walking down the path. She followed him from afar, climbing upon the rocks to watch him from above.
His words disturbed her; she could tell he was holding something back, but what she wasn’t sure. It bothered her that he said that this woman had a lot of anger directed at Mercer and her curiosity was growing rapidly. She saw the Argonian head towards the docks and swore; she’d have to scramble down and cross the road and gain an advantageous view, but she had to do so quickly to avoid losing sight of Gulum-Ei for long.
Pebbles bounced down the side of the rock face as she slid down the smoothness of the boulders; she cast a muffling spell and sprinted across the road and made her way to the rooftops of the docks. She caught sight of the lizard just as he walked below the awning. His boots made a soft thud as he walked across the wooden boards as the waves slapped the rocks underneath. A guard walked out from where Gulum-Ei had walked past, a moment later she saw her target again. She watched as he walked up to the doors along the wall, unlock them and enter.
She fished around in her satchel till she located her elixir of lockpicking and her invisibility potion along with her lock pick set. She popped the corks on the bottles and drank both at once; a moment later she was picking the lock of the door and slipping into the warehouse, undetected.
She found herself inside of a shack in a huge cavern, the inside of the East Empire Company. The air was stale and she could smell the salt from the ocean water that sat within. Creeping past she saw shipped goods for as far as the eye could see. Further on she noticed a ramp that would give her a good view from above and made for it, casting a life detecting spell to insure her not being seen. Along the catwalks, she made her way, keeping an eye on Gulum-Ei ahead of her. She pulled out another invisibility potion and drank, cloaking herself just as a guard came into view. She waited a moment, as the guard continued her rounds.
Eventually she made her way down a ladder into the stagnant waters ad around the back of shelving, back up onto solid ground and found a door around a corner. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.
She heard the voices before she saw the bandits. She nooked an arrow that she had dipped into a numbing poison. She heard only two voices; she would have to conjure a sword. She held her breath, leveled her shot and came around the corner; she adjusted her angle and fired the arrow.
The arrow sang through the air, finding it’s mark deep within the Orc’s chest; the heart beat two more times before it stopped. The Nord across from him stared for a moment, a look of surprise on his face. As he registered what happened, he was struck with the next arrow. He reacted quickly, drawing his sword and charging around the corner.
She dropped her bow and cast her spell, but two, swords appeared. The bandit swung as he came around the corner; she deflected the blow with her own sword, blue sparks jumping into the air as she brought her second sword across his chest, arching her swing upwards. The blood sprayed her face; she licked her lips as she smiled at him.
“You bitch!” he cried out. He swung again.
She leaned back, quickly, his blade missing her by a hands length. She dropped to a crouching position, leaned upon her hand and lashed out her foot into his knee, causing him to buckle to the side. She pushed herself up off the ground, quickly found sure footing, then launched herself into a spinning kick, connecting with his face. She brought her swords across his chest n a zig zag motion before driving them into his chest. She extinguished the spell and the bandit collapsed, his eyes rolling into the back of his head.
She made her way forward, ignoring the entrance completely covered in cobwebs and climbed the steps of a platform. Ahead she saw a bandit bathing in the water, her sensitive hearing told her another walked along the side. She quickly dispatched these two and moved on. The water lapped the side walls, creating the illusion of peace and serenity which was fine for her but deadly for them. Rounding a corner, she saw another in the distance; her arrow was nocked and released, landing in the bandit’s chest in the space of a couple breaths. She moved forward, creeping slowly through the caverns deep beneath Solitude. She cast a life detecting spell again and could see a canine off in one direction and the glow of life to the other side, two people. She had little problem disposing of these bandits as easily as she had the others. Again, she crept forward, quietly until she came to what looked like a boat landing with bandits milling about while the Argonian looked through inventory. One by one she picked off the bandits, never giving away her ever-changing position.
She approached a cowering Gulum-Ei, her measured steps echoing against the walls.
“Now,” he stammered, “there’s no need to do anything rash.”
“Talk. Then I’ll decide.”
“This isn’t as bad as it seems. I was going to tell Mercer about everything, honestly! Please… he’ll have me killed!”
She tilted her head and smirked. “Tell me now or I’ll kill you where you stand.”
“No!” he cried out. “Please! There’s no need for that! I’ll – I’ll tell you everything.” He swallowed before saying in a hushed voice, “It’s Karliah… her name is Karliah.”
She shook her head. “You say that name like I should know it.”
The lizard’s eyes grew large. “Mercer never told you about her?” He took a deep breath and continued, “Karliah is the thief responsible for murdering the previous Guild Master, Gallus. Now she’s after Mercer.”
Meliandra’s fingers wrapped tightly around the dagger at her waist. “And you’re helping her?” she asked through gritted teeth.
“Help?” he repeated in shock. “No, no!” Fear shown in his eyes. “Look, I didn’t even know it was her until after she contacted me. Please, you have to believe me!”
“Where is Karliah now?” she demanded.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. When I asked her where she was going she just muttered ‘Where the end began.’ Here,” he said as he reached into his satchel and pulled out a piece of paper, “take the Goldenglow Estate Deed as proof. And when you speak to Mercer, tell him I’m worth more to him alive.”
She took the paper, unfolded it and read it; she put the deed inside her tunic and eyed him, “I’ll keep this. You better hope that Mercer and Maven both find you more valuable alive than dead.” With that she turned and walked out.
Mercer was leaning back at his desk when he saw the young Breton enter the Cistern; he whistled to get her attention. He watched as her hips swayed ever so slightly as she made her way over and thought of those hips beneath his hands as he fucked her; he felt himself start to harden. Then he saw the hard look in her eyes and sat up straight. “Did
Gulum-Ei give up any information on our buyer?” he asked once she stood by the desk.
She nodded. “He said Goldenglow was purchased by a ‘Karliah.’”
He felt the blood drain from his face and he felt as if the ground had just opened up beneath him. “No, he breathed, “it… it can’t be. I haven’t heard that name in decades.” He ran his hand down his face, suddenly feeling every bit of his age. “This is bad news, really bad news.” He looked at her and explained. “She’s someone I had hoped to never cross paths with again.”
“He said she was a murderer.”
His voice got hard and bitter. “Karliah destroyed everything this Guild stood for. She murdered my predecessor in cold blood and betrayed the Guild. After we discovered what she’d done, we spent months trying to track her down, but she just vanished.”
“So, why’s she back now?”
He leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. His voice took on a reflective tone as he answered, “Karliah and I were like partners. I went with her on every heist. We watched each other’s backs. I know her techniques, her skills. If she kills me, there’ll be no one left that could possibly catch her.” He shook his head. “If only we knew where she was.”
“She told Gulum-Ei, ‘where the end began.’”
He nodded in comprehension. “There’s only one place that could be. The place where she murdered Gallus… a ruin called Snow Veil Sanctum. We have to go out there before she disappears again.”
“We?” she asked in surprise.
He smiled at her. “Yes. I’m going with you and we are going to kill her.”
Early that night Mercer and Meliandra set out for Snow Veil Sanctum on foot, Meliandra had prepared her pack with plenty of potions to heal and become invisible, made sure all her enchanted jewelry was charged and tossed in a handful of soul gems. As they laid down in a cave that night she asked him, “How’d Gallus die?”
He hesitated a moment then, picking his words carefully, began. “Twenty-five years ago, I was standing outside Snow Veil Sanctum. Gallus told me to meet him here but he wouldn’t say why. When I arrived, Gallus stepped from the shadows, but before he could utter a sound an arrow pierced his throat; before I could draw my blade, her second arrow found i’s mark in my chest.” He ran his hand over a scar a hand’s length beneath his shoulder.
“She took you both on? Alone?”
“Karliah was a master marksman and her greatest weapon was the element of surprise. I was lucky; she missed my heart by mere inches. I staggered away from the ruins and my vision began to blur. It was then that I realized that the bitch had poisoned her arrows.”
“What about Gallus?”
“The last thing I saw was Karliah dumping his body into an opening atop the ruins. An unceremonious end for a remarkable man. To this day, I’ve regretted allowing her to escape even if it meant I had died trying. I owed Gallus that much.”
“What happened after Gallus died?”
He sighed. “The Guild was thrown into disarray. Several stepped up and tried to claim Gallus’s former position as Guild Master; sides quickly formed behind these men and the Ratway became a bloodbath.”
She looked at him, her eyebrow arched in question. “And you were a part of this?”
He shook his head. “I saw what they did to Gallus. I wanted to use the Guild’s resources to hunt down Karliah; the others didn’t even care he was gone. Fortunately, I persevered and the other groups were either killed or they left Skyrim.”
“What happened to Karliah?”
“The infighting had taken months to subside which gave her time to go into hiding and carefully cover her tracks. I spent thousands of septims and used every contact at my disposal. But it was as if she simply vanished. As I said before, she was the best.”
“What was Karliah like?”
He grumbled. “She was a stubborn Dunmer, always had to do things her way, but she was also the best, bringing in more coin a month than some thieves heist in a year. Gallus trusted her too much and let her get too close.”
She looked at him. “They were in a relationship together?”
“If you want to call it that, yes. Me? I think she was softening him up for the kill.” He cleared his throat. “Gallus would call her his little nightingale, he was absolutely smitten by her.”
She shook her head in confusion. “They why’d she kill him?”
“Greed? Jealousy? Spite? Who can say what drove her to such an act? One thing’s certain; I intend to find out before she draws her last breath.”
“I thought that murder was Dark Brotherhood territory?”
“I have a long-standing arrangement with the Dark Brotherhood. When I need someone in the Guild taken care of, we do it ourselves. We both agree to keep these matters in-house.” He rolled to his side and looked down at the raven-haired Breton, his hand slipping in between her legs and finding the warmth of her. “But enough of that; let’s say we work off some of this stress?”