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A Taste of Shadows

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Cylfin had not meant to stay in Riften. She despised her sister, but had felt it necessary to deliver the news of their father’s death personally. One does not send word of a parents demise through a letter, it’s just not done. Still, as she sat inside the jail cell under Mistveil Keep, she couldn't help but wish she was a little less sentimental and a touch more cynical. She wasn’t in any real trouble, but damn Nivenor for setting her up like this. Apparently sleeping with the Jarl’s lover was punishable by jail time and the woman was too dense to know she'd been duped.

Cylfin sighed, knowing full well Nivenor was probably still mad with glee that she'd found someone to take the fall for her. Better still that it was her estranged sister. When she had arrived in Riften, she found Nivenor at the Bee and Barb with her husband Bolli. It hadn't been a happy reunion. Nivenor hated to be reminded where she came from and Cylfin didn't exactly own any clothing near as fancy as her sister wore these days, but when she finally convinced them to speak privately so she could explain why she was in town, Bolli had insisted she stay with them a while since she had no other home to go to anymore. In hindsight, it was a bad idea. The only thing she had in common with her sister was her disastrous attraction to Nord men. Nivenor’s husband was truly Cylfin’s favorite kind of Nord; soft hearted, hard working and attentive. She had been staying with them for less than a week when she realized Nivenor had tired of her husband long ago and only stayed with him for his money. They even kept separate beds in their home.

Lying back on the uncomfortable cot in her cell, she let out an audible sigh. It had been remarkably stupid of her to forget her sisters possessive streak. Over the course of her stay with them, Bolli paid her more attention than any man had in ages, complimenting her, taking her for a tour of the fishery while Nivenor shopped, and had even presented her with a pretty silver necklace she’d been eyeing from Madesi's stall, the pendant adorned only with intricate carved patterns. As he had placed it around her neck he told her it was a gift to remind her of her family. Nivenor had discovered them wrapped in each other's arms shortly after that.

In hindsight, she should have been more suspicious when Nivenor had tearfully forgiven her. That wasn't the spoiled, indulgent sister she remembered, but grief had her clinging to the only family ties she had left. Nivenor begged her to move to the Bee and Barb, insisting it was for the sake of her marriage. She had cried, claiming she wanted a chance to salvage her relationship with her husband. Naively, Cylfin had agreed, and that's where she’d met Unmid Snow-Shod. Off duty for the night, he’d come to have dinner with his family and he took an interest in her immediately. A few drinks later she had followed him back to Mistveil Keep, to join him in some nighttime fun.

What she hadn't realized was that Nivenor and Unmid had been having an affair for some time and the Jarl was beginning to get suspicious that her lover was being unfaithful. Nivenor’s revenge was perfect. The Jarl knew Unmid had an elven lover, and Nivenor sent him into Cylfin's arms. Laila sent her guards bursting through his door while Cylfin was locked in a most compromising position, one she certainly couldn't pass off as anything but Dibellan. She knew her sister was the one who had tipped off the Jarl, because her eyes had glinted with barely contained satisfaction when Laila had her dragged before the throne and sentenced her to a week in the dungeons for the insult. Still, she had been lucky. According to the gossip among the guards, Unmid it seemed, would be undergoing a more severe kind of punishment, one that didn't allow him to be seen outside the Jarl’s personal chambers.

Curling up on her cot, and squeezing her eyes shut, she tried desperately to ignore Sibbi Black-Briar, who started caterwauling again, attempting to gain the guards attention for the hundredth time that day. His cell was directly across the jail from hers, leaving her with little privacy from his prying eyes.

Three more days of this before she would be free. Three more days before she could escape this rathole of a town and move on. Perhaps she would return to Whiterun. Ever since she had killed that stupid dragon, Balgruuf had made it clear she would always be welcome in his hold. She'd have to find work though, or room and board, if she didn't want to end up a beggar in the streets. As she lay there silently stewing in her own misery, Sibbi got tired of being ignored by the guards and began to call out to her instead.

“So are you ready to talk to me today Elf? You’ve only got a few more days in here to get to know me and all you’ve said is that you’re in here for sleeping with the Jarl’s housecarl.” he smirked from his cell. When she declined to answer he called out again. “Oh come on, aren't you bored of all this silence yet?”

She groaned in frustration. He had her there, if she hadn't been so bored she might have held out, but since food wouldn't be delivered till morning and the guards ignored all the prisoners after eight, there was nothing left to do except sleep or indulge Sibbi’s request for conversation.

“Fine, talk then, if you must.” She replied. If she was going stir crazy sitting in a cell then Sibbi must be worse off. He d been there almost four months already. “I don't see why you’d want to converse with me though. I'm pretty uninteresting.”

Sibbi laughed gleefully. “Finally! You don't have to be interesting, elf. At this point I would settle for listening to the ravings of a madman if it meant I didn't have to listen to silence anymore. You can talk, and you probably have news I don't have access to right now. In case you haven't noticed the guards don't really like to make conversation.”

She smiled. He had a point there. “I can't imagine that your family would leave you completely in the dark about the political climate of Riften, but what do you want to know?”

“How about you start with your name and we can go from there." he replied.

"It's Cylfin. Cylfin Mossgrove." It felt strange to give out her family name when she knew no one from the city would recognize it. Nivenor certainly would not use it anymore.

"Well, what I really want to know is why you’re in here. I know for a fact Unmid was sleeping with someone else before I was locked up and it wasn’t you.” he chuckled. “I know he has a thing for elves, but he seemed very dedicated to his latest lady love.”

“You must mean my sister, Nivenor?” she asked with a smirk, sitting up in her bed now. “She really knows how to ensnare a man’s desires. I think Bolli is still convinced her infidelities are a phase and she will return to being the loving, attentive womer he married. Not that he is any better. He can't claim loyalty to her either.”

“I didn't think Bolli had it in him to stray. All he ever did was go on and on about how lucky he was to have married such a gorgeous creature. I assumed he was quite dedicated.” Sibbi remarked with surprise.

It was too much for Cylfin and she began to giggle uncontrollably. “Well he’s better at hiding it than Nivenor is I suppose. Not only did he bed me within a week of arriving in Riften, but he has a Mark of Dibella hidden in the end table beside his bed. I’ll admit I haven't met everyone in Riften yet, but Haelga is the only one I know who is discreetly open about her devotion. I imagine a man can only stand being rebuked so many times before he seeks comfort elsewhere.” she replied, rolling her eyes. "Truthfully, I brought this on myself by forgetting what a vindictive bitch Nivenor can be when it comes to sharing her possessions."

“You slept with your sister’s husband?” Sibbi asked, his eyes widening with appreciation. “That’s cold. I knew there was something I liked about you.”

“It’s not as cold as murdering your fiance’s brother in front of her.” Cylfin replied snidely. The citizens of Riften thought it amusing that Maven had imprisoned her own son for having the nerve to tarnish the Black-Briar reputation, and she had heard more than one person remark on it in the market square.

“I maintain it was self defense.” he argued slamming his hands against the bars of his cell. “That bitch sent her brother try to kill me. I had to defend myself. Now I am stuck in here, rotting away behind bars for eight months because mother thought I needed to be made example of for airing out the family’s dirty laundry. It’s not as though I haven't taken care of many people for her in the past.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “I can't say that it looks as though you are suffering all that much. Your cell has better furnishings than some homes.”

“It’s sorely lacking as far as I am concerned. He replied bitterly. “Sure I have all the comforts of home, food and drink and all the books I could read. I have everything except the touch of a beautiful woman.” He smirked, sending her a suggestive look.

“Down boy.” she replied drily. “My penchant for Nords has gotten me into enough trouble. I’ve already upset the Jarl, I’d rather not have your mother demanding my hide as well.” she stood and sauntered over to the bars of her cell and leaned against them.

Truth be told, she was sorely tempted, but Sibbi was bad news. He was too good looking for his own good, and he knew it. He had broad shoulders with a tapered waist, well defined arms and a strong jaw. His eyes always seemed to hold just enough malice to know he was not someone to cross, but his voice, deep and raspy, made her skin tingle, something she had been trying to ignore since she was locked down here. Nothing would come of her desire anyways. She didn't plan to be here in four months when he would be released.

“Look, I just want to do my time then get out of Riften as quickly as possible. I don't need more complications. If I still had my lock picks I would have been out of here days ago and on the first carriage to Whiterun.” she grumbled. “Unfortunately in a town known to host a thieves guild, the guards are a lot more thorough at searching for such things.”

Sibbi guffawed, her misery apparently funny to him. “You know, you wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble if you had someone powerful at your back, someone like me or my family name. Tell you what, you run a little job for me and I’ll speak to my mother about lending her your support. You’d at least have mine once I’m out of this God's forsaken cell.”

She was about to retort that she didn't need Maven’s support, but bit her tongue, mulling the idea over. It could be useful to be on the good side of the Black-Briar family. Maven had deep pockets and a firmly entrenched influence in almost all the major cities of Skyrim. “What does this job entail?” she asked warily.

The grin that spread across his face was so sadistic, she felt cold tendrils of apprehension shoot down her spine, causing her to shudder. She never wanted to be on the receiving end of rage, of this she was sure.

“Svidi sent her brother to kill me. I was about to let that wench marry into the richest family in Riften and that is how she repays me. I’d do anything to have that whore’s head on a platter. All I need to know is where she is, you wouldn’t even need to dirty your hands.” he sneered. “Once I am out of here I will have her taken care of. If you can find her, I promise you well compensated.”

Cylfin leaned against the wall eying him cautiously. She felt sorry for the girl, it was obvious from the bloodlust in Sibbi’s eyes that her end would be grisly. Still the stupid girl had tried to have him killed, and she had run, so she must be expecting some sort of retaliation. If she refused Sibbi’s request he would simply find someone else, and she knew he wouldn’t give her a second chance to impress him. “Sure. I could do some looking around for her.” she replied, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly. “Anything I should know about her?”

“That's the spirit. She’s buxom, with long flowing black hair and eyes the color of meadow in spring, green as new grass.” Sibbi replied, surprising her with his eloquence. “She used to sing the most lovely songs to me when we were courting. I've never heard a voice so beautiful.”

All at once the malice returned to his expression. “All that talent will go to waste when I'm finished with her. When I find that bitch, I'm going to wring her little neck." He snarled, clenching his fist in rage.

“Yeah, yeah I get it, don't cross a Black-Briar." she muttered. "I’ll find her. Any tips for where to start looking?”

“No, unfortunately. As I said I earlier, I don't get much news down here. Mother has me blacklisted for a while so my regular sources can't get anything to me. However, if you find Brynjolf in the marketplace he might have a lead. He's the second the command of the Guild. He knows all sorts of disreputable people so you’ll get along swimmingly.” He suggested.

“What makes you think I'm disreputable?” she asked, feeling a touch offended.

“You slept with your sisters husband, and Laila’s lover and you didn't even flinch when I mentioned murdering my ex fiance. You freely admit you can pick locks, and no one develops that skill by being a law abiding citizen.” He replied. Then sensing her anger he continued, “Don't take it as an insult. I like that about you. It makes you a potential ally and I treat my allies very well indeed.”

Suddenly they heard the door to the prison slam open, the night guard had arrived to make his rounds. He barked at them to turn out their lights.

Cylfin shot Sibbi a mocking smile, and bowed deeply, staring into his eyes. As she returned to her bed, laying down to catch some sleep, she heard his low whisper across the prison. “Soon.”

Chapter Text

Three days later the guards shoved her down the stairs of the palace with a stern warning to watch herself. Squinting against the harsh light of the afternoon, she spied Bolli, standing by the stone walls surrounding the palace courtyard, a contrite expression plastered across his face.

“Cylfin, I'm so sorry for what happened. I didn't know until Nivenor came home gloating.” He said, falling into step beside her as she passed without acknowledging him. “I spoke to Keerava and got your belongings from her. You can check that everything is there.” He explained, shoving a worn knapsack into her hands.

She glared at him, but paused to rip open the pack and confirm everything she owned was still there. Once she had stuffed it back inside she let out a deep, frustrated sigh. “Thank you Bolli. Now if you don't mind, I need you to leave me alone from now on. My sister had me jailed already, I don't want to end up there permanently if you continue to socialize with me.”

“Where will you go now?” he asked. “I have half a mind to turn Nivenor out from my house. I gotten reports that she has been cheating on me for a while now. She doesn’t love me, she’s just using me. She continues to spend my money like I have an endless supply.”

Cylfin shrugged her shoulders. “I was asked to find someone. I thought I would stock up on some supplies and then see if I can't find them. That should keep me occupied for a while and keep me away from Riften.” she grumbled, becoming annoyed that he refused to leave her alone as she had asked. “As for your marriage, it's not my business. Do what you want, but don't expect a repeat performance. Honestly, it wasn't good enough to be worth the jail time.” she spat sourly.

It wasn’t entirely true, he was actually quite pleasing in bed, but she needed him to hate her. She felt a slight tinge of remorse as she watched the small glimmer of hope die in his eyes and his apologetic smile morphed into a bitter scowl. “Say what you will Cylfin but you were begging for it that night. Keep the necklace, call it payment for services rendered.” He shot back before he stormed away.

She let the insult roll off her like the breeze. It was what she had wanted from him anyways. Now he wouldn't hold out hope that they had any future. Nivenor wouldn't be so forgiving next time and it would be less painful to slit her own throat than risk the wrath of her sister if she continued to see Bolli other than in passing.

She walked over to some boxes that were piled around the railing that ran along the upper level of the city, and plopped down to try and flesh out a plan. She pulled her coin purse out of the knapsack and frowned. It wasn't any lighter but she didn't have much left. She hated running low on funds when she didn't know the local fences of a city. Revyn, her only real friend in Windhelm, had always taken the few items she acquired, passing them on to Niranye, who was rumored to have been a contact of the guild many years ago. She had been the one to keep food on the table when her father had become lost in his studies.

Her chest constricted painfully, thoughts of Windhelm always left her bitter and drained these days. Despite the fact they were Bosmer, elves had a tendency to end up living in or near the Gray Quarter and growing up there had been tough. Poverty was rampant, with many Dunmer families choosing to live together to help cut down on costs. Her own family scraped enough together to purchase their own residence, but there were many nights they went to bed feeling like their bellies were stuck to their spines.

Clyfin had begun to teach herself to pick locks when she was eleven. She remembered the moment she had decided to learn thieving skills with brilliant clarity. She had been scouring the roads for snowberries, and ended up being caught outside the gates after dark. She snuck down to the docks so she could slip in with the sailors, who always worked late, as they were let in to return to their homes, or the Candlehearth Hall. Just as she was about to slip down the alleyway to her home, she heard a muffled sound, like someone was walking on the roof tops. She stole a glance upward and locked eyes with another elf. She didn't recognize the womer, so she couldn't have been a Windhelm resident. The Dunmer lifted a finger to her lips, indicating the need for silence. She had nodded and they both waited for the rush of the guards and sailors to pass by. Entranced by her unusual violet eyes, Cylfin had stared at the thief for what seemed like an eternity before the older mer had flashed a smile, then raced off into the dark, but not before she had reached into her pocket, throwing Cylfin a small coin purse that contained a handful of lockpicks and what seemed like a small fortune of coins to her at the time.

From that night onwards, she had spent hours at a locked chest in her father’s room, learning the techniques to open that which was hidden from her. Nivenor had scoffed at her, choosing to primp and preen and make herself more desirable so she could marry into a wealthy family. Cylfin knew better. She refused to be beholden to a husband for her security, knowing that that kind of security was as fleeting as the summer in northern Skyrim. Once she had mastered the chest in her father’s room she moved on, trying her luck at the doors of Windhelm residents.

She never took anything, terrified of being caught and jailed, but soon there wasn’t a lock in the city she couldn't get past. Once she was fifteen she began trying her hand at pilfering items from the market stalls, mostly food at first, but eventually moving up to other items. Her father loved them well enough, but he was absent minded and often ignored them, locking himself away in his room, combing over old books and scrolls, trying to find a way to manipulate restoration magic to be used on the earth. Nivenor would never debase herself enough to work, so Cylfin had used her skills to provide money to buy food and other necessities.

Standing slowly she returned to the Bee and Barb and asked Keerava if she could get her room back for one last night. The Argonian looked reluctant, but ultimately agreed, tempted by the coins the elf held in her hands. Once she had settled her pack back in the room she headed out to the market square, eyes intent on finding the Nord that Sibbi had described. Just before she had been let of out the prison Sibbi had again told her to find Brynjolf and assured her she could trust the man. She didn't care much about trust, she just wanted the information he could provide. The sooner she found Svidi, the sooner her coin purse would be full again.

It wasn’t hard to spot Brynjolf. He was dressed in a fine blue tunic and tight leather breeches. His long hair, the color of honeyed cinnamon and short scruffy beard, just a shade darker, made him hard to miss. He had a little stand in the market and was, as Sibbi predicted, trying to sell unsuspecting citizens empty promises. The scam of the week appeared to be an anti-aging potion. She rolled her eyes, but strolled over to his booth looking interested.

“Hello lass, come to test out this miracle elixir? Guaranteed to keep you looking as fresh faced as a new bride.” the man promised with a charming smile and a gleam in his eyes.

A woman could get lost in his eyes, she admitted to herself. They were green the way the canopy of a forest was green. Light and dark shades flickered in his irises, creating an intricate pattern that seemed to be ever changing. Blinking rapidly to escape his charm she leaned back on her heels, feigning indignance. “I’ll be looking as fresh as a new bride long after you’ve died of old age, Nord.”

The nord only laughed. “Come now lass, a man has a right to sell his wares, even if the bait doesn’t always work.” He wiped the mirth from his expression. “So, if not for my wares, what brings you to my little booth?”

“A mutual acquaintance.” she replied equally as serious. “I’ve heard you may have information on the whereabouts of someone I need to find.”

Brynjolf eyed her for a moment, then leaned in close to her ear. “Is this a set up lass? I don't know you, and I haven't heard of you from any of my acquaintances. So either you’re lying or, no, come to think of it, I think you’re lying. That can be hazardous to your health elf.” he threatened in a low whisper.

Swallowing hard as his breath played against her skin she shook her head and hissed. “I’m not lying. But I understand if you are trying to distance yourself from Sibbi Black-Briar. I can go back to the prison, tell him you don't feel like being helpful.”

Brynjolf stepped away from her like he had been burnt, surprise written all over his face. “Now, now lass, let’s not be too hasty. If Sibbi sent you to me and managed to do it from his cell then he must be serious about this little job.” Brynjolf ran his eyes over her, obviously puzzled. “Tell me though, how did you managed to speak to him? His mother has him locked up tight, cutting off his access to his contacts.”

Cylfin smirked. “She can’t control who he meets within the dungeon walls can she? I spent a week sitting in the cell across from him. Sibbi isn't the kind of person one can ignore for very long.” she replied.

“He recruited someone who gets caught to do his dirty work? That’s not like Sibbi. He must be desperate.” Brynjolf muttered. He grinned at her again, “Well then, what did you get caught stealing?”

“What makes you think I am a thief?” she snarled, angry and insulted that he would imply she would get caught. She was too careful for that.

He chuckled softly. “You’ve never done an honest days work in your life for all that coin you’re carrying lass. I can tell. It’s just a matter of sizing up your mark. Your clothes, your walk, both dead giveaways that you’re used to walking in shadows.”

Cylfin tilted her head to stare at him, a bemused smile curving her lips. “Well I can’t fault you for your reasoning, but it wasn’t my lack of skills that got me jailed. I was set up. The Jarl caught me with her housecarl and apparently it’s a jailable offense in Riften.”

He couldn't contain the peals of laughter that rolled up from his belly. “That was you elf? You must have been crazy to invite Unmid to your bed. Jarl Laila does not share well with others.”

She rolled her eyes at him as he bent over holding his stomach. “I didn't invite him to mine, I joined him in his. As I said, I was set up. I’d only been in Riften a week and hadn’t met him before. The Jarl accused me of sleeping with him for months behind her back and didn't believe me when I denied having known him before that day. She claimed she knew about his elven whore and had caught us red handed.” she paused, smiling slyly at the image the memory conjured up. “Well it wasn’t my hands that were red, but still it was hard deny I was the elf in question when I was sprawled out beneath him. My own fault of course. I should have known better than to trust my sister.”

“Ah, so you’re the one Nivenor has been complaining about. You slept with Bolli too then. This is all starting to make more sense. No wonder she had it out for you.” Brynjolf remarked. He leaned back against the side of his stall. “Well then, what did Sibbi say I could do for you elf?”

She frowned, “My name is Cylfin, not elf.” Her frown deepened when Brynjolf only raised in hands in a silent apology. “Sibbi is trying to locate someone who has fled Riften. If I track them down, let's just say he will be very happy with me.”

Brynjolf nodded. “Aye, so he's going after Svidi after all. Well, sorry to say I don't know where she went. The guild has had our eyes open for her. She’s simply vanished. We thought she may have fled to Falkreath, but there’s no sign of her.”

Cylfin swore viciously. She hadn’t thought it would be easy, but she hoped she would have at least something to go on. Brynjolf was staring at her with an odd look in his face. Feeling uncomfortable under the scrutiny she took a step back. “Thanks for conversation anyways. I guess I’ll be on my way then. The sooner I find Svidi the sooner I can move on.”

He grabbed her arm and pulled her closer to him. “Here now lass, before you go, how do you feel about making a bit of coin?”

She ripped her arm away from him and took a step back, “I’m always interested in making some coin, but don't ever grab me like that again.” She replied, rubbing her hand over the spot his hand gripped her. She hated being manhandled like that. She'd had enough of it from the guards back home. “What did you have in mind?”

Brynolf relaxed, realizing she wasn't about to dart off. “I’ve got a bit of an errand to run, but I need an extra set of hands. In my line of work, extra hands are paid well.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Look, spare me the new recruit pick up lines. You don't have to tell me how lucrative being a thief is. I could have made better coin at home if the guild hadn’t abandoned Windhelm fifteen years ago. Just tell me what I have to do.”

He chuckled again, a wide smile breaking through his serious features. “Alright, alright. Join me at the Bee and Barb for a drink and I’ll fill you in on the details.

She followed Brynjolf to the inn and took a seat at the small table against the larder wall. They ordered drinks from Keerava and Cylfin took note of how the Argonian glared at the man seated across from her when they were served their mead. The innkeeper clearly did not like the guild’s second in command, a fact she stored away in the back of her mind to use later.

Once they had both taken a large gulp of mead, Brynjolf leaned forward, lowering his voice to explain his plan. “So the job is simple. I'm going to cause a distraction in the market, giving you the chance to steal Madesi's silver ring from the strongbox under his stand while everyone is distracted. Once you have it, I want you to place it in Brand-Shei's pocket without him noticing.”

She gave him a blank look. “Who is Brand-Shei? And why am I planting the ring on him?”

He let out a low chuckle. “I forget you aren’t as familiar with Riften’s citizens. Brand-Shei is the Dunmer that runs the small stand next to Grelka and across from my stand. As for why, we've been contracted to make sure Brand-Shei remembers not to meddle in affairs that aren’t his own. That's all you need to know. Now, you tell me when you're ready and we'll get started.”

Suddenly he frowned at her. “If you were a regular member of my organization I wouldn't have to tell you this, but since it is your first job I want to make something very clear. We’re not the Dark Brotherhood. We're not going to kill him, this is just make sure he sits in the prisons for a few days.”

She stared at the Nord as she weighed the plan in her mind. She really shouldn't trust the man. She didn't know him well enough and didn't trust Sibbi enough to take his word about Brynjolf being trustworthy. For all she knew it could be another set up. Stil, coin was coin and she was getting low. She would need to earn more if she was going to head off to find an unfindable woman.

“Fine, let's do this. But if you set me up I will feed you your balls.” she replied menacingly.

“I can see why Sibbi likes you.” Brynjolf stated, still staring at her. “You’ve got fire in your blood. Alright, wait until I start the distraction, then show me what you're made of.”

He stood and walked out of the inn, and Cylfin couldn't help being a little distracted as she watched the slow sway of his shoulders as he left.

“You should watch out for that one.” A voice cautioned beside her.

She turned her head to see Keerava glaring at the door as Brynjolf exited the inn. Her claws were shredding the dishrag in her hands

“Pardon Keerava? What do you mean?” she asked.

The Argonian innkeeper grimaced. “You should watch out for that one. Charm for days sure, but a cheat, a liar and in charge of a bunch of thugs. Don't trust him elf, you’ll wind up hurt.”

“Oh I don't trust him any farther than I could throw him. I know better than to trust anyone.” She replied with a smirk. “But right now he’s useful.”

She paid the Argonian then exited the building as well. She caught Brynjolf’s eye as she began to wander around market, nodding ever so slightly to indicate she was ready. She made a quick visit to the blacksmith to buy a dagger, and as she finished up with him she heard Brynjolf begin his spiel.

As people began to gather around him she made her way to Madesi’s stall. The locks were child's play and the ring was in her pocket before Brynjolf had even began to tell the crowd what he was selling. She closed the sliding screen and made her way behind Brand-Shei’s stall, crouching behind some boxes. She was just extending her hand towards the Dunmer’s pocket when she heard Brynjolf describe what he was selling this time. She had to bite back a laugh. Farmer’s blood elixir. How daft could these people be?

She pinched herself to keep the giggle a bay as she reached forward again. She just managed to get the ring into his pocket before Brand-Shei stood, reaching for his coin purse to buy a bottle of the junk Brynjolf was hocking. She slipped out from behind the stall unnoticed and strode to Marise’s wagon to purchase some dried meat for her journey. She was walking away when she felt a hand in her shoulder, spinning her around.

“Looks like I chose the right person for the job. Here you go lass, your payment, as promised.” he said, pressing a heavy coin purse into her hands. “I was worried. The way things have been going around here, it's a relief that our plan went off without a hitch for once.”

Pocketing the coin purse she glanced at him suspiciously. “What do you mean with the way things have been going? What's been going on?”

He shrugged and took a step back from her. “Bah, my organization's been having a run of bad luck, but I suppose that's just how it goes.” He let out a long sigh, then flashed her a smile. “But never mind that, you did the job and you did it well. Best of all, there's more where that came from, if you think you can handle it.”

She rolled her eyes at him without thinking, “Oh I can handle it.”

His chuckle sent a shiver through her body. She needed to put some space them soon, or she’d make a fool of herself and be unable to face him again.

“Alright, then lass. Let's put that to the test. The group I represent has its home in the Ratway beneath Riften, a tavern called the Ragged Flagon. Get there in one piece and we'll see if you really have what it takes.”

He started to walk away from her, back to his stand when she called back to him. “I said I could handle it, not that I would join. I have a job to do for Sibbi first, and you were no help. Maybe when I get back I’ll see about finding your little outfit, but don't hold your breath.”

He gave her a mocking little bow. “As you like Cylfin. When you come to your senses, and you will, come find me and we’ll discuss your future.

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Chapter Text

Three months later Cylfin was trudging up the road back to the city gates of Riften, her dark hood drawn up around her face, her clothes stained and in tatters and her hand clenched around a small bundle of silk in her pocket. If she hadn't been afraid of being the next on Sibbi’s hit list if she didn’t return she would have given up the search for Svidi weeks ago. In fact she almost had. She only found the girl by chance, after months of searching all across Skyrim.

When she left Riften she headed north, passing through Shor’s Stone and Kynesgrove. No one had seen the girl Sibi had described. She made a brief stop in Windhelm to ensure that Revyn was still holding onto her belongings. He assured her he was and even gave her a key to the chest he kept them in. When her father had died she found out he had mortgaged their little two-bedroom home to Torsten Cruel-Sea years ago and had been paying the man back slowly. He had been gone less than two days when Torsten kicked her out of it to put in a new family that had come to Windhelm to work for him. He had allowed her to keep her own things, but had confiscated most of her fathers books and scrolls or anything else of value he had seen. She had managed to slip away with her her parent’s enchanted wedding bands, a necklace her mother had given her when she was seven, her father’s cloak and an elven bow that had been her mothers, which her father had given her to hunt with when she was fourteen.

Revyn had let her stay with him a few days while she grieved, but had told her her didn't have the space to keep her, and given her proclivity for stealing, couldn't afford to have her in his shop for a long time incase she was caught and he was accused of selling her stolen goods as merchandise. She understood his point, but had been deeply hurt by the accusation that she would endanger him in any way. Her stop in Windhelm was strained to say the least, but she promised as soon as she found the person she was looking for she would return for her things and find a permanent solution to her lack of abode.

She had gone to Solitude and turned up nothing. Next was Morthal and she was just in time to witness a gruesome house fire that killed two of the residents. She didn't stick around long after that, as a stranger she knew she might be at the top of the suspect list. However she pointed out to the guards that something with orange eyes was fleeing the building as the flames blazed high, lighting up the night sky.

From there she had gone to Falkreath, hoping that perhaps Brynjolf had just missed something, but no one there had seen any travelers recently and all the townsfolk had been there for generations. The only excitement the town had seen in decades was the dragon that showed up the day she was leaving. She would have left them all to their fate, except for the fact that smarmy dragon had attempted to eat her when it landed dead center in town. It didn't just breathe fire at her, it actually had taken a bite at her and she only narrowly missed it by jumping behind a guard and pushing him into the jaws of the beast. She might have wound up in jail again for it, if she hadn’t shouted that over sized flying lizard to the ground and sucked out it’s very soul. Instead they threw her a feast and the Jarl made her a Thane. She wasn't particularly impressed since it didn't even come with a home, just a parcel of land she could build one on.

Feeling utterly defeated, bruised and worn out from travelling she had decided to finally make her way to Ivarstead. They Greybeards had summoned the Dragonborn, and after that little encounter in Falkreath, she was about ready to learn some words so she would have the upper hand next time.

Her disappointment continued when all they did was teach her another word to the unrelenting force shout to make it a bit stronger, and teach her how to run fast. At least she could get away quickly the next time a dragon appeared overhead. The last straw had been when they sent her to find some moldy old horn. They claimed it was an item once held by an ancient dragonborn, but she was skeptical that it was anything more than a conversation starter if they ever got more visitors. She was tired of running errands and told them so before stalking out of the mouldering ruin at the top of the mountain and making her way back to the village below, nearly freezing her butt on the way down.

Deciding she would have to admit defeat and return to Sibbi a failure, she popped into the inn hoping to get some rest before continuing to Riften. She demanded a meal, a bath and a bed, in that order and was just sitting down to eat her meal she heard the innkeeper asking the barmaid to sing.

“You know I won't sing Wilhelm. You ask me to every night, and every time I refuse.” the woman replied.

“Please Lynly. You have such a lovely voice. My customer’s are tired of only hearing the lute. Sing for us just this once.” the innkeeper pleaded. The regulars cheered him on and she watched as the maiden blushed.

“Oh alright, just this once.” she conceded.

Cylfin took a bite of her salmon stew, wishing the innkeeper hadn’t encouraged the woman. She wasn't in the mood for a song, but there would be no stopping it now. She ducked her head, concentrating on her food when the woman began a heavenly rendition of Age of Oppression.

Cylfin whipped her head around to stare at the woman. Lynly’s voice was lovely, able to bring tears to her eyes with the mournful lament of abuse at the hands of the Empire. Food forgotten, Cylfin turned around on the bench and watched the barmaid with wide eyes. The rest of the customers seemed enraptured as well, with Wilhelm, sighing behind the counter with a dreamy look in his eyes. As the song ended, Cylfin joined the rest in clapping for the woman. She watched as Lynly picked up her lute again and began to strum.

Cylfin returned to her stew, her gut clenched with excitement. It couldn't be anyone else, she was sure of it. The dean of the bard’s college denied having taught any musicians with a voice as lovely as hers and stated no one new had attended. The woman was reluctant to sing, a sign she didn't want someone to recognize her voice and if she was from Riften, born and raised, she probably wouldn't have gone to a large city. Ivarstead was close enough for her to be familiar with the terrain and for the thieves guild to ignore it as a possibility, but far enough to not be recognized by the locals, who would be unlikely to travel to the city more than once a year, so there was little chance they would bring news of the bard to Riften. Once she had finished her meal she sat by the fire, waiting for the performance to cease for the night. Cylfin followed the woman to her room and slipped inside, closing the door. At Lynly’s gasp of surprise she smiled and complimented her on the song.

“Oh thank. I don't sing often, so it was fortunate that you stopped in this evening.” she replied blushing.

The woman had short yellowish locks, but when Cylfin saw the woman’s eyes up close, spring green and guarded, she knew she had found her prey.

“Perhaps fortunate for me.” she replied. “But you not so fortunate for you Svidi.” she replied in a low whisper.

The woman couldn't suppress the sharp gasp as she jumped backwards. “No, I’m sorry, you must have me confused with someone else. I’ve never even heard that name before.”

“Stop lying Svidi. Sibbi was very descriptive when he spoke you of. You may have changed your hair, but you can't change the fact that you had a inn full of men almost weeping with your voice.” she sneered in reply. Now that she had found the woman she was angry at herself for the time she wasted wandering northern Skyrim when her prey had been a stones throw away.

“Please, I beg you, don't tell Sibbi where I am. He’ll kill me.” Svidi dropped to her knees, clutching at Cylfin and sobbing loudly. “He’s been spreading lies about me I swear. You must hear me out.”

Cylfin pushed the woman away from her with her foot and sighed. “Oblivion take you, get up, you stupid wench. I can’t abide crying.” She helped Svidi to a nearby chair, the hairs on her neck standing on end as she listened for the sound of anyone coming to see what the noise was about. When no one arrived she continued. “Fine, speak then. What is your side to this tale?”

Between sobs Svidi managed to explain, "Sibbi and I were to be married. We were supposed to be happy together forever. Then I found that wretched poetry from Svana.” She blew her nose, loudly and Cylfin grimaced. It was impossible to delicately blow one’s nose, yet somehow this woman appeared dainty and cute as she did so. “When I confronted Sibbi about it, he threatened to kill me. I was scared so I told my brother Wulfur. He went to talk to Sibbi for me and, and, Sibbi killed him. My brother wasn't even armed! When I heard what Sibbi did, I fled. Now you've found me, and you're going to tell him where I am."

“If it wasn't me, he would have found someone else Svidi. I think you’ll be very thankful it was me.” she replied, spying the silver necklace around the woman’s neck. Pointing to it she asked. “Did Sibbi give you that chain, or have you had it longer than that?”

Svidi tried to stop her sobs, but the reply was broken by her loud gasping. “It…it was Sibbi. He, he gave it to me... as a betrothal gift. I wanted to throw it...away, but...I thought I might...might need the cash I could sell it for.”

Cylfin grinned. “Alright then. I have a plan for you. Do you have any family outside of Skyrim? Any at all?”

The woman nodded. “Yes, in Cyrodil, near the Colovian Highlands.”

“Then I suggest you go there and hope they can put you up for a while. You can stay here in Ivarstead if you want, but I wouldn't recommend it. Even with the change in hair color, your voice and eyes are a dead give away. Do you want to chance Sibbi finding you again?”

Svidi closed her eyes, shaking her head wildly. “No, I’ll go. I’ll leave tomorrow.”

Taking pity on the girl Cylfin placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll give you some time. It’s going to take about two days for me to get back to Riften anyways.” she pulled a small coin purse from her belt and handed it to the trembling woman. “Take this and give me the necklace. I’ll use it to convince Sibbi you won’t be a problem for him anymore. Just remember, you need to be dead. There is no place for you in Riften ever again. Get out of Skyrim and never return. If Sibbi gets even the slightest indication I didn't kill you, we will both end up as corpses.”

The next morning when she awoke, Cylfin realized that Svidi was taking no chances. Her room was empty and Wilhelm was in a miserable mood that his bard had snuck away in the middle of the night. She in turn made the short trip back to Riften trying to figure out how to get back into the jail to speak to Sibbi.

As she approached the gates she stuffed the silk bundle with the necklace into her breast band. The guards took one look at her tattered clothes and demanded she pay a toll for the privilege of entering the city. They didn't want more riffraff within the gates. It was only when she glared at them and demanded their names to give to Sibbi that they changed their tune.

She made her way back to the Bee and Barb and was surprised when Keerava remembered her. She ordered a drink, having decided the best way to get to Sibbi was to get thrown in jail again, for a shorter period this time. She proceeded to pretend to get pissed drunk and pick a fight with the Marise about the quality of her products. At the first sign that she was about to start casting spells the guards hauled her off to the dungeons to sleep it off. Luck was on her side and they threw her into the same cell as before.

“Well, well, well. I was starting to think you had forgotten about me.” came a mocking voice from across room. Sibbi’s voice contained an underlying fury she hadn’t been expecting. “I don’t like it when people promise to do something for me and then don't make good on their end of the bargain elf.”

“Who says I didn’t make good on my end of the deal Nord?” she spat back. “I found your simpering beauty and even made sure she won't be a problem for you again.”

His eyes darkened with rage. “I told you I would handle that. I wanted the pleasure of seeing the life go out of her eyes with my hands wrapped around her neck.”

“Well I wasn’t dying, even for you Sibbi. I looked all over Skyrim and finally found her a stones throw from Riften. She was hiding in Ivarstead. Even changed her hair color, but her voice gave her away. I watched her for a few days and she must have got suspicious because I woke up last night with a dagger to my neck. I had to defend myself and end her so she didn't end up running again.” she replied, trying to make the lie sound convincing. If he thought for one minute she told anything but the truth, she knew she would be next on his hit list.

“Ha!” he shouted banging his hand against the cell bars. “Svidi wouldn't hurt a fly. I doubt she even knows which end of the dagger to hold onto.”

“Of course, because a woman who is scared of being killed by her ex lover wouldn’t learn how to defend herself.” she retorted confidently. “It’s not like she was any good with it anyways. She sliced up my neck a bit before I wrestled her off me and strangled her with her own necklace. It’s a beautiful portrait in that locket by the way. You should hire the same painter for you’re next fiance.” she taunted.

She reached into her breast band and pulled out the small bundle hidden there. “Here, proof she won’t be a problem any longer.” She tossed it across jail, where it landed beside his cell door. He reached through the bars to pick it up and pulled out the necklace.

Sibbi fingered the chain and opened the small locket, confirming it contained the painted portraits of himself and Svidi on either side. “There’s blood on the necklace.” he noted.

“Hers and mine. My hands were covered in my own blood and the chain cut into her throat as she struggled.” she replied without emotion. “The job is done. If you don't like the way I wrapped things up, don't work with me again, but don't think for one second I value your pleasure over my own life. You’re family name is useful, but not if I am not alive to benefit from the association.”

Sibbi started to laugh. “I’ve missed you Cylfin. You’re the most interesting jail mate I’ve had in here. You don’t hide away like the others, or ignore me. You stand up for yourself. I like it. “ he said, letting his eyes run down the length of her body. “You’ve done a good job and will be rewarded as promised. When you’re released in the morning, find my sister Ingun. She’ll have your payment before the end of the day.”

He backed away from the bars towards his bed, but never took his eyes off of her. “You should take Brynjolf up on his offer of employment. I’d like it if you stuck around in Riften for a while. I’m out of here in about three weeks and I’d like to make this arrangement a more permanent thing.” he suggested with a leer.

She scoffed at him, leaning against the cold stones of her cell. “You mean the arrangement where I do your bidding like a trained pet?”

The look he sent her was so confused she started to laugh. “I am not going to be your personal assassin Sibbi. I steal things. I don’t make a habit of killing people. She happened to attack me first and I knew you wanted her dead anyways.”

“Mother has the guild in her pocket. It would be nice if someone down there didn't report my every request to her.” he explained. “If I want someone killed I’ll contact the Dark Brotherhood. They are trained for that kind of job and I don't mind paying someone for a professional hit if I can’t take care of it myself. Stay in Riften. I will make it worth your while.” he promised with a crooked smile.

Sibbi’s smile turned her insides to jelly. She wanted to kick herself for letting her attraction to him influence her decision, but she was incredibly tempted by his offer. The Black-Briar name would be good to have at her back, but she didn't know how well the guild would take to her running her own jobs for Sibbi and keeping them secret from the leader of the guild whom she had yet to meet. Not to mention, if they discovered she was the Dragonborn she may become little more than a puppet for their political aspirations.

“I’ll think about it and find you when you get out if I decided to stick around.” she replied striding over to her own cot and lying down, intent on falling asleep on a real bed before she was back out in Riften with no real home.

As she drifted off she heard him chuckle and murmur. “You’ll stick around my dear. You won’t be able to resist.”

Chapter Text

The next morning when she was released she headed straight for the market to speak to Brynjolf, but instead if finding his smiling face she only found an empty booth, covered in dust. She frowned, trying to remember where he said she could find him. “I know he said it’s beneath Riften, but how do I get there?” she muttered to herself.

“Spare a coin for a poor old woman and perhaps I can help you out.” said a haggard voice beside her.

Cylfin turned to stare at the scrawny woman, covered in dirty rags. She had no shoes on her cracked feet and her white hair was a tangled mess, matted in some places. Without hesitating she grabbed a few coins from her purse and pressed them into the woman's hands. “You know how I can find Brynjolf?”

The woman smiled, revealing her yellow rotting teeth. “Of course dearie. He’ll be down in the Flagon. You can't miss him.”

Cylfin handed her a few more coins. “How do I get into the Flagon?” she asked, her voice pleading.

Cackling the beggar replied. “Can't show you how to get there, that’s cheating, but start at the door beneath the smithy to find the Flagon. Watch your step dearie. The way is treacherous.” Then she drifted off, humming quietly to herself.

Cylfin grinned, she had a place to start. She made a quick stop at Elgrim's Elixirs to find Ingun. Sibbi had been clear his sister spent most of her time there.

Ingun was delighted to meet her and promised to have her reward by dusk. “Meet me here just after 8 and I'll have your gold.” The girls eyes were wide, unfocused and she seemed to be fixated on Cylfin. “Did you really kill her? Was it poison? Did you watch the light disappear from her eyes? It must have been fascinating.”

“It was what needed to be done.” Cylfin replied. “I don't take pleasure in killing, but it was her life or mine.” She tugged down the collar of her tattered shirt to show the shallow gash that ran parallel to her jaw line across half her neck. She’d put it there herself to help authenticate her story. It was healing nicely, but would probably still scar, which is what she was hoping for. It would be more believable that she was in danger if the mark never faded.

“If you don't mind running errands for my family, there is something you could help me with. Mother doesn't let me get involved with the guild, but you’ll have better access to plants than I do when you run jobs. I need to replace some of Elgrim’s materials and mother never lets me leave Riften unsupervised for ingredients.” The girls eyes were pleading. “I can make it worth your while, and you'd have another Black-Briar at your back.

Cylfin had been just about to snap that she was not the personal errand girl of the Black-Briar family, but thought better of it. If she wasn't accepted by the Guild, she had nowhere else to go. At least an errand for Ingun would pay her for her time. “I'll see what I can do. What is it you need.”

Ingun smiled and handed her a small piece if parchment. “Here is the list. You can take you time. Just don't tell my mother about this. I've included the region's of skyrim that they can be found growing wild, or you can try other apothecaries.” Suddenly Ingun blushed. “I am glad Sibbi found you before my mother could. We could use someone who doesn't bow to her every whim.”

Cylfin nodded without replying. She didn't known how long she could stay out from under Maven’s influence. The more she heard about the woman the more intimidating she sounded. “I’ll see you tonight. First I have to find the Guild.”

“Oh that's simple.” Ingun replied. “Once you enter the Ratway you'll come to a room where the bridge has been raised. If you can pick locks there is a locked gate just below that leads right to the Ragged Flagon door. I warn you though, it’s a fairly complicated lock.”

Cylfin left the apothecary shop with a smile plastered on her face. This was going to be easier than she thought. She hurried down to the lower levels of Riften and found the door under the Scorched Hammer. Pushing open the door, she stepped inside and immediately crouched down when she heard lowered voices. Stepping carefully as she approached to muffle her movements she inched closer and saw two Nords, covered in dirt, wearing stained, worn out armor. She must have made some noise though, because the two men stopped talking and came around the corner.

“Well, well. You picked a bad time to get lost friend.” said the smaller, slicker looking Nord.

“I'm not your friend, nor am I lost. I suggest you let me pass or face my wrath.” She replied as she began to focus her magic into her palms.

The larger Nord didn't speak he just pulled out a greatsword and charged towards her. Without thinking she blasted a sparks spell at the man causing him to collapse, writhing in agony and screaming. The smaller man snarled, reaching for his bow, but he was too slow. She hit him as well and grimaced when he fell to the floor howling.

Without hesitating she drew her dagger, running it across the neck of the bigger man before he could recover. The life left his eyes along with a sickening gurgle of blood that erupted from his throat. The smaller man was trying to push himself up from the ground. “You stupid bitch. I'm going to gut you like a fish.”

She yawned and hit him again with the lightning, causing him to shriek. “I yield. Mercy! I said I yield!”

“Too late. I told you to let me pass.” She snarled and slammed her dagger up through his throat into his skull.

She routed through their things, pocketing their valuables, weapons, lockpicks and a clean tunic she found in the smaller man’s bag. Hers was now covered in blood and was in tatters anyways. She tugged it up over her head and slipped the new garment on, pleased with the loose fit.

When she came to the chamber Ingun mentioned she laughed as she dropped down to the floor below. Just as the girl had described there was the locked gate. Grabbing her new picks she went to work, moving them in slow, calculated motions to avoid breaking her tools. In less than 2 minutes she heard a faint click and the lock released, allowing her to swing the gate wide open. A shadow was moving at the top of the stairs to her right, so she ducked down and crept silently forward. A man stood beside a table, muttering to himself. His hair was wild and unkempt and his clothes were filthy. The only notable thing about him was a wicked looking, curved sword on his hip. She crept backwards trying to decide what to do. If he was a thief she shouldn't kill him. If he was another lowlife she didn't have much energy left for a lightning attack. She didn't think Brynjolf would invite her to work for him and then send members of the guild to kill her so she doubted the two men from before would be missed, but she wasn't sure about this one. If Ingun was right, the door to the Flagon should be just to the left of the stairs. Perhaps he was a guard. She felt her nose start to prickle in the musty, damp air and tried to sniffle her sneeze.

Failing at that, she heard the man roar. Cursing she pulled out her sword and raced up the stair to meet the wild man. She didn't want the disadvantage of fighting on the lower steps. It wasn't an easy fight. He managed to get a good swipe in on her upper thigh before she ran him through. She tore his shirt to make a bandage and tied it tightly around the wound, biting her cheek to keep from crying out. As she walked toward the door to the left of the room she sent up a silent prayer that Ingun hadn’t lied or she wouldn't be joining the guild. She would be joining her father. Cautiously she slipped inside and silently closed the door.

The sight before her had her sighing with relief. The small hallway opened into a large chamber that held a sparsely occupied tavern. She could see the bar across the small reservoir of water in the middle of the chamber and she could her laughing voices as they echoed off the walls.

She limped around the circular room coming to a small plank bridge that connected tavern to the rest of the chamber. None of the alcoves built into the walls were filled and the only lights came from the roaring fire behind the bar and a few lighted torches on the walls.

As she came closer she could hear the song like cadence of Brynjolf’s voice. “I’m telling you, she was spotted in the city last night. I'm sure she will make her way down here. She too good to pass up the opportunity.”

The man behind the counter scoffed. “Give it up, Brynjolf, those days are over. There hasn't been a new recruit down here in years.”

“I'm telling you Vekel, this one is different.” Brynjolf protested.

“We've all hear that one before, Bryn! Quit kidding yourself.” replied a stern looking, sour faced man standing beside Brynjolf.

Vekel smirked again. “It's time to face the truth, old friend. You, Vex and Mercer are all part of a dying breed. Things are changing!”

She stepped forward into the light, and grinned when Brynjolf caught sight of her. “Dying breed, eh? Well what do you call that then?” he bragged, pointing to her. He motioned her forward taking note of how she limped and the bloody bandage around her thigh. “Well, well, color me impressed, lass. I wasn't sure I'd ever see you again!”

She smirked. “Getting here was easy. If you wanted to make it difficult you should update the lock on that gate.”

She felt everyone’s head turn to look at her and heard a blonde woman leaning against the deck wall whisper. “She picked that lock?”

Brynjolf laughed. “Reliable and headstrong? You're turning out to be quite the prize! So, now that you’re back in town I have a real test for you. How about handling a few deadbeats for me?”

Cylfin felt the eyes of everyone in the tavern focused directly on her. She felt as though they were judging her and found her wanting. Determined to show them she was no rookie, she squared her shoulders. “Deadbeats huh? What'd they do?”

Brynjolf lazed against the counter, drawing her eyes to the hard lines of his leather armor. The dark leathers were snug, but flexible, allowing for full mobility without the risk of getting caught on window frames or fences. He stared at her a moment longer and she wished he would hurry up the explanation. She needed to clean her wound and get a healing before she suffered permanent damage, but he seemed to be in no rush.

“Keerava, Bersi Honey-Hand and Haelga owe our organization some serious coin and they've decided not to pay. I want you to explain to them the error of their ways. Do this right and I can promise you a permanent place in our organization. Sibbi might have your back, but even he can’t make you one of us unless you prove your worth.” he replied, eyes serious and calculating.

She nodded then winced, unable to ignore the throbbing in her thigh as the adrenaline began to wear off. “Is there a time limit here? I need to get cleaned up so I don't look like some thug when I go door knocking. I assume you want the coin first and foremost. It wont do to go when I’m bleeding all over the floors”

He surprised her when he dropped to his knees in front of her and wrapped his hand around her leg, pulling off the bandage to take a look. “Honestly, the debt is secondary here. What's more important is you get the message across that we aren't to be ignored.” he replied as he gestured to Vekel. The bartender stepped around the bar with a wet cloth and a bottle of alcohol. With a gentleness that Cylfin had not expected Brynjolf cleaned the wound, then splashed it with the alcohol, causing her to hiss as her damaged nerves burned.

“There, that ought to keep any infection away. Elgrim might have a healing potion you can purchase to close it up.” he continued, standing and tossing the rag back to Vekel who threw it into the fire behind him.

She slumped into a chair that a bald man had pulled over. He gave her a lopsided and grin walked away. She cringed, but pulled her remaining magic reserves together and laid her palms on her thigh. She released the energy with a sigh as she felt the warm, golden glow swirl around the wound and begin to knit her flesh back together. “No need for it when I can do this right now. I’ll be fine in an hour or so.”

Pulling up a chair to sit across from her he smiled. “Useful spell. Tell you what, I’ll fill you in on the details of your marks while that finishes healing. Once you feel up to it you can get going. The sooner you get the coin the better. A word of warning, though, I don't want any of them killed. Bad for business.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Just because I killed Svidi doesn't mean I enjoy that kind of thing. Nor do I want to join Sibbi in the prison for murder. Give me some credit here Brynjolf.”

He nodded with a frown. “So you found her then?”

“Yeah, she was in Ivarstead. Changed her hair color so it took a bit to figure it out. I would have just told Sibbi where she was but she got jumpy and gave me this.” she replied, revealing the gash on her neck for the second time that day. “It was her or me, and Sibbi’s name doesn't mean anything to me if I’m dead. Now, tell me more about the marks so I can finish this up today.” she urged.

He spent the better part of the next hour filling her in on the amounts owed by the merchants, where to apply pressure to try and convince them to pay their protection fees and if all else failed he suggested beating the sense into them. Once the pain in her thigh disappeared completely she had a plan for each of them. With a smirked she left the Ragged Flagon and used the switch to lower the plank bridge across the small chamber. Brynjolf promised to leave it lowered until she returned.

Once she made her way to the upper levels again she hit the Bunkhouse first. Haelga was stubborn, but once Cylfin threatened to destroy her Dibella statue and reveal to Nivenor where Bolli was keeping the mark she gave him, she quickly changed her tune and coughed up the hundred gold.

Next was Bersi at the Pawned Prawn. For all that she had heard his wife complain about what a pushover he was he stood his ground when she told him she had a message from Brynjolf.

Sighing he leaned over on his counter. “So, Brynjolf doesn't even bother to show up himself anymore, eh? What's this message?”

Taken aback by his apathy she sneered. “Simple. You don't pay, bad things happen.”

Bersi began to laugh at her, “Petty threats and fist-waving are not going to sway me. You people are all talk and everyone knows it! It's only a matter of time before you people are run out of Riften. I've had enough of this. Get out of my shop.”

This one was going to play hardball, she decided. “I don’t know Bersi. I was thinking I might make a purchase.” she turned as she heard him scoff. Just as Brynjolf had said it would be, an gawdy Dwarven urn sat on display. She ran a finger along the rim of the vessel, then traced the intricate carvings along the side. “I might be interested in this. How much do you think it’s worth?”

“Don’t touch that.” he shouted, causing her to smile sadistically. He instantly realized his mistake. “Please no,that's priceless!”

Cylfin grabbed the base of the urn and hefted it into her arms. “Oh my, it’s heavier than I thought it would be. I don’t know if I can keep my grip on it Bersi.”

His wife was wringing her hand in the corner of the shop. ‘“Oh my word! Bersi, just pay the woman!”

Cylfin winked at him and purposefully stumbled, pretending to drop the urn, then snatching it up just before it hit the ground. It was too much for Bersi. He screamed at her as his complexion became ghostly pale. “No! Please, I get it. I'll pay on time from now on. Just don't smash that urn. It’s been in my family for years.” He stormed forward and practically threw his money purse at her, grabbing his urn from her arms and retreating to safety behind his counter. “Here! Take your gold and leave me in peace.”

She mimic’d the mocking bow Brynjolf had given her the first time she met him then turned to leave the shop, grinning madly. As she strode up to the doors of the Bee and Barb she paused, suddenly uncomfortable with what she was about to do. The argonian had allowed her to spend a few nights at the inn before, and ran an honest inn. Talen-Jai was kind and ran himself ragged to serve their customers and she remembered overhearing him speaking to Madesi when she had last been in town about trying to locate some gemstones for the ring he planned to ask Keerava to marry him with. The female might be a bit thorny, but it was clear she valued her customers privacy and managed to keep thieves from working inside the inn, which was more than she could say about other inns she had stayed at before. Swallowing hard she realized she didn't want to do this to Keerava, but a test was a test. She sighed deeply and pushed open the inn doors.

There were no patrons this time of the day, yet as she stepped inside the mood changed instantly. Talen-Jei glared at her but Keerava bowed deeply before stuttering out. “Look, everything was all just a misunderstanding. I didn't mean it when I told Brynjolf to go jump off the pier. You'll tell him I'm sorry, yes?”

The argonian came around the counter and pressed a small purse into her hands. “Take this. Every single coin I owe is there, I swear” She was quaking and Cylfin felt her stomach roll with distaste.

Checking to be sure they were completely alone she handed Keerava back her purse. “Here. Keep this. I can't stop them from demanding the monthly payments, so don’t fall behind again. Brynjolf might send someone less reasonable than myself next time.”

Talen-Jei was the first to speak. “Why are you doing this? What do you want from us?” He was naturally suspicious and she heard the resignation in his voice. He thought she was blackmailing them.

“I swear to you, I want nothing in return. The few nights I stayed here the service was good, the beds were comfortable and the White-Gold Tower you serve can’t be beat. I simply want to thank you for your service and I want to be sure that, if need be, I can always purchase a bed here. I can’t do that if I extort you. I will give Brynjolf what he wants and pay off the last few months of your debt to the guild. I simply ask that you don't tell anyone.” she replied.

If Argonians could cry, Keerava would be drowning them in tears. “Thank you, thank you. I won’t fall behind again. I promise. You tell Brynjolf I’ll pay on time from now on.”

She left them standing in the middle of the inn, with Talen-Jei stroking his lover’s back as she whimpered her relief. A small twinge of satisfaction tugged at her heartstring, but she pasted a scowl on her face as she stormed outside.

She paced around the market, pretending to be interested in the merchandise the vendors were selling. She noted that Brand-Shei had been released and was back at his stall, but he had a defeated look to him now, as he hunched in on himself, not calling out as the others did to attract attention to his wares. Dusk fell swiftly, the shops closed up and the merchants headed to the inn for dinner. She made her way down to the apothecary where Ingun was waiting for her. She pocketed the coin purse she was handed and thanked the girl.

Humming happily, she quickly made her way back to the Ragged Flagon and found Brynjolf lounging at the same table she had left him at, flanked by the two thieves she’d seen earlier. The blonde woman and the bald man eyed her curiously but Brynjolf broke into a wide grin when he saw three purses strapped her belt. “So, job's done and you even brought the gold. Best of all, my sources said you did it clean. Good, dumping bodies and keeping the guards quiet can be expensive.”

She handed over the purses with a cheeky grin. He checked them each, nodding when he confirmed every septim owed was inside. He handed her a package from his pocket with a laugh. “Here you go, I think you'll find these quite useful.”

Inside were a few healing potions and her payment. He really did have an odd sense of humor. Her leg was fine now, but he appeared to think she’d need more help in the future.

Clapping his hands together he jumped out of his chair and beckoned her to follow him. “Alright lass, judging from how well you've handled those shopkeepers, I'd say you've done more than simply prove yourself. We need people like you in our outfit.”

She yawned, feigning boredom. “ If there's more gold where that came from, I'm in.”

He laughed as he walked down the short hall beside the tavern counter, turning right to stop in front of a rickety wooden cupboard, He opened the doors and she watched in fascination as he pressed a small lever, disguised as a hinge which allowed the back of the cabinet to disappear. “That's the spirit lass! Larceny is in your blood, a telltale sign of a practiced thief. I think you'll do more than just fit in around here.”

As he was about to step inside she gripped his shoulder, pulling him around to look at her. “Before we go, I have to ask.”

He cocked his head. “What's on your mind?”

“Word is your outfit isn't doing well. Since the guild disappeared from Windhelm in my early twenties, I am assuming there is some truth to that rumor. What’s going on?”

He laughed, but she could hear his unease. “Ah lass, we've run into a rough patch lately, but it's nothing to worry your pretty little head about. Tell you what, just keep making us coin and I'll worry about everything else. Fair enough?” he asked, extending his hand.

She eyes him warily for a moment, before placing her own delicate hand in his larger one, gripping it firmly. “Fair enough.” she responded, making a mental note to keep her eyes and ears open.

He stepped away and ducked through the opening in the wall, progressing down a narrow hallway. “Now if there are no more questions, how about following me and I'll show you what we're all about.”

As Brynjolf opened yet another door, she had to hold back a gasp of wonder. The Thieves Guilds real domain was a massive cistern, that bustled with even more people than she had first imagined. The circular room had many beds lining the walls, with a small cook station to the side. She could see two tunnels on either side of the cistern, one leading to a small ladder, the other she wasn't sure where it went. Brynjolf gave her the grand tour, noting the ladder led to their secret entrance in the graveyard, and the other tunnel led to a training room. Beyond that there was a water closet, set beside a small waterfall that had been partitioned off for privacy. Brynjolf told her it could be used as a shower if you didn't use the lake outside Riften to wash. The main chamber also sported a archery target and a huge vault, with the most elaborate locking mechanism she had ever seen. Beside the vault was a dark oak desk, a makeshift office if she guessed, for the older Breton man she saw sitting behind it. Brynjolf let loose a loud whistle, which brought the Breton’s gaze whipping up to stare at them.

Brynjolf chucked. “The guildmaster is waiting. He’ll make this all official, then we can get you settled permanently.”

She followed him to the middle of the stone bridge that connected all four areas of the cistern. She watched as the guildmaster strode forward to meet them. As they stopped in front of the leader of the guild she sucked in a silent breath of unease. This was a dangerous man. His eyes were were the color of burnt charcoal and they expressed his annoyance more clearly than his words did once Brynjolf introduced her.

“This better not be another waste of the Guild's resources, Brynjolf.” the man chastised. Turning to face her he allowed his eyes to roam her body from head to toe, then back again. He sneered. “Before we continue, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. If you play by the rules, you walk away rich. You break the rules and you’ll lose more than just your share. No debates, no discussions, no second chances. You do what we say, when we say. Do I make myself clear?”

She returned his bored gaze with one of her own. She hated being spoken down to, it rubbed her the wrong way, but the Guildmaster intrigued her. He was taller than her, but that wasn't difficult. Years of scaling walls, balancing on narrow ledges and crouching in shadows had left his body toned and wiry. He had to be in his early fifties, she thought, his greying chestnut locks betraying his age in a way his body never would. His chin was covered in a days growth of stubble, broken by the thin scar that ran from his right cheekbone down over his mouth to his chin. On some, it might ruin their profile, but on Mercer it gave him a more appealing, dangerous look. She loved soft hearted Nords, but she had yet to meet any woman who didn't crave the dangerous, totally wrong for you type. Mercer was not the kind of man a woman should get involved with, any more than than Sibbi was, but her body was reacting just the same.

“Yes, I understand.” she heard herself reply.

Mercer smirked at her. “Good. Then I think it's time we put your expertise to the test and I know just the job for you.”

Brynjolf looked concerned. “Wait a moment Mercer. You're not talking about Goldenglow, are you? Even our little Vex couldn't get in there.”

Mercer rubbed his temples in frustration. “You claim this recruit possesses an aptitude for our line of work. If so, let her prove it.”

He gestured to them to follow him as he walked back to his desk and pulled out a map of the Rift. She felt her knees go weak when he slammed the point of his iron dagger into the desk, pinning the map to it, where a small island was depicted in the lake beside Riften “Goldenglow Estate is critically important to one of our largest clients. However, the owner has suddenly decided to take matters into his own hands, and shut us out. He needs to be taught a lesson. Brynjolf will provide you with the details.”

She started to turn when she felt Brynjolf’s hand on her arm. “Mercer, aren't you forgetting something?”

The guild-master had gone back to ignoring them, thinking his demands would be immediately followed, so his eyes betrayed his confusion for a moment before he answered. “Hmm? Oh, yes, since Brynjolf assures me you'll be nothing but a benefit to us, then you're in. Welcome to the Thieves Guild.” He waved them off quickly and went back to studying a pile of ledgers in front of him.

Cylfin let go of the breath she had not realized she had been holding. Being welcomed into the Guild felt like she had finally achieved her ultimate goal in life. She thought back to the dark elf who had inspired her to join the shadows when she was a child, and sent out a silent prayer that she was still alive and well. She hoped she would get a chance to thank her some day. It wasn't unreasonable to think the elf would still be around, it had only been twenty-seven years since that night, their kind had an incredibly long lifespan. Though Cylfin had obviously grown into her adulthood, the other mer probably wouldn’t look a day older.

She couldn't help the happy smile that snuck across her face. She had a home again, somewhere to call her own. She could get her things from Revyn, and she’d always have a bed to call her own.

She turned to look at Brynjolf, who was smiling warmly at her. “Welcome to the family, lass. I'm expecting you to make us a lot of coin, so don't disappoint me.”

“So how do things work around here in terms of assignments? How do I get my cut of the spoils?” she asked, eager to get working.

Brynjolf sighed softly, “Greedy aren’t we? A woman after my own heart. The rules are simple. Do as you're told and keep your blade clean. We can't turn a profit by killing. Mercer will want your first assignment finished quickly, but for other smaller jobs you need to see Delvin and Vex. They know their way around this place and they'll be able to kick some extra jobs your way.”

He grabbed her arm and lead her to an empty bed with an open chest at the end of it. There was a small end table to the left of it that was also devoid of any belongings. “There’s not a lot of privacy here, but this is your bed. You can keep your things here and don't worry about them going missing. We don’t steal from one another or you’re out on your arse. Once you get settled, speak to Tonilia in the Flagon, she'll get you set up with your new armor.” he said, eyeing her torn clothing. She cringed, knowing she looked only slightly better than city beggars.

“What can you tell me about the Goldenglow job? Will I have any time to map out the lay of the land. I don't want to go in there blind.” she asked, tugging at the hem of her shirt.

“Let’s go back to the Flagon. We can grab some drinks to welcome you, and I’ll get Vex to help me fill you in on the details.” he replied, turning and walking back to the hidden hall to the tavern.

She followed closely on heels, but she turned her head to get one last glance at Mercer. He must have felt her eyes, because he tilted his head up from his account to meet her gaze. His mouth twisted into a smirk before he focused back on the papers before him. Clenching her fists to banish the sudden desire to run her fingers through his hair, she whipped her head around and sprinted after Brynjolf. He sat at the small table across from the tavern counter and asked Vekel to bring a few bottles of mead.

Once they were served he pointed out Vex and Delvin who were standing by a table a few paces away, arguing. Brynjolf assured her it was a daily ritual for them with a laugh. Then he called over a striking Redguard woman, whom he introduced as Tonilia. The redguard looked her over once and then told Cylfin to meet her in the cistern later, once she had a chance to assemble some armor that would fit her slight frame.

As she departed Brynjolf leaned in close. “Tonilia is also our local fence. If you acquire any goods that aren't specifically job related, she’s who you want to speak with to rid yourself of the evidence.” He took a long swig of his mead, smacking his lips. “Now, let’s get down to business. I’ll tell you what I know, then I’ll get Vex to go over the lay of the land with you. She’s had first hand experience with it.”

He removed a crumpled piece of parchment from his pocket and smoothed it out over the table. On it was a hastily scribbled drawing of the island layout. “Goldenglow Estate is a bee farm and they raise the wretched little things for honey. It's run by some smart-mouth wood elf named Aringoth. This little enterprise brings in a mountain of gold for the Guild. You could almost call it our sweetest deal. Then out of the clear blue, Aringoth stops sending us our cut. Mercer was, well, angry, to put it kindly. He sent Vex to find out what was going on. What she found is that he fortified the entire island and hired a bunch of mercenaries to guard the place. She barely made it back alive. Mercer wanted to send someone else, but Vex, well she’s one of the best we’ve got.

She cut him off, furious at what she was hearing. “You’re sending me into a situation that even one of your best couldn't handle. Is this some joke? Send the new recruit to her death? Are you helping the Dark Brotherhood finish a hit on me or something?:

Brynjolf snapped his head around to look her in the eye. “Nothing like that lass. Obviously this is a tough job, but Mercer thinks you can do it. We need you to teach him a lesson by burning down three of his estate's hives.”

“Fortified island, mercenaries that I have to avoid, anything else Brynolf, I mean, it sounds so simple. Obviously there’s a catch.” she replied sarcastically, picking at a loaf of bread that Vekel had brought over as they schemed.

Brynjolf ducked his head sheepishly “Nothing gets past you does it? The catch is that you can't burn the whole place to the ground. That important client Mercer mentioned would be furious if you did. The Guild depends on an arrangement of influential people to keep things running smoothly. Without them at our backs, we'd be in serious trouble.”

“Are you kidding me? I was being sarcastic you stupid Nord.” she shouted, causing Delvin and Vex to pause their argument to stare at her. She rubbed her temples, overcome by the sudden realization she may have bitten off more than she could chew. Sighing she looked back up into Brynjolf’s worried eyes. “By influential people, I assume you mean Maven?” His surprised expression made her roll her eyes. “You can't have a meadery without honey, so of course its a Black-Brair that has a vested interest in the hives. What should I do about Aringoth?”

Brynjolf just continued to look at her silently, as though he was re-evaluating his first impression of her. Feeling uncomfortable she snapped her fingers in front of his eyes to get him to focus on her question. “Sorry,” he said, “Maven prefers that Aringoth remains alive, but if he tries to stop you from getting the job done, kill him. The Guild has a lot riding on this. Don't make me look foolish by mucking it up.

The sarcasm kept flowing from her lips. “So glad the reputation of the guild is more a priority than it’s member’s safety. Don’t worry Brynjolf. I wont muck it up, if that’s what you’re implying” Sighing deeply again she leaned back in her chair. “How do I deal with the hives?”

“Fire lass, they're built like small fortresses to resist the weather, but their one weakness is flame. Besides, nothing tells the people of Riften we mean business than a huge column of smoke.” he replied, as though the answer was an obvious one.

“And we can’t just level the whole island because if we burn all the hives Maven would have to import her honey for Black-Briar Meadery, which would cut into her profits. What else do we do for Maven exactly? I am aware she has an ironclad grip on the Guild, but to what extent did we help her with this?”

“You’re very astute for a new thief.” Brynjolf drolled. “We kept an eye on Goldenglow Estate to make sure the honey kept flowing. If the workers had a dispute, we rough them up. If competitors tried to buy honey from Aringoth, we'd steal the shipments. In return, Maven allowed us to extort Aringoth and bring in a huge payout. Let me put it to you this way lass, nothing happens in Riften, let alone the guild, without Maven's consent. One word from her and you could spend the rest of the fourth era in prison. You saw what she did to her own son.”

“Alright, I get it. Look, I didn't get much sleep last night. I’m going to see Tonilia to get set up with my gear, then I’m going to get some rest before I put together a plan for this job. If I have more questions, I’ll find you in the morning.” she replied, pushing her chair backwards and standing.

“Aye, as I said before, speak to Vex about her experience. She may have some tips for getting into Goldenglow.” he said, nodding to her, but his eyes fixated on the bottle of mead in his hand.

She turned to leave the Flagon, taking a few steps down the hallway when she was suddenly gripped from behind and spun around. “Hey watch it!” she yelled at her unknown assailant.

“So, you’re the new recruit huh?” Vex’s voice was hard and angry and she shook her finger in Cylfin’s face. “Before you get too comfy around here, I want to make two things perfectly clear. One, I’m the best infiltrator this rathole of a guild’s got, so if you think you can come in here and replace me, you’re dead wrong. Second, when I give you a job, you follow my lead and do exactly as I say, no questions and no excuses. Got it?”

Cylfin smacked her hand away. “Back off, I know the drill, and I know how to get a job done right.” she shot back.

Vex took a step back, shocked by her reply. A sly smile broke across her face and she crossed her arms. “Well now, you I like. You seemed so eager to please Brynjolf earlier, I took you for some simpering coward. Keep it up and we’ll get along just fine.”

Cylfin nodded, in mutual understanding. Women in this line of work generally became either cold and hard to gain the respect of their male counterparts, or they tended to to simper and agree with anything a man said, often falling into bed with one or more of them, prompting a man to get protective and possessive of them. She couldn't fault either type of woman. You do what you must to survive, and she had taken her fair share of men to her bed, for many reasons other than the pleasure of it.

“So I hear Mercer has you working the Goldenglow job.That wood elf s'wit, no offense, he's a lot smarter than I expected. Can you believe that fetcher had more than tripled the guard? There must have been eight of them in there. It was like he was daring us to come and get him.

Cylfin smirked. “Yeah. I accused Brynjolf of trying to have me murdered on my first job. He told me to come find you. Any tips to get me in there?”

Vex paused, looking thoughtful. “Well, there's an old sewer tunnel that dumps into the lake on the northwest side of the island. That's how I slipped in there. Should still be unguarded.”

Cylfin thanked the woman, then continued on to the Cistern. Once she found Tonilia, she was handed a set of armor and half a dozen lock picks. The redguard spared her just enough time to explain that anything else she needed would have to be bought, or traded for, then she left Cylfin standing beside her bed, feeling particularly overwhelmed by the days events. She stuffed her armor into the chest at the end of her bed, along with her weapons, the potions Brynjolf had given her and her coin purse. She glanced around the large chamber, trying to determine the number of members currently in house. She spotted three others besides Mercer, who was still sitting at his desk. She crawled onto her bed, sitting with her back against the headboard and stared at the ceiling, trying to will her heart to stop racing. She needed sleep, then she might be able to process everything and start learning all of the unofficial rules of the guild before she screwed up so royally she was kicked out.

Climbing under the covers, she snuck a glance at the Guild-Master again. Her fingers itched to run along the ridges of the scar across his face, but she knew better. Even if there was a chance of an encounter between them it would have to wait. She would need to prove herself, or it would look as though she was sleeping with him to solidify her place amongst them and she would lose any credibility she had. The same went for Brynjolf and his soft smiles. Closing her eyes, she began to drift off, aches she didn't know she had melting away as damp warmth of the cistern enveloped her. Her last thoughts were of how she was supposed to report to Sibbi when Brynjolf had made it so clear that Maven would know everything about her soon enough.

Chapter Text

The next morning Cylfin awoke before any of the other guild members. Glancing around she could see seven other figures occupying the beds around the cistern, all in varying states of undress. One man, a particularly large Nord, was completely naked, his bare butt visible for all to see, having kicked off his blankets some time during the night. The woman who slept in the bed next to her own, had completely cocooned herself in her blankets, so only her face was visible. Undisturbed by the visible flesh, she crept from her bed and quietly made her way to the water closet where, gritting her teeth against the cold, she stepped under the waterfall to clean off. Grimacing she washed away the dried blood from her leg and the sweat and dirt from her body from the past few weeks of travel, scrubbing at her scalp with her fingernails and pulling at knots with her fingers. Once she was clean and had dried off with a soft absorbent hide, she donned her new Guild armor and headed to the training room to familiarize herself with the fit. Grabbing a hunting bow and some iron arrows from beside a target she stepped into place and began to fire them one by one at the bullseye. Once all twenty arrows were stuck dead center she moved on to a wooden dummy and began to hack away at it with her daggers. After a solid half an hour she was satisfied that the armor fit her like a glove, allowing for full range of motion, without the danger of being to loose and catching on something during a quick exit.

“One thing the Guild does not skimp out on is our armor.” Came a soft voice from behind her. Whirling around, she came face to face with another bosmer. “When Rune told me he saw a pretty elf girl in the cistern last night, I could scarcely believe it. I had to come see for myself. Not a lot of us try our luck in Skyrim, where elves are so universally hated. I’m Niruin, and you are?” He continued, staring at her with his molten copper eyes.

Sheathing her daggers she replied, “Cylfin. I didn't have many other options. I was born here, Skyrim is my home.”

He nodded, then pointed to the archery target. “Is that your handiwork?” At her nod he smiled. “Ah, then I see you require no additional training before you start taking jobs. You’d be surprised how many of the new recruits can’t handle a bow.”

I’m not surprised.” she responded with a laugh. “I’d be a sad excuse for a bosmer if I hadn’t mastered the bow as a child. Growing up in Windhelm in the grey quarter meant there wasn't much money for food. I started bringing in game by the time I was fourteen. Merchants might not miss an apple or two or some vegetables, but they certainly notice when you try to snitch a venison roast.”

He failed to keep the shocked expression off his face. “Windhelm? You actually grew up in that pitiful excuse for a city. Why on earth would your family choose to settle there?”

She shrugged, her expression closed off. “There wasn't much choice. Father studied restoration magic and devoted his life to seeing if he could manipulate it to work on the land itself. He has some success and developed a way to help crops grow in colder climates. He was hired by Torsten Cruel-Sea to help his farm perform better. When my mother died, he had no reason to do anything other than work and study magic. My sister got out of Windhelm as fast as she could, but I didn't care for her method of escape. I stuck around because I didn't know where else to go.”

“How did you end up in Riften then?” he asked.

“My father died, heavily indebted to Torsten Cruel-Sea. I was kicked out. I came here to inform my sister, Nivenor, about his passing, wound up in jail and got hired by Sibbi to track down an old fiance, got recruited by Brynjolf and that’s the sad story in a nutshell.” she retorted with a wry smirk.

“Ah, so you’re the one Brynjolf was gloating about in the Flagon yesterday. He seems to think you have what it takes. Well, I do hope you succeed where Vex has failed. For one, it’s nice when we can show the humans what we can do. Secondly, perhaps it will take Vex down a peg. She might handle some of the contracts, but she’s a royal pain in the ass to deal with.” he replied, breaking out in a wide smile.

Cylfin shrugged as if it didn't matter to her. “She can be a pain in the ass if she’s good at what she does. I’m guessing the Guild Master is equally a pain in the ass, but he’s the leader, and obviously has the skills to maintain that position. I’d only be concerned if they were piss poor thieves, but walked around like gods.”

She looked over at the other elf and grinned. “What about you Niruin? How did you end up here? I doubt you just decided to come to the most prejudice province in Tamriel on a whim.”

Niruin smirked, hopping up to sit on the bale of straw that held up her archery target. “I used to live in Valenwood working at my father's winery. We made the finest wine to ever cross your lips I promise you. We were doing well, plenty of coin, a huge mansion and I was even betrothed to a lovely young womer.”

Cylfin sneered, rolling her eyes. “Boring!” she replied.

Niruin laughed. “Exactly! It was dull. Every day was the same boring routine; working at the winery, social visits with friends, parties with no one I cared about. I just wanted a little excitement. Something dangerous. So I hooked up with a guild in Valenwood. I think they called themselves the Silver Crescents.”

She nodded. “Yes I’ve heard of them too. Terrorized Valenwood for years when my mother still lived there.”

Niruin eyed his fingernails and paused as he scraped a line of dirt out from underneath them. Satisfied he rubbed his fingers against his leathers to buff them. “I spent quite a few years doing jobs for them, made a lot of coin, but I didn't care a wit about any of it. I didn't really need it. I was running with them because it fit, made me feel alive.”

“So what happened?” she asked, wishing he would get to the point. She at least had the courtesy to summarize her sob story.

“Well, after a while my father caught on to what I was doing. He confronted me one night and gave me a choice. Either leave Valenwood, or he'd have me thrown into jail. Gave me a day to say my goodbyes to everyone. I ended up in Skyrim thanks to a contact I'd made when I was with the Crescents. Good old Delvin introduced me to Gallus, and that was it. I've been here ever since. And you know what? Despite what I left behind, I don't regret it one bit.” he finished with a smirk.

“Wait, who is Gallus?” she asked, thoroughly confused. Surely Brynjolf would have told her about another high ranking thief with the ability to allow others into the Guild.

Niruin smacked his forehead. “Ah right, how stupid of me. You wouldn't have an idea of who I’m referring too. Gallus was the previous Guild Master. Mercer has been in charge for about, well, almost twenty five years now. If you want some advice, don’t mention him to Mercer. They were the best of friends, Mercer was his second in command. I don’t think he’s ever recovered from his death.”

“Noted.” she replied. ‘The last thing I want to do is piss of the Guild Master before I even complete a job. Anything else I should know around here? I trust you won't steer a fellow bosmer wrong?” she asked with a grin.

Niruin thought for a moment, his fingers idly stroking his chin. “Hmm, well, you certainly don't need marksman training, but you can always brush up on your other skills by asking Delvin, Vex or Vipir. If you don’t want to deal with Vex more than you will already have to, I recommend hitting the training room if you need lockpick practice. It certainly helped me out of a jam more than once.”

“Clearly you didn't hear I picked the lock to get to the Flagon yesterday.” she laughed. “Do you think Vex and Delvin will be up? I’m doing the Goldenglow job, but I need to get my things from Windhelm first. I’m hoping one of them has something I can do up there to make it worth my while.”

“Delvin will be at the Flagon if he’s up at all. I’d check there first.” Niruin replied, waving her off. “Oh and Cylfin, keep me in mind if you ever need to, well, vent some frustration, dealing with all these stubborn manmer.” The wink he sent was smoldering, leaving no question as to how he was suggesting she vent some frustration.

She gestured rudely, but the smile spreading across her face took away the sting of it. His laughed echoed through the training room as he sauntered off.

She grabbed the arrows from the practice target and set them down beside the bow, then went to find Delvin. She had already spoken to Vex last night and wanted to acquaint herself with all the ranking members of the Guild.

As Niruin had said, the Breton sat at the table beside the tavern counter, drink in front of him while he sawed through a venison steak. The smell wafted towards her and she couldn't disguise the rumble that emanated from her stomach. Delvin turned in his seat and chuckled when he saw her.

“Brynjolf’s new project, huh? Lemme guess. He plucked you off the street and dropped you into the thick of things without tellin’ you which way is up. Am I right?”

“I’m pretty sure he left out some important bits. I could use some direction.” she admitted as she took a seat in the chair across from him. Where as Vex wouldn’t appreciate any brown nosing, she got the impression Delvin wouldn’t respect any bravado without her first proving it to him.

The Breton smiled widely, smacking the table with his hand. “See, that kind of attitude comes from someone who wants to get rich and stay alive long enough to enjoy it. We're goin’ to get along nicely.”

He gestured to Vekel, who was sleepily sweeping behind the counter, as a leg of venison slowly turned over the fire. Vekel brought over a plate of food and a mug of ale, then went back to sweeping.

“This meal’s on me sweetheart, but then you gots to fend for yourself.” he said, gesturing for her to dig in. “So, Bryn tells me you’re in. If you've got the nerve, I've got plenty of extra jobs to help get the Guild back on its feet.”

“Back on its feet?” she inquired.

Delvin sighed deeply, sitting back in his chair. “Look around you.” he replied, swing his arms around. “The Flagon, the Guild, it's all fallin' apart. A few decades ago, this place was as busy as the Imperial City. Now, you're lucky if you don't trip over a skeever instead.”

“I asked Brynjolf about that. Seems the Guild has been falling apart over the last number of years. Why is that?” she asked, taking a bite of venison, rolling her eyes with pleasure as the juices burst over her tongue.

Delvin stared at her a moment, then frowned and shook his head. Leaning closer to her he lowered his voice when he answered. “Look, I know the others think I'm a bit daft for sayin' stuff like this, but I'm gonna give it to you straight. Somethin' out there is piss-drunk mad at us. I don't know who or what it is, but it's beyond just you and me. I say we've been cursed.”

Cylfin let out a bark of laughter, but quickly bit her tongue when Delvin scowled at her. Composing herself she asked. “In all seriousness Delvin, what you suggest we do about it then. How do we get the Guild back on its feet if we’re all cursed?”

“I'll tell you what we do. We spit in that curse's face and turn things around down here. Put things back the way they were. That's where you come in. I've got plenty of work available that could guide us down the road to recovery. All you need to do is ask and we can both come out of this smellin' like a rose.”

“I doubt anything will make us smell like roses down here.” she quipped with a cheeky grin, “But I’m in. I was actually hoping you have something up in Windhelm. I need to get some of my stuff from an old friend up there, so I may as well complete a job while I’m there.”

Delvin scratched his chin as he thought about it. “Windhelm hmm? Windhelm, Windhelm. Whelp, lucky for you I got just the thing, a Bedlam job, with a specific requirement. Viola Giordano, it seems, has gotten a bit too big for her britches. Maven wants her put in her place. Normally we’d just send you to Windhelm hold to steal five hundred septims worth of, um, merchandise. Maven wants Viola to provide the bulk of it. Think you can handle it?”

“There isn't a home in Windhelm that I can’t get into.” she replied with a cocky smirk. “I’ve always hated Viola. She likes to wander the Grey Quarter and threaten the residents there that she’ll convince Ulfric to raise their taxes. That city breeds resentment naturally, but she stirs it up for the fun of it. Consider it done.”

“Finally, someone here with backbone.” he replied, with a crooked smile. “Just remember, keep….”

“Keep it clean. I know!” she interrupted him with a cry. “Sibbi is going to cause me more trouble than he’s worth.” she lamented with a deep sigh.

“Ha, if you’ve got him as an ally, the trouble will be more than worth it. Don’t take it personally luv. I tell all the new recruits the same thing. Personal experience and all that.” he replied, the cheerful gleam in his eyes dimming.

“What you do you mean by that?” she asked, finishing off her meal.

“That, my girl, is privileged information. Do right by me, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell you about it one day.” he replied. In an instant the gloom in his demeanor was once again replaced by a carefree smile and a slick wink.

Deciding not to push it she thanked him for the meal and headed back to the cistern. She decided against bringing a pack with her, for all too often they were searched. She slid a handful of lockpicks into various hidden pockets in her armor, slid her coin purse, now much heavier since her meeting with Ingun, under her armor, then shut the lid of her chest with a heavy thud. While Brynjolf may have said her things were safe she still locked it for good measure.

She felt someone's presence behind her, the heat emanating from their body all the more noticeable in the damp morning chill. She turned around slowly and found herself looking up into Brynjolf’s piercing green eyes.

“Delvin tells me you’re off to Windhelm before you even try Goldenglow.” he stated, his voice hard with disappointment. “Running away already lass?”

“I’m going to pick up a few of my things in Windhelm before I attempt that job Brynjolf. I asked Delvin for a job up there so I can accomplish two things at once.” she replied, shoving past him.

He made the mistake of grabbing her arm and twirling her around. “What could you possibly need in Windhelm. Mercer gave you an order.”

Faster than he could blink there was a dagger against his throat and the deadly look in her copper eyes had him swallowing hard. “I warned you not to grab me like that ever again. Consider this your last warning.” she hissed, lowering her hand and sheathing the dagger again.

“You want to send me on a suicidal mission, after you know the best infiltrator nearly got her ass handed to her. I’m not setting foot on that island without a few of my things that will help me out. I know Mercer wants it done quick, but I’m betting he wants it done right as well. If I take the carriage I will be back in four days. I left my things up there with a friend, because as a transient, I had nowhere to keep them. I need them now and I will be completing another job that apparently Maven wants done as well.”

Brynjolf rubbed his throat, eyeing her warily. “Aye lass, have it your way then. I’ll keep Mercer off you back. Just know this, it’s not good for your health to threaten the second most ranking Guild member. If you hadn’t warned me before, and I’ll admit my mistake, you’d be at the bottom of the lake right now.” he replied, his eyes harsh with resentment.

“Then we both know where we stand. Don’t manhandle me, and I won’t threaten your life again, so there's no need to threaten mine. I may not have much of a life, but it is mine.” she responded with an overly sweet smile. “I’ll see you in five days, and the Goldenglow job will be done in six.” she promised.

********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

The gloom in Windhelm was oppressing and the moment she was once again inside its walls she was itching to get out. Even in the well lit, prosperous parts of the city, the atmosphere was depressing, and she hoped to conclude her business as quickly as possible. She had rented a room at Candlehearth hall, unwilling to ask Revyn to put her up when she was in fact here on business, and robbing Viola no less. That woman made it her mission to make the dark elves in the city miserable, and wanted to keep him out of this as much as possible.

When darkness fell and the torches burned low she made her way thru the streets of the city to Viola’s home. Getting into the house was pitifully easy. She hadn’t changed the locks of her home in all the years Cylfin had lived here, and Viola’s home had been too big a thrill to not break into. She had never taken anything, but knowing she could had been a rush for a young elf of seventeen. Ste stole inside, silent as a moth and made her way thru the manor. As she searched, she was surprised by how little Viola actually had. She found a few coin purses, a silver necklace by the sleeping woman’s bed and a few potions in her end table, including a strong paralytic poison and a water breathing potion. All in all she estimated she had a couple hundred septims worth of goods, but she didn't know if Delvin would be satisfied. Frustrated she exited the home as quietly as possible and fled back to the inn.

The next morning she made her way through the uneven streets to Revyn’s shop. Near the gates to the docks she passed by a pretty little street urchin, begging her to buy flowers. Seeing that the child had some nightshade, she purchased it, then as if wishing for history to repeat itself, she crouched down and handed the child a handful of septims and a few lockpicks.

Sophie, as she had called herself seemed shocked, but thanked her as she ran off, most likely to buy a meal from the market. Cylfin rose from her crouch, dusting off her breeches and sighed. She wished the little nord well, hoping she learned to use those picks, thinking it would be better for her to die early, being caught a thief, than to be forced into a lifetime on her back, the fate of so many pretty orphaned girls in Skyrim.

As she continued on her way she couldn't help the surge of rage she felt for Ulfric. How could the man claim to be the rightful high king of Skyrim, to care for all it’s citizens, when the man couldn’t even be trusted to rule his own city. Everywhere she looked in the Grey Quarter, showed signs of rampant poverty. Stone walls of homes were patched with broken boards, trash littered the streets, addicts huddled in doorways, and only half the torch lamps were lit, which only served to further the districts nickname, as the streets were always gloomy and cast in grey shadows.

She pushed open the door to Revyn’s shop, the little ringing bell making her smile. Revyn strode from his room, his voice tinged with gloom. “Welcome to Sadri’s Fine…...Cylfin. You’re back again.” he cried, rushing towards her and hugging her tightly.

She laughed. “I told you I would be when I found someplace to settle down.” she replied, returning his hug and kissing his cheek. “I won’t be here long, I have to get home right away, but I had a job to complete up here and thought I would get my things as well.

“I’m glad to see you, but it’s good to hear you finally found somewhere to settle. Though I should apologize to you.” he replied, his voice filled with self pity.

“Why? What did you do to me?” she asked, pulling him into his room, flopping down to to sit on his bed.

“Why do you always go to my bed first. It’s inappropriate for you to be in here.” he sighed shaking his head at her.

“Get stuffed Rev. I’ve seen you naked in this bed. I’ve felt you naked in this bed. Lying on it on my own is the least inappropriate thing I’ve done here.” she replied with a wink. “Now what is it you’re apologizing for?”

Revyn began to pace the length of his bedroom, avoiding her eyes. “I told you I couldn’t risk having you live here with me due to your, well, proclivity for stealing. Then I go make a mess of my life all on my own.” he replied.

“What did you do Revyn?” she asked, sitting up straighter. “Are you in trouble with someone?”

“By Azura, I’ve made a terrible mistake Cylfin. I bought a gold ring off a customer first thing this morning. Her insistence on dealing with me before I opened should have been a tip off, but she said she wanted to catch the morning carriage and needed to sell it to afford the fare. When I went to see Aval for some meat, it was all over the market place this morning. Viola is missing a ring that looks just like it. You know what will happen if she finds it in my store. She’ll go to Ulfric immediately. I’m barely getting by as it is.” he bemoaned.

Cylfin frowned. No wondered she hadn’t find much of value, someone else had hit Viola’s before she had even entered the house. “Can I see it?” she asked.

Revyn opened the chest at the end of his bed and pulled out the ring and handed it to her. It was heavy, solid gold, set with two small emeralds and a flawless garnet. It was worth a small fortune. “How much did you pay for this Revyn?”

“About $100 septims. Another red flag now that I think of it. It’s obviously worth more than than. She just insisted she needed to get to the carriage and would take whatever she could get.”

“What did she look like?” Cylfin asked, her frustration mounting. Not only was Revyn an idiot, but she was worried someone in the Guild was trying to make her look bad.

“She was Dunmer. It’s why I didn't think much of it at first. We all want out of this city, and who am I to stop someone who succeeded?

That gave her pause. She knew she hadn’t met all the guild members yet, but Niruin hadn’t mentioned any other elves being part of the Guild, and she was sure he would have if there were any. Elven solidarity and all that.

“I’ll take it off your hands Revyn.” she said, handing him a one of the purses she took from Viola’s house the night before. “She won’t be able to find it here if I have it, and to be honest, those in my line of work will appreciate it more.” She grinned at him, then laughed when he let his head drop into his hands.

“Of course. You fell in with the Thieves Guild in Riften when you went to see your sister didn't you. Well at least you’re a legit thief now.” he sighed.

“You know you don't have to worry about me right Rev? I won’t take jobs involving your shop.” she replied solemnly.

“But others will?” he asked mournfully.

“I’m not the Guild Master Rev. I can’t promise anything for anyone else. I can't even say if you pay us for protection. The Guild dried up here more than a decade ago. They may not provide that kind of protection here anymore.” she replied. When his face fell she sighed. “But I’ll see what I can do ok? Now how about you put on some food while I get my things. I’m catching the evening carriage back to Riften.”

Revyn retreated to the small room that acted as a makeshift kitchen and stoked the fire under some left over stew. She turned to another small chest in his bedroom and took out her key, lifting the lid slowly as she peered inside.

The smell of dried mountain flowers and snowberries overwhelmed her, nearly causing her to lose her composure as tears threatened. Inside sat all her worldly possessions, wrapped in an old fur cloak her father had worn for warmth whenever he would go out to Torsten’s farm. She pulled the bundle out of the chest and unwrapped it, careful not to spill it’s contents.

Her parents wedding rings were wrapped in a small silk handkerchief and they clinked together as she pulled it apart. Her father’s ring had a very powerful fortify magicka enchantment. It helped him when he was researching restoration spells and casting them on the earth. She slipped it onto her left thumb, the only finger large enough for it to fit. Her mother’s ring fortified one’s sneaking abilities, which she had found useful when she had hunted. Cylfin slipped it her right ring finger and smiled. She’d always loved her parents simple silver wedding bands.

The silver necklace her mother had given her had a muffle enchantment on it. When she had first taught Cylfin to hunt, she’d been disastrous at sneaking, so her mother spent a small fortune on the enchantment to help her out until she improved her skills. She pulled the chain over her head, letting the small silver disc rest inside the shallow valley between her breasts. Finally she lifted the elven bow her father had given her shortly after her her fourteenth birthday. Her mother had hunted with it every day when they moved to Windhelm, determined to make a life for her family after her own had disowned her, for choosing a poor, aspiring mage, rather than marrying the well to do merchant her parents had chosen for her.

Cylfin didn't even realize she was sobbing until she felt Revyn’s hand on her back as he sat beside her and pulled her into his arms. He was the only one in the whole world she felt comfortable enough to cry in front of, but she did it so rarely it always made him uncomfortable. She took several deep breaths to calm herself, wiping at her eyes to dry them.

“Thank you Rev. I’m better now, sorry for crying.” she whispered.

“I only worry about how sad you must be when the world causes even the strongest womer I know to let her guard down and cry. If you need me, I will always be here for you.” he replied softly.

Her lips found their way to his, pressing against them softly. It was a sweet kiss, filled with an old intimacy, long over. No fires burned out of control, just a soft glow of friendship, understanding and old memories. He stroked her back with soft hands until she pulled away. “Come on now, the stew is hot and you should be on your way soon.” he said, pressing another soft kiss to the of of her head. “You will keep in touch with me right? You won’t leave me to rot here all alone.”

“I’d never forget you Rev.” she replied, smiling.

He hauled her to her feet, and teased, wheedling a laugh from her as he led her to the kitchen to fill her belly with a hot meal before she left.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

She didn’t even return to the cistern when she arrived back in Riften two days later. She simply rented a room from Keerava, locked her purloined items in a chest, then made her way to the docks and dove into the lake, swimming steadily towards the island. She found the old sewer where Vex had mentioned and climbed inside, making her way through the maze of tunnels, shooting any skeevers she found to keep them from alerting anyone topside of her presence. Once she reached the ladder that would take her up beside Aringoth’s front door she waited until darkness fell, finding it easier to navigate the island in the dark. Luck was on her side this night, as the sky opened up with a roar of thunder, pouring down a torrent of rain. The noise would cover her intrusion.

Aringoth had spent a great deal of money on replacing the locks of his home, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle. She crept inside, peeking in all the rooms for mercenaries and loot, refusing to let go an opportunity to find something valuable. In a small room near the back of the house she found a small locked box and happily picked it, extracting two sapphires, and a pouch that weighed enough to tell her, without stopping to count it, she had found a few hundred septims.

She made her way to the upstairs level once it became apparent that Aringoth was not hiding on the lower floor. It took a long time for her to search, there were at least four mercenaries on this floor, and unfortunately they were professionals, not even the least bit tired as they patrolled.

Finally she made it to the last bedroom, picked the lock and pushed open the door, slowly to avoid any noise. She slipped inside, shutting the door behind her then looked around. She nearly laughed when she spotted, not a Bosmer, as vex had led her to believe, but an Altmer, crouched down beside a bookshelf, cowering from the violent flashes of light and rolling thunder. She must have let slip a giggle because he jumped, turing to face her. His mouth turned down into a bitter scowl.

“Worthless mercenaries. I didn't think Maven or Mercer would allow me to get away with this, but I had little choice.”

“Everyone has a choice. For instance, I’m just here for the key to your safe, but if you provided some information about why you’ve had to turn on the Guild, I might be willing to speak to Mercer on your behalf. Elven solidarity and all that, even if you are a high elf.” she replied cheekily.

“I can't. If I do, I may as well cut my own throat.” he stammered. “There are things going on here beyond your comprehension.”

“See that was the wrong answer you golden bastard.” she growled. “What makes you think I won’t end you here and now?”

“You wouldn’t dare.” he replied, trying to sound more confident than he was. “That’s not your way.”

“Oh Aringoth, you poor, demented idiot.” she chirped, her voice almost sing-song in tone. “You upset the wrong people, so I have permission to take drastic measures for this one.” Since he wasn’t shouting for the guards and he hadn’t attacked her yet, she began to roam around his room, reading the titles of his books on the bookshelf, admiring a bee he kept jarred on his bedside table. “It’s your choice Aringoth. Die by my hand now, or perhaps escape with your life, if you can convince me to let you run.”

“"Fine. Take it! Once the new owner finds out I gave in, I'm as good as dead anyways” he replied miserably, reaching into a pocket in his robes and tossing her the key he fished out.

“Hmm, a high elf with a brain.” she sneered, catching the key in mid air. “So any last bits on information you feel like passing on to Mercer? I promise to put in a good word for you.” she urged, the sing song returning to her voice.

“I've already said too much. I gave you what you came here for, now go. Leave me in peace.” he begged.

“Don’t say I didn't offer.” she laughed. She turned to leave, but something shiny caught her eye. On a small nightstand on the other side of his bed sat a solid gold statuette of a honeybee. She leaped over his bed and picked it up, delighted by the weight of it. “Oh, and I’m taking this. Consider it back pay for cutting off the Guild.”

“Fine, whatever you want. Just leave!!” he demanded.

She snuck back down to the lower floor and made her way down to the cellar. When she saw the safe she snorted with annoyance. She could have picked it in less time than it took to track Aringoth down, but it was too late now. She grabbed everything inside it, then spotting a trap door in the floor, hopped back down into the sewer tunnels.

A quick swim to the back of the island brought her up behind the fence hiding the hives. With a cocky smirk she blasted a flames spell at three of the hives. The rain was making it difficult to burn them, but she managed to get all three alight before shouts from around the manor caught her attention. The fires had alerted the guards to her presence, so she took off running. She slid down the rocks, back into the lake and swam as fast as she could to shore.

When she reached the docks there was an enormous Nord standing at the top of the stairs staring at her. “Did you start that?” he asked gruffly.

“Yep.” she replied with a gasp. She was exhausted and out of breath.

“Maybe my brother was wrong about you.” he replied, breaking out into a grim smile. “Name’s Maul. You need any dirt on anyone in or outside of the Guild, you come find me alright? Dirge owes me a drink.” he finished with a laugh.

She nodded, half dead on her feet from fatigue, but she managed to shuffle back to the inn and fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.

********************************************************************************************************************************************************

“Word on the street is Goldenglow's been hit. Good job.”

Cylfin had barely gotten down the ladder to the cistern when she heard Brynjolf behind her.

“Yes, that is the word I've heard.” she replied, laughing at her own cleverness. “Here's what was in the safe.”

She handed him a slip of parchment that had been coated in beeswax and the coin purse that had been beside it.

“Let me take a look at what you found.” Brynjolf said as he unrolled the waxed document and scanned it. Suddenly he began cursing. “Aringoth sold Goldenglow? What's that idiot thinking? He has no idea the extent of Maven's fury when she's been cut out of a deal.”

“I did try to warn him, but he refused to talk.” she replied and she strode past him to her bed. She knelt in front of her chest, unlocking it and placing her belongs from Revyn’s inside. “I don’t think he believed me that Maven might kill him if he didn't tell me more.”

“Aye, but I’m certain he'll find out.” Brynjolf replied. “If only the parchment had the buyer's name instead of this odd symbol. Any idea what that may be?”

She shook her head. “No idea. Like I said, I tried to get more out of him, but he told me that there are things going on here beyond my comprehension.” she replied, exaggerating what Aringoth said to mock him.

“Blast and damn him to Oblivion!” Brynjolf cursed again. “Well, I'll check my sources and ask Mercer.I’ll see what I can come up with. As for you, congratulations on completing the job. I was worried about you there before you left for Windhelm. Thought we might have scared you off.”

He extended his hand to her, waiting for her to take it. She smiled and gripped it firmly and shook it. “I told you, I had things to get before I went in there. Those mercenaries were no joke. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to speak to Devlin.” she retorted. She turned on her heel and headed towards the door to the flagon, a smug sway in her hips, a skip in her step.

Brynjolf couldn't help that his eyes lingered on her backside as she walked away. A cough to the left of his ear had him shaking himself to break his stare. “Ah, Mercer, here, you’ll want to have a look at this.” Brynjolf muttered lamely when she saw the Guild Master standing beside him.

“Keep your mind on your job Brynjolf. Take it from me, and never trust an elf. Gallus did and look what happened to him.” Mercer warned as he took the parchment from Brynjolf's hand.

Brynjolf flushed with embarrassment, he was forty-three years old and he’d been caught gawking like a callow youth. “Aye Mercer. Still she fills out her leathers nicely, and there’s no harm in looking.”

“I won’t argue with you about her rear Bryn, but there’s plenty of harm if she distracts you from your work. I won’t warn you again. It’s never a good idea to mix business with pleasure.” Mercer sneered. “Now let’s see what she found.”

Mercer scanned the page and cursed, louder and more colorfully than Brynjolf had. “That slimy, good for nothing elf bastard. Maven’s going to kill us.” he hissed.

“You Mercer, she’s going to kill you. I don't envy the fact you’re going to have to tell her she can expect to start finding honey elsewhere.” Brynjolf frowned. “Might be time to fill her in on your idea for Sabjorn.” he suggested.

Mercer’s eyes flashed with anger. “Yes, well I’ll set up a meeting. That plan will take some time to implement. As for the elf. If she was able to get this accomplished I want her out on as many jobs as she can handle. We could use some luck around here for once.” he growled. “I’ll see what I can find out. You make sure she doesn't decide to leave.”

As Brynjolf walked away turned back and noticed that Mercer’s eyes were wild with rage, and they hadn’t left the door of the Flagon.
*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

“Delvin, who’s your new favorite thief?” Cylfin inquired, trailing her fingers across his shoulders as she walked behind him, coming around the table to sit in the chair across from his.

“Depends luv. What did you bring me?” he replied with a chuckle.

Cylfin grinned and held up the sack she had brought with Viola’s goods in it. “As requested, there’s at least five hundred septims worth of good in there, all donated by Windhelm’s resident bitch Viola.” she replied.

“Well, well. Maven will be happy to hear Viola’s had a change of fortune.” he replied. “I hear things got really heated up at Goldenglow as well. Seems it won't be long before you’re making a name for yourself down here.”

“Will this add any points to my reputation?” she asked, pulling the bee statuette from another sack at her feet. “It caught my eye in Aringoth’s room.”

Delvin’s eyes went wide with delight. “Oh luv, this will definitely help. I’ve been looking for this little beauty. Lost track of it for a while. Here, take this. Payment for the Windhelm job and a bonus for bringing this little bumble back. If you happen across any other unusual trinkets like this, be sure and bring them to me. I promise it'll be worth the effort.”

She laughed and ordered a drink from Vekel. "Keep lining my pockets with gold and I’ll traipse around the entire province looking for buttons if that’s what you want Delvin.”

“That’s good to hear lass.”

Cylfin jumped in her chair when she heard Brynjolf’s rolling lilt. “What do you mean?” she asked roughly, upset she’d been caught off guard.

“Mercer was impressed with you Cylfin. He told me he wants you out on as many jobs as you can handle. It’s been a while since we had a run of luck like this, and we’re not letting it go to waste.” he replied. Slapping Delvin’s back Brynjolf laughed. “Orders are to get her out as often as possible. Tell Vex the same and get this girl a couple jobs. We could use the coin.”

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

Chapter Text

They had jobs a plenty for her. She spent the next two weeks travelling the roads of Skyrim, swiping heirlooms, tampering with ledgers and framing targets. When Cylfin returned from her most recent jobs in Markarth she was exhausted by the pace. She dropped off her items to Delvin and Vex, then fell into bed, stopping only to peel off her armor, leaving her clad in a linen undershirt and her smalls. A few hours later rough hands shook her awake.

“Hey you, elf! You need to get up, you’re being summoned.” said a soft voice, that didn't match the calloused hands on her bare legs.

She came awake instantly, staring at the new face with blurry eyes. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The man’s face came into focus as she blinked. He had a warm smile and beautiful grey eyes. “I’m Rune. Sorry to have to wake you after only a few hours of sleep, I saw you come in.” he replied with an apologetic shrug.

“I haven’t seen you before.” she stated, rubbing her eyes.

“I’ve been gone a few weeks. Special job. I only found out about you when I got back a few days ago. You can ask more questions once you’ve cleared up things with Mercer. He wants to talk to you.”
She scrambled out of bed and threw on her armor. “Thank you Rune. I appreciate you telling me.” she looked around the cistern, but couldn't see Mercer. “Where is he?”

“Oh right. He’s in his room. If you head down the hall to the Flagon, he has his own quarters on the left hand side. Knock before you go in, or you’ll never hear the end of it.” the man replied. “Good luck.”

She sprinted across the cistern, smacking her face to try and wake herself up a bit more. She slowed her steps as she reached his door, then taking a deep breath, she knocked.

“Come in and close the door behind you.” the gravel in his voice sent a shiver up her spine.

She sighed, telling herself to stop being an idiot and focus on her job, not the way his voice curled her toes. She pushed open the door and stepped inside, shutting it softly behind her.

‘I was told you wanted to see me.” she said lamely, unable to stop herself from staring at him when he turned to face her. Even though she could tell he was agitated, by the way his body was coiled tighter than a spring, the man’s face was expressionless. Her fingers itched to brush the stubble on his chin. Thinking back to the few times she’d even seen Mercer, the man appeared to be in a perpetual state of one days beard growth, and she wanted to feel it on her skin. She sent a silent thanks to the gods that there was a wooden table between them.

Mercer’s eyes seemed to burn through her as he stared back. When she didn’t blink he scowled. “Yes, I got a message from Sibbi Black-Briar. He was released yesterday and sent a message stating he wants to see you. I want to know the exact nature of your relationship with him.” he stated.

“Brynjolf didn’t fill you in?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

“I want to hear it directly from you.” he sneered, the bland expression melting into one of contempt.

“Sibbi asked me to find his ex-fiance. I did so. I came back and got paid for it. He then asked me to stick around Riften because he may want to send me on other jobs. I told him I’d find him if I was interested. End of story.” she replied, leaning against the damp stone wall of his room. She crossed her arms. “I didn’t realized his eight months were up already.”

“You left out the parts where you killed Svidi and are sleeping with Sibbi.” he accused, his voice hard with anger. “We don’t kill. It’s the first damn rule of the Guild you stupid elf.” He slammed his fists down against the table, knocking over a stack of documents resting there.

“I’m aware of the rule!” she shouted back, instantly defensive. She stalked over to the table and leaned forward, resting her hands on the side of it. “I wasn’t part of the Guild when I did that job for Sibbi and it was my life or hers. It’s not my go to solution, but I had no other options without losing her completely and telling Sibbi I lost her. Either she killed me or Sibbi would. I happen to like breathing.”

Her eyes flashed with anger as she continued her tirade. “As for sleeping with Sibbi, where in Oblivion did you hear that? When would I have had the chance? He’s been sitting in a gilded cell for eight months and the guards certainly don’t allow conjugal visits. I know because he complained often enough about it during the week I spent in the cell across from him. He flirted, I was bored and flirted back. Even if I do get involved with him, it’s not your business who I keep between my thighs as long as it doesn't interfere with my ability to do business.”

“Why you insolent..” he started.

She interrupted him, banging her on fist on the table. “I’ve done what you asked, when you asked with no questions. Have I disappointed you in any way when it comes to a job? Yes or No?”

“That’s not the issue here!” he yelled back.

“Yes or no!” she repeated, her voice deadly.

“No!” he grumbled. “So far you’ve managed to pull off every job you’ve been given. Don’t think for a minute though that I won’t throw your ass out of the Guild if you start mouthing off.” he warned.

He handed her a piece of paper. “He’s got a job for you. Obviously his mother knows about this one, or he wouldn’t have told me about it. He knows I report to her. I want to make this clear Cylfin, we work for Maven, nothing happens in Riften without her finding out about it. Don’t do anything for Sibbi that will jeopardize our relationship with her. That being said, her heir apparent, Hemming, is a waste of human flesh. It’s a poorly kept secret that Maven will eventually be setting Sibbi up to take her place as the Patron of the Guild, so it’s equally important to not piss him off. Enjoy the juggling act elf!” he sneered.

“So do you hate all elves or is it just me in particular?” she asked, pinning him down with her eyes.

“What are you talking about?”

“You say ‘elf’ like it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. I haven’t had a chance to ask Niruin if he suffers the same condescension, or if you just have it out for me.” she replied, leaning in closer to him. She couldn’t help herself. This close, she could smell him, an intoxicating mix of sweat, leather, juniper berry oil and power. She suppressed a shudder of desire, but her heart pounded so hard she was certain he could hear it.

“I dislike cocky new recruits that think they don’t need to follow the rules.” he responded, glaring at her.

“Whatever Mercer, I haven’t broken the rules and I don’t act better than I am. It’s not cockiness, it’s confidence. I’ll never claim to do anything I know I can't handle.” she smirked, turning on her heel and heading for the door.

“You can’t be this good at everything you do Cylfin!” she shouted at her back.

“Watch me!” she yelled back, gesturing rudely before slamming the door behind her.

For a long, silent moment Mercer stared at the door, fuming. He slowly let go the breath he’d been holding, unclenching his fists as he did so. It had been a close thing between strangling her or kissing her smart mouth until her attitude improved, he admitted to himself. It had been a long time since someone was able to affect him like this, and how much she affected him was evident in the aching in his loins and the pain his chest.

“She’s too astute for her own good.” he muttered to himself. “That one spells trouble.”

************************************************************************************

Maul was standing outside the Black-Briar townhouse with a scowl on his face when she made her way to the upper levels of Riften. “Oh it’s you again. What do you want?” he asked his scowl deepening.

“Sibbi requested I meet him here. Don’t know why we can’t meet at the inn or something, but here I am.” she replied with a smile.

The door swung open before Maul could reply.

“I asked you to meet me here because Mother is at the Bee and Barb conducting business. If we meet there she’ll hear about it.” Sibbi replied with a scowl. “Get inside, I don’t need all of Riften gawking at you.”

She shrugged her shoulders at Maul and grinned, then stepped inside, allowing Sibbi to close the door behind her. He gestured for her to follow him, leading her into the open sitting room on the left of the main entrance. He sat in one of the chairs and nodded to the one across from him, indicating she join him.

“So my little thief, you stayed after all?” he asked with a laugh. “Was it the money, or the thought of my body, once I finally got out of that skeever hole, that kept you here?”

“If you’re expecting me to bolster your pride and act like some nitwit, fawning over your physique, you’ve picked the wrong elf Sibbi. You’re attractive, to say otherwise is a lie, but I’m not the kind of girl to wait around for the chance of bedding anyone. If that’s what you want you’ll find Svana more than willing to accommodate you.” she replied, without emotion.

“Ah Cylfin, I truly did miss you these last few weeks. No one else but my mother argues with me like you do. I could have you killed in an instant, yet you don’t pander to me. I do like that about you.” he replied with a slick smile.

“Ah…I remind you of your mother. Just what I always hoped to hear from a man.” she replied sarcastically, reaching down for the goblet of wine he had poured for her.

“I admire many things about my mother. She’s strong-willed, a ruthless business woman and strong enough to have raised three children and rise to a level of power most people only dream of, on her own. Don’t mistake my admiration for attraction Cylfin. I’d sooner slit my throat then take any woman to bed who looked even remotely like mother.” he snapped, his green eyes flashing a warning.

She nodded her head to him as a silent apology. She crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair. “So Sibbi, what is it you need me for? You can’t honestly think I’d believe it was only for a quick lay, not when you requested me through Mercer. I can’t believe you invited me here for the sake of secrecy either, since you know as well as I do that Mercer will report this meeting to your mother.”

“Of course I know Mercer will tell her about this. I’m counting on it. This is a test for both of us. She appreciated your handiwork with Goldenglow, but that wasn’t enough proof of your abilities for her. She gave me an order to have someone framed in Dawnstar. Naturally she doesn’t expect me to do it myself, I’d be recognizable. She expects me to find someone to do this for me. She could do it herself, but with all the problems Mercer’s been having with jobs going wrong she doesn't trust his judgement right now, so instead she’s leaving me to find someone. I want you to do it. It will prove your worth to her, it will redeem me marginally in her eyes, and accomplishes what she wants done all in one go.” he explained casually.

Cylfin narrowed her eyes as she thought it over. When he put it that way it sounded like Maven wanted to do business behind Mercer’s back and that didn’t sit well with her. He was still the leader of the Guild and for all that he acknowledged Maven as incredibly important to their success, she doubted he would sit idly by and allow Maven to replace him.

“I don’t like it Sibbi. This sounds like your mother wants a replacement for Mercer.” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m not starting that war.

“She isn’t replacing Mercer, so much as she’s questioning the abilities of his employees. The last few recruits they’ve had are either still in prison, or they’ve gone and lost their head.” he snickered at his own joke. “If you can accomplish this I think she’ll see it as his choice in thieves is improving, which will go a long way to restoring her confidence in the Guild. Surely you must be aware of the problems it’s been having.”

“Brynjolf thinks it’s bad luck, Delvin thinks its a curse. Either way, yes, I am aware of the Guild’s slow demise. Bryn’s been sending me off on as many jobs as he can, given my success rate. Skyrim is full of lazy people with fat purses, who no longer believe we are a threat.” she replied, rolling her eyes. “So you want me to change that and think I can do so by framing this target, and you think Mercer will be grateful for my help?”

At his nod she began laughing. “I knew you were crazy. He’s looking for every excuse to get rid of me.”

“He won’t be once you do this. It will pay handsomely, and Mercer’s cut will make him happier than a drunk in the meadery.”

Cylfin squeezed her eyes shut, rubbing them with her hand. “Fine, give me the details.”

“It’s simple. Dawnstar is run by an incredibly paranoid, incompetent old man. The only reason he hasn’t simply been eliminated is his he doesn’t go anywhere without his housecarl Jod. Jarl Skald is a staunch supporter of Ulfric Stormcloak, so of course he surrounded himself with stormcloak guards ages ago and it’s nearly impossible to unseat him.” Sibbi started to explain.

“No.” she interrupted. “I told you when we last spoke that I have no interest in being your personal assassin. It will get me kicked of the guild faster than I could blink.”

Sibbi began to laugh, a cold, hard sound. “Always so skeptical of my motives. I don’t want you to kill him. That would further strengthen the support that Dawnstar has for Ulfric if it looks like an Imperial assassination.” His eyes went hard as he looked at her. “It would be far better if something happened to push Skald’s paranoia over the edge, something that will cause his own people to turn against him.” he explain, lounging back in his chair to watch her reaction.

“What is it you want done to accomplish this?” she asked suspiciously. “You specifically mentioned his housecarl, so I’m guessing it has something to to with him.”

“Very good Cylfin, you’re following along splendidly. I have a letter and 2 flawless sapphires I need to to plant on him. The letter will be from one of Tullius lesser generals. If it came from Tullius or Rikke it would seem too far fetched. They would never lower themselves to do the dirty work personally. Here is the letter. The stones will be mentioned as payment. If Skald reacts as he should, Jod will be executed for treason to his Jarl. The man will start seeing betrayal in everyone. Tullius’s men won't even need to bloody their swords. Skald’s own people will remove him from power for him.

Cylfin looked over the letter, reading it three times before she smiled at him. “It’s a nearly flawless plan. I see you even managed to find a legion stamp for the letter.”

“As I said, mother has her influences.” Sibbi replied with a playful smirk. “But you said nearly flawless. What do you think is missing?”

She rolled her eyes, disappointed that he didn't see it. “What’s to stop Dawnstar from replacing Skald with another Jarl just as loyal to Ulfric? How can you be sure this will work in the Legions favor?”

“Young Jarls are easily bought, and if they prove to be difficult, they often don’t have the battle experience that Skald obviously has. Either way it helps until Tullius’s army can gain control of Dawnstar.”

“And it benefits Maven how exactly?” she asked, still not quite seeing the connection.

“Simple, someone high up asked for her help in this. It’s why we are still using someone from within the Guild. Only a thief could handle this kind of a plant and everyone knows of her influence on your Guild Master. If this plan succeeds, it will help solidify her ties within the higher ranks of the Empire.”

“Alright, this should be easy enough.” she replied, folding up the letter and tucking it into her belt bag. “Do you have a time limit on this?”

Sibbi stood and offered his hand to help her from her chair. “Not exactly. The sooner you finish this the better, but I understand that it will be difficult to get close to Jod. He’s nearly as paranoid as Skald is. We need this done perfectly, not quickly.”

“Duly noted.” she replied, “Now was there anything else you needed me for?”

Sibbi tightened his grip on her hand and pulled her closer. She felt his arms slip around her waist, trapping her there as he looked deep into her eyes. “I’ve still been without the comforting touch of a woman for some time now Cylfin.” he responded, his voice hushed and low. It reminded her of Mercer’s.

She gasped, more at herself for thinking of Mercer when a very handsome Nord held her in his arms, but she passed it off as joyful surprise. “I must admit, I thought you would have made a trip to Haelga’s the minute you got out.” she said coyly.

“You’ve been on my mind since our week in jail together. Haelga would pale in comparison to my fantasies of you, and I’ve had plenty of time to perfect them.” he replied, rubbing slow circles on her lower back.

Gods help her, the man did know what to say to invoke desire. She smiled sweetly at him, raising her hand to toy with the patch of hair under his lip. “Why don’t you take me somewhere you can show me these perfected fantasies?” she suggested.

Sibbi was clearly a man who didn't need to be told anything twice. She felt herself being swept up into his arms as he made his way up the stairs to his room. He kicked his door closed behind then and set her down. Cylfin couldn't help but be impressed. Her eyes went wide as she gazed around his room. It was bigger than her whole home back in Windhelm, with elaborate tapestries, solid oak wardrobes, and a massive bed adorned with silk sheets. To say the Black-Briars were well off was an understatement. Suddenly she felt self-conscious, dressed only in a rough linen tunic and leather leggings.

She was about to bolt back out his door when she felt him step behind her, his hands on her hips and his lips pressing lightly on the nape of her neck.

“Such beautiful skin.” he murmured against her as his lips trailed along her shoulder. “It reminds me of the sands of Hammerfell, warm and inviting, or hot cider on a winter morning.”

She shuddered when she felt his mouth move up, his breath, hot on her ear, his tongue flicking out to tease along its length. When his teeth grazed the tip she moaned softly. His hands were busy as well, moving to her tunic to unlace the front, allowing it to fall down her arms so he could cup her small breasts. It was the one thing that always gave her pause when she slept with men. Human women, no matter their size, would always be more voluptuous than her, making her worry they wouldn’t want what she had to offer, but Sibbi’s thumbs were suddenly flicking over her nipples, chasing away her concerns.

Not wanting to be thought of as a passive lover, Cylfin reached behind her, unfastening the ties on his breeches and dipped her fingers inside to skim the length of him. He wasn’t as long as some of her lovers but he was by no means small, and the thought of him inside her had her biting her lip.

Sibbi turned her in his arms, shrugged out of his overrobe and then his mouth descended again in a demanding, hungry kiss, his greedy tongue pushing her lips open to dive inside. Cylfin loved the feeling of a man behind her, but this allowed her better access to his body. She ran her hands along his side, pulling his tunic out of his pants. His skin was hot under her fingers and she scoured his skin with her nails.

“You taste like the forest.” he said, breaking the kiss. “Like fresh air and pine.” In an instant he had pulled his tunic over his head, kicked off his boots and stepped out of his pants. Cylfin followed suit, eager to feel him pressed against her.

His kisses resumed as he slowly walked her backwards to his bed. When she felt it against her calves she wrapped her arms around his neck and let herself fall backwards onto the blankets, pulling him down on top of her.

“So eager.” he mumbled against her lips. His hands slipped between their bodies to play with her folds, slick with her own heat. He groaned. “And so ready for me.”

Sibbi pulled back, standing back up and gripped her hips, pushing her further onto the bed. “Let your hair down, please?” he begged softly.

She complied, pulling out the tie that held her braided bun in place. She pulled apart the plaits, letting her locks fall apart in dark amber waves. It tumbled down past her shoulders, covering her breasts from view. The way he was looking at her made her feel like a scrumptious dessert, about to be devoured. His eyes were hungry as they took in her slight, curving figure. Sibbi knelt on the bed, crawling across it to loom over her.

“I’ve never seen such perfection.” he said solemnly and she almost believed him. Cylfin wanted him as badly as he appeared to want her, but she was not so naive that she believed the lines he was feeding her. This was a man who could have any woman in Skyrim, and had probably had plenty. He had killed his fiance’s brother, and planned to kill her as well. Bedding dangerous men was all well and good, but falling for them was out of the question.

She smirked at him. “I want you Sibbi. Show me how perfect you think I am.” she demanded, leaning up to kiss him again.

He did just that. Pushing her down into the mattress he slipped between her legs, sliding deeply inside her heat. She cried out, pulling him against her body, reveling in the weight of him above her. When he began to move she moved with him, moaning as he slid in and out of her, setting a slow, tortuous pace. He nibbled her neck, biting harder as the tension in them built.

Cylfin dug her heels into the back of his thighs, urging him to pick up the pace, but he held steady, drawing almost completely out of her, only to slide back in, hilting himself as deeply as he could.

She brought her hand down between them, running her fingertips over that little bundle of nerves, over and over as he thrust until finally she couldn't take it anymore. When he leaned down to bite her nipple, the pleasure crashed over her like an avalanche, sweeping away her breath as she choked out a scream.

Sibbi roared his own pleasure, following swiftly behind her as her muscles pulled at him, contracting around him in warm pulses. He collapse on top of her, their bodies sweat soaked and weak. Long moments later Sibbi lifted himself up onto his elbows and smirked down at her.

“Was it everything you had hoped for?”

She laughed. “It was everything I expected Sibbi. You know how to please a woman. I’ll be thinking about this for weeks to come.”

“You’re welcome to a repeat performance.” he replied, his voice husky with satisfaction.

“Perhaps when I come back, if you haven’t replaced me with some other beauty. I doubt one woman is enough for your appetites anyways." She pushed him off her so she could sit up. "I’ll be off to Dawnstar in the morning. For now I need to get back to the Guild to prepare.”

Sibbi began to chuckle. “You’re too realistic for your own good Cylfin. Any other woman would be expecting promises. You’re trying to let me down easy.”

“Nothing of the sort Sibbi. This was fun, and if given the chance I’ll take you up on your offer. I’m not stupid though, there’s no future for us beyond me being discreet lay. You’re mother would never allow it, the child of Maven Black-Briar will not be allowed to sully her good name by publicly courting a thief. If I simpered like Svana, you’d lose interest in me as well. You said it yourself, you like that I don’t bow to your every demand. Our relationship is based of mutual understanding that it's fun for now, but won’t last.”

“You truly are the perfect woman.” he replied, kissing her deeply. “It’s a shame you’re right about everything. As long as you know to keep this discreet, I don’t see why we can’t enjoy this for a long while.”

He slipped out of her and moved to a chest at the end of his bed. Reaching inside he pulled out a small black vial. “Here, you may want this.”

She took the vial, uncorked it and took a sniff. “Lovely. I thought I was going to have to go see Elgrim.”

“My sister is an alchemist. Mother might not approve of everything she does, but she does like the fact Ingun can keep any unwanted bastards from running around Riften. In the case of my brother, she has to keep a strong box full of them in his room.”

Cylfin tipped the bitter mixture down her throat, grimacing as she swallowed. “And you promise this works?”

“I don’t have any children running around. Ingun’s young, but she knows what she’s doing.” he replied with a shrug. “Let me know when you get back to town. I’ll want to see you again, and depending on the outcome, I might an another job for you.”

Cylfin climbed out of the bed and grabbed her clothes, quickly donning them and grabbing the letter and gemstones she would need for the job. “I don’t think it will take me too long to complete this. I’ll see you when I get back.” she leaned up and kissed his cheek.

She left him in his room, choosing to let herself out. Maul shot her a amused leer as she passed him, causing her to laugh. It might remain discreet above the rataways, but she had no doubt everyone in the cistern would know by sundown, including Mercer. For some reason, which she refused to admit to herself, she was pleased by this, hoping it would get under his skin.

******************************************************************************

Word got out more quickly than she anticipated. By the time she had returned to the cistern after grabbing what she needed from the market, everyone appeared to know about her and Sibbi’s afternoon. Rune and Thrynn had not been able to stop staring at her, Vipir had propositioned her and Niruin had gently reminded her to come see him when she tired of dabbling with Nords. Vex had given her a cheeky wink and told her as long as she kept bringing in the gold, she didn't care who Cylfin slept with.

Sapphire on the other hand looked disgusted and warned her that she’d never hear the end of it from the men in the cistern, now that they knew she would sleep with just anybody.

“I slept with Sibbi, not just anybody, Sapphire. I’m not not sleeping with him to get ahead. He showed interest in me before I even joined the Guild. You turn down every offer that comes your way, and that’s fine. You don’t have to sleep with anyone, but don’t you dare judge me for enjoying my life the way I see fit to do so. If I choose to bed one man, or every man in the Guild, that is my choice.” she replied. At the clearing of a throat behind her she turned around and yelled at Niruin. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to Niruin. Stop asking. You’ll know when I get tired of dabbling with the Nords as you so charmingly put it.”

He walked away laughing as Sapphire smirked “I told you so.”

“The difference Sapphire, is I don’t mind when they flirt. The first one that tries anything beyond that will find himself parted from his family jewels.” she replied, smiling sadistically.

Sapphire began to laugh as she watched Rune and Vipir scramble backwards from where they were eavesdropping. “Point made I’d say Cylfin. Do what you want I guess, if it keeps them off my back for a while, that’s all the better.”

Sighing Cylfin walked over to her bed, grabbing a hide towel and some soap from the chest at the end of it.

“So lass, word around the cistern is…” came a voice behind her.

“That I slept with Sibbi. Yes, I am aware that is what is being said, and yes, I did sleep with him. “ she snapped at Brynjolf, eyes flaring with fury. “Of everyone down here, I didn't expect to get grief from you.”

“Well, yes, the whole cistern has been talking about that.” Brynjolf replied with a cough. “But I was talking about the rumor that he’s got you leaving on a special job. Have you spoken to Mercer about that yet?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “No I haven’t. I got down here after getting some supplies, and I haven’t had a moment to myself to wash off yet. I was going to go see Mercer to fill him in after I get cleaned up. I think it’s a bit unprofessional to go speak to your boss smelling like sex.” she smirked.

It happened so quickly she might later swear it was her imagination, but she thought she saw Brynjolf’s nostrils flare just bit as he breathed in. Surely not. She must be imagining things.

“Aye, you might be onto something there.” he replied quietly, turning to leave. “I’ll leave you to it then. Just make sure you speak to Mercer before you go.”

She showered quickly, rinsing the afternoon’s stickiness from her body, then went to find Mercer. He wasn't at his desk, nor in his room. The Flagon turned up nothing as well. Sighing she sat down with Delvin and ordered a drink.

“Something troubling ya? I’ll listen.” he said as he watched her down her bottle of ale in two swallows.

“I’ve been talked to death about it Del.” she replied, waving her hand at Vekel to order another one.

“Ah, so that’s what’s got your smalls in a twist.” he chuckled. “Eh, don’t worry too much bout it. It’ll be old news soon enough, and things’ll calm down quicker than you think. These boys think they’re all hot stuff, but they’re harmless.” Devlin took a swig from his own bottle.

“And your thoughts on the matter?” she asked, eying him warily. Delvin had opinions about everything and didn’t hesitate to voice them to anyone who would listen.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it?” At her glare, he smirked. “Alright then. It’s not my business who any of the girls down here are bedding, unless it happens to be me. I think you’re a smart girl, alright? Long as you don’t pin your future on that one, I think you’ll be fine.”

She clinked her bottle to his. “Thanks Delvin. That was, well, surprisingly forward thinking of you.”

“A woman’s body is her own, an’ if men are lucky enough, she’ll share it with us. No need to be pestering them all the time.” he replied with a wink.

Cylfin couldn’t help it. She laughed. “Vex will be glad to know you’re going to stop propositioning her all the time then.”

“Ah, well see, Vex is a special case. She won’t admit it, but she likes the attention I give her.” he quipped. “I know this cause, every three or four months she says yes, then we have hair pulling sex for about a week, then she goes back to threatening me until the next time she’s cravin ol’ Delvin.”

Cylfin nearly spit out her drink. “Hair pulling sex Del?” she asked once she stopped choking.

“Obviously not mine anymore.” he grinned. Cylfin laughed so hard her sides began to ache. She was about to calm down when he wiggled his eyebrows and added “She tore it all out the last time.”

She was still laughing when Mercer appeared beside Vekel’s counter, a hard glint in his eyes. Delvin kicked her shin, and nodded to Mercer. Cylfin choked back her mirth, with difficulty, then rose when Mercer pointed at her, gesturing to follow him.

“If he kills me, I want Dragon’s Tongue buried over my grave.” she whispered to Delvin as she went past him. He just patted her hand in response.

She followed Mercer to his room and shut the door behind her. The second he heard the latch click her whirled on her. “So, you rushed off to sleep with him, immediately after telling me you wouldn’t?” he demanded.

“I did not say I wouldn’t sleep with Sibbi, I said I wasn’t sleeping with him when you accused me of it. I further told you it wasn’t any of your business. Do you supervise Tonilia and Vex as well?” she replied, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Tonilia and Vex have brains enough not to sleep with those who pay the bills.” he snarled back at her.

“Go jump in the lake Mercer. I told you before, who I bed is none of your business.” she replied. She must have been tired because she couldn’t stop the words that left her mouth next. “Unless you’re applying for the position.”

Mercer glared at her for a long moment, making her wish she could disappear into the floor. Then he let out a bitter laugh. “You must think me a fool. Sleeping with me won’t improve your position here in any way, so don’t bother trying. You’ll work your way up the ranks like any new recruit. I don’t much care for Sibbi’s cast offs anyways.”

Anger burned through her like molten steel. Her palms itched to throw fire at him. Instead she let out a bored sigh. “Not up to the task old man? I understand. Sibbi was particularly exuberant, I doubt you could keep up with what he leaves women expecting.” Mercer’s scowl deepened, his eyes throwing daggers that way, but he didn’t respond. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I suppose you want to know what he’s got me doing? I’m off to Dawnstar to frame a housecarl and dethrone a Jarl. Sibbi thinks this will restore a bit of faith in the Guild with Maven. So my ass is on the line to make you look good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed so I can catch the early carriage. If you need me, I’ll be staying at the Windpeak inn. You can send word there.”

Mercer clenched his fists as she sauntered out of his room. “Get a job from Vex and Delvin before you leave.” he yelled, trying to get the last word.

“Yes Master Frey.” she replied with a sneer, slamming the door behind her.

The sound of a tankard hitting the door behind her, had her grinning all the way back to the Flagon to speak to Vex and Delvin.

************************************************************************************************************************************************

Chapter Text

Dawnstar was as cold and ugly as a frost trolls ass, Cylfin decided as she jumped from the back of the carriage. An icy wind blew in furiously from across the bay, the humidity intensifying the freezing affect the air had on her cheeks. She pulled her heavy fur cloak tighter around her and made her way to the Windpeak inn. As she traversed the narrow pathway to the inn she was puzzled by how many of the guards passing her had dark circles under their eyes, as they shuffled or stumbled past her. She was walking up the wooden steps to the inn when an equally haggard looking old woman rushed out the door and collided with her, throwing them both off balance.

Cylfin bit her tongue against yelling at the old woman to watch where she was going. She wanted to be accepted her, to earn people's trust, so instead she jumped to her feet and held out her hand to the woman, to help her up.

“Are you alright?” she asked as helped brush snow from the woman's skirt.

“I’ll be fine dearie. Sorry for running into you like that, I was trying to get away from all the questions.” she replied. The woman eyes her suspiciously. “And before you go asking, no, I don’t have anything for bad dreams.”

“Bad dreams?” Cylfin asked, utterly confused by the woman’s ramblings.

The woman’s eyes filled with understanding. “Oh, you must be new in town. You’re lucky. The dreams don’t seem to be affecting travelers. For everyone else though, they’re horrible. Imagine dying over and over again in your dreams, night after night. People here are terrified and tired, and that’s a bad combination. There’s a priest of Mara visiting the Windpeak Inn, who claims the Divines will take care of everything, but that remains to be seen.” she replied. “As it is, everyone keeps asking me for a sleep aids, but even that doesn’t keep the nightmares at bay.

Cylfin waved the woman off and continued into the inn. Instead of the normal friendly greeting she normally received from an innkeeper, there were hushed whispers and barely concealed yawns. Cylfin placed a handful of coins in front of the innkeeper and was quickly shown her room.

After ensuring her gear was locked up tight in the chest at the end of her bed she exited the inn, heading to the Jarl’s longhouse to get a feel for his court so she could plan her first moves. As she approached she could see the Jarl standing on the steps to his longhouse, yelling at a pair of citizens like the madman Sibbi described him to be. The closer she got, the more apparent his paranoia became.

The finely dressed, silver haired woman standing beside a older man in Legion armor, it’s style decades old, threw up her hands in exasperation. “Divine’s sakes, Skald, who do you think we’re threatening with our old war wounds? We’re not soldiers any more.”

Skald laughed harshly in disbelief. “Ha! Your man Horik is wearing his old Legion armor. What am I to make of that?”

“He’s proud of his service Skald. The Legion taught us loyalty, and we’re loyal to Dawnstar. I’ve told you this over and over, yet you continue to harass us. Thirty years ago you encouraged him to join the Legion” she replied evenly, hiding her anger.

“Enough!” the Jarl shouted. “This isn’t over Brina. I catch you sending one letter to General Tullius and I’ll have you both executed.” he threatened darkly, whirling around to storm back inside his longhouse.

Horik patted Brina’s shoulder sympathetically as the turned to walk away from the longhouse. When Brina spied Cylfin she stammered. “Oh, did you see that?” At her nod the woman flushed with embarrassment. “The Jarl and I have our disagreements. I’m sorry you had to overhear one of them.”

“What exactly were you arguing about?” Cylfin asked innocently. “I only came upon the tail end of it.”

Brina let out a deep, frustrated sigh. “Skald supports Ulfric’s rebellion, and he doesn’t like having a couple of old Legionnaires living in his town. He’s acting a fool. A dragon attacked Helgen. Dawnstar needs the Empire now, more than ever.” Her voice raised in volume with each sentence. “I...I’m sorry, I became a bit overzealous there. You have come at a bad time my friend.”

Feigning ignorance Cylfin let her eyes pop wide open and inquired. “I came at a bad time? What’s wrong? Maybe I could help.”

Horik replied. “Nightmares.”

Brina gave him a sad smile. “To elaborate on that, not a single man or woman in Dawnstar has gotten a good night's rest in days. We keep having the same nightmare, over and over. If people aren't tired, they're angry, and if they aren't angry, they're afraid. It's made keeping order a mess. The temple of Mara has sent one of their priests to the inn to try to calm people down, but I don't know how much words will do now. To be honest, I admire your eagerness to help, but I don’t know what you could do about it.”

Cylfin flashed a sickly sweet smile. “Well if I can’t help with the bad dream, could I help with some work that needs to be done around Dawnstar?”

Brina paused for a moment, as if thinking over her offer. Finally she smiled, “For work, you could try to catch Skald in a good mood, but your best bet would be working in the mines. They're on opposite ends of town.”

Cylfin thanked them for their help and then walked up the steps to the Jarl’s home, pushed open the door and stepped inside. Skald sat on his throne, verbally abusing one of his poor servants. Jod stood beside him, his pale blue eyes focused on her face, his expression stoney.

Skald looked up at her, grunting his his annoyance. “Unless you’re here to solve this nightmare problem, I don’t need you.”

She bowed respectfully, flashing him a charming smile. “Jarl Skald, my name is Sidra Meadowbrooke and I was directed to you, to offer my services.”

Jod’s scowl deepened, but he remained silent. Skald scoffed at her. “Huh, laying it on a bit thick aren’t we elf? Well, if you seriously want to help, you can join the other elf trying to solve this nightmare mystery. That priest of Mara who came here before you says the Divines will cure us. Well, until they do, I don't have any business to discuss with outsiders, but I haven't slept properly in days, so at this rate I have no choice but to let you sneaky elves lend a hand.”

“Thank you sir, I will find the priest immediately.” she replied, hiding her rage behind a false smile. The Jarl had immediately gone back to ignoring her but she couldn’t help but feel Jod’s eyes on her. She flashed him a wink, holding back as laugh as his eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed at her again. She smiled brightly at him, then turned and walked outside.

As she made her way back to the inn she chuckled quietly. It was too easy. She already had the housecarl confused, but interested, if his surprise rather than anger was any indication. The priest was nowhere to be seen when she entered Windpeak Inn, so she returned to her room to get a few hours of sleep. Likely he would return before nightfall. When she woke she could hear hushed whispers and indignant shouts. She dressed in her leathers, pulling a loose tunic over them to hide the Guild insignia on the shoulder, tied her heavy fur cloak on, then stuck her head out of her room. A group of people, including the innkeeper and his daughter Karita, who had introduced herself earlier, in a heated debate with the very elf she was looking for.

A young woman cried out. “It's a curse! It has to be! I've got to get out of this town.”

Another gripped the first woman’s arms, giving her a firm shake. “Irgnir, get a hold of yourself. They're just dreams. Please tell her, Erandur.” she pleaded, turning her head to the dark elf in temple robes.

The Dunmer smiled gently and patted the young woman’s hand, “Irgnir, you must listen to your friend, Fruki. They are just dreams, my dear. I assure you that it is quite normal.”

The woman began to sob. “There is nothing normal about these nightmares Erandur. It's the same dream over and over. You think that's normal? It's evil I tell you!

Fruki’s smile faded into a look of helplessness. “Erandur, she has a point. You keep telling us no harm will follow these dreams, but they must be an omen.”

The innkeeper snorted. “Fruki, give him a chance to speak. He's trying to help us.”

Erandur nodded a thanks to Thoring, “Everyone, please. I'm doing what I can to end these nightmares. In the meantime all I ask is you remain strong and put your trust in Lady Mara.”

Irgnir muttered between her sobs. “I...I will. Thank you Erandur.”

Cylfin rolled her eyes, thinking to herself that the young woman was being overly dramatic. Fruki lead the woman from the inn, helping her home and Erandur retreated to a darkened corner of the inn, digging in to what appeared to be the remains of his dinner, now long cold.

The floor creaked beneath her feet and she cursed silently for alerting him to her presence like that. The Dunmer lifted his head from his meal, his red eyes kind, but he couldn’t conceal the quick exasperated flash in their depths from being interrupted yet again. “Yes my daughter, what troubles you?

“Actually I am hoping I could offer my help. My name is Sidra Meadowbrooke, Skald told me you are trying to help the people of Dawnstar.” she replied, bowing her head. She had repeated her alias over and over on the way to Dawnstar to make sure it was second nature to use it.

Erandur patted the empty spot beside him on the bench. “Yes, I am trying to help. The entire town is being plagued by horrible nightmares. They're in serious danger but I'm afraid I’ve been exaggerating. There's little I can do about it.” he replied in a hushed whisper.

“I don’t understand, ” she said in an equally hushed tone. “What could you do, anyway? Dreams aren't real, how could anyone be in danger?”

Erandur gave up on completing his meal and beckoned her to follow him to his room. Once the door shut his peaceful expression crumbled into one of anguish. “These dreams are manifestations created by the Daedric Lord Vaermina. She has an awful hunger for our memories. In return, she leaves behind nightmares, not unlike a cough marks a serious illness. I must end her terrible influence over these people before the damage becomes permanent, but I fear I will not be strong enough to do it.”

“Couldn’t you leave? This is not the work of a priest of Mara. This isn’t your problem.”

The priest flushed and looked down at his feet. “I can’t. I just can’t turn my back on these people when their lives could be at stake? Those dreams are not just visions, they're a footprint left by the Daedric Lord Vaermina as she drains these people of their memories!”

He was hiding something, she was sure of it. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, and he picked at a loose thread on his robes repeatedly, as he paced the length of his room.

“Well, what’s your plan? I told the Jarl I would help.”

He raised his eyes to her, silent for a long moment before answering. “I...I need to return to the source of the problem, to Nightcaller Temple. Perhaps you'd be willing to assist me in that regard?”

Finally his first slip up, she thought. “What do you mean, "return"? You've been there before? What aren’t you telling these people, priest?”

He gripped her hands tightly, whispering furiously. “I've already said too much. If anyone overhears what we're saying, it could start a panic. I would simply ask that you trust me and help me end Dawnstar's problems.”

“I don’t trust easily, but I’m willing to help you with this, but don’t ask for my reasons.” she warned.

“Your concerns are understandable; trust is a very difficult commodity to come by these days. I can only give you my word as a Priest of Mara that my intentions are honorable. I thank you for this, from the bottom of my heart.” he cried, running to the chest in his room and pulling out a bag of potions and grabbing his staff. “ I promise to answer all of your questions once this is over. Please, follow me.”

It took them an hour to reach the decrepit tower, the wind blowing so hard and cold she could barely see three feet in front of her. The priest was strangely forthcoming with information about their destination, prattling on about the history of the temple, the priests of Vaermina who had resided there, leading solitary lives of worship, and the fact it now lay abandoned for years, laughing at his own quip about it being a ruin inside a ruin. She grunted in reply, huddling within her cloak, her teeth chattering uncontrollably. Her only thought was that she would be telling Sibbi she would not take any more jobs in the Divine’s forsaken north of Skyrim ever again. She’d had enough of the cold during her childhood.

When they finally stood in the shadow of the crumbling tower erandur turned towards her. “There's a small shrine to Mara I established inside the tower's entry hall. I was hoping to seek spiritual guidance from Her. Before we enter, I must warn you about the dangers that could be lurking within. Years ago, this temple was raided by an orc war party seeking revenge...they were being plagued by nightmares just like the people of Dawnstar. Knowing they could never defeat the orcs, the priests of Vaermina released what they call 'The Miasma,' putting everyone to sleep.”

She shivered, wishing desperately that he would open the doors and explain all this inside the temple. “Why would it be dangerous if they're asleep?”

Erandur frowned, Well you see, I'm concerned that when this place is unsealed, the Miasma will dissipate and they'll awaken; both orcs and priests alike.” He pushed open the door and pulled her inside the temple. The air inside was only marginally warmer than out in the open, but with the wind gone she felt her temperature begin to rise. She sighed gratefully. She pulled off her cloak, laying it out over a stone pew to dry off. It would only weigh her down inside the temple.

Turing to Erandur she urged him to continue his explanation by asking, “What does the Miasma do?”

“The Miasma was created by the priests of Vaermina for their rituals. It's a gas that places the affected in a deep sleep. Because the rituals would last for months or even years, the Miasma was designed to slow down the aging process. It’s effects can be dangerous as well, the longer an individual is exposed to the Miasma, the more the mind can become damaged. Those who've been under the effect of it for extended periods of time have been known to lose their minds entirely. In some cases, a few never awoke at all. Once we get inside, all will become clear.”

She frowned at him. “For the record Erandur, this information should have been given to me before I offered to put my life on the line for you.”

He ducked his head sheepishly, a silent apology for his trickery. “Give me just a moment, and I'll have this open.” His hands danced in an intricate pattern, shooting fire from his palms as he mumbled incoherently, words she could never hope to understand. Suddenly she could see past the wall into the sealed portion of the temple.

“Now I can show you the source of the nightmares. Over here.” he said, beckoning her to follow. In the center of the tower, surrounded by the stairs lay an alter, glowing with purple energy, casting eerie shadows on the walls. “Behold the Skull of Corruption, the source of Dawnstar's woes. We must reach the inner sanctum and destroy it.”

He lead her down the winding steps of the tower, deeper and deeper until they reached the bottom, but he began to curse when he walked into an invisible barrier. “Damn it. The priests must have activated this barrier when the Miasma was released.”

Cylfin cast a few destruction spells at the barrier, but they had little effect. “This looks difficult to break.”

Erandur slumped against the wall, defeated. “Impossible actually.” he groaned. “Wait, hmm, I wonder... There may be a way to bypass the barrier, but I must check their library and confirm it can be done.”

She moved quicker than he could have anticipated, pinning him to the wall, her dagger pressed against his throat. “You seem to know an awful lot about this place. I don’t appreciate being played priest, now tell me everything you’re hiding. Why you know so much about the temple and why you feel beholden to the people of Skyrim?” she demanded, her eyes hard as ice.

He gasped , straining to keep the blade from cutting into his skin. “I...I suppose there's no point in concealing the truth any longer. My knowledge of this temple comes from personal experience. I was a priest of Vaermina.”

“Why keep it a secret?” she snapped, tightening her grip on his robes.

Tears came to his eyes as he reveal his painful memories. “When the orcs invaded the temple, I fled. I left my brothers and sisters here to die. I should have told you the truth, but I didn't know what to say.”

Cylfin stared at him, then shrugged, stepping back and letting him fall to the floor as his knees gave out. “Ok, I can understand that.” she replied, sheathing her dagger and helping him to his feet.

“What do you mean you understand?" he stammered. “Didn't you hear me? I fled this place and left my brothers and sisters behind to die. Do you not realize when the orcs attacked, I was only concerned for myself? I must make amends for following the misguided teachings of a mad Divine and for stealing memories from children! I've spent the last few decades living in regret and seeking redemption from Mara and by Her Benevolence, I will right my wrongs!” he cried passionately.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. You feel bad, you want to fix your mistakes and feel better about your cowardice. I get it.” she replied, heading back up the steps. “Let's get this over with.”

Erandur slid down the wall again, voice thick with remorse. “I am a coward" he stated. "The worst kind of traitor to my brothers and sisters.”

Cylfin groaned, rubbing her face. “Hey priest. Life is every man or mer for themselves ok? If you don’t look out for you, no one else is going to. So, let’s get moving and destroy the skull, so can beg forgiveness in peace ok?”

He got to his feet, the slump in his shoulders easing a bit. “You’re right, let’s get this over with. I still have my key to the library.” As they climbed the stairs again to the Library entrance Erundur continued to explain his history with the temple. “ Lore holds that the Skull of Corruption holds a constant hunger for the memories of others. The Skull has been out of touch for so long, I fear it's gained the ability to reach out on its own and try to feed. What it does with these memories is just conjecture and an argument for scholars and historians to this very day. It needs to be destroyed as soon as possible.”

He slid his key into the lock and held a breath as the door swung open. “Be careful. We're certain to find some of the awakened within. Much as it pains me we will need to eradicate them all. Their exposure to the skull for such a long time makes them all dangerous.”

Cylfin helped him make it to the library, killing orcs and the fallen priests alike. By the time the made it to the ancient chambers she was covered in blood and viscera.

Erandur eyes the room with a sad frown. “This library used to be filled with arcane volumes. Now look at it; almost everything's been burned. I hope the tome we need is still intact. We're looking for a book of alchemical recipes called "The Dreamstride." The tome bears the likeness of Vaermina on the cover. It should be here somewhere.”

They spent over an hour combing through the ruined and burned books, searching for the tome in question. Finally on the upper floor of the library Cylfin spied a single book resting on a pedestal, the image of Vaermina on it’s cover. “ Found it.” she cried as she raced down the steps to bring it to the Dunmer.

He pulled it out of her hands greedily, “ Let me take a look.” she said, skimming through the pages. “Mara be praised! There is a way past the barrier to the inner sanctum. It involves a recipe for a liquid known as Vaermina's Torpor. The Torpor grants an ability the priests of Vaermina called 'The Dreamstride'; it allows one to use dreams to travel distances in the real world.”

She snorted in disbelief. “This is why everyone thinks you religious types are crazy. That's impossible.”

Erandur frowned at her, utterly offended. “I assure you, the Dreamstride is well known in Vaerminian Lore. Alchemy and the blessings of a Divine distilled down into an ingestible liquid. Sadly, I have yet to see it function in person. Sadly, as a sworn priest of Mara, the elixir won't work for me. The Torpor will only work for Priests or Vaermina, or the unaffiliated.” he remarked, casting a pointed look at her.

“Oh no! That was not part of the deal.” she stated, shaking her head, backing away from him. “I am not drinking some potion that you don’t even know if going to work.”

“Sidra please, I will not lie to you, there is some risk involved. The last time the Torpor was imbibed could have been decades ago. But I swear upon Lady Mara that I will do everything within my power to prevent any harm from befalling you.” he pleaded.

“ Forget it priest! It could kill me!”

“No, all my research points in the opposite direction.” he declared. “This is the exact liquid the priests would drink. The only question in my mind is whether you will be granted The Dreamstride. Otherwise, the worst that could happen is a bad aftertaste. I swear upon my Lady that I would never let any harm befall you.” He paused, a sweet smile crossing his lips. “Please, you said you would help me, you can’t back out on your word now, it would be a slight to Lady Mara.”

Cylfin grumbled. She needed to complete this. Her whole plan to frame Jod depending on getting into the good graces of the Jarl, and to do that she needed to have him think she saved Dawnstar from the nightmares. If she failed at this Sibbi would be furious, Maven might cut ties with the Guild and Mercer skin her alive for sure. She rubbed her temples, a wicked headache forming near the back of her skull. “ Do you even know where we can find the Torpor?” she asked, resigned now to his crazy plan.”

“Not exactly, but I believe there is a laboratory in the east wing. The laboratory adjoins the library. I'm hoping we'll find a sample of the Torpor left undamaged.” he said, pressing forward.

In the laboratory they encountered more of the awoken. She was breathing heavily once she dispatched them, cursing Erandur silently for dragging her through this Oblivion fueled nightmare.

Completely oblivious to her suffering, or perhaps just uncaring of it Erandur began to search the lab. “It will look very similar to a potion. I'll continue my search up here. The Torpor should be in a tall bottle with a dark liquid. If you find it, bring it to me.”

As she moved through the laboratory she stuffed everything of value she found into the many pockets of her armor under her bloodsoaked tunic and the large belt pouch around her waist. The potions she found, though ancient would be worth hefty price, many of them complex recipes of varying potency. She descended to the lower floor of the lab and finally spied a slim bottle. The label was faded, the lettering indecipherable, but she had a good feeling this was what they were looking for. She grabbed it and returned to Erandur.

“Wonderful, I'm relieved you found a bottle intact; this place looks as though it were ransacked by the orcs. Now then, I've taken us this far, but you need to guide us the rest of the way. Drink up.”

She stared at him in shock. “Here? Now? I don’t even know what to expect.”

“Sidra, Dawnstar's fate rests in that tiny bottle.” he sighed, his frustration at her reluctance to cooperate evident. “The longer we wait, the more damage Vaermina could be doing to those poor people. I understand your hesitation, but I promise you that it work. You'll be viewing the memory of another through your own eyes and with your own body. Those around you will perceive you as normal and you will find the words you utter may not be your own. Thanks to all of these odd principles, there is quite a lot of debate about whether this is really a dream or just the machinations of Vaermina. I will watch over you as you slumber to ensure your safety. If I deduce anything is amiss, I will use my arts to bring you back. Otherwise, I am uncertain what will end your Dreamstride. Perhaps when Vaermina's curious appetite has been filled.” he stated cryptically

Cylfin gave him a dark look then uncorked the bottle, tipping it down her throat in a single swallow. Instantly her body disappeared. Erandur walked back to the stairwell, eyes focused on the barried. Moments later she re-appeared, gasping for water as the barrier fell. Erandur handed her his water skein, helping her hold it to her lips as she frantically gulped the contents down.

“You vanished after drinking the Torpor and materialized on the other side. I've never seen anything quite like it. What did you see?”

“I was in the body of a priest named Casimir. He was tasked with releasing the Miasma by two other priests. They seemed resigned to their fate. It was incredible and disturbing all at the same time. I felt like I was the one running through the temple, hearing the wails and cries of my brothers and sister.” she rasped. The orcs were everywhere, slaughtering the priests and priestesses. I never want to experience that again.” She took another gulp of water, hoping it would settle the sick feeling in her belly.

What?” he cried. “After what you just experienced, are you not amazed? I am at a loss for words. How I envy you. I can only imagine the excitement of seeing history through the eyes of another! Sadly, I am resigned to just reading of its wonders through my research of the Skull.

‘You’re mad! I could have died Erandur.”she snapped.

“I thought I was clear regarding the dangers that awaited you within the Dreamstride. However, this hardly matters any longer as you appear to have exited unscathed. All’s well that ends well and you’ll have a story for your children one day.

She rolled her eyes at him, not correcting his assumption she would desire children. “Look, we can discuss it later. We’ve wasted enough time talking. The others will be waking up now that the barrier is gone.”

Erandur cleared his throat nervously. “Ah yes, indeed. My reverence for Vaermina's machinations should not take precedence over our mission. My apologies. The inner sanctum lies ahead. We must reach the Skull and put an end to Dawnstar's troubles. Lead on, my friend.”

Cylfin lead Erandur along the path the dreamscape had shown her, reliving all the death and destruction as she cut down worshippers and orcs alike. As they approached the final chamber where the Skull was housed, two shadowy figures slid out from the shadows, and the anger in their eyes caused her to stumble back. Erandur cried out when he spotted them.

“Veren! Thorek! You're alive!”

The new Dunmer spat on the stones beneath Erandur’s feet. “No thanks to you, Casimir.”

The relief that his brothers were alive quickly disappeared, leaving only remorse in his voice. “ I no longer use that name. I'm Erandur, Priest of Mara.”

“You're a traitor. You left us to die and ran before the Miasma took you.”

“No, you don’t understand. I...I was scared. I wasn't ready to sleep. It was all happening so fast Veren. I wanted to live.

“Enough of your lies, betrayer. I can't allow you to destroy the Skull, Priest of Mara. You will die here as you were supposed to ages ago.” Veren cried, sending a blast of fire at Erandur.

Furious at his lies, Cylfin briefly debated letting the other priests kill Erandur. He could have mentioned he was Casimir when she spoke the name, or when she told him to tell her the truth about everything. He could have told her about his memories, and warned her of the mental anguish she would experience. Instead he lied, over and over, endangering her with his own cowardice. However she was certain once they finished with him they would turn on her, and with two on two it was a fairer fight.

She hit both with lightning, limiting their own casting abilities. Erandur used his staff to send bolt after bolt of fire at them, their ancient robes burning faster than parchment. As the human priest raced towards her, his body engulfed in flames she threw her dagged, hitting him square in the chest. He went down, screaming as the fire consumed his body.

Erandur approached the shuddering mess of charred flesh, all that was left of Veren. “I...knew Veren and Thorek. They were my friends, my brothers.” he wept, tears falling in the ash. “Is this punishment for my past? Is it Mara's will to torment me so?”

“We had no choice. Erandur, and we still have a job to do.” she replied softly.

Yes. You're right.They were trying to kill us, and had they succeeded, Dawnstar's fate would have been sealed. You have a unique way of looking at things, my friend. It's time. The Skull must be destroyed.”

He proceeded up the stone steps to the platform where an ugly staff, holding the Skull of Vaermina stood, protected by another barrier. “If you'll stand back, I'll perform the ritual granted to me by Lady Mara. First, an incantation to remove the barrier”

As Erandur began the incantation, calling upon Lady Mara, Cylfin felt a chill slide up her spine. Seconds later she heard a pitiful voice crying out to her.

Erandurs voice rang out through the tower, momentarily drowning out the high pitched cry. “The Skull hungers. It yearns for memories and leaves nightmares in its wake. Grant me the power to break through this barrier and to send the Skull to the depths of Oblivion!”

“Please, he's deceiving you.” cried the voice. “When the ritual's complete, the Skull will be free and then Erandur will turn on you.”

“Shut up Daedra, I will not fall for your lies and dark promises.” Cylfin whispered furiously.

“He will turn on you. He has done nothing but lie to you.” the voice warned.

That gave her pause, the voice was right. Erandur had done nothing but lie to her, and use her for his own end. He was a coward and she was the last witness to his betrayal of Vaermina.

“Quickly! Kill him now. Kill him and claim the Skull for your own! Vaermina commands you!” the voice demanded.

The barrier around the skull came down and Erandur brought his own staff down hard against it, shattering the skull. The tiny pieces flew past her head, narrowly missing her eyes. She watched the priest closely, ready to end him if he so much as made a move against her. Instead he turned, slowly, his eyes filled with sadness, regret and a hint of pride, having finally ended the terror that had plagued him for ages. “Forgive me if I don't appear relieved...this temple has taken its toll on me.”

“So we're done, then? There is nothing else you’re hiding from me?” she asked suspiciously.

"No, nothing else. The Skull has been destroyed and Dawnstar is safe. I feel you deserve some kind of compensation. Being a humble servant of Mara, I have little in the way of gold or coin, but perhaps I could offer you something better...companionship. I'd constructed a meager shrine to Mara in the antechamber where we entered. My intention was to spend the rest of my years here, burying the past and praying for forgiveness. But instead, I wish to offer my services to you. If you ever wish to journey with me, I'll be here.”

When she only frowned he hurried to appease her. “Well perhaps I could cover the cost of your dinner and room for your stay here”

“No, it’s fine. I don’t need you to do that. I just don’t know when I will ever need a companion.” she replied politely. Her mind screamed there was no way in Oblivion she would ever have the need to call on his services. “Thank you though.”

“No, I should be thanking you. What you did was for the people of Dawnstar, I could never truly repay you.” he replied brightly.
************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

They had stayed the night, declining the traipse down the mountain in the dead of night with the wind still wailing outside. When they returned to Dawnstar the next morning it was if a heavy weight had been lifted from the citizens. Thoring and Katia were both whistling as they cleaned the tankards and baked bread for the day. Cylfin paused only long enough to strip down to her small clothes before collapsing onto her bed and immediately falling fast asleep . She hadn’t even stopped to eat the bowl of steaming hot grains Thoring offered as she passed him, despite the insistent growl from her stomach as she smelled the fresh cream and snowberry jam.

A few hours later there was a frantic knocking at her door. She pulled on a clean, oversized tunic that came down past her hips and pulled it open, scowling and the man on the other side. “Can’t a girl get a moment’s rest around here? She growled.

Jod stood before her, an apologetic look on his face. “Ah sorry miss. The Jarl has requested your presence and will be put off no longer.”

She felt his gaze travel up and down her body. The tunic was unlaced, giving him an ample view of the curves of her chest and the hem skimmed the tops of her toned thighs. Instantly remembering her plan, her scowl melted into a smile, her copper eyes smoldered as she returned his gaze. “Ah, the Jarl’s housecarl. He must really want to speak to me if he sent you rather than a servant.” she replied, in a breathy whisper.

“Um, yes. Well it is important miss. We received word that you and the priest of Mara were able to banish the nightmares. The Jarl would like to personally thank you.” he replied, color creeping up his neck into his cheeks.

“Are you to be my escort?” she asked, her smile widening.

“Yes miss, I’ll wait for you to change.” he replied, trying to look anywhere but at her thighs.

“Sidra. My name is Sidra, housecarl.” she stated.

“Jod. If I am to call you Sidra, then you should have something to call me by, other than my title.” A smile finally broke out on his face, though his eyes still showed his wariness at her flirting. She suspected he did not attract a lot of women, and she wasn’t surprised. Between his looks and the demands of his position it was unlikely that he had much experience. Though his dull eyes were a pretty pale blue, they were his most appealing feature. His cropped hair was the color of moldy straw, his mustache was unkempt and wiry. His face was ruddy, with rough, chapped lips. His nose was broad and flat and he had a wide scar running down the length of his left cheek from his eye. Yes, she thought to herself, this was new territory for him.

She closed the door, pulled on her tight deerskin leggings, and cinched her scabbard a few notches tighter than she would normally, accentuating her meager curves. She slipped her feet into her boots and braided her hair, coiling it into a bun. When she emerged she flash Jod a smile. “I’m ready if you are.”

Jod was a perfectly practiced gentleman, opening the door for her, letting her use his arm for balance along the icy path to the longhouse and helping her up the stairs. It turned her stomach. How could a man believe that a woman, who just solved the nightmare problem in Dawnstar needed to be fussed over like child. She wanted to yell at him for his stupidity, but smiled warmly instead, letting her hand rest too long on his bicep.

He cleared his throat and pulled away from her as he opened the door to Skald’s home, waving her inside. Erandur was already standing before the Jarl, and he looked grateful to see her as she stepped inside. Skald was going on and on about Skyrim belonging to the Nords, and his support for Ulfric Stormcloak and making noise about driving out the elves. It was clear Erandur’s pride could only take so much more.

She approached Skald and bowed deeply. “You summoned me my Jarl?”

“Yes, yes. Stand up straight. You're in the presence of a Jarl you know.” he muttered. “The nightmares in Dawnstar have lifted, and I hear you helped that happen. Last night was the most restful sleep I had in weeks. You have my thanks.” he said, waving his hand dismissively.

Erandur and Cylfin bowed again waiting for the Jarl to continue. Silence blanketed the hall and when he looked back at them he blinked in surprise. “You’re still here? Be off with you.” he shouted.

Jod, who had returned to his side, leaned down and muttered softly. “My Jarl, surely their service deserves compensation?”

“What?” the old man squawked. “Oh yes, fine. My thanks should be reward enough, but I suppose you’re right. Give them each one hundred septims and send them on their way.”

Erandur and Cylfin meekly followed Jod to a room on the side of the longhouse. As he was rummaging in a chest for their reward she peaked at a map on the table in the middle of the room, trying to memorized the locations of all the tiny blue flags, thinking Maven’s contact might also be interested in that. Erandur took his coins and left without a word, eager to be alone with his pain again. As Jod placed the coin purse in her hand, his fingertips lingered on her skin, causing her to look up, into his eyes that burned with desire.

I’m going to be sick, she thought to herself. I can’t do this, I really can’t. She hid her disgust behind her smile and fluttered her eyelashes at him. “You know, you could join me this evening if you have some free time.” she suggested, using her free hand to trace patterns on his arm.

“You know, I just can’t figure you out.” he replied, pulling back. “I know I’m no prize, I’ve long since stopped looking for a wife, but you waltz into town, all winks and smiles, and flirt with me. Our port sees different handsome young sailors every day, and I’m old enough to be your father. What is it you’re after?

Shit, she thought to herself, he’s not as dumb as I thought.

She smiled and traced her finger along the scar on his cheek. “I find Nord men very attractive.” she replied, her voice husky with feigned desire. “The tougher looking, the fiercer my desire. Besides, you’re young compared to me boy, I have decades on you.” she lied. “Those children down at the harbor don’t interest me.”

She stole a glance out the door, then realizing no one was paying attention to them she leaned up and pressed her lips against his calloused ones, cupping his face with her hands. He was slow to respond, as if still unconvinced she could actually want him, but then ages of unfulfilled desire took over. His arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer and he threw himself into the kiss, grinding his lips against hers, hard and demanding. Her stomach rolled, but she pushed her nausea down, reminding herself this was the job, and she had certainly slept with worse in her lifetime.

Jod broke the kiss first, his eyes bewildered. “You truly want me to visit you this evening?”

She kissed him again in response. “Thoring knows which room is mine. He will point you in the right direction.” she whispered. “I should go.” She let her hand linger in his as she backed away, then turned and left the longhouse.

The next few days were the ultimate test of her acting abilities. At night, Jod came to her room, rutting against her while she pretended to clench and shudder around him. During the day she suffered the insults of the Jarl when she came to get small tasks from him and she watched the movements of his court members, trying to find an opportunity to plant the letter and sapphires so that she could leave this cursed town and get home to her sunny skies of Riften. The daily routine was easy to record. The Jarl, a man well into his eighties, spent his mornings verbally abusing his servant Bulfrek, and complaining about the Empire and the elves. He took his lunch around noon, then would nap for two hours in the afternoon. At this point his court wizard Madena and Frorkmar, Skald’s military advisor, would run their errands around the city. Bulfrek would use this time to run to the inn, to drown himself in ale, the only relief from the indignities he suffered and Jod would use his time to review missives from the Stormcloaks that Frorkmar would leave for him in the war room. When Skald awoke he would have Jod read him any letters and communications about the war, then he would see any citizens who came with concerns. Dinner would follow and then he would retire for the night. Jod rarely left his side until he slept, then the housecarl would sneak out the the inn to meet with her.

After her third night of bearing his sweaty body against her Cylfin got her lucky break. The next morning there was a dispute down at the docks, a fight over the price of some goods the Jarl had purchased. The guards called Jod to come and try to mediate the misunderstanding. She accompanied him out of the inn, waving him off like a besotted lover and watched from the doorway of the inn. One might have missed it, but he lingered ever so slightly too long with one of the sailors. They shook hands as Jod departed, heading back to the longhouse and she watched as he stuck his hands in the pocket of his breeches.

When she was certain the Jarl would be laying down for the afternoon she made her way over to the longhouse, waving to Madena and Frorknar as they left. Bulfrek had been well into his cups when she left the inn. She slipped inside, then, satisfied by the Jarl’s deafening snores, she went to find Jod in the war room.

He was sitting at the table, reading a lengthy missive, his brows drawn together in concentration, while he picked at his chapped lips. She cleared her throat, raising her hand that held a full bottle of mead and smiled at him when he looked up, his expression melting into a grin.

“What are you doing here Sidra? You don’t normally come by at this time.” he said, pushing his chair back to stand.

Before he could get up she strode over to him, placed the mead on the table and leaned down, planting her lips against his in a hard kiss and slipping her tongue inside his mouth when he opened it in surprise. Before he could protest she straddled his legs, trapping him in his chair.

“I notice every day that you are the only one left here while the Jarl rests. Today I was thinking about you and I was overcome with longing. I’ve decided we should take advantage of this time alone, rather than you sneaking away to see me at night.” she whispered in his ear, placing kisses along his neck.

“Sidra, I need to look over these letters. Frorknar will expect my thoughts later this evening.” he protested weakly, his hands moving to her hips as she ground her pelvis against him.

“Oblivion take Frorknar.” she exclaimed. “I am certain the man will not begrudge you an afternoon quickie.” she said as she began unbuckling the belts on his curiss. She helped him remove his armor, leaving him in his tunic and breeches. “Please Jod, you have no idea how much I want your right now.” she pleased, gripping his hand and guiding in under the skirts she had worn specifically for easy access. Thank the Divines for Frida and her collection of alchemy ingredients. The dwarven oil had been costly, as it had been Frida’s last bottle, but it was worth it. While it was useful for potion making, Cylfin found it to be the best mimic of female excitement she had ever come across, fooling most men into thinking they were legends in the bedroom. Jod was no exception and he moaned when he felt the slickness between her thighs.

He pulled her shirt from his skirt, lifting it high and began slobbering all over her breasts, licking and nibbling the peaks, his one hand on her back, pulling her closer while his free hand fumbled with the laces of his breeches. She reached between them, pushing his clumsy hand away and undid the laces, wrapping her hands around him as she sprung free. He moaned against her skin, jerking his hips towards her.

Cylfin wrapped her arms around his neck and raised herself up over him, running her folds over the tip of his hardness, teasing him by moving away when pumped upwards, seeking entrance. “Sidra, please, stop tormenting me. I need to be inside you.” he pleaded, his voice raspy with need.

She grinned wickedly, delighting in this encounter. It would be the last time she had to subject herself to his disappointing passions, knowing he’d be dead before the week was out. Jod saw her satisfied grin, mistaking it for desire, so he grabbed her hips and pulled her down roughly. He entered at a strange angle, causing her to cry out with pain as her walls were stretched oddly. Overcome by his desire, he thought she was enjoying it, so he began to pound in and out of her, tilting his hips so he could push deeper. Cylfin bit his shoulder to keep from sobbing, her abused flesh throbbing with every thrust. This only confirmed his assumption she was enjoying herself, so he continued, pounding away at her, pawing clumsily at her breasts, twisting them harshly.

If she hadn’t needed to use him to remove the Jarl from power she would have killed him right there, rutting beneath her. Then again, she thought bitterly, if I didn’t need him to die a specific way I wouldn’t be sleeping with him in the first place. A few more thrusts and she let out a phony cry of joy, clinging to him and shaking her body as though he had brought her to completion. Jod let out a roar of pleasure and spilled himself inside her. She rose from his lap as delicately as she could, wincing in pain.

“Did I hurt you?” he managed to pant, sweat dripping from his forehead.

At least he was smart enough to notice, she thought angrily, but she shook her head, “It was a bit rougher than normal, but nothing I didn’t enjoy.” she replied, the lies continuing to roll of her tongue. She reached behind her and grabbed the bottle of mead, Black-Briar Reserve no less, and handed it to him. “Here, I brought this with me thinking you’d need a drink after this.”

He hesitated. “I shouldn’t be drinking on the job.”

“Bulfrek is already half soused and the Jarl barely notices. I bought this especially for you the other day.” she urged.

Jod shrugged, took the bottle from her and took a deep drink, chugging half the bottle in two swallows. “This tastes like no mead I’ve ever had.” he remarked, smacking his lips together.

“The Black-Briar meadery just began production of this. It has a, fuller taste if you will.” she said with a smile.

He tilted the bottle towards her. She gripped the bottle and tilted her head back, pretending to take a sip. “Mmmm.” she sighed, “I love how the flavor bursts over your tongue.”

She handed it back to him, smiling as he finished off the bottle. She helped him get dressed, straightened her skirt and tucked her shirt back in, erasing the evidence of their mid afternoon tryst. “Walk me out?” she simpered.

Jod led her outside, shaking his head to clear it. “You did me in woman. I’ve never felt this sleepy in the afternoon before.”

She leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Then I know I satisfied you. I’ll see you tonight if you think you can handle another round.” she promised, knowing full well he’d never arrive.

Jod plodded back inside. Cylfin ducked behind the longhouse, counting to one hundred then snuck back inside. The Jarl was still snoring, the court was still out running errands and Jod had made it back to his chair in the war room before he had passed out, slumped over the table. The sleeping tincture she had crafted was well masked by the mead she had him drink. It was a perfect mixture of bee pollen and soaked deer antler, slow acting enough that one might think they were simply tired, and it only lasted about thirty minutes, making it hard to prove one had been drugged.

She slipped the incriminating letter out of her pocket and stuffed it into Jod’s hand, bring that up to rest on the table. She snuck out of the room and climbed the stairs to his bedroom, picking the lock and slipping inside. There she made short work of unlocking his strongbox, dropping the flawless sapphires inside with a sad sigh, knowing the Jarl would confiscate them as evidence, and then closed the lid, confirming it was locked up tight again.

She exited the longhouse cautiously, making sure no one noticed her, slipping out while both guards were at opposite ends of the lane on their patrols. She took the long way back to the inn, slipping in quietly, making sure Bulfrek noticed her come in.
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That night Dawnstar was abuzz with gossip. Apparently Frorknar had returned to find Jod fast asleep in the war room, clutching a letter indicating he was selling the imperial army information about Ulfric’s military movements. Jod had of course protested his innocence but when the Jarl demanded his room be searched they made him unlock his strongbox and there were the sapphires mentioned in the letter as his payment.

Job had tried to prove his innocence by declaring he had been with Cylfin all afternoon, which only further served to enrage Skald, as he hurled insults at Jod for sullying himself with an elf whore. Guards had come and searched her room, looking for anything that may link her to his betrayal, but there was none to be found. She had told him he left early that morning to meet with the merchant sailors at the docks, but she has noticed he spent a suspiciously long amount of time with one sailor. Suddenly his innocent conversation was blown out of proportion, new searches would begin on all cargo entering Dawnstar and Jod was executed without any trial.

Cylfin stayed in Dawnstar as the hunt continued, knowing if she left it would look suspicious. Skald began accusing anyone at the docks of treason, he had guards ransack homes looking for traitors to Skyrim and pulled all the young men of Dawnstar in for questioning. It was utter chaos, with neighbors distrusting neighbors, travelers being turned away from the inn and the Jarl making more and more outrageous demands. It all came to a head one morning when Skald ordered all the sailors in the bay be rounded up and thrown in prison.

The guards rebelled, locking up the Jarl and Frorknar, and the townspeople declared Brina in charge until further notice. Cylfin was delighted. It had gone exactly as Sibbi has predicted and now she could return home. Erandur had been suspicious of her leaving, but she had that covered as well. She sobbed into his robes one night, crying over the loss of her lover, claiming Dawnstar would forever be tainted by both his loss and betrayal. Begin a priest of Mara he had fallen for it, comforting her and claiming she was young enough that Mara would find her another partner. The day she was to leave, Brina tracked her down to properly thank her and Erandur for ridding Dawnstar of the nightmares. Cylfin had accepted gracefully and smiled all the way out of town on that carriage ride, her pockets filled with the sound of clinking coins.
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Chapter Text

Rather than going straight to Sibbi or the cistern when she returned to Riften, Cylfin chose to go the the lake. She felt grubby from her time in Dawnstar, the road dust and self loathing from sleeping with Jod making her itch to scrub the filth from her skin. If she went back to the Guild she might have to spend hours telling everyone what had happened and the prickling feeling along her flesh was becoming unbearable. She chose a spot on the other side of the warehouse on the docks, hidden from view of the boats. She set her gear down along the shore and stripped down to nothing. Grabbing a bar of lavender scented soap, she waded into the water until she was waist deep, then began to scrub her body as hard as she could. She lathered her hair, scrubbing her scalp and running her fingers through the strands to untangle them. She submerged herself, rinsing the suds from her skin, then broke the surface with a gasp, wiping the water from her eyes.

“So this is where you’ve been.” came a sneering voice from the lakeshore behind her. “Niruin spotted you at the stables. I expected you down in the Flagon a half an hour ago.”

She shrieked, crossing her arms over her breasts and collapsing down into the water. The laughing from behind her grated on her nerves and she turned around, ready to scream at her peeping tom, when she realized it was Mercer. She blushed and looked away from him, feeling especially embarrassed that it was Mercer who caught her her scrubbing the feelings of disgust from her body.

“You didn’t think I might need to finish up a few things before I came to give my report?” she asked trying to sound as though she didn’t care he was staring at her unblinking.

“I didn’t realize your vanity was more important than reporting in. You’re lucky that I’ve got most of the reports already, though I’m waiting for your version of events. Sibbi and Maven were quite pleased with your results.

“Then what do you want Mercer?” she asked more confidently, standing up and dropping her arms. If he was going to stare, she would give him a show.

He didn’t even flinch. His gaze remained firmly focused on her face. “As I said, I was expecting you and I don’t like being made to wait. Still, you must have something to feel ashamed of if you’re scrubbing yourself raw out here in the lake. When you finally wash away that feeling, come find me.” he smirked, turning his back on her and walking away.

His implication, that she should feel ashamed of her sexuality, enraged her. He might be right about needing to scrub away the feelings of Jod's hands on her body, but she was more disgusted by her encounters with Jod than ashamed of them. There was nothing wrong with using her body as a means to an end, men did it as often, if not more than women, but they were rarely shamed for it. She emerged from the water, drying off and dressing quickly, then she strode into Riften with purpose, seeking out Sibbi before Mercer, in silent defiance of his orders.

Sibbi was in the Bee and Barb, dining with the Snowshods. When he saw her in the doorway, he quickly excused himself, then walked past her, out into the streets. “Follow me.” he whispered as he passed her. “To the manor.”

She followed in silence, waiting patiently as he unlocked the front door and pulled her inside. She opened her mouth to start telling him how the job went, but was silenced as he shoved her back against the wall and his lips descended on hers. Surprise was quickly replaced by a swift flood of desire. Sibbi’s lips were soft and smooth, his tongue gentle and probing, the hands he placed on her hips, tender. She wrapped her arms around his neck and writhed against him, delighting in the hardness pressed against her belly. Sibbi was everything Jod had not been and her thighs flooded at the chance to bed him again.

“Miss me?” she inquired when he pulled away, gasping.

“I’ve waited weeks to hear that sultry voice again.” he murmured, running his lips along the length of her ear. “I want nothing more than to take you here against the wall.” he groaned.

Cylfin pulled his head back to hers, kissing him deeply as she kicked off her boots and unlaced her leggings. She pushed them down, along with her small clothes, and stepped out of them. “Now Sibbi. I need you now.” she whimpered as she tore open his breeches, letting his length free.

Sibbi wrapped his arms around her waist, and hoisted her into the air, bracing her back against the wall. With a single thrust, he was buried inside her, ripping a cry from both their lips. She used the wall to support herself as she undulated against him, meeting him thrust for thrust. His tongue left cool, wet trails on her skin, his lips tugged at her nipples spurring her desire and she felt the tension in her abdomen start to coil tighter and tighter.

Sibbi growled as he slowed his pace, making her whimper in protest, but when he shifted her weight in his arms so he could tilt his hips ever so slightly, she began to whine. This position allowed him to press closer against her, and the cleft between her thighs rubbed up and down over his pelvis.

“You like that?” he gasped against her chest.

“Yes, oh Dibella, yes!” she cried, “Don’t stop Sibbi, please don’t stop.”

He flashed her a self satisfied grin as he continued his slow thrusts, in and out and she mewled uncontrollably. She curled forward, capturing his lips with hers, and slid her tongue inside his mouth. She could taste the apple pie he had been eating before she arrived, and she swirled her tongue around his, savoring the sweet spiciness of his kiss. Just when she thought she couldn’t take any more of his teasing Cylfin felt a gentle finger, circling the ribbed ring of flesh on her ass, moments before he slid it against the slick between them, than pushed it inside her.

Cyflin exploded around him, screaming his name as she came, her body an uncontrollable mess of quivering flesh and sweat. Sibbi roared seconds later, pounding her against the wall as he released all his pent up desire deep within her. As he lost the strength in his arms, she slid down the wall, popping off his softening cock with a slick squishing sound that made her smile.

Sibbi stumbled backwards, shaking his head to clear it. Once he had the energy to to so, he ran to the kitchen, grabbing a soft hide cloth and brought it back to her, allowing her to clean herself. As she dressed she felt tears of relief and gratitude come to her eyes and she rapidly blinked them away, not wanting him to mistake them for a deeper affection. She leaned up, kissing Sibbi and mumbled against his lips. “By the eight, you have no idea how much I needed that.”

He laughed and led her into the same sitting room from before, pouring her a cup of mead . “I’m glad to see you.” he replied. “Mother is delighted by the change in power in Dawnstar of course, but I was wondering if you would make it back. Word is Skald wanted your head as well, for sleeping with his housecarl. I didn’t hear if you made it out of there alive. None of the reports mentioned you at all after noting you’d been seen in Jod’s company for days before his execution.”

The smile fell from her lips, her eyes clouding over with distaste. “Thanks for ruining the afterglow Sibbi.” she sneered. “Yes, I slept with him to gain his trust and get close enough to plant the evidence. I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

“I’m not judging my dear.” he replied with a frown. “We both know there is no exclusivity here. I’d never stand in the way of your methods.”

“I didn’t think you were jealous, I just don’t want to be reminded of the experience. I’ve never had such a horrible lover. It made me sick every time I felt his lips against my body and I don’t want to be thinking of him after what we just did.”

Understanding lit up his eyes. “Oh, that’s what you meant by you needed that. You needed something better to wash away the yuck.” he quipped.

“Succinctly put.” she replied, thinking of Mercer’s words about washing the filthy feeling from her body. She shook her head to banish any further thoughts of the Guild Master and flashed Sibbi a steamy smile. “Now, let me fill you in on what happened, then you can apologize by taking me upstairs for round two.”

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Brynjolf had not seen Mercer this furious in weeks. He had been jolly enough when he returned from topside Riften, but as the hours passed, the Guild Master mood deteriorated faster and faster. By the time the midnight call had been sounded by the guards, Mercer had actually moved to the training room, something he rarely did anymore and proceeded to destroy the sparring dummy.

Brynjolf watched from the shadows, unsure if he should interrupt his boss who was glaring daggers at the broken chunks of wood on the floor, or if he should slip silently away to his bed and let Mercer sleep it off.

“You got something to say Brynjolf?” Mercer growled, sheathing his sword, turing his eyes to tunnel where Brynjolf leaned against the wall.

“You’ve got a bee in your bonnet, Frey, and the rest of them delegated me to ask.” Brynjolf replied with a sigh at missing his opportunity to leave.

“That stupid bitch thinks she can make a fool of me.” Mercer replied. “I told her to come find me to give her report and she has yet to show her face down here. She’s one mistake away to being kicked out on her ass.”
Brynjolf’s eyes widen in shock at the vehemence in Mercer’s tone, not needing to clarify who he was referring to. All the other women in the Guild were accounted for. “My sources say she reported to Sibbi and hasn’t been seen outside the Black-Briar manor since. You know she’s his new obsession. Did you really expect him to let her come back here tonight?”

“I expected her to report to me first. I’m the Guild Master. Sibbi does not pull the strings yet.” Mercer shouted. “She’d do damn well to remember that.”

“What’s really got your smalls in a twist Mercer?” asked the redhead. Brynjolf was the only one who had the nerve to question Mercer when he was like this.

Mercer cursed colorfully.

Brynjolf crossed his arms and stared at his boss. “She’s wasn’t out on a Guild job. Maven specifically had Sibbi set this one independently from you as some kind of test. He’s the boss on this one. So I’ll ask again, what’s actually bothering you?”

“I don’t trust her Brynjolf. I never should have let you recruit her.” Mercer snarled. “She’s too cocky for her own good.”

“Mercer, be reasonable. She’s a damn fine thief, she’s brought in more coin in the last few weeks than we’ve seen in months.” Brynjolf paused, frowning as he put it together. “This is about Karliah isn’t it? Mercer, you can’t ban every elf from joining the Guild. Shor’s Balls, she’s not even the same race of elf.”

“I’m quite aware of that Brynjolf and it has nothing to do with that murderous tramp. Cylfin’s luck can’t last forever and her overconfidence is going to spell disaster for the Guild.” Mercer replied lamely, not fooling his second for a minute.

“Aye, whatever you say Mercer. Don’t take this the wrong way, but do us all a favor and visit Haelga. We’d all appreciate it if you would go work out a bit of your stress.” Brynjolf replied, clapping Mercer on the back and walking away.

“She’s not the one I want.” Mercer muttered under his breath once Brynjolf was out of sight, throwing his dagger into the archery target.

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Cylfin had just wrapped up with Delvin and Vex, completing their jobs and taking on a couple new ones when Brynjolf found her the next morning.

“So lass, have you made your way to Mercer yet this morning, or is it your intent to make us all suffer down here?” he asked, anger deepening his brogue.

She ducked her head sheepishly. “On my way to see him now. Sorry. Delvin filled me in on how pissed Mercer was last night. I’d have made it down here sooner, but….” she trailed off.

“I don’t begrudge you your fun with Sibbi lass, but try not keep Mercer waiting again. The rest of us have to deal with him too. Push him too far and there won’t be anything I can do to keep you here.” he cautioned.

“Aye lad.” she teased, mimicking his accent. “I’ll take your words to heart and do better next time.”

He smacked her on the ass as she walked past. “Be off with ya, you saucy wench.”

She laughed all the way down the hallway until she spotted Mercer standing in the open doorway to his room, the intensity in his eyes giving her pause. “So, you think insubordination is a laughing matter do you?” he slammed his fist against the wall. “I told you to report to me last night.”

“No, you told me me you figured I had something to feel ashamed of and to come find you when I finally washed away that feeling.” she retorted, using her hands to emphasize his phrasing. “Well it took Sibbi pounding me against his mattress all night to wash away that feeling.”

Mercer sneered and rolled his eyes. “I meant when you finished with your bath you insolent twit.” She began to laugh, infuriating him further. “Why are you laughing?”

“I’ve noticed you always start calling me names when you realize you have nothing else to throw at me. I didn’t do anything wrong, you messed up by implying I was a tramp in the first place. Now do you want to hear my report or not?” He nodded and retreated into his room, knowing she would follow him. She shut the door behind her, for the privacy if he was planning on yelling at her some more. “I know Sibbi already paid you for the chaos I created and I know your sources probably knew about the change of leadership at the same time Maven’s did, so what do you want to know?”

“How you managed to get close enough to the housecarl to frame him. Maven’s contact had been trying for months to accomplish what you did in two weeks time.” he asked harshly. “I just can’t believe you’re that good of a spy.”

“Oblivion take you Mercer, you are the most infuriating man I have ever met.” she exploded. “I fucked him. Is that what you want to hear? I slept with him and gained his trust that way. It never would have worked though if I hadn’t helped that priest of Mara deal with a Daedric Prince. We helped rid Dawnstar of it’s Nightmares which proved to Jod I could be trusted.”

“Other spies have tried sleeping with him, what’s so amazing about your twat that it would make him lower his guard and have Sibbi so head over heels obsessed with you that he’d forego his regular visits to the Bunkhouse?”

The revelation that Sibbi hadn’t been sleeping with anyone else while she was gone both pleased her and worried her. He knew damned well there was no future between them, so it wouldn’t do any good for him to obsess over her. But Mercer’s insults were really starting to get on her nerves. “I don’t know Mercer. Too bad you’ll never find out.” she scorned.

Mercer’s hands were wrapped around her neck faster than she could blink. “You really don’t think I haven’t noticed your eyes on me since you first arrived here elf?” he hissed, his hands squeezing her airways as he shoved her against the wall. “You think I don't know that if I bent you over my desk in the cistern, you’d let me fuck you raw in front of the entire Guild? That if I wanted you on your knees here and now, you wouldn’t scramble to obey my every command? Don’t lie to yourself Cylfin, you’ve wanted to get your hands on my body from the moment you laid eyes on me.”

He threw her to the floor, a satisfied smile breaking the fierceness of his expression as she lay on the floor, gasping for air. “Now get out of here until I have need of you, elf. You’ll be called on again soon enough. As much as I hate to admit it, you’re to damned good at this game to not use you for these big jobs. Just remember, you’re on your own if you mess up. No one here will bail your ass out of a bind.” he said, his voice emotionless.

Cylfin managed to rise to her hands and knees. “You touch me again Mercer and you’re a dead man. You hear me?” she gasped, making her threat sound anything but threatening. “I’ll fry you like a fish if you lay a hand on me again.”

Mercer laughed harshly. “We’ll see little elf, we’ll see. Just keep pushing me.”

“You might be right about me wanting you Mercer. Gods only know why I do, because I can’t figure it out myself, but you can’t convince me that the feeling isn’t mutual. I think it bothers you that you’re attracted to an elf. It’s obviously you hate me for that reason alone, but you want me just as bad, against your better judgement and prejudice, and it infuriates you.” she spat, smiling viciously when his eyes narrowed with displeasure.

She staggered to her feet and pushed open the door, stumbling into the hallway and slamming it behind her. She held her hands to her damaged throat. Coughing, she cast a healing spell, swallowing repeatedly as the muscles unclenched, the bruising faded and the pain in her vocal cords disappeared.

Brynjolf came around the corner, heading to the cistern and caught sight of her. Noticing her shaken expression he grimaced.“I take it that didn’t go well.”

“An understatement.” she replied, glad she had erased the evidence of Mercer’s abuse. “He’s not happy with me, that’s for sure.”

“Come on lass, I’ll treat you to some breakfast. Mercer might not show his appreciation for what you did there, but I will. It really helped redeem the guild in Maven’s eyes, whether she admits it or not.” he smiled at her, making her feel warm and peaceful, unlike Mercer who caused her blood pressure to rise. She found it strange that men could evoke such polar opposite reactions within her.

“Alright, but I want Vekel’s full out, no holding back breakfast plate, including porridge.” she replied.

“That’s my little thief, swindling me for all I’m worth.” he said chuckling and leading her back to the Flagon.

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Cylfin had all but begged Vex and Delvin for a few jobs as far away as possible, to put some distance between her and Mercer. They had sent to to Solitude, to relieve the fletcher of a priceless gemstone and to change the numbers at the blacksmith’s shop, simple in and out jobs. At the present moment she was regretting their choice of cities to hit, having just been forced to watch as a blood thirsty crowd jeered one of their own, throwing rotting food and debris at the man until the axeman’s blade had fallen, cleaving his head from his body.

She had to swallow hard, several times, to keep the contents of her stomach down. She hated Ulfric as much as any elf, but she hated bigotry and death more. War had a weird effect on even the most passive and peaceful people, filling them with hate, giving them an excuse to commit the worst atrocities against each other. The man had lost his life and the crowd was serving spiced wine and honey nut treats and taffy as though it was a celebration.

 

Once the crowd had broken up, their bloodlust dying down with the man’s death, she was finally able to make her way to the inn to rent a room. She slept off her discomfort, waiting until after midnight to hit her targets.

Perhaps she had gotten too cocky, perhaps the curse caught up to her, but her plans went to Oblivion at her first stop. She made it into the shop with no problem, creeping up the stairs to the Redguard’s room. Something felt off, the man was snoring so she continued to his strong box. She missed the signs and stepped directly onto the frost rune that was cast on the floor.

The explosion knocked her back against the wall, with shards of ice peircing her chest and thighs. She couldn’t hold back the scream of pain, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. The merchant had jumped from his bed and was advancing on her, a deadly ebony dagger in his hand.

Her only saving grace was that the wall she was thrown against had the only window in his room. Gasping as the frost spread through her veins she scrambled out the window, up to the roof and desperately looked for a place to hide. She could hear the man screaming for the guards, but she was too focused on trying not to slip on the blood that flowed down her legs, coating the ancient tiles of the roof, to look for them.

There was nowhere to run and the frost was rapidly slowing her steps until she could barely move. She stumbled, her foot sliding on the slick tiles and she pitched sideways, rolling down the slope of the roof to the cobblestones below. She felt the bones in her left ankle and forearm snap and her shriek likely woke all of Solitude.A guard tackled her, slamming her face into the road, splitting her nose wide open. It was too much for her body to handle and she felt the pain slip away as darkness enveloped her.
******************************************************************************

She awoke when one of the dungeon guards kicked her broken ankle, the pain ripping her from unconsciousness with a scream. She curled up into a ball on the freezing floor of her cell, her prisoner rags offering no warmth, and tried to stop the tears that welled up in her eyes as agony blinded her.

“I said wake up you stupid elf. The captain wants to speak to you.” the guard growled.

She huddled on the floor, shaking from the cold and pain as the captain entered the cell, the metallic tang of his armor filling the air. Blessedly the pain in her ankle disappeared when he laid his hand against is, casting a powerful healing spell on her.

Her confusion must have shown on her face because he chuckled. “Can’t get answers out of you if you can’t speak through the pain. You’ll have to forgive Grenus. He’s new and doesn’t understand you get better information with kindness than abuse.”

“I don’t think I’ll be forgiving him anytime soon.” she muttered, looking at the floor.

The captain stood, looking down at her. “Fair enough elf. Let’s start with the basics. I am Captain Amand Septiel, and you are?”

“Kirdra.” she lied.

“Now now,” he scolded. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t lie to me after I healed that ankle of yours. Try again. What is your name?”

“Ardwys, Ardwys Fernbrook.” she replied, trying again.

The man made a disappointed sound. “Tsk, I had really hoped you’d play nice elf. Let’s try it one more time, and it better be the truth or I revert to my youth when I used tactics similar to Grenus.”

“Cylfin.” she sobbed, scrambling away from him as best as she could with her still broken arm. She knew first hand the kind of tactics city guards liked to use on female prisoners. In her experience it didn’t matter if they were Nord, Breton, or Imperial, city guards liked use force and molestation to show authority.

“That’s better.” he stated. “Now, I happen to know what you are, and I know you have friends in high places, so lucky for you, you’ll be serving time for trespassing, rather than being executed for theft and an attempted assassination?”

“I didn’t steal anything.” she replied softly. “And I’m no killer.”

“I’m aware. Fihada is calling for your head, for stealing his flawless emerald that he inherited from his father. I searched his home, the roof where you fled to and the entire walkway surrounding his home. I have searched every crack and crevice of your body.” he replied with a perverse smile, causing her to shudder. “I searched every hidden pocket of your armor as well. Nothing in there. You don’t have the gemstone. I know for a fact Fihada can’t cast a candlelight spell, so a frost rune is well beyond his skills.”

He crouched down and handed her a slip of paper. “Found this in the lock box, I think someone set you up little elf. Might want to rethink your career, or your choice of friends.” he warned as he stood. “Hope you like gruel, that’s what’s on the menu for the next three days.” he laughed as he exited the cell, leaving Cylfin alone with her pain.

Her face was a swollen wreck, blood crusted to her nose, eyes black and puffy. She decided to leave it alone, the wound might scar slightly, but if she left her face this messed up while in the prison, she had a chance of them not recognizing her again if she came back to Solitude. Her arm and chest were a different matter. She cast a healing spell of her own on her arm, gritting her teeth as the bone shards slide into place, spurs shooting out to bridge the pieces back together. Once that was on the mend she cast another spell on her chest, which was peppered in scratches and small wounds from the Frost Rune. As her flesh healed her breathing became less pained, and she could draw in deeper breaths.

They had taken her armor, and she knew she wouldn’t get anything back until she was released. Luckily, she hadn’t stolen anything before she was caught, so she didn’t have to try and steal it back from the evidence chests.

The captain’s words nagged at her, the part about being set up. The only person who had it out for her in the guild was Mercer, but she couldn’t imagine that he would stoop so low as to get her jailed on purpose. Even he admit that she was too good not to use on bigger jobs. Surely he wouldn’t let his own personal hatred of her jeopardize the guild’s future. None of the other thieves seemed to hold any grudges against her, and up until the rune exploded she would have counted all of them among her friends. Now her mind raced, trying to recall any sentence, any look from any of them that would have indicated their animosity.

Suddenly she remembered Revyn. The job in Windhelm had almost been a bust since Viola had been hit hard before she had even stepped foot in the manor. She had wondered then if someone was trying to make her look bad, but there weren’t any dark elves in the guild that she was aware of. She sat up, leaning against the cell wall for support and unfolded the slip of paper.

“BACK OFF. YOU’RE MEDDLING IN THINGS YOU CAN’T BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND!”

The slip was signed with the same markings as on the Goldenglow deed. Maybe an ex-member, or someone who hadn’t made the cut, who still held a grudge, possibly even the same person who was trying to throw a wedge between Maven and the guild.

She made up her mind to ask Brynjolf when she got back to Riften, if she was allowed to return to the fold after a screw up like this. She didn’t think it was a good idea to ask Mercer about any rogue elves. Most likely it would piss him off more than her being caught would. She was not looking forward to his gloating when she got back to Riften. He had been right. Her luck couldn’t hold.
************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

The look of disappointment on Brynjolf’s face when she returned to the guild a week later cut her to the quick. He didn’t say a word to her, he just gestured for her to follow him to the training room. He growled at Rune and Thrynn to leave them alone, and once they had scuttled away he whirled around to glare at her. “Care to explain what in Oblivion happened to you in Solitude? Mercer is livid, and so is Maven. Sibbi found out you were in jail and called in a favor Maven had with the guards to guarantee your release. I can’t believe it Cyl. You never get caught.”

She hung her head, refusing to look at him. She had decided along the road to not mention the set up to Brynjolf just yet. The guild was doing bad enough just thinking they were cursed, or that they hit a run of bad luck. She didn’t want to give him or Mercer anything else to worry about if they were being set up. For all she knew it was just her being targeted since none of the other members had been attacked, and it wasn’t as if she didn’t have enemies of her own. “I’m sorry Brynjolf. I missed the signs of the Frost Rune the mark had cast as a defense. I got hit with it, and was too frozen to escape. I didn’t know Sibbi had done anything to get me released until the Captain of the guard came to interrogate me.”

Brynjolf’s frown deepened. He knew the kind of interrogation tactics used on female prisoners. Men were often tortured and beaten, but women suffered a crueler fate. “Did they…?” he trailed off, unable to bring himself to ask aloud.

Cylfin shuddered and nodded. “I think so. I wasn’t conscious for it, but the Captain made a crude remark about having explored all the crevices of my body, looking for stolen goods.” she mumbled. “I don’t know if that makes it worse or better, not knowing everything.”

Brynjolf blanched, and took a step towards her, but stopped himself from trying to comfort her. She didn’t like to be touched without permission as it was, and that was now probably further reinforced by her recent experience. “Sorry lass, I don’t really know what to say to that to make it better.”

She gave a mirthless laugh, her eyes still focused on the floor. “I appreciate the concern Brynjolf, I do, but there’s nothing you can say. It’s not the first time I’ve been molested by a city guard, and it won’t be the last, not in this line of work. I’ll talk to one of the other women here if I need anything.”

Brynjolf stepped forward and placed a tentative hand on her shoulder. When she didn’t flinch or move away he move a finger to her chin and lifted her face to look at him. “If you need anything from me, let me know. I’ll speak to Mercer and explain what happened. He wants to speak to you, but I’ll make sure he understands and tell him I’m taking care of it. Even our best little thief can have an off day. It’s not as if the rest of us haven’t had a job go sideways on us. Rest a few days before you take anything from Delvin or Vex okay?”

She nodded, somehow managing to keep the tears from her eyes. She almost wished he would let Mercer speak to her. She felt awful and Mercer would make her feel worse, but somehow it would also feel better. She didn’t know how to deal with Brynjolf’s understanding and concern.

Brynjolf hesitated with his next comment, but decided as her boss it was his responsibility to look out for her. “Look, like I said before, Sibbi pulled strings to get you released. He’ll want to see you to reassure himself that you’re alright, but I’d suggest you might want to think about backing off from him a bit. It’s not like him to stick out his neck for anyone. Nothing serious can come from this, you must know that right?”

She scowled at him. “I’m aware nothing can come of it, nor do I want anything more from him than I get. Maven would never allow Sibbi to commit to anything serious with an elf, let alone a thief. I’m not stupid Bryn!” she growled.

“I never implied that you were Cyl.” he protested, hands up in defense. “I think Sibbi is forgetting the rules, not you. I was suggesting you remind him of them. Take another lover, refuse his bed a few times, anything to make him remember that there isn’t a future in this. At best you’ll be his mistress.”

She didn’t respond, she just jerked her head from his hand and stared at the floor again. “Cyl, I just don’t want to see you get hurt. This little outfit is family lass, and we look after our own.”

“Does that make you the concerned big brother?” she asked sarcastically.

He chuckled, “Well, something like that.”

“I guess that makes Delvin the weird uncle.” she replied with a slight smile, raising her eyes to meet his again. “But I can’t picture Mercer as the the strict father figure of this bunch.”

“Mercer is...well, Mercer cares for everyone down here in his own way.” Brynjolf replied uneasily, leading her back out to the cistern. “I know he’s a bit prickly, but I’ve known him since I was fifteen. He taught me everything I know about thieving and trusted me to be his second. He’ll warm up to you eventually. He’s just being stubborn.

Cylfin sincerely doubted that Mercer would ever truly accept her, his disliked her too much, and after the incident in Solitude she could no longer claim to be as capable as she had been. She might have been set up, but she should have seen the rune on the floor.

“We’ll see.” she replied dully as she walked along beside him. “I’ll think about what you said Brynjolf. I’ll talk to Sibbi, find out why he would do that for me. I can’t complain too much. I was told I’d have been executed if Sibbi hadn’t pulled string for me, since the guild wouldn’t have.”

He grabbed her hand, pulling her to a stop. “Hey now, we have our ways of getting back our members. I’d have sent Cynric for you, or you could have bribed the guards.”

“I was unconscious Brynjolf. I couldn’t have talked my way out of a paper bag. Mercer made it clear the last time we spoke that he will not extend any help to me if I mess up.” she spat. “I’d be a head shorter if Sibbi hadn’t got me out of there. I owe him for that.”

“Not saying you don’t.” he replied, frustrated by his Guild Master’s apparent disregard for their newest recruit. “I’m just saying, damn. I don’t know what I’m saying alright? I’m just worried about you. I meant it, this is a family and you’re an important part of it, for more than just your ability to bring in coin.”

She smiled. “I appreciate the concern, and I’ll be more careful of traps in the future if Mercer is going to let me stay.” she replied.

“Trust me lass, I’ll not let him send you anywhere for this. Go find Sibbi and reassure him.”
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Sibbi was waiting for her at the manor. He had the door open before she could knock, ushering her inside and slamming the door behind her. His lips were on hers in an instant, hard and insistent, his arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer. She kissed him back, hungry for his touch, desperate to give her body to someone of her choosing, to blot out the knowledge it was touched by a stranger when she couldn’t protest.

He pulled away too soon and she whimpered, her hands clutching at the back of his head, trying to pull his lips back to hers.

“Slow down little thief, we have all night.” he groaned when her teeth found his neck.

“Take me upstairs.” she insisted. “We need to discuss some things, but right now I need you to help me blot out the past week. Take me to bed.”

He stared at her for a moment longer, then scooped her into his arms and carried her to his room, a task she made difficult when she wrapped her arms around her neck and nibbled at his ear. Sibbi used a foot to push his bedroom door shut behind him. He set her down beside the bed, intent on stripping her slowly, but Cylfin was not willing to wait. She peeled off her shirt and ripped his tunic in her hurry to undress him.

Sibbi grunted with pleasure when her lips began to trail down his chest. Her fingers tore at the laces of his breeches, until he pushed her hands away and undid them himself, pushing the pants down his legs in one fluid motion. Cylfin grinned at him and pushed hard against his shoulders, causing him to lose his balance and fall back onto the bed. Before he could recover she pushed his knees apart and knelt between then, wrapping her hands around his length as her lips descended to press light kisses against his hot flesh.

Sibbi yelped in surprise and pleasure as she took him in her mouth, tongue swirling around him. He tried to push himself up, but froze when her teeth grazed his cock and she growled at him. The second he lay back down, her teeth were replaced by her tongue again and she began to suck and slurp along his length. Sibbi could feel the pressure at the base of his cock building.

“Cylfin, slow down. This will be over before it begins.” he begged, panting as he tried to stave off his climax.

She only increased the suction around him, her nails raking thin red lines up and down his thighs. When he felt her cup his balls in her warm hand he let out a low moan. Sibbi tried to rise up on his elbows enough to watch, but she dug her nails into his flesh, creating little half moon welts on his thighs. “Stay down” she growled, her voice low, and husky.

It was enough to push him over the edge. Sibbi released a strangled cry, his hips jerking frantically as he poured himself into her mouth. Cylfin smiled wickedly as she swallowed every drop, licking her lips when she released him. Pure pride burst through her when Sibbi’s body went limp on the bed, as he gasped to catch his breath, his skin covered in sweat. She crawled atop the bed beside him. “I hope you don’t think we’re done here.” she whispered as she trailed her tongue along the curve of his ear. “I have a job for you.”

“Anything.” he gasped.

His mouth went dry when she slid of the bed and began peeling off the rest of her clothes, piece by piece, until she was left in nothing but the jewelry that adorned her body. She smirked, backing away slowly, and crooked her finger, beckoning him to follow. Intrigued he lifted himself from the bed with shaky legs and shuffled over to the heavy chest of drawers she sat on. Her one leg dangled over the side, the other crooked up with her foot resting on the surface next to her thigh and she leaned against the wall for support. “It’s your turn to use that mouth of yours for something other than talking.” she purred.

He dropped to his knees in front of her without uttering another word, his eyes clouded by desire. He pressed his lips against her knee, trailing kisses up her thigh. His hands gripped her hips, pulling her bottom forward to the very edge of the dresser. Leaning in, he nibbled at the flesh just above the small patch of amber curls between her thighs, causing her to gasp. His tongue left a wet trail along her belly as it traced intricate patterns on her hot skin.

Losing her patience she placed her hand on top of his head and gave a firm shove, bringing his mouth to the apex of her thighs. Sibbi looked up into her eyes, molten with desire and flashed a grin before lowering his lips to her dripping slit. Cylfin’s head rolled back and she let out a low moan when his tongue darted between her folds to press firmly against the bundle of nerves. She shuddered with every pass of his tongue, every lick, every nip. When he slipped two if his fingers inside her she mewled, rocking her hips against his face in time with his thrusts.

He came up for air briefly, his thumb replacing his lips to rub slow circles around her clit. “You’re exquisite Cylfin. I can’t get enough of you.” he groaned.

She smirked. “Then get that tongue back to my snatch where it belongs.” she replied, shoving his face back between her legs. Sibbi was more than happy to oblige, suckling at her flesh, slurping up the honey that flowed from between her folds.

When he began to curl his fingers as he pulled them from her, brushing against that firm spot within her walls, she shrieked with pleasure, nearly arching off the dresser as her climax ripped through her. Sibbi groaned as her passage clenched and pulled at his fingers, sucking them deeper inside. Without giving her a moment’s respite stood and slid his now throbbing length inside her, causing her to squeal.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and stepped back, supporting her hips as they slid off the dresser. She held her torso up with her elbows, arching her back and wailing when the angle allowed him to thrust deeper inside her. “Dibella’s tits! Fuck me Sibbi. Harder, please, fuck me harder!” she demanded, undulating against him.

Sibbi growled and let go of his control, using his arms to pull her hips against him hard as he thrust upwards with all his might. The rhythmic slapping of his thighs against her, the sloppy squelch as he buried his cock deep inside her over and over, was only punctuated by their mutual cries as they climbed higher and higher together. Just when she thought she couldn’t take any more Sibbi leaned down captured his lips with his own, sliding his tongue inside to dance with hers. Another peak ripped through her, causing her body to go ramrod stiff as her muscles clenched and twitched.

Sibbi continued to thrust inside her as she shrieked, his thumb going to her clit and rubbing it furiously. Her slit was slick, fluid dripping out of her, down along the crack of her ass. Suddenly he pulled out of her leaving her feeling bereft as her walls throbbed around nothing. Her moan of protest was cut short when she felt the tip of him press against her puckered rosebud, sliding up and down to spread her body’s own lubricant over it. His eyes locked with hers in a silent plea for permission.She nodded slightly, her lower lip caught under her teeth with anticipation. Sibbi slid inside her, slowly but firmly pressing past the tight entrance, moaning when it gave slightly allowing him to hilt himself insider her. She whimpered, the feeling of him inside her was intoxicating and her head lolled back when he began to pick up the pace of his thrusts. Sibbi thrust his fingers back inside her tight snatch, thrusting in time with his cock and his thumb circled her clit over and over.

The feeling of being so completely filled was overwhelming her senses and she came again, the spasms less intense this time as her body was sapped of all it’s strength. Sibbi thrust a handful more times before he shouted to the rafters, her name ripped from his lips as he came, thrusting deeply as he spilled himself inside her tight channel that throbbed around him.

It took a few moments before either of them were capable of speaking. Sibbi pulled himself from her and set her down, leaning his hands on the dresser for support. Cylfin’s knees were weak, so she found herself wrapping her arms around Sibbi to keep herself standing between his arms. His chuckle startled her and she looked up into his eyes. “I’m not complaining in the slightest, but what was all that? You completely took control of that, I was just along for the ride.”

She felt her cheeks grow warm with a blush. “I don’t know if I can explain it to you in a way that makes sense.” she replied softly. “I needed to be in control. I needed to reassure myself that what was happening was my choice, my decision to make.”

Sibbi was silent as he regarded her. Finally he sighed and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Give me a name and he’s dead. It’s as simple as that.”

She shook her head, rubbing her nose against his chest. “He was the Captain of the Solitude guards. It won’t do you any good, he’s basically untouchable. You’re already in trouble for using a favor to get me out of there.”

“My dear, no one is untouchable and I know how to reach the brotherhood. Give me his name and tell me if you want it quick and painless or if you want him to suffer?” Sibbi replied, his voice dark with fury.

“Amand Septiel. The more he suffers the better I’ll feel.” she spat. “Why though? Why would you do this for me? Why did you use a favor to get me out of that prison cell in the first place. I don’t understand. This is not serious, this can never go anywhere. You could have let them execute me and found someone else to take to bed.”

Sibbi frowned, then wordlessly swept her into his arms, ignoring her cry of surprise. He placed her on his bed, and lay down beside her, gathering her in his arms and pulling her close. “My little thief, we might not have a future, but make no mistake, this is not some passing fancy. I have a vested interest in you and I wasn’t about to let some inept merchant take you away from me.” he replied, stroking her back.

He paused a moment, trying put his thought into words. He’d be the first to admit she drove him mad with lust, in a way no other woman he’d bedded ever could. His family name carried weight in Skyrim and the women he associated with were awed or terrified by him, often consumed with trying to curry his favor. His bed-mates were submissive and timid or over eager to please, never telling him what they wanted. I was always the same and he quickly lost interest in them. Cylfin was different. She argued with him, stood her ground when he raged at her and didn’t appear to care about his family name. Moments ago she had demanded exactly what she had wanted from him, giving him little choice but to follow her direction, and he had never been so aroused in his whole life. “I told you if you found Svidi for me I would be your ally. What good is rubbing shoulders with a Black-Briar if you can’t rely on me to help you in a tight spot?”

She looked up him with a frown, her skepticism clear in her eyes. “Are you sure that’s the only reason? You know there is no future between us right? Mercer told me you didn’t visit Haelga’s while I was in Dawnstar, you used a favor to get me out of prison. Brynjolf thinks you’re becoming to attached and warned me to back off.”

Sibbi snorted. “Brynjolf is a hell of a thief, but he’s got a sentimental streak in him a mile wide. Tell me, is he worried about you or me? I’ve known I must marry for politics since I was a child. Just because I have accepted my future doesn’t mean I have to like it or pretend to have any feelings for my future bride. I’ve done that once and look where it got me. My feelings are my own and I’m allowed to have them for my mistress even if that is all you’ll ever be. What I like so much about you is your ironclad grip on reality Cylfin. You aren’t making demands of my time or pinning a future on us. You know the rules and you don’t question them. You don’t even have a problem with me bedding anyone else. I couldn’t have found a more perfect bedmate. We’ll enjoy what we have until it doesn’t work anymore.”

“Eloquent as ever Sibbi. I’m fine with the terms of our relationship as long as you are. No jealousy, no demands, enjoy it while it lasts.” she replied, craning her neck to kiss him. “I still don’t understand why you’re going to have the Dark Brotherhood pay Amand a visit though. He treated me no differently than he would any other member of the guild.”

His arms tightened around her, almost painfully and his eyes glinted with rage. “Because Cylfin. No one touches my mistress without her explicit permission. If you want to take other lovers, that is your business, but if anyone ever touches you again without your say so they will quickly find themselves on receiving end of a set of torturers tools, with me as the wielder.” His reply was so full of malice it frightened her, a blatant reminder that her lover was a deadly man.
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Chapter Text

Two days later Cylfin was sitting in the Flagon sharing a drink with Delvin when Brynjolf sought her out. “Got another one for you. You're off to the Bee and Barb to speak with Maven Black-Briar. She asked for you by name.”

The blood drained from her face and she choked on her ale. Delvin jumped up, patting her on the back until she could breathe. “Maven?” she repeated. “Will I come out of there alive?”

Brynjolf started to laugh. “If it was like that she wouldn't be asking for you, she'd be calling the Dark Brotherhood. It's just business Cyl.”

I’m sleeping with her son. I doubt it’s ‘just’ business.” she replied. “Any idea what Maven wants from me?” She drained her bottle and stood up.

“Aye, but that's between you and Maven and Mercer prefers I leave it that way. Just keep your ears open and your mouth shut and you'll do fine. Don't worry so much. Maven's business dealings usually involve quite a bit of gold for her people, as you well know. Don’t bring up Sibbi and she may not even mention your affair.” he replied seriously. “Now get up there and make me proud.”

When she entered the Bee and Barn Keerava caught her eye and nodded toward the upper floor. Cylfin smiled, nodding her thanks and began to climb the stairs, a sick, heavy feeling turing her stomach. When she rounded the corner there was only one woman sitting there, but even if there had been multiple people Cylfin would have known who Maven was.

Ingun was almost the spitting image of her mother. The same gold green eyes, the same full, rounded lips and strong jawline. Maven’s nose was just a touch wider, giving her a less pinched look than Ingun, but unlike her daughter, whose eyes had been bright with wonder, Maven’s were hard and cold, indicative of her life. It was clear that the Black-Briar family got their good looks from their mother’s line. Maven might be passed her youth, but she was still a handsome woman who demanded respect.

Maven frowned when she saw Cylfin approach, looking over her with a critical eye that missed nothing. Cylfin knew that any motion she made that indicated fear would be an automatic failure in Maven’s eyes. This was the final test, one she would have to pass as a thief, as well as a bedmate for her son.

Maven’s frown did not change. “So, you're the one. Hmm. You don't look so impressive.” she stated, waiting to gauge her reaction.

Cylfin wasn’t sure if Maven was referring to her skills, or her looks. “How about we skip the conversation? Neither one of us is much for pleasantries.” she replied, returning the older woman’s gaze without blinking.

Maven blinked, breaking the staring contest first. “You’re a firebrand aren’t you? You have to understand, it's been a long time since Brynjolf's sent me anyone I can rely on. Mercer’s been no better.”

“It sounds as if you have no faith in the guild.” Cylfin pointed out.

Maven paused a moment, as if trying to determine whether she was being serious or not, then turned back to the account book in front of her. “Faith? I don't have faith in anyone. All I care about is cause and effect. Did the job get done and was it done correctly. There's no gray area.”

Cylfin nodded. “I can respect that. You won't have that problem with me.”

Maven sent her a sidelong glance, “Yes, well. I hope not. Mercer tells me you’re the one who took care of that job up in Dawnstar for Sibbi. My contacts in Solitude were grateful for your success there, but this is a personal business matter and it’s a very important job. I will tolerate no mistakes.” she declared, her voice firm, the way you might command a dog. “I have a competitor called Honningbrew Meadery that I want to put out of business. I also want to know how they got the place up and running so quickly.”

Cylfin nodded, “Whiterun, put your competition out of business. Got it. Do you have a plan for this one, or do I have to figure it out as I go?”

Maven smirked. “Bedding the owner won’t do you any good in this situation, I’ve tried that approach myself. He prefers the company of men.” Cylfin smiled at that, pleased to know Maven was willing to use her own sexuality to get her way as well. “Mercer and I have a foolproof plan. You will need to meet my contact in Whiterun. Head to the Bannered Mare in Whiterun and ask for Mallus Maccius. He'll fill you in on all the details.” She handed Cylfin a slip of paper with the name of the contact.

“I have a few questions if you will indulge me Maven.” The older woman rolled her eyes, but waved her hand to indicated she continue. “Who is it that runs the Honningbrew Meadery?”

Maven sighed. “Some layabout named Sabjorn. Been a thorn in my side for the last few years now.”

Cylfin leaned against the wall with her arms cross, a grin curving her lips. “Seems like more than just friendly competition.” she pointed out.

“Not a day goes by that I don't regret letting Sabjorn get as far as he did. In only a few short years, he's taken that bile he calls mead to market and a chunk of my profits with it!” Maven slammed her fist against the table, knocking over her bottle of ink. She made a disgusted sound as she watched it trickle along the table to drip on the floor. “I can't imagine where he found the gold to take it to market so quickly. You’re going to set him up for something he can’t talk his way out of. With Sabjorn in prison, his meadery will be forced to close.Then I swoop in and take over the place. No more competition.”

Cylfin nodded. Now that she had a better understanding of what Maven hoped to accomplish it made sense as to why she wanted this completed as soon as possible. “Make sense to strike now.” she commented. “Since Aringoth sold Goldenglow Estate and I destroyed three hives of the hives, undoubtedly you’ve seen a sharp decrease in your supply of honey needed for Black-Briar meadery to produce its product. You’re worried that Sabjorn could use this interruption to his advantage and take a larger share of the market, which would cut even further into your profits.”

Maven blinked in surprise. “You’re refreshingly astute for a thief. You might have done well as a merchant. Now get going. The timing must be perfect for this job to succeed. One more time in case I wasn't clear. You butcher this job and you'll be sorry.”

Cylfin bowed respectfully and turned, leaving Maven alone with her accounts.
*******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

The Bannered Mare was crowded and noisy as she remember from the last time she had been through the city. She had spent two days getting drunk after she killed the dragon that had attacked the watchtower, trying to drown out the memories of nearly being roasted alive and watching half of the guards sent to fight with you being devoured. Her memories after the dragon attack were blurry, the only thing she was certain of was that many of the city’s wives had given her the dirtiest looks when she walked back through the city gates a few moments ago. The bard had tried to take her in his arms when she entered the inn, but her dagger at his throat made it pretty clear that when she wasn’t drunk she did not like to be touched by near complete strangers. When she gave him Mallus’ name he stammered and pointed to the kitchen, scuttling away as fast as he could when she lowered her blade.

Sitting at the far end of the kitchen was the slimiest looking character she’d ever come across, which was saying something as she was a thief, slimy people were as common as charming rouges in her profession. His skin was sallow and stretched tightly across his gaunt features. There were dark circles under his sunken eyes and his long hair was greasy and matted. She gagged when he picked at an errant pimple with fingers chewed down to his nail beds.

He raised his tired eyes to her face as she approached. “Can't a man drink in peace?”

“Well that certainly isn’t the greeting I anticipated. Maven said you’re expecting me.”

Mallus sat back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest and sighed. “I wondered when you were going to get here. I'm going to keep this short 'cause we've got a lot to do. Sabjorn, is about to hold a tasting for Whiterun's Captain of the Guard. The plan is simple. We're going to poison the mead.

Cylfin scowled. “How do you expect me to smuggle poison into the brewery?”

A ghost of a smile crossed his lips, his tone brightening.“You don’t understand elf, you won’t be smuggling anything. Oh no. That's the beauty of the whole plan. Sabjorn is going to give it to you. The meadery has quite a pest problem and the whole city knows about it. Pest poison and mead don't mix well, you know what I mean?”

“Ok so he’s going to poison the skeevers. I don’t see how do I fit in.” she replied, biting her lip.

“I work very hard to appear to do nothing around the meadery, so if I volunteer to take care of the problem, Sabjorn will suspect somethings up. So you're going to happen by and lend poor old Sabjorn a helping hand. He'll give you the poison to use on the pests, but you're also going to dump it into the brewing vat.” he replied with a grin, as though he’d come up with the plan all on his own.

Cylfin stifled a laugh. The man didn’t have the mental capacity to construct a plan like this, but she flashed him a vapid smile as if he astounded her. “Clever.”

He puffed up, trying to impress her. “Maven and I spent weeks planning this. All we need is someone like you to get in there and get it done.” he bragged.

“So, once I get to the brewery how do I get to the brewing vats? I’ve never seen the layout of the building.” she stated, needed more information.

Mallus pulled out a piece of paper with a crude drawing on it and handed it to her to study. “Both of the buildings are connected by tunnels made by the pests infesting the meadery. There's an entrance to it in the basement storeroom of the warehouse that used to be boarded over. I've already removed the boards so the meadery would be infested. That's where you should start.”

She shuddered. She hated skeevers. They were a bigger problem down in the Grey Quarter than anywhere else in Windhelm and the guards were never keen on keeping the infestations down. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go in through the brewery?” she asked, hoping to cut down her contact with the rodents.

“Sabjorn keeps that locked up tight. If you can get through that way go right ahead.” He shrugged. “However, Maven has plans for this place, so one way or another, we don't want the pests coming back. Consider it just more of the dirty work. I did my part getting them in there, now you need to clear them out.

Cylfin stared at Mallus for a moment, trying to figure out why Maven had bothered to use him as a contact. He didn’t have the brains to come up with this plan, the abilities to implement it on his own, he didn’t possess any ties to well known people, and she doubted he would even be able to handle himself at a dinner party. Finally she shook her head. “I’m sorry Mallus, I still don’t understand how you play into all of this. Why didn’t Maven just send me in here?”

He snorted in reply. “Maven wouldn’t have had a chance against Sabjorn if not for my help.” he replied. “Years ago, I made the mistake of borrowing coin from Sabjorn. He’s been working my fingers to the bone to pay it back! He treats me like a slave, making me do every nasty, dirty job in the meadery, but he couldn’t have gotten this successful without my family’s recipe for mead. Maven’s mead is swill, and everyone knows it, but for the longest time she was the only source in Skyrim. She approached me with a deal. If this plan works, not only is my debt gone, but I'll be set up for life. When Sabjorn ends up in jail, she's going to buy his meadery, for a fraction of what it’s worth. She’s be implementing my recipe, and guess who gets to run the Black-Briar Meadery in Whiterun? You're looking at him.”

So that was it, he held the recipe over Maven’s head. “Just be careful that she doesn’t cross you for blackmailing her. I’ve met the woman. She’s terrifying the way a predator is terrifying. She doesn’t care about anything that gets in her way, she just removes the obstacle.” Cylfin replied.

“I know how to stay useful elf.” he sniffed. “ Now get going before Sabjorn grows a brain and hires someone else to do the dirty work.”

Cylfin made her way down to the meadery, avoiding the guards as much as possible to avoid being recognized. She remembered some of them that had been at the watchtower with her. She didn’t need anyone knowing the Dragonborn was back in town.

Once she reached the meadery she pushed open the door and approached the counter, where a middle aged Nord stood, staring at the carcasses of two skeevers on the floor. She grimaced, the corpses were larger than the skeever back home.

The man looked up and sneered at her. “What are you gawking at? Can't you see I have problems here?”

“I’d have to be blind not to see the pest problem, but they’re dead. So what else is wrong?” she replied.

“Are you kidding me? Look at this place. I'm supposed to be holding a tasting of the new Honningbrew Reserve for the Captain of the Guard soon. If he sees the meadery in this state, I'll be ruined. I need the rest of the horde taken care of, and I need to get the parlor cleaned up before he arrives and my employee has conveniently disappeared again when he’s needed the most.” the man whined.

Cylfin looked around and shrugged. “I might be able to help.”

He scoffed, his hands on his hips. “Oh really? And I don't suppose you'd just do it out of the kindness
of your heart, would you?”

She grinned, leaning against the counter. “Well I certainly don’t work for free.”

He frowned at her. “I hope you're not expecting to be paid until the job's done.”

She straightened, looking him dead in the eyes. “That's the only way I operate.”

He huffed, “Yes well that's not how I operate, so forget it. Finish the job first, get paid after.”

Cylfin flashed a threatening smile and leaned forward to hiss. “I don’t think so Nord. I get paid now, or I yell ‘skeever’and you’re whole operation goes under.”

The man paled. “Okay, okay. No need to make rash decisions. Here's half. You get the rest when the job's done. My only demand is that these vermin are permanently eliminated before my reputation is completely destroyed.”

She glared at him for a few moments as if considering it. “Alright fine, I’ll do it for haf now, but I better get the other half when the jobs done. How do I ‘permanently’ clear the vermin?”

He dug into his pockets, producing a small paper package and handed it to her. “I bought some poison. I was going to have my lazy, good-for-nothing assistant Mallus handle it, but as I said before, he seems to have vanished. Kill every rodent you find and then plant this in the vermin's nest, it should stop them from ever coming back. Don't you dare come back until every one of those things are dead.” he replied, trying to sound more in command than he really was.

She nodded, indicating the agreement to do as he asked and headed in the direction he was pointing to find the nest. The creatures weren’t really that difficult to deal with as she made her way through the underground tunnels to their nest. A few frost spiders had actually thinned out the horde, their corpses wrapped up tightly in webbing. She had more trouble dispatching the arachnids than the hissing vermin.

The worst of the trouble came from the madman living in the tunnels, that neither Mallus or Sabjorn had thought to mention. By the time she managed to wear him out enough to run a dagger across his throat she was drained of magic, shaking from the lightning and frost spells he had hit her with and sported a shallow cut across her stomach that bled sluggishly. She hadn’t thought to bring a healing potion with her, and she couldn’t cast a healing spell to save her soul. Instead she used some linen she found in the man’s chest of ‘treasures’ to wrap the wound. She kept the lock picks and gold in the chest and, tossing the worn out gauntlets to the ground.

She dumped half the poison into the skeever nest, placing the remainder back into her pocket and stumbled onward, every movement causing her to gasp in pain. Once in the warehouse she slowly made her way up the rickety wooden steps to the upper floor. The lid to the brewing vat was heavy and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying as she tugged at it, but she managed to lift the lid and pour the remaining poison inside.

She was going to to slip out of the warehouse and return to the meadery, but heard someone at the door, and the key sliding into the lock. She ducked into a darkened corner, watching as Mallus stepped inside and looked around for her.

She heard him mumble, “No sign of her. I hope she got here in time. I can’t put off bottling this batch for the tasting.”

Mallus filled half a dozen bottles, then left the same way he came, taking them away to be sampled. She breathed a sigh of relief, only know understanding how little time Maven had given her to complete the job. She made her way down the stairs and grabbed the key hanging by the door, refusing to waste her lockpicks on the door, or go back down into the tunnels to get back to the meadery.

Once outside, where the sun bathed her in it’s summer warmth, she began to feel a bit better. She tested her magic reserves, happy when the soft glow of a healing spell swirled around her stomach and knit the flesh back together. There was nothing she could do about the blood, but that wasn’t her concern at the moment. She pushed open the door to the meadery and approached the counter.

“Job's finished.” she stated, holding back a smile as the man’s eyes widened with shock at the state she was in. Her armor was bloody, covered in webbing and had char marks from where the madman had hit with lightning.

“Well it's about time! I had to stall Captain Caius until you were finished.” he hissed, keeping his voice low. “Get out of sight, you’re absolutely filthy.”

“What about the other half my pay?” she whispered.

Sabjorn sneered, rolling his eyes at her. “You'll just have to wait until after the captain's finished. I suppose you can wait around if you must, just do so in the corner and avoid drawing attention to yourself.”

She shuffled around the corner of the counter, letting it hide most of the blood and leaned against the wall, letting the shadows hide the rest. Sabjorn toddled off to the well dressed captain holding a tray of mead in his hands.

“Well, Sabjorn, looks much better in here now, and I assume you’ve taken care of your little pest problem. So how about I get a taste of some of your mead?”

Sabjorn opened a bottle, filling a tankard with some of the newly improved batch Cylfin had doctored. “Help yourself, milord. It's my finest brew yet. I call it Honningbrew Reserve. I think you'll find it quite pleasing to your palate.”

The captain laughed. “Oh, come now. This is mead, not some wine meant to be sipped and savored.” He grabbed the tankard from Sabjorn’s hand and tilted it back, downing the content in two swallows. Mallus and Cylfin waited, eyes wide with anticipation for the realization. Caius began to look sick as he eyed the tankard. When his skin began to turn a pale greenish color and his veins constricted, turning black, he screamed. “By the Eight?! What, what's in this?”

Sabjorn went pale with fright, sweat forming on his brow as she shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I don't know. What’s happening? What's wrong?”

Caius began to choke as his throat began to close. He clumsily grabbed at his belt for a small vial. He ripped it from his side and pulled the cork out with his teeth, sucking back the viscous liquid inside. A few seconds later his breathing slowed, his veins opening up again, returning to a normal color. He whirled, landing a solid fist against Sabjorn’s face. “You assured me this place was clean! You nearly killed me Sabjorn! I'll see…” He paused as he began coughing again, spitting up blood. When he got under control again he glared at the cowering merchant. “I’ll see to it that you remain in irons for the rest of your days!”

Sabjorn crumpled to the floor. “No, please! I don't under…”

Caius cut him off, “Silence, idiot! I should have known better than to trust this place after it's been riddled with filth. I should have known better than to trust you." The captain lowered his voice to a furious hiss. "Trying to kill me isn't the best way to win a place back in my bed”

The captain turned to Mallus, pointing a finger at him with Sabjorn sobbed, begging for mercy. “You, you're in charge until I can sort this all out.”

Mallus bowed and flashed a mocking smile. “It will be my pleasure.”

Caius picked Sabjorn up off the floor by the remains of his hair and thrust him forward toward the door. “And you, Sabjorn, you're coming with me to Dragonsreach. We'll see how quickly you change your tune in the city's prisons. Now move.”

Cylfin watched as the pitiful merchant was marched out of the meadery and up the lane to Whiterun. Mallus began to chuckle beside her. “So long Sabjorn.” he turned to face her, a wide smile on his lips. “I don't think that could have gone any better. Anything else you need before you head back to Riften?

She shrugged. “Maven wanted me to get a look at Sabjorn's books if I can.”

Mallus dug into his pocket and pulled out a key. “So, Maven wants to hunt down Sabjorn's private partner, huh? You're welcome to take a look around Sabjorn's office. He keeps most of his papers stashed in his desk. Here, this should help.” he replied, handing her the key.

Cylfin raced up to Sabjorn’s office and searched it thoroughly. She found a promissory note in a chest of drawers that she unlocked with the key. On the bottom of the note was the same little symbol from the Goldenglow job and from the threatening letter left for her in Solitude. Her blood ran cold. This was more than a coincidence. She had to get back to Riften as soon as possible to speak to Brynjolf and Mercer. Pocketing the letter she began to work at the locked door in his room. Once she had it swung open she gasped in delight. Here was the hidden treasure she was hoping form. She placed a number of coin purses into her knapsack, as well as some jewelry, silver ingots and a beautiful gold and crystal decanter that she was certain Delvin would drool over when she sold it to him. She locked up Sabjorn’s strongbox and the door to the small room. Technically Maven didn’t own the meadery yet, but it would be better to leave everyone thinking the room had been empty to begin with.

She made her way down the steps to the main hall of the meadery, leaning against the open doorway and watched as Mallus swept the floor, whistling a cheery tune. “So what are you going to do now?”

He cackled with glee. “Maven doesn’t officially own it yet, you know, paperwork and all that, but I’m going to start changing it over to the Black-Briar Meadery brand as soon as possible. That was Maven's requirement for me in this deal. She's put me in charge of keeping the mead flowing, so that's exactly what I'm going to do. Just have to get that vat cleaned out completely.” he shook his head as a frown formed. “Too bad about that batch, it was the first one of my recipe and it was delicious.”

Cylfin snorted. “I’m certain you’ll get over it. I have a bone to pick with you. You never mentioned that lunatic living in the tunnels.”

The man had the decency to look guilty for all of five seconds before he shrugged his shoulders and went back to sweeping. “I thought it would be better to leave some of the details out of our previous discussion. Didn't want to risk you walking away from the job. Besides, you've done Maven a favor getting rid of him and saved me from wasting coin hiring someone else to do it later.”

“Maven would have butchered me if I messed up this job. As it was that nut job nearly killed me down there.” she scolded, pointing to her blood stained armor. “If you had told me I would have been better prepared. I didn’t have a healing potion on me, and I tapped out my magic just trying to put that skeever lover down.”

Mallus winced, his eyes full of sympathy. “Sorry about that.” he reached over the counter and grabbed a small red bottle, tossing it to her. “Here, for your troubles. I can get Arcadia to brew me another one. You got rid of all the skeevers anyways and I bought it in case one of them bit me or something.”

Cylfin caught the bottle and drank it down, gasping in relief as the pain disappeared and the bruising on her belly faded. “Thank you. Anything else before I go?”

Mallus shook his head. “Nothing left for you to do here, but look, you did a good job, and didn’t complain about anything until the end here. Can’t blame you for it either, Hamelyn was crazy and I avoided him at all costs as he slipped further into madness. If you're in the area and you ever need anything fenced, you just let me know. Now, remember to put in a good word with Maven for me when you see her.”
**************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Maven was sitting at the same table in the upper chambers of the Bee and Barb when Cylfin got back to Riften and went looking for her. The older woman barely spared her a glance as she approached. “I trust you have good news for me.”

Cylfin handed her the note she’d found in Sabjorn’s chambers. “Job's finished. Sabjorn won’t see the sky ever again. Here's the information you requested.”

Maven’s hazel eyes skimmed over the page, her frown deepening. Finally she slammed the paper on the table. “This doesn't tell me much.” she fumed. “The only thing that can identify Sabjorn’s partner is this odd little symbol.”

Cylfin swallowed hard, nodding. “Yes. It is strange and I've seen that symbol before. The Goldenglow estate was purchased by the same person.”

Maven huffed. “Well, whoever this mysterious marking represents, they'll regret starting a war with me. You should bring this information to Mercer immediately. Tell him I want this taken care of. I suppose there is also the matter of your payment.” Maven smiled. “I believe you'll find it more than adequate for your services, it will be at my manor here in town. Maul will let you in.”

Cylfin nodded and turned to go, but Maven’s voice stopped her. “I hope you don’t think I am unaware of the little affair you have going on with Sibbi.”

She turned back to Maven, her expression giving nothing away. “I am aware you know of everything that goes on in Riften. Why would your children’s love lives be any different?”

“I don’t like it. I want you to stop seeing him.” Maven replied, eyeing her with disdain.

Cylfin leaned against the wall, a bored expression on her face, but her heart was racing. “See I can’t do that Maven. No one dictates who I can and cannot sleep with, not even my lover’s mother.”

Maven frowned. “I am certain you are fully aware of what happens to people who cross me elf. I will not have my son dallying with some Elven whore who also happens to be a thief. I will not stand for it, so if you think you’re going to wheedle your way into my family by spreading your legs for my son, believe me when I say, I will have your head on a platter.”

If she hadn’t locked her knees when she leaned against the wall, they would have given out from under her at Maven’s threat. Cylfin was playing with fire and she was seconds away from being burned alive. “Calm down Maven and think a minute will you?” she replied, her gaze steady. “I am well aware Sibbi isn’t settling down with a thief, Elven or otherwise. I’m also not so God’s damned naive to think I’m his one and only. We are discreetly enjoying each other’s company. When we get tired of each other, or when you arrange a new fiance for him that will be the end of it, not before and not because you hurl insults and threats my direction.” she stated calmly.

She watched as Maven went red with fury, then slowly regain her composure. “You think because you’ve managed to pull off the last few jobs I won’t dispose of you.” she bluffed.

Cylfin smiled maliciously. “I know you won’t. You’re a smart woman Maven. Cunning, vindictive and strong willed, able to do what has to be done to get what you want. I’m aware no one stands in your way. You’re asking me to leave Sibbi alone because you’re worried I want to be part of the family and I’m working my charm on Sibbi, but I assure you it’s quite the opposite. I don’t want to be anyone’s wife, let alone end up shackled to a man who killed his last fiance. I don’t want the pomp and circumstance that comes with being publicly tied to the Black-Briar family. Sibbi is an excellent lover, one I intend to enjoy to the fullest before this little affair comes to it’s inevitable end. I won’t cause waves, I won’t make demands and I won’t lose my head over him. I have my own goals in life and they do not include being a barefoot and pregnant jilted wife, because let’s just state facts, Sibbi is not the kind of man to remain faithful once he has an heir. I don’t want any little half breeds running around any more than you do.”

Maven’s eyes were wide with shock, and perhaps just a begrudging hint of respect. “Perhaps I misjudged you elf. Not even Mercer tries to bite back at me anymore. Nice to see someone one with a little bit of backbone in this cesspool city of saps.” she replied. She turned back to her accounts, waving Cylfin off dismissively, which only made her next words that much more terrifying as she cheerfully stated, “Well then, have it your way. Do what you like with Sibbi. Just remember I will end you myself, my hands wrapped around that pretty little throat of yours as I choke the life from you, if you cross me.”
**************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Maven’s payment had been more than generous, and Maul had warned that she already gave Mercer his cut of it, so to not believe him if he asked for his share. Sibbi had not been home, and after the last time she had kept Mercer waiting, she decided not to waste any time looking for him. Instead she went straight back to the guild. She was climbing down the ladder to the cistern when she heard footsteps behind her.

“Word on the street is that poor Sabjorn has found himself in Whiterun's prison. How unfortunate for him.” Brynjolf’s lilt rolled over her.

She turned to face him as she hopped off the ladder, “Yet very fortunate for Maven.”

She fell into step beside him as he began to walk towards the Flagon. “Exactly! I’m sure now you fully see how our little system works.” he replied. Suddenly he frowned. “Maven sent word that you'd discovered something else while you were in Whiterun, something important to the Guild?”

“By the Eight that woman is quick. I’ve only been in town an hour and I came directly here after getting my payment from Maul.” she fumed, stopping in the middle of the cistern where the bridges all met over the water.

Brynjolf laughed. “We pay the beggars well for information lass, and they see all. Maven sent word with one of them.” He turned to face her. “Now what is it you found out?”

“I feel like I should tell Mercer first. This is pretty big, and he was pissed the last time I didn't go to him first.” she replied.

“Well you’re in luck. He’s out on business right now, not even in Riften." he chuckled. "So tell me lass, what did you find that is so big you think Mercer needed to hear it first?”

Cylfin pulled the promissory note from her pocket and handed it to Brynjolf. “The same symbol from Goldenglow was involved.”

He ground out a curse, crumpling the sheet of paper. “Then this is beyond coincidence. First Aringoth and now Sabjorn. Someone's trying to take us down by driving a wedge between Maven and the Guild.”

Cylfin looked down at her feet. "There's more." she murmured.

Brynjolf shook his head in disbelief. "Well stop stalling lass and tell me. If your expression is any indication it can't be good."

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the crumpled letter the captain of the guard had given her in Solitude. "I'm pretty sure I was set up in Solitude."

Brynjolf read the letter and turned red with fury. "By the Eight Cylfin. Why didn't you tell me about this before? I wouldn't have been so angry with you when you came back if I had known you were deliberately set up to be caught."

"I didn't know for sure that related at that time. I thought maybe I was being targeted specifically. You had enough to worry about with the Guild." she replied. "The bedlam job in Windhelm when I first joined up was almost botched too, so I thought maybe someone wanted to see me fail and be kicked out."

Brynjolf sighed. "Explain."

She kicked at a loose stone on the floor. "Viola's home had been hit already. I only found out when a friend of mine admitted he had purchased a ring from someone who was trying to get out of Windhelm, then found out it belonged to her. Since I wanted her stuff anyways I took it off his hands to keep him safe. I thought maybe someone here resented me and wanted to make me look bad. Once I figured out that couldn't be it I had forgotten about it."

"How do you know it wasn't someone here." he asked.

Nirun and I are the only Elves in the outfit. Revyn told me a Dunmer sold him the ring." she replied. "I figured someone from the Grey Quarter finally got the stones to give Viola a taste of her own medicine, then get out of town

Brynjolf frowned. "We haven't had a Dunmer in the Guild since..." he stopped, going pale. "No, can't be."

"What?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Never you mind. Like I said, it can't be. You're probably right. Just some poor resident of the Grey Quarter trying to teach Viola a lesson. Do me a favor though, if you do speak to Mercer, don't mention the Dunmer. As you probably know, he has a thing about Elves, and well I think that will just set him off even worse. His best friend was murdered by a Dunmer.

"Gallus?" she asked. When he raised his eyebrows at her she shrugged. "Niruin told me he was the previous Guild Master and was killed. Told me not to mention him to Mercer."

Brynjolf smiled. "Aye lass, if you think Mercer is a bit on edge, you've seen nothing once Gallus is brought up

"Duly noted." she replied with a grimace."Id hate to see him when you think he's unreasonable." Cylfin paused a moment then looked at Brynjolf. "On a more serious note, is there anything I can do? I don’t want to be out of a job again if someone has it out for the guild. I like it here."

“I’ll speak to Mercer when he gets back, to see what he wants to do. For now, just keep bringing in the gold. We may need every coin to finance an investigation and counter attack.” Brynjolf sighed, rubbing his brow in frustration. “It never rains, it pours. Just when I thought we might be getting back on our feet. Might be something to that cursed nonsense.”

She hugged him. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out why she felt the need to, but when his arms wrapped around her waist, returning it, she felt a little stab of satisfaction. “Cheer up laddie.” she quipped, imitating his accent again. “You’re starting to sound like Delvin, with curses and bad luck and the such. These events have a flesh and blood being behind them. We’ll teach them not to mess with the guild.”

He laughed as he stepped out of her embrace. “You’re confidence certainly helps me believe it. Now scoot, go see Delvin and Vex, they’ve jobs a plenty waiting for you.”

Cylfin smiled, turning his brain to mush. Brynjolf watched as she walked away, his eyes focused on the swing of her hips.

“You know, I’m surprised she hasn’t called you on your infatuation yet Brynjolf.” came a voice beside him. “I don’t think you could be any more obvious.”

Brynjolf whirled around, coming face to face with the Guildmaster. “Mercer, you startled me.”

“I wouldn’t have if you had been less focused on her ass.” Mercer replied sourly. “Still, you might even have a chance once Sibbi gets bored of her, what with that little display of affection. Long as you don’t mind sloppy seconds.”

Brynjolf scowled. “Hey now, she’s a right to associate with whomever she chooses, when she chooses. You don’t begrudge Tonilia and Vex their lovers, so why do you insist on shitting all over Cylfin whenever you see her?”

“Tonilia and Vex have permanent partners.” Mercer replied, rubbing his chin.

“Far as I am aware Cylfin isn’t sleeping around either. She’s been with Sibbi.” Brynjolf replied, hands on his hips.

“And the housecarl in Dawnstar,” Mercer replied. “And Unmid and Bolli.” he continued.

Brynjolf sighed. “As you like Mercer, but she isn’t the first thief to sleep with a mark, and she won’t be the last. I happen to remember your dalliance with a Thane fifteen years back or so, and that rich merchant Vex seduced when she first started. Her methods can’t really be questioned. She pulled off Goldenglow when Vex couldn’t. She completed Sibbi’s job, and from what I hear, is more than welcome back to Dawnstar for being a hero. She flawlessly executed Maven’s personal vendetta against Sabjorn, and actually stood up to Maven’s bullying, if Keerava is to be trusted. She also uncovered a plot against the Guild.”

He handed Mercer the crumpled papers in his hand. “See there?” he said, pointing to the symbol used as signature. “Same as on the Goldenglow deed. Someone’s working to turn Maven against us. Turns out she got a letter in Solitude from that botched job too. She was set up.”

Mercer’s hands trembled with rage as he swore. “You tell her to come find me. I want to hear every last detail from her own lips.
******************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Chapter Text

She stood before him feeling much like a child called before their father to explain their disobedience. Her body was ramrod straight, hands clasped behind her back, eyes on the floor as Mercer stood behind the table in his room and stared at her, arms crossed. Brynjolf was standing behind her, leaning against the wall of Mercer’s room, and she was certain it was the only reason Mercer hadn’t started yelling at her yet.

“I’d give you shit for not telling me about this first, but Brynjolf assures me you told him you wanted to, but he insisted he’d handle it. Next time he suggests something equally as asinine, disregard it and come directly to me.” Mercer hissed, his grey eyes flicking to Brynjolf’s face in disdain. He began to pace the length of his room, irritation evident in his every step. “You’ve been the one to foil both plans to drive a wedge between Maven and the guild. Looks like you’re our lucky little star.” he sneered. “Tell everything, about both jobs, in your own words and leave nothing out.”

Cylfin nodded and began to reiterate everything she could remember about Goldenglow and Honningbrew Meadery. Neither had seemed suspicious and she had pulled both off with no problems. It hadn’t been until the end of each that she had realized the connection. “Aringoth refused to tell me who the buyer was, but I think he knows. Mallus had no idea who had been backing Sabjorn, but to be honest, I don’t think Sabjorn trusted him with any business decisions. Something Maven should take into consideration if you ask me.” she finished.

“So, we have a bill of sale for Goldenglow with this odd little mark and no signature. While in Whiterun, you find a promissory note for Sabjorn with the same symbol, again no signature, and in both cases someone has been trying to sabotage the relationship we have with Maven. Have you noticed anything else that might indicate someone is trying to destroy the guild?”

Brynjolf frowned. “For years now the guild has been suffering botched jobs, tip offs and jail time. Could be the same person.”

Mercer grunted. “No way to know for sure it’s connected.” he replied. He noticed her flinch when he said that and turned on her. “Unless you have more to add to your tales.”

Cylfin grimaced and looked over to Brynjolf, she knew he had told Mercer about Solitude, but didn't have the letter to show the guildmaster at the time. At his nod she pulled the crumpled note from her pocket and handed it to Mercer. “I might have missed the frost rune on the floor in Solitude, but the merchant didn’t cast it, and the captain of the guard said the emerald was missing already, but I never got to it. Captain said this was left in the strongbox and didn’t think it was addressed to the mark.”

Mercer growled in frustration, dragging his hand down his face. “And you didn’t think to mention this to either of us when you came back from Solitude that the same person from Goldenglow attacked you and sent you a warning?” he asked slowly, his tone deadly.

“I didn’t recognize it at the time.” she lied smoothly. “I had just fallen from a roof, I was still frozen and cold and had been molested. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I didn’t exactly make friends before I joined the guild, so I thought someone might be out for me alone. It wasn’t until the job in Whiterun when I saw the symbol for the third time that it all connected for me. I was going to provide a more thorough explanation of events after Brynjolf told you about the connections.”

To her surprize he didn’t fly into a rage, or scream at her. He stared silently for a long moment then sighed. “Anything else you decided not to mention that might have bearing on the situation?”

She blushed. “I honestly don’t know if it’s connected or not, but that first job I did in Windhelm, hitting Viola’s home, it had already been cleaned out before I got there. At first I thought she just put on airs claiming to be better off than she is, but when I went to grab my stuff from Sadri’s wares he mentioned he purchased a ring from someone who was selling it to get money to pay the carriage to leave the city, but when he went to the market everyone was talking about the fact Viola’s ring had been stolen and it matched the description of piece he purchased the morning exactly.”

She had decided to tell him about her suspicions, but deliberately left out the fact the thief had been Dunmer. If Brynjolf was worried about Mercer’s reaction she didn't dare question his judgement. “I didn’t even know about any of this at that point. I genuinely thought it was someone from the guild playing a joke on me, or someone from the city was honestly just trying to escape Windhelm and decided to stage one last screw you to Viola.” She paused, still wary of Mercer’s lack of reaction. “ I didn’t think about it until you asked just now. There were no notes or attacks. I genuinely thought it was bad luck.”

“Yes well, we’ve had a string of bad luck lately, and I’m starting to agree with Brynjolf that it might be deliberate. I’ll touch base with my contacts to see if anyone knows anything about this symbol. Brynjolf, I expect you to do the same. Get moving.” he demanded as he placed her warning note on table with the other documents. Cylfin moved to follow Brynjolf but Mercer’s voice stopped her short. “Not you Cylfin. I’m not done with you yet.”

Brynjolf gave her hand a squeeze in sympathy and closed the door quietly behind him. She turned to face Mercer again, her stomach clenching in response to the way Mercer’s body coiled with tension. “What else do you want from me Mercer?”

He began advancing on her, slowly, his charcoal eyes focused on her with a burning intensity. Remembering their last encounter she stumbled backwards, hating herself for feeling so powerless around him. When her back hit the wall of his room she squeaked, bringing a smirk to his face. He only stopped when he was directly in front of her, bracing his hands against the cold stone on either side of her. “You are infuriating. Lying through your teeth to me. You might have Brynjolf fooled. He’s head over heels for you, in case you haven’t noticed, but I can see it in your eyes. You knew damn well that warning letter was from the same person that bought Goldenglow. Your eyes give away everything.”

“I’m not lying.” she protested weakly, her body trembling, though with fear or desire at him being so close, she couldn’t tell. Everything felt slightly fuzzy, she could barely process his admission that Brynjolf desired her. All she could focus on was Mercer and way her body throbbed. The stone walls of his room were cold and unyielding behind her, but her chest felt as if it were burning from the heat radiating from his body. His scent was intoxicating, so she switched to breathing through her mouth, trying to cut down how much it was affecting her. It didn’t matter how much she despised his attitude towards her, or how much he terrified her. Whenever she was in same room as him, her body burned for him, for a taste of the power he wielded. Sibbi was one of the best lovers she’d ever been with, but her nights were filled with dreams of Mercer touching her, possessing her, causing her to whimper his name into the darkness while she slept.

He leered at her, his mouth twisted into a confident, mocking smile. “Oh really?" He leaned in closer, his hot breath on her ear. "Tell me another one Cylfin.” he smirked, clearly not fooled.

“Are you going to tell me to back off?” he whispered, causing her to shudder. He licked her neck, nibbling at the hollow of her collarbone, travelling up the slim arch to her jaw “Are you going to tell me you don’t want me to strip you down, right now, layer by layer? That you don’t want me to run my tongue over every inch of your body, or that you don’t want me to bend you over that table right there and fuck you till you scream?”

“No.” she whimpered when she felt his teeth graze her ear.

“No you don’t want that” he replied, “or no, you aren’t telling me that?”

“No.” she answered again, not really giving him an answer at all. She clenched her hands to keep her fingers from sliding into his unkempt hair, from grabbing his shirt front and pulling him closer.

He pulled back slowly, his breath searing her skin. “You’re lying again.” he stated darkly, looking into her copper eyes. His resolve was at the breaking point and damn the consequences. “Never trust an elf.”

He leaned forward, his lips bearing down on hers in a searing kiss, smiling at her gasp of surrender. Her arms moved of their own accord to the collar of his shirt, pulling herself up to return his kiss, her eyes fluttering closed, as if trying to block out the reality of what she was doing. She knew this man was dangerous, more dangerous than Sibbi could ever hope to be. He might stick a blade in her belly right this second if she upset him and she didn’t care. She wanted nothing more than to feel him pinning her down so she couldn’t escape.

Mercer chuckled as he pulled back. “My, my, you’re more eager than I thought. Hasn’t Sibbi been taking care of you lately?” he asked as he pulled her shirt from her leggings.

“That has nothing to do with it and you know it. I’ve wanted to get my hands on you from the start.” she replied, lacing her fingers together at the back of his neck. His hands coming up to cup her breasts had her shivering. “You wouldn’t be so concerned about my sex life if you didn’t want to be part of it, so shut up and kiss me!”

He complied, much to her delight. She genuinely thought he might deny her, call her insolent and throw her out of his room, leaving her a mess of unfilled desire. Her body felt as if someone had set it alight when his lips crashed down against hers again. His knee parted her thighs, pressing her core against his leg. She moaned loudly as she ground against him. Mercer darted his tongue between her lips, twirling it against her own. He tasted of mead and spices, heady and sweet. Finally free to give into her impulses, she dug her fingers into his hair, combing them through the long strands before clenching a fistful and pulling him away from her lips.

Mercer panted heavily, his eyes dark as a storm. “There’s no turning back now Cylfin.” he said, his tone dark and warning.

She loosened the grip on his hair. “I have no intention of stopping this Mercer. You have on entirely too much on and I think we need to remedy that.”

The look he gave her could have started a fire. He took a step back and began to undo the buttons of his shirt slowly, one by one, revealing a glimpse of his pale skin. Mercer was not a man who spent his days in the sun. She returned his stare as she pulled her tunic over her head. She wasn’t wearing a breast band, and she heard him suck in a shallow breath when her sandy skin was exposed to him.

“Exquisite.” he said, moving back to her and bending, to wrap his lips around one of her dark nipples.

It puckered beneath his ministrations, and she choked back a sob of pure delight. “I didn’t think you appreciated them. You barely noticed them at the lake.” she reminded him.

“I noticed them, but if you had known about it, you’d have won.” he murmured against her flesh.

“I didn’t know we were fighting.” she remarked softly, shivering in the cold air.

“A contest of wills, ending in a stalemate.” he replied, moving to her other breast, his tongue laving at the stiff peak, his thumb circling the first one. “They fit perfectly in my hands.” he noted, cupping them again and nibbling his way up her body to her neck.

His hands went to the laces of her leggings, loosening them enough that he could jam his hand into her waistband and run his fingers past her folds, sliding them up inside her. He groaned when he felt how wet she was, his fingers sliding back and forth, his palm pressing on that nodule of nerves, making her whimper.

Without warning he pulled away from her, his hands and mouth leaving her body. She cried out in protest making him smirk. “Don't fret elf, I won't leave you unsatisfied like your lover in Dawnstar.”

He grabbed her arm, jerked her behind the table in his room and bent her over it. “I’ve wanted you in this position since the moment Brynjolf brought you down here. The moment I saw the defiance in your eyes, I wanted you bent over my desk in the cistern while I fucked you till you begged for release. This will have to do.” he stated.

She felt him slide something cold and flat beneath the waistband of her skin tight leggings, felt the material loosen. He gripped this sides of the cut he just made and tore the fabric apart exposing her to the cold air of his room. “Not even wearing small clothes under those.” he remarked with a rasp, fumbling with the ties of his own breeches. “You are full of surprises.”

She would have replied but Mercer stepped between her legs and slid his length inside her, his hand coming around her waist to play with her clit. She shrieked with pleasure, her body stretching to accommodate him. He felt bigger than she’d have imagined, with his thin frame, and he knew what he was doing. Her body buzzed with the sensation, clipped cries of pleasure forcing themselves from her lips.

“I knew you’d be this wet for me, so hot and tight.” he ground out as he pounded into her. He dug his fingers into her hair, gripping it in his fist and pulling back hard. He smirked when she cried out, her scalp prickling between pain and pleasure. “That’s right Cylfin, cry for me, those sweet little sounds are driving me wild.”

He was pulling her hair so hard she had to arch her back to alleviate the pressure. This changed the angle of her pelvis, causing Mercer to grind against that swollen spot inside her walls. His fingers thrummed against her clit, tearing a scream from her throat as her orgasm ripped through her. Her whole body spasmed around him and she heard a garbled moan behind her. She thought he might slow down, give her a moment to breath, but he only increased his pace, pulling out as far as he could, then slamming back inside her.

Cylfin whimpered when she felt Mercer’s nails scour deep lines down her back, plunging them into the plump flesh of her rear to pull her hard against him. She pushed herself up on her toes to get the angle back, now that he’d released her hair. She heard him moan when it allowed him an extra inch of depth with each thrust. He leaned forward and bit the shell of her ear causing her so shriek with pleasure.

“Yes, I knew you’d like that, I knew you’d scream for me.” he grounded out against her ear, pushing her harder against the table. “I’m going to keep fucking you until you can’t take any more. I’m going to fuck the insolence right out of you. You wanted my cock so badly, then by the Gods you will take it.”

Mercer pulled out of her abruptly, kneeling behind her to drive his tongue into her snatch, slurping at her pearl, biting it lightly. Her knees gave out as another orgasm ripped through her, the table beneath her and his hands on her ass the only things keeping her from collapsing. Her breathing was labored and heavy as her body shook, but Mercer refused to let up, driving his fingers deep inside her and pressing on that spot of firm flesh at the front of her walls while he lapped at her folds, hungrily slurping up the honey dripping from between her thighs.

She felt his tongue trail upwards, rimming her rosebud as his finger drove her closer to another climax. Unable to help herself she wiggled her hips and whimpered, “Please,” all but begging him to drive back inside her again.

Mercer smirked and stood, biting her ass hard as he rose. “That’s right, beg for it Cylfin, convince me you want my cock in that shapely ass of yours.”

How she managed to push herself up and turn around she would never know, but she faced him, her eyes shining like red gold, meeting his stormy grey ones. She leaned forward, planting her lips against his and shoving her tongue inside his mouth, savoring the intoxicating flavor of her pleasure that she tasted when it met his own. She leaned back as her hand palmed him, working his shaft back and forth, teasing him until his eyes rolled backwards. “Fuck me Mercer, I wanted to feel this inside me, working it’s way in as deep as possible.” she whispered as she bit along the taut cord in his neck. “I want to feel you pouring yourself inside me, and if I don’t get it soon, then by Nocturnal, I don’t know what I will do to you to get what I want.”

She didn’t see him flinch as she lifted herself back up onto the table, letting her ass hang off it, and spread her legs wide for him. Her copper curls glistened with her own slick and sweat, her folds gleaming in the candlelight. When he didn’t move for a moment she lifted her leg to run her toe along his stomach. “Mercer? Don’t tell you’re changing your mind?”

He shook his head, as if clearing it and then smirked. “Not at all, just awed by that perfect little pucker and the thought of it wrapped around me.” He bent forward and captured her mouth with his own, biting down at her lower lip, causing her to whimper. He gripped her ass, spreading her cheeks wide and slid his length up and down her slit, smearing the slick there, coating the head of his cock with it. Every time it pressed against her clit she mewled, her fingernails digging into his arms, leaving little half moon indents in his skin.

With a triumphant sneer, Mercer began to apply a firm, steady pressure against her pucker, using his thumbs to pull it wide, until finally he broke past the clenching muscles and his cock was buried deep inside her. Mercer shuddered, his eyes fluttering closed as he felt her muscles grip him and her her low moan against his ear. With a low curse he began to move his hips, pulling back, then slowly sliding back inside, pressing into her as deeply as he could.

She grabbed his neck with her hands and pulled his head down to hers, her request a soft whimper against his ear. “Fuck me Mercer!”

He lost any semblance of control at that point, letting out a hoarse cry as he began to snap his hips frantically back and forth. He drove his fingers into her sopping snatch, driving in and out in time with his thrust and use his other hand to pinch and pull at her clit, causing her to shriek, caught between pleasure and pain. He watched as her slim digits moved to her own breast, cupping them and twisting her nipples until finally her cries were silenced, her throat constricted by the orgasm that ripped through her, causing her body to arch and stiffen. A soundless scream ended in a helpless sob as she felt Mercer fall out of rhythm, jerking against her as rope after rope of hot seed poured out of him. His own cry of release reverberated off the walls of his room as he collapsed against her, their bodies slick with sweat.

Cylfin whimpered as he pulled himself from her, her overstimulated skin tingling. Mercer looked down at her and she could almost see the disdain sliding back into his expression. He turned away to grab a pitcher of water from beside his bed and a soft hide cloth and she felt her stomach sink. “Here, clean yourself up before you leave. I don’t need rumors flying around about this.” he grimaced throwing the cloth at her.

“I think it’s a bit late for that now. Neither of us were very quiet.” she pointed out.

“Do you really think me so stupid to have not paid for the best muffle spells and sound proofing that money could buy for this room?” he jeered. “We’re thieves Cylfin, our very lives depend on secrecy and discretion. Now get your ass out of here. You’re really turning out to be more trouble than you’re worth.”

The sinking feeling congealed into a hard lump of disappointment and she swallowed hard to keep from throwing up. She was by no means naive enough to think Mercer would be the type of man to cuddle, or say sweet things to a lover after a tryst, but she had hoped he’d be less of a miserable bastard afterwards. The things he’d said while inside her had given her hope. “By Nocturnal, you are a miserable bastard, you know that?” she spat, wiping her body with the cloth he’d handed her.

“When did you start swearing in the names of the Gods. I don’t remember you being that religious when you started here.” he said scornfully, ignoring her to pull his leather back on and buckle them in place.

She paused, wondering why he cared. “Since Delvin spoke of the curse on the Guild. I don’t really believe it, but it can’t hurt to speak of Nocturnal and hope she hears me.”

“What a bunch of superstitious nonsense.” he sneered, but he looked uncomfortable. Disdain quickly replaced the discomfort in his eyes when he looked at her again. “Don't think this wins you any favors. You're still a foot-pad. Sleeping with the boss won't help you climb the ranks any faster and if you ever lie to me again, I’ll have you thrown out of Riften so fast your head will spin.” he snarled, his voice low and dangerous.

“Quit threatening me or I’ll leave and let this place go back to the crumbling rat-hole it was before I got here.” she shouted.

“Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.” Mercer replied emotionlessly, taking a deep drink of mead from a bottle by his bed.

"I'm serious Mercer. Keep treating me like something you'd scrape of your shoe and I'll be gone so fast your head will spin." she choked. "I didn't do this to climb the ranks you miserable ass. I'm probably the only person who has ever slept with you that did it because I wanted to, not for what you could do for me!"

He only snorted in reply, avoiding her eyes.

To furious to continue, she tugged on her tunic and grabbed his belt to hold her ripped leggings up around her hips. She ripped open the door and stormed out before she did something stupid like give into the urge to rip his hair from his head.

She stopped long enough to grab her travelling gear, armor, weapons and enough lockpicks to burgle half of Skyrim’s homes, then she made her way to the lake to wash away the last half hour from her body. She tried not to think about it too much, but failed miserably. Mercer knew his way around a female body, he seemed to know exactly where she need to be touched and when. He’d known what she’d wanted before she did, taken her to heights she’d rarely felt before, then had become cold and cruel in an instant. Tears threatened, but she bit her lip to keep them from falling as she rinsed off one final time, then stepped from the lake to dry off and don her armor. She was not going to cry over a man who wasn’t worth it, even if her body was left craving more.

She hadn't been kidding when she said she would leave. She didn't make idle threats and knew she needed to teach Mercer a lesson, she just wasn’t sure where she was going to hide out for a while. She could stay with Revyn, but the Guild knew about him now and it would be the first place Mercer would send someone. She was back inside the walls of Riften, wandering the market and planning her disappearance when bumped into a female Argonian she vaguely recognized from the fishery, who was muttering about losing her job. “Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.” Cylin murmured.

The Argonian shook her head and stared back at Cylfin, her eyes edged with fear. “Oh please help me? I’m going to lose my job at the Riften fishery.”

Cylfin suppressed a cringe, she hope the Argonian wasn’t about to ask her to use her family ties to Bolli. “Why are you in danger of losing your position there. Bolli is a pretty easy going man.”

The Argonian’s eyes widened in recognition, recognizing Cylfin from the day Bolli had given her a tour of the fishery. “Yes, you know Bolli. Bolli is a good man, he pays us well watches out for us, but Bolli says to me, ‘Wujeeta, if you show up for work in this condition one more time, then you’re out.’ I can’t lose this job too, there’s nowhere left.”

Cylfin leaned towards the fisherwoman, noting the faint, sickly sweet smell on her breath. “Skooma?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

The Argonian let out a shuddered sob. “I don't mean to do this to myself, but I can't help it. I tried some skooma a year ago, and ever since then, I can't stop! If you could give me a healing potion, I could cleanse this poison from my body and get back to my life.”

Cylfin dug into her knapsack and grabbed a healing potion from a hidden pocket. She had conquered her own addiction to Skooma as a young adult when Revyn had locked her in his room for two days, refusing to let her contact her dealer. He’d finally left her a healing potion when she’d fallen asleep, which had gone a long way to helping her recover. Nivenor had been gone by then, and her father too wrapped up in his studies to notice her absence, thinking she had gone on an extended hunting trip. “Here, take this and get better. Skooma is a hard habit to kick, but it’s worth it. I promise you that.”

“Your kindness will never be forgotten. Here, take this. It's all I can offer for what you've given me.” Wujeeta pulled a silver ring from her finger and handed it to Cylfin. “Please, don’t insult me by refusing.

“Would you tell me where you got your supply?” Cylfin asked. Mercer might gut her for it later, but she was thinking about bringing the enterprise to Sibbi. He wouldn’t care about shady business dealings and may like having his hand in something Maven didn’t control.

Wujeeta’s scales paled with fear. “Look, I don't think I should say. I mean, they could kill me!”

“Wujeeta, I think you owe me this one.” Cylfin stated with a stern look. She didn’t want to have to part with a bribe as well as the health potion.

“Okay, okay, I'll tell you. I get my skooma from Sarthis Idren. He has some sort of a setup over at the Riften Warehouse. You can't get inside though. They've kept that place locked up tight since the war began.I overheard Bolli say that only the Jarl carries the key to the warehouse. When I meet Sarthis there, he's usually waiting for me outside with his bodyguard.” Wujeeta explained.

“Thank you. What will you do now?”

“If it wasn't for skooma, I'd already be on my way out of this horrible city. All my gold... completely gone. Now I have to start over. I'll never use skooma again! Although I suppose a little mead now and then would be harmless..." Wujeeta exclaimed with a wry smile. “Bolli pays well. I will be able to move on soon.”

Wujeeta walked away with a slight wave and Cylfin sat down on a crate by Brynjolf’s booth, which stood empty this time of day. She looked at the coin purse inside her knapsack and decided it was a little light for her tastes. She had started saving her coin, but she had that hid away and only carried a small amount on her person at any given time. She smiled to herself and stood, making her way to the Palace.

Luck was on her side. When the guards let her through the palace doors the main hall was deserted, save Unmid Snow-Shod and a high elf, dressed in the Palace colors. They were wrapped in each other’s arms, lips locked in a passionate kiss.

“Does Nivenor know you’re sleeping with the steward, or was it her you were sleeping with all along, muscles?” Cylfin asked loudly, her voice carrying.

Unmid pushed the elf away from him so quickly she almost fell over. The elf’s eyes filled with fear, Unmid’s with guilt. “Ah...Well I, um.”

“It’s Cylfin, but don’t worry, I only remember your name because I spent a week in prison because of you.” she taunted with a smirk.

“Cylfin, of course. You aren’t planning on telling the Jarl are you?” he asked nervously, his eyes pleading.

“I don’t know yet." she replied. Feeling particularily vindictive she decided to torture him for a bit. "You didn’t answer my question. Was it Nivenor that I did time for, or this one?” she repeated, crossing her arms over her chest and smirking at them.

“Both I guess.” he replied. “I ended things with Nivenor a few months ago, but the Jarl was getting wise to her.” he replied sheepishly, turning bright red when the elf beside him began to sputter indignantly. “I’ve been with Anuriel longer than that, but we've managed to keep things secret. Even Nivenor didn't know about her.”

“Classic.” she began to laugh. “I swear, fidelity is not something anyone in this God's forsaken town understands. I love it here.” She cackled. “Good, well now that I know who I did time for, you and I should talk sweetheart.” she continued, pointing to Anuriel. “I actually want to help Riften out. I need the key to the warehouse, so I can put an end to the Skooma trade here in the city.”

The steward found her voice. “Why would you want to help Riften?”

“I just said why, I like it here. I’m making friends here, so I've decided to make my home here for now. Skooma is bad news, so I want to get rid of it.” she replied, not mentioning the fact she planned to run it herself, or hand it over to Sibbi.

“I’ll get the key from Laila. Take care of Sarthis and the Jarl will reward you. If I do this for you, I don’t want to hear a whisper about what you saw making its way to her.” Anuriel hissed. “Promise me that.”

“Done, I wasn’t really planning on saying anything anyways. I don’t much like our moody Jarl to be honest, and I heard Unmid suffered worse, or better, I guess, if he’s into that, than I did.” Cylfin replied with a grin.

Anuriel left to retrieve the warehouse key, leaving the awkward silence between Cylfin and Unmid to grow. Finally he broke the silence. “Was it worth it at least?” he asked, with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows.

She frowned. “No man is worth jail time Unmid, not you, not Bolli and not anyone.” She fought not to laugh at when the confidant smirk dropped from his face.

The steward returned with the key and handed it to her. “You two may want to make out somewhere other than the main hall if you’re concerned about being discovered, but it’s up to you. If you get caught it won’t be because of me.” Cylfin said quietly to the other elf. “Be back soon. Toodles!”

Taking out Sarthis and his henchman proved to be child’s play. She snuck up on the body guard who was slurring some nonsense about a whore he was mad at, and slit his throat wide open. The man fell back against her with a gurgle and she lowered him silently to the floor. Sarthis died screaming amidst the crackle of lightning and the smell of burnt flesh and ozone. She found their stash, and a letter advising that a new shipment was ready, and where the drop was going to be held. Her grin spread slowly across her face. This was simply too easy.

She made her way back into the city and knowing it would get back to Delvin and subsequently Mercer, she mentioned to one of the beggars that she was leaving town for a job and would be out of reach for a while. She had Balimund sharpen her daggers, grabbed a bunch of healing and magicka potions from Elgrim, just in case, and grabbed a week’s worth of rations from Marise. Before she could change her mind she headed to the stables to catch a carriage to Windhelm. She could have the driver drop her off near Shor’s Stone and then she could walk from there.
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She had run out of potions and magic by the time she found Kilnyr, the Dunmer that had set up the exchange. She threw her hands up when he turned on her with an axe. “I’m not here to kill you, I just want to talk.” she said as he advanced on her.

“A likely story given that my patrons and staff are all dead.” he spat.

“They wouldn’t let me speak to you.” she replied with a careless shrug. “I don’t like being ignored. I tried to send a message and the guards threw it in the fire.” He kept advancing, his axe clutched tightly in his hand. “Look, I want to replace Sarthis is all. He had a bit of a mishap in Riften. I want to fill the void left by his demise.”

That gave the Dunmer pause. “You what?”

“Are you deaf or stupid? I want to be your dealer in Riften.” she replied.

“Are you joking? You killed everyone in here just to tell me you want to be my new dealer?” he asked again.

“I’m serious about what I want. If it’s no deal, then I kill you here now, tell the Jarl I solved the problem, and find some other way to start my own supply chain, without you.” she snapped.

“You wouldn’t dare.” he snarled.

Cylfin cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really? You don’t think I’d dare? I literally just wiped out this entire skeever hole and the Riften warehouse.” she mused.

His eyes glazed over with rage. “You killed Sarthis? I wouldn’t deal with you if you were the last option in Skyrim. You killed my brother. Prepare to die you tree climbing s’wit.” he screamed, charging at her, swinging blindly.

It was a short fight, She dove between his legs and swung her daggers backwards, slicing the tendons at his ankles. He fell over screaming in pain, only to be cut off by a dagger piercing his brain through his ear. “Stupid mistake you ash-faced bastard.” she sneered. “I really was going to let you live if you played nice. Now you’ve ruined my plans.”

She sauntered through the small alcove that had served as both an office and a bedroom for the Skooma dealer. She traded her own backpack for a larger one she found lying on a shelf and started stuffing it with the loot she found. A large chest held an silver ring, set with a large amethyst, that glowed a bright red, indicating some kind of health enchantment. It also contained two flawless sapphires, a sturdy set of leather boots and two magicka potions that she happily chugged down, sighing deeply with satisfaction as her reserves began to replenish.

A table on a wooden platform held a bunch of alchemy ingredients she was certain Ingun would appreciate and a few bottles of Skooma, but the most valuable find of all was the locked strongbox, tucked into the shadows of a wooden shelving set. The strongbox contained a bag of fire salts, a bag of moon sugar and two dozen bottles of Skooma. She didn’t even bother to empty the box, she locked it back up and stuffed it into the bottom of her knapsack. She grunted with the weight of it, but hefted it onto her back and took off towards Windhelm, knowing it was her best chance at finding a travelling Khajiit caravan.

It took her two days to reach Windhelm, the weight causing her to rest more often than she wanted, but she finally made it to the stables, letting out an audible sigh of relief when she saw the ragged hide tents of a caravan. She greeted their merchant leader kindly and politely asked if she could share their fire, rather than sleeping in the city that night. The wise old cat shot her a suspicious look, but agreed, asking a young male to help Cylfin erect her own travelling tent.

That night, when shadows crept up around them, and Cylfin sat by the fire roasting some bread and cheese for her dinner, the merchant leader sat down on rock beside her. “So my friend, Ma’dran thinks you have more reason to join us than a dislike of these Nords. Ma’dran sees your pack is heavy, but never away from your side. Do you wish to trade with the Khajiit? Something forbidden perhaps, that it must wait for the dark of the night?

“You are wise Ma’dran, and very observant.” she replied. “Good traits in the trading business.”

“Ma’dran thanks you for these compliments. Now my friend, how may I serve you?”

Cylfin pulled the strongbox from her pack and unlocked it again, under the all seeing eyes of the caravan traders. Ma’dran hissed when he saw the contents. “Foolish elf, there is enough there to have you imprisoned for life.”

“Which is why I need to dispose of it.” she replied quietly, closing the lid to hide it’s contents again. “I found a Dunmer source on my last job. He tried to kill me, but I killed him first. This was my prize, but I cannot be rid of it on my own. Surely you must have contact with the other caravans of Skyrim? I cannot trade with the caravan that comes to Riften. I cannot make a deal that close to my home.”

“Ri’saad owns the three trading caravans that travel the roads of Skyrim. It is him to whom you should speak, not Ma’dran. However, Ri’saad does not travel to Windhelm, his joints cannot take the cold anymore.”

“I cannot travel any more with this contraband. As you said, there is enough skooma here to have me locked away for life, and as an elf, that will be a very, very long time. One of those bags is moon sugar as well.” she said insistently. “Is there anyway you will take this deal?”

The cat thought for a moment, and spoke with his company in hushed tones, their native language impossible for her to decipher. After much discussion that sounded like hissing and growls to her ear Ma’dran finally turned back to her. “Ma’dran will take this from you if you are willing to wait for full payment. I will take this to Ri’saad to be shared among our caravans. He will send the remaining payment with Ahkari.”

“How do I know I won’t be cheated?” she asked, her eyes full of doubt.

“Ri’saad would never cheat a member of the thieves guild.” he replied with a wry, toothy smile. “Ma’dran recognizes this one’s armor. Do we have a deal?”

Cylfin paused. While she loved to deal with Khajiit merchants, it was bloody difficult to tell when they were lying. Still the partial payment was more than she would have had in the first place so she extended her hand. “Agreed. Have Ahkari send a message to me at the Bee and Barb once she begins her return to Riften and I will meet her at her camp.”

Ma’dran shook her hand firmly and handed her the sack of fire salts from the strongbox, then locked it up tight and handed it to a female Khajiit he called Ra’zhinda, telling her to hide it well. The male that helped her put up her tent came over with a sack of gold and handed it to Ma’dran. “This is all we have now, Ahkari will bring the rest.” he said.

They spent the rest of the evening laughing and trading stories about their travels, Ma’dran telling her about his childhood and how he came to be a caravan leader in Skyrim.

When dawn began to lighten the sky she bid them farewell, tossing a coin to the carriage driver to take her home.
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When she got back to Riften she went straight to the Jarl’s palace. Anuriel announced her, and she bowed deeply when she saw Laila’s scowl. The Jarl clearly remembered her.

“My Jarl, I have rid Riften of it’s Skooma dealer and cleared out the source of this foul drug. You’re steward informed me there would be a reward for taking care of this problem.”

“Yes.” the Jarl replied slowly, with an edge of annoyance. “There is room in my court for a Thane, this would put you well on your way to a title.”

Cylfin could almost hear Laila’s teeth grinding together so she bit back a smirk and bowed again. “Jarl Laila, I am certain you don’t wish me to be a Thane in your court, and to be honest, I am not one for politics and all the pomp and circumstance that comes with titles. I would be happy to have permission to purchase property in Riften, at a discounted rate of course.” she said as she stood back up.

The Jarl didn’t answer for a long time, staring at her as if trying to determine if she was serious or not. “I see you wish to be reasonable. You are correct, I don’t wish to deal with you any more than I must as your Jarl. If you are willing to forego a title, I’d be willing to lower the purchase price of Honeyside for you. If you can come up with three thousand septims before anyone else buys it out from under you, then it is yours.”

Cylfin nodded. “That sounds more than fair. I will speak with your steward in short order to finalize the details. Thank you Jarl Laila. I am your humble servant.” she replied with yet another low bow.

“Yes yes, now be gone. I feel it best if we see each other as little as possible.” the Jarl continued with a wave of her hand.

Cylfin left the palace without even a sideways glance at the Unmid or Anuriel. Instead of going back to the cistern, she went to the docks and found Maul, asking him to get a message to Sibbi for her. She requested they meet when he had time, and to send his reply with Maul, who knew how to find her.

She had been waiting at the docks for a half hour, when Maul returned with a smirk on his face. “He says you can meet him at the Lodge this afternoon. Know how to get there?” She shook her head, so he began to give her directions. “Try to get there after midday. He’s meeting with someone first and well, you don’t want to be a witness to that deal. Maven might skin anyone involved.”

“Thanks Maul. I really appreciate you speaking to him for me. I’m still trying to keep things discreet. Would hate to blacken the Black-Briar name.” she quipped.

“Any more than it already is?” he asked with a knowing smile.

It made him appear less frightening when he smiled, but he wouldn’t appreciate the compliment, so Cylfin just chuckled. “I’ve been warned once, no need to have Maven angry with me. Again, thank you.”

She made her way back inside the city gates and wandered the market for a bit before she was going to head out to the Black-Briar Lodge. She sold the flawless sapphires to Madesi for a a huge sum, and promised to keep her eyes open for a mammoth tusk and a chunk of gold ore so he could start working on a new project he’d been envisioning. She took the fire salts to Balimund, knowing he was concerned about his forge. He’d told her once when she’d brought her daggers to him to be sharpened that he relied on fire salts to keep his forge hot and was running low on his supply. Balimund happily paid her for the sack of salt, wisely refraining from asking her where she got them. By the time she was done, her sack of gold weighed considerably more and she carefully tucked it into her knapsack. She might be part of the Guild, but she still didn’t trust everyone there entirely.

Noon had come and gone by the time she headed out of the city to the Black-Briar Lodge. It took her about an hour on foot to reach the secluded home and she was happy to see Sibbi open the front door with a smile.

She stepped into his arms without hesitation, planting her lips against his in a hard kiss. She felt his fingers bury themselves in her hair tangling in her curls as he pulled her closer, his tongue diving past her lips. When he finally let her pull back she was breathless. “I came to talk business, but I could put that off for a while.” she gasped, lifting her hand to play with his goatee.

“Business first my darling. We can play later without interruption.” He pulled her inside the lodge and lead her to the sitting room, pulling up a chair by the table and handing her a drink. “Maul tells me you need something from me.” he replied, bending down to place a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Mmmhmmm. A loan. I want to buy Honeyside and I basically forced the Jarl to sell it to me for lower than the original asking price. I want privacy, and somewhere I can sleep that doesn’t reek of the sewers.” she explained, pushing him away to bring a semblance of professionalism to the conversation.

Sibbi frowned as he sat across from her. “Why a loan? Why not simply let me buy it for you as my mistress?”

She cocked her eyebrow at him and grimaced. “Oh yes, your mother would love that. Her son buying property for his whore? Why you’d be the talk of the town.” she replied bitterly, thinking about her last encounter with Maven.

Sibbi sat up straight in his chair, a concerned look on his face. “Hey now, where’s this coming from. You aren’t letting my mother get into your head now are you?”

Cylfin sighed, “No, yes, I don’t know. Not really. The fact of the matter is it would look poorly if you purchased it for me. I want a loan. It will be short term and I’ll pay interest on it. I want property in my name. I want a place that no one can take away from me if they're mad, or if they want to sell it to someone else. I mean other than the Jarl of course. You don’t know what it’s like to be kicked out of the only place you know. I need Honeyside to be mine, outright with no strings attached. I have money coming in, but it may be a few months, and I think Laila might try to sell Honeyside out from under me if she gets the chance. She’s not exactly thrilled with me staying in the city.”

“How much do you need?” he asked, sitting back and taking a swallow of his mead.

“Fifteen hundred septims. If I combine that with the money I already have it should be enough to get me the house and at least get a bed in it.” she replied. “If you can’t, I am sure I can speak to someone else. I don’t really like the idea of going to Bolli, he hates me now, but I might be able to convince him it is charity work.” she replied with a sour expression.

“I’ll have it to you tomorrow morning. You know, it’s a bit frustrating you don’t trust me enough to believe I’d allow you to keep any house I buy for you.” he said quietly, staring into his mug.

“Sibbi, I enjoy what we have, but I’d say it’s unwise for you to expect total trust from the womer who murdered your previous fiance. Who better to know the punishment I might incur if I piss you off enough.” she replied with a cheeky smile. “Be thankful I chose to sleep with you at all.”

He began to laugh. “By the Eight, I love your honesty. Who better indeed?”

She frowned suddenly, reminded she had other news she should tell him about. Her fingers traced the rim of her mug, the mead suddenly making her stomach roll. “In the interest of being honest, I should probably tell you that I slept with my Guildmaster.” she said softly.

That caught his attention, his laughter abruptly cut off. “Mercer Frey? Truly? I thought the man hated elves?” he replied, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned back to observe her.

“Oh he hates them, me in particular. Doesn’t mean he didn’t desire me against his better judgement.” she stated with a sneer. “I can’t tell if he did it to put me in my place, or out of a genuine desire to bed me. After it was done, he sneered at me, insulted me and when I threatened to leave the Guild he told me not to let the door hit my ass on the way out.”

“Ah, your recent absence from the guild and your desire for a home of your own becomes more clear.” he said with a grin. When she didn’t return his smile he sat up and rubbed his temples. “I hate to admit this, but you picked the one man I can’t really touch. I mean I could hire the Brotherhood, but mother will have my head if I try it, and to be honest, I can’t truly say that he wouldn’t survive an assassination attempt anyways. The man is as slippery as an eel and as paranoid as a skooma addict. He’s always anticipating a betrayal.”

She sighed, “I don’t want you to protect me against him. He didn’t hurt me in anyway, I mean not physically, and I consented to everything. I certainly don’t want him dead just because he’s an ass. I was telling you more so to get it off my chest and tell someone about it. I can’t tell anyone in the Guild, and I really don’t want to rehash it with Mercer. More than anything I’m mad at myself. I know he’s a miserable bastard. I know he hates my guts and I know he’s probably more dangerous than even you and your mother. I just couldn’t stop myself from wanting him. I’ve wanted him since the first time I laid eyes on him.” As she spoke she thumped her thighs with her fist in time with the cadence of her sentence, letting herself get angrier and angrier. When she felt Sibbi’s hands on her own she looked up and flashed him a half-hearted grin. “I guess I’m attracted to powerful men.”

“Lucky for me.” he replied, leaning in to kiss her. He pulled back just as her eyes closed. “Now, how about I take you upstairs and make you forget about Mercer for a while?”

Her eyes sparkled with desire and she smiled. “I’d like that very much.”
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Chapter Text

Sibbi had given it a good try, taking her to bed for the rest of the day. They reached new heights neither had felt before, but as she pulled her armor on the next morning, her mind was still focused on Mercer. Having not stepped foot in the cistern for more than a week she was beginning to worry about the reception she would received when she did. She’d left out of spite, pure and simple, wanting to teach Mercer a lesson for his harsh words, but it could backfire in her face just as easily.

Sibbi had left early in the morning, assuring her the guards at the lodge would leave her in peace. He promised to have the funds for her loan before midday, asking her to meet him at the Bee and Barb, where they would draw up the contract in public so that the Jarl couldn’t accuse her of stealing the funds to buy Honeyside. She made her way back to Riften, heading to Elgrim’s Elixer’s. She found Ingun bend over the alchemy lab in the corner, merrily researching new ingredient combinations.

“Ingun, I have those ingredients you asked me for. I finally found all of them, and I have a few others I thought you’d be interested in.” Cylfin said softly, not wanting to scare the young woman.

“Just one second.” Ingun replied as she waited for a single drop to fall from the alembic into a tiny glass vial. She place a stopper in the vial and straighten, turning to see who had greeted her, smiling brightly when she recognized her. “Oh it’s you. Thank you for bringing me those ingredients. Elgrim was beginning to get mad at me for not replacing his supplies.”

Ingun reached into her pocket and pulled out a small coin purse and a large brass key. “Here is a key to my chest. I keep plenty of potions inside that you might find useful. I replenish them every fews days. Feel free to help yourself.”

Cylfin pocketed the items and smiled. “I appreciate it. Is there any ways I can make a request for a specific potion to kept in stock?”

“I suppose. It depends on the potion. It would need to have easily obtainable ingredients.” Ingun replied with a frown.

“Well Sibbi tells me you keep a large supply handy for your oldest brother, so I hope it would be simple enough to brew me a few bottles as well.” Cylfin replied softly.

The girl brightened. “Oh, of course. I know exactly what you mean. I suppose you don’t with Elgrim or Hafjorg to know about your need for that.” Ingun dug into her pocket and produced a small vial filled with a black liquid. “Here, take this. I’ll have more in my chest by this evening.”

Cylfin shot her a grateful smile, uncorked the vial and tipped back it’s contents. “Thank you Ingun. I know I should learn this for myself, but I am a disaster at alchemy. I don’t have the patience for it.”

“Well it keeps alchemists like myself in business, so please just keep coming to us.” Ingun replied. “If you don’t mind, could I hire you to keep an eye out for any more rare ingredients you might come across? I’ll pay you for your trouble.”

Cylfin agreed with a smile and exited the shop, heading for the Bee and Bard to meet Sibbi. She sat across from him inside and gestured to Keerava for a drink as Sibbi slid a large piece of parchment across the table. “Here you go. I had the contract drafted to your specifications. Just sign here and the money is yours.” Sibbi said loudly, drawing the attention of the few patrons inside the tavern.

“Thank you Sibbi. I appreciate the loan.” she replied, feeling equally as awkward as he sounded. She signed the document, then took the coin purse he handed her. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

She saw the glint in his eyes at the word pleasure, and knew he was thinking about last night. She had to restrain herself from sending him a wink. “Have the first installment to be by the end of next month or you will regret the day you were born.” he threatened softly, adding credibility to the contract. Sibbi would never lend money out of the goodness of his heart, but his words sent a shiver down her spine, another reminder of the danger she played with.

Cylfin was in luck when she reached Mistveil Keep. The Jarl was not in the main hall, and Unmid was nowhere in sight. She flagged down Anuriel and purchased Honeyside, paying extra for a few amenities to be in place by the end of the day as well as a few extra keys for her home. With her purchase finalized and nothing left to do to keep her from facing the guild she made her way the cemetery, pressing the release for the secret entrance and slipped down the ladder to the cistern. She had barely made it out of the small alcove when she heard her name.

“Cylfin!”

She cringed when she heard the anger in Brynjolf’s voice. She turned, guilt in her eyes, and faced him, waiting for his tirade.

“Gone for over a week, no one knew where you were until a yesterday, rumors flying around the market that not only did you clear out the warehouse, but you took a loan from Sibbi and purchased a home in Riften, and you didn’t even have the decency to inform me of any of this? By the Eight, what were you thinking?” he shouted once he reached her. “Mercer is furious, jobs are backing up and you disappeared right after you told us about the connection between Goldenglow and Honningmead. Didn’t you think I might have more questions for you? How could you just run off like that.”

The anger was evident in his eyes, but what she hadn’t been expecting was the hurt in them as well. Suddenly she remembered Mercer’s taunt about Brynjolf's affection for her and it all made sense. “I’m sorry Brynjolf. Mercer and I argued pretty badly after you left. He kept threatening to kick me out of the guild. I told him if he kept doing it I would leave. He pretty much told me not to let the door hit me on the ass on the way out. I was furious, and I needed to get away and clear my head. I ended up taking more time to do that to spite him.” she replied quietly, unable to meet his eyes.

Guilt congealed in her stomach making her feel nauseous. She liked Brynjolf. He was charming and funny and was one of the few people in her life she felt she could trust. He’d believed in her from the beginning and despite her mistakes lately, she knew he’d do anything to keep her in the Guild. He’d called her family and proven he had her best interest at heart. Her stomach twisted, but she was at a loss as to remedy the situation.

Brynjolf threw his hands in the air in frustration and growled. “Divines damn you both. Do you think you could just try not to piss him off so much? I know everyone has their pride, but he is the leader of the guild. Does everything have to be a power struggle between the two of you?”

She was about to protest that it was more than a power struggle, that Mercer had been overly vile in his treatment of her, but she bit her tongue. Mercer would crucify her if she revealed they’d slept together, and frankly she wasn’t sure how Brynjolf would react. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep my head down more around him and not provoke him. I’m not even sure what I did last time.” she lied.

Brynjolf sighed deeply, rubbing his eyes with one hand and dragging it down his face. “I suppose that’s all I can ask for from you.” he lamented. “You’re not one to roll over and let someone walk all over you. What about the rumors that you cleared out the Skooma trade and bought Honeyside?”

She frowned, not sure how he’d feel about it. “Well those are true.”

“Something wrong with the cistern?” he asked darkly.

“What part of Mercer threatened to kick me out of the Guild didn’t you hear?” she shouted, finally losing her patience with him. He obviously didn't understand the gravity of the situation. “I don’t have anywhere else to go if he does. I bought Honeyside so I will always have a place to call home. Not to mention it provides me somewhere to sleep other than here to avoid pissing Mercer off.”

“You can’t take his threats seriously Cylfin.” he replied, but his voice held less conviction than it had before.

Cylfin rolled her eyes and called out to Rune and Vipir. “Does Mercer threaten to kick either of you out when you speak to him?”

Rune shook his head, and Vipir replied. “Mercer doesn’t talk to me personally.”

“Niruin, does he insult you as much as he does me? Does he threaten to throw you out of the Guild if you botch a job?” she called out to the elf sitting by the cookpot.

“Well he certainly doesn’t censor his distrust of elves around me, but I can’t recall him ever being as outwardly rude to me as he is you. I've never questioned my position here Brynjolf.” he replied with a frown as he scratched his head.

Cylfin turned back to Brynjolf and raised her eyebrows at him. “Mercer doesn’t deal directly with anyone but you and other top ranking members. You know he has a personal dislike of me and I’ve done nothing wrong, I just happen to be an elf and he hates me for it.”

“There is a reason for it you know.” he replied.

“I know very little about it and to be frank, I don’t care. I’m not the one who murdered his best friend. I’m not even the same race of elf.” she stepped past him, walking towards her bed so she could start packing her belongings. She could feel him fall into step beside her. “Provided I’m not actually kicked out, I will continue to do my job, but I will be avoiding Mercer as much as possible. I’m tired of being his verbal punching bag.” She turned to look at him. “Now do you have any more questions for me about those two jobs, or are you still looking into it?”

Brynjolf stared at her a moment longer before sighing again. “Nothing new yet. I’ve still got my contacts looking into every possible detail. I’ve no word back yet. Just go see Delvin and Vex and pick up a few jobs alright. I’ll talk to Mercer and try to sort this mess out. Gods, you’re really becoming more trouble than you’re worth” he grumbled.

He turned away before he saw the look of utter devastation cross her face. Intentional or not his barb hit it's mark. Hearing Mercer’s same words thrown at her by Brynjolf cut her to the quick. She expected those kinds of insults from Mercer, he would do anything to get under her skin, but she respected Brynjolf, admired his leadership and he’d just shown her how much she’d let him down. Losing his faith in her hurt more than she’d expected.

She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands to keep from crying. She would not show any weakness, to Brynjolf, Mercer or anyone else in the Guild. She took a deep breath and headed to the flagon to pick up a job.

Vex barely mentioned her absence, just told her she’d be expected to take extra jobs to make up for lost time. Delvin on the other hand was furious. “Now you sit your arse down and explain what you’ve been up to or I cut off your jobs.”

“I needed a break. I needed out of the city and the task from the Jarl to get rid of the skooma den in Riften provided the opportunity for me to get away for a bit.”

“Horseshit luv. You could have asked for something that would have taken you to Markarth. That’d taken you weeks to finish with the travel time. What’s this really about?” he replied, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms.

She glanced around the tavern and then whispered. “Look, it’s no secret that Mercer and I don’t see eye to eye. We pissed each other off and I left to prove a point to him. I’m already in supreme shit with Brynjolf and I assume Mercer too. I don’t need to rehash it out with everyone in the Guild.”

Delvin chuckled. “Not see eye to eye? Mercer and Maven don’t see eye to eye. You get under Mercer’s skin like no other. Only seen him this bothered one other time in me life. I recommend fucking him and being done wit it. Work it out of both your systems.”

When she paled and stammered Delvin winked. “Oh, I see. Well your secret’s safe with me luv.” he started to chuckle. “I thought something was up. Mercer’s been more irritable than a bear with a bug up it’s arse. Look, I know Bryn probably told you to keep your head down, but if you start now then Mercer will lose all respect for you. Don’t take his shit, but don’t purposefully piss him off either. It’ll make your life a lot easier. If he was really going to get rid of you, he’d of done it by now.”

“I’m surprised I’m not gone already.” she replied with a grumpy frown.

“Nah, you bring in too much coin for him to toss you out on your ear. Tell ya what, I’ll give you a legitimate excuse to get away for a bit. I got a fishin’ job out near Morthal that’ll take you a bit of time to complete. Our client wants an heirloom that went to a distant relative rather than her. You’ll need to collect a ruby ring from the innkeeper. Might be a bit tough given she lives at the inn and there will be eyes everywhere.” Delvin offered.

She brightened, happy that she’d have a legitimate excuse to stay away from Mercer for awhile. “I could kiss you Delvin. That will be perfect.” she replied with a smile.

Delvin put his hands up in protection. “Rather you not luv. No offense, but you have enough men in your life. Mercer, Sibbi, Bryn. I’d like to keep me balls thanks.”

“Since when was Brynjolf a man in my life? I didn’t know I was sleeping with him.” she replied with a frown, wondering if everyone but her had been aware of Brynjolf's feelings for her.

Delvin shook his head. “Didn’t say you was. Said he was in your life. I’d have to be half blind not to see he fancies you. You’re his favorite little prodigy Cyl, he’s taken more interest in you than any other recruit he has in years and I don’t think it’s just your skills that caught his attention. Now, what you choose to do with that information is up to you and I don’t envy your juggling act.”

“And I don’t envy that weird thing you have going with Vex. To each their own I guess.” she replied with a soft laugh. “Send me to Morthal. I’ll hit Whiterun for Vex’s job on the way back.”

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Morthal was even gloomier than the last time she had been there. The cause of the house fire was still undetermined and rumors ran rampant around the village, stories of weird noises in the swamp, disappearing residents, evil and dark magic. The villagers were scared of their own Jarl and her court, but too afraid to investigate the truth on their own.

She hadn’t meant to get involved, she really hadn’t, but she was starting to feel that the Gods had it out for her. She’d been trying to feel out the innkeeper’s daily routine, and asked why the mood was so gloomy. She got the entire sob story and was asked to speak to the Jarl on behalf the family for more answers. She almost refused, but realizing it would give her an excuse to stay away from Riften a few days longer she agreed.

Now as she hit yet another vampire with a burst of flames, she was cursing herself for being such a coward where Mercer was concerned. She could be in Riften, swapping stories with Delvin and Vekel right now instead of fighting her way through a horde of blood-sucking corpses Oblivion bent on wiping out Morthal. At least she’d had the sense of mind to attack during the day when most of the vampires were weak or asleep, but once she’d burned about the fourth one they had begun waking up and attacking. Thonnir, who’s wife had been taken and turned by the vampires had insisted on coming, and he was proving to be more of a hindrance than a help. Twice now she had been distracted, trying to save him, resulting in a deep cut along her back from one opponent and Morvath, the horde leader, had managed to sink his teeth into her arm, trying to drain her dry. She’d blasted him with fire until he’d let go, screaming in agony. The vampire she was currently dealing with had jumped on top of her, keeping her from going after the master vampire. By the time she had disintegrated her into ash, Morvath had almost got away.

“Oh no you blood sucking bastard. You are not going to infect me and get away with it.” She cursed, pulling her bow from her back and riddling him with arrows. Thonnir and Cylfin watched as he collapsed, steps from a secret exit that would have saved him.

The two approached the wheezing corpse, watching as Morvath tried to pull the arrows from his back. “I think you should do the honors Thonnir. It was his servants that killed your wife after all.”

The man didn’t reply. He just raised his sword and swung down with a mighty scream of rage. The vampire’s head went flying, spraying thick black blood that smelled of rot and disease. She patted Thonnir’s arm sympathetically, knowing the creatures death was only a temporary bandage on his pain. “You did good. He will never hurt anyone ever again.”

“It’s little consolation. My son is to grow up without a mother. What kind of life is that? It’s not I tell you.” the grief-stricken man replied, his voice hoarse with sorry and anger. “What am I to tell him?”

“You tell him his mother was murdered by monsters and that his father is a hero who avenged her and saved the village. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without your help.” she lied, not mentioning the fact she’d probably have wiped out the lair faster if she hadn’t had to constantly save him.

“Thank you Afwyn.” he replied, using the fake name she’d given when she’d arrived in town. “Having a hero as a father might take the sting out of the loss.”

Once they got back to town, Cylfin went directly to the local alchemist and paid through the nose for a cure disease potion and enough health potions to ensure she wouldn’t have a scar running up her back from waist to shoulder. When she reported to the Jarl, Idgrod was delighted by her success, and had promptly offered to allow her to buy property in the hold if she ever wished to. Cylfin had thanked her with a bow, secretly thinking there wasn’t enough money in all of Nirn to convince her to live in the crazy woman’s hold, and headed back to the inn.

The town celebrated her success long into the night, which annoyed her to no ends as Jonna stayed up late serving the drinks, never giving Cylfin a chance to steal the ring. Frustrated, she told Jonna she wanted to get a head start on a trip to Solitude and had checked out, leaving the town to it’s celebrations. She returned just before dawn to sneak into Jonna’s chambers once everyone had passed out for the night, from exhaustion or inebriation. She slipped the ring from the woman’s finger, careful not to make a sound. Making her way through a sea of passed out bodies on the inn floor, she slipped out as silently as she’d entered. She thought she was in the clear, making it all the way outside to the main road when she heard the shout. “Thief! Someone has taken my ring!”

Cylfin bolted, heading north east away from the village, hoping to lose the guards that poured from the bunkhouse, in the foggy swamp. She was having no such luck however. The men chasing her had years of experience patrolling the marshland and they knew every island and sinkhole.

She didn’t know how long she ran, but just as she was beginning to lose her breath she spotted an old tomb just ahead, with a few bandits camped around it. She threw a lighting bolt at one of the bandits to distract them and then flew past them, racing down the steps of the tomb and throwing open the door. Above her she could hear the sounds of fighting. The guards has arrive just behind her. She was pushing the doors of the tomb closed when she heard a guard ask. “Sir, should we go after her?”

“Let the necromancers have her. This place gives me the creeps. You keep a patrol here for a week, camped beside it. If the mages don’t kill her, we can when she gets hungry enough to try and come out.” came the reply.

Cylfin shut the door to the tomb and cursed violently. She knew the ancient Nords always built a second exit in these tombs, but it was always from the last chamber and occasionally it just lead you straight back to the main entrance. She was effectively trapped and wouldn’t know if there was another exit unless she pushed forward. She rummaged through her pack, taking inventory of her supplies and her stomach sank. She had no canteen, and her food supplies were two days at best. She could go a week without food, but she needed water to outlast them. She had a few healing potions, and had restocked her supply of magicka potions in Morthal, so she might stand a better chance of dealing with mages and the draugr, known to patrol ancient tombs, than she would waiting out the guards. She rested briefly to recover from her escape, but set off soon after. At least she wouldn’t be bored.

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By the time she managed to return to Riften four weeks later, Cylfin’s armor was in tatters and she’d cursed Akatosh in every language she was fluent in. She had tried very hard to avoid her destiny and it had bit her in the ass in the worst way. The tomb she’d hidden in had been the ancient resting place of Jurgen Windcaller, the very tomb the Greybeards had asked her to travel to to retrieve his horn. She hadn’t known it at the time, but started to clue in when she found another word wall like the one Bleak Falls Barrow, and when she had to use the whirlwind shout Borri had taught her in High Hrothgar all those months ago to get to another chamber of the tomb. When she had found the note left by the horn thief she was both furious and intrigued. She’d headed straight through Whiterun, completing Vex’s burglary job without batting an eye, and rented a room in Riverwood immediately.

Delphine was an interesting woman, cunning, determined and wise, but when Cylfin had asked if she had connections to the guild with her skills at thieving, the old Blade been incredibly offended. Cylfin had wisely kept her mouth shut about her association and city of residence. She’d followed Delphine to Kynesgrove simply to shut her up about the dragons and keep the woman from stalking her all the way home. Between the two of them and the Windhelm guards assigned to the small hamlet, they had managed to slay the newly risen dragon. Delphine had told her to meet her back in Riverwood to plan their next step in solving the mystery of the returning monsters, but she’d had other plans and went straight to Ivarstead to give the Greybeards their treasure.

She’d met another dragon on the road, had eventually succeeded in killing it, but not without suffering wounds of her own. Her armor, already badly damaged had offered little protection from the dragon’s fire and sharp claws. Absorbing it’s soul had weakened her to a point of collapse. She’d barely made it to Ivarstead and only survived because of the kind ministrations of the insane beggar that lived on the outskirts of the town. Narfi had explained in fits and spurts of clarity that his sister had been an alchemist and he still had her potions. He’d forced to to swallow a few healing potions until she had regained consciousness and could apply her own healing magic to her body. She in return had paid for a weeks worth of meals for him at the inn, and bought him a new sleeping pallet and warm hide for his dilapidated home.

The Greybeards had been delighted that she had returned, teaching her the final shout to her unrelenting force, but they had been as tight lipped as she’d expected about the meaning of the return of the dragons and why she’d been chosen as the Dragonborn. Deciding they were all a bunch of sex starved nut jobs she had left the mountain and headed straight for Riften, determined to avoid all this dragon business for as long as possible.

Hoping to avoid Mercer, who spent most of his time in the cistern, she had entered the flagon from the ratway entrance she’d first used to find the Guild.

“You’re back! I was starting to think the last job I gave you had got you killed.” Delvin remarked when she sat down in the chair beside him.

She handed him Jonna’s ring. “What made you think I was dead?” she asked.

“Reports came in from Morthal that the thief who got this ring had been spotted and chased into the swaps. The guards are claiming they killed her, but my spies reported there was no body. Still if you was wounded, you might have fallen into a marshy area and drowned and we’d never know otherwise.” he replied as inspected the trinket, then tucked it into his pocket.

“Those guards were useless. They chased me into an old tomb, but were too frightened to follow me in. I just outwaited them and left once the patrol had given up.” she replied with a long sigh. “Besides, your spies should have told you I completed Vex’s job in Whiterun a week later.”

“They did indeed. Then it took almost another two weeks for you to show up. So what happened?” he stated, his green eyes boring into her own as he stared her down.

“A girl is allowed a few secrets.” she retorted with grin.

“Not where Mercer is concerned. No word, no rumors after Whiterun. He’s furious and he expects you to report in as soon as you’re back. Drop off that goblet with Vex and then get your arse to Mercer before he loses his mind.” Delvin replied without his usual grin.

“Anyone else concerned about my whereabouts? Do I have to apologize to Brynjolf too?” she asked, her tone bordering on insubordinate as she drained the tankard of mead Vekel had just placed in front of her. Delvin cocked his eyebrow at her and stared. “Alright, alright. I’ll apologize to him as well and thank him for running interference lately. I suppose I should go see Sibbi as well.”

“Sibbi’s had his hands full lately, but he has been asking about you.” Delvin replied cryptically.

“Meaning?” she asked as she stood up.

“That’s between you and him luv. Not sticking my nose where it don’t belong.” he said with a wink.

Cylfin leaned down and kissed his bald head affectionately. “Thank you, you old codger. I think you’re the only man down here with a brain.”

She left Delvin roaring with laughter. She found Vex and handed over the golden goblet she’d taken from Whiterun and then headed down the hall to the cistern, not sure if she’d find Brynjolf or Mercer first.

Mercer’s door swung open as she passed. “You’ll get your ass in here if you know what’s good for you.”

His tone, and the veiled threat behind his words, sent a shiver up her spine. Seeing him had an altogether different affect. His eyes, fixated on her, were filled with barely contained rage, but there was an underlying of lust in them as well. She could see their last encounter had not sated his desire, and Gods help her, his disdain did nothing to quell her burning hunger for his embrace.

She stepped inside his room and closed the door. As soon as they were hidden from vision Mercer shoved her up against the wall and his lips descended on hers in a punishing kiss. She moaned, helpless against the tide of burning lust that flooded her body. She felt Mercer’s fingers in her hair, grabbing the curls she had left loose under her hood, tangling in them and pulling back hard to tilt her chin, allowing him to ravage her mouth further. She parted her lips to let his tongue plunge inside. His own moan, a low, pained sound, caused a flood between her legs. He could claim she meant nothing, but he desired her as badly as she did him.

Her own hands slid to the buckles of his armor, skillfully undoing them and peeling it away piece by piece. She slid her fingers beneath his tunic and scoured her nails across his chest, causing him to growl, gripping her hair tighter. When she reached the waistband of his leathers she pulled at the laces, reaching inside to cup his length, her knees going weak when she felt how hard he was. She whimpered against his mouth, desperately wishing he would touch her body that ached for him.

Mercer groaned again as her fingers gripped him tightly, expertly working his shaft. He loosened his grip on her hair, sliding his hands down her neck and chest, undoing the buckles on her own armor with just as much skill. His hands cupped her breasts and she whined, closing her eyes as his calloused fingers manipulated her nipples into hard peaks. His touch was driving her mad and she rocked her hips against him, encouraging him to touch her were she so desperately wanted to be touched. His hands traveled lower, reaching her waistband and she wiggled her hips when he undid her own breeches, helping him slid them down her legs and kicked them across the room. Without a word Mercer scooped her up in his arms and tossed her onto his bed. Before she could recover from the shock, he was looming over her, his eyes black with lust. He rolled his hips, sliding between her legs and plunged inside her, causing her to shriek with delight. She reveled in the feeling of his skin against hers and wrapped her legs around his hips. Her arms weaved around his shoulders, hands digging into his hair to pull him closer as he rocked inside her.

Their passion engulfed them, Cylfin lifting her hips to meet him thrust for thrust as Mercer desperately tried to bury himself inside her completely. He buried his head in the crook of her neck, his soft grunts and moans driving her wild. When his teeth grazed the muscle above her collar bone, digging deep enough into the the flesh to leave a mark, screeched as her body peaked, reaching fruition just as Mercer shouted his completion and collapsed on top of her. Panting he rolled off her, trying to regain his bearings. “Don’t ever think about leaving for that long again.” he growled.

She reached out a hand, placing it across his mouth, silencing him. “Don’t. Don’t speak, don’t even open your mouth. Just let me enjoy the afterglow without making me feel like shit. Just give me five bloody minutes before you remind me how much of a bastard you are.” she demanded, still breathing heavily, as the sweat cooled against her skin.

Mercer smirked and lay back down beside her, tracing lazy patterns on her stomach with his finger. After a few moments of silence, she rolled over to face him, steeling herself for his tirade. “Alright fine, I’ve recovered. Tell me what an insubordinate slut I am and all the reasons you should kick me out of the guild.”

“I should kick you out, but I have a feeling you’d tell me to go to Oblivion and sneak back in here anyways. You are absolutely incapable of taking orders.” he replied hotly as he stood to search for his armor.

“I did not let the door hit my ass on the way out.” she replied with a straight face.

She nearly fell off the bed when Mercer threw his head back and laughed. “Didn’t let the door hit you on the ass indeed. I suppose I deserved that.”

She sat up and scooted away from him, crossing her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling uncomfortable and exposed.. “Who are you and what have you done with Mercer?”

His familiar sneer slid back into place. “Just because I need your skills doesn’t mean you get free reign to be a pain in my ass. You were gone over a month Cylfin.”

“I came back and got a job from Delvin and Vex.” she protested.

“And never reported back to me. I had to hear about your adventures from connections. How did those jobs end up taking you over three weeks to complete?” he asked with a frown.

“I was almost caught. I had to hide out in a tomb for a bit. After Whiterun, I was still pissed at you and did some travelling. Went to visit a friend.” she replied smoothly.

Mercer stared at her for a moment, then shook his head in disbelief. “You ask me to stop treating you like shit, but you can’t even be bothered to show me enough respect to not lie to my face. Keep your secrets then elf, just don’t expect my trust.” He grabbed his tunic from the floor and started to dress himself. “There’s still nothing on that mark, but I have a contact who is following up on a lead. In the meantime, drop whatever jobs you’ve taken on. I’m having Delvin send you on a special request. This job can’t me botched and it pains me to say you’re the only one I think can pull it off.”

“Wow Mercer, that was almost a compliment.” she replied, rising to don her armor as well.

“And get yourself a new set of leathers. Those are useless. What did you even do to them?” he said, ignoring her jibe.

“I encountered a dragon.” she muttered, absently. She bit her lip, cursing herself silently.

“A dragon? You ran into a dragon?” he asked, whipping his head around to stare at her.

“I was attacked on the road.” she replied dully. “I almost didn’t make it. Fire breathing demon nearly burnt me to a crisp. I managed to get away alive, but that’s why I took so long to get back. It takes time to heal from that kind of damage, even with my spells and potions.” She wasn’t lying entirely, just leaving out some important details.

Mercer’s grey eyes bored into her own, as if waiting for her to continue. At her silence he shook his head. “Well that explains the burn marks. Tell Tonilia I said to give you a new set. Once you've done that go get the details from Delvin.” He paused a moment to allow her to finish buckling her armor back into place then turned and exited his room, leaving her confused and alone.
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“No!”

“Cyl be reasonable. Mercer wants you on this job.” Delvin coaxed.

“No! I refuse. I will not take this job. There isn’t enough money in the world to make me take this job!” she shouted, hysteria rising in her chest, threatening to emerge as a scream.

“We’re trying to get the Guild back on its feet luv. We need to expand our hold on Skyrim if we ever want to return to our former glory. Torsten Cruel-Sea is willing to support our expansion back into Windhelm if we can help him avenge the murder of his daughter.”

“That man is a steaming pile of skeever shit and I’d sooner cut off my own hand than help him in any manner. Send someone else.” she replied, crossing her arms to keep her hands from shaking with rage. “Torsten is the reason I was homeless for months. That man took advantage of my father for years, and he took nearly everything of importance to pay off my fathers debt to him. I hope his entire family dies of ataxia!”

“Why not look at it from a different perspective. That man is the reason you found a home with the Guild. Would you have come to Riften if you had retained your home in Windhelm?” said a soft voice behind her.

Startled, she whirled around, meeting Brynjolf’s green eyes with her own amber ones. “I’d have come to Windhelm to tell Nivenor about our father.” she spat.

He took her hands in his, feeling the rage she kept coiled inside. His thick brogue was soft and calming. “Aye, but would you have stayed here, and found us lass, or would you have gone home immediately? Torsten is also responsible for your meeting Sibbi and all of us here in the cistern. Surely you must appreciate that?”

“Don’t think you can use that logic on me into this Brynjolf. I cannot do this. When have you ever heard me say that? I don’t boast, or crow about my abilities. I am always honest. I cannot do this. I can't sit in his house with a pretty smile and take orders from him.” she said, her eyes flashing. “I’d be more likely to shove a dagger into his belly than to help him avenge his daughter.”

“It doesn’t matter. You are going. You will be the one to do this, because it will be done correctly.” came the gravelly reply.

Everyone in the cistern turned to stare at Mercer. His voice brooked no argument and he stared her down, daring her to defy him. She smacked her thighs with her fists in muted rage. “You heartless bastard.” she shouted at him. “You delight in tormenting me don’t you? Fine, I’ll go, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

He sighed and turned to leave. “Fine, take Brynjolf with you if you’re so determined to muck this up. He’ll make sure you don’t murder our client.”

“You want me to go as well?” Brynjolf asked in surprize. “I haven’t done a job in months Mercer.”

“Then it will be good practice, won’t it?” Mercer replied with venom in his voice. With every word his voice rose in volume. “Am I not still the Guildmaster? Does my word count for nothing anymore? Get your asses to Windhelm and take care of this without any more bitching and complaining.” he snarled, slamming his fist into the counter of the bar.

The Flagon was silent until he disappeared down the hall and they heard his door slam.

Delvin was the first to break the silence, turning back in his chair to look at Brynjolf and Cylfin, chuckling at their open mouthed astonishment. “Well then, that settles it. Like I was telling Cyl here, Torsten contacted me to warn us that a rival is trying to get itself started out near Windhelm. Not only that, but they’re givin’ us thieves a bad name by murderin’ their marks. They got Torsten’s daughter. Get your tails up there and see what you can do.”

Brynjolf nodded. “Aye." He turned to her with an empathetic look in his eyes. "Cylfin, we can take the carriage leaving for Windhelm in the morning. Do you need to do anything before we go?”

“I’m moving my things to Honeyside and then I’m going to see Sibbi. Meet me at my house at dawn.” she snarled, avoiding his eyes. “I’ll be ready by then.”

She stomped off to gather her things from her bed in the cistern, silently cursing herself for ever finding Mercer attractive.

Chapter Text

Before she went to find Sibbi, Cylfin decided to check at the Bee and Barb to see if Ma’Dran had kept his word. She had noticed the Khajit caravan outside the city, but knew they would not trust her word if she told them who she was. She would need the note they sent her to prove her identity. She was in luck, Keerava handed her the scribbled note. Hoping to clear her loan with Sibbi as quickly as possible, she headed out to the stables to speak to Ahkari.

The leader of the southern caravan was friendly and discreet, handing her a bulging sack of septims with a low hiss. “Ri’saad thanks you for your trade. It has been very lucrative indeed. Ri’saad welcomes any trade you may wish to do in the future. This one considers you a friend of the Khajit now.”

Cylfin gave a respectful bow. “It is good to have friends among the Khajit. Thank you Ahkari. I will keep my eyes open for any other such goods.”

Back inside Riften she found Maul outside the Black-Briar Manor, leaning against the balcony supports with a familiar scowl on his face. “Is he home this evening?”

“He is. So is Maven. You might not want to disturb their dinner.” he replied with a scowl.

“Duly noted. Tell him I want to settle my loan, but I will be out on a job by the morning.” She hesitated for a moment before digging one of her keys from her pocket and handing it to Maul. She doubted he would copy it. Sibbi would castrate him if he ever touched her. “Give him this and let him know he can let himself in if he wants.”

She turned and headed home. It took her almost two hours to prepare for the trip, sharpening her weapons, stretching out her new armor and packing her gear. Deciding she needed a bath before she hit the road again, to wash away the sticky reminder of her encounter with Mercer. She disrobed, grabbing a long tunic to cover herself, then left the house by the back door, heading down to the lake. She liked that the dock below her home provided her with some privacy from the prying eyes of the fishing crews. She took her time, enjoying her soak in the warm waters of the lake, heated by the summer sun. When her fingers looked like a dried snowberry she pulled herself out of the water, drying off with an absorbent hide. She pulled on her tunic which clung to her damp skin and walked back up the stairs to Honeyside.

She closed the door behind her and walked to her room, a forbidden, sinking disappointment washing over her at the thought she wouldn’t see Sibbi.

“Why so down sweetness? I’d rather see a smile on your face.”

She yelped, sending a bolt of lightning toward the voice on her bed. Sibbi rolled out of the way just in time, falling to the floor with a shout. “Dammit Cyl, it’s just me. You gave me your key for Divine’s sake.”

She fell to her knees beside him, hugging him close. “Sibbi, you startled me. I didn’t see you.” She pulled back and began to laugh, finally taking a moment to see what was surely meant to be a seductive surprise. His clothes were folded on the chair beside her bed, and he knelt in front of her in full naked glory.

He blushed, a rare thing for Sibbi. “Yeah well, I haven’t seen you in weeks. I got here and saw you in the lake out the window. I thought I would surprise you. I wasn’t expecting to be blasted.”

“I’m sorry.” she apologized, pressing her lips to his and running her fingers along his chest. “Let me make it up to you?” She helped him to his feet, only to push him backwards onto her bed, licking her lips.

Sibbi just relaxed, leaning back with a wide grin. “I love it when you look at me like that.”

She pulled the tunic over her head slowly, swaying her hips and giving him a glimpse of her her soft skin. “Like what?” she asked softly as she crawled onto the bed and began pressing light kisses up his legs.

He hissed when she reached his inner thigh and bit down lightly at the soft flesh there. “Like I’m a sweet roll you want to devour. Like you can’t wait to get your hands on me, to use me in any way you want.” he gasped when she wrapped her lips around his cock and began sucking softly, coaxing him into instant hardness.

“If I hadn’t already suspected it, you just confirmed you have a thing for demanding women.” she replied with a smile, cupping him firmly as she ran her tongue up and down along his length.

“Strong woman.” he corrected with a moan. “Your sister Nivenor is demanding. Have you ever heard her speak to Bolli? What a nag. You my dear, are strong. You know what you want and aren’t afraid to take it.”

She slid herself up his body, enjoying the way he shivered with desire. She pressed her lips against his, coaxing his mouth open with her tongue, then she lowered herself down on his length, sliding down slowly. Sibbi moaned against her lips, his hands grabbing her hips and pulling her down so he could slide in as deeply as possible, groaning as she stretched around his length. Once she was hilted on him she let out a low moan.

“I like taking what you give me.” she whispered when she lifted her head, rolling her hips against him deliberately. “Now I want you to fuck me until I can’t even think.”

Sibbi smiled and began to move his body beneath hers, using his hands to guide her hips in a rocking motion as he thrust upwards. Once again Sibbi was struck by her sheer beauty as she moved atop him. Her damp hair cascaded down her back, her eyes were closed, but he knew they were the color of mulled cider when filled with desire. He reached up, cupping her breasts, loving the way they fit his palms. “You’re so lovely Cylfin.” he whispered.

She cried out happily, his words a balm on her wounded pride. Mercer might point out her every flaw, but Sibbi made her feel appreciated. He had wanted her from the moment he seen her and had made his desire known just as quickly. She leaned down, capturing his mouth with her own as she continued to ride him, feeling his arms come up around her to hold her tightly against him, causing her clit to press firmly against his body as she moved long his torso. She broke the kiss with a gasp and leaned down further to run her tongue along his neck, tasting the salty sweat that collected there, nibbling gently. Sibbi groaned her name, begging her not to stop. Her hips slowed, lifting up almost entirely off him, then easing back down on him, taking him as deep as possible. “I love how you make me feel Sibbi. You make me so incredibly hot.” she whispered against his ear.

She reached down with one hand, between their bodies, to run her fingers over the bundle of nerves between her folds and bit back a sob of delight. The more Sibbi moaned, the hotter and tighter she felt, the passion rising, threatening to consume her. When Sibbi turned his head to nibble at the tip of her ear, it burst over her and she screamed his name, jerking her hips erratically against his, her body falling limply against him as she saw stars behind her eyelids.

Sibbi shouted and gripped her hips so hard they nearly bruised, pulling her hard against him as his own pleasure peaked and he spilled himself inside her. He held her close, savoring the feeling of her weight pinning him beneath her, their bodies slick with sweat. Long moments later she pushed herself up on her arms and looked down at him with a satisfied smile. “I needed that. More than I can express.”

Sibbi frowned, remembering the look of sadness and frustration on her face when she had come in. “What’s wrong? Something had you looking like you’d been kicked when you’re down.”

Cylfin rolled off of him and lay down beside him, staring at the ceiling. “I slept with Mercer again. He wasn’t quite as much of a bastard this time right after, but he quickly loses any redeeming qualities I think he might have immediately after he’s done fucking me.” she replied. “Do you know Mercer is trying to expand the Guild’s presence again?”

“Mother might have mentioned something about it. Windhelm I think.” he replied, turning on his side to look at her.

“Mercer is sending Brynjolf and me to Windhelm to speak to Torsten Cruel-Sea and open negotiations by doing a job for him.” she replied dully, her face devoid of any emotion.

“I’m missing something here Cyl. If he trusts you to do the job shouldn’t you be pleased?” he asked, rubbing her arm.

“Torsten is the reason I was homeless Sibbi. He’s the reason behind everything that happened to me since leaving Windhelm. I remember him being rude and condescending to my family for years. If I’d had a home still, I would have told Nivenor about father, then left. I found out my father borrowed money from Torsten and was still in debt when he died. I don't even know what father would have cause my father to go so deeply into debt in the first place, but Torsten kicked me out of our home just days after his passing, taking nearly everything of value that I couldn’t smuggle out of the house. I understand that he'd have turned me out at some point, a debt is a debt, but he could have allowed me time to mourn. I’d sooner kill the man myself than help him with anything. But I’m on thin ice as it is. Mercer made it clear I had to do this and if I botch the job I’m as good as gone.” she said, turning on her side to face him.

“Then it’s a test.” Sibbi said, “Simple as that. He’s testing your loyalty to the Guild. I don’t really blame him either. You buy a house, disappear for over a month, he probably wants to be sure you’re not just jerking them around and will do what needs to be done to help rebuild the Guild.”

“I think you give him more credit that he deserves. I think he’s torturing me.” she pouted.

“Mercer is," Sibbi paused, trying to find the right words to describe the Guildmaster. "Well to say he’s a complicated man is an understatement. He wouldn’t torment you simply for the sake of doing so. He’s always three steps ahead of everyone. He even manages to hide things from my mother, she’s sure of it.” Sibbi replied. “Look, it's a miserable assignment, but I know you have what it takes to complete it professionally. I’d expect no less from my master thief. If nothing else, do it to spite Mercer if you think he's expecting you to fail. Besides, I can’t fault the man too much. I’d never know what a treasure you are if you hadn’t stayed in town and got caught with the Jarl’s housecarl.”

She kissed him, like he expected her too, but her heart still hurt too much to fully acknowledge her good fortune in meeting him or the rest of the Guild.

“I don’t understand one thing though, if you hate Mercer so much, why do you keep sleeping with him?” Sibbi stated when he pulled away.

“I have the same problem with Mercer as I have with you.” she stated with a coy smile. “Once he has his hands on me I can’t find the strength to push him away. I don’t want to say no when I’m kissing either of you. The only difference is I don’t end up hating you in the afterglow like I do him.”

He smiled and leaned forward, pressing his lips against hers and she felt the affection he would deny feeling for her if asked. They were both breaking the rules, she acknowledged, when she kissed him back.

“Will it spoil the mood if I tell you I have the money to pay you back?” she asked quietly when she pulled back.

“My dear, the only thing I enjoy as much as lying in bed with you here, is money. I refuse to take the interest though. Spend it on decorating, or some softer bedding. This mattress is lumpy.” he replied with a frown, smacking the bed beneath them.

She burst out laughing, amused by the disgruntled look on his face. “I didn’t do my job if you can still notice how lumpy the mattress is.” she stated, pulling him on top of her. “Let’s rectify that, shall we?’

******************************************************************************************************************************

Sibbi slipped out of Honeyside long before dawn, long before Brynjolf knocked on her door. Their relationship may be developing an intimacy they agreed to avoid, but it was still too much for him to spend the night in his mistress’s home, on a lumpy mattress no less. Her mood had significantly improved though, with Sibbi’s suggestion to take the challenge head on to spite Mercer.

Brynjolf peered at her with blurry eyes when she opened the door. “Not a morning person are we lad?” she asked, mimicking his brogue.

“Stuff it elf!” he growled in mock anger. “I’m only up this early because you threw a tantrum. Let’s get to the carriage before it leaves without us. Did you have a chance to resupply last night?”

She shot him a lazy, satisfied smile. “I was a bit preoccupied last night. Nurelion makes better potions than Elgrim anyways, so I’ll restock my potions in Windhelm” she replied, closing the door behind her and locking it tightly.

Brynjolf smiled at her antics. “No need for that lass. Look there, on the bottom left corner of your doorway. The Guild has your back. No one would dare steal from this house.”

She squinted in the dim morning light and could just make out the scratch marks in the wood frame of the doorway. “Who?” she asked.

“Who do you think? I put that there the moment I heard you had bought it.” he replied. “No one is stealing from my protege.”

She punched him affectionately in the arm. “Carving graffiti on my house. You have a lot of nerve.” she laughed. “Thank you Bryn. I appreciate your concern.”

She thought she saw him blush, but he turned his away and began walking for the gates. “Yes well, we should get going.”

They arrived at the gates of Windhelm late the next afternoon and headed to the Cruel- Sea residence. When they knocked, the door was answered by a pinched, sour-faced dunmer, who frowned deeply when she saw Cylfin. “Can I help you?” she asked Brynjolf, pointedly ignoring Cylfin.

“Aye lass, I’m looking for Torsten. He’s expecting us.” Brynjolf replied, laying his accent on thick.

“I’m afraid he isn’t here at the moment. He’s at Hollyfrost, overseeing the summer planting. He will be back around dinner.” the dunmer replied, smiling despite herself. “I shall tell him he had, visitors.” she sneered again, looking at Cylfin.

“Care to explain what that was all about?” Brynjolf asked once the door had been shut on them.

“Idesa never did much care for me. She didn’t approve when I dated her brother, and she doesn’t approve of our continued friendship either. My proclivity for thieving never did me any favor in her eyes.” Cylfin replied with a sneer. “She puts on airs, thinks she’s better than she is because she lives in the Cruel-Sea home as Grimvar’s nanny. She still came from the Grey Quarter like the rest of us.” She turned to look at him. “We can try going out to Hollyfrost if you want, but frankly I don’t want to trudge through the snow. Since you’re the leader, I will follow your lead.”

Brynjolf shook his head. “I don’t understand how anything can grow up here. It’s mid-summer and there is still a foot of snow on the ground. No lass, I’m a man of milder climates. I will not be trudging through the snow anymore than I have to. Let’s go get rooms at the Candlehearth Hall.”

She shook her head. “You go ahead. I won’t stay in that establishment. Elda won’t appreciate my presence any more than Idesa does.” she replied, turning to walk away.

“Wait a minute lass.” he said, grabbing her arm to stop her. When she turned back, he let go abruptly, raising his hands. “Sorry, I forgot myself.”

She shot him a puzzled look, then grinned. “It doesn’t bother me any more from you. I trust you.” she responded.

Brynjolf flushed, smiling at her. “Well that’s good I guess. Now, where are you planning on staying if not at the hall?”

She shrugged. “Ambarys will probably let me roll out a pallet on the floor of the Cornerclub, but most likely I’ll stay with Revyn. I haven’t seen in months.”

“Where can I find you, is really what I am asking. We should be sticking together.” he pointed out.

“People know me here Brynjolf. I’m the bratty little elf child who they believe, but can’t prove, stole from every home, market stall and store in Windhelm. They’d be half right too. I didn’t become an amazing thief overnight. You’ll be better off renting a room on your own. You’ll get better service and no one will suspect you if I’m not around. Come down to Sadri’s Used Wares if you need me. Like I said, I’ll be with Revyn.”

“Old lover huh?” Bryn guessed when she turned to leave again.

“Yes. Up until recently he was the only person who ever meant anything to me beside my parents.” she replied, testing the waters by giving his hand a squeeze. She couldn’t help but notice his pleased smile.

She stopped at the White Vial before heading to Revyn’s, ignoring Nurelion’s jab about her finally paying for his merchandise. She’d never understand why Nurelion and Niranye were allowed to live and work outside the Grey Quarter. Ulfric hatred of Elves was common knowledge and it was no secret he hated Altmer the most, having been tortured and imprisoned by the Thalmor as a young man. Yet he allowed those two to move freely among the city streets without harassment from the guards.

When she slipped inside Sadri’s Used Wares she was surprised to find Brynjolf standing at the counter. Revyn came around to catch her up in a tight hug. “Cylfin, you promised not to be a stranger but I haven’t seen you in months. Ulundil told me he saw you up here about a month ago and you never came to see me.”

Cylfin inwardly groaned, knowing she’d have to find some explanation for her visit to Windhelm for Brynjolf later. “I was catching a carriage is all, from a job. I couldn’t stop to say hello that time.” She squeezed him tightly, pressing her lips against his cheek. She was able to drop her defenses around the only male she’d ever fully trusted. Revyn wouldn’t hurt a fly. “I missed you Rev.”

“You’ll have to excuse me for a moment, I have a customer.” He replied, hustling back around the counter to serve Brynjolf.

She looked Brynjolf and he nodded. “You don’t have to worry too much about this one Rev, he’s my boss.”

Revyn looked shocked. “This is the Guildmaster? Why I’d never have guessed.”

Brynjolf chuckled and leaned on the counter. “I’m the second in command. So you don’t think I have what it takes?”

Revyn raised his hands in protest, afraid he’d given offense. “It’s not that, you just seem so jovial, nothing like I would expect from a thief.”

Cylfin chuckled and leaned against the wall. “What he means is, you’re nothing like me; brooding, unapproachable and irritable. He’d have pegged Mercer straight off.”

“Really Cylfin, you know I don’t see you like that. I happen to find you quite approachable. Granted I’ve also known you since you were a baby, but still.”

“How is he an old lover if he’s know you since you were a child?” Brynjolf asked with a puzzled look.

She burst out laughing. “Dating in elf culture is a bit different from humans. Revyn is fifty years older than me. The aging process in elves slows down in our mid twenties. In Skyrim I was considered an adult when I turned twenty-one, but for most of elves, we aren’t considered adults until our thirties, marrying much later in life. Nivenor was a bit of an anomaly in our family and frankly she only married Bolli to get out of Windhelm. Large age gaps between elven partners is incredibly common. Revyn won’t even resemble his current age until he is well into his second century.”

“Wouldn’t he have still be considered an adult, but you wouldn’t have been?” Brynjolf pointed out with a smile.

Revyn answered for her. “She’d have been considered a maiden and I, a young adult. Again not so different than a human girl of seventeen marrying a man of twenty-five with her parents permission.”

She grinned at her boss. “Really Brynjolf, I’ve seen noble humans marry their young daughters to men three times their age for the sake of property and alliances. It’s really not that much different.”

“I don’t think you ever told me how old you are.” Brynjolf remarked.

“She’ll be thirty-nine this year. By the Gods, I’ll be ninety in a few months.” Revyn replied, resting his elbows on the counter.

“And you don’t look a day over thirty.” she laughed. She turned back to Brynjolf. “Now that you’ve been prying into my past, did you need something. There is no way Torsten is back yet.”

“No lass, just looking for some insight into the enigma that is you, where you come from, your friends and all that.” he replied sheepishly. “I didn’t expect you to finish up at the alchemist this quickly, and you so rarely talk about yourself.”

“You could have asked, and I try to limit my time with anyone not from the Grey Quarter.” she retorted, her eyes flashing with annoyance.

Revyn interrupted them, moving from behind the counter again, concern written all over his face. “Wait, why are you having anything to do with Torsten?”

She grimaced, but her eyes flashed a warning. “Because my Guildmaster demanded it. We are trying to open up channels in Windhelm again and Torsten is the key to that. Brynjolf’s here to ensure I don’t simply stick a knife in his belly and be done with it.” she snarled.

She felt Brynjolf’s arms encircle her from behind in a sympathetic hug. “I’m sure you won’t. You like us too much to risk your place in the Guild.”

She stilled in his arms, surprised by how good his hug felt, how warm and comforting it really was. The shiver of interest that traveled to her stomach was new, though not entirely unexpected. She’d started having a hard time not thinking about Brynjolf in a new light since his crush had been revealed by Mercer and confirmed by Delvin. Revyn caught dumb smile on her face and grinned. She shot him a deadly look, telling him without words to keep his mouth shut. “Yes well, you’ve grown on me.” she replied lamely.

“Would you like to have some tea Brynjolf?” Revyn asked, a wicked gleam in his eye. “There is something I wish to discuss with you if it is the guild’s intention to open operations here.”

Brynjolf smiled and let his arms fall away from Cylfin, leaving her feeling surprisingly chilled. “I’d love to. What kind are you serving?”

“Lavender and snowberry.” she replied in unison with Revyn. “I know you too well my friend. Brynjolf won’t have the final decision on whether or not businesses can pay for protection.”

“But he knows who will and I gather he has a better relationship with the Guildmaster than you do.” Revyn replied with a sniff, shuffling them into his makeshift kitchen.

Cylfin held back, watching as Revyn offered Brynjolf a chair and put a kettle over the fire to boil. She was trying to make sense of the maelstrom of emotions threatening to overwhelm her. She enjoyed spending time with Brynjolf. She’d found him attractive from the first time she’d seen him, but had firmly dismissed him as as a potential partner due to his position in the Guild. She had not meant to sleep with Mercer either, but he had in fact started it. Like Sibbi, there was just something about Mercer that she couldn’t ignore, the danger in sleeping with either of them gave her the same rush that skooma had when she was younger. Brynjolf made her feel entirely different, not unlike Revyn had many years ago. She hadn’t opened up to Brynjolf yet about a lot of things, but she was starting to feel that she could trust him. He had protected her against Mercer on multiple occasions and when he touched her she felt warm and cozy inside. Her desire for him may not come in a flood of undeniable passion, but neither did it come with an underlying fear of what may happen to her if she displeased him.

She frowned, watching Brynjolf conversing with Revyn and laughing at the dunmer's attempts at humor. Sibbi and Mercer would never be caught dead sharing tea in Sadri’s Fine Wares, but Brynjolf looked as comfortable as anyone else who grew up here, with no hint of disdain for they way of life she’d been born to. Her stomach fluttered when Brynjolf looked over, catching her eye with his smile.

“Are you going to stand in the doorway forever or are you going to join us for tea?” he asked with a grin. “Your friend here brews it just right.”

She grinned and stepped forward to join them, settling herself down on Revyn’s lap, despite his protests, desperate to cling to her reputation as a flirt and loose mer, to keep her budding feelings at bay. “He brews it too strong for my liking. It needs honey.”

“Which I keep stocked specifically for your visits, you heathen. Tea should be drank as it, with no embellishments.” He grinned, handing her a steaming cup of sweetened tea. “Brynjolf here tells me you ran into Idesa. Was she as uninviting as usual?”

“Revyn, your sister is always as sweet as your tea.” she replied with a laugh.

“That is a yes then.” he sighed. “I know she’s a pain, but would you take something to her for me before you leave town? She placed an order with me a few weeks ago, but rarely has time to visit what with shepherding Grimvar around town all the time.”

Cylfin sipped her tea and closed her eyes with pleasure at the heat it provided to her hands and cheeks, enjoying the sweetness on her tongue. “Of course Rev. We can take it.” She looked around the room, taking notes of the patches in the roof that left his home open to the elements. She could see the light was dimming outside. “Brynjolf, we should finish our tea and then head to Torsten’s home again. It’s nearly his meal time.”

He nodded his response. They swallowed the last few gulps of tea, Cylfin licking her lips to enjoy the last remnants of sweetness. Revyn smirked when he caught Brynjolf staring at her. “Well darling, you will be making your way back here afterwards right? Will Elda even let you stay at Candlehearth after that debacle when you were eighteen?”

“What happened when you were eighteen lass?” Brynjolf asked as he set down his cup.

“Oh, would you look at the dimming sunlight. That’s another story for another time.” she replied, punching Revyn in the arm. “A very long time from now you miserable wretch.”

She jumped up from Revyn’s lap and grabbed Brynjolf’s hand, pulling him towards the door. “Come on, let's get this meeting over with.”

Revyn and Brynjolf shared a chuckle at her discomfort, but Brynjolf meekly let her drag him out to the street. When they reached Torsten’s home the door was flung open and the man in questions shuffled them inside. “I had wondered why Idesa hadn’t invited you to stay until I returned, but I can see why now.” he remarked when he saw Cylfin’s face. “So you finally became what we all knew you were all along.”

“Torsten, so good to see you again. Still stealing from hard working elves and throwing their children out to the streets, or have you started murdering babies yet?” She replied snidely.

“Lass.” Brynjolf’s voice was low but she heard the rebuke nonetheless.

“Sorry, I know I’m supposed to play nice.” she replied. “Even if he is a miserable bastard.” she continued under her breath.

Brynjolf turned his attention to Torsten. “Delvin told me you have job for us.”

Torsten sighed, gesturing for them to sit down at the table just inside his home. “My daughter, Fjolti. She was murdered a few months ago. They left her lying on the ground in a pool of her own blood. I assumed they were after her valuables.”

Cylfin snorted, rolling her eyes. “She always did like to wear too much jewelry in public.”

“Cylfin, enough.” Brynjolf snapped.

“Thank you, but she’s right about that. Fjotli always did wear too much jewelry. When I told her it would be the death of her, well I never thought…” he trailed off, taking a long swallow of ale.

Brynjolf shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I can assure you it wasn’t anyone from the Guild.” he said.

“I know. No need to explain. I am well aware of your Guild’s methods.” Torsten replied, his eyes hallow and unseeing. “It took me weeks, but I finally tracked down the killer. A bloody Altmer at that. Can you imagine? Never did trust elves.”

Cylfin rolled her eyes, but he missed it, too caught up in his own grief. Brynjolf did see it and kicked her shin, shooting her another warning look.

“What happened to this thief?” Brynjolf asked after a moment.

Torsten flushed, avoiding their gazes. “Let’s just say I’m a firm believer in an eye for an eye and leave it at that.”

She bit her tongue so hard she could taste blood.

Torsten rubbed his face with a sigh. “Anyways, the elf, he fancied himself a thief in some sort of new Guild formed around here. Gave me some valuable information before he… well you know.”

“So exactly what do you need us for if you killed him already?” Cylfin asked, unable to keep the scorn from her voice.

“Well, like I told Delvin, I think we can help each other. You recover what I’m looking for and take out a rival Guild in the process.” Torsten replied.

“I think you need a new definition of helping. We find all your belongings, return them to you and we ensure no thieves will be in Windhelm, keeping your house safe. What are we getting in this deal Torsten?” she replied before Brynjolf could interrupt her.

Brynjolf slammed his fist against the table. “Cylfin, if you wish to remain in the Guild then for the love of the Gods keep your mouth shut.” he growled, his anger with her finally too much to keep to himself. “I apologize. I assume what you want recovered is something he took from Fjotli?"

The farmer nodded. “Exactly. One of the pieces stolen from her was a silver locket, a Cruel-Sea family heirloom. I want it back.”

Brynjolf stuck out his hand. “Deal, where do we begin?”

Torsten shook the outstretched, then stood and began to walk towards the door, obviously wishing them to leave and get started. “The only name I have is Niranye. Has a house right here in Windhelm. That’s where you should begin looking.”

Brynjolf glared at her when he bowed, indicating she do the same. She made the barest bend at the waist, her hands clamped into tight fists, her fingernails leaving half moon dents in her palms. Once Torsten had closed the door Brynjolf grabbed her arm and whirled her around, shoving her against the house, his arms on either side of her, effectively trapping her there. “What were you thinking? We want this contract Cylfin, we cannot afford to lose it just because you have issues with the client.”

“I told you I couldn’t do this.” she hissed at him, trying not to think about the fact Mercer has placed her in a similar situation right before the first time he’d kissed her. She squeezed her eyes shut. “I told you I could not do this and you insisted.”

He shook her, reaching beneath her chin to force her to look at him. “You heard Mercer, Cylfin. He chose you for this job and if I’d defied him, had sent anyone else I’d…” he paused. “Well I don’t know exactly what he’d have done, but I’m on thin ice with him as it is. Every time I defend you to him, or insist he take it easy on you he loses more trust in me. I did not work my way up to my position to have it completely destroyed because you can’t control your temper.” He pushed away from her, turning away from the pain on her face. “Let’s just find this Niranye and get this done as quickly as possible.”

Cylfin swallowed hard, desperately seeking her composure. “She runs a small stand in the market. Shops haven’t closed up yet, so she’ll be there.” She said with more calm than she was feeling. She strode past him, leading him to the main market square.

In the corner of the square she spotted Niranye, who was just beginning to pack up her little stand for the night. “Niranye, still busy with this little stall are we?” Cylfin called out with a wave.

The Altmer looked up and smiled. “Ah, little Mossgrove. I was wondering why I haven’t seen you around. Revyn told me you left for good, but I see I was right in not believing him.”

“Oh you should believe him. I’m only back in town briefly.” Cylfin replied as she stepped in front of the stand. She leaned in, lowering her voice to a whisper. “I’m here about Fjotli.”

Niranya startled, jumping back slightly and her eyes flitted from side to side as she searched the market. Assuring herself that some unknown monster wasn't lurking in the shadows she turned back to face Cylfin. “Um, Fjotli….Fjotli. Hmm Where have I heard that name before. Oh of course. The poor girl was murdered. Such a beautiful young thing, a tragedy to be sure.”

“Drop the act Niranye, I know you’re involved in her death somehow. Besides, I’ve heard you speak of what a homely little creature she was before.” She replied with a smirk.

Niranye gasped with feigned shock. “How dare you! You’re accusing me of taking part in such a heinous act? I should have you arrested for even suggesting such a thing.”

Brynjolf stepped up beside the market stall and frowned. “You might be a decent thief, but you’re an awful actor. Going by Niranye now, are we Releya?”

“Brynjolf, why I hardly recognized you.” she replied, taking a step back. “Now let's take a moment to just think about this and discuss it like rational people.”

“Start talking Releya.” he hissed.

The Altmer looked terrified. “I had no choice Brynjolf. They’re crazy. I could be killed for even speaking to you.”

“Who’s crazy Niranye?” Cylfin asked quietly, secretly alarmed by the womer’s obvious fear. Niranye was never anything but confidant and condescending, so if a group of thieves had her acting like this, they might be a truly formidable force.

“A group of Altmer thieves. They call themselves the Summerset Shadows. Their leader Linwe, he’s the worst of the lot. He steals valuables from the dead.” She whispered. The sun was dipping low and the guardsman called out that it was closing time. Niranye began hastily packing up her stall for the night.

“We know he murders his marks.” Brynjolf pointed out.

“No, he doesn’t actually. Linwe prefers stealing from the deceased. He digs up corpses, breaks into the Hall of the Dead. He even stole the locket Torsten wants back, off that poor murdered girl’s body, or what was left of it.”

‘Wait, so they didn’t murder Fjotli?” Cylfin interrupted.

“Let’s simply say she isn’t the first girl to wind up dead in Windhelm lately and leave it at that. If you want more information you should speak to the Shatter-Shields. Though I would avoid Tova. She’s absolutely distraught. Poor woman.” the Altmer replied.

“We’re getting off track ladies. How did you get involved?” Brynjolf asked.

Niranye frowned at him. “Really Brynjolf? You know I was a fence for the thieves Guild a long time ago, before business dried up. When Linwe moved to the area he somehow found out about it. He contacted me and claimed if I didn’t fence for them he’d kill me. I didn’t even know the Guild was still operational, no one has contacted me in years. I didn’t know who else to turn to.”

Brynjolf frowned. “I am sorry Releya. We’re here now, and it’s because of the success Cylfin has been having that Torsten even contacted us. Where is Linwe hiding? We’ll take care of the problem.”

“It’s Niranye, please. I haven't gone by the name Releya in decades. Before I tell you I want some assurances Brynjolf. You might recall I was one of the best fences in Skyrim. I’d prove to be an asset to the Guild once more.”

“I’ll speak to Mercer, but I don’t see it being much of a problem. We protect our own. ” he replied.

She nodded and locked up the last of her merchandise. “Linwe is holed up at a place called Uttering Hills Cave, about a days walk from here. He’ll have his entire Guild there, so be careful.”

“Appreciate it Releya, I mean Niranye. I’ll be in touch shortly.” he replied, giving her a nod and pulling Cylfin away as well.

She followed him in silence until they were out of earshot. “So are we going now?” she asked.

“Are you insane lass? The temperature will still be below freezing tonight. I’d soon as sleep in a toasty bed than camp out two nights in a tent. We’ll leave first thing in the morning. Stake out at night, taking turns watching them, then strike the next day around noon, when they’ll be mostly sleeping and not expecting an attack. Now go and get some rest. I need you at full potential over the next few days. There’s a lot riding on us.”

She flushed. “I know. I’m sorry I’m such a nuisance.” she apologized, hurrying off before he could reply.

When she arrived back at Revyn’s home he was waiting for her with a hearty stew and a sympathetic ear. He knew she was near the brink of a break down with this job and was determined to find out what was going on. "I made your favorite." he said, handing her a bowl of stew. "Now tell me again why you agreed to take this job. Surely there are other thieves in the Guild who could have come instead?"

She sat next to the fire and paused, taking a bite of the stew and savoring the flavors that burst over her tongue, steeling herself against the tears that often came with the memories of her childhood. His stew tasted like home. "I told you before, my Guildmaster demanded I be the one to do this. The Guild's had a run of bad luck the last few years, but I've been able to complete nearly every job I take, and he stated I was the only one capable of doing it."

"But surely he's not so cruel as to force you to work with Torsten? Surely you've told them about your history with him?" Revyn replied, confusion in his eyes.

She let out a hollow, bitter laugh. "You clearly do not know Mercer. He's a miserable bastard, hates my guts and delights in torturing me. That being said, I've never told anyone but you the full story, so he doesn't understand why this bothers me so much."

Revyn blinked in surprise, then sighed, deeply. "Well that explains it then, I can't imagine that Brynjolf fellow would have agreed to this if he knew the whole story. Why didn't you just tell them what Torsten did to you?"

"Because I refuse to play a victim. I do not need to tell anyone else, I don't want the pity. I wouldn't have even told you, but I had no where else to go. I couldn't have gone to my father or Nivenor." she replied angrily. "Torsten may have been the worst, but he was not the only man to molest me in my lifetime."

"Cylfin, that man did more than molest you. You stayed with me for two weeks while you healed. I know he is your ex-fiance, but you shouldn't be defending him. He was unfaithful and he impregnated his mistress. When you found out and left him, what he did to you was unspeakable." he protested. At her sharp look he conceded. "Fine, don't tell them and insist on finishing this contract then. I just hope you stop playing the role of strong and unbreakable before it finally breaks you." he stated cryptically.

They finished their meal in silence. She helped him clean up and then began to roll a pallet out on the floor when he stopped her with a frown. "No need for that. You need someone to watch out for you, even if you wont. Come sleep with me, or nightmares will keep you awake." he said, tugging her arm until she agreed.

Once they had changed she slipped beneath the covers on his small bed and let him wrap his arms around her, holding her snugly as she continued let go of all her pent up feelings and anxiety. He stroked her back as she told him about the Guild, and everyone she'd met there. She told him about Sibbi and Mercer and her growing confusion with them both.

"I swear, you look for trouble if it doesn't find you. Didn't you tell me earlier that your Guildmaster hates you? Why in Oblivion are you sleeping with him?" Revyn finally asked, interrupting her.

"I don't know." she replied, sheepishly. "There is just something about him that makes my fingers itch to touch him. I go to sleep craving his body and wake up on fire. It's only every moment between that I want to smack his smug face. But the second he gets anywhere near me, I need his body against mine. It's the same with Sibbi. I know they are trouble. I know they are bad men and it's dangerous to be involved with them, but I need them."

"What about Brynjolf? The man's affection is nearly palpable. He seems a decent sort." Revyn teased, coaxing a smile out of her.

"I put him firmly in the no chance part of my head. He's my boss." She laughed when he crooked an eyebrow at her. "Yes I know Mercer is too, but I like Brynjolf. I respect him, and enjoy his company. He reminds me of you Rev. If I upset Mercer I lose nothing but a place in the Guild. If I ruin my friendship with Brynjolf by sleeping with him, I lose so much more. I lose his respect, friendship and belief in me. I have very little of that in my life. As it is, I already feel like he's beginning to question his decision to bring me into the fold with this job. He said he thinks I'm turning out to be more trouble than I'm worth."

She felt Revyn's lips on the top of her head, felt the sympathy behind the contact. "My sweet little idiot. Everyone you meet thinks that at first. You were a horrid little pest as a child, but you grew on me as well. He was probably frustrated, trying to keep the peace between you and Mercer. It's a tough position to be in, especially if Mercer is aware of his feelings and can exploit that knowledge."

Silence fell between them as she considered his words. She hadn't been paying attention to the problems she'd probably created for Brynjolf, but now she could imagine him in a meeting with Mercer, trying to convince him to let her stay without it looking like his feelings were affecting the decision. She frowned as guilt crept over her.

Finally Revyn's voice broke the silence. “Perhaps you should take that Niruin fellow up on his offer. Take a break from man and be with mer again. Certainly the power dynamics would be equalized with that fellow. Mercer, Sibbi and Brynjolf are all your superiors in one way or another”

“I don’t know that adding more people to my bed is the answer Rev.” she replied quietly, enjoying the comfort of his arms.

“Perhaps it’s exactly what you need.” he replied. When she started to protest he interrupted her. “Hear me out Cyl. If I understand it, your relationship with Sibbi cannot go anywhere, yet you are both developing an affection for one another. If you become more attached, the inevitable end will break that soft little heart of yours. Don’t deny it, I know you better than anyone else. Mercer will consume you if you get any closer to him. The mer I know would never let anyone make her feel less than she is. Why you spent a month in a cell for beating Rolff to a pulp when he insulted you, but you simply let Mercer use and abuse you as he wishes. That isn’t like you. That hasn't been you in a very long time, well not since, well, you know. ” he advised. “ I like your friend Brynjolf. If I could fault him for anything it's his lack of courage in telling you how he feels. Even I, nervous nelly that I am, found the courage to court you. I think you do him too little credit. There are no rules that say you have to keep all your partners at a distance. In fact, having a partner that supports you in your life of crime certainly gives it a better chance of surviving than ours did.” he pointed out, making her smile.

He paused for a moment. “You said that Niruin propositioned you before you started moving up the ranks of the Guild. He clearly desired you before you made a name for yourself. Perhaps a break with someone who understands your culture, the prejudice we face in Skyrim and who has no expectations of anything more than stress relief is exactly what you need.”

She snorted against his chest, her eyes beginning to droop with fatigue. “I’ll think about it. I still think adding more to my bed is a bad idea, but I will consider your advice.” she replied sleepily, rubbing his chest. “Now let me sleep. Brynjolf will want to be heading out early and I don't relish trudging through the snow anymore than I did as a child.”

He caught her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her fingers. “Rest well little thief.” he said softly as he felt her drift off to sleep.

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The next morning Cylfin slipped from beside Revyn who still slept like the dead. She dressed, pulling a layer of wool garments on under her armor for extra warmth. For good measure she pulled on her father’s fur cloak that she’s brought to keep the cold at bay. Revyn had packed her a small sack of extra provisions, dried meat, cheese and a few apples, in case their stakeout lasted longer than they thought. She attached it to her belt.

Grabbing her knapsack, stocked with potions, lockpicks a small tent and bedroll, she secured her weapons and headed out the door. She was halfway to Candlehearth hall when she spotted Brynjolf walking towards her. She whistled, catching his attention and he smiled at her, sprinting the last few steps to meet her. “Perfect timing lass. I was just coming to get you.”

She frowned when she saw his pack. “Bryn, where is your gear? You said we’ll be staked out overnight. Where is your tent? Don’t you have any winter garments for under your armor?”

“I’m touched by your concern lass, but I’ll be fine. It’s a Nord thing.” he replied with a cheeky grin.

“That not what you said yesterday. You’re a man of milder climates.” she retorted with a smirk.

“Just because I don’t like colder temperatures doesn’t mean I’m not a Nord, lass. I can handle the cold. I just don’t like it.” he replied turning back towards the city gates. “Now come on, let’s get going. I want to reach Uttering Hills before midday.”

The walk to the cave was silent, punctuated only by the sounds of heavy breathing when they encountered a particularly big snow drift or icy patch. Still hurt by Brynjolf’s comments yesterday and her growing confusion about her feelings for him, she kept quiet, avoiding drawing attention to herself.

Brynjolf was also feeling overwhelmed by his feelings. He didn’t want to scare her off, and he knew he’d hurt her feelings last night. The pained look on her face when he’d accused her of putting his position at risk, as well as the sorrow in her eyes when she apologized for being a nuisance has haunted his thoughts all night, making sleep an impossibility. It was beginning to show as well, his eyes drooped against the glaring sunlight. Even in summer the air was frosty this far north, and despite his boasting, he could feel the burn of cold against his face. He pulled his hood down further, to block the glare and protect his cheeks from the wind that swept over the never ending snowdrifts.

Just as they reached the crest of the mountain trail Brynjolf felt himself knocked sideways. Cylfin tackled him and pushed him into the trees. “What the?” he started

She cut him off by covering his mouth with her hand. “Shhh. I saw their tents. They’re maybe a hundred feet ahead of us. We need to approach from higher up if we want to observe them without being noticed. You head up those crags and set up camp just above those rocks.” she said, pointing to a natural rock ledge that sat above and to the side of the camp. “I’ll go back a ways and use a frost spell to cover our tracks. Go, I’ll meet you soon.”

He had the camp set up long before she returned, looking pale. “You alright lass?”

She smiled weakly. “Yes, I’m fine. Casting that many frost spells used up a lot of my magicka reserves and I don’t want to waste any potions to regenerate them before we infiltrate the cave. I just need to rest.”

Brynjolf had taken her pack and set up her tent and bedroll. When he told her he would take first watch she lay down on the hide pallet and closed her eyes.

It was dark when she opened them again. She crawled from the tent, grimacing as the cold air hit her flesh. She spotted Brynjolf, leaning against a tree, focused on the camp below. “You let me sleep too long.” she stated as she approached him.

“You needed it more than me.” he replied with a yawn.

She reached out to squeeze his arm, but caught herself in time. “Ah, you should go lie down. I’ll keep watch. Anything I should keep my eyes out for?”

Brynjolf caught her movements and frowned, realizing she was uncomfortable around him now. “Just trying to keep a count on how many come and go through the night. I think there are about ten of them, not including Linwe. See if you can confirm it. I don’t want to get inside and be attacked from the back.”

“Got it. Get some rest.” she replied, avoiding his eyes.

She leaned against the tree he’d just been using for support and savored the warmth his body had left there. She glanced out the side of her eye and saw him lie down on his own pallet, huddling in a ball beneath his hide covers. “Hey. You can use my tent. It’s cold enough to freeze your nuts out here. I need you at top form tomorrow.” she said with a smirk.

Brynjolf’s head popped up and he shot her a smile. He pulled his bedroll inside the tent, pulling it over him while he lay on top of hers, utilizing the warmth still in the hides.

A few hours later she was wishing she had mead with her, craving the warm sweetness of the alcohol as the wind picked up, blowing ice crystals across her skin. She pulled her cloak tighter around herself and conjured images of the hot springs a days walk from here, or a roaring campfire like the one below, anything to feel warmer than she was. She had seen a number of elves come and go, trying to take note of any details that would help her tell them apart. None had any marks or clothing that identified them as the leader.

Around dawn she heard Brynjolf groan as he stretched the kinks out of his muscles. He crawled out of the tent and walked over to her, handing her a hunk of bread from his pack. “Morning lass, anything of interest happen last night?

She took a bite, suddenly realizing how hungry she was. She chewed a moment before answering. “All but one has come back this morning. I think they are staying close to their hideout for now until they understand the lay of the land better. If they have come from Alinor as their name implies they’re probably not familiar with the geography of Skyrim yet. Better to play it safe then be caught out in a storm with no cover.

“Aye, smart theory. Did you see how often they relieve the guards?” he asked, pointing to the two figures below sitting by the fire.

“Every four hours. Those two have been out here for about three now. I don’t think we need to wait for midday. I would suggest we wait for the change of guard, then give them about two hours to get bored, comfortable and distracted, then hit them hard. That still gives us two hours before they send the next replacements, giving us time to hit those inside who are sleeping.”

“You certainly have a head for these things. We’ll do it your way. Hopefully we can be back to Windhelm before nightfall. Do you need more rest? I can stand watch.” he asked, grabbing his bedroll and spreading it out over the snow to provide some waterproofing when he sat down against the tree.

“No, if I sleep I might be groggy when we do this. We can both watch, keep our eyes out for anything strange.” She rolled up the tent, hiding it behind some bushes and pulled her bedroll beside him. She sat down, crossing her legs and pulled out the contents of her pack, spreading it before her and double checking everything. She carefully stowed her potions and lockpicks in the various hidden pockets of her armor and her potion belt. Once she place the pack beside her tent she began to sharpen her daggers.

Despite her best efforts in layering and moving her body to keep blood flowing her hands began to cramp in the cold. She placed her daggers in her lap and brought her hand up to blow warm air against them. Brynjolf looked over as she rubbed them together, trying to warm her fingers.

“If you’re cold lass you can come here and share heat.” He bit back a chuckle when she flushed. “Purest of intentions lass. It’s cold, and even I’m feeling it. You’re no good to me if you can draw your bow.”

She sheathed her daggers and stood, pulling off her cloak. She was about to sit beside him when he grabbed her hand and pulled her down between his legs, her back against his chest. “Here now, this should help keep the heat in.” He grabbed her cloak and spread it over them.

She didn’t think she’d be able to relax against him, but after a time of his breath against her ear, and the feeling of his heart beat against her back she must have drifted off. The next things she knew he was shaking her awake. “Hey, there changed guards about an hour ago and the replacements are starting to nod off. Get up, get your blood moving and lets hit them hard.

She’d never admit it but it almost pained her to leave his arms and stand. She stretched the weariness from her limbs and readied her bow.

They snuck down, carefully placing their feet to avoid icy patches or crunching snow. Once she was close enough she nocked her bow and took careful aim at the elf nearest her. She let her arrow fly just as Brynjolf stepped from the shadows and run his blade across the rival thief’s neck. His opponent went down in a gurgle of blood, while her own dropped to the ground, her arrow sticking out from his eye.

Brynjolf turned to her and smiled, wiping the blood from his blade. “I think you might be better than Niruin with that bow.” he remarked. “I’m glad you’re here with me even if you don’t wish to be.”

She frowned, her mood instantly soured. “I didn’t have a problem with the job Brynjolf. I don’t fancy having competition in skyrim. I have a problem with the client and Mercer’s obvious disregard for the conflict of interest.” she spat. “ But I get it. I’m the biggest pain in the ass in the Guild, more trouble than I’m worth. I need to prove I can take orders that put the Guild first rather than my own emotional wellbeing.”

“What are you talking about? Who said you were more trouble than you were worth?” Brynjolf asked, clearly forgetting he had spat those very words at her mere weeks ago.

Her jaw dropped in surprise, then she shook her head. “Forget it Brynjolf, let’s just get this done. I want to get back to Riften. I hate everything about being here.”

He looked like he might argue, forcing her to confront her fears about her status in the Guild, but he just clenched his jaw and nodded. “You get a pass this time because we need to move. We will be discussing that remark when we get back to Riften.”

She didn’t bother to respond, she just pushed open rickety wooden doors to the cave and slipped into the icy darkness. They pressed forward, moving in total silence, taking out the thieves one by one until they reached a sturdy door blocking their path to the lower levels of the cave. Cylfin tested the door and smirked when she found it locked. Brynjolf waved his hand at her, eager to see her lockpicking skills in action. It took less than a minute for her to hear a soft click and the door swung open, revealing an old forgotten fortress, constructed deep inside the mountain and some old wooden stairs leading to the bottom rooms. She could hear whispered voices below, indicating multiple foes.

She gestured to Brynjolf for silence and crouching low, she continued down the steps. She had almost reached the cobbled floor when she heard a loud creaking. She whirled around and saw Brynjolf’s face fall as he cursed, his foot landing on a loose step, alerting the rival thieves to their presence.

They were attacked in full force, with four Altmer running up the narrow hallway to surround them. One wore a slightly different set of armor, a telling sign they had found Linwe.

The battle was quick and bloody. She dropped her bow to the floor and ripped her daggers from her side, flying at the face of the first Altmer who advanced on her. She could hear Brynjolf behind her, his sword clashing with the two mer who had ganged up on him. She managed to dodge around the other thief and dragged her daggers across the back of his knees, slicing through the tendons and immobilizing him. She was pushing herself up from the ground when a burning pain exploded across her back. She cried out, falling forward onto the ground. When she rolled over she saw Linwe advancing on her, a sick smile plastered on his golden face.

“Though you could best me you animal. No one gets the drop on the Summerset Shadows.” he screamed, raising his hand and aiming a powerful firebolt spell at her. As he threw it at her she cast a weak ward that obliterated when the fire contacted it, but protected her from imminent death. She called her own lighting to her hand but screamed, a high pitched, agonized wail when Linwe shoved his blade into her shoulder, pinning her to the ground.

He grinned down at her, his eyes glazing over. “I’ll see you burn.” he whispered and raised his hand again. She clenched her eyes in anticipation for a firestorm that never came.

Instead she heard a garbled cry of disbelief that cut off abruptly and Linwe’s body went limp, falling to the floor beside her as his head flew across the room.

Brynjolf dropped to his knees beside her, checking the wound where the sword still pinned her to the ground. “I can’t help until this comes out lass. Brace yourself.” he warned.

He gripped the handle tightly, pulling it straight up in a swift motion, but she couldn’t help the cry that was torn from her mouth. She fought back tears, clenching her fists so tightly her palms bleed from the wounds her nails made.

He searched her potions belt, then swore. “Dammit Cyl, there’s nothing her but magicka potions. Don’t you ever carry a simple health potion on you?”

Trying to calm her breathing so she didn’t hyperventilate she called the swirling golden glow of a healing spell to her hand and touched the wound. She bit back as cry as her flesh began to knit itself back together, the magic burning out any infection. When she could form words again she replied. “No point if I can heal myself with a spell. It makes more sense to carry as many magicka potions as I can.”

“Unless of course you were unconscious. Dammit Cyl, I thought he was going to kill you.” he retorted.

He pulled her into his arms without warning, wrapping her in a tight hug. She hesitated to return it, but she was overwhelmed by his smell. Sweat and leather, honey and snowberries assailed her senses and she relaxed against him, breathing in deeply. How anyone could smell like comfort she’d never know, but he did.

When he pulled back a few seconds later he couldn’t meet her eyes. “We should get moving. Grab everything of value and let’s get home.” he said quietly, clearly torn by his desire to hold her and his position as her leader.

Still confused by her own feelings about him she only nodded. She stood quickly and strode away, deeper into the rooms that Linwe and the others had come from. Suddenly she stopped and called Brynjolf over.

“Look, their Guild emblem.” she said, pointing to the tapestry hanging from the ceiling in the dining hall. She shot him a vindictive smile before she set the cloth alight with a well aimed firebolt. When it has been consumed entirely by the flames she used lightning to blast the Thieves Guild emblem into the stone wall. “Let that be a lesson to anyone else that comes to join them.” she sneered.

Brynjolf smiled. “I like your style lass. Let’s clear out the last of these rooms and get back to Windhelm. I’d like to sleep in a bed tonight rather than a tent.”

************************************************************************************

Torsten was delighted when they returned to him with the locket they found on Linwe’s corpse. Cylfin had to close her eyes to hide how far back she rolled them when he told them how much it pained him to see the locket, as it reminded him of Fjotli, but he was glad to see it back where it belongs. She could almost hear the insincerity in his voice. She was certain he was only concerned with the value of the locket.

“Tell Delvin if he still desires to have my support for the Thieves Guild in Windhelm he’s got it.” Torsten continued, shaking Brynjolf’s hand. Suddenly he frowned at her and continued in a snide tone. “Just try to send someone else next time.”

“Yeah, well you’re not my favorite person either you greedy sack of skeever shit. And you know why too.” she shot back. She pulled a package from her pocket and tossed it at him. “Revyn asked that I give this to Idesa, but I’m not spending another minute in the company of any Cruel-Sea or their hired help.” She held her hand up to silence Brynjolf when he would have scolded her and ran from Torsten’s home, straight for the Grey Quarter.

Brynjolf caught up with her near the city gates. One second she was running, the next she was whirled around and pushed against the city walls. She screamed loudly and swung, aiming at a face she only vaguely recognized in her panic at being grabbed. She heard a shout of pain when her fist connected with his jaw. His hands encircled her wrists, forcing them above her head. “Dammit Cylfin! Just calm down.”

She immediately began to hyperventilate, her eyes squeezed shut as she softly begged for mercy, still not comprehending who had apprehended her. She felt someone’s hands on her face, but they were soft and gentle, the blows she was anticipating never came.

“Lass, please.” he whispered softly. “You are absolutely terrifying me right now.”

“Let go of me please.” she begged, his voice beginning to break through her terror.

Instantly he released her, backing away to watch helplessly she slowly calmed down, the panic dying from her eyes, replaced with hurt, shame and leeriness. “I’m sorry you had to see that.” she muttered softly.

“Sorry I had to see that?” he replied incredulously. “Sorry I had to see that? Cylfin, I’m sorry I put you through that.”

“Don’t grab me when I’m running away from something.” she said, her voice still tinged with fear. “Don’t ever grab me when I’m running.”

“Duly noted lass, I should have known better. Just because you said you trust me doesn’t override fight or flight instincts. Are you alright now?” he asked.

She flinched, but nodded, stepping away from the wall. “We should leave in the morning. The carriage has probably already left by now. I’ll stay with Revyn again tonight.” Her voice was beginning to sound more confident again as she masked her fear with denial.

“Cyl, that kind of reaction usually has a story behind it.” he pointed out.

“It does, but I have no intention of telling it.” she replied bitterly, turning to walk away.

“Cylfin stop. Please wait a minute and let’s talk.” he said, falling into step beside her. She shook her head, knowing if he pushed the issue she would lose her composure, so she'd rather avoid the conversation.

They were just passing the gates to the docks when Cylfin noticed the same little girl from her last visit. She stopped walking and shook her head in pity. Clearly the girl did not yet understand the fate in store for her if she did not get off the streets. Brynjolf followed her gaze and frowned, his own heart going out to the child. Cylfin reached into her pocket, but she saw Brynjolf had beat her to it, crouching down to the child’s eye level and handing the her a small coin purse and an entire handful of lock picks.

“Do you have somewhere you can sleep at night lassie?” He asked with an encouraging smile.

She shook her head. “I sleep outside. I’m not allowed at the inn, and nobody down here will take in the likes of me. So I sell flowers to buy food. I got a bedroll I use at night.”

“Aye, I see.” He replied with a grave nod. “Where do you keep that bedroll?”

The little girl shuffled her feet, staring at the ground. “By mistress Niranye’s house. She’s the only one who doesn’t chase me away. The Dunmer don’t much care for a human child in the Grey Quarter, but the fancy people by the palace don’t like me either. The lady in Candlehearth hall gives me scraps sometimes for washing dishes, but says I shouldn’t be around the likes of which drink at her inn late at night.”

Cylfin shuddered at the words, remembering the kind of men who drank in Elda’s inn. Brynjolf caught her movement and frowned deeper. “Tell you what little lassie. You take this purse of coins and lock picks. If you practice really hard there won’t be a lock you can’t open. It’s a valuable skill. I’ll speak to some people and see if I can’t find somewhere for you to sleep other than outdoors. I’ll come find you in a little bit ok?”

The little girl smiled at him. “Oh thank you sir. Thank you. Please take these flowers. I know they’re not much, but I want you to have them.”

The little girl skipped off, hiding the coin purse deep inside her pocket as she disappeared from sight. Cylfin’s anger and fear melted away as Brynjolf stood and turned back to her, his concern written all over his face. He had no way of knowing what his gesture did to the wall around her heart. “Thank you, I know you won’t understand, but it means a lot that you would help her. Who are you going to speak to?”

Confused by her sudden complete about face in mood he shrugged. “Rel….Niranye. If that little tyke learns some skills in lock picking and fencing she might find a future with us. I’ll tell Niranye that it’s a condition of me speaking to Mercer on her behalf.”

He was utterly bewildered when she stepped forward and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. “Thank you. A thousand times thank you.” She said as she stepped back.

“Lass it’s not a big deal.” he replied, flushing with embarrassment.

“It is a big deal, for me. Just accept my gratitude and let’s move on.” she replied, blushing as embarrassment replaced her wonder. “I’m sorry for going off on Torsten like that. I should have kept my mouth shut for just a few more minutes. He just...." she cut off, words choking her.

"Lass, please, tell me what's going on? I've never seen you lose your cool like this. Mercer gives you a harder time than our client and you aren't this reactive with him." he replied. "Help me understand."

She shook her head, her eyes squeezed shut, a defense against the concern she heard in his voice. "I can't. I'm sorry, but I can't. You shouldn't have to deal with it, when I refuse to explain why I can't deal with Torsten, and I'm sorry for that too. I’m sorry I’m so difficult and keep making things hard for you. I don’t want to, I just don’t know how to stop.”

Brynjolf took a tentative step forward and slowly wrapped his arms around her. When she didn’t tense or pull back, he hugged tighter. “You’re difficult, no question, but I like that about you. You’ll notice we have our fair share of prickly women in the Guild, and each of them has their reasons. In the Guild your past doesn’t matter as long as you can do the job. Mouthiness and attitude aside, we got the job done lass, and regained control in the north. Keep bringing in the coin and soon our reign will extend to all of Skyrim. You’re my good luck charm.”

The affection in his voice had her lifting her head to look at him and when she did, he leaned down and placed a soft, tentative kiss on her lips. She allowed herself a moment to enjoy the soft flutter in her stomach before she pulled away, her eyes sad and confused.

Brynjolf sighed and dropped his arms, leaving her shivering in the cold. “You don’t have to say it Cyl, you don’t return my affections. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Her face fell and she touched his arm. “It’s not that Brynjolf, I just have a lot on my plate right now, and I don’t want to complicate my life anymore than it is at the moment.”

“I don’t need explanations lass. I know better than to mix business and pleasure. Nothing changes, we’re still family.” He replied with a strained smile. “I’ll meet you at the morning carriage, and I’ll get that little tyke a warm bed tonight.”

She watched him walk away, regret pooling in her stomach, making her feel ill. She desperately wanted to call him back, to spill everything about her past and to explain why it was a bad idea for them to get together, why she distrusted the feelings budding deep inside her, but she bit her tongue to keep herself from doing so. Brynjolf would play for keeps, she was certain of it, and she didn’t make commitments anymore. As she turned to walk back to Revyn’s house she couldn’t help the deep dark thought creeping into her head, that Brynjolf deserved better than Mercer and Sibbi’s cast offs.
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