It was the creaking of the door shutting that alerted Mercer that his pursuers had finally caught up to him; he was out of time. He frowned slightly but continued to concentrate on what he was doing. Slowly he continued to chisel at the daub mixture that held the gem in place, working its way loose.
Meliandra stared at her former lover as he precariously balanced himself on the side of the giant statue; at one time, she would have lost herself in the sight of Mercer working, imagining the rippling of his muscles as they moved beneath his clothing. Now she watched his movements with bristling contempt as her hand clenched into a fist beside the Nightingale Blade on her hip.
“He doesn’t see us yet,” Karliah whispered. “Brynjolf, watch the door.”
Meliandra saw Brynjolf nod from the corner of her eye. His voice was low and deadly as he said, “Aye, lass. Nothing is getting by me.”
Karliah addressed Meliandra, “Climb down this ledge and see if you can – “
It was at that moment that Mercer swung down holding the right eye tucked under his arm. The smirk on his face spoke of his self-confidence as he called out, “Karliah, Karliah, Karliah. When will you learn, you can’t get the drop on me?” He placed the large gem in his pack by the head of the statue.
A loud rumble groaned throughout the cavern; the ground shook violently below them as Meliandra found the ledge she stood upon crumbling beneath her, sending her crashing to the floor below. She landed on her left side, hard. Her breath caught as pain screamed its way through her body. She watched as he calmly strode down the steps toward her, stopping at the giant elbow. She got to her feet, biting back the pain coursing through her side.
She looked above her; Karliah and Brynjolf stood on the edge, looking over. “Meli!” he called out, concern riding his voice.
“How sweet,” Mercer said dryly. “Have you little lovebirds kissed and made up?” At Meliandra’s silence he continued, “When Brynjolf brought you before me I could feel a sudden shift in the wind.” He smiled at her, the leer in his eyes revealing the intent of his words. “And what a shift it was.” His eyes followed the length of her body as he said, “Too bad I don’t have enough time to taste you one last time before I take the last breath from you.”
Meliandra heard Brynjolf holler “I’ll kill you before you get the chance!”
Mercer looked up at his former second in command and laughed manically. “Ever the valiant hero! You’ll be too busy dealing with Karliah.” He flicked his hand, a frenzy spell taking affect upon the Nord causing him to draw his daggers and start to attack the Dunmer.
“What?” Brynjolf cried out. “What in Oblivion is happening?” He stared at Karliah as he watched her deflect his attack. “I can’t stop myself!”
“Fight it, Brynjolf!” the Dunmer shouted.
“I’m sorry, lass! I can’t”
Meliandra pulled her mask off and charged toward the older Breton. “Let him go, Mercer!”
He laughed at her. “And you, my little vixen. Do you really think you’re going to be able to save your beloved Brynjolf’s life?” He advanced toward her. “I’ve always known one of us would end up dead at the end of a blade.”
“And it’s going to be you,” she breathed angrily. “And then I’m going to take the Skeleton Key off your fucking carcass.”
He shook his head. “What’s Karliah been filling your head with, Meliandra? Tales of thieves with honor? Oaths rife with falsehoods and broken promises?” He snorted. “Nocturnal doesn’t care about you, the Key or anything having to do with the Guild.”
This time it was Meliandra who laughed; she slowly advanced on him, her voice as measured and deliberate as her steps as she said, “This has nothing to do with Nocturnal.” She sneered at him. “This is personal.”
He arched his eyebrow, a smirk touching his lips. “Revenge? Haven’t you learned anything during your time with us, with me?” He shook his head. “When will you open you damn eyes, child and realize how little my actions differ from yours?” He looked up at Brynjolf above them, still trying to fight the control the spell had on him and then looked back at Meliandra. “You not only fucked the Battle-Born son so you could steal from his home, but you fucked that barmaid whore in Whiterun just for the hell of it! I fuck Haelga for business. I wanted a piece of you and I fucked you for that fucking reason alone, bitch. We both lie, cheat and steal to further our own ends.”
“There’s a difference between us, Mercer. You see, I might lie to people, I might cheat and steal to get what I want and I might fuck people just so I can relieve them of some of their gold. But I still have honor. And that’s something that you’ll never have.”
He shook his head again. “It’s clear you’ll never see the Skeleton Key the way I do… as an instrument of limitless wealth.” He shrugged, a look of false pity upon his face. “Instead you’ve chosen to fall over your own foolish code.”
“If anyone falls, it will be you,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Then the die is cast,” he said, drawing his sword. “And once again my blade will taste Nightingale blood!”
From the corner of his eye Brynjolf saw Meliandra draw the Nightingale Blade as she cast a wall of flames toward Mercer, causing the man to fall back from his initial charge. He watched as she opted to rush toward the top of the statue instead of following him around the base of it. His heart raced as he watched this young Breton who had found her way into his heart face her possible death at the hands of the man he had at one time trusted completely. The fact that he was being controlled by the frenzy spell Mercer had cast upon him that prevented him from joining Meliandra wage the Guild’s vengeance angered him; he felt the need to protect her, despite Mercer’s revelation of her own betrayal.
Mercer cast an invisibility spell; he had not realized how good Meliandra actually was with a sword. The fact that she had come at him with a wall of flames impressed him; he had not considered the possibility of her using her magic against him in an offensive way. From his position, he watched as she bounded around the shoulders of the statue, planning his next move. Suddenly he heard Meliandra laugh; the sound sent a shiver up his back.
“You’re not getting out of here alive, Mercer. It’s over.”
“You know what your problem is, Meliandra?” he called out. “You’re overly confident of yourself. You set yourself up for failure.” He paused for a moment. “All it took was for me to pull Vex’s strings a little bit to undermine your own confidence in your relationship with Brynjolf.”
Meliandra closed her eyes at what Mercer had said. He knew that Vex was a sore spot with her and that he was trying to get her to react on an emotional level; he didn’t know her as well as he thought he did. She would deal with everything else later; she had only one objective at the moment and that was to kill the bastard who caused her so much pain.
She opened her eyes and cast her own spell, seeing his life essence before her eyes. She smiled as she dipped down into a crouch, swiftly reaching into her satchel on her hip and withdrawing a small bottle of invisibility potion, popped the cork, and quickly drank the contents. She inched her way down the path, her muffled steps nimble as she came up behind her one-time lover.
She drew the Nightingale Blade and held it firmly in her grip as she prepared to thrust its blade through Mercer’s back.
He pivoted on his foot, bringing himself behind her, grabbing her wrist and forcing her sword away from them as he brought his dagger around her neck, the blade resting on her throat, the steel piercing through her skin; a thin stream of blood appeared along the edge of the blade.
“Meliandra!” came Brynjolf’s petrified shout.
Mercer’s lips grazed her ear as he menacingly said, “Isn’t that just so beautiful, sweetheart? Brynjolf still cares about a whore like you even after finding out about Idolaf and what was her name again? Oh, yes, Saadia.” He looked up at Brynjolf through the corner of his eye and smirked then turned his attention back to his prey. “I must admit, I wish that I had been able to see that; I wish I could have fucked you while you buried that beautiful face of yours in her cunt.” He flicked his tongue alongside her earlobe. “Too bad things went the way they did, darling. I did enjoy shoving my cock deep into you.”
She snorted. “Yeah, you enjoyed it so much you tried to kill me,” she said sardonically.
He nipped her ear with his teeth, his breath hot against her skin; there was no playfulness to his actions. He trailed his lips down her neck, saying softly, “Business is business, Meliandra. You know that.”
He saw her smirk as she said, “Then you’ll understand this, darling.”
The flames made Mercer jump back, his pants singed in the groin where Meliandra had been able to focus her spell. His eyes were darkened with rage as he glowered at her. She laughed, a maniacal laugh that echoed in the chasmal room. “Don’t worry, there wasn’t much there to damage.”
She conjured a sword with her free hand, a smirk playing upon her lips. “It’s just business, dear.”
Brynjolf, growing tired from his frenzy induced attack on Karliah, watched the battle below him from the corner of his eye, his heart heavy with anxiety as he feared he was going to see the one woman who made him feel whole killed before his very eyes. He knew their victory here was dependent upon Meliandra killing Mercer, for if she were to fall to him, Brynjolf would be unable to stop his assault on Karliah, leaving the Dunmer an easier target for Mercer and from there, executing the exhausted Nord.
“Lass,” he breathed heavily as she blocked another blow from him, “you have to kill me.”
“Brynjolf!” Disbelief edged her voice. “No! Fight this! You must!”
“Karliah” he said in a rush, “it’s the only way to finish this.” His breath was ragged. “You need to help her, not be fighting me. He’s tiring us out, lass. We won’t stand a chance against him.”
The Blade cut into his shoulder as she brought it slamming down, then she spun on her heel driving her magic sword into his side. He was bleeding profusely now and she could see the shattered bone beneath his flesh from the wound on his shoulder. She felt his blood dripping down her face; she smiled at him, her eyes full of hatred. Her magic sword dissipated as she placed the tip of the Nightingale Blade against his throat.
He felt warmth on his side, she was healing the stomach wound. He glared up at her as he struggled to reach his sword just beyond his reach. She placed her foot on his hand, putting most of her weight on that side and pressed down on the tip of the blade; blood started to well up around it.
“Don’t even think about it, asshole,” she said through gritted teeth.
“What is this?” he asked, looking down at his side. “Compassion? Sympathy? Some pious delusion of benevolence?”
She smiled at him, shaking her head. “Hardly.”
Karliah noticed the silence below; Brynjolf’s attacks were weakening. She looked to the side and saw Meliandra standing over Mercer. “Brynjolf! Look!”
The Nord turned his head; he smiled as he saw the young Breton with her sword at Mercer’s throat. “That’s it, lass,” he breathed heavily.
Karliah watched as Meliandra toyed with a wounded Mercer, her face dark and menacing as she cut Mercer deep enough to bathe her in his blood only for her to heal him enough so that he did not die and then she would repeat her actions. “She’s slipped into the darkness of her soul,” she said softly, sorrow touching her voice. “Shadows preserve us.”
A scream echoed off the walls as Mercer finally gave in to the pain of the torture he was receiving at the hands of the young woman. Her dagger carved into his chest; she had long ago cut away the leather that clothed him, and having leaned him against part of a collapsed wall. The dagger dug deep into his flesh, the blood spilling out of the wound and down his stomach.
“Now,” she said, dragging the tip across his neck, drawing blood that slowly dripped down, “what was it you were saying before? That I’m overly confident?” She smiled as she twisted the tip of the dagger over his sternum, pressing down firmly as she did so. “Perhaps, but I think you’re wrong about the failure part.” She pressed down harder; a rush of blood spilled out of the hole she was creating. His shoulder was still bleeding but she was controlling the flow of the blood as she would partially heal that.
Mercer snorted as he glared at his former bedmate. “I was wrong about you.” An agonized laugh escaped his lips. “You are a sadistic fucking whore; you should have hooked up with Astrid and her family.”
She smirked. “Sadistic?” She gave a hollow laugh. “Honey, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.” With that, she shifted the angle of the ebony dagger she carried with her everywhere, and slipped it between his ribs with a fierce thrust of her hand. She smiled again. “Sorry, dear. It’s just business.”
At first, he didn’t feel anything, which struck him as odd; he had always felt the sting of a blade before. Then there was a burning in his lung that seemed to spread through the rest of his chest. He became aware of the pain as he saw the blade exiting his chest, his blood coating it. He barely registered the glint in Meliandra’s eyes as she licked the blood off the dagger, her eyes glimmering contently.
“Meliandra,” he attempted to say but found his words being choked by the rising blood in his trachea; it was then that he realized that she had punctured his lung. Blood spilled from his mouth, he began to cough as his blood filled his airway, slowly suffocating him. His eyes grew wide as he saw death coming for him, an ending to his life he had never foreseen. He was Mercer Frey no one bested him. Yet, here he lay, propped up against a fallen chunk of marble, choking on his own blood; his imminent death at the hands of the one lover he had misread was, in his opinion, fitting. Like he had told her, he had known it would end with one of them on the receiving end of a blade held by the other.
He looked at his executioner, his eyes pleading for a quick death; fear set in as she stood back and laughed.
“You want Oblivion?”
His eyes grew wide as he saw her hands glow with the healing spell again. He tried crying out as she lifted her hands toward him.
“Meliandra!” came Brynjolf’s commanding voice. “Finish him!”
Meliandra looked up to see the Nord finally free from Mercer’s spell. She sighed as she looked at the former Guildmaster again, a smile spreading across her face.
He closed his eyes.
Brynjolf watched as Meliandra quickly drew the Nightingale Blade that once belonged to Gallus, and with barely a glance, swung the Blade through Mercer’s neck, decapitating the traitorous thief. He watched as the young Breton sank to her knees as the headless corpse fell over, showering her in his blood. He saw as she appeared to start sobbing; he scurried his way down to her, dodging marble blocks falling around them.
“Damn!” cried Karliah. This place is coming down! Quick, Meliandra! Get the Skeleton Key and the Eyes and let’s get out of here!”
Brynjolf grabbed Meliandra by the shoulders. “You did it, lass. Now let’s go.” His eyes were gentle, but urging.
She nodded and reached into Mercer’s pouch, found the Key and stood up. She grabbed the sack with the Eyes that had fallen during one of the many quakes that plagued this place, slung it over her shoulder and started to climb the sides of the wall, heading toward Karliah.
“Shit!” hollered the elf. “Something must have fallen on the other side! It’s not moving!”
“We’re gonna have to find another way out of here before this place fills with water,” Meliandra said as she pointed to the bursting pipes and the quickly raising water.
Soon they found themselves treading the rising water, avoiding the crumbling walls as they tumbled deep beside them. Suddenly Meliandra pointed to the ceiling, calling their attention to were an opening had been created; they could see rays of sunlight filling the opening. They swam to beneath the opening, hoping the water would raise high enough that they would be able to climb out of here, praying this would not become their watery tomb.
Rocks gave way beneath her feet but she was back on solid ground. She let go of Brynjolf’s helping hand and looked past him to Karliah who sat on a boulder, her mask in her hand saying how it was finally over. She looked back at Brynjolf, his mask also now in his hand. A storm raged in his eyes as he stared at her in silence. She met his gaze, coolly, unsure of anything but not giving much thought to anything but what had just happened.
After a moment Brynjolf said, “You aren’t finished yet. There’s still the matter of returning he Skeleton Key. Karliah will have to help you on that.” He looked at her, but it seemed as if he was looking through her. “The Guild needs its leader and whether you like it or not, lass, the Guild has chosen you.”
She shook her head. “It’s not right, Brynjolf. It’s not you. Why not Delvin? Why do you insist on it being me?”
“Because you’ve proven yourself to all of us,” he snapped. He took a breath and continued, his voice level. “Despite everything that happened, you kept working for the good of the Guild.”
She arched her eyebrow. “Despite everything?” She snorted. “You mean despite me walking in on you fucking the bitch you said I had nothing to worry about, right? Because I was ready to do that job for Maven out in Whiterun and be done with the Guild for good.”
Brynjolf’s temper flared. “Couldn’t wait to get back into Battle-Born’s bed is what I’d guess.”
“Fuck you. That was for the job.”
“And the barmaid?” She looked away. “Yeah, I thought so.” He took a deep breath, his eyes ablaze with his anger. “I’ll take care of things back home until your return, boss.”
He turned and walked out of the cave.