A new chapter will be posted every other Saturday unless otherwise noted here.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at celestina.skymark@gmail.com

Saturday, August 15, 2015

XXII - Gallus

“I got what I could,” Merill said as she met Karliah and Enthir in the cellar of Winterhold’s tavern. “It was a bit of a tight one.” She pulled Gallus’s journal and the charcoal rubbing from her bag, handing them both over to Enthir.

“A rubbing, eh?” he said, looking over it. “Odd, I expected notes.” He looked up at her expectantly.
“It’s a long tale,” Merill told him crossly. She had ridden hard all day and just reached Winterhold as night fell, and all she wanted was to sleep for a time.
“Right. Let me look at this,” he replied, taking the journal and the rubbing over to the table. Merill and Karliah joined him on the other side. Enthir held the rubbing flat with an inkwell and half an apple, leaning over it, his eyes going back and forth intently.
“What does it say?” Karliah asked anxiously.
“You’re going to need to give me more than half a second,” Enthir told her drily. “I don’t have a Falmer dictionary in front of me.”
“I told you, I got what I could,” Merill snapped, and Karliah put a hand on her arm.
“It’s fine, Enthir. We’ll wait.” They crossed to the other side of the cellar, where a pile of hay lay scattered beside a battered iron stove. “Are you all right?” Karliah asked as Merill fell backward into the hay, breathing out an annoyed sigh.
“I’m a good thief,” she said firmly, staring up at the wooden slats of the cellar’s roof.
“I’ve no doubt of that,” Karliah replied, her voice puzzled.
“But the Guild is more than that, isn’t it?” Karliah overturned a bucket beside the hay, sitting down with a sigh.
“Did something happen in Markarth?”
“No, it was just a bit close.” Merill paused. “I may have…been a bit of a bitch to Brynjolf last time I was in Riften.”
“Brynjolf’s got tough skin,” Karliah told her. “He’ll be all right.”
“I know,” Merill replied, sitting up and shaking hay out of her curls. You’ve been taking this for granted, she told herself. Look how hard Karliah’s working to clear her name.
Always had to do everything her way. But she was also the best, bringing in more coin a month than some thieves heist in a year. Reminds me of you, actually. Hell of an archer.
“I’ve got something, Karliah,” Enthir said, and she quickly stood and joined him at the table. “Intriguing, but…highly disturbing.”
“What’s it say?” she asked, leaning over the table. Merill drew her knees up to her chin, watching. In the light from the sputtering oil candles, she could just see the side of Karliah’s face, staring so intently at the journal Gallus pointed to. She lost everything. She lost her name. What have I lost, Brelin? Not even Nalimir. I still have Nalimir.
I know how much Nalimir cares for you.
“It appears that Gallus had suspicions about Mercer Frey’s allegiance to the Guild for months,” Enthir was saying. “Gallus had begun to uncover what he calls an...‘unduly lavish lifestyle replete with spending vast amounts of mold on –’”
“Mold?” Karliah interrupted wryly.
“Ah, no, that’s a G, isn’t it? ‘– vast amounts of gold on personal pleasures.’”
“Does the journal say where this wealth came from?” Karliah asked.
“Yes, Gallus seems certain that Mercer had been removing funds from the Guild’s treasury without anyone’s knowledge.”
“Merill,” Karliah said, gesturing for her to join them, and Merill stood from the hay, picking straw out of her hair and joining them at the table. “Enthir, does the journal say anything about the Nightingales?” she asked, and Enthir carefully turned a page of the journal.
“The last few pages see to describe ‘the failure of the Nightingales,’ although it doesn’t go into great detail. He also repeatedly mentions his strong belief that Mercer desecrated something known as the Twilight Sepulcher.”
“Shadows preserve us,” Karliah murmured. “So it’s true.” Enthir looked sideways at her, his face severe.
“What’s Mercer Frey done, Karliah?”
“I’m sorry,” Karliah replied hastily, reaching over and snatching up the journal and rubbing. She pulled her hood up over her face and reached for her bow, leaning against the wall. “I can’t say. All that matters is that we deliver your translation to the Guild immediately.” She picked up Merill’s bow and tossed it to her. “Have you got a horse?” Merill nodded. “Thank you for everything, Enthir,” Karliah said quickly, and she led the way from the inn.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Merill asked, pulling her hood up as they went to the hitching block where Thelred and Karliah’s steed had their heads down against the snow.
“We must hasten to Riften before Mercer can do any more damage to the Guild,” Karliah breathed, dropping her horse’s stirrups and mounting. “Come, I’ll explain on the way.”
They rode quickly out of Winterhold, and when they had started south into gentler weather under a clearer night sky, Karliah allowed them to slow to a trot.
“You’ve come this far,” she said, glancing around to be sure they were alone on the dark road. “I see no harm in concealing it any longer.” She pulled her hood down, letting her plum-coloured hair free. “The Twilight Sepulcher is the temple to Nocturnal. It’s what the Nightingales are sworn to protect with their lives.”
“Nocturnal? The Daedric Prince?” Merill had never been very religious, but Brelin used to pray to Talos every night. Nalimir had had a book on the Daedric Princes, though, and she remembered looking at the pictures when she was young, astonished by the beauty of some and the grotesqueness of others. Karliah nodded. “Why does the shrine need protecting?” Merill asked, and Karliah sighed.
“Everything that represents Nocturnal’s influence is contained within the walls of the Sepulcher,” she murmured. “Now it seems Mercer’s broken his oath with Nocturnal and defiled the very thing he swore to protect.”
“I never really figured thieves to be the religious type,” Merill commented offhandedly.
“I felt the same way wen Gallus first revealed these things to me,” Karliah told her. “I think…” she paused. “I think, given time, you’ll understand what I mean.”
“I’d understand better if less mystery was involved,” Merill told her sharply.
“As a Nightingale, I’ve been sworn to secrecy regarding the Sepulcher, she replied. “I know the Guild doesn’t do much to foster faith, but I’m going to have to ask you to continue to trust me.” She looked up at Merill, her eyes earnest in the faint light of the brother moons.
“You dragged me out of Snow Veil Sanctum when I was good as dead,” Merill told her. “I think you more than have my trust.” Karliah smiled.
“I appreciate that.” Merill looked down at her hands holding Thelred’s reins, callused and crisscrossed with visible scars even in the darkness. Reminds me of you, actually. Hell of an archer. “Let’s not tarry, then,” Merill said, returning Karliah’s smile and kicking Thelred into a gallop. “If we hurry we can get to Riften before the sun comes up.”

* * *

Merill could practically feel Karliah growing tense as they headed for the entrance to the Ratway on the canalworks. Karliah had suggested they go in the front entrance rather than using the more direct route in the temple burial ground. Better to not surprise them, she’d said.
“You don’t think they’ll kill you on sight, do you?” Merill asked as they navigated the damp, empty tunnels of the Ratway.
“No, they’re not that stupid,” she muttered. “Especially since you’re with me. That ought to count for something.” Merill bit her lip and remained silent, deciding Karliah was already anxious enough as it was.
She was relieved, then, to see Nalimir leaning against the door into the Ragged Flagon, his arms crossed and his face troubled.
“Merill!” he exclaimed, relieved. “Thank the gods, I was worried they would send someone after you.”
“Send someone?” Merill exchanged a glance with Karliah. “To do…what, exactly?”
“Vex got a tip that you were working with Karliah,” he told her, glancing nervously at the Dunmer that stood quietly beside Merill. “I told them you wouldn’t betray the Guild, but they’re all in there waiting for you.”
“I’m guessing you heard from Silronwe?”
“Got a message from her yesterday. She told me what happened in Snow Veil.” He glanced at Karliah. “I’m Nalimir, by the way,” he told her. “Friend of Merill’s. Thanks for not killing her.”
“Charmed,” Karliah told him wryly. “Now, why don’t we get this over with?
When they entered the Ragged Flagon, Merill could practically feel the animosity. No one spoke, but every eye was turned on them. No one made any move to stop them as they slipped through the fake cabinet in the back of the bar and headed for the Cistern door.
“Do any of the people out there know you?” Merill asked Karliah.
“No, I don’t think so,” she muttered. “Brynjolf is probably the only one still here that remembers me. But they’re not idiots. I’m sure they can form a good enough guess.”
“Are you ready?” Merill asked, a hand on the door, and she nodded.
The moment they entered, Merill could tell they were in trouble. Brynjolf stood at the front of the Cistern, his blade drawn, flanked by Vex and Delvin. The other thieves stood around the walls, their weapons drawn. Karliah faltered, and Merill passed her, striding forward and coming to a firm stop before them, her arms crossed. Karliah came and stood beside her. Nalimir stood on his other side, his hand on the hilt of his blade. Brynjolf stared at Merill for a time, hot anger in his dark eyes.
“You better have a damn good reason to be here with that murderer, Merill,” he said, and she was struck by how strange her name sounded on his tongue.
“Please,” Karliah said, raising her hands. “Lower your weapons so we can speak. We have proof that you’ve all been misled.” Brynjolf stared at her for a moment, his jaw clenched, then slowly sheathed his blade, glaring darkly at Merill.
“I knew that fucking cunt and her elf lackey would turn on us, Bryn,” Vex snarled, jabbing her dagger toward Merill. “And she brought the murderer bitch with her.”
“Gods, Vex, give her a damn chance,” Nalimir growled, and Vex shot him a venomous glare.
“Shut up, Vex,” Brynjolf snapped. He shot Merill a brief glance. “No tricks, the three you, or I’ll cut you down where you stand. Now what’s this so-called proof you speak of?”
“I have Gallus’s journal,” Karliah said, drawing it out from her bag. “I think you’ll find its contents disturbing.”
“She’s lying,” Vex hissed at once, and Brynjolf turned to her.
“I said shut up, Vex,” he shot before turning and taking the journal from Karliah. “Let me see.” He opened the book slowly, holding the translation alongside it, and his brow furrowed as his eyes scanned the pages. There was a tense, complete silence in the room, only broken by the sound of pages turning. When he had scanned the last entry, Brynjolf slowly closed the book, not meeting their eyes. “This can’t be true,” he murmured. “I’ve known Mercer too long.”
“It’s probably a fake,” Vex said.
“No, I’d recognize Gallus’s writing anywhere,” Brynjolf muttered. “Even in that strange language.” Vex’s expression soured.
“It’s true, Brynjolf,” Karliah told him. “Every word. Mercer’s been stealing from the Guild for years, right under your noses.”
“There’s only one way to find out if it’s true,” he muttered, turning to Delvin. “Delvin, I’ll need you to open the Vault.” Brynjolf thrust the journal back to Karliah and turned, starting across the Cistern.
“Now wait just a blessed moment, Bryn,” Delvin sputtered, hastily scurrying after him. “What’s in that book? What did it say?” Merill and Karliah exchanged a glance before turning to follow Brynjolf toward the vault at the rear of the Cistern.
“It says Mercer’s been stealing from our vault for years,” Brynjolf told him, his voice echoing so that the thieves grouped around the walls could hear him. “Gallus was looking into it before he was murdered.”
“Murdered by this bitch,” Vex intoned, catching up, and Brynjolf silenced her with a look.
“How can Mercer open up a vault that needs two keys?” Delvin implored. “It’s impossible. Nobody can pick that lock, either.”
“He didn’t need to pick the lock,” Karliah muttered, and Merill gave her a puzzled look. The Dunmer shook her head.
“Use your key on the vault, Delvin,” Brynjolf said as they grouped around the door at the back. “We’ll open her up and find out the truth.” Delvin stepped forward to slide his key into the lock, and Merill’s eyes met Brynjolf’s. She couldn’t quite read the expression he was giving her. Something like suspicion, mingled with a singe of anger.
“There, Bryn,” Delvin said from the door. “I’ve used mine. The thing’s still locked up tighter’n a mummer’s drum. Try yours.” Brynjolf stepped over to him, sliding his own key into the lock. Merill was very aware that the entirety of the Thieves Guild had gathered behind them, watching anxiously.
Shit!” Brynjolf shouted as the door swung open. “It’s gone, everything’s gone!” Brynjolf stepped into the room, raising an arm. “Get in here, the lot of you!”
The vault was completely bare, a circular room piled with empty crates and boxes and chests, not a coin left behind.
“Fuck,” Delvin murmured as he limped in behind Merill. “The gold, the jewels…it’s all gone.”
“I’ll gut that son of a bitch,” Vex hissed, drawing her blade again, and Brynjolf caught her wrist, giving her a cold look. He pushed her arm away and she sheathed her sword, looking sour.
“We can’t afford to lose our heads,” Brynjolf said, rubbing the back of his neck. “We need to calm down and focus.” Brynjolf turned to the vault, heaving a sigh.
“Delvin, Vex, watch the Flagon,” Merill said suddenly, and Vex’s furious eyes turned on her. “If you see Mercer, come back right away.”
“I’m not taking orders from you, you little whore,” Vex snarled.
“Do as she says, the both of you,” Brynjolf snapped, and Vex reluctantly followed Delvin from the vault. Nalimir gave Merill a significant glance before he followed them out. “Karliah, tell them what you can,” he added, and she nodded and slipped out of the vault. Brynjolf turned to Merill and was silent for a moment. Merill stared back at him, her arms crossed. He sighed.
“Look, before I have you help track Mercer down I need to know what you learned from Karliah. I mean everything.
“Mercer killed Gallus,” Merill said at once. “Not Karliah.”
“Aye, I feared that was the case,” he murmured. “From that last entry in Gallus’s diary, it looks like he was getting close to exposing Mercer to the Guild. And I assume Karliah was behind Honningbrew and Goldenglow?” Merill nodded. “Clever. Anything else?”
“Gallus, Karliah, and Mercer were Nightingales,” Merill told him, and Brynjolf’s expression of anger finally changed.
“What? Nightingales?” he repeated, and Merill nodded. “But I always assumed they were just a tale…a way to keep the young footpads in line…”
“Apparently not,” she told him shortly. Brynjolf held her gaze for a moment.
“Right. Then I need you to break into Mercer’s home, Merill, and search for anything that could tell us where he’s gone.”
“Mercer has a house in Riften?”
“Aye. A gift from the Black-Briars after they kicked the previous family out…place called Riftweald Manor. He never stays there, just pays for the upkeep on it. Hired some lout by the name of Vald to guard the place.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Merill said firmly.
“You think Mercer would keep something in a house he never uses?” Karliah asked, and Brynjolf nodded.

“He’s got it so well-guarded, there’s got to be something useful in there. Just find a way in, get the information and leave. And you have permission to kill anyone that stands in your way.”

No comments:

Post a Comment