She had woken up feeling sick; all the stress was building up and taking a toll on her. Now after approaching that ancient wall she felt even more off kilter, but shook off the feeling. She led the way through the old Nordic ruins, keeping alert for any sign of any possible ambush. Everything Mercer told her last night echoed in her mind over and over; something about it didn’t sit well with her. They came to a long passageway with an ancient Nord puzzle door at the end. She hooked her bow into place on her back as they neared the door and looked at the Guild Master.
“Ah, how quaint, it’s one of the infamous Nordic puzzle doors. Without the matching claw, they’re normally impossible to open. And since I’m certain Karliah already did away with it, we’re on our own. Fortunately; these doors have a weakness if you know how to exploit it. Quite simple, really.” He walked up to the door, blocking her view as he fiddled with the lock for a moment then stepped back as the door slid open. “Karliah’s close, I’m certain of it. Now let’s get moving.”
The room was large and Meliandra instantly felt a prickle along the back of her neck; she reached for her bow as she crept in.
The arrow struck her in her side, stopping her where she stood. She fell to her knees as the wave of nausea hit her; gravity took her the rest of the way down. She tried to say “Karliah” but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate with her. Mercer’s words came back to her, ‘the bitch poisoned her arrows.’ All she could do was lay on the ground, vulnerable with only Mercer to protect her.
His measured footsteps eerily echoed off the walls as he walked toward the steps where a figure dressed in Thieves Guild armor emerged from amongst the shadows. Karliah. She crept down the steps toward him, her own in her hand, but no arrow drawn. “Do you honestly think your arrow will reach me before my blade finds your heart?” he asked with hatred in his voice.
She smiled at him. “Give me a reason to try.”
“You’re a clever girl, Karliah. Buying Goldenglow Estate and funding Honningbrew Meadery was inspired.”
Calmly the Dunmer responded, “To ensure an enemy’s defeat, you must first undermine his allies. It was the first lesson Gallus taught us.”
He snorted. “You always were a quick study.”
“Not quick enough, otherwise Gallus would still be alive.”
Meliandra’s eyes went to Mercer as she listened to Karliah, questioning silently her words.
Mercer shook his head. “Gallus had his wealth,” he paused then continued, “and he had you. All he had to do was look the other way.”
Meliandra’s eyes widened as she realized the reality of the situation she found herself in. Mercer had lied to everyone about Gallus. Only him and Karliah knew the truth and he was intent on killing the Dunmer. And now she knew the truth too. Her heart accelerated.
“Did you forget the Oath we took as Nightingales? Did you expect him to simply ignore your methods?” she asked with a fierceness in her voice.
He grabbed a hold of his sword, shouting, “Enough of this mindless banter! Come Karliah. It’s time for you and Gallus to become reunited!”
The Breton watched as the Dunmer drank from a bottle then disappear. She heard Karliah’s voice say, “I’m no fool, Mercer. Crossing blades with you would be a death sentence.
But I can promise the next time we meet, it will be your undoing.”
After a moment, Mercer sheathed his sword and approached her. Sitting upon his heels, he said to her, “How interesting. It appears Gallus’s history has repeated itself. Karliah has provided me with the means to be rid of you, and this ancient tomb becomes your final resting place.” He ran his finger along her cheek. “But do you know what intrigues me the most? The fact that this was all possible because of you.” He leaned down and kissed her lips then whispered, “Farewell. I’ll be certain to give Brynjolf your regards.”
The blade seared through her abdomen, a mute scream ripping through her soul as she felt her life ebb away from her slowly but surely. His ultimate betrayal burned through her; she began to hate herself, seeing how she had been used as a pawn in his game. But it wasn’t his face that floated to her mind as it grew dark but Brynjolf’s.
And a tear slid down her cheek.
Faces twisted and contorted before her eyes, from kind to evil, from evil to concerned to angry. The past intermingled with the present and disrupted the peace she had found. She heard a woman’s cries as well as a baby crying just beyond. Images that caused her pain appeared before her eyes, images that caused her great anger as well. She found herself floating between consciousness and sleep and only wishing for the deep sleep of death. She vaguely felt being picked up and carried; she imagined her crumpled body landing by Gallus’s corpse, both victims to one man’s desire for wealth and power.
The warmth of a fire stirred her to consciousness; the pain in her abdomen made her sit up, reaching to feel for her dagger.
“Easy,” she heard, “easy.” She recognized the voice as Karliah’s. “Don’t get up so quickly. How are you feeling?”
Her eyes narrowed as her vision cleared. “How do you expect me to feel after being shot with a poisoned arrow and then stabbed?” she snapped. “You fucking shot me!”
“No, I saved your life,” the elf said matter-of-fact like. “That arrow was tipped with a unique paralytic poison.” She crossed her arms. “It slowed your heart and kept you from bleeding out. Had I intended to kill you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Meliandra shook her head. “Why bother saving me?”
“My original intention was to use that arrow on Mercer, but I never had a clear shot. I made a split-second decision to get you out of the way and it prevented your death.”
“You should have shot Mercer instead,” she grumbled.
The Dunmer replied dryly, “I promise you, the thought crossed my mind. The poison on that arrow took me a year to perfect; I only had enough for a single shot.”
Meliandra sighed. “Then I guess I am in your debt.”
“More than you’ll ever realize. All I had hoped was to capture Mercer alive.”
“After what he’s done, why?” she asked irritably.
“Because Mercer must be brought before the Guild to answer for what he’s done. He needs to pay for Gallus’s murder.”
“And how do you expect to prove that now?”
Karliah leaned back against the boulder she sat against. “My purpose in using Snow Veil Sanctum to ambush Mercer wasn’t simply for irony’s sake. Before both of you arrived, I recovered a journal from Gallus’s remains. I suspect the information we need is written inside.”
“So? What’s it say?”
Karliah shook her head. “I wish I knew. The journal is written in some sort of language I’ve never seen before.”
“Perhaps someone can translate it?”
A look of realization dawned on her face as she said, “Enthir.” At Meliandra’s confused look she continued, “Gallus’s friend at the College of Winterhold. Of course! It’s the only outsider Gallus trusted with the knowledge of his Nightingale identity.”
“There’s that damn word again. ‘Nightingale.’”
The elf nodded. “There were three of us. Myself, Gallus, and Mercer. We were an anonymous splinter of the Thieves Guild in Riften. Perhaps I’ll tell you about it later.”
“What was Gallus like?”
Karliah smiled. “He was a scholar, a master thief and a natural leader. Everyone respected him and followed him without question. It was Gallus who inducted me into the Nightingales and honed my skills to a razor-sharp point. I owe everything to him. We were,” she paused, “very close.”
“You two were lovers?”
She nodded. “Gallus once said he felt comfortable around me; able to let his guard down. I can’t help but think that I’m responsible for happened to him.” She looked at the Breton in the eye. “But, right now you need to head for Winterhold with the journal and get it translated.” She handed Meliandra what she assumed was Gallus’s journal.
“What? You’re not coming with me?”
Karliah shook her head. “I’m afraid not; there are preparations to make and Gallus’s remains to lay to rest. I promise to join you there as soon as I can. Remember, speak only to Enthir. Trust no one else.”
Brynjolf sat at the table in the cistern; he had returned late in the night to discover that both Mercer and Meliandra had taken off the day previous, apparently having had a major break in the mystery surrounding Goldenglow. From what Etienne said, Mercer had gotten visibly angry when Meliandra had come back from Solitude. An uneasy feeling had been gnawing at him ever since. He heard the door slam and looked up to see an angry Mercer hurrying in toward the desk; the fat that Meliandra was not with him caused his heart to race. He approached the guild master cautiously. “Mercer?” he ventured.
Angry eyes glared at him. “Do you know why that little tramp you brought in was so damn good?”
Brynjolf looked confused. “Meli?”
Mercer sneered. “Yes, your little ‘Meli’. Turns out she’s in league with Karliah.”
“Yes. Karliah. I was completely taken by surprise, led into an ambush by that Dibellian whore. She had all of us fooled.”
Brynjolf’s thoughts swirled in his head. “It can’t be. How? Why?” He shook his head.
“Why? Because that elf bitch isn’t finished with me and she needed someone on the inside. Come on Brynjolf, you knew Karliah. You know she’s one of the best at what she did and obviously still does.”
“But Meliandra? How?”
“Stop thinking with your dick, Brynjolf! Gallus couldn’t and see where it got him?”
He clenched his fists as Mercer’s words settled in and he acknowledged to himself that Meliandra could have learned all that she knew from the Dunmer, she could have been groomed for this for years. He took a deep breath and continued, “What happened?”
“I barely got out of there alive, that’s what happened. That little whore led me straight into a trap of Karliah’s making. I found myself having to fight the both of them. I’m sure your whore bled out since Karliah disappeared when I gained the upper hand, just like the coward she is.”
Brynjolf felt as if all the oxygen disappeared from his lungs; he did not want to think she was dead. He wanted her to face the charges Mercer was leveling against her, he wanted her to answer for what she’s done. He just didn’t want her to be dead.
“Change the lock on the graveyard entrance; tell Dirge to be on the lookout out there.”
“What are you going to do, Mercer?” asked the Nord.
Mercer looked at him, a look of pure hatred in his eyes. “I’m going to finally end this.”
She shut the door quickly to keep the blowing cold outside and embraced the warmth of the fire in the center of the inn. Snow fell from the fur lining of her hooded cloak. Her Breton blood was not accustomed to the cold of this part Skyrim; she longed for the warmth of the southern lands more. She made her way to the counter where an older man stood, wiping off plates.
“What can I do for you, stranger? Here for the College?”
“Actually, looking for someone in the College. I’m looking for a guy by the name of Enthir.”
He nodded towards a table back by the door where a man sat, eating and reading a book.
“Thanks,” she replied, putting a few gold coins on the counter before walking over to the Bosmer. She sat down across from him and before he could object she said, “Hello, Enthir. I’ve been sent here by Karliah.”
He looked at her shocked for a moment then he regained his composure. “Karliah? Then she finally found it. Do you have Gallus’s journal?”
Nodding, she answered, “I do, but there’s a problem.”
“A problem?” he repeated as he dusted the bread crumbs from his fingers. “Let me see it.”
She pulled the worn and tattered leather bound book out from her pack; she had wrapped it in the pelt of a snow fox. He took the book and carefully opened it, looking at the pages meticulously.
“This is just like Gallus. A dear friend, don’t get me wrong, but always too clever for his own good.” He sighed. “He’s written all of the text in the Falmer language.”
“The Falmer language?” she repeated. At his nod, she continued, “So you can’t translate it then?”
He smiled though there was no humor in it. “No. However, I know of someone who might. The court wizard of Markarth, Calcelmo, may have the materials you need to get this journal translated. A word of warning, though. Calcelmo is a fierce guardian of his research. Getting the information won’t be easy.”
“Why’d he write his journal in Falmer?”
The wood elf chuckled. “Besides the fact that there are only a handful of people in Tamriel that even recognize that language?” There was a light that shone in his eyes as he continued, “I’m fairly certain he was planning some sort of a heist that involved a deep understanding of the Falmer language. Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to speak about the details.”
She leaned forward, resting her arms on the table. “Where’d he learn the language to be able to use it?”
He shrugged as he answered, “Ironically, I pointed him in the same direction I pointed you. To Markarth and Calcelmo. I’m only hoping whatever means he used to learn the language will still be available to you.”
“What was he like?”
A forlorn look appeared on the Bosmer’s face. “He was a dear friend of mine and a surprisingly astute pupil of academia.” A shadow of grief crossed his face. “I was devastated when he was killed. I suppose that risk always coexisted with his line of work, I just never thought his luck would run out.”
“He was an academic?” she asked, surprised. “But why did he choose to be a thief then?”
He laughed. “For the same reasons that you’re a thief. For the thrill of it. He was quite clear that he felt more in his element climbing through a window rather than hunched over a dusty tome.”
“How’d you two meet?”
He chuckled again, a sparkle coming to his eyes. “Quite an amusing anecdote actually. I caught him trying to break into my laboratory. I was about to show him the error of his ways when he made a curiously astute comment about my research notes. I was astounded and in turn, it led to a conversation. Who’d have imagined it would lead to such a strong friendship?”
She nodded. “Thanks for indulging my curiosity, Enthir. I’d best be on my way to Markarth; there’s a lot riding on this?”
She sat near the fire at the inn in Markarth, drinking a mulled cider as she listened to the young Nord across from her talk to the inn keeper. “The Jarl is refusing to dispatch men to the front lines. Do you think it’s because of the Forsworn of the Forsworn threat?”
Kleppr grumbled. “Please. Those savages are no match for us. The Jarl is just biding his time.”
“Biding his time for what? Until another person is lying dead in the streets like Margaret?” He snorted. “Don’t be naïve.” He noticed Meliandra watching him. “You know,” he said to her, “you can’t be too careful these days, with the war and other dangers. A pretty lady like yourself might find herself in need of help.”
“Are you offering your protection?”
“Well, see, some call me a mercenary but I like to think of myself as a soldier of fortune or a freelance adventurer for hire. Make me an offer, and I just might fight at your side.”
“Five hundred gold, that’s my offer.”
“That’s a fair price. My blade is yours.”
“Good. We head out in the morning.”
She dropped the stick of charcoal onto the floor and quickly rolled up the piece of paper, stashing it in her pack. She heard Vorstag calling her name in a hushed tone as the door below they shut. She poked her head to the side and saw a few of the wizard’s guards enter with Calcelmo’s nephew. She motioned for Vorstag to follow her as she made her way along the far wall, opposite of the direction the guards were headed.
“Yes, I’m positive I heard something,” she heard him say.
“I…oh, all right. If there is a thief, he won’t leave this tower alive. But shouldn’t we inform Master Calcelmo?”
She glanced at Vorstag and smiled, holding her finger to her lips. She pointed to his boots which she had enchanted to muffle his steps and winked. She handed him a bottle of invisibility potion, indicated he should drink it, then drank her own. The two invisible figures crept out of the room and onto the balcony, quickly making their way of the Dwemer Museum and into the streets of Markarth. She looked at him as they approached the city gates. “I have to head east, to Winterhold. I’d appreciate an extra pair of eyes to watch the road. You up for it?”
He smiled at her. “If you still need my blade, I’ll stay with you.”
She smiled back at him as she patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll make this worth your while. I promise you.”