The carriage pulled up outside the broken-down house right on the outskirts of Winterhold; the horse snorting its displeasure in the falling snow. Vorstag gently shook Meliandra awake; her eyes were suddenly alert and she sat up quickly. She hurriedly thanked the carriage driver and climbed down, grabbing her pack on her way down. Vorstag watched her every movement, studying her. She had said very little about who she was or where she came from but her silence spoke a thousand words.
They walked into the Frozen Hearth to find it nearly empty. She pointed to a table and said, “Wait for me here.” When he gave her a concerned look she continued, “I’ll be okay. I’ve got to talk to someone here. Shouldn’t take me too long.” He grudgingly nodded and sat at the table signaling the innkeeper he wanted to order something. Meliandra reached into her coin purse and pulled out a handful of coins. “Here, it’s on me. Order whatever you want.”
He watched as she stopped and asked the innkeeper a question on her way towards the back, then headed down the stairs. He could tell she was running from something or someone. She acted as if she had done so much wrong that there was no forgiveness for her. He could not help but wonder what were the scars on her soul that weighed so heavy upon her that her tortured thoughts had cried out in her sleep?
Karliah and Enthir were talking at the table at the far end of the room beneath the inn. As she approached, the Bosmer said, “You’re back. How’s our old friend Calcelmo?”
“Neurotic which I assume for him is normal.” She pulled out the roll of paper and handed it to Enthir. “This should help translate Gallus’s journal.”
He took the paper, an eyebrow arched. “I suppose it would be inappropriate of me to ask how you obtained this, so I simply won’t.” He walked around the table and unrolled the paper. “A rubbing, eh?” he asked as he placed a few objects on the corners to hold it down. “Odd. I expected notes.”
She tilted her head and arched her own eyebrow. “It’s quite the tale.”
Enthir nodded his head, murmuring, “I understand. Now, let me take a good look at this.” He pulled out Gallus’s journal and began to set himself to work translating his friend’s thoughts and feelings. “Hmm,” he would say every so often, nodding or shaking his head. “This is highly intriguing, but highly disturbing.” He set the journal down and continued, “It appears that Gallus had suspicions about Mercer’s allegiance to the Guild for months. Gallus had begun to uncover what he calls an ‘unduly lavish lifestyle replete with spending vast amounts of gold on personal pleasures’.”
“Does the journal say where this wealth came from?” asked a quiet Karliah.
Enthir turned a couple pages in the journal then answered, “Yes. Gallus seems certain that Mercer had been removing funds from the Guild’s treasury without anyone’s knowledge.”
“Anything else, Enthir? Anything about…the Nightingales?”
A thoughtful look appeared on his face and then he turned a few pages again. “Yes, here it is.” He cleared his throat. “The last few pages seem to describe ‘the failure of the Nightingales’ although it doesn’t go into great detail. Gallus also repeatedly mentions his strong belief that Mercer desecrated something known as the Twilight Sepulcher.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from the Dunmer. “Shadows preserve us. So it’s true.”
Enthir looked at Karliah. “I’m not familiar with the Twilight Sepulcher. What is it?” Then, suddenly exasperated, he snapped, “What’s Mercer Frey done?”
She shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, Enthir. All that matters is we deliver your translation to the Guild immediately. Farewell. Words can’t begin to express.”
He shook his head again, but in understanding. “It’s alright, Karliah. You don’t have to say a word.” Enthir and Meliandra watched as Karliah walked out of the room. As the door shut behind her, the Bosmer looked at the Breton. “Listen, all I want is the truth to be revealed to the Guild. They respected Karliah, and she deserves better. Do whatever you can and I’d consider it a personal favor.”
Meliandra nodded. “Thank you, Enthir.” She went to follow Karliah upstairs, her mind swimming with the information she had just heard. Unspoken questions she had had were starting to answer themselves. She angry about having been a pawn in this quest of Mercer’s for power, she was angry for everything she had lost because of him. What had she done to deserve this betrayal by him, his desire for her death? The more she thought about it, the more it angered her, the more it grew inside her, poisoning her soul. All she wanted was for that bastard to pay for everything he’s done.
She found Karliah sitting at the bar, a sad look on her face but eyes full of determination. The older thief looked at her and said in a hushed voice. “We must hasten to Riften before Mercer can do any more damage to the Guild.”
“Gallus’s journal said something about the ‘Twilight Sepulcher’.”
She sighed. “You’ve come this far, so I see no harm in concealing it any longer. The Twilight Sepulcher is the temple to Nocturnal. It’s what the Nightingales are sworn to protect with their lives.”
“Why does it need that kind of protection?”
“Everything that represents Nocturnal’s influences contained within the walls of the Sepulcher. Now it seems Mercer’s broken his oath with Nocturnal and defiled the very thing he swore to protect.”
Meliandra ordered an ale and looked at the elf. “Thieves and temples.” She took a pull off the bottle and continued, “It just doesn’t add up.”
Karliah gave a little smile. “I felt the same way when Gallus first revealed these things to me. I think given time, you’ll understand what I mean.”
The Breton shook her head. “I’d understand better if there were less mystery involved.”
“As a Nightingale, I’ve been sworn to secrecy regarding the Sepulcher. I know the Guild doesn’t do much to foster faith, but I’m going to have to ask that you continue to trust me.”
“Trust you.” She chuckled sardonically. “I’ve been doing nothing but trust everyone and what’s it got me?” She took another drink. “A price on my head, an attempt on my life, and oh so much more. All because I trusted the wrong person. Again.”
Sudden realization dawned on Karliah’s face. “You were sleeping with him.”
Meliandra drained the rest of her ale then looked at her squarely in the eyes. “Yeah, I was. It’s a mistake I intend to rectify.” She paused then continued. “Look, we’ll do it your way. For now.”
The older woman nodded. “I’ll make for Riften and scout the situation; see if I can discover what Mercer’s up to. When you’re ready, meet me at the Ragged Flagon. In the meantime, I wanted you to have this.” She placed a sword in front of her; the cross guard embossed with a nightingale in flight, its wings spread wide. “It belonged to Gallus, but given the circumstances, I think he’d approve.”
Meliandra picked up the sword and admiring it, said, “I’ll put it to good use.”
“If the Guild isn’t willing to listen to reason, you might have to.” With that she turned and left. Meliandra looked at the innkeeper and said, “I need a room for me and my friend. We are not to be disturbed.”
“Not a problem,” he answered.
She waved for Vorstag to follow then went into the room she had just paid for. She took off her armor, leaving only a simple tunic on, and sat on the bed, opening the pack beside her. She looked through the small number of belongings she had with her until she found the small black bottle of a concoction she had the alchemist at the Hag’s Cure make for her while she was in Markarth. She held the bottle in her hand for a moment, thinking of its contents and what it would do but she had little choice in the matter. Mercer had made the decision for her, she only had to let go. She popped the cork, looked at Vorstag as he walked in the room, said, “Bottom’s up,” and drank the vile potion.
Riften was dark, lit only by the torches that hung on the outside of the buildings. The occasional guard walked along the wooden walkways as the water slapped the sides of the walls below. Meliandra stood on the banks of Lake Honrich outside Riften, staring at the walls of a place she had called home. She couldn’t understand why once again it seemed that things were going in the right direction only to have everything fall apart. She had been taken advantage of and used while she had been here, but she had been happy in this rundown city. She knew that the person she had been before now no longer existed. Too much had been taken from her. The only thing she saw was her vengeance.
She heard the twig snap just as she felt the tip of the blade poking into her side and suddenly there was a firm grip around her throat. “I have half a mind to run you through right here, right now,” Brynjolf’s voice sounded in her ear.
“Then why don’t you?” she asked through clenched teeth. “I’m sure Mercer has ordered for me to be taken care of in-house and to be killed on sight.”
“Because I want answers, dammit.” Angst filled his voice, but his hold remained, firm and he did not move the dagger at her side. “How long have you been working with Karliah? Was everything just some fucking ruse?”
“I don’t know what Mercer told you but I guarantee it was a lie,” she sneered, “He’s been lying to you all –“ She felt Brynjolf’s fingers tighten around her throat a little more.
“Why would Mercer lie to the Guild?”
“Because he doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself. There’s more-“ His fingers clenched again making her stop.
“You’re lying to me, bitch.”
She felt the sharpness of the tip of the blade pushing harder against her side. Her reflexes were quicker than he had anticipated. Her free hand shot up to his hand that held her throat, grabbing his wrist as she quickly twisted to the side, flipping him over her shoulder. Dropping to one knee that now rested upon his chest, she pulled her dagger and held it to his throat. The ebony dagger rested against his skin; he could make out the family crest upon its hilt through the corner of his eye and recognized the weapon as the one she had won off him when they first met. He looked up at his one-time lover, shock on his face. “You have the audacity to ask me if everything was a ruse when you’re the one who betrayed me. You don’t get that right. Now you tell Mercer that we’re coming for him and then, Brynjolf, then you’ll get your answers.”
Mercer grabbed the bag he had just filled and headed out of Riftweald. It was definitely time to head out of town for good; he had never expected Karliah to return and her reappearance had completely thrown his plans into disarray. And since Meliandra knew the truth of what happened twenty-five years previous, he saw no other option but to rid himself of her as well. A piece of ass was just a piece of ass and easily gotten anywhere.
He turned to head out of the side gates of the city but caught a glimpse of Karliah in the moonlight peeking through the trees. ‘Damn,’ he thought to himself as he turned around to head toward the main gates. He needed to hurry and get out of town quickly.
Meliandra had Vorstag wait for her at the Bee and Barb before she ventured down into the Ratway. Her anxiety had risen but her thoughts were focused on what had to be done. She pulled her hood further down and walked into the Flagon. She saw Karliah sitting on a crate in the shadows; she appeared deep in thought. Once she stood before the Dunmer, the silence was broken.
“I’m glad you’re finally here. I think some of these people are beginning to suspect who I am.” She stood up. “Are you ready to face the Guild?” At her nod, Karliah continued, ‘Keep your eyes open then. I’m not sure what to expect when we enter the cistern.”
Each step she took sounded like it echoed off the walls. Her heart began to beat harder, drumming its way through her chest. She felt as if every eye was on them. She kept expecting for someone to stop them. But no one did.
It seemed like it took an eternity to get to the door that separated the Flagon from the cistern but there it was. Karliah put her hand on the handle, looked at her and nodded. She nodded back as they walked in.