Hey all, have a chapter, eh? Happy weekend! And once again, thanks to everyone who gives this thing a chance, and their thoughts :)
Lyriel: I so agree. I loved having Mercer as a follower until he stabbed me…
Consciousness slammed into me with the force of a raging Cliff Racer. My ribs burned, the junction of my neck and shoulder ached, and I felt distinctly nauseous. I could feel the solid weight of my armor, unbuckled over the one side, and the solid, forged ebony was a comfort. I cracked my eyes open, just a slit, and was immediately blinded by whiteness, whiteness everywhere. Crypts aren't white… The wayward thought on my stream of consciousness brought me to attention. I sprang to my feet, ignoring the aching in my head and my body crying out in pain, my hand scrabbling for swords that weren't there.
"Easy, easy!" called an accented voice. "Don't get up so quickly!"
I blinked in the weak, glinting moonlight, and found myself staring down a set of indigo irises in a Dunmeri face. The woman was slight—even more so than me—and the large, ornate black bow on her back seemed as though it would snap her in half the first time she tried to draw it. She was dressed in a sort of cobbled-together form of the Thieves Guild armor—traditional brown leather, but the straps across her chest were black, and she wore shoes instead of boots. Her hood was pulled up and over her head to protect her from the cold, and her bracers were less like mine, the traditional kind, and more like archery arm guards. The voice, I recognized. The accent, characteristic of Mournhold. This was Karliah. Had to be.
"You shot me!" I accused, my tongue thick and heavy.
"I saved your life," she argued in a maddeningly soft voice. Speak up! I wanted to say. "If I had intended to kill you, I can assure you we wouldn't be having this conversation."
I was in too much pain to argue. My hands flew to my aching ribs, which I then discovered had been bandaged by a practiced, if not professional, hand. "I should have bled out," I grimaced.
"Yes, well." Karliah balanced uneasily back and forth upon her toes. "It was, I suppose, a happy accident that the arrow that hit you was intended for Mercer Frey. I had spent a full year perfecting a unique paralytic poison, and by the end I had enough for but a single arrow." She shrugged. "The paralysis slowed your heart, kept you from spending all your lifeblood in one go, no?"
"Happy accident, indeed," I commented.
"Mmm." Karliah nodded, then cocked her head. "Listen kinswoman, before I speak to you any further, I have to ask—are you with the Guild?'
"Aye, junior member."
Karliah looked relieved, then her brow furrowed. "Then why don't you wear the armor?"
I winced again in pain. "Cairn-diving means heavy armor."
She sighed. "Though I'm sure you know who I am, I shall introduce myself regardless." She lowered her head into a bow, traditional of the Great Houses. "I am Karliah, House and Great House Indoril. And you?"
Funny, I hadn't introduced myself since learning of my heritage. At least, not to a Dunmer in the traditional way. I bowed my head gently, returning the sign of respect. . "I am Tiberia, House Stormcloak, House Morwyn, Great House Redoran."
Karliah's jaw dropped—actually dropped—and she scrutinized my face twice as intently. "You are of House Morwyn?" I nodded. "Was your mother Acacia?"
My turn to be shocked. "Aye…?"
Karliah's smile looked weak and severely underused. "I don't believe it… you're her youngest? What I am saying; of course you're the youngest if you've got more than one House! I don't… I don't believe it…" She sounded almost… excited. "Oh, the Lady Nocturnal must be smiling down on me… or Sheogorath, I suppose, given your dedication. I just…"
"How," I interrupted in a tone that left no room for argument, "do you know about that?"
"Your mother, the Lady Acacia, is a cousin of mine—we're both of House Indoril." Karliah paused. "How is she?"
"Dead almost ten years now," I told her, too wounded to care about softening blows, and Karliah's face fell back to its former, grim position. "But… how on Nirn do you…?"
"Know of you?" she interrupted, and I nodded. Karliah sighed. "Acacia came to me, pregnant with her third daughter, before she went back to Morrowind. She came to me and told me the story, and I remember saying, 'Dear Cousin, how do you manage to get yourself into such messes?'
"So Acacia asked me, if the child looked more Nord than Dunmer, would I look after it? I told her of course I would, she's half Indoril whether she's Morwyn or not, but what if the reverse was true? Well then, Acacia told me, she and Amory would raise it as their own, no harm done. He would know of your true bloodline once you were out of the house."
My brow furrowed. "That's rather extensive planning for the bastard she grew to rather hate."
"The Acacia I knew could not hate blood of her own," Karliah replied swiftly. "She may hate your father, hate the reminder of her sins, but she would never hate you." She echoed Mercer's advice in that sentiment. Gods, had he really given me older brotherly advice, fought alongside me, and then so coldly betrayed me? "And regardless, she would never have risked her spotless reputation by talking to a thief without some sort of impetus, no?"
At my nod, Karliah continued. "Well, I spoke with Gallus about it, because his reputation would be just as on the line as mine, and he, of course, agreed. Acacia kept me updated with news from Morrowind, about Neva and Avalon and Amory and their newest little member." Karliah chuckled blackly at some joke. "I faked a pregnancy because of you, little Tiberia. Pretended to miscarry when you came out looking like a Dunmer." My laugh was weak—it had to be, my ribs were angry.
She continued, "And Juri of Solitude had been pregnant not too long before; it wasn't so odd. Actually, I asked her and Ceylon if they'd be willing to look after you in the event that anything ever happened to me. They already had two little boys, dear Raynor and Brynjolf, a little sister wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows…" Karliah paused, suddenly realizing something. "By the Nine, those boys would be men, now."
To keep her from dwelling on it, I asked, all in a rush, "What would be the point of paralyzing Mercer?"
Her face fell into a flat, grim line. "Mercer must be brought before the Guild to answer for what he's done, pay for Gallus' murder." Her voice was a harsh whisper, less murmur-like than before.
"You do realize we'll be needing proof." I thought nothing of throwing in my lot with a kinswoman—especially if she was of House Indoril. "They're hardly going to believe our word against the Guildmaster's."
Karliah recognized the Clan support too, but didn't comment. "My purpose in using Snow-Veil Sanctum to ambush Mercer wasn't simply for irony's sake, Cousin. Before the two of you arrived, I recovered a journal from Gallus' remains—the information we need ought to be inside."
I made a circular motion with my hands. "Go on, what's it say?"
Another sigh in the form of a plume of white frost. "I wish I knew. It's written in some sort of language I've never seen before."
That was saying something, coming from a Dark Elf. We tend to speak at least three languages—I'm over the mark myself, as I speak Daedric, Dunmeris, the Common Tongue, plus Draconic. "You might not have, but surely someone Gallus knew has…?"
"Enthir… Of course!" Karliah smacked herself in the forehead.
I cocked an eyebrow at the name. "A mage from the College of Winterhold?"
She nodded. "He was a friend of Gallus'. The only outsider he trusted with knowledge of his Nightingale identity."
Nightingale… the word stirred up memories I couldn't quite pin down. Memories of things learned long ago, and subsequently filed off as unimportant and forgotten. "Nightingale, Nightingale…"
"There were three of us," Karliah offered up the information readily enough, "myself, Mercer, and Gallus. We were an anonymous splinter of the Riften Thieves Guild…"
Even I saw right through that one. "No you weren't."
Karliah's smile was wan. "Perhaps I'll tell you more about it later. Right now, we need to head to Winterhold and find Enthir, secure a translation."
"Of course." Karliah nodded. "I laid Gallus' remains to rest; there's no reason for me to stay here. And you look like you'll be needing some help to get through the night anyway."
I shot her a look. "I'm not so weak I can't look after myself."
Karliah smiled wanly. "Just like a Morwyn. Well, we might as well change your bandages before heading off. Where is your Guild armor?"
"I couldn't agree more. And it's secure in my house in Windhelm."
"You have a house in Windhelm…?"
A few minutes later, Karliah had rags boiling over her cook fire and a small mortar and pestle, in which she was grinding up some wheat and blisterwort. It made a well-known health potion, and I knew she was using such obvious ingredients to show me she truly meant no harm.
"Tell me Tiberia," Karliah said before the silence settled too far, "how are your sisters?"
"Neva's a Thalmor," I said with quiet venom, "fought in the Great War, earned herself a rather lofty position in their hierarchy despite the fact that she's blue. She's consecrated to Boethiah still, never broke her vows. Also tried to impersonate me within the Guild, but Brynjolf saw right through that one."
"I'm sorry to hear about that." The woman shook her head. "But it's good to hear that Brynjolf inherited his mother's common sense—and not his father's lack of it."
I snorted. "And Avalon's… well, Avalon. After the Morag Tong disbanded, she joined the Dark Brotherhood. Has since been made Listener." Karliah let out a low whistle at that. "And earned them a contract on my head."
"You?" Karliah's brow furrowed. "Why on Nirn…?"
"I'm the Dragonborn," I said as I shrugged off my chestplate and began to reapply my bandages.
Karliah sighed again. "I think I've missed a few things…"
I laughed again, weakly, even though it hurt my ribs. "Karliah," I said, "you have no idea."