Oh hai there :3 have a chapter, eh? And thank you so much all ye readers, lurkers, and reviewers :) ya'll are amazing.
And the non-PM crew:
Lyriel: haha, perhaps you should look into an account on here :)
Oh., and this is Brynjolf. Now, onward.
"…And I do agree, they should be back by now," Vex was saying as we stood in the Flagon that fateful night, "but it's not a cause for undue alarm, Bryn. If Karliah's dead, what's there to run from?"
"The Dark Brotherhood, the Silver Hand, the Thalmor…" I ticked off Tiberia's enemies on my fingers. "…Ulfric Stormcloak, various and sundry Stormcloaks, the Vigilants of Stendarr, any sort of local authorities, Daedra who don't like Sheogorath or Azura…"
"Shut up, Brynjolf," Vex interrupted, swatting at my hands. "You worry too much."
"Not as much as 'is Mum," Delvin said in lieu of greeting, grabbing an open seat at our table.
Vex snorted. "There are times I'm so very thankful not to be a legacy member."
I pulled a face at the both of them and buried my nose in my tankard, but it wasn't enough to take my mind off things. The argument we'd had before she'd left was sitting like a knot in my stomach, making it hard to eat, to sleep, to just go about my business. I hadn't meant to make the comment about the Daedra—that one just slipped out. I should've known she'd be furious with me; her religion was something close to her heart. That baffled me, as I've never felt a particular pull towards the Divines (or any organized religion for that matter), but watching Ty made it seem like the most normal thing in the world. Slay dragons, steal from noblemen, crack sarcastic comments, summon Daedra.
"You're dwelling on it again." Vex's cold voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
I glanced up, unafraid to meet her gaze head-on. Delvin was watching with evident concern as well. And you know, I still couldn't figure out how these two were still together. "Dwelling on what?" I asked with a forcibly casual tone.
"Brynjolf, there's nothing you can do about the past," Delvin reminded me. "You can only fix your future."
"I'm sorry, I was under the impression I was sitting with my godsfather and a buddy, not Priests of Akatosh…?"
Some laughter. "But in seriousness, Brynjolf, you worry too much," Vex told me.
Time to chance the subject. "Have you two seen the new missive from the Thalmor?"
That sobered them right up. "Everyone has," Delvin remarked quietly.
They were littered all across Riften, akin to wanted posters or missing persons notices tacked up to the wall near the Keep. A recent attack on the Thalmor embassy has resulted in the death of First Emissary, Elenwen, Some bullshit about how this loss would "deeply affect each and every one of us." The attack is believed to have been spearheaded by former Markarth Emissary, Ondolemar of Alinor. An artist's sketch of the elf in question. Any sightings or information are to be brought immediately to the attention of the new First Emissary of Skyrim, Neva Morwyn. A small sketch of Tiberia's murderous eldest sister. Until apprehended, Ondolemar is a danger to all of Skyrim—capture or kill, it makes no difference. A few more details, and then the kicker: Blessings of the Eight be upon you all. I'd taken the liberty of drawing the hammer of Talos on every one of these things I could get my hands on.It was the first graffiti I'd done that guards actually congratulated me over.
"Especially Ondolemar," Vex said with a pointed look over her shoulder.
The Altmer sat hunched over the bar, a tankard of mead between his hands, his eyes staring unblinkingly into the fire. "I can hear you, you know," came his accent, so unlike Niruin's, so unlike Tiberia's, and yet still so very Elven.
"You were supposed to," Vex replied casually.
"This is exactly what I was worried about, exactly what I was afraid of," Ondolemar continued, still with that blank-eyed stare. His mind was somewhere else, even as his body sat in the Cistern. "Neva Morwyn is gaining power…"
"Tiberia will take care of her oldest sister," Delvin said firmly. "You can be sure of that."
Vex always drew the short stick, being the bearer of bad news. "Only if the middle one doesn't get to her first."
But Ondolemar shook his head, finally relinquishing that blank-eyed stare and leveling his alien gaze on the three of us. "They're Blood Bonded. Avalon would have a hell of a time trying to kill her Bond."
My brow furrowed. "How do you know that?" He hadn't been here for that conversation, and the sisters hadn't mentioned it since.
"It's obvious, and I know the family." Ondolemar shrugged. "Avalon wears a Daedric T proudly, and one doesn't bond frivolously. She isn't bound to Acacia, Amory, or Neva; in the Tong she only would have attempted one with Ravyn or Linnet; her husband's name was Mordred, and they had no children; and even if she bonded to someone in the Brotherhood, it only works between Elves and the only one in their employ is a woman by the name of Gabriella." Again, he shrugged. "Who else would it be, but Tiberia?"
Something clicked into place. "You spent so much time around the Morwyns because of Avalon, didn't you lad?" I asked, full well knowing the answer.
By the way his face flushed, I knew I'd hit my mark. "It matters not," was all he said.
Vex and Delvin had a mark, though. "Did she know?" Vex asked as Delvin snickered, no doubt working something over that was bound to embarrass the High Elf.
"She was married; I mattered not," Ondolemar said firmly.
"What is it with Morywns and unrequited love?" Vex muttered, sounding peeved. Personally, I think she was just annoyed because she'd lost her status as Guild vixen. "First you have the one that was engaged to Tiberia and in love with Neva, then there's Vilkas of the Companions, and now you. That's all the sisters."
Ondolemar snorted, and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial level, "If you believe the legends told about their House, it is a curse from Almalexia to the family of the Nerevarine. If you don't—gods, have you met the three of them?!" He snorted. "They are what my older brother referred to as beautifully dangerous."
A perfect description for Tiberia… "Avalon's been a widow for more than a decade," Delvin pointed out, jerking me out of my train of thought.
Ondolemar was saved from answering by a sudden influx of swearing from the general direction of the Ratway. Curses flew at everything from Karliah to Lady Luck to Snow to Dark Elves in general. No one needed to be told who was at the door; we knew the Guildmaster had returned.
"Mercer!" Vex, Delvin, and I practically called out in unison, fully ready to spring into action.
Our Guildmaster came around the corner with a distinct limp in his step and multiple contusions across his face and jawline that disappeared under his cuirass. His armor was frayed in places, a clear indication that he had been stabbed and/or shot multiple times, and dried blood was matted in his hair. His breathing was heavy and labored, and blood and gore had dried on his sword and across his armor. In short, he looked like Oblivion. And if Mercer Frey was so endangered that he didn't have time to clean his weapons, things were bad. So very, very bad. But he was well enough to curse Karliah's forefathers and their fathers on top of that; I took that as a good sign. Regardless, I took no chances.
"Vex, get Ingun!" I called, instantly dropping into my role as Second-in-Command. She sprang to her feet, already running towards the Cistern. "Vekel, bandages!" The barkeep ran sprawling towards his and Tonilia's living quarters. "Ondolemar, get Niruin!" Closest thing we had to a magical expert on hand. "Delvin! Help me!"
Delvin was at his side in an instant, easing Mercer's arm over his shoulder to keep the man from falling over. "Mercer, bloody hell man, what happened out there?"
I glanced around, feeling my heart constrict when I noted a glaring absence. "Where's Tiberia?"
We eased Mercer into a chair just as Vekel came back with the bandages and a bowl of steaming water. Mercer scrabbled wordlessly at the clasps holding his cuirass shut, and the leather fell away to reveal a patchwork of contusions and lacerations, some weeping blood, some oozing pus, and still others looking as though he'd attempted to stitch them shut himself. "Mercer!" I barked, trying to get him back to this plane.
His eyes were far-seeing, lost in a haze—of what, nightmares, memories? "History repeating itself," he murmured. "So much blood…"
"Guildmaster…?" Vex trailed off, reappearing with Ingun at her shoulder. The Black-Briar immediately began taking stock of Mercer's injuries, and listing off ingredients she'd need to heal him fully. Delvin was keeping track of it; I had other things on my mind.
"Mercer," I said, slowly, clearly, leaving no room for argument. "What. Happened?"
He blinked once, twice, thrice, and his eyes refocused. "Vekel, get the lad a tankard!" he barked, sounding more like his old self. "You're going to have a hell of a time of this, Brynjolf."
I folded my arms across my sternum, exhausted with reminding Mercer and Delvin that I now stood taller than both of them. "I'm not a child, Mercer Frey. Haven't been one in years. Now tell us what's got you so spooked, or so help me…!"
"Peace, Bryn," Delvin warned.
Mercer let out a sigh, suddenly seeming so very old and frail. "Tiberia and I fought our way through Snow-Veil Sanctum easily enough. Draugr were no match for our Dragonborn. How was I to know…?" His voice broke as he said the last word. "There was a wall, transcribed with the Dragons' Tongue down there—ever seen her absorb their power? It's… unearthly. Almost terrifying."Mercer squeezed his eyes shut, as though that would ward off the memory. "And when we reached the Hall of Stories, there was a puzzle door. She had found the claw earlier, unlocked the door herself, and therefore was the first to go through…" He drew in a sharp breath. "Karliah was waiting on the other side; bow drawn, arrow nocked and poisoned…"
My eyes widened fractionally, my heart skipped several beats altogether. "No…"
Mercer nodded, and I realized then that the whole room had gone silent. "The arrow… the jugular… so much blood, such a fast-acting poison…" His eyes refocused once more, this time on me. "I'm so sorry, Brynjolf, but Tiberia died in those ruins."
Eleven thirteen pm, the Twenty-Third of Sun's Height, Fourth Era, Year Two-Hundred and One. I will never forget that moment, when my soul just went cold.
It took me a moment to realize that the entire Flagon was watching me, waiting for my (explosive) reaction. Keep it together, Brynjolf. "And how did you get this injured?" I asked curtly, biting the inside of my cheek to hold myself together through pain.
"I went after Karliah after that," Mercer replied. "Damnable woman led me on a merry chase through the back passage of the ruin and down a cliff and halfway across Eastmarch before giving me the slip by jumping in the White River. By that time, I was in no condition to follow—or double back."
"And so Gallus' history repeats itself," Delvin surmised, "and Tiberia lies in Snow-Veil Sanctum as a testament to the cowardice of her Guild."
"You dare call me a coward?" Mercer growled.
"He's certainly not calling you brave," Vex commented flatly. "What kind of a man lets the woman lead into a war zone?"
Mercer's retort was sharp, but no less accurate. "What kind of idiot argues with Tiberia?"
The knot in my stomach tightened as Ondolemar commented, "Isn't that just like a Morwyn?"
I was going to kill that man. "So Karliah's on the loose?"
Mercer nodded. "Aye, lad. I'm so sorry…" I stayed another few minutes to keep up the façade, but slipped out once Ingun began actually treating the Guildamaster. Though not before introducing Ondolemar's gut to my knuckles.
She can't be gone. I would feel it, surely. A hole where something once was, a void where none should be… something? I passed by her bed, the first on the right after entering the Cistern by means of the Flagon. How many times had I walked in here just like this, late(r) at night, and found her knee-deep in a nightmare? Too many to count. How many times had I sat with her and listened to the horrific images Vaermina plagued her with? Too many more. Sometimes I'm pretty sure she didn't even know I was there, but I was. Always.
And there, the Alchemy table, where she spent most of her time when Avalon had been here. The two sisters were thick as thieves, trading stories and secrets back and forth in Daedric and Dunmeris. So many languages, my lass knew, and how she kept them straight had always been beyond me. The questioning glances of my Guildmates followed me up and out of the Cistern, but no one dared speak with me. Sometimes having a rather short temper proved useful.
I left the city, finding my way to the lakefront, and collapsing onto a ledge overlooking the water. Masser and Secunda stared down at me, both full that night, and the Thief and Warrior battled for dominance in the sky—just as they had, Tiberia had once told me, the night she was born. If I closed my eyes, I could only remember that blasted argument—the fire in her eyes, the venom in her voice, the frustration and fury in mine. Akatosh only knows how I could push that from my mind, even for the moment, but I managed. Akatosh, the one who had blessed her with Dragon Blood—what had she called it…? Dovahsos.
I realized, I knew her face almost as well as my own. The crimson, elven eyes, so often burning with righteous fury; the skin a delicate shade of blue, the only delicate thing about her; the strong, Nordic contour lines, so familiar in such an alien face; that grin of hers that told a man she was plotting some sweet revenge; the lips, so often pulled back in a battle-snarl, but perfectly happy being kissed anyway. I already missed her.
Would I never hear her laugh again, make her smile? Would she never burst into the Cistern again, singing the Song of the Dragonborn under her breath, looking for me after a job? Would I never hold her in my arms again, sit under the stars like this, talk about nothing and everything? No, said the honest voice in the back of my head. No, Brynjolf, stop deluding yourself. She's gone, lad. Gone to wherever it is Elves go when they die…
Was she in Sonvgarde, for the Nord? The Shivering Isles, for her dedication to Sheogorath? Moonshadow, for her dedication to Azura? The Planes of Aetherius for her magicka? The Hunting Grounds for her Beast Blood? The Void, for Sithis? Or somewhere else entirely? Oh, that was right. The Guildmaster had left her to sleep with the Draugr in Snow-Veil.
"Bryn…?" came a voice, accented and familiar.
"Delvin." But not the right accent. I half-turned to face him. "What is it?"
He made no move at all. "I would figure you'd be in Bee and Barb by now, or at least the Flagon."
"If I start drinking now," I said quietly, "I don't think I'll ever stop."
"I don't think this quite qualifies," said the aging Breton, pressing a mug into my hand and claiming the spot beside me.
I peered down to its contents and couldn't help but smirk, even just a little. Delvin Mallory, Senior Member of the Riften Thieves Guild, making hot cocoa. A ridiculous mental image. "I'm not twelve anymore, Delvin," I said, pointedly tapping the side of the mug.
"Well, if you don't want it…"
"I never said that." Pointedly, I took a draught from it, and had the same thought as ever—why hadn't Delvin become a cook instead of a thief?
Delvin smirked and took a drink from his own mug. I was knocked back to a time when this had been the norm. Back when Raynor and I had first come to Riften, just after our parents died. Being a child was so simple, a bit of sugar and a listening ear could soothe almost any problem. Life wasn't so easy anymore. "I wish I knew what to say to you, Bryn," my godsfather said quietly.
I let out a sigh, the frost dissipating into the heavens. "I can't believe she's gone." I stared into the mug, as though the sloshing liquid within held the meaning of life. "I knew something wasn't right before she left, and I couldn't…"
"You had no hope of persuading her; don't delude yourself." Delvin wasn't being mean, just accurate. "That woman never did anything unless it was of her own accord."
The knot in my stomach begged to differ with his opening statement, and right then, I knew what I had to do. "She's not going to sleep with the Draugr for eternity. I don't care if I have to tear up every cairn in Eastmarch—and you know I'd do it—I'm finding her." We'd burn the body Dunmeri-style, and I personally would see her returned to Morrowind. I owed her at least that much.
Delvin's smile was sad. "I expected no less from the son of Ceylon." He then unlatched the cloak from around his shoulders, revealing not only his armor, but also my war axes. "Take these. Go." He held the axes out to me, the gift he'd given me upon reaching manhood. "I'll distract the Guild long enough for you to slip away."
I suited up, asking, "Why?"
Delvin understood. He always understood. "Because I was a coward once; never again. We will not repeat the disrespect we showed Gallus." He reached into one of his many pockets and withdrew from it a map. "And you won't need to go tearing up every burial cairn—just this one." We stood as equals before parting ways—him back toward the city, me out to the wilderness.
Tiberia once told me that the Redoran value of duty referred to one's own honor, to one's family, and one's clan. My clan valued family, and the honor and duty carried out for and because of it. But family isn't always the blood you carry in your veins. Sometimes it's the people you carry in your heart.