The three of them stood just inside the passageway from the Flagon to the Cistern. They had been alert ever since Brynjolf had come back late last night after his run in with Meliandra; he had come back to discover Mercer was nowhere to be found, a fact that disturbed him more than he cared to admit. Delvin, Vex and himself had positioned themselves here with orders to Dirge, Vekel and Tonila to let Karliah and Meliandra through but to prevent them from leaving. Now, hours later they heard the handle on the door, pulled their weapons and waited as the door opened.
He saw the face of his one-time friend, Karliah; his anger started to rise. This woman had taken the life of the only man who had been like a father to him. Then he saw Meliandra walking in behind her. While his pride was still wounded from the previous night’s encounter, he had locked his feelings for her away.
“I told you that you couldn’t trust her,” came Vex’s voice from behind him.
He shot a glance to the blonde then turned his attention back to Meliandra. “You better have a damn good reason to be here with that murderer.”
Karliah held both her hands out, empty. “Please,” she said softly, “lower your weapons so we can speak. I have proof that you’ve all been misled.”
Brynjolf looked at the Dunmer then back at Meliandra. She held her hands out to show that they, too, were empty. “No tricks, Karliah, or I’ll cut you down where you stand.” His eyes drilled into the Breton’s then he looked back at the elf. “now what’s this ‘so-called’ proof you speak of?”
“I have Gallus’s journal. I think you’ll find its contents disturbing.”
“Let me see.” She handed him a pelt wrapped book; he recognized the pelt as being one Meliandra carried with her in her belongings, one she considered very valuable. She wouldn’t wrap just anything in this pelt. He glanced briefly at her, pulled the journal out and begun skimming through the pages, paying attention to the translated words before him. As he read he could not believe what he was seeing. He shook his head. “No, it… it can’t be. This can’t be true.” He looked at the two women before him, a look of disbelief upon his face. “I’ve known Mercer too long….”
“It’s true, Brynjolf,” Karliah said. “Every word. Mercer’s been stealing from the Guild for years, right under your noses.”
He shook his head. “There’s only one way to find out if what the lass says is true. Delvin, I’m gonna need you to open up the Vault.” He headed toward the large bolted doors on the other side of the Cistern. Vex fell into step behind him followed by Delvin.
“Wait a god damned blessed minute, Bryn. What the fuck is in that book? What the bloody hell does it say?”
“It says Mercer’s been stealing from our vault for years. Apparently, Gallus was looking into it before he was murdered.”
“How can Mercer open up a vault that needs two keys?” Delvin asked incredulously. “it’s impossible. Could he pick the lock?” He looked at Vex.
She snorted as she glared at Meliandra. “That door has the best puzzle lock money can buy. There’s no way it can be picked open.”
“He didn’t need to pick the lock,” Karliah said matter-of-factly.
Delvin looked over at Brynjolf, confused. “What’s she on about?”
Brynjolf looked back at Karliah and Meliandra and shook his head. “Use your key on the vault, Delvin.” He narrowed his eyes at the two accused slightly. “We’ll open this bitch up and find out the truth.”
Delvin nodded and walked up to the door, took out his key and unlocked his lock. He tried the door. “There. I’ve used my key, but the vault is still locked up tighter than a drum. Use yours, Bryn.”
Brynjolf approached the vault door and unlocked his lock; he opened the vault. “By the Eight!” he shouted. “It’s gone! Everything is gone!” He stood in the middle of the vault looking around him. “Get in here. All of you!”
Delvin was the first to walk in, his face in complete shock. “The gold; the jewels. It’s…it’s gone.”
“That son-of-a-bitch!” Vex stared at the complete emptiness of the vault, her voice echoing against the stone walls. “I’ll kill him!” Her hand held her dagger before anyone realized it.
“Vex!” Brynjolf snapped. “Put it away!” At her hesitation, he demanded, “Right now. We can’t afford to lose our heads… we need to calm down and focus.”
Delvin looked at his partner. “Do what he says, Vex. This isn’t helpin’ right now.”
The blonde reluctantly sheathed her dagger. “fine. We do it your way. For now.”
Brynjolf spoke firmly and sternly, the weight of the Guild’s future resting on his shoulders. “Delvin, Vex… watch the Flagon. If you see Mercer, come tell me right away.”
Delvin nodded; Vex balked but followed. Karliah walked out of the vault while Meliandra began to follow. Brynjolf’s heart sank as his words to her came back to him. “Meli,” he called out softly. She hesitated, then turned to him. Her eyes were cold and hard as she looked at him. He slowly approached her, waiting for them to be alone. “He said he killed you.”
“He tried.” Her voice was bitter. “If it weren’t for Karliah, he would have succeeded.”
He reached for her arm but drew back at her withering look. “I’m sorry, Meli.” He swallowed. “Look, before I have you help track mercer down, I need to know what you learned from Karliah.” He met her eyes. “I mean everything.”
“Karliah was behind Goldenglow and Honningbrew,” she said flatly.
“Trying to make Mercer look bad in front of Maven, eh? Clever lass. Anything else?”
She nodded. “Mercer killed Gallus, not Karliah.”
He nodded. “Aye. I figured that was the case. From that last entry in Gallus’s diary, it looks like he was getting close to exposing Mercer to the Guild.” He paused. “Is that it?”
The Breton sighed and shook her head, hesitating. “Meli, tell me.”
“Look, there are things Karliah spoke to me that were said in the strictest of confidence.” She looked down for a moment then directly in his eyes. “Gallus, Karliah, and Mercer were Nightingales.”
He blinked. “Excuse me? What? Nightingales?” He ran his hand through his hair. “I always assumed they were just a tale… a way to keep the young footpads in line.” He smiled at the thought. “Is that everything?”
“Meli, I’m sorry but there’s something I need you to do.” She looked at him, her eyes narrowed, her jaw set. “I need you to get into Mercer’s house and search for anything that could tell us where he’s gone.”
He nodded. “Aye. Riftweald.”
“Riftweald is his house?” she asked, surprised.
Brynjolf looked to the side, his eyes downcast as he said, “So, you have been there then.”
She stared at him. “Yes, I have. You don’t think we screwed only at the Bee and Barb now did you?” she snapped.
“Dammit, Meli,” he snapped back. “This isn’t the time to throw shit at each other.” She looked away. “Look, this is the last place I want to send you, lass. Just find a way in, get the information and leave. And you have permission to kill anyone that stands in your way.”
She turned and started to walk away. “Whatever. I’ve got this.”
She worked quickly, picking the lock to gain entrance to Riftweald. The detect life spell she had cast moments before told her that Vald was on the side of the steps. She slowly made her way across the yard, her dagger in hand. His back was turned to her; her hand clamped over his mouth as she drew her blade across his neck, severing the jugular and spraying blood across the wall.
She removed the key from Vald’s pocket; then fired off a shot from her bow to collapse the ramp so she could get inside. She took a deep breath and crept into the house. She muffled her steps and made her way to the door to the rest of the house, listening to one of the bandits singing a raunchy ballad. She drew an arrow and slowly opened the door; once she had the singing bandit in her sight, she released the arrow. He slumped forward against the bench in front of him. ‘Some people should not attempt to sing,’ she thought to herself.
She heard grumbling, “…lyin’ little harlot… that brat ain’t mine… could be anyone’s… won’t get one rusty septim from me.” She snuck her way to the bedroom on the right. The bandit sat in front of the fire, drunk and oblivious to his comrade’s death outside this room. She drove her dagger into the base of his skull; his body immediately slumped as the blade cut through muscle, bone and tissue, severing the connection from his brain to his body. She wiped the blade clean on the corpse and headed to the one part of the house
Mercer had never brought her to, the bottom floor.
She knew she had heard lots of noises from down here at times when she had been with Mercer. She’d wake and find him coming up these stairs and he’d turn her away from there as he would hurry away. She paid no mind to the barred door but headed for the room, the area she had heard most noises coming from. She tried the door to find it unlocked. She walked in and looked around in confusion. A table laden with food sat in the middle of the room. She picked up a piece of paper on the table and read it. The paper fluttered down as she dropped it, its contents unimportant. She started opening drawers and searching when she heard a faint scratching sound from the closet. She cast a detect life spell and saw that there was something just behind the door. She drew her dagger again and opened the closet door.
It was empty save for an old worn out pair of fur shoes. She heard the faint sound of scratching still then heard a slight whistling coming from the back of the closet. She pressed her ear to the back of the wood paneling only to have it start to move. Startled she stood back, then smiled as she saw the hidden room beyond. She stepped through, swiping away the cobwebs that hung off the walls by her face, watching her steps as she kept an eye open for traps. She found herself in tunnels like the Ratway; this bothered her for some reason.
She started to step across the threshold into a large room when she realized the room was tiled completely in pressure plates; upon closer inspection, she could see where the piping was that flames would shoot forth from. She smiled remembering the games she played as a child; she sheathed her dagger and examined the floor and its patterns.
Taking a deep breath, she darted across the plates, her feet hitting them softly.
She shook her head as she looked at her surroundings. Another pressure plate in front of her, stagnant water beneath her feet, the stench of dead and rotting skeevers. To her side, she saw a freshly killed rodent, the scorch marks evident; it must have been the source of the scratching.
Eventually she found herself in front of swinging blades and a log that sung down like a battering ram and reset itself to do it all over. “Yeah,” she said under her breath, “fuck you too, Mercer.” She watched for the pattern to the movements and was soon maneuvering her way through these defense mechanisms the master thief had laid out. Standing at the far end of the passageway she paused to take a drink of mead. She saw the steps going down and shook her head. This bastard better have left us something to find him by,” she mumbled. She put the empty bottle on a barrel and went down the stairs.
She saw the trap lock as she reached for the handle of the door at the bottom of the steps. Se smirked; she knew the answers lay just beyond this door. Once she disabled the trigger, she carefully opened the door. Her eyes grew wide as she looked at the gems and gold, the weapons, the treasures stored in here. She noticed the bust of the Grey Fox in the corner; she remembered Delvin saying something about it recently. She approached the table, saw a map with notes on the side and a circle drawn over a location. She rolled up the map and slipped it into her satchel. She picked up the Grey Fox bust and followed the corridor off the side, curious to see where it led. At a dead-end there was only one way to go, down about eight feet. She braced herself for the fall.
She recognized the Ratway Warrens immediately and headed for the Flagon entrance. Delvin looked over at her in surprise as she walked through; she shook her head at him and asked where Brynjolf was. She made her way to the desk in the Cistern where the redhead was looking through journals Mercer had left on the desk.
At her approach, he looked up closing the journal in front of him. The words he read swam in front of his eyes as he gazed at the woman he had loved and lost. “We secured the town and I’ve spoken to every contact we have left. There’s been absolutely no sign of Mercer. Any luck on your end?”
She nodded as she opened her satchel and retrieved the map. “He wasn’t there, but I found these plans.”
Brynjolf took the map and looked it over; his eyes continued to grow large as he did. “Shor’s beard! He’s going after the Eyes of the Falmer?!” At her confused look, he explained,
“That was Gallus’s pet project.” He shook his head. “If he gets his hands on them, you can be certain he’ll be gone for good and set up for life.”
“Then we stop him,” she said flatly.
He nodded. “Agreed. He’s taken everything that the Guild has left, and to go after one of the last greatest heists is just adding insult to injury. I’ve spoken with Karliah and have made amends for how the guild has treated her. She wants to speak to the both of us.” He came around the corner of the desk and put his hand on her shoulder. She quickened her step-in response. “Let’s go; we don’t have any time to lose,” he said as he dropped his hand.
They saw Karliah mixing potions at the alchemy table and walked over to her in strained silence. He wanted to make his own amends to her but he got the impression that it was going to take a lot of time and patience to win her love back, but he was determined to do so.
Karliah looked at the former couple, thinking about what Brynjolf had told her of what happened between them and was saddened. She, too, believed that it was going to take a while for the Nord to gain her trust again. “Brynjolf,” she said as she corked a potion, “the time’s come for Mercer’s fate to be decided. Until a new Guild Master is chosen, the decision falls to you.”
The Nord sat on the bed by the table and looked at the two women. “Aye, lass and I’ve come to a decision.” He paused as Mercer’s written words filled with hate and greed came to mind. He looked at Meliandra as he said, “Mercer tried to kill both of you, he betrayed the Guild, murdered Gallus and he has made us question our very future.” He paused and looked at Meliandra again. “He needs to die.”
Meliandra’s eyes remained cold and hard as she listened to Mercer’s fate be discussed. All she wanted was for his blood to drip from her blade.
Karliah’s voice was cautionary as she said, “We have to be careful, Brynjolf. Mercer is a Nightingale, an Agent of Nocturnal.”
His eyebrow arched. “Then it’s all true…everything I heard in the stories. The Nightingales, their allegiance to Nocturnal and the Twilight Sepulcher.”
The Dunmer nodded. “Yes. That’s why we need to prepare ourselves and meet Mercer on equal footing. Just outside Riften, beyond the Southeast Gate is a small path cut up the mountainside. At the end of that path is a clearing and an old standing stone. I’d ask for you both to meet me there.”
Meliandra went to the Bee and Barb to the room she had rented for herself and Vorstag. As she emptied her pack of unnecessary items she explained to him what was happening.
“I don’t like the sound of this,” he grumbled when she told him she was going to be leaving. She had offered to pay for him to stay at the inn until she returned. “I’d prefer to go along with you.”
She looked at him confused. “Why? We’re going after someone who tried to kill me and who killed the previous Guild Master. This is Thieves Guild business.”
“I don’t care if it were Dark Brotherhood business, Meliandra,” he said pointedly. “You hired me to be a sword at your side and now you want me to sit around while you meet your possible death?”
She eyed Vorstag. “Careful. It’s starting to sound like you actually might like me.”
“Divines forbid someone actually like you.” He smiled at her. “Meliandra, are you that scarred that you cannot let anyone become a friend?”
She looked down at her pack, now only filled with soul gems and potions and sighed. “I’ve come to realize that when people become friends they hurt you more.”
He sat down next to her and said, “You’re not cursed, Mel. I don’t know why you believe you’re somehow doomed to walk this world alone but I know you’re not tainted by something evil.”
She looked at him and gave a slight smile. “It’s nice to know that you think that. You can believe it for the both of us.”